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First Ever Anti-Aging Gene Discovered In a Secluded Amish Community

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"This is one of the first clear-cut genetic mutations in human beings that acts upon aging and aging-related disease," Dr. Douglas Vaughan, a medical researcher at Northwestern University, told Newsweek. schwit1 quotes Science Alert: As far as we know, it looks like the only community in the world known to harbour it is an Old Order Amish community living in Indiana... Vaughan's team tested 177 people from the Amish community of Berne, Indiana, and found 43 people with one mutated SERPINE1 gene copy. Compared to the general Amish population, these 43 people had a 10 percent longer lifespan, and 10 percent longer telomeres (the DNA-protecting structures at the ends of our chromosomes that unravel when the cells reach the end of their lifespans). They also showed lower incidence of diabetes and lower insulin fasting levels. On top of that, the study showed a small indication of lower blood pressure and potentially more flexible blood vessels. "For the first time we are seeing a molecular marker of aging (telomere length), a metabolic marker of aging (fasting insulin levels) and a cardiovascular marker of aging (blood pressure and blood vessel stiffness) all tracking in the same direction in that these individuals were generally protected from age-related changes," said Vaughan. These people also had 50 percent lower PAI-1 levels than average. It's not known exactly how PAI-1 contributes to aging, but it does play a role in a process called cellular senescence. This is when cells are no longer able to replicate, so they just go dormant. This contributes to the effects of aging.

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10 hours ago
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New White House Announcement on the Vulnerability Equities Process

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The White House has released a new version of the Vulnerabilities Equities Process (VEP). This is the inter-agency process by which the US government decides whether to inform the software vendor of a vulnerability it finds, or keep it secret and use it to eavesdrop on or attack other systems. You can read the new policy or the fact sheet, but the best place to start is Cybersecurity Coordinator Rob Joyce's blog post.

In considering a way forward, there are some key tenets on which we can build a better process.

Improved transparency is critical. The American people should have confidence in the integrity of the process that underpins decision making about discovered vulnerabilities. Since I took my post as Cybersecurity Coordinator, improving the VEP and ensuring its transparency have been key priorities, and we have spent the last few months reviewing our existing policy in order to improve the process and make key details about the VEP available to the public. Through these efforts, we have validated much of the existing process and ensured a rigorous standard that considers many potential equities.

The interests of all stakeholders must be fairly represented. At a high level we consider four major groups of equities: defensive equities; intelligence / law enforcement / operational equities; commercial equities; and international partnership equities. Additionally, ordinary people want to know the systems they use are resilient, safe, and sound. These core considerations, which have been incorporated into the VEP Charter, help to standardize the process by which decision makers weigh the benefit to national security and the national interest when deciding whether to disclose or restrict knowledge of a vulnerability.

Accountability of the process and those who operate it is important to establish confidence in those served by it. Our public release of the unclassified portions Charter will shed light on aspects of the VEP that were previously shielded from public review, including who participates in the VEP's governing body, known as the Equities Review Board. We make it clear that departments and agencies with protective missions participate in VEP discussions, as well as other departments and agencies that have broader equities, like the Department of State and the Department of Commerce. We also clarify what categories of vulnerabilities are submitted to the process and ensure that any decision not to disclose a vulnerability will be reevaluated regularly. There are still important reasons to keep many of the specific vulnerabilities evaluated in the process classified, but we will release an annual report that provides metrics about the process to further inform the public about the VEP and its outcomes.

Our system of government depends on informed and vigorous dialogue to discover and make available the best ideas that our diverse society can generate. This publication of the VEP Charter will likely spark discussion and debate. This discourse is important. I also predict that articles will make breathless claims of "massive stockpiles" of exploits while describing the issue. That simply isn't true. The annual reports and transparency of this effort will reinforce that fact.

Mozilla is pleased with the new charter. I am less so; it looks to me like the same old policy with some new transparency measures -- which I'm not sure I trust. The devil is in the details, and we don't know the details -- and it has giant loopholes that pretty much anything can fall through:

The United States Government's decision to disclose or restrict vulnerability information could be subject to restrictions by partner agreements and sensitive operations. Vulnerabilities that fall within these categories will be cataloged by the originating Department/Agency internally and reported directly to the Chair of the ERB. The details of these categories are outlined in Annex C, which is classified. Quantities of excepted vulnerabilities from each department and agency will be provided in ERB meetings to all members.

This is me from last June:

There's a lot we don't know about the VEP. The Washington Post says that the NSA used EternalBlue "for more than five years," which implies that it was discovered after the 2010 process was put in place. It's not clear if all vulnerabilities are given such consideration, or if bugs are periodically reviewed to determine if they should be disclosed. That said, any VEP that allows something as dangerous as EternalBlue -- or the Cisco vulnerabilities that the Shadow Brokers leaked last August to remain unpatched for years isn't serving national security very well. As a former NSA employee said, the quality of intelligence that could be gathered was "unreal." But so was the potential damage. The NSA must avoid hoarding vulnerabilities.

I stand by that, and am not sure the new policy changes anything.

More commentary.

Here's more about the Windows vulnerabilities hoarded by the NSA and released by the Shadow Brokers.

