The Future of Medicine: The Era of Artificial Hearts

05Between artificial knees, total hip replacements, cataract surgery, hearing aids, dentures, and cochlear implants, we are a society that is fast becoming transhuman. Basically, this means we are dedicated to improving human health through substitution and augmentation of our body parts. Lately, bioprinting has begun offering solutions for replacement organs; but so far, a perfectly healthy heart, has remained elusive.

Heart disease is the number one killer in North America, comparable only to strokes, and claiming nearly 600,000 lives every year in the US and 70,000 in Canada. But radical new medical technology may soon change that. There have been over 1,000 artificial heart transplant surgeries carried out in humans over the last 35 years, and over 11,000 more heart surgeries where valve pumps were installed have also been performed.

artificial-heart-abiocor-implantingAnd earlier this month, a major step was taken when the French company Carmat implanted a permanent artificial heart in a patient. This was the second time in history that this company performed a total artificial heart implant, the first time being back in December when they performed the implant surgery on a 76-year-old man in which no additional donor heart was sought. This was a major development for two reasons.

For one, robotic organs are still limited to acting as a temporary bridge to buy patients precious time until a suitable biological heart becomes available. Second, transplanted biological hearts, while often successful, are very difficult to come by due to a shortage of suitable organs. Over 100,000 people around the world at any given time are waiting for a heart and there simply are not enough healthy hearts available for the thousands who need them.

carmat_heartThis shortage has prompted numerous medical companies to begin looking into the development of artificial hearts, where the creation of a successful and permanent robotic heart could generate billions of dollars and help revolutionize medicine and health care. Far from being a stopgap or temporary measure, these new hearts would be designed to last many years, maybe someday extending patients lives indefinitely.

Carmat – led by co-founder and heart transplant specialist Dr. Alain Carpentier – spent 25 years developing the heart. The device weighs three times that of an average human heart, is made of soft “biomaterials,” and operates off a five-year lithium battery. The key difference between Carmat’s heart and past efforts is that Carmat’s is self-regulating, and actively seeks to mimic the real human heart, via an array of sophisticated sensors.

carmat-artificial-heartUnfortunately, the patient who received the first Carmat heart died prematurely only a few months after its installation. Early indications showed that there was a short circuit in the device, but Carmat is still investigating the details of the death. On September 5th, however, another patient in France received the Carmat heart, and according to French Minister Marisol Touraine the “intervention confirms that heart transplant procedures are entering a new era.”

More than just pumping blood, future artificial hearts are expected to bring numerous other advantages with them. Futurists and developers predict they will have computer chips and wi-fi capacity built into them, and people could be able to control their hearts with smart phones, tuning down its pumping capacity when they want to sleep, or tuning it up when they want to run marathons.

carmat_heart1The benefits are certainly apparent in this. With people able to tailor their own heart rates, they could control their stress reaction (thus eliminating the need for Xanax and beta blockers) and increase the rate of blood flow to ensure maximum physical performance. Future artificial hearts may also replace the need for some doctor visits and physicals, since it will be able to monitor health and vitals and relay that information to a database or device.

In fact, much of the wearable medical tech that is in vogue right now will likely become obsolete once the artificial heart arrives in its perfected form. Naturally, health experts would find this problematic, since our hearts respond to our surroundings for a reason, and such stimuli could very well have  unintended consequences. People tampering with their own heart rate could certainly do so irresponsibly, and end up causing damage other parts of their body.

carmat_heart2One major downside of artificial hearts is their exposure to being hacked thanks to their Wi-Fi capability. If organized criminals, an authoritarian government, or malignant hackers were dedicated enough, they could cause targeted heart failure. Viruses could also be sent into the heart’s software, or the password to the app controlling your heart could be stolen and misused.

Naturally, there are also some critics who worry that, beyond the efficacy of the device itself, an artificial heart is too large a step towards becoming a cyborg. This is certainly true when it comes to all artificial replacements, such as limbs and biomedical implants, technology which is already available. Whenever a new device or technique is revealed, the specter of “cyborgs” is raised with uncomfortable implications.

transhuman3However, the benefit of an artificial heart is that it will be hidden inside the body, and it will soon be better than the real thing. And given that it could mean the difference between life and death, there are likely to be millions of people who will want one and are even willing to electively line up for one once they become available. The biggest dilemma with the heart will probably be affordability.

Currently, the Carmat heart costs about $200,000. However, this is to be expected when a new technology is still in its early development phase. In a few years time, when the technology becomes more widely available, it will likely drop in price to the point that they become much more affordable. And in time, it will be joined by other biotechnological replacements that, while artificial, are an undeniably improvement on the real thing.

The era of the Transhumanism looms!

Source: motherboard.vice.com, carmatsa.com, cdc.gov, heartandstroke.com

Cyberwars: Watching the US and China in Real-Time

norse-hacking-map-640x353Since the dawn of the internet age, there has been no shortage of stories about hackers, malware-peddling malcontents, online scams and identity theft. Add to that the growing consensus that wars in the future will be fought online through “cyberwarfare divisions”, and you can understand why such positive statements once made about the internet – like how it would bring the world together and create “a global village” – would seem incredibly naive now.

