Day: June 12, 2017

9/11 Tribute Museum Expands Space for Personal Stories

A museum that tells the stories of the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks will reopen Tuesday in a new space, a little farther from the World Trade Center memorial but with triple the exhibition space of the temporary quarters it occupied for a decade.

The 9/11 Tribute Museum was originally founded in 2006 as a temporary shrine to the victims in the years that the larger, better known National September 11 Memorial and Museum was under construction and even after it opened in 2011. 

The Tribute Museum offered daily guided tours of the rebuilt World Trade Center site led by people with close personal connections to the tragedy, including attack survivors, first responders, recovery workers and relatives of the dead.

More than 4 million people have visited the museum, originally called the Tribute Center and co-founded by CEO Jennifer Adams-Webb and the September 11th Families’ Association, causing it to outgrow its original home in a space formerly occupied by a delicatessen.

The new space, a few blocks away, is 36,000-square-feet, about half of which is exhibition space. It is located on the ground and second floors of a high-rise building.

“Originally, when we started, we weren’t sure where we were going,” said Lee Ielpi, whose firefighter son, Jonathan, died in the attacks. “We realized, as the years went on, that we are making an impact.”

Artifacts on display at the museum include “missing persons” posters that were hung throughout the city in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, when families still held hope that their loved ones would be found alive. Other items on display include a death certificate, a boarding pass for someone who was on one of the flights, and a section of window from one of the hijacked planes.

On a tour of the space last week, Ielpi, a retired firefighter, stopped before one display that left him in tears: his son’s helmet and fire department jacket.

“It is crucial that we pass on the understanding of 9/11 to future generations and the tremendous spirit of resilience and service that arose after the attacks,” said Ielpi, who helped carry his son’s body from the rubble.

Ielpi had nothing but praise for the much larger National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which serves as the country’s principal institution that tells the 9/11 story through interactive technology, archives and filmed narratives. He said the institutions “complement each other,” with the Tribute Museum able to truly personalize the experience of the day through the volunteer guides.

The new space cost $8.7 million. Private and public funds for it include donations from American Express, Zurich North America and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the Trade Center site.

The museum also offers programs for visiting schoolchildren who were not even alive on Sept. 11, 2001.

Lee Skolnick, whose firm designed the exhibit layout, said the Tribute Museum’s power comes from the survivors, relatives and recovery workers who lead the tours and who have agreed to share their personal stories.

“The fact that survivors, responders and citizens discovered the ‘seeds of service’ growing out of unimaginable tragedy is a testament to the power of the human spirit and an amazing life lesson for us all,” said Skolnick. “What can you do for others, for the world?”


Seeds of Change Offer Hope in Lebanon

In the farm fields of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, the start of a harvest that not even war could stop offers hope for farmers facing a time of crisis.

Driven from their headquarters in Syria’s Aleppo province, the work continues of a group of scientists and farmers who store and grow crops with a view to helping feed nations.

The work of experts at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) is global, but many harbor the personal hope their efforts will help rebuild the country they left behind.

Fond memories

In ICARDA’s Lebanon base, Ali Shehadeh fondly scrolls through pictures on his laptop of the old HQ, from the seed bank where samples of crops such as wheat, barley and chickpeas were preserved to the fields in which they were grown.

Spread out across 1,000 hectares, the site represented a vast archive of the country’s agricultural past and present, as well as a treasure trove for farmers worldwide. 

This includes 150,000 seed samples stored and ready to be grown or distributed across the globe, with each sample potentially holding genetic traits that could help develop crops better suited to survival in an age of rapidly changing conditions.

“We try to figure out how to produce crops better adapted to climate change,” explained Shehadeh, originally from Idlib.

Before the war, their work had played a role in helping Syria reach the point of producing enough to feed itself, but the same war that destroyed that self-sufficiency also drove them out.

Shehadeh scrolls onto the most recent pictures they have — images of damaged buildings now inaccessible because of militias operating in the region.

The worsening of conditions — including the kidnapping of two staff members, who were released a few weeks later — lead to the ICARDA shifting its operations out of the country.

“It was sad, of course,” said Shehadeh. “We left behind a lot of memories and valuable resources.”

A global challenge

All, however, was not lost.

