Research may yield new ways to treat antibiotic-resistant TB

Scientists in the United States and India have successfully modified the precursor to one of the drugs used to treat tuberculosis, an important first step toward new drugs that can transcend antibiotic resistance issues that experts consider a serious threat to global health.

The findings, reported in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, indicate that a new compound, 24-desmethylrifampicin, has much better antibacterial activity than rifampicin against multi-drug-resistant strains of the bacteria that cause tuberculosis.

Rifampicin and related drugs are important antibiotics, the key to an effective "drug cocktail" that already takes about six months of treatment to cure tuberculosis, even if everything goes well. But two forms of tuberculosis, referred to as "multi-drug-resistant," or MDR, and "extensively drug-resistant," or XDR, have become resistant to rifampicin.

In 1993, resurging levels of tuberculosis due to this antibiotic resistance led the World Health Organization to declare it a global health emergency. Today more than 1 million people around the world are dying each year from tuberculosis, and after AIDS it remains the second most common cause of death by infectious disease.

"We believe these findings are an important new avenue toward treatment of multi-drug-resistant TB," said Taifo Mahmud, a professor in the College of Pharmacy at Oregon State University, and a corresponding author on the new publication.

"Rifampicin is the most effective drug against tuberculosis, and it's very difficult to achieve a cure without it," Mahmud said. "The approach we're using should be able to create one or more analogs that could help take the place of rifampicin in TB therapy."

A combination of genetic modification and synthetic drug development was used to create the new compound, which so far has only been developed in laboratory, not commercial quantities. Further development and testing will be necessary before it is ready for human use, researchers said.

Drug resistance in rifampicin and related antibiotics has occurred when their bacterial RNA polymerase enzymes mutate, Mahmud said, leaving them largely unaffected by antibiotics that work by inhibiting RNA synthesis. The new approach works by modifying the drug so it can effectively bind to this mutated enzyme and once again achieve its effectiveness.

"We found out how the antibiotic-producing bacteria make this compound, and then genetically modified that system to remove one part of the backbone of the molecule," Mahmud said. "Understanding this whole process should allow us to create not just this one, but a range of different analogs that can be tested for their efficacy as new antibiotics."

In human history and before the advent of antibiotics, tuberculosis was one of the great infectious disease killers in the world. At its peak in the 1800s in Europe, it was the cause of death of one in four people. It's still a major concern in the developing world, where drugs are often not available to treat it, and it often causes death in tandem with HIV infection.

As the bacterial strains of this disease that are multi- or extensively-drug-resistant increase in number, so too does the difficulty of treating it. Instead of a six-month regimen, these drug-resistant strains can take 18 months to several years to treat, with antibiotics that are more toxic and less effective.

Collaborators on this research were from the University of Delhi and the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in India. The research has been supported by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon.

The approach used in this research "holds great potential to generate more rifamycin analogs to combat the threat of MDR strains of M. tuberculosis, and/or other life-threatening pathogens," the researchers wrote in their conclusion.

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The above story is based on materials provided by Oregon State University . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Gadget Lab Podcast: Android All Over

So Googly

So Googly Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

Lots of big announcements from Google this week. During the keynote speech of its I/O developer conference, the company laid out its broad, forward-looking plan for the future of the Android platform. It involves a shift away from working almost exclusively within handset and tablet territory and expanding further into cars, wearables, televisions, and devices for the connected home. Mat Honan was at I/O to see the demos, smell the smartwatches, and taste the sweet nectars of optimism. He tells us all about the experience. Also, Mike and Mat riff on what they see as possibly Google’s biggest problem right now: the general public’s perception of it as a creepy, out-of-touch behemoth that’s intent on spying on all of us by implanting creepy little computers all over our bodies and in our homes. But really, that’s not the case. You can trust them. Really.

Download this week’s episode directly from iTunes or subscribe in iTunes.

Send the hosts feedback on their personal Twitter feeds (Mat Honan is @mat, Michael Calore is @snackfight) or to the main hotline at @GadgetLab.

U.S. Says It Spied on 89,000 Targets Last Year, But the Number Is Deceptive



About 89,000 foreigners or organizations were targeted for spying under a U.S. surveillance order last year, according to a new transparency report. The report was released for the first time Friday by the Office of the Director of Intelligence, upon order of the president, in the wake of surveillance leaks by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

But the report, which covers only surveillance orders issued in 2013, doesn’t tell the whole story about how many individuals the spying targeted or how many Americans were caught in the surveillance that targeted foreigners. Civil liberties groups say the real number is likely “orders of magnitude” larger than this.

“Even if it was an honest definition of ‘target’—that is, an individual instead of a group—that also is not encompassing those who are ancillary to a target and are caught up in the dragnet,” says Kurt Opsahl, deputy general counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The report, remarkably, shows that the government obtained just one order last year under Section 702 of FISA—which allows for bulk collection of data on foreigners—and that this one order covered 89,138 targets. But, as the report notes, “target” can refer to “an individual person, a group, an organization composed of multiple individuals or a foreign power that possesses or is likely to communicate foreign intelligence information.”

Furthermore, Section 702 orders are actually certificates issued by the FISA Court that can cover surveillance of an entire facility. And since, as the government points out in its report, the government cannot know how many people use a facility, the figure only “reflects an estimate of the number of known users of particular facilities (sometimes referred to as selectors) subject to intelligence collection under those Certifications,” the report notes.

“If you’re actually trying to get a sense of the number of human beings affected or the number of Americans affected, the number of people affected is vastly, vastly larger,” says Julian Sanchez, senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “And how many of those are Americans is impossible to say. But [although] you may not think you are routinely communicating with foreign persons, [this] is not any kind of assurance that your communications are not part of the traffic subject to interception.”

Sanchez points out that each individual targeted is likely communicating with dozens or hundred of others, whose communications will be picked up in the surveillance.

“And probably a lot of these targets are not individuals but entire web sites or companies. While [a company like the Chinese firm] Huawei might be a target, thousands of emails used by thousands of employees will be swept up.”

How many of those employees might be American or communicating with Americans is unknown.

