Category Archives: computer & internet

EarthRisk crunches data to predict extreme weather

EarthRisk crunches data to predict extreme weather | Green Tech – CNET News.

The HeatRisk application gives trained meteorologists tools to analyze the weather patterns that lead to extreme heat weeks before these events occur.

(Credit: EarthRisk Technologies)

EarthRisk Technologies is mining years of weather data for profit.

The San Diego-based start-up today launched HeatRisk, a Web-based application designed to predict extreme heat events 30 to 40 days out. The target audience is meteorologists who work for energy companies or other organizations which need a long-range forecast to hedge their risk from extreme temperatures.

Over time, EarthRisk Technologies intends to design a product aimed at less technical users and investigate whether its research method can be applied to predicting extreme storms, according to President and Chief Science Officer Stephen Bennett. Its first product, released last year, is for analyzing the factors that lead to extreme cold events.

More researchers are tapping powerful computers and software able to present big sets of data to address environmental problems, such as air and water quality or extreme weather. EarthRisk Technologies originally began as a research project at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, but company founders saw there was a business opportunity buried in its research.

“We realized if we could write a software application around our research, it would increase the value of the underlying research tremendously,” said Bennett. “The (corporate sponsors) said if you can put together a good application and continue to do cutting-edge research, we will be the first to sign up.”

Three years ago, Scripps was approached by energy companies and hedge funds which deal in energy futures to see if there was a way to identify major weather events beyond the National Weather Service forecast. In addition to causing safety hazards, extreme weather throws energy markets out of whack by creating an imbalance between supply and demand.

A power generator, for example, could use HeatRisk to prepare for a coming heat wave by purchasing fuel for auxiliary generators to meet higher demand. Having a longer lead time than traditional forecasts gives energy buyers and traders an advantage, explained Bennett.

Right now, the people who use the software need to be skilled in meteorology and be comfortable analyzing atmospheric conditions directly. Eventually, the company hopes its software could be used by retailers, farmers, or municipalities which can use long-range forecasts to prepare for extreme temperatures, Bennett said.

Dominoes lining up
The accuracy of weather forecasting has improved over the past decade from supercomputers and simulation software, but the focus tends to be on shorter-term windows than what EarthRisk is doing, Bennett said. And rather than trying to forecast average temperatures, EarthRisk is seeking the factors that lead to specific extreme temperature events.

The company’s TempRisk platform uses historical weather data to isolate the factors that lead to extreme temperatures.

(Credit: EarthRisk Technologies)

To build the application, researchers analyzed weather data going back to 1948 to identify the patterns that led up to extreme cold or heat. Each pattern is sort of like a domino and when enough of them line up, the software can help identify the probability of an extreme weather event, Bennett explained.

In a recent example, a combination of a large high-pressure system over Scandinavia and a low-pressure system in the Atlantic, followed by another system over the Solomon Islands pointed to a heat spike in the U.S.

People can use the analytical application through a Web browser and pay a fee for using it during a season and specific regions. A forecasting application could be ready in about six months, Bennett said.

Using software to dodge weather risk is new so it’s still not clear there is a strong demand for it. But EarthRisk isn’t the only company to use cloud computing and large amounts of data to hedge against extreme weather. Earlier this year, WeatherBill launched a service that gives farmers insurance against the effects of extreme weather by continuously analyzing weather data.

 

Inflatable Sat antenna fits in your backpack

One Per Cent: Inflatable antenna you can stick in your backpack.

Jesse Emspak, contributor

Dish.jpg(Image: GATR Technologies)

A big issue in setting up satellite communications networks is the antennas – it takes time to set them up. In the wake of a big disaster cell networks can be damaged when the towers fall and take months to repair. For television crews and military units carrying a rigid satellite antenna can be a serious logistical problem, as even a metre-sized dish is quite heavy and difficult to transport.

Enter GATR Technologies, which has designed an inflatable 1.2-metre satellite antenna that can fit into a backpack and be carried by a single person. The company’s antenna looks something like a beach ball. It is a double-layered sphere with one layer a nylon mesh and the other made from sail material. The antenna is in the centre.

The receiving dish divides the sphere’s interior into two chambers and by applying pressure to one chamber you can push the antenna into a parabolic shape. The company already sells a larger, 2-metre version but this one is small enough to fit in an airline’s hand luggage area when folded.

GATR’s director of marketing, Dean Hudson, said the military is the major customer, though the company also hopes to get some interest from television crews who don’t want to go through the trouble of packing an entire satellite-link system up when they travel to areas without roads.

NATO site hacked

NATO site hacked • The Register.

