Underground ocean found on Pluto, likely slushy with ice

This picture of Pluto was taken from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. (NASA/Handout via REUTERS)
Updated 16 November 2016
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Underground ocean found on Pluto, likely slushy with ice

HOUSTON, United States: Scientists have found evidence that tiny, distant Pluto harbors a hidden ocean beneath the frozen surface of its heart-shaped central plain containing as much water as all of Earth’s seas.
The finding, reported on Wednesday in two research papers published in the journal Nature, adds Pluto to a growing list of worlds in the solar system beyond Earth believed to have underground oceans, some of which potentially could be habitats for life.
Pluto’s ocean, which is likely slushy with ice, lies 93 to 124 miles (150 to 200 km) beneath the dwarf planet’s icy surface and is about 62 miles (100 km) deep, planetary scientist Francis Nimmo of the University of California, Santa Cruz said in an interview.
With its ocean covered by so much ice, Pluto is not a prime candidate for life, added Massachusetts Institute of Technology planetary scientist Richard Binzel, another of the researchers. But Binzel added that “one is careful to never say the word impossible.”
Liquid water is considered one of the essential ingredients for life.
The discovery was made through an analysis of images and data collected by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which flew past Pluto and its entourage of moons in July 2015.
“It shows that nature is more creative than we are able to imagine, which is why we go and explore,” Binzel said. “We see what nature is capable of doing.”
Despite being about 40 times farther from the sun than Earth, Pluto has enough radioactive heat left over from its formation 4.6 billion years ago to keep water liquid.
“Pluto has enough rock that there’s quite a lot of heat being generated, and an ice shell a few hundred kilometers thick is quite a good insulator,” Nimmo said. “So a deep subsurface ocean is not too surprising, especially if the ocean contains ammonia, which acts like an antifreeze.”
Scientists made the discovery as they were trying to figure out why a 621-mile (1,000-km) wide impact basin known as Sputnik Planitia, which contains the curious heart-shaped region, was located in its present position near Pluto’s equator.
Computer models showed the basin likely filled with ice, which caused Pluto to roll over, cracking its crust. That could happen only if Pluto possessed a subsurface ocean, the analysis found.
New Horizons is on its way to another frozen world in the Kuiper Belt region of the solar system about 1 billion miles (1.6 billion km) past Pluto. A flyby of the object, known as 2014 MU69, is scheduled on Jan. 1, 2019.


FBI may have disrupted major cyber attack on Ukraine

Updated 24 May 2018
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FBI may have disrupted major cyber attack on Ukraine

  • Ukraine has been locked in a years-long struggle with Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east and has repeatedly been hit by cyberattacks of escalating severity. Last year witnessed the eruption of the NotPetya worm, which crippled critical system
  • Network technology company Cisco Systems and antivirus company Symantec have warned that a half-million Internet-connected routers had been compromised in a possible effort to lay the groundwork for a cyber-sabotage operation against targets in Ukraine.

LONDON: The FBI has put a spoke in the wheel of a major Russian digital disruption operation potentially aimed at causing havoc in Ukraine, evidence pieced together from researchers, Ukrainian officials and US court documents indicates.
On Wednesday, network technology company Cisco Systems and antivirus company Symantec warned that a half-million Internet-connected routers had been compromised in a possible effort to lay the groundwork for a cyber-sabotage operation against targets in Ukraine.
Court documents simultaneously unsealed in Pittsburgh the same day show the FBI has seized a key website communicating with the massive army of hijacked devices, disrupting what could have been — and might still be — an ambitious cyber attack by the Russian government-aligned hacking group widely known as Fancy Bear.
“I hope it catches the actors off guard and leads to the downfall of their network,” said Craig Williams, the director of outreach for Talos, the digital threat intelligence unit of Cisco that cooperated with the bureau. But he warned that the hackers could still regain control of the infected routers if they possessed their addresses and the right resources to re-establish command and control.
FBI Assistant Director Scott Smith said the agency “has taken a critical step in minimizing the impact of the malware attack. While this is an important first step, the FBI’s work is not done.”
Much about the hackers’ motives remains open to conjecture. Cisco said the malicious software, which it and Symantec both dubbed VPNFilter after a folder it creates, was sitting on more than 500,000 routers in 54 countries but mostly in Ukraine, and had the capacity to render them unusable — a massively disruptive move if carried out at such a scale.
“It could be a significant threat to users around the world,” said Williams.
The US Justice Department said the malware “could be used for a variety of malicious purposes, including intelligence gathering, theft of valuable information, destructive or disruptive attacks, and the mizattribution of such activities.”
Ukraine’s cyberpolice said in a statement that it was possible the hackers planned to strike during “large-scale events,” an apparent reference either to the upcoming Champions League game between Real Madrid and Liverpool in the capital, Kiev, on Saturday or to Ukraine’s upcoming Constitution Day celebrations.
Ukraine has been locked in a years-long struggle with Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east and has repeatedly been hit by cyberattacks of escalating severity. Last year witnessed the eruption of the NotPetya worm, which crippled critical systems, including hospitals , across the country and dealt hundreds of millions of dollars in collateral damage around the globe. Ukraine, the United States and Britain have blamed the attack on Moscow — a charge the Kremlin has denied.
Cisco and Symantec both steered clear of attributing the VPNFilter malware to any particular actor, but an FBI affidavit explicitly attributed it to Fancy Bear, the same group that hacked into the Democratic National Committee in 2016 and has been linked to a long series of digital intrusions stretching back more than a decade. The US intelligence community assesses that Fancy Bear acts on behalf of Russia’s military intelligence service.
An FBI affidavit — whose existence was first reported by The Daily Beast — said the hackers used lines of code hidden in the metadata of online photo albums to communicate with their network of seeded routers. If the photo albums disappeared, the hackers turned to a fallback website — the same site whose seizure the FBI ordered Tuesday.
An email sent to the website’s registered owner was returned as undeliverable.
When asked why the FBI specifically named Fancy Bear where Cisco did not, Williams noted that while attribution was extremely tricky based on malware analysis alone, “if you combine that knowledge with a traditional intelligence apparatus interesting things can come to light.”
In any case, he said, “we have a high degree of confidence that the actor behind this is acting against the Ukraine’s best interest.”
Cisco said in a research note that the malware affected devices geared for small and home offices from manufacturers including Netgear, TP-Link and Linksys and had the potential to disable “Internet access for hundreds of thousands of victims worldwide or in a focused region.”
The malware’s principal capabilities, the company said, included stealthy intelligence-collecting, monitoring industrial-control software and, if triggered, “bricking” or disabling routers. It also persists on the infected routers after they are rebooted.