Business

  • Why rooftop solar is disruptive to utilities – and the grid

    Electric utilities have a unique role in society and the economy, one that is rooted in a set of arrangements with state regulators that goes back nearly a century. In exchange for being granted a geographic monopoly on the distribution of electric power, the utility is responsible for ensuring that its transmission and distribution systems operate reliably. In other words, it is the utility’s responsibility to ensure that blackouts occur infrequently and with short duration. Power-generating panels, called solar photovoltaics (PV), represent the fastest-growing source of electric power in the United States – but the proliferation of roof-top PVs poses a problem for the business model of electric utilities, a problem similar to that telephone companies have been facing: The rise of “cord cutters” — people with a cell phone but no land-line — places land-line phone companies in a quandary. They must continue to maintain their network infrastructure with fewer customers to pay for it. Roof-top solar technology will eventually force a conversation about the fundamental role of the electric utility and who should have ultimate responsibility for providing reliable electricity, if anyone. Going off the grid has a certain appeal to an increasing segment of the population, but it is far from clear that such a distributed system can deliver the same level of reliability at such a low cost.

  • Yahoo to offer user-friendly e-mail encryption service

    Yahoo has announced plans to create its own e-mail encryption plug-in for Yahoo Mail users this year, adding to already growing competition among Silicon Valley firms to capitalize on consumers increased privacy desires. The service will feature “end-to-end” encryption, or the locking up of message contents so that only the user and receiver have access to the information — typically a more advanced and time consuming process which involves specific software and encryption codes.

  • Chemical plants safety must be tightened to prevent a Bhopal-like disaster in the U.S.

    Late last week, hundreds of individuals and organizations sent a letter to President Barack Obama to say that time was running out for taking action to protect the U.S. population from the dangers of accidents or deliberate attacks at U.S. chemical plants. As a senator, Obama described chemical facilities in which dangerous chemicals were processed or stored as “stationary weapons of mass destruction spread all across the country.” On 2-3 December 1984, more than 500,000 people in the Indian city of Bhopal were exposed to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other chemicals from the near-by Union Carbide plant. About 16,000 died and 558,000 injured — 3,900 of them permanently disabled. Security experts say that a Bhopal-like disaster could happen in the United States

  • Air-gapped computer systems can be hacked by using heat: Researchers

    Computers and networks are air-gapped – that is, kept approximately fifteen inches (40 cm) apart — when they need to be kept highly secure and isolated from unsecured networks, such as the public Internet or an unsecured local area network. Typically, air-gapped computers are used in financial transactions, mission critical tasks, or military applications. Israeli researchers have discovered a new method, called BitWhisper, to breach air-gapped computer systems. The new method enables covert, two-way communications between adjacent, unconnected PC computers using heat – meaning that hackers to hack information from inside an air-gapped network, as well as transmit commands to it.

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  • People act to protect privacy – after learning how often apps share personal information

    Many smartphone users know that free apps sometimes share private information with third parties, but few, if any, are aware of how frequently this occurs. A new study shows that when people learn exactly how many times these apps share that information, they rapidly act to limit further sharing. In an experiment, researchers found that one of the more effective alert messages which g grabbed the attention of phone users and caused them to act to protect their privacy, was: “Your location has been shared 5,398 times.”

  • Living near railroad tracks? Prepare for crude-oil-train accidents, spills

    The Minnesota Department of Transportation(MnDOT) reports that 326,170 Minnesotans live within a half mile of railroad tracks used by trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region. An area covering a half mile on each side of the tracks, public safety officials say, is the area from which residents are likely to be evacuated in the event of an oil train incident or explosion. The department urges all residents living near an oil train track to be prepared for a train accident.

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  • Airships offer a solution for aviation’s future challenges

    It is forecast that by 2020 the number of aircraft passengers will reach 400 million. The movement of freight by air is expected to increase by more than 340 percent over the next twenty years. During the same period congestion at many airports will squeeze out cargo operations because of economic and environmental reasons. Consequently, if market demand for air freight is to be met, either there will have to be significant investment in new airport infrastructure or alternative transport forms need to be considered. Researchers have completed a three year investigation into stratospheric passenger airships as part of a multi-national engineering project designed to provide a future sustainable air transport network. The researchers believe that airships offer a solution for future air transportation that is safe, efficient, cheap, and environmentally friendly.

  • Economists count true business costs of climate change

    A new report, prepared for leading social housing provider Aster Group, urges businesses to consider the true financial costs of climate change in order to better plan for extreme weather events. From countering the effects of extreme winter weather to summer heat waves, the report highlights three main risk factors: flooding, subsidence, and the risk of over-heating for elderly residents. The report pinpoints detailed cost implications for the organization were no actions to be taken.

  • IT security spending grows, but confidence in cyber protection measures does not

    A new report looking at how organizations view the future of cyberthreats and these organizations’ current defenses, found that while IT spending is increasing, confidence in the efficacy of cyber protection is declining. In a survey of more than 800 IT security leaders and professionals, the report found that more than 70 percent of respondents’ networks had been breached in 2014 — a 62 percent increase from 2013. Security concerns are only going to increase as the number of Internet connected devices increase from fourteen billion today to fifty billion by 2020.

  • Wireless implantable medical devices vulnerable to hacking

    With rapidly advancing medical technologies, more and more Americans are fitted with wireless implantable medical devices (IMDs) such as cardiac pacemakers, defibrillators, cochlear implants, neuro-stimulators, and insulin pumps. This is leading to growing concerns over the vulnerability of such devices to hacking.

  • Record seasonal snowfall caused significant financial losses in New England

    Following large snowfall totals this winter, much of New England is now coping with massive economic losses to the regional economy as a result of business closures. Economists estimated that the state of Massachusetts alone suffered roughly $1 billion in lost profits and lost wages following the recent winter storms. Economists expect that ripple effects from the New England winter will be felt nationally, but they warn that it is still too early to measure these effects.

  • New House caucus to promote blimps as cost effective means for cargo transport

    To the general public, airships are familiar for their use as advertising blimps, but transportation engineers see airships as large, low-emissions transportation vessels which can carry large amounts of cargo into areas that lack infrastructure such as runways.The newHouse Cargo Airship Caucus aims to increase financial support for the use of lighter-than-air vehicles for carrying military cargo and humanitarian aid. “The unrealized potential [of blimps] is vast,” says one expert.. “Lack of funding is a big killer.”

  • The Brandeis program: Harnessing technology to ensure online privacy

    In a seminal 1890 article in the Harvard Law Review, Louis Brandeis developed the concept of the “right to privacy.” DARPA the other day announced the Brandeis program – a project aiming to research and develop tools for online privacy, one of the most vexing problems facing the connected world as devices and data proliferate beyond a capacity to be managed responsibly.

  • Crude-oil train accidents endanger 1.5 million Pennsylvania residents

    About 1.5 million people living in Pennsylvania are in danger if a crude-oil train derails and catches fire, according to an analysis which looked at populations living or working within a half-mile on each side of rail lines where trains haul more than one million gallons of Bakken crude oil at a time. A half-mile is the federal evacuation zone recommended when a crude oil tank car catches fire. Within that evacuation zone are 327 K-12 schools, thirty-seven hospitals, and sixty-one nursing homes in Pennsylvania.

  • Biometric security could do away with passwords

    With hackers and cyber thieves running rampant online, efforts to create stronger online identity protection are leading major tech firms to invest in biometric security methods. Analysts predict that 15 percent of mobile devices will be accessed with biometrics in 2015, and the number will grow to 50 percent by 2020.