The government’s estimate of the number of people affected by the surveillance order is only “based on the information readily available to the Intelligence Community to identify unique targets—users, whose identity may be unknown, but who are reasonably believed to use the particular facility from outside the United States and who are reasonably believed to be non-United States persons,” the government notes.

The EFF’s Opsahl says the information about the Section 702 order issued in 2013 is significant for what it doesn’t tell us about the particular targets or types of surveillance covered under these orders.

A single order affecting 89,000 people, for example, might involve collecting all of the Facebook communications or email of people involved in a particular organization or living in a particular country. But it might also involve collection of all internet activity from an upstream provider involving people in many organizations and countries or collection from satellite interceptions.

“It doesn’t seem possible you could have a focused order and achieve these statistics,” he notes. “And if the basis for doing [all of this collection] can be covered in just one order… it suggests that this order doesn’t have any limitations to groups, to countries, to whether it is a terrorism investigation or other forms of foreign intelligence, or any other [investigation] that you might imagine could be in an order.”

Phone Records

Also revealed in today’s report is the number of times the government has queried the controversial phone records database it created by collecting the phone records of every subscriber from U.S. providers.

According to the report, the government used 423 “selectors” to search its massive phone records database, which includes records going back to at least 2006 when the program began.

A search involves querying a specific phone number or device ID that appears in the database. The government has long maintained that its collection of phone records isn’t a violation of its authority, since it only views the records of specific individuals targeted in an investigation. But such searches, even if targeted at phone numbers used by foreigners, would include calls made to and from Americans as well as calls exchanged with people two or three hops out from the targeted number.

In its report, the government indicated that the 423 selectors involved just 248 “known or presumed” Americans whose information was collected by the agency in the database. But Opsahl says that both of these numbers are deceptive given what we know about the database and how it’s been used.

“We know it’s affecting millions of people,” he points out. But “then we have estimated numbers of affected people [that are just] in the three digits. That requires some effort [on the government's part] to find a way to do the definition of the number [in such a way] to make it as small as possible.”

If analysts “are examining the records of people two or three hops out and as a result they get detailed looks at phone records of hundred or thousands of people, does that count as one [person] because they queried just one person but got their three hops [worth of data]?” he asks. “The only way of reconciling [the numbers in the report] with the information that was seen in other news reports and the realities of bulk collection, is that this is a number not of the people affected but a number related to how they are using the search tools.”

Over 19,000 Requests for Customer Data

One additional figure today’s report covers is the number of National Security Letters the government issued last year to businesses to obtain data on accountholders and users—19,212.

NSLs are written demands from the FBI that compel internet service providers, credit companies, financial institutions and others to hand over confidential records about their customers, such as subscriber information, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, websites visited, and more.

These letters are a powerful tool because they do not require court approval, and they come with a built-in gag order, preventing recipients from disclosing to anyone that they have received an NSL. An FBI agent looking into a possible anti-terrorism case can self-issue an NSL to a credit bureau, ISP, or phone company with only the sign-off of the Special Agent in Charge of their office. The FBI has merely to assert that the information is “relevant” to an investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.

The FBI has issued hundreds of thousands of NSLs over the years and has been reprimanded for abusing them. Last year a federal judge ruled that the use of NSLs is unconstitutional, due to the gag order that accompanies them, and ordered the government to stop using them. Her ruling, however, was stayed pending the government’s appeal.

Although the FBI is required to submit an annual report to Congress about the number of NSLs it issues each year, today’s transparency adds a detail to the FBI figure by disclosing the number of requests for data covered by each NSL that was issued. Since one NSL can involve requests for data about multiple accounts—such as an NSL sent to Google seeking information on three email accounts believed to be relevant to a single investigation—the government would count this as three requests.

According to the government’s report today, the 19,000 NSLs issued last year involved more than 38,000 requests for information.

Apple Kills Aperture, Says New Photos App Will Replace It

Apple introduces OS X Yosemite at WWDC 2014. Photo: Apple

Apple introduces OS X Yosemite at WWDC 2014. Photo: Apple

Heavy-duty photo-editing Mac users may not be happy this morning. Apple told news website The Loop that it has decided to abandon Aperture, its professional photo-editing software application.

“With the introduction of the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to safely store all of your photos in iCloud and access them from anywhere, there will be no new development of Aperture,” Apple said in a statement to The Loop. “When Photos for OS X ships next year, users will be able to migrate their existing Aperture libraries to Photos for OS.”

The new Photos app, which will debut with OS X Yosemite when it launches this fall, will also replace iPhoto. It promises to be more intuitive and user friendly, but as such, likely not as full featured as what Aperture currently offers.

Apparently the development of Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro, two of Apple’s other professional app offerings, will continue as normal. But with Apple’s push towards making the Mac easier to use for the average user, and for new users arriving after using iPhones and iPads, you have to wonder if these pro products, too, have a limited lifespan. With all the optimizations for Final Cut Pro currently in OS X and the beefy capabilities of the Mac Pro, I’d imagine those apps have a long shelf life yet.

Apple’s decision to kill off Aperture will likely frustrate many users who’ve relied on the software for years. But between the new Photos app (for casual users) and more robust third-party options like Adobe’s enormously popular Lightroom, photo editors should still have plenty of tools at their disposal.

Rhesus proteins transport ions, not gas

Do they carry the gas ammonia or the ammonium ion in their luggage? And is transport active or passive? Biochemists have long speculate on the mechanistic details of the ammonium transport family of proteins (Amt), which include the Rhesus protein factors, known as the mammalian blood group system. What was previously known is that Amt proteins extend across cellular membranes where they specifically transport the nitrogen into bacteria and plant cells, essential nutrient for their growth and survival. In mammals, Rhesus proteins regulate acid and ion balance in kidney and liver cells. A team of scientists led by Prof. Dr. Susana Andrade from the Institute of Biochemistry of the University of Freiburg and the Cluster of Excellence BIOSS Centre for Biological Signalling Studies has now determined the transport properties of Amt proteins with great precision on the basis of electrophysiology tests on artificial lipid systems.

