Bill Gates files patents for geo-engineering ships

July 11, 2009

hurricane-Burns

Bill Gates and colleagues are seeking patents for a flotilla-based hurricane suppression system.

The patents, discussed here, are intended to use the temperature differential between the warm, surface water and the cold, deeper waters below.

Hurricanes are caused when ocean water temperatures rise, releasing warm, moist air into the atmosphere. This water condenses and creates cyclonic wind storms due to the pressure difference between hot and cold air fronts in the atmosphere.

Gates’ idea is to use giant floating bath tubs to capture warm water on the surface, then suck it down to the ocean depths in a kind of thermohaline exchange mechanism.

The basic idea is to draw cold water up from the ocean depths to cool the ocean surface, thus reducing the frequency and intensity of tropical storms.

This appears to be the latest effort in climate change, weather suppression technologies, discussed on this blog in a series of posts here and here.

From TechFlash:

Patent watcher “theodp,” who tipped us off to the filings, says he was reminded of “The Simpsons” as he read through them. “The richest man in the world hatches a plan to alter weather and ecology in return for insurance premiums and fees from governments and individuals,” he writes. “It’s got kind of a Mr. Burns feel to it, no?”

The hurricane-suppression patent applications date to early 2008, but they were first made public this morning.

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Is Huawei behind GhostNet?

July 8, 2009

huawei_logo_001

Huawei is the state run Chinese telecom infrastructure provider, who’s aggressive pricing and high quality devices have made them the favourite of many national IT backbones (including Britain).  Are they involved with GhostNet and could they be used for further international espionage?

IT security threats and web wars are an integral component of today’s security and humanitarian landscape.  Much has been made about Twitter’s role in the recent Iranian social unrest, for example.  A recent Reuters report suggests that Isreal is turning to cyberwarfare for increasingly sophisticated jamming attacks and offensives.

“Asked to speculate about how Israel might target Iran, Borg said malware — a commonly used abbreviation for “malicious software” — could be inserted to corrupt, commandeer or crash the controls of sensitive sites like uranium enrichment plants.

Such attacks could be immediate, he said. Or they might be latent, with the malware loitering unseen and awaiting an external trigger, or pre-set to strike automatically when the infected facility reaches a more critical level of activity.”

Organised and swarm-based attacks on central state infrastructure has become so common as to barely warrant news mention.  A North Korean bot net is currently attacked dozens of US government websites in Seoul (“North Korea Launches Massive Cyberattack on Seoul“)  From Slashdot:

“A botnet composed of about 50,000 infected computers has been waging a war against US government Web sites and causing headaches for businesses in the US and South Korea. The attack started Saturday, and security experts have credited it with knocking the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) web site offline for parts of Monday and Tuesday. Several other government Web sites have also been targeted, including the Department of Transportation.”

GhostNet

Although these attacks are from North Korea, many others originate in China.  A recent study from by the InfoWar Monitor uncovered a “massive Chinese espionage network,” called GhostNet.  The Guardian reports:

“GhostNet appears to target embassies, media groups, NGOs, international organisations, government foreign ministries and the offices of the Dalai Lama.

After 10 months of study, the researchers concluded that GhostNet had invaded 1,295 computers in 103 countries, but it appeared to be most focused on countries in south Asia and south-east Asia, as well as the Dalai Lama’s offices in India, Brussels, London and New York. The network continues to infiltrate dozens of new computers each week.

There was a similar article in the New York Times, Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries“.

The Huawei Connection

No definite proof has been found linking the Chinese state to these actions.  Yet many are worried that the Chinese government may play a role in such attacks.  A recent white paper from the University of Cambridge, entitled “The Snooping Dragon“, claims to have documented concrete evidence of state officials using malware to infiltrate pro-Tibet activist computers.

The link to China’s state communications company, Huawai, appears particularly suspect.  Huawei technology is at the core of BT’s new 10 billion communications upgrade.  A NetworkedWorld article discusses the close connections between Huawei and the Chinese military.  It reports,

Huawei maintains deep ties with the Chinese military, which serves a multi-faceted role as an important customer, as well as Huawei’s political patron and research and development partner.

