The Military

Robots Replace Soldiers In First of Its Kind Obstacle-Breaching Exercise (military.com) 23

Long-time Slashdot reader cold fjord writes: U.S. and British troops have completed a first-of-its-kind exercise using robots for breaching a complex anti-tank/anti-personnel obstacle as part of what was titled the "Robotic Complex Breach Concept demonstration" at the Grafenwoehr training area in Germany. The exercise included a number of robotic systems, including remotely controlled British Army Terrier engineering vehicles (five cameras, including thermal imaging), UAVs for reconnaissance and chemical agent detection, and the M58 Wolf under remote control and used to provide smoke screens...

British Warrant Officer Robert Kemp stated that breaching enemy obstacles is one of the most dangerous tasks on a battlefield, and that, "Any breach like this will have enemy weapons trained in on the area... Roboticizing breach operations takes away the risk of life and makes clearing enemy obstacles much safer." U.S. Army officer 1st Lt. Felix Derosin said, "As an engineer, this means a lot to me... The casualty rate for a breach is expected to be 50 percent. Being able to take our guys away from that, and have some robots go in there, is a very positive thing for us. In the future, this can save engineers' lives."

The engineer added later that "Being able to see it, eyes on, shows me what the future is going to be like, and it's pretty good."
AI

The US Military Desperately Wants To Weaponize AI (technologyreview.com) 179

Artificial intelligence is a transformative technology, and US generals already see it as the next big weapon in their arsenal. From a report: War-machine learning: Michael Griffin, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, signaled how keen the military is to make use of AI at the Future of War 2018 conference held in Washington, DC, yesterday. Saber rattling: "There might be an artificial intelligence arms race, but we're not yet in it," Griffin said. In reference to China and Russia, he added, "I think our adversaries -- and they are our adversaries -- understand very well the possible future utility of machine learning, and I think it's time we did as well."
United States

Emergency Alert Systems Used Across the US Can Be Easily Hijacked (helpnetsecurity.com) 44

A vulnerability affecting emergency alert systems supplied by ATI Systems, one of the leading suppliers of warning sirens in the USA, could be exploited remotely via radio frequencies to activate all the sirens and trigger false alarms. From a report: "We first found the vulnerability in San Francisco, and confirmed it in two other US locations including Sedgwick County, Wichita, Kansas," Balint Seeber, Director of Threat Research at Bastille, told Help Net Security. "Although we have not visited other locations to confirm the presence of the vulnerability, ATI Systems has customers in the US and overseas from the military, local government, educational and energy sectors.

"ATI features customers on its website around the US including One World Trade Center, WestPoint Military Academy and Entergy Nuclear Indian Point which are all in New York State, UMASS Amherst in Massachusetts, Eastern Arizona College, University of South Carolina and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, amongst others." The vulnerability stems from the fact that the radio protocol used to control the sirens is not secure: activation commands are sent "in the clear," i.e. no encryption is used.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF: Google Should Not Help the US Military Build Unaccountable AI Systems (eff.org) 110

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Peter Eckersley writes: Yesterday, The New York Times reported that there is widespread unrest amongst Google's employees about the company's work on a U.S. military project called "Project Maven." Google has claimed that its work on Maven is for "non-offensive uses only," but it seems that the company is building computer vision systems to flag objects and people seen by military drones for human review. This may in some cases lead to subsequent targeting by missile strikes. EFF has been mulling the ethical implications of such contracts, and we have some advice for Google and other tech companies that are considering building military AI systems.
The EFF lists several "starting points" any company, or any worker, considering whether to work with the military on a project with potentially dangerous or risk AI applications should be asking:

1. Is it possible to create strong and binding international institutions or agreements that define acceptable military uses and limitations in the use of AI? While this is not an easy task, the current lack of such structures is troubling. There are serious and potentially destabilizing impacts from deploying AI in any military setting not clearly governed by settled rules of war. The use of AI in potential target identification processes is one clear category of uses that must be governed by law.
2.Is there a robust process for studying and mitigating the safety and geopolitical stability problems that could result from the deployment of military AI? Does this process apply before work commences, along the development pathway and after deployment? Could it incorporate the sufficient expertise to address subtle and complex technical problems? And would those leading the process have sufficient independence and authority to ensure that it can check companies' and military agencies' decisions?
3.Are the contracting agencies willing to commit to not using AI for autonomous offensive weapons? Or to ensuring that any defensive autonomous systems are carefully engineered to avoid risks of accidental harm or conflict escalation? Are present testing and formal verification methods adequate for that task?
4.Can there be transparent, accountable oversight from an independently constituted ethics board or similar entity with both the power to veto aspects of the program and the power to bring public transparency to issues where necessary or appropriate? For example, while Alphabet's AI-focused subsidiary DeepMind has committed to independent ethics review, we are not aware of similar commitments from Google itself. Given this letter, we are concerned that the internal transparency, review, and discussion of Project Maven inside Google was inadequate. Any project review process must be transparent, informed, and independent. While it remains difficult to ensure that that is the case, without such independent oversight, a project runs real risk of harm.
Google

