Business

  • Reprogramming plants to withstand drought

    Crops and other plants are constantly faced with adverse environmental conditions, such as rising temperatures (2014 was the warmest year on record) and lessening fresh water supplies, which lower yield and cost farmers billions of dollars annually. Research in synthetic biology provides a strategy that has reprogrammed plants to consume less water after they are exposed to an agrochemical, opening new doors for crop improvement.

  • Handheld sensor sniffs out fish fraud

    It is estimated that up to 30 percent of the seafood entering the U.S. is fraudulently mislabeled, bilking U.S. fishermen, the U.S. seafood industry, and American consumers for an estimated $20-25 billion annually. Passing off other fish as grouper is one of the rackets this sensor aims to stop. Fighting seafood labeling fraud using rapid, on-site screening may benefit consumer wallets and U.S. seafood industry. Scientists at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science have developed a handheld sensor capable of debunking fraudulent seafood species claims, helping to ensure that consumers are getting what they pay for.

  • U.S. yet to develop a strategy to secure nation’s critical infrastructure

    For years, the U.S. government has warned federal and state agencies about the threat posed by hackers who may target computer systems responsible for operating nuclear plants, electric substations, oil and gas pipelines, transit systems, chemical facilities, and drinking water facilities. In February 2013, President Barack Obama issued a directive stating, “It is the policy of the United States to strengthen the security and resilience of its critical infrastructure against both physical and cyber threats.” Two years later the federal government has yet to develop or adopt a consensus on how to secure America’s critical infrastructure from cyber criminals.

  • Lawmakers seek to create single food safety agency to improve oversight

    Lawmakers are seeking to pass a bill which would a single food safety agency to replace the current multi-agency system, which critics say is “hopelessly fragmented and outdated.” Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) have proposed the 2015 Safe Food Act, which would replace the current food safety oversight system – which consists of fifteen different agencies — with a single organization.

  • New Chinese cyber rules aim to facilitate intellectual property theft: U.S. tech companies

    The Chinese government’s cyberspace policy group in late 2014 approved a 22-page document which contained strict procurement rules for technology vendors. Those rules would require U.S. firms selling computer equipment in China to turn over sensitive intellectual property — including source codes — submit their products for “intrusive security testing,” and use Chinese encryption algorithms. U.S. companies selling equipment to Chinese banks will be required to set up research and development centers in China, get permits for workers servicing technology equipment, and build “ports” which allow Chinese officials to manage and monitor data processed by their hardware. U.S. tech companies charge that the new rules would make it easier for China to steal U.S. companies’ intellectual property.

  • Smart-gun technology faces many hurdles

    At last Wednesday’s Seattle International Smart Gun Symposium, lawmakers, smart-gun industry representatives, and gun-safety advocates met to discuss the future of “authorized” guns which only discharge in the hands of pre-authorized owners. Representatives from Sentinl, maker of an add-on fingerprint sensor for existing handguns; TriggerSmart, an RFID-enabled system for existing and brand-new guns; and Allied Biometrix, a firm developing fully integrated biometric sensors which unlock a gun once they sense an individual’s “reflexive actions” and “grip style,” attended the event, though these companies do not yet have a ready-for-market product.

  • New political risk model identifies political risk exposures around the world

    Political risks are the threats posed to businesses by political upheavals or social change. Common examples include expropriation, political violence, and the imposition of trade sanctions. They are inherently unpredictable — arising, as they do, from complex, dynamic human societies — and they often have catastrophic consequences. Oxford Analytica and Willis Group Holdings last week launched a new political risk model, called VAPOR (Value at Political Risk). The model allows global companies to assess and compare the financial implications of exposure to a suite of political risks — in individual countries, regionally, or globally. Initially, VAPOR covers six different political risk perils, across eleven different industry types in 100 countries.

