New molecular blueprint advances our understanding of photosynthesis

New molecular blueprint advances our understanding of photosynthesis

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have used one of the most advanced microscopes in the world to reveal the structure of a large protein complex crucial to photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into cellular energy.

The finding, published in the journal Nature, will allow scientists to explore for the first time how the complex functions and could have implications for the production of a variety of bioproducts, including plastic alternatives and biofuels.

“This work will lead to a better understanding of how photosynthesis occurs, which could allow us to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis in plants and other green organisms — potentially boosting the amount of food, and thus biomass, they produce,” said lead researcher Karen Davies, a biophysicist at Berkeley Lab. “This is particularly important if you want to produce renewable bioproducts that are cost-effective alternatives to current petroleum-based products.”

Discovered decades ago, the protein complex targeted by the researchers, called NADH dehydrogenase-like complex (NDH), is known to help regulate the phase of photosynthesis where the energy of sunlight is captured and stored in two types of cellular energy molecules, which are later utilized to power the conversion of carbon dioxide into sugar. Past investigations revealed that NDH reshuffles the energized electrons moving among other protein complexes in the chloroplast in a way that ensures the correct ratio of each energy molecule is produced. Furthermore, NDH of cyanobacteria performs several additional roles including increasing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) available for sugar production by linking CO2 uptake with electron transfer.

In order for scientists to truly comprehend how NDH executes these important functions, they needed a molecular blueprint indicating the location and connectivity of all the atoms in the complex. This is something that even highly powerful transmission electron microscopy (TEM) technology simply could not provide until very recently.

“Research on this enzyme has been difficult and experimental results confounding for the last 20 years or so because we have lacked complete information about the enzyme’s structure,” said Davies. “Knowing the structure is important for generating and testing out hypotheses of how the enzyme functions. The resolution we obtained for our structure of NDH has only really been achievable since the commercialization of the direct electron counting camera, developed in collaboration with Berkeley Lab.”

Prior to this invention, explained Davies, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Biophysics and Integrative Bioimaging Division (MBIB), determining the structure of a single molecule could take several years because cryo-TEM imaging relied on film, meaning that each exposure had to be developed and scanned before it could be analyzed. The main limitation, however, was that most images turned out blurry. When you directed a beam of electrons at a molecule, the charged, high-energy particles excited the atoms in the molecule, often making them move at the moment of exposure. This meant that researchers needed to take and process hundreds, if not thousands, of film images in order to get an accurate glimpse of an entire molecule.

The new electron counting camera solves this problem by taking digital movies with an extremely high frame rate, so individual frames can be aligned to eliminate blurring caused by beam-induced particle motion.

In the current study, first author Thomas Laughlin, a UC Berkeley graduate student with a joint appointment at MBIB, isolated NDH complexes from membranes of a photosynthetic cyanobacterium provided by the Junko Yano and Vittal Yachandra Lab in MBIB and imaged them using a state-of-the-art cryo-TEM instrument fitted with the latest direct electron detector. Located on the UC Berkeley campus, the cryo-TEM facility is managed by the Bay Area CryoEM consortium, which is partly funded by Berkeley Lab.

The resulting atom density map was then used to build a model of NDH that shows the arrangement of all the protein subunits of NDH and the most likely position of all the atoms in the complex. By examining this model, Davies’ team will be able to formulate and then test hypotheses of how NDH facilitates sugar production by balancing the ratio of the two cellular energy molecules.

“While the structure of NDH alone certainly addresses many questions, I think it has raised several more that we had not even thought to consider before,” said Laughlin.

Among the many Berkeley Lab scientists focused on advancing knowledge of fundamental biochemical and biophysical processes, Davies and her staff also use direct electron camera cryo-EM to investigate how variations in the organization of photosynthetic complexes, caused by changes in growth and light conditions, affect the efficiency of photosynthesis. Her project on electron flow in photosynthesis is supported by a five-year DOE Office of Science Early Career Research Program grant that was awarded in 2018.

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DOJ busts gang for allegedly sold fake cars on eBay

DOJ busts gang for allegedly sold fake cars on eBay

The Department of Justice has unsealed information about an organized crime ring that used online sites like eBay and Craigslist to defraud people. 20 people, including 16 people from Romania and Bulgaria, stand accused of RICO, wire fraud and money laundering offenses, as well as identify theft.

