Laser Demonstration Reveals Bright Future for Space Communication

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Dec. 23, 2013 — The completion of the 30-day Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration or LLCD mission has revealed that the possibility of expanding broadband capabilities in space using laser communications is as bright as expected.

Hosted aboard the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer known as LADEE, for its ride to lunar orbit, the LLCD was designed to confirm laser communication capabilities from a distance of almost a quarter-of-a-million miles. In addition to demonstrating record-breaking data download and upload speeds to the moon at 622 megabits per second (Mbps) and 20 Mbps, respectively, LLCD also showed that it could operate as well as any NASA radio system. “Throughout our testing we did not see anything that would prevent the operational use of this technology in the immediate future,” said Don Cornwell, LLCD mission manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

For example, LLCD demonstrated error-free communications during broad daylight, including operating when the moon was to within three degrees of the sun as seen from Earth. LLCD also demonstrated error-free communications when the moon was low on the horizon, less than 4 degrees, as seen from the ground station, which also demonstrated that wind and atmospheric turbulence did not significantly impact the system. LLCD was even able to communicate through thin clouds, an unexpected bonus.

Operationally, LLCD demonstrated the ability to download data from the LADEE spacecraft itself. “We were able to download LADEE’s entire stored science and spacecraft data [1 gigabyte] in less than five minutes, which was only limited to our 40 Mbps connection to that data within LADEE” said Cornwell. Using LADEE’s onboard radio system would take several days to complete a download of the same stored data. Additionally, LLCD was to prove the integrity of laser technology to send not only error-free data but also uncorrupted commands and telemetry or monitoring messages to and from the spacecraft over the laser link.

LLCD also demonstrated the ability to “hand-off” the laser connection from one ground station to another, just as a cellphone does a hand-off from one cell tower to another. An additional achievement was the ability to operate LLCD without using LADEE’s radio at all. “We were able to program LADEE to awaken the LLCD space terminal and have it automatically point and communicate to the ground station at a specific time without radio commands. This demonstrates that this technology could serve as the primary communications system for future NASA missions,” said Cornwell.

The ability of LLCD to send and receive high definition video was proven with a message from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, completing the trip to the moon and back with only a few seconds of delay. “Administrator Bolden’s message demonstrates NASA’s support for advancing this technology for both space and Earth applications,” said Cornwell. “It also allowed the LLCD team to showcase the quality and fidelity of our HD video transmissions over our laser communication link to and from the moon.”

Cornwell acknowledged that the LLCD mission is another great example of NASA partnerships with outside organizations to advance unproven technologies. He credits the work of Don Boroson and his team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory (MIT/LL) in Lexington, Mass., for developing and operating both the space and ground laser communications terminals for LLCD. “We could not have made such great strides without the work of our partners at MIT/LL,” Cornwell said. “Their years of work and knowledge produced a communications system that far exceeded our expectation.”

NASA’s follow-on mission for laser communications will be the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LRCD). Also managed at Goddard, LCRD will demonstrate continuous laser relay communication capabilities at over one billion bits per second between two Earth stations using a satellite in geosynchronous orbit. The system also will support communications with Earth-orbiting satellites. More importantly, LCRD will demonstrate this operational capability for as long as five years, thus building more confidence in the reliability of this laser technology.

“We are very encouraged by the results of LLCD,” said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) in Washington, which sponsored the mission. “From where I sit, the future looks very bright for laser communications.”

So it appears NASA could be making the next paradigm shift in communications in the not too distant future. The same technology that has vastly upgraded our broadband connections on Earth could be expanding communications possibilities for NASA in the not-too-distant future.

Source: Science Daily

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The Emerging Technologies Shaping Future 5G Networks

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The fifth generation of mobile communications technology will see the end of the “cell” as the fundamental building block of communication networks.

It may seem as if the fourth generation of mobile communications technology has only just hit the airwaves. But so-called 4G technology has been around in various guises since 2006 and is now widely available in metropolitan areas of the US, Europe and Asia.

It’s no surprise then that communications specialists are beginning to think about the next revolution. So what will 5G bring us?

Today we get some interesting speculation from Federico Boccardi at Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Labs and a number of pals. These guys have focused on the technologies that are most likely to have a disruptive impact on the next generation of communications tech. And they’ve pinpointed emerging technologies that will force us to rethink the nature of networks and the way devices use them.

The first disruptive technology these guys have fingered will change the idea that radio networks must be made up of “cells” centred on a base station. In current networks, a phone connects to the network by establishing an uplink and a downlink with the local base station.

That looks likely to change. For example, an increasingly likely possibility is that 5G networks will rely on a number of different frequency bands that carry information at different rates and have wildly different propagation characteristics.

So a device might use one band as an uplink at a high rate and another band to downlink at a low rate or vice versa. In other words, the network will change according to a device’s data demands at that instant.

At the same time, new classes of devices are emerging that communicate only with other devices: sensors sending data to a server, for example. These devices will have the ability to decide when and how to send the data most efficiently. That changes the network from a cell-centric one to a device-centric one.

“Our vision is that the cell-centric architecture should evolve into a device-centric one: a given device (human or machine) should be able to communicate by exchanging multiple information flows through several possible sets of heterogeneous nodes,” say Boccardi and co.

Another new technology will involve using millimetre wave transmissions, in addition to the microwave transmission currently in use. Boccardi and co say that the microwave real estate comes at a huge premium. There is only about 600MHz of it. And even though the switch from analogue to digital TV is freeing up some more of the spectrum, it is relatively little, about 80MHz, and comes at a huge price.

So it’s natural to look at the longer wavelengths and higher frequencies of millimetre wave transmissions ranging from 3 to 300 GHz. This should provide orders of magnitude increases in bandwidth.