  • Chinese ownership of a methanol plant worries Louisiana parish residents

    Roughly 150 petrochemical companies and seventeen refineries operate in a zone between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, an area locals call “Cancer Alley” due to the health concerns that have arisen during the past few decades of industrialization. Residents of St. James Parish have voiced their opposition to a proposed methanol plant in the parish. The plant will be operated by Yuhuang Chemical Inc., a subsidiary of Chinese natural gas giant Shandong Yuhuang. Recently, Shandong Yuhuang, parent company of the proposed plant in St. James, has received bad press in China for reportedly neglecting environmental laws, including releasing toxic emissions in the city of Heze, which environmentalists have connected to rising cancer rates and contaminated water.

  • Individuals face privacy hurdles, pitfalls while navigating in the information age

    We leave a trail of data, both knowingly and unwittingly, with every swipe of a credit card, post on social media and query on a search engine. Researchers detail the privacy hurdles people face while navigating in the information age, and what should be done about privacy at a policy level. The researchers call for policies that seek to balance power between individuals and data holders.

  • Patriot Act’s reauthorization an obstacle for cyber information sharing bill

    Recent cyber hacking incidents have persuaded lawmakers to pass a cyber information sharing bill which will help protect U.S. private sector networks. Business groups and federal intelligence agencies insist that information exchange is critical to protecting the nation’s cyber infrastructure. One of the hurdles to passing such a bill is that by 1 June, Congress must reauthorize sections of the Patriot Act which are the basis for the NSA’s most controversial surveillance programs. Many lawmakers consider NSA reform to be essential before they can support the White House’s cybersecurity proposal, which would allow cyber information sharing between the public and private sector.

  • European govts. urge U.S. tech companies to remove terrorist-related postings from sites

    The terror attacks in Paris have led French and German authorities to call on U.S. tech firms to help identify terrorist communications and remove hate speech from social media sites. The United Kingdom has also, for several months now, pressed Internet firms to be proactive in removing extremist content such as videos of sermons by radical Islamic preachers or recruitment material, from their sites. These recent requests for more cooperation between U.S. tech firms and European governments contrast with calls from many of the same governments who, following the Edward Snowden leaks, criticized U.S. tech firms for being too close to law enforcement agencies.

  • U.S.-U.K. cyber war games to test the two countries’ cyber resilience

    American and British security agencies have agreed to a new round of joint cyber “war games” to test each country’s cyber resilience. The move comes after a year of high profile cyberattacks against the U.S. private sector and after warnings from the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters that computer networks of British firms face daily attacks by hackers, criminal gangs, competitors, and foreign intelligence services.

  • 8 Tips to prevent data breaches

    Securing electronic messages should be one of the top IT priorities for organizations in 2015. The process should not be overly complex or expensive, but it does require proper planning and regular revisions. While there is no such thing as a 100 percent breach-proof security system, the majority of attacks can easily be prevented by following the simple steps outlined in this article.

  • Former head of MI6 calls for new surveillance pact between governments and ISPs

    The former head of British intelligence agency MI6, Sir John Sawers, has called for a new surveillance pact between Internet companies and U.S. and U.K. security services. Both groups could work together as they had in the past to prevent a repeat of terror events such as the recent Paris attacks, he said. American and British law enforcement and intelligence agencies are urging major Internet companies to provide backdoors or access to encrypted e-mails and other forms of Web communications. “I think one benefit of the last eighteen months’ debate [since Snowden’s leaks were made public] is that people now understand that is simply not possible [to keep the public secure without surveillance] and there has to be some form of ability to cover communications that are made through modern technology,” Sawers said.

  • Mandatory cybersecurity regulations necessary to protect U.S. infrastructure: Experts

    Since last year’s cyberattacks made public the cyber vulnerabilities of major U.S. firms including Sony Entertainment, JPMorgan Chase, and Target, President Barack Obama has been on the offensive, proposing strict rules better to prosecute hackers and make U.S. firms responsible for protecting consumer information. Experts say, though, that private firms are unlikely, on their own, to make the necessary financial investment to protect against a critical infrastructure cyberattack. What is needed, these experts say, is a mandatory cybersecurity framework followed by all entities involved with critical infrastructure, strong protection of information regarding cyberattacks shared with DHS, and a sincere effort from the private sector to secure their own networks.