Business

  • Cyber insuranceInsurance industry wary about insuring Bitcoin companies, transactions

    Consumers worldwide are engaging in 100,000 financial transactions every day using Bitcoins. The currency has moved beyond its secretive past and has been embraced by tech firms who are interested in it from a technological perspective and for its investment potential. Venture capital companies have invested more than $670 million worth of Bitcoins into security-related companies. An estimated $3.5 billion worth of Bitcoins are in circulation, 82,000 merchants now accept the currency, and eight million users have set up Bitcoin “wallets” in which they store and manage the currency. As of Monday one bitcoin is worth about $240 U.S. dollars. As a digital currency, Bitcoin is vulnerable to cyber theft — and a s a result, cybersecurity has been a concern among many insurers considering policies that cover Bitcoins.

  • BoycottsU.S. consumer boycott of French-sounding products during 2003 Iraq War

    Remember “freedom fries?” In 2002, as the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush was gearing up to invade Iraq, tensions were rising in the U.N. Security Council, where France, deeply opposed to an attack on Iraq, threatened to use its veto power to stop the action. In the United States, sentiment toward Paris plummeted, particularly among conservative Americans. Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly announced on the air he was boycotting French products, and Capitol Hill cafeterias famously renamed French fries as “freedom fries,” in an edible admonishment of the French government. Do U.S. consumers boycott products in response to international conflict? Two professors at the University of Virginia say that in the case of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the answer is “yes.”

  • CybersecurityBreach of background-checks database may lead to blackmail

    Newly released documents show how hackers infiltrated servers used by US Investigations Services(USIS), a federal contractor which conducts background checks for DHS. In a House Oversight and Government Reform Committeehearing last week, Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) said more than 27,000 personnel seeking security clearances likely were affected by the USIS breach. Similar hacks also affected servers at the Office of Personnel Management(OPM), which holds information on security clearance investigations. Once hackers have a list of employees who possess government security clearances, they can exploit other aspects of those employees’ lives for malicious gain.

  • EnergySafety procedures have not kept up with new, deeper offshore oil drilling operations

    Just five years after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, which leaked roughly 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, federal agencies have approved even deeper series of next-generation wells, which critics cite as too new to be properly regulated. Concerned scientists and industry officials are arguing that the recently allowed wells have not yet developed proper corresponding safety procedures to prevent a disaster similar, or worse, than the one which befell the Macondo well.

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  • Food securityCoffee production starting to decline as a result of warming

    Coffee is the world’s most valuable tropical export crop and the industry supports an estimated 100 million people worldwide. Scientists have provided the first on-the-ground evidence that climate change has already had a substantial impact on coffee production in the East African Highlands region. The study, using data from the northern Tanzanian highlands, verifies for the first time the increasing night time (minimum) temperature as the most significant climatic variable being responsible for diminishing Coffea arabica coffee yields between 1961 and 2012 and proves that climate change is an ongoing reality.

  • Cyber insuranceTo bolster the world’s inadequate cyber governance framework, a “Cyber WHO” is needed

    A new report on cyber governance commissioned by Zurich Insurance Group highlights challenges to digital security and identifies new opportunities for business. It calls for the establishment of guiding principles to build resilience and the establishment of supranational governance bodies such as a Cyber Stability Board and a “Cyber WHO.”

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  • Border security More money, different approach offer opportunities to border security tech companies

    The number of border agents has reached roughly 21,000, up from 5,000 two decades ago. In fiscal year 2012, spending for border and immigration enforcement totaled almost $18 billion — 24 percent more than the combined budgets of the FBI, the DEA, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (total: $14.4 billion). One major trend driving the border security industry is the government’s shift from large-scale border security infrastructure projects to small unit security systems.

  • Quick takes // By Ben FrankelSTEM education, STEM jobs, and immigration

    Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) is a leading critic of immigration reform which would legalize the status of undocumented immigrants, and a chief proponent of limiting the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States. One of his arguments is that Americans with college STEM degrees cannot get a job in their fields because these jobs are taken by skilled foreigners. There are two problems with Sessions’s argument: First, his definition of “STEM job” is so narrow, that Apple CEO Tim Cook and a Noble Prize scientist who works as a university professor would not be regarded as holding STEM jobs; second, his argument contradicts what basic economic teaches: Skilled immigrants contribute to American prosperity and security, and the labor market is not a zero-sum proposition.