With troubles brewing in 2012, the ICARDA team was prompted to copy most of the samples and send them to Svalbard, an ultra-secure “doomsday” global seed vault dug into a snow-steeped mountain on Norway’s Arctic archipelago.

Then, in 2015, they withdrew seeds from Svalbard to help rebuild the collection — this time in Lebanon, as well as Morocco.

This is the fifth harvest collected at Terbol, a small town in the Bekaa Valley and new home for ICARDA.

With climate change beginning to be more keenly felt, the work of those like Mariana Yazbeck will be increasingly vital.

Yazbeck is seed bank manager at the new site, and highlighted the role of the region in the birth of farming.

“What we have here is the base for some of the most important crops responsible for feeding a large population in the heart of the fertile crescent, which is the cradle of agriculture,” Yazbeck said. “Now, 10,000 years later, we’ve many problems facing our agricultural practice, whether diseases or environmental challenges, and the need to feed an ever-growing population.”

The dream of returning

Though it may not be a direct result of climate change, the agricultural sector in Syria is in as dire need of assistance as any.

According to a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization assessment last year on the impact of the war, damage to the sector totaled $16 billion.

Whether due to damage to infrastructure or displacement of farmers, there has been a “huge” decrease in production, said FAO representative Adam Yao.

“To rebuild the agricultural sector, there will need to be a major rethink of Syria’s whole agricultural policy,” he added, stating that ICARDA’s expertise could have a “key role” in this.

Though largely abandoned, the ICARDA center in Aleppo is not entirely out of action — it is thought the seed bank freezer continues to work unattended.

And for many at ICARDA’s Bekaa facilities, when peace comes and brings with it the opportunity for the organization to return to Syria, the desire to assist will not just be professional — it will be personal.

The farm of Muhammed Amer Jnedan’s family, located in a small village outside Aleppo, is currently occupied by a man from a local militia.

But in his work with ICARDA, Jnedan is determined that he will put his knowledge to use, starting with home. 

“Maybe it is kind of dreaming,” he said, “but I am still thinking to get back to my village. I want to put [to use] this experience I gathered or I obtained in the last 10 years.”


Music Road Warriors James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt Team Up This Summer

James Taylor might just be the happiest road warrior touring today, so what makes him happier?


Bringing on old friend Bonnie Raitt this summer for concerts that include the ultimate in Americana, some of the country’s most storied baseball parks.


“I’ve loved her music and her for a long, long time,” Taylor told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “I’ve interacted with Bonnie, and happily so, at numerous benefits for numerous causes — environmental, social, political causes — over the years. We’re very much in sync in that way. She’s an incredible giver.”


Among their stops will be Boston’s Fenway Park, where Taylor’s home-state team, the Red Sox, live and where Raitt last joined him on the road in 2015. And the first time? Well, that was back in 1970, when he invited the Harvard junior and budding blues singer, guitar player and songwriter onstage for a campus gig at Sanders Theatre after the two met through a mutual friend.


“I was nervous to play because I hadn’t really broken my chops in for concerts that much,” Raitt said by phone from Toronto while on a swing through Canada. “But I was so excited. It was an honor to be both at my school and opening for him. He couldn’t have been warmer and more friendly. It was intimidating to meet one of my heroes but he was just so down to earth.”


Raitt got her first recording contract and dropped out of school around that time. Though she was based on the West Coast and Taylor on the East, the two stayed in touch over the decades.


“The affection between us is so clear and so palpable. Our two bands love each other. James and I are both social activists and we’re really proud that a dollar of every ticket will be donated to various causes,” Raitt said.


The two haven’t worked up their sets yet but Raitt just may include Taylor’s 1968 “Rainy Day Man,” from his debut album and one of her all-time Taylor favorites, written by him and Zach Wiesner. It’s old-school Taylor, desperate and lonely, focused on making a dope connection soon after he tried opiates for the first time in real life, setting him on a 20-year path of addiction.


Raitt covered the song in 1974 on her “Streetlights” album.


“What good is that happy lie/All you wanted from the start was to cry/It looks like another fall/Your good friends they don’t seem to help at all/When you’re feeling kind of cold and small/Just look up your rainy day man.”


“It’s so complex and deep as a point of view, especially for someone as young as James when he wrote it,” Raitt said. “He was so insightful and so deeply in touch with the inner workings and the darker side of the human soul and relationships, and so much of that point of view was so beautifully expressed in his music. That song just speaks to me and always has.”


