Most Powerful Laser Blast Ever

Last week the most powerful laser blast ever was unleashed at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, California. On July 5th the combined power of 192 lasers delivered a 1.85-megajoule blast that generated approximately 500 Trillion (with a “T!”) watts of power.

According to the NIF website, the pressure and heat felt by the hydrogen target is unbelievable:

“When all that energy slams into millimeter-sized targets, it can generate unprecedented temperatures and pressures in the target materials—temperatures of more than 100 million degrees and pressures more than 100 billion times Earth’s atmosphere.”

What is amazing too is the amount of precision needed to get the 192 laser beams to strike the target nearly at the same time:

“The 192 separate beams must have optical pathlengths equal to within nine millimeters so that the pulses can arrive within 30 picoseconds (trillionths of a second) of each other at the center of the target chamber. Then they must strike within 50 micrometers of their assigned spot on a target the size of a pencil eraser. NIF’s pointing accuracy can be compared to standing on the pitcher’s mound at AT&T Park in San Francisco and throwing a strike at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, some 350 miles away.”

Cool stuff! When do we get the weaponized version??   🙂

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Destructive Cyber Attacks, the NSA and Personal Privacy

What I think we really need to be concerned about is when these transition from disruptive to destructive attacks — and I think those are coming.” Gen. Keith B. Alexander (Director of the NSA and commander of US Cybercomand) said at the American Enterprise Institute on Monday.

The US is the largest user of online technology and as Gen Alexander said, “we are the most vulnerable and we need to do something about it.

But as concerns of terrorists attacks and cyber attacks that could affect public infrastructure flood the media, many are concerned that civil liberties will be effected. In March, Wired.com had an article on the NSA’s new $2 Billion dollar “Data Center”.

According to the article:

Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.”

If the NSA is gathering all of this information, is public privacy at risk, and why does the NSA need all of this information?

“If the critical infrastructure community is being attacked by something, we need them to tell us at network speed,” the General said. “It doesn’t require the government to read their mail or your mail to do that. It requires them — the Internet service provider or that company — to tell us that that type of event is going on at this time. And it has to be at network speed if you’re going to stop it.”

The government is not interested in reading our e-mail sent to our great grandma, nor our FarmVille usage. They are looking for attack signatures – “We’re not talking about giving our personal e-mails to the government.” The agency wants only attack signatures and IP addresses. “It doesn’t require reading the e-mail,” Gen. Alexander said.

And according to his speech, the NSA does not even store civilian messages:

We don’t hold data on U.S. citizens,” he said. He said his agency does not have the resources to deal with the estimated 30 trillion e-mails sent every year and that it is focused on gathering foreign intelligence. “That’s what NSA does“.

But many are still concerned, especially with numerous government agencies involved with fighting cyber threats. Agencies that include the NSA, FBI, and the Department of Homeland security. Add this to the ever increasing volume of cyber threats and it would seem that the concerns are very much warranted.

Rest assured though, Gen. Alexander is well aware of this and feels that the US can protect both our personal privacy and our critical infrastructure – “We can protect civil liberties and privacy, and cybersecurity.”

Unsecured Wireless Network Leads to Police SWAT Raid

If you do not properly secure your Wi-Fi network, could people misuse it? We have all heard of people “borrowing” their neighbors Wi-Fi to surf questionable sites and download illegal media and software, but could having an unsecured Wi-Fi access point lead to a SWAT team raiding your house in full combat gear? The answer is (in one case at least) yes!

I have been doing some research for an upcoming Hakin9 article on Wireless security & attacks and ran into this article on Government Computer News, “Don’t get raided by a SWAT team; secure your wireless hub“. Apparently Evansville, Indiana resident Stephanie Milan (18) and her boyfriend’s unsecured wireless network was used by an unknown suspect to post threatening messages on Topix.com.

But what would cause a fully armed SWAT team to smash out a window, break down the front door, toss in stun grenades and rush the young couples abode while wielding automatic weapons? Maybe it was the subject of the messages. Apparently, along with scarfing free internet access, the subject posted messages threatening police officers and their families.

Not a smart move by the subject.

But was the response too much? “I think it was a show of force that they are not going to tolerate this,” said Ira Milan, Stephanie’s grandfather and long term owner of the property. “To bring a whole SWAT team seems a little excessive.”

City Police Chief Billy Bolin explained, “We have no way of being able to tell that,” and the concerning Internet posts “definitely come back to that address.”. Also the city Mayor said that after reviewing the situation, the use of force was justified.

The suspect is still at large.

After realizing that Stephanie and her boyfriend were not involved, the city has agreed to pay for the damages done. But this goes to show that leaving wireless networks unsecured could lead to some serious problems.

Recent research for the area that I live in shows that almost half of the wireless access points detected were using no, or woefully inadequate security. The results, even after years of security warnings to users and attempts to get manufacturers to use more secure settings as default, were a bit concerning:

13% used no security at all, and another 29% used WEP which has been cracked a long time ago. Only 46% used WPA2 which is the recommended security setting for your wireless network. Almost half of the Wi-Fi networks were vulnerable to attack or mis-use.

So be sure to set your Wi-Fi network to WPA2. And if it does not support WPA2, it is time to get a new Access Point. Also, remember to use a long complex password when securing your AP, as WPA and WPA2 passwords can still be cracked if you use a simple password.