Researchers show how a major GPS flaw could allow terrorists and hackers to hijack commercial ships and planes

By  Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED: 20:29 EST, 27  July 2013 |  UPDATED: 20:29 EST, 27 July 2013

The world’s GPS system is vulnerable to  terrorists and hackers who could use it to hijack ships, including commercial  airliners and cruise ships, a new hands-on study shows.

A team of researchers at the University of  Texas were able to take control of the navigation system aboard an $80 million,  210-foot super-yacht in the Mediterranean Sea using a laptop, a small antenna  and an electronic GPS ‘spoofer’ built for $3,000, Fox  News reports.

‘We injected our spoofing signals into its  GPS antennas and we’re basically able to control its navigation system with our  spoofing signals,’ Todd Humphreys of UT told the news station.

Scary discovery: The world¿s GPS system is vulnerable to terrorists and hackers who could use it to hijack ships, including commercial airliners, a new study shows 

Scary discovery: The world¿s GPS system is vulnerable to  terrorists and hackers who could use it to hijack ships, including commercial  airliners, a new study shows

Implications: 'Imagine shutting down a port. Imagine running a ship aground. These are the kinds of implications we're worried about,' said Humphreys 

Implications: ‘Imagine shutting down a port. Imagine  running a ship aground. These are the kinds of implications we’re worried  about,’ said Humphreys



‘Imagine shutting down a port. Imagine  running a ship aground. These are the kinds of implications we’re worried  about.’

The UT team were able to steer the ship far  off course and even potentially put it on a collision course with another ship  by feeding counterfeit radio signals to the yacht.

During that interception, the ship’s GPS  system reported that it was calmly moving in a straight line, along its intended  course, without any alarms or other indications that something was amiss,  Humphreys said.


The ship’s captain, Andrew Schofield, who  reportedly invited Humphreys and his team on board to conduct their experiment,  told Fox News that he and his crew were completely stunned by what  occurred.

‘Professor Humphreys and his team did a  number of attacks and basically we on the bridge were absolutely unaware of any  difference,’ Schofield said.

The potential repercussions are frightening  and wide-reaching, Humphreys said.

Hijack: A team of researchers at the University of Texas were able to take control of the navigation system aboard a ship in the Mediterranean Sea using a laptop, a small antenna and an electronic GPS 'spoofer' (Stock photo) 

Hijack: A team of researchers at the University of Texas  were able to take control of the navigation system aboard a ship in the  Mediterranean Sea using a laptop, a small antenna and an electronic GPS  ‘spoofer’ (Stock photo)


‘For maritime traffic, there are big  implications,’ he told Fox News.

‘You’ve got 90 per cent of the world’s cargo  going across the seas. Imagine shutting down a port. Imagine running a ship  aground. These are the kinds of implications we’re worried  about.’

This is not the first time cracks in the  world’s GPS system have been exposed.

Last year, Fox News reported on another,  less advanced, experiment that Humphreys conducted using a small, unmanned  drone.

The UT professor was able to feed ‘spoofing’  signals into the drone’s GPS, causing it to almost drop out of the sky, and as a  result was called before Congress to testify.


He also spoke with officials from the FAA,  CIA and Pentagon, according to Fox News.

‘Before we couldn’t control the UAV,’ he said  ‘We could only push it off course.

‘This time my students have designed a closed  loop controller such that they can dictate the heading of this vessel even when  the vessel wants to go a different direction.’

Humphreys criticized the Department of  Homeland Security for ‘fumbling around in the dark on GPS security’ and said the  agency has done little to address the potential threat.