However, despite the prevalence of hacking and cyberwarfare-related fear, very few people have actually experienced what it is like. After all, the effects of hacking are mostly invisible to the untrained eye, with the exception of very-high-profile database breaches. Now, though, a security company has produced a fascinating geographic map that shows global hacking attempts in real-time. And of course, the ongoing battle between US and Chinese forces accounts for much of it.

norse-china-usa-hacking-smallerThe real-time map, maintained by the Norse security company, shows who’s hacking who and what attack vectors are being used. The data is sourced from a network of “honeypot” servers – essentially a juicy-looking target that turns out to be a trap -maintained by Norse, rather than real-world data from the Pentagon, Google, or other high-profile hacking targets. The Norse website has some info about its “honeynet,” but it’s understandably quite sparse on actual technical details.

If you watch the map for a little while, it’s clear that most attacks originate in either China or the US, and that the US is by far the largest target for hack attacks. You can also see that the type of hack used, indicated by the target port, is rather varied. Microsoft-DS (the port used for Windows file sharing) is still one of the top targets , but DNS, SSH, and HTTP are all very popular too. CrazzyNet and Black Ice – two common Windows backdoor programs often used by script kiddies and criminals – is also sure to pop up.

Unit-61398-Chinese-Army-Hacking-Jobs-With-Great-BenefitsOn occasion, the map is likely to show a big burst of coordinated attacks coming from China and directed towards the US. And while it is difficult to blame these attacks directly on the Chinese government (as they are adept at routing their attacks through other servers) government and independent researchers are confident the majority of these attacks are being directed by the People’s Liberation Army’s Unit 61398 – aka. the PLA’s cyberwarfare division.

A lot of hacks originate in the US, too, but their targets are much more varied. And in cases where Chinese facilities (or other nations that are nominally identified as hostile to the US) you can bet that the US Cyber Command at Fort Meade is behind the lot of them. But the map is still limited in that it uses Norse’s own honeypot operations to identify these attacks, and it therefore cannot be said with absolute certainty that real attacks happen in the same fashion.

nsa_aerialBut a general picture of the size and shape of global hacking and cyberwarfare can be divined by looking at the stats. Back in 2012, the US DOD reported that it was the target of 10 million cyber attacks per day. Likewise, the National Nuclear Security Administration says it saw 10 million attacks per day in 2012. In 2013, BP’s CEO said it sees 50,000 cyber attacks per day, and the UK reported around 120,000 attacks per day back in 2011.

While the extent and purpose of these attacks certainly varies, it is pretty clear that hacking and cyberwarfare is a global problem and something that governments, corporations, and institutions need to pay attention to. Last year, the Obama administration’s announced that it would not sit idly by in the face of stepped up attacks from China. However, the subsequent testimony and document leaks by Snowden showed that the US has been conducting its own attacks the entire time (and even beforehand).

And such is the nature of war, regardless of the context or the weapons used. States rattle their swords claiming they will not tolerate aggression, but there is always a fine line between maintaining one’s defenses and escalating a situation to the point that mutual destruction becomes inevitable. Perhaps the people who are currently fighting this alleged cyberwar should look to the past – specifically to the First World War and the Cold War – to see just how effective “arms races” are!

Source: extremetech.com, map.ipviking.com

Crypto Wars: The Tech World vs. the NSA

cyber_securitySix years ago, something interesting took place at Microsoft’s Windows annual Crypto conference in Santa Barbara. In the course of the presentations, two members of the company’s security group (Dan Shumow and Niels Ferguson) gave a talk that dealt with internet security and the possibility that major systems could be hacked.

They called their presentation “On the Possibility of a Back Door in the NIST SP800-90 Dual Ec Prng”. That’s a name few people outside of the techy community would recognize, as it refers to a pseudorandom number generating program that is used extensively in cryptography. And thought the presentation was only nine slides and a few minutes long, they managed to capture the attention of the crowd with some rather stark observations.

cyber_security1Basically, they laid out a case showing that the new encryption standard, given a stamp of approval by the U.S. government, possessed a glaring weakness that made one of the program’s algorithms susceptible to cracking. But the weakness they described wasn’t just an average vulnerability, it had the kind of properties one would want if one were intentionally inserting a backdoor to make the algorithm susceptible to cracking by design.

At the time, no one thought much of it. But today, that’s all changed, thanks to Edward Snowden. Apparently, cryptographers and journalists are seeing a connection between the talk given by Shumow and Ferguson and the classified NSA documents Snowden leaked. Apparently, some of that information confirms that the weakness in the Dual_EC_DRBG algorithm might be indeed a backdoor.

nsa_aerialEarlier this month, an article appeared in the New York Times that implied that the backdoor was intentionally put there by the NSA as part of a $250-million, decade-long covert operation by the agency to weaken and undermine the integrity of a number of encryption systems used by millions of people around the world.

