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November 30 2013

December 2, 2013





Expect Sequestration to Hit Much Harder in 2014, Report Says

By Eric Katz

November 22, 2013

Less severe cuts, deferred costs and temporary solutions mitigated sequestration’s effect in its inaugural year, but will not help lessen the impact in 2014, according to a new report.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said the tactics federal agencies used to reduce furloughs in fiscal 2013 are, in many cases, no longer available. In fact, they will largely accentuate the severity of the cuts this time around.

For example, Congress allowed the Federal Aviation Administration to move funds from an account meant to provide maintenance to airports nationwide to avoid furloughs of air traffic controllers that would have delayed flights. Similar budgetary “gimmicks” were employed at the Agriculture Department to stave off furloughs of meat inspectors and by the Justice Department, which has already announced plans of 10 furlough days for FBI agents in 2014.

Every major federal agency reduced its furlough projections in fiscal 2013, though that will likely be impossible this year, the report found.

“In some cases, agencies minimized their sequester cuts using budget gimmicks, but those gimmicks only work once,” wrote Harry Stein, CAP’s associate director for fiscal policy. “In other cases, agencies drained their reserve and investment accounts to sustain urgent needs, but those accounts need to be replenished later.”

The Defense Department was able to reduce original projections of 22 furlough days for civilians to just six by putting off expenses elsewhere. The Pentagon, however, will soon have to resume training its personnel, hiring more staff, repairing its infrastructure and purchasing new equipment, Stein said.

“Federal agencies have implemented sequestration under the assumption that it is a short-term glitch — one that Congress will soon fix,” he wrote. “Federal agencies have weathered sequestration as best they can, as long as it is just a short-term problem. But if sequestration becomes the new normal, all of these quick fixes will have only made things worse for the American people.”

Additionally, the CAP report found many of the cuts made to meet reduced budget caps last year have not yet gone into effect. That, combined with the fact that sequestration will cut $24 billion more from agency budgets in fiscal 2014 than it did the previous year, will mean much more severe effects.

Finally, CAP noted sequestration’s impact has flown under the radar of the American public because programs like Social Security, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits were exempted from the cuts. Lower profile programs that have more of a residual impact and affect fewer people have already absorbed significant budget reductions, however. Agencies such as the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health have cut research significantly. Additionally, federal investigators and inspectors general — who find savings 35 times their collective budgets — are conducting fewer audits and identifying less waste, the report said.


A House-Senate congressional budget conference committee is attempting to negotiate a deal to fund government past Jan. 15, with Democrats steadfast in their desire to offset sequestration with other cuts and increased revenues and Republicans more reluctant to do away with what they say has worked to reduce the budget.

Stein said it is not too late for the harm to be undone.

“Sequestration was never meant to happen and Congress made a mistake by allowing it to kick in,” he wrote. “As long as that mistake is fixed soon, the damage can be contained.”



Cyber-attack at a major port could cost $1 billion per day

Sun, 2013-11-24 11:44 AM

By: Troy Anderson


At a time when the nation’s infrastructure faces a growing threat from cyber-attacks, maritime and homeland security officials say they are making significant progress in protecting the nation’s ports, which handle more than 2 billion metric tons of cargo annually and are critical to the global economy.

“It’s finally picking up speed,” said Randy Parsons, director of security at the Port of Long Beach, during the Port Security Operations Conference & Expo held Nov. 19-21 at the Hilton Long Beach & Executive Meeting Center. “A lot of time and effort have been put into this by the private sector, as well as the government agencies — the FBI in particular and the U.S. Secret Service. I’ve seen a major shift in just the last 12 months.”

Parsons said cyber-attacks pose a growing threat to the nation’s infrastructure, including its ports.

“All we have to look at is the 6 o’clock news about every night to see some damage hackers have done around the country,” Parsons observed. “I think we’ve seen plenty of evidence that the capability exists and that puts a challenge on all the partners at the port to assess the protections we have, identify our gaps and then come up with mitigation strategies.”

Doug Albrecht, director of information management at the Port of Long Beach, said the port blocks about 9 million attacks monthly on its network. But it only takes one successful intrusion to potentially do damage, he said.

“There is an annual hackers’ convention in Las Vegas called DEF CON to break into real companies and real networks,” Albrecht said. “The best tool they could use is the telephone. They can profile you from LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and when they call you and ask you the question about your bank account or password, they know a lot of information about you and you can be easily tricked.”

To combat this threat, port officials teach workers how to recognize these and other methods hackers use to break into the highly-secure networks of ports and other critical infrastructure in the nation.

A lot is at stake. A cyber-attack that successfully shuts down the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach would cause $1 billion a day in losses to the national economy, Parsons said.

