News Article | December 22, 2016
An international team of scientists has identified variants of the gene EBF3 causing a developmental disorder with features in common with autism. Identification of these gene variants leads to a better understanding of these complex conditions and opens the possibility of diagnosing other previously undiagnosed patients with similar clinical disorders. The study appears in the American Journal of Human Genetics. "We investigate the genetic causes of complex neurological conditions of various types, such as autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disability," said first author Dr. Hsiao-Tuan Chao, postdoctoral research fellow of pediatric-neurology at Baylor College of Medicine. "Such conditions are long-lasting, manifest very early in life and range from mild to severe. They can affect different neurological functions; however, sometimes they have overlapping similarities. For many of these conditions there is no definite diagnosis, treatments are limited and there is no cure." Chao and colleagues have taken a step toward better understanding some of these conditions. They discovered new mutations of the gene EBF3 in three patients presenting with a newly described syndrome. "The patients' main features include developmental delay, coordination problems, limited facial expressions at an early age and abnormal verbal communication and social behaviors. They can also present with repetitive motor movements, high threshold to pain and cognitive impairments," said Chao. "This newly described syndrome has many similarities with what we see in autism spectrum disorders, but also important differences." The researchers used whole exome sequencing, a laboratory technique that allows the identification of all the genes in an individual's genome. In the patients, they identified two new variants of the gene EBF3 that were not present in the patients' parents. Mutations of EBF3 are rare in the general population but more common in a population of individuals with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disability. "The gene is known to be essential for normal development of the nervous system," said Chao. "It is one of the key factors involved in how neurons develop and connect with each other, but has not been studied in detail. In animal models, mutations that cause the gene to lose its function result in death of the embryo. EBF3 had never before been associated with a disease." That the three patients with developmental disorders have mutations in the same gene is not sufficient proof that the mutations cause the condition. To determine whether the mutations can cause neurodevelopmental problems the scientists tested the effect of the mutations in the laboratory fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. "We genetically engineered fruit flies to carry the mutations present in the patients," said Chao. "The defective gene product was not able to carry on the functions of the normal gene; the effect is so severe that the fly embryos do not survive. On the other hand, when we introduced the normal version of the human gene, the files developed normally." The identification of variants of EBF3 that can cause neurodevelopmental disorders has improved the genetic diagnosis of these conditions."We are able to provide a genetic diagnosis for patients who did not know the cause of their condition," said Chao. "This provides some relief to their parents and the possibility of reaching for support from a community of parents whose children are affected by similar disorders. In addition, by gaining a better understanding of how people are affected by EBF3 dysfunction, we as physicians are better equipped to prognosticate the developmental outcomes for these children." "Being able to see our research in fruit flies help us diagnose a patient in our own hospital was very gratifying. Knowing the genetic basis allows for more insights into this disorder of the brain," said Dr. Michael F. Wangler, assistant professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor, a senior author on the paper. Other contributors to this work include Mariska Davids, Elizabeth Burke, John G. Pappas Jill A. Rosenfeld, Alexandra McCarty, Taylor Davis, Lynne Wolfe, Camilo Toro, Cynthia Tifft, Fan Xia, Nicholas Stong, Travis K. Johnson, Coral G. Warr, Members of the UDN, Shinya Yamamoto, David Adams, Thomas C. Markello, William A. Gahl, Hugo J. Bellen and May Christine V. Malicdan. The authors are affiliated with one or more of the following institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children's Hospital, National Institutes of Health, National Human Genome Research Institute, New York University, Baylor Genetics Laboratories, Columbia University, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Monash University. This work was supported in part by U54NS093793, R24OD022005, and R01GM067858, by the Intramural Research Program of the National Human Genome Research Institute and by the Common Fund, Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health. The Department of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine derives revenue from the clinical exome sequencing offered at Baylor Genetics.
