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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Security Experts Believe the Internet of Things (IoT) Will Be Used to Kill Someone

As reported by ComputerWorld: Imagine a fleet of quad copters or drones equipped with explosives and controlled by terrorists. Or someone who hacks into a connected insulin pump and changes the settings in a lethal way. Or maybe the hacker who accesses a building's furnace and thermostat controls and runs the furnace full bore until a fire is started.

Those may all sound like plot material for a James Bond movie, but there are security experts who now believe, as does Jeff Williams, CTO of Contrast Security, that "the Internet of Things will kill someone."

Williams, whose firm provides application security, doesn't know exactly how IoT might be used to kill someone or what device will be implicated in the nefarious scheme, but considers it a certainty that a connected device will play a role in a murder.

Similarly, Rashmi Knowles, chief security architect at RSA, said something similar in a recent blog post, imagining criminals hacking into medical devices and starting "a complete new economy" by blackmailing victims.

"Question is, when is the first murder?" wrote Knowles.

You can dismiss these concerns as hype or exaggeration, but many security community predictions about earlier Internet-related risks have become true. As businesses raced to develop Web platforms, security experts imagined massive breaches and thefts of personal and financial data in every way possible. There's no question they were right.

Today, there is a new "rush to connect things" and "it is leading to very sloppy engineering from a security perspective, which makes ... internet of things devices very attackable -- the way web applications were 10 years ago," said Williams.

There are industry verticals that are trying to avoid IoT security problems from the onset by setting up industry collaborations, said John Pescatore, director of emerging security trends at the Sans Institute.

One major effort, the Industrial Internet Consortium, was founded in March and includes IBM, HP, GE, Microsoft and Toyota, among many others. It is now working on IoT security issues. There are other industries, such as medical device and automotive, that are doing much the same thing.

Enterprise users, however, will have to integrate all these technologies, with multiple operating systems, and then make them all work together as a system, said Pescatore. He noted the difficultly it took to get security standards on a PC.

"I think it makes the system integration a lot harder," said Pescatore, and it was "hard enough doing PCs and servers."

New methods of securing IoT devices may emerge. For instance, in the scenario where a furnace runs constantly in an effort to burn down a house, the power passes through the electric utility, which can act like a managed service provider, or quasi-firewall, and take action when a power use anomaly is detected, said Pescatore.

Predicting murder via the IoT is, for now, nothing more than speculation. But the risks, and the types of risks, are increasing.

In a speech earlier this year, CIA Director John Brennan said that as "we move closer to what some are calling an 'Internet of Things,' there will be more devices and systems to protect -- and, equally worrisome, more that can be used to launch attacks."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

GPS Study Tracks Grizzlies as They Follow Hunters

As reported by Fox News: This GPS system is a real bear.

Eight Montana grizzly bears have been outfitted with GPS trackers in an ongoing study that could bring some unnerving news to hunters.
The study is aimed at bolstering the theory that grizzlies, which can be as stealthy as they are ferocious, stalk hunters from as close as the length of a football field in order to steal their prey. Already, data has shown at least one grizzly following oblivious elk hunters almost from the moment they left the parking lot, according to the Billings Gazette
Scientists believe the bear may have been following the humans in hopes of getting to a fallen elk before they did.
"Bears opportunistically scavenge carcasses throughout the active season and commonly usurp kills of other predators, such as cougars and, since their reintroduction in 1995, gray wolves,” stated a report last year by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. “Remains left by hunters also provide grizzly bears with meat, and bears are attracted to areas outside of national parks when these remains become available during the fall.”
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, part of the U.S. Geological Survey, started the project over the summer, by tagging the grizzlies in the Grand Teton National Park. Next, the study team asked elk hunters to voluntarily carry some 100 GPS units that track their routes.
In the most clearly detailed example, a group of hunters turned on their GPS devices moments after leaving a parking area at around 6 a.m. When scientists analyzed their movements later and contrasted them with those of a nearby grizzly, it became clear the bear was tailing them.
The bruin stayed downwind of the hunters, at one point coming within 100 yards of them as they moved around a lake. At around noon, the bear bedded down for a nap, but easily picked up the hunters’ trail again when it awoke, according to the report. Grizzly bears’ have a sense of smell seven times greater than that of a bloodhound, and 100 times that of a human by some estimates. Grizzlies also possess a Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouth that can detect heavier moisture-borne odors.
Scientists tracked the bear as it appeared to smell an elk carcass from 4 miles away, follow the scent and even wound up swimming across the lake to get to it, according to the report. They also observed that the bear made some evasive maneuvers, possibly to avoid an untagged grizzly competing for the same meat.
“The temporary movements away from the carcass could be indicative of this particular bear being ‘pushed off’ the carcass by a more dominant bear,” said Frank van Manen, of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team based in Bozeman.
Grizzlies have been known to steal the prey of hunters and fishermen alike. Animals such as elk may travel for miles after being wounded, leaving hunters the task of tracking them even as bears may be doing the same.
So attuned to the movements of hunters are the bears that scientists believe they may even listen for the sound of gunshots, knowing that they signal a meal to be scavenged. Grizzlies are known scavengers, and officials noted there have been cases of the mighty bruins attacking hunters as they dressed elk in the field. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks now requires successful bison hunters outside of Yellowstone National Park to move carcasses and gut piles 200 yards away from homes, roads and trails to lessen the chances of human-bear interactions, according to the Gazette.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

