Business

  • 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.

  • Security contractor USIS failed to notice months-long hacking of its computer systems

    A new report reveals that the cyberattack on security contractor USIS, similar to previous attacks by Chinese government hackers on U.S. firms, was infiltrating USIS computer systems for months before the company noticed. The breach, first revealed publicly by the company and the Office of Personnel Management(OPM) in August, compromised the records of at least 25,000 DHS employees.

  • 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.

  • Private cleaning firms had to improvise when cleaning apartments of U.S. Ebola patients

    Officials responsible for disinfecting the Ebola-infected homes of Thomas Eric Duncan’s fiancee, and of the two nurses he infected, relied on best decontamination practices, but note that an official manual for responding to a home contaminated with the Ebola virus was nonexistent at the time. OSHA recently announced official guidelines for “Cleaning and Decontamination of Ebola on Surfaces” for workers and employers in non-healthcare/non-laboratory settings.

  • Law enforcement: Apple iOS 8 software would hinder efforts to keep public safety

    With its new iOS 8 operating software, Apple is making it more difficult for law enforcement to engage in surveillance of users of iOS8 smartphones. Apple has announced that photos, e-mail, contacts, and other personal information will now be encrypted, using the user’s very own passwords — meaning that Apple will no longer be able to respond to government warrants for the extraction of data.

  • 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.

  • Growing scrutiny of police use of Stingray surveillance technology

    IMSI-catcher (International Mobile Subscriber Identity), aka Stingray, is a surveillance technology which simulates cell phone towers in order to intercept mobile phone calls and text messages. Privacy advocates have scrutinized the use of Stingrays in U.S. cities because, when the device tracks a suspect’s cell phone, it also gathers information about the phones of bystanders within the target range. Additionally, police use Stingrays without properly identifying the technology when requesting search warrants has raised concerns.

  • 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.

  • Sale of NYC historic Waldorf Astoria hotel to Chinese firm worries U.S. security officials

    Citing an espionage risk, U.S. officials are expressing concern over the sale of the historic Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City to a Chinese insurance company. The Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group purchased the property from Hilton Worldwide on 6 October for $1.95 billion. One clause in the sale contract, referring to “a major renovation,” has raised eye brows in Western security services. Specifically, they worry that renovations and modifications to the structure could accommodate Chinese eavesdropping and cyber espionage equipment.

  • 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.