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April 27 2013

April 29, 2013




Google Glass mysteries revealed!

Finally: This week a long list of announcements and revelations about Google’s cyborg eyewear were made


Mike Elgan

April 20, 2013 (Computerworld)


Google co-founder Sergey Brin has been yakking about Google Glass for more than two years. Yet until this week, we didn’t know even the most basic facts about the platform.

Google spilled some beans in an earnings call this week. The company also published facts about the hardware, software and licensing. And finally, users started receiving actual units, and have been blabbing about them on social media.

Google’s Project Glass has people wearing augmented reality glasses. (Image: Google)

Here’s what we’ve learned and what it all means.

Who’s using Google Glass

First, the lucky winners: Google held a contest calling on people to tell why they wanted Google Glass. Google picked 8,000 people for their Glass Explorer program. The gadgets aren’t free: They’ll still have to pay $1,500 for the device.

That price is not necessarily the price consumers will pay for the shipping product when it does ship; no retail pricing has been announced.

At Googe’s June developer conference last year, called Google I/O, Google offered to sell Glass to any attendee. Approximately 2,000 developers who purchased those units (on have not received them yet, but are expected to in the coming weeks. Google won’t charge those credit cards until the hardware ships.

By the time Google’s next I/O conference begins, there should be about 10,000 people outside of Google itself in the possession of Google Glass devices. (Google’s next I/O starts May 14. Google is expected to make Glass development a focus of the event.)

Google Glass may cause eyestrain or a headache, according to the Google Glass FAQ. Google says Glass is “not for children,” and that “Google’s terms of service don’t permit those under 13 to register a Google account.”

The hardware

Google Glass is a headset worn like glasses that has a projector for beaming images into the wearer’s right eye, creating an illusion equivalent to viewing “a 25-inch high definition screen from eight feet away.” That beaming of images happens by way of a prism, which bounces the light from the tiny projector into the prism and from there into the eye. The prism is clear, so looking through it shows both the projected image and also the normal field of vision. Users have to look up and to the right a little to see the Google Glass display.

Glass has 16 GB of RAM, 12 GB of which are usable for apps.

Sound is relayed to the user’s eardrum not into the ears but via bone conduction through the skull.

Glass has a built-in microphone, which does a good job of picking up the voice of the wearer, but strains to capture sounds farther away. This is probably by design for both the privacy of non-wearers and also to improve the voice recognition of the user.

The right side of the Google Glass hardware is a touchpad, which enables users to control the device by tapping or swiping.

Glass connects to the Internet and any Bluetooth-capable phone via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The battery should enable a day of moderate use on each charge, according to Google. However, using the video feature drains the battery much faster. One user estimated that a video recording of less than seven minutes drained about 20% of the battery power.

The camera takes 5-megapixel pictures and 720p video.

Glass comes with a Micro USB cable and a charger.

It comes in five colors: Charcoal, Tangerine, Shale, Cotton and Sky.

The software

Glass runs Android, according to an earnings-call comment by Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page this week, although almost certainly a custom version of Android rather than the same version that runs on smartphones. In other words, Android smartphone apps won’t run on Glass, and (presumably) Glass apps won’t run on Android smartphones.

Glass comes with an Android-only app called MyGlass, which among other things enables SMS and GPS messaging. MyGlass for other phone platforms could come later.

An analysis of MyGlass reveals multi-player game support, although it’s possible that it’s there for Android in general rather than Glass in particular.

Developers can create apps, which Google calls “Glassware,” using Java or Python plus what’s called the “Google Mirror API,” and a set of services called “RESTful” for conveying messages to and from the Glass devices.

How it works

The Google Glass user interface is based on “cards” — discreet chunks of information similar to cards on Google Now — and these exist in a timeline, which users can navigate via a swiping gesture on the touchpad.

“Cards” are created by developers who write software for Glass and are pushed to Glass via the apps they build and which users can “install.” Cards can stay in place in the timeline, or can be “pinned” by the user so they remain accessible as time goes by.

In addition to information, the cards can offer simple user interaction and can be shared between Glass users.

Users can capture pictures and video through the camera with voice commands or by tapping the touchpad. (

Users initiate voice commands by saying “OK, Glass,” which “wakes up” the device and prompts it to accept voice input.

By saying “take a picture,” “get directions to” or “make a call to” users can command Glass to function in these limited ways. Voice commands can also enable users to Start a Google+ hangout, use Google Now, search the Internet, translate language, get the weather and find out flight information.

If you make a call or send an email or text message, that communication happens not by Glass alone, but through a smartphone.

One user this week recorded an “unboxing” of Google Glass through Glass itself.

An ‘unboxing’ of Google Glass through Glass itself

As the unboxing reveals, Glass comes with clip-on sunglasses. In the future, Google may partner with Ray-Ban or Warby Parker to offer prescription eyeglasses with Google Glass electronics built in. Another possibility is a clip-on product that turns regular eyeglasses into Google Glass devices.

The terms of service

Google Mirror API Terms of Service were published this week. Google is banning for early users the resale, loan or transfer of a Glass device without Google’s permission. Google reserves the right to remotely de-activate the devices and not give accused violators a refund.

Google is banning monetization by app developers: No charging for apps, no advertising.

Glassware apps don’t run on the Glasses, but in the cloud.

No retail ship date or price has been announced, but prognosticators say it could go on sale by the end of this year at the earliest or the end of next year at the latest.

What these facts tell us

Overall, the facts we learned this week tell us that Google is taking a very conservative, controlling approach to the platform.

Instead of flooding the device with features and functions, it’s limited to a few common, powerful features. Instead of releasing it to the public, Google is allowing only 10,000 initial users and banning them from selling or sharing the devices.

In other words, Google is taking something of an Apple approach to the new product, which is the right way to go for a product as “different” as Google Glass.

So now that you know what Google Glass is all about, are you interested in buying one for yourself? If not, why not?



Verizon Report: DDoS a Broad Threat

Study of Investigations Shows No Sector Is Immune

By Tracy Kitten, April 23, 2013. Follow Tracy @FraudBlogger


Distributed-denial-of-service attacks jumped significantly in 2012. And it’s not just banking institutions that are victims, Verizon finds in its just-released Data Breach Investigations Report.

Dave Ostertag, a senior analyst with Verizon’s risk team, says DDoS attacks are striking organizations in numerous sectors.

“2012 saw a dramatic increase in the number of distributed-denial-of-service attacks throughout the world, and we saw a dramatic increase against banks in the United States,” Ostertag says during an exclusive interview about the just-released Verizon 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report. “But we have seen increases in other industries. Most DDoS attacks we’ve seen in the last year were activism-based.”

