A Security Researcher’s Attempt to Prank the DMV Backfired in a Spectacularly Expensive Way

tommaso79/iStock via Getty Images
tommaso79/iStock via Getty Images

A security researcher known as Droogie took to the DEF CON hacking and security conference stage last weekend to regale the audience with his story of getting bested by the very bureaucratic system he was trying to exploit.

As Gizmodo reports, it all started when Droogie decided to register his car with a vanity license plate that read “NULL,” a word that computer programs use to designate something that has no value. He thought that the Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) systems might misinterpret his license plate as an entry with no value and fail to catalog his car’s data.

ALPR systems are built into surveillance cameras on police vehicles, streetlights, highway overpasses, and elsewhere, collecting license plate numbers along with the time, date, and location. The cameras don’t just catalog your car’s data if you’re speeding or doing something otherwise suspicious—they'll capture license plate data whenever it comes into view. It’s not exactly clear when and why the systems keep track of your whereabouts, let alone who’s watching and how they’re using the information, so Droogie’s scheme was more about protecting personal privacy, rather than trying to dodge tickets.

His hypothesis proved partially correct: The systems didn’t properly process his “NULL” license plate, but the outcome was basically the opposite of what he was hoping for. First, upon trying to renew his tags, the DMV website informed him that his license number was invalid. Then he was hit with a barrage of parking tickets that totaled more than $12,000, because a processing center had used “NULL” for all parking misdemeanors committed by unidentified vehicles, and the system mistakenly attributed them all to Droogie’s car. According to Mashable, he told his DEF CON audience, “I was like … 'I’m gonna be invisible.' Instead, I got all the tickets.”

After Droogie contacted the DMV and the Los Angeles Police Department, they helped erase the fines from his account and advised him to change his plates so it doesn’t happen again, since there are no plans to alter the processing system that was assigning him the tickets in the first place. He refused, insisting he "didn’t do anything wrong." As of his DEF CON presentation, Droogie has received another $6000 in misattributed tickets.

[h/t Gizmodo]

UFO Enthusiast Donates 30,000 Sighting-Related Documents to Canadian University

mscornelius/iStock via Getty Images
mscornelius/iStock via Getty Images

For most of human history, people have observed unusual phenomena in the sky. Unidentified flying objects are mysterious by nature, but thanks to a new collection at the University of Manitoba, they're now a lot easier to study. As Live Science reports, science writer and Canadian ufologist Chris Rutkowski has donated 30,000 documents related to UFO sightings to the school.

Rutkowski has been collecting reports of UFOs since 1975. In the past 40-plus years, he has published articles and 10 books on the subject of unidentified flying objects, with most of his research highlighting Canada's history of the strange happenings.

Many of the items he's donating focus on one case in particular: the Falcon Lake incident. On May 20, 1967, amateur geologist Stefan Michalak was looking for quartz near Falcon Lake in Manitoba when he spotted two glowing, cigar-shaped objects floating in the sky. One landed nearby, and when he approached the craft, he was scorched by hot gas that set his clothes on fire and left a grid of welts on his body. He was admitted to a hospital in Winnipeg to be treated for the burns and experienced headaches, blackouts, and diarrhea for weeks after the encounter. The Falcon Lake report is considered one of the best-documented UFO cases in Canadian history.

When the new collection becomes available as part of the University of Manitoba's archives, the public will be able to read documents related to that incident and others like it for the first time. The collection includes photos, research notes, reports, publications, and UFO zines Rutkowski has amassed over the years. Twenty thousand items are UFO reports filed over the past several decades, and 10,000 are UFO-related documents from the Canadian government.

To make the files accessible to even more people, the university is launching a crowdfunding campaign to support the digitization of the collection. You can donate to it here.

[h/t Live Science]

Archaeologists Uncover Infant Remains Wearing Skulls of Older Children

© Sara Juengst
© Sara Juengst

Archaeologists in Salango, Ecuador, recently uncovered two infant skeletons buried with "helmets" made from the skulls of older children, Gizmodo reports.

The discovery is the first of its kind, researchers write in a paper published in the journal Latin American Antiquity. To date, the Salango discovery presents the only known evidence of ancient people using juvenile skulls as burial headgear.

The two burial mounds where the skeletons were uncovered date back to about 100 BCE. It's likely that the skull "helmets" were cut and fitted to the infants' heads while the former were "still fleshed," the researchers write. One infant, estimated to be about 18 months old at the time of death, wears the skull of a child between 4 and 12 years old. The “helmet” was positioned so that the wearer looked “through and out of the cranial vault,” the paper reports (the cranial vault is the area of the skull where the brain is stored). The second infant, which was between 6 and 9 months old at death, is fitted with the skull of a child between 2 and 12 years old.

Images of infant skeletons covered with the bones of older children found in Ecuador
© Sara Juengst

But why? The archaeologists involved in the discovery aren’t totally sure. Ash found near the burial site suggests that a volcano may have impeded agriculture, leading to malnourishment and starvation. The skull helmets could have been an effort to offer the infants additional protection beyond the grave. It’s also possible, though unlikely, that the children could have been sacrificed in a ritual to protect the community from natural disasters. That’s less probable, though; none of the bones show any evidence of trauma, but they did show signs of anemia, suggesting that all four children were sick at their time of death. Researchers hope DNA and isotope analyses can offer more information on the discovery.

Whatever the reason is, it’s important not to judge with modern eyes, lead author Sara Juengst told Gizmodo. “Our conception of death is based in our modern medical, religious, and philosophical views,” she said. “We need to think about things in their own context as much as possible and try to keep our own prejudices or ideas about 'right/wrong' out of the analysis.”

[h/t Gizmodo]

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