Today's news

  • TerrorismU.K. debates whether Britons helping ISIS as medics are terrorists

    Counterterrorism officials are debating how to categorize nine British students who had been studying medicine in Sudan, and recently travelled to Syria to work as medics for the Islamic State (ISIS). Are they terrorists? Have they even committed an offense? How officials treat this latest group of Westerners joining ISIS should they return to the United Kingdom may encourage or discourage others who are contemplating joining the fight in Syria and northern Iraq.

  • Law enforcementGrowing unease about local police agencies employing military gear

    A two-decade-old Pentagon program — the 1033 Program — makes available to state and local police military equipment that the military no longer wants. Without state or local oversight, state and local law enforcement, and even natural resources departments, can make requests through a designated state coordinator, who, with Pentagon officials, has final say on granting equipment requests. About $5.4 billion worth of equipment has been distributed since the program began in 1997. State lawmakers in many states want their states to have more of a say in what military gear law enforcement agencies in the state should get. Law enforcement in Florida requested, and received, forty-seven mine-resistant vehicles and thirty-six grenade launchers, while police in Texas received seventy-three mine-resistant vehicles and a $24.3 million aircraft.

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  • BlimpsAirship maker suing the U.S. Navy for loss of an advanced blimp in roof collapse

    Aeroscraft Aeronautical Systems has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy following the destruction of their Aeros airship. It was destroyed when a roof a 300,000 square foot Second World War-era hanger at Tustin Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, California, collapsed. Aeroscraft is seeking to reclaim all losses as well as an unspecified amount meant to compensate the company for the $3 billion capital financing plan which was halted after the airship was destroyed. The base closed in 1999, but the property is still owned by the Navy, which leased buildings and hangars on the base to private companies.

  • FirefightingFighting fires with low-frequency sound waves

    A thumping bass may do more than light up a party — it could flat out extinguish it, thanks to a new sound-blasting fire extinguisher by George Mason University undergrads. The fire extinguisher uses low-frequency sound waves to douse a blaze. Their sound-wave device is free of toxic chemicals and eliminates collateral damage from sprinkler systems. If mounted on drones, it could improve safety for firefighters confronting large forest fires or urban blazes.

  • FirefightingTethered robots to be the “eyes” of firefighters in “blind” conditions

    Researchers have developed revolutionary reins which enable robots to act like guide dogs, which could enable that firefighters moving through smoke-filled buildings could save vital seconds and find it easier to identify objects and obstacles. The small mobile robot — equipped with tactile sensors — would lead the way, with the firefighter following a meter or so behind holding a rein. The robot would help the firefighter move swiftly in “blind” conditions, while vibrations sent back through the rein would provide data about the size, shape and even the stiffness of any object the robot finds.

  • GridWhy rooftop solar is disruptive to utilities – and the grid

    By Seth Blumsack

    Electric utilities have a unique role in society and the economy, one that is rooted in a set of arrangements with state regulators that goes back nearly a century. In exchange for being granted a geographic monopoly on the distribution of electric power, the utility is responsible for ensuring that its transmission and distribution systems operate reliably. In other words, it is the utility’s responsibility to ensure that blackouts occur infrequently and with short duration. Power-generating panels, called solar photovoltaics (PV), represent the fastest-growing source of electric power in the United States – but the proliferation of roof-top PVs poses a problem for the business model of electric utilities, a problem similar to that telephone companies have been facing: The rise of “cord cutters” — people with a cell phone but no land-line — places land-line phone companies in a quandary. They must continue to maintain their network infrastructure with fewer customers to pay for it. Roof-top solar technology will eventually force a conversation about the fundamental role of the electric utility and who should have ultimate responsibility for providing reliable electricity, if anyone. Going off the grid has a certain appeal to an increasing segment of the population, but it is far from clear that such a distributed system can deliver the same level of reliability at such a low cost.

  • Perimeter protectionSensor cable monitors fences—and can even detect low-level drones

    Fenced-in areas, such as airports, nuclear power stations, industrial sites, or private plots of land, can now be monitored thanks to novel sensor technology that has been developed by a team of experimental physicists. The sensors respond immediately as soon as someone tries to climb over or cut through the fence, providing information on the precise location of the security breach.

