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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Battle code

Military | The Pentagon openly plans the future of cyberwarfare

Issue: "Reassessing the genome," Oct. 6, 2012

A research arm of the Pentagon, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is crafting the future of U.S. cyberwar as part of a $110 million research initiative the agency calls "Plan X." DARPA invited internet and computer security experts to learn about the project at a pair of meetings (one of them classified) scheduled for Sept. 27 in Arlington, Va. Plan X, while not intended to build cyberweapons directly, will "support development of fundamental strategies and tactics needed to dominate the cyber battlespace," an agency document says.

Research objectives include creating an advanced digital map that would enable the Pentagon to visualize, in real time, what it calls "cyber battlespace"—a global network of computers and devices that at any given time may be launching attacks with malicious code.

Another objective is to develop military computer operating systems that can withstand heavy cyberattacks while launching attacks of their own, monitoring "battle damage" in the process. Military analysts say it's likely the United States would use cyberweapons in conjunction with an on-the-ground military attack. Pentagon programmers might, for example, try remotely turning off regional power supplies or shutting down enemy computers and telecommunications systems while U.S. forces launch an air assault.

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Plan X highlights the rapidly growing prominence of cyberweapons in U.S. military strategy. The U.S. government has kept its cyber efforts largely secret, but public awareness grew this summer with the unauthorized report, in June, that the United States and Israel were behind the creation of Stuxnet, a virus that disrupted Iran's nuclear enrichment program in 2010. Security experts think that Flame and the recently discovered Guass, two pieces of malware that have spied on thousands of computers in the Middle East, were also designed by the creators of Stuxnet.

YouTube sleuths

iStock

With criminals these days often logging in to Facebook or Twitter to brag about their dirty deeds, police are increasingly turning to social media to track down miscreants and bring them to court. A recent LexisNexis survey found that 4 out of 5 officers use social media to gather incriminating posts or photos, find the location of a suspect, or identify a suspect's network of friends. The services police search most often: Facebook and YouTube. —D.J.D.

Fueling higher prices

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama gave final approval in August to strict fuel economy standards requiring automakers to nearly double the fuel efficiency of U.S. cars and trucks by 2025. The 13-year efficiency goal of 54.5 miles per gallon (in real-world conditions it equals about 40 mpg for the average vehicle) will reduce pollution, reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and save consumers money at the pump.

But it also will increase the price of a new car by about $3,000. To meet the standards, auto manufacturers will have to incorporate technological improvements, such as seven- and eight-speed transmissions and smaller, turbo-charged engines. They'll have to design vehicle bodies and parts with more aluminum, titanium, and lightweight alloys. They'll be forced to promote the sale of hybrid trucks and plug-in electric cars—even though only 1 in 25 new car buyers chooses hybrid or electric.

National Automobile Dealers Association chairman Bill Underriner said the increase in prices will shut "almost 7 million people out of the new car market entirely." —D.J.D.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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