Quick interception: 'We injected our spoofing signals into its GPS antennas and we're basically able to control its navigation system with our spoofing signals' Todd Humphreys of UT, pictured, told Fox News 

Quick interception: ‘We injected our spoofing signals  into its GPS antennas and we’re basically able to control its navigation system  with our spoofing signals’ Todd Humphreys of UT, pictured, told Fox  News

'Fumbling in the dark': Humphreys criticized the Department of Homeland Security for 'fumbling around in the dark on GPS security' and said the agency has done little to address the potential threat 

‘Fumbling in the dark’: Humphreys criticized the  Department of Homeland Security for ‘fumbling around in the dark on GPS  security’ and said the agency has done little to address the potential  threat

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Prostate cancers are fewer, smaller on walnut-enriched diet

Contact: Will Sansom 210-567-2579 University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO (July 16, 2013) — New research from the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio indicates that eating a modest amount of walnuts can protect against prostate cancer.

The study is described in the journal Cancer Investigation. Researchers at the UT Health Science Center injected immune-deficient mice with human prostate cancer cells. Within three to four weeks, tumors typically start to grow in a large number of these mice. The study asked whether a walnut-enriched diet versus a non-walnut diet would be associated with reduced cancer formation. A previous study found this to be true for breast cancer.


Three of 16 mice (18 percent) eating the walnut-enriched diet developed prostate tumors, compared with 14 of 32 mice (44 percent) on the non-walnut control diet. Also of note, the final average tumor size in the walnut-fed animals was roughly one-fourth the average size of the prostate tumors that developed in the mice eating the control diet.

“We found the results to be stunning because there were so few tumors in animals consuming the walnuts and these tumors grew much more slowly than in the other animals,” said study senior author Russel Reiter, Ph.D., professor of cellular and structural biology at the Health Science Center. “We were absolutely surprised by how highly effective the walnut diet was in terms of inhibition of human prostate cancer.”

Percentage of diet

The mice consumed a diet typically used in animal studies, except with the addition of a small amount of walnuts pulverized into a fine powder to prevent the rodents from only eating the walnuts. “The walnut portion was not a large percentage of the diet,” Dr. Reiter said. “It was the equivalent to a human eating about 2 ounces, or two handfuls, a day, which is not a lot of walnuts.”

Study co-author W. Elaine Hardman, Ph.D., of the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University, published a study in 2011 that showed fewer and smaller tumors among walnut-fed mice injected with human breast cancer cells. Dr. Hardman formerly was a faculty member at the Health Science Center.

“The data to date suggest that using walnuts on a regular basis in the diet may be beneficial to defer, prevent or delay some types of cancer, including breast and prostate,” Dr. Reiter said.


The paper is at

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China’s One-Child Policy Affects Personality


China’s one-child policy has affected the personalities of a generation of only children

By Carrie Arnold  | Monday, May 20, 2013 |

asian boy, child playing, kids ball pit

In 1979 China instituted the one-child policy, which limited every family to just one offspring in a controversial attempt to reduce the country’s burgeoning population. The strictly enforced law had the desired effects: in 2011 researchers estimated that the policy prevented 400 million births. In a new study in Science, researchers find that it has also caused China’s so-called little emperors to be more pessimistic, neurotic and selfish than their peers who have siblings.

Psychologist Xin Meng of the Australian National University in Canberra and her colleagues recruited 421 Chinese young adults born between 1975 and 1983 from around Beijing for a series of surveys and tests that evaluated a variety of psychological traits, such as trustworthiness and optimism. Almost all the participants born after 1979 were only children compared with about one fifth of those born before 1979. The study participants born after the policy went into effect were found to be both less trusting and less trustworthy, less inclined to take risks, less conscientious and optimistic, and less competitive than those born a few years earlier.

“Because of the one-child policy, parents are less likely to teach their child to be imaginative, trusting and unselfish,” Meng says. Without siblings, she notes, the need to share may not be emphasized, which could help explain these findings.

Only children in other parts of the world, however, do not show such striking differences from their peers. Toni Falbo, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved in the study, suggests that larger social forces in China also probably contributed to these results. “There’s a lot of pressure being placed on [Chinese] parents to make their kid the best possible because they only had one,” Falbo says. These types of pressures could harm anyone, even if they had siblings, she says.

Whatever its cause, the personality profile of China’s little emperors may be troubling to a nation hoping to continue its ascent in economic prosperity. The traits marred by the one-child policy, the study authors point out, are exactly those needed in leaders and entrepreneurs.