According to the documents, the Romanian team would create fake ads on websites like Craigslist and eBay for pricey goods. Apparently the common item would be a car, and interested buyers would be encouraged to pay before delivery.

In order to sell the scam, the profiles would claim that they were in the military, and needed to sell the car before being deployed. Images and names had been sourced from real people, and used faked emails from eBay and Aol Autos*, even going so far as to include fake customer service addresses.

When people paid up, the cash was quickly exchanged for cryptocurrency, which was then passed over to associates based overseas. That allegedly included the owners of Coinflux and R G Coins, a pair of Romanian exchanges.

If found guilty, the gang can expect up to 20 years in jail and hefty fines that range from $250,000 through to $500,000. And the DoJ has added that if you think you may have been caught in this scam, you can submit your information to help the case.

*Aol Autos is/was a property owned by Engadget’s current/former parent company, yadda yadda.

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US will map and disrupt North Korean botnet

US will map and disrupt North Korean botnet


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The US government plans to turn the tables on North Korea-linked hackers trying to compromise key infrastructure. The Justice Department has unveiled an initiative to map the Joanap botnet and “further disrupt” it by alerting victims. The FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations are running servers imitating peers on the botnet, giving them a peek at both technical and “limited” identifying info for other infected PCs. From there, they can map the botnet and send notifications through internet providers and foreign governments — they’ll even send personal notifications to people who don’t have a router or firewall protecting their systems.

DOJ officials stress that they received approval for the campaign through both a court order and a search warrant.

Joanap and the worm that helps detect vulnerable systems, Brambul, have been around since 2009. However, it wasn’t until recently that American officials directly blamed the North Korean government for the attacks, which have targeted the aerospace industry, finance and critical infrastructure. As the DOJ explained, the botnet a threat to national security — there’s a strong incentive to take it down.

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How much rainforest do birds need?

How much rainforest do birds need?

Researchers of the Department of Conservation Biology at the University of Göttingen have carried out research in Southwest Cameroon to assess which proportion of forest would be necessary in order to provide sufficient habitat for rainforest bird species. The results of the study were published in the journal Biological Conservation.

The Göttingen team investigated relationships between forest cover and bird species richness using data from a 4,000 km2 large rainforest landscape. The study area contains protected areas as well as smallholder agroforestry systems and industrial oil palm plantations. The study documents minimum thresholds of forest cover in farmland below which original bird communities begin to change and where they are already dominated by species which don’t depend on forest. The data suggest that forest cover ought not to fall below 40 percent if drastic losses in original bird species are to be avoided. Importantly, the study also shows that highly specialised bird species already start to decline significantly when the percentage of forest dips to as much as 70 percent; at these forest cover levels, these birds are beginning to be replaced by “generalists,” ie birds that are at home in different habitats.

“The threshold values we are discussing here should play a role in defining strategies for conservation in tropical forest landscapes,” says Denis Kupsch, first author of the study. This is particularly important because the pressure to use agricultural land intensively is constantly increasing in tropical regions. “It would therefore make sense for land-use planning and legislation in the future to be geared more to such limits in order to achieve a sustainable coexistence of industrial agricultural production, smallholder agriculture and protected area management.” According to the authors, smallholder agricultural forest systems in particular, which represent a near-natural cultivated landscape and at the same time preserve a high proportion of natural forest, could play a significant role in this.

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ACLU sues US government over social media surveillance of immigrants

ACLU sues US government over social media surveillance of immigrants


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The ACLU has sued the federal government, naming the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, US Customs and Border Protection, US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the State Department as defendants. The civil rights organization is seeking information regarding the government’s practice of monitoring immigrants’ and visa applicants’ social media accounts, information that it says these agencies have been withholding.

In its complaint, the ACLU says it filed Freedom of Information Act requests last year requesting more information about the agencies’ social media surveillance policies and how they were conducting the surveillance. But it says none of the agencies and departments have fulfilled those requests, with some saying the requests were too broad, the FBI replying that it couldn’t “confirm or deny the existence” of the records requested and many just not responding at all. The organization asserts that failure to process its requests in a timely manner violates the Freedom of Information Act, and it’s asking the court to compel these agencies to provide the requested documents.

