Flight site hacker ‘identified’ (BBC)

Avsim logo

Avsim is one of the largest sites serving the flight sim community

The publisher of a flight simulator site targeted by a hacker in May says it has presented a file of evidence to UK police identifying the perpetrator.

Avsim said it had “incontrovertible evidence” about the hacker’s identity.

The attack wiped data held on two servers and “effectively destroyed” the site, which is still being rebuilt.

The US firm said it expected the criminal complaint, filed with London police, to lead to the alleged hacker spending “time behind bars”.

“We will not name any names, but have incontrovertible evidence of the individual that performed the hack,” said Tom Allensworth, the publisher and CEO of Avsim.

“We have protected the forensic evidence and provided that evidence to the London police. We are committed to bringing justice to bear on this case.”

Mr Allensworth told BBC News that the evidence was submitted on Monday to the Southwark division of the Metropolitan Police, which was “acting on behalf of another constabulary”.

‘Next level’

The US site, launched in 1996, covers all aspects of flight simulation, although its main focus is on Microsoft’s Flight Simulator.

In addition it hosts a forum and allows enthusiasts to download extra content for flight simulations, such as new landscapes.

The firm claims it is the most-visited flight simulation site on the internet.

“Its contribution has been immeasurable,” said Derek Davis, editor of PC Pilot magazine, following the attack.

The firm said it had spent $50,000 (£30,000) to bring Avsim back online since the 12 May attack, including $25,000 from users.

It said it had filed the criminal complaint after giving the alleged hacker “two opportunities to settle” the case.

“The individual did not avail himself of the opportunity – in fact, he has ignored our proffers,” Mr Allensworth said in the statement.

“We are now doing as we promised this person we would do: ratcheting this up to the next, criminal, level.”

“We fully expect that the criminal complaint…will result in the perpetrator spending some time behind bars – under UK law.”

The firm said it was seeking prosecution under laws that “deal with unauthorised use of a computer, unauthorised and criminal theft of data, and numerous other violations of other computer and online laws”.

The Metropolitan Police could not confirm whether it had received the complaint.

, , ,

No Comments

Japan’s space truck ready to fly (BBC)

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News

Advertisement

Animation of the HTV’s launch and payload delivery

Japan is ready to launch its new space freighter from the Tanegashima base in the south of the country.

The 16.5-tonne unmanned H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) will haul cargo to the International Space station (ISS).

Its success is vitally important to the station project, which is set to lose the servicing capability of the US shuttle fleet next year.

When the orbiters retire, re-supply will be in the hands of a number of robotic vessels – the HTV included.

The logistics demands of a fully crewed, fully functional ISS will require all of the freighters to play their part.

Rocket diagram (Jaxa)

Lift-off for the HTV is timed for 0201 local time on Friday (1701 GMT, Thursday).

The rocket carrying the cargo ship into orbit – the H-IIB is also new. Japan, though, has high confidence the launcher will work first time.

It is essentially a beefed up version of the existing H-11A vehicle.

The attachment of two additional solid rocket boosters and a second main engine on the core stage will give the IIB the significant extra thrust it needs to hurl the HTV into low Earth orbit.

The mission will be directed by engineers in Tsukuba, Japan, and at the US space agency’s (Nasa) mission control in Houston.

The HTV will be directed to conduct a number of tests of its navigation and rendezvous systems before making a close approach to the ISS.

Docking is not expected to take place until at least day eight of the mission.

Unlike the European freighter (the Automated Transfer Vehicle – ATV), which made its maiden flight to the ISS last year, the HTV cannot drive itself all the way into the station.

Instead, the Japanese ship will simply park itself under the bow of the ISS to allow platform’s robotic arm to grab it.

The vessel will then be locked into an Earth-facing docking port on the Harmony (Node 2) connecting module.

The HTV will remain attached to the ISS for about six weeks while its 4.5 tonnes of supplies are unloaded.

How the HTV docks at the station (JAXA)

In addition to the cargo carried in its pressurised compartment – accessed from inside the ISS – the ship has important cargo mounted on a pallet in an unpressurised compartment.

