All posts by Sean Gallagher

BlackBerry’s no-phone business model isn’t working out as planned

Enlarge / Hardly anyone is buying these. (credit: Crackberry)

BlackBerry Ltd, the company that once led the world's "smartphone" market and ruled the corporate mobile e-mail world, posted its financials today for the most recent three months, and they were not pretty. Software and professional services sales were down by 4.7 percent, totaling $101 million for the quarter, and as a result the company missed analyst expectations for revenue by a wide mark.

The news comes as a blow to investors, who had pumped up the price of BlackBerry's stock by about 60 percent over the past three months—largely because people were so bullish on BlackBerry's software sales exploding. Today, the company's share price fell by over 12 percent before close. In fact, the company only turned a profit because of a $940 million payment from Qualcomm to settle arbitration over royalty payments.

In 2016, BlackBerry completely outsourced manufacturing of its phones. Since then, revenues from phone sales have collapsed—totaling $37 million for the quarter ending May 31, compared to $152 million last year.

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Espionage suspect totally thought messages to Chinese intel were deleted

On June 22, Kevin Patrick Mallory was brought before a US federal judge for his first hearing on charges that he sold highly classified documents to a Chinese intelligence agent. These documents, which are considered "National Defense Information," included at least one Top Secret document and three classified as Secret, were found on a phone Mallory had been provided by his Chinese contacts. Mallory, a 60-year-old former Central Intelligence Agency employee living in Leesburg, Va., had thought the documents were in messages that had been deleted automatically from the device. Mallory faces life in prison if convicted.

Mallory, an independent consultant, had previously been an employee of "various government agencies" as well as several defense contractors. An Army veteran, Mallory worked at the State Department from 1987 to 1990. And according to the Washington Post, Mallory was also confirmed to have worked at the CIA, among other places. According to the FBI, Mallory was also an Army reservist during this time, and served on active duty for several deployments. For much of his career, he held a Top Secret clearance, which was rescinded when he left government service in 2012.

According to the indictment, at some point during his service at the unnamed agency or at a defense contractor, Mallory—who is fluent in Mandarin—secreted out a collection of documents. Mallory told the FBI that while in China doing consulting work for a state-funded think tank in March and April of this year, he was approached by individuals he then believed to be with China's intelligence service and was given a phone to communicate with them secretly. During an interview with the FBI on May 24, FBI agent Stephen Green recounted in affidavit requesting an arrest warrant:

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Air Force clears F-35 to fly again—with caveats—after hypoxia scares

Enlarge / An F-35 Lightning II performs a maneuver Sept. 12, 2016 at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. After a temporary grounding, the F-35 has returned to the skies at the base, but with some restrictions on how pilots fly the aircraft. (credit: US Air Force)

The F-35A has been cleared to operate once again from Luke Air Force Base, the primary pilot-training facility for the Air Force's newest fighter aircraft. The F-35 had been grounded at Luke since June 9, after five incidents over a month in which pilots experienced the symptoms of hypoxia (oxygen deprivation). However, that return to flight, which began June 21, comes with some caveats: pilots have been instructed to "avoid the altitudes in which the hypoxia-like incidents occurred," according to press releases by the Air Force and the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO).

The F-35 JPO convened a "formal action team" to investigate the incidents after the aircraft grounding to work with the Air Force to investigate the hypoxia incidents. So far, the team has only managed to rule out a number of "specific concerns," including aircraft maintenance issues and procedures surrounding pilots' flight equipment. So while the aircraft are being returned to service, some restrictions have been placed on F-35 operations out of Luke. In addition to avoiding certain altitudes, the Air Force said that "ground procedures will be modified to mitigate physiological risks to pilots." The specifics of those changes were not mentioned in the press release.

The Air Force will also increase the minimum acceptable amount of backup oxygen aboard F-35As. And pilots will be "offered the option" of wearing sensors that will collect "human performance data" during flight to monitor for signs of hypoxia. The Air Force will also expand its physiological training for pilots to help them recognize and respond early to hypoxia symptoms.

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“Internet of Ships” tells tale of USS Fitzgerald tragedy—or half of it

Enlarge / YOKOSUKA, Japan (June 17, 2017) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka following a collision with a merchant vessel while operating southwest of Yokosuka, Japan. (credit: US Navy)

On early Saturday morning off the coast of Japan, the Philippines-flagged cargo container carrier ACX Crystal struck the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) on its starboard (right) side, crushing the part of the Fitzgerald's superstructure where its commanding officer's quarters were and rupturing the ship's hull below the waterline. Seven sailors died in a flooding berthing compartment, and the captain (who was in his quarters) and two other crewmen were injured.