News Article | January 12, 2016
One of the “teenage hackers” who broke into the CIA director’s AOL email account last year hasn’t given up targeting government intelligence officials. His latest victim is the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Motherboard has learned. A group of hackers calling themselves “Crackas With Attitude” or CWA made headlines in October, hacking into CIA Director John Brennan’s email account and apparently getting access to several online tools and portals used by US law enforcement agencies.The hackers' exploits prompted the FBI to issue an alert warning government officials of their attacks. One of the group’s hackers, who’s known as “Cracka,” contacted me on Monday, claiming to have broken into a series of accounts connected to Clapper, including his home telephone and internet, his personal email, and his wife’s Yahoo email. While in control of Clapper’s Verizon FiOS account, Cracka claimed to have changed the settings so that every call to his house number would get forwarded to the Free Palestine Movement. When they gained notoriety last year, Cracka and CWA claimed their actions were all in support of the Palestine cause. “I’m pretty sure they don’t even know they've been hacked,” Cracka told me in an online chat. But Brian Hale, a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, confirmed the hack to Motherboard on Tuesday. “We’re aware of the matter and we reported it to the appropriate authorities,” Hale said, declining to answer any other questions on the record. (The FBI declined to comment.) Cracka, or whoever is pretending to be him, taunted authorities on Twitter (the hacker used a new Twitter account, not the same one he used at the time of the Brennan hack. But the hacker also is in control of a chat app account who’s been using to communicate with me since last October). Cracka provided me with what he claimed to be Clapper’s home number. When I called it on Monday evening, I got an answer from Paul Larudee, the co-founder of the Free Palestine Movement. Larudee told me that he had been getting calls for Clapper for the last hour, after an anonymous caller told him that he had set Clapper’s number to forward calls to him. Larudee said that one of the callers said he was sitting in Clapper’s house next to his wife. According to public records, the phone number does belong to James Clapper’s household. Cracka also provided another number, a cellphone, which he said belonged to either Clapper or Clapper’s wife, Susan. When I called, a woman picked up and I asked if this was Susan Clapper. The woman responded that Susan wasn’t there, but that she’d tell her to call me back. But nobody ever did. Cracka also claimed to have gotten into Susan’s Yahoo email account, as well as Clapper’s email account. He provided a series of screenshots to prove he had control of their Verizon FiOS account, as well as Susan’s Yahoo account. Motherboard couldn’t independently verify the authenticity of the screenshots. The hacker also sent me a list of call logs to Clapper’s home number. In the log, there was a number listed as belonging to Vonna Heaton, an executive at Ball Aerospace and a former senior executive at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. When I called that number, the woman who picked up identified as Vonna Heaton. When I told her who I was, she declined to answer any questions. “A journalist? Oh my gosh” she said, laughing uncomfortably. “I have somebody on the line, I’m sorry, I have no insight into that. But that’s really unfortunate, have a great day.” Michael Adams, an information security expert who served more than two decades in the US Special Operations Command, said that this looks “more of a social engineering hack than a real hack,” but also added that “every serious hack starts with social engineering.” Adams also said that it’s “insane” that Clapper doesn’t do more to hide his home address and phone number (both can be found with a Google search). “If I’m the Director of National Intelligence of the United States of America nobody is going to know where the fuck I live, nobody is going to have my goddamn phone number or address,” Adams told me in a phone interview. On Tuesday, Cracka asked me not to name him in the article, saying he “doesn’t like the attention.” “You Asked why I did it,” he added. “I just wanted the gov to know people aren’t fucking around, people know what they're doing and people don’t agree #FreePalestine.”