“The cyber risk has not been adequately addressed in the maritime security model,” said Michael O’Brien, the port facilities officer at the Port of Oakland. “That needs to be addressed. I think there is some room to grow with the cyber-security threat and become more systematic about it.”



Pentagon Outlines Stronger Military Presence in the Arctic

By Kevin Baron

November 22, 2013

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — Citing American interests in climate change, energy security and the integrity of northern sea lanes, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel introduced a new Pentagon plan for Arctic security on Friday that promises to significantly increase U.S. military resources and attention to the polar region.

The plan is the Defense Department’s follow-on to President Barack Obama’s national Arctic strategy, released in May. The Arctic has gained increased attention in security circles as melting ice caps promise new access to strategic positions and undersea resources for three of the worlds most powerful countries in the U.S., Russia, and China, as well as Canada and NATO.

“In order to realize the full potential of the Arctic, nations must collaborate and build trust and confidence through transparency and engagement,” Hagel said at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada.

The U.S. will not relent in defending Alaska and its northern borders, Hagel said, laying out an 8-point plan to 1) Protect U.S. borders and Alaska, 2) do more to more study the environment, 3) enforce the law of the seas, 4) “evolve” Defense Department capabilities and infrastructure, 5) increase international training, 6) prepare for natural disasters, 7) protect the Arctic environment, and 8) build and enforce international institutions and organizations.

“We are beginning to think about and plan for how our Naval fleet and other capabilities and assets will need to adapt to the evolving shifts and requirements in the region,” Hagel told the audience of international officials, including a congressional delegation led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Hagel is scheduled to return to Washington on Friday evening. The forum continues through Sunday.



Neverquest’ trojan threatens online banking users

Attackers could start to aggressively distribute this malware in the near future, Kaspersky Lab researchers warn

Lucian Constantin


November 26, 2013 (IDG News Service)


A new Trojan program that targets users of online financial services has the potential to spread very quickly over the next few months, security researchers warn.

The malware was first advertised on a private cybercrime forum in July, according to malware researchers from Kaspersky Lab who dubbed it Trojan-Banker.Win32/64.Neverquest.

“By mid-November Kaspersky Lab had recorded several thousand attempted Neverquest infections all around the world,” said Sergey Golovanov, malware researcher at Kaspersky Lab, Tuesday in a blog post. “This threat is relatively new, and cybercriminals still aren’t using it to its full capacity. In light of Neverquest’s self-replication capabilities, the number of users attacked could increase considerably over a short period of time.”

Neverquest has most of the features found in other financial malware. It can modify the content of websites opened inside Internet Explorer or Firefox and inject rogue forms into them, it can steal the username and passwords entered by victims on those websites and allow attackers to control infected computers remotely using VNC (Virtual Network Computing).

However, this Trojan program also has some features that make it stand out.

Its default configuration defines 28 targeted websites that belong to large international banks as well as popular online payment services. However, in addition to these predefined sites, the malware identifies Web pages visited by victims that contain certain keywords such as balance, checking account and account summary, and sends their content back to the attackers.

This helps attackers identify new financial websites to target and build scripts for the malware to interact with them.

Once attackers have the information they need to access a user’s account on a website, they use a proxy server to connect to the user’s computer via VNC and access the account directly. This can bypass certain account protection mechanisms enforced by websites because unauthorized actions like transferring money are done through the victim’s browser.

“Of all of the sites targeted by this particular program, — owned by Fidelity Investments — appears to be the top target,” Golovanov said. “This company is one of the largest mutual investment fund firms in the world. Its website offers clients a long list of ways to manage their finances online. This gives malicious users the chance to not only transfer cash funds to their own accounts, but also to play the stock market, using the accounts and the money of Neverquest victims.”

The methods used to distribute Neverquest are similar to those used to distribute the Bredolab botnet client, which became one of the most widespread malware on the Internet in 2010.

Neverquest steals log-in credentials from FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client applications installed on infected computers. Attackers then use these FTP credentials to infect websites with the Neutrino exploit pack, which then exploits vulnerabilities in browser plug-ins to install the Neverquest malware on the computers of users visiting those sites.

The Trojan program also steals SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) and POP (Post Office Protocol) credentials from email clients and sends them back to attackers so they can be used to send spam emails with malicious attachments. “These emails are typically designed to look like official notifications from a variety of services,” Golovanov said.

In addition, Neverquest steals account log-in information for a large number of social networking websites and chat services accessed from infected computers. Those accounts could be used to spread links to infected websites with the intention to further spread Neverquest, even though Kaspersky Lab hasn’t seen this method being used yet.


