Using only $1000 worth of equipment, a group of researchers hijacked a small drone, highlighting the vulnerabilities of unencrypted GPS signals. Unmanned aerial vehicles have become a fact of modern warfare, and their presence is even making its way into everyday American life: Amateurs already have turned drones into a popular hobby, and law enforcement agencies want permission to deploy them as well. But while the powerful military drones used overseas use encrypted GPS signals, the ones in the United States rely on signals from open civilian GPS, which makes them vulnerable to GPS “spoofing.”
Last year, Google raised the ire of many when it confessed that its city-mapping Street View vehicles unintentionally gathered unencrypted Wi-Fi data as they rolled past people’s abodes. To fix its image and to fend off lawsuits, the company soon tightened its privacy policies and ensured that its Street View cars stopped collecting that information. But the controversies just won’t stop. Google is now trying to convince privacy-conscious Swiss officials to drop the country’s tight Street View restrictions, while security-conscious Israeli officials are concerned that the technology will help terrorists.
Twenty-seven countries have been partially mapped via Street View, a Google product that provides 360-degree panoramic views from ground level. The company creates these images by sending groups of camera-studded vehicles to various parts of the world to snap pictures as they drive.
Although Switzerland is home to one of Google’s largest offices outside the United States, the country has strict privacy laws that have prevented Google from loading new Street View images of Switzerland for the past year. On Thursday, Google petitioned a Swiss court to lift this ban. The search engine company told Switzerland’s Federal Administrative Court that its technology automatically conceals the identity of faces and license plates, and that it is no different from rival services.
As the backlash continues against the TSA’s full body scanning and increasingly aggressive pat-downs of those who opt out, the agency has bent a little in one area. The head of TSA today questioned the need to use the added security on pilots. The pilots organization had already told its members to opt out of the scans to avoid extra radiation exposure. Now, the TSA says that as of 2011 pilots will only need to have their airline-issued IDs checked by computer.
“This one seemed to jump out as a common-sense issue,” Transportation Security Administration (TSA) chief John Pistole told Bloomberg News on Friday. “Why don’t we trust pilots who are literally in charge of the aircraft?” That’s exactly the point commercial airline pilots have been making for years. [Christian Science Monitor]
What Pistole did not do, however, was back off the policy of using the scanners on the rest of us. And yesterday on its blog, the TSA tried to launch a PR counter-offensive to the tidal wave of bad press this week. (Though you might not be terribly satisfied with their answer to the question of whether pat-downs are invasive, about which Ars Technica quips, “Nowhere in the “Fact” response does the TSA directly answer the allegation of invasiveness, probably because the pat-downs are invasive.”)
Since the TSA appears disinclined to change its mind about scanning or getting touchy-feely with the general public, lawmakers are beginning to make some noise. In New York, councilman David Greenfield proposed rules to bar TSA from using the x-ray scanners in the city’s airports.
John Tyner missed his flight to South Dakota for a pheasant hunting trip with his father-in-law. He wasn’t late to the airport, he didn’t get lost in the terminal. He never made it into the terminal because he wouldn’t partake in either a whole body scan or a physical pat-down of his genitals.
After arriving at the airport, Tyner was pulled aside to go through a “whole body scan,” an radiation-based machine that takes an image of your body under your clothes. He “opted out” of the scan only to realize the alternative is just as bad. He asked the TSA officer who was patting him down not to touch his privates. Actually, he said: “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” The matter quickly escalated, according to his blog post about the incident:
She described to me that because I had opted out of the backscatter screening, I would now be patted down, and that involved running hands up the inside of my legs until they felt my groin. I stated that I would not allow myself to be subject to a molestation as a condition of getting on my flight. The supervisor informed me that it was a standard administrative security check and that they were authorized to do it. I repeated that I felt what they were doing was a sexual assault, and that if they were anyone but the government, the act would be illegal. [John Tyner's blog post]
After the incident, Tyner was escorted from the area, and was able to get a refund on his ticket and was eventually allowed to leave the airport, but not without being threatened with a $10,000 fine for doing so without having finished the screening procedure. At his blog you can read his post about the event and see his videos (he apparently had his smart phone recording video throughout much of the incident).
If a country fires an airborne nuclear missile, the source of the attack is obvious. But what about the more fluid threat that hangs over the 21st century—terrorists sneaking a nuclear device into a city and setting it off? In a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, researchers suggest that even in the charred aftermath of a nuclear explosion, there could be evidence left behind that helps to identify the source of the bomb.
Physicist Albert Fahey and company went back to the beginning of the atomic age, to the United States’ first atomic bomb test in New Mexico in July 1945. As that bomb test was called “Trinity,” the glass left behind by the blast is called “trinitite.” Fahey obtained some of that glass to show that all these years later, it still contained evidence of the bomb’s makeup.
“Prior to this study, people didn’t realise that other components of the bomb could be discerned from looking at ground debris and seeing what’s associated [with it],” said Dr Fahey. “But there are some distinctive signatures that were in the bomb other than fission products and plutonium, and that gives you hope that you can get some additional information out of it – like where it was made.” [BBC News]
After six years of legal wrangling, a New York judge is set to approve a $657 million settlement package for thousands of rescue workers and volunteers who became sick after working on the cleanup of the World Trade Center site. The workers, who had sued the City of New York and other officials for their subsequent illness, can now settle their injury claims. Marc Bern, one of the lawyers representing the workers, said many of his clients were “first responders” at the site when the twin towers collapsed on September 11, 2001. After the work, some found their health deteriorated, with many suffering from asthma, other respiratory issues and blood cancer [CNN].
The money for the claims will come from a $1 billion federal grant to the WTC Captive Insurance Co., created to indemnify the city and its contractors against the flood of lawsuits [Daily News]. The workers have 90 days to look through the proposed settlement and decide if they like it. If 95 percent of the plaintiffs approve of the package, then the settlement will stand at $575 million. If 100% approve, the settlement goes up to $657 million [Daily News].
We gave the BBC a hard time this morning for going a little overboard in declaring the Large Hadron Collider a broken-down mess. But here’s something cool: In a new documentary, a team simulated the blast that “Underwear Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to create on Christmas Day last year. Their finding: Even if he had blown up the bomb successfully, it wouldn’t have been enough to take down flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit.
Dr John Wyatt, an international terrorism and explosives adviser to the UN, replicated the conditions on board the Detroit flight on a decommissioned Boeing 747 at an aircraft graveyard in Gloucestershire, England [BBC News]. Wyatt used the same amount of the explosive pentaerythritol that the bomber carried, about 80 grams, which packs about the punch of a hand grenade. They put it on the same seat and lit off a controlled explosion, which sent a shock wave through the aluminum exterior.