• “Cyberbiosecurity” and the protection of the life sciences

    Biology and biotechnology have entered a digital age, but security policies around such activities have not kept pace. New research outlines how the evolving nature of biotechnology should sound alarm bells for new ways to keep life sciences assets safe. This could be from accidental cyber-physical breaches, or more nefarious threats.

  • Geologists report new findings about Kansas, Oklahoma earthquakes

    In the more than three decades between 1977 and 2012, only 15 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or greater were recorded in the entire state of Kansas. Since 2012 more than 100 earthquakes of 3.0 or greater have been recorded in only two counties in the state, Sumner and Harper. These include the largest earthquake ever monitored in Kansas in November 2014, a magnitude 4.9 event near the Sumner County town of Milan. The frequency of earthquakes has continued to increase. Between May 2015 and July 2017, sensors detected more than 2,400 earthquakes in Sumner County alone, ranging in magnitude from 0.4 to 3.6. As concern rises about earthquakes induced by human activity like oil exploration, geologists report a new understanding about recent earthquakes in Kansas and Oklahoma.

  • “Watershed attack:” Hackers deploy new ICS attack framework, disrupting critical infrastructure

    Hackers working for a nation-state recently invaded the safety system of a critical infrastructure facility in what cyber experts call “a watershed attack” that halted plant operations. Cybersecurity firm FireEye disclosed the incident on Thursday, saying it targeted Triconex industrial safety technology from Schneider Electric SE. Schneider confirmed that the incident had occurred and that it had issued a security alert to users of Triconex, which cyber experts said is widely used in the energy industry, including at nuclear facilities, and oil and gas plants. FireEye and Schneider declined to identify the victim, industry or location of the attack.

  • The border fence looms over these Texans. Should the government pay them?

    Long before President Donald Trump promised to build a wall, Homeland Security used its powers of eminent domain to seize hundreds of acres of land in south Texas to construct a border fence. Under the law, if the government takes or damages your property, it’s supposed to pay to make you whole again. In Texas, the agency has paid $18 million to landholders over the last decade. But scores of Texas landowners who have lived in the shadow of the border fence for years were never compensated for any damage to their property values.

  • DNA has gone digital – what could possibly go wrong?

    Biology is becoming increasingly digitized. Researchers like us use computers to analyze DNA, operate lab equipment and store genetic information. But new capabilities also mean new risks – and biologists remain largely unaware of the potential vulnerabilities that come with digitizing biotechnology. In 2010, a nuclear plant in Iran experienced mysterious equipment failures which paralyzed Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Months later, a security firm was called in to troubleshoot an apparently unrelated problem, and found a malicious computer virus called Stuxnet, which was telling uranium-enrichment centrifuges to vibrate. Stuxnet demonstrated that cybersecurity breaches can cause physical damages. What if those damages had biological consequences? Could bioterrorists target government laboratories studying infectious diseases? What about pharmaceutical companies producing lifesaving drugs? As life scientists become more reliant on digital workflows, the chances are likely rising. The emerging field of cyberbiosecurity explores the whole new category of risks that come with the increased use of computers in the life sciences.

  • Lawmakers request additional documents from DHS re: Kaspersky investigation

    U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) sent a letter Tuesday to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requesting documents and information related to the DHS directive to all government agencies to identify and remove Kaspersky Lab software from their computer systems.

  • Israeli walk-and-fly Rooster robot aids disaster relief

    RoboTiCan’s Rooster robot can help reach injured victims of natural disasters where it is not safe to send a human rescue worker. Rooster got its name from the fowl’s preference for walking but being able to fly when necessary, Ofir Bustan, RoboTiCan’s COO, said. “Most of the time it walks, but when it runs into an obstacle, it can hover and fly.” That makes Rooster different from most other search-and-rescue robots, which can either walk or fly but not both – meaning they can get stuck or are too high above the ground to search effectively for survivors.