“As early as November, Kaspersky Lab noted instances where posts were made in hacker forums about buying and selling databases to access bank accounts and other documents used to open and manage the accounts to which stolen funds are sent,” Golovanov said. “We can expect to see mass Neverquest attacks towards the end of the year, which could ultimately lead to more users becoming the victims of online cash theft.”


Hopes fade as budget panel’s work plods along

Nov. 26, 2013 – 04:19PM | By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments


WASHINGTON — A House-Senate budget conference committee is finding its work on a compromise spending plan tough sledding, and the prospects for a long-term federal spending blueprint appear dead.

During recent conversations with Defense News, senior House and Senate aides have acknowledged talks between the leaders of the bicameral conference committee have been plodding, and have so far yielded few tangible plans.

In public statements, their bosses have sounded even less optimistic.

“These budget negotiations are moving way too slowly,” House Budget Committee Ranking Member Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Tuesday. The chairman of that panel, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., last week said “we are further along than when we started” — but made clear major differences remain between Republicans and Democrats.

Asked during an interview on MSNBC if a House-Senate budget conference committee will meet congressional appropriators’ demands for a final 2014 budget topline figure by Monday, Van Hollen responded: “The short answer is: No — that would be a minor miracle.”

Congressional sources say the parties — as they have since Barack Obama became president and ultra-conservative members joined Congress — remain far apart on taxes, entitlement reforms, and just where to cut the federal budget.


“The idea of a small [budget] deal is on base, I think,” said one Senate source.

The Senate source said the conference committee’s nitty-gritty work is mostly being done by its co-chairs, Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“Murray and Ryan are doing most of the talking, and then they’re kind of just getting back to the rest of us,” said the source, whose boss is a member of the conference committee.

It is increasingly unlikely that the Ryan-Murray committee will agree to the kind of long-term budget and deficit-paring blueprint it was charged with creating. Instead, aides and lawmakers say what’s most likely is a shorter-spanning — likely two years at the most — plan like the “mini-bargain” long pushed by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

So why can’t Democrats and Republicans strike that kind of long-term plan? It depends on which member of which party is answering. Both sides largely blame the other for refusing to negotiate.

“The fundamental issue has been the difference in opinion over some big issues,” Van Hollen said.

“For example, Republicans started the negotiations by taking things off the table,” Van Hollen said. “For example, they said, ‘You can’t replace the sequester, even in part, by eliminating one special-interest tax loophole.’

“When you take that position, it simply makes things harder,” he said. “Essentially, what they’ve said is they’re willing to see dramatic cuts to the budget — including for defense — rather than dealing with some of these special-interest tax breaks.”

A Pentagon spokesman said the Defense Department faces a total sequester cut to all non-exempt accounts in 2014 of $52 billion. DoD civilian and uniformed brass have raised dramatic warnings about the ramification of continued across-the-board cuts.

Van Hollen described Republicans as divided on what to do about the remaining nine years of sequestration.

He said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., “came over to the House and said, ‘Let’s just settle for sequester at the end of the day.’ ” But members of the House-Senate budget conference panel, he said, got a letter from some House Appropriations Committee Republicans urging the budget conference to “fix” sequestration.

But Ryan, during an event last week sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, largely blamed Democrats for dismissing the notion of replacing some or all remaining sequester cuts with entitlement program changes.

Ryan said that during closed-door talks, Democrats do not pitch entitlement reform changes “of any significance whatsoever.”

“They’re signaling they aren’t interested in entitlement reform in any shape or form,” Ryan said. “If this becomes about raising taxes, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

“We are willing to trade” some of the sequester cuts for other federal spending cuts, he added.

Ryan made clear House Republicans support keeping the defense and domestic sequestration cuts in place — in full — if Democrats refuse to accept the entitlement and tax reforms they want.

“We know … our debt is about to take off in a few years and never come back down if we don’t do something about it,” Ryan said. “This is our concern. What we get from the president is: Give me more debt … without doing anything to deal with why the debt is rising so fast.”

That’s why Republicans want to lock in “a down payment” on curbing the nation’s massive deficit.

Short of a mostly entitlement-reform deal, Ryan said, “then we’ll stick with what we have.”

William Lynn, a former deputy defense secretary, told Defense News editors and reporters on Monday that the department likely could live with the spending levels set in place by the sequester-creating 2011 Budget Control Act.

But he described the mechanism of sequestration as untenable. Removing that so-called “meat axe,” he said, would allow Pentagon and defense industry officials to have more insight about future defense budget levels.

That move “would have a significant effect on mitigating the damage,” Lynn said. “That is the most important step we could take.”

Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, also predicted there will be no government shutdown when the federal government runs out of funding on Jan. 15.

