Metro-East News

Roger That: China’s cyberattack on feds’ computers far worse than first announced

Belleville News-Democrat reporter Mike Fitzgerald.
Belleville News-Democrat reporter Mike Fitzgerald. News-Democrat

The damage caused by China’s alleged hacking attack into U.S. government computers is turning out to be far worse than originally announced, according to the Associated Press.

Hackers linked to China have gained access to the sensitive background information submitted by intelligence and military personnel for security clearances, U.S. officials said Friday. They described a cyberbreach of federal records that centered on the theft of vast amounts of personal information that federal job applicants divulge on a Standard Form 86, which requires applicants to disclose mental illnesses, drug and alcohol use, past arrests and bankruptcies. They also require the listing of contacts and relatives, potentially exposing any foreign relatives of U.S. intelligence employees to coercion. Both the applicant’s Social Security number and that of his or her cohabitant are also required, the AP reported.

U.S. officials suspect that hackers in China stole the personal records of as many as four million people. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is probing the breach. It was detected in April at the Office of Personnel Management, which serves as the federal government’s human resources department, managing background checks, pension payments and job training across dozens of federal agencies, according to the Washington Post.

***

Some money could be coming your way in the mail if you are a service member or veteran who took out student loans, the Stars & Stripes is reporting.

As part of a settlement over inflated interest rates, Sallie Mae is sending out almost 80,000 checks, which were mailed Friday, worth $60 million, according to a statement from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Compensation will range from $10 to more than $100,000, with the average check being about $771. The size of the check depends on how long and by how much the interest rate exceeded 6 percent, the newspaper reported.

The settlement came after the federal government filed suit against Navient Corp., formerly part of Sallie Mae, for violating the Service members Civil Relief Act, which caps student loan interest rates for service members at 6 percent. The lawsuit claimed that violations went back to 2005.

***

Soldiers and marines tired of lugging loads exceeding 100 pounds into the field could be getting some good news if research being conducted by University of Washington scientists into the prospect of delivering electricity via Wi-Fi signals pans out, according to a story at DefenseOne.com

Thanks to modern technology, America’s grunts in the field must haul heavier and heavier loads of gear because of power-hungry radios, night-vision goggles and sensors, such as mini-drones. All these devices require batteries and extra batteries.

Last week, researchers from the University of Washington unveiled a paper, “Powering the Next Billion Devices With Wi-Fi,” that describes how to power a small camera with a Wi-Fi signal. In essence, the camera’s 2.4-GHz antenna becomes an energy harvester that transforms radio frequency signals into DC power. Unlike some other ambient power schemes, this one doesn’t interfere with the functioning of the router.

Wi-Fi power has “any number of applications” on the battlefield, said Paul Roege, a retired Army colonel who also served as chief of the Army Operational Energy Office. Those include “inductive charging pads in a vehicle seat that could recharge soldier batteries on the ride to battle to a laser beaming power from an aerostat to a small patrol, either moving or stopped,” DefenseOne reported.

***

A vaccine for post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD? Such a breakthrough looms on the horizon, according to an article in the science journal Nature.

Researchers are conducting experiments into the idea that tweaking a subject’s immune system could be key to treating, or even preventing PTSD, in the same way that a traditional vaccine prevents infectious diseases such as diptheria and whooping cough. Research in rodents suggests that immunizing animals can lessen fear if they are later exposed to stress. Early clinical trials have shown that anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce symptoms of depression, raising hopes that such treatments might be useful in other types of mental illness, such as PTSD, the journal reported.

I think there’s kind of a frenzy about inflammation in psychiatry right now,” says Christopher Lowry, a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado Boulder. He presented results of experiments probing the link between fearful behavior and immune response at a meeting in Victoria, Canada, last week of the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society.

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533.

  Comments