From killing machines to agents of hope: the future of drones in Africa

From killing machines to agents of hope: the future of drones in Africa
How advances in unmanned aerial vehicle technology are providing promising solutions under African skies
By Zoe Flood in Kigali
Jul 27 2016

Some are killing machines. Others are pesky passions of the weekend hobbyist. As such, drones have not always been welcomed in our skies.

Across Africa, however, projects are being launched that could revolutionise medical supply chains and commercial deliveries, combat poaching and provide other solutions for an overburdened, underdeveloped continent.

In Rwanda, as in many other African countries, the rainy season makes already difficult roads between smaller towns and villages all but impassable. Battered trucks struggle through the mud, and in some cases even more agile motorbikes and foot traffic are unable get through.

“Rwanda is essentially a rural country. Lots of blood products cannot be stocked at every health centre. At best it can take four to six hours to get supplies through,” says the technology minister, Jean Philbert Nsengimana.

“For mothers giving birth, postpartum haemorrhaging, or bleeding post-delivery, happens quite often. It may not be possible to prevent. Then what is needed is a quick and rapid intervention.”

Enter Zipline, a California-based robotics company which has designed a fixed-wing drone to deliver medical essentials to rural health facilities. The “zip” – with a two-metre wingspan – releases a small, parachute-equipped payload that drifts down into a dropzone without the zip having to land.

“This technology has the potential to erase barriers to access for countless critical medicines and save lives on a scale not previously possible,” says Keller Rinaudo, Zipline’s chief executive, which is staffed by experienced aerospace engineers including those who have worked at SpaceX, Boeing and Nasa.

“While there are a number of potential applications for this technology, we’re keenly focused on using it to save lives.”

In its first phase, Zipline plans to make 50 to 150 deliveries of blood a day to 21 transfusing facilities within a 47-mile (75km) radius, later adding vaccines and other urgent supplies. Each zip, operating from bases called nests housing 15 autonomous devices, can fly a 75-mile round-trip on a single battery charge, including in wind and rain.

It is still early days – daily medical flights are scheduled to begin in late August or early September after safety testing is complete – but if Zipline succeeds in its goals, it will place Rwanda far ahead of many of the world’s richest economies in terms of its vision of a drone delivery network.

“For these drones to operate and share the airspace with normal aircraft, a lot of work has gone into legislation and airspace management – there are no precedents, we are creating something from scratch,” says Nsengimana.

“Most countries have legislation for drones that remain visible. But for fixed-wing drones that go beyond the line of sight, we found no regulation.”

Rwanda is the first government to sign a contract with the Silicon Valley startup to provide nationwide delivery services – the jury is still out as to how this will play out at a national scale, in conjunction with health providers and over longer distances.


The Case Against the Media, by the Media

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

The Case Against the Media, by the Media
Interviews by Nick Tabor and Jeff Wise
Jul 25 2016

For decades, the pollsters at Gallup have been asking Americans if they trust their media. In 1974, the year Woodward and Bernstein brought an end to Richard Nixon’s presidency, 69 percent of them did. In a poll released last year, that number was at a historic low. Today, the only institutions Americans have less faith in than television news (21 percent) and newspapers (20 percent) are Congress and “big business.” That’s pretty damn low — humiliatingly low, especially for a group of people who fancy themselves members of “the Fourth Estate.” (For those of you who have never worked in the media, which is basically the only place anyone would still use that 18th-century term: It refers to the power of the press to balance that of the three estates — clergy, aristocracy, and the well-to-do — in the British Parliament.) The other three estates don’t really exist in 21st-century America, but the fourth’s high opinion of its role in the body politic has been pretty constant.

