Weaponizing the internet for terrorism

Terrorism is a fact of life (and death) as are the collectives and networks to which counter-terrorism organizations and the media have given various labels and names. These networks are well versed in exploiting modern information technology through social media awareness, marketing and recruitment campaigns. However, there is the more insidious use by terrorists groups of online networks and exploits in the creation of so-called bots (computers that have been compromised through the implementation of malware and control over which has been assumed by a third party, or more likely a third party control a lot array of such bots in a botnet.

Writing in the International Journal of Collaborative Intelligence, Emmanuel Ogu of the Department of Computer Science, at Babcock University, in Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State, Nigeria, and colleagues suggest that the problems caused by botnets in terms of interfering with infrastructure, healthcare services, transport, power supply and other critical parts of the modern world are not very different to those caused by the more familiar notion of terrorist attacks involving explosives and weapons. Events across the globe in mid-May 2017 saw the rapid and devastating spread of so-called ransomware to hospitals, companies, organizations, and individuals. Whether or not this was a specific attack by a particular group is irrelevant the impact was enormous on those waiting for healthcare attention, for instance.

A similar “attack” on an even bigger scale might see power supply outages brought about by malware-toting botnets operated by those with malicious intent where there is no simple financial extortion, rather crippling and even physically destroying infrastructure is the aim of the perpetrators.

“Fighting bots and keeping them away from network infrastructures has gradually become the nightmare of every network security professional,” the team says. Fundamentally, this is because although individual computers may be wiped of malware and systems patches or a botnet disabled, the distributed and infectious nature of the computer viruses, worms and other malware that propagate the controls with which the “botmaster” will rally the compromised computers are always being modified to counteract antivirus software. The researchers warn that research shows we are not too far away from a new wave of insurgency and terrorism that may gradually overtake the internet and many organizational network infrastructures around the world.

“Just as the secret to dismantling terrorist networks have been proven to lie in destroying the ability of the terror group to recruit, train, control and coordinate their activities (essentially by completely taking out their command and control infrastructure), the secret to ridding the internet of botnets, perhaps, also depends on similar means,” the team suggests. “Intelligence reports are useless if they do not lead to informed decisions and actions,” they add. Warnings of out of date operating systems, web browsers and email programs, unpatched computers, and the non-implementation of firewalls and antivirus software seem to be unheeded in too many cases. If those warnings are left unheeded by the users of infrastructure critical computers in healthcare, transportation, industry, power supply other areas, then the inherent vulnerabilities might be exploited by those with malicious intent repeatedly whether for financial gain, terrorist propaganda and control or both.

Ogu, E.C., Ogu, M.I. and Ogu, C. (2016) ‘Insights from terrorism intelligence and eradication efforts – Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram – for more pragmatic botnet countermeasures’, Int. J. Collaborative Intelligence, Vol. 1, No. 4, pp.258–274.

Research Picks Extra – May 2017

When the boot’s on the other foot

A collaboration between researchers in Scotland and China could help make football sliding tackles slicker as well as reducing the risk of injury on the pitch. The researchers have tested different “stud” configurations on the outer soles of soccer footwear with experienced players to determine which is the most effective for straight ahead running, sharp turns and sidesteps. They have also looked at impact on knee loading and risk of the common anterior cruciate ligament injury that afflicts many footballers. Risk of metatarsal stress fracture and even formation of calluses was investigated. They found that footwear with firm ground design outperformed those cleat configurations designed for artificial ground design and turf when used on natural turf in terms of athletic performance. Counter to that, however, was a great risk of knee of foot injuries. In other words, at the end of the day, as ever, it’s a game of two halves when it comes to football boots.

Sun, D., Gu, Y., Mei, Q. and Baker, J.S. (2017) ‘Different soccer stud configurations effect on running and cutting movements’, Int. J. Biomedical Engineering and Technology, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp.19–32

Obscuring digital fingerprints

Researchers from Japan and Norway have worked on the problem of copyright protection and specifically how a digital watermark, or fingerprint, might be transparently embedded in a digital file or multimedia object. They have tested just how well the commonly used spread spectrum fingerprinting resists “hacking” and have defined a mathematical argument for the effectiveness of the so-called moderated minority extreme (MMX) attack and offer several new ideas on how copyright holders might protect their commodities from such attacks which would otherwise facilitate untraceable file sharing facilitated by such attacks. Security through obfuscation seems to work, the team suggests, if the “pirates” are unaware of the presence of the digital fingerprint, then an attack will not be possible unless the attacker has the obfuscating key for the protection.