  • Coastal infrastructureU.K. coastal railways at increasing risk from climate change

    Footage of a railway line suspended in mid-air and buffeted remorselessly by the storm that had caused the sea wall to collapse beneath it made for one of the defining images of 2014. Scenes such as those witnessed at Dawlish in Devon are set to become more frequent as a result of climate change, and the U.K. government and rail companies must face up to difficult funding decisions if rural areas currently served by coastal lines are to continue to be connected to the rail network. For railway builders in the mid-nineteenth century the coast was cheaper, flatter, and easier than using inland sites, one expert points out. “We wouldn’t have built these railway lines where they are if we had today’s knowledge.”

  • Water infrastructureEarthquake-proofing L.A.’s water infrastructure

    Since Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced his earthquake-safety proposal in December 2014, public attention has focused on requirements to retrofit old vulnerable buildings, but the plan also calls for fortifying the city’s vast network of water pipes and aqueducts. Water infrastructure is “the single biggest vulnerability we’re facing in Southern California,” said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones, who helped develop Garcetti’s earthquake-safety plans.

  • YemenSaudi Arabia launches attacks against Houthi insurgents in Yemen

    Dozens of Saudi Air Force jets, accompanied by fighter jets of several Gulf States, yesterday (Wednesday) launched a series of attacks against Shia’ Houthi insurgents in Yemen in an effort to beat back to progress of the Houthi forces across Yemen. The Saudis’ ultimate goal is to defeat the pro-Iranian Houthis, but the immediate Saudi worry is the growing presence of the Houthis – who hail from north Yemen – in and around the port city of Aden in south Yemen. The Saudi air strikes, carried out after consultations with the United States, are the first step in a broad military campaign which will include ground forces and will see the participation of other Arab states. Iran, through its regional agents – the Shi’a government in Baghdad; the Alawite Assad regime in Damascus; and the Shi’a Hezbollah militia in Lebanon – already calls the shots in three Arab countries. It appears that the Arab Sunni states have decided the draw the line in Yemen in order to deny Iran yet another regional gain and check the growth of Iran’s regional sway.

  • TerrorismTraining camps in Mauritania train foreign recruits for ISIS, al-Qaeda

    Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) could be working together at al-Qaeda-run training camps in the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, where at least eighty recruits from the United States, Canada, and Europe are being indoctrinated into radical jihad and training for attacks that could reach as far as the West. Mauritania’s roughly three million people are concentrated on the coast, around the capital of Nouakchott, while the rest of the vast country is a sparsely inhabited arid desert. This is where the al-Qaeda training camps are based.

  • CounterterrorismFBI needs to improve intelligence capabilities, hire more linguists: Report

    The FBI needs to improve its intelligence capabilities and hire more linguists to counter evolving threats to the United States, according to a 9/11 Review Commission reportexamining the bureau’s progress since the 9/11 attacks, which was released Wednesday. “Many of the findings and recommendations in this report will not be new to the FBI,” the report said. “The bureau is already taking steps to address them. In 2015, however, the FBI faces an increasingly complicated and dangerous global threat environment that will demand an accelerated commitment to reform. Everything is moving faster.”

  • AviationIn-flight plane control systems vulnerable to remote hacking: Experts

    Flaws in in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems and satellite communications leave commercial, private, and military planes vulnerable to hacking, according to cybersecurity experts. “We can still take planes out of the sky thanks to the flaws in the in-flight entertainment systems,” says one expert. “Quite simply put, we can theorize on how to turn the engines off at 35,000 feet and not have any of those damn flashing lights go off in the cockpit.” Terrorist groups are believed to lack the expertise to bring down a plane remotely, but it is their limitations, not aviation safeguards, which are keeping planes from being hacked.

  • EncryptionYahoo to offer user-friendly e-mail encryption service

    Yahoo has announced plans to create its own e-mail encryption plug-in for Yahoo Mail users this year, adding to already growing competition among Silicon Valley firms to capitalize on consumers increased privacy desires. The service will feature “end-to-end” encryption, or the locking up of message contents so that only the user and receiver have access to the information — typically a more advanced and time consuming process which involves specific software and encryption codes.

  • Chemical plant safetyChemical plants safety must be tightened to prevent a Bhopal-like disaster in the U.S.

