The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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Yesterday, C. Frank Figliuzzi, the head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counterintelligence division, testified [PDF] that based on the FBI's pending case load, "economic espionage losses to the American economy total more than $13 billion" and that the threat, which is coming from foreign governments, corporations, hackers and insiders, is growing. In his testimony to the Intelligence Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee, he indicated that one primary cause has been the continuing global economic financial crisis.

Figliuzzi said that:

"With each year, foreign intelligence services and their collectors become more creative and more sophisticated in their methods to undermine American business and erode the one thing that most provides American business its leading edge; our ability to innovate..."

"What we're seeing is that foreign nations and their intelligence services are understanding more than ever before that it's cheaper to steal our technology than to use their budget resources in this time of economic crisis to develop it themselves."

Figliuzzi also told the Los Angeles Times that while  the FBI and others are becoming better at identifying who is behind electronic espionage, there is still no consensus on what to do once a culprit is identified. "That's a big question," Figliuzzi was quoted as saying. Given previous history, it won't likely be answered anytime soon.

Of course, it doesn’t help matters when U.S. companies illegally sell banned software to foreign countries, like United Technologies admitted to doing. The software helped China develop its first modern attack helicopter, according to Reuters. United Technologies paid only a $75 million penalty for doing so, which is paltry considering that the company makes $58 billion a year and that it deliberately sold the software to gain economic favor with the Chinese government. The cost to the U. S. military is hard to quantify, but it is probably a lot higher than $75 million.

Another thing that doesn’t help is the IT security carelessness of employees. Even at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where employees really should know better, the Inspector General found that they routinely log onto DHS networks with unapproved electronics including e-readers, thumb drives, MP3 players, GPS units, external drives, etc., and regularly fail to encrypt sensitive information on their government-issued Android devices, according to Government Executive magazine. Gov Exec goes on to say that the DHS officials claim that "they have no way of stopping personnel from hooking up devices to their workstations" and that they try "to block the electronics from the network by distributing only government-procured devices and by educating employees not to use such [unauthorized] devices on government computers."

It doesn’t look like the IT security education is sticking very well.

Of course, the $13 billion figure for economic espionage given by Figliuzzi is only an educated guess since corporations are often loath to reveal that they have been hacked. That may change soon, if Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, has his way.

As you may recall, last year the US Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) Division of Corporation Finance issued guidance "... regarding disclosure obligations relating to cybersecurity risks and cyber incidents." The SEC wants public companies to disclose the risk of cyber incidents if these issues are among the most significant factors that make an investment in the company speculative or risky.

However, the requirement isn’t mandatory, and there are enough loopholes in the guidance that most companies can safely ignore it. What Rockefeller wants, according to the Associated Press, is for the SEC to make it crystal clear when public companies must disclose breaches as well as tell investors what they are doing to keep cyber threats at bay. It is too soon to tell whether he will be successful, but I think it is a long overdue requirement.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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