The same is also true of the public’s disdain, the Watergate era being something of an exception (“The press tyrannizes over publick men, letters, the arts, the stage, and even over private life,” James Fenimore Cooper wrote in 1838). People love to shoot the messenger, and these days especially, in an era of proverbial cable-news shoutfests and clickbait journalism, the messenger probably hasn’t been doing itself many favors. But the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump has seemed to usher us into a whole new season of media loathing. And self-loathing: A candidate who built his campaign in part on attacking, mocking, belittling, and dismissing the press has inspired a massive wave of journalistic self-recrimination. On the one hand, the media (and let’s just pause to acknowledge that throughout this project we’re committing a cardinal media sin of conflating for convenience, since the “media” we’re describing lumps in the New York Times, TMZ, reporters, pundits, 24-hour cable news, and ourselves — vastly different entities, but ones seen, or described, by the public as a monolith) have been accused of underestimating Trump’s popularity; on the other, of fueling his rise by showering him with attention in a cheap ploy to boost ratings — while also failing to scrutinize his record and misstatements and standing at the center of a rigged system now bent on bringing him down. That last criticism is probably Trump’s personal favorite — the most mendacious presidential candidate in history constantly accusing the media of not telling the truth about him. Even Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech was spun by some in the Trump camp as an example of biased-media overkill (the subject of stolen words being of inherent interest to journalists). Here at New York Magazine we’re guilty, too, of course. Our audience has (always, actually) had an enormous appetite for Trump, which we’ve diligently fed, while not always taking him seriously. In October, we passed on the chance to publish Steven Brill’s investigation into Trump University, before Timepublished it. Why? Because we thought, wrongly, that Trump was fading and that the story had been told. Also, we were, frankly, a little bored with him. We miscalculated that our readers, and the country, would soon be, too.

But it’s not just Trump; dire signs for media were everywhere this year. The story line around the Gawker trial, in which the web empire was sued for publishing a Hulk Hogan sex tape — a suit later revealed to have been funded by billionaire Peter Thiel, seeking revenge over his own coverage — turned the site from monster to martyr but made the press look terrible from every angle. Jennifer Aniston blasted the celebrity media for essentially shaming her for not having children. The press was castigated by the left for various racist and sexist offenses, and by the right for being too far to the left. And with every successive police shooting of a black man, the question was raised — why hadn’t the media been paying proper attention to the underlying problems before social media forced its hand? (And how much of that inattention had to do with how overwhelmingly white so many media organizations — including ours — still are?)

In fact, social media was forcing our hand on all of these points at once, making journalists confront, out in the open, the possibility that their work might not be any of the things they imagined it was — objective, rigorous, informative. Instead, we found we often looked partisan, mendacious, lazy, sloppy, and shrill. Conservative commentators slammed Facebook, which has, rather suddenly, become the single biggest force in media, for liberal bias, while the media itself had more existential worries, like the way Facebook was swallowing it whole. Among other things, Facebook drove a stake through the contradiction that had always been at the heart of most media: The news pretended (and yearned) to be a public trust when it was really just a consumer good, now more nakedly exposed to the marketplace.

As the media anxiety around media anxiety began to crescendo this spring, we at New York decided to turn our journalistic operation in on itself to investigate just how bad the media really is. We were less interested in bad actors — the Jayson Blairs and such — than in the structural dilemmas of the media trade: What keeps media people up at night when they’re thinking about what they do for a living? We began by asking ourselves and our peers what they think the media’s greatest faults are. The response was overwhelming but probably shouldn’t have been too surprising (the media loves to criticize the media). In interviews with more than 40 journalists and media figures and in a survey of 113 of our peers, we heard much about deals cut with anonymous sources, the pressure for speed and easy hits that squeezes the nuance out of complicated stories, editors who knowingly simplified stories past the point of accuracy and publishers who spent resources on subjects they believed were trivial rather than those they felt were important. At times, the survey’s answers read like the minutes from an anonymous group-therapy session.


Revealed: the £1bn of weapons flowing from Europe to Middle East

“Revealed: the £1bn of weapons flowing from Europe to Middle East”
AK-47s, machine guns, explosives and more travel along new arms pipeline from Balkans to countries known to supply Syria
By Ivan Angelovski in Belgrade, Miranda Patrucic in Sarajevo and Lawrence Marzouk in London
Jul 27 2016

Eastern European countries have approved the discreet sale of more than €1bn of weapons in the past four years to Middle Eastern countries that are known to ship arms to Syria, an investigation has found. 