The scientists cloned the membrane proteins from an archaea, a microorganisms that lives under extreme temperature conditions and isolate them. In 2005, the Freiburg researchers already threw light on the crystalline three-dimensional structure of a protein of this kind. Now they have added the protein to a layer of lipid molecules, enabling them to measure the ion currents directly. The team discovered that a positive charge travels through the membrane: The membrane proteins do not transport the gas ammonia NH3 but rather the ammonium ion NH4+. The researchers published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

"The results can, in a large part, be transferred to the Rhesus proteins from mammals," says Andrade as Amt proteins bear a close resemblance to the Rhesus proteins found in humans. They are produced in the blood, in the kidney, and in the liver, where they regulate the intake of ammonium and thus the body's pH. The researchers tested three Amt proteins that are present in the bacteria and also determined the speed with which they allow ammonium to pass through the membrane. "In the future, we want to modify individual components of the transporter to improve our understanding of the exact molecular details involved" explains Andrade.

The scientific debate on Amt/Rh proteins stems from the difficulty of distinguishing between ammonia and ammonium in measurements, as the two molecules are transformed into each other in a continuous state of balance with protons. "Our in vitro method gives us a level of precision that finally allows us to draw valid conclusions concerning the transport process," stresses the researcher.

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The above story is based on materials provided by Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Salmonella's Achilles' heel: Reliance on single food source to stay potent

Scientists have identified a potential Achilles’ heel for Salmonella – the bacteria’s reliance on a single food source to remain fit in the inflamed intestine.

When these wily bugs can’t access this nutrient, they become 1,000 times less effective at sustaining disease than when they’re fully nourished.

The research suggests that blocking activation of one of five genes that transport the nutrient to Salmonella cells could be a new strategy to fight infection.

“For some reason, Salmonella really wants this nutrient, and if it can’t get this one, it’s in really bad shape,” said Brian Ahmer, associate professor of microbial infection and immunity at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study. “If you could block Salmonella from getting that nutrient, you’d really stop Salmonella.”

The research is published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

Generally, most of the 42,000 Americans who report Salmonella infection annually ride out the gastroenteritis symptoms of diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps and vomiting for four to seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Antibiotics aren’t a recommended treatment for most infections because they kill good gut bacteria along with Salmonella.

The nutrient needed by Salmonella is composed of a sugar and amino acid stuck together, and is called fructose-asparagine. Its identification alone is also unusual: “It has never been discovered to be a nutrient for any organism,” Ahmer said.

Ahmer and colleagues found this important food source by first identifying the genes that Salmonella requires to stay alive during the active phase of gastroenteritis, when the inflamed gut produces symptoms of infection.

Using a genetic screening technique, the researchers found a cluster of five genes that had to be expressed to keep Salmonella from losing its fitness during gastroenteritis. They then determined that those vital genes work together to transport a nutrient into the bacterial cell and chop up the nutrient so it can be used as food.

The study refers to the pathogen’s fitness because it’s an all-encompassing word for Salmonella survival, growth and ability to inflict damage.

Identifying the nutrient that the genes acted upon was a bit tricky and involved some guessing, Ahmer said. The team realized that the Salmonella genes they found resembled genes in other bacteria with a similar function – transporting the nutrient fructose-lysine into E. coli. But seeing a difference between the genes, the researchers landed, with some luck, on fructose-asparagine.

The researchers ran numerous experiments in cell cultures and mice to observe what happened to Salmonella in the inflamed gut when these genes were mutated. Under differing conditions, Salmonella’s fitness dropped between 100- and 10,000-fold if it could not access fructose-asparagine, even if all of its other food sources were available.

“That was one of the big surprises: that there is only one nutrient source that is so important to Salmonella. For most bacteria, if we get rid of one nutrient acquisition system, they continue to grow on other nutrients,” Ahmer said. “In the gut, Salmonella can obtain hundreds of different nutrients. But without fructose-asparagine, it’s really unfit.”

Because of that sole source for survival, the genes needed for acquisition of this nutrient could be effective drug targets.

“Nobody’s ever looked at nutrient transporters as drug targets because it’s assumed that there will be hundreds more transporters, so it’s a pointless pursuit,” Ahmer said.

This kind of drug also holds promise because it would affect only Salmonella and leave the trillions of other microbes in the gut unaffected.

Ahmer and colleagues are continuing this work to address remaining questions, including the window of time in which access to the nutrient is most important for Salmonella’s survival as well as identifying human foods that contain high concentrations of fructose-asparagine.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ohio State University . The original article was written by Emily Caldwell. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Underwater Flight, with Maverick Engineer Graham Hawkes

The Super Falcon, ready for underwater flight. (Image: Jeffrey Marlow)

The Super Falcon, ready for action on the shores of Lake Tahoe. (Image: Jeffrey Marlow)

Homewood, California is a sleepy town, a bundle of homes surrounding a small ski area on the western shore of Lake Tahoe. In the summer, it’s even sleepier, occupied primarily by vacationers seeking a respite from urban life in the quiet forests of the Sierra Nevada. In other words, Homewood is not where you’d expect to see one of the world’s most technologically advanced recreational submersibles, yet there it is, the DeepFlight Super Falcon, basking on the dock, attracting open-mouthed stares from passers-by.

But then again, Graham Hawkes has never really been one for convention. As the designer of the Super Falcon, Hawkes sought a craft unlike any other, an underwater airplane rather than a sinking sphere.

Hawkes is a self-styled renegade, a complicated character who’s led an unequivocally fascinating life. He has spearheaded countless expeditions to unseen corners of the planet, discovered hundreds of shipwrecks in pursuit of buried treasure, hobnobbed with the rich and famous, founded several companies, and is by any account one of the world’s most accomplished oceanographic engineers. And yet, today he’s piloting his latest craft in the frigid waters of Lake Tahoe at 66 years old, with a small – but fiercely loyal – team at his side.