These exterior supplies include two new Earth-observation experiments for the exposed “terrace” of instruments that sits outside Japan’s Kibo science module.

Again, astronauts will use the station arm to remove the pallet before handing it across to the Kibo arm, which will then position the new experiments.

As the freighter’s supplies are used up, the ship will be filled with station rubbish. Ultimately, it will undock from the ISS and take itself into a destructive dive into the atmosphere somewhere over the south Pacific.

When the US shuttles retire at the end of next year or the beginning of 2011, the ISS project will become dependent on five robotic freighters for its logistics.

• The Russian Progress and European ATV have already demonstrated their flight capability. Four more ATVs have been booked to fly to the station, one a year starting in 2010.

• After the first HTV mission, Japan plans a further six flights through to 2015.

• Two commercial US suppliers, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, are in the process of developing their Dragon and Cygnus supply ships. The first of these is scheduled to deliver supplies to the ISS no earlier than late 2010.

HTV impression (Jaxa)
Length: 9.8m; Diameter: 4.4m; Vehicle Mass: 10.5t; Max cargo: 6t

, ,

No Comments

Robots ‘to revolutionise surgery’ (BBC)

By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

Within ten years some doctors and scientists are predicting that all surgery could be scarless.

They say by using the natural orifices of the body and the body’s own natural scar the belly-button (or umbilicus), it will be possible to insert robots into the body which can help perform every surgical procedure.

It sounds fantastical, but prototypes are already in existence that can crawl and swim inside the body taking pictures of difficult to access areas.

There are particularly big hopes for Ares (Assembling Reconfigurable Endoluminal Surgical System), developed by Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy, with the support of the European Commission.

This is a robot that will self assemble inside the body, after the patient has swallowed up to 15 separate parts, and then aid the surgeon to carry out procedures.

It is almost inconceivable as surgeons that in 10 years time we will be putting our hands in patients
Mr Justin Vale
Urological surgeon

By operating from inside the body, surgeons could avoid external incisions, minimising pain and shortening recovery time for the patient.

In many areas surgeons are already using robots for their daily surgical work.

Head movements

Robots such as ‘FreeHand’, a robotic camera controller for minimally invasive surgery.

Traditionally the laparoscopic (keyhole) camera was been moved by an assistant, but the ‘FreeHand’ allows the surgeon to control the camera themselves using head movements and a foot pedal.

Da Vinci robot

The Da Vinci robot offers surgeons great precision

Another example is the ‘Da Vinci Robot’ which is mainly used to carry out prostatectomies (removal of all or part of the prostate), tumour removals, gastro and neurological operations.

Its robotic arms rotate 360 degrees allowing surgeons more precision than they would have using their own hands.

Mr Justin Vale, a urological surgeon from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust said robots already feature heavily in his daily work.

He uses the Da Vinci robot for all his prostatectomies and half his kidney tumour removals.

“I say to all my trainees and NHS managers that it is almost inconceivable as surgeons that in 10 years time we will be putting our hands in patients,” he said.

“As long as they can bring the price down and make them smaller it is almost inevitable they will take off.”

But he said there were training issues and that learning to use the computers required a new approach.

Sense of touch

“It does have limitations. One that surgeons will talk about is that there is no sense of touch.

“When you use your hands or standard keyhole instruments you do get a feeling of tension and pressure and whether something is soft or hard, but you can’t do that to the same degree with a robot.

Many mini and micro-robots have biologically inspired designs which emulate the crawling and wriggling motion of worms and insects
Dr Arianna Menciassi
Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna

“It is difficult when you are learning as you have lost one of your senses, but when you are a skilled robotic surgeon you develop to overcome that minor loss.”

The growth of interest in this area has led the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) to hold a special exhibition to mark the work of robots.

‘Sci-Fi Surgery: Medical Robots’ at the Hunterian Museum, London, will run from 8 September to 23 December.

Dr Arianna Menciassi, is one of the experts in biomedical robotics leading work at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna.

She said nature had been their inspiration for much of their work.