And while data typically is not breached during these attacks, the risk of information exposure is a threat organizations throughout the world are taking seriously, he adds.

“In very few of these attacks we’ve seen data loss associated,” Ostertag says. “What we have seen is fraud associated with those attacks, especially in the area of regional banks.”

But so far, Verizon and its incident-investigation partners have not found any clear pattern that connects DDoS to data loss, Ostertag says. Organizations must ensure they are mitigating their risks and preparing for the worst as DDoS attacks increase in volume and intensity, he says.


Defining a Data Breach

Now in its sixth year, the Verizon 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report includes 621 confirmed data breaches as well as more than 47,000 reported security incidents that were investigated by Verizon and 18 of its global partners, including law enforcement.

For the purposes of the report, Verizon focuses on cyber-attack incidents and defines a breach as occurring only when data actually leaves a network, Ostertag says.

“The data is collected throughout the year as the incidents happen,” he says.

Beyond DDoS, certain other attack vulnerabilities, such as compromised login credentials and passwords, continue to be key factors, Ostertag says. “The use of easily guessed or stolen passwords continues to be a problem,” he explains.

Malware attacks and hacking also continue to plague various business sectors, he notes, and socially engineered schemes, such as phishing attacks, also are increasing.

“If your company has a presence on the Internet, you are a potential [breach] victim now,” he says. “Payment cards are not the most often targeted anymore. Other data is being targeted as well.”

Report at :


Chinese Hackers Seek Drone Secrets

“Comment Crew” gang that fanned fears of Chinese hacking launches malware that combs for drone technology information.

By Mathew J. Schwartz, InformationWeek

April 22, 2013



A notorious cyber-espionage gang is being blamed for a set of recently discovered spear-phishing attacks that aim to steal information relating to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones.

“The set of targets cover all aspects of unmanned vehicles, land, air, and sea, from research to design to manufacturing of the vehicles and their various subsystems,” said James T. Bennett, a senior threat research engineer at FireEye, in a blog post.

Furthermore, the advanced persistent threat (APT) group behind both attacks, according to FireEye, is the gang known as the “Comment Crew,” which was singled out in a recent report from Mandiant. The security firm accused the group, dubbed APT1, of being an elite Chinese military hacking unit based in Shanghai, known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Unit 61398, which is suspected of having attacked at least 141 organizations across numerous industries. Chinese government officials have denied those accusations.

Regardless of the group’s sponsor, one recent set of attacks it launched targeted about a dozen organizations — across the aerospace, defense, telecommunications and government sectors — in both the United States and India, beginning in December 2011, if not earlier. But FireEye also found that the malicious infrastructure and command-and-control (C&C) servers used in the attacks are the same as those employed in a campaign known as Operation Beebus, so named for the related malware used by attackers, which was first submitted for testing to VirusTotal in April 2011. Including those spear-phishing attacks, which were discovered in February, FireEye now has a running total of 20 targets, including government-funded drone researchers in academia.

The earlier Beebus attacks involved malicious PDF and Word files — with names such as “sensor environments.doc” and “RHT_SalaryGuide_2012.pdf” — emailed to targets. The documents attempted to exploit a well-known DLL search order hijacking vulnerability in Windows and drop a malicious DLL file in the Windows directory.

In the latest series of attacks, the tactics have remained largely the same, although this time one of the decoy documents includes a reference to Pakistan’s UAV program, while another appears to have been sent from a military email address at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, titled “Family Planning Association of Base (FPAB).”

If a target opens the malicious document, it will attempt to exploit the Windows DLL vulnerability. If successful, the attack results in the installation of backdoor software known as Mutter, which uses what Bennett has dubbed a “hide-in-plain-sight” tactic in that the malicious file is 41 MB in size. “With rare exceptions, malware typically have a small size, usually no larger than a few hundred kilobytes,” he said. “When an investigator comes across a file [that’s] megabytes in size, he may be discouraged from taking a closer look.”

To build the 41-MB file, the malware dropper first decodes a malicious DLL file — only 140 KB in size — that’s included in the dropper’s resource file, then places the DLL file onto the compromised system, proceeding to fill its resource section with randomly generated data, Bennett explained. “This has another useful side effect of giving each DLL a unique hash, making it more difficult to identify.”

After infection, the malware will stay dormant for some period of time before attempting to exfiltrate data from the infected PC. That behavior mirrors that of the “wiper” malware that successfully exploited 48,000 systems at South Korean banks and broadcasters last month, although the malware isn’t related.


Tax-free Internet shopping jeopardized by bill


STEPHEN OHLEMACHE, Associated PressCopyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Updated 7:25 am, Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Page 1 of 1

WASHINGTON (AP) — Tax-free shopping on the Internet could be in jeopardy under a bill making its way through the Senate.

The bill would empower states to require online retailers to collect state and local sales taxes for purchases made over the Internet. The sales taxes would be sent to the states where a shopper lives.

Under current law, states can only require stores to collect sales taxes if the store has a physical presence in the state. As a result, many online sales are essentially tax-free, giving Internet retailers a big advantage over brick-and-mortar stores.

The Senate voted 74 to 20 Monday to take up the bill. If that level of support continues, the Senate could pass the bill as early as this week.

Supporters say the bill is about fairness for businesses and lost revenue for states. Opponents say it would impose complicated regulations on retailers and doesn’t have enough protections for small businesses. Businesses with less than $1 million a year in online sales would be exempt.

“While local, community-based stores and shops compete for customers on many levels, including service and selection, they cannot compete on sales tax,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation. “Congress needs to address this disparity.”

And, he added, “Despite what the opponents say this is not a new tax.”

In many states, shoppers are required to pay unpaid sales tax when they file their state income tax returns. However, states complain that few people comply.

“I do know about three people that comply with that,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the bill’s main sponsor.

President Barack Obama supports the bill. His administration says it would help restore needed funding for education, police and firefighters, roads and bridges and health care.

But the bill’s fate is uncertain in the House, where some Republicans regard it as a tax increase. Heritage Action for America, the activist arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, opposes the bill and will count the vote in its legislative scorecard.

“It is going to make online businesses the tax collectors for the nation,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. “It really tramples on the decision New Hampshire has made not to have a sales tax.”

Many of the nation’s governors — Republicans and Democrats— have been lobbying the federal government for years for the authority to collect sales taxes from online sales, said Dan Crippen, executive director of the National Governors Association. Those efforts intensified when state tax revenues took a hit from the recession and the slow economic recovery.

“It’s a matter of equity for businesses,” Crippen said. “It’s a matter of revenue for states.”

The issue is getting bigger for states as more people make purchases online. Last year, Internet sales in the U.S. totaled $226 billion, up nearly 16 percent from the previous year, according to Commerce Department estimates.

