China’s Cyber-Militia

Chinese hackers pose a clear and present danger to U.S. government and private-sector computer networks and may be responsible for two major U.S. power blackouts.

Computer hackers in China, including those working on behalf of the Chinese government and military, have penetrated deeply into the information systems of U.S. companies and government agencies, stolen proprietary information from American executives in advance of their business meetings in China, and, in a few cases, gained access to electric power plants in the United States, possibly triggering two recent and widespread blackouts in Florida and the Northeast, according to U.S. government officials and computer-security experts.

One prominent expert told National Journal he believes that China’s People’s Liberation Army played a role in the power outages. Tim Bennett, the former president of the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, a leading trade group, said that U.S. intelligence officials have told him that the PLA in 2003 gained access to a network that controlled electric power systems serving the northeastern United States. The intelligence officials said that forensic analysis had confirmed the source, Bennett said. “They said that, with confidence, it had been traced back to the PLA.” These officials believe that the intrusion may have precipitated the largest blackout in North American history, which occurred in August of that year. A 9,300-square-mile area, touching Michigan, Ohio, New York, and parts of Canada, lost power; an estimated 50 million people were affected.

Officially, the blackout was attributed to a variety of factors, none of which involved foreign intervention. Investigators blamed “overgrown trees” that came into contact with strained high-voltage lines near facilities in Ohio owned by FirstEnergy Corp. More than 100 power plants were shut down during the cascading failure. A computer virus, then in wide circulation, disrupted the communications lines that utility companies use to manage the power grid, and this exacerbated the problem. The blackout prompted President Bush to address the nation the day it happened. Power was mostly restored within 24 hours.

There has never been an official U.S. government assertion of Chinese involvement in the outage, but intelligence and other government officials contacted for this story did not explicitly rule out a Chinese role. One security analyst in the private sector with close ties to the intelligence community said that some senior intelligence officials believe that China played a role in the 2003 blackout that is still not fully understood.

Read moreChina’s Cyber-Militia

$75 limit on credit card charges at gas pump causes frustration

LOS ANGELES – As if sky-high gasoline prices weren’t frustrating enough, many owners of thirsty SUVs, pickups and motor homes who use a credit card at the pump are being blocked from getting a full tank.

That’s because many station operators have a $75 limit on Visa (V) or MasterCard (MA) transactions at the pump.

If motorists hit the limit, they must do a second transaction at the pump to finish filling. Another solution, though inconvenient: Go see the attendant to have the card swiped inside. But this information often is not on the pump, and it can be aggravating even if it is, so customers are venting their ire.

“It’s frustrating to them, and they let us know,” says Tom Robinson, president of Rotten Robbie, a 34-station chain based in Northern California. “There’s always an adjective associated with the pump, and it’s like ‘stupid’ or worse.”

Station owners say they simply are passing through policies of Visa and MasterCard, which won’t reimburse them more than $75 per transaction at the pump if there’s a disputed charge or a fraudulent card is used.

May 30, 08

Source: USA Today

‘Rude’ police punishing middle classes to hit Home Office targets

Police are targeting the law-abiding middle classes over minor misdemeanours so they can meet government targets, a report claims.

Officers are having to put Home Office targets before serving the public and are becoming increasingly alienated from ordinary people as a result.

Members of the public find officers to be “rude” and accuse them of neglecting their duties and failing to respond to reports of crime.

The report, by the think-tank Civitas, said political interference meant incidents that might previously have been regarded as innocuous were now treated as crimes.

Police performance is measured in “sanction detections” which means officers have detected or cleared a case by charging someone, issuing a penalty notice or giving a caution. Many officers are expected to complete a certain number each month.

Arresting or fining a normally law-abiding person for a trivial offence is a good way of achieving the target and pleasing the Home Office.

Read more‘Rude’ police punishing middle classes to hit Home Office targets

Big Brother CCTV Cameras In Airplanes

CCTV cameras are bringing more and more public places under surveillance – and passenger aircraft could be next.

A prototype European system uses multiple cameras and “Big Brother” software to try and automatically detect terrorists or other dangers caused by passengers.

The European Union’s Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment (SAFEE) project uses a camera in every passenger’s seat, with six wide-angle cameras to survey the aisles. Software then analyses the footage to detect developing terrorist activity or “air-rage” incidents, by tracking passengers’ facial expressions.

The system performed well in tests this January that simulated terrorist and unruly passenger behaviour scenarios in a fake Airbus A380 fuselage, say the researchers that built it.

