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June 10, 2012

June 11, 2012

10June2012

Newswire

 

Obama administration decision to include war funding in automatic cuts riles GOP

The Hill

By Jeremy Herb – 06/03/12 01:25 PM ET

Republicans in Congress are up in arms over the Obama administration’s decision to include funding for the war in Afghanistan in the automatic cuts to defense that are set to begin in 2013.

Administration officials say the war funding has to account for part of the cuts under the law, but the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee says the money dedicated to Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) was never intended to fall under the budget axe.

“I am disappointed the president has made this choice, since there is no clear mandate for it in the law,” House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a statement.

“Of course now, more than ever it is the troops on the front lines in Afghanistan who will bear the brunt of sequestration,” McKeon said. “If our forces on the front line are truly going to have to do with less body armor, fewer medevacs, and less ammunition he owes it to them to offer a credible way out of the pending disaster.”

Funding for the war has become the latest battleground in the increasingly acrimonious fight over the $500 billion across-the-board cut to defense that was set in motion by last summer’s debt-ceiling deal, known as the Budget Control Act (BCA).

Officials at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said Friday the decision was not up to them, because there was no exemption for preserving the war funding in the law.

“The question really is, was there anything in the statute that provides an exemption for the OCO funding, and we couldn’t find anything,” an OMB official said.

The Budget Control Act established punitive cuts to both defense and non-defense spending if a supercommittee tasked with finding more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction failed.

The sequestration cuts were designed to be harmful enough to force a deficit deal, but the supercommittee still failed to reach one, triggering $500 billion in defense cuts over 10 years.

The issue has become a political football, with Republicans blaming Obama and Democrats for not trying to undo the cuts that both parties say would be terrible for the military.

McKeon has increasingly amped up his rhetoric this year, urging the issue to be addressed immediately, even though most people don’t expect sequestration to be altered by Congress until after the November elections due to deep disagreements between the parties about how to reduce the deficit.

 

While Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said sequestration would be “devastating,” he’s also indicated that the Pentagon is not doing any planning for the cuts yet — a tactic that Republicans have lambasted.

The news that the war funds would fall under sequestration was a surprise. Last November, Panetta sent a letter to Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) assuring him that the war funding would not be affected.

But OMB acting Director Jeffrey Zients wrote House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) last week informing him that OCO was, in fact, included under sequestration, contradicting the Pentagon’s previous position.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said this week that the department’s initial reading of the BCA was incorrect, and the Pentagon had changed its position “upon further review of the law and after consulting with OMB.”

Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said that Panetta’s letter left the impression on Capitol Hill and in the defense industry that OCO funds were not part of sequestration.

“The accepted understanding around Washington has been that OCO funding is exempt, and for a good reason,” Eaglen said.

The Budget Control Act mandated that the cuts had to be across-the-board and the same percentage to every budget account, which many experts say is the worst part of the law.

The debate over whether war funding is part of that stems from a line in the BCA that says the spending caps would be adjusted so OCO funding does not affect them.

To GOP congressional aides, that language was ambiguous, and could be interpreted as saying OCO would not be affected by the spending cuts. They received budget briefings that offered different answers about war funding and sequestration, the aides said.

But OMB officials say they don’t have that discretion because the law makes no mention of exempting the war funding from sequestration.

Todd Harrison, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said that he believed there was no ambiguity in the law. He said the confusion has stemmed from the “loophole” that OCO funding did not change the Budget Control Act spending caps — which Congress used last year to get around the spending caps by moving money from the base budget to the war budget.

The war budget is just one of a number of unresolved issues surrounding sequestration exemptions. OMB ruled in April that Veterans Affairs was exempt from sequestration, and the president was given explicit discretion in the law to exempt military personnel accounts from the automatic cuts.

The Pentagon says it will likely have to start planning for sequestration later this summer, at which point the administration will have to start explaining in more detail how the across-the-board cuts will work.

“OMB is the boss here, even though Congress wrote the law,” Eaglen said. “It’s vague in some parts, and purposely ambiguous in some pieces.”

Republicans propose federal pension hikes to fund student loan program


By Amanda Palleschi

GovExec

June 1, 2012

 

House Republicans have proposed increasing federal retirement contributions by 1.2 percent over the next three years to pay for a one-year extension of the reduced interest rate for student loans.

In a letter to President Obama dated Thursday, Republicans from both chambers of Congress rejected Senate Democrats’ proposal to pay for a one year extension of a reduced interest rate for subsidized Stafford student loans with a tax hike on small businesses. Republicans suggested three alternatives to the tax hike, the first of which targets federal employees’ pension contributions.

“We believe our alternative is reasonable and responsible, but in the interest of finding common ground,” Republican lawmakers wrote.

Under the proposal, those in the Civil Service Retirement System and those in the Federal Employees Retirement System would contribute 0.4 percent more to their pensions in calendar years 2012 through 2015. This would add up to a 1.2 percent increase over current contribution levels. The House passed a bill earlier this month that includes a 5 percent pension hike phased in over five years for CSRS and FERS employees.

Both the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees asked the White House to reject the proposal, calling it another attack on federal employees from congressional Republicans. “Pension contribution increases amounting to $15 billion in additional revenue were recently enacted to offset a temporary extension of unemployment benefits. Federal employees have done more than their share to help address our budget shortfalls; shortfalls that were not caused by them,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said in a letter to the president.

AFGE President John Gage called the proposal an “unjustified income tax” in his letter to the White House. “Not only is federal retirement entirely unrelated to student loan interest rates, requiring federal employees to pay more for their retirement benefit is nothing more than an unjustified income tax increase on one small segment of the population, the working and middle class Americans who make up the federal government’s workforce,” Gage wrote.


http://www.govexec.com/pay-benefits/2012/06/republicans-propose-federal-pension-hikes-fund-student-loan-program/56033/

 

MIT Launches Big Data Initiative, Becomes Home to Intel Science and Technology Center

By Joshua Bolkan

06/04/12

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s
Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) will be home to the Intel Science and Technology Center (ISTC) for Big Data. CSAIL will also launch a new initiative called bigdata@CSAIL to study “data collections that are too big, growing too fast, or are too complex for existing information technology systems to handle,” according to information released by the school.

In an effort to make big data more useful to society, bigdata@CSAIL is designed to develop new techniques for collecting, storing, sharing, processing, analyzing, and sharing big data through collaborations between experts in academia, industry, and government.

With a focus on areas such as finance, medicine, security, and social media, CSAIL will build new systems “from the ground up” to deal with the “data deluge,” according to Laboratory Director Daniela Rus.

“For example,” Madden said, “we hope to develop more sophisticated tools for in-depth processing of medical information, which could lead to more accurate diagnostic techniques and better treatment methods for patients. We also want to secure the ever-expanding datasets of medical, financial and personal information.”

“Thanks to the proliferation of highly interactive Web sites, social networks, online financial transactions, and sensor-equipped devices, we are awash in data,” said Sam Madden, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and leader of the new initiative. “With the right tools, we can begin to make sense of the data and use it to solve any number of pressing societal problems-but our existing tools are outdated and rooted in computer systems and technologies developed in the 1970s.”

ISTCs “are Intel-funded, jointly-led research collaborations between Intel and the United States academic community,” according to information on the company’s Web site. Each center has a hub university with spoke institutions and focuses on specific technologies.

The other universities taking part in the new center include the University of California at Santa Barbara, Portland State University, Brown University, the University of Washington, and Stanford University.

“Specific research will examine designing and prototyping hardware and software for storing, managing, processing, understanding and visualizing data; discovering novel algorithms and scalable, co-designed architectural alternatives; and innovative ways of optimizing modern processor technology trends such as multicore, manycore and emerging non-volatile memory technologies,” according to information released by Intel.

The sixth center the company has opened since 2011, the new ISTC will join networks researching cloud computing, embedded computing, visual computing, secure computing, and pervasive computing.

“We are witnessing unprecedented growth in unstructured digital data and this will only accelerate further through the rapid increase of mobile Internet devices such as phones, cars, and signs, and the projected development of the ‘Internet of Things,’ which will be constantly sensing the world around us,” said Justin Rattner, Intel’s chief technology officer. “For this massive amount of what is called ‘big data’ to be useful, it has to be analyzed to be made understandable. Our goal is to innovate and guide this work across multiple fields, from medical to media, to extract meaning from large amounts of data.”

More information is available at bigdata.csail.mit.edu.

 

Expert Issues a Cyberwar Warning


NYTimes

June 4, 2012

By ANDREW E. KRAMER and NICOLE PERLROTH

 

MOSCOW — When Eugene Kaspersky, the founder of Europe’s largest antivirus company, discovered the Flame virus that is afflicting computers in Iran and the Middle East, he recognized it as a technologically sophisticated virus that only a government could create.

He also recognized that the virus, which he compares to the Stuxnet virus built by programmers employed by the United States and Israel, adds weight to his warnings of the grave dangers posed by governments that manufacture and release viruses on the Internet.

“Cyberweapons are the most dangerous innovation of this century,” he told a gathering of technology company executives, called the CeBIT conference, last month in Sydney, Australia. While the United States and Israel are using the weapons to slow the nuclear bomb-making abilities of Iran, they could also be used to disrupt power grids and financial systems or even wreak havoc with military defenses.

Computer security companies have for years used their discovery of a new virus or worm to call attention to themselves and win more business from companies seeking computer protection. Mr. Kaspersky, a Russian computer security expert, and his company, Kaspersky Lab, are no different in that regard. But he is also using his company’s integral role in exposing or decrypting three computer viruses apparently intended to slow or halt Iran’s nuclear program to argue for an international treaty banning computer warfare.

A growing array of nations and other entities are using online weapons, he says, because they are “thousands of times cheaper” than conventional armaments.

While antivirus companies might catch some, he says, only an international treaty that would ban militaries and spy agencies from making viruses will truly solve the problem.

The wide disclosure of the details of the Flame virus by Kaspersky Lab also seems intended to promote the Russian call for a ban on cyberweapons like those that blocked poison gas or expanding bullets from the armies of major nations and other entities.

And that puts the Russian company in a difficult position because it already faces suspicions that it is tied to the Russian government, accusations Mr. Kaspersky has constantly denied as he has built his business.

While Russian officials have not commented on the discovery of Flame, the Russian minister of telecommunications gave a speech, also in May, calling for an international cyberweapon ban. Russia has also pushed for a bilateral treaty with the United States.

The United States has agreed to discuss such a disarmament treaty with the Russians, but has also tried to encourage Russia to prosecute online crime, which flourishes in this country.

The United States has long objected to the Russian crusade for an online arms control ban. “There is no broad international support for a cyberweapon ban,” says James A. Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “This is a global diplomatic ploy by the Russians to take down a perceived area of U.S. military advantage.”

Russia, many security experts note, has been accused of using cyberwarfare in disputes with Estonia and wars in Georgia.

Mr. Kaspersky said that at no point did he cooperate with the Federal Security Agency, the successor agency to the K.G.B., as the Flame virus was not a threat to Russian citizens.

Kaspersky Lab, he said, felt justified exposing the Flame virus because the company was working under the auspices of a United Nations agency. But the company has been noticeably silent on viruses perpetrated in its own backyard, where Russian-speaking criminal syndicates controlled a third of the estimated $12 billion global cybercrime market last year, according to the Russian security firm Group-IB.

Some say there is good reason. “He’s got family,” said Sean Sullivan, an adviser at F-Secure, a computer security firm in Helsinki. “I wouldn’t expect them to be the most aggressive about publicizing threats in their neighborhood for fear those neighbors would retaliate.”

Last year, Mr. Kaspersky’s 19-year-old son was kidnapped by criminals demanding a ransom. The kidnappers did not appear to have ties to any of Russia’s online criminal syndicates, but Mr. Sullivan says, “It was probably a wake-up call.”

Some computer security firms say Mr. Kaspersky’s researchers have hyped Flame. It is too early, his critics say, to call the virus a “cyberweapon” and to suggest it was sponsored by a state.

Joe Jaroch, a vice president at Webroot, an antivirus maker, says he first encountered a sample of Flame in 2007. He says he did not publicize the discovery because he did not consider the code sophisticated. “There are many more dangerous viruses out there,” he said. “I would be shocked if this was the work of a nation state.”

Mr. Sullivan, from F-Secure, said: “It’s interesting and complex, but not sleek and stealthy. It could be the work of a military contractor — Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and other contractors are developing programs like these for different intelligence services. To call it a cyberweapon says more about Kaspersky’s cold war mentality than anything else. It has to be taken with a grain of salt.”

Whether the skepticism is authentic or professional jealousy, no one doubts the Kaspersky Lab’s skills. Mr. Kaspersky studied cryptography at a high school that was co-sponsored by the K.G.B. and Russia’s ministry of defense, and later took a job with the Russian military. He started tracking computer viruses as a side project in 1989, after his work PC was infected with one. In 1997, he co-founded Kaspersky Lab with his wife at the time, Natalya, in their Moscow apartment.

The headquarters of the team that unraveled Flame is an open-plan office of cubicles overlooking a park on the edge of Moscow. Mr. Kaspersky eschews suits and his researchers wear Converse shoes and tattered jeans, much as their counterparts in the United States do. A Darth Vader mask adorns one desk.

Talent also abounds. The Belarussian virus hunter who first found the Stuxnet virus in 2010, Sergei Ulasen, now works for Kaspersky Lab.

 

Today, the company is one of Russia’s most recognizable exports. It commands 8 percent of the world’s software security market for businesses, with revenue reaching $612 million last year.

Yet Mr. Kaspersky says he often has to dispute suggested ties to Russia’s security services. Analysts say suspicions about the firm’s Russian roots have hindered its expansion abroad.

“The U.S. government, defense contractors and lots of U.S. companies won’t work with them,” said Peter Firstbrook, director of malware research at Gartner, a research firm. “There’s no evidence that they have any back doors in their software or any ties to the Russian mafia or state. It’s a red herring, but there is still a concern that you can’t operate in Russia without being controlled by the ruling party.”

Mr. Kaspersky said his company tackled Flame upon the request of the International Telecommunications Unit, a branch of the United Nations. He assigned about three dozen engineers to investigate a virus that was erasing files on computers at Iran’s oil ministry. Kaspersky researchers, some of whom had analyzed suspected United States and Israeli viruses that destroyed centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear program two years earlier, were already following up on complaints from Iranian clients that Kaspersky’s antivirus software was not catching a new type of malware on their systems, Kaspersky officials said.

“We saw an unusual structure of the code, compressed and encrypted in several ways,” Vitaly Kamlyuk, a researcher on the team that cracked the virus.

It was the first virus to look for Bluetooth-enabled devices in the vicinity, either to spread to those devices, map a user’s social or professional circle, or steal information from them. The program also contained a command called “microbe” that silently turned on users’ microphones to record their conversations and sent audio files back to the attackers. It was clearly not a virus made by criminals.

“Antivirus companies are in a not easy situation,” Mr. Kaspersky said. “We have to protect our customers everywhere in the world. On the other hand, we understand there are quite serious powers behind these viruses.”

Even though finding viruses first is usually a boon for antivirus companies, cracking Flame, Mr. Kaspersky said, might hurt his business in one regard. “For the next five years, we can forget about government contracts in the United States.”

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Moscow and Nicole Perlroth from San Francisco.

 

 

Understanding cyberspace is key to defending against digital attacks

Washington Post

By Robert O’Harrow Jr., Published: June 2

Charlie Miller prepared his cyberattack in a bedroom office at his Midwestern suburban home.

Brilliant and boyish-looking, Miller has a PhD in math from the University of Notre Dame and spent five years at the National Security Agency, where he secretly hacked into foreign computer systems for the U.S. government. Now, he was turning his attention to the Apple iPhone.

At just 5 ounces and 4 1/2 inches long, the iPhone is an elegant computing powerhouse. Its microscopic transistors and millions of lines of code enable owners to make calls, send e-mail, take photos, listen to music, play games and conduct business, almost simultaneously. Nearly 200 million iPhones have been sold around the world.

The idea of a former cyberwarrior using his talents to hack a wildly popular consumer device might seem like a lark. But his campaign, aimed at winning a little-known hacker contest last year, points to a paradox of our digital age. The same code that unleashed a communications revolution has also created profound vulnerabilities for societies that depend on code for national security and economic survival.

Miller’s iPhone offensive showed how anything connected to networks these days can be a target.

He began by connecting his computer to another laptop holding the same software used by the iPhone. Then he typed a command to launch a program that randomly changed data in a file being processed by the software.