He believes that either the House-Senate budget conference committee will strike some kind of deal or lawmakers will instead pass another continuing resolution in January.

“One of those two scenarios will prevail, and therefore,” he said, “we will not have a government shutdown.”



Navy weighs options for email services

Nov. 26, 2013 – 04:22PM   |  



It’s no secret that Navy and Marine Corps leaders haven’t been the biggest fans of enterprise email services offered by the Pentagon.

At a Defense Information Systems Agency conference last year, Brig. Gen. Kevin Nally, spoke out against the Marine Corps moving to the DISA-managed email service and using addresses. The reasons were cultural, but at the time the Navy and Marine Corps already had an email system under the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet.

Now, email, along with data storage, video teleconferencing and other enterprise services, is expected to transition to the new Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN), NMCI’s replacement, and provide IT services for some 800,000 users.

Incumbent vendor HP will be providing all services currently offered on NMCI and a subsequent continuity of services contract, said Victor Gavin, the Navy’s program executive officer for enterprise information systems, in June.

But new departmentwide mandates could throw a wrinkle in at least part of the Navy’s plan to roll out enterprise services, particularly email.

DoD CIO Teri Takai is giving defense components until early January to come up with a plan to switch their email service to the DoD enterprise email service, according to a Sept. 5 memo.

Takai directed all components to identify existing email capabilities and begin moving them to the DoD-wide system no later than the first quarter of fiscal 2015. She said sharing a single email service will provide DoD components a common platform to coordinate activities and plan and schedule meetings.

“[Defense Enterprise Email] reduces the cost of operations and maintenance by consolidating hardware, as well as operations and support teams,” Takai said in the memo.

When asked whether DoD enterprise email would replace capabilities offered under NGEN, Department of the Navy CIO Terry Halvorsen said the Navy and Marine Corps require a business case analysis before making investment decisions.

“We will conduct a BCA of available alternatives — including DISA Enterprise Email — to find the most cost-effective means to deliver the department’s email service,” Halvorsen said in a statement to Federal Times. “The business case analysis will consider cost, mission, security and system performance related to the various solutions to determine which offers the necessary security and service at the best price.”

Marine Corps CIO Nally declined to comment.

Email is a service required to be delivered under NGEN, “there’s no question, that is just fact,” said Bill Toti, vice president and executive for Navy and Marine Corps accounts at HP. Toti said the Navy has not said otherwise about transitioning its email services under the NGEN contract.

If the government were to change its requirements, then HP would modify its delivery model, Toti said. But HP was able to offer the winning technically acceptable, lowest price bid for NGEN by integrating enterprise services, he said.

“So, there will be efficiencies lost if we were to sever a service,” he said.

Toti stressed that HP is not a competitor to DISA when it comes to providing enterprise services for the Navy.

“We look at ourselves as the first instantiation of the [Joint Information Environment] in DoD,” he said. “We were doing enterprisewide email before it was cool. Now, is it possible that requirements evolve over time for what enterprise email might be, of course.”

There’s an ongoing push to move to DISA for shared services, said John Slye, a federal analyst with IT market research firm Deltek. First it was enterprise email, and now it’s DISA for cloud services and data center consolidation. The move is part of the large JIE initiative to consolidate and standardize IT and get some consensus on costs.

If the services are going to move to DISA shared services, they have to work out the actual costs, Slye said. Working through cultural barriers is another challenge because there are entrenched processes for things like budget and capital planning.

Slye said the services are warming up to departmentwide approaches like DISA’s cloud offering, but the “Navy has been the one foot dragger among the three compared to Army and Air Force.”


NSA testing how to handle classified data over unsecured networks

Wednesday – 11/27/2013, 3:45am EST

By     Jared Serbu


In the view of the National Security Agency, just because information is classified doesn’t mean authorized users should only be able to view it while they’re tethered to their desks. So NSA is looking for ways to access classified information on tablets and smartphones over transport mechanisms and on devices that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

The agency, which is in charge of ensuring the security of classified-level IT systems for the entire government, just launched a pilot program that it hopes will introduce the ability to use commercial mobile devices for classified data without any hardware modifications. The data those devices consume and transmit would be able to be exchanged over WiFi networks while a government employee is at work, and over the networks of commercial cellular providers when he or she isn’t.

“It’s going to introduce some new complexities for us, and it’s going to test the availability and effectiveness of commercial technology,” said Debora Plunkett, the director of the NSA’s information assurance directorate. “This is a significant demand signal for us, and we really have to deliver on it. This is going to help us update the next iteration of our mobility capability package, and it’s going to provide us with the technical guidance we need to deploy secure enterprise mobility.”