The US government announced in 2017 that it would begin collecting, storing and monitoring immigrants’ social media handles, and the ACLU has maintained that such a practice raises both free speech and privacy concerns. It argues in its lawsuit that it “risks chilling expressive activity and can lead to the disproportionate targeting of racial and religious minority communities, and those who dissent against government policies.”

“Social media surveillance has become a major priority for the federal government in recent years,” the ACLU’s Hugh Handeyside wrote in a blog post. “The public has a right to know how the federal government monitors social media users and speech, whether agencies are retaining social media content and whether the government is using surveillance products to label activists and people of color as threats to public safety based on their First Amendment-protected conduct.”

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Proposed FAA rules loosen restrictions on drone flights at night

Proposed FAA rules loosen restrictions on drone flights at night


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Right on the heels of Canada introducing new, stricter regulations for drone operations, the US Department of Transportation proposed a new set of rules for drones that would allow the unmanned vehicles to fly over populated areas and operate at night. The proposal also includes a pilot program for drone traffic management that would help to integrate the aircrafts into the nation’s airspace.

Under the proposed rules, the Federal Aviation Administration would no longer require drone operators to get waivers to operate at night. Instead, it would require drones flying after twilight to have an anti-collision light that would make it visible for at least three miles. Pilots operating a drone at night would also have to undergo knowledge testing and training before being cleared to fly. According to the FAA, requests to operate at night are the most common type of waiver it receives. The agency has granted 1,233 waivers and has not recorded any reports of accidents.

The new rules would also loosen the restrictions on allowing drones to operate over people. The proposal suggests that unmanned aircrafts weighing less than 0.55 pounds could fly over populated areas without restrictions. Drones weighing more than that would require proof from a manufacturer that a malfunction wouldn’t cause severe injury if the drone crashed into a person. Larger drones also would not be allowed to fly overhead if they have exposed rotating parts or if they have any known safety defects.

Finally, the FAA announced plans to go forward with a pilot program to further integrate drones into the national airspace shared by airplane traffic. The project will run through September 2019 and will focus on flight planning, communications, aircraft separation and weather services. The program, first developed as a research project by NASA and operated as a joint effort between that agency and the FAA, will be used primarily to gather information that will help set future rules.

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Brazilian Tax Regulator Publishes Draft on Cryptocurrency Taxation

Brazilian Tax Regulator Publishes Draft on Cryptocurrency Taxation

The Department of Federal Revenue of Brazil (RFB), which administers tax collection in the country, is seeking to receive monthly reports on crypto assets operations, according to a document released by the RFB Tuesday, Oct. 30.

In the paper, the RFB has announced that Brazil-based crypto exchanges are now obliged to send them detailed reports on all crypto-related operations on monthly basis. For instance, the companies have to reveal the amounts of transactions and the identity of the customers.

Moreover, both legal entities and individuals residing in Brazil are now obliged to report all the transactions they have carried out at foreign crypto exchanges if they surpass R$10,000 Brazilian reals ($2,700) per month.

The RFB’s draft on crypto taxation also sets a range of fines for those who fail to report their transactions. For the delay of a tax declaration, citizens will have to pay up to R$1,500 ($400). In case the information provided is insufficient or false, the RFB could charge up to 3 percent of transaction value as a fine as well.

The tax watchdog has already opened a public consultation to receive proposals on the new regulation: notes will be accepted from Oct. 31 till Nov. 19.

In the explanatory note, the regulator states that such measures have been taken due to the significant growth of the crypto industry in the country. According to the RFB, the number of crypto exchange clients has already exceeded the number of users registered at B3 — the Brazilian stock exchange based in Sao Paulo. In its turn, the daily volume of transactions conducted by five major Brazilian crypto exchanges surpasses R$8.3 million (around $2.2 million).

The regulator’s draft follows a move by Brazilian banks to close some crypto-related accounts, which led to a probe launched by local antitrust agency CADE. The investigation was initiated on the request of the Brazilian Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Association (ABCB) following several complaints from crypto industry.