“Many mini and micro-robots have biologically inspired designs which emulate the crawling and wriggling motion of worms and insects, or the swimming motion of bacteria,” she said.

“We turned to biological inspiration because worms have locomotion systems suited to unstructured, slippery environments and are ideally suited for use in the human body.

“The dream for us is that in the future no more incisions will be necessary for operations because we can exploit the natural orifices of the human body.

“We are also working on the real possibility of building a robot inside the person (Ares), inside their abdomen or stomach and there would be several module which are very small like pills and that can combine together inside and the idea is to introduce these robots from the mouth or anus or the umbilical

“This is the dream, but at the moment it is not so advanced to satisfy the dream but this is the direction.”

The idea of the exhibition is to put before the public the idea that surgeons can be assisted by robots – they are not competition to the profession
Mike Larvin
Royal College of Surgeons

The London exhibition will also feature some famous medical robots from the world of science fiction, including the Pyschophonic Nurse, dreamed up in the 1920s.

As a 10-year-old Mike Larvin, Director of Education at the RCS said he had been inspired by the film ‘Fantastic Voyage’ in which a miniaturised medical team is injected into the bloodstream of an ailing diplomat to try to make him better.

That might remain a far-fetched fantasy, but Mike said medical robotics was a branch of science that was advancing at phenomenal speed.

“The idea of the exhibition is to put before the public the idea that surgeons can be assisted by robots – they are not competition to the profession,” he said.

“They are something that helps make operations safer and better.”

,

No Comments

Websites ‘breaking consumer laws’ (BBC)

Phone and keyboard

The investigation covered 28 European countries

More than half of websites selling electronic goods were breaking European laws aimed at protecting consumers, according to an EU investigation.

The analysis of 369 websites selling mobiles, DVD players and games consoles in 28 European countries found that 203 of them held misleading information.

The biggest failure surrounded the right to return a product bought on the internet within seven days.

Any websites which continue to break the law face fines.

“We know from the level of complaints coming into European Consumer Centres that this is a real problem area for consumers,” said EU consumer commissioner Meglena Kuneva.

“We discovered that more than half of the retailers selling online electronic goods are letting consumers down.”

Sweep

Authorities, such as trading standards departments, carried out the investigation in May. They were checking to see if the websites followed rules on providing clear information about the trader, the product, the price, and customers’ rights.

There is a lot of work to be done in the months ahead to clean up this sector, Europe’s consumers deserve better
Meglena Kuneva, EU consumer commissioner

Some 369 websites – across 26 EU member states (all members except Slovakia) as well as Norway and Iceland – were checked as they sold electronic goods including digital cameras, mobile phones, personal music players, DVD players, computer equipment and games consoles.

Two hundred of the sites were chosen because they were the biggest in the EU and another 100 were checked because they had been the subject of previous consumer complaints.

Of the 203 cases facing further investigation:

  • Two-thirds (66%) failed to adequately explain that consumers had seven days to return a product bought over distance for a full refund and without giving a reason. Others failed to explain the right to have a faulty product repaired or replaced for at least two years after sale
  • Details about extra delivery charges were missing or difficult to find on the website in 45% of cases
  • A third (33%) did not fully outline the trader’s name, address or email details so they could not be contacted if there was a problem.

All of these traders will now be contacted by the authorities and asked to clarify the position or correct the problems identified in the investigation.

Meglena Kuneva

Meglena Kuneva is the EU consumer commissioner

Any website that fails to make corrections could face warning letters and then enforcement action. If this was ignored the operators could be prosecuted and face fines.

“This is a Europe-wide problem which needs a European solution. There is a lot of work to be done in the months ahead to clean up this sector, Europe’s consumers deserve better,” said Ms Kuneva.

Every website checked in Cyprus and Hungary during the sweep was found to require further investigation. Six of 14 websites checked in the UK revealed irregularities.

Only Iceland, Norway and Latvia have published a list of the websites that will face further investigation.

About one in four consumers across the EU who has ever bought anything on the internet bought an electronic product, according to the European Commission. The market is valued at an estimated 6.8bn euros (£5.9bn).