The alteration might be as mundane as inserting 58 for F0 in a string of data such as “0F 00 04 F0.” His plan was to constantly launch such random changes, cause the software to crash, then figure out why the substitutions triggered a problem. A software flaw could open a door and let him inside.

“I know I can do it,” Miller, now a cybersecurity consultant, told himself. “I can hack anything.”

After weeks of searching, he found what he was looking for: a “zero day,” a vulnerability in the software that has never been made public and for which there is no known fix.

The door was open, and Miller was about to walk through.

Holes in the system

The words “zero day” strike fear in military, intelligence and corporate leaders. The term is used by hackers and security specialists to describe a flaw discovered for the first time by a hacker that can be exploited to break into a system.

In recent years, there has been one stunning revelation after the next about how such unknown vulnerabilities were used to break into systems that were assumed to be secure.

One came in 2009, targeting Google, Northrop Grumman, Dow Chemical and hundreds of other firms. Hackers from China took advantage of a flaw in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser and used it to penetrate the targeted computer systems. Over several months, the hackers siphoned off oceans of data, including the source code that runs Google’s systems.

Another attack last year took aim at cybersecurity giant RSA, which protects most of the Fortune 500 companies. That vulnerability involved Microsoft Excel, a spreadsheet program. The outcome was the same: A zero-day exploit enabled hackers to secretly infiltrate RSA’s computers and crack the security it sold. The firm had to pay $66 million in the following months to remediate client problems.

The most sensational zero-day attack became public in the summer of 2010. It occurred at Iran’s nuclear processing facility in Natanz. Known as Stuxnet, the attack involved a computer “worm” — a kind of code designed to move throughout the Internet while replicating itself. Last week, the New York Times reported that President Obama had approved the operation as part of a secret U.S.-Israeli cyberwar campaign against Iran begun under the Bush administration.

Among other things, the worm was built to infect thumb drives. Investigators think that when one of the infected drives was inserted into a computer at the Natanz plant, its code quickly found its target: It made hundreds of centrifuges designed to refine uranium run too fast and self-destruct, while sending signals to monitors that all was well.

To complete its mission, the Stuxnet worm relied on four zero days.

Just days ago, researchers released information about Flame, another cyberattack. It appears to be designed as a massive espionage and surveillance tool, also aimed at Iran, that can steal data and listen in on phone calls.

Some researchers believe it exploits zero-day vulnerabilities similar to those in Stuxnet.

The vastness of cyberspace

Miller and his kind are masters of code. At a fundamental level, there is almost nothing simpler than the stuff of their obsessions. There is software, which is written computer language. Computers transform software into machine code, which is simply 0’s and 1’s. Those “binary digits,” or bits, organized in trillions of combinations, serve as both the DNA and digital blood of our modern electronic world.

Bits guide the electrical impulses that tell the world’s computers what to do. They enable the seemingly magical applications that computer and smartphone users take for granted. Bits have also given life to the most dynamic man-made environment on Earth: cyberspace.

Not too long ago, “cyberspace” was pure fiction. The word appeared in “Neuromancer,” a 1984 novel that described a digital realm in which people, properly jacked in, could navigate with their minds. Author William Gibson described it as a “consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators.”

Now cyberspace is a vital reality that includes billions of people, computers and machines. Almost anything that relies on code and has a link to a network could be a part of cyberspace. That includes smartphones, such as the iPhone and devices running Android, home computers and, of course, the Internet. Growing numbers of other kinds of machines and “smart” devices are also linked in: security cameras, elevators and CT scan machines; global positioning systems and satellites; jet fighters and global banking networks; commuter trains and the computers that control power grids and water systems.

So much of the world’s activity takes place in cyberspace — including military communications and operations — that the Pentagon last year declared it a domain of war.

All of it is shot through with zero days.

“We have built our future upon a capability that we have not learned how to protect,” former CIA director George J. Tenet has said.

Researchers and hackers, the good guys and bad, are racing to understand the fundamental nature of cyberspace. For clues about how to improve security — or to mount better attacks — they have turned to physics, mathematics, economics and even agriculture. Some researchers consider cyberspace akin to an organism, its security analogous to a public health issue.

One of the things they know for sure is that the problem begins with code and involves what “Neuromancer” described as the “unthinkable complexity” of humans and machines interacting online.

“The truth is that the cyber-universe is complex well beyond anyone’s understanding and exhibits behavior that no one predicted, and sometimes can’t even be explained well,” concluded JASON, an independent advisory group of the nation’s top scientists, in a November 2010 report to the Pentagon. “Our current security approaches have had limited success and have become an arms race with our adversaries.”

Hacker life

To picture the scale of cyberspace and the scope of the cybersecurity problem, think of the flow of electronic data around the world as filaments of light. Those virtual threads form a vast, brilliant cocoon around the globe.

The electronic impulses that carry the data move at lightning speed. A round-trip between Washington and Beijing online typically occurs in less time than it takes for a major leaguer’s fastball to cross home plate. Blink, and you miss it.

It almost doesn’t matter where hackers work. In the physics governing cyberspace, hackers, terrorists and cyberwarriors can operate virtually next door to regular people browsing the World Wide Web or sending e-mails or phone texts.

Charlie Miller works in suburban St. Louis, in a room that has a small desk, a laptop, a large monitor and power cords that snake across the floor. A wooden bookshelf holds technical manuals alongside his kids’ plastic toys and stuffed animals.

The main clue about what he does for a living is a wall poster for the movie “Hackers.” “Their Crime Is Curiosity,” it says.

The 39-year-old Miller is regarded by some as among the best hackers in the world, but he does not fit the stereotype of an alienated outsider. For starters, he is one of the good guys, a white-hat hacker. He is a security consultant, and he hunts zero days as a hobby. A father of two, trim and balding, he is deceptively modest about his special talents. But his résuméentry about his NSA experience speaks volumes:

“Performed computer network scanning and reconnaissance. Identified weaknesses and vulnerabilities in computer networks. Executed numerous computer network exploitations against foreign targets.”

Apple would not be happy about his plan to attack the iPhone. Like other technology companies, Apple does not want questions about security to taint its products. The company has a well-deserved reputation for developing strong software systems. (Apple officials declined to comment for this article.)

But Miller wasn’t being malicious. He wanted to have fun, prove that it could be done and let the attack serve as a warning about the insecurity of the networked world.

Most of all, he wanted to win a prestigious annual contest where hackers convene to show off the skills that they generally keep to themselves. To win the contest, known as “Pwn2Own,” Miller had to discover a zero day and exploit it. (Pwn is hacker lingo for taking control of a computer.)

If he won, he would receive $15,000, the device he had pwned and a white blazer (modeled on the green jacket worn by winners of the Masters golf tournament). He had won the prize before for hacking Apple products, but it was getting harder.

As he settled into a large black swivel chair in his office, Miller knew he had a challenge on his hands. He did not doubt whether he would find a flaw. He only wondered how bad it would be.

Cracking the iPhone

In December 2010, Miller reached out to a friend and security colleague, Dionysus Blazakis.

Blazakis, 30, started hacking in 1994 and has been breaking code ever since. But instead of breaking the law, he decided to become a software developer. He and Miller worked for the same computer security firm in Baltimore, Independent Security Evaluators. He’s also a zero-day hunter.

In instant chat messages, the two bantered about the technical details of the iPhone’s software. Like hackers everywhere, they wanted to find the easiest route to a vulnerability that would let them take control. Unlike most hackers, they had a deadline: The contest began on March 9, 2011.

“Where do you start? . . . What do you focus on?” Miller recalled asking himself. “The hard part is figuring out the soft part to go after.”

Reading through all the software instructions was out of the question. That might have worked two decades ago, when computer systems were simpler and the Web was still a novelty. A desktop computer then might have a million lines of software. Today, the software in a desktop computer could have 80 million lines or more. Finding the zero days by hand would be like searching a beach for a grain of sand of a particular shade of tan.

Miller and Blazakis decided to rely on a hacker technique known as “fuzzing” — inserting random data into applications and trying to force them to crash.

Making systems crash is easier than it might seem. Software programs are miracles of human ingenuity, veritable cathedrals made of letters and digits. But unlike Notre Dame in Paris or the Duomo in Milan — which took lifetimes to build and remain sturdy to this day — digital architecture is constantly evolving and can be made to crumble with the right push at the wrong spot.

Miller attributes that fragility to companies that place sales and novel applications over computer security.

“Companies want to make money,” he said. “They don’t want to sit around and make their software perfect.”

Many of those vulnerabilities are related to errors in code designed to parse, or sort through, data files sent over the Internet. A typical computer has hundreds of parser codes in its operating system. One good example is an image parser. It identifies the information that makes up a digital photo, processes it and then sends the file to the part of the machine designed to display the image.

Hackers will insert corrupted data in the photo’s code to disrupt the parser software, cause it to crash and open the way for it to be hijacked.

“If an application has never been fuzzed, any form of fuzzing is likely to find bugs,” Microsoft researchers said in a recent paper on the use of fuzzing to improve security.

No human being fuzzing by hand could cause a sufficient number of crashes to routinely allow a hacker to identify a zero day. So Miller and others write programs to do it. Miller’s fuzzing program enables him to connect to a variety of computers and keep track of thousands of crashes, including where in the software the crash took place.

“99.999 percent of the time, nothing bad happens,” Miller explained. “But I do it a billion times, and it happens enough times it’s interesting.”

The heart of his program is a function that randomly substitutes data in a targeted software program. He called the 200 lines of code that make up this function his “special sauce.”

To begin his iPhone hack, he took four Apple computers, one a laptop borrowed from his wife, and connected them to another computer holding the iPhone’s software, the entire amalgamation spread over the benchlike desks of his home office. The homey set-up, complete with an overstuffed bookcase crowned by a bowling pin, looked like the lair of a graduate student pursuing a science project.

Miller ran the mini-network 24 hours a day for weeks. One machine served as the quarterback, launching and coordinating the fuzz attacks, tracking the crashes and collecting the details. Before 7 most mornings, he woke up, went into the office, signed into the quarterback computer and checked on the progress, like a kid hoping for snow.

He was on the lookout in particular for failures that involved computer memory management — a serious flaw that could offer the way in.

“The memory manager keeps track of where things are, where new things should go, et cetera,” Miller recalled. “If a program crashes in the memory manager, it means the computer is confused about what things are located where. This is pretty serious, because it means it is in a state where it might be persuaded to think my data is something it thinks is entirely something else.”

For now, most of the crashes were trivial. February was approaching, and time was short. Miller and Blazakis still did not have their zero day.

The hunt for flaws

Zero days have become the stuff of digital legend. In the 1996 science-
fiction movie “Independence Day,” characters played by Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum launched a “virus” that took advantage of a zero-day vulnerability, crashed the computer system of an alien mothership and saved the world.

But they have always been more than just science fiction. For decades, hackers and security specialists have known about the existence of zero days. And as software proliferated, along with computers and networks, so have zero days. The researchers who found them often had no incentive to share their finds with the affected companies. Sometimes the researchers simply released the vulnerabilities publicly on the Internet to warn the public at large.

Government agencies that secretly engaged in hacking operations, along with some affected software makers, bought information on zero days from a thriving gray market, according to interviews with hackers and security specialists.

In 2005, a security firm called TippingPoint began offering bounties to researchers. Executives of the Austin-based firm reasoned that they could learn much for their own use while spurring the industry to fix threats by creating a master list. They called their effort the Zero Day Initiative.

Since then, more than 1,600 researchers have been paid for reporting almost 5,000 zero days. Starting at hundreds of dollars, the bounties soar into the tens of thousands. A hacker in Shanghai named Wu Shi has earned close to $300,000 for reporting more than 100 flaws in Web browsers.

The system seemed ideal, except for one thing: The software makers often failed to heed the warnings. Some vulnerabilities remained for two years or more.

In 2007, TippingPoint, now owned by Hewlett-Packard, decided to underscore the problem by holding a high-profile event. The Pwn2Own contest would require hackers to not only find zero days but to put them into action in what is known as an “exploit” or attack.

Getting closer

On Jan. 24, 2011, Miller and Blazakis saw a glimmer of hope. An especially promising crash appeared ripe for exploitation.

“Figuring out what to look at,” Miller wrote to his partner, “so we’re ready to rock.”

They had found it inside the part of the browser software that enables iPhone users to view PowerPoint presentations. It involved portions of the file that stored information about the location and size of shapes, such as a circle, square or triangle that would appear on a page of a presentation.

“Really, it was just bytes in a file. It just happened that it had something to do with a shape. We didn’t really care,” Miller said later. “As long as it was doing something wrong with the data.”

This could be their zero day, but more testing was required to see if they could exploit it.

Both men dived back into the technical details of the iPhone’s PowerPoint software. It was hard labor, even for highly skilled hackers. Blazakis stopped shaving and grew a “hacker’s beard.” He put in 18-hour days as he tried to reverse engineer the PowerPoint application in order to take control of it without causing too much disruption.

Bit by bit, they began mastering the layout of the PowerPoint software. They developed an understanding of it that rivaled those who designed it.

Finally, they found a way to insert their malicious code into the application and take control of a part of the iPhone.

“I think it’s under control now,” Miller wrote during an instant-message exchange on Jan. 27. “Sweet.”

Now they had to complete the exploit by figuring out a way to insert that code into an iPhone and ensuring that they could consistently hijack the device. Unlike the movies, where hackers are portrayed as breaking into computers as if they were cracking into digital safes, successful hacks often require deception and the unwitting complicity of the victim.

On Feb. 3, Miller joked to his friend about their struggle: “Looking for bugs fame money girls glory.”

Miller and Blazakis decided to create a way to lure an iPhone user to a bogus Web page. They would set up the page and trick a user into downloading a PowerPoint file. The file would appear normal, but it would contain their malicious code. (Known as “social engineering,” it’s the same technique used in the Google and RSA attacks.)

With the deadline looming, they began having video conference calls. They linked their computers in cyberspace and worked in tandem. They were a tired but formidable pair, cutting corners on their day jobs as security researchers as they closed in on the elusive exploit.

“The last two days were chaotic,” Blazakis said. “I stayed up most of the night doing this.”

On March 8, Miller flew to the contest, which was part of a security conference in Vancouver, B.C. But they still were not sure of the exploit. They continued fiddling with it right up to the eve of the event, including during Miller’s stopover in Seattle.

Their chance came on March 10. As he sat with judges and other hackers in a narrow conference room set up in the hotel, Miller had lingering fears that the hack still might not work on demand. Under the contest rules, he had just five tries to make it work.

When Miller’s turn arrived, he went behind a long table at one end of the room, where the judges sat with their own computers. Yellow cables snaked through the area (the hackers use cables instead of wireless to prevent other hackers from swiping the zero days in play). Miller connected his old white Apple laptop and looked out at other hackers, spectators and some reporters milling about.

A judge played the role of the unwitting iPhone user. The test phone was placed in an aluminum box to block unwanted wireless signals as an additional measure against any attempted theft of a zero-day exploit by other hackers. Miller told him to browse to the phony Web page holding a PowerPoint presentation that Miller had created. Hidden in the presentation’s data was the malicious code.

The image of the phone’s browser was projected onto a large screen. The judge typed in an address for the Web page, but the presentation never appeared. Instead, the image on the screen jumped back to the home page of the phone.

Miller, sitting with his own computer, knew just what had happened. In that moment, he had gained access to all the names and other information on the phone’s address book. He had found a way to strip privacy protections from a key part of the device.

He nudged one of the judges sitting near him and pointed to his screen, which was displaying the iPhone’s address book. He and Blazakis, who was looking on via a video feed to an iPhone he was holding in Baltimore, had won.

The next day, Miller received an oversize check worth $15,000 and beamed as he put on the white winner’s jacket.

Several weeks later, Apple acknowledged the exploit indirectly when the company issued a “patch.” As a result of the hackers’ work, the flaw they found and exploited was no longer a zero day.

Miller and Blazakis knew that behind the contest’s irreverent fun was a sobering reality.

“We’re smart and have skills and such, but we’re not that extraordinary,” Miller said later. “Imagine if you were a government or a Russian mob or a criminal syndicate and you could get 100 guys like us or 1,000 guys?”

 

Washington Post

Part 2

Cyber search engine Shodan exposes industrial control systems to new risks

By Robert O’Harrow Jr., Published: June 3

It began as a hobby for a teenage computer programmer named John Matherly, who wondered how much he could learn about devices linked to the Internet.