Bookshop opened

Free whitepaper – Electrical Efficiency Measurement for Data Centers

NATO is warning subscribers to its e-Bookshop service that hackers have likely stolen its customer database.

The site is run as a separate service for distributing NATO information and does not contain any classified or secret information.

The bookshop has been closed and all members been warned by email to change their passwords if they are using them for other websites or services.

The email said: “Our examinations show a possible compromise of user information (username, password, address and email address) for people who have ordered publications from the e-Bookshop or subscribed to our email service.

“If you use the same email and password on other web platforms it is highly recommended that you change your passwords.”

NATO members were warned last month of increasing threats from hackivist group Anonymous. Looks like their advice was right.

The organisation is beginning to take cyber-threats more seriously – late last year it designated cyber-defence as a critical capability.

There is no clue so far as to who is behind the attack. The organisation has been hit before, and has no shortage of enemies.

Meanwhile LulzSec released a bunch of documents purloined from Arizona Police.

NATO’s data breach statement is here. ®

Security Breach Roundup, June 2011

Travelodge still doesn’t know who hacked it • The Register.

Travelodge still doesn’t know who hacked it

Free whitepaper – Physical Security in Mission Critical Facilities

Travelodge is still trying to find out who got into their customer database and snaffled names and email addresses.

The budget chain told the Reg it has asked outside contractors to go through its systems to try and find the culprits.

A spokeswoman said:

In the last 24 hours, we have been conducting a comprehensive investigation to find out why a small group of our customers have received a spam email from a third party to their registered email address.   Investigative specialist experts in this field have been working around the clock to methodically eliminate the possible areas of concern. Our current findings have revealed that a small proportion of data contained on one of our marketing databases may have been compromised. This data related to customers names and email addresses only, which has been used for the spam email.We can further confirm no financial data has been stolen, accessed or compromised.

The breach first emerged on Thursday when customers started getting spam emails to addresses which had only been given to the hotel chain.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating but stressed that hacking was primarily a matter for the police – provided Travelodge was taking proper care of the data of course. ®

***************************************************

Web Host Down Under Goes TitsUp After Hackage

Industry rallies following crippling online strike

Free whitepaper – Energy Efficient Cooling for Data Centers

Distressed domain hosting outfit Distribute.IT and its offshoot Click n Go have been acquired by larger competitor the Netregistry Group after a systematic hack attack brought down the company’s operations.

Neither party have disclosed the sale price or customer numbers but it is clear Distribute.IT’s priority was to ensure continuity of service after the hack crippled its network last week.

All of Distribute.IT’s customer base will be given the option of moving their services to the Netregistry Group.

Netregistry Group CEO Larry Bloch said:

We all have a great deal of sympathy and concern for the consequences to Distribute.IT staff, management and customers of this unfortunate incident. It is important to us that all Distribute.IT customers know the extent of effort to which Distribute IT have gone to rectify the damage. Distribute.IT had a very solid reputation – that comes from doing a good job for a long time. I want to remind customers of that excellence and ask for their patience and support as we work through the requirements to return services to all customers as rapidly as possible.

Bloch told customers that NetRegistry would honour all payments for hosting at Distribute.IT, but said that while it was assessing billing and payment history, it would give all Distribute.IT customers a free hosting service “as soon as humanly possible” so that they could upload their site and get their email addresses working.

The transaction is supported by domain administration agency auDA, which has been working closely with Distribute.IT management and NetRegistry through the saga.

The sale was quickly negotiated on Thursday morning. Up until late Wednesday night the Distribute.IT team was working with supporting companies such as data centre Micron21 to assist in migrating co-location clients to their facilities.

In an email to customers on Tuesday Distribute.IT support said:

All attempts to manage and stabilize the network and the storage have resulted in our security and network teams identifying further vulnerabilities in the configuration. This has resulted in the various lockouts of ports and loss of accessibility that you have experienced recently. In this climate of uncertainty, we would strongly recommend that you make preparations to migrate and transfer your requirements to another hosting/co-location provider.

Distribute.IT recommended to clients that they move to Micron21 for continuity or resumption of services for co-location, website and email hosting.

Micron21 James Braunegg said that Distribute.IT had worked “tirelessly” for its customers. “They have done the industry proud in coming back from a crisis and we are excited to be part of the recovery effort,” he said.

Braunegg also said that Micron21 may hire some of Distribute.IT’s staff, as it is currently recruiting.

auDA confirmed that Distribute.IT had advised the organisation that its hosting services, and not its domain name services, were the target of the attack.

