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Wednesday, May 24, 2017 @ 09:05 AM gHale

Iris recognition is the wave of the future when it comes to security verification – or so we thought.

That is because researchers at Germany’s Chaos Computer Club (CCC) figured out a way to beat the iris recognition system on Samsung’s Galaxy S8 smartphones.

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The Samsung Galaxy S8 has several biometrics-based authentication systems, including face recognition, a fingerprint scanner, and an iris scanner.

The iris authentication, which allows users to unlock their device and authorize payments, is advertised by Samsung as “one of the safest ways to keep your phone locked.”

While an individual’s iris is unique, CCC researchers found a way to whip Samsung’s iris scanner by showing it a picture of the victim’s eye. It’s worth noting that members of the CCC were the first to bypass Apple’s fingerprint-based Touch ID system in 2013.

There are multiple ways to obtain iris data, including from high-resolution pictures posted by users on the Internet. Another method is to take a picture of the targeted individual’s eye using a digital camera with night-shot mode or the infrared filter disabled.

Researchers showed a camera with a 200mm lens can capture a usable picture of the iris from up to 16 feet away.

“In the infrared light spectrum – usually filtered in cameras – the fine, normally hard to distinguish details of the iris of dark eyes are well recognizable,” the CCC said in a blog post. “Depending on the picture quality, brightness and contrast might need to be adjusted.”

Once the picture of the iris has been obtained, it can be printed out using a laser printer. The last step is to place a contact lens on top of the print to mimic the curvature of a real eye. Placing the photo in front of the Galaxy S8’s iris scanner successfully unlocks the device.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 @ 04:05 PM gHale

Military bases in quite a few cases are in regions with a history of power outages; microgrids could serve as back-ups to prevent service disruption during natural disasters and attacks. Engineer Joshua Pearce, pictured above, said solar, because of its decreasing costs, geographic accessibility and versatility, makes the most sense for powering microgrids.

Vulnerabilities in the power grid are one of the most prevalent national security threats.

Knowing that, the technical community called for building up the resiliency of the grid using distributed energy and microgrids for stabilization. Power production from multiple sources increases the difficulty of triggering cascading blackouts, and following an attack or natural disaster, microgrids can provide localized energy security.

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The first step is to outfit military infrastructure with solar photovoltaic (PV)-powered microgrid systems, said an interdisciplinary team of engineering and energy policy experts from Michigan Technological University in a new paper.

Their results found the military needs 17 gigawatts of PV to fortify domestic bases — the systems are technically feasible, within current contractors’ skill sets and economically favorable.

Additionally, the paper’s lead author, Emily Prehoda, who is finishing her PhD in energy policy at Michigan Tech, said boosting bases’ energy independence supports local communities.

“I come from a military-oriented family, so for me the military is important to bridge the technical capacities and policies to trickle down to other critical infrastructure and services,” Prehoda said. “This is such a huge issue, not only for the military but for other organizations, and it hits from all different sides, from the technical, economic and social—and it leads back to the idea of security.”

More Backup Needed
The U.S. military already has a renewable energy plan in place: 25 percent of energy production from renewable sources by 2025, but only 27 of the more than 400 domestic military sites either have fortified PV microgrids running now or have plans to do so, which makes the majority vulnerable to long-term power disruptions. Co-author Joshua Pearce said this is a great start but more is needed as most military backup systems rely on generators, which are also vulnerable to fuel supply disruption.

“The U.S. military is extremely dependent on electricity now; it’s not people fighting with bayonets,” said Pearce, a dual-appointed professor of electrical and computer engineering as well as materials science and engineering. “If we put the money into PV-powered microgrids, it would be making us objectively more secure and we get a return on our investment as after the initial investment in PV the military would enjoy free solar electricity for the next 25 years.”

The main historical threats to the electrical grid come from natural disasters like tornados, hurricanes and winter storms, which cost between $18 and $33 billion every year in power outages and U.S. infrastructure damage. The threats that keep grid security experts up at night are deliberate attacks on the grid. These can either be physical attacks — like the 2013 sniper attack on a Silicon Valley substation, which cost $100 million and lasted 27 days — or computer hacking that causes cascading disruptions like in the Ukraine blackouts in 2016. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Defense reported about 200 cyber incidents across critical infrastructure systems and nearly half targeted the electrical grid.

During any event, energy generation and distribution unhitch like a lost caboose on a runaway train. Microgrids provide flexibility and enable generation to persist even if distribution fails, maintaining performance for critical infrastructure while decreasing the chance of cascading failures. Solar, because of its decreasing costs and geographically distributed access to long-term solar “fuel,” makes the most sense for powering microgrids.