Hawkes clearly remains active, developing new subs and improving earlier iterations, out of a genuine passion to explore, but the situation is also symptomatic of his inability to gain traction among the scientific and industrial communities with working interests in underwater exploration. He’s got a chip on his shoulder, a restlessness that compels him toward constant invention. “I’m impatient,” he says. “I started off doing military stuff, then oil and gas, and I basically burned through all of them, including scientists – I just got frustrated with all of them.” Nonetheless, Hawkes may well be on the right side of history – he certainly believes so – particularly with winged submersibles like the Super Falcon. “I think that when you’re in the middle of a disruptive technology,” he suggests, “it appears that it’s going painfully slowly. Fast forward 50 years and look back, it seems inevitable. But we’re not there yet, it’s kind of painful.”

The “disruptive technology” in question is the primary allure of the Super Falcon, the ability to fly through water, with all three degrees of freedom. “This is the same as air flight,” Hawkes explains, “the math works, and it drives the whole thing.” The small frontal profile – the sub looks like a stretched tube with wings and two protruding acrylic bulbs – creates minimal drag. Actuators toggle the wings to move you up or down; the tail fin pivots to move you right or left.

It’s an impressive, elegant machine, which makes it all the more remarkable that Hawkes is taking me for an underwater spin on this cool spring morning. He steps through the safety briefing on the cozy, two-person craft, pointing out the half-dozen dials and knobs that surround the well-secured, hopefully-not-prone-to-claustrophobia co-pilot. “If you were a fighter pilot, this would be familiar,” Hawkes notes. “If you were Alvin pilots, this would be very confusing, there’s nothing for you here,” he says in a thinly veiled jab at the US’ flagship deep-sea scientific submersible, which, to paraphrase, Hawkes views as a plodding, unimaginative dinosaur.

Safety briefing complete, the hatch is closed, the throat-microphones are activated, and we’re lowered into the blue waters of Lake Tahoe, pine trees and naked ski slopes forming my last views of the surface world.

(To be continued…)

This Week’s Apple Rumors, Ranked From Dumbest to Most Plausible

The larger iPhone 6 may feature optical image stabilization in its camera.

Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

Each week, there are dozens of rumors, reports, and patent filings that hint at what’s coming out of Cupertino next. Some are legit, but many are totally bogus. As always, we’ve parsed the rumors, ranking them in order from “utterly ridiculous” to “duh, of course.” First up…

DON’T COUNT ON IT: Another iPhone 6 Mockup Gets Videoed Next to Competitors

With the proliferation and improved quality of 3-D printing and prototyping tools, I’m thoroughly unconvinced that many (or any) of these leaked iPhone 6 images or mockups are legit. But we keep seeing them crop up. This week, someone videoed a supposed 5.5-inch iPhone 6 next to a couple of Android phablets like the LG G3. One thing’s for sure: A 5.5-inch iPhone is going to be HUGE—compared to other phablets. Mac Otakara also posted a video of what it claims is the back of the actual iPhone 6. It does, at least, feature the detailed insides of what could be the real thing or a functioning prototype, rather than just a design mockup.

DON’T COUNT ON IT: Video Compares ‘iPad 6′ to iPad Air

A video by TLDToday compares a sixth generation iPad mockup with the current iPad Air. According to this video, there are very few changes between the two tablets, perhaps the biggest being the addition of Touch ID to the new iPad (which is something many of us expect from this year’s iPads). Other changes include less prominent buttons, no mute/orientation lock switch at all, and slightly modified speaker grilles. There’s no evidence that we’ll see any of these changes other than Touch ID in this year’s iPad.

ASK AGAIN LATER: 5.5-Inch iPhone 6 to Include Image Stabilization, But Not 4.7-Inch Model

KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who’s been pretty spot on with Apple predictions in the past, writes that he expects only Apple’s larger iPhone 6 model will include optical image stabilization. The smaller 4.7-inch model will use essentially the same method as the iPhone 5s (a middle-mount open-loop voice coil motor), but updated so that it’s more power efficient and has faster focusing speed. An optical image stabilization system is more expensive and potentially heavier than a VCM system. It mechanically controls light’s path from the lens to the camera’s sensor.

ASK AGAIN LATER: iPhone to Get September 19 Launch, Limited 128 GB Model

We know that Apple will announce, and launch, its new iPhone this fall, but the exact date is still unclear. The latest rumors point to a September 19 launch date. The date is a Friday, and Apple usually puts the iPhone on sale two Fridays following the device’s announcement. Last year, the iPhone 5s and 5c went on sale September 20, and in 2012, the iPhone 5 launched on September 21. In a separate report from a Chinese blog, Apple may only release the 128 GB storage option for the larger 5.5-inch iPhone 6. This could differentiate the larger phablet from Apple’s smaller iPhone offerings, and perhaps make it more appealing for business users or creative types who want a larger screen and greater onboard storage.

SIGNS POINT TO YES: Apple Working on HomeKit Integrated Products

Reports from The Information and 9to5Mac suggest that Apple is developing its own smart home devices to work with its HealthKit APIs. Beyond that, details are pretty scant. It’s not known what type of home products Apple is exploring, except that they will be “mainstream” and won’t directly compete with Google’s Nest (thermostats and smoke detectors). Apple’s Beats acquisition could somehow factor into this equation.

WITHOUT A DOUBT: Cheaper iPod Touch Rumored, Emerges

In one of the shortest lived rumors ever, MacRumors reported a cheaper, $200 16 GB iPod was expected to debut next week, and then it actually launched on Thursday, just a day later. The original rumor expected the iPod to land on Tuesday. It sports a rear camera and comes in six colors.

The Troubling Truth of Why It’s Still So Hard to Share Files Directly



It’s not always easy to spot the compromises in the technology we use, where we’ve allowed corporate interests to trump public ideals like privacy and press freedom. But sometimes new developments can cast those uneasy bargains into relief—and show that the public may not have even been at the table when they were made.

That was the case last month when, with an unassuming post to Twitter, technologist Micah Lee unveiled his latest project. It’s called OnionShare, and it’s a tiny free software app that creates a direct connection between two users, allowing them to transfer files without having to trust a middleman site like DropBox or Mega. It runs over Tor, which means that to anybody intercepting the traffic, both the sender and receiver are near-totally anonymous.