The bill pits brick-and-mortar stores like Wal-Mart against online services such as eBay., which initially fought efforts in some states to make it collect sales taxes, supports it too. Amazon and Best Buy have joined a group of retailers called the Marketplace Fairness Coalition to lobby on behalf of the bill.

“ has long supported a simplified nationwide approach that is evenhandedly applied and applicable to all but the smallest-volume sellers,” Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, said in a recent letter to senators.

On the other side, eBay has been rallying customers to oppose the bill.

“I hope you agree that imposing unnecessary tax burdens on small online businesses is a bad idea,” eBay President and CEO John Donahoe said in a letter to customers. “Join us in letting your members of Congress know they should protect small online businesses, not potentially put them out of business.”

The bill is also opposed by senators from states that have no sales tax, including Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Baucus said the bill would require relatively small Internet retailers to comply with sales tax laws in thousands of jurisdictions.

“This legislation doesn’t help businesses expand and grow and hire more employees,” Baucus said. “Instead, it forces small businesses to hire expensive lawyers and accountants to deal with the burdensome paperwork and added complexity of tax rules and filings across multiple states.”

But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the bill requires participating states to make it relatively easy for Internet retailers to comply. States must provide free computer software to help retailers calculate sales taxes, based on where shoppers live. States must also establish a single entity to receive Internet sales tax revenue, so retailers don’t have to send them to individual counties or cities.

“We’re way beyond the quill pen and ledger days,” Durbin said. “Thanks to computers and thanks to software it is not that complex.”

Read more:


Next Generation Bomber Survives Budget Tightening


by Kris Osborn on April 22, 2013


The U.S. Air Force continues work on designs for a stealthy, high-tech, next-generation Long Range Strike-Bomber ready for initial operating capability sometime during the 2020s and able to replace portions of the aging fleet of B-2s and B-52s, service officials confirmed.

The Air Force acquisition strategy for the next generation bomber, for which the service requested approximately $400 million in the President’s FY14 budget, is to achieve a leap-ahead in long-range strike capability, stealth characteristics, communications gear and weaponry, service officials explained.

While much of the program details and its desired capabilities remain secret, there are a few available or known attributes sought after for the system. Extended range to potentially counter Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) challenges, fuel efficiency and an ability to operate in a more challenging or contested electro-magnetic or “jamming” environment are among the key attributes.

The service is hoping for the next generation bomber to be able to fly farther, have more robust abilities against enemy air defenses and carry advanced, next-generation weaponry to improve strike capabilities. An Initial Capabilities Document has been drafted for the LRS-B, the details of which are classified, service officials said.

However, long-range strike capability, which brings the ability to attack or destroy enemy air defenses and ballistic missile launch sites while eluding detection, is considered to be a key element of the Pentagon’s much-discussed Air-Sea Battle operating concept.

The Air Force plans to build 100 LRS-B aircraft, at a per unit price of about $550 million per plane. The LRS-B will be nuclear-capable and potentially have the technological capability to be unmanned, said Ed Gulick, Air Force spokesman.

“The baseline LRS-B aircraft will be delivered with the features and components necessary for the nuclear mission and ensure nuclear certification is complete within two years after Initial Operating Capability,” Gulick said in written responses to Military​.com questions.

At the same time, the Air Force is hoping to leverage the best available industry technologies in order to keep costs down. The idea with this approach, naturally, is to avoid the kind of cost and schedule overruns which can accompany these kinds of acquisition efforts.

“The LRS-B program is leveraging mature technologies and existing systems to reduce development risk and minimize concurrency in integration and test. In addition, the Air Force is constraining requirements to enable stable, efficient, and affordable development and production efforts parameters,” Gulick added

Read more:



California gets first commercial white-space high-speed Internet

Years after the FCC agreed to open up white-space spectrum for unlicensed use in the U.S., California’s rural Gold Country tries out the first commercial version of the service.

by Dara Kerr

April 22, 2013 8:26 PM PDT


Carlson’s RuralConnect wireless access point uses white space to bring broadband to rural areas.

Believe it or not, there are still parts of the U.S. that don’t have access to high-speed Internet. But that’s looking to change with the onset of TV white-space broadband technology.

The first commercial application of this type of service in the U.S. is coming to a rural area of Northern California called El Dorado County, or Gold Country. Internet provider is partnering with network equipment provider Carlson to bring this region’s residents something more than dial-up.

“Over 59,000 residents in our rural service area have had little or no quality Internet access,” CTO Ken Garnett, who began investigating white space technology several years ago, said in a statement. “When I discovered Carlson, their White-Space network equipment was a quantum leap ahead of all other contenders. This new product allows us to serve a large contingent of these people.”

White spaces are essentially unlicensed sections of the spectrum. What companies are now able to do is keep track of in-use TV broadcast frequencies so that wireless broadband devices can take advantage of that unlicensed space. TV frequencies have powerful signals that are able to travel over mountainous and forested terrain.

The FCC unanimously agreed in November 2008 to open up this spectrum for unlicensed use. Experts say there could be between 300MHz to 400MHz of unused spectrum across the U.S. In 2010, the FCC approved new rules for using unlicensed white space, which included using databases to check for clear frequencies and ensure that devices do not interfere with existing broadcast TV license holders.

Several companies are working on building databases to make use of white space. Google began testing a new database in March. Spectrum Bridge and Telcordia have already completed their trials, and there are another 10 companies, including Microsoft, which are working on similar databases. Google also launched a trial program last month to use white space for providing wireless broadband in South African schools.

In Gold Country, the monthly service will cost users $54.95 per month with speeds of around 2 to 4 Mbps, according to Engadget, which first reported this story. Currently the service is only available in the vicinity of Swansboro, but plans to extend its reach across the county in coming months.

“I’m finally able to keep tabs on my business from home,” a local entrepreneur said in the statement. “For 20 years we’ve had no decent Internet service were we live. Now we have superior remote access to our office computers, and can finally enjoy peace of mind while saving us many hours of driving.”


In cyber war game, Air Force cadets fend off NSA hackers

Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters

April 21, 2013


HANOVER, Maryland (Reuters) – A U.S. Air Force Academy team on Friday beat out rivals from other elite military colleges after a three-day simulated cyber “war” against hackers from the National Security Agency that is meant to teach future officers the importance of cybersecurity.

Nearly 60 government experts — sitting under a black skull and crossbones flag — worked around the clock this week to break into computer networks built by students at the Air Force, Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies. Two military graduate schools also participated.

The annual Cyber Defense Exercise (CDX), now in its 13th year, gives students real world practice in fighting off a increasing barrage of cyber attacks aimed at U.S. computer networks by China, Russia and Iran, among others.

