NSA and Brit spy-flunkies responsible for cyberattacks on security software firms

NSA burning the midnight oil in Utah

The U.S. National Security Agency and its British equivalent, the Government Communications Headquarters, have both been launching attacks against security software in order to track individuals and break into networks…

One of the primary targets has been Russia’s Kaspersky Lab, according to documents leaked by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, obtained by The Intercept. The agencies have been reverse-engineering Kaspersky software to discover potential exploits, the documents show, and the NSA in particular has allegedly taken things a step further by intercepting data sent from Kaspersky apps to the company’s servers. Much of that app data is reportedly unencrypted, although Kaspersky told The Intercept that it was unable to reproduce similar findings in testing.

One specific piece of evidence for reverse engineering is a GCHQ warrant renewal request from 2008, asking for the legal sanction to deconstruct apps from Kasperksy and others because they “pose a challenge to GCHQ’s CNE [Computer Network Exploitation] capability and SRE [Software Reverse Engineering] is essential in order to be able to exploit such software and to prevent detection of our activities.” The agency also indicated that SRE was being used to judge the suitability of anti-virus programs for use by separate government organizations…

Another NSA method involves scanning the email traffic of foreign anti-virus companies in order to pick up hints of new exploits and malware. In the case of malware, the agency has a group that can repurpose it to launch an attack against a desired target.

An internal 2010 presentation on the monitoring program, known as “Project CAMBERDADA,” mentions 23 foreign anti-virus firms apart from Kaspersky such as Avast, F-secure, and Check Point. Major American and British companies are excluded, such as McAfee, Symantec and Sophos.

Which raises the inevitable question: are the major security software corporations excluded because they’re already cooperating with the NSA?

The Autoplay Arms Race

Click to enlarge

I find autoplay video or audio commercials so offensive my automatic response is to click away from the page. It is the advertising dross-du-jour. Not only Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are devouring their young with the tech, WordPress has leaped with both feet into this disaster.

I have complained to the powers-that-be, here at WordPress, and my eventual choice appears to be a request for no advertising at all on my personal blog.

Thanks to re/code

Micro-tentacles created for tiny robots to handle delicate objects

A micro-tentacle spirals around an antPhoto/Jaeyoun (Jay) Kim/Iowa State University

“Most robots use two fingers and to pick things up they have to squeeze,” said Jaeyoun (Jay) Kim, an Iowa State University associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and an associate of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory. “But these tentacles wrap around very gently.”

And that makes them perfect hands and fingers for small robots designed to safely handle delicate objects.

The spiraling microrobotic tentacles are described in a research paper recently published in the journal Scientific Reports. Kim is the lead author. Co-authors are In-Ho Cho, an Iowa State assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering; and Jungwook Paek, who recently earned his Iowa State doctorate in electrical and computer engineering and is moving to post-doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia…

The paper describes how the engineers fabricated microtubes just 8 millimeters long and less than a hundredth of an inch wide. They’re made from PDMS, a transparent elastomer that can be a liquid or a soft, rubbery solid…The paper also describes how the researchers sealed one end of the tube and pumped air in and out. The air pressure and the microtube’s asymmetrical wall thickness created a circular bend. They further describe how they added a small lump of PDMS to the base of the tube to amplify the bend and create a two-turn spiraling, coiling action…

Kim said the resulting microrobotic tentacle is “S-cubed — soft, safe and small.” He said that makes it ideal for medical applications because the microrobotic tentacles can’t damage tissues or even blood vessels.

I like Professor Kim’s synthesis of trends in robotics: “There’s microrobotics, where people want to make robots smaller and smaller. And there’s soft robotics, where people don’t want to make robots out of iron and steel. This project is an overlap of both of those fields…”