The first caffeine-‘addicted’ bacteria

Contact: Michael Bernstein 202-872-6042 American Chemical Society

Some people may joke about living on caffeine, but scientists now have genetically engineered E. coli bacteria to do that — literally. Their report in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology describes bacteria being “addicted” to caffeine in a way that promises practical uses ranging from decontamination of wastewater to bioproduction of medications for asthma.

Jeffrey E. Barrick and colleagues note that caffeine and related chemical compounds have become important water pollutants due to widespread use in coffee, soda pop, tea, energy drinks, chocolate and certain medications. These include prescription drugs for asthma and other lung diseases. The scientists knew that a natural soil bacterium, Pseudomonas putida CBB5, can actually live solely on caffeine and could be used to clean up such environmental contamination. So they set out to transfer genetic gear for metabolizing, or breaking down, caffeine from P. putida into that old workhorse of biotechnology, E. coli, which is easy to handle and grow.

The study reports their success in doing so, as well as use of the E. coli for decaffeination and measuring the caffeine content of beverages. It describes development of a synthetic packet of genes for breaking down caffeine and related compounds that can be moved easily to other microbes. When engineered into certain E. coli, the result was bacteria literally addicted to caffeine. The genetic packet could have applications beyond environmental remediation, the scientists say, citing potential use as a sensor to measure caffeine levels in beverages, in recovery of nutrient-rich byproducts of coffee processing and for the cost-effective bioproduction of medicines.


The author and co-authors acknowledge financial support from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Iowa.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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Designer bacteria may lead to better vaccines: Contaminated vaccines work better!!!

Contact: Daniel Oppenheimer 512-745-3353 University of Texas at Austin

Designer bacteria may lead to better vaccines

61 new strains of genetically engineered bacteria may improve the efficacy of vaccines for diseases such as flu, pertussis, cholera and HPV

AUSTIN, Texas — Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a menu of 61 new strains of genetically engineered bacteria that may improve the efficacy of vaccines for diseases such as flu, pertussis, cholera and HPV.

The strains of E. coli, which were described in a paper published this month in the journal PNAS, are part of a new class of biological “adjuvants” that is poised to transform vaccine design. Adjuvants are substances added to vaccines to boost the human immune response.

“For 70 years the only adjuvants being used were aluminum salts,” said Stephen Trent, associate professor of biology in the College of Natural Sciences. “They worked, but we didn’t fully understand why, and there were limitations. Then four years ago the first biological adjuvant was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. I think what we’re doing is a step forward from that. It’s going to allow us to design vaccines in a much more intentional way.”

Adjuvants were discovered in the early years of commercial vaccine production, when it was noticed that batches of vaccine that were accidentally contaminated often seemed to be more effective than those that were pure.

“They’re called the ‘dirty little secret’ of immunology,” said Trent. “If the vials were dirty, they elicited a better immune response.”

What researchers eventually realized was that they could produce a one-two punch by intentionally adding their own dirt (adjuvant) to the mix. The main ingredient of the vaccine, which was a killed or inactivated version of the bacteria or virus that the vaccine was meant to protect against, did what it was supposed to do. It “taught” the body’s immune system to recognize it and produce antibodies in response to it.

The adjuvant amplifies that response by triggering a more general alarm, which puts more agents of the immune system in circulation in the bloodstream, where they can then learn to recognize the key antigen. The result is an immune system more heavily armed to fight the virus or bacteria when it encounters it in the future.

For about 70 years the adjuvant of choice, in nearly every vaccine worldwide, was an aluminum salt. Then in 2009, the FDA approved a new vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV). It included a new kind of adjuvant that’s a modified version of an endotoxin molecule.

These molecules, which can be dangerous, appear on the cell surface of a wide range of bacteria. As a result, humans have evolved over millions of years to detect and respond to them quickly. They trigger an immediate red alert.

“In some of its forms an endotoxin can kill you,” said Trent. “But the adjuvant, which is called MPL, is a very small, carefully modified piece of it, so it’s able to trigger the immune response without overdoing it.”

