Supreme Court says any judge can OK search warrants for every computer in the country

The Supreme Court might have just given the FBI expanded hacking powers, opening the door for the feds to legally hack any computer in the country, and perhaps the world, with a single warrant authorized by a judge located anywhere in the United States.

The court approved a controversial change in in Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, a procedural rule that regulates when and under what circumstances judges can issue warrants for searches and seizures.

Under the old language of Rule 41…judges could approve warrants authorizing hacking — or as the FBI calls it, network investigative technique, or NIT — only within their jurisdiction.

With the changes, first proposed by the Department of Justice in 2014, judges could now approve hacking operations that go beyond their local jurisdiction if the target’s location is unknown or is part of a network of infected computers, or botnets, under the control of criminals.

This change would be “the broadest expansion of extraterritorial surveillance power since the FBI’s inception,” according to Ahmed Ghappour, an computer crime law expert and professor at UC Hastings…

Privacy advocates, legal experts, and Google, have long opposed changing Rule 41 with this new language, and are now arguing that Congress should step in and amend or reject the rule change.

“The Department of Justice is quietly trying to grant themselves substantive authority to hack into computers and masking it as a bureaucratic update,” Amie Stepanovich, the U.S. policy manager at Access Now, a digital rights organization…

Congress now has until December 1 to weigh in, according to the US law governing the rulemaking process. If Congress doesn’t act, the rule will automatically come into effect.

Do I need to suggest you write, email or otherwise inform your Congress-critter to get off their rusty-dusty and do some work for ordinary citizens? Tell our elected officials to shutdown the free-form snooping our Constitutional government thinks it needs to make us safe.

Secret recording grows easier as the “Wire” gets smaller

“In the old days, they would say, ‘Let me pat you down for a wire’ and boom, everybody would just open their shirt and say, ‘I’m not wearing a wire,’ ” a retired undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, Joaquin Garcia, said in a telephone interview on Friday. “Now there is no need to wear a wire. It’s become extinct. It’s all gone digital. But what are you going to say, ‘I’m wearing digital,’ instead of ‘I’m wearing a wire’? It’s just become part of the parlance of law enforcement.”

Technological advances aside, the methods have remained the same, with federal agents and undercover officers using covert recording equipment to ensnare would-be criminals, sometimes with the help of a well-placed informer or cooperating witness.

“Technology has made it so easy to plant a device that is much less detectable,” Richard B. Zabel, deputy United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in an interview last week. “Yes, people are conscious of being recorded, but as you’ve seen, in some cases they are not able to find the recorder anyway.”

Nowadays, recording equipment is miniaturized. “Your options have increased a lot because the devices are a lot smaller,” Mr. Zabel said. “They can really hide them now in buttons, in pens, at the point of a pen, in a cuff link or the edge of a tie clip.”

And frisking an undercover agent for a wire, as Mr. Tabone allegedly did, can be as fruitless as finding a pay phone and “dropping a dime” to call the police.

That is sort of an antiquated way to look for a device,” Mr. Zabel said…

During the cold war era, the surveillance device of choice among law enforcement was the Nagra, a Swiss-made portable tape recorder. The first model was about the size of a shoe box and weighed more than 10 pounds. The recorder was battery-powered and used reel-to-reel tape, an important feature because it moved slowly and could record hours of conversation. The recorder could be secreted inside an elastic band or pouch that sat low on a person’s waist, just above the groin. Microphone heads, attached to a right and left wire, were typically threaded up a person’s chest or back and secured near the collarbone with industrial-strength tape.

“When you pulled them off, all the hair came off our chest,” said Robert K. Wittman, a retired senior F.B.I. investigator and founder of the agency’s National Art Crime Team. “There used to be a lot of recordings that ended with ‘Aaahhhhh,’ when you ripped the wires off. It was almost like getting a body wax…”

Today, eavesdropping equipment is sophisticated enough to record high-definition video and sound, and stream it live to a remote computer. Devices no bigger than a pen cap can be slipped into a coat pocket and easily record through the person’s clothing, said Bob Leonard, a retired police officer and founder of the Spy Store, which sells a quarter-sized item called the “Super Mini Covert Wireless Camera” and recording devices disguised as a calculator, cigarette carton or cordless phone.