GPS Not Working? This Analog Nav System Contains No Electronics At All

Chemical computing may not be as practical as electronic GPS, but it works-and it's fast.
As reported by FastCompany: What to do when the GPS on your phone is being wonky and you have no clue where you're going? If these scientists have their way, there may be an alternative to find the fastest route to your destination: a totally analog GPS that works by using the age-old laws of chemistry.

The "chemical computing" system is admittedly a bit less practical than even those frustrating Garmins, but it could work faster than traditional satellite-based navigation. It’s already has been used to find the fastest route to a pizza restaurant in the city of Budapest.

To set it up, the scientists first created a maze that looks like a map of the area and includes start and end points. They filled it with an alkaline liquid, and at the exit of the labyrinth (i.e. the destination), placed a gel mixed with an acid. The acid slowly spread around the maze, but most of it stayed at the exit. Next, they mixed another alkaline solution with a colored dye and added it to the maze’s starting point. The starting point solution automatically moved towards the place with the highest acidity, i.e. the exit of the maze.

Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology Rita Toth, a co-author of the study, explains that a chemical computer is more efficient than an electronic one because it finds all possible routes in parallel. While the dye mostly moves via the fastest route from start to finish, some of it also moves along other, less efficient routes. "A normal computer calculates step-by-step one possibility after another, which takes longer," she writes in a press release.

It’s not the first time scientists have tested alternative systems to design or discover new routes. When scientists arranged oat flakes in the pattern of Japanese cities, for example, single-celled slime molds built nutrient channels in a pattern similar to the Japanese rail system. In that work, according to Wired, the scientists believed the slime mold’s behavior could help design more efficient, adaptable transportation networks.

The chemical computer team, which also included researchers in Hungary, Japan, and Scotland, is now creating larger, more complex mazes and eventually hopes the system could be useful in transportation planning and other fields. Already, however, the Budapest pizza navigation was a proof-of-concept in the real world.

Fluc Raises $2.3 Million To Improve The Logistics Of Food Delivery

As reported by Techcrunch: When it comes to food delivery, people want things fast and fresh and most of all, and increasingly they want to know when that food will get to them. Thanks to the Uber-ification of everything, being able to place an order and see when it will arrive (and even see a delivery in process) is becoming table stakes in the on-demand economy.

Then again, setting expectations for on-demand logistics is not easy. Which is why a whole bunch of math geeks created Fluc, which is a food-delivery service that tries to provide better customer service using complex routing algorithms to get food to its customers faster.

With that goal in mind, Fluc raised $2.3 million in seed funding to expand its business and keep moving into new markets. The new financing came from investors that include Sherpa Ventures, WI Harper, Charlie Cheever, Blake Ross, Zhou Hongyi, and other angels.

Fluc to date has mostly been operating in the South Bay, working to figure out how to most efficiently make deliveries in what is essentially a suburban market. Its key differentiator isn't in the restaurants it signs up or the food it delivers, necessarily, but in the routing that it’s built on the back end, which makes more efficient use of its drivers.