To quantify the technical impacts of distributed energy systems, the team looked at domestic military bases and their current electric loads. Then they reviewed where the military’s existing and planned PV-powered microgrids lined up with past grid failures as well as every state’s potential for solar power.

The team found it would take 2,140 gigawatts to supply all critical infrastructure in the U.S. with 100 percent solar power and a hybrid microgrid system with storage provide protection against grid failure. The military alone would need 17 gigawatts. To put that in perspective, the U.S. has installed a capacity of 22.7 gigawatts of solar to date.

Financial Feasibility
The team then looked at the technical and economic feasibility of employing the top 20 contractors already working with the U.S. Department of Defense to install more microgrids and performed a detailed case study of three companies, Lockheed Martin, Bechtel and General Electric, to gauge the extent of the technical skills and resources available.

Given the results, the challenge to meet grid resiliency with microgrid deployment is feasible because the resources to install these systems already exist domestically.

Prehoda also worked with her PhD adviser Chelsea Schelly, an associate professor of sociology at Michigan Tech, to assess policy needs. Despite the substantial national security risk, policy that addresses electrical grid failures has been minimal. Schelly said support for PV makes sense in terms of national security.

“There is some policy recognition that energy can be a security priority,” Schelly said, adding while the U.S. does not have a national renewable energy policy, the military does, and it has the capacity for implementation through existing contractors. “If we recognize that this capacity already exists, then we can start thinking about PV as a security measure by integrating microgrids — and then creating local resilience based on military technologies.”

Trickle Down Theory
In the paper, the team examined how securing top-priority military microgrids could trickle down into different levels of critical infrastructure.

Technology designed and implemented at military bases could lead to similar microgrids for other government facilities, critical infrastructure like hospitals, industry and commercial systems as well as homes and neighborhoods.

“For me, starting with the military is important for national security and grid vulnerabilities,” Prehoda said. “But it also jumpstarts technology.”

The first step is recognizing what it takes to outfit domestic military bases—and eventually military sites abroad—to combat power grid failure from natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017 @ 06:05 PM gHale

Toshiba added MySurveillix health monitoring application to its Surveillix Web Services suite.

Toshiba Surveillance & IP Video Products Group added the cloud-based MySurveillix health monitoring application to its Surveillix Web Services (SWS) suite.

MySurveillix automatically verifies the health of IP video cameras and Percept NVRs enterprise-wide in a single solution that can end up viewed on a PC or mobile device. By providing critical alerts via an email or text, MySurveillix allows end-users to access the system and troubleshoot the problem.

The Percept NVR platform records locally while leveraging cloud-based services. Models are available for enterprise-class, mid-sized and small businesses.

Surveillix Web Services provide the setup, operation and management of Percept video surveillance recorders.

SWS functions with all Percept models, as well as several other Toshiba NVRs.

Key benefits of SWS include:
• Virtual elimination of software client installation and upgrades
• Simplified user permissions management
• Greatly improved remote connectivity by leveraging a single universal sign-on
• Greatly improved ability to export and share video clip

MySurveillix compiles reports on the overall health of the system that can end up distributed daily, weekly or monthly, and include thumbnail images from every camera on the network captured during the day and night. These dual images help organizations verify cameras are recording the intended monitored area, and that certain functions, such as IR illumination, are operating properly. A Recording Duration function not only gives a visual representation of the Percept recorder’s video retention capabilities, it allows the end-user to set a recording threshold and to send a programming alert notification when this threshold is not being met.

Monday, May 1, 2017 @ 01:05 PM gHale

A second fire in two weeks at a sulfur storage mound at Port Manatee, Florida, Wednesday sent five people to the hospital and forced authorities to temporarily close U.S. Highway 41.

Two years ago, one of Port Manatee’s tenants leased property for a new two-acre sulfur storage mound on the east side of the port, about 1,000 feet west of the highway. That mound caught fire April 17, destroying a dump truck and forcing the evacuation of nearby buildings. It turned out, it ignited again Wednesday night, and five people ended up hospitalized due to smoke inhalation after they attempted to put out the fire, officials said.

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Sulfur fires can pose an additional hazard to first responders: The release of hydrogen sulfide gas, which may result from when sulfur heats up. The gas is toxic and highly flammable, and its presence can lower the flash point of sulfur dust.

Fire crews were actively engaged in combating the blaze shortly after it was reported, and it was extinguished by midnight. Michael Rampino, chief of the North River Fire District, said his crews used a drone with an infrared camera to identify hot spots and track the smoke plume from the fire.

Wednesday’s blaze likely broke out when a sweeping machine made contact with a metal object, creating sparks and igniting flammable dust, said Frank Vanelli, a spokesman for the storage facility’s operator. The previous fire is believed to have been caused by a truck driving over dry sulfur; the truck driver took his vehicle outside of a marked area kept damp for safety, and the friction from the tires ignited loose material. 

