3D printing could be the future of construction in remote regions, including space, according to research underway at the University of NSW. Dr Kate Dunn from the School of Built Environment is investigating ways to combine materials endemic to site, including mud brick and hemp, with robotics and large-scale 3D printing.
Together with Associate Professor M. Hank Haeusler, Director of Computational Design (CoDe), and Master’s student Alex Tohidi, Dr Dunn will research the material processes and optimal design for building in remote areas, including in space, as part of a memorandum of understanding signed with Melbourne-based 3D printing firm, Luyten.
Transporting materials and machinery to site is one of the greatest obstacles to overcome for building in remote areas such as the moon.
“3D printing building components using site-specific materials is one way to circumvent this,” says Dr Dunn. “Computer scripts can direct the 3D printing of complex architectural structures made from materials, such as clay and soil, even regolith, a material found on the Moon’s surface.”
Work has already begun on the test site at Fowlers Gap Arid Zone Research Station in western NSW to look at the impacts of introducing fibres such as hemp, straw and bamboo to optimise the material for construction. Using readily available, local materials eliminates the need for delivering concrete, gravel and other heavy materials to site.
At the same time, Luyten is developing a lightweight, compact 3D printer ideal for transportation that is capable of printing large scale structures able to deal with rough terrain.
“Australia’s perfectly suited to this. It’s hugely sustainable,” Dr Dunn says. “The biggest problem with those traditional processes is that they’re super labour-intensive. But if we can use technology to speed those processes up, it becomes a much more affordable and feasible means of building things in Australia and around the world.”
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Passwords aren’t enough to fend off hackers; these dongles are the best defense
Strong passwords are very important, but they’re not enough to protect you from cybercriminals.
Passwords can be leaked or guessed. The key to online security is protecting your account with a strong secondary measure, typically a single-use code. This is referred to as “two-factor authentication,” or 2FA, as the nerds know it.
I’ve written about all the different types of 2FA, such as getting those codes sent via text message or generated in an authenticator app. Having any kind of second factor is better than none at all, but physical security keys—little dongles that you plug into a USB port or tap on your phone during account logins—offer the highest level of protection.
Security keys have been around for over a decade, but now they’re in the spotlight: Apple recently introduced support for them as an optional, added protection for Apple ID accounts. Last month, Twitter removed text-message-based authentication as an option for nonpaying users, recommending instead an authenticator app or security key.
Some people are hesitant to use security keys because carrying around a physical object seems burdensome and they come with a $30-and-up added cost. Plus, what happens if they get lost?
I’ve used security keys since 2016 and think they are actually easier to manage than codes—especially with accounts that don’t require frequent logins. They’re not only convenient, but they can’t be copied or faked by hackers, so they’re safer, too.
Here’s how to weigh the benefits and common concerns of adding one or two of these to your keychain.
Which security key should I use?
Many internet services support the use of security keys, and you can use the same security key to unlock accounts on many different services. I recommend two from industry leader Yubico:
- YubiKey 5C NFC ($US55) if you have a USB-C laptop or tablet
- YubiKey 5 NFC ($US50) for devices with older USB ports
Other options include Google’s Titan security keys ($30 and up). In addition to working with laptops and tablets with USB ports, these keys are compatible with smartphones that have NFC wireless. Most smartphones these days have that, since it’s the technology behind wireless payments such as Apple Pay.
Adam Marrè, chief information security officer at cybersecurity firm Arctic Wolf, recommends that your chosen key is certified by the FIDO Alliance, which governs the standards of these devices.
How do security keys work?
To add a key, look in the security settings of your major accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.). During setup, it will prompt you to insert the key into your laptop or tablet’s port or hold the key close to your phone for wireless contact.
Apple requires you to add two security keys to your Apple ID account, in case you lose one.
Typically, when you log in, you just go to the app or website where you’ve set up a key, enter your username and password as usual, then once again insert the key into the device or hold it close. (Some keys have a metal tab you have to press to activate.) At that point, the service should let you right in.
Why are they so secure?
Getting those two-factor login codes via text message is convenient, but if you are someone criminals are targeting, you could be the victim of SIM swapping. That’s where thieves convince carriers to port your number to a new phone in their possession, and they use it along with your stolen password to hack your accounts.
Even if they don’t go to all that trouble, criminals might try to trick you to hand them your codes, by calling you or spoofing a website you typically visit. At that point they can use the code for about 60 seconds to try to break in, said Ryan Noon, chief executive at security firm Material Security.
Security keys protect you in two ways: First, there’s no code to steal, and second, they use a security protocol to verify the website’s domain during login, so they won’t work on fake sites.
You can also add an authenticator app such as Authy to your most important accounts, to use only as a backup. But once you add these secure methods, you should consider removing the text-message code option.
In the rare case that someone snoops your passcode then steals your iPhone, beware: The perpetrator could still make Apple ID account changes using only the passcode, and even remove security keys from your account.
What happens if you lose your key?
The most important rule of security keys is to buy an extra one (or two).
“Think of your security key as you would a house or car key,” said Derek Hanson, Yubico’s vice president of solutions architecture. “It’s always recommended that you have a spare.”
If you lose a security key, remove it from your accounts immediately. You should have already registered your spare or an authenticator app as a backup to use in the meantime.
Where can you use a security key?
Start with your most valuable accounts: Google, Apple, Microsoft, your password manager, your social–media accounts and your government accounts.
When it comes to financial institutions, many banks don’t offer security-key protection as an option, though most leading crypto exchanges do.
What comes after security keys?
Security professionals and tech companies widely agree that passkeys are the future. They’re a new type of software option that combines the high security of a physical key with the convenience of biometrics such as your face or fingerprints. Passkeys are supported across the Android, iOS, Mac and Windows platforms, and some of your favourite sites already let you use them.
You can create a passkey on Facebook in security settings by following the app’s instructions under the security-key option. Dropbox has a similar passkey setup. Once you’re done, you’ll use your face or fingerprint as a second factor, instead of a code or key.
Eventually, physical security keys could be what we keep safe in strong boxes, as backups for our biometric-enabled passkeys. Even then, you’re probably going to want to have spares.
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