News Article | January 13, 2016
The U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has had his email account hacked by a teenager, reports Motherboard. The hack was carried out by a member of the same group, known as "Crackas With Attitude," that hacked into the email account of CIA Director John Brennan in October. This hack, however, was allegedly only done by one of the group's members, known as Cracka. Motherboard says that Cracka contacted them on Monday, "claiming to have broken into a series of accounts connected to Clapper, including his home telephone and Internet, his personal email, and his wife’s Yahoo email." But Cracka didn’t stop there. He told Motherboard that while in control, they changed the settings of Clapper’s Verizon FiOS account so that every call to his home phone number would get forwarded to the Free Palestine Movement. After the October hack of CIA director John Brennan in October, Cracka and the CWA claimed their actions were in support of the Palestinian cause. A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed the hack on Tuesday but said it cannot comment further. The FBI would also not comment on the matter. As for Cracka, he told Motherboard "You Asked why I did it. I just wanted the gov to know people aren’t fucking around, people know what they're doing and people don’t agree #FreePalestine."
News Article | November 10, 2016
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A study of mouse reproductive tissues finds that exposure to isoliquiritigenin, a compound found in licorice, disrupts steroid sex hormone production in the ovary, researchers report. This is the first study to examine the effects of this chemical on the ovary. Exposure to high levels of the compound, which the researchers call "iso," lowered the expression of key genes involved in hormone production, the researchers found. In particular, expression of a gene for aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen, dropped by 50 percent or more. The findings are reported in the journal Reproductive Toxicology. Though preliminary - more research must be done to determine iso's effects in living animals - the discovery is concerning, said University of Illinois comparative biosciences professor Jodi Flaws, who led the study with researcher Sharada Mahalingam. "In general, when you start to have lower hormone levels, you could start to have problems with reproduction," Flaws said. "And because estrogen is also important for healthy brains, healthy bones, a healthy cardiovascular system, if the levels are depleted for too long, you could have problems with those systems. We haven't shown that to be the case. That's just a possibility. "I would say, though, that a 50-plus percent drop in aromatase in humans would be a serious problem for fertility and for other things," Flaws said. Whole licorice root and purified forms of iso are used in herbal supplements, teas, candies and as flavoring agents in tobacco products. Iso is sometimes marketed to women for the relief of hot flashes or other symptoms of menopause, and studies have found that the root has anti-cancer properties for some types of breast, prostate and colon cancer, Mahalingam said. The same properties that make iso effective against some cancers also might make it toxic to the normal growth and development of the ovary, Flaws said. Other aromatase inhibitors are already in use in oncology to stop the growth of tumors that respond to estrogen, but doctors warn of potential effects on fertility in women of child-bearing age. Use of iso to inhibit aromatase could have the same effects as other aromatase inhibitors, Flaws said. "This could lead to a good outcome in certain tissues, depending on dose and timing of exposure," she said. "In the ovary, though, if you reduce aromatase, you're also reducing estrogen, so you could be interfering with fertility." "Botanical estrogens are quite complex, and different tissues may have differential responses, depending on dosage," said food science and human nutrition professor William Helferich, the director of the Botanical Estrogen Research Center at the U. of I. and a co-author of the study. The new findings are only the first step in understanding iso's role, if any, in influencing fertility, the researchers said. The National Institutes of Health funded this research through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and via a grant from the Office of the Director to veterinary student and study co-author Jacqueline Eisner. The National Cancer Institute Office of Dietary Supplements also supported this research. The paper "Effects of isoliquiritigenin on ovarian antral follicle growth and steroidogenesis" is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau.
