More secure in fog than the cloud?

Computer scientists in Italy are working on a new concept for remote and distributed storage of documents that could have all the benefits of cloud computing but without the security issues of putting one’s sensitive documents on a single remote server. They describe details in the International Journal of Electronic Security and Digital Forensics.

According to Rosario Culmone and Maria Concetta De Vivo of the University of Camerino, technological and regulatory aspects of cloud computing offer both opportunity and risk. Having one’s files hosted on remote servers displaces the hardware requirements and makes files accessible to remote users more efficiently. However, there are gaps in security and accessibility of files “in the cloud”. The team has now turned to another meteorological metaphor – fog – and has proposed an alternative to cloud storage that makes any given file entirely immaterial rather than locating it on a single server. They envisage a fog of files rather than a cloud.

The files are distributed on a public or private network and and so have no single location, in this way, there is no single server that would be a target for hackers and so only legitimate users can access them. The researchers point out that, “The trend towards outsourcing of services and data on cloud architectures has triggered a number of legal questions on how to manage jurisdiction and who has jurisdiction over data and services in the event of illegal actions.” Fog computing would essentially circumvent the security and legal problems putting files off-limits to hackers and beyond the reach of law enforcement and in particular rogue authorities.

“Our proposal is based on this idea of a service which renders information completely immaterial in the sense that for a given period of time there is no place on earth that contains information complete in its entirety,” the team says. They explain that the solution is based on a distributed service which we will call “fog” and which uses standard networking protocols in an unconventional way, exploiting “virtual buffers” in internet routers to endlessly relocate data packets without a file ever residing in its entirety on a single computer server. It’s as if you were to send a letter with a tracking device but an incomplete address that simply gets sent from post office to post office and is never delivered.

Culmone, R. and De Vivo, M.C. (2017) ‘Vanishing files: protocols and regulations for immaterial documents‘, Int. J. Electronic Security and Digital Forensics, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp.45-61.

Research Picks Extra – March 2017

Social networking in The Caribbean

Much has been researched and written about the impact of smart phones and social networking in young people in the developed regions of North America, Europe and Asia, and in the developing world, but a new study from researchers at the University of Liverpool, UK, focuses on The Caribbean, an important historical and cultural region of more than 700 islands of 13 sovereign states and 17 dependencies and a population of almost 44 million people. The research literature is yet to reach a consensus on the psychosocial issues surrounding mobile and social networking among young adults. There has been scant regard for The Caribbean in this context so far, this new research could perhaps raise awareness and stimulate greater discussion and wider research.

Hunter, S.M. and Halkias, D. (2016) ‘The psychosocial impact of mobile social networking among young adults in Jamaica’, Int. J. Technology Enhanced Learning, Vol. 8, Nos. 3/4, pp.264–278.


Bollywood pirates

What factors influence whether movie fans will illicitly download copyright materials from the internet and specifically who are the Bollywood pirates? Researchers in India have questioned hundreds of consumers of between 16 and 60 years of age, male and female to investigate. 16-30 year olds were more likely to illegally downloading copyright movies, the team found. Both males and females were as likely as each other to be involved. However, they found that the most common repeat offenders are students who report their perception that movie “piracy” is a victimless crime. Movie piracy and other breaches of copyright law are not victimless crimes, of course, and yet the industries must be failing to fulfil the needs of a large proportion of their market, perhaps in terms of pricing and expediency of movie releases for piracy to be such a large problem.

Gupta, P.K. and Venkataramani, B. (2017) ‘Demographic factors contributing to online movie piracy of Hindi films produced in Mumbai’, Int. J. Process Management and Benchmarking, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp.354–370.


Targeted post-op clot-buster coatings

Thrombolytic drugs, colloquially known as clot-busters, are used in medicine to dissolve coagulated blood that forms in blood vessels and can, without such treatment, lead to serious health problems such as deep-vein thrombosis, myocardial infarction, pulmonary embolism, and stroke. Scientists in Czech Republic have developed novel site-specific thrombolytic and anticoagulant biomaterials that avoid the problems of severe bleeding seen as an important side-effect of current clot-busting drugs. The team’s development of biomaterial coatings are being tested as linings for vascular grafts that will preclude post-operative clot formation and hopefully save lives in those requiring such surgery who would normally require long-term clot-busting drugs.

