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September 28 2013

September 30, 2013

28September2013

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NSA spying fiasco sending customers overseas

NSA spy program cold lead to loss of business for some hosting vendors, experts say

Brandon Butler

September 23, 2013 (Network World)

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9242574/NSA_spying_fiasco_sending_customers_overseas?source=CTWNLE_nlt_security_2013-09-23

 

The spectacle of National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden exposing the covert spying nature of US federal officials has sent ripple waves through the technology industry — especially in the outsourcing arena.

Experts predict the NSA fiasco could result in the loss of business for some hosting vendors, but it’s hard to say exactly what the impact has been or will be.

The head of a European cloud computing provider said recently though that he’s seen a “measurable impact” from companies looking to use its services to escape what they fear could be the prying eyes of the US NSA.

“It has not been a profound surge, but there is definitely a measureable impact,” says Robert Jenkins, co-founder and CTO of Cloud Sigma, which is headquartered in Switzerland and has data centers across Europe and the United States. “We’ve definitely seen cases where people are turning to us because of this.”

Forrester analyst and cloud tracker James Staten predicted this could happen in a blog A post in the summer. Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) estimated in a report that the US cloud computing market could stand to lose up to $35 billion by 2016 because of vendors bypassing US providers and looking to overseas competitors. Staten says that’s the low end of an estimate though.

It’s “naA-ve” to believe that other countries don’t have similar surveillance programs ongoing, which could depress not just the US cloud market, but the international outsourcing market as well. If those concerns do turn into real impacts, he estimates the worldwide outsourcing market could stand to lose up to $180 billion. That’s the high-end of his prediction and he doesn’t necessarily believe it will happen, but it could, he says. A

Some users are already getting out of US providers though. Take Alexander Ljungberg, co-founder, WireLoad, which is an online service that specializes in e-mail migrations the company can take massive stocks of email systems and translate them from one platform to another. Ljungberg and his partner did not want to use a U.S. cloud provider for the massive computing power that are needed for these jobs because of concerns over peering officials potentially being able to intercept his customer’s e-mail communications. WireLoad uses CloudSigma’s Swiss data center for all its migrations.

“Privacy laws in Switzerland are internationally known to be very good, so we’re just more comfortable knowing that it’s less likely there will be some kind of prying by the government,” he says, adding that it’s a selling point for customers. WiredLoad was using CloudSigma’s services even before the NSA stories broke this summer, but he says privacy and security concerns were a major factor in deciding to use a European provider. If the company had been in a U.S. provider this summer, Ljungberg says he would have switched over.

 

Staten, the analyst who advises cloud users, says it’s a judgment call as to whether users should be concerned about this issue. If they are, then switching to an international outsourcing provider is one solution, but one that should be considered carefully.

There may be some value in using an international provider for outsourcing needs, but sometimes international providers open their books at the demands of other governments, he says. “You can’t conclude (that international) hosting providers would be immune to the same pressures,” that U.S. providers are subject to, he says. Plus, there could be significant costs for migrating workloads to an international outsourcer, including latency concerns that could arise.

The better approach if there is a worry, he says, is to work with the security team on ways to secure the data adequately. “Only if they conclude they cannot sufficiently protect this data should they then look to move that data elsewhere,” he says.

Jenkins, with Cloud Sigma says he’s seen “a handful” of customers drop a US provider in favor of their offering since the NSA allegations were revealed. It’s a strategic decision to look into an international provider instead of one hosted in the U.S., he says.The tone by Jenkins is somewhat of an opportunistic one the company and other European providers are happy to provide what customers consider to be a safer haven compared to U.S. providers.

But U.S. technology executives say they’re pushing back on the government too.

In a recent interview Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said the company begrudgingly complies with U.S. orders to hand over information, but the company pushes back to ensure there is the proper court oversight on requests for data. Not complying with such court-ordered requests could result in incarceration, she said.

Noted security expert Bruce Schneier said soon after the NSA leaks came out that he believes the issue could be a thorn in the side of outsourcing providers. “Cloud computing is precedent on the notion of trust us with your data,'” he says. “If you don’t trust the vendor, you can’t do it.” These NSA allegations are making it more difficult to “trust your vendor,” he says. (Read what Schneier has to say about encryption related to NSA spying.)

The bigger impact, he believes, will likely be on non-US entities not wanting to put information in U.S. cloud providers. If you’re a company really concerned about any government peering into your computer systems, perhaps not using an outsourcing provider at all is the best way to go though, he notes.

 

DHS’s Huge Cybersecurity Skills Shortage

By Eric Chabrow, September 20, 2013.

http://www.govinfosecurity.com/dhss-huge-cybersecurity-skills-shortage-a-6080/op-1

 

More than one in five mission-critical cybersecurity-related jobs at a key Department of Homeland Security unit are vacant, the Government Accountability Office says.

That’s a finding buried in a GAO report on how DHS could improve how it tracks recruiting costs.

DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate’s Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, which houses much of the department’s cybersecurity personnel, had a vacancy rate of 22 percent as of June, according to a new GAO report, DHS Recruiting and Hiring.

Why so many vacancies? DHS officials tell the GAO that they face some challenges because of the length of time to conduct security checks needed to grant clearances, low pay compared with private-sector positions and lack of clearly-defined skill sets for these positions. Each job in the federal government falls into an occupational series classification. Cybersecurity personnel are spread throughout a number of occupational series, with most categorized within the information technology series.

“There is not a specific occupational series that houses all cybersecurity personnel, and NPPD could not provide us with hire and loss data for cybersecurity personnel alone,” says David Maurer, GAO homeland security and justice issues director.

The directorate has yet to develop initiatives to recruit and retain cybersecurity experts, but plans to do so if funding is available in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. But Congress hasn’t approved appropriations for government operations for fiscal 2014.

 

Emphasize the Mission

Karen Evans, national director of the U.S. Cyber Challenge, a group focused on growing the United States cybersecurity workforce, discounts the directorate’s contention that pay discrepancy between government and the private sector plays a significant role in its ability to recruit and retain qualified IT security personnel.

“People who want to work in public service are attracted to the mission, not to the pay,” says Evans, who served as the federal government’s de facto chief information officer during the George W. Bush administration. “Different motivators bring people into public service.”

Considering the national shortage of qualified cybersecurity specialists, Evans says DHS must explain why it’s an attractive workplace for prospective recruits.

“DHS is a cool place to work,” Evans says. “People know about the agency. They need to be able to clearly articulate [to recruits] what they’re going to do there.”

Indeed, describing what a cybersecurity worker does is a major challenge, one faced by all federal agencies.

The idea that DHS and other federal government agencies have difficulty filling and retaining cybersecurity workers because of a lack of occupation classification isn’t new. Through the National Initiative on Cybersecurity Education, known as NICE, the federal government has been working since the last decade to develop an occupation series for various cybersecurity jobs (see 7 Key Infosec Occupation Categories). But defining each occupation has been a challenge, and there’s no deadline for finalizing an IT security occupation classification.

Directorate officials told the GAO that departmentwide efforts are under way to better define the required skill set for DHS cybersecurity personnel, including pursuit of a specific cybersecurity personnel job series, which should help in recruiting and hiring.

 

Providing a Career Path

Diane Burley, associate professor at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University, says DHS must do more than just define the technical skills. “Part of the challenge is being able to define the jobs in a way that is attractive to the individuals [with specific] skills and explain to them … some vision on how that jobs would evolve over time.”

A problem with nearly all government agencies, with the National Security Agency and FBI being among the exceptions, is that there’s no clearly defined career path for skilled technical experts who don’t want to become managers, Burley says. The NSA provides a track where technically skilled cybersecurity practitioners can “move up the ladder” and maintain their technical skills, she says.

“If you entered into a technical position within the federal government, after a period of time, you would be forced into a managerial role,” Burley says. “That would certainly be a source of frustration for individuals who have been working in technical areas and want to continue to work in the technical areas as they advance in their careers.”

 

New Biometric Exit System Bill Introduced With Bipartisan Support

By: Anthony Kimery

09/20/2013 ( 9:55am)

http://www.hstoday.us/industry-news/general/single-article/new-biometric-exit-system-bill-introduced-with-bipartisan-support/a2434698e2ae8d6d017c437bd913638e.html

 

The Biometric Exit Improvement Act of 2013 (HR 3141) introduced Friday by Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), vice chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security and chairman of the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security is touted as “finally fulfilling a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, the creation and implementation of a biometric exit system.”

The legislators said in a joint announcement that “strengthening border security requires the Congress to not only address the challenges at our northern and southern borders, but also reduce the ability of foreign visitors to come to the country on a legal visa and never depart. Estimates indicate that as many as 40 percent of all illegal aliens in the United States are visa overstays.”

In July, an audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) couldn’t account for more than 1 million visitors to the United States who’d overstayed their visas as of June.

“DHS’s unmatched arrival records totaled more than 1 million,” Congress’ investigative branch reported.

“For years, I have advocated for a robust system which ensures that foreigners who enter this country on a visa actually leave our country,” Miller said at the time. She said GAO’s audit revealed that DHS “cannot find more than 1 million potential overstays which should serve as a strong reminder that to completely secure the nation, we need to look beyond the traditional borders. As many as 40 percent of all illegal aliens who come into the country do not cross the border in Arizona or Texas, they come in through the front door and overstay their visa. Solving the challenge of tracking down and removing those who overstay their visa is critical to our national security.”

Millions of visitors legally come to the US every year on a temporary basis either with or without a visa. Overstays are individuals who are admitted legally on a temporary basis, but who overstay their authorized periods of admission. DHS has primary responsibility for identifying and taking enforcement action against those who overstay.

“Twelve years ago this month, 19 terrorists successfully penetrated our border and visa security defenses, hijacked four planes and conducted a heinous attack that took the lives of nearly 3,000 innocent Americans,” Miller said Friday in announcing HR 3141. “It became abundantly clear that our visa security system was failing us. While a biometric entry system was established after 9/11 to capture biometric information on foreign visitors, no such biometric exit system has been developed to definitively identify if, or when, a foreign visitor exits the country.”

Miller said “The Biometric Exit Improvement Act of 2013 would allow the Department of Homeland Security to understand in real-time when a foreign national has left the country, and allow the Department to focus its limited resources on visa overstays, and potential national security risks, who remain in the United States.”