Some 34% of complaints about online shopping in 2007 featured the sale of electronic equipment.

, , ,

No Comments

Home fibre plans survive downturn (BBC)

Telephone cables, BT

The benefits of fibre to the home go beyond speed

More than two million people in Europe now have fibre broadband direct to their home, suggests a survey.

The latest figures on superfast broadband delivered by fibre to the home (FTTH) shows 18% growth over the last survey compiled in late 2008.

The continued growth suggests that the global economic downturn has not hit plans to build a fibre infrastructure.

Sweden tops the list of nations rolling out the technology, with 10.9% of its broadband customers using fibre.

Karel Helsen, president of Europe’s Fibre-To-The-Home Council, said the growth matched predictions that were revised when the credit crunch started to make itself felt.

TOP FIBRE NATIONS
1) Sweden – 10.9%
2) Norway – 10.2%
3) Slovenia – 8.9%
4) Andorra – 6.6%
5) Denmark- 5.7%
6) Iceland – 5.6%
7) Lithuania – 3.3%
8 ) Netherlands – 2.5%
9) Slovakia – 2.5%
10) Finland – 2.4%

“The numbers in 2009 are in line with the latest forecasts,” said Mr Helsen.

By 2012, the FTTH Council expects that 13 million people across 35 European nations will have their broadband delivered by fibre. Such services would start at speeds of 100 megabits per second (mbps), said Mr Helsen.

Around Europe more than 233 projects were underway to lay the fibres that would connect homes or buildings to the net, said Mr Helsen. Many of those, he said, were being operated by local governments or smaller net firms.

Local governments were interested in FTTH because of the economic and social benefits it brought in its wake, said Mr Helsen.

The low latency or delay inherent in high-speed fibre networks made possible novel uses of broadband, he said.

“No delay is very important,” he said, “specifically if you talk about applications that are time dependent such as personal communications, conference calls or video calls where delays cause a lot of interference.”

While early FTTH services were concentrated in cities, said Mr Helsen, many more were reaching out to rural areas for e-health and e-learning projects.

Separate studies show that an FTTH infrastructure can have a direct impact on local economic output, said Mr Helsen.

The UK, France and Germany have yet to break into the list of top ten FTTH nations.

, ,

No Comments

Arctic Sea Iran arms link denied (BBC)

The Arctic Sea, file image

The ship’s disappearance continues to puzzle experts

Russia has denied media reports that a cargo ship which was apparently hijacked in July was carrying Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the reports that the ship had illegal arms on board were “absolutely untrue”.

The Maltese-flagged Arctic Sea vessel with 15 Russian crew went missing for more than two weeks. It was found on 16 August off West Africa.

Eight men were later charged with hijacking and piracy over the case.

The men, mostly from Estonia, are suspected of seizing the ship and its crew after raiding it disguised as police.

‘Serious people’

Speaking in Moscow, Mr Lavrov dismissed media speculation about S-300 missiles on board the Arctic Sea as “groundless”.

Russia’s top diplomat also promised a “transparent” investigation in which Maltese officials would also be invited to take part.

The 4,000-tonne vessel vanished in July days after leaving Finland with an apparent cargo of timber worth $1.8m (£1.1m), destined for the Algerian port of Bejaia.

Last week, Britain’s Sunday Times quotes sources in Russia and Israel claiming that the Arctic Sea was carrying arms to Iran and not timber.

It said that the sources claimed the ship had been loaded with S-300 missiles, Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft weapon, while undergoing repairs in the Russian port of Kaliningrad.

The arms were sold by former military officers linked to the underworld, the Sunday Times reported.

Also last week, a Russian journalist fled his country after suggesting that the ship might have been carrying illegal weapons.

Mikhail Voitenko, the editor of the Sovfracht online maritime journal, said he had been told to leave Moscow or face arrest.

Speaking to the BBC from Turkey, Mr Voitenko said he had received a threatening phone call from “serious people” whom he suggested may have been members of Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB.

The FSB has made no public comments on the allegations.

There has also been speculation the ship may have been intercepted by Mossad – Israel’s foreign intelligence service – in order to prevent a shipment of illegal arms to the Middle East.