Naturally, these allegations not only stoked the fires over the NSA’s long history of spying on databases, both domestic and foreign, it has also raised questions over the integrity of the rather byzantine process that produces security standards in the first place. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) approved Dual_EC_DRBG and the standard, is now facing criticism alongside the NSA.

nist_aerialbigAnd while NIST has since been forced to re-open the program to examination and public discussion, security and crypto firms around the world are scrambling to unravel just how deeply the suspect algorithm infiltrated their code, if at all. Some even went so far as to publicly denounce it, such as corporate giant RSA Security.

But of course, a number of crypto experts have noted that the Times hasn’t released the memos that purport to prove the existence of a backdoor. What’s more, the paper’s direct quotes from the classified documents don’t mention a backdoor or efforts by the NSA to weaken it or the standard, only the efforts of the agency to push the standard through NIST’s committees for approval.

nsasecurity_primary-100041064-largeOne such person is Jon Callas, the CTO of Silent Circle – a company that offers encrypted phone communication. Having attended the Crypto conference in 2007 and heard the presentation by Shumow, he believes that the real problem may lie in the fact that the algorithm was poorly made:

If [the NSA] spent $250 million weakening the standard and this is the best that they could do, then we have nothing to fear from them. Because this was really ham-fisted. When you put on your conspiratorial hat about what the NSA would be doing, you would expect something more devious, Machiavellian … and this thing is just laughably bad. This is Boris and Natasha sort of stuff.

Sources at Microsoft agree. In addition to the presenters – who never mention the NSA in their presentation and went out of their way to avoid accusing NIST of any wrongdoing – a manager who spoke with WIRED on condition of anonymity believes the reporters at the Times saw the classified documents dealing with the program, read about the 2007 talk, and assumed their was a connection.

cryptographyBut Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist of Cryptography Research, says that regardless of the lack of evidence in the Times story, he discounts the “bad cryptography” explanation for the weakness, in favor of the backdoor one:

Bad cryptography happens through laziness and ignorance. But in this case, a great deal of effort went into creating this and choosing a structure that happens to be amenable to attack.

Personally, I find it interesting that the NSA would be so committed to making sure a program passed inspection. Especially one that had a fatal flaw that, when exploited properly, could be used to give someone who knew about it access to encrypted information. But of course, it’s not like the NSA has been known to invade people’s privacy, right? RIGHT?

Clearly, all there is at this point is speculation. One thing is certain though. In the coming weeks and months, the NSA is going to be the recipient of even more flak over its monitoring and cryptographic activities. Whether this effects any change in policy remains to be seen, but I doubt anyone will be holding their breaths.

Sources: wired.com, nytimes.com

The Rescue: A Revenger Mission Update

top_secretAtrum opened the laptop and spun it around in one fluid motion. The screen was now aimed at everyone standing in the small room, a map with a large, square configuration of buildings sitting in a large, green field in the middle of it. The overhead view provided few details, but the setting looked very similar to the one they had just left – a string of warehouses or an industrial park of some kind. Despite how confined they already felt, most felt the need to lean forward to get a better look.

“Thanks to the device the Captain handed off to us, I’ve been able to isolate the frequency of the tracker he had implanted on his person. Once I tuned my instruments to it, I was able to locate him.” He hit a button on the console, and a small, red blinking light appeared in the middle of the largest box-like structure. “This is the last reported location of the Captain. An abandoned truck park outside of Clarksville. This has to be a holding facility of some kind, or a transfer point for prisoners taken by the Intelligence services.”

“It looks weak,” said Pax, noting the frequency and intensity of the signal. “Which means he’s either barely in range or they’ve got him in some kind of hardened bunker.”

“Good eye,” replied Atrum. “I wish I knew more about the tracker he’s got, but the Captain never was one to share.”

“It’s not that far from here. If we move now, we could hit the place before they’re ready.” said Tsunami, drawing herself back up to her full height. Even with her shades on, the look on her face was plain for all to see. As was the fatigue, the poor woman had not slept since they had returned from their last outing. And she seemed destined not to until they made their next move.

“You got my vote,” said Judgement, his skin bristling with several new veins of gold.
Atrum raised his hand. “Now hold on, people. Like I said, this is a transfer point. And as Pax pointed out, its probably a hardened facility of some kind. We all remember what happened the last time we hit one of those. They were ready and waiting.”

“No shit, they were ready. They set us up!” Judgement growled.

From her spot at the outer edge of the circle, Erotica nodded. “And I seem to recall, we still managed to take out the better part of their defenders.”

“Yes, and what are the odds they’ll have so many surprises prepared for us this time around?”

It was Freedom saying this, and Atrum looked to her now. A current was flowing through the group and growing in intensity. He feared as much. After what had happened at the facility, everyone was in a hurry to rectify what they perceived as their own failure. But running headlong into a fight was likely to result in another. Conveying that though, that required some tact. There was a lot of anger in the room right now, and a lot of special powers…

“Look team… chances are, he’s going to be moved from that facility very soon. Our best bet is to try and get him while he’s in transit. The people holding him will be more vulnerable to an attack.”

“And how long will that be?” asked Panacea, her voice mild, but containing an unmistakably steely tone within.

