• Protecting Navy ships from cyberattacks

    For most people, the term “cyber security” calls to mind stories of data theft like the recent hacks of the OPM database, or network spying like the 2012 breach of the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet. But in this networked world, hackers might also try to disable or take control of machines in our physical world — from large systems like electric power grids and industrial plants, to transportations assets like cars, trains, planes or even ships at sea.

  • Robots to pull wounded soldiers off battlefield

    Most Americans have seen at least one war movie, where at some point a fresh-faced young private is hit with some shrapnel. From the ground, he calls out for the unit medic — another young guy, from another small town, whose quick reaction and skill just may save his life. In the near future, however, it may no longer be another soldier, who comes running to his side. Instead, it might be an Army-operated unmanned aerial or ground vehicle.

  • Teams of computers and humans more effective in disaster response

    Crisis responders need to know the extent of a natural disaster, what aid is required and where they need to get to as quickly as possible — this is what’s known as “situation awareness.” With the proliferation of mass media, a lot of data is now generated from the disaster zone via photographs, tweets, news reports and the like. With the addition of first responder reports and satellite images of the disaster area, there is a vast amount of relevant unstructured data available for situation awareness. A crisis response team will be overwhelmed by his data deluge — perhaps made even worse by reports written in languages they don’t understand. But the data is also hard to interpret by computers alone, as it’s difficult to find meaningful patterns in such a large amount of unstructured data, let alone understand the complex human problems that described within it. Experts say that joint humans-computers teams would be the best way to deal with voluminous, but unstructured, data.

  • Seeing through the dark clearly

    A new device, dubbed Thermal on Demand (TOD), allows firefighters to see everything in a heavily smoke-filled room, where the unassisted eye sees nothing but a pitch-black environment. TOD allows responders to see doors, furniture, light switches, debris on the floor, and victims lying on the floor. Looking through a periscopic lens, in front of a thermal camera, the wearer sees a detailed image of everything in the immediate vicinity.

  • Criminals acquire guns through social connections, not through theft or dirty dealers

    Criminals are far more likely to acquire guns from family and acquaintances than by theft, according to two new studies. “There are a number of myths about how criminals get their guns, such as most of them are stolen or come from dirty dealers. We didn’t find that to be the case,” says one of the researchers.

  • Beyond data theft: Next phase of cyber intrusions will include destruction, manipulation of data

    James Clapper, director of U.S. intelligence, and other senior intelligence officers, have warned Congress that the next phase of escalating online data theft will likely involve the manipulation of digital information. Clapper on Wednesday told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee that a “cyber Armageddon,” in which a digitally triggered damage to physical infrastructure results in a series of catastrophic events, is less likely than “cyber operations that will change or manipulate data.” Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community told lawmakers that the manipulation or destruction of data would undermine confidence in data stored on or accessible through U.S. networks, engendering an uncertainty which could jeopardize U.S. military situational awareness and undermine business activity.

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  • UN inquiry to determine who is responsible for chemical attacks in Syria

    Russia has withdrawn its objections to a UN investigation into identifying the culprits responsible for chemical attacks in Syria, allowing a probe to begin, UN diplomats said Thursday. For the last two years, Russia had insisted that a series of UN investigative teams sent to Syria would be limited to finding out whether or not chemical weapons had been used, but would be barred from identifying who was responsible for launching them.

  • Two states changes gun laws, and suicide-by-firearm rates in the two states shift

    A new study examining changes in gun policy in two states finds that handgun purchaser licensing requirements influence suicide rates. Researchers estimate that Connecticut’s 1995 law requiring individuals to obtain a permit or license to purchase a handgun after passing a background check was associated with a 15.4 percent reduction in firearm suicide rates, while Missouri’s repeal of its handgun purchaser licensing law in 2007 was associated with a 16.1 percent increase in firearm suicide rates.