What Trent and his colleagues have done is expand on that basic premise. Rather than just work with an inert piece of endotoxin, they’ve engineered E. coli bacteria to express the endotoxin in many configurations on the cell surface.

“These 61 E. coli strains each have a different profile on their surface,” said Brittany Needham, a doctoral student in Trent’s lab and the first author on the paper. “In every case the surface structure of the endotoxin is safe, but it will interact with the immune system in a range of ways. Suddenly we have a huge potential menu of adjuvants to test out with different kinds of vaccines.”

One form might work better with cholera vaccine, another with pertussis (whooping cough) and another with a future HIV vaccine. Trent, Needham and their colleagues should be able to fine-tune the adjuvants with increasing precision as more E. coli strains are engineered and tested, and as their understanding of how they interact with the immune system deepens.

“I think we’re at the dawn of a new age of vaccine design,” said Trent. “For a long time vaccinology was really a trial-and-error field. It was a black box. We knew certain things worked. We knew certain vaccines had certain side effects. But we didn’t entirely know why. Now that’s changing.”

Trent said that an additional advantage of their system is that the E. coli can be engineered to express key viral and bacterial antigens along with the endotoxin. A single cell could deliver both parts of the one-two punch, or even a one-two-three punch, if antigens from multiple diseases were expressed in a single E. coli.

“It makes possible a vaccine that provides protection from multiple pathogens at the same time,” said Trent.

Trent and his colleagues are working on a second round of designer E. coli. They have also filed a provisional patent on their system and are working with the university to find a corporate partner to pay for clinical trials.

“This is ready to go,” said Trent. “I can’t predict whether it will actually make it to the market. But it’s very similar to the adjuvant that has already been approved, and my instinct is that if a company will undertake to do the trials, it will get approved. A company could call us tomorrow, we could send them a strain, and they could start working.”

Natural Gas Fracking Industry May Be Paying Off Scientists

By Tim McDonnell, Climate Desk July 30, 2012 |     Wired

Last week the University of Texas provost announced he would re-examine a report by a UT professor that said fracking was safe for groundwater after the revelation that the professor pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Texas natural gas developer. It’s the latest fusillade in the ongoing battle over the basic facts of fracking in America.

climate_desk_bugTexans aren’t the only ones having their fracking conversations shaped by industry-funded research. Ohioans got their first taste last week of the latest public-relations campaign by the energy policy wing of the US Chamber of Commerce. It’s called “Shale Works for US,” and it aims to spend millions on advertising and public events to sell Ohioans on the idea that fracking is a surefire way to yank the state out of recession.

The campaign is loaded with rosy employment statistics, which trace to an April report authored by professors at three major Ohio universities and funded by, you guessed it, the natural gas industry. The report paints a bright future for fracking in Ohio as a job-creator.

One co-author of the study, Robert Chase, is poised at such a high-traffic crossroads of that state’s natural gas universe that his case was recently taken up by the Ohio Ethics Commission, whose chairman called him “more than a passing participant in the operations of the Ohio oil and gas industry,” and questioned his potential conflicts of interest. As landowners in a suite of natural gas-rich states like Texas and Ohio struggle to to decipher conflicting reports about the safety of fracking, Chase is a piece in what environmental and academic watchdogs call a growing puzzle of industry-funded fracking research with poor disclosure and dubious objectivity.

“It’s hard to find someone who’s truly independant and doesn’t have at least one iron in the fire,” said Ohio oil and gas lease attorney Mark F. Okey. “It’s a good ol’ boys network and they like to take care of their own.”

Chase got his petroleum engineering PhD from Penn State. In 2009, long after Chase left the university, it came under fire for a fracking report, widely cited by state politicians as evidence for opening up the fracking market, which an in-house investigator said “crossed the line between policy analysis and policy advocacy.”  Early in his career, Chase worked as a consultant for many of the nation’s biggest oil and gas developers, including Halliburton, Cabot, and EQT. In 1978 he began teaching petroleum engineering at Marietta College, the small Ohio liberal arts school where he remains on faculty today. In 2008, Ohio’s then-governor Ted Strickland appointed him to the Ohio Oil & Gas Commission, an independant judiciary board that hears complaints from landowners and developers against the state’s Division of Mineral Resources Management. And last year, he founded his own consultancy, Chaseland LLC, that helps connect landowners with gas companies seeking drilling rights, for which Chase collects a commission.

