Business

  • With bugs in the system, how safe is the Internet?

    It seems hardly a week goes by without a major cyber security flaw exposed that could be exploited across millions of Internet and mobile connected devices. There is always the danger that people become complacent as more and more security threats are reported so it’s important to be aware of the risks and take note of any advice. In addition to frequently changing passwords, patching our software with updates as often as they are available, and being careful about what Web sites we visit, we must also demand more products that are fit for purpose, just as we do with the safety standards of physical consumer products. We should expect companies to understand the value of the business they do with us, and of our data that they hold in trust. Boards and CEOs need to care about this as much as they do about their brand.

  • U.S. corn yields increasingly vulnerable to hot, dry weather

    The United States produces 40 percent of the world’s corn, mostly in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. As more than 80 percent of U.S. agricultural land relies on natural rainfall rather than irrigation, corn farmers in these regions depend on precipitation, air temperature, and humidity for optimal plant growth. U.S. corn yields are growing more sensitive to heat and drought. Farmers are faced with difficult tradeoffs in adapting to a changing climate in which unfavorable weather will become more common.

  • Criminals cannot hide behind prepaid phones

    Cambria County, Pennsylvania police quickly tracked the individual who called to say he had placed a bomb in the county courthouse. The individual called the court to warn of the bomb and allow for an orderly evacuation. The call was a hoax, but the the authorities began to evacuate the building. Even before the court was completely evacuated, the 911 dispatch center, Ebensburg Borough Police Department, and Cambria County Sheriff’s Department all knew that the call came from a prepaid phone purchased at the Richland Township Wal-Mart. With the prompt help of Verizon and Wal-Mart, the suspect was nabbed.

  • Producing more oil by capturing carbon

    Any method that leads to the production of more oil seems counter to the prevailing wisdom on climate change that says use of more greenhouse-gas-emitting fuel is detrimental. There is one oil-recovery process, however, which some say could be part of the climate change solution and now unites unlikely allies in industry, government and environmental groups.

  • More crude oil shipments by rail mean more accidents, but security measures lag

    American rail companies have long operated under federal laws, making it difficult for local officials to gather information on cargo and how rail companies select their routes. An increase in the number of trains transporting crude oil, accompanied by a series of derailments and explosions, has highlighted the dangers of transporting hazardous substances by rail.In February, the Department of Transportation announced that railroads had voluntarily agreed to apply the same routing rules to oil trains that they currently apply to other hazardous materials. Critics say more needs to be done.

  • New scanning technique may end on-board liquid restrictions

    A new machine which can identify the chemical composition of liquids sealed within non-metallic containers without opening them is one of three candidates announced Monday to be in the running to win the U.K.’s premier engineering prize, the MacRobert Award. Already being deployed in sixty-five airports across Europe, this innovation can protect travelers by screening for liquid explosives and could spell the end of the ban on liquids in hand luggage.

  • Heartbleed bug: insider trading may have taken place as shares slid ahead of breaking story

    Here is a puzzle for you. Why did shares in Yahoo! slide by nearly 10 percent in the days before Heartbleed was announced and then recover after the main news items broke? It has long been the case that security vulnerabilities can have a negative effect on the public’s perception of tech companies and the value of their stock. All chief executives need to understand this and take action to reduce the exposure and associated risks. The evidence suggests that in the Heartbleed case, there could have been some insider trading taking place in the days before the story became big news. In theory the companies should have announced the problem to the stock market as soon as they became aware, but this series of events probably illustrates the limits of the duty on companies to disclose: when matters of national security are at stake, the rules may not be so rigorously applied.

  • Businesses take more responsibility for sustainable freshwater use

    Growing freshwater scarcity owing to rising water demands and a changing climate is increasingly perceived as a major risk for the global economy. In a special issue of Nature Climate Change, devoted to this emerging global concern, researchers argue that consumer awareness, private sector initiatives, governmental regulation, and targeted investments are urgently necessary to move toward sustainable water use across value chains.

  • Threats from insiders are the most serious security challenges nuclear facilities face

    Insider threats are the most serious challenge confronting nuclear facilities in today’s world, a new study says. In every case of theft of nuclear materials where the circumstances of the theft are known, the perpetrators were either insiders or had help from insiders, the study found. Theft is not the only danger facing facility operators; sabotage is a risk as well, the study authors say.

  • SEC to examine robustness of Wall Street’s cyber defenses

    The Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced plans last week to inspect the cyber defenses of fifty Wall Street investment advisers, brokers, and dealers to determine whether the financial sector is prepared for pinpointed cyberattacks. This is the first time the cybersecurity has made the list of the SEC’s annual investigations.

  • Vermont mandates labeling of foods containing GMOs

    On Wednesday, legislators in Vermont passed a billrequiring the labeling of foods which contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), making the state the first in the United States to pass such a law without contingencies. Proponents of the law, and of similar attempts across the country, hailed the legislative approval as a victory. About twenty other states have pending measures regarding labeling GMO-based foods, but the biotech and food industries have been lobbyingfederal legislators to prevent such measures.

  • Businesses looking to bolster cybersecurity

    Since the recent data breaches at retailers Target and Neiman Marcus, in which hackers stole millions of customers’ credit and debit card information, consumers have been urging card providers to offer better secure payment processors. Legislators have introduced the Data Security Act of 2014 to establish uniform requirements for businesses to protect and secure consumers’ electronic data. The bill will replace the many different, and often conflicting, state laws that govern data security and notification standards in the event of a data breach.

  • Avoiding water wars between fracking industry and residents

    The shale gas boom has transformed the energy landscape in the United States, but in some drier locations, it could cause conflict among the energy industry, residents, and agricultural interests over already-scarce water resources, say researchers. They add that degraded water quality is a potential risk unless there are adequate safeguards.

  • Boston bombing spurred small, midsize businesses to buy terrorism insurance

    After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, terrorism insurance, designed for large businesses, became a necessary business expense for many midsize and small firms. Some 160 companies near the Boston explosion submitted insurance claims for property damage or business losses and only 14 percent had coverage for terrorism. “The Marathon attack changed the calculus,” an insurance industry insider says. “It taught us terrorism is a risk to businesses of every scale and size.”

  • S.C. fights to keep costly plutonium processing project alive

    The United States and Russia have agreed to dispose of thirty-four tons of weapon-grade plutonium each, an amount equal to 17,000 nuclear warheads. The United States budgeted $4 billion for a mixed-oxide fuel project, known as MOX, at the Savannah River Site, S.C., to process the plutonium, but construction costs have now reached $8 billion, and officials estimate the facility will cost about $30 billion over its operating years. DOE has suspended the MOX project and is looking for alternative plutonium processing methods. South Carolina has sued the federal government, arguing that since Congress has authorized the funds for MOX, the administration must spend the money.