Cloud Computing Systems Used By Federal Agencies May Not Be Up to Federal Standards

Hands typing on the laptop
While cloud-based information systems are becoming increasingly popular, many companies rely on outside services to help them manage their data and reduce security risks. Federal agencies are no exception, with most organizations using cloud computing arrangements to process and store government data. Unfortunately, a recent cloud security assessment suggests that a number of these agencies and their services are falling short of federal requirements.In late February, the 2014 Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) report to Congress was released to the public. According to the study, of the 17 inspector generals who reported that their agencies used programs to manage contractor systems, only eight believed their programs had all the required elements in place. While the departments were not identified, the stated problems were numerous: some never obtained sufficient assurance that the security controls were effective or compliant with guidelines, while others did not have a complete inventory of the systems being used. However, six of the departments admitted that their cloud systems were not compliant with FISMA requirements, federal polices and applicable National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) guidelines.

NIST regulations are the basis of the government’s Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). Designed to standardized security assessment, authorization and continuous monitoring of cloud solutions, the program is essentially designed to safely bring the government into a new age of information technology. However, the FISMA report shows that federal agencies fared little better when it came to FedRAMP requirements, noting that some departments are “not capable of tracking and managing risks in a virtual/cloud environment.”

Cloud Security is one of the Top 10 Priorities of the CIOs in 2015 and it is one of key areas of concern for the CIOs for not adopting Cloud technologies as fast as they should or they are expected to.

Fortunately, an element of the FedRamp process may address this issue. Once a cloud service is authorized under FedRamp, they are required to begin “continuous monitoring.” This means that all vendors must perform monthly vulnerability scans and remediate any findings deemed high-risk within 30 days. This change not only better aligns with the Department of Homeland Security’s own continuous monitoring program, but fixes a prevalent problem: previously, some security reporting was only performed quarterly.

Currently, the FISMA report shows that a total of 81 systems being used are FedRAMP compliant. Of this number, 26 agencies have reported using FedRAMP provisional authority to operate packages, which verifies that a cloud system meets the program’s standards. Agencies are required to review this documentation before granting vendors final authority to operate.

While it isn’t clear how many systems must meet FedRAMP standards, one of the program office’s top priorities for the coming year is to increase stakeholder engagement, particularly among the agencies implementing the program. Other goals including improving program efficiencies, automating FedRamp documentation and adapting the program to support evolving cloud technologies and policies.

FSU Exhibit Honors the Human Experiences of World War II

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In 1997, Kevin Dougherty made a surprising discovery outside his father’s Tallahassee home: hundreds of photographs from World War II, sitting on the curbside and waiting for the trash collector. A former Air Force and Army photographer who worked under General George Patton, Paul Dougherty had already disposed of several boxes of such photos over the years, never considering their historical significance.

After rescuing the boxes of photos, Kevin contacted his alma mater, Florida State University, and offered to donate the remnants of the collection. Today, 18 years later, Dougherty’s photographs are among nearly seven thousand individual offerings of documents, photos, books and artifacts from the time period, which compose FSU’s Institute on World War II and the Human Experience.

Originally founded under history professor Bill Oldson, the institute is beginning to move into the future under its new leadership. The program’s current direct, associate history professor G. Kurt Piehler, took on the role after joining FSU’s faculty in 2011. However, his work with World War II-era records began in 1994, when he was made the founding director of the Rutgers University Oral History Archives upon receiving his doctorate from the college. Over the course of several years in this position, Piehler recorded and digitized transcripts of interviews with veterans to help preserve their memories and experiences. While it was initially designed as a two-year project, the oral archives are still being maintained today.

After leaving Rutgers in 1998, Piehler worked at the University of Tennessee before starting his current position at FSU, drawn to the directing role at the institute. He says he was attracted to the program’s focus on the human experience, something he says we often don’t see amid the facts and dates. Since then, he has also began applying his past picture digitizing services to the artifacts at FSU, adding various photos from four submitted collections so far. As a result, these images can now be viewed online and have been preserved for generations to come.

