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UPI NewsTrack Science and Technology News

Feb. 14, 2013 at 6:59 PM   |   Comments

Warning of emergency alert system hacks

SEATTLE, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Many alert system devices used by radio and TV stations to alert the public of emergencies are susceptible to cyberattacks, security researchers say.

Such cyberattacks could be dangerous if they caused a widespread panic among people, they said.

Security consultancy firm IOActive issued the warning after hackers broke into several television stations' Emergency Alert Systems this week and broadcast warnings of zombies "rising from their graves" and "attacking the living," CNET reported Thursday.

Although in this case it was meant as a humorous hoax, IOActive said, the next cyberattack could claim something like an anthrax attack or terrorist attack and cause a true panic.

Alert devices used by TV and radio stations to air emergency alerts have critical vulnerabilities that make them susceptible to cyberattacks, IOActive researchers said, wherein hackers could create false alerts broadcasts to millions.

"We found some devices directly connected to the Internet and we think that it's possible that hackers are currently exploiting some of these vulnerabilities or some other flaws," Chief Technology Officer Cesar Cerrudo told Computerworld.

At least two types of Emergency Alert System devices are especially vulnerable to attacks, IOActive said, but added the manufacturers were working to fix the issues.


'God particle' collider to be upgraded

GENEVA, Switzerland, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Physicists at CERN, the European nuclear research center, say they've shut off the particle beams of the Large Hadron Collider for a two-year repair period.

The collider, famous for identifying a particle believed to be the Higgs boson or "God particle" in late 2012, will undergo repairs and upgrades that will allow it to be run at its full design energy for the first time, they said.

The collider's beams were switched of Thursday morning but it will take until Saturday for the machine's 1,734 magnets to return to room temperature from their super-chilled state, the BBC reported.

The LHC has been operated at particle energies of 8 trillion electron-volts but when the upgrade is completed in late 2014 it should be capable of running at 14 trillion, creating the highest-energy collisions ever attempted by researchers.

Problems with the connections between the giant magnets that steer charged particles around the collider's 16-mile ring have kept it from ever being run at full power, scientists said.

"We have been running successfully, but only at half the maximum energy, because we can only safely run the magnets at half the design current," Tony Weidberg, a University of Oxford physicist who works with the LHC, said.

After testing when the collider is reactivated, experiments are set to resume in February or March 2015, CERN said.


Bilingual babies get good at grammar

VICTORIA, British Columbia, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Babies as young as 7 months can begin to learn two languages even if they have vastly different grammatical structures, Canadian and French researchers say.

A study by the University of British Columbia and Universite Paris Descartes reports infants in bilingual environments use pitch and duration cues to discriminate between languages, such as English and Japanese, even though those languages use opposite word orders.

In English, a function word comes before a content word -- the dog, his hat, with friends -- and the duration of the content word is longer, while in Japanese the order is reversed, and the pitch of the content word higher.

"By as early as 7 months, babies are sensitive to these differences and use these as cues to tell the languages apart," co-author Janet Werker, a UBC psychologist, said.

Babies also use frequency of words in speech to discern their significance, the researchers said.

"For example, in English the words 'the' and 'with' come up a lot more frequently than other words -- they're essentially learning by counting," Judit Gervain of the Paris university said. "But babies growing up bilingual need more than that, so they develop new strategies that monolingual babies don't necessarily need to use."

"If you speak two languages at home, don't be afraid. It's not a zero-sum game," Werker said. "Your baby is very equipped to keep these languages separate and they do so in remarkable ways."


Love of music said an acquired taste

MELBOURNE, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- A love of music and appreciation of musical harmony is not based on natural ability but must be learned, a study by Australian researchers has found.

Previous theories about how people appreciate music were based on the physical properties of sound and the ability of the ear itself to hear harmony, they said.

However, the new study found love of musical harmony is not nature but nurture, University of Melbourne researchers reported Thursday.

"Our study shows that musical harmony can be learnt and it is a matter of training the brain to hear the sounds," psychological science Professor Neil McLachlan said.

"So if you thought that the music of some exotic culture (or Jazz) sounded like the wailing of cats, it's simply because you haven't learnt to listen by their rules."

In the study, 66 volunteers with a range of musical training were tested on their ability to hear combinations of notes to determine if they found the combinations familiar or pleasing.

"What we found was that people needed to be familiar with sounds created by combinations of notes before they could hear the individual notes," McLachlan said. "If they couldn't find the notes they found the sound dissonant or unpleasant."

"This finding overturns centuries of theories that physical properties of the ear determine what we find appealing," he said. "We have shown in this study that for music, beauty is in the brain of the beholder."

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