It also allows the NSA’s top cyber experts and others from military reserves, National Guard units and other agencies hone their offensive skills at a time when the Pentagon is trying to pump up its arsenal of cyber weapons.


While the students sleep or catch up on other work, some of the NSA’s “red cell” attackers use viruses, so-called “Trojan horses” and other malicious software to corrupt student-built networks or steal data — in this case, long sets of numbers dreamt up by the officials coordinating the exercise.

But the job gets tougher every year, says Raphael Mudge, an Air Force reservist who develops software and training to protect private computer networks.

“It’s challenging. The students are hungry to win,” said Mudge. “It forces all of us to get better.”

Army General Keith Alexander, who heads both the Pentagon’s Cyber Command and the NSA, stopped by to see the “red cell” hackers in action at a Lockheed Martin Corp facility near NSA headquarters on Thursday, said spokeswoman Vanee Vines.

Alexander often speaks about the need to get more young people engaged in cybersecurity given the exponential growth in the number and intensity of attacks on U.S. networks.

The Pentagon’s budget for cyber operations rose sharply in the fiscal 2014 request sent to Congress, reflecting heightened concerns about an estimated $400 billion in intellectual property stolen from U.S. computer networks in recent years.

Martin Carlisle said his 28-member team fought hard for first place after a hardware failure the first day. It was their fourth win in 13 years.

“Our nation is under attack. We need to train up a new generation of leaders,” he said.

Shawn Turskey, a senior NSA official, said the goal was to raise awareness among future military commanders.

“The real payoff of this program is going to be seen 10, 15 years down the road when these individuals are admirals and generals,” he said.



Pentagon Resists Administration’s Mandate for an Open Source Health Records System


By Bob Brewin

April 22, 2013


President Obama has backed open standards for an integrated electronic health record system to serve the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments since his first term, but Pentagon plans to acquire commercial software to replace the department’s current EHR are “manifestly inconsistent” with that approach, J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation wrote in a blistering memo. Gilmore noted that Defense has resisted open standards and software for years.

Gilmore, in a March 28 memo to Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter obtained by Nextgov, said, “The White House has repeatedly recommended that the Department take an inexpensive and direct approach to implementing the President’s open standards.”

The White House, Defense and VA reached an agreement for an integrated electronic health record based on open standards last Dec. 6, Nextgov reported today.

“Unfortunately, [the Pentagon] preference is to purchase proprietary software for so-called ‘core’ health management functions. This will be an expensive, complete replacement that may or may not succeed and that may or may not result in a system that adheres to open standards,” Gilmore told Carter.

Gilmore said the iEHR project, whittled down by Defense and VA in February, “should be reconstituted with a much reduced budget focused on what the President actually directed” — an open standard system based on a universal health exchange language for all health care providers in the country, an idea backed by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in a 2010 report on health information technology.

Gilmore sent his memo as Defense readied requests for proposals to buy commercial laboratory, pharmacy and immunization systems for the integrated systems, which, if acquired, would be detrimental to the open standards approach. Last Tuesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense that he “deferred” issuance of those RFPS because “I didn’t think we knew what the hell we were doing.”

In order to meet the open standards goal, Gilmore said the Pentagon should first define and test the overall iEHR architecture and then purchase a software “layer” to connect the current Defense health record, the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application, or AHLTA, to the outside world via open standards.

The Defense-VA Interagency Program Office did acquire such a software layer called an Enterprise Service Bus, about which Gilmore wrote, “The [interagency program office] will say that it has implemented an ESB, however this may or may not be true. The ESB has been purchased, but it has not been connected to anything real.”

Gilmore added that a presidential science advisor expressed doubts that the IBM WebSphere ESB acquired by the interagency program office met the open standards mandate as it has “hundreds of proprietary interfaces.”

Gilmore reported two software packages purchased by the program office were intended to allow clinicians to sign onto a patient record in one application and then automatically switch to another application — called single sign-on/context management — failed in recent operational assessments. “Planning for the operational assessment was halted when it was observed that these products could not be made to work at three facilities and were of limited to no use at the other two.”

Barclay Butler, the interagency program office director, told attendees at a Defense healthcare conference that the single sign-on/context management software from Harris Corp. had been tapped for use in the iEHR. Harris also has a contract to supply the ESB for the integrated health record.

Gilmore said that the Pentagon’s resistance to open standards stems from an incorrect assumption that modernizations based on open systems, as opposed to proprietary commercial systems, will take too long. He noted that “the lack of immediate progress will inevitably cause the department to be forced to adopt the VistA [Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture] used by the VA.”

On Feb. 27, VA formally pitched VistA to Defense for use as its heath record. Gilmore told Carter, “The President’s open standards agenda has nothing whatsoever to do with the Department using VistA.”

Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Hagel is consulting with many members of his leadership team on how to move ahead with the iEHR. Robbins said the Gilmore evaluation “represents just one opinion that the Secretary is considering as he ensures that DoD has exercised due diligence prior to committing to implement a particular core technology solution in accordance with the two Departments’ revised strategy.”


GAO raps DOD satellite operations

By Frank Konkel

Apr 23, 2013


The Department of Defense manages the nation’s defense satellites worth a collective $13.7 billion, but the ground stations and control networks that operate them need to be modernized significantly, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

The report states DOD’s satellite control networks are “fragmented and potentially duplicative,” and states that the Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN), DOD’s largest shared satellite control network, is undergoing $400 million in modernization efforts over five years that won’t actually increase the network’s capabilities. The network’s antennas are spread around the world.

This isn’t the first time GAO has reported critically on DOD’s satellite control systems – reports on the matter date back to 1994 – but GAO officials told FCW that in light of budgetary issues experienced across government, it makes sense for DOD to consider modernizing.

“Given the budgetary situation, we do believe it’s time for DOD to take satellite control more seriously, and to really put an effort into modernizing their efforts, bringing them up to current practices and software,” said Cristina Chaplain, director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management for GAO.

The GAO report makes two specific recommendations, both of which DOD officials agreed with in the report. The first recommends the Secretary of Defense conduct an analysis at the beginning of new satellite acquisition project to determine a business case for either a shared or dedicated satellite control operations network. The report cites one unnamed Air Force base that has 10 satellite programs operated by 8 separate control centers, creating the potential for significant duplicity, something the report suggests wouldn’t happen in the commercial sector.

“Commercial practices have the potential to increase the efficiency and decrease costs of DOD satellite control operations,” the report states. “These practices include: interoperability between satellite control operations networks; automation of routine satellite control operations functions; use of commercial off-the-shelf products instead of custom ones; and a hybrid network approach which allows a satellite operator to augment its network through another operator’s complementary network.”