She said “This legislation puts the country on the path to finally fulfilling a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, and in the process, strengthening border security.”

Joining Miller and Sanchez in introducing the Biometric Exit Improvement Act of 2013 are Representatives Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Bennie Thompson (D-MS), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, and Peter T. King (R-NY), chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

 

AFTimes

A more fuel-efficient Air Force

Sep. 22, 2013 – 06:00AM |

By Markie Harwood

http://www.airforcetimes.com/article/20130922/NEWS04/309220006/

 

Eighty-four percent of the Air Force’s annual $9 billion energy budget pays for jet fuel, and of that 60 percent is for 900 mobility flights per day moving cargo and people.

Even though the service has no control over fuel costs or the missions it is called to serve, it aims to “get better [energy efficiency] at every flight,” says Kevin Geiss, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for energy.

Geiss outlined some of the service’s energy-saving efforts in a Sept. 17 interview.

Here’s what you need to know:

 

Energy analysis task force

It’s the job of 19 reservists, who are private-sector pilots, civil engineers and other experts, to field-test industry best practices for adoption by the Air Force.

One example: EATF testing showed a more fuel-efficient descent used by commercial pilots — a “flight idle descent” — can save 500 pounds of fuel, or almost $280 at today’s prices, every time a C-17 lands. Savings are far higher for a C-5. While the approach cannot be used in all landings, particularly tactical landings, it has been conducted into the Manas Transit Center, Kyrgyzstan, throughout 2013 and is due to be approved for Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, this year. The approach also has been approved for Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., and Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and is in the works for Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

“Previously, pilots at Manas were encouraged to delay their descents due to mountainous terrain; now they have a another reason to essentially glide to landing,” according to Geiss’ office.

 

More efficient KC-135 landings

When the aircraft got new engines in the 1980s, landing weight restrictions were unchanged. The planes continued to circle to burn off fuel to land carrying no more than 200,000 pounds. Recent EATF analysis showed the planes, with their better-performing engines, were capable of landing with up to 235,000 pounds. In August, instructions were changed to raise the landing weight restrictions, and that means millions of gallons of previously dumped fuel can be saved, Geiss said. The task force determined the change will save $1.2 million per year.

 

More research

Air Mobility Command has ongoing studies to improve fuel efficiency. For example, the command is looking at how to optimize the center of gravity on aircraft. Optimization is important, Geiss said, because, as sensors and other new components are added to planes over time, the center of gravity changes, potentially increasing drag and reducing flying efficiency.

 

Alternative fuels

The Air Force set a goal in 2007 and reaffirmed it in 2010 to be prepared to fly on 50-50 blends of traditional and alternative fuels by 2016. With certification of the fleet on both synthetic and biofuel blends, the Air Force considers this goal complete.

 

Making progress

Since 2006, the Air Force has reduced its total aviation fuel consumption by 12.4 percent — exceeding its previous goal to reduce consumption across the entire fleet by 10 percent by 2015 based on a 2006 baseline. Since 2006, mobility air forces have cut the cost to move one ton of cargo one mile by 24 percent, from $1.56 to $1.18. The current goal is to improve aviation energy efficiency — mobility, combat and training — by 10 percent by 2020, based on a 2011 baseline.

 

California Gives Expanded Rights to Noncitizens

NYTimes

September 20, 2013

By JENNIFER MEDINA

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/21/us/california-leads-in-expanding-noncitizens-rights.html?pagewanted=all

 

LOS ANGELES — California is challenging the historic status of American citizenship with measures to permit noncitizens to sit on juries and monitor polls for elections in which they cannot vote and to open the practice of law even to those here illegally. It is the leading edge of a national trend that includes granting drivers’ licenses and in-state tuition to illegal immigrants in some states and that suggests legal residency could evolve into an appealing option should immigration legislation fail to produce a path to citizenship.

With 3.5 million noncitizens who are legal permanent residents in California, some view the changes as an acknowledgment of who is living here and the need to require some public service of them. But the new laws raise profound questions about which rights and responsibilities rightly belong to citizens over residents.

“What is more basic to our society than being able to judge your fellow citizens?” asked Jessica A. Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, referring to jury service. “We’re absolutely going to the bedrock of things here and stretching what we used to think of as limits.”

One new state law allows legal permanent residents to monitor polls during elections, help translate instructions and offer other assistance to voting citizens. And immigrants who were brought into the country illegally by their parents will be able to practice law here, something no other states allow.

 

In many ways, the new measures underscore the lock Democrats have over the State Capitol, where they hold an overwhelming majority in both houses. Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed the poll worker legislation this month and has indicated his approval of the other bills. Many of the changes, including granting drivers’ licenses to unauthorized immigrants, passed with overwhelming support and the backing of several Republicans.

State legislatures across the country approved a host of new immigrant-friendly measures this year, a striking change from just three years ago, when many states appeared poised to follow Arizona’s lead to enact strict laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration. More than a dozen states now grant illegal immigrants in-state college tuition, and nine states and the District of Columbia also allow them to obtain drivers’ licenses.

With an estimated 2.5 million illegal immigrants living in California — more than in any other state in the country — some say the state has no choice but to find additional ways to integrate immigrants.

“It’s a recognition that how people are living and working in their community might trump their formal legal status,” said Hiroshi Motomura, an immigration law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “There is an argument that in parts of California a jury without a legal permanent resident is not really a jury of peers. Some view citizenship as the final consecration of complete integration, but this says, ‘Let’s take who we have and get them to participate in our civil institutions.’ ”

Early this month, the State Supreme Court suggested during a hearing that lawmakers could create a law to address the case of Sergio Garcia, who was brought to the United States illegally as a child. Mr. Garcia had met every other requirement to become a licensed lawyer. Within days, legislation was approved to allow immigrants who were brought here illegally as minors to obtain law licenses, with just three opposing votes.

But the bill to allow noncitizens to sit on juries has proved more controversial. Several newspaper editorials have urged Mr. Brown to veto it.

Rocky Chávez, a Republican assemblyman from northern San Diego County, said that allowing noncitizens to serve on a jury would make it harder to uphold American standards of law.

“What we call domestic violence is appropriate in other countries, so the question becomes, ‘How do we enforce our own social norms?’ ” Mr. Chávez said. He added that granting more privileges would weaken immigrants’ desires to become citizens. “Once we erase all these distinctions, what’s next? What is going to convince someone it is essential to get citizenship?”

Departing from their role regarding other bills affecting immigrants, advocacy groups largely stayed out of the debate over the jury duty bill, which was sponsored by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, a Bay Area Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

“Being a juror really has nothing to do with being a citizen,” Mr. Wieckowski said. “You don’t release your prejudices or histories just because you take an oath of citizenship, and you don’t lose the ability to listen to testimony impartially just because you haven’t taken that oath either.”

He said that roughly 15 percent of people who received a jury duty summons never showed up and that the legislation would make it easier to impanel juries. Mr. Wieckowski said that he expected the governor to sign the bill and that the changes would quickly become accepted.

“It’s the same thing that happened with gay marriage: people got past their initial prejudices and realized it was just discrimination,” he said.

Supporters say that expanding the pool of those eligible to serve on juries and work the polls would serve citizens as well as immigrants. Several counties in California are required to print ballots and voting instructions in languages other than English. In Los Angeles County, ballots are available in Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Armenian, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

 

But advocates say that the printed instructions are often insufficient and that many people are turned away from the polls because they simply cannot communicate. Expanding the pool of potential poll workers to include legal permanent residents will allow more citizens to vote, they say.

Critics say that the Legislature is going too far and that the legislation will probably face legal challenges.

“It seems they stay up late dreaming up ways they can reward illegal immigration and create either new benefits or new protections for illegal immigrants,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which backs stricter federal laws. “The overriding objective of the California Legislature is to further blur the distinction between citizen and immigrant, legal and not.”

State legislators and advocates had for years sought a law to allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses. Earlier legislation to create licenses for them had been vetoed by the previous governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Governor Brown signaled during his 2010 election that he would do the same.

But this year, a Republican co-sponsor signed on to the bill, and Mr. Brown quietly assured supporters that he would sign it as long as it included a marking to distinguish such a license from the existing driver’s license.

Assemblyman Luis A. Alejo, a Democrat and a sponsor of the bill, traced his involvement back to protests against the 1994 state ballot initiative that would have strictly limited access to public services for immigrants here illegally.

“Twenty years ago, that drove activists like me to get serious about school, and now we’re able to lead these pro-immigrant rights legislation, which is the total opposite of what was happening then,” Mr. Alejo said. “What was really controversial then is the reality now.”

 

DARPA seeks reusable UAV for satellite launches

by Press • 23 September 2013

http://www.suasnews.com/2013/09/25182/darpa-seeks-reusable-uav-for-satellite-launches/?utm_source=sUAS+News+Daily&utm_campaign=53183b2252-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b3c0776dde-53183b2252-303662705

 

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is seeking development of a reusable hypersonic unmanned vehicle for the launch of satellites.

The vehicle — with operation and reliability similar to traditional aircraft – would lower the cost of launching military satellites, which often costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We want to build off of proven technologies to create a reliable, cost-effective space delivery system with one-day turnaround,” said Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager heading the development project, which is called XS-1. “How it’s configured, how it gets up and how it gets back are pretty much all on the table — we’re looking for the most creative yet practical solutions possible.”

The XS-1, or Experimental Spaceplane program, aims for an unmanned vehicle that would allow for daily operations and flights to launch small satellites, without need for specialized infrastructure and with the use of a small number of ground crew, DARPA said.

A reusable first stage would fly to hypersonic speeds at a sub-orbital altitude. One or more expendable upper stages would then separate and deploy a satellite into low Earth orbit.

DARPA has issued a special notice on the program, asking for ideas and proposals for the XS-1 program.

“XS-1 aims to help break the cycle of launches happening farther and farther apart and costing more and more,” Sponable said. “It would also help further our progress toward practical hypersonic aircraft technologies and increase opportunities to test new satellite technologies as well.”

 

FAA Moves Toward Mandatory Replacement of Certain Honeywell Displays

Regulators Have Warned That Wi-Fi Could Interfere With Older Systems on Some Jets

WSJ.com

Sept 24, 2013

By ANDY PASZTOR and JACK NICAS

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303983904579093874063260030.html

 

The Federal Aviation Administration moved toward mandatory replacement of certain older Honeywell International Inc. HON -1.58% pilot displays installed on more than 150 Boeing Co. BA +0.75% 737s and 777s flown by U.S. carriers, raising new concerns about susceptibility to interference from Wi-Fi signals.