CADE has sent a questionnaire to ten Brazilian crypto exchanges targeted by the bank’s decision. The companies were requested to explain how their business functioned in Brazil.

In late October, the Federal District Court of Brazil forced major banks Banco do Brasil and Santander Brasil to reopen the accounts for local crypto exchange Bitcoin Max. The judge ruled that the banks’ decision to close the crypto-related accounts was “abusive conduct” violating consumer protection rules.

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Texas Updates Regulatory Guidance Regarding Activities Involving Cryptocurrency

Texas Updates Regulatory Guidance Regarding Activities Involving Cryptocurrency

Texas Updates Regulatory Guidance Regarding Cryptocurrency Activities

Regulation

The Texas Department of Banking has published new guidance regarding the regulatory treatment of virtual currencies under the Texas Money Services Act. The document states that most transactions involving cryptocurrencies will not be considered a transfer of “monetary value” but the exchange of virtual currencies for fiat will likely be recognized as a “money transmission.”

Also Read: More Japanese Cryptocurrency Exchanges Sign up for Self-Regulation 

Texas Department of Banking Updates Regulatory Position on Crypto Transactions

Texas Updates Regulatory Guidance Regarding Cryptocurrency ActivitiesOn Jan. 2, the Texas Department of Banking published a supervisory memorandum providing updated regulatory guidance regarding the treatment of cryptocurrencies under state law.

While the memorandum notes that bitcoin and cryptocurrencies have “sparked new discourse on the nature of money” and the “transferability of value,” the document emphasizes that it seeks only to express the department’s interpretation of the Texas Money Services Act as it pertains to activities involving cryptocurrencies under existing statutory definitions.

Guidelines Classify Virtual Currencies as ‘Centralized’ or ‘Decentralized’

The guidelines classify cryptocurrency according to their centralization, with decentralized virtual currencies described as not have been “created or issued by a particular person or entity,” in addition to having “no administrator, and no central repository.”

Centralized virtual currencies, the document states, are defined as having been “created Texas Updates Regulatory Guidance Regarding Cryptocurrency Activitiesand issued by a specified source,” adding that “they rely on an entity with some for authority or control over the currency.”

Stablecoins are described as comprising a “subclass” of centralized virtual currencies. With regard to money transmission regulation, the memorandum states that “an important aspect” of stablecoins that are backed by sovereign currencies is the “redemption right that allows the stablecoin holder to redeem the coin for fiat currency from the issuer.”

The memorandum adds that “Some experts consider cryptocurrency to be a new asset class that is neither currency nor commodity, but possessing characteristics of both, as well as characteristics of neither.”

Licensing Considerations Regarding Cryptocurrency Companies

Texas Updates Regulatory Guidance Regarding Cryptocurrency ActivitiesThe Texas Department of Banking notes that in many instances, the “factors distinguishing the various centralized virtual currencies can be complicated and nuanced,” and as such the regulator “must individually analyze centralized virtual currency schemes.”

The document states that licensing determinations regarding transactions involving virtual currencies will be decided “on the sole question” of whether the cryptocurrency should be considered “money or monetary value” under the Money Services Act.

The guidelines also state that exchanging virtual currency for sovereign currency is not regarded as comprising “currency exchange” under the Texas Finance Code, adding that the code defines currency for the purpose of currency exchange as “the coin and paper money of the United States or any country that is designated as legal tender.”

Policy Implications of Texas’ New Guidelines

Texas Updates Regulatory Guidance Regarding Cryptocurrency ActivitiesWhile the document states that it “does not offer generalized guidance on the treatment of centralized virtual currencies, other than sovereign-backed stablecoins,” a number of general policy assertions are made with regard to cryptocurrency activities.

Broadly speaking, the memorandum states that without the involvement of fiat currency in a transaction, no money transmission has occurred under the existing statutes. However, cryptocurrency transactions involving sovereign currency “may” comprise money transmissions “depending on how the sovereign currency is handled.” The document adds that “A licensing analysis will be based on the handling of the sovereign currency.”

The guidelines note that the exchange of cryptocurrency in exchange for fiat currency between two parties is not money transmission, but rather comprises “a sale of goods between two parties.” The exchange of cryptocurrency in exchange for another cryptocurrency, in addition to the “transfer of cryptocurrency by itself” also falls outside of the legal definition of money transmission.