The second recommendation from GAO directs DOD to develop a department-wide long-term plan for modernizing AFSCN and any future shared satellite control operations network. A sufficient plan would identify estimated satellite control costs, program manager authorities required to ensure ground systems are built how the business case says they should be, and which commercial practices, if any, can improve how DOD manages it satellites control operations.


“Right now, the business case is all about the satellite program, not the other supportive pieces, and there’s no long-term plan that says it’s time to get modernized and be more integrated,” Chaplain said.



Could virtual meetings replace conferences in sequestration age?

By Frank Konkel

Apr 12, 2013


Sequestration and reduced budgets for the vast majority of federal agencies have forced many to restrict travel and eliminate out-of-town conferences, so a growing number are substituting in-person collaboration with a virtualized environment instead.

In recent months, the number of federal employees at various agencies participating in web conferencing has surged, particularly in the Department of Defense.

Barry Leffew, vice president of Adobe’s public sector, said the number of registered users for Defense Connect Online, a web conferencing and real-time internal collaboration platform that Adobe and Carahsoft Technology provide for DOD, has increased from 600,000 to more than 840,000 in the last year alone.

Defense Connect Online has been available to DOD employees and contractors for five years, yet it’s never experienced a jump like this, he said.

“Agencies have had to eliminate travel, and we’ve seen a widespread elimination of conferences and off-site meetings, but it’s still very important to collaborate and share information,” Leffew said. “If you can’t go and meet in person, the other option is a phone call and that’s just voice – it’s not real collaboration. With a web conferencing tool, you’re able to have rich media and share documents from almost any device. That’s collaboration.”

Leffew said the number of feds using his firm’s web conferencing solution has increased significantly over the past six months at more than 20 federal agencies, both in presentation-style formats where most participants are simply receiving information and in collaborative work groups that typically have 15 to 25 participants with voice, webcam and desktop-sharing capabilities.

Local-area “in person” gatherings are still generally allowed for government employees, but sequestration has raised the bar for almost any event that requires travel. NASA, for example, recently implemented new rules that forbid all but the most mission-critical conferences if they are further than a Metro ride away. These restrictions come on top of a May 2012 Office of Management and Budget memo promoting efficient agency travel spending.

The U.S. Navy Safety Center held its 21st annual U.S. Navy Safety Professional Development Conference (PDC) in March, but for the first time, the “mission critical conference” – providing approximately 80 training sources and expert information from another 80 speakers – was held in a virtual environment after sequestration derailed the destination conference originally scheduled to take place in San Diego, Calif.

In a matter of weeks, the virtual conference was organized to the satisfaction of more than 90 percent of the 2,019 attending participants from as far as Germany and Guam, and $1.5 million in travel expenses were reduced to less than $100,000 in operational expenses.

Most of the training courses transferred well to the online environment, said Gregory Cook, Commanding Officer for the Naval Safety & Environmental Training Center The virtual conference put on more than 50 courses, workshops and breakout sessions, though some hands-on demonstrations didn’t make sense to attempt in a virtual environment.

Cook said he and his team put a big emphasis on participant engagement, giving participants similar familiarity to the traditional PDCs held alternately in San Diego or Norfolk, Va.

“In order to do that, we had to look at the seminars we were offering and trim away the ones that wouldn’t translate well online,” Cook said. “Our strategy was to have the same look and feel as our brick and mortar conferences, and really focus well on user engagement.”

Cook said his team created the template for each seminar room and included within them chat pods that would fill up with hundreds of comments, helping drive each segment. The PDC’s 80 speakers were given a crash course in virtual conferencing by moderators and asked to use polling questions in their presentations to build audience engagement, resulting in interactive experiences that Cook said you sometimes don’t see in traditional conferences. Participants did miss the face time though, Cook said, and the social interaction that typically follows a traditional event.

“The technology is there to do it, we can bring the conference to individuals with existing technology even with some constraints,” Cook said. “The key to being successful is you’ve got to connect participants to make them feel like they are really part of a conference. I don’t think it’s the solution for every conference, but for conferences like ours that are primarily around training, I think it works very well.”

Not all agencies have been quick to embrace the technology, however. The Mobile Work Exchange’s September 2012 report on government videoconferencing found that only 36 percent of federal employees use the technology. At the Interior Department, for example, negative experiences with older teleconferencing equipment, a lack of knowledge within the agency on the availability of the tools and low motivation for using them were cited as reasons why the technology was not being fully used.

Mobile Work Exchange General Manager Cindy Auten said sequestration and a series of recent canceled events are driving federal employees “to be creative in how they connect and exchange information.” Before sequestration, agencies received pressure to cut costs and encourage efficient spending on tools like video technology to support collaboration through Executive Order 13589. Sequestration has simply amplified that pressure.

“We are seeing more interest in video conferencing to support much-needed training and connecting face to face,” Auten said. “It saves on travel, is readily available, and easier to use – now more than ever.”

Cisco, another leading provider of web conferencing solutions, has seen its federal customers increasingly turn to video conferencing as well, though the full effects of sequestration and travel restrictions remain unclear.

“The effects of sequestration still remain to be seen, however, we have seen a significant increase over the past few years of federal customers adopting video conferencing and telepresence as a proactive solution to the reduce travel costs constraints,” said Matt Mandrgoc, director of Public Sector Collaboration at Cisco.

The company itself has saved more than $1 billion – mostly on airfare and hotel charges – by using its TelePresence technology to host meetings.

“As budgets get tighter, more agencies are investing in technology that will help them save,” Mandrgoc said. “Video is a great example of this.”



USAF: New Acquisition Official in May

Defense News

Apr. 23, 2013 – 06:00AM |



WASHINGTON — The US Air Force has selected Bill LaPlante to fill the role of principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and management.

USAF Secretary Michael Donley made the announcement Tuesday morning at a meeting of the Defense Writer’s Group. Donley said LaPlante will begin work May 6.

“We have filled the position of the principal deputy for acquisition with a superb engineer, Dr. Bill LaPlante from the MITRE corporation,” Donley told reporters. “He’s an experienced engineer, he runs the missile defense work at MITRE. A broad range of experience at ISR, sensors, communications and other areas. He’s done some deeper work on Navy issues, but has a broad range of technical expertise. I think he’ll be a great addition to the Air Force acquisition team.”

Despite the announcement, Donley said he will retain service acquisition executive authority.

LaPlante is replacing David Van Buren, who retired in March of 2012. The role of assistant secretary of the Air Force (acquisition) remains vacant. Sue Payton, who retired in the spring of 2009, was the last person to be confirmed for that role; Van Buren served in a dual capacity for both jobs until his retirement.