The summer tour has the two working together for six weeks, kicking off July 6 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, and winding up at Fenway, Taylor’s third turn there, on Aug. 11. Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., Wrigley Field in Chicago and AT&T Park in San Francisco are among their other ballpark stops.


Taylor, 69, and Raitt, 67, will play hour sets, guesting for each other as well. Come fall, Taylor will come off the road, where he’s averaged about half of each year for the last three years, to begin work on a new studio album, this one a look back at his musical influences.


“I don’t have a release date. We haven’t started recording yet. Past experience has shown me that if you set a deadline you’re just setting yourself up for a fall. I’m not writing these songs. I’m looking at the songs that basically were the source for my musical education. The way I want to record them is just my guitar arrangements,” he said.


His last album of original material was in 2015, “Before This World,” some of which explored his road to recovery. The album didn’t come easy. He left the family, including twin teen boys, to hole up in Newport, Rhode Island, following a 13-year gap for release of new songs.


Raitt put out a studio album last year called “Dig in Deep” and generally works in five-year cycles for recording,


“It’s a lot more fun to be out here on the road playing than it is looking for ideas for a new record,” she said. “Some people enjoy writing and it’s always satisfying, but really the payoff for me is being able to travel around and make people happy every night, including me.”


Study: Premature Babies Often Catch Up to Peers in School

A study following more than 1.3 million premature babies born in Florida found that two-thirds of those born at only 23 or 24 weeks were ready for kindergarten on time, and almost 2 percent of those infants later achieved gifted status in school.

Such very prematurely born babies did score lower on standardized tests than full-term infants, but as the length of pregnancy increased, the differences in test scores became negligible, according to the study, conducted by Northwestern University and published on Monday in JAMA Pediatrics medical journal.

“What excites me about this study is that it changes the focus for the clinician and families at the bedside from just focusing on the medical outcomes of the child to what the future educational outcomes might be for a child born early,” Craig Garfield, the first author of the study and an associate professor of pediatrics and medial social sciences at Northwestern Medicine, said in a statement.

Researchers analyzed the school performance of 1.3 million infants born in Florida from 1992 to 2002 who had a fetal development term of 23 to 41 weeks and who later entered the state’s public schools between 1995 and 2012.

They found that babies born at between 23 and 24 weeks tended to have normal cognitive functions later in life, with 1.8 percent of them even achieving gifted status in school.

During the time period the study covered, 9.5 percent of children statewide were considered gifted.

Premature birth happens when a baby is born before at least 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A normal pregnancy term is around 40 weeks, and a preterm birth can lead to serious medical problems, underdevelopment in early childhood or death for the infant.

The study does not account for why these extremely premature infants later performed well in school, Garfield said in the statement, and did not look at whether their success could be related to extra support from family or schools, or the children’s biological make-up.


Sweet Sizzlin’ Beans! Fancy Names May Boost Healthy Dining

Researchers tried a big serving of food psychology and a dollop of trickery to get diners to eat their vegetables. And it worked.

Veggies given names like “zesty ginger-turmeric sweet potatoes” and “twisted citrus-glazed carrots” were more popular than those prepared exactly the same way but with plainer, more healthful-sounding labels. Diners more often said “no thanks” when the food had labels like “low-fat,” “reduced-sodium” or “sugar-free.”

More diners chose the fancy-named items, and selected larger portions of them, too, in the experiment last fall at a Stanford University cafeteria.

“While it may seem like a good idea to emphasize the healthiness of vegetables, doing so may actually backfire,” said lead author Bradley Turnwald, a graduate student in psychology.

Other research has shown that people tend to think of healthful sounding food as less tasty, so the aim was to make it sound as good as more indulgent, fattening fare.

Researchers from Stanford’s psychology department tested the idea as a way to improve eating habits and make a dent in the growing obesity epidemic.

“This novel, low-cost intervention could easily be implemented in cafeterias, restaurants, and consumer products to increase selection of healthier options,” they said.

Study’s details

The results were published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study was done over 46 days last fall. Lunchtime vegetable offerings were given different labels on different days. For example, on one day diners could choose “dynamite chili and tangy lime-seasoned beets.” On other days, the same item was labeled “lighter-choice beets with no added sugar,” “high antioxidant beets,” or simply “beets.”

