• 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.

  • Russia increasingly uses hacker mercenaries for cyberattacks: FBI

    FBI director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Thursday that state-actors such as Russia are increasingly relying on hacker mercenaries, blurring the lines between government-backed hackers and cyber criminals. Wray told lawmakers that increasingly, such hybrid government-criminal breaches are becoming a reality. “You have the blend of a nation-state actor, in that case, the Russian intelligence service, using the assistance of criminal hackers, which you think of almost like mercenaries, being used to commit cyberattacks,” the FBI director said.

  • New analytical tool shows two-state solution still viable

    On the 70th anniversary of the ratification of the United Nations Partition Plan, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has launched a new website called “Settlements and Solutions” that seeks to use civilian satellite imagery to provide a better understanding of West Bank demography in unprecedented detail that shows that a two-state solution is still very much viable.

  • EFF wants information about government tattoo recognition technology

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit against the Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security the other day, demanding records about the agencies’ work on the federal Tattoo Recognition Technology program. EFF says that this secretive program involves a coalition of government, academia, and private industry working to develop a series of algorithms that would rapidly detect tattoos, identify people via their tattoos, and match people with others who have similar body art—as well as flagging tattoos believed to be connected to religious and ethnic symbols.

  • Acting DHS Secretary Duke: Rethinking homeland security for a new age

    Earlier today (Thursday), Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security for a hearing on “World Wide Threats: Keeping America Secure in the New Age of Terror.” Duke said that DHS is addressing the evolving threat landscape and moving past traditional defense and non-defense thinking. DHS is enhancing its approach to homeland security and bringing together intelligence operations, interagency engagement, and international action in innovative ways.

  • What is Britain First, and what it stands for

    Early on Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim videos — one of them fake — which had earlier been posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of the vehemently anti-Muslim British hate group Britain First. Fransen was convicted last year by a British court for harassing a woman wearing a hijab – in front of the woman’s children. Here is a brief backgrounder of Britain First and its history.

  • 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.

  • Middle Eastern countries pushed U.S. to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities: Kerry

    Former Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday said that that he Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia were pushing the United States to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities rather than join other powers in signing the 2015 deal. Speaking at a Washington, D.C. forum, Kerry said he believed that Egypt and Saudi Arabia – and other Middle Eastern countries agitating for a U.S. military strike against Iran – would have publicly criticized the United States if it went ahead and attacked Iran.

  • Israel warned Assad it will take action to prevent Iran’s military presence in Syria

    Israel passed a message to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad through an intermediary that it would take military action in Syria if Iran is allowed to establish a permanent military presence in Syria. Israel has not intervened in the Syrian conflict, but has taken action to prevent the transfer of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah and to prevent military infrastructure being established on its border.

  • Antivirus but not anti-spy

    The late senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin (he died in 1989) made a name for himself for his Golden Fleece Awards — awards given each year to the most wasteful U.S. government programs. Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), continuing in Proxmire’s tradition, has just released the third volume of his annual of his Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways the Government Dropped the Ball. One of the U.S. federal government’s major fumbles has been the way it has dealt with Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. The U.S. intelligence community has long suspected that Kaspersky Lab was using its popular antivirus software – used not only by individuals and corporations, but also by U.S. government agencies – to collect sensitive information from the computer systems on which the software was installed, and deliver that information to the GRU and the FSB, the KGB’s successor agency.

  • “We know” Russia hacked election, and such cyberattacks can happen again: Sen. Angus King

    Though President Trump says he is not convinced that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine said that he and his colleagues on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is probing the matter, have “no doubt whatsoever” of Moscow’s involvement. “We know they did it, we know it was sophisticated, we know it was serious, and we know they’re coming back!” said King during a discussion at the Harvard Kennedy School.

  • Should we fear the rise of drone assassins? Two experts debate

    A new short film from the Campaign Against Killer Robots warns of a future where weaponized flying drones target and assassinate certain members of the public, using facial recognition technology to identify them. Is this a realistic threat that could rightly spur an effective ban on the technology? Or is it an overblown portrayal designed to scare governments into taking simplistic, unnecessary and ultimately futile action? Two academics offer their expert opinions.

  • The time to hack-proof the 2018 election is expiring — and Congress is way behind

    Lawmakers are scrambling to push something — anything — through Congress which would help secure the U.S. voting systems ahead of the 2018 elections. It might, however, already be too late for some critical targets. By this point during the 2016 election cycle, Russian government hackers had already breached the Democratic National Committee’s networks for at least three months.