As the incident was unfolding, the world was given an almost immediate look at part of the story behind the collision thanks to data from the Automated Identification System (AIS) aboard the Crystal. AIS, a tracking system that has become the "Internet of Ships," was intended to help prevent such collisions, but it has also become a tool for nearly anyone to identify and track ships traveling around the world through websites and mobile applications. And the half of the story that Crystal's track told quickly raised questions about what exactly was going on with the freighter just before the collision—and whether the incident was something more than just a random accident.

AIS was developed in the late 1990s as a radio-based transponder system, initially intended to be used as part of a collision avoidance system for ships operating out of range of land-based shipping controllers. AIS has been extended further by the addition of satellite monitoring of AIS traffic and the integration of AIS data into navigational beacons and local vessel traffic services (VTS)—think air traffic control for ships. Mandated for all ships over 300 gross tons starting in 2002, nearly all commercial sea-going vessels are now required by one authority or another to be equipped with AIS for tasks such as fishing fleet monitoring, search and rescue, and maritime security. It also can be used for accident investigation along with the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) "black box" mandated by the UN's International Maritime Organization. VDR is limited to 12 hours of data storage.

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USS Ford is ready for service, except for the plane-launching part

Enlarge / The USS Gerald R. Ford, underway in April during builder testing, was accepted by the Navy last month. But it still has some problems with its flight deck systems. (credit: US Navy)

The USS Gerald R. Ford, the $13 billion air craft carrier the Navy accepted in May, is not scheduled to be sent on its first full-fledged deployment for at least three years. And it's a good thing, because the Ford, now in testing, isn't ready to operate aircraft, largely because of problems with its new high-tech aircraft catapult system developed for the Navy by General Atomics (the company best known for its Predator and Reaper drones). And while it was finally completed, the new gear developed by General Atomics to capture aircraft landing on the ship's deck ended up costing three times its original price, soaring to $961 million all on its own and breaching program budgetary constraints.

The Navy has eaten those costs thanks to the "cost-plus" contract with General Atomics.

The issue with the catapult, officially called the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), was discovered in 2014. Currently, as Bloomberg's Anthony Capaccio reports,  the catapult is incapable of launching aircraft loaded with external fuel tanks. As a result, the Ford would be unable to launch F/A-18 Super Hornet and E/A-18 Growler aircraft on long-range missions—in other words, it wouldn't be able to do the thing that aircraft carriers are intended most to do. It's not an issue of throwing weight; a software problem in EMALS caused "excessive vibration" in wing tanks aboard the aircraft in testing, the Navy found.

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Login-stealing phishing sites conceal their evil with lots of hyphens in URL

Researchers at PhishLabs recently spotted a trend emerging in malicious web sites presented to customers: mobile-focused phishing attacks that attempt to conceal the true domain they were served from, by padding the subdomain address with enough hyphens to push the actual source of the page outside the address box on mobile browsers.

"The tactic we're seeing is a tactic for phishing specifically mobile devices," said Crane Hassold,  a senior security threat researcher at PhishLabs’ Research, Analysis, and Intelligence Division (RAID).

Hassold called the tactic "URL padding," the front-loading of the web address of a malicious web page with the address of a legitimate website. The tactic, he said, is part of a broad credential-stealing campaign that targets sites that use an e-mail address and password for authentication; PhishingLabs reports that there has been a 20 percent increase overall in phishing attacks during the first quarter of 2017 over the last three months of 2016. The credentials are likely being used in other attacks based on password reuse.

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Navy chief: It may be time to bring back retired warships

Enlarge / The Oliver Hazard Perry-class fast frigate USS Ford (FFG 54) departs Pearl Harbor in this 2010 photo. The Navy is looking at bringing back a handful of the decommissioned ships. (credit: US Navy)

In a speech before the Naval War College yesterday, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said that the Navy is looking at "every trick" to grow the fleet more quickly towards the Navy's goal of 355 ships, including extending the lives of ships already in the fleet and "bringing ships back." And one of the candidates for a comeback, Richardson said, are the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates. (The Iowa-class battleships, despite political posturing by President Trump during the election campaign, have not yet been mentioned.)