News Article | October 29, 2016
The hackers sent John Podesta an official-looking email on Saturday, March 19, that appeared to come from Google. It warned that someone in Ukraine had obtained Podesta's personal Gmail password and tried unsuccessfully to log in, and it directed him to a website where he should "change your password immediately." Podesta's chief of staff, Sara Latham, forwarded the email to the operations help desk of Clinton's campaign, where staffer Charles Delavan in Brooklyn, New York, wrote back 25 minutes later: "This is a legitimate email. John needs to change his password immediately." But the email was not authentic. The link to the website where Podesta was encouraged to change his Gmail password actually directed him instead to a computer in the Netherlands with a web address associated with Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand located in the South Pacific. The hackers carefully disguised the link using a service that shortens lengthy online addresses. But even for anyone checking more diligently, the address—"google.com-securitysettingpage"—was crafted to appear genuine. In the email, the hackers even provided an internet address of the purported Ukrainian hacker that actually traced to a mobile communications provider in Ukraine. It was also notable that the hackers struck Podesta on a weekend morning, when organizations typically have fewer resources to investigate and respond to reports of such problems. Delavan, the campaign help-desk staffer, did not respond immediately to The Associated Press' questions about his actions that day. It is not immediately clear how Podesta responded to the threat, but five months later hackers successfully downloaded tens of thousands of emails from Podesta's accounts that have now been posted online. The Clinton campaign declined to discuss the incident. Podesta has previously confirmed his emails were hacked and said the FBI was investigating. The suspicious email was among more than 1,400 messages published by WikiLeaks on Friday that had been hacked from Podesta's account. It was not known whether the hackers deliberately left behind the evidence of their attempted break-in for WikiLeaks to reveal, but the tools they were using seven months ago still indicate they were personally targeting Podesta: Late Friday, the computer in the Netherlands that had been used in the hacking attempt featured a copy of Podesta's biographical page from Wikipedia. The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Homeland Security Department have formally accused Russian state-sponsored hackers for the recent string of cyberattacks intended to influence the presidential election. The help-desk staffer, Delevan, emailed to Podesta's chief of staff a separate, authentic link to reset Podesta's Gmail password and encouraged Podesta to turn on two-factor authentication. That feature protects an account by requiring a second code that is separately sent to a cell phone or alternate email address before a user can log in. "It is absolutely imperative that this is done ASAP," Delevan said. Tod Beardsley, a security research manager at the Boston-based cybersecurity firm Rapid7, said the fact that an IT person deemed the suspicious email to be legitimate "pretty much guarantees the user who is not an IT person is going to click on it." Other emails previously released by WikiLeaks have included messages containing the password for Podesta's iPhone and iPad accounts.
News Article | October 8, 2016
The United States government has officially accused Russia of being behind the recent wave of hacking attacks, in a bid to interfere with the country's upcoming national elections. The accusation was made through a joint statement released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security. According to the statement, the United States Intelligence Community is said to be confident that Russia directed the hacking attacks that breached the emails of people and institutions in the country, including political organizations. "The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts," the statement said, adding that all these activities have the goal of interfering with the national elections, which will start on Nov. 8. The statement also said that, based on the sensitivity and scope of the hacking attacks, only the top officials of Russia could have given the signal to go ahead with them. Russian President Vladimir Putin was not named, but that appeared to be the statement's intention. The allegation made against the Russian government and Putin was welcomed by both Democratic and Republican senior lawmakers, who are calling for the outgoing Obama administration to retaliate against the Kremlin to discourage such attacks in the future. "The United States must upend Putin's calculus with a strong diplomatic, political, cyber and economic response," said Senator Ben Sasse, who is Homeland Security Committee member. What kind of retaliation could the United States government be thinking in response to Russia's alleged cybersecurity breaches? Among the possible forms are targeted economic sanctions and covert actions against the computer servers in Russia and in other locations that were said to be where the attacks have come from. No formal recommendation has been made to the president so far, however. Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, has dismissed the accusations of the United States government, stating that Russia receives tens of thousands of hacking attempts daily originating from the United States but does not blame the government to be behind them. The latest hacking attack believed to have been initiated by Russia was revealed just a few days ago, as Guccifer 2.0 uploaded documents that were said to have been acquired from the systems of the Clinton Foundation. It is believed that Guccifer 2.0 is a cover for Russian intelligence agents. The documents reveal donor information, including the fact that certain banks have donated some funds that they received under the Troubled Asset Relief Program to the Democratic party. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 24, 2017