After tinkering with code for nearly a decade, Matherly eventually developed a way to map and capture the specifications of everything from desktop computers to network printers to Web servers.

He called his fledgling search engine Shodan, and in late 2009 he began asking friends to try it out. He had no inkling it was about to alter the balance of security in cyberspace.

“I just thought it was cool,” said Matherly, now 28.

Matherly and other Shodan users quickly realized they were revealing an astonishing fact: Uncounted numbers of industrial control computers, the systems that automate such things as water plants and power grids, were linked in, and in some cases they were wide open to exploitation by even moderately talented hackers.

Control computers were built to run behind the safety of brick walls. But such security is rapidly eroded by links to the Internet. Recently, an unknown hacker broke into a water plant south of Houston using a default password he found in a user manual. A Shodan user found and accessed the cyclotron at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Yet another user found thousands of unsecured Cisco routers, the computer systems that direct data on the networks.

“There’s no reason these systems should be exposed that way,” Matherly said. “It just seems ludicrous.”

The rise of Shodan illuminates the rapid convergence of the real world and cyberspace, and the degree to which machines that millions of people depend on every day are becoming vulnerable to intrusion and digital sabotage. It also shows that the online world is more interconnected and complex than anyone fully understands, leaving us more exposed than we previously imagined.

Over the past two years, Shodan has gathered data on nearly 100 million devices, recording their exact locations and the software systems that run them.

“Expose online devices,” the Web site says. “Webcams. Routers. Power Plants. iPhones. Wind Turbines. Refrigerators. VoIP Phones.”

Homeland security officials have warned that the obscurity that had protected many industrial control systems was fast disappearing in a flood of digital light.

“This means that these delicate [control computers] are potentially reachable from the Internet by malicious and skilled adversaries,” a Department of Homeland Security paper concluded in 2010.

The number of intrusions and attacks in the United States is rising fast. From October to April, the DHS received 120 incident reports, about the same as for all of 2011. But no one knows how often breaches have occurred or how serious they have been. Companies are under no obligation to report such intrusions to authorities.

A weak link in the system

Industrial control systems are the workhorses of the information age. Like other computers, they run on code and are programmable. Unlike laptops, smartphones and other consumer technology, they’re stripped down and have little style or glitz.

Costing as little as a few thousand dollars and up to $50,000, they’re often housed in plain metal boxes with few lights or switches. Control systems now open and shut water pipes, regulate the flow of natural gas, manage the production of chemicals, and run data centers, power-plant turbines and commuter trains.

The control computers collect data from electronic sensors, analyze it and send it on to desktop computers that serve as the “human-machine interface.” They afford managers precise and remote control of the machinery.

The most far-flung and powerful of these networked systems are called supervisory control and data acquisition, or SCADA. They give companies central control of large numbers of pumps, generators, oil rigs and other operations.

The allure of long-distance network control is hard to resist. Manufacturers of control computers have promised that such networks can cut costs by reducing the number of workers in the field. Siemens Industry Inc., a leader in the field, said in a recent marketing brochure that it is “more important than ever” to adopt control devices “to respond to the increasing international competitive pressure.”

The systems are often hardened against weather or tough conditions and can run nonstop for months or years. But many were designed for another era, before the mesh of networks reached into every corner of the globe, and some of the systems rely on outdated hardware and software.

A recent examination of major control systems by six hacker-researchers working with the security firm Digital Bond found that six of seven devices in the study were riddled with hardware and software flaws. Some included back doors that enabled the hackers to download passwords or sidestep security completely.

Researchers found that one machine made by General Electric, the D-20, uses the same microprocessor installed in Apple computers two decades ago. The company that made its operating software stopped updating it in 1999. It is often shipped to customers with no meaningful security. “Security is disabled by default,” the manual says. “To log in, enter any name; you do not need a password.”

In a statement to The Washington Post, General Electric said: “The D-20 was designed for deployment in a layered security environment, in which asset owners and operators employ a range of measures to prevent, detect and respond to intrusions. GE actively works with our customers to design and support those security measures.”

The company added that the software for the machine “is designed to be secure and includes a layer of password-protection, which can be activated if the customer chooses to do so.”

Other machines had flaws that enabled the researchers to take control through electronic back doors.

In January, Digital Bond said the results were “a bloodbath, mostly.”

“Most of the guys were able to hack their controllers in a single day,” said K. Reid Wightman, a Digital Bond security researcher and former Pentagon cyberwarrior. “It’s just too easy. If we can do it, imagine what a well-funded foreign power could do.”

The owners of control computers long assumed that few outsiders understood or cared how power plants and other facilities worked. They also figured the systems were safe within their facilities, disconnected from outside networks.

But like much of the rest of the world, the systems were rapidly being linked to global networks, often through indirect connections. Many of those connections came as executives sought more refined detail about their operations. With few exceptions, corporate networks used by executives are linked in some way to the Internet.

Because of the strange nature of cyberspace, even an employee passing through a plant with a wireless connection on a laptop can create a temporary data link that exposes control systems to intruders.

“They have sort of connected through osmosis,” said Marty Edwards, a senior cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security. “What we have done is connect to everything.”

An accidental discovery

The idea for Shodan came to John Matherly in 2003, when he was a teenager attending community college in California. Obsessed with the digital world, he named his project after a malevolent character in a video game called System Shock II. The character, Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network, or Shodan, is an artificial intelligence entity that thinks it is a goddess and sets out to eradicate humans.

Matherly, who grew up in Switzerland, toyed with his system for years as he earned a degree in bioinformatics from the University of California at San Diego and built his career as a programmer, data miner and Web developer. His early Shodan versions found only hundreds of devices a day on the Web, and the information was not searchable. After devoting months to the project in 2009, he made a breakthrough, solving the search problem and locating many more devices.

When he launched his first live version of the program, in November of that year, he thought it might catch on with software makers who wanted to know about the systems being used by potential customers. On his Web site, Matherly described his program as “the world’s first computer search engine that lets you search the Internet for computers. . . . Find devices based on city, country, latitude/longitude, hostname, operating system and IP.”

The Shodan software runs 24 hours a day. It automatically reaches out to the World Wide Web and identifies digital locators, known as Internet protocol (IP) addresses, for computers and other devices. The program then attempts to connect to the machines. If a connection is made, Shodan “fingerprints” the machine, recording its software, geographic location and other data contained in the identification “banner” displayed by devices on the Internet.

Such identifying information is called “metadata” — and it’s far more common, useful and problematic than anyone had realized. Shodan compiles the information in Matherly’s servers — about 10 million devices every month now — and makes it almost as easy to query online as a Google search.

At first, the Shodan discoveries seemed trivial: devices commonly linked to networks such as printers and Web servers. But as queries became more sophisticated, troubling findings started emerging. One researcher using the system found that a nuclear particle accelerator at the University of California at Berkeley was linked to the Internet with virtually no security. Another identified thousands of data routers — the devices that make networks possible — open to anyone. Because they required no passwords, they could be taken over with ease.

“It was only after nearly a year that individual researchers began digging deeper through the Shodan data to locate devices that weren’t part of the known, discovered Internet,” Matherly said. “Water-treatment facilities, power plants, particle accelerators and other industrial control systems had been hidden from traditional search engines.”

As the dimensions of the challenge posed by Shodan became clear, the DHS Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team issued a stark warning in October 2010, noting “the increased risk” of brute-force attacks on “systems available on the Internet.”

The alert recommended placing all control system assets behind firewalls, using secure remote-access methods and disabling default passwords.

A researcher at Cambridge University, Eireann Leverett, used Shodan to identify more than 10,000 control computers linked to the Internet, many of them with known vulnerabilities. Leverett concluded that many operators had no idea how exposed they were — or even realized that their machines were online.

“This could be used to carry out remote attacks on selected devices or identify networks for further reconnaissance and exploitation,” Leverett wrote in a thesis, “Quantitatively Assessing and Visualising Industrial System Attack Surfaces,” published in June 2011. “Malicious actors might already be doing this.”

In the United States, security experts Billy Rios and Terry McCorkle said this spring that their research suggests the situation is worse than even Leverett demonstrated. Rios, who works for Google, and McCorkle, who works for Boeing, are both Shodan users who study control systems on their own time.

“The number of control systems on the Internet is far greater than anybody realizes,” said McCorkle, who along with Rios recently discussed control computer vulnerabilities at the National Defense University at Fort McNair. “These systems are insecure by their nature.”

Matherly said he wants his search engine used to improve security. But he said it can be used to shred it as well.

“Shodan has lifted the barrier. There’s no going back,” Matherly said. “Once you shed light on it, you can’t go back into hiding.”

A history of digital attacks

One story from the Cold War shows that cyberattacks on control systems have been in the imagination for a long time. Though some details are hard to confirm, it describes an attack that experts believe could happen today.

In 1981, a Soviet KGB colonel who became a spy for France, code name Farewell, shared Soviet plans to use a Canadian front company to secretly acquire technology to automate the Trans-Siberian gas pipeline, according to “At the Abyss: An Insider’s History of the Cold War,” by Thomas Reed, a former Pentagon official. Tipped off by the French, U.S. officials set up a front company to sell the technology, but only after they made some undetectable alterations to the computer code.

The alterations eventually “reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to the pipeline joints and welds,” Reed wrote two decades later. “The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space.”

A KGB veteran later disputed the account. A document on the CIA’s Web site confirmed only that “contrived computer chips” were provided to the Soviets and “flawed turbines were installed on a gas pipeline.”

Evidence of the threat to control computers mounted.

In 1997, a teenage hacker using a personal computer and a dial-up connection shut down part of a telephone network in Worcester, Mass., cutting off the local airport’s air-traffic-control communications.

In 2000, Vitek Boden, a supervisor at a technology firm in Australia, was bitter that he did not get a job with the Maroochy Shire Council, according to Joseph Weiss, author of “Protecting Industrial Control Systems From Electronic Threats.” Using a radio transmitter, Boden launched an attack against a wastewater-treatment system in Queensland, remotely accessing the control systems and releasing hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage into local streams and parks. He was sentenced to two years in jail.

“Marine life died, the creek water turned black and the stench was unbearable for residents,” an Australian Environmental Protection Agency official said later.

In 2007, skeptics still claimed that the threat of cyberattacks on real-world machinery was theoretical. In a demonstration called Project Aurora, the Department of Homeland Security along with power industry officials decided to test the theory themselves.

In the end, many doubters were silenced.

The target was a 5,000-horsepower diesel engine, the kind of machine that often serves as a backup generator for manufacturers and large organizations. Engineers at the Idaho National Laboratory hacked into the generator’s embedded control computer through a network. By repeatedly triggering circuit breakers, they created massive torque on the machinery, which eventually started to shake, smoke and tear itself to pieces.

Mark Zeller, who specializes in industrial power systems at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Inc., said the Aurora Project set off a scramble in the power industry to identify links to cyberspace and improve “electronic” perimeter security.

Those efforts include assessing the links between control systems and networks and creating layers of defenses against intruders. In some cases, that means creating “air gaps” — physical separations that cannot be breached by wireless connections — between networks and control systems along with stronger password protection.

“They have really taken this electronic security perimeter thing seriously,” Zeller said. “It’s a big issue now.”

At the same time, the DHS has stepped up its efforts, including providing advice and assistance to industries to reduce cyber-risks.

The government now routinely issues alerts about new threats to control systems. Alerts are also issued by a private industry group, the North American Electric Reliability Corp., or NERC, the organization of electrical grid operators in the United States.

Three weeks ago, NERC said that control computers on the Internet “face increased exposure” because of Shodan and hacking tools. The NERC alert said that “it is possible that hackers or hacktivist groups may cause sporadic component failures as they identify and interact with these devices.”

A sophisticated new virus called Flame, apparently aimed at intelligence collection against Iran, was revealed last week, underscoring anew the threats in cyberspace. But the most powerful and ingenious cyberattack ever publicly disclosed involved industrial control systems in Iran. Called Stuxnet when its code was discovered on the Internet in the summer of 2010, the attack alerted the world to the true potential for attacks on critical infrastructure.

Last week, the New York Times reported that Stuxnet was part of a U.S.-Israeli covert operation against Iran approved by President Obama. Stuxnet targeted a control computer called an S7 produced by Siemens and used by the Iranian government to operate centrifuges in the process of enriching uranium.

The malicious code designed to attack the machines was included as payload in a package of software called a computer “worm.”

The worm was launched into the Internet and spread rapidly around much of the world, like a virus during flu season. But most of the computers and systems infected were in Iran.

The worm code was designed to self-replicate. Investigators said it apparently infected flash drives in Iran, helping it jump from networks to unconnected computers at the Iranian nuclear processing facility in Natanz.

Stuxnet took advantage of four unknown software flaws, or zero days, to crack through security in a variety of computer systems. The attack code eventually directed the S7s to operate uranium-refining centrifuges at speeds beyond their tolerances while sending misleading data to monitors showing that all was well.

It was brilliant and devastating. Analysts believe that hundreds of centrifuges were damaged, though no one outside the operation knows for sure.

“The real-world implications of Stuxnet are beyond any threat we have seen in the past,” said the authors of an analysis of the worm issued by Symantec, a computer security firm. “Stuxnet is the type of threat we hope to never see again.”

Among those shaken to the core was Siemens.

“Stuxnet marked a turning point for the entire automation industry, turning theoretical problems into headlines,” Raj Batra, president of the industry automation division at Siemens, told The Post.

Exploiting flaws

News of Stuxnet jolted hackers around the world like a double shot of espresso, waking them up to the once-
obscure world of industrial control systems.

One of them was Dillon Beresford, an energetic hacker and security consultant in Texas. He read an article about the attack in Wired magazine.

“It inspired me,” Beresford said. “I wanted to disprove that it would take a nation-state to pull this off.”

“I’m like, no, I’m going to do this in my living room.”

Beresford wasn’t just being brash. He had found zero-day vulnerabilities over the years. “At the end of the day, it’s all just code,” he said.

Starting in January 2011, Beresford worked almost nonstop for two months. He focused on the Siemens S7 line of controllers.

Like any good hack, it started with research. Beresford found an online “coding library” run by a German researcher. It contained source code for a wide variety of computers, including the S7s. Night after night he studied, focusing in particular on what is known as the machine’s communications protocol.

He discovered the protocol was designed to make it easier for machines to communicate with the Internet. Security was an afterthought.

Beresford persuaded his boss at the time — a manager at NSS Labs, a security firm — to buy him four of the industrial control systems for thousands of dollars each. “If you do find something, let people know you’re from NSS,” his boss told him.

The devices came mounted on heavy boards, ready for testing. The S7 is a plain rectangular metal container with heat vents and ports for cables, about the size of a large shoe box.

Beresford set them up on his workbench in the bedroom of his apartment in suburban Austin. He connected them to his laptop and began to hunt.

“I was up every night until 5 a.m.,” he said. “I love to write code.”

Several weeks into his experiments, Beresford made the first of several discoveries of flaws in the S7s. One of them took advantage of the fact that the protocol did not encrypt its communication with other networks, allowing a hacker to easily read and steal the “plain text” passwords.

Beresford said the protocol was created by designers who assumed the machines would operate behind the safety of an “air gap” between them and open networks. At the time, no one anticipated the use of thumb drives to close such gaps, as in the Stuxnet attack.

He also found a digital back door that enabled him to read the device’s internal memory, including the password stored on the device.

In May 2011, Beresford sent his findings to the DHS. The feds studied his work and confirmed it. In an alert issued on July 5, the agency announced it was working with Siemens on the S7 vulnerabilities.

“I crushed it,” he said. “All average guys, your typical hacker, could very easily replicate this.”

Since then, using his Shodan account, Beresford has found more than 100 S7s online, all of them potential targets.

Batra of Siemens acknowledged the vulnerabilities and said the company is working hard to address them. The company last week announced it is offering new security enhancements for its industrial control systems.

“Siemens’s automation products are rigorously tested with regard to industrial security and yet must be designed to also balance the requirements of open industrial solutions, which drive productivity,” he said. “There will never be an endpoint when it comes to industrial security threats, but companies can better protect their systems by staying up to date with the research community, following the guidance of governmental agencies, and by working with responsible, technologically innovative vendors like Siemens.”

Something to prove

Other hackers also began turning their attention to industrial control computers after hearing about Stuxnet.

One of them, an anonymous hacker who calls himself pr0f, is a bright, unemployed 22-year-old who favors hoodie sweatshirts and lives in his parents’ home somewhere overseas. He is among the growing numbers of Shodan users.