Beran, M., Drahorad, J., Molik, P., Urban, M. and Krajicek, M. (2017) ‘Site-specific thrombolytic and anticoagulant biomaterials’, Int. J. Nanotechnol., Vol. 14, Nos. 1/2/3/4/5/6, pp.31–37.


Pumpless pumping

The miniaturisation of chemical equipment in the form of so-called “lab-on-a-chip” devices and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and their even smaller “nano” counterparts continues apace. Such devices are already being used as environmental sensors and analytical tools in medicine and biomedical research. Their potential is ironically huge as they are the chemical analogue of electronic integrated circuits that might be developed into mobile devices for use in the clinic, the home and industry. One of the significant obstacles yet to be overcome regards the power supply for such devices and the requisite pumps to move tiny droplets of liquids within. An intriguing discovery by researchers from France and New Zealand suggests that some of the necessary fluid flow might be driven by the very mixing of disparate liquids within specific channels, or capillaries, in a device rather than an external pressure being required. They have demonstrated the spontaneous motion of a slug of miscible liquids in a capillary tube and suggest that this “passive actuation mechanism could prove an attractive alternative in digital microfluidic systems for which bulky pumping systems would usually be required.

Sellier, M., Verdier, C. and Nock, V. (2017) ‘The spontaneous motion of a slug of miscible liquids in a capillary tube’, Int. J. Nanotechnol., Vol. 14, Nos. 1/2/3/4/5/6, pp.530–539.

Toxicology, rinsing out the poison chalice

Until the industrial revolution almost the complete gamut of poisons and toxins lay in the natural realm. Lethal alkaloids from toxic plants, arsenic-containing rocks, noxious fumes from fires and plenty of other sources of risk. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and the maturation of alchemy to chemistry, that synthetic chemicals became an issue. In the 19th and 20th century, chemists identified literally tens of millions more chemicals in nature and in their laboratories and turned what was essentially a world of arsenic and old lace into the vast chemical space of toxicity we know, but cannot comprehend fully today.

According to Thomas Hartung of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore, Maryland, USA and also of the University of Konstanz, Germany, toxicology as a science has not evolved to keep pace with the chemical revolution. Writing in the International Journal of Risk Assessment and Management, Hartung highlights ten problems that must be addressed if toxicology is to be dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, albeit almost two decades late. These are the ten reasons toxicology has to change:

  1. because we treat different substances very differently depending on product category or geographic region, while we treat substances the same, which have very different uses
  2. because throughput and costs of current testing cannot satisfy the societal testing needs and do not allow early assessments in product development and design guidance
  3. because predictivity for humans (and even of different animal species) is limited
  4. because precautionary approaches from drug development adapted to other areas produce too many false-positives
  5. because animal use is seen more and more critically by a general public, thus affecting legislation
  6. because new products (biological, cell therapies, genetically modified and functional food (nutraceuticals), medical countermeasures to biological and chemical terrorism and warfare agents, as well as medical devices and nanoparticles) are not always suitable for traditional tests
  7. because new and emerging hazards (e.g., endocrine effects, childhood effects such as asthma and behavioural issues, obesity, and cardiovascular effects) are not adequately covered
  8. because mixture effects of toxicants cannot be adequately addressed
  9. because individual susceptibilities and vulnerable subpopulations cannot yet be covered
  10. because science in general has to raise research and publication standards

Hartung concedes that it is relatively easy to criticise and yet the issues seem obvious in his analysis and that change is needed. He suggests that given the intransigence in the world of international toxicological policies and methods this overarching issue must be overcome first before these ten issues can be addressed. “While current approaches are still needed, there is room for substantial change,” he says. “To meet the challenges of the 21st century, revolution rather than evolution is required.”

Hartung, T. (2017) ‘Evolution of toxicological science: the need for change’, Int. J. Risk Assessment and Management, Vol. 20, Nos. 1/2/3, pp.21–45.