Researchers Find New Insights Into Role of Little-Understood Placenta

placenta health illustration

More than 15 percent of women in developed countries suffer from pregnancy complications associated with the placenta, the disk-shaped organ that sustains a growing fetus. Now researchers find the placenta adapts when nutrients are scarce. The discovery identifies possible targets for intervention, the researchers say.

“Pregnancy complications are [often] linked to poor placental growth and function,” said Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri, a physiologist and developmental biologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, who led the new research. “However, we lack information on what determines how well the placenta grows and functions to support fetal growth during a healthy pregnancy, let alone when the mother is challenged by a suboptimal environment.”

Pregnancy Problem

The placenta is a temporary organ that sprouts a baby’s umbilical cord. The organ then provides the oxygen and nutrients to the growing fetus. It also synthesizes hormones and other molecules necessary for pregnancy and pulls waste products from the baby’s blood. Beyond these fundamental functions, however, researchers know little about what makes for a healthy placenta. But if a placenta isn’t working properly, it can compromise the fetus’ development.

One in 10 infants are born small from growth restrictions in the womb. And those newborns face a higher risk for death in their first few weeks of life, followed by a lifetime of poor health. Hypoxia, an insufficient amount of oxygen getting to tissues, is the chief factor behind growth-restricted babies born at high-altitudes, but is also a common feature of pregnancy complications at sea level.

Sferruzzi-Perri and her team wanted to find out what factors contribute to a healthy placenta during a normal pregnancy, as well as what hinders the organ’s function during complications. The researchers assessed how well mitochondria, the cell’s energy factories, use oxygen and nutrients to produce energy in the placentas of pregnant mice in their third trimester. Some of the mice lived in conditions that mimic a high-altitude environment about 12,000 feet above sea level.

Mighty Mitochondria

In the final stage of labor, the placenta comes out. (Credit: ChameleonsEye/shutterstock

“We found that in the placenta, mitochondria alter their function during the course of pregnancy to best support the needs of the rapidly growing fetus,” Sferruzzi-Perri said.

The mitochondria used more oxygen in earlier stages of gestation than near term, the team reported online January 17thin the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The results suggest mitochondria are more active when the placenta is growing quickly. It then switches gears closer to term to shuttle oxygen and nutrients to the growing fetus.

The researchers also found that the mitochondria compensate for when mothers are not getting enough to eat or are in low-oxygen environments. “When the placenta is not able to compensate for such challenges then this can lead to complications such as fetal growth restriction,” Sferruzzi-Perri said.

“The next step would be to find ways to target mitochondria in the placenta to alter their function and improve pregnancy success in women where we know the outcome might be poor,” she added.

[“source=discovermagazine”]

BadRabbit: NotPetya Hackers Likely Behind Ransomware Attack, Say Researchers

BadRabbit: NotPetya Hackers Likely Behind Ransomware Attack, Say Researchers

Technical indicators suggest a cyber-attack which hit Russia and other countries this week was carried out by hackers behind a similar but bigger assault on Ukraine in June, security researchers who analysed the two campaigns said on Wednesday.

Russia-based cyber firm Group-IB said the BadRabbitvirus used in this week’s attack shared a key piece of code with the NotPetya malware that crippled businesses in Ukraine and worldwide earlier this year, suggesting the same group was responsible.

The BadRabbit attack hit Russia, Ukraine and other countries on Tuesday, taking down Russia’s Interfax news agency and delaying flights at Ukraine’s Odessa airport.

Multiple cyber-security investigators have linked the two attacks, citing similarities in the malware coding and hacking methods, but stopped short of direct attribution.

Still, experts caution that attributing cyber-attacks is notoriously difficult, as hackers regularly use techniques to cover their tracks and sometimes deliberately mislead investigators about their identity.

Security researchers at Cisco’s Talos unit said BadRabbit bore some similarities with NotPetya as they were both based on the same malware, but large parts of code had been rewritten and the new virus distribution method was less sophisticated.

They confirmed BadRabbit used a hacking tool called Eternal Romance, believed to have been developed by the US National Security Agency (NSA) before being stolen and leaked online in April.

NotPetya also employed Eternal Romance, as well as another NSA tool called Eternal Blue. But Talos said they were used in a different way and there was no evidence Bad Rabbit contained Eternal Blue.

“It is highly likely that the same group of hackers was behind (the) BadRabbit ransomware attack on Oct. 25, 2017 and the epidemic of the NotPetya virus, which attacked the energy, telecommunications and financial sectors in Ukraine in June 2017,” Group-IB said in a technical report.

Matthieu Suiche, a French hacker and founder of the United Arab Emirates-based cyber security firm Comae Technologies, said he agreed with the Group-IB assessment that there was “serious reason to consider” that BadRabbit and NotPetya were created by the same people.

But some experts have said the conclusion is surprising as the NotPetya attack is widely thought to have been carried out by Russia, an allegation Moscow denies.