Both the government and the military tout Huawei as a national champion, and the company is currently China’s largest, fastest-growing, and most impressive telecommunications equipment manufacturer.

In a related report entitled “Spy Chiefs Fear Chinese Security Threat”, The Times Online reports,

INTELLIGENCE chiefs have warned that China may have gained the capability to shut down Britain by crippling its telecoms and utilities.
According to the sources, the ministerial committee on national security was told at the January meeting that Huawei components that form key parts of BT’s new network might already contain malicious elements waiting to be activated by China.
Working through Huawei, China was already equipped to make “covert modifications” or to “compromise equipment in ways that are very hard to detect” and that might later “remotely disrupt or even permanently disable the network”, the meeting was told.
This would be likely to have a “significant impact on critical services” such as power and water supplies, food distribution, the financial system and transport, which were dependent on computers to operate.

INTELLIGENCE chiefs have warned that China may have gained the capability to shut down Britain by crippling its telecoms and utilities.

According to the sources, the ministerial committee on national security was told at the January meeting that Huawei components that form key parts of BT’s new network might already contain malicious elements waiting to be activated by China.

Working through Huawei, China was already equipped to make “covert modifications” or to “compromise equipment in ways that are very hard to detect” and that might later “remotely disrupt or even permanently disable the network”, the meeting was told.

This would be likely to have a “significant impact on critical services” such as power and water supplies, food distribution, the financial system and transport, which were dependent on computers to operate.

Discussion

Many wonder how Huawei might accomplish these security breaches.  WTWU at SpyBlog suggests that it would be silly for Huawei to do so.  They write,

It would be incredibly risky for the Chinese Government to attempt to insert such trojan horse “backdoors” into Huawei manufactured equipment, especially into the hardware, where the evidence cannot be deleted after a Denial of Service attack etc.

The cost of using such a capability, if it even exists, would be to immediately destroy the multi billion pound Huawei company commercially.

Yet in a recent confidential interview, an ex-Huawei employee suggested that the speed of sales and the level of complexity of such systems has little to no quality control checking or safety assurance of the components.

It would therefore be close to impossible to monitor the security of the commercial services sold by Huawei, given the tremendous volume of such sales.

Worse than hardware might be a software backdoor, which is easily modifiable and less risky than hardware breaches.

Although there is no evidence that Huawei is related to the kinds of cyberattacks and web espionage efforts such as GhostNet, there does appear to be a plausible connection.

The impact of such a link, and its relationship to development and humanitarian aid, may be worthy of monitoring and consideration.


Reviewing the American Red Cross Social Media Strategy Handbook

July 6, 2009

Wendy Harman at the American Red Cross just posted a draft of their proposed Social Media Strategy Handbook.   We think it is great.

Note, this is only a screenshot.  Unfortunately WordPress doesn't let you embed Google presentations yet.

One of the core tenants of HFP is that humanitarian aid organisations must become more savvy with social network technologies (and tactics).  This collaborative document, built on top of the shared policies of many other organisations, is an excellent example of this is practice.

The document is remarkable in at least three ways:

  1. It was produced collaboratively, built upon the shared policies of other organisations.
  2. It is being shared over the web, in full and in an easily shared format, for comment and discussion
  3. It is very clever, practice relevant, and a great example of practising what you preach

The entire strategy can be found here as a text version.  The Google Docs slideshow is excellent as well.  Well done Wendy!


A battle over open-source in Africa

May 16, 2009
Image source: XCID

Image source: XCID

The BBC had a nice article this week summarising the battle over open-source software in African markets.

Microsoft has been pursuing an aggressive policy of market expansion in Africa, even selling stripped down (some say “crippled“; i.e., less functional) versions of Windows XP at reduced rates (called Windows 7 Starter, the application is rumoured to allow users to only run three programs at a time).