Google Workers Urge CEO To Pull Out of Pentagon AI Project (nytimes.com) 283

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company's involvement in a Pentagon program that uses artificial intelligence to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). From a report: The letter, which is circulating inside Google and has garnered more than 3,100 signatures, reflects a culture clash between Silicon Valley and the federal government that is likely to intensify as cutting-edge artificial intelligence is increasingly employed for military purposes. "We believe that Google should not be in the business of war," says the letter, addressed to Sundar Pichai, the company's chief executive. It asks that Google pull out of Project Maven, a Pentagon pilot program, and announce a policy that it will not "ever build warfare technology."

That kind of idealistic stance, while certainly not shared by all Google employees, comes naturally to a company whose motto is "Don't be evil," a phrase invoked in the protest letter. But it is distinctly foreign to Washington's massive defense industry and certainly to the Pentagon, where the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, has often said a central goal is to increase the "lethality" of the United States military.

The Military

Military Documents Reveal How the US Army Plans To Deploy AI In Future Wars (thenextweb.com) 141

In a just-released white paper, the Army describes how it's working to make a battlefield network of machines and humans a reality. The Next Web reports: "Most of such intelligent things will not be too dissimilar from the systems we see on today's battlefield, such as unattended ground sensors, guided missiles (especially the fire-and-forget variety) and of course the unmanned aerial systems (UAVs)," reads the paper. "They will likely include physical robots ranging from very small size (such as an insect-scale mobile sensors) to large vehicle that can carry troops and supplies. Some will fly, others will crawl or walk or ride."

The paper was authored by the Army's chief of the Network Science Division of the Army Research Laboratory, Dr. Alexander Kott. It outlines the need to develop systems to augment both machines and people in the real world with artificially intelligent agents to defend the network: "In addition to physical intelligent things, the battlefield -- or at least the cyber domain of the battlefield -- will be populated with disembodied, cyber robots. These will reside within various computers and networks, and will move and acts in the cyberspace."

Kott takes pains to underscore the fact that the AI powering U.S. war efforts will need to be resilient in ways that today's AI simply isn't. He states: "The intelligent things will have to constantly think about an intelligent adversary that strategizes to deceive and defeat them. Without this adversarial intelligence, the battle things will not survive long enough to be useful." Ultimately, aside from outlining what the future battlefield will look like, the paper's conclusion is either disappointing or a giant relief, depending on your agenda: "Clearly, it is far beyond the current state of AI to operate intelligently in such an environments and with such demands. In particular, Machine Learning -- an area that has seen a dramatic progress in the last decade -- must experience major advances in order to become relevant to the real battlefield."

The Military

Britain's Plan To Build a 2,000 Foot Aircraft Carrier Almost Entirely From Ice (bbc.com) 78

dryriver writes from a report via the BBC: In World War 2, Britain was losing the Battle of the Atlantic, with German U-boats sinking ship after ship. Enter Project Habakkuk, the incredible plan to build an aircraft carrier from ice. The British government wanted a better way of battling German U-boats and needed an aircraft carrier invulnerable to torpedoes and bombs. Inventor Geoffrey Pyke came up with the idea of using solid blocks of ice, strengthened with sawdust, creating the material Pykrete, to build a ship big enough for bombers to land on. Winston Churchill became interested in the plan after Pyke pitched it to him. The proposed ship was to be 610 meters (2,013 feet) long and weigh 1.8 Million tons, considerably larger and heavier than today's biggest ships. It would have hull armor 12 meters (40 feet) thick. Work on building a proof-of-concept prototype started at Patricia Lake, Canada. But when it became clear that the finished aircraft carrier would take until 1945 to build, and cost 10 million pounds, the British government cancelled the project in 1943, and the prototype in Canada was scuppered.
Sci-Fi