Plunkett said the pilot is part of NSA’s recognition that government employees increasingly demand the ability to use the latest generation of commercial mobile devices in their day to day jobs, and that the agency needs to be able to quickly sign off on ways to use those devices securely.


Rejects the old ways


The project falls under the broader heading of NSA’s Commercial Solutions for Classified (CSfC) program, which aims to use commercial standards and commercial technologies in a layered approach to security. CSfC spurns the traditional approach in which the agency tells government contractors to build government-only solutions, a process that usually took years of development for each product.

“Capability and usability features that are the same or essentially the same, and do not lag behind those available in commercial devices will improve security by discouraging the use of communications methods that are more convenient, but less secure,” she told attendees at a mobility conference hosted by AFCEA DC. “They will reduce training and familiarization curves associated with new functionalities, and they will generally provide users with a host of efficiency tools that recognize the needs of a mobile workforce.”

In February 2012, NSA released its first capability package for mobility, intended to eventually become a guidebook for agencies on how to incorporate commercial technologies into national security systems without having to have the entire system specifically pre-cleared by NSA.

NSA has been adding new criteria to deal with different aspects of mobile technology since then. The latest version, released earlier this month, includes new guidance for agencies and vendors on mobile device management and protecting data at rest.

Plunkett said NSA now needs to do a better job of proactively releasing its security requirements for mobile devices to industry in the hopes that mobile device manufacturers will begin to use that guidance at the foundation of their gadgets’ designs.

“This is not a new message for us,” she said. “Addressing security as an afterthought will degrade the user experience, lead to development inefficiencies and really preclude or delay participation in our CSfC programs. In the past, it has not been unusual for a customer to come to me and say, ‘I’ve got a really great product. Can you make it secure? And, by the way, I’ve already bought 1,000 of them.’ That’s too late. I’m really happy that today, we’ve got more and more government customers coming to us at the front end, at the concept. They say, ‘I’ve got a need and I’ve got a great idea, can you help me?’ That’s when we can get to a win-win. We can make sure we can partner together inside the development cycle, making sure security and the needs of the user are both being addressed.”


MDM still falls short

While NSA wants to move away from government-only solutions, there are some areas in which it believes commercial providers haven’t advanced their products enough to completely meet the government’s security needs. One of them surrounds mobile device management (MDM) technology, something NSA will need if it’s going to scale up its project to use commercial devices on both WiFi and cellular networks.

“MDM has taken a significant step forward in the last year, but today’s products do not provide the full functionality and the robust security we need for the national security mission,” she said. “We need the ability to apply dynamic policy management for our end users. That policy will be enterprise-controlled, and dependent on the device type, on the user and the location, and possibly additional parameters. One big benefit is that the policy can be dynamically changed to accommodate mission conditions, like a [continuity of operations] scenario or a short window where an analyst might not be able to get to a secure facility.”

Plunkett said vendors have some very legitimate complaints about the amount of time and money it usually takes to put their products through the paces of the NSA vetting process before they’re approved for classified use. She says the agency is trying to do better, and it’s working on processes that it hopes will reduce the cycle time to around 90 days.


“We’re working to reduce the complexity of the requirements in the typical six- month evaluation using a new common criteria paradigm, but we need your help,” she said. “We need you to come ready to play, with robust documentation. We find that evaluations take the longest when vendors come and are not prepared without all the right documentation intact.”


Cash Is Dead. Are Credit Cards Next?

By Matt Vasilogambros

National Journal

November 25, 2013


The future of money has arrived, and it’s called Coin.

It looks like a credit card. It’s the size of a credit card. It swipes in credit card machines. But it holds the information of up to eight of your debit, credit, rewards, or gift cards. And you can switch between cards by simply pressing a button.

The new product, launched recently, promises to change the way consumers spend money in a secure and efficient way.

The key technology is a Bluetooth signal. To load information from your different cards, just swipe them on a card reader into your Apple or Android phone and take a picture of the card. If you’re too far from your card—like, say, you leave it at the restaurant—your phone gets a notification. And the Coin’s battery lasts up to two years.

So, what does it cost someone to fundamentally change the way they pay for dinner? $100.Pre-ordering has already started (at the reduced price of $50), and Coin will ship out next summer.

But this San Francisco company is just one of many start-ups across the country that are finding new ways of developing the future of retail.


Cash is dead, haven’t you heard?

In recent years, Americans have used less and less physical money when purchasing items. Several don’t use it in stores, and many more don’t keep bills and coins in their pockets. The “cling” of stray pennies hitting the counter at your local coffee shop may soon become a distant memory.