Systems to analyse CCTV footage – for example, to detect violence (with video) or alert CCTV operators to unusual events – have been designed before. But the SAFEE software must cope with the particularly challenging environment of a full aircraft cabin.

Threat indicators

As crew and passengers move around they often obscure one another, causing a risk the computer will lose track of some of the hundreds of people it must monitor. To get around this, the software constantly matches views of people from different cameras to track their movements.

“It looks for running in the cabin, standing near the cockpit for long periods of time, and other predetermined indicators that suggest a developing threat,” says James Ferryman of the University of Reading, UK, one of the system’s developers.

Other behaviours could include a person nervously touching their face, or sweating excessively. One such behaviour won’t trigger the system to alert the crew, only certain combinations of them.

Ferryman is not ready to reveal specifically which behaviours were most likely to trigger the system. Much of the computer’s ability to detect threats relies on sensitive information gleaned from security analysts in the intelligence community, he tells New Scientist.

Losing track

But Mohan Trivedi of the University of California, San Diego, US, is sceptical. He has built systems that he says can track and recognise individual people as they appear and disappear on different floors of his laboratory building.

It correctly identifies people about 70% of the time, and then only under “optimal conditions” that do not exist inside an airplane cabin, he says.

“[Ferryman’s] research shows that a system detects threats in a very limited way. But it’s a very different thing using it day in and day out.” Trivedi says. “Lighting and reflections change in the cabin every time someone turns on a light or closes a window shade. They haven’t shown that they have overcome these challenges.”

Ferryman admits that his system will require thousands of tests on everyday passengers before it can be declared reliable at detecting threats.

The team’s work is being presented this week at the International Conference on Computer Vision Systems in Greece.

Read moreBig Brother CCTV Cameras In Airplanes

This Is What The CIA Thinks Of Freedom of Information Act Requests

After CIA Director Michael Hayden publicly admitted that the CIA has, in fact, waterboarded detainees, the agency could no longer cling to its last excuses for covering up the use of the very word “waterboarding” in CIA records. As a result, yesterday we obtained several heavily redacted documents in response to an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought by the ACLU and other organizations seeking documents related to the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas.

While the documents do, in fact, reveal the word “waterboarding” or some variation, they leave pretty much everything else to the imagination. The pages that haven’t been completely withheld (many of them contain the words “Denied in Full” instead of any actual content) have the clandestine blacked-out look that’s become a sort of trademark of this administration. This is my favorite:

One of the documents is a heavily redacted version of a report (PDF) by the CIA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on its review of the CIA’s interrogation and detention program. The report includes information about an as-yet-undisclosed Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion from August 2002. Interestingly, this opinion appears to be the same OLC memo authorizing specific interrogations methods for use by the CIA that is being withheld by the CIA as a classified document in the ACLU’s FOIA litigation — but the OIG report refers to this document as “unclassified.”

The CIA continues to withhold many more documents that should not be secret. The incomplete response to the ACLU’s demand for records reflects a complete disregard for the right of the American public to know when and how often the government has employed illegal interrogation methods.

Read moreThis Is What The CIA Thinks Of Freedom of Information Act Requests

Europe fuel protests spread wider

Flemish fishermen protest in Brussels outside European Parliament
Belgian fishermen have been protesting directly to the EU

Fuel protests triggered by rising oil prices have spread to more countries across Europe, with thousands of fishermen on strike.

Union leaders said Portugal’s entire coastal fleet stayed in port on Friday, while in Spain, 7,000 fishermen held protests at the agriculture ministry.

French fishermen have been protesting for weeks, with Belgian and Italian colleagues also involved.

UK and Dutch lorry drivers held similar protests earlier this week.

The strike reflects anger at the rising cost of fuel, with oil prices above $130 (83.40 euros; £65.80) a barrel.

Trade unions say the cost of diesel has become prohibitively high, after rising 300% over the past five years.

Wholesale fish prices, meanwhile, have been static for 20 years.

Fishermen’s leaders from France, Spain and Italy have been meeting in Paris to co-ordinate strikes and protests over the next three weeks in the run-up to a European Union fisheries ministers’ meeting.

The protesters are calling for direct immediate aid for the fisheries industry, coupled with increased subsidies.

The European Commission said in a statement it was willing to show flexibility towards the industry but it has ruled out subsidies to offset rising fuel costs.

Short-term aid packages were acceptable as long as they were used to address structural deficiencies in the fleets, it said.

‘Ruin for fishermen’

Several thousand fishermen marched on the agriculture ministry in Madrid, where they handed out 20 tonnes of fresh fish to members of the public in an attempt to draw attention to their ailing industry.


