Disaster hacks: South American cities harness tech and nature to tackle flooding

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Hit with ever-more-frequent torrential rain that triggers worsening flooding and mudslides most years, Rio de Janeiro is looking to an unusual gathering for answers: a hackathon.

Starting Saturday, teams of university students, tech start-up leaders, software developers and computer engineers will try to come up with innovative ways to help the seaside Brazilian city limit its losses as climate change brings wilder weather.

Tech experts at the city hall-led event hope to, for instance, come up with new ways to leverage data from GPS systems already used in the city’s buses to allow emergency services to better understand and monitor floods in real time.

“We know we have problems of floods and heavy rains, and we see an opportunity to use GPS to know where the flooding and landslide incidents are,” said Simone Silva, a mobility advisor at city hall and one of the organizers.

Right now, “at the very local level, we don’t know exactly what happens,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

RISING URBANIZATION

Around Latin America, tens of millions of people are at risk from worsening flooding linked to climate change, many of them living in urban slums often built along rivers or on mountain slopes prone to landslides.

About 80% of Latin America’s people live in the region’s urban areas, according to the United Nations.

But across the region, cities are working to cut the risks, harnessing technology, better data and insights from affected communities to come up with new ways to keep people safe.

Flooding is clearly seen as one of the most severe threats. Of 530 cities worldwide that reported their climate hazards in 2018 to CDP, a London-based international environmental non-profit, 71% said floods were their top worry.

Extreme heat came next, at 61%, followed by drought at 36%, according to the study, published last month.

But over half of cities have not carried out risk assessments to map which areas, residents and businesses are under threat from extreme weather, the study found.

“We have seen that cities that take vulnerability assessments, they take six times as many actions to adapt as cities that haven’t done them,” said Kyra Appleby, who heads the CDP’s cities, states and regions team.

Geographic information system (GIS) technology that allows data about hazards and climate risks to be overlayed with existing maps of cities has made it easier for authorities to do risk assessments, she added.

That and other technologies are among the measures being used in a range of cities around Latin America to deal with worsening economic and human losses from floods.

In recent decades, Rio de Janeiro, for instance, has put in place early warning systems to help evacuate people ahead of threats, mapped of floodplain areas, built shelters and conducted emergency drills in slum areas, Appleby said.

The city also has installed cameras to monitor street flooding and set up social media alert systems.

Other cities are introducing digital sensors to try to cut risks. Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, is developing a network of sensors to monitor rainfall and feed back data in real time to the city’s central control centre.

Ensuring climate change adaptation measures are included in all urban planning is crucial, Appleby said, noting that the city of Belo Horizonte, in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state, is one of those leading the way.

“It’s in the process of creating a new masterplan for the city and they are integrating all their adaption measures into their masterplan. That is really ahead of the curve,” she said.

To be effective, climate adaption plans must include the input of local communities, according to Anjali Mahendra, head of research at the World Resources Institute Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

“Latin American cities are particularly good with involving communities,” she said.

That’s largely because early urbanization in the region means cities have had longer experience working with informal settlements and other disadvantaged communities, she said.

African and South Asian cities, facing rapid urbanization are “starting to learn from some Latin American cities,” Mahendra said.

Colombia’s second city of Medellin and Ecuador’s capital Quito – which has a climate change panel that includes youth, women and indigenous groups – in particular have worked hard to include local communities in decisions about urban planning and climate risks, said Mahendra.

USING NATURE

To tackle growing flood threats, more investment also is needed in “nature-based solutions” – such as expanding green areas to absorb floodwaters, said Pedro Ribeiro, head of the Urban Flooding Network at C40, a group of cities pushing climate action.

Creating green buffer areas to stem urban sprawl and protecting and restoring degraded ecosystems around cities, including forests, watersheds, grasslands and wetlands, can help slow the movement of water and avoid flooding, he said.

“It’s easier to recover ecosystems that were in the city before building .. and the results are better” than trying to establish wholly new anti-flooding systems, Ribeiro said.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by XXXX. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Japan launches satellite for advanced GPS operation

A H-IIA rocket carrying Michibiki 3 satellite, one of four satellites that will augment regional navigational systems, lifts off from the launching pad at Tanegashima Space Center on the southwestern island of Tanegashima, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo August 19, 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan on Saturday launched an H-2A rocket carrying a geo-positioning satellite into orbit after a week-long delay, the government said.

The launch of Japan’s third geo-positioning satellite is part of its plan to build a version of the U.S. global positioning system (GPS) to offer location information used for autopiloting and possible national security purposes.

The government postponed the launch a week ago because of a technical glitch.

“With the success of the third satellite, we have made another step closer for having signals from four satellites in the future,” Masaji Matsuyama, minister in charge of space policy, said in a statement.

The government plans to launch a fourth satellite by the end of the year to start offering highly precise position information by next April.