“Distribute.IT has also advised auDA that it does not store any credit card data in its databases or logs, and so there has been no compromise to customers’ financial data. auDA can also confirm that .au registry data has not been compromised as a result of the security attacks on Distribute IT,” it said. ®

************************************************

Web authentication authority suffers security breach

Counterfeit certificates sought for high-profile sites

Free whitepaper – Creating Order from Chaos in Data Centers and Server Rooms

Yet another web authentication authority has been attacked by hackers intent on minting counterfeit certificates that would allow them to spoof the authenticated pages of high-profile sites.

Israel-based StartCom, which operates StartSSL suffered a security breach that occurred last Wednesday, the company said in a tersely worded advisory. The certificate authority, which is trusted by the Microsoft Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox browsers to vouch for the authenticity of sensitive websites, has suspended issuance of digital certificates and related services until further notice.

Eddy Nigg, StartCom’s CTO and COO, told The Register that the attackers targeted many of the same websites targeted during a similar breach in March against certificate authority Comodo. The hackers in the earlier attack managed to forge certificates for seven addresses, including Google mail, www.google.com, login.yahoo.com, login.skype.com, addons.mozilla.com, and Microsoft’s login.live.com.

The earlier breach touched off a frantic effort by the world’s biggest browser makers to blacklist the counterfeit credentials before the hackers could use them to create spoof websites that contained a valid cryptographic stamp validating the sites’ authenticity. It took more than a week for the fraudulent credentials to be blocked in all browsers, and even then, many widely used email programs still weren’t updated.

The hackers behind the attack on StartCom failed to obtain any certificates that would allow them to spoof websites in a similar fashion, and they were also unsuccessful in generating an intermediate certificate that would allow them to act as their own certificate authority, Nigg said in an email. The private encryption key at the heart of the company’s operations isn’t stored on a computer that’s attached to the internet, so they didn’t get their hands on that sensitive document, either, he said.

Last week’s attack is at least the fifth time an entity that issues SSL, or secure sockets layer, certificates has been targeted. In all, four of Comodo’s resellers have suffered security breaches in the past three months.

The susceptibility of CAs to hackers represents one of the many significant vulnerabilities of the SSL system, which serves as the internet’s foundation of trust. Once a CA’s root certificate is included with a browser, it can be responsible for validating tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of individual websites. That makes it impractical to remove the root certificate even if there is good reason to be wary of it.

Nigg declined to state how many certificates StartSSL has issued during its tenure, but he did say it is among the top 10 issuers. It is unclear when the CA will resume services. ®

 

And an old one that I missed before:

Teenage Girl Helps Anonymous Take Down Security Firm

HBGary’s nemesis is a ’16-year-old schoolgirl’

  • alert
  • print
  • tweet

Tales of mystery and imagination

Free whitepaper – The Advantages of Row and Rack-oriented Cooling Architectures for Data Centers

Forbes has bagged an interview with the “teenage girl” who supposedly played a key role in hacking security firm HBGary on behalf of Anonymous.

HBGary Federal earned the enmity of the loosely knit hacker collective by threatening to expose its membership at the B-Sides security conference last month. The security consultancy unwisely publicised the planned move, which followed weeks after members of Anonymous brought down the websites of MasterCard and PayPal in an act of cyber-solidarity/vandalism (take your pick) and in support of WikiLeaks.

However before HBGary execs had the opportunity to spill the beans, Anonymous turned the tables on the small security consultancy, using a variety of website exploits and social engineering tricks to deface its website and extract HBGary’s email database, which Anonymous then released as a torrent.

These files contained all sort of embarrassing snippets, including a pitch by HBGary to run a dirty tricks campaign against WikiLeaks on behalf of the Bank of America. Worse still, the files inadvertently revealed one of HBGary’s clients – Morgan Stanley – to be a victim of the Operation Aurora attacks in 2009.

The whole episode was hugely amusing, if you weren’t involved, and high profile enough for Stephen Colbert to devote a segment of the Colbert Report show to the hack in late January. Soon afterward, HBGary Federal chief exec Aaron Barr resigned in order to draw a line under the whole unfortunate business. Colbert described Barr as a victim of the “global hacker nerd brigade”.

A key part of the hack against HBGary involved the impersonation of Barr in an exchange of emails with an IT administrator (Nokia security specialist Jussi Jaakonaho) in order to gain access to HBGary’s servers. The hacker, who used social engineering trickery to persuade Jaakonaho to drop security defences and allow in-bound connections, has since identified herself as a 16-year-old girl called Kayla in an interview with Forbes.