“All photographic prints and slides fade, so it is important to digitize these valuable artifacts, as digital images last forever,” says David Orr, DPS Dave. “However, it is critical that a high quality scanning process is used. For these historic and unique images, prints should be digitized at 1200 DPI, and slides at 6,000 DPI, with a dynamic range of a half million to one. This will preserve the smallest detail, and although today’s electronic displays cannot show this level of detail, we have to assume the in the future, historians will be viewing these images on displays which can display these details.”

The institute’s archives have been publicly displayed several times over the years, with the Doughertys even appearing on a segment of the Today Show with some of their photos in 1998. However, FSU is currently exhibiting a number of the collection’s artifacts at the college’s Museum of Fine Arts. Called “The Human Experience,” the exhibit contains hundreds of photos, posters, paintings, letters, maps, rations and other items carried by American GIs, and will last until the end of March. The Museum of Fine Arts is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. and weekends from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m.

Pets May Get Medical Marijuana Rights in Nevada

Marijuana
If passed, a new bill introduced on March 17 to the Nevada Legislature will allow veterinarians to prescribe their furry patients with medical marijuana.

Democratic Sen. Tick Segerblom, who’s sponsoring the measure that would allow pet owners to get medical marijuana for their pets if a vet certifies that the animals has an illness capable of being alleviated by the medicine, told the AP that although he’s concerned some animals may have adverse reactions, “You don’t know until you try.”

Still in its early stages, SB372 also faces several legislative hurdles before it can become law. In addition to its pot-for-pets provision, the bill would revamp Nevada’s marijuana laws. As it is now, SB372 would also require dispensary owners to have training, and would remove penalties for drivers who have marijuana in their blood.

The biggest challenge SB372 faces, though, isn’t the legislative process, but the fact that there’s a lack of empirical evidence supporting the idea that medical marijuana can help pets.

“Although there may be a place for medical marijuana in the treatment of animals, significant further research needs to be done first,” said Dr. Karen Kennedy, DVM from Guilford-Jamestown Veterinary Hospital. “I believe most practitioners have seen the toxic effects of marijuana ingestion in pets, and would be hesitant to prescribe it without the studies to show the benefits of it, and the proper dosing.”

Though the substance has yet to be a proven, effective painkiller for animals, pet owners in California are already using medical marijuana to help their pets. The hemp-based capsules contain only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC — the psychoactive ingredient that provides the cannabis high.

“It has truly been a miracle and I don’t say that lightly,” Conway told CNBC. “I feel like I have a whole new dog. [My dog] Georgia’s happy and relaxed. She’s not in pain. It’s amazing.”

Others, though, are less certain of the efficacy of giving pets medical marijuana.

“That gives me pause, said Sen. Mark Manendo, a Democrat and animal rights activist. “Alcohol is bad, chocolate is bad for dogs.”

Pet owners in California, though, insist it works.

“If Miles was on the tramadol, he’d be in bed, and he wouldn’t be enjoying anything or eating anything, and he’d probably be dead,” a pet owner, who wished her name to be redacted, told the American Veterinary Medical Association. “I’m just really grateful we found this.”

Taco Bell Likens Ronald McDonald to Despotic Dictator in New Ad Campaign

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According to reports from the Burger War’s front lines, Taco Bell has taken new offensive action against McDonald’s. Its new ad campaign, “Routine Republic,” hopes to inspire McDonald’s breakfast-time consumers to fall back and make its new line of “biscuit tacos” a part of their morning routine instead.

Taco Bell’s three-minute long, centerpiece ad introduces consumers to the world of the “Routine Republic,” a gray, garish dystopia ruled by clowns dressed not unlike Cold War era Soviets. The bleak landscape is filled with USSR-style propaganda decrying that “happiness is the same breakfast,” “same breakfast, same routine, same smile,” “same, same, same, good, good, good,” “convention is king,” and commanding denizens to “eat only our breakfast.”

However, rebels have sprayed hexagonal graffiti (the same shape as Taco Bell’s breakfast crunch-wrap) over the propaganda posters. Two citizens then make a mad dash to escape, jumping down windy slides, avoiding wind-up-toy burger landmines, and wading through a grimy ball-pit moat, towards the beckoning sound of Taco Bell’s iconic ring. There, they’re handed a breakfast crunch-wrap, and say that more are coming.