“The public has nothing to be alarmed about, corrective actions are being taken and we will work closely with the local authorities, and we will not reopen until that has been handled,” Vanelli said.

The facility will remain closed until a new water irrigation system is installed, which will help reduce the risk of ignition. A spokeswoman for Port Manatee said the port authority is investigating additional safety measures.

Thursday, April 27, 2017 @ 05:04 PM gHale

A fire broke out in a furnace forcing an evacuation of the Toledo Jeep assembly complex Monday night, fire officials said.

The small blaze ended up contained to a paint shop at the Toledo, OH-based plant.

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The building was occupied at the time of the fire, but there were no reports of injuries.

Firefighters initially got the fire under control but it eventually sparked back up, fire dispatchers said.

Investigators are looking into the cause of the fire.

The Toledo facility is responsible for building the Jeep Wrangler JK and will soon build the all-new Jeep Wrangler JL and Jeep’s pickup truck when it arrives. It formerly built the Jeep Cherokee as well before production of the mid-size SUV moved to Fiat Chrysler’s Belvidere, Illinois, plant to free up production capacity at the Toledo site.

Monday, April 24, 2017 @ 04:04 PM gHale

Mozilla released Firefox 53 update last week, introducing a new browser engine and patching 39 vulnerabilities in the open-source web browser.

The new browser technology in Firefox 53 is known as Project Quantum and is a multipart effort to accelerate and improve the web browsing experience for users. The Project Quantum component included in Firefox 53 is known as the Quantum Compositor, which helps reduce the number of browser crashes due to graphics issues.

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With the Quantum Compositor, graphics rendering is now done separately from the main Firefox process. Mozilla’s early testing for the Quantum Compositor found it reduces the number of browser crashes by 10 percent.

In addition to the browser improvements, Mozilla patched 39 security vulnerabilities in the Firefox 53 update. Of those 39 vulnerabilities, Mozilla rated seven of them as critical.

As with nearly all Firefox updates, one of the critical vulnerability updates deals with memory safety bugs.

Among the other critical vulnerabilities patched in Firefox 53, two are use-after-free memory vulnerabilities (CVE-2017-5435 and CVE-2017-5433). Two other critical vulnerabilities are out-of-bounds memory errors (CVE-2017-5436 and CVE-2017-5461), plus a critical buffer overflow issue (CVE-2017-5459) ended up patched.

Beyond the critical issues that Mozilla fixed, it also patched three sandbox escape issues (CVE-2017-5454, CVE-2017-5455 and CVE-2017-5456) in Firefox 53 rated as having high impact. The Firefox sandbox is intended to restrict the ability of a given process to access areas of a system outside of the process sandbox.

Firefox 53 also introduces two new user interface themes. The Compact Light theme provides users with a more compact, smaller user interface using the default Firefox color scheme. The Compact Dark theme also has a compact user interface, but it provides a darker color scheme for night browsing.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 @ 11:04 AM gHale

Quick action kept a fire possibly ignited by sparks from a welding machine in a Norton Shores, MI, manufacturing facility from becoming a raging problem Sunday night, officials said.

The fire in a ventilation system at Acemco Inc. created an enormous amount of smoke that concerned firefighters who arrived on the scene just after 10:30 p.m., said Norton Shores Fire Chief Bob Gagnon.

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Smoke was pouring out doors of the metal products facility when employees led firefighters in a side door where they saw significant fire in the ventilation system over a welding area, Gagnon said. Firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the fire, keeping in mind concerns of company staff that robotic equipment inside could end up damaged by water, Gagnon said.

The fire chief said employees’ quick call to 911 followed by fast and efficient work by fire personnel prevented the fire from causing significant damage to the metal stamping facility. A recent fire that demolished Muskegon Castings Corp. is fresh in firefighters’ minds.

“If it went unattended for much longer, we would have had a much bigger problem,” Gagnon said of the Acemco fire. Fruitport and Ferrysburg firefighters assisted at the scene as did Canteen 450. Fruitport, Muskegon Heights and Spring Lake fire departments backfilled Norton Shores stations, Gagnon said. Firefighters cleared the scene after more than two hours, having spent most of their time clearing smoke from the building, he said.

Production at the facility was pretty much back to normal Monday morning, said Joe Dear, vice president of manufacturing for Acemco. Two welding cells are out of commission, likely until Tuesday, he said.

Dear said he believes a welding spark caused the fire.

“The Norton Shores Fire Department did an awesome job,” he said. “It wasn’t, thank God, a roaring fire, but it could’ve gotten bad.”