Almost one-third of the nearly 28,000 diners chose a vegetable offering during the study. The tasty-sounding offering was the most popular, selected by about 220 diners on average on days it was offered, compared with about 175 diners who chose the simple-label vegetable. The healthy-sounding labels were the least popular.

Diners also served themselves bigger portions of the tasty-sounding vegetables than of the other choices.

Turnwald emphasized that “there was no deception” — all labels accurately described the vegetables, although diners weren’t told that the different-sounding choices were the exact same item.

The results illustrate “the interesting advantage to indulgent labeling,” he said.

Dr. Stephen Cook, a University of Rochester childhood obesity researcher, called the study encouraging and said some high school cafeterias have also tried different labels to influence healthy eating.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise to us because marketing people have been doing this for years,” Cook said.


Cybersecurity Firms Warn of Malware That Could Cause Power Outages

Two cybersecurity firms said they have uncovered malicious software that they believe caused a December 2016 Ukraine power outage, warning that the malware could be easily modified to harm critical infrastructure operations

around the globe.

ESET, a Slovakian anti-virus software maker, and Dragos Inc, a U.S. critical-infrastructure security firm, on Monday released detailed analyses of the malware, known as Industroyer or Crash Override. They said they had also issued private alerts to governments and infrastructure operators in a bid to help them defend against the threat.

They said they did not know who was behind the December Ukraine cyberattack. Ukraine has blamed Russia, though officials in Moscow have repeatedly denied blame.

Still, the security firms warned there could be more attacks using the same approach, either by the group that built the malware or copycats who modify the malicious software.

“The malware is really easy to re-purpose and use against other targets. That is definitely alarming,” said ESET malware researcher Robert Lipovsky. “This could cause wide-scale damage to infrastructure systems that are vital.”

Dragos founder Robert M. Lee said the malware is capable of attacking power systems across Europe and could be leveraged against the United States “with small modifications.”

It is capable of causing outages of up to a few days in portions of a nation’s grid, but is not potent enough to bring down a country’s entire grid, Lee said.

With modifications, the malware could attack other types of infrastructure including local transportation providers, water and gas providers, Lipovsky said.

Industroyer is only the second piece of malware uncovered to date that is capable of disrupting industrial processes without the need for hackers to manually intervene after gaining remote access to the infected system.

The first, Stuxnet, was discovered in 2010 and is widely believed by security researchers to have been used by the United States and Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear program.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s state cyber police said it was not clear whether the malware was used in the December 2016 attack because the security firms had not provided authorities with the samples they had analyzed.

Representatives with Ukraine’s state-run Computer Emergency Response Team, which advises businesses on defending against cyberattacks, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Kremlin and Russia’s Federal Security Service did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Crash Override can be detected if a utility specifically monitors its network for abnormal traffic, including signs that the malware is searching for the location of substations or sending messages to switch breakers, according to Lee, a former U.S. Air Force cyber warfare operations officer.

Malware has been used in other disruptive attacks on industrial targets, including the 2015 Ukraine power outage, but in those cases human intervention was required to interfere with operations.

ESET said it had been analyzing the malware for several months and had held off on going public to preserve the integrity of investigations into the power system hack.

It said it last week shared samples with Dragos, which said it was able to independently verify that it was used in the Ukraine grid attack.


Living Drugs New Frontier for Cancer Patients Out of Options

Ken Shefveland’s body was swollen with cancer, treatment after treatment failing until doctors gambled on a radical approach: They removed some of his immune cells, engineered them into cancer assassins and unleashed them into his bloodstream.


Immune therapy is the hottest trend in cancer care and this is its next frontier – creating “living drugs” that grow inside the body into an army that seeks and destroys tumors.


Looking in the mirror, Shefveland saw “the cancer was just melting away.” A month later doctors at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center couldn’t find any signs of lymphoma in the Vancouver, Washington, man’s body.

“Today I find out I’m in full remission – how wonderful is that?” said Shefveland with a wide grin, giving his physician a quick embrace.


This experimental therapy marks an entirely new way to treat cancer – if scientists can make it work, safely. Early-stage studies are stirring hope as one-time infusions of supercharged immune cells help a remarkable number of patients with intractable leukemia or lymphoma.