U.S. regulators have warned that in extreme cases, Wi-Fi systems aboard commercial jets could cause essential pilot displays to blink or temporarily blank out, a previously discovered vulnerability affecting several hundred airliners world-wide.

The FAA’s move Monday comes amid a proliferation of Web connectivity for airline passengers and pilots alike, and also coincides with FAA deliberations to ease current cabin restrictions on using personal electronic devices below 10,000 feet. Industry officials said the latest action wasn’t prompted by those broader policy discussions, though it may end up having some impact on the agency’s final decision.

Both Honeywell and Boeing previously acknowledged the potential interference problem, which hasn’t shown up during any flights. Last fall, the companies voluntarily switched to modified displays with enhanced shielding and upgraded software for new aircraft, and also urged carriers to voluntarily fix or swap out suspect parts on existing fleets. Foreign regulators are likely to follow the FAA and issue similar directives affecting hundreds of additional jetliners.

But only a portion of the targeted planes have been fixed so far, according to industry officials. Now, the FAA for the first time is explicitly citing the extent of the hazards and proposing to order U.S. airlines to replace or modify the older Honeywell units. The directive will become final after public comment.

According to a draft safety mandate that became public Monday, the displays “exhibited flickering and blanking” when exposed to simulated onboard Wi-Fi signals less powerful than those they are required to tolerate. The FAA indicated at least one screen stayed blank for as long as six minutes.

If pilots during approach and takeoff can’t get accurate information about airspeed, altitude and heading from primary flight displays, according to the FAA, the result could be crashes “from loss of airplane control at an altitude insufficient for recovery.”

On Monday, a spokesman said the FAA asked a government-industry committee to examine the safety issues related to passenger use of electronic devices because the agency “recognizes consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics aboard aircraft.” He reiterated that the advisory group’s report is expected to be finished by the end of the month, and then the FAA will “determine next steps.”

Honeywell didn’t have any immediate comment. In the past, Honeywell called the testing issue “an isolated incident” involving test frequencies that went “way beyond” typical Wi-Fi signals. The FAA previously said it was reviewing the internal circuitry of the 737 displays “to determine if a safety issue exists.”

The FAA document proposes a five-year compliance deadline, indicating agency officials don’t see the issue as an imminent hazard demanding swift correction. Nonetheless, barely a few months ago industry officials didn’t expect any regulatory action.

A Boeing spokesman said the company has been “able to replicate the blanking in our labs” but “we know of no documented occurrences of blanking in flight.” He also said the units “are equipped with a timer that will shut them down for six minutes in order for them to reset.”

Gogo Inc., the in-flight Wi-Fi supplier that participated in the 2011 tests that revealed the problem, said the FAA still approved its service for those planes but banned the connectivity from the cockpit, even requiring a placard warning pilots about the potential dangers of using Wi-Fi devices there. Gogo said it would retest the affected aircraft once the new equipment is installed.

 

Neither Boeing nor Honeywell provided the number of planes still requiring work. Before the FAA signed off on details of the fixes last year, industry officials estimated the overall number at roughly 600.

American Airlines parent AMR Corp. said a portion of its fleet initially had the suspect displays and some aircraft have been modified, but it couldn’t immediately provide a count.

Delta Air Lines Inc. said it restricted the use of Wi-Fi in the cockpits of affected aircraft. The company wouldn’t say how many aircraft had the displays or whether it had replaced any of the units.

Electrical experts tend to support expanded Wi-Fi in the cockpit, partly because they see the latest portable electronic devices emitting dramatically less-powerful signals than earlier versions. Meanwhile, carriers in recent years have provided Wi-Fi-enabled tablet computers to thousands of pilots, seeking to simplify and enhance information sharing. The goal is to get cockpit crews accustomed to using digital files intended to replace manuals and paper files traditionally carried in heavy flight bags.

Long before the problematic displays emerged, Honeywell and other cockpit-equipment suppliers devoted considerable resources and time to ensure critical onboard systems weren’t susceptible to any kind of electromagnetic interference, from the ground or the plane. The FAA requires tests of all new planes and flight-control systems to verify the adequacy of such safeguards.

That is partly why the Boeing test results—encompassing some of the latest-generation 737 models and an established Wi-Fi service provider—surprised many industry and government officials.

Despite the display challenges, Honeywell’s leadership appears to anticipate looser rules for passenger Wi-Fi. In a July interview, Carl Esposito, a senior Honeywell aerospace executive, said the industry’s design efforts and stepped-up testing procedures focus “around continuing to improve the passenger experience safely.”

The FAA-sponsored advisory committee this month is expected to recommend easing current restrictions on passenger use of electronic devices, or PED’s, during takeoff and landing phases of flights, according to people familiar with the details. As part of that report, these people said, the group is likely to urge increased public education efforts focused on explaining growing pilot reliance on electronic devices.

A draft version of that report from the summer noted that “a mixed safety message potentially exists if an airline crew member is using a PED during a time when the airline has said a passenger device is not safe to operate.”

To alleviate confusion, the draft document urged the FAA and airlines to collaborate on efforts to “better anticipate and manage public perceptions and behavior.”

 

Pentagon Bracing for US Government Shutdown

Defense News

Sep. 23, 2013 – 03:45AM |

By ANDREW TILGHMAN and MARCUS WEISGERBER |

 

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is bracing for a government-wide shutdown that would potentially force troops to work without a paycheck and send thousands of civilians home until Congress reaches a new budget agreement.

US Defense Department spokesman George Little said Monday that the Office of Management Budget has ordered the military to prepare for a shutdown, which includes reviewing which civilians might be considered essential and instructed to come to work despite the shutdown. It’s unclear whether those civilians would be paid for that work.

Troops will stay on the job regardless of a potential shutdown. Their paychecks might be delayed, but they would be entitled to retroactive pay after government functions resume.

The federal government will shutdown automatically on Oct. 1, which is the first day of fiscal year 2014, unless lawmakers agree to a budget or a continuing resolution that would allow the military to carry on under the same spending levels as fiscal year 2013.

Little said overseas operations, including the war effort in Afghanistan, would not be directly affected by the shutdown.

The last government shutdown was in January 1996 and ended after three weeks.

While the Pentagon has yet to issue shutdown guidance, prior drills the Pentagon conducted in anticipated a government shutdown show areas DoD is likely to exempt should government operations cease on Oct. 1.

In anticipation of a March 2011 government shutdown — DoD drafted guidance that detailed divisions and offices that would have been required to report to work. The Office of Management and Budget last week instructed federal departments to update 2011 guidance .

Exempted offices and operations included officials on deployment orders, including “administrative, logistical, medical and other activities in direct support of such operations,” the guidance stated. Activities and forces assigned to combatant commands to execute “planned on contingent operations necessary for national security” were also exempt as were command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities.

Acquisition and logistics officials supporting these exempted activities were required to work. As were activities activities “required to contract for and distribute items authorized by the Feed and Forage Act,” which allows DoD to obtain clothing, subsistence, forage, fuel, quarters, transportation, medical and hospital supplies with an appropriations bill.

All military personnel were required to “continue in a normal duty status regardless of their affiliation with exempt or non-exempt activities,” the guidance stated. Civilian workers with non-exempt activities would have been furloughed.

 

USAF Eyes T-X, New JStars Projects

By Amy Butler

Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

http://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/article-xml/AW_09_23_2013_p31-618576.xml#

September 23, 2013

Is there hope for a program’s future if it is not in the sacred Top Three priorities of the U.S. Air Force—the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the KC-46 aerial refueler and the long-range bomber?

For months, the USAF’s message has been tightly controlled. Keep those three programs moving forward; anything else is subject to cuts or, if it is a new start, indefinite deferral. But Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, revealed a peek into his priorities beyond the dramatic sequestration cuts that have derailed military spending plans in recent months.

Aside from his Top Three, Welsh says he would like to start projects to replace the aging E-8C ground-surveillance and T-38 fast-jet trainer fleets. Industry is already prepared for both—with primes and subs pairing off to pursue these projects. But first, Congress must provide a funding profile that will support them, Welsh notes.

Thus, the Air Force is developing two potential budgets—”high” and “low” proposals. The latter takes into account a worst-case scenario of sequestration impacts stretching through fiscal 2015. The former allows for at least some new-start work, though not as much as the service had hoped.

The E-8C Joint Stars fleet is housed on aging Boeing 707 airframes, all of which were purchased as used platforms before being modified with mission systems in the 1990s and 2000s. So, their service life is hampered and maintenance cost is high. That, coupled with a desire from combatant commanders for more and better ground surveillance—tracking ground vehicles to individuals on foot—is behind the need. An analysis of alternatives conducted by the service has pointed to a solid business case for housing the next system on a business jet to access both its speed and low operating cost. And significant advances have been made in active, electronically scanned array radars to allow for multimode detection and tracking of many targets simultaneously.

The E-8Cs are housed on the oldest of the USAF’s 707s, but it is likely that the service could embark on a larger recapitalization project to eventually put the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System air surveillance and RC-135 Rivet Joint signals intelligence missions on the same business jet platform.

Industry teams are ready for the T-X program to buy 350 T-38 replacements; the Air Force has slipped the competition, delaying fielding until at least 2023. BAE Systems/Northrop Grumman with the Hawk T2, General Dynamics/Alenia Aermacchi with the M346, and Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries with the T-50 are all competing. Boeing, said to be in talks with Saab for a partnership, is eyeing a brand-new design. Gen. Edward Rice, head of the Air Education and Training Center, says he cannot recommend a quick start to T-X in this budget environment because the T-38 is still safe to fly.

Up for cuts are several mainstay Air Force programs. The service is pursuing as many “vertical” cuts, or wholesale fleet terminations, as possible, because the savings are more profound than simply slicing a portion of a fleet. With a vertical cut, the service divorces itself from the cost not only of the aircraft, but also of an entire training and supply chain.