LaPlante’s position does not require congressional appointment, a USAF spokeswoman confirmed.

A request for comment from MITRE was not immediately returned.


Federal budgets put squeeze on unmanned aircraft

Joe CoglianoSenior Reporter-

Dayton Business Journal

Apr 23, 2013, 2:51pm EDT


Budgetary uncertainty is the top risk to the military’s unmanned aircraft portfolio.

That was the message from high-ranking officials Tuesday at a field hearing of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee. U.S. Rep Mike Turner, R-Dayton, brought the hearing to Sinclair Community College in Dayton to coincide with the Ohio UAS Conference. Click here to read about the conference.

Dyke Weatherington, director of unmanned warfare & intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, Office of the Secretary of Defense, told the subcommittee the budget issues are leading to short-term decisions that are bad for long-term health of unmanned programs.

“Unfortunately, that leads us to be conservative … but we have no other alternative,” Weatherington said.

The issue is critical because unmanned systems, also known as UAVs or UAS’, are seen as key to future of national security, as well as a big part of the Dayton regional economy.

This year Turner became chairman of the subcommittee, which has oversight over a broad portfolio of Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps acquisition programs. The hearing focused on current and future roles for Unmanned Aerial Systems, or UAS’, as well as the UAS budget requests for fiscal year 2014.

“Since we cannot predict the future strategic environment, and how that will develop, we need to maintain a robust ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) enterprise capable of supporting the full spectrum of military operations anywhere around the world,” Weatherington said.

In addition to Weatherington, witnesses at the hearing included Steven Pennington, director of Bases, Ranges, and Airspace, and executive director for the Department of Defense Policy Board on Federal Aviation; and Col. Patrick Tierney, director of aviation for the Department of the Army.

In addition to Turner, the panel included U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R- NJ; U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati; and U.S. Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif.

Observers say Turner’s role comes at a critical time of Department of Defense budget cuts and sequestration budget cuts, as well as a possible new BRAC on the horizon.


An Open Letter to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt on Drones

24 April 2013

By Gary Mortimer


As fellow believers in the transformational power of technology, we at the DC Area Drone User Group were surprised and saddened to read of your recent comments in multiple fora urging increased restriction on the use of small drones. These positions are particularly surprising coming from the Chairman of Google in light of your organization’s admirable support of the World Wildlife Fund’s efforts to combat poaching using drones and Matternet’s research into developing drones to deliver medicine in Africa.

Ironically, right now due to FAA restrictions it is personally owned drones that are better positioned than government or corporate owned ones to be used for social good in the U.S. The DC Area Drone User Group is currently conducting a community service project with a park in our local area creating aerial trail videos and overhead maps to help the park manager track changes over time in plant and animal species inhabiting the area. It is illegal for the park to operate a drone themselves without going through a process with the FAA that is in practice too complicated and expensive for a small, local government entity to manage. It is also illegal for them to hire someone to operate a drone on their behalf since current regulations prohibit the commercial use of unmanned aerial systems. However, it is entirely legal for us to use our drones on a volunteer basis to help them better understand their own resources, an activity we are happy to help them with in an era where our public institutions are being asked to do more with less.

You suggest that terrorists might use drones for nefarious purposes. However, similar technologies have already been available for years. RC aircraft, ground vehicles and watercraft have been around for decades with people mounting cameras and other payloads on them. And just because terrorists have used Gmail to communicate in the current era, in much the same way they used telephones in the past, does not mean that the world would be better off if we had restricted use of email and telecommunication technologies to government and big business. Are you suggesting that any new technology should be suppressed because it might be used for anti-social purposes? The answer to these challenges is to ban terrorism, murder, theft, and invasion of privacy, as we have already done. Restricting access to specific technologies is always a losing game as bad actors will simply find new tools to cause harm to our society.

What your comments exemplify is a trend, unfortunately common in our society, where some people are afraid to see individuals gain access to tools that in the past have been the exclusive domain of governments and big corporations. As drone technology has become cheaper, smaller, and easier to use, we are seeing ordinary citizens and community groups become self-sufficient in areas where they previously had to rely on others. Farmers can check on the health of their own crops from the sky without having to pay for expensive manned aviation. Communities can map their own natural resources without having to buy costly satellite imagery.

Personally owned flying robots today have the power to change the balance of power between individuals and large bureaucracies in much the same way the Internet did in the past. And just as the military researchers who developed GPS for guiding munitions could never have imagined their technology would be used in the future to help people conduct health surveys in the world’s poorest countries or help people find dates in the world’s richest, there is a whole world of socially positive and banal applications for drones that are yet to be discovered. We should embrace this chance that technology provides instead of strangling these opportunities in their infancy. Our hope is that you and the rest of Google’s leadership will embrace this pro-technology agenda in the future rather than seeking to stifle it. We would welcome the opportunity to speak further with you about this topic.

Timothy Reuter
President and Founder
DC Area Drone User Group

The DC Area Drone User Group is a community organization that seeks to promote the use of flying robots for community service, artistic, entrepreneurial, and recreational purposes.


A Wiring Diagram of the Brain

Advances in medical imaging allow the Human Connectome Project to map neural connections

IEEE Spectrum

By Eliza Strickland / May 2013


In early March, an unusual 2 terabytes of data hit the Web: the first batch of images from a massively ambitious brain-mapping effort called the Human Connectome Project. Thousands of images showed the brains of 68 healthy volunteers, with different regions glowing in bright jewel tones. These data, freely available for download via the project’s website, give neuroscientists unprecedented insights into which parts of the brain act in concert to do something as seemingly simple as recognizing a face.

The project leaders say their work is enabled by very recent advances in both brain-scanning hardware and image-processing software. “It simply wouldn’t have been feasible five or six years ago to provide this amount and quality of data, and the ability to work with the data,” says David Van Essen, one of the project’s principal investigators and head of the anatomy and neurobiology department at the Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis.

Based on a growing understanding that the mechanisms of perception and cognition involve networks of neurons that sprawl across multiple regions of the brain, researchers have begun mapping those neural circuits. While the Human Connectome Project looks at connections between brain regions, a US $100 million project, announced in April and called the BRAIN Initiative, will attempt to zoom in on the connectivity of small clusters of neurons.

But it’s the five-year Human Connectome Project that’s delivering the data now. The $40 million project funds two consortia; the larger, international group led by Van Essen and Kamil Ugurbil of the University of Minnesota will eventually scan the brains of 1200 adults, a group of twins and their siblings. The goal, says Van Essen, is “not just to infer what typical brain connectivity is like but also how it varies across participants, and how that relates to their different intellectual, cognitive, and emotional capabilities and attributes.”