After studying control systems in the wake of Stuxnet, he thought the insecurity of the devices seemed crazy and irresponsible.

“Eventually, somebody will get access to a major system and people will be hurt,” he later said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

He vowed to prove how easy it was to get in. On Nov. 17, he saw an article online about an apparent industrial control system attack in the United States. The article said a hacker in Russia had apparently destroyed a pump in a water utility in Springfield, Ill.

Pr0f had been expecting something like this, but he was incredulous when he read a statement in the story from a DHS official.

“At this time there is no credible corroborated data that indicates a risk to critical infrastructure entities or a threat to public safety,” the statement said.

The hacker fumed: How could Homeland Security play down something so important?

“It was the final straw,” pr0f said. “I was angry. I said, ‘Yep, let’s do something.’ ”

The Springfield episode turned out to be an accident not connected to Russia, but he did not learn that until later. Impulsively, he began programming his computer to search the Internet for a Siemens S7 controller. The first one he found just happened to be an S7 in South Houston, a small town thousands of miles and an ocean away from where he sat.

The hacker navigated to the machine’s Internet address. When prompted to identify himself as an approved operator, he knew just what to do, because he had read the manual. He typed in the default password: three simple digits. A moment later, he was at the controls of a water plant that serves 16,000 Texans.

“This required almost no skill,” the young man wrote online a short time later, using an e-mail address in Romania to cloak his identity.

The S7 was installed when the town upgraded its water plant more than a decade ago. That was long before most people thought of industrial control systems as targets. “Nobody gave it a second thought,” Mayor Joe Soto said. “When it was put in, we didn’t have terrorists.”

The intrusion took all of 10 minutes. The hacker did not cause any damage. Instead, he recorded images of the control system as proof of how easy it was for him to get in.

“I didn’t actually know what the machine was going to control when I started, but I logged in, and well, saw the stuff I took screen shots of,” he said in an e-mail exchange. “I was just amazed.”

So was Soto, after he saw images of the plant’s control panels on the Internet. He and other town officials ordered the gap closed immediately and then considered the implications.

“We’re probably not the only one who is wide open,” Soto said later. “He caught everyone with our pants down.”

 

 

Timeline: Key events in cyber history

Explore some of the technological advances that led to cyberspace and examples of notable hacks.

1943-1944 

History

The digital era jumped ahead with the creation of Colossus, the first programmable digital machine. Though limited compared to later computers, Colossus played a pivotal role in code breaking during World War II. In effect, the British developed the first digital machine to hack German codes.

1961-1962 

History

Key steps in the history of global computer networks came when Leonard Kleinrock at MIT published the first paper on packet switching theory in July 1961, and the next year when J.C.R. Licklider, also at MIT, wrote a series of memos spelling out his ideas for a “Galactic Network” in which people could access data from anywhere.

1967-1969 

History

The Advanced Research Projects Agency, later known as DARPA, accelerated work on what was initially dubbed ARPANET and eventually came to be known as the Internet. The first ARPANET message was sent at 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 29, 1969.

1971 

History

Intel released the first integrated microprocessor, a major leap forward in the history of the computer. It had 2,300 transistors and processed 60,000 instructions per second. 

1982

Hack

National security officials in the United States launched one of the world’s first cyberattacks on another country: the Soviet Union. U.S. officials heard, through a KGB source named Farewell, that the Soviets intended to buy computer equipment through a front company to operate a gas pipeline. U.S. agents altered the software, which later caused the pipeline to explode.

1986-1987 

Hack

In 1986 and 1987, a physics researcher at the University of California at Berkeley uncovered a global hack of academic, military and government computers in the United States. Chronicled later in the book “The Cuckoo’s Egg,” it was the first investigation of its kind, and it revealed online hacker threats spread around the globe.

1988 

Hack

The first “worm” attack occurred on the Internet. A Cornell University student named Robert Tappan Morris released several dozen lines of code, which replicated wildly and hit thousands of computers hard. It stopped about 10 percent of the 88,000 computers linked to the Internet at the time.

1990 

History

ARPANET became an operation network known as the Internet. About 2.6 million people around the globe had access. 

1994 

Hack

Anonymous hackers repeatedly attacked the Air Force’s Rome Laboratory in New York, underscoring the threat to military systems. Investigators discovered that a British teenager and an Israeli technician had used phone systems and networks in eight countries to cloak their attacks on numerous military and government computer systems.

1997 

Hack

The Pentagon’s first “information warfare” exercise, known as Eligible Receiver, found that industrial and information systems throughout the United States are vulnerable to cyberattacks from hackers using readily available technology and software. Specialists said it appeared as though simulated attacks on power and communications networks in Oahu, Hawaii; Los Angeles; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Washington, D.C.; and elsewhere succeeded with ease.

2003 

History

The amount of digital information created by computers, cameras and other data systems this year surpassed the amount of all information created in human history, according to studies by International Data Corp. and EMC.

November 2003 

Hack

Hackers apparently supported by China attacked military and government systems in the United States with impunity, making off with terabytes of data. The attacks were dubbed Titan Rain by officials in the United States.

May 2007 

Hack

During a dispute between Estonia and Russia, hackers launched massive attacks on Estonian government agencies, banks, newspapers and other organization, using networks of computers to shut down Estonian systems online. Some analysts, blaming Russia, asserted the attacks represent one of the first instances of cyberwar.

2008 

History

Cyberspace accelerated its expansion, with the number of devices connected to the Internet exceeding the number of people on Earth for the first time. That number hit an estimated 12.5 billion in 2010, according to a researcher at Cisco who predicted it will rise to 50 billion in 2020. Hundreds of millions of new Internet users also sign on, many millions of them via mobile phones and other portable devices.

November 2008 

Hack

The most significant breach of U.S. computer security occurred, apparently when someone working with the Pentagon’s Central Command inserted an infected flash drive into a military laptop computer at a base in the Middle East. The case was code named Buckshot Yankee. “The flash drive’s malicious computer code, placed there by a foreign intelligence agency, uploaded itself onto a network run by the U.S. Central Command. That code spread undetected on both classified and unclassified systems, establishing what amounted to a digital beachhead, from which data could be transferred to servers under foreign control,” a senior U.S. official later wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine.

March 2009 

Hack

Canadian researchers identified a Chinese espionage network operating on government computer systems in 103 countries, making it the largest operation of its kind ever publicly identified. The researchers dubbed the system GhostNet.

December 2009 

Hack

Communications links with U.S. drones were hacked by Iraqi insurgents, who used laptop computers and inexpensive software. The hack apparently enabled the insurgents to see video images the drone was recording.

January 2010 

Hack

Google announced that it and dozens of other companies were the focus of a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack” originating from China. The attack resulted in a huge amount of data being stolen. It was later dubbed Operation Aurora.

February 2010 

History

The number of Internet users topped 2 billion. The Defense Department said that although “it is a man-made domain, cyberspace is now as relevant a domain for DoD activities as the naturally occurring domains of land, sea, air and space.”

July 2010 

Hack

Researchers discovered the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever to be made public. A “worm” known as Stuxnet, it was designed to seek out certain industrial control systems made by Siemens. Stuxnet took advantage of four zero-day vulnerabilities and appeared to be targeted at a uranium enrichment program in Iran. Specialists said it appeared to have a devastating effect, destroying or damaging hundreds of centrifuges. The New York Times reported that President Obama approved the operation as part of a secret U.S.-Israeli cyberwar campaign against Iran begun under the Bush administration.

November 2010 

History

A group of the nation’s top scientists concluded in a report to the Pentagon that “the cyber-universe is complex well beyond anyone’s understanding and exhibits behavior that no one predicted, and sometimes can’t even be explained well.” The scientists, part of a Pentagon advisory group called JASON, said, “Our current security approaches have had limited success and have become an arms race with our adversaries. In order to achieve security breakthroughs we need a more fundamental understanding of the science of cyber-security.”

May 2011 

Hack

Sony told Congress that hackers had penetrated the PlayStation network, stealing or misusing the personal information of at least 77 million users. Sony estimated that fallout from the hack cost at least $170 million. It appeared as though criminals masqueraded as members of the anarchist-activist group known as Anonymous.

M

arch 2012

Hack

Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, blamed China for taking “astounding” amounts of intellectual propery and for the hack last year of security giant RSA. In testimony before a congressional panel, Alexander hinted at military reprisals. “We reserve the right to use all necessary means — diplomatic, informational, military, and economic — as appropriate and consistent with applicable international law,” Alexander testified.

 

 

 

The White House and Pentagon Deem Cyber-Attacks “An Act of War”

 

Forbes.com

June 5, 2012

Reuven Cohen, Contributor

Last weeks New York Times bombshell article by David Sanger claimed that President Obama secretly ordered the cyber-attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities. The story tells of a significantly expanding American involvement in the sustained use of so called cyber-weapons against other nations using the “Stuxnet” software. The story has caused quite the uproar. But what was missing from the story is something far more interesting, according to both The White House and Pentagon’s own definitions, a cyber-attack is to be considered “An act of war.” So by it’s own definition, are we at war?

Steve Rendall wrote a brief post at fair.org on the topic saying, “It would have been much more interesting had reporter David Sanger cited independent legal experts on whether such cyberattacks constitute acts of war. If they do, the White House program could have far more profound consequences than merely disrupting Iran’s nuclear program.”

He points out that last year the White House commissioned a major study of cyberspace, International Strategy for Cyberspace (5/11), which found that

“States have an inherent right to self-defense that may be triggered by certain aggressive acts in cyberspace…. Certain hostile acts conducted through cyberspace could compel actions under the commitments we have with our military treaty partners…. When warranted, the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would any other threat to our country.

 

Also then points to Glenn Greenwald who notes, the Pentagon is similarly on the record arguing that cyberattacks are acts of war:

“Needless to say, if any cyber-attack is directed at the U.S. –rather than by the U.S.–it will be instantly depicted as an act of unparalleled aggression and evil: Terrorism. Just last year, the Pentagon decreed that any cyberattack on the U.S. would be deemed “an act of war.”

 

I’ll keep you posted as this story unfolds.

 

 

 

 

 

CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
June 1, 2012 – 10:24 p.m.

GOP Plots Full-Year Delay on ‘Fiscal Cliff’

By Paul M. Krawzak, CQ Staff

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp is working on a plan to avoid the “fiscal cliff” by extending for a full year or more the Bush-era tax cuts and other tax and budget measures set to expire in January.

Republicans have pushed the idea of extending current tax and some spending policies into 2013. But the latest effort envisions a full-year extension, creating more time for broader tax and spending changes GOP lawmakers want to enact.

Most Democrats oppose extending the portion of tax cuts for the affluent, although there is disagreement about whether to draw the line at those who earn $1 million or more or couples that make $250,000 or more.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said last month that the House would vote before the election to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush to give Congress time to enact a comprehensive tax overhaul next year. Republicans and many Democrats argue that simplifying the tax code would boost economic growth.

But lawmakers said GOP leaders also are weighing a full-year extension of other expiring or expired provisions, including a law that shields 30 million taxpayers from the reach of the Alternative Minimum Tax and a periodically renewed “fix” that prevents scheduled cuts in reimbursements to physicians who treat Medicare patients.

“That’s an approach we’re looking at,” Camp, R-Mich., said June 1. “We need to make sure we don’t further damage our economy, and I think tax hikes would do that next year. So I want to avoid that, but also begin to move forward on a tax code that is simpler, fairer, that is more pro-growth.”

Sequester Is Separate

The plan to extend current policies does not include delaying $109 billion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that are set to hit in January as a result of a special congressional committee’s inability to agree on a deficit reduction plan last year. The House passed a bill (HR 5652) last month that would turn off the portion of the sequester that would cut discretionary spending by $98 billion and replace it with hundreds of billions of dollars of cuts in mandatory programs. Senate Democratic leaders oppose that bill because it depends entirely on spending cuts, most of them in domestic social programs, and does not include a tax increase.

In a report last month, the Congressional Budget Office warned the economy could contract in the first half of next year, causing a recession, if all tax cuts are allowed to expire in January, coupled with the automatic spending cuts. Higher taxes and lower spending combined would deliver an economic hit estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars in 2013 and more than $7 trillion over a decade, CBO said. Camp said he would like to extend the “doc fix” for at least a year and perhaps longer. But he said he’s opposed to extending the temporary payroll tax cut when it expires in January.

Waiting on the Election

Most Democrats favor allowing upper-income tax cuts to expire. They also are pushing for what they call a balanced deficit reduction package that includes higher taxes.

“We can’t get increased revenue and extend the high-income tax cuts,” said Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on Ways and Means. Levin opposes extending tax cuts for families that earn more than $250,000 per year.

“It’s a point of leverage, but it’s a point of policy and a lot will be determined by the election,” he said. “If the president is re-elected there will be no extension of the high-income tax cuts.”

Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have not publicly embraced a full-year extension of existing policies to avoid the fiscal cliff, beyond support for extending current tax rates. “I think all of us understand the gravity of these issues,” Cantor said June 1 on the House floor.

Camp said he’s still working on the plan.

The general feeling among Republicans is, “let’s extend everything and then deal with it after the election,” said freshman Reid Ribble, R-Wis., a member of the Budget Committee. But he said no one has signed off on the plan, as far as he knows.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former CBO director and a Republican, said a one-year extension is likely even though Democrats oppose continuing upper-income tax cuts.

“I think the best outcome, and actually one of the ones that’s more likely, is to essentially agree to extend current policy for, say, a year, so that whoever wins in November can show up in January and permanently pick the path,” he said.

Testifying before the House Budget Committee on June 1, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican and brother of George W. Bush, called for extending the tax cuts to avoid harming the economy. They should no longer be considered temporary, he said, given how long ago they were enacted. To let them expire now means, “basically you’re talking about a massive tax increase,” he said. “I don’t think that is a proper way to restore economic growth.”

 

 

Lawmakers look for way out as defense cuts near

Threat of massive budget reductions have some discussing revenue increases

The New York Times

By JONATHAN WEISMAN

updated 6/4/2012 12:51:23 AM ET

SUMTER, S.C. — Senator Lindsey Graham rode last week like Paul Revere from South Carolina’s wooded upstate to its gracious Lowcountry to its sweltering midsection, offering a bureaucratic rallying cry for his military-heavy state — the defense cuts are coming.

On Jan. 2, national security is set to receive a heavy blow if Congress fails to intervene. That is when a 10-year, $600 billion, across-the-board spending cut is to hit the Pentagon, equal to roughly 8 percent of its current budget.

Mr. Graham’s colleagues in the Senate have been strangely quiet about the impending cuts, set in motion last summer when the Budget Control Act ended an impasse over raising the nation’s borrowing limit with a deal designed to hurt both parties if they did not strike an agreement later on. A special select committee was assigned to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. If it failed, the cuts would come automatically, half to national security, half to domestic programs.

It failed, and the reckoning is approaching.

“Our ability to modernize will be basically gutted,” Mr. Graham told National Guard officers in Greenville. The Marine Corps will have to choose between its giant training camps in San Diego or Parris Island, he told community leaders in Beaufort, a stone’s throw from Parris Island.

The C-17 fleet at Joint Base Charleston would be “devastated,” he warned city leaders at the Charleston Chamber of Commerce. The cuts to the soldiers and airmen at Shaw Air Force Base would leave behind a “hollow force,” he intoned in a windowless room at the Quality Inn in Sumter.

In fact, no one knows what “sequestration,” the term for the automatic cuts, will look like, not lawmakers, not the military. But Republicans who helped create it as a bludgeon to force a bipartisan budget accord are now desperate to undo it. Indeed, some of the loudest advocates for blocking the cuts — like Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee — voted to create them; 28 Senate Republicans and 174 House Republicans voted for the Budget Control Act, overwhelming the opposition.

But the threat they created may be doing its job. Mr. Graham is openly talking about revenue increases to offset the costs. Even South Carolina’s ardently conservative House members, Mick Mulvaney, Joe Wilson and Jeff Duncan, said last week that they were ready to talk.

“I’m personally offended that they’re playing a high-stakes game of chicken with our national defense,” fumed Weston Newton, chairman of the Beaufort County Council, after hearing Mr. Graham’s dire warnings.

 

Eugene R. Baten, chairman of the Sumter County Council, told the senator of the one-cent sales tax increase that helped finance a land purchase to protect Shaw from encroaching development. “We have sacrificed as a community,” he said. “But we can’t do it alone. I’m not saying it’s the Democrats’ fault. I’m not saying it’s the Republicans’ fault. It’s both of y’all’s fault.”

