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Monthly Archives: March 2017

Hackers Blast Emergency Sirens in Dallas

Screaming sirens serenaded Dallas residents in the early morning hours Saturday after a cyberattack set off the city’s emergency warning system.

All of the city’s 156 sirens were set off more than a dozen times, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Officials have not yet identified the perpetrator of the attack, the city’s Office of Emergency Management Director Rocky Vaz told the newspaper, but he expressed confidence that it was someone outside the Dallas area.

The city has figured out how the system was compromised and has begun working to keep it from happening again, he added.

The sirens began sounding about 12:30 a.m. Saturday and weren’t silenced until 1:20 a.m., when the entire system was deactivated.

Despite the city’s pleas not to make 911 calls about the sirens, emergency operators were swamped with 4,400 calls during the early morning hours Saturday.

Inadvertent Threat to Life

If the Dallas attack should turn out to be an isolated incident, its impact will be minimal, but if such attacks should multiply, they could undermine public faith in emergency warning systems.

“Like crying wolf too often, these attacks erode the faith in these systems critical to safeguarding human life during an emergency,” said Sergio Caltagirone, director of threat intelligence for Dragos.

“While a single event is unlikely to cause significant damage,” he told TechNewsWorld, “continual attacks will most certainly have a long-term effect.”

Both determined and hobbyist hackers are probing and testing the nation’s critical infrastructure, he added.

“There are no indications of an imminent wide-scale attack, but these attacks will only become more common — and the biggest fear is that an adversary will do great harm and possibly threaten human life inadvertently,” Caltagirone explained.

“Dallas is a well-funded municipality with the proper resources to defend their infrastructure from attack,” he added. “This does not bode well for the majority of municipalities who lack the resources of Dallas.”

911 System Disrupted

Although Dallas is still assessing the damage of the cyberattack, its disruption of the 911 system by inciting panic calls about the sirens probably placed some citizens’ lives at risk.

Because there were so many calls to the 911 system in a short period of time, the hack of the siren network created a sort of DDoS attack on 911.

“Any real emergency happening at the same time will get lost in the noise,” SS8 Chief Security Officer Cemal Dikmen told TechNewsWorld.

Call hold times were delayed from their usual 10 seconds to about six minutes, noted James Scott, a senior fellow at the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology.

“Every citizen was endangered by the inability to request emergency assistance in a reasonable amount of time,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Every caller who legitimately required an emergency response to an actual threat was imperiled by the significantly delayed 911 call center response time,” Scott emphasized. “It is difficult to measure or predict the number of residents who needed emergency assistance and hung up the phone out of frustration, or the number of citizens whose safety and physical well-being were jeopardized by this trivial cyberattack.”

Antiquated Systems

Emergency warning systems in many cities are old, which makes them even more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Ironically, Dallas’ system is about to be overhauled — the city council last fall approved $567,368 for the project.

“Many of them were first installed in the ’40s and ’50s,” explained Mike Ahmadi, global director for critical systems security at Synopsys.

“They’ve been upgraded over time and most recently connected to the Internet,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Actually, the older systems without any connectivity are pretty safe from a hacker-proof perspective,” Ahmadi added. “It’s modernizing them and giving them IoT connectivity that’s made them vulnerable.”

Open information laws also can make these systems vulnerable, maintained Ed Cabrera, chief cybersecurity officer for Trend Micro.

“These require detailed government information to be publicly disclosed,” he told TechNewsWorld. “That makes things such as manuals and configuration settings openly available to potential adversaries meaning to do harm.”

Endemic Problem

It has been recognized for some time that older, outdated emergency warning systems are susceptible to cyberattacks, noted Vijay Basani, CEO of EiQ Networks.

“In spite of this known exploitable vulnerability, why have our state and local governments been so complicit in their failure to fix these vulnerabilities?” he asked.

That is the important question, Basani told TechNewsWorld.

“Besides just making emergency warning systems go off randomly, hackers could have shut them down completely, crippled them temporarily, or redirected emergency personnel to wrong locations,” he said. “Taxpayers should demand that their government fix these systems or upgrade them.”

The failure of Dallas’ emergency warning system is endemic to the poor security across these systems, said Dragos’ Caltagirone.

Securing systems comes down to identifying critical systems, detecting attacks and implementing real protection, he explained.

“Unfortunately, most organizations don’t even successfully complete the first step,” said Caltagirone. “All security starts with knowledge of your own environment. Many systems owners lack sufficient asset inventory. It’s impossible to protect what you don’t understand.”

There is robots to assist you at airports in South Korea

INCHEON: Robots will start roaming South Korea’s largest airport this summer, helping travelers find their boarding gates and keep its floors clean as the country prepares for its first Winter Olympics game.

Starting this month, Troika, a self-driving robot made by LG Electronics, will rove the Incheon International Airport, telling travelers how long it takes to get to boarding gates and escorting them to their flights. A jumbo cleaning robot will help cleaning staff swab the wide expanses of floors in the airport west of Seoul.

