Public Safety

  • Assad is still using chemical weapons. What will it take to stop him?

    While the Syrian conflict has been perpetually overshadowed in the headlines by recent events such as the possibility of a Grexit and the Chinese stock market crash, two recent developments regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons have nearly managed to refocus international attention on Syria. First, on June 17th the House Committee on Foreign Affairs convened a hearing on the Assad regime’s use of chlorine barrel bombs. Second, U.S. intelligence agencies publicly reported this week that they expect another attack by the regime using chemical weapons beyond chlorine bombs. In particular, the Syrian government is suspected of maintaining stocks of sarin and VX gas.

  • Giving government special access to data poses major security risks

    In recent months, government officials in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries have made repeated calls for law-enforcement agencies to be able to access, upon due authorization, encrypted data to help them solve crimes. Beyond the ethical and political implications of such an approach, though, is a more practical question: If we want to maintain the security of user information, is this sort of access even technically possible? A report by cybersecurity and encryption experts says that whether “backdoor” or “front-door,” such mechanisms “pose far more grave security risks, imperil innovation on which the world’s economies depend, and raise more thorny policy issues than we could have imagined when the Internet was in its infancy.”

  • Privacy vs. security debate intensifies as more companies offer end-to-end-encryption

    A long running debate has now come to the fore with greater urgency. The tension between the privacy that encryption offers, and the need for law enforcement and national security agencies to have access to secured and encrypted e-mail, has become more acute in the last two years. The revelations of Edward Snowden about the post-9/11 reach and scope of surveillance by intelligence agencies and law enforcement, have caused some tech giants to offer encrypted services to their customers – encrypted services which enhance customers’ privacy protection, but which at the same time make it impossible for law enforcement and intelligence services to track and monitor terrorists and criminals. “Our job is to find needles in a nationwide haystack, needles that are increasingly invisible to us because of end-to-end encryption,” FBI director James Comey told lawmakers in recent hearing on the Hill.

  • When the phones went dead: 7/7 showed how disasters call for tomorrow’s tech

    At times of crisis communications are essential. The emergency services need to coordinate their response while the general public wants to contact loved ones and find out what’s happening. The problem is that there simply isn’t enough capacity for everyone to use the networks simultaneously, particularly in densely populated areas like central London. Thus, one aspect of the London bombings of 7 July 2005 that many who were there remember is that their phones went dead. Mobile phone coverage in parts of central London was almost unavailable. This was not due to damage; the emergency services had shut down public access to the networks. Today’s emergency services want to make better use of video and exploit the potential of real-time mapping applications — both of which demand a network with a greater data-handling capacity. The natural place to find this capacity is the 4G mobile network that is now being rolled out around the world. But this will require new services to be designed and built for emergency services use.

  • Disinformation campaigns damage credibility of social media emergency alerts

    Disinformation campaigns, which populate sections of social media platforms such as Twitter, are making real emergency data and notifications harder to absorb, a cybersecurity analyst argues. The spreading of emergency-related hoaxes, including those which involve conspiracy-related topics, damages the credibility of sites that provide useful information in those circumstances.

  • Using microwave technology to detect concealed weapons

    A team of researchers in Canada and the Ukraine funded by NATO which will be exploring ways to equip soldiers and law enforcement with gear that could detect concealed threats, such as guns and explosive devices, used by terrorists and security threats. The three-year project, which launched 1 July, will study how microwave radar signals sent from either rigged vests or tripods could detect trouble as far as fifteen meters away and send early warning signals of pending danger. These devices could be used anywhere from borders to airports to crowded public events to bars and hotels.

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  • Terahertz sensor detects hidden objects faster

    A new type of sensor, which is much faster than competing technologies used to detect and identify hidden objects. Called “Q-Eye,” the invention senses radiation across the spectrum between microwaves and infra-red, known as the Terahertz (THz) region of the spectrum — a goal that has challenged scientists for over thirty years. It works by detecting the rise in temperature produced when electromagnetic radiation emitted by an object is absorbed by the Q-Eye sensor, even down to the level of very small packets of quantum energy (a single photon).

