Prisoner hacks prison, pirates in North Korea? This week in off-beat tech stories

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 04: Chimpanzee (L) and a gibbon skeletons are displayed at The Grant Museum of Zoology on September 4, 2012 in London, England. Containing 67,000 specimens, the Grant Museum of Zoology is the only one of it's kind in London. Started as a teaching collection in 1828 the collection displays only about 5% of all the specimens it holds. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) iStockphoto

This week we saw Facebook announce a massive change to its News Feed, a rare behind-the-scenes look at how Google creates its famous "doodles," and Microsoft got slapped with a massive $733 million fine for failing to keep up its settlement agreements in the European Union.

In another roundup of the top off-beat tech stories that made headlines over the past few days, we discuss prison hackers, a digital Vatican, and a possible ban on porn in the E.U.

And, it wouldn't be right if we didn't mention North Korea at least once.

Pirate Bay hoax, says it's "moving to North Korea"

Nobody is 100 percent sure which country The Pirate Bay, the most elusive website in the world, is hosted. But we can start narrowing it down after a stunt pulled by the site owners this week reneged on its claims that it was hosted in North Korea.

In a blog post, the pirate site said it had been offered "virtual asylum" in the equally elusive country, only days after it had relocated from Sweden to Norway and Spain. But when the Norway branch of the Pirate Party pulled the plug on hosting the site after facing pressure from local copyright groups, nobody was quite sure exactly which country would allow the renegade pirate site in.

While initial evidence suggested that the site's traffic routed through a Pyongyang-based server, this was quickly discredited after further evidence showed it was likely fake. Later that day, The Pirate Bay admitted on its Facebook page that the whole story was a hoax.

A similar prank was pulled on April Fool's Day in 2007, which probably should have been an indication that the file-sharing site wasn't being all that serious in its most recent claims.

Jailed hacker enrolls in IT class, hacks own prison

Don't let a convicted hacker anywhere near a computer, let alone if they're in the clink. That's the simple lesson that authorities at one prison in London, U.K. didn't think of when it allowed hacker Nicholas Webber to enroll in an IT class.

Webber ran the infamous GhostMarket cybercrime website, which credit cards and hacker tutorials were shared with other like-minded cybercriminals, before he was nicked by police in 2009. GhostMarket helped hackers steal more than $12.1 million from more than 65,000 bank accounts before the site was shuttered.

Want to guess what happens when a hacker has access to computers? According to the Daily Mail, U.K. authorities released very few details of the security breach, but police say Webber did not access any personal data from prison computers. The only reason the story is making rounds is because the prison's IT teacher claims he unfairly dismissed from his job.

San Francisco's Bay Bridge becomes LED light show

On its own, the Bay Bridge may not win a beauty pageant. But on Tuesday evening, the second-most famous bridge in San Francisco lit up in a 1.8-mile stretch of more than 25,000 twinkling lights.

Its running cost makes it one of the most energy efficient projects for its size in the U.S., with the entire display costing only $15 per night in electricity. And no doubt to the pleasure of the locals, this stunning artwork has been funded without a single cent coming out of the public purse.

The LED display, which will run for two years, is connected through a vast array of Ethernet, copper and fiber optic cables spanning more than 100,000 feet. The system will not have any remote access enabled to ensure that no pesky hackers can break in and "muck with the system," says Transdyn senior project manager Ray Cooper, who was contracted to install the lighting communications system.

E.U. "censors" citizens email after "porn ban" uproar

On Tuesday, the European Parliament will vote on a non-legally binding report, written with good intentions to push for the elimination of gender stereotypes in 27 member state bloc. However, buried in the text could led to an eventual "ban on all forms of pornography in the media" in the region, including on the Web.

While the report is not a draft legislative measure, a vote on it will form an "opinion" by the upper house of the E.U. that could be the basis of forming legislation in the future.

Vatican digitizes medieval manuscripts on petabyte-sized hard drives

The Vatican, hot on the heels of starting the process of electing a new pope, is going digital in a bid to protect around 89,000 historic manuscripts from the crumbling walls of the Vatican Library.

Currently only a couple of hundred of scholars can be physically present in the library at any given time due to the fragility of the walls and the frailty of the centuries-old books. But there's a plan to make the scripts more widely available to academics around the world, as well as the general public.

Cloud computing and online storage giant EMC is donating 2.8 petabytes of the total 45 petabytes worth of storage needed for the small Rome-based state to digitize the entire library, which contains some 8,900 incunabula that date as far back as the 4th century.

By comparison, the average hard drive size is about 500 gigabytes. The Vatican's new digital library will be made up of the equivalent of about 94,371 of these hard drives. The project, which will be carried out in three stages, will take around nine years to complete.

  • Zack Whittaker On Twitter»

    Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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