Ukrainian officials have said the NotPetya attack directly targeted Ukraine and was carried about by a hacking group widely known as Black Energy, which some cyber experts say works in favour of Russian government interests. Moscow has repeatedly denied carrying out cyber attacks against Ukraine.

The majority of BadRabbit’s victims were in Russia, with only a few in other countries such Ukraine, Bulgaria, Turkey and Japan.

Group-IB said some parts of the BadRabbit virus dated from mid-2014, however, suggesting the hackers used old tools from previous attacks. “This corresponds with BlackEnergy timeframes, as the group started its notable activity in 2014,” it said.

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Cyber-security researchers warn of messenger apps with spy software

Sonic-spy infused apps have the ability to record audio, take photos with the device’s camera, make calls, send text messages and retrieve data from contacts and call logs. Photograph: iStock

Sonic-spy infused apps have the ability to record audio, take photos with the device’s camera, make calls, send text messages and retrieve data from contacts and call logs. Photograph: iStock

Cyber-security researchers have warned against using certain phone messenger applications because they have the capability to steal data from the devices they infect.

The researchers from SophosLabs, an IT security product company, have identified three cases of “‘sonic-spy” infused apps in Google Play, the official app store for Android devices.

According to Bill Brenner from Sophos, sonic-spy infused apps have the ability to record audio, take photos with the device’s camera, make calls, send text messages, and retrieve data from contacts and call logs.

Identified apps

Mr Brenner identified the apps that can hide their spying functionality as Soniac, Hulk Messenger, and Troy Chat. It is understood that Google removed the apps from its store after they were discovered.

“Google gets criticism when these things are found on Google Play but when they are found they generally take them down. They try to screen as much of this stuff as possible, but it’s difficult,” Mr Brenner told The Irish Times.

Asked how consumers come across this sort of app in the first place, Mr Brenner said: “When a person is downloading an app that turns out to be malicious, almost never are they aware that it’s malicious. Maybe they find an app that looks like a WhatsApp type of programme and they decide that they want it, or they find an app that looks like a good delivery conduit for music . . . and its typically unbeknownst to the user that there’s code baked into some of these apps that allow the bad guys to go through their contacts, get access to their camera, go through their text messages and ultimately getting into banking apps.”

Sonic-spy apps

Added to the three apps identified on Google’s platform, SophosLabs counted 3,240 sonic-spy apps in total, while some reports put the number as high as 4,000. “The average Android user isn’t going to know what techniques the malware used to reach their device’s doorstep, but they can do much to keep it from getting in,” Mr Brenner said.

He advised users to stick to Google Play, avoid apps with a poor reputation, and ensure the software on your phone is as up-to-date as possible.

Asked whether users of Apple’s IOS system could be affected by similar apps, Mr Brenner said that while there is malware designed to affect Apple users, it’s a lot harder to get apps into its app store than it is with Google.

[“Source-irishtimes”]

MirrorLink Car Smartphone Network Has Vulnerabilities, Claim Researchers

MirrorLink Car Smartphone Network Has Vulnerabilities, Claim Researchers

MirrorLink Car Smartphone Network Has Vulnerabilities, Claim Researchers
A system of rules that allow vehicles to communicate with smartphones may be vulnerable to hacking, a new study suggests. Many of today’s automobiles leave the factory with secret passengers: prototype software features that are disabled but that can be unlocked by clever drivers, researchers said.

In what is believed to be the first comprehensive security analysis of its kind, researchers at New York University Tandon School of Engineering and George Mason University in the US found vulnerabilities in MirrorLink, a system of rules that allow vehicles to communicate with smartphones.

MirrorLink when unlocked can allow hackers to use a linked smartphone as a stepping stone to control safety-critical components such as the vehicle’s anti-lock braking system.

Damon McCoy, from the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, explained that “tuners” – people or companies which customise automobiles – might unwittingly enable hackers by unlocking insecure features.

“Tuners will root around for these kinds of prototypes, and if these systems are easy to unlock they will do it,” he said. “And there are publically available instructions describing how to unlock MirrorLink. Just one of several instructional videos on YouTube has gotten over 60,000 views,” McCoy added.
“The researchers used such publically available instructions to unlock MirrorLink on the in-vehicle infotainment system in a 2015 vehicle they purchased from eBay for their experiments,” said McCoy.

The automaker and supplier declined to release a security patch – reflecting the fact that they never enabled MirrorLink. McCoy pointed out that this could leave drivers who enable MirrorLink out on a limb.

MirrorLink is the connection protocol and allows the driver or passenger to control phone apps via the car’s dash and steering wheel controls. Created by the Connected Car Consortium, MirrorLink represents 80 per cent of the world’s automakers, is the first and leading industry standard for connecting smartphones to in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems.

However, some automakers disable it because they chose a different smartphone-to-IVI standard, or because the version of MirrorLink in their vehicles is a prototype that can be activated later.

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Tags: MirrorLink, Smartphones, Hackers, Hacking

[“Source-Gadgets”]