UFO Disclosure Group Releases Newest Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet UFO Encounter Video (cnn.com) 242

alaskana98 writes: CNN and other media outlets are reporting that the "To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science" group has released the third in a series of videos purportedly showing an encounter between Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet pilots and an object moving at seemingly impossible speeds off the East Coast of the United States. The video was captured by the Raytheon: Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) pod and includes audio of the pilots excitedly observing this object from far above as it zooms over the ocean surface. The ATFLIR system has trouble getting a lock on the object at first but then gets a lock on it eventually demonstrating that whatever this this was it wasn't a figment of the pilots imaginations. If the video is authentic there are indeed some strange things flying in our skies. The video can be viewed here.
Facebook

Facebook Has Turned Into a Beast in Myanmar, UN Says (bbc.com) 96

UN investigators have accused Facebook of playing a "determining role" in stirring up hatred against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. From a report: One of the team probing possible acts of genocide said Facebook had "turned into a beast." About 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Myanmar's military launched an operation in August against "insurgents" in Rakhine state. Facebook has said there is "no place for hate speech" on its platform. "We take this incredibly seriously and have worked with experts in Myanmar for several years to develop safety resources and counter-speech campaigns," a Facebook spokeswoman told the BBC.

The UN's Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar announced the interim findings of its investigation on Monday. During a press conference the chairman of the mission, Marzuki Darusman, said that social media had "substantively contributed to the level of acrimony" amongst the wider public, against Rohingya Muslims. "Hate speech is certainly, of course, a part of that," he added.

Piracy

US Navy Under Fire In Mass Software Piracy Lawsuit (torrentfreak.com) 121

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: In 2011 and 2012, the U.S. Navy began using BS Contact Geo, a 3D virtual reality application developed by German company Bitmanagement. The Navy reportedly agreed to purchase licenses for use on 38 computers, but things began to escalate. While Bitmanagement was hopeful that it could sell additional licenses to the Navy, the software vendor soon discovered the U.S. Government had already installed it on 100,000 computers without extra compensation. In a Federal Claims Court complaint filed by Bitmanagement two years ago, that figure later increased to hundreds of thousands of computers. Because of the alleged infringement, Bitmanagement demanded damages totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. In the months that followed both parties conducted discovery and a few days ago the software company filed a motion for partial summary judgment, asking the court to rule that the U.S. Government is liable for copyright infringement. According to the software company, it's clear that the U.S. Government crossed a line. In its defense, the U.S. Government had argued that it bought concurrent-use licenses, which permitted the software to be installed across the Navy network. However, Bitmanagement argues that it is impossible as the reseller that sold the software was only authorized to sell PC licenses. In addition, the software company points out that the word "concurrent" doesn't appear in the contracts, nor was there any mention of mass installations. The full motion brings up a wide range of other arguments as well which, according to Bitmanagement, make it clear that the U.S. Government is liable for copyright infringement.
Government

Leaked Files Show How the NSA Tracks Other Countries' Hackers (theintercept.com) 66

An analysis of leaked tools believed to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) gives us a glimpse into the methods used by the organization to detect the presence of other state-sponsored actors on hacked devices, and it could also help the cybersecurity community discover previously unknown threats. The Intercept: When the mysterious entity known as the "Shadow Brokers" released a tranche of stolen NSA hacking tools to the internet a year ago, most experts who studied the material honed in on the most potent tools, so-called zero-day exploits that could be used to install malware and take over machines. But a group of Hungarian security researchers spotted something else in the data, a collection of scripts and scanning tools the National Security Agency uses to detect other nation-state hackers on the machines it infects. It turns out those scripts and tools are just as interesting as the exploits. They show that in 2013 -- the year the NSA tools were believed to have been stolen by the Shadow Brokers -- the agency was tracking at least 45 different nation-state operations, known in the security community as Advanced Persistent Threats, or APTs. Some of these appear to be operations known by the broader security community -- but some may be threat actors and operations currently unknown to researchers.

The scripts and scanning tools dumped by Shadow Brokers and studied by the Hungarians were created by an NSA team known as Territorial Dispute, or TeDi. Intelligence sources told The Intercept the NSA established the team after hackers, believed to be from China, stole designs for the military's Joint Strike Fighter plane, along with other sensitive data, from U.S. defense contractors in 2007; the team was supposed to detect and counter sophisticated nation-state attackers more quickly, when they first began to emerge online. "As opposed to the U.S. only finding out in five years that everything was stolen, their goal was to try to figure out when it was being stolen in real time," one intelligence source told The Intercept. But their mission evolved to also provide situational awareness for NSA hackers to help them know when other nation-state actors are in machines they're trying to hack.

