NASA device helps detect biohazards

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has developed a nanotechnology-based biosensor that can detect trace amounts of biohazards, United Press International reports. Developed at the NASA's Ames Research Center in California, the device can detect specific bacteria, viruses and parasites. NASA said the biosensor will be used to help prevent the spread of potentially deadly biohazards in water, food and other contaminated sources. According to the chief scientist for exploration technology and former director of the Center for Nanotechnology at Ames, "the biosensor makes use of ultra-sensitive carbon nanotubes which can detect biohazards at very low levels." Researchers add that, "when biohazards are present, the biosensor generates an electrical signal, which is used to determine the presence and concentration levels of specific micro-organisms in the sample. Because of their tiny size, millions of nanotubes can fit on a single biosensor chip." Early Warning officials, who received the license for the technology, said food and beverage companies, water agencies, industrial plants, hospitals and airlines could use the biosensor to prevent outbreaks of illnesses caused by pathogens -- and do so without needing a laboratory or technicians (UPI, 5/20/08).

Online game aims to discredit myths, raise HIV/AIDS awareness

The New York Times on Monday profiled a new Internet game, called Pos or Not, that aims to increase HIV/AIDS education and awareness. Launched in late April by mtvU, MTV's college network, and the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Web site features a matching game in which users are asked to determine based on photographs and short biographies of men and women ages 21 to 30 which ones are HIV-positive. According to the Times, the "message is that you can't judge someone's virus status by looks, occupation or taste in music." mtvU officials note that the game was played about 5.1 million times by 400,000 people during its first three weeks (Stelter, New York Times, 5/19/08).

British government drafts law to track citizens' electronic communications for security

The U.K. government is preparing new telecommunications legislation, which would update the current law to allow authorities to obtain communications data it says is essential for counter-terrorism purposes and investigating crime, IDG News Service reports. Ultimately, industry and security groups say the U.K. government wants to track every phone call, e-mail, and web site visit made in the country. According to local media reports, the new law would include a measure calling for the creation of a central database containing information about citizens' electronic communications. Meanwhile, a statement from the Home Office says that full details of the government's plans will be released later this year, but ministers have made no decision on whether a central database will be in that draft bill (Ricknas, IDG News Service/CIO, 5/20/08).

Nanotech companies may make radioactive sensors obsolete

The EE Times today reported that two tech companies have discovered that "green" smoke-alarm ionizers using field-emission from nanotubes instead of radioactive isotopes could eliminate a source of dirty-bomb material. Applied Nanotech Inc. in Texas and Sionex Corp. in Massachusetts both earned a U.S. Small Business Innovation Research contract sponsored by the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency and say they have proven in principle that carbon nanotube emitters can perform all the necessary ionization and identification steps without the use of radioactive materials. Under the contract, the companies are working to produce a small, safe, high-performance sensor using electron field emission from carbon nanotube arrays instead the ionizing alpha rays from radioactive isotopes. According to the Times, the companies' joint-development effort aims to "provide a safe, inexpensive, high-performance alternative method of ionizing samples by using carbon nanotube emitters integrated into air-flow passages ahead of a differential mobility spectrometer" (Johnson, EE Times, 5/20/08).

British national EHR system delayed at least four years

According to a National Audit Office report released Friday, England's National Health Service will not fully introduce its planned nationwide electronic health record system (EHR) until 2014 or 2015, four years later than planned, the Press Association reports. The report found "serious delays" in disseminating the software to NHS trusts as part of the £12.7 billion (roughly $24.7 billion) National Program for IT. According to the report, the original timeline, which projected EHR project completion by 2010, was unachievable, raised expectations and "put confidence in the program at risk." Specifically, the IT program involves rolling out an EHR system for 50 million patients and linking more than 30,000 general practitioners, deploying an online "choose and book" system for hospital appointments, electronic prescriptions, and network links between NHS organizations. Despite the delays, the report found the EHR project still is on budget and Tim Burr, head of the NAO notes that the project is progressing " and financial savings and other benefits are beginning to emerge" (Press Association, 5/16/08; Collins, Computer Weekly, 5/16/08; BBC News, 5/15/08).

