Benjamin Sutherland

Stories by Benjamin Sutherland

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    U.S. Wary of China's Anti-Ship Missiles

    China’s fiercest anti-ship missile, designed by Russia and dubbed the Sizzler by NATO, has a 300-kilometer range and accelerates to roughly three times the speed of sound as it nears its target. The Sizzler can reach farther and fly faster than the West’s top anti-ship missiles, America’s Harpoon and France’s Exocet. Russia has also sold Sizzlers to India and possibly Iran, and Syria and Algeria have expressed interest, widening the threat. “Everyone in the Western world is wondering how you defeat it,” says John Patch, a professor at the U.S. Army War College.
  • Credit Card Payments on Your iPhone

    As a rule of thumb, small retailers see sales increase by more than 5 percent soon after beginning to accept credit-card payments. Sales of clothes, gifts or other nonessentials often climb a dramatic 10 percent. And yet many small shops in the United States and Europe refuse credit cards. Why? For many merchants, opening and managing an account for credit-card sales is prohibitively expensive. Others are shut out by red tape.The creator of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, may have a solution. His new Silicon Valley startup called Square says it is poised to knock down these barriers to business—with a gizmo, not much bigger than a sugar cube, that plugs into the audio jack of an iPhone. Square's service, to be launched soon, will make it possible for pretty much any American—even those without a business—to accept credit cards almost effortlessly. The gizmo, which reads magnetic strips on credit cards, is free. Its software is free, too. There is no sign-up fee, no monthly charge, no...
  • Making Satellites Less Vulnerable to Attack

    Satellites are vital to the military success of the United States and its allies, but they're a particularly vulnerable form of technology: they can be blown up. In January 2007 China launched a missile that blasted one of its own satellites. Russia is believed to have the same capability. In theory, the half dozen other countries able to launch satellites—including Iran and India—could learn how to destroy an enemy satellite. Philip Coyle, an assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, says, "Satellites are sitting ducks."There's no easy way to make satellites impervious to missile attacks. Instead, researchers are working on a different defense strategy: making satellites easy to replace, so an attack would be less consequential. Today replacing a satellite is a laborious process. Often the size and weight of a small truck, satellites take years to build and launch at a cost that can exceed $10 billion. So the U.S. Department of Defense is developing inexpensive...
  • Wheel Magnets May Soon Power Electric Cars

    Cars have traditionally been wasteful beasts. Every time a drop of gas explodes inside a cylinder, the energy gets passed along from the piston to the crankshaft, flywheel, gearbox, drivetrain, and axles. By the time the wheels actually turn, four fifths of the original energy has disappeared. The electric car goes a long way toward reducing wasted energy by replacing the internal-combustion engine with batteries. Even so, electric cars destroy about 60 percent of the energy because mechanical parts are still used to deliver energy from the batteries to the wheels. Lately, though, engineers have come up with a far more efficient way to accomplish the same task: by using magnets in the wheels.Wheel motors promise to wring more efficiency from the electric car, bringing the truly energy-efficient car another step closer to reality. The mechanism is surprisingly simple. Each wheel hub has a ring of electromagnets inside. Another ring of magnets lines the rim of the wheel, which fits...
  • Is Your Cell Phone Spying On You?

    Don't talk: your cell phone may be eavesdropping. Thanks to recent developments in "spy phone" software, a do-it-yourself spook can now wirelessly transfer a wiretapping program to any mobile phone. The programs are inexpensive, and the transfer requires no special skill. The would-be spy needs to get his hands on your phone to press keys authorizing the download, but it takes just a few minutes—about the time needed to download a ringtone.This new generation of -user-friendly spy-phone software has become widely available in the last year—and it confers stunning powers. The latest programs can silently turn on handset microphones even when no call is being made, allowing a spy to listen to voices in a room halfway around the world. Targets are none the wiser: neither call logs nor phone bills show records of the secretly transmitted data.More than 200 companies sell spy-phone software online, at prices as low as $50 (a few programs cost more than $300). Vendors are loath to release...
  • U.S. Soldiers' New Weapon: an iPod

    To help soldiers make sense of data from drones, satellites and ground sensors, the U.S. military now issues the iPod Touch.
  • Technology That Locates the Origin of Sniper Fire