In the same way that Uber or Lyft has a good idea of where demand will be based on factors like time of day or even weather, Fluc uses a huge amount of data to provide precise estimates of when food will be delivered to customers. But setting expectations around arrival is one thing — behind the scenes Fluc is optimizing routes and pickups for its drivers in real-time.

That means not only knowing where orders will be coming from, but also generally how long food will take to prepare based on venue and location, how long it takes to get from one place to another, and where items need to be delivered. Based on all the info provided, Fluc seeks to optimize driver routes to enable them to “stack” multiple orders in a more efficient manner, while also getting food to the customer in a short period of time.

Fluc calls its logistics technology “The Oracle,” based on the Matrix, and co-founder Tim Davis says the backend platform can typically predict a driver’s moves up to 3-5 deliveries ahead of where they currently are at any given time.

Fluc’s cost of delivery is at $6 per order now, but users can now split the bill when ordering multiple items, which reduces the individual price for each person. As a result, the company could draw more orders from office workers for lunch or for those hanging out and watching a Football game in Sunday.

Now that it’s received seed funding, the outfit is ready to expand its offering into new places. While Davis wouldn’t say which markets the company would be focusing on, showing that the service works in suburban areas, as opposed to highly dense cities, means it has huge potential in places where delivering $10 meals in 10 minutes wouldn’t make sense.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

DOT’s Latest Projections for Mandating Electronic Logging Devices

As reported by Overdrive: A Final Rule mandating the use of electronic logging devices by drivers and fleets is expected to be published Sept. 30, 2015, according to a recent Department of Transportation report, meaning enforcement of the mandate would begin Sept. 30, 2017.

That publication date is a projection, included in the DOT’s monthly regulatory update.
The report also says a projected rule to mandate the use of speed limiters will be sent from the DOT to the White Houses’ Office of Management and Budget next month, in line for a March 16 publication date.

That projected rule’s action dates, however, have been pushed back several times this year already.

Here are the projected dates for other upcoming regulations included in the report:

Liability insurance increase: Still projected for publication this month is an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the minimum amount of liability insurance that motor carriers must have. The ANPRM will likely be simply a questionnaire for carriers that will be used as a data gathering tool for the agency and not a rule intended to raise the current minimum.

The agency still would have to produce a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and accept public comment before crafting a Final Rule.

Safety Fitness Determination: The DOT also projects in its report that FMCSA’s long-awaited Safety Fitness Determination rule will be published in April as a NPRM. The rule, once final, will allow the agency to use the data at its disposal to create absolute scores for carriers, which would be used to target them for intervention.

The DOT projects a publication date of March 24. The rule will be sent to the OMB Dec. 23, according to the projection, and clear the OMB March 24.

CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse: The Clearinghouse would establish a database of drives who have failed or refused to take a drug or alcohol test. The rule is scheduled to be published as a Final Rule in October 2015. It was published as a proposed rule this year.

Driver coercion prohibition rule: This rule would prohibit carriers, brokers and others from coercing drivers to violate federal rules, like hours of service. It is scheduled to be published as a final rule Sept. 10, 2015. It was published as a proposed rule this year.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Laser-Radio Wireless Links Upgrade the Internet

As reported by MIT Technology Review: The rise of Wi-Fi and cellular data services made Internet access more convenient and ubiquitous. Now some of the high-speed backhaul data that powers Internet services looks set to go wireless, too.

Technology that uses parallel radio and laser links to move data through the air at high speeds, in wireless hops of up to 10 kilometers at a time, is in trials with three of the largest U.S. Internet carriers. It is also being rolled out by one telecommunications provider in Mexico, and is helping build out the Internet infrastructure of Nigeria, a country that was connected to a new high-capacity submarine cable from Europe last year.

AOptix, the company behind the technology, pitches it as a cheaper and more practical alternative to laying new fiber optic cables. Efforts to dig trenches to install fiber in urban areas face significant bureaucratic and physical challenges.

Meanwhile, many rural areas and developing countries lack the infrastructure needed to support fiber, says Chandra Pusarla, senior vice president of products and technology at AOptix. He says a faster way to install new capacity is to use his company’s wireless transmission towers to move data at two gigabits per second.

Pusarla says the service is particularly attractive to wireless carriers, whose customers have growing appetites for mobile data. Many U.S. providers are currently scrambling to install fiber to replace the copper cables that still link up around half of all cellular towers, he says, but progress has been slow and costly. In the suburbs of New York City, the cost of installing a single kilometer of new fiber can be $800,000, says Pusarla.