This would not be the first time Taco Bell has taken a stab at stealing McDonald’s breakfast consumers. About one year ago, the agency began opening for breakfast. To announce its debut, it hired a bunch of guys named Ronald McDonald to try out their new breakfast menu and talk about how delicious it was.

Although the “Routine Republic” campaign has the same basic strategy as the one from yesteryear, it’s still a good one. In order to get people into Taco Bells in the morning, the agency needs to get them talking about the new breakfast item. What better way to get them buzzing than to do something worth talking about?

“I am confused by this current campaign and creative strategy most importantly because it appears to lack the creative side of creative strategy,” says Tom Ajello, Founder and Creative Director, Makeable. “If I understand taco bell’s initiatives clearly in what I’ve read and know, they are trying to target millennials and what we know about millennials is that they don’t watch TV. The best way for taco bell to engage a millennial is to innovate new products, not distribute another crummy ad.”

The new line of biscuit tacos, which are taco-shaped biscuits wrapped around fillings such as chicken and gravy, were introduced to more than 6,000 of its U.S. restaurants on March 26 as part of its expanding morning menu, which may also include the Cap’n Crunch Delights — “warm, light pastries coated with fruity Cap’n Crunch Berries cereal” — that it’s testing out in California.

Government Will Ease Reporting Burdens Associated with Electronic Health Record Incentive Programs

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Jan. 29 that the agency intends to update its standard for the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Programs, easing reporting burdens on participating physicians and other healthcare providers, starting this year, and clarifying standards of meaningful use.

“The new rule, expected this spring, would be intended to be responsive to provider concerns about software implementation, information exchange readiness, and other related concerns in 2015. It would also be intended to propose changes reflective of developments in the industry and progress toward program goals achieved since the program began in 2011,” Dr. Patrick Conway, chief medical officer, wrote on the official CMS blog.

The goal of the change will be to improve health outcomes for patients by better partnering with providers, Conway continued.

Proposed changes include aligning the reporting period for hospitals to the calendar year (hospitals currently report on the fiscal year, while individual physicians report on the calendar year), reducing the complexity of the reporting process, and shortening the reporting period from one year to 90 days.

The president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Robert Wergin, commented Jan. 30 that these changes have been advocated for by countless physicians. “We’re gratified to see that our collective voice has been heard and needed change is coming,” he said.

The announcement from CMS clarified that the expected rule is separate than the Stage 3 guidelines that are expected to be released in early March. Stage 3 will apply to meaningful use requirements starting in 2017.

CMS has not yet said exactly when the new rule for 2015 will be issued. Neil Versel, writing for Forbes, said the language used for the announcement is “bureaucrat-speak for ‘we’re going to do it, but don’t take it to the bank just yet,’” but this announcement is far more concrete than previous indicators that steps would be taken.

Amid Protests, Brazil’s Pharmaceutical Industry Tries to Send a Message of Success and Hope

Pill bottle with spilling medications over white

In recent months, Brazil has been rocked by controversy. For example, on March 15, almost one million demonstrators protested the nation’s sluggish economy, rising prices and corruption, calling for the impeachment of left-wing President Dilma Rousseff. And for good reason: their dissent came after numerous economists predicted that falling oil prices would only increase inflation while restricting further growth. However, despite these worrying signs, the country’s pharmaceutical market is hopeful. From May 12 to 14, the industry will be holding the 20th FCE Pharma in São Paulo, where professionals hope to prove that there are positive signs from everything from pharmaceutical serialization to cosmetics.

While the event is still almost two months away, it has already found some success: the Marchesini Group, a Bologna, Italy-based packaging machinery supplier, recently announced that they will be holding an exhibit at the event. In a press release about its decision, the company stated that FCE Pharma, considered one of the most important pharmaceutical and cosmetic trade fairs in Latin America, will demonstrate the success of Brazil’s packaging market and high focus on pharmaceutical serialization and track and trace.

