Spooked by Spike in Cyber Extortion, Businesses are Stockpiling Bitcoin for Payoffs

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Paying ransom just invites the next attack.

Tim Johnson reports: U.S. corporations that have long resisted bending to the demands of computer hackers who take their networks hostage are increasingly stockpiling bitcoin, the digital currency, so that they can quickly meet ransom demands rather than lose valuable corporate data.

The companies are responding to cybersecurity experts who recently have changed their advice on how to deal with the growing problem of extortionists taking control of the computers.

“It’s a moral dilemma. If you pay, you are helping the bad guys,” said Paula Long, chief executive of DataGravity, a Nashua, New Hampshire, company that helps clients secure corporate data. But, she added, “You can’t go to the moral high ground and put your company at risk.”

“A lot of companies are doing that as part of their incident response planning,” said Chris Pogue, chief information security officer at Nuix, a company that provides information management technologies. “They are setting up bitcoin wallets.”

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Pogue said he believed thousands of U.S. companies had prepared strategies for dealing with hacker extortion demands, and numerous law firms have stepped in to facilitate negotiations with hackers, many of whom operate from the other side of the globe.

Symantec, a Mountain View, California, company that makes security and storage software, estimates that ransom demands to companies average between $10,000 and $75,000 for hackers to provide keys to decrypt frozen networks. Individuals whose computers get hit pay as little as $100 to $300 to unlock their encrypted files.

Companies that analyze cyber threats say the use of ransomware has exploded, and payments have soared. Recorded Future, a Somerville, Massachusetts, threat intelligence firm, says ransom payments skyrocketed 4,000 percent last year, reaching $1 billion. Another firm, Kaspersky Lab, estimates that a new business is attacked with ransomware every 40 seconds.

“If you’re hit by ransomware today, you have only two options: You either pay the criminals or you lose your data,” said Raj Samani, chief technical officer at Intel Security for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “We underestimated the scale of the issue.”

Hackers often send out email with tainted hyperlinks to broad targets, say, an entire company. All it takes is one computer user in a company to click on the infected link to allow hackers to get a foothold in the broader network, leading to hostile encryption.

“At least one employee will click on anything,” said Robert Gibbons, chief technology officer at Datto, a Connecticut company that offers digital disaster recovery services. Read the rest of this entry »


Having it Both Ways: Google Cozies to Trump but Calls for His Impeachment 

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After investing millions ingraining itself within the Obama White House, Google is suddenly on the outside looking in with the Trump administration — and it clearly has Google rattled — protesting Mr. Trump in private, and then publicly trying to cozy up with him the next.

Google, or rather its parent company Alphabet, got used to dominating Washington under President Barack Obama’s rule. Perhaps, that’s why they’d like to see President Donald Trump 2_2_2017_b1-riddell8201_s878x1257impeached.

“Some of us may need to adopt Pence 2017 bumper stickers,” Google’s cofounder Sergey Brin joked at a company sponsored anti-Trump protest — the biggest demonstration from a Silicon Valley corporation this week — in response to Mr. Trump’s controversial immigration executive order.

More than 2,000 Google employees attended the protest on Monday, with it becoming a trending topic on Twitter with the hashtag #GooglersUnite. The rally came 24 hours after Google donated $2 million to the ACLU and Immigrant Legal Resource Center, to help fight Mr. Trump’s executive order, which was matched by $2 million in donations from Google employees.

The week prior, Google lawyers flooded the California office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, demanding she oppose Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as attorney general.

After investing millions ingraining itself within the Obama White House, Google is suddenly on the outside looking in with the Trump administration — and it clearly has Google rattled — protesting Mr. Trump in private, and then publicly trying to cozy up with him the next. Read the rest of this entry »


Google Expands Self-Driving Car Testing to Washington State

WASHINGTON (Reuters) David Shepardson reports: Alphabet Inc said Wednesday its self-driving car project will expand testing to Kirkland, Washington later this month, the third city where it is testing autonomous vehicles.

