Sony hack, attributed by the FBI to the North Koreans, and the associated (temporary) coerced pulling by Sony Pictures of The Interview, are getting all the headlines, but the cyberwarfare peril has been evident for a while. We found out last month that the Stuxnet worm was not one of a kind: "Meet Regin, Super Spyware That's Been Attacking Computers for Years."
Regin has been out in the digital wild since at least 2008, operates much like a back-door Trojan, and has been used against governments, internet providers, telecom companies, researchers, businesses, and private individuals, says Symantec. Regin affects Windows-based computers and operates in five stages, giving the attacker a "powerful framework for mass surveillance" and offers flexibility so attackers can customize the packages embedded within the malware.
While the following is a matter of (informed) opinion rather than quantifiable fact, consider the possibility that "Threat of computer hackers has reportedly superseded terrorism."
U.S. intelligence bluntly said this now trumps terrorism as the biggest threat to the United States.
“We are all very, very vulnerable,” said Phyllis Schneck, department under secretary for cybersecurity.
Schnecks runs the Department of Homeland Security’s Cyber-Fighting Center.
Now for that promised upbeat material ...
|Unless you watch the slits...|
One of the weird aspects of QM is the particle/wave duality of "things" (say, electrons) at a quantum scale. If you shoot an electron at a screen through a barrier with two slits, you observe that either (a) the electron, as a particle, goes through a particular slit or (b) the electron, as a wave, goes through both slits at once, creating an interference pattern on the screen. The outcome depends on how you observe the experiment. Eerie, no?
QM is also characterized by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: that the more precisely you determine one property (say, position) of that electron, the less precisely you can know the value of a complementary property (in this case, the electron's momentum).
In what seems to be an astonishingly clever breakthrough, theorists recently determined that wave/particle duality and the uncertainty principle are, in fact, two ways of looking at the same phenomenon. One less weirdness is A Good Thing. For a more complete explanation, see "Quantum physics just got less complicated."
|Around and round we go|
Of course, dark matter is called dark for a reason: we can't see it. More generally, it is believed that dark matter does not interact with any electromagnetic waves (of which visible light is a small subset). But perhaps particles of dark matter decay into normal matter, which can then give off EM waves. One dark-matter theory (of many) has it so -- and perhaps there is now support for that theory. See "Did a European spacecraft detect dark matter?:
Data from a European Space Agency spacecraft shows an X-ray signal that corresponds to no known element or particle, leading some scientists to believe they have finally detected dark matter.
On a much less cosmic scale -- but sure to delight -- consider that "Nanotube-based Li-ion Batteries Can Charge to Near Maximum in Two Minutes." Wouldn't that put nanotech into the mainstream?
|The observatory that could|
For years, America's crewed space program has seemed pointless -- certainly goal-less. IMO, the recent test of the Orion capsule, an Apollo-capsule update, doesn't negate that harsh assessment. It's not like NASA has a launcher ready to take Orion to the Moon, or an asteroid, or -- where most of us have hoped Orion will ultimately go -- Mars. It's not like there's an actual plan or a budget to take astronauts anywhere but low Earth orbit (while paying the Russians $70M a pop to deliver Americans to orbit). It's not like there's been much progress on the science that would let astronauts undertake a deep-space mission, much less live off the land on Mars.
|The next step?|
When cyber-vulnerabilities get you down -- and how can they not? -- there is comfort to be found, I believe, in reflecting in just how clever we can be when set our minds to it.
Looking for more diversion? I'm finishing the year by (finally, you say) setting up a page on Facebook. As I type, my FB page is brand new -- but one has to start somewhere. I hope you'll follow me there, too.
And I suspect that'll be it for me till (one hopes, a happier) 2015!