Troika, about the size of a young teen, is equipped with a rectangular display on its front that looks like a giant smartphone screen and can show flight information, an airport map and weather data. Its partly rounded head has a flat touchscreen face that displays blinking or smiling eyes or information.

The guiding bot responds to its name.

Travelers can insert their tickets into its scanner to get flight information, and Troika will then ask if they want to be escorted to their gates, warning laggards to “Please stay closer so I can see you”.

Troika’s debut piqued the interest of many in the airport. Heads swiveled and children approached with curiosity as the 140-centimenter (4 foot 6 inch) robot with its white body and black screens glided through the terminal.

Robotics is gaining ground in South Korea, where many big businesses are automating factory production lines. South Korean researchers have won awards in international robot competitions. In 2015, South Korea’s Team KAIST beat the U.S. and Japan to win the DARPA Robotics Challenge with a humanoid that completed tasks without losing balance. But South Korea has been slow to introduce human-like robots or interactive robots in public places like hotels or stores, unlike its neighboring Japan where Softbank’s humanoid Pepper is no stranger.

Incheon International Airport Corp. believes it is the first to introduce such service-oriented robots in a South Korean public space. Another state-owned airport operator, Korea Airports Corp., which operates 15 international airports in South Korea but not Incheon airport, also has teamed up with local companies to introduce air-purifying robots to measure air quality and clean terminals.

Incheon International Airport Corp. said in a statement that it does not expect the robots to replace human workers, but just to help, especially with overnight shifts and physically demanding tasks.

Future plans include deploying robots to advise travelers about items that are banned on flights, serve food in airport lounges and carry cargo.

South Korea expects the robots to burnish its reputation as a technology leader when the country hosts the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

But its maker LG is still working out the kinks.

Troika can recognize its location inside the airport terminal and navigate around passers-by and obstacles, said Kim Hyoungrock, the chief research engineer at LG Electronics who oversaw the robot’s development.
It’s meant to be a fast learner: By July, Troika will be speaking English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese, Kim said. However the robot can only perform a few simple tasks it has been programmed to carry out.
During a recent test run it failed to recognize some voice commands, such as when Amethyst Ma of San Jose, California, asked how she and her kids could catch a bus to the city.
Still, such machines could be quite useful for overseas travelers, Ma said.
“It’s becoming common in a lot of public places so that’s why I came to it right away,” she said. “It’s a source of information, especially if we don’t speak the local language.”

Build software for a computer 50 times faster

Imagine you were able to solve a problem 50 times faster than you can now. With this ability, you have the potential to come up with answers to even the most complex problems faster than ever before.

Researchers behind the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Exascale Computing Project want to make this capability a reality, and are doing so by creating tools and technologies for exascale supercomputers – computing systems at least 50 times faster than those used today. These tools will advance researchers’ ability to analyze and visualize complex phenomena such as cancer and nuclear reactors, which will accelerate scientific discovery and innovation.

Developing layers of software that support and connect hardware and applications is critical to making these next-generation systems a reality.

“These software environments have to be robust and flexible enough to handle a broad spectrum of applications, and be well integrated with hardware and application software so that applications can run and operate seamlessly,” said Rajeev Thakur, a computer scientist at the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory and the director of software technology for the Exascale Computing Project (ECP).

Researchers in Argonne’s Mathematics and Computer Science Division are collaborating with colleagues from five other core ECP DOE national laboratories – Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Sandia, Oak Ridge and Los Alamos – in addition to other labs and universities.

Their goal is to create new and adapt existing software technologies to operate at exascale by overcoming challenges found in several key areas, such as memory, power and computational resources.

Checkpoint/restart

Argonne computer scientist Franck Cappello leads an ECP project focused on advanced checkpoint/restart, a defense mechanism for withstanding failures that happen when applications are running.

“Given their complexity, faults in high-performance systems are a common occurrence, and some of them lead to failures that cause parallel applications to crash,” Cappello said.

“Many ECP applications already feature checkpoint/restart, but because we’re moving towards an even more complex system at exascale, we need more sophisticated methods for it. For us, that means providing an effective and efficient checkpoint/restart for ECP applications that lack it, and providing other applications a more efficient and scalable checkpoint/restart.”

Cappello also leads a project that focuses on reducing the large amounts of data that
is generated by these machines, which is expensive to store and communicate effectively.

“We’re developing techniques that can reduce data volume by at least a factor of 10. The problem with this is that you add some margin of error when you reduce the data,” Cappello said.

“The focus then is on controlling the margin of error; you want to control the error so it doesn’t affect the scientific result in the end while still being efficient at reduction, and this is one of the challenges we are looking at.”

Memory

For information that is stored on exascale systems, researchers need data management controls for memory, power and processing cores. Argonne computer scientist Pete Beckman is investigating methods for managing all three through a project known as Argo.

