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UK's rail signal upgrades 'could be hacked to cause crashes'

in security on (#7WD7)
A hi-tech signalling system that will eventually control all of Britain's trains could potentially be hacked to cause a serious crash, according to a scientist who advises the government. Network Rail, which is in charge of the upgrade, acknowledges the threat. "We know that the risk [of a cyber-attack] will increase as we continue to roll out digital technology across the network," a spokesman told the BBC.

"Certain ministers know this is absolutely possible and they are worried about it. Safeguards are going in, in secret, but it's always possible to get around them." He added that part of the reason that transport systems had not already been hacked as frequently as financial institutions and media organisations was that much of the technology involved was currently too old to be vulnerable. All of that will change in the coming years, as aircraft, cars and trains become progressively more computerised and connected, he said.

Build Your Own Linux Distro

Anonymous Coward
in ask on (#7TAG)
story imageBen Everard | April 23, 2015

"Do you have a favourite distro that you’ve spent hours customising? Mayank Sharma shows you how you can spin it into a live distro that you can pass to friends, family, or even on to DistroWatch!"

Arizona to fight drought by seeding clouds

in environment on (#7RPQ)
Of all the potential solutions offered for Arizona’s water challenges, one has a decidedly science fiction feel: planes flying over the Rockies, seeding clouds with aerosolized silver iodide to stimulate rain and snow. It’s not magic or raindancing but a very real process that dates back to the 1940s. Cloud seeding works by adding ice nuclei, or the initial seed of a rain drop or snowflake, into a cloud that has extra moisture. That’s typically done with silver iodide in an aerosol form. The Central Arizona Project has put about $1 million toward research since 2007, in hopes of increasing the supply in the Colorado River system.

A recent Wyoming Weather Modification pilot project suggested cloud seeding causes an increase of seasonal snow water accumulations of 5 to 15 percent and a 1.8 percent increase in stream-flows. “Percentage-wise, that might seem modest, but for the investment you put in that’s actually pretty good,” Mahmoud said. Compared to other alternatives for water augmentation, like desalinating seawater, cloud seeding is the cheapest option. “It’s a simple way to try to have a new supply in our efforts to mitigate potential shortage on the Colorado River that could happen as early as 2016 or 2017,” he said.

WiFi on airplanes: good. Zero-day vulns on aircraft: bad

in security on (#7NYM)
story imageAnyone who spends significant time on aircraft probably agrees that internet access at 30,000 feet is pretty cool. But only if the internet access system isn't stupidly tethered to other aircraft systems of critical importance.
Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? "PASS OXYGEN ON" Anyone ? :)

— Chris Roberts (@Sidragon1) April 15, 2015
The tweet was a joke laced with sarcasm. Roberts is a veteran of the vulnerability disclosure wars, having tried for years to get Boeing and Airbus to heed warnings about security issues with their passenger communications systems. His tweet about the Engine Indicator Crew Alert System, or EICAS, was a reference to research he’d done years ago on vulnerabilities in inflight infotainment networks, vulnerabilities that could allow an attacker to access cabin controls and deploy a plane’s oxygen masks.

It was the wrong message to send. The Feds were waiting when Roberts landed in Syracuse.
Chris Roberts may be pushing buttons on purpose here, but as a security researcher, he's asking the right question about the corporate culture of disclosing and patching vulnerabilities. And the airline industry as a whole has some maturing to do with regard to this well-worn topic.

Project Fi - Google's take on mobile phone service

in mobile on (#7M46)
Today, Google unveiled it's long anticipated mobile phone service, called Project Fi. However, Google is not building their own network, but relying on the existing Sprint and T-Mobile networks. Because the service can intelligently switch from one LTE network to the other, depending on signal strength, access is initially limited to Nexus 6 owners. Project Fi phones will need a cellular radio that can work with different network types and support a unique SIM that grants access to multiple networks.

The new service will cost $20 a month for unlimited voice and text, plus $10 a month per GB of data used. Interestingly, any unused fraction of data transfer per month is refunded at the same flat rate. For example, if you only use 200 MB of your $10/month data plan, you get an $8 refund.

Another interesting tidbit is how the service uses Wi-Fi. They claim voice calls can transition seamlessly between Wi-Fi hotspots and cell networks. Google has apparently cataloged over a million access points and will automatically connect you to verified hot spots. Also, all data transferred while using an open Wi-Fi hotspot is automatically encrypted through a built-in VPN-like service.

Firmware licenses threatening the concept of ownership

in code on (#7KYD)
In the software world, it's long been the practice that you don't purchase software, you purchase a license to use it. But as software increasingly gets woven into other products - like the many chips and circuits that run your modern automobile - this practice starts to chip away at the traditional sense of ownership of physical goods.
In a particularly spectacular display of corporate delusion, John Deere—the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker —told the Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of modern tractors, farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it.