    Making decisions in battle, Prussian military strategist Karl Von Clausewitz wrote two centuries ago, is akin to making life-or-death choices "in a mere twilight" with one's surroundings shrouded by the "effect of a fog or moonshine." In today's military jargon, it's called "poor situational awareness." Soldiers under fire express the idea with a simple question: where exactly are these bullets coming from? In urban battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq, where locating a shooter by ear can be difficult amid the din of traffic and gunshot echoes, sniping has proved to be an effective tactic against soldiers from the United States and elsewhere. In both places, insurgents "had the run of things until we got smart," says John Plaster, a former major in the U.S. Army Special Forces and author of a sharpshooting manual and two histories of sniper warfare.Getting smart means deploying countersniper technology. A handful of defense contractors have been developing sensors and computer...
  • Black Markets for Data Are Thriving

    Criminals who steal personal data often don't use it themselves. Instead, they put it up for sale on one of the many vibrant online markets.
  • Apple Sets Iphone Customers Free

    A big reason for slack iPhone sales in Europe, analysts say, is that users cannot pick their mobile-service carrier. Apple chooses for them.
  • Battle For The Airwaves

    The spectrum up for grabs now could ultimately lead to new markets worth more than Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
  • The Cash-Machine Capers

    Forcing open cash machines is risky work. Those who try with a car must smash into the hunk of steel driving at least 40kph for a shot at success—and ATMs often withstand even faster charges, says Travis Yates, head driving trainer at the Tulsa Police Department in Oklahoma. Some thieves drag dislodged machines away to open with a blowtorch, but that's hardly any more discreet than ram raids. And many new ATMs release a blast of ink when jarred, ruining the cash inside. Increasingly, the machines are placed behind heavy metal barriers or inside shops, or both, to thwart attacks. If you're an old-school ATM thief, "you're more than likely going to end up disappointed," says Yates.Still, theft from ATMs is up—it leapt to €468 million in Europe last year, an increase of €131 million over 2006, according to a new report by the Edinburgh-based nonprofit European ATM Security Team. Thieves are using new electronic tricks to steal data from ATM cards, often with electronic spying equipment...
  • Emotional Connections

    When it's daytime in New York, callers in other time zones get up very early, or stay up very late, to talk to the Big Apple.
  • A Fight To The Death

    Sony has beaten Toshiba in the battle over high-definition DVD formats, but both sides lost the war.
  • Escalating Spam Wars Take Their Toll

    Spam has never been cheaper. online-marketing firms are falling over themselves to offer spam campaigns of millions of addresses. These e-mail blasts are disturbingly inexpensive. Pro Software Pack, for example, charges just $125 to send 1 million mes sages. Despite spending billions of dollars fighting spam over the past decade, the security industry is in no danger of winning the war soon:Spam now accounts for 19 of 20 e-mails, and its cost to businesses doubled between 2005 and 2007 to $100 billion (about a third of that in the United States), according to Ferris Re search, a San Francisco-based consultancy.In their cat-and-mouse game with security, spammers have been innovative. To avoid filters, at first they inter changed some letters and numbers and broke up words with spaces. When keyword filters got better, spam appeared with addi tional, unsuspicious text that reduced the percent age of trigger words. Since the added verbiage confused recipients, spammers began sending it...
  • Black Market In Bad Code

    Time is the hacker's enemy. The countdown starts as soon as a hacker learns about a security loophole that makes an Internet site vulnerable to a break-in. Security and software firms have, by and large, succeeded in shortening this period, but hackers have responded in kind. They've created a brisk underground market for buying and selling "zero day" code—software that can be used instantly to exploit an as-yet-unsecured loophole.Zero-day code is a reaction to the increased sophistication of firewalls and other computer protections. Many individuals and groups wanting to commit online fraud or theft no longer possess the skills needed to compromise computers. Likewise, many talented zero-day programmers lack the know-how to turn a computer intrusion into cash by, say, laundering money stolen from corporate pension-payment systems. Zero-day code bridges these two talent pools. It can be used to steal credit-card and banking information and install malicious software. "There are a...
  • ‘A Freeway To Europe’

    Just a decade ago, tiny Croatia was in ruins. Now this star of the Balkans is on track to join the EU.
  • Follow The Eyes

    It's sometimes known as the trigger, the kicker or the launching pad: the part of a package a shopper is looking at when he decides to flip the cereal box to read the back. The gesture is a strong indication that the sale has been clinched. Attempts to locate and understand that sweet spot have traditionally entailed guesswork. Now marketers are beginning to crack the mystery.Devices that measure the direction of a person's gaze have dropped so far in price that the technology is now within reach of the most modest of marketing teams. By detecting the reflection of infrared light shone into an eye, video cameras mounted on the head of a test subject or on a computer gather data that allow software to chart a moving gaze. Two years ago San Francisco marketing firm Eyetools charged $30,000 per study. The fee is now $3,000, and revenue is up 50 percent over last year's.InVivo Marketing in Paris fits test shoppers with goggles that transmit data wirelessly. It runs 15 mock supermarkets...
  • Autos: Pay As You Drive