It’s a great new software solution to a thorny problem, one that Lee described reading about in Glenn Greenwald’s new book, “No Place To Hide.” And it’s brilliant in its simplicity, too: the first functional version was only 127 lines of code, making it easier for a new developer to understand exactly what’s going on, and harder for somebody to hide a backdoor or security mistake.

Parker Higgins

Parker Higgins is an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, working on issues of copyright, free speech, and electronic privacy. He

also co-authors the weekly IP newsletter [Five Useful

]. Follow him on Twitter at @xor.

What Took So long?

As an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group that focuses on technology, I work on the same issues that OnionShare is designed to solve. And it’s been frustrating that a simple, usable tool that fills an obvious need took until 2014 to come along. Why would that be the case?

Our work on other issues—copyright and free speech—suggests the answer. Groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and others that make up the copyright lobby have actively campaigned against the kinds of tools that address these aims.

OnionShare creates direct connections between users, making it an example of peer-to-peer network architecture. The copyright lobby’s got a long history with peer-to-peer: at least since Napster emerged a decade and a half ago, corporate copyright holders have endeavored to destroy examples of the tech. We live today with the disastrous results.

After 15 years of being attacked, villainized, and litigated over, peer-to-peer programs and protocols have become a hard sell for investment and development. And as centralized products have gotten a lion’s share of the attention, their usability and market share have increased as well.

The copyright lobby characterizes peer-to-peer as a piracy facilitator, but it’s not difficult to see many more possible applications for a tool like OnionShare. Beyond Lee’s announced goal of journalists sharing sensitive source documents, his app could be handy for anybody collaborating on large files, like videos or images; for researchers working on large data sets; or even, say, friends and family members exchanging archives of photos from an event. The problem of moving files around that are larger than a few megabytes is one well enough established that it’s gotten the XKCD treatment.

Why We Need Peer-to-Peer So Badly

This conundrum has no easy resolution. The qualities that the copyright lobby dislike about peer-to-peer are precisely the ones that make it a powerful choice for defenders of press freedom and personal privacy. Namely, peer-to-peer offers no convenient mechanism for centralized surveillance or censorship. By design, there’s usually no middleman that can easily record metadata about transfers—who uploaded and downloaded what, when, and from where—or block those transfers. With some peer-to-peer implementations (though not Lee’s) that information may be publicly accessible. But recording all of it would require a dragnet effort, not a simple request for a log file from a centralized service provider.

The qualities that the copyright lobby dislike about peer-to-peer are precisely the ones that make it a powerful choice for defenders of press freedom and personal privacy.

The distinction is further reflected in the U.S. legal system, which often offers data that goes through a third party reduced protection. That premise, the “third party doctrine,” is badly out-of-date, and produces counter-intuitive results in an era where the location of data storage is otherwise abstracted away. Already one Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, has called for reconsidering it. But as long as the third party doctrine exists, architectures like peer-to-peer that allow for direct communication, broadly speaking, provide more privacy protection against invasive government requests.

John Gilmore, a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a cypherpunk whose activism has been integral in securing what online privacy we have today, gave a famous quote to TIME Magazine in 1993: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” It’s a beautiful sentiment, but it’s not always as true as its matter-of-fact presentation makes it seem—and it’s less true than ever on centralized one-to-many systems.

A video embedded in a thousand articles can disappear when YouTube decides to take it offline. That’s a stark contrast with distributed peer-to-peer systems, like BitTorrent, where files are served in pieces from many peers all at once. These systems stick closer to Gilmore’s promise: when one node goes offline, the rest can cover for it.

We Must Change The Story

There’s an obvious interest in a Web that defies censorship, communication channels that defy surveillance, and tools that serve users before serving corporate desires. Those ideals, though, are diffused between all of us. Too often, they come up short against the copyright lobby’s concentrated interests in suppressing that technology. In other words, when we let the story of new technology be about copyright, we lose out on its other major benefits.

There’s one bright spot. If there’s a lesson from the past 15 years of peer-to-peer history, it’s that each generation of technology has been harder to control. As peer-to-peer has continued to develop, it’s become increasingly resistant to centralized monitoring and filtering. Fortunately for defenders of press freedom, OnionShare pushes that trend further than ever before. The public at large has been ill served by 15 years of the history of peer-to-peer tech being driven by copyright interests—it’s high time we see what it can do in the public interest instead.

CDC: Traveling for Business Can Be An Expensive Health Risk

The CDC Foundation, which supports the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has put up a new publication urging business travelers to protect their health when they travel internationally and steering them to resources to help.

It’s a smart idea backed by some eye-opening statistics:

  • Cost of a course of malaria prophylaxis drugs: $162. Cost of being hospitalized with malaria on return: $25,250.

  • Cost of taking the two-dose hepatitis A vaccine: $300. Cost of treatment for a case of hep A: $2,500.

  • Cost of medical evacuation insurance: $370. Cost of a medical emergency evacuation: up to $250,000.

The site urges business travelers to see a medical professional, but it also steers them to travel-advice pages, and links to a downloadable travel-medicine reference (Kindle, iOS, Android). It also offers something I hadn’t seen before: an advice app that lets you choose the country you’re visiting and then answers that crucial traveler’s question: “Can I eat this?”

Here’s a graphic the Foundation put together to explain why pursuing medical advice — and vaccines, prophylactic drugs and insurance — is an important business issue for both employee health and lost workdays:

courtesy CDC Foundation. (original)

courtesy CDC Foundation. (original)

The Case for Net Neutrality’s Nuclear Option



Barbara Cherry was working at the Federal Communications Commission when the agency gave away the internet.

At least, that’s how she describes it. And she certainly knows the ins and outs of U.S. telecommunications policy. Before joining the FCC, Cherry was a governmental affairs staffer with AT&T, which means she spent her days negotiating with lawmakers and lobbyists on behalf of the telecom giant.

While she was at the FCC, the agency decided how to classify the companies that provide broadband internet access over cable TV lines and DSL phone connections. Instead of viewing them as common carrier “telecommunications services” networks—which are more strictly regulated and must provide certain levels of service to all customers—the FCC would treat them as the more-lightly regulated “information service providers.” The year was 2002, and the decision would completely change the internet landscape.