According to a survey by Walker Sands, a Chicago-based public relations firm, nearly 1-in-5 consumers do not carry any cash on them. In total, more than 60 percent of consumers carry $20 or less in cash. Surprisingly, about 1-in-20 people say they don’t use cash and refuse to go to places that accept only physical currency. (The survey was conducted over the last year among 1,046 consumers across the United States.)

And other surveys show a similar trend: According to a 2012 study by Javelin Strategy and Research, 27 percent of purchases in 2011 were made with cash. By 2017, the group expects that number to drop to 23 percent.

So, yes, we’re headed toward a cashless society. But what about plastic credit cards, as well?


The end of the George Costanza wallet is near.

People use cash less. Receipts are redundant with online banking. And products like Coin allow people to pay digitally, instead of with a physical credit card. Could the George Costanza wallet be a thing of the past?


Christine Pietryla, the senior vice president of public relations for Walker Sands, said she was immediately drawn to Coin. It’s a product that fits into her firm’s research: People want their consumer experience to be simpler, easier, and more efficient.

“It’s definitely a challenge to find an application or a solution that puts everything all in one place,” she said. “This is unique in that it does do that.”

Consumers are starting to prefer digital options in payments: According to the same research from Walker Sands, 28 percent of consumers are more likely to use a digital gift card, rather than a plastic gift card. It only makes sense that services like PayPal, a business that allows people to make payments and money transfers through the Internet, have taken off.

Similarly, Google Wallet, launched in 2011, allows users to store information for their debit cards, credit cards, reward cards, or gift cards on their mobile phone. For participating stores, someone can just tap their phone to a PayPass terminal to pay for a product. Google Wallet users can all send money through Gmail attachments. Additionally, Google announced last week that it was introducing prepaid debt cards that can be used in ATMs.

And in the same survey, 95 percent of people say they’ve purchased something from Amazon in the last year.

PayPal, in fact, last week just made a deal with another digital start-up, Uber—a car service company that uses a mobile application to hail rides.

Other start-ups, like Isis (which allows consumers to pay for items in person through their smartphones) or Dynamics (which created a similar multi-account card like Coin), also have products that offer a different way of paying for goods.

It’s not just how you pay, but how businesses get paid.

The future of retail goes well beyond Coin or PayPal. It’s also about how stores are processing your payments.

Any person who works in Washington, New York, or Los Angeles can attest to the growing number of gourmet food trucks that have popped up on street corners around lunchtime. It’s noon, so why not go to Farragut Square and eat at Far East Taco? And for payment, many of these food trucks use the Square Reader—an easy attachment that allows anyone with an iPhone or iPad to process a credit card payment. Even some big-box stores have checkouts with iPads.

And it’s not just the Square. What about paying for items without actually going to a checkout line? According to the same Walker Sands study, 59 percent of consumers said they would be more likely to shop at stores that offer self-checkout on mobile devices.

Store owners are also turning to digital companies to get around traditional credit card companies that charge too much to process payments. Des Moines, Iowa-based Dwolla is a payment network that allows people to transfer money—either to friends or businesses—more efficiently through a mobile application and its website. And it saves merchants money by charging only 25 cents for transactions over $10—and charging nothing if it’s less. Thousands of companies and consumers have already signed up for the service, which started in 2009. Dwolla has even launched a credit feature, which could compete with credit cards.


This is all well and good, but…

Many of these start-ups are just that: start-ups—small outfits of techies who had a vision of a product that challenges the industry to think differently and move in radical directions.


For one, it costs a lot of money to change the game. That’s why companies like these rely on crowd-funding. Coin is looking to raise $50,000 beyond what some of its investors have put in. It can also cost a lot of money to buy these new products. Coin is $100—not steep, but not cheap. Other modern payment services, like PayPal or Google Wallet, are free.

Additionally, with any new product, there are risks for security breaches. Coin notifies consumers when they might have left it at a restaurant, but their information is still just as much at risk as with a plastic credit card.

And no product is guaranteed to catch on. Most consumers are looking for three major qualities in any product: increased security, a tremendous amount of customer service, and a consistent visual experience. In other words, consumers want to know that when they walk into a store or log in to the product’s website or mobile application, it’s all going to look the same, be easy to use, and be visually appealing.

If these start-ups lack these qualities, consumers won’t buy into the idea. With Coin, consumers will have to replace their card every two years—shorter than with a normal credit card. And lest we forget a simple truth: Credit cards are already easy to use.

Coin is new. It’s unfamiliar. It’s dangerous, to some. But every idea from a start-up company is at least a little risky.

“Start-ups are there to disrupt and be innovative,” Pietryla said. “It’s either going to take off or it’s not.”

