How to Keep the NSA From Spying Through Your Webcam Tags: NSA spying cameras blocking how-to computer phone


Photo: Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

Photo: Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

You already know that laptops, desktop computers, tablets and mobile phones are all at risk of being hacked. But did you know that intruders might use the built-in camera to take surreptitious pictures and videos of you and your surroundings or hijack your microphone to eavesdrop on conversations?

The latest story from the Edward Snowden leaks yesterday drives home that the NSA and its spy partners possess specialized tools for doing exactly that. According to The Intercept, the NSA uses a plug-in called GUMFISH to take over cameras on infected machines and snap photos.

Another NSA plug-in called CAPTIVATEDAUDIENCE hijacks the microphone on targeted computers to record conversations.

Intelligence agencies have been turning computers into listening devices for at least a decade, as evidenced by the Flame spy tool uncovered by Kaspersky Lab in 2012, which had the ability to surreptitiously turn on webcams and microphones and perform a host of other espionage operations. Researchers believe Flame has been around since 2007.

But it’s not just the NSA who can hijack your webcam and mic. Cybercriminals,sextortionists, law enforcement, and even school districts have all been doing this kind of spying for a number of years.

Spy tools, whether designed by intelligence agencies, cyber crooks or internet creeps, can turn your camera on without illuminating the indicator light. Naturally, there are even online tutorials available to instruct neophyte hackers on how to hijack your webcam.

Fortunately, WIRED is here with a solution: Cover your camera lens with a sticker.

It’s low-tech, to be sure. But it works.

A sticker is better than a Post-It, which can lose its adhesion and fall off. Gaffer tape works nicely, too, but can leave a residue.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created webcam stickers that you can order for just five bucks. The black vinyl emblems are designed with a special adhesive that won’t leave a residue on the camera lens when you remove it. With EFF’s logo on them, they also make a civil liberties statement.

If you want to make a more stylish statement, however, Etsy offers several options, including a Hello Kitty web cam cover, emoticon stickers, and a pink skull-and-crossbones for laptop cams, and a crocheted ghost cozy for external web cams.

If you use your laptop camera often for Skyping and video conferencing, you might prefer the C-slide, which uses a sliding door to cover and uncover your camera’s eye.

Sadly, covering your camera still won’t prevent spies, intruders and even web sitesand phone apps from surreptitiously turning on the internal microphone on your computer or mobile phonecomputer, or VoIP phone and listening in on conversations.

Muting the mic won’t work, since it’s possible for an intruder to unmute it. Your best defense is probably to insert a dummy plug into the microphone jack to prevent sound from being picked up by the internal mic. You can create a dummy plug by simply cutting off the unneeded portion of an old microphone plug. This won’t prevent someone from listening to your conversations when you need the mic, such as when using Skype, but it will at least thwart them from using the microphone on their own without you knowing.



Will We See a Reversal of the Earth’s Magnetic Field Within Our Lifetime? Tags: Planet Earth

Liz Bentley, Prevent Disease
Waking Times

Can you imagine waking up one morning to discover that all compasses are pointing south instead of north? The effect could cause geomagnetic health problems in up to 15% of the population of the planet.

It’s not as bizarre as it sounds. Earth’s magnetic field has flipped — though not overnight — many times throughout the planet’s history. Its dipole magnetic field, like that of a bar magnet, remains about the same intensity for thousands to millions of years, but for incompletely known reasons it occasionally weakens and, presumably over a few thousand years, reverses direction.

Now, a new study by a team of scientists from Italy, France, Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley, demonstrates that the last magnetic reversal 786,000 years ago actually happened very quickly, in less than 100 years — roughly a human lifetime.

“It’s amazing how rapidly we see that reversal,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Courtney Sprain. “The paleomagnetic data are very well done. This is one of the best records we have so far of what happens during a reversal and how quickly these reversals can happen.”


How Humans Are Affected

Many animals can sense the Earth’s magnetic field, so why not people, asks Oleg Shumilov of the Institute of North Industrial Ecology Problems in Russia.

