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UK infrastructure being targeted by hackers

By Alexander J Martin, Technology Reporter

Hackers are targeting companies connected to the UK's critical national infrastructure, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has warned.

The campaign against critical national infrastructure (CNI) has been taking place since at least March 2017 and is ongoing, according to an industry advisory notice circulated by the NCSC.

Cybersecurity companies which have identified very similar campaigns include Symantec, BAE Systems and Kaspersky Labs, who have suggested that the hackers may be based in Eastern Europe.

The hacking group is believed to conducting a cyber espionage campaign covering a broad range of targets connected to CNI through supply chain attacks.

Such attacks target computers which are not directly connected to the ultimate target's network and are a technique for compromising victims who might have very thorough security at their immediate perimeter.

In January, NCSC head Ciaran Martin said it was a matter of "when, not if" the UK was victim to a category one cyberattack targeting CNI.

The ultimate aim of such attacks is most often assumed to be sabotage, but the nature of an implant within a computer system means that it can be used to look into the system's workings as well as disrupt them.

:: What can the UK actually expect in a cyberwar?

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: A logo is displayed on a television screen in the National Cyber Security Centre on February 14, 2017 in London, England. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is designed to improve Britain's fight against cyber attacks and act as an operational nerve centre. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Video: Under attack: Millions of cyberattacks every month

The hackers have been aiming to infect engineering and industrial control companies by strategically compromising particular websites in "watering hole" attacks, where they add a link to a resource located on a malicious file server.

Spear-phishing emails have also been detected, often including stolen CVs which are loaded with malware to take control of the victim's computer.

Dr Adrian Nish, the head of Threat Intelligence at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence told Sky News: "This is a classic supply-chain attack – where the culprits hack into small companies initially and use them as stepping stones in targeting larger organisations.

"The larger organisations would typically be customers of theirs, hence an inherent trust relationship already exists.

"Here the attackers are focused on the energy sector as their end targets, and leverage engineering firms supplying specialist technology to stage further attacks – either via email, compromising their websites, or even placing malware into software updates.

"It is widespread activity, though focused on Western Europe, the UK, and US. This is not a new campaign, but supply chain vulnerabilities represent an ongoing risk to organisations," Dr Nish added.

Kaspersky Lab suggested that because the adversary was not deploying zero-day exploits (exploits which had never been seen before, leaving security researchers with "zero days" to respond to them), it was not a very sophisticated campaign.

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However, Symantec noted that part of a similar threat actor's methodology meant that it was not possible to definitively identify its origins – suggesting that the group wants to make it difficult to identify who is behind the campaign.

The company described the threat actor it has identified as an "accomplished attack group" which has carried out "targeted attacks on energy sector targets since at least 2011".

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Dark mode is easier on your eyes—and battery

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Why user experience designers are going gray.

Dark mode is an increasingly popular accessibility option, from Twitter to Reddit to MacOS. But achieving the perfect grayscale site isn’t easy.

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The curious case of the electric carving knife

The Black + Decker ComfortGrip 9-inch electric knife.

Black + Decker

Electric knives are cheesy antiques, right? You have to plug them in, they’re noisy, and seem ridiculous when compared to a traditional knife, especially if you own a quality tool that you keep sharp. They have an old-school vibe, but not good old-school. More like: an unnecessary gadget that Mad Men-type ad execs would hawk.

But a good electric knife can do one thing really well: it will cut roast meat cleanly, leaving a tidy little strip of skin on top of each slice. In other words—they are silly, but if you’re ever going to use one, it’s Thanksgiving and other occasions like it. The moments when you want things to be pretty.

Last year, staffers at Cook’s Illustrated magazine—the magazine of the well-respected America’s Test Kitchen—tried out four electric knives. The results surprised the publication’s editor-in-chief.

“I was super skeptical when they started that testing,” says Dan Souza, editor of Cook’s Illustrated. “It’s just kind of this relic from the 50s and 60s.” One problem is the noise; they can be “as loud as a lawnmower.”

“I would say that they’re not taken especially seriously,” he adds.

But one model stood out for them: the Black + Decker ComfortGrip 9-inch electric knife, which is $20. An electric knife has two side-by-side blades that move back and forth quickly, meaning that you don’t need to saw manually—you just push down. It looks like a power tool you’d find in a wood shop, not a kitchen cabinet.