The piece quotes Microsoft’s Africa chairman, Dr. Cheikh Modibo Diarra, who suggests that open source costs you more money over time.  “You buy Microsoft software, and you buy it once and for all, the cost that we tell you is the total cost for ownership.”

Ken Banks from Kiwanja.net (who we have discussed previously), argues that this is a false critique, that a top-down corporate model is not what Africa needs, and that there are already many existing, bottom up solutions to products that Microsoft is trying to gain market share with.

Banks is quoted as saying, “today we’re seeing growing open-source programmer, developer communities in South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and other African countries. Clearly, if you have this informal programming sector coming up, access to source code is almost critical if they are going to be able to take advantage of these new tools that are emerging.”

The battle is still being fought, and if the experience of the fight between the OLPC project and Microsoft is any example, it won’t be dying down anytime soon.


Us Now: a new film about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet

May 11, 2009
Vodpod videos no longer available.

“In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?”

A new film highlights some of the amazing possibilities and new potentials of mass collaboration and its impact on governance.

From the website:

New technologies and a closely related culture of collaboration present radical new models of social organisation. This project brings together leading practitioners and thinkers in this field and asks them to determine the opportunity for government.

“We are living in a different world now. THe value of the human being, the connected human being is coming through.” – JP Rangaswami

The site has an amazing collection of clips and interviews, which can be found here.  I was struck by how one Alan cox, an open source software pioneer, reflected upon the impact of these approaches on political power.  In the video below, he states that such tools aren’t having that big of an impact on power yet, because the people who benefit from them are so far down the political food chain.  But as with projects such as the One Laptop Per Child programme, such tools offer the benefit of vast amounts of education and information to those traditionally deprived from it, this sowing the seeds, potentially, for future change.  This is a beautifully real assessment of open-source which gets beyond much of the management hype.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Explore the entire site, or skip directly to the page with wonderful video interview clips.


Is Twitter bad for ethical decision making?

April 13, 2009

On the back of a string of interesting posts about crowdsourcing in general, and Twitter in particular, a new study has just been published which suggests that Twitter-like information processing may be bad for moral decision making.

A University of Southern California study found that emotions related to moral judgement “awaken slowly” in the mind, require time for reflection, and may be short circuited by quick response, rapid fire information processing needs; especially those related to fear and pain.

The study, “Tweet this: Rapid-fire media may be bad for your moral compass“, used brain scanning to measure the onset time of different emotions.

Fear and pain are rapid onset, rapid response emotions.  Compassion and admiration, on the other hand, take much longer to occur yet persist longer.

The authors write,

The study raises questions about the emotional cost—particularly for the developing brain—of heavy reliance on a rapid stream of news snippets obtained through television, online feeds or social networks such as Twitter.

“If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people’s psychological states and that would have implications for your morality,” Immordino- Yang said.

They go on; “In a media culture in which violence and suffering becomes an endless show, be it in fiction or in infotainment, indifference to the vision of human suffering gradually sets in.”

Could too much Twitter be bad for the humanitarian brain, already stressed to the limit with images of human suffering?  


Mobile phone viruses; ruining a crowdsource near you soon

April 6, 2009

virus-spread1

A new study by network analysts suggest that mobile phones may soon pass a critical threshold, after which viruses could become a crippling fact of life.

Academic paper here, supporting web material here, and a very good CBC summary here.

From the CBC article:

There have been no major outbreaks of computer viruses among smartphones because no smartphone operating system is popular enough to let a virus to spread effectively — yet, a new study suggests.

The data also predict that once a single smartphone operating system gains a critical percentage of the entire mobile phone market, viruses could start to pose “a serious threat” to mobile communications, said the study released Thursday in Science Express.

Smartphones “are poised to become the dominant communication device in the near future, raising the possibility of virus breakouts that could overshadow the disruption caused by traditional computer viruses,” said the paper by Pu Wang and other researchers at Northwestern University.

The implications for the excitement around crowdsourced, mobile mapping, and similar mobile technologies for humanitarian aid should be obvious and terrifying.