, , ,

No Comments

Japan looks to robots to fill jobs (BBC)

By Robin Lustig
BBC News, Tokyo

Robots

Robots may help elderly people in need of company

One of the biggest questions hanging over the newly elected Japanese government is what it intends to do about its rapidly diminishing workforce.

Japan’s population is both ageing and shrinking at a dangerous rate. It will have halved by the end of the century, according to one estimate.

So who is going to do the work as the country gets steadily older?

The first thing the government plans to do is increase the child allowance to 25,000 yen ($270, £166) per child per month – the hope is that will encourage couples to have more babies.

But if that does not work, there are two other options – build more robots to do the work there are not enough people to do, or allow in millions more workers from overseas.

I met a couple of robots in Arai Sadahiro’s robot shop in Tokyo.

They talked and sang to him just as they would to a lonely elderly person in need of company.

Mr Sadahiro insists that, although of course it would be better if a real friend or relative were available, the robots are not a bad second best.

Jagmohan Chandrani

Indians have IT skills needed by Japan, says Mr Chandrani

For social and medical care, robots are already in use. There are robots that can lift patients out of bed, carry them if necessary, even act as receptionists in a hospital or doctor’s surgery.

But would it not be even better to import more workers from abroad?

After all, Japan has the lowest rate of foreign workers among the world’s major developed economies – making up less than 2% of the workforce, compared with close to 15% in the US, or 10% in Britain.

Centenarians

The biggest number of migrants come from Korea and China, many on government-sponsored three-year training programmes meant to equip them with new skills to take back home.

But some migrant workers say the training schemes can sometimes be little more than a way of exploiting low-paid migrants.

One Chinese worker, who chose to remain anonymous, said he felt “tricked” when he found he was expected to pick strawberries all day with no training on offer.

Other foreign workers have a much better experience – such as Indian businessman Jagmohan Chandrani, who has lived in Japan for more than 30 years.

He runs a tea-importing business and a restaurant, and says the big advantage that Indians have here is that many possess valuable Information Technology skills that Japan needs.

So what will it be? More robots, or more foreign workers? My guess is that it will be both.

Something certainly needs to be done. The United Nations estimates that by the middle of the century there will be more than a million Japanese who are over 100 years old.

And someone will have to look after them.

,

No Comments

Russia ship mystery editor flees (BBC)

Mikhail Voitenko at a press conference in Moscow, 18 August 2009

Mr Voitenko said it was nonsense to suggest pirates had been involved

A journalist has fled Russia after suggesting the Arctic Sea cargo ship that was apparently hijacked in July may have been carrying illegal weapons.

Mikhail Voitenko said he had been told to leave Moscow or face arrest.

The editor of Sovfracht, an online maritime journal, fled on Wednesday, saying he may not be able to return as his life would be in danger.

Eight men, mainly from Estonia, have been charged with hijacking and piracy over the case.

The men are suspected of seizing the ship and its 15-man Russian crew after raiding it disguised as police.

The alleged hijackers were taken to Russia after the ship was spotted 300 miles (480km) off the west coast of Africa on 16 August.

Secret shipment

Mr Voitenko – who was among the first to cast doubt on official explanations about the ship’s disappearance – told the BBC it was nonsense to suggest pirates had been involved.

Suspected hijacker of the Arctic Sea being escorted in Moscow, 26 August 2009

Eight men have been charged with hijacking and piracy over the case

Instead he suggested the ship may have been carrying a secret shipment of weapons as part of a private business deal by state officials.

Speaking to the BBC from Turkey, Mr Voitenko said he had received a threatening phone call from “serious people” whom he suggested may have been members of Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB.

The caller told Mr Voitenko that those involved in the mysterious case of the Arctic Sea were very angry with him because he had spoken publicly, and were planning on taking action against him, he said.

“As long as I am out of Russia I feel safe,” Mr Voitenko told the BBC. “At least they won’t be able to get me back to Russia and convict [me].”

He also said Nato knew exactly what had happened to the Arctic Sea.