Several manufacturers recently submitted similar comments to the Copyright Office under an inquiry into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. DMCA is a vast 1998 copyright law that (among other things) governs the blurry line between software and hardware. The Copyright Office, after reading the comments and holding a hearing, will decide in July which high-tech devices we can modify, hack, and repair—and decide whether John Deere’s twisted vision of ownership will become a reality.
It's a conversation with profound implications for the future. Check out the rest at Wired.

Norway to shut down all analog FM radio

in ask on (#7H95)
story imageNorway is making an historic move into a new radio era, being the first country in the world to decide upon an analog switch-off for all major radio channels. Several countries in Europe and Southeast Asia are in similar processes, choosing DAB-technology as the backbone of future radio distribution. Norway began the transition to DAB back in 1995. The DAB-coverage in Norway now exceeds FM-coverage. DAB provides Norway with 22 national channels, as opposed to five channels transmitting nationwide on FM.

"We can finally complete the work that has been on-going for many years. This is the best solution for all listeners throughout Norway, as they now have a better radio." 56 per cent of radio listeners use digital radio every day. 55 per cent of households have at least one DAB radio. While 44 % of listeners only use FM radio daily, according to Digitalradio survey by TNS Gallup. Switch-off starts in Nordland county 11th January 2017 and ends with the northernmost counties Troms and Finnmark 13th December 2017.

World's oldest stone tools are older than modern humans

in hardware on (#7H94)
story imageThe oldest known stone tools in the world were made some 3.3 million years ago, which would make these newly discovered implements older than modern humans. Archaeologists working in the Kenyan Rift Valley that discovered the tools said the set of 20 stone flakes and anvils are some 700,000 years older than stone tools from Ethiopia that previously held this record. These tools predate the earliest fossils representing our genus, Homo, by 500,000 years. What these tools suggest is that stone tool manufacture didn't begin with Homo as previously held but with a more primitive member of the human family.

Scientists working at the site of Dikika, Ethiopia in 2010 where fossils belonging to Lucy's species had previously turned up said they had recovered 3.4 million year-old animal bones bearing distinctive marks. They argued hominins had made the marks in the course of slicing meat off the bones with stone tools. The claim caused heated debate with some scientists saying the alleged cut marks were instead the result of the bones having been trampled by passing animals. Others suggested they were bite marks from crocodiles.

Crickets aren’t ready to replace meat

in environment on (#7F7R)
Worldwide, statistics show that crickets are the most widely cultivated insects for the human diet and are considered the “gateway bug” for people who choose to eat insects. Crickets are readily available in pet stores as food for turtles, frogs, and other pets. They are considered delicacies or snacks for people in many countries. Cricket flour is now commonly found in protein bars, baked goods, and protein powders. Crickets have been touted as much better for the planet—environmentally and financially—than livestock, due to the supposedly more-efficient rate at which they convert feed into body mass. But in reality, there is very little data to support this.

Researchers measured the biomass output and feed conversion ratios of crickets (Acheta domesticus) that were reared on foods ranging from grain-based to high in cellulose. Crickets fed on processed food waste grew to harvestable size with conversion efficiency similar to industrial-scale production broiler chickens. But over 99 percent of the crickets fed minimally processed, municipal-scale food waste died before reaching a harvestable size. The measurements were made at a much greater population scale and density than any previously reported studies. These feed conversion ratios are much less efficient than those reported from studies conducted at smaller scales and lower population densities.

India to invest in nuclear power as well as renewables

in environment on (#7D01)
Naranda Modi (prime minister of India) and Stephen Harper (prime minister of Canada) recently met in Toronto where they announced a new 5-year agreement for India to purchase uranium from Saskatoon's Cameco corporation to generate nuclear energy in India. In an article at, Modi is reported as describing India's moves to support the so-called "saffron revolution" in which his administration is growing their commitments to nuclear, solar, wind, biomass and energy saving missions in India. The Hindu article states that: "At the heart of Mr. Modi’s speech was his repeated assertion, jan man badla hai, or “The minds of the people have changed," over his 10 months in office, and that India was finally on the move".

The announcement arrives at the same time that the journal Nature has published an opinion piece by Alan Rusbridger, editor--in-chief of the Guardian (London), that scientists must increase their professional and personal activism against the search and use of new fossil fuel energy sources. Rusbridger notes that: "the Guardian Media Group has, in the space of two months, moved from not really thinking very much about the issue to announcing that its £800-million (US$1.2-billion) fund will divest from fossil fuels within 2–5 years".

These events beg the question of which countries and technologies will be the winners and losers in the reshaping of the global energy supply in the coming decades and what the economic value of yet-to-be-exploited hydrocarbon resources will be going forward as well?