Business

  • As drought continues, more Californians turn to greywater

    California’s rainy season tends to run from October to late March, but for the third year in a row rain has been relatively absent, meaning that the state is currently suffering from a severe, unprecedented drought. With increasing water rates, a growing number of homeowners in Southern California are relying on greywater systems to support their landscapes and toilet flushing. “If the drought continues, honestly, I could see all new construction will have greywater systems of some kind because it really doesn’t make sense to put usable water in the sewer system,” says one expert.

  • Banks collaborate to thwart cybercrime

    The Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC), a cybersecurity information sharing group, has teamed up with the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation to form Soltra. Named after a series of fire signals that were used in Europe hundreds of years ago to warn against invaders, the organization alerts member banks of incoming or potential cyber threats.

  • Head of U.K. surveillance agency: U.S. tech companies have become terrorists' “networks of choice”

    The new director of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the U.K. intelligence organization responsible for providing signals intelligence (SIGINT) and information assurance to the British government and armed forces, said that privacy has never been “an absolute right.” Robert Hannigan used his first public intervention since becoming head of Britain’s surveillance agency to charge U.S. technology companies of becoming “the command and control networks of choice” for terrorists.

  • Lights out: Experts say instability of world’s power supplies must be urgently addressed

    A new study reveals the urgent need to address instabilities in the supply of electrical power to counteract an increase in the frequency and severity of urban blackouts. The work builds on previous studies which examined a sharp increase in electrical usage over recent years, and warned the world to prepare for the prospect of coping without electricity as instances of complete power failure become increasingly common.

  • Resting place of 2 million barrels of oil missing from Deepwater Horizon accident found

    Where is the remaining oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? The location of two million barrels of oil thought to be trapped in the deep ocean has remained a mystery. Until now. Scientists have discovered the path the oil and followed it to its resting place on the Gulf of Mexico sea floor. By analyzing data from more than 3,000 samples collected at 534 locations over twelve expeditions, the researchers identified a 1,250-square-mile patch of the sea floor on which four to 31 percent of the oil trapped in the deep ocean was deposited. This is the equivalent of 2 to 16 percent of the total oil discharged during the accident.

  • Insurance companies now write Ebola exclusions into policies; offer Ebola-related products

    U.S. and British insurance companies have begun to write Ebola exclusions into their policies for hospitals, event organizers, airliners, and other businesses vulnerable to disruption from the disease. As a result, new policies and renewals will become more expensive for firms looking to insure business travel to West Africa or to cover the risk of losses from Ebola-driven business interruptions (BI).The cost of insuring an event against Ebola, for example, would likely be triple the amount of normal cancellation insurance — if the venue was in a region not known to be affected by the virus.

  • Napa Valley residents debate necessity of earthquake insurance

    Many residents of the Napa Valley in California are weighing the benefits and costs of earthquake insurance in the wake of the 24 August quake, which heavily damaged many homes and businesses in the region. The high premiums of earthquake insurance are deterring many home and business owners, despite the real threat of intensive damage.Only 6 percent of Napa Valley residents had earthquake insurance, andonly 9 percent of California businesses have coverage.

  • U.S insurance sector showing “profound lack of preparedness in addressing climate-related risks”: Report

    Amid growing evidence that climate change is having wide-ranging global impacts which will worsen in the years ahead, a new report ranks the nation’s 330 largest insurance companies on what they are saying and doing to respond to escalating climate risks. The report found strong leadership among fewer than a dozen companies but generally poor responses among the vast majority. “Despite being on the ‘front line’ of climate risks, most of the company responses show a profound lack of preparedness in addressing climate-related risks and opportunities,” says the president of the organization sponsoring the report.

  • FBI wants Congress to mandate backdoors in tech devices to facilitate surveillance

    In response to announcements by Appleand Googlethat they would make the data customers store on their smartphones and computers more secure and safer from hacking by law enforcement, spies, and identity thieves, FBI director James Comey is asking Congress to order tech companies to build their devices with “backdoors,” making them more accessible to law enforcement agencies.Privacy advocates predict that few in Congress will support Comey’s quest for greater surveillance powers.

  • Public safety network failed to involve important constituencies in development phase

    On 22 February 2012, Congress passed the legislation to create the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an agency tasked with creating a nationwide wireless broadband network for public safety and emergency response officials. Currently, the nation’s 5.4 million first responders rely on commercial carriers to communicate and share critical information during emergencies. Analysts say that a failure to incorporate the public safety sector into the development phase of FirstNet set the new agency on a wrong path in its early days.

  • Social media firms pledging to keep users anonymous still collect users’ information

    Social media firm Whisperprides itself on offering anonymity in a market where the biggest players are often considered too transparent. Its co-founder, Michael Heyward, a tech entrepreneur, describes the company as “the first completely anonymous social network,” an alternative to Facebookand Twitter. It now emerges that Whisper’s back-end systems that retain digital libraries of texts and photographs sent by users, and in some cases the location information of users.

  • U.S. seeking innovative solutions for protecting healthcare workers on Ebola front lines

    The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), saying the agency is looking for opportunities to co-create, co-design, co-invest, and otherwise collaborate in the development, testing, and scaling of practical and cost-effective innovations to help healthcare workers on the front lines provide better care and stop the spread of Ebola. USAID notes that this funding mechanism will not support research that does not provide a clear path to development and testing of prevention and intervention strategies. Awards are in the range of $100,000 to $1million.

  • Surge in cyberattacks drives growth in cybersecurity insurance

    More than 3,000 American businesses were hacked in 2013, many of them small and mid-size firms without cybersecurity insurance. That surge in cyberattacks has led to a growing cybersecurity industry, with firms offering products and solutions to secure network systems. Insurance companies are also claiming their stake in the booming industry. Today, roughly fifty U.S. companies offer cybersecurity insurance. American businesses will spend up to $2 billion on cyber-insurance premiums this year, a 67 percent increase from the $1.2 billion spent in 2013.

  • U.S., U.K. war-game failure of too-big-to-fail banks

    On Monday U.S. treasury secretary Jack Lew, his British counterpart Chancellor George Osborne, along with the heads of both countries’ central banks, participated in a simulation to test the actions that would follow should a major transatlantic bank went under. The scenario allows U.S. and British authorities to “make sure we can handle an institution that was previously regarded as too big to fail,” according to Osborne. War games have long been used to build trust and co-operation among allies and adversaries.

  • Bay Area’s infrastructure more resilient, but a major tremor would paralyze region’s economy

    Twenty-five years ago, the San Francisco Bay Area suffered the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake, which killed sixty-three people, injured 3,700, destroyed 366 businesses and 11,000 homes, and caused $6 billion in property damage. Since then, bridges and roads have been rebuilt to withstand more powerful quakes, but seismic safety experts say more could be done to protect property and human life. A major earthquake is not likely completely to destroy the Golden Gate Bridge or other major infrastructure developments, but the Bay Area’s $535 billion a year economy will come to a halt for months and even years due to weakened critical infrastructure.