Archive for October 2006

NASA Completes Survey of Nearby Supermassive Black Holes

SPACE.com — NASA Completes Survey of Nearby Supermassive Black Holes

A new census compiled by astronomers contains the location of every local galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its center.

“We are confident we are seeing every, active supermassive black hole within 400-million-light-years of Earth,” said Jack Tueller of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland who led the census effort.

Called active galactic nuclei, or AGN, these black holes have masses of up to billions of Suns compressed into a region about the size of our solar system. The all-sky census [image], performed using NASA’s Swift satellite over a nine-month period, detected more than 200 nearby AGN. [More]

Chinese Hackers Hit Commerce Department

Chinese Hackers Hit Commerce Department – Management News by InformationWeek

An attack against computers of the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) — the branch of Commerce responsible for overseeing U.S. exports which have both commercial and military applications — forced BIS to turn off Internet access in early September.

An August e-mail from acting Undersecretary of Commerce Mark Foulon quoted by the Washington Post said that BIS “had identified several successful attempts to attack unattended BIS workstations during the overnight hours.” Last month, reported the Post, Foulon wrote: “It has become clear that Internet access in itself is a vulnerability that we cannot mitigate. We have tried incremental steps and they have proven insufficient.”

“BIS discovered evidence of a targeted attack to access user accounts,” confirmed Richard Mills, a Commerce Department spokesman. “But there is no evidence that any BIS data has been compromised.”

This is the second major attack originating in China that’s been acknowledged by the federal government since July. Then, the State Department said that Chinese attackers had broken into its systems overseas and in Washington. And last year, Britain’s National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Center (NISCC) claimed that Chinese hackers had attacked more than 300 government agencies and private companies in the U.K.

“This [Commerce attack] is the third or fourth battle that we’ve lost to China,” said Richard Stiennon, principal analyst with security consultancy IT-Harvest. “It’s not a digital Pearl Harbor, not yet, but it’s getting closer.” [More]

Making Water From Thin Air

Wired News: Making Water From Thin Air

“The program focused on creating water from the atmosphere using low-energy systems that could reduce the overall logistics burden for deployed forces and provide potable water within the reach of the war fighter any place, any time,” said Darpa spokeswoman Jan Walker.

To achieve this end, Darpa gave millions to research companies like LexCarb and Sciperio to create a contraption that could capture water in the Mesopotamian desert.

But it was another company, Aqua Sciences, that developed a product on its own and was first to put a product on the market that can operate in harsh climates.

“People have been trying to figure out how to do this for years, and we just came out of left field in response to Darpa,” said Abe Sher, chief executive officer of Aqua Sciences. “The atmosphere is a river full of water, even in the desert. It won’t work absolutely everywhere, but it works virtually everywhere.”

Sher said he is “not at liberty” to disclose details of the government contracts, except that Aqua Sciences won two highly competitive bids with “some very sophisticated companies.”

He did, however, provide a hint: Think of rice used in saltshakers that acts as a magnet to extract water and keeps salt from clumping.

“We figured out how to tap it in a very unique and proprietary way,” Sher said. “We figured out how to mimic nature, using natural salt to extract water and act as a natural decontamination. [Full Article]

EFF Files Suit Against FBI

Privacy Group (EFF) Files Suit Against FBI

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it is suing the Department of Justice because the FBI failed to respond in time to its Freedom of Information Act request for records on the DCS-3000 and Red Hook programs.

DCS-3000 is an interception system that the EFF said apparently evolved out of Carnivore, a system later renamed DCS-1000. The FBI developed Carnivore to read e-mails and other online communications among suspected criminals, terrorists and spies, but privacy groups and lawmakers complained it could collect much more than allowed by a warrant.

A Justice Department Inspector General report in March said the FBI had spent about $10 million on DCS-3000 to intercept communications over emerging digital technologies used by wireless carriers before next year’s federal deadline for them to deploy their own wiretap capabilities.

The same report said the FBI spent more than $1.5 million to develop Red Hook, “a system to collect voice and data calls and then process and display the intercepted information” before those wiretap capabilities are in place. [Full Article]

Thousands Of Government Computers Infected By Bots

InformationWeek – Thousands Of Government Computers Infected By Bots

Thousands of government computers may be under the control of cybercriminals. Software bots—malicious code that turns PCs and servers into remotely controlled “zombies”—have dug into the computers of federal and state agencies, security experts say. Once infected, those computers can be used to distribute spam, launch denial of service attacks, and even direct sensitive information into the wrong hands.

Security vendor Trend Micro, which has been studying the phenomenon and is pushing a service to detect bots, reports finding a bot infestation in government computers. Its list of bot-bitten organizations includes the Department of Defense, the Navy Network Information Center, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, Argonne National Laboratory, and the Navy Regional Data Automation Center. At the state level, its list includes the Alabama Supercomputer Network, Arkansas Department of Information Systems, Iowa Communications Network, and Connecticut’s Department of IT.