“Before they try to move him? Shouldn’t be long. With prisoners like the Captain, they want to move them to a secure location as quickly as possible. Minimizes the chances that they might escape, or get rescued.”

Bonfire raised his voice next. “So they are anticipating that we might try to rescue him?”

Atrum shrugged. “Standard procedure really. Everything they’ve done thus far makes it look they are treating him like a high-valued enemy asset, lIke a terrorists mastermind. Always assume their followers will try to spring them.”

Judgment growled again. Everyone looked towards him just in time to see his fangs bared. “I don’t like where this conversation is going. And I don’t much like being compared to a terrorist.”

Pax raised his hands and intervened on Atrum’s behalf. “That’s not what he meant, people. Its just a question of procedures, not methods or motives. Right now, they are dealing with us as if we’re a domestic terrorist cell. But that doesn’t mean we are.”

“You’re damn right,” said Tsunami. “They started this fight. And if they want to see terror, they will shortly.”

“Terrorists,” said Panacea with a scoff. “Their methods are based in fear. They hope to paralyze us with terror and intimidate us into submission. They are cowards.”

The group began to raise their voices as one. The thought of striking fear in their enemy’s hearts, of paying back their terror with some terror of their own; it was a like lightning rod that was catching all their rage. Atrum looked to Panacea, and felt a sudden surge of trepidation himself. If even she was speaking of vengeance, then their situation was truly dire.

He raised his hands one more time and asked for calm. “Hold on, people! We need to be careful about going off half-cocked. If we try to rescue the Captain now, from this holding facility, we’re likely to hit them when they’re most prepared.”

“He’s right,” said Pax. “There’s no guarantee this isn’t an ambush too. For all we know, they’re waiting for us to make a move, to commit ourselves prematurely and run into another carefully laid trap.”

“Yeah, and while we’re waiting, what happens to the Captain?” asked Styka. She was joined by Freedom and Tsunami, both of whom began to voice their concern for his well being in Pax’s direction.

“For all we know, they’re torturing to death. He doesn’t have the ability to heal like you do.”

“And he can’t exactly just will himself out of that place. He’s stuck there until we free him. Helpless and alone.”

“No way!” said Judgement. “He’s not alone! He’s always been there for us, and we’re going to be there for him, dammit. Come hell or high water.”

Many began to voice their assent. Others began to avert their eyes, no doubt because they were having a hard time keeping their emotions in check. Anger wasn’t the only thing running the group like a current. One didn’t have to be a telepath to sense that their was a terrible amount of guilt and grief in the room as well.

“Okay,” said Atrum finally. “We’re going to be there for the Captain. But we need to do it in such a way that won’t put his life in danger. And won’t run the risk of failure. That’s not what the Captain would want. He’d be the first to tell us to play this smart.”

A short, tense silence followed. When someone did speak again, it was Angel, and Atrum could sense what she was going to say before he said it.

“I can’t help but notice that since the Captain’s departure, you’ve been stepping in to fill his shoes.” She looked to Pax next. “The two of you in fact have been acting like you’re giving the orders now. Am I the only one who notices this?”

Several more people exhibited the same combination of sudden anger, anger which they were directing at him and Pax now. It was predictable, so much emotion looking for an outlet. And since he was telling them to sit on it and wait, it was inevitable it would be directed at him. Out of desperation, he reached out to Styka and Tsunami ,using their shared telepathic link.

[I’m losing them here. I could use some help.]

Tsunami didn’t even respond. Her thoughts had become a wall, her emotions as cold and impenetrable as the look on her face. Styka answered him, but was not much more receptive.

[Don’t try to avoid them. It’s disrespectful.]

[Please. They’re not listening to reason.]

[Who’s reason? I don’t agree with your plan as it is. Don’t ask me to speak for it.]

[Fine. We can certainly disagree as to how to proceed. But the last thing we need is people turning on each other.]

Styka emitted an audible sigh. In real-time, people were beginning to shout at each other, most in Atrum’s or Pax’s direction. Few seemed to be coming to their defense, but it didn’t really matter. Even those who were in agreement seemed to be attacking each other with their words now.

Atrum reached out to Tsunami again. [Please, you can see they are on the verge of cracking. Help me restore some calm so we can sort this out.]

To his surprise, Tsunami did answer, though not quite as expected. At the far end of the room, the door blew open and a cold gust of wind thundered through. Not a soul was undisturbed by it and everyone was fast looking in Tsunami’s direction. Of all the people present, only she maintained her steady, forward-looking glare until the wind died down and the door slammed shut again.

Waiting for total quiet to return, she finally spoke. “The last thing the Captain said to me was ‘they’ll be another time’. He also told me that Atrum here would know what to do. If he has a plan… then let’s hear him out.”

Atrum was a little surprised.She said the words, but he could feel something menacing not far behind them. Though he could tell she was sincere, he wasn’t sure if what she’d said had been a vote of confidence, or a warning not to screw things up. Either way, he took his cue and continued.

“Like I said, our best bet is to hit these feds when they try to transfer the Captain. They’ll try to do it either by convoy, or by air. Either way, they will be most vulernable at this time. An convoy, even if its stacked with armored vehicles, won’t be unstoppable.”