Potential vertical cuts include the A-10 fleet and MC-12W Project Liberties. Both conduct niche missions. “If funding weren’t an issue I would love to have that capability, [but] there are other things I need more desperately than the MC-12,” says Gen. Mike Hostage, who heads Air Combat Command. The L-3 Communications MC-12Ws were just fielded in 2009 to satisfy an urgent need for more intelligence collectors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A-10s, by contrast, have been lauded for decades by the Army for their precise close air support (CAS). The Air Force has tried before to kill the A-10 fleet during budget crunches, but Army officials often convince Congress to keep them. Hostage says that with targeting pods and precision-guided munitions, CAS can be had through a variety of platforms. “While they were not happy, [Army leaders] understand we are in a fiscal crisis,” he says. “I am not backing away from the mission. I am just adjusting the way I’m doing it.”

Several other fleets are facing partial cuts. These include the Lockheed Martin C-130 and General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft. “We are trying to convince [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] that the 65 [combat air patrol] challenge . . . is not the force structure the nation needs or can afford,” Hostage says. “Predators and Reapers are useless in a contested . . . environment [and] I need anti-access capability.” Hostage did not reveal what the right number of Reapers would be.

Likewise, the service may shed old, excess C-130s, even while proposing another multi-year deal of the new “J-model” of the tactical transports. Presently, the Air Force has approximately 340 C-130s, but USAF Gen. Paul Selva, head of Air Mobility Command, says the requirement is closer to 300.

Selva is also proposing an early retirement to the KC-10 refueler fleet. It could retire early as the Boeing KC-46 comes onboard. The KC-10 provides more refueling capacity than the KC-135 and was once uniquely capable of providing fuel to Navy and Marine Corps jets that use the probe and drogue receiver interface. Now, however, the service has outfitted the majority of its KC-135s into the R configuration, which allows for the workhorse tanker to conduct such missions.

The topline requirement for tankers is 479 aircraft, so it is possible the USAF could reduce the KC-10 fleet as early as the first 18 KC-46s are introduced into service in 2017.

Also up for a reduction is the C-5A fleet. C-5As have notoriously low reliability; by contrast, the C-5M—which includes new engines through a Lockheed Martin program—has proved to be highly reliable. Congressional members have held retirement plans for the fleet at bay in hopes of protecting missions at their home-state Air Force bases.

Selva says the C-5M, a modernization that includes new engines for the strategic airlifter, is highly reliable and, as such, is not being eyed for a cut. Likewise, the C-17 fleet appears safe.

Budget drills are likely to examine other possible cuts until the final proposal is delivered to Congress early next year.

 

Java exploits seen as huge menace so far this year

Oracle’s Java development platform is increasingly targeted for attacks by hackers

Ellen Messmer

September 23, 2013 (Network World)

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9242593/Java_exploits_seen_as_huge_menace_so_far_this_year?source=CTWNLE_nlt_security_2013-09-24

 

Java was the most targeted development platform for exploit attacks during the first half of the year, and attacks have increasingly shifted to zero-day vulnerabilities, according to F-Secure’s new threat report.

“Of the top five most targeted vulnerabilities, four are found in the Java development, either the Runtime Environment (JRE) or the browser plug-in,” according to the report, based on information about attacks detected through F-Secure’s sensors and telemetry systems. The company notes that it’s not surprising Java is an appealing target since “next to the Windows operating system (also a popular target for exploits), Java is probably the second most ubiquitous program in an organization’s IT setup.”

Analysis of attacks shows the top five exploited vulnerabilities accounting for 95% of all attacks, with the U.S. the geographic location most targeted. F-Secure estimates 78 out of every 1,000 users in the U.S. saw a detection identifying an exploit of a specific vulnerability in the last six months. Germany also saw a fairly high number of attacks with about 60 out of 1,000 users hit within the same timeframe.

“Unfortunately, removing either the runtime or plug-in may not be a feasible option for companies that use Java in business-critical instances,” the F-Secure report points out. Defense and mitigation strategies might involve something more complicated than uninstalling a program, such as “some combination of tweaking Java’s security settings, configuring web browser settings to minimize unwanted applet execution (or installing other third-party plug-ins to do so) and monitoring network traffic.”

F-Secure says 70% of the exploit-related attacks are carried out by means of five kits: BlackHole, SweetOrange, Crimeboss, Styx and Cool. All of these remain under active development

Another security threat to be reckoned with in the first half of 2013: Mac malware. F-Secure reports it saw the “first Mac malware signed with a valid Apple Developer ID,” an ominous event because this allowed the malware to bypass Apple’s first line of defense. After independent researcher Jacob Appelbaum identified the malware, Apple was swift in revoking the misused developer ID attributed to “Rajinder Kumar” (hence this malware has been dubbed “Kumar in the Mac”).

While this is noteworthy, malware targeting Android continued to dominate mobile threats in the first half of the year, according to the report. Of interest is the discovery of Android malware dubbed Stels, which is designed for distribution via spam e-mails and a bot that uses Twitter to update its command-and-control server addresses.

The rise of Bitcoin as a crypto-based computer-based digital currency is also luring the online criminal underworld as a money-making option, F-secure says.

Bitcoin is not linked to any existing currency, but it does have value based on what people think it’s worth for use in instant transactions, notes Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure Labs. “Today, there are massively large networks of computers mining Bitcoins and other competing crypto currencies (such as Litecoin),” Hypponen says in the report. Because at least six members of the peer-to-peer network have to confirm Bitcoin transactions before they go through, the Bitcoin system rewards users participating in this needed mining with Bitcoins.

“The basic idea behind mining is easy enough: if you have powerful computers, you can make money,” Hypponen says, but adds, “unfortunately, those computers don’t have to be your computers.”

In analyzing malware, F-Secure has found that infected computers taken over by cybercrimals can also be commandeered to make Bitcoins, and that’s what has happened in some instances.

There has been a rise in the first half of the year in several types of malware targeting Bitcoin, and a botnet based on the ZeroAccess family of malware includes a powerful rootkit to hide its presence. F-Secure has spotted a large ZeroAccess botnet operator running a Bitcoin mining operation with various plug-ins on infected PCs. “We estimate them to be make over $50,000 a day by mining Bitcoins on infected computers,” Hypponen says. “If such operations are already happening today, it’s easy to see that mining botnets will become very popular for online criminals in the future.”

 

 

eWave: Future of drone use appears to be wide-open

SUASNews

by Press • 23 September 2013

BY PAUL EDWARD PARKER

Journal Staff Writer

Imagine a Sunday afternoon some fall in the not-too-distant future:

The New England Patriots score a touchdown and kick an extra point before the TV fades to a commercial. A fresh, hot pizza fills the screen. Your stomach rumbles. You’ve just got to have a slice.

Without moving from the couch, you grab your smartphone, tap the icon for the pizza delivery company’s app and place your order: large pepperoni with extra cheese.

Less than 30 minutes later, you get a text and pry yourself away from the TV to open the front door.

As soon as you open the door, a pizza delivery drone alights on your front steps, a familiar cardboard pizza box strapped to the top.

Is that scenario too far-fetched?

“I don’t think anyone has an answer,” said Ben Gielow, a spokesman for a drone trade association. “That’s how wide open this industry is.”

Gielow, general counsel for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said the commercial drone business is open to “anyone with a good idea.”

Much of the buzz about drones lately has focused on military aircraft shooting missiles at suspected terrorists and police aircraft snooping in our backyards. But representatives of the unmanned aerial systems industry — which eschews the term “drone” — imagine a future where the robotic aircraft perform a variety of tasks faster, safer and cheaper — no mileage reimbursement and tips for pizza drivers, as an example.

“A lot of it is just kind of boring uses,” said Gielow.

Among examples he cited:


Farmers can monitor their fields and target watering, fertilizer and pesticide only to those parts that need it, increasing crop yields while cutting environmental impacts.

Utility companies can inspect miles of pipelines and electrical transmission lines.

Energy companies can examine the undersides of deep-sea oil rigs, which now requires lowering a person from the platform, which is both dangerous and offers only limited views of systems that need to be checked.

Businesses can check buildings to see whether maintenance is needed, from towering factory smokestacks to the rain gutters at your home.

But, before any of this can happen, a major hurdle must be cleared: the Federal Aviation Administration has banned the commercial use of drones while it develops regulations for the industry.

“You can’t use an unmanned aircraft for commercial operations,” said Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA. “It’s probably not going to be until early next year.”

Congress has directed the agency to come up with rules for commercial drone flights.

“It probably won’t mean you can fly what you want, where you want, whenever you want,” Dorr said. “Our prime directive is to make sure any unmanned aircraft systems operation does not pose a safety hazard.”

Although drone technology is new, the agency’s mission of adopting new technology isn’t.

“The FAA has a history going back 50 years of integrating technology into the nation’s airspace,” Dorr said. That includes the introduction of jet aircraft, and then jumbo jets, as well as global positioning system navigation, as a few notable examples. “We have a record of success of integrating new technology into the nation’s airspace, and we expect to do the same with unmanned aircraft systems.”

Although the FAA has authorized certain drone flights since 1990, Dorr said interest started picking up in the middle of the last decade.

“Ten years ago, the market was not what it is now,” he said. “In our latest forecast, we said there could be as many as 7,500 small unmanned aircraft systems in operation over the next five years.”

With that kind of demand, a full system of regulation is needed to maintain safety, Dorr said.

As soon as the FAA promulgates regulations, Gielow expects the future to arrive at once. “That’s when the commercial industry will open up and really take off,” he said.

His association forecasts that about 80 percent of the industry will be focused on agricultural applications, with another 10 percent on public safety. All other applications will make up the remaining 10 percent of the market.

Some of that other 10 percent includes:

Environmental monitoring

“Aerial mapping will be a big one, as will wildlife mapping,” said Gielow.

Already, NASA is flying drones to monitor hurricanes. While commercial entities are grounded, government agencies can receive permission to fly drones. The space agency has two Global Hawk drones monitoring hurricanes. The drones are recycled military hardware.

And military drones have been pressed into service to help firefighters battle forest fires in the American West. One day, commercial drones could be used for such flights.

Filmmaking

Gielow predicts that drones will replace most uses of helicopters in moviemaking.

“It’s cheaper, it’s safer, and you can get shots now that you couldn’t get before,” he said. “They can fly in between buildings. They can fly around power lines. They can even fly into buildings — areas where you would never put a human for their own safety.”

Drones have already been used to film sequences in some major motion pictures, including the James Bond thriller “Skyfall,” science-fiction drama “Star Trek: Into Darkness” and a slew of superhero movies, from “Man of Steel” to “Iron Man 3,” among others.