AOptix technology takes the form of a box roughly the size of a coffee table with an infrared laser peering out of a small window on the front, and a directional millimeter wave radio beside it. The two technologies form a wireless link with an identical box up to 10 kilometers away. A series of such connections can be daisy-chained together to make a link of any length.

AOptix teamed up the laser and radio links to compensate for weaknesses with either technology used alone. Laser beams are blocked by fog, while millimeter wave radio signals are absorbed by rain. Routing data over both simultaneously provides redundancy that allows an AOptix link to guarantee a rate of two gigabits per second with only five minutes or less downtime in a year, whatever the weather conditions, says Pusarla.

A typical fiber connection might be 10 or more times faster than that, due to the limitations of the radio frequency link. But AOptix says the convenience of its technology makes up for that, and it could be increased to four gigabits or more in the future.

The radio and laser equipment inside an AOptix device move automatically to compensate for the swaying of a cell tower caused by wind. AOptix originally developed its laser technology for the Pentagon, designing systems that actively steer laser beams to keep data moving between ground stations, drones, and fighter jets. 

Pursala declined to identify the three U.S. carriers that have been testing AOptix’s technology over the past year or so, or its Nigerian customer.

Other early customers are being more open. The Mexican telecommunications company Car-sa recently switched on the first of several links it plans to use to link up cellular towers and provide Internet to corporate customers. And before the end of the year, Anova Technologies, a networking company that specializes in the financial industry, will use AOptix technology in New Jersey to shave nanoseconds off the time it takes data to travel between the computers of Nasdaq Stock Market and the New York Stock Exchange.

Elon Musk Testing 'X-Wing' Fins for Resusable Rockets

As reported by Techcrunch: Let’s face it: Elon Musk is probably a time traveler sent back to help us leave earth behind and achieve the next phase of human evolution. The inventor and entrepreneur issued a minor tweet storm earlier, in which he detailed a new SpaceX program to test the function of “X-Wing” style grid fins that could help spacecraft navigate upon re-entry after delivering personnel or cargo to an orbiting space station.

Here, in chronological order, are Musk’s own tweets describing the tech, which, also includes an autonomous seafaring drone spaceport platform, to give them a landing pad that can hold its position within three meters’ distance even in the heart of a raging storm.

The SpaceX reusable rocket program has been progressing with varying results, including an explosion over Texas back in August. While the incident didn't result in any injury or even “near injuries,” Musk conceded in a tweet that this was evidence that “[r]ockets are tricky.” An earlier test flight from this summer involving an ocean splashdown was considered more successful, proving that the Space X Falcon 9 booster could re-enter earth’s atmosphere, restart its engines, deploy its landing legs and make a touch down at “near zero velocity.”

These new modifications to the rocket should make atmospheric navigation easier, with each fin operating independently to help control the craft’s angle, speed and vector. They also fold up and stow during takeoff, so they don’t add any additional drag. The autonomous spaceports are essentially seafaring landing pads, which can help make sure that re-entering craft are far from any populated areas in the event of any incident, while still providing a stable target for landing spaceships.

All of which is to say, once again, that Elon Musk and everything he does is pretty much amazing.

Bidding in Government Auction of Airwaves Reaches $34 Billion

As reported by the NY Times: A government auction of airwaves for use in mobile broadband has blown through presale estimates, becoming the biggest auction in the Federal Communications Commission’s history and signaling that wireless companies expect demand for Internet access by smartphones to continue to soar.

And it’s not over yet.

Companies bid more than $34 billion as of Friday afternoon for six blocks of airwaves, totaling 65 megahertz of the electromagnetic spectrum, being sold by the F.C.C. That total is more than three times the $10.5 billion reserve price that the commission put on the sale, the first offering of previously unavailable airwaves in six years.

Prices are likely to rise further, because the auction has no definite end and could continue for days or weeks. The previous record was $18.9 billion raised in a 2008 sale of airwaves that, because of their lower frequency, are considered more attractive for wireless phone use than the current batch.