A 2006 review of research on cardiovascular health and disturbances in the geomagnetic field in the journal Surveys in Geophysics (DOI: 10.1007/s10712-006-9010-7) concluded that a link was possible between human health and geomagnetism and that the effects seemed to be more pronounced at high latitudes.

A 2006 Australian study, for example, also found a correlation between peaks in suicide numbers and geomagnetic activity (Bioelectromagnetics, vol. 27 p 155).

Flip Could Affect Electrical Grid and Cancer Rates

Sprain and Paul Renne, director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center and a UC Berkeley professor-in- residence of earth and planetary science, are coauthors of the study, which will be published in the November issue of Geophysical Journal International.

The discovery comes as new evidence indicates that the intensity of Earth’s magnetic field is decreasing 10 times faster than normal, leading some geophysicists to predict a reversal within a few thousand years.

Though a magnetic reversal is a major planet-wide event driven by convection in Earth’s iron core, there are no documented catastrophes associated with past reversals, despite much searching in the geologic and biologic record. Today, however, such a reversal could potentially wreak havoc with our electrical grid, generating currents that might take it down.

And since Earth’s magnetic field protects life from energetic particles from the sun and cosmic rays, both of which can cause genetic mutations, a weakening or temporary loss of the field before a permanent reversal could increase cancer rates. The danger to life would be even greater if flips were preceded by long periods of unstable magnetic behavior.

“We should be thinking more about what the biologic effects would be,” Renne said.

Coronal mass ejections from the sun will also affect Earth significantly during this transition.

Dating Ash Deposits From Windward Volcanoes

The new finding is based on measurements of the magnetic field alignment in layers of ancient lake sediments now exposed in the Sulmona basin of the Apennine Mountains east of Rome, Italy. The lake sediments are interbedded with ash layers erupted from the Roman volcanic province, a large area of volcanoes upwind of the former lake that includes periodically erupting volcanoes near Sabatini, Vesuvius and the Alban Hills.

Italian researchers led by Leonardo Sagnotti of Rome’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology measured the magnetic field directions frozen into the sediments as they accumulated at the bottom of the ancient lake.

Sprain and Renne used argon-argon dating, a method widely used to determine the ages of rocks, whether they’re thousands or billions of years old, to determine the age of ash layers above and below the sediment layer recording the last reversal. These dates were confirmed by their colleague and former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Sebastien Nomade of the Laboratory of Environmental and Climate Sciences in Gif-Sur-Yvette, France.

Because the lake sediments were deposited at a high and steady rate over a 10,000-year period, the team was able to interpolate the date of the layer showing the magnetic reversal, called the Matuyama-Brunhes transition, at approximately 786,000 years ago. This date is far more precise than that from previous studies, which placed the reversal between 770,000 and 795,000 years ago.

“What’s incredible is that you go from reverse polarity to a field that is normal with essentially nothing in between, which means it had to have happened very quickly, probably in less than 100 years,” said Renne. “We don’t know whether the next reversal will occur as suddenly as this one did, but we also don’t know that it won’t.”

Unstable Magnetic Field Preceded 180-Degree Flip

Whether or not the new finding spells trouble for modern civilization, it likely will help researchers understand how and why Earth’s magnetic field episodically reverses polarity, Renne said.

The magnetic record the Italian-led team obtained shows that the sudden 180-degree flip of the field was preceded by a period of instability that spanned more than 6,000 years. The instability included two intervals of low magnetic field strength that lasted about 2,000 years each. Rapid changes in field orientations may have occurred within the first interval of low strength. The full magnetic polarity reversal — that is, the final and very rapid flip to what the field is today — happened toward the end of the most recent interval of low field strength.

Renne is continuing his collaboration with the Italian-French team to correlate the lake record with past climate change.

Renne and Sprain’s work at the Berkeley Geochronology Center was supported by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.

About the Author

Liz Bentley is a graduate in geology, professional photographer and freelance journalist with an acute insight into fossil records and climatology.