U.S., German researchers studying new off-line hacking tools

German and U.S. researchers have developed two new techniques that tap cameras and telescopes for stealing data from a computer, IDG News Service reports. In separate studies, teams at the University of California-Santa Barbara (UC) and at Saarland University in Saarbrucken, Germany, describe attacks that manipulate data gleaned from off-line techniques. The UC team, for instance, has developed a method to analyze a video of hands typing on a keyboard in order to estimate what the user was typing. Specifically, the UC researchers' Clear Shot tool can analyze video of hand movements on a computer keyboard and transcribe them into text. However, researchers say the software is accurate roughly 40 percent of the time, but clear enough to offer the general aspects of information being typed. In Saarbrucken, meanwhile, researchers have read computer screens from tiny reflections on everyday objects such as glasses and teapots. Currently, the Saarland researchers are developing new image analysis algorithms and training astronomical cameras on their subjects in hopes of gaining better images from even more difficult surfaces such as the human eye. For example, thus far they have aimed their telescopes and cameras at a white wall and garnered readable reflections from a monitor 2 meters from the wall (McMillan, IDG News Service/InfoWorld, 5/19/08). 

Health IT acceptance could mirror Internet model, Steve Case says

At the Medco Health Solutions 2008 Drug Trend "Predictions" Symposium, Revolution Health CEO Steve Case predicted that consumers will overcome concerns about the security of electronic health records, comparing the trend to online banking, Healthcare IT News reports. Case, co-founder of America Online, compared skeptics of health information technology (IT) with those who downplayed the development of the Internet in the 1980s. Specifically, he noted that a secure, universal system will entice patients and payers, boasting financial efficiencies and clinical benefits.  He added that patient control of electronic health information is essential to consumer confidence. According to Case, empowering and engaging consumers to more actively manage their own health care is a vital component of boosting health IT adoption (Monegain, Healthcare IT News, 5/16/08). 

Mass SQL attacks span China, Taiwan

A security company in Taiwan recently found that a mass SQL injection is attacking Web sites across China and Taiwan, implanting malware in thousands of sites, IDG News Service reports. According to Taipei-based Armorize Technologies, attack is coming from a server farm inside China, which has made no effort to hide its IP addresses. First detected on May 13, the SQL injection attack has infected 10,000 servers just last Friday. Officials note that most of the affected servers are located in China, while some are located in Taiwan. Under such a malware scheme, "an attacker attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in a Web site's database by entering SQL code in an entry field, such as a login. If successful, such an attack can give the attacker access to data on the database and the ability to run malicious code on the Web site," IDG notes (Lemon, IDG News Service/CIO, 5/19/08).

Support for saving XP operating system grows

The InfoWorld-sponsored petition as of May 15 had reached more than 200,000 supporters who all aim to extend the availability of Window's XP operating system, InfoWorld reports. InfoWorld in January asked businesses and individuals to sign the online petition, which requests that Microsoft keep Windows XP for sale beyond the planned June 30 general end-of-sales date. As of May 15, the count was 200,805 signatures, excluding duplicates and fake signups. InfoWorld reports that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer a few weeks ago indicated that the company may give XP a reprieve similar to what it had done six months ago when it extended the system's end-of-sales date. However, Microsoft's PR firm Waggener Edstrom "quickly issued denials that any change was imminent, suggesting that the voices seeking to keep XP were a small minority," according to InfoWorld. Meanwhile, Microsoft has declined to meet with InfoWorld to receive the petition and discuss the concerns of its customers who have signed it (InfoWorld, 5/19/08).

Microsoft announces possible new Yahoo deal proposal

Microsoft on Sunday said it has proposed a new deal with Yahoo that may involve buying a part but not all of the company, IDG News Service reports. Though the details were limited, the company said it does not plan at this time to make a new bid to acquire all of Yahoo, but that it is exploring other options to expand its online services and advertising businesses. The announcement comes a few weeks after Microsoft's May 3 withdrawal of its offer to buy Yahoo. Since then, the activist investor Carl Icahn has said he will launch a proxy battle to replace Yahoo's board and force it back to the negotiating table with Microsoft, according to IDG. A Yahoo spokeswoman, meanwhile, declined to comment on Microsoft's statement (Niccolai, IDG News Service/Computerworld-Australia, 5/19/08). 

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