  • Russian-American admits to smuggling sensitive weapon tech to Russia

    Alexander Fishenko, 49, a Russian-American businessman, pleaded guilty yesterday (Wednesday) to charges of smuggling sensitive U.S. microelectronics to Russia. He was arrested in 2012 on allegations that he had shipped export-controlled electronics and computer chips which are used in radar and surveillance systems, missile guidance systems, and detonation triggers.

  • Engineers design invisibility cloak for military drones

    Inspired by the well-known Invisibility Cloak from Harry Potter, electrical engineers have created a new design for their cloaking device, using a Teflon substrate, studded with cylinders of ceramic, which is thinner than any prior development and does not alter the brightness of light around concealed objects. The Teflon has a low refractive index, while the ceramic’s refractive index is higher, which allows light to be dispersed through the sheet without any absorption. Compared to an invisibility cloak, this technology has not only the ability to conceal, but the ability to increase optical communication signal speed and to collect solar energy.

  • Upholding disarmament agreements with engineering

    Arms control agreements face a problem: how to ensure that countries with nuclear weapons abide by disarmament agreements. The linchpin of these agreements is being able to verify that the signers are following the rules — but the trick is for both sides, or a third party, to be able to police weapons in a way that doesn’t give out too much information about them, for example, how these weapons were built. An MIT project, called Zero Knowledge Warhead Verification, tackles this problem with a beam of light, a scrambler, and a detector.

  • Data show drone attacks doomed to fail against ISIS in Syria

    This week, the Washington Post published a story about a new U.S. plan to use lethal drone strikes in Syria to destroy ISIS capabilities on the ground. The desire to do something — anything — to destroy the capabilities of a group so luridly destructive is understandable, but our haste to show results will likely result in a hollow victory at best. But there is a problem: there’s no evidence that drone strikes work. On the contrary, ample evidence shows drone strikes have not made Americans safer or reduced the overall level of terrorist capability. The strikes amount to little more than a waste of life, political capital, and resources. Drones cannot deliver victory over ISIS, but in any event, lacking a cohesive, articulate political strategy for governance and post-ISIS reconstruction, no military solution can produce the results we’re looking for. Lacking the political strategy, more of the same in Syria promises no better.

  • New personality profiling technique helps identify potential school shooters

    Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have developed a personality profiling technique which automates the identification of potential school shooters by analyzing personality traits that appear in their writings. The text-based computational personality-profiling tool uses “vector semantics.” This involves constructing a number of vectors representing personality dimensions and disorders, which are analyzed automatically by computer to measure the similarity with texts written by the human subject.

  • Apple's encryption prevents it from complying with U.S. court order

    Apple said it could not comply with a court order to hand over texts sent using iMessage between two iPhones because the company’s encryption system makes it impossible to do so. The Justice Department persuaded the court to issue the order to facilitate an investigation involving guns and drugs. Legal experts say this is the first known direct face-off between the U.S. government and Apple over encryption. The FBI contends that such encryption puts the American public at risk because it makes it harder, if not impossible, to track and catch terrorists, pedophiles, and other criminals.

  • How Western Europe came to dominate the globe

    Although Europe represents only about 8 percent of the planet’s landmass, from 1492 to 1914, Europeans conquered or colonized more than 80 percent of the entire world. There are many possible explanations for why history played out this way, but few can explain why the West was so powerful for so long. Caltech’s Philip Hoffman, a professor of business economics and history, has a new explanation: the advancement of gunpowder technology. The Chinese invented gunpowder, but Hoffman argues that certain political and economic circumstances allowed the Europeans to advance gunpowder technology at an unprecedented rate — allowing a relatively small number of people quickly to take over much of the rest of the globe. What lessons does his explanation of the West’s rise to dominance offer for today’s policy makers? “In a world where there are hostile powers, we really don’t want to get rid of spending on improving military technology,” Hoffman says. “I would much rather see expenditures devoted to infrastructure, or scientific research, or free preschool for everybody – things that would carry big economic benefits,” and “I wish we did live in that world, but unfortunately it’s not realistic.”