However, the “exchange of cryptocurrency for sovereign currency through a third-party exchanger” is generally considered money transmission. Additionally, the “exchange of cryptocurrency for sovereign currency through an automated machine” is “usually but not always” deemed to comprise money transmission.

What is your response to the Texas Department of Banking’s updated interpretation of the state’s Money Services Act regarding virtual currencies? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


Images courtesy of Shutterstock


Why not keep track of the price with one of Bitcoin.com’s widget services.

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Is habitat restoration actually killing plants in the California wildlands? Nursery-grown plants can harbor fungicide-resistant strains of disease-causing pathogens

Is habitat restoration actually killing plants in the California wildlands? Nursery-grown plants can harbor fungicide-resistant strains of disease-causing pathogens

In 2014, plant biologists with the California Department of Agriculture reported an alarming discovery: native wildflowers and herbs, grown in nurseries and then planted in ecological restoration sites around California, were infected with Phytophthora tentaculata, a deadly exotic plant pathogen that causes root and stem rot.

While ecologists have long been wary of exotic plant pathogens borne on imported ornamental plants, this was the first time in California that these microorganisms had been found in native plants used in restoration efforts. Their presence in restoration sites raised the frightening possibility that ecological restoration, rather than returning disturbed sites to their natural beauty, may actually be introducing deadly plant pathogens, such as those related to Sudden Oak Death, into the wild.

New work by a UC Berkeley team in the College of Natural Resources shows for the first time just how widespread and deadly the threat of pathogens from restoration nurseries may be.

The team surveyed five native plant nurseries in Northern California and found that four harbored exotic, or non-native, Phytophthora pathogens. Strains of the pathogens from native plant nurseries were shown to be at times more aggressive than strains found in the wild, and some of them are rapidly developing resistance to the fungicides that can be used to control them, the researchers found.

Working with restoration nurseries around the state, the researchers showed that new management techniques, coupled with new methods for detecting pathogens, can help these nurseries limit the spread of exotic pathogens.

“Some of these restoration projects cost tens of millions of dollars, but of course their actual value is much higher, because of the wealth of services healthy natural ecosystems provide, including supporting animal and plant biodiversity, providing good water and air quality, and enjoyable recreation sites,” said Matteo Garbelotto, cooperative extension specialist and adjunct professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley.

“Such services are highly diminished in ecosystems affected by exotic plant diseases, while water runoff and erosion, the establishment of exotic plants and animals, and even hotter wildfires may increase in conjunction with disease outbreaks in natural ecosystems,” Garbelotto said.

Pathogens evolve to outwit fungicides

Bacteria that make humans sick are constantly evolving to resist the antibiotics designed to fight them, and resistance to fungicides has been documented in microbes causing diseases in agricultural plants. Garbelotto and his team wanted to know if the widespread use of fungicides in in native and ornamental plant nurseries could also accelerate the development of fungicide-resistance in plant pathogens.

Their research was spurred in part by their discovery of a new strain of the Sudden Oak Death pathogen in Oregon forests that is highly tolerant of a fungicide commonly known as phosphite, one of the main weapons used against plant parasites in the wild because its application does not cause any known negative environmental side effects.

Together with a group of New Zealand researchers, they decided to study fungicide resistance of Phytophthora — a genus of plant pathogens that can case lethal cankers and root rot — to two important fungicides, including phosphite.

The researchers gathered numerous samples of Phytophthora from 11 species present both in forests and plant nurseries. They then tested the sensitivity to phosphite of multiple individuals per species.

While most of the species tested were overall still sensitive to phosphite, strains of four species were able to resist the effects of the chemical, the researchers report in PLOS ONE. These include Phytophthora ramorum, the parasite behind Sudden Oak Death in North America and Sudden Larch Death in Europe, and Phytophthora crassamura, a species first discovered recently by the same UC Berkeley researchers in native plant nurseries and restoration sites in California.

Some strains within each of these four species, although genetically almost identical to strains still susceptible to phosphite, were resistant to it. The presence of chemical tolerance or chemical sensitivity when comparing nearly genetically identical strains suggests that the development of resistance occurred relatively recently, perhaps in response to the widespread use of phosphites in native and ornamental nurseries, Garbelotto said.