Lonely planet: Astronauts to simulate life on Mars for 8 months Tags: Health Mars NASA Science Space USA

Lonely planet: Astronauts to simulate life on Mars for 8 months

RT October 17, 2014 ShortURL

Reuters / NASA / Handout

For eight months, six astronauts will be essentially locked into a small dome in Hawaii as NASA attempts to study the consequences of living the quiet, lonely lifestyle that humans would experience on Mars.

Titled the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS), the experiment will be NASA’s longest Mars-related simulation ever. It also happens to be the first time that a woman, 34-year-old Martha Lenio, is leading a Mars simulation project.

The project is intended to explore various elements that astronauts would have to cope with on a future mission to the Red Planet – including isolation, delayed communication times, lack of sunlight, teamwork, efficiency, and more.

READ MORE: NASA tests hibernation tech for future Mars mission

In fact, NASA’s priority is to conduct a “psychology study on team cohesiveness, our attitudes, and how we stick together,” Lenio told National Geographic.

Lenio added that the living space for the six astronauts is about 1,000 square feet. Inside are two washrooms, a dining area, a work area, a kitchen, and a bedroom for each individual that is essentially a “glorified closet.” There is one window in the entire dome, but looking outside won’t offer much comfort for astronauts: the dome is situated near the Mauna Loa volcano, and the barren landscape looks much like Mars’ own surface.

“The HI-SEAS site presents a remarkably high-fidelity environment for this type of long-duration space study,” University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Kim Binsted, who is also working on the study, said to local KHON2 News. “Looking out the single porthole window, all you can see are lava fields and Mauna Kea in the distance. Once the door is closed, and the faux airlock sealed, the silence and physical separation contribute to the ‘long way from home’ experience of our crew members.”

Astronauts will also be observed by researchers via body movement trackers, cameras, and electronic surveys, KHON2 reported.

Maintaining their health (and sanity) will be a top priority for the astronauts, who will have to make do with food that can stay for two or three years. In terms of water, the astronauts will receive rations of eight liters per day, which they will use for everything from cooking and drinking to showering and cleaning their clothes. An exercise bike and a treadmill are also available in the tiny living quarters.

Although there are clearly limitations that astronauts will have to cope with, Lenio is confident they will be successful. When asked if humans were able travel to Mars right now, she answered simply that they could.

A recent MIT study found the ambitious, privately-funded Mars One mission would encounter serious problems were it to try and establish a permanent human presence on the Red Planet by 2025. Researchers said that humans would begin dying in just a couple of months, since current technology is not where it needs to be for a sustainable presence.


Image from:

Image from:


However, Lenio noted that NASA is not looking to establish a permanent base on Mars, at least not with its first mission.

“NASA and other space agencies around the world are looking at a three-year trip to Mars. So the trip does not have to be completely sustainable yet,” she told National Geographic. “Also, resupplies, or sending supplies ahead separately, are both possible.”

“The study's findings don't faze me. One of my interests is sustainability, and the more sustainable we can make these missions, the better they will be. The better we get at recycling, or turning our waste into soil to grow more food, those are all lessons we can bring back to Earth.”

HI-SEAS is one of several experiments conducted to test humanity's ability to travel to Mars. Last year, a Russian team of astronauts ventured into the US to simulate life on the Red Planet via the international Mars Desert Research Station. Before that, the Mars-500 experiment packed astronauts away for 17 months to simulate a manned flight to the planet.

Elsewhere in the present day, NASA is also moving forward with experiments on deep sleep technology. If successful, the agency could potentially induce hibernation in astronauts for large portions of a six-month trip to Mars. As a result, less food, water, and other supplies would be needed, potentially reducing the mass of a flight by up to 400 tons.

Still, aerospace engineer Mark Schaffer at Spaceworks, which is working with NASA, cautioned that the technology is far from developed.

“We haven't had the need to keep someone in [hibernation] for longer than seven days,” he said earlier this month. “For human Mars missions, we need to push that to 90 days, 180 days. Those are the types of mission flight times we're talking about.”


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