“Short of having the person stripped down naked, it’s almost impossible to detect,” Mr. Pollini said.

And not even then.

Though it’s been years since a strip search was needed to detect someone using a device that communicates to a computer or recorder nearby. All you need is equipment that will detect if someone is broadcasting.

First Raspberry Pi computers going to schoolchildren in Leeds

The first batch of Raspberry Pi computers are being issued to users. A group of schoolchildren in Leeds are the first to get their hands on production models of the bare-bones computer.

Costing only £16, the tiny computer has been designed to inspire anyone, especially children, to get started with computer programming…

Since the Raspberry Pi project began, the plan has garnered huge interest from developers, hobbyists and others keen to get their hands on a cheap, easy-to-use computer.

Delivery of the first batch of production machines has been delayed twice – once because the wrong component was soldered on to circuit boards and a second time thanks to confusion about electromagnetic testing.

With both these hurdles overcome, delivery of the first machines to roll off the production line is set to commence.

To mark the occasion, project co-ordinator Eben Upton is presenting a batch of the first Raspberry Pi computers to schoolchildren on Friday. The event is being held at the Leeds offices of Pi distributor Premier Farnell…

The Pi is built around the Arm chip that is used in the vast majority of mobile phones. It runs one version of the Linux operating system and uses SD cards as its storage medium.

The machine comes in two varieties – with and without a networking connector.

If I could get excited about experimenting with Linux, again – I’d probably order in one of these critters. Still, it looks like a great intro to computing for schoolkids.

Asus warranty won’t cover damages in case of alien invasion

Do you lie awake at night expecting aliens to invade our planet? Perhaps you have nightmares after watching “Mars attacks!” or think Jell-O is now yuck after seeing “The green slime.”

Chances are, regardless of whether you are anxious about aliens or not, that it’s not something you think about when you buy a new computer or gadget. For example, have you ever thought about whether the warranty of your brand new computer is valid if (when?) the aliens arrive?

If that’s you, you should definitely not expect Taiwanese computer, component, and gadget manufacturer Asus to help.

Under the heading “Exclusions from your ASUS Warranty Extension Program including the WEP On-Site NBD Limited Hardware Warranty Service” we can read some of the usual things you would expect to find in this text…

But as we continue down the list of exclusions something more unusual appears: “There is damage caused by natural disaster, intentional or unintentional misuse, acts of war, space invasions, abuse, neglect, improper maintenance, or use under abnormal conditions.”

Uh, OK.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Computer coding screwup voids green card lottery results

Or you could just buy one

Tens of thousands of would-be immigrants to America are sure to be disappointed after a computer glitch prompted the State Department to invalidate results of the most recent green card visa lottery.

Each year, the State Department issues 50,000 visas from a pool of applicants who are randomly selected but are required to undergo interviews, background checks and medical exams before they are given permanent status.

For the 2012 lottery, 19.6 million people entered during a 30-day online registration period, a senior State Department official told reporters. Of those, about 90,000 were to selected to make it to the next step. Many of them had already logged on and discovered their good fortune.

What they did not know is that a computer programming error caused more than 90 percent of selected applicants to come from the first two days of the period — October 5 and 6 — and did not represent a fair and random choice, as mandated by federal law.

These results are not valid because they did not represent a fair, random selection of the entrants as required by U.S. law,” said David Donahue, a deputy assistant secretary of state. “We sincerely regret any inconvenience or disappointment this problem might have caused.”

Now they will have to go through the drawing a second time and there are no guarantees that those who were selected the first time will be so lucky again. The drawing will be redone and results are to be announced in July.

“Bring me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” as long as some bureaucratic underling geek doesn’t screw up data entry!