In the 90s, “common carrier” rules offered millions of people their first on-ramp to the internet. The telephone companies had been forced to open up their networks to thousands of dial-up internet service providers, including companies like AOL and Earthlink. But classifying cable and DSL connections as “information services” changed that. The move has led to limited competition in the broadband internet market, with ISPs like Comcast and Verizon dominating the landscape, and now, it may undermine net neutrality–the notion that our internet should be fair for everyone and free of tampering from meddlesome ISPs.

For many people, including Cherry and Tim Wu, the father of net neutrality, the best way to keep powerful ISPs in check is to reclassify broadband providers as common carriers. This would give the FCC the regulatory teeth needed to keep internet access open in a reasonable way to to make sure that service providers don’t grow into kingmakers—deciding which online companies can flourish on the net and which can’t.

“These companies want total freedom to determine who they serve, where they serve, and under what conditions they serve,” says Cherry. “We’ve never allowed that in this country before with a critical infrastructure.”

But, as is so often the case in the world of telecommunications policy, not everyone agrees with Cheery and Wu. In fact, even in Silicon Valley, where so many people are pushing for net neutrality, many advocates don’t back the common carrier idea. The Washington Post calls it “the nuclear option.”

How the Government Changed the Rules of the Internet

The tech industry didn’t pay much attention to that 2002 decision, but Cherry watched it all happen while she was at the FCC–working as a policy wonk with the agency’s Office of Plans and Policy. As far as the United States is concerned, it was “the most radical thing we’ve ever done in the way of regulation,” she says. “Railroads are still considered common carriers. Airlines are considered common carriers…up in Canada, broadband is still considered common carrier.”

A decade ago, the idea was that by eliminating the common carrier restrictions, the Verizons, Comcasts, and AT&Ts would have the financial cushion to build out high speed internet, spurred as they’d be by competition with each other. That hasn’t exactly panned out. High speed internet is expensive and download speeds in the U.S. are ranked 10th in the world

And to top things off, the courts say that the FCC can’t enforce its own net neutrality rules. In January of this year, Washington D.C.’s U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC could slap its net neutrality requirements on a common carrier, but not on an information service provider, effectively tying the agency’s hands. The FCC is trying to rewrite its net neutrality rules, but in May, protesters camped out on the agency’s front door, saying the agency is making things worse.

This week, Tim Wu, told WIRED that the best way to keep the internet healthy is to regulate the telecommunications as common carriers. “That should not be controversial,” he says. “Almost everyone thinks about cable and phone companies as utilities. There are some potential legal hurdles; they’ve been grossly exaggerated.” Indeed, these concepts date back hundreds of years to British Common Law, where common carrier ideas were put in place to ensure that ferrymen and innkeepers treated everyone fairly. That kind of fairness, Wu says, is what the internet needs as well.

What We Mean When We Say ‘Common Carrier’

Here in the U.S., the common carrier idea dates back to the 19th century. In 1885, Shelby Cullom, a first-term senator from Illinois who was looking for something to do on the politically inconsequential Committee on Railroads decided to form a select committee to investigate the nation’s railroad and shipping rates. Farmers from his home state had long complained of the railroads’ predatory pricing practices, and it seemed that nothing short of national legislation could change things.

In towns with no competing railroad lines, the railroads charged exorbitant rates, and they offered low-cost shipping—in the form of “rebates” to preferred customers such as standard oil. “Railroad officers became so arrogant that they assumed they were above all law,” Cullom remembered years later in his autobiography, “50 Years of Public Service”

The states had tried to regulate railway commerce, but a series of Supreme Court decisions made it clear that it was up to the federal government to find a solution. After spending nearly a year traveling the country and collecting testimony, Cullom’s committee filed its report in January 1886. That paved the way for the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887—the nation’s first codification of these common carrier ideas.

You can trace a direct line from Cullom’s 1887 act to the Communications Act of 1934—with its still-valid “Title II” definition of communications carriers–and then to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which governs service providers in the U.S. As Cherry points out, internet service providers were thought of as common carriers when the 1996 act was written. The FCC’s 2002 decision changed this.

The Argument Against Common Carriers

Some believe the 2002 decision was a good thing. There’s a pretty good argument to be made that the FCC’s light regulatory touch has contributed to some amazing growth at the core of the internet. There, internet backbone providers such as Sprint, Level 3, AT&T, and Verizon were able to build out the infrastructure that delivers us everything from the World Cup to live video conferencing—all with virtually no regulatory oversight.

Now, Level 3 worries that its business as a middleman may be threatened by the rising power of home ISPs such as Comcast. But, for Craig Moffett, of the telecom analyst MoffettNathanson, designating the consumer internet service providers as common carriers could actually make things worse, inappropriately regulating pricing in the the fast-moving internet market. “If you reclassify broadband,” he says, “you’re essentially making it subject to all the rules and regulations of the 1934 act.” In other words, this would prevent the ISPs from expanding fast enough.

‘If you reclassify broadband,” he says, “you’re essentially making it subject to all the rules and regulations of the 1934 act’

In the past, when service providers have wanted to do crazy things like charging premium prices for routers or banning voice over IP services, public outrage has pressured them to reverse course. Moffett thinks that public pressure is really the best weapon against over-reaching by the service providers, or what John Oliver calls “cable company f**kery.”

Overall, the tech industry is still worried that federal regulations could do more harm to the internet than good. “It would subject ISPs like me to an intolerable regulatory burden,” says Brett Glass, the owner of a six-person Laramie Wyoming wireless company. “We would fold.”

“Once you have regulations in place, typically they’re very difficult to change,” says Johannes Bauer, a professor with Michigan State University’s Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media. Bauer agrees, however, that the FCC could have done a better job a decade ago in providing incentives for the big ISPs to build out broadband infrastructure while still keeping ISP competition thriving.

The Battle For the Future

Not surprisingly, the big ISPs hate the thought of being regulated as common carriers. The cable industry has invested “tens of billions of dollars” in building out its internet infrastructure since the mid-1990s. That investment “might not have ever occurred if after making that investment we simply had to resell it under a regulatory regime that was designed for a different era,” says Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokeswoman.