Cyber Security Summit, which has been advancing the national conversation about cyber security as a public-private partnership effort since 2011, is pleased to announce that defense industry executive and national security attorney Andrew Borene has been named as Chairman Emeritus. Borene has served as both Chair and Co-Chair of previous summits in the Twin Cities. As Chairman Emeritus, Borene joins the previously announced Co-Chairs of the 2017 Event: Mike Kearn, VP at US Bank, and Elizabeth Stevens, Director at UnitedHealth Group. Borene is presently an executive advisor from Booz Allen Hamilton to the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). A former Pentagon attorney and U.S. Marine intelligence officer, Borene has also been a Senior Fellow with the University of Minnesota’s Technological Leadership Institute and a Fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies. Stevens announced the award saying, “Andrew’s expert guidance and collaborative spirit have shaped the Cyber Security Summit as it has grown into a diverse gathering of global thought leaders. This new honorary title of Chairman Emeritus both acknowledges the strategic leadership role he has played – and ensures Andrew’s legacy remains connected to the summit into the future.” Cyber Security Summit is a public-private collaboration with support from industry, government, and university leaders who gather to discuss security trends and solutions. The Summit includes senior executives, risk managers, military representatives, policymakers, lawyers, academics, and technology leaders. Topics, content and speakers are driven by an Advisory Board composed of leaders from diverse critical infrastructure operators and commercial market sectors. Cyber Security Summit 2017 will take place Oct. 23-25 in Minneapolis. Visit www.cybersecuritysummit.org to learn more. Dr. Massoud Amin, Chairman, IEEE Smart Grid; Chairman, Board of Directors, Texas Reliability Entity; Director, Board of Directors, Midwest Reliability Organization; Director and Professor, Technological Leadership Institute and ECE, University of Minnesota Anne C. Bader, Principal, Bader Resources LLC; Founder, The International Cybersecurity Dialogue; Senior Associate Fellow, the Institute of Statecraft Mike Johnson, Senior Fellow & Honeywell/James J. Renier Chair, Director of Graduate Studies - MS in Security Technologies, Technological Leadership Institute (TLI), University of Minnesota
News Article | October 6, 2016
By what legal authority do the National Security Agency and the FBI ask Yahoo to search its users’ emails? Neither the government nor the tech company would say, after Reuters first reported on Tuesday that Yahoo “secretly built a custom software program” it used on behalf of the NSA and CIA to scan customer emails. But technologists and legal experts say the source may have been a directive from the secret national security court authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa), and not a wider digital dragnet. The government appears to have undertaken the program under the law in 2015 even as Congress was attempting to roll back surveillance of American citizens. It also appears very similar to programs the FBI uses to pursue child abusers. Further reporting from the New York Times on Wednesday said Yahoo was ordered to scan its emails “for the digital ‘signature’ of a communications method used by a state-sponsored, foreign terrorist organization”. But scanning the entirety of its email service for a specific string would appear to be a major change in the way Fisa has operated, said Liza Goitein, co-director of the national security program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. “A regular Fisa order, you have a specific target who is a US person or resident and you have to go to the Fisa court to get authorization with probable cause that they’re foreign powers or agents of a foreign power,” Goitein said. “So it’s not meant for mass surveillance at all. If Fisa is being used for mass surveillance that creates a whole other problem.” “It’s hard to see how the Fisc [foreign intelligence surveillance court] found that to be constitutional,” she added. The other possible law in play is section 702 of Fisa, which the NSA used to justify its Prism program of dragnet surveillance. That law exclusively applies to persons located outside the United States, which would seem to preclude its use on all Yahoo subscribers, though it was used by the Bush administration to justify Prism. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said the possibility of yet another domestic spying program under Section 702 was untenable. “It is a fact that collection under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has a significant impact on Americans’ privacy,” he wrote in a statement. “The NSA has said that it only targets individuals under Section 702 by searching for email addresses and similar identifiers. If that has changed, the executive branch has an obligation to notify the public.” “The government should be coming forward about this surveillance and whether the Fisc authorized this surveillance and issued an opinion explaining its rationale,” said ACLU staff attorney Patrick Toomey. “I think the public should demand this kind of transparency from their representatives.” But if the authority is new, the method is old. The FBI has for years demanded cooperation from email providers in its search for people who exploit children, and the system Yahoo uses to aid those investigations is effectively the same as the one described to the New York Times. In the case of Yahoo and child abuse images, software designed by Microsoft called PhotoDNA compares video and image files across Yahoo’s email system to a database of images. If a match comes up, the user gets a knock on the door. Other companies, such as Facebook, use PhotoDNA to identify images that violate their terms of service, not always with success. A similar system appears to have searched Yahoo’s servers for messages from suspected terrorists. There is tremendous legal pressure on tech companies to use PhotoDNA and similar systems to monitor user activity, ACLU technologist Chris Soghoian has often observed; a Bush-era law makes it a felony for tech companies to fail to report any “actual knowledge” of images of abuse. There is no such pressure to install systems that track digital signatures of suspected terrorists, but once any such system is in place, another is easier to install, Soghoian has said. “Once the technical infrastructure for automatically intercepting and examining user communications has been designed and deployed, service providers are not in a position to limit the extent to which they can be compelled to use it,” Soghoian wrote in a section of his dissertation he posted on Twitter on Wednesday. The government appears to see no harm in these sorts of intrusions. Robert S Litt, general counsel for the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), wrote in April that the fourth amendment was essentially outdated when it came to digital privacy. “If the government electronically scans electronic communications, even the content of those communications, to identify those that it is lawfully entitled to collect, and no one ever sees a non-responsive communication, or even knows that it exists, where is the actual harm?” Litt wrote in the Yale Law Journal. It’s difficult to know what the digital signature of a foreign terrorist group would look like unless members of that group were somehow already known to the US government or that group’s networks were compromised. Terrorist operatives tend to try to work in as much anonymity as they can. The FBI has often used its knowledge of illegal communications to track the communicators. But images of abuse are illegal to possess and distribute; it’s not illegal to talk to terrorists. “Individual Fisa orders are supposed to be narrowly targeted – the equivalent of search warrants – and this one required a scan of hundreds of millions of users’ emails,” said Goitein. The ODNI, the House judiciary committee, the Senate select permanent committee on intelligence, and the Senate judiciary committee did not return requests for comment. A spokesman for the House select permanent committee on intelligence declined to comment; a spokeswoman for the Senate judiciary committee said she had no new information. Yahoo did not comment.
News Article | January 13, 2016
Clapper's Office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed the hack but refused to provide details. "We are aware of the matter and we reported it to the appropriate authorities," spokesman Brian Hale told AFP. A teen hacker who goes by "Cracka" claimed to have hacked Clapper's home telephone and Internet accounts, his personal email, and his wife's Yahoo email, online magazine Motherboard reported. Cracka told Motherboard that he had changed the settings on Clapper's Verizon account so that calls to his home were rerouted to the California-based Free Palestine Movement. Cracka is part of the "Crackas with Attitude" group, which broke into Brennan's personal email account last year. Hackers from the group have said they are teenage high school students. Explore further: US spy chief says China 'leading suspect' in hack
News Article | February 27, 2017
In a report out Monday, the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property says the annual losses range from about $225 billion to $600 billion. The theft of trade secrets alone costs the United States between $180 billion and $540 billion annually. Counterfeit goods cost the United States $29 billion to $41 billion annual; pirated software costs an additional $18 billion a year. The findings echo those of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which in 2015 pegged the annual cost of economic espionage by computer hacking at $400 billion. The commission labels China the world's No. 1 culprit. Including Hong Kong, China accounts for 87 percent of counterfeit goods seized entering the United States. The report says the Chinese government encourages intellectual property theft. The commission is led by former Republican presidential candidate and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who also served as U.S. ambassador to China, and Adm. Dennis Blair, a former director of U.S. national intelligence. "The vast, illicit transfer of American innovation is one of the most significant economic issues impacting U.S. competitiveness that the nation has not fully addressed," Huntsman said. "It looks to be, must be, a top priority of the new administration." Explore further: Report urges US to go on offense on China hacking (Update)