Chinese hackers and gas pains

The apparent intrusion by Chinese hackers into the computers of congressmen and their legislative committees revealed this past week comes as no surprise to folks at the Pentagon and at least six other departments, including Commerce, State, Energy and Health and Human Services.

Though federal officials take pains not to speak publicly about the hackings — partly because they don’t want the perpetrators to know what they know — they have confided to cyber-security experts that they suspect the Chinese government is behind the attacks.

China has openly declared cyber-warfare to be a key part of its military strategy. China also has repeatedly denied any connection to the thousands of attempted and successful intrusions into U.S. government sites each year that leave trails back to Chinese computers.

Some U.S. security experts also suspect that Chinese hackers were responsible for a massive, 9,300-square-mile blackout in 2003 that left 50 million people without power in parts of Michigan, Ohio, New York and Canada.


The Consumer Federation of America has found a drop of good news in the gasoline price inflation: If you’ve changed your commuting or other auto habits by cutting down on the use of your car, you may be entitled to lower insurance rates.

Those rates are partially based on how much you drive and how you use your car. If, for instance, you stop driving to work or school, your insurance classification could change from "drive to work" to "pleasure."

That could save you 10 percent to 15 percent on premiums. With the average annual nationwide car insurance bill at nearly $950, that could amount to more than $142 saved.


Another possible ripple effect of the gas crunch is an increase in interest in allowing employees to "telework" from home or satellite offices. Congress is jumping on the concept with unusual speed, with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Unions and federal employee groups have been pushing for greater workplace leeway for two years, but it’s only now that the idea is catching on. The legislation working its way through Congress would require federal agencies to allow workers to telecommute at least two days every two weeks.

Such Hill action could also encourage more private-sector interest in working from home.


It looks like oil prices will go down when pigs fly. Or maybe when pig manure turns into crude. Showing tremendous dedication to biofuels, a team of chemists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology just completed a detailed chemical analysis of what it would take to turn pig poop into fuel for vehicles or heating. Basically, it means removing a lot of water, sulfur and heavy metals. But unlike with corn, no one would object to reducing stockpiles of waste from the nation’s millions of pigs.


The National Transportation Safety Board tapped the Federal Aviation Administration on the shoulder this past week, suggesting the agency pay more attention to the problem of pilot fatigue. One chilling example it cited occurred Feb. 13, when a Mesa Airlines flight flew 26 nautical miles past the Hilo, Hawaii, airport at which it was supposed to land. Air-traffic controllers frantically tried to contact the cockpit for 18 minutes as the plane flew on its own 21,000 feet above the Pacific. Investigators believe the pilot and co-pilot had dozed off.


(SHNS correspondent Lee Bowman contributed to this column. E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at)