Trend Micro planned to disclose its findings this week — ostensibly in the interests of public awareness. But as InformationWeek followed up with organizations cited by Trend Micro, some of the vendor’s conclusions were called into question, owing in part to the complexity of tracking these zombie computers. One national laboratory, for example, was initially identified as having compromised machines, but the lab disputed those findings and subsequent analysis by Trend Micro revealed that the spam in question doesn’t appear to have come from computers that were hosted at the lab. Trend Micro has since postponed its announcement and is double-checking the 60 terabytes of data it used to trace spam to bot-infected computers. [Read more]

Warrantless Surveillance To Continue For Now

6th Circuit allows warrantless surveillance to continue for now
– firstamendmentcenter.org: news

CINCINNATI — The Bush administration may continue its warrantless surveillance program while it appeals a judge’s ruling that the program is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

The president says the program is needed in the war on terrorism; opponents say it oversteps constitutional boundaries on free speech, privacy and executive powers.

The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allows the program to continue during the appeal, which could take months.

In their brief order in ACLU v. National Security Agency, the judges said they balanced the likelihood of success of an appeal, the potential damage to either side and the public interest.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit challenging the program in January, says it hopes for a ruling by the end of the year.

“We are confident that when the 6th Circuit addresses the merits of this case, it will agree that warrantless wiretapping of Americans violates the law and is unconstitutional,” Melissa Goodman, an ACLU attorney, said in a news release. [Read on]

Huge ‘launch ring’ to fling satellites into orbit

Huge ‘launch ring’ to fling satellites into orbit – space – 03 October 2006 – New Scientist Space

An enormous ring of superconducting magnets similar to a particle accelerator could fling satellites into space, or perhaps weapons around the world, suggest the findings of a new study funded by the US air force.

The advantage of a circular track is that the satellite can be gradually accelerated over a period of several hours. And the setup is technologically feasible and cost effective, suggests a recent, preliminary study of the idea funded by the air force’s Office of Scientific Research.

The air force has now given the go-ahead for more in-depth research of the idea. The two-year study will begin within a few weeks and be led by James Fiske of LaunchPoint Technologies in Goleta, California, US.

The launch ring would be very similar to the particle accelerators used for physics experiments, with superconducting magnets placed around a 2-kilometre-wide ring.

The satellite, encased in an aerodynamic, cone-shaped shell that would protect it from the intense heat of launch, would be attached to a sled designed to respond to the forces from the superconducting magnets.

When the sled had been accelerated to its top speed of 10 kilometres per second, laser and pyrotechnic devices would be used to separate the cone from the sled. Then, the cone would skid into a side tunnel, losing some speed due to friction with the tunnel’s walls.

The tunnel would direct the cone to a ramp angled at 30° to the horizon, where the cone would launch towards space at about 8 kilometres per second, or more than 23 times the speed of sound. A rocket at the back end of the cone would be used to adjust its trajectory and place it in a proper orbit.

Anything launched in this way would have to be able to survive enormous accelerations – more than 2000 times the acceleration due to gravity (2000g). This would seem to be an obstacle for launching things like communications satellites, but Fiske points out that the US military uses electronics in laser-guided artillery, which survive being fired out of guns at up to 20,000g. [Article]

Slackware Release Announcement

The Slackware Linux Project: Slackware Release Announcement

The first Slackware release more than a year in the making, this edition of Slackware combines Slackware’s legendary simplicity, stability, and security with some of the latest advances in Linux technology. Expect no less than the best Slackware yet. Among the many program updates and distribution enhancements, you’ll find two of the most advanced desktop environments available today: Xfce 4.2.3.2, a fast and lightweight but visually appealing and easy to use desktop environment, and KDE 3.5.4, the latest version of the award-winning K Desktop Environment. Slackware uses the 2.4.33.3 kernel bringing you advanced performance features such as the ReiserFS journaling filesystem, SCSI and ATA RAID volume support, SATA support, and kernel support for X DRI (the Direct Rendering Interface) that brings high-speed hardware accelerated 3D graphics to Linux. Additional kernels allow installing Slackware using any of the journaling filesystems available for Linux, including ext3, ReiserFS, IBM’s JFS, and SGI’s XFS. Slackware 11.0 also fully supports the 2.6 kernel series, with your choice of the well-tested 2.6.17.13 kernel in /extra (including a version of this kernel that supports multiple processors, multi-core CPUs, HyperThreading, and about every other optimization available), or the recently released 2.6.18 kernel in /testing. This kernel also spent a long time in development and in our own testing has proven to be fast, stable, and reliable. [More..]

“Invisible” Single Rotor Phantom Sentinel

VeraTech Aero Single Rotor Phantom Sentinel – VTOL UAV

The ability of U.S. ground troops to safely navigate the gauntlet of the urban battlefield has been greatly enhanced through the development of the VeraTech Aero “Phantom Sentinel” line of Virtually Invisible VTOL UAV Surveillance platforms. The Phantom Series single blade rotorcraft has the ability to deliver close up, real time video intelligence within 75 feet of nearly any event and remain virtually undetectable to the human eye.