Newsgathering

Especially during natural disasters, news organizations may find drones indispensable, Gielow said.

“Maybe you can’t access the roads or there’s downed power lines,” he said. “It will help you get out better information to the public more quickly and more cheaply.”

They also have been used in investigative journalism, to get to places not easily reached by foot.

One of the best-known cases, according to researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington in a report this spring about drone journalism, was of a drone that captured images of a red stream flowing into a Dallas river. The footage led to indictments of owners of a meat-packing plant for dumping pig blood into a creek.

Communications

Titan Aerospace, a New Mexico company, has developed a drone model it calls Solara that can act as a communications satellite.

“You could do away with having to build cellphone towers,” said Gielow.

According to the company, the solar-powered Solara can fly as high as 65,000 feet and remain aloft over its target area for up to five years. By being so high, it has no problems with barriers to conventional cell towers, such as mountains.

And all of that can be done more cheaply than launching satellites.

Air transport

One day, cargo planes and even passenger planes could crisscross the skies with no pilot on board.

“You could fly a 20-hour flight, and you wouldn’t need multiple crews there,” Gielow said.

Instead, pilots could report to a central location to fly an eight-hour shift before being replaced by another pilot who flies the plane from the same ground-based flight center. This is much the way the U.S. military flies drones on combat missions around the world, from a base in the American desert.

While a pilot is not on board, each plane is flown by one on the ground. “There’s always still a pilot in command of these flights.”

No way anybody will set foot on a plane without a pilot onboard, right?

Gielow said that we already have ceded control to computers on conveyances such as airport trams and elevators, which used to be operated by people.

“The public does, over time, become more comfortable with unmanned transportation,” he said. “The computer can do it better and more safely.”

So when will airlines begin flying planes without pilots onboard?

“I think everybody agrees it will be decades,” said Gielow.

But air cargo, such as UPS and FedEx, might have freighters flying around before then.

“That will be sooner, but it probably won’t be in the next five or 10 years,” he said.

One obstacle remains federal regulators.

“We’re having a hard time getting the FAA to allow stuff that’s four pounds.”

http://www.providencejournal.com/breaking-news/content/20130922-ewave-future-of-drone-use-appears-to-be-wide-open.ece

 

Drones, journalism, and the peak of inflated expectations

SUASNews

by Matthew Schroyer • 24 September 2013

http://www.suasnews.com/2013/09/25234/drones-journalism-and-the-peak-of-inflated-expectations/?utm_source=sUAS+News+Daily&utm_campaign=850345863f-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b3c0776dde-850345863f-303662705


 


It’s a story that’s been repeated time and time again with emergent technology. Researchers publish some new breakthrough, and the press grabs hold of the news release and begins extrapolating stories about how the new tech could revolutionize our lives. Expectations build as ideas bounce within the media echo chamber, pitchmen evangelize audiences at the trendy tech conferences, and venture capitalists make power plays in the market.

Everyone wants a piece because the sky is the limit, and the sky is the limit because everyone wants a piece.

Products finally hit the market, and eventually, reality sets in. Like the doomsayers who predict apocalypse time and time again, the prophesied miracles fail to materialize. The technology is immature. Deliverables fail to match objectives. Most importantly, the technology was overvalued, and an adjustment takes place.

This “hype curve” — rising expectations, peak interest, and curbed enthusiasm — doesn’t happen to every piece of technology that comes around. But this bubble does happen with surprising regularity. Every year, Gartner, a tech research corporation, produces a report that attempts to identify where various technologies are riding on this bubble.

Gartner released its latest report, “2013 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies,” last month. In it, the company prognosticates that drones and other unmanned technologies are coming up to that peak. At that point, the unmanned systems sector might be in for some pain.

Robotics is a huge sector, because it represents an incredibly diverse family of technologies. As such, the research firm actually splits robotics into two categories: mobile robots and autonomous vehicles. Drones could be classified in either of those, but mobile robots are closer to peaking than autonomous vehicles.

So what might cause drones to hit “peak hype”? I have a few ideas.

Earlier this month, I wrote for The Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard Collegeabout the “Drone Journalism Revolution.” That piece focused on the three elements that came together in 2011 to generate the idea of drone journalism: political turmoil, natural and man-made disasters, and the maker movement.

Something that didn’t make it to the final piece concerned the roadblocks to drone adoption among journalists:

The future is bright for this technology, but drones aren’t totally ready journalism yet. Price of entry is no longer an issue, yet drones are still not “smart” enough to be completely user-friendly. Most of these aircraft cannot fly without some kind of human assistance, and therefore require some kind of specialized training.

Journalists already are burdened with a number of important tasks: cultivating sources, conducting research, attending meetings, filing information requests, writing and re-writing and then writing some more. On top of that, multimedia production, data analysis, coding, web design and online social networking are increasingly becoming requisite skills for journalists in the digital economy. Simultaneously, the collapse of print and the rise of click-based remuneration mean journalists have to produce more content with fewer resources.

Quite simply, journalists don’t have the time to become pilots. The fact that major news organizations in Australia contract drone operators instead of developing them internallyindicates there are hurdles remaining for widespread adoption.

I’ve talked to more than one person from a newsroom who said that their organization purchased a drone, only to find it difficult to control. I’ve heard stories of people smashing many thousands of dollars of equipment, sometimes spectacularly, sometimes in public. Some of these failures have injured people.

Disposable drones could greatly reduce the financial loss incurred from a crash, but that wouldn’t solve the safety issue. And as much as contract drone operators would benefit from a credential structure to limit competition and keep the price for services high, that barrier to entry could stifle innovation in drone journalism.

It’s like the famous quote from Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, “There is no reason for any individual for anyone to have a computer in his home.” Everyone did want a computer at home, they just didn’t want mainframe computers, which are large, expensive, and complicated machines that Olsen believed would control “all aspects of our lives.”

One might argue that we already have digital devices that control much of our lives, but the point is that drones need to experience a personalization and an evolution in ease of use before any “drone boom” is to happen.

There is an immediate need for systems that can better adapt to changing environments and recover from human error. In other words, drones need true “sense and avoid.” As 3DRobotics CEO Chris Anderson has said, the future may be personal drones drones that fly themselves.

There are other barriers which, if not addressed, could precipitate the peak of inflated expectations. Many of these potential barriers have little to do with drone journalism, except that shortfalls in these areas could slow investment and drone development in general.

  1. Can’t compete with economy of scale.The largest single market for drones is agriculture, which means that AG sector demand (or lack thereof) could drive (or hamper) drone development elsewhere. One-third of the rice fields in Japan already are tended to by robotic helicopters. Research here in the United States has confirmed that drones can be cost-effective because they use less chemicals, but only with specialty crops and crops that grow on uneven terrain. For large-scale, monoculture crops, the economy of scale given by manned aircraft will reign for the foreseeable future.
  2. The data doesn’t pan out.For data collection, it’s a similar story. Drones beat satellites in resolution and turn-around time, but it’s still cheaper to hire a Cessna than to contract a Predator. And despite all the buzz about drones making data-driven precision AG possible, I don’t think we’ve seen a proper cost-benefit analysis that confirms a healthy ROI. That being said, there is hope for an aerial data market that caters to niche services.
  3. Regulations put the kibosh on development.It’s not just about the FAA and UAS integration. I’m talking about ITAR. I’m talking about AG-gag. I’m talking about states that fine $10,000 or more for aerial photos of private property. I’m talking about communities that give bounties for shooting down drones. Accidents that hurt bystanders, and the lawsuits to come out of those accidents. At some point, investors will throw up their hands, and the bubble will pop.

This may sound very much like gloom-and-doom, but these are all temporary problems. They can be solved by allowing adequate time for the technology to mature.

That’s also Gartner’s opinion. Although it seems drones are approaching peak expectations, they may only be 5 to 10 years from reaching the “plateau of enlightenment.”

That may seem like an eternity for those who have gone “all in,” and many may not make it out to the other side, but the patient eventually will be rewarded. That includes patient drone journalists.

 

Shutdown Threat Has Federal Agencies in Scramble Mode

GovExec

By Sophie Novack and Clara Ritger

National Journal

September 25, 20134

http://www.govexec.com/management/2013/09/shutdown-threat-has-federal-agencies-scramble-mode/70794/?oref=ge-flyin

 

Pandas at the National Zoo would still get fed, but the park would be closed to the public. Leonid Smirnov/Shutterstock.com

The government may shut down next week, but the National Zoo’s baby panda still needs to eat.

“We would never, ever leave the animals unattended,” said Linda St. Thomas, chief spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution, which runs the zoo.

But the zoo — along with all the Smithsonian museums and many other facilities operated by the federal government — would not be open to the public during a shutdown, St. Thomas said.

“The zoo will have keepers, veterinary staff, commissary, security, some facilities people; there will be a number of people there who will be exempted,” she explained. And among those essential personnel are staffers who care for the panda cub born on Aug. 23. Asked whether the new arrival would continue to be fed, St. Thomas laughed. “I think her mother is taking care of that, actually.”

The continued care for the animals at the National Zoo illustrates two important points to remember about the looming government shutdown: The government controls the process, and a shutdown doesn’t mean everything suddenly goes dark.

 

While the decision to force a shutdown lies with Congress, the executive branch and its agencies are able to determine the way it is done through contingency plans that are drawn up ahead of time.

“At this time, prudent management requires that the government plan for the possibility of a lapse and OMB is working with agencies to take appropriate action,” Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Emily Cain wrote in an e-mail to National Journal Daily. “This includes agencies reviewing relevant legal requirements and updating their plans for executing an orderly shutdown, as outlined in the guidance OMB issued last week.”

Much of the government will remain open in the event of a shutdown. The failure of Congress to pass a continuing resolution would result in a temporary lapse in federal discretionary budget authority, which means programs dependent on these funds would likely close. However, programs that are permanent law and those receiving mandatory or multiyear funding would continue to be funded.

The Postal Service would continue because it is not funded through annual appropriations. Social Security checks would still be sent out and Medicare would continue because the entitlement programs rely on mandatory, rather than discretionary, funding sources. However, new applicants will likely not have their applications processed until funding resumes; in the shutdown of 1996, more than 10,000 Medicare applicants were turned away each day.

