• Journalists’ computer security tools lacking in a post-Snowden world

    Edward Snowden’s leak of classified documents to journalists around the world about massive government surveillance programs and threats to personal privacy ultimately resulted in a Pulitzer Prize for public service. Though Snowden had no intention of hiding his identity, the disclosures also raised new questions about how effectively news organizations can protect anonymous sources and sensitive information in an era of constant data collection and tracking. Researchers found a number of security weaknesses in journalists’ and news organizations’ technological tools and ad-hoc workarounds.

  • In first case of its kind, UK high court rules surveillance law unconstitutional

    Controversial surveillance legislation hustled through parliament last summer has been ruled unlawful by the U.K. High Court, which argued that the vague terms and descriptions of powers in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIPA) renders the act incompatible with human rights under European law. DRIPA, one in a series of laws supporting controversial surveillance powers passed by successive U.K. governments, establishes the principle by which anti-terrorism measures and national security priorities take precedence over human rights considerations. However, the judgment rules that the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights must take precedence, and in doing so requires the U.K. government to undo its own act of parliament — a significant precedent by a British court.

  • FAA investigating teen’s gun-toting drone

    An 18-year-old Connecticut man may have run afoul of federal aviation regulation after posting a video on YouTube showing a small drone hovering about ten of fifteen feet above ground in a wooded area while a gun strapped to it was firing shots. The FAA said Tuesday it was investigating whether Austin Haughwout of Clinton violated the agency’s regulations, which ban the careless or reckless operation of a model aircraft.

  • Questions raised about Kaspersky’s close ties to the Russian government

    Kaspersky Lab is a Moscow-based company which sells security software, including antivirus programs. The company has 400 million customers, and it ranks sixth in revenue among security-software makers. Since 2012, the company began to replace senior managers with people with close ties to Russia’s military or intelligence services. The company is also helping the FSB, the KGB’s successor, in investigating hacks – and people in the know say the company provides the FSB with the personal data of customers. The company’s actual or perceived alliances have made it a struggle to win U.S. federal contracts.

  • New U.K. surveillance review calls for a fresh start in the law for interception of communications

    After a year of investigation and consultation, the U.K. Independent Surveillance Review has delivered its conclusions to Prime Minister David Cameron. The authors presented their report, A Democratic License to Operate, yesterday (14 July 2015). The Review shows how a democracy can combine the high level of security the public has a right to expect, and also ensure the respect for privacy and freedom of speech that are the foundations of a democracy. The panel unanimously calls on government, civil society, and industry to accept its recommendations and work together to put them into practice.

  • Drones contribute to improving crops

    Researchers have used a drone to measure the temperature, humidity, luminosity, and carbon dioxide concentration in a greenhouse. The capacity of an aerial vehicle to move in three-dimensional space, and the possibility to place the sensor at any point, have clear advantages compared to other alternatives such as sensor networks. By building maps of environmental variables, the drones could help achieve optimal conditions for plant growth.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Making space safer by spotting, removing space debris

    Scientists estimate that there are now some 20,000 particles of space junk measuring more than ten centimeters in diameter hurtling around Earth at an average velocity of 25,000 kilometers per hour, not counting the 700,000 or so particles with a diameter of between one and ten centimeters. Although small, these items of space debris are traveling so fast that they could easily damage or destroy an operational satellite. A new German space surveillance system, scheduled to go into operation in 2018, will help to prevent such incidents.

  • UAV in test flights to detect mock pipeline hazards

    Unmanned aircraft researchers associated with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech tested new sensor technology designed to detect potentially disruptive activities along energy pipeline routes. The flights last week near Farmville, in rural Virginia, involved a fixed-wing RS-20 unmanned aircraft flying beyond the visual line of sight of ground observers. The aircraft had a wingspan of more than seventeen feet and was equipped with optical and infrared sensors designed to detect threats to pipeline integrity. A piloted chase aircraft, with a visual observer onboard, followed behind the UAS [unmanned aerial system] to ensure safety.

  • U.S. surveillance policies cost U.S. tech sector more than $35 billion in sales

    New report says the U.S. tech industry has under-performed as a result of concerns about the U.S. government’s electronic surveillance. The report estimates that the total economic impact on the U.S. tech sector of U.S. surveillance practices exceeds $35 billion annually. The report recommends policymakers level the playing field for the U.S. tech sector by implementing a series of reforms such as increasing the transparency of its surveillance practices, opposing government efforts to weaken encryption or introduce backdoors in software, and strengthening its mutual legal assistance treaties with other nations.

  • Snowden fallout: Revelations forced U.K. to pull out agents from “hostile countries”

    The British security services had to pull out agents from “hostile countries” as a result of information the Chinese and Russian intelligence services obtained when they gained access to the millions of top-secret NSA files Edward Snowed was carrying with him when he fled to Honk Kong and then to Russia. Snowden assured journalists who interviewed him that the Chinese and Russian intelligence services would not be able to access these files because he encrypted them with the highest encryption methods available. Security experts commented that he was either naïve or disingenuous – because he must have known, or should have known, that the cyber capabilities these two countries would make it relatively easy for them to crack the encrypted files he was carrying with him. We now know that these security experts were right.

  • Administration rejects criticism of NSA’s surveillance of foreign hackers

    Just two years after the Edward Snowden leaks exposed the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, another report released last Friday from the Snowden files shares information about the NSA’s efforts to track foreign hackers. As with the NSA’s controversial foreign surveillance program which kept metadata records of suspected foreign terrorists’ conversations with Americans, the NSA’s hacker program may incidentally gather Americans’ private information from the files of foreign hackers.

  • Administration asks court for six more months of NSA bulk metadata collection

    Just four hours after President Barack Obama vowed to sign the USA Freedom Actwhich limits the NSA’s domestic bulk data collection program, his administration asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court to ignore a ruling by the second circuit court of appeals declaring the bulk surveillance program unauthorized, and instead grant the NSA power to continue bulk collection for six months. In its request, the administration pointed to a six months transition period provided in the USA Freedom Act as a reason to permit an “orderly transition” of the NSA’s domestic bulk collection program.