But if the FCC does exercise the nuclear option, it will make it harder for your cable company to refuse to provide you service, or force you to accept a bundling deal you don’t want. It will give the FCC the regulatory teeth to enforce its net neutrality plans and — depending on which services fall under common carrier requirements — it could even restore competition in the internet service provider marketplace.

You can bet that the Comcasts and the AT&Ts will fight hard–and fight shrewdly–to retain the status quo. Now a telecommunications professor with Indiana University, Cherry took away some important lessons from her decade in AT&T’s legal department. One of the most important was that companies like AT&T treat working with lawmakers and regulators as a core competency–a vital game of chess that Silicon Valley’s tech companies are still coming up to speed on. “It’s an in-house long-term expertise,” she says. “If you have to go up against them, you have no clue what they know. They have a long-term playbook.” That, she says, is what Google and Netflix and other internet pioneers are facing as they battle AT&T and other communications giants over the idea of net neutrality.

A Tough T-Shirt Made for Biking Anywhere, Yours for $120

The Kitsbow shirt's "Topo" design shows a stylized map on the back.

The Kitsbow shirt’s “Topo” design shows a stylized topographic map on the back. Jakob Schiller/WIRED

In Macklemore’s song “Thrift Shop,” he spins a lyric in reference to a $50 Gucci T-shirt: “That shirt’s hella dough.” I wonder what he’d think about Kitsbow’s Ride Tee-Topo, which is more than double the price at $120?

I agree that 120 clams is shit-ton of money to fork over for a T-shirt. But don’t pass judgment on its worth until you use the thing. This ain’t no cheaply made cotton import from China with a logo slapped on the front. Rather, it’s a blend of Merino wool and polyester that’s made in Canada and designed to last forever.

Now that the weather is heating up, the Kitsbow tee has quickly become my favorite commuter piece. It wicks sweat incredibly well, most likely thanks to the material blend. And with wool in there, the shirt fights off stink even after a couple of uses. I also dig the understated, collar-less design and topo screenprint, which are plenty nice for an office environment, but also make you look cool whipping through traffic or out on the bike path.

Kitsbow is principally a mountain bike apparel company, so the shirt has some nice MTB-specific details like reinforced nylon shoulders that keep it from getting ruined when you wear it with a heavy pack. That and it’s made strong enough that it won’t tear if you eat a mouthful of dirt on the single track. I’ve yet to go over my handlebars while wearing it, but there’s a lot of summer riding yet to come.

Kitsbow Ride T-Topo

Jakob Schiller/WIRED

The Week’s Best TV: Gollum Goes Late-Night and John Oliver Destroys Dr. Oz

These past few weeks have been something like purgatory on TV. Spring programs are off air. The late night shows have inconsiderately taken large breaks and left us wayward, searching for canned laughs and strange celebrity sports in the YouTube archives like common scavengers. But with the summer slate starting to trickle in, we’re hoping this is the beginning of our ascent from the cave of shadows and back into the sun. For this week, NBC’s gaggle of morning talk hosts gave us some cheap laughs and TV’s favorite clone brigade invited us to a brief house party. John Oliver continued to be our rock (bless you, sir) and on Sunday we started our final walk with True Blood. Much like the United States House of Representatives, we shall overcome this challenging time. Let us join hands as a nation—preferably in the most awkward fashion possible—and share in the joy of WIRED’s weekly TV recap together. Kumbaya, friends.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver — Dr. Oz and Nutritional Supplements

Beware, all ye who would dare f*ck up on the public stage, for John Oliver is the new protector of this realm, and he is beholden to no advertisers! Now, this might be too presumptuous, but we’re going to assume WIRED isn’t the biggest Dr. Oz crowd. So, for any of you doubters out there: The man is a big deal, and his product recommendations can be the medical equivalent of getting an Oprah’s Book Club endorsement. His market impact is significant enough to have earned a title—The Dr. Oz Effect—and if you believe the producers of his show, he basically put the Neti Pot on the map. It’s sort of like being the influential head of a megachurch, except the congregation is the daytime TV audience and the cause célèbre is fat busting. All this is to say: Dr. Mehmet Oz is shepherding a large flock. As an accomplished healthcare professional he has a responsibility to give viewers sound guidance, and hawking “magic” pills doesn’t really satisfy that obligation, by Oliver’s estimation. So pop some corn and settle in for this 16-minute dismantling of Oz The Great and Powerful by the HBO show host, who suggests a nice warm glass of shut-the-hell-up as a preventative measure against letting pop science get the better of you. Maybe it’s time to just be a life-saving heart surgeon for a while, Doc. No shame in the fallback career.

True Blood — Episode 1 Clip #3

Now that you’ve all finished marathonthing six seasons of True Blood with the help of WIRED’s comprehensive binge-watching guide to the show, we trust that you’ve taken in seventh and final season’s premiere episode from Sunday. Yes, it was a lot of work on a short calendar, but we knew you could do it! So here we are, back in Bon Temps for one last ride on the supernatural sex party Scrambler. Alcide is back—in Sookie’s bed! Jessica is (un)dead set on atoning for her sins. Bill and Sam have reached a détente to save the town and both of their respective species from the scourge of Hep-V vamps, and magnificent Pam is magnificently searching for her lost love/maker/best friend/boss, Eric. So the gang’s all in attendance, and it looks like everyone’s lives are about to go from bad to catastrophically worse in no time flat. In this scene, we get to see Sookie give the townsfolk a piece of her mind after everyone starts blaming her—again—for all the misfortune in their lives. And yeah, she’s played a big part in this whole nightmare, but when the threat-level starts reaching Apocalypse Orange™ it’s safe to say the issue has gone beyond one girl and her precious fairy vagina.

Conan — Andy Serkis Channels Gollum & Caesar the Ape

Even though Conan and Andy Richter make this segment pretty uncomfortable, it’s still awesome to watch Andy Serkis do his Andy Serkis thing without any green screens, facial tracking dots, or costume prosthesis to obscure the impossibly talented man behind some of screen history’s most engrossing characters. (Hey, Peter Jackson’s King Kong was pretty bad, but we defy you not to fall in love with Serkis’ big ape eyes as Kong caresses Ann Darrow’s face with his dying breath.) If there is any justice in the world of screen arts, Serkis will win an Academy Award for some crucial motion capture supporting role he’s bound to play in the future, but for now we’ll settle for watching him do Gollum on late-night TV.