Some supportive services for these programs that rely on discretionary funds could continue running as well. “Even in a shutdown, discretionary spending would have to continue because the existence of mandatory programs would mean there have to be people available for them to run,” said Paul Van de Water, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

National security operations and programs, and employees considered essential to protection of life and property, will not be affected. These include air-traffic control, immigration, border security, emergency and disaster assistance, and law enforcement, among others.

While nonessential government workers would be furloughed, essential workers would continue in their capacities, though often without immediate compensation. If and when employees are compensated retroactively is up to Congress.

This would have a large impact on the Defense Department this year, which was not the case in 1995 and 1996. Whereas four appropriations bills had passed before the last shutdown — including defense — none have been approved this year. Troops would thus be required to continue working without compensation to them or their families. “All military personnel will continue to serve and accrue pay, but will not actually be paid until appropriations are available,” said House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla. He warned that a shutdown will hurt both readiness and morale.

Regulatory agencies would also be strongly affected, including the Environmental Protection Agency, which will “effectively shut down,” according to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. She told reporters Monday that the agency would not be able to pay employees unless Congress approves a budget, and only some staff would remain on hand in case of emergencies.

The National Institutes of Health directed press inquiries to OMB, which has not yet made agencies’ updated contingency plans publicly available. But during the shutdown over the fiscal 1996 budget, NIH stopped accepting new patients into its clinical center, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report. The report also said NIH stopped answering calls to its hotline, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped disease surveillance.

Other routine government operations would also be temporarily shut down, including the National Park Service.

Washington would likely be hit harder than most areas by a government shutdown, as the D.C. government is the only one forbidden from spending local funds during a federal budget lapse. Public-safety exceptions still hold true, so police, EMS, and firefighters would remain on duty, and the city’s public schools would stay open. However, trash collection and street sweeping would be suspended, and the Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Public Works, and others would close.

 

Treasury: Earlier, bigger debt crisis threatens military pay

ArmyTimes

Sep. 25, 2013 – 06:50PM |

http://www.armytimes.com/article/20130925/BENEFITS02/309250009/Treasury-Earlier-bigger-debt-crisis-threatens-military-pay

By Rick Maze

Staff writer

With Congress still wrestling with how to avoid a government shutdown on Tuesday, the Treasury Department issued another piece of bad fiscal news Wednesday, saying that the debt ceiling crisis will arrive sooner and be worse than previous estimates.

By no later than Oct. 17, the nation will have just $30 billion in cash to pay bills, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says in a letter to congressional leaders. This is about $20 billion less cash on hand than expected, and the financial crisis involving the nation’s $16.7 Trillion debt limit comes about two weeks earlier than expected.

With the $30 billion in cash and whatever revenue the government takes in, there would not be enough money to pay bills, forcing the Treasury to set priorities.

“This amount would be far short of net expenditures on certain days, which can be as high as $60 billion,” Lew warned. “If we have insufficient cash on hand, it would be impossible for the United States of America to meet all of its obligations for the first time in our history.”

The House of Representatives approved a plan last week that calls for creditors to receive top priority for payment in order to preserve the nation’s credit standing, with the military and federal civilian payroll, veterans’ benefits, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid payments to doctors, food stamps and benefits ranking lower.

Lew called this “ill advised.”

“Any plan to prioritize some payments over others is simply default by another name,” he said.

“The United States should never have to choose, for example, whether to pay Social Security to seniors, pay benefits to our veterans, or make payments to state and local jurisdictions and health care providers under Medicare and Medicaid,” he said. “There is no way of knowing the damage any prioritization plan would have on our economy and financial markets.”

One possibility for dealing with limited cash would be to provide partial payments to beneficiaries, but Lew did not discuss the option in his letter.

Like the government shutdown threat, service members would continue to accrue pay even if the government is unable to pay them and would receive full payment when money becomes available.

 

 

Report: D&B, LexisNexis, Kroll Hacked

Doubts Raised About Veracity of Knowledge-Based Authentication

 

By Eric Chabrow, September 25, 2013.

Follow Eric @GovInfoSecurity

http://www.govinfosecurity.com/report-db-lexisnexis-kroll-hacked-a-6096?rf=2013-09-26-eg&elq=906f485294c24d0e8366c0d553f1a05a&elqCampaignId=7892

A report that hackers allegedly trafficking in personally identifiable information have breached the computers of three major data aggregators raises doubts about the use of knowledge-based authentication as a tool to verify an individual’s identity.

A seven-month investigation by security blogger Brian Krebs reveals that an organization known as SSNDOB compromised the computers of information aggregators Dun & Bradstreet, LexisNexis and Kroll Background America, which maintain records on millions of Americans that can be used to support knowledge-based authentication.

SSNDOB for the past two years has marketed itself on underground cybercrime forums as a reliable and affordable service that customers can use to look up Social Security numbers, birthdays and other personal data on any U.S. resident for prices ranging from 50 cents to $2.50 a record and $5 to $15 for credit checks, Krebs reports.

 

Impact of the Breaches

Avivah Litan, an analyst at the consultancy Gartner, says the report “makes it crystal clear” that organizations should not rely on knowledge-based authentication to verify identity.

“Criminals can get their hands on anyone’s KBA [knowledge-based authentication] or identity information through the black market exchanges that Krebs writes about,” Litan writes in her blog.

Michael Versace, global director at IDC Financial Insight, says databases of personal information, such as those reportedly breached, become bigger targets for attack as they grow. But, he says, it’s not just the threat of a breach that is weakening the effectiveness of knowledge-based authentication.

“As more personal information enters the market, more will have knowledge of these personal details, and less details remain personal,” he says. “And, frustrated end-users become less likely to protect personal details as they become aware of how widely available personal data has become.”

Still, Litan says it is difficult for organizations to wean themselves from knowledge-based authentication. “There are no readily available alternatives that work as technically easily as KBA does,” she says. “Biometrics anyone?”

 

Role of Biometrics

Versace says biometric authentication makes sense in certain applications, although more needs to be done to protect biometric information. “We run the risk of running into the same problems as KBA,” he says, citing recent hacks against the Apple’s iOS 7 operating system and the iPhone 5, which includes biometrics.

An alternative, he suggests: Adaptive authentication that relies on real-time behavior, such as identifying a user who’s accessing a system from a known location.

Kroll issued a statement saying it’s working with outside independent computer forensics experts who are investigating the source of the breach and accessing any adverse impact, if any. LexisNexis confirmed to Krebs that two of its public-facing web servers had been compromised. Krebs reports that Dun & Bradstreet Chief Technology Officer Elliot Glazer said the company is aggressively investigating the matter.

 

In his report, Krebs says SSNDOB’s database was attacked this summer by multiple attackers, and he received a copy of the database, which he reviewed. He says the database shows that the site’s 1,300 customers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars looking up Social Security numbers, birthdays, drivers’ license records, and obtaining unauthorized credit and background reports on more than 4 million Americans.

Krebs says an analysis of the networks, network activity and credentials used by SSNDOB administrators indicate that these individuals also were responsible for operating a small but very potent botnet. “This botnet appears to have been in direct communications with internal systems at several large data brokers in the United States,” he writes. “The botnet’s Web-based interface indicated that the miscreants behind this ID theft service controlled at least five infected systems at different U.S.-based consumer and business data aggregators.”

 

 

Hackers breach LexisNexis databases

Dayton Daily News

Posted: 12:05 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013

By Thomas Gnau – Staff Writer

 

Operators of a criminal identity theft service broke into the computers of LexisNexis and two other major providers of Social Security numbers, birth dates and other personal information on millions of Americans before the breach was discovered earlier this year, according to a published report Wednesday.

Hackers used a software tool to retrieve personal data collected by LexisNexis, Dun & Bradstreet and Kroll Background America Inc., a company that performs employment background checks, wrote Brian Krebs, a computer security blogger.

The personal data was pilfered by the operators of ssndob.ms, a website that has marketed itself on underground cybercrime forums as a reliable and affordable provider of Social Security numbers, birthdays and other personal data on any U.S. resident, Krebs wrote.

LexisNexis said Wednesday in a statment that it has contacted the FBI and “initiated a comprehensive investigation working with a leading third party forensic investigation fim. In that investigation, we have identified an intrusion targeting our data but to date have found no evidence that customer or consumer data were reached or retrieved.”

A LexisNexis spokesman declined to say when the intrusion was discovered or whether the company could assure clients that personal data was not stolen.

Krebs said an FBI spokesman confirmed the agency is investigating the breach.

Based in New York City, LexisNexis employs about 3,400 at its Miami Twp. campus. It also has operations in Atlanta.

Krebs wrote that “a tiny unauthorized program called ‘nbc.exe’ was placed on (LexisNexis) servers as far back as April 10, 2013, suggesting the intruders have had access to the company’s internal networks for at least the past five months.”

 

Krebs said the hackers’ program was designed to open an “encrypted channel of communications from within LexisNexis’s internal systems” to a botnet controller. A botnet is a network of computers infected with harmful software or “malware” and controlled by hackers.

The botnet was tiny, fewer than a dozen computers in “strategically placed” locations, he said.

This summer, ssndob.ms was itself attacked by multiple hackers and its database plundered, Krebs wrote. Krebs said his review of the ssndob database showed that the site’s 1,300 customers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars looking up personal data and obtaining unauthorized credit and background reports on more than 4 million Americans.

Krebs wrote that he traced the sources of the stolen information to the botnet controlling servers at LexisNexis, Dun & Bradstreet and Kroll Background America.

Mark Rasch, owner of Bethesda, Md.-based cybersecurity firm Rasch Technology & Cyberlaw, said big data aggregators are constantly under attack, and there are many different kinds of attacks.

What sets this intrusion apart is that hackers were able to infiltrate an internal LexisNexis network and install at least one file within that network, Rasch said.

Also, the hackers were using botnets to pull data from multiple data aggregators, he said. And they were targeting data that is intended to be used for identity theft and fraud.

“The question for LexisNexis is: Can you assure the public that no personal information was taken?” Rasch said.

In an interview with the Dayton Daily News, Krebs said, “They have a tremendous amount of information in their network, and I think for companies like that it’s safe to assume that they’re always under attack.”

This is not the first time LexisNexis has been hacked. In 2005, the company acknowledged that identity thieves misused passwords to tap the personal records of more than 300,000 Americans, fraudulently acquiring data from company databases, according to national reports.