Kayla supposedly got into computers at the age of around 14, chiefly because her father is a software engineer. She told Forbes that she had learned the basics quickly and soon began to take an interest in computer security, which led her towards learning how to hack databases. Kayla said she then went on to hack the content management system on 4chan’s notorious /b/ channel, the web home of weird smut.

The “youngster” supposedly began hanging around this forum, the birthplace of Anonymous, before joining in on web attacks supported by the free-wheeling group. She told Forbes that her dad knows about her activities and though he “disapproves”, he hasn’t “done anything about it”.

This sounds implausible and the supposed teenager’s refusal to talk to Forbes via Skype also appears shifty. Anonymous vouches for Kayla, which is hardly convincing because the group is notorious for pranks almost as much as anything else.

“Kayla” is concerned that the authorities might catch up to her, even though she takes various precautions.

“Each night she wipes every one of her web accounts and deletes every email in her inbox,” Forbes reports. “She has no physical hard drive and boots her computer from a microSD card,” it adds.

Forbes is careful to put caveats into its story, which makes an interesting yarn if nothing else. As one point the Forbes reporter put it to her interviewee that she is in fact a mid-20s “male from New Jersey named Corey Barnhill” (AKA Xyrix). Not a bit of it, claimed Kayla, I am Xyrix.

Of course you are. How could anyone think differently? ®

 

 

 

 

Hackers pierce network with killer mouse

Hackers pierce network with jerry-rigged mouse • The Register.

Mission Impossible meets Logitech

Free whitepaper – The Different Types of UPS Systems

When hackers from penetration testing firm Netragard were hired to pierce the firewall of a customer, they knew they had their work cut out. The client specifically ruled out the use of social networks, telephones, and other social-engineering vectors, and gaining unauthorized physical access to computers was also off limits.

Deprived of the low-hanging fruit attackers typically rely on to get a toe-hold onto their target, Netragard CTO Adriel Desautels borrowed a technique straight out of a plot from Mission Impossible: He modified a popular, off-the-shelf computer mouse to include a flash drive and a powerful microcontroller that ran custom attack code that compromised whatever computer connected to it.

For the attack to work, the booby-trapped USB Logitech mouse had to look and behave precisely the same as a normal device. But it also needed to include secret capabilities that allowed the mouse to do things no user would ever dream possible.

“The microcontroller acts as if there’s a person sitting at the keyboard typing,” Desautels told The Reg. “When a certain set of conditions are met, the microcontroller sends commands to the computer as if somebody was typing those commands in on the keyboard or the mouse.”

Interior view of modifified Logitech mouseInterior view of Logitech mouse modified by penetration testers. Picture supplied by Netragard

The Teensy microcontroller programmed by the Netragard hackers was programmed to wait 60 seconds after being plugged in to a computer and then enter commands into its keyboard that executed malware stored on the custom-built flash drive snuck into the guts of the Logitech mouse. To squelch warnings from McAfee antivirus, which was protecting the customer’s PCs, the microcontroller contained undocumented exploit code that subverted the program’s dialogue boxes to evade detection.

Desautels said he chose the highly involved method after deciding against a simpler attack that relied only on a USB drive and functionality in Windows that automatically executes its contents when its connected to the computer. As previously reported, malware infections that exploit the widely abused Autorun feature plummeted in the past few months as Microsoft has made it easier for customers to turn it off.

The modified mouse wasn’t hemmed in by the change because it didn’t rely on Autorun for the malicious code to be executed. The programmable microcontroller, in effect, acted as its own rogue agent that was under the control of the Netragard penetration testers who had programmed it. Because the the attack code is executed by the mini computer on the Teensy card, the technique can work against a variety of operating systems, not just Windows. What’s more, no drivers are needed.

“You’re plugging in a computer device, in either a keyboard or a mouse, that has a mind of its own,” Desautels explained. “There’s no defense, either. Plug one of these in and you’re basically screwed.”

To get someone from the target company to use the mouse, Netragard purchased a readily available list names and other data of its employees. After identifying a worker who looked especially promising, they shipped him the modified mouse, which they put back in its original packaging and added marketing materials so the shipment would look like it was part of a promotional event.

Three days later, the malware contained on the mouse connected to a server controlled by Netragard. Much of the malware used in the attack was first dreamed up by security researcher Adrien Crenshaw. Netragard’s detailed description of the attack comes as the US Department of Homeland Security released results from a recent test that showed 60 percent of employees who picked up foreign computer discs and USB thumb drives in the parking lots of government buildings and private contractors connected them to their computers. ®

This post was updated to include details about the DHS study.