On its face, the automatic cuts do not sound that bad. If they are put into effect, military spending would decline to its 2007 level, said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. But really it is worse than that. The law exempts war costs and allows the administration to wall off personnel levels and military pay, about a third of the Pentagon budget. That means everything else — operations and maintenance, research and development, procurement, fuel, military construction — would face immediate cuts as deep as 13 percent, Mr. Harrison said.

And under the law, the Defense Department could not do the kind of planning that would rationalize the cuts. Mr. Graham warned the citizens of Beaufort that the Marines would have to shut either their Parris Island or San Diego training camps, and would face the same choice between their airfields at Beaufort or Cherry Point, N.C. In fact, under the law, all bases face the same cuts because Congress has prohibited base closings.

The dire warnings are not coming from Mr. Graham alone. They are coming at least as loudly from Leon E. Panetta, the secretary of defense. The administration, with the assent of some Republicans like Mr. Graham, has already agreed that the Pentagon will contribute around $450 billion in deficit reduction over the next decade. Tack on $600 billion more and the impact will be debilitating, Pentagon officials say.

But those warnings have not gotten Mr. Panetta very far. In May, the House did vote to shift the first year of automatic defense cuts to domestic spending, but the legislation did not get a single Democratic vote and will go nowhere in the Senate. Even some Republicans recoiled at foisting Pentagon cuts onto programs like food stamps and school lunch programs.

“I voted my conscience, and I voted my district,” said Representative Michael G. Fitzpatrick, Republican of Pennsylvania, who voted against the shift to heavier domestic cuts. “Reductions like this need to be equitably shared across the agencies.”

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, has given no indication that he will undo the cuts without a broader deficit reduction deal that would include revenue increases — and no such negotiations are under way.

Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said Republicans were given the choice during the debt ceiling negotiations between automatic defense cuts or automatic tax increases in the event that the so-called supercommittee failed to reach a deficit deal. They chose the defense cuts.

“The consistent pattern here is they have chosen to defend special interest tax breaks over defense spending,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “They made that choice.”

Mr. Graham’s intention is to separate defense from the larger deficit issue by aiming his arguments high and low. The high argument is about American greatness.

“The debate on the debt is an opportunity to send the world a signal that we are going to remain the strongest military force in the world,” he said. “We’re saying, ‘We’re going to keep it, and we’re going to make it the No. 1 priority of a broke nation.’ ”

To that end, his arguments grow increasingly complex, involving a near-term confrontation with Syria and what he is sure will be a military strike on Iran late this summer, “an air and sea campaign from hell,” he tells an audience in Sumter. A large screen at the Third Army command center in nearby Shaw Air Force Base seemed to back him up on that. It broadcast a multicolored map of Iran with its air defenses demarcated in loud, red circles.

 

Then there is the low road: fear.

“The soft underbelly that I’m trying to exploit is, ‘What does this mean to your state?’ ” he said.

The audience for that appeal could be forgiven for greeting it with a yawn. So far, at least, Congress is acting as if the constraints it imposed on itself last August will simply be ignored. The House in May approved an annual defense policy bill that authorized Pentagon spending $8 billion higher than spending caps approved in the Budget Control Act — without the automatic spending caps. The Senate Armed Services Committee stuck largely to those caps but included nothing to prepare for sequestration beyond ordering up a study of its potential impacts.

 

Military leaders in South Carolina came to the microphones of Mr. Graham’s events, speaking of “insidious” impacts and “devastating blows.” But pressed privately, Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., South Carolina’s elected National Guard adjutant general, conceded: “We don’t know what sequestration looks like. There hasn’t been a whole lot of planning.”

For now, Democrats and Republicans are waiting for the other side to blink. And the pressure may be working. Mr. Graham said the sentiment for raising revenues by closing tax loopholes or imposing higher fees on items like federal oil leases is expanding in his party.

Asked about the “no new taxes” pledge almost all Republicans have signed, he shrugged: “I’ve crossed the Rubicon on that.”

This story, “Some lawmakers look for way out as defense cuts near,” originally appears in The New York Times.

 

WashingtonPost.com

NASA gets two military spy telescopes for astronomy

Washington Post

By Joel Achenbach, Published: June 4

The secretive government agency that flies spy satellites has made a stunning gift to NASA: two exquisite telescopes as big and powerful as the Hubble Space Telescope. They’ve never left the ground and are in storage in Rochester, N.Y.

It’s an unusual technology transfer from the military-intelligence space program to the better-known civilian space agency. It could be a boost for NASA’s troubled science program, which is groaning under the budgetary weight of the James Webb Space Telescope, still at least six years from launch.

Or it could be a gift that becomes a burden. NASA isn’t sure it can afford to put even one of the two new telescopes into orbit.

The telescopes were built by private contractors for the National Reconnaissance Office, one of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. The telescopes have 2.4-meter (7.9-foot) mirrors, just like the Hubble, but they have 100 times the field of view. Their structure is shorter and squatter.

They’re “space qualified,” as NASA puts it, but they’re a long way from being functioning space telescopes. They have no instruments — there are no cameras, for example. More than that, they lack a funded mission and all that entails, such as a scientific program, support staff, data analysis and office space. They will remain in storage while NASA mulls its options.

“It’s great news,” said NASA astrophysics director Paul Hertz. “It’s real hardware, and it’s got really impressive capabilities.”

The announcement Monday raised the obvious question of why the intelligence agency would no longer want, or need, two Hubble-class telescopes. A spokeswoman, Loretta DeSio, provided information sparingly.

“They no longer possessed intelligence-collection uses,” she said of the telescopes.

She confirmed that the hardware represents an upgrade of Hubble’s optical technology.

“The hardware is approximately the same size as the Hubble but uses newer, much lighter mirror and structure technology,” DeSio said. She added, “Some components were removed before the transfer.”

Which components? “I can’t tell you that,” she said.

The telescopes have been declassified, though they remain sufficiently sensitive that neither the NRO or NASA would provide a photograph of them. At a presentation to scientists Monday in Washington, Alan Dressler, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science, showed an image of one of the telescopes, but it was so thoroughly blacked out — redacted for national security reasons — that the audience burst into laughter.

The surprise announcement was a reminder that NASA isn’t the only space enterprise in the government. Analysts believe that the United States spends more money on military and intelligence space operations than on civilian space efforts.

The two NRO telescopes may be versions of the KH-11 Kennan satellites that the agency has been putting into orbit since 1976, according to a space analyst familiar with both civilian and military hardware. The analyst said that in recent years, the NRO has decided to switch to surveillance satellites that have a broader field of view than the older models. Instead of essentially looking down through a straw at the Earth’s surface, the new technology looks down through a garden hose, the analyst said.

“This is going to be top-quality hardware,” said the analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic. “They’re not state-of-the-art spy satellites, but they are probably still state-of-the-art optics.”

DeSio, the NRO spokeswoman, said the telescopes were built in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Spotting a dime from space

These are formidable eyes in the sky, apparently. NASA official Michael Moore said that if the Hubble Space Telescope were pointed at the surface of the Earth instead of at outer space, “you could see a dime sitting on top of the Washington Monument.”

The spy telescopes have a feature that civilian space telescopes lack: a maneuverable secondary mirror that makes it possible to obtain more-focused images, said David Spergel, a Princeton University astrophysicist and a co-chair of the National Academies of Science committee on astronomy and astrophysics.

The new telescopes are “actually better than the Hubble. They’re the same size, but the optical design is such that you can put a broader set of instruments on the back,” he said.

Spergel is among the scientists who in 2010 produced the “decadal survey,” which listed the top priorities in astronomy. At the top of the list was a new space telescope that could be used to look for extrasolar planets and to study “dark energy,” the mysterious cosmic force that seems to be causing the universe to expand at an accelerating rate.

NASA has a plan for such a telescope, called the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). But the program has effectively been put on hold because of the dismal state of the space agency’s science budget.

The Webb has gobbled up money that might have gone to other projects. It’s a jumbo telescope designed to orbit 1 million miles from Earth, where it would observe the mid-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. With that capability, it could gather light from the farthest reaches of the universe. But it’s not scheduled to launch until 2018, more than four years past the original launch target, and its projected cost is nearing $9 billion.

WFIRST was envisioned as a much less expensive telescope with a relatively modest light-collecting mirror, just 1.5 meters (4.9 feet). One of the new NRO telescopes, with a bigger mirror, would give WFIRST an upgrade in capability.

But everything comes down to money.

No money for a mission

“NASA does not have in its current budget the funding necessary to develop a space telescope mission using these new telescopes,” Hertz, the astrophysics director, said in a conference call.

He said that, using plausible budgets, 2024 would be the earliest date to launch one of the two telescopes unless the agency received additional funding from Congress. “Any dates earlier, like 2019 or 2020, is if money is no object,” Hertz said.

And that is the projection for just one of the telescopes. The other seems destined to remain firmly on the ground for the foreseeable future.

“We don’t at this point in time anticipate ever being rich enough to use both of them, but it sure would be fun, wouldn’t it?” Hertz said.

The value of a space telescope sitting in storage is hard to estimate, but NASA officials said that having a finished piece of telescope hardware would shave about $250 million off a future mission. It would also shorten the timeline on a project by several years.

“The thing that takes the longest to build is the telescope,” Spergel said.

NASA’s windfall takes the pain out of the planned demise of the Hubble. The storied telescope, launched in 1990 and still operating, will lose functionality in coming years. NASA, lacking a space shuttle, has neither the means nor the money to repair the Hubble again. At some point, it will return to the atmosphere in a controlled de-orbit, crash into the Pacific and sink to the bottom of the ocean.

“Instead of losing a terrific telescope, you now have two telescopes even better to replace it with,” Spergel said.

Asked whether anyone at NASA was popping champagne, the agency’s head of science, John Grunsfeld, answered, “We never pop champagne here; our budgets are too tight.”

 

Dayton Daily News

Potential cuts cloud defense outlook

A top Air Force leader says foreign military sales are booming.

By Barrie Barber, Staff Writer

10:43 PM Monday, June 4, 2012

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Foreign military sales are “booming,” but the outlook for defense contractors remains uncertain as major defense cuts loom if federal budget sequestration isn’t prevented next year, a top Air Force leader said Monday.

Lt. Gen. Thomas J. Owen, commander of the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson, offered that assessment to the Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association in a speech Monday at the Hope Hotel and Conference Center. Owen, who took over ASC in 2009, is due to retire this year.

Sales of weapons systems such as 84 F-15s to the Saudi Air Force, the modernization of other fighter aircraft and record sales of the C-130J cargo plane are among the reasons sales reached nearly $40 billion, he said.

“We’ve had a huge growth,” he said. “The foreign military sales business is booming.”

Strong sales are in the nation’s interest because it lets allies and others defend themselves without having to call on the United States, he said.

The Department of Defense could face $500 billion in automatic budget cuts over a decade beginning next year if federal lawmakers don’t agree to stop the automatic cuts.

The reductions would arrive on top of more than $450 billion in reduced spending the Pentagon plans over the next decade.

“There’s certainly potential for lots of changes and I don’t know how this is all going to play out,” Owen said.

Fielding the F-35 Joint Strike jet fighter; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance growth; and long-range strike capability rank as the Air Force’s highest priorities despite the drawdown in forces and spending, he said.

ASC, meanwhile, will prioritize where to cut while it focuses on ways to acquire and purchase weapons faster, Owen said.

War fighters, he said, “don’t want to see a 15- or 20-year cycle before it gets there,” he said. “They want to see it in a handful of years.”

The Air Force Materiel Command will reduce the number of centers it has to five from 12 across nine bases and cut hundreds of employees servicewide by Oct. 1. As part of the restructuring, the Air Force will start a Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson, which will oversee ASC, the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., and the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

ASC cuts at Wright-Patterson, however, are “very small,” Owen said. An exact number wasn’t available. Overall, though, the base will lose 234 civilian and 162 military positions this year. Civilian workers are expected to have the chance to move to other jobs on base, said Wright-Patterson spokesman Daryl Mayer.

A Life Cycle Management Center at the base should be a boost to local contractors, although pending budget cuts have created concern and uncertainty, said Scott Coale, president of the Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association.

“The growth period (in defense spending) is over … and there’s always some fear when there’s uncertainty,” he said.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2363 or bbarber@DaytonDailyNews.com.

Find this article at:

http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/dayton-news/potential-cuts-cloud-defense-outlook-1386344.html

 

 

Senate Democrats blast national security leak on Iran cyberattack

The Hill

By Jeremy Herb 06/05/12 03:02 PM ET

The Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday expressed worry that leaks to the press about a cyberattack authorized by the Obama administration on Iran could lead to a counterattack on the United States.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined other senior Senate Democrats in expressing serious concerns about the leak, which detailed a cyberattack intended to hamper Iran’s nuclear program. Some Republicans argue the information was leaked to help President Obama’s reelection campaign.

Feinstein said the fact that the United States is launching cyberattacks against other countries could “to some extent” provide justification for cyberattacks against the United States.

“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein told reporters Tuesday. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.”

Several Democrats noted the Iranian leak is just the latest in a series of media reports about classified U.S. anti-terrorism activity.

“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities are frankly all against national security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.”

Feinstein and Kerry, however, rejected Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) charge that the leaks were politically motivated to boost Obama’s image.

Kerry said that he “categorically” rejected the accusations that the leaks were coming from the White House for political purposes.

And Feinstein said she did not think the White House leaked the story for political purposes.

“That’s hard for me to believe,” she said.

A story The New York Times last week revealed U.S. involvement with Stuxnet, a computer virus that was used against Iranian nuclear facilities and caused centrifuges to explode. The story detailed joint U.S. and Israeli efforts to develop the virus as well as conversations Obama had with his advisers on whether to continue the program when the virus became public in 2010. The story cited unnamed current and former U.S., Israeli and European officials.

The FBI launched an investigation on Tuesday about who disclosed information on the Iranian cyber attack, the Wall Street Journal reported.

McCain earlier on Tuesday called for an investigation into the leak. He and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) are planning a colloquy on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Stuxnet story, a McCain aide confirmed.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that he had serious concerns about the cyberattack story going public but said he didn’t know where the leaks came from.

“I just can’t believe that there’s a decision in any kind of a formal way to leak this kind of a thing,” Levin said. “I just cannot believe that.”

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (Conn.), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, called for an investigation into the leaks on Tuesday.

Asked if he thought there was a political side to the leaks, Lieberman told The Hill he did not know. “The mere fact that people suspect it is means that it ought to be investigated,” he said.

Source:
http://thehill.com/blogs/defcon-hill/policy-and-strategy/230985-senate-dems-blast-leaks-about-iranian-cyberattacks

 

 

House bill would freeze pay for 3rd year, increase oversight of GSA

Federal Times

By STEPHEN LOSEY | Last Updated:June 5, 2012

The House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government on Wednesday is expected to approve a 2013 spending bill that contains no federal pay raise and would beef up oversight of the General Services Administration in the wake of a spending scandal there.

The financial services and general government appropriations bill typically contains a provision raising federal employees’ pay. The fiscal 2013 bill does not, meaning that if it becomes law, federal employees’ pay would be frozen for a third straight year. President Obama has proposed a 0.5 percent pay raise.

The bill calls for almost $21.2 billion in spending, which the committee said would be $376 million below fiscal 2012 levels and $2 billion below the White House’s request. When adjusted for inflation, the proposed 2013 bill would be virtually equal to 2008 funding levels.

GSA would be allowed to spend $7.9 billion from the Federal Buildings Fund, which would be $101 million less than 2012 levels and $702 million below the White House’s request. The bill would also cut the building fund’s administrative expenses by 14 percent, the committee said.

The committee said it also wants to place new oversight measures on GSA, “given the GSA’s questionable spending of tax dollars.” The bill requires quarterly spending reports, limits on cash awards to GSA employees, stricter limits on travel and conferences, and an inspector general report into travel, conferences and bonus procedures.

The Treasury Department would receive $12.3 billion in 2013. This would represent a $43 million cut from 2012, and would be almost $952 million below the White House’s request, the committee said. The IRS’s budget would remain flat at $11.8 billion. The bill does not provide any requested funds to implement the health care reform bill, and prohibits the IRS and Health and Human Services Department from transferring funds to implement the bill.