 “We’re looking forward to seeing the cars on the road and understanding more about how self-driving cars might someday improve safety and provide traffic relief.”

— Washington Governor Jay Inslee

The company’s Google unit has conducted autonomous vehicle testing for six years in Mountain View, California, where it is based, and it expanded testing to Austin, Texas last summer.

Google said in a statement that one reason for the new site in the northwest United States is to gain experience in “different driving environments, traffic patterns, and road conditions.”

Kirkland has significant seasonal rain that allows for wet weather testing, along with hills that will allow testing of sensors at different angles and elevations.

Google began a few weeks ago driving a single Lexus RX450h SUV around a few square miles in North Kirkland to create a detailed map of the streets. Read the rest of this entry »


NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth: NASA Press Release

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While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.

NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”

“On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun.”

— John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone — the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet — of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment.”

— Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center

“On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.”

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“We’ve been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly.”

Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.

“This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.”

— Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute

While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.

“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

“It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

— Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center

To help confirm the finding and better determine the properties of the Kepler-452 system, the team conducted ground-based observations at the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, and the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These measurements were key for the researchers to confirm the planetary nature of Kepler-452b, to refine the size and brightness of its host star and to better pin down the size of the planet and its orbit.

The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

In addition to confirming Kepler-452b, the Kepler team has increased the number of new exoplanet candidates by 521 from their analysis of observations conducted from May 2009 to May 2013, raising the number of planet candidates detected by the Kepler mission to 4,696. Candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets. Read the rest of this entry »


NASA Just Discovered an Earth-like Planet

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In addition to the discovery of Kepler-452b, the scientists announced 11 more newly-found Earth-sized planets.

 reports: Some scientists believe we’re most likely to find life outside of Earth if we look beyond our solar system. Life, they think, could be present on some Earth-like planet orbiting a different sun thousands of light years away.

These earth-like planets do exist. Called exoplanets, they were discovered 20 years ago. But scientists haven’t found a planet that’s similar in size to Earth, orbiting a star similar to our sun, and traveling in a habitable zone (which means the planet is at the right temperature to harbor liquid water).

That is, until now.

Kepler 452b will forever be remembered as the first, second Earth or what NASA refers to as “Earth 2.0” ever discovered:

Here’s what we know so far about Earth 2.0:

  • It’s 60 percent larger than Earth.
  • It’s most likely rocket, meaning it has a solid surface as opposed to a gaseous one, like Jupiter.
  • It’s about 1,400 light years from Earth.
  • The star it’s orbiting is about 6 billion years old — 1.5 billion years older than our sun.
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Using NASA’s planet-hunting space telescope, called Kepler, a team announced today that Kepler 452b is the most Earth-like planet every discovered in history.

“This is about the closest, so far,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, during the announcement. Read the rest of this entry »


Rise of the Robot Security Guards

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Knightscope is preparing to roll out human-size robot patrols

Rachel Metz reports: As the sun set on a warm November afternoon, a quartet of five-foot-tall, 300-pound shiny white robots patrolled in front of Building 1 on Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus. Looking like a crew of slick Daleks imbued with the grace of Fred Astaire, they whirred quietly knightscopex299across the concrete in different directions, stopping and turning in place so as to avoid running into trash cans, walls, and other obstacles.

The robots managed to appear both cute and intimidating. This friendly-but-not-too-friendly presence is meant to serve them well in jobs like monitoring corporate and college campuses, shopping malls, and schools.

Knightscope, a startup based in Mountain View, California, has been busy designing, building, and testing the robot, known as the K5, since 2013. Seven have been built so far, and the company plans to deploy four before the end of the year at an as-yet-unnamed technology company in the area. The robots are designed to detect anomalous behavior, such as someone walking through a building at night, and report back to a remote security center. Read the rest of this entry »