In February, Chase gave glowing testimony to Congress on the benefits of fracking, and included a swipe at anti-fracking advocates by citing the very same study now being investigated at the University of Texas. In recent years, Chase has taken his pro-fracking stance to the pages of Ohio newspapers to call for increased fracking and to assure locals of its safety; his latest column was soundly rebutted by a pair of Cincinnati geologists, who wrote that Chase had made “several misleading assertions.” State officials tightened fracking regulations after a series of earthquakes in northeastern Ohio, including a 4.0 quake in Youngstown on New Year’s Eve.

The founding of Chaseland was a bit too much for Oil & Gas Commission director Linda Osterman, who in February asked the state ethics board to investigate Chase; they ruled that he would have to recuse himself from any Commission hearings involving companies or people he had worked with at Chaseland. Chase has only had to sit out once, Osterman told Climate Desk, on the Commission’s most recent hearing, in which a local cattle farm disputed a permit given to Chesapeake Energy to drill on the farm’s land, because he had consulted with Chesapeake. Otherwise, Osterman said, “I’ve never had any concerns about his ability to be impartial.” Still, Osterman was concerned enough to initiate the ethics inquiry.

In an interview, Chase said his wide network made him uniquely suited to put the pieces together for his most recent economic impact study. “It’s very cut and dry,” he said. “If you don’t have someone who really has the experience, then it doesn’t make sense to do the study.” The study’s other authors were economists and business professors.

David Brown, a member of Marietta’s Faculty Council, defended his colleague, saying that the fracking study’s funding source “should not by itself call into question his research,” and that Chase letting his varied roles compromise his academic research “is not something I would expect from him.”

But Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmental Council expressed a different take.

“There’s a clear and present danger of industry and university being way too cozy. [Chase] is cleary a poster child for the need for a clear bright line between industry and academia.” A staff attorney for OEC called for Chase to step down from his seat on the Commission.

Indeed, Chase isn’t the only professor who has come under fire for not disclosing proximity to the natural gas industry. Two more recent examples:

  • Timothy Considine, another Penn State grad who’s now an economist at the University of Wyoming, was the lead author on a SUNY-Buffalo report in May that claimed state regulation had made fracking safe in Pennsylvania. Within days, a top Pennsylvania environmental official quoted the Buffalo study in testimony to Congress about the effectiveness of fracking regulations. But both the official and the study itself declined to mention that Considine’s close ties to the industry—and that his department had received nearly $6 million in donations from the oil and gas industry last year. Considine—whom one Pennsylvania newspaper called “the shale gas industry’s go-to professor”—also helped write the controversial 2009 Penn State study and a 2010 expansion of it that was funded by the American Petroleum Institute.
  • In February a University of Texas professor and former head of the US Geological Survey, Charles G. Groat, penned a study that found no evidence of groundwater contamination from fracking; the study didn’t disclose Groat’s seat on the board of major Texas fracker Plains Exploration & Production Company, for which he was reportedly paid $400,000 in 2011—more than double his university salary. The director of Groat’s UT program told Bloomberg News he had “no idea” of Groat’s connection to Plains, but last Tuesday the University of Texas provost said in response to mounting concern that he would convene a panel to re-examine Groat’s findings.

Of course, industry funding of research has been commonplace since at least the heyday of Big Tobacco, and is still de rigueur for pharmaceuticals, among others. But Thomas McGarity, a UT-Austin law professor whose research on industry money in university research led him to write the book Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research, said it’s almost impossible to imagine a bias-free study with industry cash behind it.

“They’re trying to buy the prestige of the university,” he said. “And the universities are happy to sell their prestige, I suppose.”