Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Of hacks and Higgs

The more things change, the more they remain the same ...

What hasn't changed? Chinese hacking of American infrastructure. What has changed is substantiation of something long suspected: that the Chinese government is behind the hacks.

From the Washington Times, see "Meet China’s super-secret military hacking unit:Chinese hacking team responsible for more than 141 cybersecurity breaches."
The findings come by way of a new report from the Virginia-based Mandiant Corp., which claims its "research and observations indicate that the Communist Party of China is tasking the Chinese People’s Liberation Army to commit systematic cyber espionage and data theft against organizations around the world."
 Another choice quote from the article:
Fox News says the "secret group" has hacked U.S. information at energy, aerospace and IT and telecommunication firms. Hackers obtained access to the likes of blueprints and contact lists, Fox News reports.
Before you discount these assertions as somehow tied to a conservative viewpoint, see, "Feinstein Statement on Chinese Military Hacking of American Targets." That's Senator Dianne Feinstein, (D-California), and an official statement from her senatorial office.
Beyond untold millions of dollars in economic losses, the latest attacks the report attributes to ‘Unit 61398’ does not focus on obtaining information "but obtaining the ability to manipulate American critical infrastructure: the power grids and other utilities."
Perhaps the US State Department will send China a concerned note.

Now here is something completely different that remains the same ...

The Standard Model of particle physics.

A Higgs goes to pieces
For decades one piece of the model eluded experimenters. That unconfirmed piece was the Higgs boson, a particle that plays a role in giving (some) subatomic particles their attribute of mass. Last year -- almost a half century after the Higgs boson was first theorized -- CERN scientists announced, with a great fanfare, their discovery of a "Higgs-like" particle.

Only a week ago did the research teams remove the "like" qualifier. From CERN itself, see "New results indicate that new particle is a Higgs boson."

(If the Higgs boson is unfamiliar, this short video at Space.com (What is the "God Particle"? The Higgs boson explained) will be a worthwhile detour. I'll wait here for you.)

On the one hand, the confirmation of the Standard Model was a triumph. And on the other hand? A disappointment. As powerful as the Standard Model is, as valuable as it has been as a guide to physicists, there are many reasons to believe the model to be incomplete. The simplest example of that incompleteness is that many of the model's parameters take seemingly arbitrary values. The charge on an electron and the ratio of a proton's mass to an electron's mass are known only from measurement, not in any way derivable from the model.

The Higgs boson -- as the last unconfirmed particle in the Standard Model -- might still have surprised us. If the "Higgs-like particle" had turned out to be something different than the SM predicted, that difference might have pointed the way to a deeper model, to new understanding. Instead, "Hopes fade of Higgs particle opening door to new realms soon."

And that's it from the world of Higgs and hacks.


Anonymous said...

You might want to read the book "Cyberwar" by Richard A Clarke and Robert Knake. It's a non-fiction overview of the current state of affairs and the history behind them from a guy that's intimately familiar with how the State Dept. (and the rest of the US govt) is or isn't dealing with the problem.

Edward M. Lerner said...

Thanks for the pointer. I'll check into it.

- Ed