Other reports also suggest that FCE Pharma will draw further attention to the nutricosmetics’ market, a growing industry that offers oral-based natural health products to treat the skin, hair and nails. An article on WhaTech.com previously suggested that Brazil, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan and other countries could represent an untapped market for these products. The article also estimated that the global nutricosmetics market would increase by 11.5% from 2014 to 2020, accounting for $7.16 billion USD by 2020.

Given the nature of the Brazil’s existing pharmaceutical market, many feel that this potential trend is highly possible. For example, the UK-based business intelligence firm Espicom.com previously called the country their favorite regional pharmaceutical market due to its large size and high level of domestic demand for high-tech products. And while the government is currently being criticized by its people, Espicom.com also reported that the administration is increasingly investing in healthcare and pharmaceuticals to reduce the nation’s medical costs, while their private sector welcomes foreign companies and investment.

However, economists have a different take on the issue: in a report titled “The Pharmaceutical Industry in Brazil,” the business management consulting firm PricewaterhouseCooper commented that companies are expected to become more dependent on emerging markets by 2020. However, while Brazil is one such market, the country is expected to generate higher profits from patent medications than generics. As a result, they consider the nation a paradox, offering a large market potential in which obtaining a return is difficult and competition is strong. As dissent continues to simmer and Brazil’s pharmaceutical companies count down the days until FCE Pharma, the rest of the world waits to see if the tides will turn.

Two International Partnerships Will Test New and Innovative Processes by Water Treatment Companies in 2015

business plan on wall

Water treatment companies and experts are involved in two separate efforts that lend their services to international communities. The projects kick off this year to deliver water purification technologies to new markets around the globe — from the U.S. to Ethiopia and from Israel to Akron, Ohio.

Dow Chemical Co. announced at a press conference on March 12, 2015, that they plan to introduce these treatments to Ethiopia’s market within the next six months.

Zakia Bahjou, regional commercial manager of the Middle East and Africa Region at Dow Water and Process Solutions, said the company will provide these technologies for municipal, residential and industrial demographics in Ethiopia. Industrial applications include use for sugar, leather and beverage companies, in addition to purified tap water for houses and municipalities.

Davis and Shirtliff Trading Ethiopia PLC and Chemex PLC are the water treatment companies in Ethiopia that Dow will work with. Dow will provide them with ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis technologies.

Dow currently provides remediation and treatment equipment for suspended soils, salinity, hardness, trace elements and other water conditions.

“Treating water in developing countries presents unique challenges from source and type of power to continued operation and maintenance needs,” says Robert Kunzel, CEO/President, Ground Water Treatment & Technology, LLC (GWTT). “When US companies face and solve these challenges it results in innovation and efficiencies that improves process in the United States and thats a good thing.”

Meanwhile, officials in Israel have announced that their country will provide services to the city of Akron, Ohio, to augment its existing wastewater treatment and water purification processes.

Akron is partnering with a consortium of Israeli leaders in the public and private sectors for the Advanced Waste Water Treatment Demonstration Project, which will take place over the next three years. The project utilizes technologies developed by Israeli academics, government firms and private companies from Akron to help the city become a leader in water treatment innovation.

According to Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, “This project will create new jobs and investment through business attraction, further our water initiative and place Akron in the forefront of water innovation and technology.”

The project will also allow Israeli companies to demonstrate their innovative solutions to common water treatment issues.

Akron will essentially serve as a test market for these new, advanced processes, which are being pioneered by five separate Israeli water firms.

Financing has been provided by the city of Akron and the Israeli firms involved in the experiment. The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the Israel Export Institute and Mekorot, a national water company, will be providing technical support for the project.

Connection Between Back Pain and Depression May Be Genetically Influenced, Twin Study Suggests

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Back pain and depression have been strongly correlated across numerous studies, often causing diagnostic and treatment challenges for practitioners attempting to address one or both problems. A new study, however, suggests that genetics may explain a large portion of that correlation.

Marina B. Pinheiro, of the University of Sydney, Australia, and colleagues used data from the Murcia Twin Registry in Spain to look at incidences of low back pain and depression in over 2,000 twins. Such twin studies are often used to clarify associations among health conditions, since it is easier to isolate genetic and environmental contributing factors.