  • “Strong possibility” Assad may use chemical weapons on a large scale to protect regime: U.S. intelligence

    U.S. intelligence agencies say there is a strong possibility the Assad regime will use chemical weapons on a large scale as part of a last-ditch effort to protect important Syrian government strongholds, or if the regime felt it had no other way to defend the core territory of its most reliable supporters, the Alawites. Following a 21 August 2013 sarin gas attack by the Syrian military on Sunni suburbs of Damascus, in which more than 1,400 civilians were killed, President Bashar al-Assad allowed international inspectors to remove the Syrian regime’s most toxic chemical weapons, but after the most toxic chemicals were removed, the Assad regime has developed and deployed a new type of chemical bomb filled with chlorine. Western intelligence services suspect that the regime may have kept at least a small quantity of the chemical precursors needed to make nerve agents sarin or VX.

  • The military option against Iran: Not a single strike, but a sustained campaign

    The new, 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, is one weapon the United would likely use if a decision is made to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. Military analysts say that while the destruction of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will not be easy, it can be done. They also agree that it would halt Iran’s nuclear program only temporarily, and that it would take Iran three to four years to rebuild its nuclear capacity. “A single military strike would only delay an Iranian drive for a finite period so a credible military option would have to envision a long-term campaign of repeated follow-up strikes as facilities are rebuilt or new targets identified,” says one analyst. “This is within the U.S. capability, but would require policy consistency and sustained determination across several U.S. administrations. What is crucial is not the bomb, but a multiyear campaign of vigilance and precise intelligence of new targets.”

  • Mass killings, school shootings are contagious

    On average, mass killings involving firearms occur approximately every two weeks in the United States, and school shootings occur on average monthly. Mass killings — events with four or more deaths — and school shootings create a period of contagion that lasts an average of thirteen days. Roughly 20 to 30 percent of such tragedies appear to arise from contagion. “The hallmark of contagion is observing patterns of many events that are bunched in time, rather than occurring randomly in time,” says a researcher.

  • U.S. military looking for ways to lighten the load infantrymen carry on missions

    Typically, an infantryman on a three-day mission will carry 80 to 100 pounds and often more, when the weight of the weapon, night vision equipment, extra batteries to power the advanced equipment, and body armor are added to the burden. When it comes to a one day combat patrol, the weight carried drops to a “mere” sixty-five pounds.The effects of such a burden not only slow the warfighters down, they reduce agility and my result in log-term harm. The military is looking for ways to lighten the load.

  • Fighting fires in California hobbled by hobby drones

    A spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service said last Thursday that private drone flights in restricted airspace around forest fires have impeded the efforts of firefighting crews to deal with a blaze in the San Bernardino Mountains. The incident has increased the fears of fire and aviation officials that the growing national use of hobby drones could seriously disrupt traditional air traffic and put lives at risk.

  • U.S. exposed in Arctic as a result of climate change: Military experts

    Senior former military commanders and security advisors warn that global warming is jeopardizing U.S. national security. They said that political gridlock in Washington over climate change has left the U.S. military exposed to Russia’s superior fleets in the Arctic, flooding in U.S. naval bases, and a more unstable world. “We’re still having debates about whether [climate change] is happening, as opposed to what we should do about it,” said a former undersecretary of defense. “We need to guard against the failure of imagination when it comes to climate change. Something is going to happen in the future years, and we’re not going to be prepared.”

  • Alumnus’s throwable tactical camera gets commercial release

    Unseen areas are troublesome for police and first responders: Rooms can harbor dangerous gunmen, while collapsed buildings can conceal survivors. Now Bounce Imaging, founded by an MIT alumnus, is giving officers and rescuers a safe glimpse into the unknown. In July, the Boston-based startup will release its first line of tactical spheres, equipped with cameras and sensors, which can be tossed into potentially hazardous areas to instantly transmit panoramic images of those areas back to a smartphone.

  • Iran offered nuclear help in exchange for tighter restrictions on weapons-related technology

    The talks between the P5+1 and Iran over a nuclear deal resumed on Wednesday, and sources say that Western powers have offered Iran high-tech reactors in exchange for further curbs on those aspects of Iran’s nuclear program which would make it possible for it to “break out” of the confines of the deal and build a nuclear weapon. The Western powers promised to supply Iran with light-water nuclear reactors instead of its nearly completed heavy-water facility at Arak, which could produce enough plutonium for several bombs a year if completed as planned. One of the major goals of the P5+1 negotiators has been to reduce the Arak reactor’s plutonium output, thus blocking Iran’s plutonium path to the bomb. It offers cooperation with Iran in the fields of nuclear safety, nuclear medicine, research, nuclear waste removal, and other peaceful applications.