Hot Clicks: Is Our Energy System at Risk?

Hot Clicks: Is Our Energy System at Risk?

Rounding up IT and advanced tech-related news impacting government and industry.

A recent cyberattack on a gas pipeline network may prove so — it hit a shared data network that forced four of the nation’s natural-gas pipeline operators to shut down computer communications with their customers.

The target seems to have been Texas-based Latitude Technologies, which provides electronic data-sharing between pipeline companies and their gas producer and utility consumers. They were only shuttered temporarily as a precaution and no gas service was interrupted, but it’s still unclear if customer data was stolen.

But here’s the concern: Energy companies have proprietary information about their holdings, trading strategies and production technologies, and the pipeline infrastructure is increasingly depending on digital systems, making it a target. Critical equipment used are also connected to wireless networks. There are about 2.5 million miles of oil, gas and chemical pipelines crisscrossing the country, so though it hasn’t happened yet, a breach of the system could do more than just interrupt communications. Think explosions, spills and fires. But this attack was probably another way to gain intelligence on the gas industry. The New York Times

Blood-Delivering Drones 

Tech giants like Amazon and Google are experimenting with delivery drones, but the California-based startup Zipline is already in the game, and is on the second generation of its aircraft models. These newer, faster drones look like mini airplanes, travel up to 80 mph and have an upgraded delivery system that can handle 500 flights a day. The company’s delivery drones deliver blood from a drone launch base to hospitals in Rwanda and is expanding to deliver vaccines and medicines, as well as provide similar services in Tanzania.

The drones guide themselves to their destinations and deliver medical supplies up to 50 miles away, and particularly come in handy when roads are flooded or medical clinics are on an island, so Zipline thinks it’ll one day expand services to the U.S.

But they do pose concerns around safety risks to aircraft and humans on the ground, so regulators are proceeding with caution. Currently, the drones can integrate with air traffic control systems, but because they follow a preset course, they don’t avoid birds and other aircraft. Zipline is working to add those capabilities. Humans can intervene if needed, but it hasn’t yet happened in Rwanda’s 7,000 flights. CNet

Opposition Surrounds AI as Weapon

Artificial intelligence is used by militaries, including our own, for new ways of offensive and defensive applications — but not everyone is a fan of using the technology to harm. Recently, several thousand Google employees wrote an internal memo opposing Google’s work on the Pentagon’s Project Maven, which intends to use computer vision algorithms to analyze image and video data from drones and sensors. The employees worry about biased and weaponized AI, and the continued public’s trust in Google as it participates in the contract.

There’s also concern over a program in South Korea to develop offensive robots created by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and the largest producer of munitions in the country, Hanhwa. AI academics are protesting the collaboration, saying it contradicts the United Nations’ call to contain the threat to international security by autonomous weapons.

But is using AI this way a national threat? And considering how AI research is as applicable to offensive technologies as it is to improving human conditions, can we even prevent its use in offensive weapon systems? Its dual-use capabilities may be up to the researcher. TechCrunch

Top Techies Ditch Facebook

The Cambridge Analytica affair is illuminating concerns around the privacy of user information on Facebook. There’s been a #DeleteFacebook movement that most recently caught the attention of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. He told USA TODAY he’s leaving the social media site because of its treatment of the private information of its users, and the advertisement money it makes off it.

His decision comes shortly after Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly criticized Facebook for the data sharing scandal, as Facebook now estimates 87 million people may have been affected. Among others, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, Inc. and SpaceX, deleted both his company’s Facebook pages too, tweeting it wasn’t for political reasons but that Facebook gives him the “willies.”

But the movement hasn’t noticeably impacted user engagement, according to Jefferies analyst Brent Thill. He said the recent headlines did not meaningfully impact engagement in March. Still, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before Congress in Washington, D.C., about Cambridge Analytica, and the millions of users affected will soon get notified. All Facebook users will also get a link to review what apps they use and what information is shared with those apps. USA TODAY

Vigilante Hackers Defend U.S. Elections

On April 6, a group of hackers disabled some internet service providers, data centers and websites in Russia and Iran, leaving a note on affected machines that read, “Don’t mess with our elections” with an American flag. Why? Because they’re “tired of attacks from government-backed hackers on the United States and other countries,” someone involved told Motherboard. They wanted to send a message.

Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky said the attack exploited a vulnerability in a piece of software called Cisco Smart Install Client. Talos, which is part of Cisco, said hackers also exploited the vulnerability to target critical infrastructure, and that some of the attacks were from nation-state actors. It linked the activity to a March alert from the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team that said Russian government hackers were targeting critical infrastructure sectors like energy. This is what the hackers were probably responding to.

The attack wasn’t too sophisticated, but did have an impact. According to Kaspersky, it did target the Russian-speaking segment of the internet, and an Iran-official news agency said the attack affected 200,000 router switches across the world, including 3,500 in Iran. Motherboard