“It’s stunning,” said Preston Padden, executive director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, a group representing broadcast television stations that are considering giving up their spectrum for sale in the F.C.C.’s next auction, scheduled for 2016. “Consumer demand for wireless broadband is on a growth curve that looks like a hockey stick, and carriers are desperate to keep up with that demand.”
The F.C.C. chairman, Tom Wheeler. “Years of hard work paved the way” for the auction, he said. Credit Jabin Botsford/The New York Times

A successful sale was anything but a foregone conclusion. The frequencies are currently occupied by government agencies, including branches of the military, which had to be cajoled to agree to move out or to share portions of them.
Several factors appear to have contributed to the auction’s success, as the pent-up demand from years without an auction coincided with the explosive popularity of smartphones and mobile broadband. The response is more surprising given that the airwaves’ high frequency makes them less attractive for wireless use than those sold in the last auction or scheduled for the 2016 sale.

Coming soon after President Obama called for strong net neutrality regulations to be applied equally to wireless networks, the robust bidding also seems to indicate that mobile phone companies are not as reluctant to make new investments as they indicated they were when protesting the president’s recommendation.

The auction is a significant victory for the F.C.C. and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the agency in the Commerce Department that oversees the nation’s communications systems. It makes it much likelier that broadcast stations might be willing to give up or move their positions on the spectrum to free up airwaves to be sold in the 2016 auction, because they will receive a portion of the proceeds as an incentive.

“Years of hard work paved the way” for the auction, “and ongoing bidding appears to signal considerable commercial interest in this spectrum,” the F.C.C. chairman, Tom Wheeler, and an assistant secretary of commerce, Lawrence E. Strickling, said in a joint statement on Friday.
About $7 billion of the proceeds will be used to finance the building of a nationwide public-safety communications network, known as FirstNet, with the remainder going to the Treasury.
The relatively high position on the electromagnetic spectrum of the blocks being sold also cast doubt on their attractiveness. Higher-frequency waves generally have more trouble passing through buildings, making them less desirable for mobile phones, although they are able to carry lots of data, increasingly important to wireless broadband.

Frequencies being sold include two blocks in the 1695-1710 megahertz band, and four paired sets of frequencies at 1755-1780 and 2155-2180 megahertz. The next scheduled broadcast spectrum auction, in 2016, involves frequencies in the 600 megahertz band.

The last such sale was in 2008, when the iPhone was barely a year old and demand for mobile broadband was at a relative trickle. Today, as consumers stream video and share photographs with many more phones, tablets and other devices, demand for bandwidth has exploded.
Some analysts have also speculated that because the auction of broadcast television bands currently scheduled for 2016 has already been delayed twice, buyers might be skeptical that those frequencies will come to market on schedule — giving them extra incentive to buy now rather than wait.

Still, the current spectrum, known as the AWS-3 bands, is also not likely to be available for use for some years. Government users will first have to move out of the bands, or buyers figure out how to share some of the airwaves with military operators.

Seventy companies were approved to bid in the auction, but the high bidders will not be identified until after the auction is completed. New owners will then have to engineer their devices to work with the high-frequency spectrum, although the biggest companies, like AT&T and Verizon Wireless, already use similar, adjacent frequencies, so that is not likely to be too onerous.

Verizon Wireless and AT&T are assumed to be among the big bidders in the sale. But Philip Cusick, a financial analyst at J.P. Morgan, wrote in a note to clients on Thursday that “the continued rapid rise in bids is a sign that there is a third, or perhaps fourth, large bidder in the auction.”

One of those could be Dish Network, the satellite company, which already owns some nearby frequencies. Dish Network’s share price rose 13 percent last week as investors realized the aggressive bidding meant Dish’s holdings were probably undervalued.

Shares of Verizon and AT&T, for their part, fell slightly, as analysts noted that the companies might be spending more than they expected.

Some prices are truly eye-popping. The price for licenses in a 20-megahertz block of paired frequencies covering New York and Long Island and portions of adjacent states stood at $1.96 billion Friday afternoon. In the bidding round that starts Monday morning, the minimum bid is more than $2 billion.

The results of the yet-to-be-completed auction have some parties calling for Congress to pave the way for more sales, and soon. “Companies are clamoring to give the federal government money,” Vince Jesaitis, vice president for government affairs at the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group, wrote on the group’s blog last week.

“The clamoring for spectrum available in this auction,” he added, “should refocus our lawmakers’ attention on the value of this resource and the need to put it to use to meet the needs of the American public.”