Privacy

Google Is Helping the Pentagon Build AI for Drones (gizmodo.com) 95

Google has partnered with the United States Department of Defense to help the agency develop artificial intelligence for analyzing drone footage, a move that set off a firestorm among employees of the technology giant when they learned of Google's involvement, Gizmodo reported on Tuesday. From the report: Google's pilot project with the Defense Department's Project Maven, an effort to identify objects in drone footage, has not been previously reported, but it was discussed widely within the company last week when information about the project was shared on an internal mailing list, according to sources who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the project. Some Google employees were outraged that the company would offer resources to the military for surveillance technology involved in drone operations, sources said, while others argued that the project raised important ethical questions about the development and use of machine learning.
Microsoft

Microsoft To Offer Governments Local Version of Azure Cloud Service (reuters.com) 28

Microsoft on Monday said it will soon make it possible for government clients to run its cloud technology on their own servers as part of a concerted effort to make Azure more appealing to local and federal agencies. From a report: The pairing of Azure Stack, Microsoft's localized cloud product, and Azure Government, the government-tailored version of Microsoft's cloud, comes as competition against Amazon.com Inc for major clients in the public sector ramps up. The new offering, which will be made available in mid-2018, is designed to appeal to governments and agencies with needs for on-premise servers, such as in a military operation or in an embassy abroad, said Tom Keane, Microsoft Azure's head of global infrastructure.
Government

US Response 'Hasn't Changed The Calculus' Of Russian Interference, NSA Chief Says (npr.org) 126

An anonymous reader shares an NPR report: The admiral in charge of both the nation's top electronic spying agency and the Pentagon's cybersecurity operations would seem a logical point man for countering Russia's digital intrusions in U.S. election campaigns. But National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command chief Adm. Michael Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday there is only so much he can do. That is because, according to Rogers, President Trump has not ordered him to go after the Russian attacks at their origin. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the committee's ranking Democrat, asked Rogers, "Have you been directed to do so, given this strategic threat that faces the United States and the significant consequences you recognize already?" "No, I have not," Rogers replied. But the spy chief pushed back on suggestions that he should seek a presidential signoff. "I am not going to tell the president what he should or should not do," Rogers said when Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal pressed him on whether Trump should approve that authority.

"I'm an operational commander, not a policymaker," he added. "That's the challenge for me as a military commander." Rogers agreed with Blumenthal's estimation that Russian cyber operatives continue to attack the U.S. with impunity and that Washington's response has fallen short. "It hasn't changed the calculus, is my sense," the spy chief told Blumenthal. "It certainly hasn't generated the change in behavior that I think we all know we need."

United States

California Scraps Safety Driver Rules for Self-Driving Cars (nytimes.com) 200

California regulators have given the green light to truly driverless cars. From a report: The state's Department of Motor Vehicles said Monday that it was eliminating a requirement for autonomous vehicles to have a person in the driver's seat to take over in the event of an emergency. The new rule goes into effect on April 2. California has given 50 companies a license to test self-driving vehicles in the state. The new rules also require companies to be able to operate the vehicle remotely -- a bit like a flying military drone -- and communicate with law enforcement and other drivers when something goes wrong. The changes signal a step toward the wider deployment of autonomous vehicles. One of the main economic benefits praised by proponents of driverless vehicles is that they will not be limited by human boundaries and can do things like operate 24 hours in a row without a drop-off in alertness or attentiveness. Taking the human out of the front seat is an important psychological and logistical step before truly driverless cars can hit the road. "This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California," said Jean Shiomoto, director of California's D.M.V. "Safety is our top concern and we are ready to begin working with manufacturers that are prepared to test fully driverless vehicles in California."
United States

Russian Spies Hacked the Olympics and Tried To Make it Look Like North Korea Did it, US Officials Say (washingtonpost.com) 71

Ellen Nakashima, reporting for the Washington Post: Russian military spies hacked several hundred computers used by authorities at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], according to U.S. intelligence. They did so while trying to make it appear as though the intrusion was conducted by North Korea, what is known as a "false-flag" operation, said two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. Officials in PyeongChang acknowledged that the Games were hit by a cyberattack during the Feb. 9 Opening Ceremonies but had refused to confirm whether Russia was responsible. That evening there were disruptions to the Internet, broadcast systems and the Olympics website. Many attendees were unable to print their tickets for the ceremony, resulting in empty seats.
China