Thousands of assault rifles such as AK-47s, mortar shells, rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons and heavy machine guns are being routed through a new arms pipeline from the Balkans to the Arabian peninsula and countries bordering Syria.

The suspicion is that much of the weaponry is being sent into Syria, fuelling the five-year civil war, according to a team of reporters from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

Arms export data, UN reports, plane tracking, and weapons contracts examined during a year-long investigation reveal how the munitions were sent east from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Montenegro, Slovakia, Serbia and Romania.

Since the escalation of the Syrian conflict in 2012, the eight countries have approved €1.2bn (£1bn) of weapons and ammunition exports to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey – key arms markets for Syria and Yemen.

In the past, the region had virtually no track record of buying from central and eastern Europe. But purchases appear to be escalating, with some of the biggest deals approved in 2015.

Arms export licences were granted despite fears from experts and within governments that the weapons could end up with the Syrian armed opposition, arguably in breach of national, EU and other international agreements.

Eastern and central European weapons and ammunition, identified from videos and photos posted on social media, are now being used by western-backed Free Syrian Army units, but are also in the hands of fighters from Islamist groups such as Ansar al-Sham, the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, Islamic State, factions fighting for the Syrian president, Bashar-al-Assad, and by Sunni forces in Yemen.

Markings on some of the ammunition identifying the origin and date of manufacture reveal significant quantities have come off production lines as recently as 2015.

Responding to the findings of the investigation, Patrick Wilcken, an arms control researcher at Amnesty International, and Bodil Valero, the European parliament’s rapporteur on arms, said at least some of the transfers probably breached EU, international and national laws on arms exports.

“The evidence points towards systematic diversion of weapons to armed groups accused of committing serious Human Rights Violations,” said Wilcken. “If this is the case, the transfers are illegal under … international law and should cease immediately.”


Welcome to the new age of uncertainty

Welcome to the new age of uncertainty
Will Brexit ever happen? Could Trump win? Is my job safe? The future right now looks headspinningly unpredictable. Is there any way to avoid this fear, anxiety and paralysis, and learn to thrive in a world in flux?
By Stuart Jeffries
Jul 26 2016

One day recently, I sat in a school hall listening to a headteacher explain why us parents should entrust our kids to her institution. “We will,” she announced terrifyingly, “prepare your children for jobs that don’t yet exist. We will make them ready for careers that involve changing jobs repeatedly.”

Good luck with that, I thought. It’s tough enough preparing children for jobs that we might reasonably suppose will exist in the future – nurses, teachers, doctors, refuse collectors, the poor sap of an England manager, cyber-fluffers to curate your social media profile. It’s harder, perhaps even incomprehensible, to prepare them for jobs that we can’t imagine. And even harder still to train them to have the skills and flexibility to change jobs mid-career – say from, ooh, time-machine engineer to a dementia care specialist based in sheltered accommodation on the new Martian colony.

Her speech was fascinating, since here was someone expressing confidence in mastering a future that most of us feel is ungraspable. The future is always to some extent uncertain, but never more so than now. “Disruption is the new normal,” says Jonathan Fields, author of Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance. “Now, more than ever, you cannot lock down the future.”

Following the EU referendum, it feels as though our uncertainty is rising exponentially, soaring in inverse relation to property prices, interest rates, sterling’s value, the Labour party’s effectiveness as Her Majesty’s opposition, and (silver lining) Michael Gove’s career.

Consider strawberries. Even now I’m looking forward to a bowl of strawberries for tea. But for how many more summers can I live this life of obscene luxury? Dismal reports reach me that soft-fruit prices are set to rocket as a result of Brexit, as all those hard-working east-European pickers may well be heading home. There’s an even worse possibility – post-Brexit strawberries will be unharvestedbecause our mimsy natives are too hungover, self-entitled and busy screenwalking to have what it takes to fill the necessary punnets.

