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Google begins offering ‘passkeys’ to replace passwords

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(Last Updated On: May 7, 2023)

Good news for all the password-haters out there: Google has taken a big step towards making them an afterthought by adding “passkeys” as a more straightforward and secure way to log in to its services.

Here’s what you need to know:

What are passkeys?
Passkeys offer a safer alternative to passwords and texted confirmation codes. Users will not ever see them directly — instead, an online service such as Gmail will use them to communicate directly with a trusted device to allow the user to log in, Associated Press reported.

All users have to do is verify their identity on the device using a PIN unlock code, biometrics such as fingerprints or face scans, or a more sophisticated physical security dongle.

Google designed its passkeys to work with a variety of devices, so users can use them on iPhones, Macs and Windows computers as well as Google’s own Android phones.

Why are passkeys necessary?

Thanks to clever hackers and human fallibility, passwords are too easy to steal or defeat. And making them more complex only opens the door to users defeating themselves.

For starters, many people choose passwords they can remember — and easy-to-recall passwords are also easy to hack. For years, analysis of hacked password caches found that the most common password in use was “password123”.

A more recent study by the password manager NordPass found that it is now only “password”. This isn’t fooling anyone.

Passwords are also frequently compromised in security breaches. Stronger passwords are more secure, but only if users choose ones that are unique, complex and non-obvious.

And once you have settled on “erVex411$%” as your password, good luck remembering it.

In short, passwords put security and ease of use directly at odds. Software-based password managers, which can create and store complex passwords, are valuable tools that can improve security.

But even password managers have a master password that needs protection — and that plunges users back into the swamp, AP reported.

In addition to sidestepping all those problems, passkeys have one additional advantage over passwords. They are specific to particular websites, so scammer sites cannot steal a passkey from a dating site and use it to raid bank accounts.

How do I start using passkeys?

The first step is to enable them for a user’s Google account. On any trusted phone or computer, open the browser and sign into the Google account. Then visit the page g.co/passkeys and click the option to “start using passkeys”.

If on an Apple device, the user will first be prompted to set up the Keychain app if it is not already in use. This securely stores passwords and now passkeys as well.

The next step is to create the actual passkeys that will connect a trusted device. Android phones are automatically ready to use passkeys, though users still have to enable the function first.

On the same Google account page noted above, look for the “Create a passkey” button. Pressing it will open a window and let users create a passkey either on the current device or on another device. There is no wrong choice; the system will simply notify users if that passkey already exists.

If on a PC that cannot create a passkey, it will open a QR code that users can scan with the ordinary cameras on iPhones and Android devices. Users may have to move the phone closer until the message “Set up passkey” appears on the image.

And then what?

From that point on, signing into Google will only require an email address. If passkeys are set up properly, users will simply get a message on their phones or other devices asking them for their fingerprint, face or a PIN.

Of course, their password is still there. But if passkeys take off, odds are good users will not need it very much. Users may even choose to delete it from their accounts someday.

Science & Technology

China launch of relay satellite Queqiao-2 for lunar probe mission successful

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(Last Updated On: April 12, 2024)

China National Space Administration (CNSA) said on Friday its launch of a key signal relay satellite was a “complete success” and it would serve as the communication bridge for its future lunar probe missions for years to come, state media reported.

China launched the satellite Queqiao-2, which was named after a mythological bridge made of magpies, and two miniature satellites, Tiandu-1 and Tiandu-2, on March 20.

Queqiao-2 will be used as a communications bridge between the ground operations on earth and upcoming lunar probe missions on the far side of the moon until at least 2030.

The moon’s near side always faces earth. That means data transfers from the far side are impossible because there is no direct line of sight.

Queqiao-2 researcher and developer Xiong Liang described the satellite as “the main switch” of the whole fourth phase of lunar missions, according to state television CCTV.

“Only when the main switch is flipped on, all the communications can kick off,” Xiong said.

Queqiao-2 will orbit the moon and relay signals to and from the Chang’e-6 mission, which expected to be launched in May. The robotic Chang’e-6 probe will seek to retrieve samples from an ancient basin, acquiring lunar material from the moon’s hidden side for the first time.

Queqiao-2 will also be used as a relay platform for the Chang’e-7 lunar mission in 2026 and the Chang’e-8 mission in 2028.

The functions and performance of Queqiao-2 met mission requirements and it will be able to provide relay communication services for China’s lunar exploration projects and future lunar missions for China and other countries, said the CNSA, according to CCTV.

Queqiao-2 entered its targeted elliptical orbit on April 2 after a correction midway, near-moon braking and orbital manoeuvre around the moon, CNSA said.

The satellite has successfully communicated with Chang’e 4, which was the first spacecraft to perform a soft landing on the far side of the moon and is still carrying out its exploration mission. It also communicated with the Chang’e-6 probe while it is still on the ground earlier this month.

The successful launch of Queqiao-2 comes after the failed launch of another lunar spacecraft DRO-A/B satellites, which was intended to enter the moon’s distant retrograde orbit (DRO).

China has not released any information on whether or not the satellites can be retrieved.

 

(Reuters)

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Science & Technology

Russia aborts planned test launch of new heavy-lift space rocket

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(Last Updated On: April 11, 2024)

Russian space officials on Tuesday aborted the test launch of a new heavy-lift rocket from its far-eastern launch pad.

The Angara-A5 rocket was scheduled to lift off from the Vostochny space launch facility at 0900 GMT Tuesday, but the launch was aborted two minutes before, AP reported.

Yuri Borisov, head of Roscosmos state space corporation, said the automatic safety system canceled the launch after registering a flaw in the oxidizer tank pressurization system.

He said the next launch attempt was set for Wednesday.

Tuesday’s launch was to be the fourth for the Angara-A5, a heavy-lift version of the new Angara family of rockets that has been developed to replace the Soviet-designed Proton rockets.

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China, Thailand sign pacts on outer space, lunar outposts

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(Last Updated On: April 5, 2024)

China and Thailand signed initial pacts on Friday to cooperate on peaceful use of outer space and international lunar research stations, the Chinese space agency said.

The countries aim to form a joint working group on space exploration and applications, encompassing data exchanges and personnel training, according to the memorandums of understanding.

They also agreed to cooperate on plans for appraising, engineering and managing lunar research stations, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said in a statement.

In 2023, China selected a space weather monitor developed by Thailand for its Chang’e-7 lunar probe mission, the agency added.

To be launched around 2026, the Chang’e-7 mission will explore resources on the moon’s south pole, looking to sustain long-term human habitation. China aims to land astronauts on the moon by 2030.

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