Computing solutions get smaller and greener

Applications developers looking for a low power, small form factor computing solution that won’t break the bank will no doubt appreciate the DreamPlug from Globalscale Technologies. Expanding on the company’s GuruPlug system, the new low-profile plug computer is powered by a Marvell processor, has half a gigabyte of DDR2 RAM and a generous helping of onboard micro-SD flash memory to store the Linux kernal and root system files. Physical connectivity and expansion options include USB, eSATA, JTAG and UART and the unit also has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless capabilities.

Unlike the similarly compact Jack PC, the 4.3 x 2.73 x 1.9-inch (110 x 69.5 x 48.5mm) DreamPlug doesn’t offer onboard graphics. This always-on computing solution would therefore most likely find itself being used for such things as high-end audio systems or media servers, home and industrial automation, network storage and monitoring and security/surveillance systems…

The last-named being an area where I used to spend some time earning a living. Wish I had hardware like this available, this small, this cheap, back in the day.

Connectivity takes the form of a couple of Gigabit Ethernet ports, an eSATA port, a couple of USB 2.0 ports, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR. Both analog and digital audio output are on offer, with S/PDIF audio out taking care of the digital and analog being provided by stereo headphone and mic jacks.

The DreamPlug is far from power hungry, having a draw of under 5W – which is not quite as energy efficient as the Plug PC or the Trim-Slice but it’s still pretty impressive.

I can see hobbyists loading this critter up with their favorite Linux distro and running a media center or a bank of webcams. You can set it up with a keyboard, mouse and monitor – then take the externals away and communicate with whatever system you’ve designed – through Bluetooth or WiFi.

Pricing starts at $149.

Still time to join in on building a steam-powered computer

Babbage’s calculator – The Difference Engine

A UK campaign to build a truck-sized, prototype computer first envisaged in 1837 is gathering steam. More than 1,600 people have pledged money and support to build Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

Although elements of the engine have been built over the last 173 years, a complete working model of the steam-powered machine has never been made. The campaign hopes to gather donations from 50,000 supporters to kick-start the project.

It’s an inspirational piece of equipment,” said John Graham-Cumming, author of the Geek Atlas, who has championed the idea.

“A hundred years ago, before computers were available, [Babbage] had envisaged this machine.”

Computer historian Dr Doron Swade said that rebuilding the machine could answer “profound historical questions. Could there have been an information age in Victorian times? That is a very interesting question,” he told BBC News.

The analytical engine was designed on paper by mathematician and engineer Charles Babbage. It was envisaged that it would be built out of brass and iron.

“What you realise when you read Babbage’s papers is that this was the first real computer,” said Mr Graham-Cumming. “It had expandable memory, a CPU, microcode, a printer, a plotter and was programmable with punch cards.

“It was the size of a small lorry and powered by steam but it was recognisable as a computer…”

This sounds like fun. I’ll see if I can squeeze a donation from my social security check, this month.

Catch thieves from your couch and win cash

Just think – this could be your living room

Anyone who owns a laptop computer can now fight crime from the safety of their home and win cash prizes for catching thieves red-handed, under a new British monitoring scheme that went live this week.

The service works by employing an army of registered armchair snoopers who watch hours of CCTV footage from cameras in stores and high street venues across the country.

Viewers can win up to 1,000 pounds in cash a month from Devon-based firm Internet Eyes, which distributes the streaming footage, when offenders are caught in the act…

Participants, who pay a fee to subscribe, press an “alert” button which relays an instant text message notifying a shop keeper of suspicious behavior. The SMS is followed up with a photographic image of the potential crime…

“The problem with CCTV is that while cameras are practically everywhere, there’s hardly anyone watching them in real time,” Tony Morgan said. “Most people know this, so CCTV is no longer the deterrent it used to be, and crime is rising…”

The government’s Information Commissioner’s Office says the firm is being made to comply with data protection laws and has also insisted on background checks on viewers employed by the site…

The director of…Big Brother Watch said it was a worrying development akin to “pimping out” CCTV images to amateur bounty hunters and should be switched off…

“Whatever one thinks of our surveillance culture, we can all agree that the technology is better off in the hands of trained, accountable professionals rather than voyeurs.”