 

Google warns Gmail users of ‘state-sponsored’ hacks

Alerts when it suspects government-backed account or malware attacks

Gregg Keizer

June 5, 2012 (Computerworld)

Google has begun putting this warning at the top of its Gmail page if it suspects that the user may have been targeted by what it called “state-sponsored” hackers.

It was the second time in the last two weeks that Google has deployed security-related alerts to a small fraction of those who use its services.

But the company was coy about how it knows whether a specific individual has been targeted by attacks paid for or designed by governments.

“You might ask how we know this activity is state-sponsored,” said Eric Grosse, Google’s vice president of security engineering, in a Tuesday blog. “We can’t go into the details without giving away information that would be helpful to these bad actors.”

The new warning states: “We believe state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to compromise your account or computer.” It will appear at the top of the Gmail page if the user has logged in with his or her Google account. The message is not limited to those who use Google’s own Chrome, but will pop up in any browser.

Grosse was equally vague about what might trigger the alert.

“It does not necessarily mean that your account has been hijacked. It just means that we believe you may be a target, of phishing or malware for example, and that you should take immediate steps to secure your account,” he said.

But it seems Google knows, or thinks it knows, a state-sponsored attack when it sees one.

“Our detailed analysis — as well as victim reports — strongly suggest the involvement of states or groups that are state-sponsored,” Grosse claimed.

Google is in a better position than most to know.

More than two years ago Google was one of several Western companies victimized by Chinese hackers — a rumpus that led it to relocate its search servers to Hong Kong — and the company has cleaned up several large-scale phishing and hacking campaigns directed against Gmail users, including one in 2011 that targeted senior U.S. government officials and another later that year that affected hundreds of thousands of Iranian users.

Google has displayed similar warnings before today’s.

Two weeks ago, for example, Google began alerting users whose Windows PCs or Macs remain infected with the DNSChanger malware. Those users face the loss of their link to the Internet on July 9, when authorities switch off substitute DNS (domain name system) servers that took the place of criminal-controlled machines shut down last year.

In July 2011, Google also warned customers whose systems were infected with fake antivirus software, or “scareware.” In that instance, Google became suspicious when it uncovered “unusual search traffic” while doing maintenance at one of its data centers.

Grosse did not explain what event, if any, sparked Google to roll out today’s warning.

But sophisticated cyber-weapons believed to be state-backed have been in the news of late.

 

Last week, security researchers announced they had found a sophisticated espionage tool, which they called “Flame” (and in some cases, “Flamer”). Flame pilfered vast amounts of data from Middle Eastern computers, most of them located in either Iran or Palestine.

Some experts believe that because of its size and complexity, as well as the need to digest the huge amount of data is hoovers, Flame is probably state-sponsored.

And just last Friday, the New York Times reported that President Barack Obama had ordered cyberattacks against Iran — using the Stuxnet worm — in an attempt to disrupt or delay that nation’s nuclear fuel enrichment program.

Gmail-specific warnings are also not new. Since March 2010, Google has notified Gmail users when it suspects account hacking attempts. Google triggers that alert in part on the Internet Protocol (IP) address of each successful log-on.

Google’s state-sponsored warning includes a link to a page on Google’s Help website, where the company hinted at why it issued the alert.

“It’s likely that you received emails containing malicious attachments, links to malicious software downloads, or links to fake websites that are designed to steal your passwords or other personal information,” the help page states.

That page also repeated some of what Grosse had written.

“It’s important to note that Google’s internal systems are not compromised and that this message does not refer to one specific campaign,” the page read. “We routinely receive abuse reports from users, as well as from our internal systems that monitor for suspicious login attempts and other activity.”

Google urged users who receive the warning to update their software, including their browsers, operating systems and browser plug-ins; ensure they’re logging onto the legitimate Gmail website of https://mail.google.com; and use Gmail’s two-factor authentication.

The latter sends a second password to the user’s pre-defined phone number before allowing log-on.

 

Lawmakers concerned by report that LinkedIn passwords were stolen

The Hill

By Brendan Sasso – 06/06/12 02:42 PM ET


Lawmakers expressed concern on Wednesday about reports that hackers had stolen millions of passwords to social-networking site LinkedIn.

LinkedIn acknowledged on Wednesday that hackers stole the passwords of some of its users. The company said it will disable the passwords of the affected users and instruct them to create new passwords.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) said the incident shows the need for Congress to pass data-security legislation. The two lawmakers have sponsored separate bills on the issue.

“Reports of another major data breach should give pause to American consumers who, now more than ever, share sensitive personal information in their online transactions and networking,” Leahy said in a statement provided to The Hill. “Congress should make comprehensive data privacy and cybercrime legislation a top priority.”

Bono Mack said she is “still trying to get additional information,” but the incident “once again brings into sharp focus the urgent need for Congress to pass data protection legislation.”

“Nothing threatens e-commerce more than a lack of consumer confidence, and today a lot of people are becoming very antsy about providing their personal information online,” she said in a statement.

Both bills would create a national requirement for firms to notify their customers in the event of a data breach.

The Senate is currently considering a broader cybersecurity bill, and it is possible that lawmakers could add the data breach provisions to it.

The LinkedIn news broke after two security firms told The Wall Street Journal they were able to verify that hackers had obtained the passwords to 6.5 million LinkedIn accounts, or about 4 percent of the site’s users.

LinkedIn said it has implemented new security measures to protect its users’ personal information.

“We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this has caused our members,” Vicente Silveira, an engineering director for LinkedIn, wrote in a blog post. “We take the security of our members very seriously.”

Silveira said the company is continuing to investigate how the breach occurred.

Source:
http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/231265-lawmakers-worry-as-linkedin-investigates-data-breach

 

Panetta Green Lights First Cyber Operations Plan

Defense News

Jun. 6, 2012 – 06:44PM |

By ZACHARY FRYER-BIGGS

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has approved a new organizational framework, a plan designed as a “first step” towards standardized cyber operations, according to documents obtained by Defense News.

The framework outlines a command structure that places more authority for both offensive and defensive operations under the geographic combatant commanders and creates Joint Cyber Centers (JCC) to serve as a link between combatant commanders and U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) Combat Support Elements that will provide intelligence information and operational know-how.

In a memorandum marked “For Official Use Only” dated May 1, Panetta authorized the implementation of the transitional framework, called the Joint Staff Transitional Cyberspace Operations Command and Control Concept of Operations, and directed the secretaries of the military departments, chiefs of the military services, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, CYBERCOM commander, and Department of Defense chief information officer among others, to act with haste.

“It is imperative that we move quickly and put the transitional framework in place as soon as possible,” he said.

The framework itself describes a present security situation in dire need of action. “The speed and intensity with which adversaries could exploit vulnerabilities in the DoD Global Information Grid jeopardizes the Department’s ability to execute successful military operations,” it says.

To combat the problem and provide greater offensive capability, the new organizational structure includes standing up a JCC at each geographic combatant command by June 2012, designed to serve as the “nexus for combatant command cyberspace enterprise.” The JCC will organize both offensive operations as well as protecting the networks employed by each combatant command, combining disparate responsibilities not previously concentrated locally. Each JCC is set to be composed of existing cyber personnel at each command, although experts expressed skepticism that this combination could result in sufficient staffing. U.S. Northern Command announced that it had stood up its own JCC May 22 without specifying the details of the larger plan, although a DoD spokesman said information on the implementation of the plan and the creation of other JCCs was not immediately available.

The framework also includes standing up a CYBERCOM staffed combat support element at each geographic command. The two would work together to complete cyber tasks, with the CSE providing a link back to CYBERCOM and its collection of talent and intelligence.

“The JCC and CSE, collocated at each Combatant Command, will work toward the common goal of effective and efficient planning, allocation, and synchronization of cyber effects in three cyberspace LOOs (Lines of Operation) with the Combatant Commander’s campaign plans and operations while maximizing unity effort,” it says.

Experts voiced concern at the implementation of the plan, citing staffing issues, budget issues, and a general lack of specific mechanics. “A bunch of intel dorks wrote this not understanding how people interact or how things work,” a former intelligence officer said.

The document outlining the framework, also labeled for restricted circulation, attempts to strike a careful balance between the increase of capability and authority at the geographic combatant commands, and the continued concentration of cyber capabilities at CYBERCOM. Historically, the National Security Agency (NSA) has been the home of most cyber operational capabilities, and only with the creation of CYBERCOM, which reached full operational capability in late 2010, have many of those capabilities begun to gain greater exposure outside of the intelligence community. Still, many capabilities remain beyond the reach of combatant commanders, an issue meant to be rectified by the new plan.

While CYBERCOM will be assisting the combatant commands by staffing combat support elements, the creation of the JCCs adds a localized capability not previously present. Experts said that finding suitable personnel would be an issue as talent is scarce and the expanded need for capable personnel does not include funding. Much of the military’s cyber talent resides at Ft. Meade and CYBERCOM, meaning that many operations might best be carried out from a centralized location instead of at the combatant commands.

“Some cyberspace operations can be contained within an AOR [Area of Responsibility] and are of immediate interest to a specific GCC [Geographic Combatant Command] and its components; however, most cyberspace operations have the potential to cause simultaneous effects at the global, theater, and local levels that make them transregional in nature and of interest to a broader community,” the framework says. “Given this complex interrelationship, providing all cyber support forward in the GCCs is neither feasible nor desirable. Many cyber capabilities can be provided through, and in some cases only through, reachback.”

The document does, however, maintain the need for forward capability. “At the same time, GCCs must be able to operate and defend tactical and constructed networks or be assured their critical networks are operated and defended, and synchronize cyber activities related to accomplishing their operational objectives.”

Panetta, seemingly anticipating concerns about resources and staffing, emphasized the need for quick action regardless of resource limitations in his memorandum.

 

“Although I expect you may find that you need additional resources to implement a complete and enduring C2 (command and control) framework within your commands, speed is important,” he said.

Experts also voiced concern about the lack of specifics on how the new JCCs and CSEs would interact and the fact that neither the Department of State nor Department of Homeland Security were included. “Nowhere is state mentioned,” an industry source said. “At some point you need to provide them with some optics.”

The transitional strategy, the outline of which was initially agreed upon in a January 30 Joint Chiefs of Staff Tank meeting, does not specify when the CSEs are set to be stood up, although U.S. Central Command’s CYBERCOM CSE is already fully operational and U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) is in the process of standing up its own capability. The framework leaves the timeline for other CSEs open depending on available resources. The CSE at PACOM has been the subject of a good deal of bickering, a source said, as the CSE ultimately answers to CYBERCOM, frustrating staff at the combatant command.

But the fact that subject experts from CYBERCOM and the combatant commands will be interacting in the new plan with a designated JCC, as opposed to commanders interacting who may not have technical knowledge, could make the new structure better at producing results. “What’s huge is that I’ve now got an operator telling other operators what to do, as opposed to relying on a bunch of intelligence guys,” another industry source said.

Although there have been efforts within the military command structure to reconsider operations in cyberspace, the fact that this new framework was authorized by the Secretary of Defense means that the issue is being taken seriously, the source said. “It’s interesting in that this is coming from civilian leadership, not CYBERCOM,” the source said.

The development of the framework was mentioned by Assistant Secretary for Global Strategic Affairs Madelyn Creedon in March testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, although she mentioned the framework along with the development of standing rules of engagement in the same breath.

“The department is currently conducting a thorough review of the existing rules of engagement for cyberspace,” she said. “We are working closely with the joint staff on the implementation of a transitional command and control model for cyberspace operations. This interim framework will standardize existing organizational structures and command relationships across the department for the application of the full spectrum of cyberspace capabilities.”

The framework does not address any of the questions surrounding the legality of a variety of cyber activities, and does not settle the fierce debate over rules of engagement. That debate centers on the division of responsibilities between combatant commands, the intelligence community, and DHS, and has been brewing for years.

A final framework, based on lessons learned from the new transitional plan, is set to be mapped out within the year, the document said.

 

Microsoft’s reaction to Flame shows seriousness of ‘Holy Grail’ hack

Company’s fast, sweeping response proves how critical it considers Windows Update

Gregg Keizer

June 7, 2012 (Computerworld)

 

The exploit of Microsoft’s Windows Update system by the sophisticated Flame cyber espionage malware was a “significant” event in the history of Windows hacking, experts said today.

And by its response, Microsoft appears to agree: It not only issued an immediate fix just days after the malware’s public unveiling with one of its increasingly-rare “out-of-band” updates, but it has turned its certificate-generation process upside down and will revamp how it secures Windows updates.

“It was a very significant,” said Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer with Qualys, in an interview today. “It’s the Holy Grail of exploits, and until now it had only been done in research.”

Kandek wasn’t the first to link the term “Holy Grail” with Flame: Earlier in the week, Mikko Hypponen, F-Secure’s chief research officer and the first to announce that Flame was somehow using Windows Update, called the feat “the Holy Grail of malware writers” and “the nightmare scenario” for antivirus researchers.

 

And yesterday, Alexander Gostev, who leads Kaspersky’s research and analysis team, said the Windows Update deception was “better than any zero-day exploit … it actually looks more like a ‘god mode’ cheat code.”

What had those researchers reaching for superlatives was the Flame makers’ theft of digital “signatures,” or certificates, that labeled code as Microsoft’s, and then the use of those certificates to “sign” malicious files that posed as legitimate Windows updates.

The combination allowed Flame to infect fully-patched Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 PCs that were on the same network as an already-infected system.

With a complex series of operations that involves three of its many modules, “Snack,” “Munch” and “Gadget,” Flame sniffs out victims, intercepts connection requests to Windows Update and serves up malware, including a copy of Flame, that masquerades as a valid update.

Third-party security researchers had mapped out those maneuvers and modules, but until Microsoft’s revelation that its certificates had been fraudulently generated, didn’t see the point.

“Once they confirmed [the certificate theft], it filled in the missing puzzle pieces,” Liam O Murchu, director of operations for Symantec’s security response center, said in an email reply to questions. “Without a Microsoft certificate these components did not make sense.”

But it may be Microsoft’s own moves since Monday, May 28, when Kaspersky Lab first released an analysis of Flame, that is the best evidence of the hack’s gravity.

“You can get a pretty good idea by what Microsoft’s done that they think this is very urgent,” said Kandek. “They released the patch on Sunday, even though Patch Tuesday was just a little over a week away.”

June’s Patch Tuesday — the name for Microsoft’s religiously-scheduled security updates — is next week.

Microsoft revoked three certificates — those used to sign code in Flame — on Sunday, June 3, only six days after Kaspersky disclosed the malware, an extremely rapid response for the company. The same day, Microsoft modified the Terminal Services licensing certificate authority (CA), the one hackers had exploited, so it could no longer issue code-signing certificates of any kind.

It’s rare that Microsoft issues an emergency update rather than wait for the next Patch Tuesday. Last year, Microsoft shipped only one, and that was just two days before 2011’s close. In 2010, Microsoft delivered four out-of-band updates and 104 on Patch Tuesdays.

On Wednesday Microsoft announced it would revamp how Windows updates are secured, saying that it would dedicate a new CA to Windows Update, in effect unlinking the service from all other Microsoft-generated certificates. The update to end users and enterprises — the latter for WSUS, or Windows Server Update Services — is to start reaching customers this week.

Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Security, said that should have been how Microsoft treated Windows Update from the get-go.

“Windows Update should have been an entirely different [certificate] stream than anything else,” said Storms. “It’s just too darned important to have been intermingled with any other chain of trust. For all that Microsoft has done to better their security practices, I’m pretty surprised they didn’t think of this attack vector previously.”

 

Storms was also critical of Microsoft’s vague description of their plans to harden Windows Update.

“The Windows Update team needs to describe in more detail how they are going to fix the problem. Until then, I bet a lot of people will be thinking twice about the security of Windows Update,” said Storms.

Users should deploy last Sunday’s certificate revocation update as soon as possible, Microsoft has said, to protect themselves from possible copy-cat hackers.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg’s RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

 

 

National Weather Service staff may get furloughed

Federal Times

By SEAN REILLY | Last Updated:June 7, 2012

The 4,800-person workforce at the National Weather Service will face 13 days of unpaid furloughs if Congress doesn’t soon sign off on a plan to fill a looming budget gap, the Obama administration is warning.

The Weather Service’s parent agency, the Commerce Department, determined there is not enough money in this year’s budget to cover the agency’s payroll costs, according to an official notification to the union that represents agency staff.