“These pathogens can be literally flooded with these chemicals in plant production facilities, and at the beginning of the study, we hypothesized that in such predicaments these pathogens would be forced to evolve resistance” Garbelotto said. “Indeed, our hypothesis was correct, and we found that some of them evolved the ability to tolerate exposure to phosphite.”

While phosphite can still help to spur a plant’s immune system, this may not be enough to quell the spread of the disease, Garbelotto said.

“By pressuring these pathogens to evolve resistance to phosphites, we are effectively taking out phosphite as a potential tool to manage these disease outbreaks,” Garbelotto said. “Furthermore, the ability to quickly develop tolerance to a fungicide may be an indication these pathogens can adapt quickly to new environments. Thus, they may become formidable invasive organisms, infesting larger swaths of natural areas and causing significant disease and mortality of essential native flora.”

A widespread — but reparable — problem.

Since the first discovery of Phytophthora in California restoration sites, research by the UC Berkeley team and others have traced the deaths of wild trees and plants back to strains of the pathogen originating in native plant nurseries, rather than strains already found in the wild. However, few studies have documented just how prevalent the problem is.

In a recent study published in the journal Plant Pathology, UC Berkeley researchers examined 203 individual plants across five restoration nurseries in California and found that 55 of the plants were infected with Phytophthora.

“We were able to prove that this is a widespread problem in California,” Garbelotto said. “Most of the stock that they used is infested, and the levels were very high. For some species more than 50 percent of the plants we tested were infected.”

The team then worked with the infected nurseries to implement new best management practices to try to limit the spread of disease without the use of phosphite or of other fungicides. These simple guidelines, which included more careful management of water runoff and soil to reduce cross contamination, reduced the prevalence of disease to nearly zero a year after implementation.

“We were able to prove that after a year of following the guidelines, those facilities were clear of pathogens, and other facilities that did not follow the guidelines still had the pathogens,” Garbelotto said. “As a result of these findings, people are now putting a lot of money and effort into making sure that the plants are clean, by following similar guidelines and by making sure that no fungicides are used to avoid the development of resistance.”

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FBI shuts down 15 DDoS-for-hire sites

FBI shuts down 15 DDoS-for-hire sites


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Federal law enforcement appears determined to prevent the distributed denial of service attacks that have ruined the holidays of gamers (and others) in the past. The FBI has seized the domains of 15 DDoS-for-hire services, including relatively well-known examples like Downthem and Quantum Stresser. It simultaneously charged three people operating these sites. Matthew Gatrel and Juan Martinez face charges for allegedly conspiring to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for running Downthem and Ampnode, while David Bukowski has been accused of aiding and abetting computer intrusion for running Quantum Stresser.

The sites were some of the largest available. The Justice Department noted that Quantum Stresser had over 80,000 subscriptions at the end of November, and had been used for 50,000 “actual or attempted” attacks around the world.

The move is likely to be welcome, but it’s not without some controversy. The seizures and charges suggest that running a DDoS-for-hire service can sometimes be illegal by itself, even if it’s potentially useful for security researchers testing site resilience with explicit permission. Operators have usually argued that they’re in the clear due to disclaimers telling customers only to launch attacks with permission. With that said, there’s little doubt many services issue those warnings with a wink and a nudge — they know attackers often target innocent people. The crackdown is much a warning to other would-be DDoS peddlers as it is an attempt to curb attacks in the short term.

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DOJ charges Chinese nationals with ‘extensive’ hacking campaign

DOJ charges Chinese nationals with ‘extensive’ hacking campaign


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Today, the Department of Justice is expected to announce charges for a number of Chinese nationals for an extensive hacking campaign against the US, CNBC reports. The campaign was allegedly successful at infiltrating at least 45 US technology companies and government agencies, and these actions were apparently taken at the behest of the Chinese government. This comes a week after the NSA warned it had evidence of China preparing for “high-profile” cyber-attacks. The DOJ is expected to hold a press conference shortly with more details on the charges.