“Yeah, we proved that much to them last time,” said Angel, looking to those who had been intrinsic in that regard. Standing not far away, Bonfire smiled while Judgment bristled happily.

“And an air lift would be useless. We’ve got several people who could take out escort choppers, and then land on board the one carrying the Captain and whisk him away before anyone could stop them. Either way, we’d have them.”

“What about aerial drones?” asked Freedom, remembering the last one and how it had ruined their day.

On that, Atrum smiled. Reaching to his laptop, he punched a few keys and brought up a new display. In the center, a large green reticule sat, with what looked like a picture of a radio wave bouncing around inside it. “Don’t worry. They caught us with our pants down last time. This time around, we’ll be ready…”

“What is that?” Erotica asked at last.

“That…” Pax interjected, “is the frequency that last drone was using. Next one we see one, we’ll be able to hack it.”

Atrum’s smile broadened, to the point where he was beaming at everyone in the room. “We all saw what just one of those things could do with its big old arsenal of missiles and bombs. Just imagine what kind of hell we could raise with that kind of firepower.”

Again, one did not need telepathy to know that the mood had suddenly changed in the room. What had been anger and grief was slowly morphing into anger and elation. Everyone was beginning to see just how good a plan they had before them, and how much it would hurt the bastards who had put them here…

Panacea was the one to say it, putting all that raw emotion into words.

“When we came together, we took the name of revenge for ourselves,” she said. “Let’s show these men what revenge looks like.”

Cyberwars: Snowden Reveals NSA’s Been Hacking China

nsa_aerialEdward Snowden, the man who blew the whistle on the NSA and its domestic surveillance program – aka. PRISM – has reemerged to reveal some additional secrets. It seems that in addition to spying on their own citizens, the NSA has been using its resources to spy on tens of thousands of operations around the world. Not surprising, but what Snowden revealed showed that when it comes to nations like China, surveillance was just the tip of the iceberg.

Snowden, who has been hiding in Hong Kong since May 20th, revealed in an interview on Thursday with the South China Morning Post that the NSA has been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009. Among the targets in Hong Kong were the Chinese University of Hong Kong, public officials, businesses and even students in the city.

?????????????All told, Snowden estimated that there are more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, with at least hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and on the mainland. The tactics, he claimed, involve selecting large targets and infiltrating in many places at once:

We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one.

Snowden also explained his motivation for blowing the whistle on the NSA’s foreign operations. It seems that in light recent tensions between the US and China, which has been characterized by ongoing accusations and recrimination, he felt the need to tell the truth behind the lies. As he told the SCMP, his motivation was based on:

the hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries….Not only does it do so, but it is so afraid of this being known that it is willing to use any means, such as diplomatic intimidation, to prevent this information from becoming public.

Edward-Snowden-660x367Though Snowden also discussed possible plans to seek asylum in Iceland or elsewhere during an interview last week, he told the SCMP  that he’s staying put in Hong Kong for now. He emphasized that his stay in China was not an attempt to avoid justice, but to reveal criminal behavior.  He also expressed admiration for countries that have offered asylum (such as Russia), claiming that he was “glad there are governments that refuse to be intimidated by great power.”

The Guardian newspaper, which has published information from documents leaked by Snowden, has said that it has more than a thousand other documents that Snowden managed to smuggle out or download from the NSA using a series of laptops and a thumb drive. These documents are to be disclosed in the coming weeks, according to the paper, so more revelations are expected to come.

secret_documentsThough there are those who question his motivations and methods, no one can deny that thanks to Snowden, some very questionable  behavior has been revealed that involved people at the top echelons of government. One can’t help but be reminded of Richard Clarke, former head of the NSA, who came forward in 2004 to testify before to the 9/11 Commission and reveal the extent to which the Bush Administration failed to prevent the largest terrorist attack in history, or how it sought to pin that attack on the Iraqi government.

And for those who have lived long enough to remember, these events also call to mind the Pentagon Papers of 1969. In this case, it was another whistle blower named Daniel Ellsberg who, through the publication of hundreds of government documents, revealed that the US government had been lying about the Vietnam war, the number of casualties, and the likelihood of its success. And let’s not forget  former FBI Ass. Dir. Mark Felt – aka. “Death Throat” – the man who blew the whistle on the Nixon Administration.

whistleblower-protectionIn the end, whistle blowers have a long history of ending wars, exposing corruption, and force administrations to take responsibility for their secret, unlawful policies. Naturally, there were those who are critical men such as Felt, Clarke, and Ellsberg, both then and now, but they have never been able to refute the fact that the men acted out of conscience and achieved results. And while I’m sure that their will be fallout from Snowden’s actions, I too cannot dispute that what he did needed to be done.

As Edmund Burke famously said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil  is for good men to do nothing.”

Sources: wired.com, scmp.com

Hacker Wars: The Invasion Continues!

cyber-war-1024x843State-sponsored hacking has been a major concern lately. From Russia’s “Red October” virus, which spied on embassies and diplomats in multiple countries, to China’s ongoing intrusion into government and corporate databases in the US, it seems as though private hackers are no longer the only ones we need to worry about.