Commerce recently asked Congress to “reprogram” almost $36 million primarily to cover those costs, but lawmakers are balking, saying they want more information after a recent investigation found that Weather Service managers in 2010 and 2011 shifted money among different accounts without congressional approval.

To head off furloughs, however, the reprogramming needs to start in the next few weeks, the agency told the National Weather Service Employees Organization in the notice, dated June 1, and posted Thursday on the union’s website. Because Weather Service labor costs add up to about $2 million per day, the agency would need to save $26 million, equal to 13 work days, by the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, the notice said.

The union represents about 4,000 Weather Service forecasters and other staff. Those employees “are paying for the mistake of the agency’s leadership,” President Dan Sobien said in a statement. The furlough plan is “is another example of the short-sighted thinking that has put them in such dire straits.”

But in an interview earlier Thursday, the union’s chief lawyer and lobbyist struck a more cheerful note. “I am confident that Congress and the administration will work something out,” Richard Hirn said.

If furloughs began in mid-July, each employee would have to take two to three days off for each pay period for the rest of the year, the notice said.

 

 

Energy-Daily.com

New small solid oxide fuel cell reaches record efficiency

by Staff Writers

Richland WA (SPX) Jun 08, 2012

 

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed this highly efficient, small-scale solid oxide fuel cell system that features PNNL-developed microchannel technology and two unusual processes, called external steam reforming and fuel recycling. Credit: PNNL.

Individual homes and entire neighborhoods could be powered with a new, small-scale solid oxide fuel cell system that achieves up to 57 percent efficiency, significantly higher than the 30 to 50 percent efficiencies previously reported for other solid oxide fuel cell systems of its size, according to a study published in this month’s issue of Journal of Power Sources.

The smaller system, developed at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, uses methane, the primary component of natural gas, as its fuel.

The entire system was streamlined to make it more efficient and scalable by using PNNL-developed microchannel technology in combination with processes called external steam reforming and fuel recycling. PNNL’s system includes fuel cell stacks developed earlier with the support of DOE’s Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance.

“Solid oxide fuels cells are a promising technology for providing clean, efficient energy. But, until now, most people have focused on larger systems that produce 1 megawatt of power or more and can replace traditional power plants,” said Vincent Sprenkle, a co-author on the paper and chief engineer of PNNL’s solid oxide fuel cell development program.

However, this research shows that smaller solid oxide fuel cells that generate between 1 and 100 kilowatts of power are a viable option for highly efficient, localized power generation.”

Sprenkle and his co-authors had community-sized power generation in mind when they started working on their solid oxide fuel cell, also known as a SOFC. The pilot system they built generates about 2 kW of electricity, or how much power a typical American home consumes. The PNNL team designed its system so it can be scaled up to produce between 100 and 250 kW, which could provide power for about 50 to 100 American homes.

 

What is an SOFC?

Fuel cells are a lot like batteries in that they use anodes, cathodes and electrolytes to produce electricity. But unlike most batteries, which stop working when they use up their reactive materials, fuel cells can continuously make electricity if they have a constant fuel supply.

SOFCs are one type of fuel cell that operate at higher temperatures – between about 1100 and 1800 degrees Fahrenheit – and can run on a wide variety of fuels, including natural gas, biogas, hydrogen and liquid fuels such as diesel and gasoline that have been reformed and cleaned. Each SOFC is made of ceramic materials, which form three layers: the anode, the cathode and the electrolyte.

Air is pumped up against an outer layer, the cathode. Oxygen from the air becomes a negatively charged ion, O2- , where the cathode and the inner electrolyte layer meet. The ion moves through the electrolyte to reach the final layer, the anode. There, the oxygen ion reacts with a fuel. This reaction creates electricity, as well as the byproducts steam and carbon dioxide. That electricity can be used to power homes, neighborhoods, cities and more.

The big advantage to fuel cells is that they’re more efficient than traditional power generation. For example, the combustion engines of portable generators only convert about 18 percent of the chemical energy in fuel into electricity. In contrast, some SOFCs can achieve up to 60 percent efficiency. Being more efficient means that SOFCs consume less fuel and create less pollution for the amount of electricity produced than traditional power generation, including coal power plants.

Sprenkle and his PNNL colleagues are interested in smaller systems because of the advantages they have over larger ones. Large systems generate more power than can be consumed in their immediate area, so a lot of their electricity has to be sent to other places through transmission lines. Unfortunately, some power is lost in the process.

 

On the other hand, smaller systems are physically smaller in size, so they can be placed closer to power users. This means the electricity they produce doesn’t have to be sent as far. This makes smaller systems ideal for what’s called distributed generation, or generating electricity in relatively small amounts for local use such as in individual homes or neighborhoods.

 

Goal: Small and efficient

Knowing the advantages of smaller SOFC systems, the PNNL team wanted to design a small system that could be both more than 50 percent efficient and easily scaled up for distributed generation. To do this, the team first used a process called external steam reforming.

In general, steam reforming mixes steam with the fuel, leading the two to react and create intermediate products. The intermediates, carbon monoxide and hydrogen, then react with oxygen at the fuel cell’s anode. Just as described before, this reaction generates electricity, as well as the byproducts steam and carbon dioxide.

Steam reforming has been used with fuel cells before, but the approach requires heat that, when directly exposed to the fuel cell, causes uneven temperatures on the ceramic layers that can potentially weaken and break the fuel cell. So the PNNL team opted for external steam reforming, which completes the initial reactions between steam and the fuel outside of the fuel cell.

The external steam reforming process requires a device called a heat exchanger, where a wall made of a conductive material like metal separates two gases. On one side of the wall is the hot exhaust that is expelled as a byproduct of the reaction inside the fuel cell.

On the other side is a cooler gas that is heading toward the fuel cell. Heat moves from the hot gas, through the wall and into the cool incoming gas, warming it to the temperatures needed for the reaction to take place inside the fuel cell.

 

Efficiency with micro technology

The key to the efficiency of this small SOFC system is the use of a PNNL-developed microchannel technology in the system’s multiple heat exchangers. Instead of having just one wall that separates the two gases, PNNL’s microchannel heat exchangers have multiple walls created by a series of tiny looping channels that are narrower than a paper clip. This increases the surface area, allowing more heat to be transferred and making the system more efficient.

PNNL’s microchannel heat exchanger was designed so that very little additional pressure is needed to move the gas through the turns and curves of the looping channels.

The second unique aspect of the system is that it recycles. Specifically, the system uses the exhaust, made up of steam and heat byproducts, coming from the anode to maintain the steam reforming process. This recycling means the system doesn’t need an electric device that heats water to create steam. Reusing the steam, which is mixed with fuel, also means the system is able to use up some of the leftover fuel it wasn’t able to consume when the fuel first moved through the fuel cell.

The combination of external steam reforming and steam recycling with the PNNL-developed microchannel heat exchangers made the team’s small SOFC system extremely efficient. Together, these characteristics help the system use as little energy as possible and allows more net electricity to be produced in the end.

Lab tests showed the system’s net efficiency ranged from 48.2 percent at 2.2 kW to a high of 56.6 percent at 1.7 kW. The team calculates they could raise the system’s efficiency to 60 percent with a few more adjustments.

The PNNL team would like to see their research translated into an SOFC power system that’s used by individual homeowners or utilities.

“There still are significant efforts required to reduce the overall cost to a point where it is economical for distributed generation applications,” Sprenkle explained. “However, this demonstration does provide an excellent blueprint on how to build a system that could increase electricity generation while reducing carbon emissions.”

 

The research was supported by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy. REFERENCE: M Powell, K Meinhardt, V Sprenkle, L Chick and G McVay, “Demonstration of a highly efficient solid oxide fuel cell power system using adiabatic steam reforming and anode gas recirculation,” Journal of Power Sources, Volume 205, 1 May 2012, Pages 377-384.

 

 

Will North Dakota Be the First State to End Property Taxes?

Pewstates.org

June 8, 2012

by Josh Goodman, Staff Writer

North Dakota voters on Tuesday will decide the fate of a ballot initiative that would make the state the first in the country to end property taxes.

If any state is going to take such a dramatic step, North Dakota would seem to be a likely candidate. North Dakota is generally a conservative state, and fiscal conservatives generally support lower taxes. The state is also experiencing a surge in tax revenue unrivaled elsewhere. The property tax is often described as the least popular of the taxes that fund state and local government.

Yet even those ingredients don’t appear as though they will be enough. The reason why is that, regardless of what interest or what party they represent, the powers-that-be in North Dakota have a preference for caution. That same preference exists in other states, which is why the most sweeping ballot measures to change or limit government have tended to fail lately.

David and Goliath

Supporting the end of the property tax are a small group of amateur activists led by Charlene Nelson, a stay-at-home mom from Harmony Township in Casselton, North Dakota who homeschools her three boys. Nelson says she’s put 13,000 miles on her car since February traveling the state in support of Measure 2. Her husband just changed the oil for the fourth time.

The measure is opposed by business groups such as the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce and by the Chamber’s frequent union foes such as the North Dakota Public Employees Association. Governor Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, and most members of the Republican-controlled legislature are against Measure 2. The state PTA and AARP chapter and even the North Dakota Soybean Association and the North Dakota Beer Distributors Association are, too. “It’s not just David and Goliath,” Nelson says. “It’s David and 20 Goliaths.”

The almost total lack of institutional support is a key reason Measure 2 is expected to fail on Tuesday. A May poll for the Forum, the state’s largest newspaper, found 26 percent of likely voters in favor and 74 percent opposed. Andy Peterson, the Chamber’s president, says his group’s internal polling also shows opposition running ahead 3 to 1. If that result holds, the North Dakota vote will be the latest where the radical designs of some ballot initiatives have turned the traditional friends of smaller government into foes—and turned appealing-sounding ideas into political losers.

When Colorado voted in 2010 on a constitutional amendment to ban state and local governments from issuing debt, business groups and most Republican legislators joined in the opposition. It received only 27 percent of the vote. Likewise, in Massachusetts business groups united against a 2008 measure to eliminate the personal income tax, which accounts for the majority of the tax revenue the state collects. It only received 30 percent of the vote. In North Dakota itself, a 2008 measure that would have cut the state’s personal income in half lost 70 percent to 30 percent, after it was opposed by many of the same groups that are against Measure 2.

Even if the same thing happens on Tuesday, though, the debate on property taxes won’t be over.

North Dakota lawmakers are already debating various new ways to reduce property taxes when the legislature reconvenes in 2013. For example, one proposal that’s gained some traction would exempt the first $75,000 in value of every primary residence from property taxes. That exemption would go a long way in North Dakota: median home prices are $144,000 in the Fargo metro area and $179,000 in metro Bismarck.

The extent to which Measure 2 is helping drive these discussions isn’t clear. What is clear is that as long as North Dakota has rapid revenue growth and large budget surpluses, lawmakers will face pressure to lower taxes generally and to lower the property tax in particular. “It is one of our major issues,” says David Drovdal, North Dakota’s Republican House speaker, “and will continue to be one of our major issues.”

Priced Out

Cutting property taxes is difficult in North Dakota and virtually every other state because it is the dominant tax assessed by cities, counties and school districts. In most states, almost no one has even contemplated eliminating property taxes entirely. Most states, though, have probably never seen an economic boom like the one going on right now in North Dakota, thanks to the thriving oil industry in the Western part of the state.

North Dakota, the nation’s 48th most populous state, now ranks second in crude oil production, trailing only Texas. The state’s oil production has roughly quintupled over the last five years, which has been a windfall for the state government. North Dakota’s general fund appropriations have gone from $2.5 billion in the 2007-2009 biennium to $3.3 billion in the 2009-2011 biennium to $4.1 billion in the current 2011-2013 biennium. Even with that rapid spending growth, North Dakota isn’t spending nearly all that it brings in: The state is expected to have $1.5 billion in reserve when the current biennium ends 13 months from now.

The North Dakota Legislature has responded by moving to lower property taxes. In both 2009 and 2011, lawmakers directed additional state money to school districts, then required the districts to levy lower property taxes. To Nelson, who chairs a group called Empower the Taxpayer, though, these actions didn’t go nearly far enough. When it became clear last year that legislators weren’t going to act on their own to end the property tax, they began gathering signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The end result is Tuesday’s vote on Measure 2.

Part of Nelson’s case is that the property tax has been applied inequitably in North Dakota. Through a variety of exemptions, local governments offer property tax breaks to some businesses and individuals, but not others. Nelson also echoes the most common criticism of the property tax: That the amount a homeowner owes isn’t necessarily tied to their ability to pay. “They can say my home is worth $200,000,” she says, “but it doesn’t do me any good until I go to sell it.”

Even some critics of Measure 2, such as David Hogue, a Republican who chairs the North Dakota Senate’s taxation committee, are sympathetic to that point. Hogue points out that home values — and therefore property tax assessments — have surged in the West as a result of the oil boom. “If you ask me,” Hogue says, “the crux of the problem is that a large segment of homeowners on fixed incomes are being priced out of their home because their property taxes are going up faster than any of their other living expenses.”

Unpredictable Changes

What concerns Hogue and other Measure 2 foes is that the amendment would do much more than offer homeowners a big tax cut. It would reshape the roles of the state and of local governments in ways they see as unpredictable and dangerous.

Once the property tax is eliminated, the measure requires the legislature to “fully and properly fund the legally imposed obligations of the counties, cities, townships, and other political subdivisions.” What exactly that means is hotly contested. Nelson thinks it would be relatively simple for the state to offer local governments block grants to replace their property tax revenue and, in doing so, offer localities flexibility. Others expect chaos.

Local governments worry that they’d be totally at the mercy of state lawmakers for funding. State lawmakers worry about that, too. Drovdal says Measure 2 offers no definitions of what it means to “fully and properly fund” local governments or what their “legally imposed obligations” are. He doubts whether the legislature could even continue function as a part-time body — it meets only every other year, for 80 days — because it would spend so much time devising and revising local funding plans. “To totally abolish it,” Drovdal says, “it’s just too big of a game-changer.”

Opponents also have other concerns. Would the state have enough money to pay for education and to pay for infrastructure upgrades in the West, which is being strained by the influx of people and businesses? Would the state need to raise other taxes to make up the difference? Is a system without a property tax sustainable if oil revenue should slow? Would out-of-state land speculators buy up North Dakota property if they knew it would go untaxed?

Many of those questions don’t have clear answers. For that reason, many of North Dakota’s political leaders hope voters will opt for caution over the dramatic change Measure 2 would entail. “This is like giving a blind barber a butcher knife and telling him to give someone a haircut,” says Peterson, of the state Chamber. “You’ll get the job done, but you might be missing an eye or an ear.”

Even some supporters of Measure 2 such as Brett Narloch, executive director of the North Dakota Policy Council, say it’s likely the opponents will win the day. Still, Narloch says he’ll be watching the margin closely. “What I really want to see is that it’s close enough that it gets the debate started,” he says. “If nothing else this has really got us debating about the role of the state, the role of local government and how they interact.”

 

Famous judge spikes Apple-Google case, calls patent system “dysfunctional”

Washington Post

By Jeff John Roberts | GigaOM.com, Published: June 8

A U.S. judge yesterday threw aside a much-anticipated trial between Apple and Google-owned Motorola Mobility over smartphone patents. The decision and a blog comment by the same judge could prove to be a watershed moment for a U.S. patent system that has spiraled out of control.

In his remarkable ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner stated that there was no point in holding a trial because it was apparent that neither side could show they had been harmed by the other’s patent infringement. He said he was inclined to dismiss the case with prejudice — meaning the parties can’t come back to fight over the same patents — and that he would enter a more formal opinion confirming this next week.

The order is extraordinary not only for what it said but for who wrote it. For the unfamiliar, Richard Posner is a legend in legal and academic circles and possesses a resume that makes the typical Supreme Court Justice look like a slouch. He teaches at the University of Chicago and ordinarily sits on the influential 7th Circuit Court of Appeals but, in an unusual development, was assigned to a lower court last December to hear the Google-Apple patent case.

The case is just one of many patent disputes tying the legal system in knots as large companies tangle not only in court but at the International Trade Commission in an effort to ban each others’ products from the market. Critics say the patent system, which awards 20-year monopolies, has run amok thanks to a flood of questionable patents for software, business methods, emoticons and even one for “swinging on a swing.”