Japan plans to boost the number of its geo-positioning satellites to seven by 2023, making its system independently operational even if the U.S. GPS becomes unavailable for some reason, a government official said previously.

The satellite was manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric Corp and was blasted into orbit by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

(Reporting by Junko Fujita and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Cyber threats prompt return of radio for ship navigation

Cargo ships navigate the Panama Canal during an organized media tour by Italy's Salini Impregilo, one of the main sub contractors of the Panama Canal Expansion project, on the outskirts of Colon city, Panama May 11, 2016

By Jonathan Saul

LONDON (Reuters) – The risk of cyber attacks targeting ships’ satellite navigation is pushing nations to delve back through history and develop back-up systems with roots in World War Two radio technology.

Ships use GPS (Global Positioning System) and other similar devices that rely on sending and receiving satellite signals, which many experts say are vulnerable to jamming by hackers.

About 90 percent of world trade is transported by sea and the stakes are high in increasingly crowded shipping lanes. Unlike aircraft, ships lack a back-up navigation system and if their GPS ceases to function, they risk running aground or colliding with other vessels.

South Korea is developing an alternative system using an earth-based navigation technology known as eLoran, while the United States is planning to follow suit. Britain and Russia have also explored adopting versions of the technology, which works on radio signals.

The drive follows a series of disruptions to shipping navigation systems in recent months and years. It was not clear if they involved deliberate attacks; navigation specialists say solar weather effects can also lead to satellite signal loss.

Last year, South Korea said hundreds of fishing vessels had returned early to port after their GPS signals were jammed by hackers from North Korea, which denied responsibility.

In June this year, a ship in the Black Sea reported to the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center that its GPS system had been disrupted and that over 20 ships in the same area had been similarly affected.

U.S. Coast Guard officials also said interference with ships’ GPS disrupted operations at a port for several hours in 2014 and at another terminal in 2015. It did not name the ports.

A cyber attack that hit A.P. Moller-Maersk’s IT systems in June 2017 and made global headlines did not involve navigation but underscored the threat hackers pose to the technology dependent and inter-connected shipping industry. It disrupted port operations across the world.

The eLoran push is being led by governments who see it as a means of protecting their national security. Significant investments would be needed to build a network of transmitter stations to give signal coverage, or to upgrade existing ones dating back decades when radio navigation was standard.

U.S. engineer Brad Parkinson, known as the “father of GPS” and its chief developer, is among those who have supported the deployment of eLoran as a back-up.

“ELoran is only two-dimensional, regional, and not as accurate, but it offers a powerful signal at an entirely different frequency,” Parkinson told Reuters. “It is a deterrent to deliberate jamming or spoofing (giving wrong positions), since such hostile activities can be rendered ineffective,” said Parkinson, a retired U.S. airforce colonel.

 

KOREAN STATIONS

Cyber specialists say the problem with GPS and other Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) is their weak signals, which are transmitted from 12,500 miles above the Earth and can be disrupted with cheap jamming devices that are widely available.

Developers of eLoran – the descendant of the loran (long-range navigation) system created during World War II – say it is difficult to jam as the average signal is an estimated 1.3 million times stronger than a GPS signal.

To do so would require a powerful transmitter, large antenna and lots of power, which would be easy to detect, they add.

Shipping and security officials say the cyber threat has grown steadily over the past decade as vessels have switched increasingly to satellite systems and paper charts have largely disappeared due to a loss of traditional skills among seafarers.

“My own view, and it is only my view, is we are too dependent on GNSS/GPS position fixing systems,” said Grant Laversuch, head of safety management at P&O Ferries. “Good navigation is about cross-checking navigation systems, and what better way than having two independent electronic systems.”

Lee Byeong-gon, an official at South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, said the government was working on establishing three sites for eLoran test operations by 2019 with further ones to follow after that.

But he said South Korea was contending with concerns from local residents at Gangwha Island, off the west coast.

“The government needs to secure a 40,000 pyeong (132,200 square-meter) site for a transmitting station, but the residents on the island are strongly opposed to having the 122 to 137 meter-high antenna,” Lee told Reuters.

In July, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill which included provisions for the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to establish an eLoran system.

“This bill will now go over to the Senate and we hope it will be written into law,” said Dana Goward, president of the U.S. non-profit Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation, which supports the deployment of eLoran.

“We don’t see any problems with the President (Donald Trump) signing off on this provision.”

The previous administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both pledged to establish eLoran but never followed through. However, this time there is more momentum.

In May, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told a Senate committee the global threat of electronic warfare attacks against space systems would rise in coming years.

“Development will very likely focus on jamming capabilities against … Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS),” he said.

 

SPOOFING DANGERS

Russia has looked to establish a version of eLoran called eChayka, aimed at the Arctic region as sea lanes open up there, but the project has stalled for now.

“It is obvious that we need such a system,” said Vasily Redkozubov, deputy director general of Russia’s Internavigation Research and Technical Centre.