The Washington Post reports that the US wasn’t the only target in this extensive campaign — Britain, Japan, Canada, Australia, Brazil, France, Switzerland and South Korea were also among the targets of this Chinese hacking group. Because of the global nature of the attack, the Post says that US and “more than a dozen” allies are expected to condemn China for ongoing attempts to steal trade secrets and compromise various government agencies.

This comes at a time when China / US relations are increasingly fraught, especially in the technology sector. Earlier this year, the DOJ charged ten individuals for stealing intellectual property relating to jet engine design, and last week it was revealed that Chinese hackers successfully targeted Navy contractors multiple times over the last 18 months. It appears that today’s charges are unrelated, but the US and China have also been at odds for months in trade negotiations, with the White House threatening to levy large tariffs on Chinese goods as a way to pressure the country into stopping what the US deems unfair trade practices. Further complicating matters is the recent arrest in Canada of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the request of the DOJ.

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The US ballistic missile system is a cybersecurity nightmare

The US ballistic missile system is a cybersecurity nightmare


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The US Department of Defense Inspector General has recently taken a close look at the country’s Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) and found its cybersecurity measures lacking in many, many aspects. In the report (PDF) published in April and unearthed by ZDNet, the Inspector General detailed the flaws it found in five random locations where the Missile Defense Agency installed ballistic missiles as part of the program. One of the most common issues it came across was lax enforcement when it comes to multi-factor authentication.

Apparently, many users/employees who have access to the BMDS’ network in three of the five locations haven’t even switched on multi-factor. Instead, they continue to use only their access cards and passwords for entry. And that’s probably not secure enough, since, you know, the system was designed to launch ballistic missiles in order to intercept enemy nuclear rockets and defend US territories.

The auditors also found that three of the five missile locations didn’t apply patches for vulnerabilities discovered years and years ago, even as far back as 1990. In addition, at least one team didn’t protect their computers with an anti-virus or any other security product that can block intruders. Now, the BMDS computers and servers with access to the missiles might not even be connected to the internet. In that case, the lack of anti-virus wouldn’t be such a huge deal… so long as nobody physically tampers with them.

Problem is, at least two locations’ server racks weren’t routinely locked and secured, allowing pretty much anyone to waltz in. “Failing to keep server racks locked increases the risk that unauthorized individuals could access or tamper with servers that support network operations,” the report reads. Some officials didn’t encrypt the networks’ removable hard drives’ and other media, as well, which they were supposed to do. It doesn’t help that some of the BMDS locations had poor security planning, leaving gaps in their surveillance cameras’ coverage.

This is far from the first time government investigators found the military lacking in terms of cybersecurity. Back in October, a Government Accountability Office report also revealed that nearly all of Pentagon’s weapons systems are vulnerable to cyberattack.

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Justice Department investigates fake net neutrality comments

Justice Department investigates fake net neutrality comments


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The scrutiny over fake net neutrality comments appears to be intensifying. Sources talking to BuzzFeed News said the Justice Department is investigating whether or not there were crimes when people posted millions of bogus comments on the FCC’s net neutrality repeal, stealing many people’s identities in the process. The FBI reportedly subpoenaed at least two organizations for information “a few days” after New York state did for its own investigation, according to the insiders.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has acknowledged that about 500,000 of the comments were tied to Russian email addresses, but the agency under his leadership has so far refused Freedom of Information Act requests for server logs that could help reveal the people responsible for the fake comments. The FCC claimed that the data could expose the US to cyberattacks, but Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel argued that the regulator is merely trying to “hide” behind FOIA exemptions.

More than half of the nearly 22 million comments were fake, according to one study, and only 17.4 percent were unique. Many of them repeated the same pro-repeal messages almost verbatim, and many of them used fake email addresses from a handful of domains. On top of what looks to be Russian meddling, there are concerns that telecoms or anti-regulation groups may have flooded the comments with fake grassroots support to make it seem as if the public was on their side. Most of the genuine comments opposed the repeal.

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NYPD police officers will start using drones

NYPD police officers will start using drones


NYPD

The New York Police Department has launched a new drone program, its first since it ended an unmanned aerial vehicle pilot program in 2011. The department says it will use its collection of drones — 14 in all — for search and rescue missions, crime scene documentation, hazmat incidents, large events like concerts and hostage situations.