“The efficiency of memory and storage have to keep up with the increase in computation rates and data movement requirements that will exist at exascale,” Beckman said.

“But how memory is arranged in systems and the technology used for it is also changing, and has more layers,” he said. “So we have to account for these changes, in addition to anticipating and designing around the future needs of the applications that will use these systems.”

With added layers of memory on exascale systems, researchers must develop complementary software for regulating these memory technologies that give users control over the process.

“Having controls in place is important because where you choose to store information affects how quickly you can retrieve it,” Beckman said.

Power

Another key resource that Beckman and Argo Project researchers are studying is power. As with memory, methods for allocating power resources could speed up or slow computation within a high-performance system. Researchers are interested in developing software technologies that could enhance users’ control over this resource.

“Power limits may not be at the top of the list when you’re dealing with smaller systems, but when you’re talking about tens of megawatts of power, which is what we’ll need in the future, how an application uses that power becomes an important distinguishing characteristic,” Beckman said.

“The goal for us is to achieve a level of control that maximizes the user’s abilities while maintaining efficiency and minimizing cost,” he said.

Processing Cores

Ultra-fine controls are also needed for managing cores within an exascale system.

“With each generation of supercomputers we keep adding processing cores, but the system software that makes them work needs ways to partition and manage all the cores,” Beckman said. “And since we’re dealing millions of cores, even making small adjustments can have a tremendous impact on what we’re able to do; improving performance by say, two to three percent, is equivalent to thousands of laptops’ worth of computation.”

One concept Beckman and fellow researchers are exploring to better manage cores is containerization, a method for grouping a select number of cores together and treating them as a unit, or “container,” that can be controlled independently.

“The tools we have now to manage cores are not as precise, making it harder to regulate how much work is being done by one set of cores over another,” Beckman said. “But we’re borrowing and adapting container concepts into high-performance computing to give users the ability to operate and manage how they’re using those cores more carefully and directly.”

Software Libraries

Applications rely on software libraries – high-quality, reusable software collections – to support simulations and other functionalities. To make these capabilities accessible at exascale, Argonne researchers are working to scale existing libraries.

“Libraries provide important capabilities, including solutions to numerical problems,” said Argonne mathematician Barry Smith, who leads a project focused on scaling two libraries known as PETSc and TAO.

PETSc and TAO are widely used for large-scale numerical simulations. PETSc is a library that provides solutions to specific numerical calculations. TAO is a library that provides solutions to large-scale optimization problems, such as calculating the most cost-effective strategy for reloading fuel rods in a nuclear reactor.

In addition to scaling diverse software libraries, ECP scientists are also looking for ways to improve their quality and compatibility.

“Libraries have traditionally been developed independently, and due to the different strategies used to design and implement them, it’s been difficult to use multiple libraries in combinations. But large applications, like those that will run at exascale, need to be able to use all the layers of the software stack in combination,” said Argonne computational scientist Lois Curfman McInnes.

McInnes is co-leading the xSDK project, which is determining community policies to regulate the implementation of software packages. Such policies will make it easier for diverse libraries to be compatible with one another.

“These efforts bring us one step closer to realizing a robust and agile exascale environment that can aid scientists in tackling great challenges,” McInnes said.

Hyderabad is working on creating “Robocops”

HYDERABAD: H-Bots Robotics Pvt Ltd, a city-based startup is in the process of making a “police robot” that may be deployed at Jubilee Hills check post once it is completed.

Kisshhan, founder of H-Bots Robotics, in a statement, said the design of the robot which will walk, recognise people, take complaints and diffuse bombs, was unveiled by Jayesh Ranjan, Telangana IT Secretary, in a programme.

“It will be the world’s second humanoid robot after Dubai. The one in Dubai was made in France and deployed. But, in this case it (ours) will be totally an Indian made humanoid robot. The prototype will be ready by September this year. We will test it for two months to deploy on December 31st at Jubilee Hills check post. We will have to finalise those details with police and the government,” Kisshhan said.

Providing details, he said, unlike the police robot in Dubai, which moves only on wheels, their robot can walk, recognise people, take complaints and diffuse bombs as well.

These headlights can help drivers see through rain, snow

“We are building capacity to produce 10 such private police robots, which can be private security guards and can be deployed in hotels, hospitals and offices, he informed,” he said adding that they will be able to produce 10 such robots in a year and the plan is to make them available at a price of Rs 3 lakh each,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jayesh Ranjan said the state government will soon come out with IoT (Internet of things) Policy and robotics would be part of it.
“While we have already come out with policies on eight allied sectors, which include startups, animation industry, cyber security etc and others, we will announce IoT Policy of Telangana State in next three to four months. The policy draft is in final stages,” the official said.
T-Works, on the lines of T-Hub, a prototyping centre for electronics, semiconductors and hardware start-ups will come up in Gachibowli, with an initial investment of Rs 50 crore in the next three-four months.