“It shows the unbelievable power of your immune system,” said Dr. David Maloney, Fred Hutch’s medical director for cellular immunotherapy who treated Shefveland with a type called CAR-T cells.


“We’re talking, really, patients who have no other options, and we’re seeing tumors and leukemias disappear over weeks,” added immunotherapy scientific director Dr. Stanley Riddell. But, “there’s still lots to learn.”


T cells are key immune system soldiers. But cancer can be hard for them to spot, and can put the brakes on an immune attack. Today’s popular immunotherapy drugs called “checkpoint inhibitors” release one brake so nearby T cells can strike. The new cellular immunotherapy approach aims to be more potent: Give patients stronger T cells to begin with.


Currently available only in studies at major cancer centers, the first CAR-T cell therapies for a few blood cancers could hit the market later this year. The Food and Drug Administration is evaluating one version developed by the University of Pennsylvania and licensed to Novartis, and another created by the National Cancer Institute and licensed to Kite Pharma.


CAR-T therapy “feels very much like it’s ready for prime time” for advanced blood cancers, said Dr. Nick Haining of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, who isn’t involved in the development.


‘There’s a desperate need’

Now scientists are tackling a tougher next step, what Haining calls “the acid test:” Making T cells target far more common cancers – solid tumors like lung, breast or brain cancer. Cancer kills about 600,000 Americans a year, including nearly 45,000 from leukemia and lymphoma.


“There’s a desperate need,” said NCI immunotherapy pioneer Dr. Steven Rosenberg, pointing to queries from hundreds of patients for studies that accept only a few.


For all the excitement, there are formidable challenges.


Scientists still are unraveling why these living cancer drugs work for some people and not others.


Doctors must learn to manage potentially life-threatening side effects from an overstimulated immune system. Also concerning is a small number of deaths from brain swelling, an unexplained complication that forced another company, Juno Therapeutics, to halt development of one CAR-T in its pipeline; Kite recently reported a death, too.


And, made from scratch for every patient using their own blood, this is one of the most customized therapies ever and could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“It’s a Model A Ford and we need a Lamborghini,” said CAR-T researcher Dr. Renier Brentjens of New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which, like Hutch, has a partnership with Juno.


In Seattle, Fred Hutch offered a behind-the-scenes peek at research underway to tackle those challenges. At a recently opened immunotherapy clinic, scientists are taking newly designed T cells from the lab to the patient and back again to tease out what works best.


“We can essentially make a cell do things it wasn’t programmed to do naturally,” explained immunology chief Dr. Philip Greenberg. “Your imagination can run wild with how you can engineer cells to function better.”


Two long weeks to brew a dose


The first step is much like donating blood. When leukemia patient Claude Bannick entered a Hutch CAR-T study in 2014, nurses hooked him to a machine that filtered out his white blood cells, including the T cells.


Technicians raced his bag of cells to a factory-like facility that’s kept so sterile they must pull on germ-deflecting suits, booties and masks just to enter. Then came 14 days of wait and worry, as his cells were reprogrammed.


Bannick, 67, says he “was almost dead.” Chemotherapy, experimental drugs, even a bone marrow transplant had failed, and “I was willing to try anything.”


Genetically engineering cells


The goal: Arm T cells with an artificial receptor, a tracking system that can zero in on identifying markers of cancer cells, known as antigens. For many leukemias and lymphomas, that’s an antigen named CD19.


Every research group has its own recipe but generally, scientists infect T cells with an inactive virus carrying genetic instructions to grow the desired “chimeric antigen receptor.” That CAR will bind to its target cancer cells and rev up for attack.


Millions of copies of engineered cells are grown in incubators, Hutch technicians pulling out precious batches to monitor if they’re ready for waiting patients.


If they work, those cells will keep multiplying in the body. If they don’t, the doctors send blood and other samples back to researchers like Riddell to figure out why.


What’s the data?


Small, early studies in the U.S. made headlines as 60 percent to 90 percent of patients trying CAR-Ts as a last resort for leukemia or lymphoma saw their cancer rapidly decrease or even become undetectable. Last week, Chinese researchers reported similar early findings as 33 of 35 patients with another blood cancer, multiple myeloma, reached some degree of remission within two months.


Too few people have been studied so far to know how long such responses will last. A recent review reported up to half of leukemia and lymphoma patients may relapse.

