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China's New Rules Ask Tech Firms to Hand Over Source Code

China plans to unveil new cybersecurity rules that require tech companies to hand over source code and build back doors in hardware and software for government regulators. The rules only apply to companies selling computer products to Chinese banks, but they have already sparked anxiety on the part of Western tech companies about being trapped between either giving up intellectual property or not doing business in China.

The new rulespart of cybersecurity policies intended to protect China’s critical industriesfirst appeared in a 22-page document at the end of 2014, according to a New York Times report. Such rules have not been officially announced yet. But the U.S. Chambers of Commerce joined a number of other foreign business groups in sending a letter [pdf] to the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs, chaired by President Xi Jinping, that called for “urgent discussions” about the policies. Tech giants such as Microsoft, Cisco, and Qualcomm have also independently voiced their concerns.

Under the bank rules, tech companies would have to hand over source code, set up research and development centers in China, and build hardware and software back doors that would permit Chinese officials to monitor data within their computer systems.  

The New York Times also detailed a separate Chinese antiterrorism law being drafted that would require companies to store all data about Chinese users on servers physically located in China. The law would also ask companies to hand over encryption keys and enable Chinese officials to check content for terrorism-related activities.

China’s new policies come in the wake of revelations from former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, about the NSA’s efforts to infiltrate Chinese tech giant Huawei. Documents leaked by Snowden include an NSA list of programs designed to install back doors in Huawei’s software and hardware that the U.S. spy agency could exploit for intelligence-gathering purposes.

Snowden’s revelations eventually prompted China to set up its Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs. Chinese officials have also set the goal of reducing their reliance upon foreign tech firms and boosting the presence of domestic tech firms.

U.S. tech companies fear that China’s new rules would force them to give up intellectual property to Chinese state-supported companies and possibly compromise the security of their own computer systems and products. Companies also fear that if they don’t comply with the rules and if the Chinese government expands such rules beyond the banking sector, they could potentially be shut out of the Chinese market.

The letter to Xi puts their worries in the context of the Chinese market:

An overly broad, opaque, discriminatory approach to cybersecurity policy that restricts global internet and ICT [information and communications technolgy] products and services would ultimately isolate Chinese ICT firms from the global marketplace and weaken cybersecurity, thereby harming China's economic growth and development and restricting customer choice.

The history of the United States-China cyber detente also makes it difficult for U.S. companies to trust Chinese officials with their intellectual property and access to their computer systems. The United States has long accused China’s government and military of corporate espionage against U.S. companies and government agencies. Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice charged five Chinese military hackers with stealing a variety of trade secrets from U.S. businesses.

How to Detect Your Kid's Epileptic Seizure From Miles Away

People living with epilepsy know that a seizure can strike any time, and they go through their days with this uncertainty: They could be walking down a city’s bustling streets or at home all alone when a seizure strikes.

This SmartWatch connects these people to their networks of caregivers at moments of crisis by detecting the shaking limbs associated with convulsive seizures and sending out automatic alerts. “For both the patient with epilepsy and the caregiver, this product gives incredible peace of mind,” says Anoo Nathan, CEO and founder of Smart Monitor, the startup behind this device. 

The SmartWatch currently pairs with Android phones that run its app; the user must have that phone nearby so it can send out the alert via text message. The alert can also include the epileptic person’s GPS coordinates. Nathan says the iPhone-compatible version will debut in late March. 

About 2.7 million people are living with epilepsy in the United States, and some one-third of those people can’t completely control their seizures with medication. Spectrum just featured the most cutting-edge alternative to pharmaceuticals: A smart brain implant that fires an electric pulse when it detects signs of an oncoming seizure, hopefully preventing the seizure entirely. (One woman with a brand new brain implant described to Spectrum her adjustment to her cyborg life: Lying awake one night she wondered, “Did my head just beep?”) 