 

Panel backs easing electronic device use on planes

By JOAN LOWY, Associated Press

Updated 12:51 am, Friday, September 27, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Federal Aviation Administration advisory committee recommended Thursday that airline passengers be allowed to use smartphones, tablets, e-readers and other personal electronic devices during takeoffs and landings, according to industry officials familiar with the committee’s deliberations.

Under the recommendations, passengers would be able to use most devices, although some would have to be switched to airplane mode. Downloading data, surfing the Web and talking on the phone would still be prohibited. But people could still read e-books, listen to music, watch movies, play games and do work.

The 28-member committee agreed on the recommendations during a closed-door meeting, the officials said. The recommendations will be included in a report to be delivered to the FAA early next week, they said.

The officials asked not to be named because the FAA has urged committee members not to talk to the media or to publicly discuss the recommendations.

Passengers are required to turn off phones and other electronic devices while planes are under 10,000 feet in altitude to prevent interference with sensitive cockpit equipment. Takeoffs and landings are the most critical phases of flight. But new planes are equipped to prevent electronic interference, and critics have long complained the safety concerns behind the regulations are groundless.

“We’ve been fighting for our customers on this issue for years — testing an airplane packed full of Kindles, working with the FAA, and serving as the device manufacturer on this committee,” Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said in a statement. “This is a big win for customers and, frankly, it’s about time.”

It’s up to FAA officials whether to follow the committee’s recommendations. The agency created the committee, put several of its employees on the panel and was closely involved in the deliberations, so it’s expected that all or most of the recommendations will be implemented. How long that will take is still unclear.

Airline passengers could see restrictions lifted as soon as early 2014 if the agency chooses a faster implementation track. The process could drag on a year or more if airlines have to apply carrier by carrier to have their planes approved, industry officials said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a prominent critic of the current restrictions, said Thursday that if the FAA doesn’t “act swiftly” to implement the recommendations, she’ll introduce legislation to force its hand.

“I will know it if I see that they’re stalling,” she said in an interview.

 

Cyber on-line schools flunk, but tax money keeps flowing

By: Stephanie Simon

September 25, 2013 11:14 PM EDT

http://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/cyber-schools-flunk-but-tax-money-keeps-flowing-97375.html

Taxpayers send nearly $2 billion a year to cyber schools that let students from kindergarten through 12th grade receive a free public education entirely online.

The schools, many managed by for-profit companies, are great at driving up enrollment with catchy advertising. They excel at lobbying. They have a knack for making generous campaign donations.

But as new state report cards coming out now make clear, there’s one thing they’re not so good at: educating kids.

In state after state, online school after online school posts dismal scores on math, writing and science tests and mediocre scores on reading. Administrators have long explained their poor results by saying students often come to their schools far behind and make excellent progress online, even if they fall short of passing state tests.

But lately, more states have begun measuring how much students actually learn during the school year — and a POLITICO review of the data shows many cyber schools are flunking that test.

Ohio’s six biggest cyber schools all got Fs on their state progress reports, meaning students learned nowhere near a year’s worth of material in a year of studying online. In Colorado, students at five of the six biggest cyber schools failed to make as much annual growth in math as peers around the state — often by yawning margins. In South Carolina, all four cyber charter high schools had academic growth ratings of ‘below average’ or ‘at risk,’ as did two of the three elementary schools.

Of the eight virtual schools with growth data in Pennsylvania, only one made adequate gains with students in both reading and math. And kids at Tennessee Virtual Academy made less academic progress this past year than students at every other school in the state.

The scores are so bad, especially at the largest and most high-profile cyber schools, that even fervent advocates of online learning have begun to worry.

“Unless we address these quality issues that have emerged quite profoundly,” the poor performance of cyber schools will “put the entire industry of education innovation at risk,” said Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, an industry trade group. “We need to have an honest discussion about this.”

Fans of online schools, which serve about 275,000 full-time students nationwide, say they offer a flexibility and freedom that traditional schools can never match because students move through the curriculum at their own pace. Advocates say they’re ideal for aspiring athletes and actors with heavy travel schedules; children with serious medical problems; and kids who never felt they fit in at a traditional school.

Yet those strengths are also weaknesses. Students can email or call teachers for help or log in to online lectures, but there’s little personal interaction. Many assignments meant to check for understanding are multiple choice; there’s no way to stop kids from looking up the answers online. And the cyber schools, which get additional funds for each student enrolled, have incentives to keep families happy, which some teachers say leads to pressure to award passing grades regardless of effort.

K12 Inc., the largest cyber school management company, explicitly encourages teachers to forgive strings of zeros on homework and quizzes if the student can later show he’s learned the concepts. Otherwise, kids who fail to do any work for weeks might get discouraged and drop out, said Allison Cleveland, an executive vice president at K12. “We shouldn’t create an environment for students that they can’t overcome,” she said.

Such policies have fed growth at K12. Last month, the company reported its operating income jumped 58 percent in fiscal year 2013, with total revenue soaring to $848 million, much of that from state and federal education funds.

K12 executives have long rejected as invalid poor state reports on their students’ progress. They have urged parents and investors to focus instead on an internal metric they use to measure progress, a series of multiple-choice tests known as Scantron, which students take at home without a proctor.

The company boasts that Scantron results show its students outpace the national norm for yearly growth in reading and match it in math. When the Securities and Exchange Commission questioned K12 about its academic results earlier this year, K12 again pointed to the Scantron data as proof of its success.

Yet those data are “not as accurate as they could be,” K12 Executive Chairman Nathaniel Davis acknowledged in an interview.

 

The Scantron tests are optional for K12 students, and about 30 percent decline to take them. That means the company has been comparing a self-selected group of K12 students to the national norm, which isn’t appropriate, Davis said.

The company, he said, needs to find “a more honest assessment” of student progress.

Davis said he pushed teachers to prod more students to take the Scantron last spring in hopes of getting a more valid sample. The company has not released data from those exams.

But the results may not much matter to the bottom line. After K12’s stellar earnings report last month, analysts on a call with top executives didn’t ask a single question about academic performance. And despite its notably poor results in schools across the country, K12 won approval to open new schools in states including Florida, Kansas, Michigan, South Carolina and Ohio this fall.

To be sure, there are a few bright spots in online education, a diverse field that includes both charter schools and schools overseen by states and local districts. Smaller cyber schools tend to do better. So do those that spend more on instruction to keep the student-teacher ratio low, state regulators say. Among big networks, schools run by Connections Education, a division of the publishing giant Pearson, tend to post better results.

Yet when researchers from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder evaluated academic achievement at every one of the more than 300 online schools in the U.S., they found “serious and systemic” problems throughout the industry. There has been little effort by legislators to rein them in, said Gary Miron, a co-author of the report. The NEPC receives funding from unions that generally oppose online schools, but even strong proponents of digital learning say there’s been a disturbing lack of movement to close failing cyber schools.

“There has not been the political will to do so,” said John Bailey, executive director of Digital Learning Now!, an advocacy group.

Critics say it’s no mystery why the political will to close virtual schools is weak. Parents whose kids do thrive in the schools stage rallies and email blitzes when they perceive a threat. The online industry also works very effectively to secure political support.

K12, for instance, last year contracted with 45 lobbyists in state capitols across the country and donated $625,000 to politicians of both parties, ballot initiatives and political associations such as the Republican Governors Association, according to records compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Center for Responsive Politics.

K12 spokesman Jeff Kwitowski calls the donation levels “extremely small” compared with the huge sums spent by other advocacy groups, such as teachers unions. Last year alone, the National Education Association and its affiliates spent tens of millions on political campaigns.

Among individual donors backing cyber schools, few have been as generous as William Lager, who founded Ohio’s largest virtual school, ECOT — and who runs both the company that manages the school and the company that sells the school its online curriculum.

Lager has contributed $387,000 to Republican politicians and political organizing committees just in the past year and a half, a period in which the state began to calculate academic growth for all students in cyber schools — and found ECOT sorely lacking. On the most recent state report card, ECOT got an F on every measure except one, for which it earned a D.

It was hardly alone. Seventh graders in two of Ohio’s big virtual schools learned enough in a year to keep pace with their peers in traditional schools, state data show. But in every other tested grade in every one of Ohio’s six largest online schools, students fell woefully behind. The state counts a progress score of -2 as a complete failure for the school. The cyber schools racked up scores as low as -12, -18 and -27.

Republican Gov. John Kasich has made clear that low scores and poor growth rates are unacceptable in Ohio’s traditional school districts. He has even proposed stripping funding from urban public schools and turning them over to private groups that promise better results.

But he and other leading lawmakers have shied away from criticizing ECOT, which serves about 14,000 students and received $88 million in public funds last year. Nor have they taken on other low-performing cyber schools in Ohio, including one run by a management firm owned by another major Republican donor, David Brennan.

Indeed, Ohio’s existing cyber schools are in line to get more money per student in the coming school year; the Legislature even voted to permit them to tap, for the first time, into funding reserved for vocational and technical education. A state legislative analysis puts the boost at an estimated $4.5 million extra for ECOT alone if it maintains its enrollment.

A spokesman for Gov. Kasich, Rob Nichols, said the bounty of donations from Lager and Brennan has not influenced treatment of their schools.

“Obviously not,” he said.

 

Nichols pointed to the governor’s effort last year to pass standards for cyber schools; the draft didn’t require schools to hit specific academic benchmarks but did urge them “to provide a high quality education.” The draft did not pass the Legislature.

ECOT Vice President Nick Wilson, meanwhile, said the school rejects as invalid all the F’s on its state report card. The school does its own assessments, he said, and is confident its students are learning. “Is it leaps and bounds above where they were? Not necessarily,” he said. “But it is progress.”

Wilson said he expected “many sympathetic ears” from policymakers as ECOT lobbies to change Ohio’s grading formula. Yet he said the anticipated support had nothing to do with Lager’s donations. “I don’t see that,” he said.

Ohio isn’t alone in protecting online schools despite poor results.

In Colorado, regulators are prohibited by law from considering an online education company’s track record if it applies to manage a new cyber school. So regulators said they had had little choice this spring but to approve a new school to be run by K12, though K12’s other two schools in Colorado have done quite poorly.

In Texas, a virtual school that was at risk of being shut down for low performance two years ago was allowed to wipe the slate clean by finding a new sponsor and declaring itself a new school, without any substantive changes.

Change did seem on the way in Pennsylvania last year, after student proficiency dropped — from already-low benchmarks — at nine out of the 10 cyber charters where the data were tracked. On top of that, then-Auditor General Jack Wagner announced that taxpayers overpay the state’s cyber charters by $100 million a year.