The researchers found that when the participants were analyzed as individuals, the odds of back pain were increased by a factor of 1.6 when the individuals experienced depression. The connection actually strengthened when the researchers looked at pairs of dizygotic, or non-identical, twins (who share half of their genetic information).

But the association vanished altogether when the researchers looked at pairs of monozygotic, or identical, twins using more sophisticated statistical analyses; essentially, controlling for genetic and familial factors allowed the researchers to conclude that the relationship between low back pain and depression is probably not a direct one, but rather influenced by genetics.

The researchers cautioned that it’s too early to say that genetic factors predispose people to developing both conditions. This is the first study of its kind to use twin data, and Pinheiro and colleagues recommended that a longer study with more follow-up be performed to confirm the findings.

The authors of the study also suggested that more work be done on the connection between back pain and anxiety.

The full article has been published in the March issue of the journal Pain, the official publication of the International Association for the Study of Pain.

Craft Beer Market Share is in the Double Digits for the First Time Ever

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A recent report from the American Brewer’s Association has revealed what many Americans already know — that craft beer is really, really popular. From being the subject of a much talked about Superbowl ad, to being offered next to national beers in bars, and to being a staple in every hipster’s refrigerator, the American public has embraced craft beer.

Time reports that for the first time ever, the craft beer market share is in the double digits. This means that about one in 10 beers sold in the U.S. is a craft beer, which is about twice what it was just five years ago in 2010.

The production of craft beer jumped in 2013 — by 17.2% by volume which, of course, was partly to meet a growing demand. Additionally, the craft beer market in the United States is worth about $14 billion dollars.

To understand what craft beer is, you have to understand what a craft brewery is. According to the American Brewer’s Association, a brewery must meet three criteria. The brewery must be small, which means that it produces less beer than 6 million barrel each year. No more than a quarter of the brewery may be owned by a member of the alcoholic beverage industry that is not also a craft brewer. Lastly, the brewery must use traditional methods of flavoring and brewing beer.

Since the growth of the overall beer market in the U.S. was a less than 1%, experts expect that craft brewers are poised to help keep the beer market as a whole.

“With the total beer market up only 0.5% in 2014, craft brewers are key to keeping the overall industry innovative and growing,” said Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association.

As it is now, there are about 3,500 craft breweries across the country, with over 175 in the state of Colorado alone. With America’s increasing appreciation for craft beer those numbers are sure to increase even more dramatically in the years to come.

Man Who Used Fake Name to Get Gallbladder Surgery Faces Three Years in Prison

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Richard Scott Harris now faces three years in prison after using a false name, birth date, and social security number to dodge a $40,000 medical bill for a gall bladder surgery he received in 2013.

This, however, was not the first time Harris had pulled such a scam.

His criminal history beganback in 1988, when he violated his parole or probation about 20 times; he has since been a “fugitive of justice” 11 times. Back in 2000, Harris claimed to be a “Joseph A. Schaffer,” and filed a compensation claim using the name, saying that he worked for a company that had never employed him. He was convicted of making a false claim for health care payments and of second-degree forgery. In 2009, Harris had run more than $16,000 in medical bills, and was convicted of identity theft after using a variation of his name upon checking in to the hospital.

His court appearance on March 17 for his latest scam was a long time coming. Since early 2014, Harris’s case had been set, cancelled, and rescheduled five different times, because the defendant claimed his medical problems were getting in the way. On three different occasions, he claimed to have suffered seizures or another medical emergency requiring him to go to the hospital. It was postponed so many times that according to the docket, the case “must go, no more continuances.”

During the court appearance, The Oregonian reports that Harris seemed to have a hard time accepting the fact that he was pleading guilty. Stephen R. Kelly, Harris’s attorney, had to explain to him that he couldn’t accept the plea, and still say he wasn’t guilty. He then asked his client to read the plea agreement, which he did, and then said “I’m done reading. It never changes.”

Harris pleaded no contest to aggravated identity theft — a charge in which may include a $100,000 fine on top of the criminal’s repayment amount in some states — and faces three years in prison. He will be sentenced on June 16 to accommodate his cancer and liver disease treatments.