Today's news

  • CybersecurityTexas lawmakers on the Hill lead drive for cybersecurity legislation

    After recent high-profile cyberattacks on the U.S. private sector, Congress has been tasked with passing legislation that will address cybersecurity concerns including how the private sector should report data breaches to regulators and how the U.S. government should respond to state-sponsored cyberattacks. Three Texas Republican lawmakers, through leadership roles in committees and subcommittees, have been charged with exploring solutions to those concerns.

  • CybersecurityGovernment’s authority to protect consumer privacy questioned

    A case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuitin Philadelphia could determine what authority the federal government has in protecting consumer privacy on the Internet. Hotel giant Wyndham Worldwide Corp. argued in court that the Federal Trade Commission(FTC) unlawfully tried to enforce cybersecurity standards when the agency brought a case against Wyndham after hackers allegedly stole data from hundreds of thousands of customer accounts in a series of attacks between April 2008 and January 2010.

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  • DHS contractsDHS termination of bio-detection contract questioned

    In February 2014, six months before Silicon Valley startup NVS delivered the first prototypes of its polymerase chain reaction (PCR) pathogen detector to DHS, the department sent NVS’s chief executive Hans Fuernkranz a notice terminating the project. According to a 26 November 2014 draft audit report by DHS’s inspector general’s office, the decision was improperly made by a single agency official without supporting evidence and “against S&T [DHS Science & Technology Directorate] subject matter expert advice.”The official who made the decision to cancel the project had expressed concerns about the cost associated with the NVS contract, and said the contract was terminated because existing technologies could better meet the agency’s needs for confronting bio-threats. The auditors say, however, that they “did not identify evidence to substantiate any of the concerns.”

  • Transportation securityTerrorists shift focus of attacks from air transportation to rail systems

    Terrorists have shifted their focus in recent years away from attacking airlines to attacking subway and rail systems, according to an analysis of terrorist attacks over a 30-year period from 1982 to 2011. The author of the new study notes that in a previous analysis, for the period 1968 to 10 September 2001, he concluded that air travel within the United States entailed a greater risk of a terrorist attack than “virtually any other activity.” Statistically significant evidence, however, points to a growing focus of terrorist attacks against ground mass transit.

  • Nuclear forensicsNuclear forensics to the aid of nuclear detectives

    Fans of the popular TV series “CSI” know that the forensics experts who investigate crime scenes are looking for answers to three key questions: “Who did it; how did they do it; and can we stop them from doing it again?” The field of nuclear forensics has similar goals and uses similar techniques — but with even higher stakes. “In nuclear forensics, we want to know first, is someone able to put together the parts to make a nuclear weapon and set it off?” says one researcher. “And second, if one is set off, can we find out who did it, how they did it and are they going to do it again? Like traditional forensics, we’re looking for nuclear signatures, just like fingerprints; we’re looking for the technological and material clues and evidence to tell us what somebody had done to make this unfortunate thing happen.”

  • Nuclear powerFunding extended for simulated nuclear reactor project

    Hard on the heels of a five-year funding renewal, modeling, and simulation (M&S) technology developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory as part of the Consortium for the Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL) will now be deployed to industry and academia under a new inter-institutional agreement for intellectual property. CASL is a U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Innovation Hub established in 2010 to develop advanced M&S capabilities that serve as a virtual version of existing, operating nuclear reactors. As announced by DOE in January, the hub would receive up to $121.5 million over five years, subject to congressional appropriations.

  • PoisoningMeals served to Turkey’s president Erdogan tested for poison

    Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has implemented strict new measures to protect his personal security. One of these measures: Every meal he is served – both at home and abroad — is rigorously tested to make sure it does not contain any poisonous materials inserted by a would-be assassin. Dr. Cevdet Erdol, Erdogan’s personal physician, said that a special food analysis laboratory will be built at Erdogan’s lavish presidential palace to make sure all his food is safe to eat. “It’s usually not through bullets that prominent figures are being assassinated these days,” Erdol told the Hurriyet newspaper on Tuesday.