NBC Today Show — So Uncomfortable: Congressmen Sing ‘We Shall Overcome’

Cheesy morning roundtable shows are so weird. Watching members of the House of Representatives awkwardly cross arms (why are they crossing their arms that way??) and sing an uplifting song together is incredibly strange and uncomfortable, not least of all because of how uncomfortable John Boehner just looks all the time, but watching the hosts of The Today Show do the same in an attempt at mocking humor is somehow even worse. It’s supposed to be a joke about the members of Congress, but turns them into the joke instead, and it gives us full body tingles in a very unpleasant way. This has to be the hosting equivalent of dreaming you’re in class without pants on. Except this really happened. And it’s on the internet. Forever. But considering Carson Daly is ageing backwards, forever probably doesn’t feel that long to him.

Bonus Track: Orphan Black — Making of Orphan Black‘s Four Clone Dance Party

It’s hard enough to leave your favorite characters and performers behind when a TV season wraps up, but with Orphan Black we have to miss Tatiana Maslany five times as much (six if you want to count Tony the trans clone)! And in the second season finale, we got to see the whole Clone Club in the same place at the same time having a nice little rager in Felix’s apartment. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how they stitched four clonesbians into one scene. As always, crazy props to Maslany for embodying each character so fully in dance. Cosima is at her own private Burning Man. Sarah is just keeping it G. Alison’s whole body looks like fun hurts and Helena is, well, just so Helena!

Screw It, Let’s Just Get Ridiculous With This Weekend’s Playlist


Mad Decent

In a week when the super-weird Riff Raff finally drops his super-weird full-length, why not celebrate the sublimely left-of-center? First, there’s The Weeknd dispensing with euphemisms and going full NSFW, then some of FKA Twigs’ wild-eyed ethereality. We’re not done yet, though; it’s a litany of high-value Scrabble tiles, from Jamie xx to TCVVX to Zola Jesus! And if Kendrick Lamar spazzing over some free jazz doesn’t sate you, there’s Riff Raff’s surprisingly great album intro and some NYC dancehall from 77Klash and crew. It’s weird. It’s all weird. Just revel in it.

As usual, we’ve added the tracks to our ongoing Spotify playlist of great new music, and created a standalone YouTube playlist for this week. Keep the recommendations coming.

The tracks:

The Weeknd, “Often”

FKA Twigs, “Two Weeks”

Jamie xx, “All Under One Roof Raving”

TCVVX, “Clocks”

Zola Jesus, “Dangerous Days”

Elephant Stone, “Knock You From Yr Mountain”

Robin Thicke, “Get Her Back (DJ Mustard Remix)”

Ab Soul feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude”

Riff Raff, “Introducing the Icon”

Daytrip feat. 77Klash, Lil Silk & Yung Burraka, “Drop It (Kingston)”


German Official: U.S. Spying ‘Biggest Strain’ in Relations Since Iraq War



As U.S. and German officials meet this week to discuss privacy and security in the cyber realm, a German official is calling recent revelations of NSA spying on his country the “biggest strain in bilateral relations with the U.S.” since the controversy surrounding the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Actually, he said, it’s “bigger than Iraq.”

“Iraq was a disagreement of a foreign policy,” the official, who requested anonymity, told WIRED. “This is a disagreement of a relationship between two allies.”

The U.S. State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Last year, the German news weekly Der Spiegel reported that the NSA had been eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s mobile phone. The CIA and NSA reportedly maintained a listening station at the U.S. embassy in Berlin that it used to monitor German government communications.

The German government, outraged by the spying, has reportedly ended a contract with the U.S.-based telecom Verizon out of concern that the company might be cooperating with the NSA in its eavesdropping activities. The government has also sent lists of questions to the U.S. government inquiring about its surveillance against German citizens. But, according to Der Spiegel, although the NSA promised to send “relevant documents” in response—in an effort “to re-establish transparency between the two governments”—it failed to do so.

The spying scandal has come at a particularly delicate time, as the U.S. is faced with mobilizing support to address issues like the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the rise of the militant group ISIS in Iraq. But the German official says the scandal has caused some to call into question existing perceptions about the legitimacy of U.S. interests in such matters. “Even if governments agree with the U.S. position, it’s more difficult [for them] to defend that position to their electorates now,” he says.

The German official notes that not all European governments share a dim view of the U.S. in the aftermath of the revelations. Countries like Germany with a recent history of authoritarianism are more sensitive to the surveillance issue than those with a longer history of democracy, he says, because they have a greater wariness of state institutions and control.

“They distrust the state [in general] and they want to make sure that they control the state and not that the state controls them,” he says. “In all of Europe, with the exception of Belarus, you have solid democracies. But in some of those, you have relatively recent authoritarianism.”

Another European official told WIRED the spying is likely to affect international commerce, particularly trade agreements, going forward. European countries that have other issues with regard to trade negotiations with the United States likely will use the spying as leverage to gain an upper hand in those negotiations, he says.

“The Snowden revelations have a tremendous effect on how the U.S. is seen [in Europe],” he says. “It will be very difficult to disentangle [other issues from this] and will be harder to get consensus on trade.”

This aside, the meetings between U.S. and German officials this week were designed in part to address the strain between the two countries.

They met in open and closed-door meetings on Thursday and Friday to discuss a number of cyber issues. The open meeting included German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, senior White House advisor John Podesta, as well as other members of government, industry, and academia. Its aim was to focus, in part, on establishing cooperation between the two countries with regard to securing critical infrastructure and addressing cyber crime. But the issue of U.S. spying loomed large over this and the closed-door proceedings.

The German official said the meetings were being viewed as an opportunity to establish understanding of the issues and, with regard to the spying scandal, “identify ways to move on” and attempt to repair the damage that’s been done by the surveillance.

The overall goal, he said, “is not to ruin what has been a beautiful friendship since 1947, but to try to fix this.”