Since I live in a part of the world that offers reality TV shows to bounty hunters, I think I’d fit in just fine.

The article says nothing about turning away voyeurs in New Mexico, USA.

Egyptian expedition confirms spectacular meteorite impact

One day within the last several thousand years, a rare metallic meteorite travelling over 12 000 km/hour smashed into Earth’s surface near what is today the trackless border region between Egypt, Sudan and Libya. The impact of the 1.3 m, 10-tonne chunk of iron generated a fireball and plume that would have been visible over 1000 km away, and drilled a hole 16 m deep and 45 m wide into the rocky terrain.

Since then, the crater had sat undisturbed by Earth’s geologic and climatic processes, which usually render all but the very largest terrestrial impact craters invisible. It was also, as far as is recorded, unseen by humans.

But that changed in 2008, when the crater was spotted during a Google Earth study conducted by mineralologist Vincenzo De Michele, then with the Civico Museo di Storia Naturale in Milan, Italy. He was searching for natural features, when by chance he saw the rounded impact crater on his PC screen.

De Michele contacted an astrophysicist, Dr Mario Di Martino, at the INAF (National Institute for Astrophysics) observatory in Turin, who, together with Dr Luigi Folco, of Siena’s Museo Nazionale dell’Antartide, organised an expedition to the site in February this year…

After a tiring, GPS-guided, three-day drive across the desert in 40°C heat, the team reached the crater.

They collected over 1000 kg of metallic meteorite fragments, including one 83-kg chunk thought to have split from the main meteorite body shortly before impact (it was found 200 m away from the crater). The joint team also conducted a thorough geological and topographical survey, using ground-penetrating radar to create a 3D digital terrain model. Geomagnetic and seismic surveys were also carried out.

The researchers were stunned to find that Kamil crater, named after a nearby rocky outcrop, remains pristine, and must have been created relatively recently…

“We are still determining the geochronology of the impact site, but the crater is certainly less than ten thousand years old — and potentially less than a few thousand. The impact may even have been observed by humans, and archaeological investigations at nearby ancient settlements may help fix the date,” says Dr Folco.

Google Earth rules. I’ve used it to trace El Camino Real, the original trail between Mexico City and colonial Santa Fe over four hundred years ago. I get motivated to crank it up, again – every time I bump into one of these tales.

A surfboard gets an onboard computer

Computers are everywhere these days – even on surfboards. University of California, San Diego mechanical engineering undergraduates outfitted a surfboard with a computer and accompanying sensors — one step toward a structural engineering Ph.D. student’s quest to develop the science of surfboards.

The UC San Diego mechanical engineering undergraduates installed a computer and sensors on a surfboard and recorded the speed of the water flowing beneath the board. While the students surfed, the onboard computer sent water velocity information to a laptop on shore in real time…

This is part of Benjamin Thompson’s quest to discover if surfboards have an optimal flexibility – a board stiffness that makes surfing as enjoyable as possible. Thompson is a UC San Diego structural engineering Ph.D. student studying the fluid-structure interaction between surfboards and waves…

Each of the eight sensors embedded into the bottom of the board is a “bend sensor.” The faster the water beneath the board moves, with respect to the board, the more the sensors bend, explained Trevor Owen, the other surfer on the four-person mechanical engineering team…

Even though the team has finished their class project, Ferguson plans to keep working with Thompson. “This project is going to apply some science that most likely [board] shapers understand pretty well…it’s going to settle the debates. It’s going to be black and white hard data to let them know for sure which ideas work, which concepts work, and why they work…”

Yes, it’s always easy to joke about Kalifornia Kulture. But, this project fits better into Geeks in Action.

Surfing is a worldwide sport, big business. Applying cyber-mechanical analysis, fluid dynamics, to construction makes all the sense in the world. Something major manufacturers should already have been doing.