In a series of earlier rulings in the Apple case, Posner didn’t mince words as he used plain language to beat up the over-reaching arguments of both sides:

This week, Posner also lashed at the patent system in a blog he shares with economist Gary Becker. In a post about the declining strength of American institutions, he concluded:

The institutional structure of the United States is under stress. We might be in dangerous economic straits if the dollar were not the principal international reserve currency and the eurozone in deep fiscal trouble. We have a huge public debt, dangerously neglected infrastructure, a greatly overextended system of criminal punishment, a seeming inability to come to grips with grave environmental problems such as global warming, a very costly but inadequate educational system, unsound immigration policies, an embarrassing obesity epidemic, an excessively costly health care system, a possible rise in structural unemployment, fiscal crises in state and local governments, a screwed-up tax system, a dysfunctional patent system, and growing economic inequality that may soon create serious social tensions. Our capitalist system needs a lot of work to achieve proper capitalist goals.

Posner’s decision to descend from the 7th Circuit to oversee the Google-Apple trial suggests he wished to step in and do something directly about the patent system. (Ordinarily, Posner would never hear a patent case as all patent appeals are sent to the DC-based Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit; that court has maintained an ideological bias in favor of patent owners despite repeated rebuffs by the Supreme Court).

The backlash against the misuse of patents is coming not just from Posner and the Supreme Court but other federal judges as well. Judge James Robart blasted Motorola and Microsoft in Seattle last week, noting that “The court is well aware that it is being played as a pawn in a global industry-wide business negotiation.”

It’s unclear how Apple and Google will respond to Posner’s surprise pounding of them. Both companies have so far said nothing and may be waiting for the other shoe to drop via Posner’s formal opinion expected next week. The judge wrote yesterday that he may change his mind but the overall tenor of the first opinion suggests this is unlikely.

 

Aerospace Sustainment Directorates to play big role in AFLCMC

by Derek Kaufman

88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

 

5/23/2012 – WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Ask anyone associated with the planning effort to standup the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and they will agree on one thing: It isn’t easy.

The concept of creating a single organization responsible for cradle-to-grave weapon system management has been proposed before, but not fully realized, said Col. Art Huber. Huber is Aeronautical Systems Center vice commander and the champion charged with overseeing the ongoing planning to ready AFLCMC.

The AFLCMC is an entirely new organization proposed to stand up later this summer. One of AFLCMC’s signature elements is to provide oversight of most program office personnel currently aligned in Aerospace Sustainment Directorates at each of the three Air Logistics Centers.

Currently more than 800 people organized in various teams are reviewing every applicable acquisition, sustainment, and mission support process, who performs it and who the coordinating stakeholders are in an effort to mold an AFLCMC structure that will benefit taxpayers and warfighters alike. From contracting to personnel to engineering, it is a daunting task.

 

Today, the Aerospace Sustainment Directorate program offices provide important program management, logistics, and engineering support to assigned weapon systems, said Col. Shaun Morris, director of the ASD at Ogden Air Logistics Center, located at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

“This involves coordinating product support for spares, repairs, and maintenance from a wide variety of government and contractor sources,” Morris said. “We also keep in close contact with the commands operating each system. The ASDs perform detailed engineering analysis to study wear and tear, and identify needed modifications to meet designed service life expectancy. Finally we help deliver new capabilities to stay ahead of emerging threats.”

Ultimately AFLCMC will oversee missions now performed by the three Aerospace Sustainment Directorates located at Robins, Hill, and Tinker AFBs, the Aeronautical Systems Center and Air Force Security Assistance Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom AFB, and the Armament Directorate at Eglin AFB. Additionally AFLCMC will include a newly designated Propulsion Directorate lead located at Tinker AFB which will oversee engine acquisition executed at Wright-Patterson and engine sustainment accomplished at Tinker. Including members of the 88th Air Base Wing and 66th Air Base Group, AFLCMC will have approximately 26,000 people working at some 75 locations.

Program Offices that reside today at an Air Logistics Center fall under an ASD and report to a Designated Acquisition Official. Under the AFMC 5-Center construct, positions in the current ASD staff organizations will be eliminated, but the program offices will remain and be aligned under an acquisition directorate and report to a Program Executive Officer in AFLCMC.

“Their role in the future will not change. However reporting relationships will change,” said Huber.

Huber acknowledged integration of ASDs into AFLCMC is a vital part of the organization’s cradle-to-grave approach, with the added benefit of providing a single point of contact for warfighters.

“This restructure won’t be easy, but it will drive us to more standardized processes, foster a true life cycle management focus, and improve our goal to present a single face to our customers.”

AFLCMC is a key part of AFMC’s restructure which will reduce the number of AFMC centers from 12 to five. Officials estimate associated reductions in overhead costs and redundant layers of center staff will both save millions annually and enhance efficiency in delivering new aerospace capabilities to warfighters.

 

 

From ‘Jersey Shore’ to the Drone Wars

NetGov

By Tom Shoop

June 7, 2012

With more and more drone aircraft patrolling the skies, the Air Force is struggling to manage the huge amount of surveillance footage being generated every month.

Now, Danger Room reports, the service is being offered a solution from what might seem to be an unlikely source: reality television. It turns out the producers of shows like The Jersey Shore, which follow their cast of characters 24 hours a day, have developed some techniques for sifting through heaps of video to find the stuff that really matters.

RAND Corporation recently consulted with the producers of such TV shows as For The Love of Ray J, Rock of Love: Charm School, Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami and, ahem, a documentary entitled Boob Jobs and Jesus to determine how they find the good stuff in hour after hour of mundane video.

The report came up with a series of lessons that might be applied at the Air Force. For example, the study suggests the service rearrange its ground stations, where analysts assess footage, to be more like TV control rooms. In such a scenario, analysts would have individual monitors, but would face a bank of screens at the front of the room showing what’s happening in multiple locations. Supervisors would patrol the room seeking to highlight key nuggets of information. Analysts would use headphones, rather than chat windows on computers, to communicate, in order to minimize distractions. Important footage would be stored in a database and tagged electronically for analysis later.

The report lists several similarities between the challenges faced by reality TV producers and drone overseers. Of course, it also notes that “reality” TV is at least a little scripted, while the situations Air Force drones encounter are all too real.

 

By Tom Shoop

June 7, 2012

http://www.nextgov.com/technology-news/tech-insider/2012/06/jersey-shore-drone-wars/56149/

 

Wolfenbarger receives fourth star, assumes leadership of AFMC

by Kim Dawley

Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs

 

6/5/2012 – WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS) — Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger became the first female four-star general in the Air Force and assumed the top position of Air Force Materiel Command during ceremonies here June 5, 2012.

 

Wolfenbarger took the reins of the major command responsible for the technology, acquisition, test and sustainment of the service’s current and future weapon systems from Gen. Donald Hoffman during a change of command ceremony held at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Prior to the change of command, Wolfenbarger received her fourth star during a promotion ceremony.

 

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz presided over the ceremony, during which he lauded AFMC’s excellence in keeping Air Force weapon systems ready, available and effective, and expressed his confidence that the command is in capable hands with Wolfenbarger.

 

“We honor Janet Wolfenbarger, an extraordinary public servant and a model Air Force officer,” Schwartz said. “Based on her record, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and I are entirely confident that she is up to the task of commanding this great organization.”

 

Wolfenbarger thanked Schwartz and Donley for their faith in her ability to lead AFMC and said she was looking forward to once again being part of the AFMC team.

 

“This opportunity only really exists because the Air Force has embraced a culture of diversity,” she said. “This culture has been cultivated over many years, driven by leadership at every level who acknowledge and appreciate the value of contributions from every Airman.

 

“I promise I will serve in my role as AFMC commander with my absolute best effort,” Wolfenbarger continued. “What’s more, I have total confidence in the men and women of this command. We will always rise to the occasion and accomplish our difficult mission with determination and enthusiasm.”

 

Schwartz also highlighted Hoffman’s dedication to both AFMC’s mission and its workforce.

 

“Don, thank you for presiding over an impressive effort here at AFMC,” Schwartz said. “During your tenure, AFMC continued its longstanding excellence in research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition management and logistics support.

 

“During some of the most challenging and turbulent times for our Air Force, General Hoffman has inspired mission success,” he continued. “Don and Jacki, thank you for your combined service to our Air Force, and for your very important contributions to our nation’s security.”

 

Hoffman said he would most miss the quality of the people one finds in the Air Force, and the unquestioned level of trust that Airmen exude.

 

“When you meet someone in the Air Force, you know they’ve taken an oath to defend the Constitution and a pledge to live by core values of integrity, service and excellence,” he said. “Thanks to all of our Airmen, it has been my good fortune to be part of the best Air Force in the world. It was the best when I joined it. It’s smaller now, its missions have changed, but it’s still the best. And I have total confidence that those who follow me will keep it the best Air Force in the world.”

 

Hoffman, who had served as the commander of AFMC since November 2008, is retiring after 42 years of service.

 

After serving as the military deputy of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition at the Pentagon for the past eight months, Wolfenbarger becomes the eighth AFMC commander since AFMC stood up on July 1, 1992. She will now lead a workforce of approximately 81,000 people and manage an annual budget of about $60 billion.

 

NASA pulls back from open-source community with praise

By Michael Hardy

Jun 01, 2012

NASA is shifting its emphasis away from developing cloud services and toward being a “smart consumer” of commercial cloud services. The agency announced the shift earlier this month at the Uptime Institute’s symposium in Santa Clara, Calif., and now a NASA official has shared more insight on an agency blog.

The road NASA is on with the effort started in 2008, when it formed an initiative called NASA.net to consolidate NASA’s web space onto a unified platform, wrote Raymond O’Brien, acting CIO at the NASA Ames Research Center, on a blog established to chronicle the progress of the program. The program was eventually renamed Nebula.

NASA developed an open-source controller program, which it used in conjunction with a storage system from Rackspace, which took a similar technological approach, O’Brien wrote. NASA and Rackspace then teamed up to create the OpenStack initiative.

“Our hope was that a community would form around these two pieces of software toward the construction of an open-source cloud operating system. To say that our greatest hopes in this regard were met would be an understatement,” O’Brien wrote. “OpenStack today has the support of hundreds of individuals and organizations around the world, all set on realizing the original vision for the project.”

However, NASA’s greatest contributions of code came during OpenStack’s early days, and now the developer community has grown dramatically, making the agency’s role less and less crucial.

“In fact, the vast majority of code contributions over the past year of intense OpenStack development have come from community members other than NASA,” he added.

O’Brien concluded the post with his perspective of the importance of the development.

“We celebrate this milestone in OpenStack’s development: it has reached a point of self-sustaining growth along a community-driven trajectory such that the project will continue to go forward without our direct involvement,” he wrote. “This outcome has always been one of our highest goals for Nebula, and now permits us to transition from the role of developer to that of enthusiastic adopter of a broad range of cloud services.”

And as for OpenStack? “NASA has a rich heritage of developing and transferring technology to the private sector for continued commercial development, and OpenStack adds one more stunningly successful entry to that list,” he wrote.

Source: FCW (http://s.tt/1dcdQ)

 

 

Ohio competing for UAV testing sites

Winners will reap jobs, investments. Two dozen states are fighting for a chance to land 1 of the 6 sites.

Dayton Daily News

By John Nolan, Staff Writer Updated 5:43 PM Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dayton, Springfield and Wilmington could reap hundreds of new jobs and attract multimillion-dollar investments if Ohio becomes one of the half-dozen states allowed to use airspace for testing of unmanned vehicles.

“You would probably see several hundreds of millions (of dollars) in positive impact,” said Dennis J. Andersh, Dayton regional account executive and a senior vice president for Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC).

Ohio is competing with at least two dozen other states to be selected for one of six test-flying sites that will help the Federal Aviation Administration determine how to ensure safe operation of unmanned aerial vehicles in the nation’s airspace. The designation, expected in December, would kick off a five-year testing period, though Congress has said it wants unmanned aircraft integrated into national airspace by Sept. 30, 2015.

The local payoff could be substantial. Host states could attract jobs and millions of dollars in business investment.

The six sites would burnish their national credentials as go-to centers for unmanned aircraft expertise.

The commercial potential for UAVs, now used almost exclusively by the military, is virtually limitless.

The FAA is still working out ground rules for operating the test locations. The law Congress passed to mandate the sites contains no money for creation, management or oversight of the sites, so the competing states will have to provide financing and management plans, among other operational information.

That hasn’t stopped the interest, which is coast to coast, with a handful of states considered frontrunners.

Ohio will likely propose multiple take-off sites to the FAA, in order to allow more test flights during the same time period, said Jim Leftwich, a former Dayton Development Coalition president serving as a consultant to Ohio Gov. John Kasich on aerospace and unmanned aircraft matters.

Those sites will likely include Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, Wilmington Air Park and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Plum Brook Station near Sandusky in northern Ohio, Leftwich said.

“We’re just looking across the state … where we can bring the full capabilities of the state to bear upon this opportunity,” Leftwich said.

Ohio is still working out financial details of how the test site would operate, including user fees it could charge to support the operation, Leftwich said. He declined to elaborate, saying the plan isn’t completed.

Details of the site requirements won’t be out until sometime in July when the FAA issues requests for proposals, industry officials said. Congress provided some general guidance. That included directing the FAA to work with the Defense Department and NASA, and to ensure diversity in climate and geography when choosing the six test sites.

The states wishing to compete will likely have to submit their proposals by September, the officials said. That’s when the number of competitors will be known.

A FAA website created to accept public comment on how the agency should shape requirements for the test sites attracted more than 200 comments from organizations nationwide. The agency stopped accepting those comments on May 8 and is reviewing them.

$90 billion worldwide

The designation of a test site in Ohio could mean hundreds of new jobs at Wilmington Air Park, a onetime Air Force base and former DHL express delivery hub, where the Air Force Research Laboratory already flies small unmanned aircraft, said executive director Kevin Carver of the Clinton County Port Authority, the airport’s owner. The air park is home to an airplane maintenance company and other businesses but is looking for additional tenants, he said.

Leaders of Dayton’s effort to develop a proposal for the FAA declined to release specific projections of unmanned aircraft-related economic development potential. But the Teal Group Corp., an aerospace industry analyst, projects worldwide unmanned aircraft spending at about $90 billion during the next 10 years.

The military is obviously a big customer, as the Pentagon has shown a huge appetite for Global Hawks, Reapers and Predators — unmanned aircraft programs managed from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The Central Intelligence Agency is using remotely piloted planes to kill terrorists in Pakistan, prompting protests from that country.

But the potential goes well beyond the military. Industry analysts project development of larger civilian markets for small unmanned planes to be flown for border patrol, disaster-response operations, farm crop and power line monitoring, and law enforcement surveillance. Surveillance uses have prompted objections from civil libertarians, concerned that the “eyes in the sky” could be used to spy on residents in their homes.

The presence of Wright-Patterson has helped jump-start the industry locally. SAIC made a big bet on the future of the region’s unmanned aircraft industry, and its importance to R&D and acquisition programs at Wright-Patterson, by committing last year to move a total of 215 jobs to the Springfield and Dayton areas from Virginia.

Ohio’s advocates say the state has an attractive and varied aerospace portfolio with Wright-Patterson and the region’s unmanned aircraft and sensors research, development and specialized manufacturing; Springfield Air National Guard Base, which supports a Predator unmanned aircraft program, and the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport and Wilmington Air Park.

 

Potential competitors

Which states — and how many — compete for federally designated test-flying sites for unmanned aircraft won’t be known until a deadline for filing proposals late this summer.

Here are a few that are known to be interested, not ranked in any particular order, with some of their key organizations:

North Dakota

University of North Dakota’s Center for UAS Research, Education and Training; Unmanned Applications Institute International, Grand Forks, N.D.; Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Ohio

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base; Air Force Research Laboratory; NASA’s Glenn Research Center; aerospace industry suppliers, research universities.

New Mexico

New Mexico State University, which works under contract with the Federal Aviation Administration in unmanned aircraft research; Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.

Indiana

Indiana State University’s Center for Unmanned Systems, which is sharing resources with the Indiana National Guard and its Camp Atterbury airspace.

Arizona

Fort Huachuca’s unmanned aircraft training center; Davis-Monthan Air Force Base; defense contractor BAE Systems, Tucson, Ariz.

California

Edwards Air Force Base; NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (at Edwards); AeroVironment Inc., Monrovia, Calif., manufacturer of unmanned aircraft systems.

Maryland-Virginia (possible joint application to FAA)

NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Va., and Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.; National Institute of Aerospace, Va.; Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

Florida

University of Florida’s cooperative unmanned aircraft research with state and federal agencies; Eglin and Patrick Air Force bases, Fla.


 

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