  • Germany considering requiring home, car alarm systems to be equipped with back doors

    The German government will next week discuss sweeping new surveillance powers aimed to improve public safety. The proposal to be discussed would require operators of car and house alarm systems to help police and security services in their efforts to spy on potential terrorists or criminals.

  • NIST offers help for contractors secure unclassified government information

    It is crunch time for government contractors. They only have until 31 December 2017 to demonstrate they are providing appropriate cybersecurity for a class of sensitive data called Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). Otherwise, they risk losing their contracts. For organizations that may be struggling to meet the deadline, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has a new publication intended to help.

  • U.K. government agencies told to remove Kaspersky software from their systems

    In another example of a Western government taking decisive action to limit the ability of Russian government hackers to steal sensitive information, The U.K. cyber security agency on Friday has advised U.K. government agencies to remove Kaspersky Lab’s products from their systems.

  • The Gene Drive Files: Who is in charge of bioengineering research?

    Synthetic biology, also called “gene drives” or “bioengineering” – a field that uses technologies to modify or create organisms or biological components – can be used to benefit mankind, but may also be used by terrorists and nation-states to develop design pathogens which could be unleased to kill tens of millions of people. Critics of gene drives are alarmed by the fact that the U.S. military has been the main funder of synthetic biology research in the United States. Given the possible security vulnerabilities related to gene drives developments, a new report by the National Academies of Sciences proposes a framework to identify and prioritize potential areas of concern associated with the field. “While biotechnology is being pursued primarily for beneficial and legitimate purposes, there are potential uses that are detrimental to humans, other species, and ecosystems,” says one of the report’s authors. A nonprofit monitoring synthetic biology research releases new documents ahead of a key UN scientific conference on bioengineering.

  • Court recognizes first amendment right to anonymity even after speakers lose lawsuits

    Anonymous online speakers may be able to keep their identities secret even after they lose lawsuits brought against them, a federal appellate court ruled last week. The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Signature Management Team, LLC v. John Doe is a victory for online speakers because it recognized that the First Amendment’s protections for anonymous speech do not end once a party suing the anonymous speaker prevails. The ruling, however, is not all good news for anonymous speech. The test announced by the court sets unmasking as the default rule post-judgment, placing the burden on the anonymous party to argue against unmasking.

  • Federal agencies complete second phase of Kaspersky product removal

    The U.S. federal government has completed the first two phases of a three-part plan to remove all Kaspersky Lab’s products from government computer systems. The U.S. intelligence community said that the Russian cybersecurity company’s anti-virus software was used to collect sensitive information from the systems on which it was installed, and deliver that information to Russia’s intelligence agencies.

  • Economic damage of carbon emissions costlier than earlier thought

    The data used to calculate the damage that an additional ton of carbon dioxide has on the global economy has long relied on outdated science. Recent updates modeled raise the calculations of those costs significantly and change the outlook on climate change from a positive for agriculture to a negative. When the most recent science is brought to bear, one of the major models used to calculate the social cost of carbon (SCC) moves the figure to $19.70, an increase of 129 percent.

  • An armed robber’s Supreme Court case could affect all Americans’ digital privacy for decades to come

    A man named Timothy Carpenter planned and participated in several armed robberies at Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Michigan and Ohio between 2010 and 2012. He was caught, convicted and sentenced to 116 years in federal prison. His appeal, which was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on 29 November, will shape the life of every American for years to come – no matter which way it’s decided. The FBI found Timothy Carpenter because one of his accomplices told them about him. I believe the FBI could have obtained a search warrant to track Carpenter, if agents had applied for one. Instead, federal agents got cellphone location data not just for Carpenter, but for fifteen other people, most of whom were not charged with any crime. One of them could be you, and you’d likely never know it. The more people rely on external devices whose basic functions record and transmit important data about their lives, the more critical it becomes for everyone to have real protection for their private data stored on and communicated by these devices.