Two years ago, people might have thought paying with an iPad was crazy. As the technology catches up, consumers get more confident in it. Coin might be just that.


Aide: Senate To Tee Up NDAA Again – After Two-Week Break

Nov. 26, 2013 – 04:18PM | By JOHN T. BENNETT |


WASHINGTON — The US Senate likely will take a second swipe at passing a Pentagon policy bill as soon as it returns from a two-week Thanksgiving break.

A senior Senate Armed Services Committee aide tells Defense News that panel leaders and aides “are continuing to work through the holiday time to prepare for the NDAA to be back on the Senate floor the week of Dec. 9.”

The Senate plodded along for several days last week on its 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before the process broke down on Thursday. The chamber killed a motion that would have ended debate on the must-pass bill and set up a final vote.

SASC Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., pinned blame on Republicans such as Ranking Member James Inhofe, R-Okla., saying they submitted nearly 20 amendments late in the week that the two sides never previously discussed.

A spokeswoman for Inhofe declined to comment on Levin’s version of why the process fell apart.

The legislation, when Energy Department funding is factored in, would authorize about $522 billion in base 2014 defense funding. That’s about the same level authorized by a House-passed version of the bill.

The Senate’s bill calls for $80 billion for overseas contingencies operations; the House-passed level is $85 billion. A conference committee would have to find a compromise war-funding amount.

Levin last week said the pre-Thanksgiving breakdown put the bill “in jeopardy,” raising new doubts about whether a 51-year streak of both chambers passing a final NDAA might be broken.



U.S. Sent B-52s Into China Air Zone, Official Says

By David Lerman – Nov 26, 2013 3:00 PM ET


The U.S. flew two unarmed B-52 bombers into a disputed air-defense zone claimed by China, the first test of China’s response amid escalating tensions in the region that have implications for international air travel.

The flight of bombers into China’s newly claimed zone occurred without incident, according to a U.S. defense official. The area includes three islands in the East China Sea that are owned by Japan, a major U.S. ally, and have been at the center of a dispute between Asia’s two biggest economies.

China announced the air-defense identification zone effective Nov. 23 and said its military will take “defensive emergency measures” if aircraft enter the area without reporting flight plans or identifying themselves.

Japan, which denounced the move, told its airlines to stop providing flight plans to China. Within hours of that request, ANA Holdings Inc. (9202) and Japan Airlines Co. (9201), the country’s two biggest carriers, said they would stop reporting flight plans for planes traveling through the zone.

China’s action poses a “direct threat” to the U.S. military in the region and raises the risk of escalation if it isn’t resolved, said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

Wider Contest

“China will not back off, and Japan will not back off, and the United States will support Japan,” Cronin said. “What has been a maritime contest has now become an air and maritime contest.”

China and Japan both are seeking bigger roles in the region at the same time President Barack Obama has a goal of reasserting U.S. military and economic influence there. Major powers are asserting themselves as they hunt for new sources of growth in trade with the emerging economies of southeast Asia.

Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to travel to China and Japan next week and Obama plans to take a postponed trip to Asia in April.

The two U.S. bombers flew from Guam and spent less than an hour in the China-claimed zone as part of an annual training exercise, said the defense official, who asked not to be identified discussing the deployment.

No Chinese aircraft were observed at the time of the U.S. flights, the official said. The flights, part of a long-planned exercise, occurred last night Washington time and took several hours to complete, the official said. The flights were reported earlier today by the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. Rejection

The U.S. defense official said there’s no expectation of an armed conflict arising from the air-defense zone dispute.

The Pentagon said yesterday that the U.S. won’t abide by China’s identification rules.

“We view this development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a Nov. 23 statement in response to China’s announcement. “This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.”

The main focus of Biden’s trip, which includes South Korea, is negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The vice president’s office said his meetings with China’s leaders will be on “global and regional issues of mutual interest.”

China’s announcement of the air zone, denounced by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, marks one of the most serious escalations in tensions since September 2012, when Japan bought three disputed islands in the East China Sea that now lie within the contested zone.

Disputed Islands

China and Japan both claim sovereignty over the islands, which are known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. The surrounding waters are rich in oil, natural gas and fish.

China is “resolute in its will and resolve” to defend its sovereignty over the islands, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in Beijing on Nov. 25. The current situation is “totally caused” by Japan’s “erroneous actions,” Qin said.

While the U.S. hasn’t taken sides in the territorial dispute, it recognizes Japan’s administration of islands in the area that are the center of the tensions.

The dispute has already been played out at sea, including confrontations in which Chinese vessels were accused of targeting Japan’s forces with weapons-guiding radar systems.