A Nato spokesman said the alliance had been in contact with Russia throughout the crisis, but would not say anything more.

The FSB refused to comment on the allegations.

Further inspection

Mystery continues to surround the ship’s disappearance, amid speculation the ship may have been intercepted by Mossad – Israel’s foreign intelligence service – in order to prevent a shipment of illegal arms to the Middle East.

Arctic Sea, file image

There has been much speculation over what actually happened on the ship

The 4,000-tonne Maltese-flagged vessel vanished in July days after leaving Finland with an apparent cargo of timber worth $1.8m (£1.1m), destined for the Algerian port of Bejaia.

Observers have questioned why the alleged hijackers would risk seizing the Arctic Sea in one of Europe’s busiest shipping lanes for a relatively inexpensive cargo.

Russian authorities said nothing suspicious was found aboard the ship when it was found last month, but have said a more thorough inspection would be carried out when the Arctic Sea arrives in the Russian port of Novorossiisk.

, , ,

No Comments

Arctic Sea transported Russian missiles (Interfax)

TALLINN. Aug 19 (Interfax) – The dry cargo ship Arctic Sea that was
reportedly attacked by pirates recently could have been involved in arms
trafficking, which is indirectly evident from the fact that Russian
combat planes and ships were dispatched to release the vessel, said
Tarmo Kouts, an EU rapporteur on piracy and former commander of the
Estonian defense forces.
“Only the presence of cruise missiles on board the ship can explain
Russia’s strange behavior in this whole story,” Kouts said in an article
published in the Wednesday issue of the Estonian newspaper Postimees.
If the vessel had been transporting illegal drugs, Russia would not
have taken such energetic steps to find the missing vessel, he said.
“This whole story looks so farfetched that it would have been naive
to believe Russia’s official version,” he said.
“First, the dry cargo ship’s owner officially tied to Finland but
having relation to Latvians, who were ethnic Russians, reported the
ship’s disappearance to the Russian president, after which three big
battleships and a frigate from the Black Sea were sent to chase it,”
Kouts said.
This naval unit was significantly stronger than that engaged in a
recent Somali piracy crisis, he noted.
The cargo that was on board the Arctic Sea, i.e. timber bound for
Algeria, could have been the best camouflage for arms contraband, Kouts
said.
“A whole alley of guided missiles can easily be hidden under stacks
of timber, because, in order to uncover them, the vessel needs to be
brought to a port, and its hold has to be emptied. They are not so easy
to uncover at sea,” he said.
Kouts emphasized that only the transportation of weapons can
explain Russia’s controversial behavior during the incident.

, , ,

No Comments

EBay to sell Skype stake for $1.9 billion (Reuters)

Tue Sep 1, 2009 10:39am EDT


Photo

«»1 of 3Full Size

NEW YORK (Reuters) – EBay Inc plans to sell a 65 percent stake in its online phone unit Skype for $1.9 billion to private investors including Silver Lake and a venture firm run by Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen.

Shares in eBay rose 40 cents or 1.8 percent to $22.54 on Nasdaq after the news.

The deal values Skype at $2.75 billion, according to the Internet auction house, which had bought the phone company in 2005 for about $3.1 billion.

The group buying Skype also includes London-based Index Ventures and the Canada Pension Plan, in addition to Silver Lake and Andreessen’s firm Andreessen Horowitz.

The deal lets eBay focus on its PayPal electronic payments service as well as its flagship auction service, the company said.

EBay originally planned to spin off Skype next year. John Donahoe, eBay’s chief executive, said in May that a $2 billion valuation would be low for the growing Internet telephone business.

In 2007, eBay wrote down about $1.4 billion of its investment in Skype, conceding it did not fit in with the rest of its online auction business.

“Skype is a strong standalone business, but it does not have synergies with our e-commerce and online payments business,” Donahoe said in a statement.

EBay expects the deal to close in the fourth quarter. The transaction is not subject to a financing condition.

(Reporting by Sinead Carew in New York and Ajay Kamalakaran in

Bangalore, editing by Will Waterman and Derek Caney)

, ,

No Comments