• U.S. defense agencies dominate federal synthetic biology research

    A new analysis finds the Defense Department and its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) fund much of the U.S. government’s research in synthetic biology, with less than 1 percent of total federal funding going to risk research. Between 2008 and 2014, the United States invested approximately $820 million dollars in synthetic biology research. In that time period, the Defense Department became a key funder of synthetic biology research. DARPA’s investments, for example, increased from near zero in 2010 to more than $100 million in 2014 — more than three times the amount spent by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

  • Rather food versus fuel, think in terms of both food and fuel

    Whether you have taken a side or a backseat in the discussion, the “food versus fuel” debate affects us all. Some say growing more biofuel crops today will decrease greenhouse gas emissions, but will make it harder to produce food tomorrow, which has prevented the United States from maximizing the potential of environmentally beneficial biofuels. Scientists argue that farmers can sustainably, and affordably, meet humanity’s growing demand for food and fuel.

  • Beyond data theft: Next phase of cyber intrusions will include destruction, manipulation of data

    James Clapper, director of U.S. intelligence, and other senior intelligence officers, have warned Congress that the next phase of escalating online data theft will likely involve the manipulation of digital information. Clapper on Wednesday told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee that a “cyber Armageddon,” in which a digitally triggered damage to physical infrastructure results in a series of catastrophic events, is less likely than “cyber operations that will change or manipulate data.” Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community told lawmakers that the manipulation or destruction of data would undermine confidence in data stored on or accessible through U.S. networks, engendering an uncertainty which could jeopardize U.S. military situational awareness and undermine business activity.

  • 2015 drought costs for California agriculture: Loss of $1.84 billion, 10,100 jobs

    The drought is tightening its grip on California agriculture, squeezing about 30 percent more workers and cropland out of production than in 2014, according to the latest drought impact report. In 2015, the state’s agricultural economy will lose about $1.84 billion and 10,100 seasonal jobs because of the drought, the report estimated, with the Central Valley hardest hit. The heavy reliance on groundwater comes at ever-increasing energy costs as farmers pump deeper and drill more wells. Some of the heavy pumping is in basins already in severe overdraft — where groundwater use greatly exceeds replenishment of aquifers — inviting further land subsidence, water quality problems, and diminishing reserves needed for future droughts.

  • Strategic alliance to deliver behavioral analysis cybersecurity to market

    Ernst & Young LLP and Los Alamos National Laboratory have formed a strategic alliance to deliver what they describe as some of the most advanced behavioral cybersecurity tools available to the commercial market. The alliance comes at a watershed moment when increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks are inflicting significant economic, social, and even political damage to U.S. organizations. The tools developed by Los Alamos and delivered to the private sector by Ernst & Young LLP can help counter these threats by detecting them before they do deep and lasting damage.

  • Draft guide to help energy companies reduce cyber risk

    DHS reported that 5 percent of the cybersecurity incidents its Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team responded to in fiscal year 2014 were tied to weak authentication. Four percent were tied to abuse of access authority. The National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) is requesting comments on a draft guide to help energy companies better control who has access to their networked resources, including buildings, equipment, information technology, and industrial control systems.

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  • Interactive tool roots discussions about the cost of nuclear energy in hard evidence

    Despite the ever-changing landscape of energy economics, subject to the influence of new technologies and geopolitics, a new tool promises to root discussions about the cost of nuclear energy in hard evidence rather than speculation. Over the last two years, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has developed the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Cost Calculator, an online interface that provides a nuanced look at the economic costs of nuclear power. The calculator provides a simple gateway into the physics-laden universe of nuclear economics. A user can slide more than sixty moving scales to tweak inputs like uranium price or reactor construction time, and then watch the expected price shift.

  • U.S. coastal flood risk on the rise ten years after Hurricane Katrina

    A decade after Hurricane Katrina caused $41 billion in property and casualty insurance losses, the most expensive catastrophe ever experienced by the global insurance industry, rising sea levels are driving up expected economic and insurance losses from hurricane-driven storm surge in coastal cities across the United States. Rising sea levels contributing to increased risk of severe economic damage from flood following a hurricane – and Miami, New York, and Tampa now face greater risk than New Orleans.

  • Pfenex awarded contract valued at up to $143.5 million to develop anthrax vaccine

    San Diego, California-based Pfenex Inc. the other day announced it has signed a five year, cost plus fixed fee contract valued at up to $143.5 million with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), for the advanced development of Px563L, a mutant recombinant protective antigen anthrax vaccine. The company says the U.S. government is looking to have a stockpile of seventy-five million doses.

  • EB-5 foreign investor visa program susceptible to fraud, misuse: GAO

    The United States has launched dozens of investigations into fraudulent practices in a program, called EB-5, which grants Green Cards to foreigners who invest $500,000 in selected U.S. ventures. A GAO report notes that the program is vulnerable to fraud, because many of the applicants care less about the success of the venture in which they invest and more about getting the Green Card, and can easily afford to lose $500,000 in order to get the card.

  • U.S. Navy champions unmanned systems over, on, and under the sea

    The presence of unmanned systems in the maritime military domain is growing, and the U.S. Navy has decided to make several organizational, and conceptual, changes in order to deal with unmanned systems in a more holistic fashion. Rear Adm. Robert P. Girrier has been named the Navy’s first director of unmanned weapon systems, and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced in April that he would appoint a new Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Unmanned Systems, “so that all aspects of unmanned — in all domains — over, on and under the sea and coming from the sea to operate on land — will be coordinated and championed.”

  • Sodium cyanide stored at explosion site pollutes city’s water

    The Chinese government says that 114 people, most of them firefighters, have been killed and ninety-five still missing after first responders were sent to the Tianjin chemical plant to fight large fires which broke out after a powerful explosion at the plant last Wednesday. Chinese officials say they found 700 tons of sodium cyanide at two locations at the site. Chinese public health officials said on Monday that the health risks of last week’s explosion are spreading, reporting that alarming levels of sodium cyanide have been found at wastewater monitoring stations in and around the city of Tianjin.

  • DHS S&T licenses innovative communication technology to commercial partners

    DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) last week announced that it has licensed the Radio Internet-Protocol Communications Module (RIC-M) to two commercial partners. RIC-M, used by local, state, and federal responders, is a low-cost, external, stand-alone, interface device that connects radio frequency (RF) system base stations, consoles and other RF equipment — regardless of brand — over the Internet or Private Internet Protocol (IP) network.

  • Agroterrorism a serious risk to Americans, U.S. economy: Experts

    The word “terrorism” is typically associated with bomb and bullets, but security experts say that there are other types of terrorism which may bring death and disruption, chief among them is agroterrorism. Agroterrorism is the use of animal or plant pathogens to disrupt a nation’s food supply, or use the food supply to spread deadly disease.In 2004, Tommy Thompson, then secretary of Health and Human Services, said that, “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.”

  • New analysis method discovers eleven security flaws in popular Internet browsers

    Georgia Tech researchers developed a new cyber security analysis method which discovered eleven previously unknown Internet browser security flaws, and were honored with the Internet Defense Prize, an award offered by Facebook in partnership with USENIX, at the 24th USENIX Security Symposium. Their research explores vulnerabilities in C++ programs (such as Chrome and Firefox) which result from “bad casting” or “type confusion.” Bad casting enables an attacker to corrupt the memory in a browser so that it follows a malicious logic instead of proper instructions.