So much is uncertain. Should our Polish friends start packing or not? Should we join them and resettle in Krakow, given the disastrous economic prognostications of City soothsayers? Will article 50 of the EU constitution be triggered or not? And if it is, will that make a timetable for Britain’s departure from the European Union any clearer? Business analysts are already fretting that economic uncertainty, already rocketing in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, will not fall until the government lays out concrete terms – something that could take months or years. Legal analysts, such as Oxford law lecturer Frederick Wilmot-Smith, contend that the EU referendum changes nothing in itself, but rather “had no more legal effect – either within the United Kingdom or on the UK’s legal relations with the European Union – than a straw poll of your friends (or mine) … The UK is still a member of the EU and has not, legally, indicated its desire to leave the Union.” Everything is so uncertain that even the result of the referendum, apparently expressing the will of the people, seems to have made it less clear what will happen next. Will we Brexit? Could there be another referendum? What will happen next?


US believes Russian hackers are behind Democratic National Committee leak

US believes Russian hackers are behind Democratic National Committee leak
Growing consensus within Obama administration is that Russians infiltrated DNC but there is less certainty that Vladimir Putin’s government is responsible
By Sam Thielmanand Spencer Ackerman in New York
Jul 26 2016

The emerging consensus within the Obama administration is that Russian hackers successfully infiltrated the data networks of the Democratic National Committee, the Guardian has learned, although there is less certainty that the Russian government is definitively responsible for the attack.

A senior administration official said indications in the code used to execute the data breach points to Russian culprits. That assessment matches the preliminary conclusions from a recent series of cybersecurity firms that have analyzed the hack. 

The official, who was not cleared to discuss an attack that has roiled US politics and relations with Moscow, could not “unequivocally” attribute the attack to a “Russian state actor”.

But the operating theory and animating belief inside the administration is that the attack, which led to tens thousands of internal DNC emails spilling onto the internet ahead of the Democrats’ presidential nominating convention, enraging Bernie Sanders supporters by suggesting bias against him among party staff and leading to the resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was Russian in origin. 

Neither the White House nor the office of the director of national intelligence would confirm a New York Times article late Tuesday reporting that US intelligence agencies consider Vladimir Putin’s government to be responsible for the attack on the DNC. Queries to the FBI, which Barack Obama has now placed in charge of responding to cyber threats, were not immediately returned. 

The Daily Beast reported on Monday that the FBI believes the Russian government to be behind the DNC hack. The FBI has confirmed that it is investigating the breach. 

The self-proclaimed source for scores of DNC emails published by WikiLeaks, known as Guccifer 2.0, is not a single operator but Russian cybercriminals designated Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear by investigators who have invaded the White House and the Bundestag between them, according to leading cybersecurity firms.

Security firm ThreatConnect issued a comprehensive report on Tuesday using their own data and data from previous reports by rivals CrowdStrike, Mandiant and Fidelis.

Crowdstrike associates Fancy Bear with other Russian intrusions, notably one into the German Bundestag in May and another into French television network TV5 Monde. Cozy Bear has dug into the state department the joint chiefs, and the White House, said CrowdStrike, which analyzed those hacks.

“We’ve had lots of experience with both of these actors attempting to target our customers in the past and know them well,” wrote CrowdStrike’s Dmitri Alperovitch. “In fact, our team considers them some of the best adversaries out of all the numerous nation-state, criminal and hacktivist/terrorist groups we encounter on a daily basis.”


First Click: iPhone sales are shrinking for the same reason that Pokémon Go is thriving

First Click: iPhone sales are shrinking for the same reason that Pokémon Go is thriving
By Vlad Savov
Jul 27 2016

Apple today finds itself in the unusual position of having not one, but two consecutive quarters of slumping iPhone sales. The company’s stock price, however, has gone in the opposite direction, rising in response to Apple outperforming direr expectations. Those traders aren’t crazy. They just understand a phenomenon that is reaching its apotheosis in 2016: smartphone saturation.

Looking at the Pokémon Go infatuation that has gripped the globe this summer, I’m reminded about the ubiquity and commodification of the smartphone. Whether it’s an iPhone or an Android device, the smart mobile phone has grown so widely available and accessible that it’s not at all weird or worrying to see clusters of kids walking around on Pokémon hunts with each having his or her own handset. Things didn’t use to be this way.