China Reassigns 60,000 Soldiers To Plant Trees In Bid To Fight Pollution 126

According to The Independent, citing the Asia Times, China has reassigned over 60,000 soldiers to plan trees in a bid to combat pollution by increasing the country's forest coverage. The soldiers are from the People's Liberation Army, along with some of the nation's armed police force. From the report: The majority will be dispatched to Hebei province, which encircles Beijing. The area is known to be a major culprit for producing the notorious smog which blankets the capital city. The idea is believed to be popular among members of online military forums as long as they can keep their ranks and entitlements. It comes as part of China's plan to plant at least 84,000 square kilometers (32,400 square miles) of trees by the end of the year, which is roughly equivalent to the size of Ireland. The aim is to increase the country's forest coverage from 21 per cent of its total landmass to 23 per cent by 2020, the China Daily newspaper reported.
United Kingdom

UK Blames Russia For Cyber Attack, Says Won't Tolerate Disruption (reuters.com) 143

Britain blamed Russia on Thursday for a cyber-attack last year, publicly pointing the finger at Moscow for spreading a virus which disrupted companies across Europe including UK-based Reckitt Benckiser. From a report: Russia denied the accusation, saying it was part of "Russophobic" campaign it said was being waged by some Western countries. The so-called NotPetya attack in June started in Ukraine where it crippled government and business computers before spreading around the world, halting operations at ports, factories and offices. Britain's foreign ministry said the attack originated from the Russian military. "The decision to publicly attribute this incident underlines the fact that the UK and its allies will not tolerate malicious cyber activity," the ministry said in a statement. "The attack masqueraded as a criminal enterprise but its purpose was principally to disrupt," it said.
Communications

Turkey Rolls Out Domestic Rival To WhatsApp, Raising Surveillance Concerns (reuters.com) 36

Turkey has launched a domestic messaging app to rival Facebook's popular WhatsApp Messenger service, raising concerns among government critics that Ankara (capital of Turkey) could use the new platform to tighten surveillance and bolster an 18-month-old crackdown. From a report: The app, called PttMessenger after Turkey's Post and Telegraph General Directorate (PTT), was introduced in a limited roll-out to state institutions and some private companies this week. It is expected to be publicly available in six months. PttMessenger will provide a "system safer than WhatsApp," government spokesman Bekir Bozdag told a news conference. "Since no data is stored with the host, it will be impossible to access these data. A system safer than WhatsApp has been developed." Critics cast doubt on the suggestion PttMessenger data could not be retrieved, fearing it will give authorities greater ability to monitor dissent, pointing to the widespread crackdown that was launched after a failed military coup in July 2016.
The Military

German Navy Experiences 'LCS Syndrome' In Spades As New Frigate Fails Sea Trials (arstechnica.com) 222

schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica, highlighting the problems the Germany Navy is facing right now. It has no working submarines due to a chronic repair parts shortage, and its newest ships face problems so severe that the first of the class failed its sea trials and was returned to the shipbuilders in December. From the report: The Baden-Wurttemberg class frigates were ordered to replace the 1980s-era Bremen class ships, all but two of which have been retired already. At 149 meters (488 feet) long with a displacement of 7,200 metric tons (about 7,900 U.S. tons), the Baden-Wurttembergs are about the size of destroyers and are intended to reduce the size of the crew required to operate them. Like the Zumwalt, the frigates are intended to have improved land attack capabilities -- a mission capability largely missing from the Deutsche Marine's other post-unification ships. The new frigate was supposed to be a master of all trades -- carrying Marines to deploy to fight ashore, providing gunfire support, hunting enemy ships and submarines, and capable of being deployed on far-flung missions for up to two years away from a home port. As with the U.S. Navy's LCS ships, the German Navy planned to alternate crews -- sending a fresh crew to meet the ship on deployment to relieve the standing crew.

Instead, the Baden-Wurttemberg now bears the undesirable distinction of being the first ship the German Navy has ever refused to accept after delivery. In fact, the future of the whole class of German frigates is now in doubt because of the huge number of problems experienced with the first ship during sea trials. So the Baden-Wurttemberg won't be shooting its guns at anything for the foreseeable future (and neither will the Zumwalt for the moment, since the U.S. Navy cancelled orders for their $800,000-per-shot projectiles). System integration issues are a major chunk of the Baden-Wurrenberg's problems. About 90 percent of the ship's systems are so new that they've never been deployed on a warship in fact -- they've never been tested together as part of what the U.S. Navy would call "a system of systems." And all of that new hardware and software have not played well together -- particularly with the ship's command and control computer system, the Atlas Naval Combat System (ANCS).
schwit1 adds: "Perhaps most inexcusable, the ship doesn't even float right. It has a permanent list to starboard."

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