The latest incident in this invasion of privacy and airing of personal information comes again from Russia, where a mysterious website has been posting personal information about some rather high-profile American figures. These include First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, Jay-Z, Britney Spears, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Sarah Palin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the head of the FBI.

michelle-obama_fullIn addition to taunting messages and unflattering pictures, the site includes Social Security numbers, credit reports, addresses and phone numbers. No reasons are listed on the site as to why these particular people were selected, but it seems clear at this point that they were chosen due to their high-profile nature and/or positions of importance within the US government. As of last Tuesday, both the FBI and Secret Service announced that they were investigating the website.

Though it is not definitively clear where the hackers are operating from, all indications point to Russia. The first clue came when it was revealed that site bore the internet suffix originally assigned to the Soviet Union (.su), a practice which is not uncommon with Russian hackers these days. In addition, it is also connected to a Twitter account, which carried an an anti-police message posted in Russian.

hackers_securityAt the moment, neither the White House or the Secret Service is offering assessments or comments on the matter. But some thoughts have been offered by Los Angeles Police Commander Andrew Smith, who spoke on behalf of Chief Charlie Beck, who’s information was also posted. According to Beck, this is not the first time that top police officials have had their private information posted online:

“People get mad at us, go on the Internet and try to find information about us, and post it all on one site. The best word I can use to describe it is creepy. It’s a creepy thing to do.”

Frank Preciado, assistant officer in charge of the LAPDs online division, added that the information on the police chief was likely taken from what is supposed to be a secure database of city employees. And it might just offer some insight into this latest, sweeping act of inforpiracy. When all is said and done, it appears that this may simply be a case of a small but qualified group of misfits engaging in public mischief.

internetHowever, of greater concern is the fact that with this latest act of high-profile hacking, a trend that citizens were forewarned might be coming true. In December of 2012, internet security company McAfee warned of an impending attack by Russian hackers against American banks. Dubbed “Project Blitzkrieg”, the threat of the attack surfaced on a Russian hacking forum in the previous September, and McAfee was quick to advised that it was a credible one.

As of December 2012, Russian hackers had effectively infected 500 databases in the US with the promise of more to come. The cybercriminal known as vorVzakone – whose name means ‘thief in law’ – was identified as the head of the operation, whose plans called for the release of a Trojan horse virus that would allow him and his accomplices to seize control of banks’ computers to steal information and money.

cold_war

Clearly, all of these incidents amount to a major public concern. But of greater concern to me is the fact the lines being drawn in this new era of cyber-warfare are eerily familiar. Not long ago, China and Russia were locked in an ongoing feud with the US and its allies, a war fueled by ideology but based on the cultivation of technology and espionage networks.

Granted, only China’s case of cyberwarfare against the US appears to be government-backed. But between the “Red October” virus,  “Project Blitzkrieg”, and the fact that Russian hackers are in the habit of using a Soviet-era suffix to designate their activities, it seems that Russia is fertile ground for a renewed standoff with the West as well. And given that the targets have been western governments and financial institutions, would it be so farfetched to assume the government might be marginally involved?

The means may have changed, but the overall purpose remains the same. Infiltrate, destabilize, and steal information from the enemy. Are we looking at a renewed Cold War, or just the last gasps of an ideological confrontation that was supposed to have died years ago? Only time will tell…

Sources: cbc.ca, dailymail.co.uk

The Hacking Continues…

hackers-1Cyberwarfare has been making it into the news quite a bit of late. From the international cyber-spying virus known as “Red October”, to China’s hacking of the New York Times and Bloomberg L.P., to intrusions into major software companies and social utilities, it seems no one is immune or unassailable in the digital age. What’s more, there are indications that it is nation states that may be leading the charge.

The latest victim in the ongoing war was Microsoft, which recently admitted that it too has been targeted by hackers. The announcement came in the midst of such tech giants as Apple, Facebook, and Twitter reporting security breaches linked to a software developer’s website, which would apparently infect programmers’ computers after they visited the site.

hacker_@In a statement posted by general manager Matt Thomlinson, Microsoft experienced intrusions of a similar nature. Though they did not specify who these hackers were, Mike Isaac at AllThingsD recently identified the website in question as iPhoneDevSDK, a site popular with mobile-app developers. In response, iPhoneDevSDK recently told users that it discovered that an administrative account on its site had been hacked, which allowed hackers to inject infectious code into its Web pages.

Once again, there are many who suspect that these attacks are linked to sources in China. In recent years, the Chinese government has been indicted in several attacks on American media chains as well major companies, as part of a wider campaign to steal trade secrets and monitor and manipulate how China is portrayed in the news.

As it stands, it is not yet clear whether this represents a part of that campaign, or if private hackers are simply using extra-covert means to conduct a little anti-corporate mischief on the side. Personally, I hope it’s the latter, as the idea of nations inciting cyberwarfare against each other is not exactly the most comforting notion! But then again, knowing that they are spying on each other kind of gives those of us who are afraid of “Big Brother” a bit of a reprieve doesn’t it?