  • IranObama: Deal depends on Iran agreeing to a verifiable 10-year freeze on nuclear activity

    President Barack Obama said yesterday (Monday) that Iran must commit to a verifiable freeze of its nuclear activities for at least ten years in order to make a nuclear deal possible. He said that there are still considerable gaps between the position of Iran and that of the P5+1 group, and that the odds were still against reaching an agreement. He said there was a “substantial disagreement” between his administration and the government of Israel over how to achieve their shared goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The goal of the United States is to make sure “there’s at least a year between us seeing them try to get a nuclear weapon and them actually being able to obtain one,” Obama said.

  • Patriot ActClapper: Congress would be blamed if Section 215 is not renewed -- and “untoward incident” occurred

    James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said that if Congress failed to reauthorize a controversial provision of the Patriot Act by June, then lawmakers who opposed the renewal of the provision – Section215 – would bear the blame if a terrorist attack, which could have been prevented by actions Section 215 permits, happened. Clapper said that if Congress decided not to renew the Patriot Act, or decided to renew it without Section 215, and an “untoward incident” occurred as a result, he hopes “everyone involved in that decision assumes responsibility” and does not just blame the intelligence community.

  • SurveillanceFISA court reauthorizes NSA’s bulk metadata collection until 1 June

    More than a year after President Barack Obama announced that he will work with Congress to curb the National Security Agency’s (NSA) dragnet surveillance program which collects large amounts of U.S. phone metadata, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved last week a government request to continue allowing the agency to operate its bulk data collection until 1 June, when the legal authority for the program is set to expire. The required reauthorization of the program every ninety days has already been granted four other times — March, June, September, December — since Obama made his announcement in January 2014.

  • Real IDIllinois scrambles to meet Real ID deadline

    State officials in Illinois are working to make driver’s licenses and identification cards comply with the Real ID Act of 2005before commercial air travel restrictions are implemented in 2016. Illinois identification cards do not meet minimum standards mandated by Congress in 2005. The Real ID Act requires states to verify personal information of applicants including birth certificates. The information is then electronically scanned and stored in a federal database, and data can be shared among states and the federal government.

  • Rail securityApplying life-saving lessons from past train derailments

    Firefighters and first responders who were called two weeks ago to an oil train derailment near Mount Carbon, West Virginia applied life-saving lessons learned from a rail disaster which occurred thirty-seven years ago. When the CSX train derailed near Mount Carbon last month, local firefighters could have sprayed water and foam on the fire from the explosion, but instead they evacuated residents, maintained a safe distance, and let the fire run its course — which took four days. Choosing not to put the fire out with water likely prevented contamination of the Kanawha River, a local source of drinking water.

  • Climate & ConflictClimate change and the origins of the Syrian war

    A new study says a record drought that ravaged Syria in 2006-10 was likely stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising. Researchers say the drought, the worst ever recorded in the region, destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement, and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011. A growing body of research suggests that extreme weather, including high temperatures and droughts, increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars. Researchers project that man-made global warming will heighten future conflicts, or that it is already doing so. The new study, combining climate, social, and economic data, is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at these questions in relation to a current war.

  • DroughtsWarming temperatures cause of recent California droughts

    California has experienced more frequent drought years in the last two decades than it has in the past several centuries. That observed uptick is primarily the result of rising temperatures in the region, which have climbed to record highs as a result of climate change, Stanford scientists say. Researchers have examined the role that temperature has played in California droughts over the past 120 years. They also examined the effect that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are having on temperature and precipitation, focusing on the influence of global warming upon California’s past, present, and future drought risk. The team found that the worst droughts in California have historically occurred when conditions were both dry and warm, and that global warming is increasing the probability that dry and warm years will coincide. The findings suggest that California could be entering an era when nearly every year that has low precipitation also has temperatures similar to or higher than 2013-14, when the statewide average annual temperature was the warmest on record.

  • EnergyElectric fields increase oil flow in the Keystone pipeline

    Traditionally, pipeline oil is heated over several miles in order to reduce the oil’s thickness (which is also known as viscosity), but this requires a large amount of energy and counter-productively increases turbulence within the flow. Researchers propose a more efficient way of improving flow rates by applying an electric field to the oil. The idea is to electrically align particles within the crude oil, which reduces viscosity and turbulence. The researchers have shown that a strong electric field applied to a section of the Keystone pipeline can smooth oil flow and yield significant pump energy savings.

