Paw Print Rewind #033

Editor’s Note: This is the Paw Print Rewind, a daily recap of the top news headlines.

5.6 million fingerprints stolen in U.S. personnel data hack: gov’t

Hackers who stole security clearance data on millions of Defense Department and other U.S. government employees got away with about 5.6 million fingerprint records, according to the government.

The additional stolen fingerprint records were identified as part of an ongoing analysis of the data breach by the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Defense, according to an OPM statement.

The data breach was discovered in the spring and affected security clearance records dating back for many years.

According to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, the investigation into the data breach is continuing. The breach affected the records of about 21.5 million federal workers.

OPM and Defense Department officials only recently discovered that the additional fingerprints were stolen as they continued to assess the data breach, according to an OPM statement.

According to that statement, officials “identified archived records containing additional fingerprint data not previously analyzed,” which caused the estimate of people affected to rise from the 1.1 million initially reported.

The total number of people affected by the breach still stands at 21.5 million, according to OPM.

According to the agency, the ability to misuse the data is currently limit, but the threat could increase over time as technology evolves.

“An interagency working group with expertise in this area will review the potential ways adversaries could misuse fingerprint data now and in the future.”

-The Office of Personnel Management, in a statement

That group includes members of the intelligence community, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Pentagon.

“If, in the future, new means are developed to misuse the fingerprint data, the government will provide additional information to individuals whose fingerprints may have been stolen in this breach.”

-OPM

According to the OPM, the personnel office and Defense Department are working together to begin mailing notifications to those affected.

Brain-computer link enables paralyzed California man to walk

A brain-to-computer technology that can translate thoughts into leg movements has enabled a man previously paralyzed from the waist down by a spinal cord injury to become the first patient to walk without the use of robotics, according to Southern California doctors.

The 28-year-old paraplegic’s first steps were documented in a preliminary study published in the UK-based Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, along with a YouTube video.

The feat was accomplished using a system allowing the brain to bypass the injured spinal cord and instead send messages through a computer algorithm to electrodes placed around the patient’s knees to trigger controlled leg muscle movements.

According to University of California-Irvine researchers, the outcome marks a promising but incremental achievement in the development of brain-computer interfaces that may help strong and spinal injury victims regain some mobility.

Clinical applications are many years away, according to study co-author Dr. An Do. The study’s results still need to be replicated in other patients and greatly refined.

Nevertheless, the study proved that it was possible “to restore intuitive, brain-controlled walking after a complete spinal cord injury,” according to biomedical engineer Zoran Nenadic.

The steps were taken by graduate student Adam Fritz over 11.8 feet across the floor of UC Irvine’s iMove Lab, according to researchers, with his weight being partially supported by an overhead harness and walker that he grasped to keep his body upright.

According to Do, the weight support was necessary because the patient lacked any sensation in his lower body.

However, the experiment built on earlier UC Irvine studies where brain signals were transmitted to a robotic prosthesis attached to the patient’s legs to produce movement, according to Do.

The study involved months of mental training where Fritz practiced thinking about walking to produce necessary leg-moving brain waves.

Those signals were then picked up by an electroencephalogram (EEG) he wore as a hat, and were transmitted to a computer where it was processed by an algorithm that could isolate the messages related only to leg motion and convert them to signals that would stimulate the patient’s muscles to work.

The scientists/patient first practiced with a virtual reality-like video game where Fritz was trained to control a walking avatar, as well as undergoing extensive physical rehab to gain strength.

Fritz then practiced walking in the lab while slightly suspended above the floor.

Researchers hope to refine the technology by miniaturizing the EEG component enough to be implanted inside the patient’s skull/brain, allowing for clearer reception of the neural messages.

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