The flight by U.S. bombers may have been designed in part to discourage Japan from taking any actions that could aggravate tensions further, said Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the New America Foundation, a public policy institute in Washington.

“We are saying to Japan, ‘Do not respond, we are here,'” Slaughter said at a forum today held by the Center for New American Security.

Robert Kaplan, a senior fellow at the center, called the U.S. flights a “show of force in defense of Japan” that underscores how seriously the U.S. is taking China’s action.



Oklahoma Farmers Use Drones To Monitor Crops, Cattle

by Press • 26 November 2013

By Justin Dougherty, News 9


Privacy concerns weigh heavy on the governmental use of UAS. But for farmers in Oklahoma and all around the United States, UAS could be a necessary tool to the future of farming.

“The technology is pretty new to our members but as we go and technology gets stronger I see a huge market for it in the future,” said Oklahoma Farm Bureau’s John Collison.

UAS is already a tool for many Oklahoma Farmers.

“Check their cattle, check their property, use these drone for precision agriculture and make sure we are farming the most efficient and effective way possible,” Collison said.

Oklahoma Farm Bureau’s John Collison still hears concerns from other farmers across the state.

“Farmers want to use these drones in a correct manner and under FAA guidelines and using them correctly,” Collison said.

In an exclusive statement to News 9, the FAA clarified the issue, stating:

“Farmers may operate an unmanned aircraft over their own property for personal use and Guidelines for the operation of model aircraft, such as those published by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, may be used by farmers as reference for safe model UAS operations.”

One priority guideline from the AMA… “(c) Not fly higher than approximately 400 feet above ground level within three (3) miles of an airport without notifying the airport operator.”

“System are much smaller, and has the capability to sense where his crops need to be watered,” said Retired Major General Toney Stricklin.

Retired Major General of the US Army and member of the Oklahoma Unmanned Aircraft Council Toney Stricklin knows the difference between military and commercial drones, and feels farming is just the beginning.

“I Like to say the genie is out of the bottle. This technology will continue to grow in public safety and agriculture,” Stricklin said.

It really is just the beginning. General Stricklin estimates in the next 20 years, UAS will be a multi-billion dollar industry.

Academy of Model Aeronautics National Model Aircraft Safety Code


Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, November 30, 2013

No wonder men age so noticeably in the job. Things are pretty rough for President Obama these days.

Negative reviews of his leadership continue to rise and now stand at their highest level in over three years. Forty-four percent (44%) of Likely U.S. Voters consider the president’s leadership poor, while 40% think he’s doing a good or excellent job.  

As problems continue to surround the rollout of the new national health care law, the president’s job approval ratings for over two weeks now have been running at the lowest levels of his entire presidency.

[Some readers wonder how we come up with our job approval ratings for the president since they often don’t show as dramatic a change as some other pollsters do. It depends on how you ask the question and whom you ask.]

Just 36% of voters now have at least a somewhat favorable opinion of the health care law, the lowest finding this year. Sixty-one percent (61%) predict that the cost of health care will go up under the new law. That’s the highest level of pessimism since early March 2011.

Only 43% have a favorable opinion of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the government official in charge of implementing the health care law.  

Democrats lead again by one point on the Generic Congressional Ballot, but they were ahead by seven in early October during the government shutdown. Voters now trust Republicans more than Democrats to handle health care, in addition to the economy which is their number one concern.

On the economic front, 49% of consumers said the country is still in a recession going into the big Black Friday sales period.

Thirty-two percent (32%) of all Americans think now is a good time for someone in their area to sell a house.  That’s up from 16% a year ago but down from 39% in September, the highest level of optimism in regular surveying for over four years.

Homeowner confidence in the short- and long-term future of housing values is down slightly from last month’s highs but remains relatively steady. 

Fifty-eight percent (58%) now believe their home is worth more than the amount they owe on their mortgage.

Looking overseas, the president’s team is negotiating a deal that would end some sanctions on Iran in exchange for verifiable cutbacks in the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Voters are almost evenly divided over that idea: 41% favor a deal with Iran, while 43% are opposed. Two weeks earlier, 52% favored a deal with Iran.

The United States has proposed a security deal to Afghanistan that would leave some U.S. troops in that country after next year, but 51% of voters want all troops out of Afghanistan by then.

In other surveys last week:

— Forty percent (40%) of Americans say they or someone they know are responsible for the care of at least one parent. Nearly as many (37%) have at least one parent living with them or know someone who does.

— Eighty-five percent (85%) think they have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Most Americans planned to eat their Thanksgiving dinner at home or at a relative’s house again this year. 

— Although an early winter storm threatened much of the East Coast, more Americans planned to travel this Thanksgiving, compared to last year.


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