  • DHS fundingHouse votes for one-week extension of DHS funding

    On Friday, just hours before the partial shut-down of DHS, the House Republican leadership, with the help of Democratic lawmakers, managed to secure a majority for a one-week extension of the funding for the department. The vote for a one-week extension passed 357 to 60 — but not before a humiliating defeat for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and members of the GOP House leadership. The leadership was convinced it had the votes for a three-week extension, but that proposal was defeated when more than fifty Republican lawmakers bolted and voted against the bill – and their leaders. Democrats lawmakers then came to the help of the speaker, voting for the one-week extension on what they regard as a tacit understanding that toward the end of this week the House will vote on a “clean” extension of the DHS budget to the end of the fiscal year.

  • BiometricsFBI’s biometric data center key to identifying Jihadi John

    The FBI is unlikely to release details of how, working with allies in the United Kingdom, it managed to accomplish the task of identifying “Jihadi John” with only video footage of the suspect’s hidden face and a voice with a British accent. Identifying Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born, British-educated man in his mid-20s, was likely done at the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division(CJIS), which houses the bureau’s Biometric Center of Excellence(BCE). At BCE, the FBI uses the $1.2 billion dollar Next Generation Identification(NGI) software to scan photos, aliases, physical traits, fingerprints, and voiceprints. The software is interoperable with the Pentagon’s Automated Biometric Identification System(ABIS) and DHS’s Automated Biometric Identification System(IDENT).

  • African securityU.S. imposes sanctions on three Nigerian Hezbollah operatives

    Nigeria is home to a small Shiite Lebanese population, many members of which emigrated for work in the mid-1900s.Roughly five million Shiites living in Nigeria support the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), an organization initially funded by Iran in the early 1980s to establish an Iranian-style revolution in Nigeria.Last Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on three Nigerians of Lebanese descent, accusing them of being part of Hezbollah’s Foreign Relations Department (FRD) in the Nigerian capital Abuja.Hezbollah is operating in at least forty-five countries, eleven of which are in Africa.

  • EpidemicsTracking, mapping epidemics in order to limit their spread

    Researchers are using the new Biosurveillance Gateway Web site to map epidemics in order better to understand and prevent deadly diseases. The Web site relies on lab databases and tools from around the world, so that registered health officials and researchers can track outbreaks better to predict how a pathogen might spread in the United States and elsewhere. Though still in its beta state, the Web site provides spread information and mapping on a variety of diseases, including ones that only infect animals or plants. Theoretical computational software is integrated into the maps to help predict what a future epidemic might do, and the histories of recorded outbreaks across the globe are presented for comparison.

  • In the trenchesQuantum radar can detect stealth aircraft

    A prototype quantum radar that has the potential to detect objects which are invisible to conventional systems has been developed by an international research team. The new breed of radar is a hybrid system that uses quantum correlation between microwave and optical beams to detect objects of low reflectivity such as cancer cells or aircraft with a stealth capability. Because the quantum radar operates at much lower energies than conventional systems, it has the long-term potential for a range of applications in biomedicine including non-invasive NMR scans.

  • Rare earth materialsRecycling valuable rare earth metals from old electronics

    Rare earth metals are valuable ingredients in a variety of modern technologies and are found in cell phones, hard disk drives in computers, and other consumer electronics, which are frequently discarded for newer and more up-to-date versions. U.S. consumers disposed of 3.4 million tons of electronics waste in 2012. Continuously increasing global demand for new consumer electronics in turn drives demand for rare-earth metals, which are difficult and costly to mine. Scientists have developed a two-step recovery process that makes recycling rare earth metals easier and more cost-effective.

  • EarthquakesNew map outlines landslide risks in western Oregon

    Landslides are already a serious geologic hazard for western Oregon. During an earthquake, however, lateral ground forces can be as high as half the force of gravity. The Coast Range is of special concern because it will be the closest part of the state to the actual subduction zone earthquake, and will experience the greatest shaking and ground movement. New landslide maps have been developed that will help the Oregon Department of Transportation determine which coastal roads and bridges in Oregon are most likely to be usable following a major subduction zone earthquake that is expected in the future of the Pacific Northwest.