“But there are other challenges apart from eChayka, and (Russia has) not so many financial opportunities at the moment.”

Cost is a big issue for many countries. Some European officials also say their own satellite system Galileo is more resistant to jamming than other receivers.

But many navigation technology experts say the system is hackable. “Galileo can help, particularly with spoofing, but it is also a very weak signal at similar frequencies,” said Parkinson.

The reluctance of many countries to commit to a back-up means there is little chance of unified radio coverage globally for many years at least, and instead disparate areas of cover including across some national territories and shared waterways.

The General Lighthouse Authorities of the UK and Ireland had conducted trials of eLoran but the initiative was pulled after failing to garner interest from European countries whose transmitters were needed to create a signal network.

France, Denmark, Norway and Germany have all decided to turn off or dismantle their old radio transmitter stations.

Britain is maintaining a single eLoran transmitter in northern England.

Taviga, a British-U.S. company, is looking to commercially operate an eLoran network, which would provide positioning, navigation and timing (PNT).

“There would need to be at least one other transmitter probably on the UK mainland for a timing service,” said co-founder Charles Curry, adding that the firm would need the British government to commit to using the technology.

Andy Proctor, innovation lead for satellite navigation and PNT with Innovate UK, the government’s innovation agency, said: “We would consider supporting a commercially run and operated service, which we may or may not buy into as a customer.”

Current government policy was “not to run large operational pieces of infrastructure like an eLoran system”, he added.

 

(Additional reporting by Terje Solsvik in Oslo, Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Copenhagen, Yuna Park in Seoul, Gleb Stolyarov in Moscow, Sophie Louet in Paris, Madeline Chambers in Berlin and Mark Hosenball in London; Editing by Pravin Char)

 

Hackers Take Control of Jeep Cherokee From Miles Away

Two hackers have shown an exploit in the Jeep Cherokee that would allow them to take control of the vehicle from miles away.

In one demonstration, they caused the vehicle to crash.

Two cybersecurity experts, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, worked with Wired magazine to expose a flaw in the computer software that allows remote takeover the vehicle by anyone with knowledge of computer hacking.

In one test, Wired magazine staffer Andy Greenberg was driving 70 miles an hour near downtown St. Louis when the air conditioning suddenly blasted at maximum,  the radio changed to a new radio station and blasted full volume and the windshield wipers turned on while blasting wiper fluid making it almost impossible to see the road.

The hackers then put a picture of themselves on the car’s digital display.

The hackers had previously performed similar experiments with a Ford Escape and Toyota Prius, although they were in the backseats of the car.

In these tests, they were more than 10 miles away in the basement of one of the two security experts.

A test conducted away from traffic for safety reasons showed the hackers could lock up brakes, disable driving and transmission and kill the engine.  In one test, the driver was helpless as the car crashed off the road into a ditch.

The hackers can also track the car’s GPS, measure speed and drop pins on a map to track the car’s movements.

Chrysler responded while they appreciate the efforts to show exploits that can be corrected, they were not pleased the information was released.

“Under no circumstances does FCA condone or believe it’s appropriate to disclose ‘how-to information’ that would potentially encourage, or help enable hackers to gain unauthorized and unlawful access to vehicle systems,” the company’s statement reads. “We appreciate the contributions of cybersecurity advocates to augment the industry’s understanding of potential vulnerabilities. However, we caution advocates that in the pursuit of improved public safety they not, in fact, compromise public safety.”

NSA Secretly Collects Data Using Angry Birds

If you have played the mobile game Angry Birds on your phone at any time since its release, then you likely have a file at the NSA with your personal information.

A new document released by fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden shows that the NSA has a list of online games that have security leaks which can allow them to obtain information without having to hack into someone’s smartphone.

The program could capture everything from the model of phone and its screen size to someone’s age, gender and GPS location. The apps can also be used to determine sensitive personal information such as a person’s dating preferences or preferred restaurants.

Most smartphone users have no idea of the potential weaknesses in security of smartphone games and the ease with which security groups can obtain their most personal information.

The data skimming from games is part of a $1 billion budget the NSA has used for online spying targeting phones.

Car Manufacturers Spying On Car Owners

A new government report shows that major automakers have been using on-board navigation systems to track where drivers travel.

The report also says that car owners cannot demand the information be destroyed by the car manufacturers.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report Monday that major automakers all had different policies regarding data collection but that every major automaker collected data.

The report included Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan and Honda.

Automakers reportedly used the data to provide real time traffic information to navigation systems and to provide information about nearby restaurants or gas stations. While the companies reportedly took steps to protect privacy of users, and reportedly did not sell the information, there was no real limits to what the companies could do with the information.

The study also tracked GPS manufacturers Garmin and TomTom with app developers Google Maps and Telenav.

None of the companies would tell the GAO how long the data was stored on their servers. However, sources inside the companies say most of them only keep the information for 24 hours.