    Late last week, hundreds of individuals and organizations sent a letter to President Barack Obama to say that time was running out for taking action to protect the U.S. population from the dangers of accidents or deliberate attacks at U.S. chemical plants. As a senator, Obama described chemical facilities in which dangerous chemicals were processed or stored as “stationary weapons of mass destruction spread all across the country.” On 2-3 December 1984, more than 500,000 people in the Indian city of Bhopal were exposed to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other chemicals from the near-by Union Carbide plant. About 16,000 died and 558,000 injured — 3,900 of them permanently disabled. Security experts say that a Bhopal-like disaster could happen in the United States

  • WaterWorld population may outpace water supply by mid-century

    Population growth could cause global demand for water to outpace supply by mid-century if current levels of consumption continue. It would not, however, be the first time this has happened, a new study finds. Using a delayed-feedback mathematical model which analyzes historic data to help project future trends, the researchers identified a regularly recurring pattern of global water use in recent centuries. Periods of increased demand for water — often coinciding with population growth or other major demographic and social changes — were followed by periods of rapid innovation of new water technologies that helped end or ease any shortages. The researchers’ conclusions: Technological advances will be needed in coming decades to avoid water shortages.

  • RadicalizationU.S. scrambling to identify, locate recruits to radical Islamist ideology

    Nearly 3,000 Europeans have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State (ISIS), but social media and court records suggest just about two dozen Americans have made it to the Middle East to fight with the group. Another two dozen or so have been stopped by the FBI and charged before they could fly to Turkey and cross over into the Syrian territories controlled by ISIS.

    U.S. law enforcement, with no clear understanding of how Americans are being recruited, are scrambling to identify U.S. residents attracted to radical Islamic ideology before those individuals try to travel or worse- launch an attack on U.S. soil.

  • TerrorismWould-be U.K. terrorist planned to behead a British soldier on a London street

    Nineteen-year-old Brusthom Ziamani has been sentenced to twenty-seven years in prison after being found guilty of planning to behead a British soldier on the streets of London, an act similar to Michael Adebolajo’s killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby. Ziamani was arrested on an east London street last August when a counterterrorism officer stopped him. On him, Ziamani had an Islamic State (ISIS) flag, a knife, and a hammer, having earlier researched the location of nearby Army cadet bases.

  • CybersecurityA 2-square-meter model city shows cyber-threats real cities face

    In a secret location in New Jersey, Ed Skoudis operates CyberCity, a model town of 15,000 people, which employs the same software and control systems used by power and water utilities in major cities. CyberCity has its own Internet service provider, bank, media outlets, military base, hospital, and school. The two-square-meter model town serves as a mock staging ground for the cyber threats faced by city officials around the world. There, computer security professionals get offensive and defensive training in their battle against hackers. Skoudis, founder of CounterHack, designed CyberCity four years ago when military clients complained that most cybersecurity training felt too much like video games.

  • CybersecurityAir-gapped computer systems can be hacked by using heat: Researchers

    Computers and networks are air-gapped – that is, kept approximately fifteen inches (40 cm) apart — when they need to be kept highly secure and isolated from unsecured networks, such as the public Internet or an unsecured local area network. Typically, air-gapped computers are used in financial transactions, mission critical tasks, or military applications. Israeli researchers have discovered a new method, called BitWhisper, to breach air-gapped computer systems. The new method enables covert, two-way communications between adjacent, unconnected PC computers using heat – meaning that hackers to hack information from inside an air-gapped network, as well as transmit commands to it.

  • PrivacyPeople act to protect privacy – after learning how often apps share personal information

    Many smartphone users know that free apps sometimes share private information with third parties, but few, if any, are aware of how frequently this occurs. A new study shows that when people learn exactly how many times these apps share that information, they rapidly act to limit further sharing. In an experiment, researchers found that one of the more effective alert messages which g grabbed the attention of phone users and caused them to act to protect their privacy, was: “Your location has been shared 5,398 times.”

  • InfrastructureDamage-sensing, self-repairing concrete

    Skin is renewable and self-repairing — our first line of defense against the wear and tear of everyday life. If damaged, a myriad of repair processes spring into action to protect and heal the body. Clotting factors seal the break, a scab forms to protect the wound from infection, and healing agents begin to generate new tissue. Taking inspiration from this remarkable living healthcare package, researchers are asking whether damage sensing and repair can be engineered into a quite different material: concrete. Their aim is to produce a “material for life,” one with an in-built first-aid system that responds to all manner of physical and chemical damage by self-repairing, over and over again.