Source: businessinsider.com

Cyberwarfare: Not Just for Anarchists Anymore!

Hack the Planet by von Shin Kurohoshi
Hack the Planet by von Shin Kurohoshi

For those deeply concerned about internet security and privacy, the year of 2013 certainly opened with a bang. First, there was the news that a cyberspy ring – apparently operating out of Russia – had been spying on embassies, governments and research institutions around the world for the past five years using a virus dubbed “Red October”. This was back in January, when the Moscow-based antivirus firm known as Kaspersky Lab announced the discovery of the international intrigue.

Then, on Jan. 30th, the New York Times announced that they too have been the target of hackers, this time from China. In a statement released by the newspaper, the company claimed that Chinese hackers have been persistently attacking their publication for the last four months, infiltrating its computer systems and getting passwords for its reporters and other employees.

Jin_jiaboaThe timing of the attacks coincided with a Times investigation, published online on Oct. 25, that found that the relatives of Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister, had accumulated a fortune worth several billion dollars through business dealings. The hackers tried to cloak the source of the attacks on The Times by first penetrating computers at United States universities and routing the attacks through them.

With the help of  Mandiant, the internet security company hired by The Times, they were able track the intruders, study their movements and help erect better defenses to block them. In the end, The Times reported that they had successfully expelled the attackers and kept them from breaking back in. However, the fact these hackers were able to infiltrate the network of a private news organization in the first place was much cause for worry.

Cyber-WarFor one, this is not the first time that hackers, originating in China, have used these sort of subterfuge tactics to hack US databases. According to experts at Mandiant, their company has tracked many such intrusions back to the Chinese mainland, all of which used the same approach of cloaking their efforts using US servers. In addition, this incident, which smacked of state-involvement, did not occurr in a vacuum.

Back in 2008, internet security experts indicated that Chinese hackers had begun targeting Western journalists as part of a wider campaign to identify and intimidate their sources and contacts, and to anticipate stories that might damage the reputations of Chinese leaders. The purpose behind this far-reaching and growing spy campaign aimed at corporations, government agencies, activist groups and media organizations inside the US seemed to be for the purpose of controlling China’s public image, domestically and abroad, as well as stealing trade secrets.

cyber-war-1024x843But of course, China is hardly alone in these sorts of covert cyber-warfare. As already mentioned, Russia has already shown signs of developing cyber weapons to assist in spying abroad, and there’s mounting evidence that Israel, Iran and the US are on board too. Starting in 2008, Iran’s main nuclear enrichment plant was hit by a sophisticated computer worm that caused damage to it, thus putting a crink in their efforts to become a nuclear power.

While no one took responsibility for this incident, the evidence seemed to indicate that the worm originated from sources within Israel and the US. Attacks which took place later on American banks and oil companies within the US were believed to have been caused by Iran, in retaliation for the worm that hurt their main source of enriched uranium and a key component in their nuclear program.

anonymous_flagFor some time now, hacking federal databases has become something of a sport for various groups and causes who are seeking to reveal government secrets and expose their inner workings to public scrutiny. The “Hacktivist” group known as Anonymous is a perfect example, a group closely linked to Assange (of Wikileaks) who’s most recent infiltration of the Federal Reserve Bank made the news earlier this month as well.

But as I’m sure all will agree, it’s one thing when private citizen attack domestic and foreign databases, and quite another when nations attack each others. While cyber criminals may constitute a vague and slippery enemy, one which is much harder to identify and prosecute, nation-states constitute a far more frightening one. Not only are their resources far more vast, the consequences of battling them are far greater.

Knowing who your enemy is, and that they have nuclear capabilities and the ability to strike at you physically… Yes, I think that’s a much scarier prospect! While the old ways of plausible deniability and covert action may apply, no one likes the idea of subtle attacks which could escalate into a full-scale conflict. Even if it is waged entirely by computer, the effects are still likely to be felt!

Source: NYTimes.com, money.cnn.com

Should We Be Afraid? A List for 2013

emerg_techIn a recent study, the John J. Reilly Center at University of Notre Dame published a rather list of possible threats that could be seen in the new year. The study, which was called “Emerging Ethical Dilemmas and Policy Issues in Science and Technology” sought to address all the likely threats people might face as a result of all developments and changes made of late, particularly in the fields of medical research, autonomous machines, 3D printing, Climate Change and enhancements.

The list contained eleven articles, presented in random order so people can assess what they think is the most important and vote accordingly. And of course, each one was detailed and sourced so as to ensure people understood the nature of the issue and where the information was obtained. They included:

1. Personalized Medicine:
dna_selfassemblyWithin the last ten years, the creation of fast, low-cost genetic sequencing has given the public direct access to genome sequencing and analysis, with little or no guidance from physicians or genetic counselors on how to process the information. Genetic testing may result in prevention and early detection of diseases and conditions, but may also create a new set of moral, legal, ethical, and policy issues surrounding the use of these tests. These include equal access, privacy, terms of use, accuracy, and the possibility of an age of eugenics.