The fire was in the smaller, north building of the two-building complex. Between 15 and 18 employees work there during the first shift, but smaller skeleton crews are on the second and third shifts, Dear said. There were three working when the fire occurred, he said.

Acemco employs about 250 people who produce metal products for automotive and nonautomotive customers, Dear said.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 @ 09:04 AM gHale

A fire raced through the ductwork of a food processing plant in South Los Angeles, eventually burning through the roof and forcing firefighters to fight the flames from outside the structure before gaining control of the blaze.

More than 170 firefighters battled the fire at a food processing plant in the Central-Alameda neighborhood of South Los Angeles last Monday night, until officials declared a knockdown three hours later, just after 11 p.m.

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Employees were inside the building when the fire started, but firefighters could not immediately confirm the number of people.

Firefighters got the call shortly after 8 p.m. at 4020 South Compton Ave., according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. The building is a food processing plant called Proportion Foods, which processes ground beef.

Fifteen-foot flames shot up due to an “active gas leak” inside the structure, said LAFD spokeswoman Margaret Stewart. 

Two HazMat Task Forces were working to identify the chemicals in and around the structure.

“Some explosions have been heard which are likely propane tanks on forklifts inside the structure,” Stewart said.

Fire officials asked neighbors to close their doors and windows as the fire raged on.

Any workers present evacuated safely. There were no injuries reported in the incident.

Crews remained on scene early Tuesday to monitor hot spots, and were looking to conduct salvage and overhaul operations, Stewart said.

Members of the LAFD’s Arson Unit were also expected to remain on scene to investigate the cause, she said.

More than 400 employees who work at the plant faced an uncertain future Tuesday. Although some saw the fire on the news, others arrived ready to work to find half of the 75,000-square foot plant went up in flames.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 @ 09:04 AM gHale

An employee safety program worked like clockwork after a dust collector fire broke out in the buffing unit of Zippo Manufacturing Co.’s Bradford, PA, factory last Monday night, prompting the evacuation of the facility, officials said.

Firefighters responded to initial reports of a trash can fire at the facility at 6:30 p.m., finding the fire was contained to the dust collection system.

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“The dust collector is on the exterior of the building,” said Mark Paup, president and chief executive of Zippo Manufacturing. “The reason why it originally appeared to be worse, we think, is because so much smoke entered the facility.”

Following the plant’s protocol, employees evacuated the facility during the incident. The factory was clear of smoke after about 90 minutes. After firefighters cleared areas of the plant, employees were able to reenter.

“Damage was contained to the exterior dust collector,” said Paup, explaining that suppression systems in place at the facility helped keep the flames from spreading.

Operations resumed as normal on Tuesday.

“We pride ourselves in ‘safety is number one,’ and it worked tonight,” Paup said.

Paup praised the quick response by employees, who followed protocol for evacuating the building, and the others whose job it is to respond to emergency situations like fires.

“All procedures were followed,” he said. “I’m very, very pleased that everyone is safe.”

“Obviously my first concern is to make sure it is safe before anyone goes back into that facility,” Paup said, adding safety officers made sure the fire department was “totally comfortable before anyone went back in.”

Zippo’s head of operations, safety and manufacturing were at the scene shortly after the call.

“Everyone will be back to work tomorrow,” Paup said. “Operations will be normal.”

While the dust collector was damaged, there are redundancies in place, he added.

“Damage was contained to the exterior dust collector,” he said, noting suppression systems worked exactly as they were supposed to.

“We were assisted by the prompt response of the Bradford Township Fire Department,” Paup said, adding, “they were here within minutes … so quick. They do an amazing job. It really punctuates the importance of having those guys in the community. They did a phenomenal job.”

Zippo manufacturers and sells lighters, pocket knives, money clips, and writing instruments

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 @ 12:03 PM gHale

A conveyor belt fire broke out at a Greenville, TN, asphalt plant Monday night, and the flames ended up extinguished just before they reached a fuel tank, fire officials said.

The fire originated on a conveyor belt in a building at the plant, said Grant Summers, president of the Summers-Taylor asphalt plant.

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Firefighters responded to the scene at 9 p.m. Monday, dousing the fire as it neared a 10,000 to 15,000 gallon fuel tank.

“A large volume of fire was rolling up, and I could tell that it was very dark, black smoke, so I didn’t really know what I had,” said Paul Frutiger of the Midway Volunteer Fire Department when he first arrived on the scene. “I kept everybody back until I had an idea what was burning.”

No one was working at the site when the fire broke out and no one suffered an injury in the incident.

“I would say the fire was pretty much controlled within 30 minutes of us arriving on scene,” Lt. Bobby Carter of the Mosheim Volunteer Fire Department told the Sun.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.