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Don’t Buy Internet-Connected “Smart Toys” for Your Kids

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Just when you thought talking toys couldn’t get more annoying, new internet-connected toys like the Furby Connect and i-Que Intelligent Robot are smarter than their predecessors, allowing your child to ask questions, get answers, send audio messages, and more. And thanks to unpatched security holes, they’re more dangerous, too.
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Massive US Military Social Media Spying Archive Left Wide Open In AWS S3 Buckets

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An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: Three misconfigured AWS S3 buckets have been discovered wide open on the public internet containing "dozens of terabytes" of social media posts and similar pages -- all scraped from around the world by the U.S. military to identify and profile persons of interest. The archives were found by veteran security breach hunter UpGuard's Chris Vickery during a routine scan of open Amazon-hosted data silos, and these ones weren't exactly hidden. The buckets were named centcom-backup, centcom-archive, and pacom-archive. CENTCOM is the common abbreviation for the U.S. Central Command, which controls army operations in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. PACOM is the name for U.S. Pacific Command, covering the rest of southern Asia, China and Australasia. "For the research I downloaded 400GB of samples but there were many terabytes of data up there," he said. "It's mainly compressed text files that can expand out by a factor of ten so there's dozens and dozens of terabytes out there and that's a conservative estimate." Just one of the buckets contained 1.8 billion social media posts automatically fetched over the past eight years up to today. It mainly contains postings made in central Asia, however Vickery noted that some of the material is taken from comments made by American citizens. The databases also reveal some interesting clues as to what this information is being used for. Documents make reference to the fact that the archive was collected as part of the U.S. government's Outpost program, which is a social media monitoring and influencing campaign designed to target overseas youths and steer them away from terrorism.

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2 days ago
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What a Gymnastics Coach Thinks About Boston Dynamics’ New Flipping Robot

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Here’s another thing robots can do better than you: backflips. Boston Dynamics, the MIT offshoot company now owned by Japanese tech giant SoftBank, showed off the latest iteration of their bipedal Atlas robot in a video released Thursday. At first viewing, the mobility of a 4 foot 9 inch, approximately 165-pound hydraulic machine is mind-boggling. But are robots going to steal Simone Biles’ job, too?

Atlas has made cheer-worthy progress since 2013, when Boston Dynamics debuted it at a robotics challenge sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and 2015, when it competed in the finals of the competition. Essentially, the federal government hosted a contest where humanoid robots had to complete a series of simple tasks useful in the case of a nuclear power plant disaster, like traveling up a one- to two-degree incline with scattered obstacles, shutting off a valve, opening a door to enter a building. It was a fail-fest. Making a basic bipedal robot is no small feat, but they were like high-tech toddlers. The competition’s finals spawned video reels of off-kilter robots crashing to the ground. By comparison, this version of Atlas is pretty impressive (and significantly less creepy than Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini, a spindly yellow robotic dog).

But we wanted to know how impressive, so Slate asked a gymnastics coach to rate Atlas’ parkour skills. According to gymnastics coach Aryan Mazloum, Atlas’ backflip—a back salto, if you want the technical term—is not bad. “It’s pretty fantastic to be able see a robot have the center of gravity and be able to not only just move, but literally flip and catch itself,” said Mazloum, a junior Olympic coach at Northern Virginia’s Capital Gymnastics National Training Center. (He’s also working toward a Ph.D. in informatics at George Mason University.)

The back salto, Mazloum explains, is “an intermediate skill” that coaches introduce in the fifth level of USA Gymnastics, when students tend to be 9 to 11 years old. For a robot, it takes incredible spatial awareness. In a back salto, says Mazloum, “you want to be able to go as high as you can, and you want to be able to land as close to where you take off as possible.” To do that, the gymnast has to squat, throw her arms up by her ears so her body is a straight line (in gymnast-speak, opening the shoulder angle and the hip), then contract into a “closed” position again. By these standards, Atlas’ trick is “not the cleanest flip,” explains Mazloum.

Here’s Mazloum’s critique: Atlas didn’t quite get to that open position, “so it didn’t really get the full vertical that we look for. That’s why it went backwards a little bit.” But, he adds, it’s “still astonishing that it did that, though.” (By the way, at the end of the video, where Atlas falls? That’s again probably because it didn’t get enough height, which means it didn’t have the time to rotate, and then since the robot lacks toes, it couldn’t push into the ground to counterbalance.)

Still, Mazloum gives the robot kudos: “It was a good landing, I’ll say that.” In gymnastics, you don’t score individual components, only full routines. But Mazloum made an exception for Atlas: 3.5/5 for its back salto.



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2 days ago
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Stanford Trains AI To Diagnose Pneumonia Better Than a Radiologist In Just Two Months

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A new paper from Stanford University reveals how artificial intelligence algorithms can be quickly trained to diagnose pneumonia better than a radiologist. "Using 100,000 x-ray images released by the National Institutes of Health on Sept. 27, the research published Nov. 14 (without peer review) on the website ArXiv claims its AI can detect pneumonia from x-rays with similar accuracy to four trained radiologists," reports Quartz. From the report: That's not all -- the AI was trained to analyze x-rays for 14 diseases NIH included in the dataset, including fibrosis, hernias, and cell masses. The AI's results for each of the 14 diseases had fewer false positives and false negatives than the benchmark research from the NIH team that was released with the data. The paper includes Google Brain founder Andrew Ng as a co-author, who also served as chief scientist at Baidu and recently founded Deeplearning.ai. He's often been publicly bullish on AI's use in healthcare. These algorithms will undoubtedly get better -- accuracy on the ImageNet challenge rose from 75% to 95% in just five years -- but this research shows the speed at which these systems are built is increasing as well.

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2 days ago
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