The Perry class ships were the Navy's equivalent of the Air Force's A-10 Thunderbolt II—workhorse ships that lacked the glamor of larger, more capable commands that performed missions essential to the fleet. They were originally built as guided missile frigates (FFGs), intended to provide a combination of air and antisubmarine defenses for carrier battle groups. The few ships being considered for reactivation were all built in the late 1980s and decommissioned over the past five years. About 10 are held in the Navy's Inactive Fleet Inventory designated for foreign sale, while the remainder are slotted to be scrapped or sunk as targets.

The Australian Navy has managed to keep three of its original Perry-class frigates (known as the Adelaide class) in service through upgrades to its power plants and other life-extending maintenance. Several other navies still operate former US ships of the class.

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Facing limits of remote hacking, Army cybers up the battlefield

Enlarge / FORT IRWIN, California – Spc. Nathaniel Ortiz, Expeditionary CEMA (Cyber Electromagnetic Activities) Team (ECT), 781st Military Intelligence Battalion, "conducts cyberspace operations" at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., May 9, 2017. (credit: Bill Roche, U.S. Army Cyber Command)

The US military and intelligence communities have spent much of the last two decades fighting wars in which the US significantly over-matched its opponents technologically—on the battlefield and off. In addition to its massive pure military advantage, the US also had more sophisticated electronic warfare and cyber capabilities than its adversaries. But those advantages haven't always translated into dominance over the enemy. And the US military is facing a future in which American forces in the field will face adversaries that can go toe to toe with the US in the electromagnetic domain—with disastrous physical results.

That's in part why the Army Cyber Command recently experimented with putting "cyber soldiers" in the field as part of an exercise at the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. In addition to fielding troops to provide defensive and offensive cyber capabilities for units coming into NTC for training, the Army has also been arming its opposition force (the trainers) with cyber capabilities to demonstrate their impact.

That impact was demonstrated clearly in May, when an armored unit staging a simulated assault at NTC was stopped dead in its tracks by jamming of communications. As the unit's commanders attempted to figure out what was wrong, a simulated artillery barrage essentially took the unit out of action.

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Air Force grounds F-35A operations at training base after pilots suffered hypoxia

(credit: US Air Force)

The US Air Force's 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona today cancelled "local flying operations" for F-35A fighters after five incidents in which pilots "experienced hypoxia-like symptoms," an Air Force spokesperson said in a statement. Hypoxia is a deficiency in oxygen reaching the body through the circulatory system.

"In order to synchronize operations and maintenance efforts toward safe flying operations we have cancelled local F-35A flying," said 56th Fighter Wing commander Brigadier General Brook Leonard. "The Air Force takes these physiological incidents seriously, and our focus is on the safety and well-being of our pilots. We are taking the necessary steps to find the root cause of these incidents."

The cancellation of F-35A operations is currently restricted to Luke Air Force Base, the primary pilot training base for the F-35A. The Air Force also trains F-35A pilots at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The 56th Fighter Wing's squadrons at Luke train pilots from the US Air Force as well as from other nations buying the F-35A, including Norway, Italy, and Australia. All the pilots training at Luke will be briefed on the incidents and on the procedures the pilots affected used to successfully restore oxygen and land the aircraft safely, a 56th Fighter Wing spokesperson said. The 56th's Air Operations Group will also hold a forum with pilots to discuss their concerns.

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North Korea hits imperialist aggressor barge in coastal cruise missile demo


Today, the Korean Central News Agency (North Korea's state news organization) announced the successful test of a new coastal defense cruise missile system, inflicting pain and woe on a target barge designed to represent a US "battleship." The missile, a knockoff of the Kh-35 cruise missile Russia exported in the 1990s to India and Vietnam, is notable mostly for its new tracked launcher. That means the associated crew no longer has to sit in a hardened battery packaged for instantaneous destruction and can instead wander freely about the coastline in hopes of popping off a shot or two before getting annihilated.

"This new-type cruise rocket is a powerful attack means capable of striking any enemy group of battleships attempting at military attack on the DPRK from the ground at will," reported KCNA. The test, of course, was overseen personally by Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. "The test-fire was aimed to confirm its tactical and engineering data and technical specifications and verify the combat application efficiency of the overall weapon system, including the rocket and caterpillar self-propelled launching pad vehicle."

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