Fishermen held protests in Brussels and Madrid

Many blew whistles and klaxons, and let off firecrackers producing red smoke.

The BBC’s Steve Kingstone at the protest said he could see flags from Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia.

Read moreEurope fuel protests spread wider

Sunscreen Causes Cancer!

(NaturalNews) Given the fact that just about everything you put on your skin gets absorbed into your bloodstream, it is interesting that there is a complete lack of regulation of cancer-causing ingredients in skin care products. There are over 150 toxic cancer-causing ingredients currently used in cosmetic products alone. According to federal law, products containing cancer-causing substances should carry a written warning. But the FDA does not enforce this law with cosmetics or personal care products. Consumers are left to purchase these products at their own risk, and as a result they are being harmed by them.

Let’s consider a product that’s harming tens of millions of people every day in America alone: sunscreen. Sunscreen products do not block ultraviolet radiation very well unless you apply multiple coats, but there has been a flurry of research lately on the harm caused by sunscreen chemicals. These chemicals actually promote skin cancer. This product is causing the very condition from which it claims to protect people.

The skin is not the only organ that is harmed by sunscreen chemicals. Those chemicals are absorbed by the skin, circulate throughout the body and end up harming the liver, the organ responsible for neutralizing chemicals in the body. The continued use of sunscreen products — especially those with fragrance in them — will inevitably harm the liver and, in my opinion, can lead to organ failure or liver cancer.

Sunscreen is not the only harmful product people put on their skin; consider perfume and cologne. In an effort to smell attractive to others, consumers routinely put toxic chemicals on their bodies that come out of beautifully designed glass bottles. Most people do not realize that these fragrances are often made from toxic substances that are known to cause cancer; the perfume industry gets away with murder. This includes everything from skin cream to moisturizer lotion, not to mention shower soaps and other cleaning products with added fragrance. Unless you are buying the natural forms of these products from truly organic companies, there is no doubt that you are applying a bewildering array of harmful chemicals to your skin. And when you put them on your skin, they are absorbed directly into your bloodstream.

Read moreSunscreen Causes Cancer!

Are you ready for WW2-style energy rationing?

Analysis: Environment Minister Hilary Benn again rebuffed calls this week for WW2-style energy rationing to return to the UK. He was responding to a Select Committee report urging ministers to issue 45 million Britons with an energy trading “credit card” – a mammoth techno-bureaucratic exercise costing several billions of pounds a year to operate.

What’s interesting is how the normal parliamentary business was turned upside down.

Usually, it’s ministers who propose batty and unworkable legislation, and fail to cost it, while select committees are supposed to scrutinize the proposals: picking apart the logic and bogus cost estimates. But in this case the select committee in question – the “Environmental Audit Committee” – is positively evangelical about a return to rationing. Perhaps not surprisingly, ministers are wary of committing electoral suicide, or at least, not in quite such an obvious fashion.

Benn said his department DEFRA had made its own enquiry, which unlike the watchdog’s investigation, included costs. A rationing scheme would cost between £700m and £2bn to set up, he said, and between £1bn and £2bn a year to operate he said.

“In essence it is ahead of its time,” the minister said Tuesday. “The cost of implementing it would be quite high and there are a lot of practical problems to be overcome.” Front bench Tories are equally wary.

So what are the MPs proposing?

The ration, or “personal carbon allowance” or PCA, is a measure of an individual’s energy usage, either at home or traveling. Such usage is capped, and “further emissions rights will simply not be available,” the Committee says. You may choose between a holiday, and turning on the heating. Points win prizes, however, and frugal individuals would be rewarded financially from the creation of an internal market.

“We could not find or imagine analogues in other fields of human activity for individual carbon trading beyond rationing during and after World War 2,” the authors of the DEFRA-commissioned report “A Rough Guide to Individual Carbon Trading” wrote in 2006.

Read moreAre you ready for WW2-style energy rationing?

Israelis open fire on Gazan protesters

Six Palestinians demonstrators, who were among thousands peacefully protesting the siege on Gaza, have been injured by Israeli fire.

Thousands of people took to streets to join a rally called by Islamic Hamas movement to demand Israel to lift its crippling blockade on the sliver.

The protesters marched from the cities of Rafah and Khan Yunis in southern Gaza towards the Sufa crossing, calling for the end of Israeli atrocities in Gaza.

The demonstrators waving Hamas flags chanted anti-Israeli slogans, condemning the regime for committing a holocaust in Gaza.

Read moreIsraelis open fire on Gazan protesters