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On My Mind

A few of the things that have popped up on my radar of late:

"Zero-day" exploit sales should be key point in cybersecurity debate

It turns out that in the last year or so a new market has sprung up: people discovering (or, much more troubling, creating) exploitable flaws in software then selling the knowledge of these flaws to the highest bidder, government or corporate.
France-based VUPEN is one of the highest-profile firms trafficking in zero-day exploits. Earlier this month at the CanSecWest information security conference, VUPEN declined to participate in the Google-sponsored Pwnium hacking competition, where security researchers were awarded up to $60,000 if they could defeat the Chrome browser’s security and then explain to Google how they did it. Instead, VUPEN—sitting feet away from Google engineers running the competition—successfully compromised Chrome, but then refused to disclose their method to Google to help fix the flaw and make the browser safer for users.

Why would someone (other than a criminal) buy an exploit? Spying on competitors, corporate or state.

(Related: Crypto breakthrough shows Flame was designed by world-class scientists
The Flame spy-trojan, used against Iran, showed clear signs of being designed by top cryptographers.

John Hempton at Bronte Capital:
The Macroeconomics of Chinese kleptocracy

Fascinating piece outlining the role that corruption plays in the Chinese economy, particularly around the misuse of the large amounts of money put into savings accounts. Why so much money being saved?
In most developing countries the way that people save is they have multiple children hopefully to generate a gaggle of grandchildren all of whom are trained to respect their elders. Given most people did not live to old age if you did you became a treasured (and well cared for) family member.

This does not work in China. Longevity in China is increasing rapidly and the one-child policy results in a grandchild potentially having four grandparents to look after. The “four grandparent policy” means the elderly cannot expect to be looked after in old age. Four grandparents, one grand-kid makes abandoning the old-folk looks easy and near certain.

Nor can the elderly rely on a welfare state to look after them. There is no welfare state.

So the Chinese save. Unless they save they will starve in old age. This has driven savings levels sometimes north of fifty percent of GDP.

Paul Krugman points out that this massive savings rate is a time bomb that will go off soon, as the "four grandparent" Chinese start to retire in large numbers, pulling money out of savings.

International Energy Agency:
Global carbon dioxide emissions increase by 1.0 Gt in 2011 to record high

But that's not the really interesting part of the story. In the United States, emissions are dropping; since 1996, the US has reduced annual emissions by 430 megatonnes (tonne=1000kg, 10% more than US ton), "the largest reduction of all countries or regions." This is due primarily to the switch away from coal and towards natural gas, coupled with a mild winter (so less demand for heating) and a sluggish economy. Still, this actually means that the US is well on its way to meeting its Copenhagen Accords commitments.

(graph from Vancouver Observer)

Bonus WTFOMG: The "Blue Marlin" meta-carrier, designed to carry 75 megatonnes of cargo... such as an oil rig, two submarines, or a dozen and a half cargo ships.

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