  • Coastal infrastructureMiami Beach luxury real estate market is booming in the face of rising sea levels

    By 2100, sea levels could rise by as much as six feet. Miami Beach, with its dense population and low altitude, is on the list of U.S. cities at greatest risk. This recognition has not slowed down the region’s luxury real estate market. To help drain city streets during high tides and floods, Miami Beach is installing an eighty pumping system units expected to cost between $300 and $500 million.Scientists are skeptical of plans to solve the city’s flood and tackle sea level rise problem with pumps, saying the only solution is rebuilding and retrofitting some city infrastructure at higher levels – and moving some neighborhood inland. “If you spend [the money] on the easy stuff, you’re not going to have any money left for the hard stuff,” says one geologist. “So my concern is the longer-term sea level rise that’s going to get real expensive — and if we’re all broke because we blew all that money saving a few places that should have been moved.”

  • EarthquakesOklahoma scientists warn about fracking-induced earthquakes

    Using stronger language than in the past, the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) announced on Tuesday that the state’s ongoing waves of earthquakes are “very unlikely to represent a naturally occurring process.” The OGS says that fracking was likely a cause for the increased seismicity. The state’s seismicity rate in 2013 was seventy times greater than the rate before 2008, and rapidly grew to about 600 times greater today, according to the OGS. The average oil well in Oklahoma requires about ten barrels of saltwater to be injected for every barrel of oil that can be pumped out.

  • Climate & businessClimate change will worsen natural catastrophes’ impact on corporate creditworthiness: S&P

    Generally, companies have so far managed to mitigate the effects of natural catastrophes through liquidity management, insurance protection, natural disaster risk management, and post-event recovery measures. The more frequent and extreme climatic events many scientists predict, however, could adversely affect companies’ credit profiles in the future. Standard & Poor’s says that greater disclosure of firms’ exposure to extreme natural catastrophes should encourage them to bolster their resilience to these events and thereby aid transparency.

  • CybersecurityEnergy companies prime targets for hackers

    A third of the cyber incidents handled in 2014 by DHS’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team involved energy companies. Oil and gas operators face the greatest cyber risks among energy producers because their projects often involve multiple companies working together, sharing information, and trying to integrate systems. Still, 60 percent of energy companies around the world said they do not have a cyberattack response plan.

  • EarthquakesCombination of gas field fluid injection and removal likely cause of 2013-14 Texas quake

    Seismologists found that high volumes of wastewater injection combined with saltwater (brine) extraction from natural gas wells is the most likely cause of earthquakes occurring near Azle, Texas, from late 2013 through spring 2014. SMU seismologists have been studying earthquakes in North Texas since 2008, when the first series of felt tremors hit near DFW International Airport between 30 October 2008 and 16 May 2009. Next came a series of quakes in Cleburne between June 2009 and June 2010, and this third series in the Azle-Reno area northwest of Fort Worth occurred between November 2013 and January 2014. The SMU team also is studying an ongoing series of earthquakes in the Irving-Dallas area that began in April 2014.

  • WaterChanging human behavior key to tackling California drought: Expert

    California is experiencing a drought that has gone far beyond a “dry spell,” and the state has imposed the first water restriction in state history, aiming to cut back on water consumption by 25 percent. One expert says that strict water conservation measures are long overdue, and that “what is happening is a realization that you can’t simply transplant another ecosystem onto a California desert system or arid southwestern system. In a sense, California and much of the U.S. southwest are living beyond their ecological means. Certain lifestyles have been adopted and crops are being grown that are not endemic or sustainable for this particular bioregion.” He adds: “This is a moment for not just cutting off personal water use and turning the tap off when you’re brushing your teeth, as important as that is. This is a moment of reflection, invitation and, I hope, legislation that will cause people to think about water use in the industrial sector too. This is for the long-term prosperity of the state and sustainability of the ecosystem.”

  • InfrastructureReadying California’s infrastructure for the 21st century

    California’s infrastructure has allowed some of the world’s most innovative technology companies to thrive here. For that infrastructure to handle the tsunami of advanced communications and energy technologies that consumers and business are demanding and that state climate change goals require, however, the need for continued investment is pressing, according to a new report.