U.N. urges increase in aviation security

UNITED NATIONS - Responding to increasing attacks on airports and aircraft, the U.N. Security Council on Thursday unanimously approved its first-ever resolution to address extremist threats to civil aviation and urge more security.

The U.N.’s most powerful body called for stepped-up screening and security checks at airports worldwide to “detect and deter terrorist attacks.” And it called on all countries to tighten security at airport buildings, share information about possible threats, and provide advance passenger lists so governments are aware of their transit or attempted entry.

“The Security Council has delivered a resounding call to action for the international community,” said the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. “This is the first U.N. Security Council resolution ever to focus on the threats by terrorists to civil aviation and it demonstrates our joint resolve to protect our citizens from an escalating danger.”

The resolution reflected growing global anxiety following attacks on airplanes and airports from Ukraine, Egypt and Somalia to Brussels and Istanbul.

While aviation security has improved, Johnson said the recent tragedies demonstrate “the urgency of our task” and the dangers posed by “terrorists who probe relentlessly the chinks in our collective armor.”

The British-drafted resolution expresses the council’s concern “that terrorist groups continue to view civil aviation as an attractive target, with the aim of causing substantial loss of life, economic damage” and air links between countries.

Fang Liu, Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization, told the council before the vote that there are more than 100,000 daily flights carrying 10 million travelers, which adds up to 3.5 billion passengers per year plus “one-third of the world’s trade by value” carried by planes.

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Robots are becoming security guards

William Santana Li imagines a future where robots will keep Americans safe.

Communities, he dreams, will take security into their own hands by investing in wheeled machines that patrol streets, sidewalks and schools — instantly alerting residents via a mobile app of intruders or criminal behavior.

“What if we could crowd-source security?” said Li, co-founder and chief executive of a robotics company, Knightscope, that hopes to eventually do just that.

His question is like many posed by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs seeking to modernize, privatize and monetize services once entrusted to the government — and it’s one that has intrigued venture capitalists who have pumped $14 million into his start-up.

Already, Knightscope robots are edging into the private security industry, patrolling parking lots, a shopping center and corporate campuses in California. The company’s ambitions, though, are much bigger.

Knightscope manufactures two robots — the five-foot tall K5 and the four-foot K3. Both weigh a hefty 300 pounds (they were designed to make it hard to tip over). Customers such as the Stanford Shopping Center, Qualcomm and Uber rent them starting at about $7 an hour (Knightscope, based in Mountain View, Calif., charges more if companies want extra services, such as more than two weeks of data storage).

The robots — which resemble a cross between R2D2 and a Dalek from “Doctor Who” — can record, stream, send and store video; provide thermal imaging; read license plates; track parked cars; serve as a two-way intercom; play a pre-recorded message; and detect humans in places they’re not supposed to be.

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Plastic banknotes: new fingerprint technique means criminals can’t avoid capture

“The UK has just introduced plastic banknotes, almost 30 years after they were used for the first time in Australia. The polymer notes are designed to last longer and be harder to forge. But the new notes, which will replace the old cotton paper ones entirely by 2020, come with a challenge for police detectives and forensic scientists.

The existing techniques for obtaining fingerprints from paper notes won’t necessarily work for the new plastic money. However, our team at the chemistry department of Loughborough University has developed a potential solution.

The use of fingerprints in forensic science may date back to the 19th century, but in the UK alone it still plays a key role in bringing charges in some 27,000 crimes a year, according to Home Office data we obtained. But new materials can pose significant challenges for fingerprinting. We’re forever trying to make things biodegradable, or handling devices that simply didn’t exist a decade or two ago.

The issue is that the new notes have been fashioned from “biaxially oriented” polypropylene, a type of plastic that has been strengthened by stretching it in two directions. They are also, as with all notes, deliberately fiddly in design. Illustrations and security features such as foil and transparent sections make it harder to develop a perfect print.

The key is to try to find a method that will make the design of the note invisible and just highlight the print. Conventional techniques, such as exposing the fingerprint to cyanoacrylate (“superglue”) fumes that stick to the moisture in the ridges of the print and turn them white, can struggle in such circumstances. The developed print simply appears white and so is harder to see against the background, and it leaves an indelible mark or stain that means the note can’t be returned to circulation.”

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Investigator’s Persistence Leads to Break in Abduction Case

“To crack Minnesota’s biggest cold case — the 1989 abduction of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling — authorities went back to the early days of the investigation.

They turned a renewed spotlight last year on a man who was questioned soon after Jacob’s disappearance but was never charged. That ultimately led to Saturday’s announcement that Jacob’s remains finally had been found.

“On these kinds of cases it’s really a tribute to law enforcement that they simply never give up. … This is what persistence will reveal,” Michael Campion, former superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and former commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, said Sunday.

The case has not lain dormant for those 27 years, said Tom Heffelfinger, former U.S. attorney for Minnesota. To the contrary, he said, it’s been a top priority for local and federal law enforcement the entire time.”

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New cloud attack takes full control of virtual machines with little effort

“The world has seen the most unsettling attack yet resulting from the so-called Rowhammer exploit, which flips individual bits in computer memory. It’s a technique that’s so surgical and controlled that it allows one machine to effectively steal the cryptographic keys of another machine hosted in the same cloud environment.

Until now, Rowhammer has been a somewhat clumsy and unpredictable attack tool because it was hard to control exactly where data-corrupting bit flips happened. While previous research demonstrated that it could be used to elevate user privileges and break security sandboxes, most people studying Rowhammer said there was little immediate danger of it being exploited maliciously to hijack the security of computers that use vulnerable chips. The odds of crucial data being stored in a susceptible memory location made such hacks largely a matter of chance that was stacked against the attacker. In effect, Rowhammer was more a glitch than an exploit.

Now, computer scientists have developed a significantly more refined Rowhammer technique they call Flip Feng Shui. It manipulates deduplication operations that many cloud hosts use to save memory resources by sharing identical chunks of data used by two or more virtual machines. Just as traditional Feng Shui aims to create alignment or harmony in a home or office, Flip Feng Shui can massage physical memory in a way that causes crypto keys and other sensitive data to be stored in locations known to be susceptible to Rowhammer.”

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