It wasn’t long ago that smartphones were a primary target and reason for muggings. Phones are still the most personally valuable thing that the majority of people carry around with them, but they’re no longer the sort of prized asset that would get a kid in trouble. The phone is a commodity now, like a pair of sneakers, and the iPhone is evidently not immune to this situation.

There will inevitably be questions raised about Apple’s future growth strategy, and those are apt — every public company must offer its investors a vision of rising profits — but they shouldn’t be solipsistically focused on the iPhone. The fact is that with a finite human population, of which only a fraction have the required income to buy an iPhone, Apple was inevitably going to meet a ceiling to iPhone sales. The interesting thing is that the ceiling is gradually coming down, as more and more people have adequate to good smartphones that can run games like Pokémon Go. The game might prompt people to go out and buy more portable batteries, but it won’t drive a whole new wave of smartphone upgrades. Odds are that nothing short of a killer VR app will stimulate the extraordinary growth that characterized the past few years in smartphones.

Apple’s future is less certain now than it has been for a long time, because the company must find the next great profit driver to augment, if not entirely replace, the iPhone. It was fine to depend on a single device for 60 percent of revenue when that device was the most sought-after gadget in the world, but now that everyone who can afford a smartphone has one, Apple’s need for diversification is more pressing.


Radio Hack Steals Keystrokes from Millions of Wireless Keyboards

[Note:  This item comes from friend Jen Snow.  DLH]

Radio Hack Steals Keystrokes from Millions of Wireless Keyboards
By Andy Greenberg
Jul 26 2016

You should be able to trust your wireless keyboard. And yet security researchers have been warning people to be suspicious of wireless computer accessories using sketchy radio protocols for years. Those warnings peaked five months ago, when hackers at the security firm Bastille found that millions of cheap keyboard and mouse dongles let hackers inject keystrokes onto your machine from hundreds of yards away. Now, in case you missed that message, the same researchers have extended their attack to millions more devices—and this time, they can not only inject keystrokes, but also read yours, too.

On Tuesday Bastille’s research team revealed a new set of wireless keyboard attacks they’re calling Keysniffer. The technique, which they’re planning to detail at the Defcon hacker conference in two weeks, allows any hacker with a $12 radio device to intercept the connection between any of eight wireless keyboards and a computer from 250 feet away> What’s more, it gives the hacker the ability to both type keystrokes on the victim machine and silently record the target’s typing.

The keyboards’ vulnerability, according to Bastille’s chief research officer Ivan O’Sullivan, comes from the fact that they all transmit keystrokes entirely without encryption. The manufacturers’ only plan against attackers spoofing or eavesdropping on their devices’ communications is to depend on the obscurity of the radio protocols used. “We were stunned,” says O’Sullivan. “We had no expectation that in 2016 these companies would be selling keyboards with no encryption.”

In a detailed website Bastille created to document their attack and the vulnerabilities it exploited, they list keyboards from HP, Toshiba, Radio Shack, Kensington, Insignia, General Electric, Anker and EagleTec as vulnerable to Keysniffer. Instead of connecting to computers via Bluetooth, which is standardized and has undergone extensive security testing, all of these devices use one generic alternative or another. Six of them use transceiver chips from a company called Mozart Semiconductor, and the other two use their own non-Bluetooth chipsets. Bastille’s researchers say going generic saves manufacturers money, but also means devices don’t get the better-tested encryption built into the Bluetooth standard.

In this case, the generic connections seem to have left the devices with virtually no real security at all. After a few weeks of painstaking reverse engineering work with a software-defined radio—an increasingly common tool for hackers exploring obscure radio frequencies—Bastille researcher Marc Newlin was able to recognize and reproduce any keystroke sent by the keyboards based on their radio signals alone. “There were no specifications,” says Newlin. “The only reason these devices had been operating under the radar is because no one had taken the time to reverse engineer them.”

Newlin also rewrote the firmware of a $12 Geeetech Crazyradio dongle to speak the obscure keyboard protocols he’d analyzed. With that plugged into a laptop, Newlin can, from hundreds of feet away, read or write keystrokes to any computer connected to one a vulnerable keyboards. He estimates he could increase that range with a Yagi antenna.