For some people who aren’t good candidates for surgery, however, and whose seizures can’t be stopped by medication, the SmartWatch could help. The wristwatch constantly registers the user’s motions, and its algorithms crunch the data to look for a pattern of movement indicative of a seizure. Because it responds to movement, the watch can only help patients who suffer from convulsive seizures, not those who experience “absence seizures” in which they seem to zone out and lose awareness of their surroundings. 

Nathan is careful to say that the device isn’t yet FDA-approved to “diagnose seizures,” but it can “detect abnormal motions.” The company is collecting results from ongoing clincial trials, she says, and aims to get that FDA approval down the road. 

Nathan says she originally imagined parents using the SmartWatch to keep an eye on their kids, and indeed, 60 percent of users currently wearing the watch are under the age of 21. However, she says she’s been pleased to find that it can help adults, too. She cites one customer in his 40s who was able to move out of his parents house and into an apartment near friends. “This product provides him with a degree of autonomy and independence he never had before,” says Nathan.  

The SmartWatch also collects the user’s seizure data so the user and physicians can review it, providing a record of what happens between doctor visits. While this seems a valuable contribution to the fast-growing mobile health market, we can’t help wondering if this device will survive the introduction of another smart watch that’s gotten a little press, and generated a tiny bit of excitement: the Apple Watch, due for release in April. If some developer comes out with an seizure-detecting app for the Apple Watch, will it shake the SmartWatch right out of business? 

FCC Redefines Broadband: Lack of Competition Now Obvious

Just last week, broadband Internet access in the United States was looking pretty good: 99 percent of Americans had access to broadband speeds [pdf] (even if they weren’t yet taking advantage of them). In addition, competition seemed if not fierce, at least existent: nearly 75 percent of consumers had at least two broadband providers to choose from.

Now, neither statistic is true.

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A Möbius Strip Made of Light

Most nerdy kids, of the type that would grow up to read IEEE Spectrum, were excited when they first learned about the Möbius strip, a three-dimensional shape with only one surface. Many immediately fashioned their own, by cutting a thin strip of paper, twisting it, and joining one end to the other to make a continuous surface. Now scientists have figured out how to make a Möbius strip out of light.

The researchers, from Canada, Europe, and the United States, were able to twist the polarization of a light beam in order to form a 3-D structure out of an electric field that had the same topology as a Möbius strip made of matter would. Lightwaves consist of both an electric and a magnetic field, which oscillate perpendicular to each other. Polarization refers to the direction in which the electric field oscillates.

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Identifying Credit Card Users With a Few Bits of Data

Anonymized credit card data can easily be used to identify credit card users, more evidence that anonymizing data does not protect privacy as well as often thought, scientists now find.

Personal information often gets anonymized by stripping it of names, home addresses, phone numbers and other obvious identifying details. Such data often get shared, and underlie popular services such as Google’s real-time traffic monitoring, which shows conditions on major thoroughfares in more than 50 different countries.

However, anonymized data can still reveal a great deal about individuals. For example, computational social scientist Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye at MIT and his colleagues recently found that anonymized cell phone data could be better at identifying users than fingerprints. At most, 11 randomly chosen interactions with cell phone networks were needed to identify a person by the routes he or she regularly traveled, while identifying someone by a fingerprint requires at least 12 reference points.

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To Predict Flu Outbreak, Just Google It

By combining insights from Google Flu Trends with data from the CDC, scientists now say they can predict the spread of flu a week into the future in the United States.

Each year, 250,000 to 500,000 people die of influenza worldwide, with 3,000 to 50,000 of those fatalities happening in the United States. These deaths are largely preventable by using flu shots, but the CDC must have up-to-date knowledge about where influenza is happening to make sure these vaccines get to where they are needed.

The CDC continuously monitors both the number of doctor visits attributed to flu-like illness as well as the number of patient samples that test positive for influenza. However, it can take a long time to collect and analyze all this activity, resulting in data that is typically up to two weeks out of date once it’s made available.