2. Hacking medical devices:
pacemakerThough no reported incidents have taken place (yet), there is concern that wireless medical devices could prove vulnerable to hacking. The US Government Accountability Office recently released a report warning of this while Barnaby Jack – a hacker and director of embedded device security at IOActive Inc. – demonstrated the vulnerability of a pacemaker by breaching the security of the wireless device from his laptop and reprogramming it to deliver an 830-volt shock. Because many devices are programmed to allow doctors easy access in case reprogramming is necessary in an emergency, the design of many of these devices is not geared toward security.

3. Driverless zipcars:
googlecarIn three states – Nevada, Florida, and California – it is now legal for Google to operate its driverless cars. A human in the vehicle is still required, but not at the controls. Google also plans to marry this idea to the zipcar, fleets of automobiles shared by a group of users on an as-needed basis and sharing in costs. These fully automated zipcars will change the way people travel but also the entire urban/suburban landscape. And once it gets going, ethical questions surrounding access, oversight, legality and safety are naturally likely to emerge.

4. 3-D Printing:
AR-153D printing has astounded many scientists and researchers thanks to the sheer number of possibilities it has created for manufacturing. At the same time, there is concern that some usages might be unethical, illegal, and just plain dangerous. Take for example, recent effort by groups such as Distributed Defense, a group intent on using 3D printers to create “Wiki-weapons”, or the possibility that DNA assembling and bioprinting could yield infectious or dangerous agents.

5. Adaptation to Climate Change:
climatewarsThe effects of climate change are likely to be felt differently by different people’s around the world. Geography plays a role in susceptibility, but a nation’s respective level of development is also intrinsic to how its citizens are likely to adapt. What’s more, we need to address how we intend to manage and manipulate wild species and nature in order to preserve biodiversity.This warrants an ethical discussion, not to mention suggestions of how we will address it when it comes.

6. Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals:
Syringe___Spritze___by_F4U_DraconiXIn developing nations, where life saving drugs are most needed, low-quality and counterfeit pharmaceuticals are extremely common. Detecting such drugs requires the use of expensive equipment which is often unavailable, and expanding trade in pharmaceuticals is giving rise to the need to establish legal measures to combat foreign markets being flooded with cheap or ineffective knock-offs.

7. Autonomous Systems:
X-47BWar machines and other robotic systems are evolving to the point that they can do away with human controllers or oversight. In the coming decades, machines that can perform surgery, carry out airstrikes, diffuse bombs and even conduct research and development are likely to be created, giving rise to a myriad of ethical, safety and existential issues. Debate needs to be fostered on how this will effect us and what steps should be taken to ensure that the outcome is foreseeable and controllable.

8. Human-animal hybrids:
human animal hybrid
Is interspecies research the next frontier in understanding humanity and curing disease, or a slippery slope, rife with ethical dilemmas, toward creating new species? So far, scientists have kept experimentation with human-animal hybrids on the cellular level and have recieved support for their research goals. But to some, even modest experiments involving animal embryos and human stem cells are ethical violation. An examination of the long-term goals and potential consequences is arguably needed.

9. Wireless technology:
vortex-radio-waves-348x196Mobile devices, PDAs and wireless connectivity are having a profound effect in developed nations, with the rate of data usage doubling on an annual basis. As a result, telecommunications and government agencies are under intense pressure to regulate the radio frequency spectrum. The very way government and society does business, communicates, and conducts its most critical missions is changing rapidly. As such, a policy conversation is needed about how to make the most effective use of the precious radio spectrum, and to close the digital access divide for underdeveloped populations.

10. Data collection/privacy:
privacy1With all the data that is being transmitted on a daily basis, the issue of privacy is a major concern that is growing all the time. Considering the amount of personal information a person gives simply to participate in a social network, establish an email account, or install software to their computer, it is no surprise that hacking and identity theft are also major conerns. And now that data storage, microprocessors and cloud computing have become inexpensive and so widespread, a discussion on what kinds of information gathering and how quickly a person should be willing to surrender details about their life needs to be had.

11. Human enhancements:
transhumanismA tremendous amount of progress has been made in recent decades when it comes to prosthetic, neurological, pharmaceutical and therapeutic devices and methods. Naturally, there is warranted concern that progress in these fields will reach past addressing disabilities and restorative measures and venture into the realm of pure enhancement. With the line between biological and artificial being blurred, many are concerned that we may very well be entering into an era where the two are indistinguishable, and where cybernetic, biotechnological and other enhancements lead to a new form of competition where people must alter their bodies in order to maintain their jobs or avoid behind left behind.

Feel scared yet? Well you shouldn’t. The issue here is about remaining informed about possible threats, likely scenarios, and how we as people can address and deal with them now and later. If there’s one thing we should always keep in mind, it is that the future is always in the process of formation. What we do at any given time controls the shape of it and together we are always deciding what kind of world we want to live in. Things only change because all of us, either through action or inaction, allow them to. And if we want things to go a certain way, we need to be prepared to learn all we can about the causes, consequences, and likely outcomes of every scenario.

To view the whole report, follow the link below. And to vote on which issue you think is the most important, click here.

Source: reilly.nd.edu