Schaathun, H.G. and Kuribayashi, M. (2017) ‘Obfuscation in digital fingerprinting’, Int. J. Information and Coding Theory, Vol. 4, Nos. 2/3, pp.185–200.

Personalized asthma care in the cloud

Asthma, a serious and potentially life-threatening inflammatory disorder of the lungs. Patients are often encouraged by their physician to manage their own inhaler and drug use in this disease, monitoring indicators of lung health, such as peak flow, and ensuring that they comply with their medication instructions. Researchers in India point out that electronic healthcare systems exist for the general patients of hospitals, clinics and other health centers. However, there is a growing need for e-healthcare, in the cloud, for patients of specific diseases and disorders in order to provide targeted information and recommendations. The team has now proposed an Asthma Healthcare Service Recommendation System (AHSRS) for asthma patients that works using remote servers and is accessible through cloud technology via desktop or mobile computing device, such as a tablet or smart phone. Such a system targeted at a specific disease can be more focused and avoid information overload of patients seeking advice and recommendations only for their particular condition.

Rani, A. and Kalra, S. (2017) ‘Personalised recommendation system for asthma patients using cloud’, Int. J. Telemedicine and Clinical Practices, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp.100–120.

Self-sharpening tools

Ultra-precision processing in industry requires ultra-precision equipment. Unfortunately, all tools suffer from wear and tear in use. Now, a team from China has turned to nanotechnology to help them design a system for the likes of fine super-hard grinding wheel, diamond grinding wheels and carbon boron nitride grinding wheels. These abrasive tools have added fillers – zinc, calcium oxide, silica with iron chloride solution as a binder – that allow them to shed worn abrasive particles and thus undergo self-sharpening. The team suggests that this system overcomes the shortcomings of conventional metal bonded super-hard abrasive processing on hard and brittle machining materials.

Feng, K., Zhou, Z., Fan, H. and Yuan, J. (2017) ‘Experiment on self-sharpening fine super-hard abrasive tool’, Int. J. Nanomanufacturing, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp.97–108.

Lubricating industry naturally

Sesame oil might make a viable and sustainable alternative to mineral oil as an industrial lubricant, according to research published in the International Journal of Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology.

Sabarinath Sankaran Nair, Kumarapillai Prabhakaran Nair, and Perikinalil Krishnan Rajendrakumar of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the National Institute of Technology, Calicut, Kerala, India, explain that there is a pressing need to find alternatives to the mineral oils currently produced by the petrochemicals industry from fossil reserves of crude oil. Sustainable alternative feedstocks that might be grown as agricultural crops could offer a potentially less polluting alternative especially in the face of dwindling resources.

There are countless plant-derived oils any one of which might have particularly properties desirable in an industrial lubricant. The team, however, has tested the physicochemical, rheological, thermal, oxidative, and tribological properties of sesame oil and compared it positively with coconut oil, sunflower oil, and a commercially available mineral oil. The team reports that sesame oil has excellent thermal and tribological properties and high viscosity and has a better coefficient of friction.

However, the oxidative stability of sesame oil is not as high as mineral oil and this will need improving through reformulation of oil derived from sesame seeds with additives, or perhaps even through genetically modified plants for improved oil stability. Nevertheless, even without such changes, the team points out that it is stable as a lubricant base stock at a wide range of temperatures.

“With further development, it can become an eco-friendly substitute for its mineral oil counterparts in near future,” the team concludes.

Nair, S.S., Nair, K.P. and Rajendrakumar, P.K. (2017) ‘Evaluation of physicochemical, thermal and tribological properties of sesame oil (Sesamum indicum L.): a potential agricultural crop base stock for eco-friendly industrial lubricants’, Int. J. Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp.77–90.