In January, Pennsylvania rejected eight proposals to launch new cyber schools. The House Republican caucus introduced a bill to cut funding to online schools.

Then cyber boosters began lobbying. The bill did not advance. There has been little momentum since, even after the recent federal indictment of Nicholas Trombetta, founder of the largest online school in Pennsylvania, on charges of stealing nearly $1 million in public funds.

In last month’s conference call with investors, K12 CEO Ron Packard said he expects many states to boost, not cut, funding for online schools. “[We] remain sanguine,” he said, “that fiscal 2014 is shaping up to be an excellent year.”

 

Update: Gartner tells IT shops that it’s ‘game over’ for BlackBerry

Matt Hamblen

September 27, 2013 (Computerworld)

 

Respected analyst firm Gartner is set to recommend that all BlackBerry enterprise customers find alternatives to the struggling vendor’s smartphones and enterprise management software over the next six months.

Garner’s advice to users comes after BlackBerry today confirmed that it expects to lose $965 million in the second quarter amid slow sales of its Z10 smartphone since its unveiling in March.

 

On Monday, BlackBerry had announced plans to sell the company to Fairfax Financial Holdings of Toronto for $4.7 billion. That came just days after BlackBerry disclosed plans to lay off some 4,500 of its 12,500 workers.

“Gartner recommends that our [BlackBerry enterprise] clients take no more than six months to consider and implement alternatives to BlackBerry,” said Gartner analyst Bill Menezes in an email interview on Friday. “We’re emphasizing that all clients should immediately ensure they have backup mobile data management plans and are at least testing alternative devices to BlackBerry.”

Menezes said a full Gartner report with three recommended courses of action will be delivered soon to Gartner clients that use BlackBerry Enterprise Service servers and/or BlackBerry smartphones.

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney, who authored the report, could not be reached for comment.

Menezes noted that while he and Gartner are clearly foretelling BlackBerry’s demise, “BlackBerry isn’t going to disappear overnight and there’s probably a six month window to consider and then implement alternatives.”

Many large companies, including some U.S. government agencies, have already replaced BlackBerry devices with Apple iPhones and iPads or Android smartphones. The trend toward BlackBerry smartphone alternatives, underway for some four years, has increased steadily in the last year.

Though BlackBerry indicated Friday in its second quarter results an uptick of organizations installing or testing the latest BES 10 servers, analysts have noted a large number of organizations are also abandoning earlier versions of BlackBerry management software.

More than a dozen established software companies now offer alternative Mobile Device Management and Mobile Application Management software and many clients already have one or more such tools installed.

In a statement, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins said there is “increasing penetration of BES 10,” with more than 25,000 actual or test servers installed, up from 19,000 in July. BlackBerry has devised a way for BES 10 to work with iOS and Android device management, partly as a way to hold onto enterprise customers who have relied on BlackBerry smartphones and BES for years when the company used the software as a gateway to BlackBerry’s global, secure network.

BES 10 also doesn’t offer all the device management components for Android and iOS devices that it does for its own BlackBerry devices, analysts have noted. Also, despite its reputation for network security, BlackBerry hit a turning point in trust for many users two years ago when much of the BlackBerry network went down for several days on nearly every continent.

Even with the BES deficiencies, most analysts believe BlackBerry’s biggest problem was failing to keep up with consumer-grade advances seen on Apple’s iPhone and on various Android devices. The Apple and Android device can also be managed with MDM tools at work.

The Z10 first appeared in the U.S. in March, six years after the first iPhone launched.

For all the second quarter, BlackBerry sold just 5.9 million smartphones, the company said Friday. Meanwhile, Apple on Monday reported that 9 million iPhones were sold over just three days after the new iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C went on sale last Friday.

“BlackBerry totally whiffed on the smartphone and consumerization of IT trends that Apple hit out of the park and that Android successfully has exploited,” Menezes said on Friday. “BlackBerry failed to make timely moves and product introductions to keep itself in the consideration set for consumers who in the age of BYOD increasingly are shaping enterprise device and platform choices.”

 

“Once it became clear to IT that iOS was a viable choice, it was game over for BlackBerry,” Menezes concluded.

Gartner’s three recommendations for Blackberry alternatives do include an upgrade to BlackBerry 10 devices for executives who want a physical keyboard or those in high security jobs.

But Menezes said even that scenario recommends that a company begin support of other smartphone platforms, either smartphones purchased for workers or those under an employee-purchased BYOD program.

A copy of the 8-page Gartner report, obtained late Friday by Computerworld, notes that Gartner’s advice comes as its clients react to the recent bad news about BlackBerry, and ask what to do. “This represents an unusually large amount of negative news for a key vendor, so it’s understandable that IT leaders would want to prepare for alternatives,” Dulaney said in the report.

In addition, Gartner conducted an August poll of 400 IT and business leaders which found that 24% remain on the BlackBerry platform. The poll found that respondents expect that number will drop to 9% by 2016.

The poll was conducted before BlackBerry announced its loss, Dulaney noted. BlackBerry had only 2.7% of global smartphone sales in the second quarter of 2013, compared to 76.7% for Android, Gartner has noted.

The survey also found that 38% of the IT leaders are using Apple products, while 30% have Android products. The Android number share is expected to increase to 40% by 2016, slightly ahead of the projection for Apple.

Dulaney also said BlackBerry is right to pursue a course that will take it private, but suggested that BlackBerry will be split up, with the core company focusing on wireless services. “The hardware business will remain for sale, but there will be few buyers, leaving BlackBerry to attempt to emphasize niche markets, such as high-security environments,” Dulaney said.

Dulaney suggested the hardware group could even be sold to a foreign government “which may be unsettling for some clients.”

He didn’t name any governments that could buy the group, but some analysts have suggested the Canadian government. BlackBerry has been a source of national pride and is based in Waterloo, Ont.

As for other elements of BlackBerry, including QNX, the base operating system behind BlackBerry 10, Dulaney said it could be reoriented to focus on real-time applications used in autos or elements in an emerging Internet of Things ecosystem.

BlackBerry’s software and services divisions could be wrapped into a group that focuses on support of the remaining client base. The group would focus on its network operations center and 500 carrier relationships to manage and deliver applications and content, Dulaney said.

“If the company is split up, one or more of those components will exist to support the customer base until a transition can be made,” Dulaney concluded. “The customer list is just too valuable to be ignored by the entire market of potential suitors.”

 

Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, September 28, 2013

One Democratic senator said Friday that national politics have reached a dangerous level not seen since the Civil War. Maybe it’s no surprise then that nearly one-out-of-five voters are talking secession.

Not from the union, necessarily, but from the state where they currently live.

Some residents in Maryland, California, Michigan and Colorado are looking to secede from their respective states, and 17% of Americans say they would vote for their section of their state to secede and form a new state

Only 12%, however, think it would be good for the country to add more states. Just 25% think Washington, D.C. should become a state. Slightly more (35%) favor statehood for Puerto Rico.

By the way, only 21% of Americans think states have the right to leave the United States and form an independent country. 

But many Americans definitely are not happy with the way things are going. Just 28% of Likely U.S. Voters now say the country is heading in the right direction. That’s down from a recent high of 43% the week before Election Day.

Forty-two percent (42%) identify themselves as conservative on fiscal issues such as taxes, government spending and business regulation. Just 21% are liberal in this area, while 34% view themselves as moderates.

In reacting to the current economic problems, most voters (64%) continue to support cutting government spending.

Yet while 63% believe most Americans want the government to have less power and money, only 22% believe most politicians share that view. 

Just 15% believe U.S. taxpayers are getting a good return on their investment of $10,000 per student each year. But only 35% think student performance would improve if more money is spent on funding for schools and education programs

Newly created government health care exchanges are scheduled to begin accepting insurance applicants on Tuesday, but just 30% of voters now believe the nation’s health care system will get better under the new health care law.  Despite concerns about a government shutdown, 51% favor having a partial shutdown until Democrats and Republicans agree on what spending for the health care law to cut.

Voters now trust Republicans more than Democrats on 10 out of 15 major issues regularly tracked by Rasmussen Reports, including the economy, national security and job creation. The two are tied when it comes to health care.

However, Democrats have jumped to a three-point lead on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot as Congress battles over funding for the health care law. 

Democrats trust the president a lot more than Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, while Republicans and unaffiliated voters have mixed feelings about all three branches of the federal government. The president’s overall job approval ratings remain at levels seen for most of his first term in office. 

Fifty-three percent (53%) of voters think the Internal Revenue Service broke the law when it targeted conservative groups, and 58% think it’s likely that the president or his top aides were aware of the IRS’ rogue activity. But only 17% believe it is even somewhat likely that criminal charges will be brought against any government employees.

Voters continue to think Obama is more hostile to small business than he is to big business

Seventy percent (70%) think government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors

Fifty-three percent (53%) agree with the president’s decision to put stricter limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants, even though 54% recognize that the new regulations will increase energy costs. 

Consumer and investor confidence have fallen back from the highs they hit earlier this year but still remain well above levels seen from 2009 through 2012. 

On Friday, the president had the first U.S. one-on-one talks with an Iranian president since 1979, but 66% of voters think it is unlikely that Iran will slow or stop its nuclear program in the next year in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

Mid-term elections are coming next year, with control of the Congress again up for grabs, and you don’t want to miss a single survey. Take advantage of Rasmussen Reports’ special offer: A Rasmussen Reader subscription that lasts through December 31, 2014 is now just $24.95. Sign up today!

In other surveys last week:

— Democrat Terry McAuliffe still holds a six-point lead over Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli – 44% to 38% – in the race to be Virginia’s next governor.  Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis earns six percent (6%) of the vote. Two percent (2%) prefer some other candidate, while 11% remain undecided.

— Fifty-two percent (52%) of Americans believe most of their fellow countrymen are basically honest, but 70% say the average American is less honest now than he or she was 25 years ago

— Wonder why many Americans don’t trust the media? Eighty-four percent (84%) believe most major news organizations are more concerned with getting a story first than getting it right

Twenty-three percent (23%) say they use social media like Twitter and Facebook to follow major news events as they unfold. 

— Americans correctly pegged “Breaking Bad” as the winner for best dramatic series at last Sunday night’s Emmy awards. 

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