There are long-term survivors. Doug Olson in 2010 received the University of Pennsylvania’s CAR-T version for leukemia. The researchers were frank – it had worked in mice but they didn’t know what would happen to him.


“Sitting here almost seven years later, I can tell you it works,” Olson, now 70, told a recent meeting of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.


Bannick, the Hutch patient treated in 2014, recalls Maloney calling him “the miracle man.” He had some lingering side effects that required blood-boosting infusions but says CAR-T is “giving me a second life.”


Scary side effects


“The more side effects you have, that sort of tells everybody it’s working,” said Shefveland, who was hospitalized soon after his treatment at Hutch when his blood pressure collapsed. His last clear memory for days: “I was having a conversation with a nurse and all of a sudden it was gibberish.”


As CAR-T cells swarm the cancer, an immune overreaction called “cytokine release syndrome” can trigger high fevers and plummeting blood pressure and in severe cases organ damage. Some patients also experience confusion, hallucinations or other neurologic symptoms.


Treatment is a balancing act to control those symptoms without shutting down the cancer attack.


Experienced cancer centers have learned to expect and watch for these problems. “And, most importantly, we’ve learned how to treat them,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society, who is watching CAR-T’s development.


Fighting solid tumors will be harder


CAR-Ts cause collateral damage, killing some healthy white blood cells, called B cells, along with cancerous ones because both harbor the same marker. Finding the right target to kill solid tumors but not healthy organ tissue will be even more complicated.


“You can live without some normal B cells. You can’t live without your lungs,” Riddell explained.


Early studies against solid tumors are beginning, targeting different antigens. Time-lapse photos taken through a microscope in Riddell’s lab show those new CAR-T cells crawling over aggressive breast cancer, releasing toxic chemicals until tumor cells shrivel and die.


CARs aren’t the only approach. Researchers also are trying to target markers inside tumor cells rather than on the surface, or even gene mutations that don’t form in healthy tissue.


“It’s ironic that the very mutations that cause the cancer are very likely to be the Achilles heel,” NCI’s Rosenberg said.


And studies are beginning to test CAR-Ts in combination with older immunotherapy drugs, in hopes of overcoming tumor defenses.


How will patients get the first CAR-T therapies?


If the FDA approves Novartis’ or Kite’s versions, eligible leukemia and lymphoma patients would be treated at cancer centers experienced with this tricky therapy. Their T cells would be shipped to company factories, engineered, and shipped back. Gradually, more hospitals could offer it.


Because only certain patients would qualify for the first drugs, others would have to search for CAR-T studies to try the treatment. A drug industry report lists 21 CAR-T therapies in development by a dozen companies.


“This is the hope of any cancer patient, that if you stay in the game long enough, the next treatment’s going to be just around the corner,” said Shefveland, the Hutch patient.


Researchers Say Power-grid-wrecking Software Discovered

Researchers say they’ve discovered a worrying breed of power grid-wrecking software, saying the program was likely responsible for a brief blackout that hit Kyiv, Ukraine, late last year.


Slovakia-based computer security company ESET and Maryland-based Dragos, Inc. said in a report published Monday that the malicious software has the ability to control the switches and circuit breakers – a nightmare scenario for those charged with keeping the lights on.


Policymakers have long ranked malware that can remotely sabotage industrial computers among some of the world’s most dangerous threats because of its potential to deal immense damage across the internet.


The researchers stopped just short of blaming the malware for the Ukrainian power outage on December 17, 2016.


Ukrainian officials didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment on the report.


US Top Court Rules for Microsoft in Xbox Class Action Fight

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of Microsoft Corp in its bid to

fend off class action claims by Xbox 360 owners who said the popular video game console gouges discs because of a design defect.

The court, in a 8-0 ruling, overturned a 2015 decision by the San Francisco- based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed console owners to appeal the dismissal of their class action lawsuit by a federal judge in Seattle in 2012.

Typically parties cannot appeal a class certification ruling until the entire case has reached a conclusion. But the 9th Circuit allowed the console owners to voluntarily dismiss their lawsuit so they could immediately appeal the denial of a class certification.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing on behalf of the court, said such a move was not permitted because a voluntary dismissal of a lawsuit is not a final decision and thus cannot be appealed.