“You can get a very clean cut that way,” he says. “That winning one did do a really nice job of keeping a perfect little strip of crispy skin on every single slice.”

To get the most out of an electric knife, first separate the chunks of breast meat from the cooked bird—a task for which Souza recommends just using a regular chef's knife. Then, place meat on a cutting board, skin up, and use the electric knife to cut it across the grain.

electric knife

The knife breaks down into multiple pieces.

Black + Decker

“And that’s really where I think the electric knife excels, with no tearing of the skin, and really, really clean slices,” Souza says. The tool would also come in handy with a cooked piece of roast beef, or pork roast.

A good one can help people out who don’t frequently cook, or carve, a turkey. “It does solve a potentially pretty big problem for home cooks,” Souza says. “And there’s the added pressure of you’re wanting it to be this gorgeous thing on Thanksgiving.”

David Bruno, a chef and associate professor at the Culinary Institute of America, agrees that an electric knife can come in handy when slicing a bird. “For someone who may have a drawer full of knives, what I generally find—unless they’re really a knife aficionado—most of those knives are really dull,” he says. A dull knife will rip the skin, but in this context, the electric knife could produce nice, tidy slices.

“In general, we don’t use a lot of them,” he adds. But they do have a niche. “People that are making food to display for competing, that really need an accurate slice, have been known to use these knives before.” Some competitive barbecue cookers use them to cut their meats—but it’s a controversial topic that has spawned countless arguments.

Of course, you don’t need one. “I still really believe that if you have a super sharp knife, and you take really great care of it, you can absolutely carve a turkey with great success,” Souza says.

Not sold on the idea of an electric knife? That’s fine. The test kitchen at Saveur—one of Popular Science’s sister publications—rounded up some blades to consider for your kitchen. You don’t even need to plug them in. One of the knives on their list is a carver that’s only $7. Want more choices? At the higher end is this $340 tool from Town Cutler, and in the middle is a $140 option. Bon appetit.

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NASA reveals Mars 2020 rover landing site

After a five-year search NASA has chosen the Jezero Crater as the landing site for its Mars 2020 rover mission.

The crater was selected from more than 60 candidate locations which were studied, analysed and debated by the mission team and planetary science community.

The US space agency's mission to place a next-generation rover on the Martian surface is scheduled to launch in July 2020.

It will examine the planet for signs covering whether it was ever habitable and analyse the surface and beneath for ancient microbial life.

NASA has announced the rover will land in the Jezero crater. Pic: NASA
Image: NASA has announced the rover will land in the Jezero Crater. Pic: NASA

"The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology," said NASA's Thomas Zurbuchen.

"Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionise how we think about Mars and its ability to harbour life," added Mr Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the agency's science mission directorate.

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The Jezero Crater is located on the western edge of a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator.

Known as Isidis Planitia, the impact basin presents some of the oldest and most scientifically interesting landscapes Mars has to offer, according to NASA.

The planet Mars taken by the NASA Hubble Space Telescope when the planet was 50 million miles from Earth
Image: NASA has selected one of the oldest impact basins on Mars to land the rover

"Mission scientists believe the 28-mile-wide (45km) crater was once home to an ancient river delta and is a prime location to have preserved ancient organic molecules and evidence of microbial life.

"The Mars community has long coveted the scientific value of sites such as Jezero Crater, and a previous mission contemplated going there, but the challenges with safely landing were considered prohibitive," said Ken Farley.

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"But what was once out of reach is now conceivable, thanks to the 2020 engineering team and advances in Mars entry, descent and landing technologies," added Mr Farley, a project scientist for Mars 2020 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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More than 70,000 people have signed our petition – have you?

Jezero Crater's selection is still "dependent upon extensive analyses and verification testing" according to NASA, and a final report will be given to NASA HQ towards the end of 2019.

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Last week in tech: Underground tunnels, sad Facebook execs, and Black Friday prep

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Black Friday is almost here. Read this in your tent while you wait for the doorbusters.

Catch up on your tech news while you're waiting for cheap Tupperware.

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Russian agencies fight over private US satellites

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) and its cash-strapped space agency Roscosmos are in conflict over a $1bn contract to launch private satellites on behalf of a US company.

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