Why sandless sandbags could hold the key to flood protection

The sight of people hauling sandbags along streets and brushing water out of their houses has become a familiar scene in the United Kingdom, as floods have gripped large parts of the country.

British Prime Minister David Cameron promised those with homes underwater that money “is no object” but also warned they will be in it “for the long haul”.  A senior scientist from the Met Office, the leading weather service in the UK, linked the floods in the country and extreme weather in Europe and North America to climate change.

Those who have had their property damaged by the high waters have complained about the lack of aid provided, provoking national newspaper the Sun to launch a campaign to provide sandbags to those who are in need.

While effective at keeping flood water out, sandbags come with a range of problems, including rotting, weight and storage challenges.

With increasing concern over the impact of climate change and the large number of sandbags being used at the moment, modern technology is attempting to change the way we help to prevent floods. This includes upgrading the sandbag to be more environmentally and user-friendly.

One of the biggest disadvantages of the sandbag is its weight, which makes it difficult to move around quickly when a flash flood hits. At just 200g before activated, modern versions such as FloodSax provide a more flexible alternative. A semi-porous inner line within the bags contains gelling polymer which absorbs water to become taut in three minutes. Once the water is inside them it stays there and diverts the flood waters.

These type of modern sandbags come with a host of advantages over the traditional hessian and polypropylene bags, which may prove useful in future emergencies. They are the same size as an unfilled sandbag, making them easy to store and even vacuum packable.

They are also easy to dispose and do not rot like traditional sandbags. The polymer within modern bags can also be mixed in small quantities with soil to assist with moisture retention in summer months

If you’re not a fan of sandbags and are looking for protection from flood waters without buying a boat (or building an ark), design and architecture company Morphopedia have produced a house that floats. When surrounded by water, their prototype house does not float off but instead rises on the water while remaining tethered to vertical guides.

Image courtesy of Jeff Jones.

Tech giant HP rips into companies over hacking problems

Adobe, Yahoo Mail and PlayStation users have all had their passwords and personal information hacked in large-scale security breaches in recent years. Now tech giant HP is calling for companies to “eliminate opportunities” given to attackers to access information.

These large-scale hacks have put millions of users’ personal details at risk with the Adobe hack alone exposing 38m accounts to abuse. In its annual cyber risk report, HP criticised sharing of intelligence within the industry.

The company said that the technology industry should pull together to share intelligence about security and the tactics they should use in order to disrupt malicious activities.

It looked at more than 500,000 applications for Android and found that mobile developers often fail to use encryption when storing sensitive data on mobile devices, rely on weak algorithms to do so or misuse stronger encryption capabilities which render them ineffective. Its report states that 56% of applications tested showed weaknesses that revealed information about the application, its implementation or its users.

The report will be worrying for consumers as it highlights the vulnerability of many apps and how their personal data can be accessed by those with the knowledge to do so. With smartphone users checking their mobiles up to 150 times and a total use time of more than two hours each day it amount of information we are giving to companies is increasing.

Many applications are given access to our payment details, contacts, address and more. For consumers there is a need for our personal data to be safely stored by the brands we trust.

For the developers and companies running the applications there may be more costly consequences for failing to securely protect our private information. This was shown last year as Sony were fined £250,000 for security failures after gamers’ details were leaked online in 2011. For smaller companies this scale of monetary penalty could have a serious impact on their business.

To help combat the threat of attackers being able to access users’ personal data,  HP recommends combining the right staff members, processes and technology to minimise the vulnerabilities and reduce the overall risk.

HP said: “Organisations and developers alike must stay cognizant of security pitfalls in frameworks and other third-party code, particularly for hybrid mobile development platforms. Robust security guidelines must be enacted to protect the integrity of applications and the privacy of users.”

Image courtesy of Gustavo Molina.