The Xbox console owners filed a proposed class action against Microsoft in federal court in 2011, saying the design of the console was defective and that its optical disc drive could not withstand even small vibrations.

The company said class certification was improper because just 0.4 percent of Xbox owners reported disc scratches, and that misuse was the cause.


GE CEO Immelt Stepping Down, Flannery to Take Over Role

General Electric says Jeff Immelt is stepping down as CEO. John Flannery, president and CEO of the conglomerate’s health care unit, will take over the post in August.


The 61-year-old Immelt will stay on as chairman until his retirement from the position at the end of the year, with the 55-year-old Flannery stepping into the role after that.


In addition, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bornstein was named vice chair.


GE said Monday that the moves were part of its succession plan.


Shares of General Electric Co. climbed more than 2 percent in premarket trading.




Bangladesh Trains Girls to Fight Online Predators

Bangladesh has begun training thousands of school girls to protect them from being blackmailed or harassed online following an alarming rise in cybercrimes. 

The Information & Communication Technology (ICT) Division of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Post, Telecommunication & Information Technology recently finished conducting a pilot project in which female students from urban areas were taught how to keep themselves safe if they faced online threats.

“Most of the victims of cybercrime in our country are young girls. So, we decided to spread awareness among the girls first. In this pilot project, over 10,000 girls from 40 schools and colleges took part in our workshops and we got a massive response. Now we have our target to take this campaign across the whole country involving 40 million students in 170,000 schools and colleges,” Zunaid Ahmed Palak, State Minister for ICT told VOA.

Internet growth

Bangladesh has experienced a double-digit growth in Internet use every year in the past 15 years and almost half of the social media users in the country are women and teenage girls, but authorities say they make up about 70 percent of cybercrime victims.

Mishuk Chakma, a cybersecurity expert of Dhaka Metropolitan Police said the boyfriends of the Facebook-using girls often trick them into posing for intimate photographs or videos.

“Later, when their relationships are on the rocks, their former boyfriends post the photos and videos in the social media to emotionally blackmail the girls. Such photos and videos often trigger troubles in the lives of the girls after they get into new relationships or get married,” Chakma told VOA. “In such a situation many marital relationships are getting into troubles and even in a few cases the girls are taking extreme steps like attempting suicide.”

Sahana, a 15-year-old who took part in an ICT-organized workshop, said she feels she has benefitted from the training. 

“I shall verify one’s identity in many ways before I accept his or her Facebook ‘friend request’ now. Now I have also learned that I should not disclose much of my personal information on Facebook,” she said. “Also, I am quite confident now that none can harass or blackmail me on Facebook.”

Raising awareness

Sometimes the criminals are superimposing faces of the girls, who are known to them, onto the bodies of nude models or adult film stars to blackmail and defame the girls, Chakma said.

“Cyber harassment of girls and women can be effectively curbed if the spread of awareness among the social media users increases,” he said.

The Office of the Controller of Certifying Authorities (CCA) of the ICT Division hired cybersecurity consulting agency Four D Communications to conduct the recent training of the 10,000 girls.

Abdullah Al Imran, managing director of Four D Communications, said apart from learning how to defend themselves online, the girls also learned how to bring cyber criminals to justice. 

“Very surprisingly we found that as much as 93 percent of the girls who participated in the training did not know that Bangladesh already has an ICT Act to help cyber harassment victims. We also taught them where and how they would seek help in case they were harassed or blackmailed online,” Imran told VOA. “Girls mostly from urban areas took part in our pilot project. I am sure, in smaller towns and rural areas the Internet literacy level among girls is even lower and they are more vulnerable there.”

But Lawyer Tureen Afroz, an advocate in Dhaka’s Supreme Court, said to deal with the growing cybercrime the government should amend further the Information and Communication Technology Act, 2006 or ICT Act to make it up to date.

“Indeed it’s a good initiative that the government is trying to educate the girls and raise awareness among them about the growing trend of cybercrimes.  But, the government also needs to revamp the judiciary to achieve higher rate of success in fight against such crimes,” she said. “We are still unable to make the best use of smarter electronic evidences to pin down the cyber criminals in the court of law.”


Senior officials say the government is keen to spread cyber safety awareness across the whole country.

