AVG Signal Blog Security AVG News 5 Feel-Good Technology Stories From 2020

Written by Joseph Regan
Published on December 18, 2020

1. Modern technology solves a 32-year old missing person case

It’s often said that technology brings us together, but for some people, that statement couldn’t be more literal. Such was the case when a Chinese couple, Li Jingzhi and Mao Zhenjing, were finally reunited with their son, Mao Yin, who was kidnapped in 1988, 32 years ago.

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    He had been stolen from them in Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province, and had been sold to another couple to raise as their own son. But in spite of the fact that they had very few leads, his birth parents never stopped searching for him. In fact, his mother, Li, distributed more than 100,000 missing child fliers, and even went on TV several times to both raise awareness of the issue of child abductions as well as plead for her own child to be returned. In 2007, she joined a volunteer organization that helped reunite missing children with their families, and through her work there, helped 20 families find their lost kin. 

    However, her own long search finally came to an end earlier this May, when officials used facial recognition software and DNA testing to find Mao and return him to his long-lost parents. Now 34 years old and running a home decoration business, Mao said he’s going to move in with his parents and hopefully catch up on lost time. 

    There are lots of reasons to be anxious about facial recognition technology. But we can all agree that any technology can be applied to a good cause, and that’s certainly the case here.

    2. Nurse raises thousands to connect the elderly with their loved ones

    COVID-19 has hit everyone hard, but it certainly hit some harder than others. The elderly don’t often get the care and attention they need in the best of times, but with a pandemic and social distancing to worry about, many seniors have been feeling isolated. 

    Sarah Firth, a nurse in Massachusetts, noticed that and decided to do something about it.

    Originally, all she wanted was to raise 300 dollars to donate an iPad for her local nursing home, so she started a Facebook fundraiser page called “FaceTime for Nana” on St. Patrick’s Day. But before long, she had raised over $3,000, and realized she could do more than just give one iPad to one nursing home. So, she started distributing iPads to elderly homes all across the state, allowing them to use modern technology to see their families again. 

    It was a small act of kindness, born from a genuine concern during a time of great anxiety, that grew into something much bigger. Think about that next time you feel as if the world is just too dark: sometimes a little spark of goodness is all it takes to brighten the lives of hundreds of people.

    3. Yale offers free happiness lessons online

    Happiness and joy might feel magical, but like all emotions, they’re grounded in science, biology, and chemistry. And given how this year has been going, a lot of us don’t have much of that chemistry going on. Which is why Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut decided to make its ultra-popular brain-hacking course, the one that teaches you how to be happy, free for the world to enjoy.

    Called "Psychology and the Good Life,” this class that took a scientific approach to finding happiness quickly became the most popular class Yale had ever offered in its over 300 years of history. And while Yale technically offered the course online back in 2018, this year, they pushed it hard, trying to encourage people to enroll so they can better cope with the anxiety and distress the year has offered them. And reports are indicating that it’s working. 

    With over 3 million people enrolled in the class, which is one of the top-rated on all of Coursera, the internet is empowering millions of people to get a Yale-level education on the secret to happiness, spreading knowledge — and hopefully smiles — the world over.

    4. We got the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020

    For years now, the Achilles heel of our increasingly connected world was the frankly lackluster attitude many IoT developers had for their software’s own security. The “hackability” of things like smart TV’s, internet-connected refrigerators, and other online devices created a golden opportunity for hackers, who were able to both infiltrate those networks using flawed IoT security, and use those devices in their increasingly elaborate hacking schemes, like the world-famous Trickbot botnet

    The Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in September, doesn’t solve this problem entirely — in fact, it only scratches the surface, as it only forces IoT devices used by the federal government to have reviewed and improved IoT security. However, it does signal a renewed awareness — and interest — in the world of IoT security from our legislative bodies. Furthermore, it’s a signal to IoT producers that their days of coasting by on minimal effort are coming to an end. After all: if they want to do business with the government, now they’ll need to improve their security. And any improvements of that nature are bound to leak into the consumer world sooner or later. 

    Still, we’re a ways away from being able to be complacent and comfortable with our IoT devices. Which means you don’t get to drop your guard just yet!

    5. Microsoft is dismantling a dangerous botnet

    It’s hard to find “good” news in the cybersecurity world. It’s not often that hackers are arrested, or groups disbanded, so generally speaking a good day in the cybersecurity world is a quiet one. After all: we’re on the defensive, so as long as data’s not leaking and malware isn’t spreading, we’re doing our jobs.

    That said, some groups can go on the offensive in the fight for cybersecurity, and Microsoft has claimed a big win in that field by nearly completely dismantling the aforementioned Trickbot, a malware botnet that had infected over a million devices since 2016.

    Hackers had been using Trickbot to fuel a number of nefarious schemes, such as spreading ransomware, hijacking browsing sessions to steal valuable user data, and infecting IoT devices. In short, it was cybersecurity public enemy #1, and the fine folks at Microsoft realized that playing on the defensive wasn’t good enough. So, with a court order and the coordination of telecommunication providers around the globe, Microsoft was able to take apart the botnet, piece by piece, until the once-mighty weapon had been reduced in size and power by about 94%, thanks to Microsoft disabling 120 of the 128 Trickbot servers.

    Unfortunately, the battle isn’t over: new servers can be created, and the people behind this network have evaded law enforcement. But Microsoft is still winning, and if they can manage to shut this down for good, cybersecurity experts everywhere will be able to rest just a little bit easier at night… along with the rest of us.

    Wrapping up

    2020 has been challenging, and 2021, while a new year and a new start, won’t necessarily offer us a reprieve from some of the biggest problems of our terrible twenties. We’ll need discipline, determination, and good ol’ fashioned hard work to see ourselves through these trying times, so make sure you stay on the lookout for these bits of good news in the future: hope is the fuel your heart needs to stay the course with your head held high.

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    AVG News
    Joseph Regan