To provide multiple perspectives on each brain, the researchers employ a number of cutting-edge imaging methods. They start with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to provide basic structural images of the brain, using both a 3-tesla machine and a next-generation 7-T scanner. Both provide extremely high-resolution images of the convoluted folds of the cerebral cortex.

Next, a series of functional MRI (fMRI) scans, which detect blood flow throughout the brain, show brain activity for subjects both at rest and engaged in seven different tasks (including language, working memory, and gambling exercises). The fMRI is souped-up as well: Ugurbil pioneered a technique called multiband imaging that takes snapshots of eight slices of the brain at a time instead of just one.

To complement the data on basic structure and blood flow within the brain, each participant is also scanned using a technique called diffusion MRI, which tracks the movement of water molecules within brain fibers. Because water diffuses more rapidly along the length of the fibers that connect neurons than across them, this technique allows researchers to directly trace connections between sections of the brain. The Connectome team had Siemens customize its top-of-the-line MRI machine to let them alter its magnetic field strength more rapidly and dramatically, which produces clearer images.

Each imaging modality has its limitations, so combining them gives neuroscientists their best view yet of what goes on inside a human brain. First, however, all that neuroimaging data needs to be purged of noise and artifacts, and it needs to be organized into a useful data base. Dan Marcus, director of the Neuroinformatics Research Group at the Washington University School of Medicine, developed the image-processing software that automatically cleans up the images and precisely aligns the scans so that a single “brainordinate” refers to the same point on a diffusion MRI and fMRI scan. That processing is computationally intensive, says Marcus: “For each subject, that code takes about 24 hours to run on our supercomputer.”

Finally, the team adapted open-source image analysis tools to allow researchers to query the database in sophisticated ways. For example, a user can examine a brain simply through its diffusion images or overlay that data on a set of fMRI results.

Some neuroscientists think that all this data will be of limited use. Karl Friston, scientific director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, at University College London, applauds the project’s ambition, but he criticizes it for providing a resource “without asking what questions these data and models speak to.” He’d prefer to see money spent on hypothesis-directed brain scans, which can investigate “how a particular connection changes with experimental intervention or disease.”

But the Connectome team thinks the open-ended nature of the data set is an asset, not a weakness. They’re hoping to provoke research questions they never anticipated, and in fields that they know nothing about. “You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to access the data,” says Marcus. “If you’re an engineer or a physicist and want to get into this, you can.”


Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever

Washington Post

By David A. Fahrenthold, Updated: Friday, April 26, 1:30 PM

President Ronald Reagan tried to get rid of it. So did President Bill Clinton. This October, their wish is finally set to come true.

The Federal Helium Program — left over from the age of zeppelins and an infamous symbol of Washington’s inability to cut what it no longer needs — will be terminated.

Unless it isn’t.

On Friday, in fact, the House voted 394 to1 to keep it alive.

“Many people don’t believe that the federal government should be in the helium business. And I would agree,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said on the House floor Thursday.

But at that very moment, Hastings was urging his colleagues to keep the government in the helium business for a little while longer. “We must recognize the realities of our current situation,” he said.

The problem is that the private sector has not done what some politicians had predicted it would — step into a role that government was giving up. The federal helium program sells vast amounts of the gas to U.S. companies that use it in everything from party balloons to MRI machines.

If the government stops, no one else is ready. There are fears of shortages.

So Congress faces an awkward task. In a time of austerity, it may reach back into the past and undo a rare victory for downsizing government.

“If we cannot at this point dispense with the helium reserve — the purpose of which is no longer valid — then we cannot undo anything,” then-Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said back in 1996, when Congress thought it finally killed the program.

Today, the program is another reminder that, in the world of the federal budget, the dead are never really gone. Even when programs are cut, their constituencies remain, pushing for a revival.

Two other programs axed in Clinton’s “Reinventing Government” effort — aid to beekeepers and federal payments for wool — returned, zombielike, a few years later. Now the helium program may skip the middle step and be revived without dying first.

“This sort of feels like the longest-running battle since the Trojan War,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Wyden has written a Senate bill, similar to the one Hastings wrote in the House, to extend the helium program beyond October and then eventually shut it down.

This time, the shutdown would happen, Wyden said. “I intend to watchdog this very carefully,” he added.

The program at the center of this debate has its origins after World War I, in a kind of arms race that sounds ridiculous now. In Europe, countries such as Germany were building sturdy, if slow, inflatable airships. The U.S. military was worried about a blimp gap.

So Congress ordered a stockpile of helium to help American dirigibles catch up. It was assumed to be a temporary arrangement.

“As soon as private companies produce [helium], the government will, perhaps, withdraw?” asked Rep. Don Colton (R-Utah.) in the House debate.

“That is correct,” said Rep. Fritz Lanham (D-Tex.).

That was in 1925.

Today, 88 years later, the zeppelin threat is over. Private companies have learned to produce helium. But the U.S. government still has its own reserve: a giant porous rock formation under the Texas Panhandle, whose crannies hold enough helium to fill 33 billion party balloons.


The reserve sells off portions of its helium every year, accounting for about 42 percent of the U.S. supply of the unrefined gas. The program, with 52 employees, pays for itself with proceeds from the sales.

But since the 1980s, politicians have been saying this shouldn’t be the government’s job. Reagan said so in his 1988 budget. Clinton said so in his 1995 State of the Union speech.

Finally, in 1996, Congress passed a law that said it wouldn’t be. The law required the reserve to sell off helium until it had paid off a more than $1 billion debt to other agencies. Then its time would be up.

Time is up. The debt will be paid off soon, although the program has about five years’ worth of helium in the ground.

And that looks less like a victory and more like a disaster.

“All of a sudden, you basically take away 40 percent of the supply” of helium, said Moses Chan, a professor at Pennsylvania State University and a de facto spokesman for scientists who use helium in their research. The gas is valuable in labs because it is stable at very low temperatures. “That would just be chaos.”

In recent weeks, Congress has heard a chorus of such worries. MRI machines and semiconductor plants, which both rely on helium, might be affected. And yes, balloons might cost more.

There is an argument about how this happened.

Congress says private industry simply didn’t step up to supply more helium, in part because the federal government was selling its helium so cheaply. In industry, it’s said that there has been a spike in demand for helium, and that finding new supplies isn’t easy. That requires drilling in a certain kind of natural gas field, where helium comes up along with the gas.

All sides, however, seem to agree on the solution.

The helium program can’t die.

Both bills in Congress seek to alter the program as they save it, to raise more money by selling the gas closer to market price. And both anticipate closing down the reserve. They are confident the private sector will be ready soon (there is hope in particular for a new helium plant going online in Wyoming).

So, how much longer will it take?

