China And Canada Engage In Bad Behavior

Grind for October 10th, 2018

“Are right and wrong convertible terms, dependant upon popular opinion?” – William Lloyd Garrison

Hold Your Breath

The Headline

Scientists are increasingly concerned about synthetic smallpox

The Grind

In July of last year, Canadian researchers published a report describing their success in bringing back “horsepox” – a previously eradicated virus related to smallpox.

As we learned in history class, smallpox was responsible for killing hundreds of millions of people before it was finally eradicated in 1980. Along with New World diseases like cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis, smallpox was responsible for killing off up to 90% of America’s native population.

The Details

The horsepox report fueled debate about the risks of synthetic biology, and what could happen if a virus like smallpox were to be utilized as a weapon.

Two journals refused to publish the report before it was accepted by PLOS One. Critics argue the report not only demonstrates the dangers of synthetic viruses, but provides detailed instructions on how to do it.

Scientists have been rather polite to each other during the debate, but the whole ordeal has made researchers painfully aware of the need to prepare for the possibility of a virus like smallpox being used as a weapon.

“DNA synthesis is becoming accessible to a wide variety of people, and the instructions for doing nasty things are freely available online,” says MIT biochemist Kevin Esvelt.

“In the horsepox study, for instance, the information hazard is partly in the paper and the methods they described. But it’s also in the media covering it and highlighting that something bad can be done. And this is worsened by the people who are alarmed, because we talk to journalists about the potential harm, and that just feeds into it.”

The Canadians responded by insisting that something like this was bound to happen anyway, so we might as well start preparing for it.

“Realistically all attempts to oppose technological advances have failed over centuries. We suggest that one should instead focus on regulating the products of these technologies while educating people of the need to plan mitigating strategies based upon a sound understanding of the risks that such work might pose. In these discussions, a long-term perspective is essential.”

Caught Red-Handed

The Headline

China used tiny chip to hack US tech companies

The Grind

In what is likely one of the largest hacking attempts ever, China has been caught hiding microchips inside equipment used by top American tech companies.

According to a Bloomberg Businessweek report, the chips were discovered in equipment that was sent to 30 American companies, including Apple and Amazon.

The chips, which were “not much bigger than a grain of rice,” were found nested on servers’ motherboards.

“Amazon reported the discovery to US authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community,” writes Bloomberg. “During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines.”

According to officials, the chips were inserted during the manufacturing process at factories run by subcontractors in China.

The Details

The attack has been confirmed by 17 people – all of which have been granted anonymity in the press due to the sensitive nature of the investigation.

Supermicro (the company suspected of shipping the hardware with the hidden chips) said it was unaware of the investigation. Apple and Amazon insist their systems were not compromised.

“Apple has never found malicious chips, ‘hardware manipulations,’ or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server,” wrote Apple.

The Bloomberg report comes amid warnings from top US cybersecurity officials that China has increased its hacking activity in response to the Trump Administration’s tariffs on Beijing.

Last month, Trump accused China of trying to meddle in the upcoming midterm elections.

Meanwhile, officials estimate China’s “hacker army” to be at least 50,000 strong (possible 100,000). Last year, exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui said there were at least 25,000 Chinese spies in the US, many of which are American recruits.

Did you know… According to studies, men change their minds two to three times more often than women.