But it won;t be entirely smooth going. The main problem with these frequencies is their propagation characteristics—the signals are easily blocked by buildings, heavy weather and even by people themselves as they move between the device and the transmitter.

But it should be possible to mitigate most problems using advanced transmission technologies, such as directional antennas that switch in real time as signals become blocked. “Propagation is not an insurmountable challenge,” they say.

Next is the rapidly developing multiple input-multiple output or MIMO technology. Base stations will be equipped with multiple antennas that transmit many signals at the same time. What’s more, a device may have multiple antennas to pick up and transmit several signals at once. This dramatically improves the efficiency with which a network can exploit its frequencies.

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Source: MIT Technology Review

Study finds most mobile apps put your security and privacy at risk

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A report from HP claims apps lack security defenses, fail to encrypt data, and compromise personal information.

The average smartphone user has 26 apps installed. If recent research conducted by HP is any indication, approximately, well, all of them, come with privacy or security concerns of some sort.

The HP study focused purely on custom business apps, but there’s no reason to believe the issue doesn’t extend to commercial apps you find in the Apple App Store or Google Play. Many apps have access to data or permission to perform functions they shouldn’t.

If you want to play a game like Angry Birds, there’s no reason that it needs to have access to your contacts, and A a weather app probably doesn’t need to be able to send email on your behalf. The security risks in apps go beyond permissions, though. There are issues in how the apps integrate with core functions of the mobile operating system, as well as how they interact with and share information with one another.

In the HP study, 97 percent of the apps contained some sort of privacy issue. HP also found that 86 percent of the apps lack basic security defenses, and 75 percent fail to properly encrypt data. Assuming similar percentages across the hundreds of thousands of consumer apps in the app stores, it’s likely that you have a few security or privacy concerns floating around your smartphone or tablet.

But this isn’t about malicious apps designed to steal your data. It’s mostly a function of lazy coding. Developers write apps that access everything because it’s easier than writing more specific code, and it also paves the way for any future enhancements that might actually need it.

In a BYOD scenario these security and privacy risks are exaggerated for both the employer and the employee. In most cases, the line between business and personal is not clearly defined, and apps can easily blur that line and put both company and personal data at risk. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that apps are impulse purchases for many users, thanks to low prices and easy installation.

The mobile operating systems have improved in terms notifying users about the permissions an app is requesting and providing the user with more control to allow or block access to specific functions. But the system still puts too much burden on the user, both to know those controls exist and how to use them, as well as to understand the implications and security concerns of the apps.

The better solution is for developers to build security and privacy into the apps from square one. Developers should be aware of the potential implications of how their apps access data and interact with other apps, and design them to be secure by default.

Via: Network World

Logins stolen from Facebook, Google, ADP payroll processor

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Two million logins and passwords from services such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have been found on a Netherlands-based server, part of a large botnet using controller software nicknamed “Pony.”

Another company whose users’ login credentials showed up on the server was ADP, which specializes in payroll and human resources software, wrote Daniel Chechik, a security researcher with Trustwave’s SpiderLabs.

It’s expected that cybercriminals will go after main online services, but “payroll services accounts could actually have direct financial repercussions,” he wrote.

ADP moved US$1.4 trillion in fiscal 2013 within the U.S., paying one in six workers in the country, according to its website.

Facebook had the most stolen credentials, at 318,121, followed by Yahoo at 59,549 and Google at 54,437. Other companies whose login credentials showed up on the command-and-control server included LinkedIn and two Russian social networking services, VKontakte and Odnoklassniki. The botnet also stole thousands of FTP, remote desktop and secure shell account details.

It wasn’t clear what kind of malware infected victims’ computers and sent the information to the command-and-control server.

Trustwave found the credentials after gaining access to an administrator control panel for the botnet. The source code for the control panel software, called “Pony,” was leaked at some point, Chechik wrote.

The server storing the credentials received the information from a single IP address in the Netherlands, which suggests the attackers are using a gateway or reverse proxy in between infected computers and the command-and-control server, he wrote.

“This technique of using a reverse proxy is commonly used by attackers in order to prevent the command-and-control server from being discovered and shut down — outgoing traffic from an infected machine only shows a connection to the proxy server, which is easily replaceable in case it is taken down,” Chechik wrote.

Information on the server indicated the captured login credentials may have come from as many as 102 countries, “indicating that the attack is fairly global,” he wrote.

Source: Network World

Java, Reader and Flash are most-exploited Windows programs

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The ranking of insecure software according to the number of known exploit versions: A large number of vulnerabilities meant that Java, Adobe Reader and Flash were responsible for 66 percent of the exploit versions recorded between 2000 and 2013. Although other groups were also recorded, they are not presented in the ranking shown above.

From the year 2000 through today, Java, Adobe Reader and Flash were responsible for 66% of the vulnerabilities exploited by malware on Windows, according to a new study by the research group AV-Test Institute.  

The study reinforces the well-known rule that keeping applications software up to date is of critical importance for system security. The study does not indicate how many of the exploits were active when the vulnerabilities were unpatched, but such exploits are undoubtedly a small percentage of the total.

The long time span of the study may make it more of historical interest than practical value. Within the last five to ten years both Adobe and Microsoft have improved their software development processes lowering the overall number of vulnerabilities and the severity of those that get through. Current versions of Windows and both Microsoft and Adobe applications, are far more secure than in 2000, or even 2008.

The same is not as true of Java, which is the biggest current problem of the programs tracked by the study, in part because so many users still have old versions of Java installed on their systems.

Other user practices, such as running as a standard user rather than as Administrator, also limit the severity of application exploits. This was a difficult practice to employ with Windows XP, but in current versions of Windows it is far more practical to run as standard user.

Source: ZD Net