    Those little GPS navigation devices on the dashboard have made driving unfamiliar terrain a lot easier. Now an innovation that combines Global Positioning technology with mobile phones promises to make driving a lot cheaper, for some. Cars can now carry gizmos that capture GPS location data and send them via mobile phone to the insurance company, which charges drivers a fee determined by when, where and how far they drive, rather than a flat rate. Motorists can reduce their fee by simply driving less, or by limiting high-risk nighttime and rush-hour driving, and choosing roads with low speed limits, traffic medians and guard rails instead of trees.Already a dozen or so insurers in the United States, Europe and Japan, including Plymouth Rock of Boston, Sara Assicurazioni of Milan and Aioi in Tokyo, offer these so-called pay-as-you-drive schemes. "It's beginning right now, everywhere," says Arnold Vandervoorde, actuary manager at Corona Direct, a Brussels -based insurer of 80,000...
  • Phone "Phreakers" Steal Minutes

    The telephone industry has been in an upheaval ever since upstarts began competing with the big telecoms by sending voice calls over the Internet. Now even big firms use so-called voice over Internet protocol. But VoIP is not as secure as the old-fashioned phone lines—as carriers that rely on the Internet are finding out. They are increasingly falling prey to "phreakers," who steal their minutes and resell them on a thriving black market.Of course, anybody with a PC and an Internet connection can talk free of charge to another PC user. For the telecoms, the profit is in using VoIP to deliver calls from one telephone to another. That requires a "gateway" server to connect a carrier's telephone network to the Internet. Phreakers break into these gateways, steal "voice minutes" and sell them to other, usually smaller, telecoms. Many of these firms then sell printed phone cards, operate call centers or run phone boutiques. "It's a great racket," says Justin Newman, CEO of BinFone...
  • Stealing the Minutes

    The Internet isn't as secure as a regular phone line. Businesses are now learning that the hard way.
  • Automating the Paris Metro

    Even in a country that's long prided itself on its trains, the Paris Métro stands out. It's fast, easy to navigate, clean, inexpensive and, with 16 lines serving 297 stations, remarkably dense—leading many transport experts to consider it the world's premier metro. Since the first few lines entered service at the turn of the 20th century, the Métro has grown into a 218-kilometer network that carries 1.36 billion passengers a year. A train sweeps through the 25 stations of Ligne 1, the city's busiest, every 105 seconds. Paris's Métro authority, the RATP, is apparently not satisfied. Last summer it began an ambitious effort to slice 20 seconds off train headway time and increase rolling speed. It plans to do it by automating the entire line—eliminating drivers and replacing them with computers.Paris is not the first city to install a driverless metro line—30 or so cities, such as Ankara, Copenhagen and Vancouver, already have automated lines, and 20 more are under construction. But...
  • Graceful Injuries

    Fouette, sauté, jeté, hospital stay? Ballet movements lead to injuries in almost half of professional dancers over 40, according to the University Hospital of Geneva in Switzerland. Most are pelvic repetitive injuries, and many require prostheses, especially in hips. A new study by the university's Computer-Science Center shows that it may be possible to reduce injuries from ballet--and potentially other activities--by identifying ahead of time those dancers whose joints are most likely to fail. Using magnetic-resonance imaging, researchers mapped the joints of 20 ballet dancers at different stages of their careers to determine who should consider another line of work. Most young ballet dancers probably wouldn't quit anyway, says study leader Nadia Magnenat-Thallmann. "If they couldn't care less about crutches or a prosthesis then that's their problem, but at least they know," she says. Next year her team begins a similar study of the joints of soccer players.
  • Id Theft: Is Your 'Holy Trinity' Online?

    Watch your in box. If you get a message from a computer program called Identity Angel, you may be vulnerable to having your identity stolen. On July 23, the program--developed at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh--began combing the Internet for your Social Security number (usually, the last four digits don't appear on public records). For identity thieves, it's a free pass to your bank and credit-card accounts. (The other two elements of the ID thief's "holy trinity"--name and address, and date of birth--are usually easy to find on the Internet.) If Identity Angel finds your holy trinity, it will send an e-mail warning (assuming it finds your e-mail address).In the first week or so, the program had already discovered about 5,000 holy trinities, says CMU professor Latanya Sweeney, head of the project. On Wednesday, Sweeney will begin releasing the e-mail notifications. "This is going to be a really weird event," says Jay Foley, director of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a...