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Article from Issue 177/2015

Updates on technologies, trends, and tools

Code.org and College Board Team Reach Out for Talented High School Coders

The College Board (owners of the SAT, PSAT, and other US-based college aptitude exams) and Code.org (an organization offering online training in programming and computer science) have announced a new partnership to provide "instructional materials, training, and funding for school districts to expand access" to computer science courses.

The goals of the program are to provide high-quality computer science instruction at the high school level and to identify potentially talented computer students who are in demographics underserved by the IT industry, such as women and ethnic minorities.

According to the press release at the Code.org site, the College Board and Code.org will identify and help schools to adopt two specific computer science courses at the high school level:

  • Exploring Computer Science: A course accessible for all students, designed to stimulate interest in the field and instill the basic knowledge and skills essential for subsequent enrollment in related AP courses.
  • AP® Computer Science Principles: A new AP course that will debut in fall 2016, providing students with the chance to earn college credit for mastery of an array of computing principles and activities.
  • The College Board and Code.org will co-fund Code.org's professional development of new computer science teachers and will recommend the Code.org computer science course pathway, and both groups will encourage schools to administer the new PSATTM 8/9 assessment as a way of identifying more students, particularly those from traditionally under-represented groups, for enrollment in the new courses.
  • The College Board says the 2014 PSAT/NMSQT exam identified more than 165,000 women who had the potential for success in Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses, but only 2.5% of these women gained access to AP computer science training. Also, 33,000 Hispanic and African American students demonstrated a potential for success and only 4.7% received instruction.

A Peek Inside TeslaCrypt Ransomware

The security research firm FireEye has released a study into the activities of the criminal group behind the TeslaCrypt ransomware tool. Like other ransomware variants, TeslaCrypt encrypts the data on the victim's computer then posts a notice demanding that the victim pay money to get their data back. TeslaCrypt, which is distributed via the Angler exploit kit, demands a payment in the range of $150 to $1,000 – preferably in Bitcoins.

FireEye tracked the payment through Bitcoin reporting mechanisms. The TeslaCrypt gang encrypted 1,231 systems between February and April 2015 and extracted payment from 163 victims for a total revenue of $76,522. More interesting than the financial data are the examples of correspondence between the criminals and the victims. TeslaCrypt appears to place a high value on "user-friendliness," with an interactive customer support channel for users who have questions about how to pay the ransom. The correspondence reads almost like a Kafka-inspired parody of customer service – with the criminals helping victims through the steps of obtaining Bitcoins and letting them upload one file for decryption as a "free sample."

A team at Cisco figured out how to break the TeslaCrypt encryption and released the solution on April 27.

Fedora 22 Arrives

The Fedora project has announced the release of Fedora 22. The Red Hat-sponsored community Linux distribution now comes in three versions: the Workstation and Server editions, plus a Cloud edition designed for the "next generation of container deployment."

According to the Fedora Project's Matthew Miller, Fedora 22 largely builds on changes that began with the Fedora 21. "If the release had a human analogue, I guess it would be Fedora 21 after it'd been to college and kept its New Year's resolution to go to the gym on a regular basis. What we're saying is that Fedora 22 was built on the foundation laid with Fedora 21 and the work to create distinct editions of Fedora based on the desktop, server, and cloud."

The Workstation edition comes with better notifications, refined themes, and improvements to several applications. The Server version adds a new Database Server role, plus improvements to the Cockpit server manager tool. The still-new Cloud version, which debuted with the last release, received a big share of the attention, with updated Docker images and improvements to the Atomic host for virtual environments.

Perhaps the biggest change with Fedora 22 is the new DNF package manager, which replaced the familiar Yum package tool. DNF, which was forked from Yum in 2012, was written to be more extensible, with better documentation and improved dependency resolution.

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