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European VC Funding Reached 13-Yr High In 2014

A week ago, we reported that venture funding for U.S. startups is booming. Turns out, the good news isn’t for U.S. startups alone. European VC investment was also at its highest in 2014 since the dot-com boom.

According to data published this week by Dow Jones VentureSource, European startups raised $8.9 billion (€7.9 billion) last year across 1460 deals, up from €6.3 billion in 2013. That’s the largest investment since 2001, when European ventures secured €10.6 billion.

The funds are going predominantly to tech startups. And most of them are in the United Kingdom and Germany. London and Berlin are Europe’s fastest growing tech hubs, teeming with companies setting up offices in converted warehouses and startup lofts. Tech companies in London raised $1.4 billion and those in Berlin secured $1.1 billion, according to the research company CB Insights.

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Silk Implants Fight Bacterial Infection Then Vanish


A new electronic implant can fight bacterial infection inside the body and then harmlessly dissolve. The simple, passive device is made entirely of silk and magnesium, which are both benign, biocompatible materials. The device, which can be loaded with antibiotics, could be implanted inside the body during surgery and then wirelessly triggered from outside to kill bacteria using heat or by releasing drugs. Once its work is done, it would dissolve.

The idea is to make benign, functional electronics that last in the body for a finite amount of time so that no surgical retrieval is required, explains Fiorenzo Omenetto, a professor of bioengineering at Tufts University. Researchers from Omenetto’s group, together with collaborators from the Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology in China and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, presented results on their device at the IEEE MEMS 2015 conference last week.

Several other research teams are exploring the potential of spider silk for electronics. Omenetto focuses on silkworm silk. In addition to vanishing medical implants, he wants to make silk-based consumer electronics that would degrade when needed rather than lying around in landfills. He has made graphene-and-silk-based nanosensing tattoos to detect bacteria in the mouth. And with UIUC’s John Rogers, he has previously made silk-encased dissolvable electronics that used silicon nanomembranes as the electronics substrate.

The device that the researchers presented at MEMS 2015—and recently in the journal PNAShas no silicon. It’s a very simple design: a power-receiving coil and a serpentine resistor made of magnesium are deposited on a silk film and then encapsulated in a silk pocket. Omenetto’s team gets the silk from silkworm cocoons. They’ve figured out how to fine-tune the silk’s crystallinity and other properties so that it degrades at time intervals ranging from minutes to weeks.

“You then have a little band-aid that you put under the skin,” Omenetto says. “Silk here acts like the plastic substrate, and it is medically digestive. And the magnesium on top hydrolyzes and breaks down and dissolves.”

The researchers implanted the device in the skin of mice that were infected with the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. They wirelessly activated the device using a transmitter for two sets of ten-minute treatments. The resistor heats up, and the heat kills bacteria. After 24 hours, tissue collected from the mice was infection-free. The device fully dissolved and vanished in 15 days.

In a separate in vitro experiment, the researchers loaded a silk film with the antibiotic ampicillin and attached it, along with a magnesium heater, to a silk pocket. When they wirelessly heated the device, the silk film released the drug.

Photo: Tufts University

Skin-Based Generators Scavenge Muscle Motion to Power Wearables

Using human skin as one of its charge-collectors, a new flexible generator converts muscle movements into enough power for small electronics. The postage-stamp-sized device takes advantage of static electricity to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy.

Such friction-powered generators could usher new types of wearable sensors that don’t require batteries but instead are powered by the wearer’s daily activities like walking, talking or holding an object.

The new device, which researchers from the National University of Singapore presented at the IEEE MEMS 2015 conference last week, can generate 90 volts of open circuit voltage when touched gently with a finger. Electrical and computer engineering professor Chengkuo Lee and his colleagues demonstrated that the new device can be used as a wearable self-powered sensor to track the user’s motion and activity.

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