Based on the concept of persistence of vision, the Phantom’s single rotor blade has a center of rotation outside of the UAVs’ physical fuselage. As the aircraft spins, it disappears from vision. The Phantom has a uniquely minimal cross section allowing it to “slice” through even the most adverse weather conditions that would keep conventional UAV systems on the ground. The rotational inertia generated in flight allows the UAV to self level and maintain a very high degree of stability, even while hovering. Phantom is scalable from two to ten feet in length to accommodate a wide variety of flight times and payloads. The compact size and light weight make it easy to fold, field pack, and hand launch. [More]

Engine on a chip drives laptops

BBC NEWS | Technology | Engine on a chip drives laptops

Batteries and fuel cells are established contenders to power laptops and mobile phones, but now researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have come up with a novel approach to the power conundrum – by building an engine on a chip.

Gas-turbine engines more normally power whole cities but MIT’s Professor Alan Epstein was determined that minuscule versions could be used to “power a person”.

Ten years on from having the brainwave, Professor Epstein believes the microengine could give batteries a run for their money, offering 10 times the power of a battery of the same weight at the same price point.

“A laptop that will run for three hours on battery charge will run for 15 to 20 hours using the microengine and it should end up costing no more than current batteries,” said Professor Epstein.

He believes it could be available commercially within three to five years. [Read on]

Will The Next Election Be Hacked?

Rolling Stone : Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — Will The Next Election Be Hacked?

The debacle of the 2000 presidential election made it all too apparent to most Americans that our electoral system is broken. And private-sector entrepreneurs were quick to offer a fix: Touch-screen voting machines, promised the industry and its lobbyists, would make voting as easy and reliable as withdrawing cash from an ATM. Congress, always ready with funds for needy industries, swiftly authorized $3.9 billion to upgrade the nation’s election systems – with much of the money devoted to installing electronic voting machines in each of America’s 180,000 precincts. But as midterm elections approach this November, electronic voting machines are making things worse instead of better. Studies have demonstrated that hackers can easily rig the technology to fix an election – and across the country this year, faulty equipment and lax security have repeatedly undermined election primaries. In Tarrant County, Texas, electronic machines counted some ballots as many as six times, recording 100,000 more votes than were actually cast. In San Diego, poll workers took machines home for unsupervised “sleepovers” before the vote, leaving the equipment vulnerable to tampering. And in Ohio – where, as I recently reported in “Was the 2004 Election Stolen?” [RS 1002], dirty tricks may have cost John Kerry the presidency – a government report uncovered large and unexplained discrepancies in vote totals recorded by machines in Cuyahoga County.

Even worse, many electronic machines don’t produce a paper record that can be recounted when equipment malfunctions – an omission that practically invites malicious tampering. “Every board of election has staff members with the technological ability to fix an election,” Ion Sancho, an election supervisor in Leon County, Florida, told me. “Even one corrupt staffer can throw an election. Without paper records, it could happen under my nose and there is no way I’d ever find out about it. With a few key people in the right places, it would be possible to throw a presidential election.” [More]

Soft Tissue Discovered In T-Rex Bone

Science Now – Soft Tissue Discovered In T-Rex Bone

When paleontologists find fossilized dinosaur bones during a dig, they usually do everything in their power to protect them, using tools like toothbrushes to carefully unearth the bones without inflicting any damage. However, when scientists found a massive Tyrannosaurus rex thigh bone in a remote region of Montana a few months ago, they were forced to break the bone in two in order to fit it into the transport helicopter. This act of necessity revealed a startling surprise: soft tissue that had seemingly resisted fossilization still existed inside the bone. This tissue, including blood vessels, bone cells, and perhaps even blood cells, was so well preserved that it was still stretchy and flexible.

A scanning electron microscope revealed that the dinosaur blood vessels, which are 70 million years old, are virtually identical to those recovered from modern ostrich bones. The ostrich is today’s largest bird, and many paleontologists believe that birds are the living descendants of dinosaurs. Scientists may be able to confirm this evolutionary relationship if they can isolate certain proteins from the recently discovered T. rex tissue. These proteins could also help solve another puzzle: whether dinosaurs were cold-blooded like other reptiles or warm-blooded like mammals. [Read on]

One More Release Before Windows Vista Goes Gold

eWeek – Just One More Release Before Windows Vista Goes Gold

That build will be made available to a limited group of between 50,000 and 100,000 testers in October, and follows the interim Vista build that Microsoft released on Sept. 22.

Goldberg declined to say if this final test build would be known as Release Candidate 2, adding that the company is focused, from an engineering perspective, on targeting the group of testers from whom it most wants one last set of feedback.

Goldberg, who was on a cross-country tour in late September designed to get the message out about the business value and benefits that Vista brings, also said Vista is on track for availability to businesses via volume licensing in November, with broad general availability to consumers set for January 2007. [Read on]