“Five years? We don’t know,” Hastings said in a telephone interview. “It could be shorter than that. It could be longer.”

Discuss this topic and other political issues in the politics discussion forums.


Post: FergusonFoont wrote:

April 26 1:34 PM EDT








The use of helium in party balloons is a crime against science. And the sale of our reserves to private or foreign concerns is a threat to American security. Once that stuff is gone, it really IS gone forever and ever, at least from the perspective of earth dwellers. And it is VERY valuable, indeed essential, for scientific experimentation, the source of our progress in many fields.

You may think this odd given that, except for hydrogen, helium is the second-most plentiful substance in the universe, but that’s the way it is. It’s sort of like the “Water, water everywhere” thing that dehydrated sailors bemoan. But there’s nothing for helium that corresponds to desalinization, or even the electrolysis of water to obtain oxygen or hydrogen. There are no compounds that contain helium from which it might be extracted, even at whatever expense we would be willing to pay. There’s just no such thing.

And the export of helium must be TIGHTLY controlled, and ownership of our reserves, the only such reserves on earth, must be in the hands of the American government and no private entity, foreign or domestic. This is one of those things that government is for. This is not something for which private profit should be a consideration at all.

This is a substance that we really must stop wasting and must control exclusively for American national interests and those we as a nation deem worthwhile. Profit is not one of those interests. Congress should act quickly and take these reserves back by eminent domain, and compensate the Israelis fairly to reimburse whatever they may have invested to obtain any part of our reserves.

People, this is a matter of genuinely surpassing importance to America, and it should not be trivialized, whether by dogmatic congressmen or pundits in the press. We must act RIGHT NOW.


What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Rasmussen Reports

Saturday, April 27, 2013

While the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and its aftermath will never forget, Americans in general appear to be recognizing that terrorism is part of the new normal. National security remains low on the list of voter concerns still topped by the economy.

Scott Rasmussen’s latest weekly newspaper column highlights the “measured reaction” of the American people to the Boston Marathon bombings. “The picture that emerges is a nation that has grown to accept the reality of terrorism and occasional terrorist acts.  It’s also a nation that is moving forward rather than cowering in fear.”

Confidence that the United States and its allies are winning the War on Terror has fallen to its lowest level in roughly two years, but that marks a continuing downward trend since the uptick following the killing of Osama bin Laden. Other indicators suggest that Americans aren’t reacting as fearfully as they did following unsuccessful domestic terrorist acts in recent years.

Eighty percent (80%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the economy is Very Important in terms of how they will vote in the next congressional election, putting it at the head of the list of 15 key issues tracked by Rasmussen Reports where it has been for years. Health care is second with 67% who rate it a Very Important issue. National security ranks 12th , considered a Very Important voting issue by just 44%.

More than four years have passed since the federal government began bailing out troubled big banks and other financial institutions, and most voters (56%) still think those bailouts were bad for the country.

Eighty-seven percent (87%) of voters think law enforcement agencies did a good or excellent job handling the investigation of the bombings and pursuing the suspects in the Boston bombing case. Fifty-five percent (55%) rate the media’s coverage of events there as good or excellent.

Sixty-one percent (61%) think the surviving bombings suspect should get the death penalty if convicted, but far fewer think it’s Very Likely he actually will receive the ultimate sentence. Most also think the bombers had ties to terrorist organizations.

Following their use in identifying the suspected perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings, 70% of Americans support the use of surveillance cameras in public areas, and 52% believe they help reduce crime.

Most working Americans say there are surveillance cameras where they work, and one-in-four of all Americans think their privacy has been violated by such cameras

The weak economic growth figures released by the government on Friday illustrate why Americans remain most concerned about the economy. Just 17% of adult consumers rate the economy as good or excellent, a view shared by 20% of investors.

Only 30% of voters think the country is heading in the right direction.

Just 35% now believe America’s best days are in the future, while 49% think the nation’s best days are in the past. This is the lowest level of optimism and the highest level of pessimism since last August.

But the housing market offers a glimmer of hope. Short-term confidence among homeowners is now at its highest level in several years. Thirty-seven percent (37%) think the value of their home will go up over the next year. Just over half once again believe the value of their home will go up in five years. 

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of homeowners think their homes are worth more today than when they bought them. That ties December’s finding which marked the highest level measured since October 2011 when 62% felt that way.

Belief that it’s a seller’s market also continues to rise. Admittedly, just 30% of Americans say now is a good time for someone in their area to sell a house, but that’s the most optimistic assessment since the meltdown in 2008.

Concern remains high, however, about the impact President Obama’s health care law will have on the economy as it goes into full effect next year. Under the law, states have less than six months now to open exchanges for the sale of universal health insurance, but only 39% of voters are aware of what their state has done. Voters remain evenly divided over whether their governor should help to get the health care law on track even as a key Democrat senator worries that the law is headed for “a train wreck.”

As the events in Boston move into the legal process, official Washington is turning its attention back to gun control, immigration and the federal budget.

The president’s job approval ratings in the daily Presidential Tracking Poll have come down since his post-election bounce but remain higher than they were for most of his first term.

Voters’ views of Obama’s handling of issues related to gun control have changed little, despite his outspoken criticism of the Senate’s reluctance to pass expanded background checks for potential gun buyers. Forty-five percent (45%) rate the way the president is handling issues related to gun control as good or excellent.  Thirty-nine percent (39%) give him a poor rating in this area. He gets similar ratings for his handling of immigration.

Seventy-three percent (73%) support increased background checks for potential gun buyers, but only 49% now want stricter gun control laws. Forty-seven percent (47%) say the gun control issue is Very Important to how they will vote in the next election.

Voter confidence in the president’s handling of Social Security has fallen following his release of a proposed budget that called for modest reductions in future Social Security benefits. 

Democrats hold just a two-point lead over Republicans on the Generic Congressional Ballot

We’ve got a winner in the latest Rasmussen Challenge.  Final results are in – check the leaderboard. 

In other surveys last week:

More Americans than ever give race relations in the United States positive ratings and feel these relations are improving.

Most voters (63%) agree that U.S. society is generally fair and decent, and they think people who move here should adopt the culture.

Americans tend to believe colleges and universities should promote the nation’s social values but think the schools are much more likely to challenge them instead.

One-out-of-two voters now view the United Nations favorably, but far fewer consider the international organization an ally of the United States.

— Seventy-three percent (73%) of Americans think the federal government should require labeling for foods with genetically modified ingredients, although many admit they don’t know much about those ingredients.

— Forty-one percent (41%) think Earth Day, begun in 1970 and celebrated last Monday, has helped raise the environmental awareness of most Americans. Nearly as many (39%) disagree.


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