Abul Mansur Mohammad Sharf Uddin, who heads the government’s cyber safety awareness campaign, said his department is busy on a blueprint to expand the campaign. 

“For the students, the contents on Internet literacy, which will be included to the national curriculum, will be ready soon. We want to introduce the course not just in schools and colleges, but also in over 100 universities of the country. We will also raise teachers across academic institutions of the country who will conduct cyber safety training classes for students locally,” Sharf Uuddin said.    


Will Cosby Testify at Sex Assault Trial? Lawyers Remain Quiet

Actor Bill Cosby could charm jurors at his sexual assault trial if he testifies this week, but experts say the risk would be considerable.

Accuser Andrea Constand has told her side of the story. The jury also heard Cosby’s version in the form of his police statement and his lurid deposition in her 2005 lawsuit. But will they hear from the 79-year-old actor himself when the defense starts Monday?

Cosby’s spokesman says maybe, but his lawyers remain mum.

“He could be a fantastic witness. … He’s an actor and he’s a very good actor,” said Duquesne University School of Law professor Wes Oliver. “(But) he is potentially opening the door to a whole lot of cross-examination that they fought really hard to keep out.”

Prosecutors wanted 13 other accusers to testify at the trial, but the judge allowed just one, an assistant to his agent at the William Morris Agency. That meant the prosecution rested its case on Friday, just five days after the trial began.

If Cosby testifies, and denies drugging and molesting Constand or anyone else, the judge might allow more accusers to testify as rebuttal witnesses.

“It would be very bad for him for the jury to even begin to think about the other women,” Oliver said.

The defense’s main goal this past week has been to attack the credibility of Constand and the William Morris assistant, Kelly Johnson. Johnson had corroborating evidence in the form of her 1996 worker’s compensation claim. A lawyer on the case recalled her startling account of being drugged and sexually assaulted by Cosby, but his notes revealed a glaring discrepancy in the account. He said the encounter occurred in 1990, while Johnson insists it was 1996, the year she left her job.

The defense had more trouble trying to discredit Constand. They hammered home the point that she doesn’t know just when it happened, and they questioned why she had regular phone contact with Cosby later that spring. Constand said she had to return calls from the Temple University trustee because he was an important booster and she worked for the women’s basketball team.

She filed a police complaint in January 2005 after moving back home to the Toronto area, and then sued Cosby in March 2005 when the local prosecutor decided not to charge him.

Cosby’s testimony in her civil case shows just how hard a witness he would be to control. His answers, like his comedy routines, meander from point to point and veer toward stream of consciousness.

And he uses jarring language to describe his sexual encounters with various young women. He talks in the deposition of “the penile entrance” and “digital penetration,” and he told Constand’s mother, when she called to confront him, that her daughter had had an orgasm. And he can display hints of arrogance.

“One of the greatest storytellers in the world and I’m failing,” Cosby said when asked to repeat an answer in the deposition.

The defense could call other witnesses to try to bolster their argument that Cosby had a consensual relationship with Constand, 35 years his junior.

The trial would move to closing arguments on Monday if they decide not to put anyone on the stand.

The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand and Johnson have done.


Katy Perry Opens Up on Livestream About Suicidal Thoughts

Katy Perry opened up about having suicidal thoughts during a marathon weekend livestream event.


“I feel ashamed that I would have those thoughts, feel that low, and that depressed,” she said Saturday on YouTube during a tearful session with Siri Singh from the Viceland series “The Therapist.”


The pop star has been livestreaming herself since Friday, filming her life for anyone with an internet connection to see. She’s been doing yoga, hosting dinner parties, sleeping, applying makeup and singing, of course.


By Sunday, the most revealing 60 minutes of the four-day “Katy Perry – Witness World Wide” event was her time with Singh.


Perry told Singh she struggles with her public persona. In the past, she said, she has had suicidal thoughts. She talked about the challenge of being her authentic self while promoting her public image as she lives “under this crazy microscope.”


“I so badly want to be Katheryn Hudson (her birth name) that I don’t even want to look like Katy Perry anymore sometimes – and, like, that is a little bit of why I cut my hair, because I really want to be my authentic self,” she said.


Perry is sporting a new short, blond hairstyle.


The YouTube event is a promotion for her new album “Witness.” The livestream will culminate in a free concert Monday in Los Angeles for 1,000 fans.