“As the largest municipal police department in the United States, the NYPD must always be willing to leverage the benefits of new and always-improving technology,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill said in a statement. “Our new [Unmanned Aircraft System] program is part of this evolution — it enables our highly-trained cops to be even more responsive to the people we serve, and to carry out the NYPD’s critical work in ways that are more effective, efficient and safe for everyone.”

The NYPD currently has three types of drones. There’s one DJI Inspire 1, which will be used for training and testing, two DJI M210 RTK drones and 11 DJI Mavic Pros for “tactical operations.”

As for what it won’t use its drones for, the NYPD says unacceptable uses include routine patrol, traffic enforcement, immobilizing vehicles or suspects, being used as or equipped with a weapon and searches without warrants. The department added that the only officers allowed to use the drones are members of the Technical Assistance Response Unit who have been trained on the devices.

A number of police forces across the US and abroad have begun to use drones. Last year, NYC firefighters deployed a drone for the first time during a fire response after testing it for a number of months.

City Council Member Donovan Richards told the New York Times that the NYPD sought advice from the the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the New York Civil Liberties Union, but he was interested in legislation that would set some privacy safeguards around the department’s drone use. “What we want to avoid is mission creep, where you start with the use of drones for traffic and before you know it, it’s being used for surveillance,” he said.

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Dynamics of chromatin during organ and tissue regeneration

Dynamics of chromatin during organ and tissue regeneration

Researchers from the Department of Genetics, Microbiology and Statistics and the Institute of Biomedicine of the University of Barcelona (UB), in collaboration with the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), have described thw genes and regulatory elements of their expression that are required during the process of tissue and organ regeneration. The study, which has appeared on the cover of the   journal Genome Research, combines the classic genetic analysis with the new study techniques for chromatin through next-generation sequencing, provides with a new perspective in the field of regenerative medicine.

Participants in the study are Elena Vizcaya-Molina (UB) and Cecilia C Klein (UB-CRG), first signers of the article, which has been led by Montserrat Corominas (UB). Other collaborators are the researchers Roderic GUigó (CRG, Pompeu Fabra University), Florenci Serras (UB) and Rakesh K. Mishra (CCMB, Hyderabad, India).

Regeneration genes

In this article, the authors analysed the transcriptome of imaginal disks in the Drosophila melanogaster‘s wing in different regeneration time periods. Through the analysis of massive RNA sequencing, they identified those genes that are differentially expressed during the process. Also, they saw that more than 30 % of these genes are located in gene clusters. Thanks to the comparative analysis conducted on other species (mice and zebra fish), the authors discovered a group of genes involved in regeneration and which are conserved in all those species. “Knowing which genes these organisms -which are able to regenerate- have in common can help us understand what is necessary to activate this process in organisms with more limited regenerative skills, such as humans,” notes Elena Vizcaya-Molina.

“This study shows the growing importance of omics and bioinformatics to understand basic biological processes,” notes the postdoc CRG researcher and UB lecturer, Cecilia Klein. The combination of new sequencing techniques and bioinformatics analysis with the experimental study allows researchers to progress regarding the understanding of gene regulation, in this case, regeneration.

Regulatory elements in regeneration

In this study, researchers also found out for the first time, three kinds of regulatory elements that are related to regeneration: those that increase their activity during regeneration, those that are reused from other development stages or other tissues, and last, a group of unique elements in regeneration. “These regulartory elements are DNA sequences able to lead and shape the gene expression,” says Elena Vizcaya. Also, the authors found that these elements could be activated by some conserved genes among species (fly, mouse and zebra fish). “The ectopic activation of specific regulatory elements of regeneration could be a key tool to boost the organs’ regenerative ability that are not able to regenerate,” concludes th expert Montserrat Corominas.

Flies as model animal in regeneration

Regeneration has been of great interest since ancient times, as seen in Greek mythology legends, for instance. However, the regenerative ability of Drosophila melanogaster, known as fruit fly, was not discovered until the forties, when it was found out by one of the fathers of regenerative medicine. Thomas Morgan saw the fly’s imaginal disks (primordial in adults’ cuticular structures) were able to regenerate after being broken. It’s been some years the fly is regarded as a model to study regeneration.

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