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Scientists have created a spider web-like “liquid wire”

The new material possesses both liquid and solid properties.

Touch a spider’s web, and it’s sticky. Pull a thread of a spider’s web, and it will stretch to forty times its length and return to its original structure, unaffected, when released. The web’s ability to remain taut, yet flexible and sticky, stems from its dual solid and liquid properties, which have earned it the name “capture silk”.

A team of scientists together from the University of Oxford and France's Université Pierre et Marie Curie, have, inspired by the spider’s web’s, created something they’ve christened a “liquid wire”. This wire, like a spider’s web, will be able to stretch far and recoil with no noticeable sagging.

The duality of properties comes about because capture silk is actually a hybrid material, meaning that it is comprised of two different composite materials. Hybrid materials are by nature stronger than both their composite materials. A spider’s web is made of a core filament upon which a droplet of glue is suspended. The glue acts as both a trap for flies and the basis for the recoil.

When released, the filament spools and packs within the glue droplet until the tension of the thread reforms. The strands hold straight rather than sag, also preventing the glue droplets from sticking together. The capture silk is thus solid-like in extension and liquid-like in compression and has ten times the strength of natural or synthetic rubber.

The scientists were able to recreate this effect in the laboratory using oil droplets on a plastic filament. It was discovered that the droplet enabled the filament to contract as much was as required to stay taut:

Professor Fritz Vollrath of the Oxford Silk Group in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University said:

“The thousands of tiny droplets of glue that cover the capture spiral of the spider's orb web do much more than make the silk sticky and catch the fly. Surprisingly, each drop packs enough punch in its watery skins to reel in loose bits of thread. And this winching behaviour is used to excellent effect to keep the threads tight at all times, as we can all observe and test in the webs in our gardens.”

The liquid wire could be used in industries from manufacturing to telecommunications, but for now, it’s impressive that scientists have unravelled the secret to one of nature’s most fascinating materials.  

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Marcus Hutchins: What we know so far about the arrest of the hero hacker

The 23-year old who stopped the WannaCry malware which attacked the NHS has been arrested in the US. 

In May, Marcus Hutchins - who goes by the online name Malware Tech - became a national hero after "accidentally" discovering a way to stop the WannaCry virus that had paralysed parts of the NHS.

Now, the 23-year-old darling of cyber security is facing charges of cyber crime following a bizarre turn of events that have left many baffled. So what do we know about his indictment?

Arrest

Hutchins, from Ilfracombe in Devon, was reportedly arrested by the FBI in Las Vegas on Wednesday before travelling back from cyber security conferences Black Hat and Def Con.

He is now due to appear in court in Las Vegas later today after being accused of involvement with a piece of malware used to access people's bank accounts.

"Marcus Hutchins... a citizen and resident of the United Kingdom, was arrested in the United States on 2 August, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada, after a grand jury in the Eastern District of Wisconsin returned a six-count indictment against Hutchins for his role in creating and distributing the Kronos banking Trojan," said the US Department of Justice.

"The charges against Hutchins, and for which he was arrested, relate to alleged conduct that occurred between in or around July 2014 and July 2015."

His court appearance comes after he was arraigned in Las Vegas yesterday. He made no statement beyond a series of one-word answers to basic questions from the judge, the Guardian reports. A public defender said Hutchins had no criminal history and had previously cooperated with federal authorities. 

The malware

Kronos, a so-called Trojan, is a kind of malware that disguises itself as legitimate software while harvesting unsuspecting victims' online banking login details and other financial data.

It emerged in July 2014 on a Russian underground forum, where it was advertised for $7,000 (£5,330), a relatively high figure at the time, according to the BBC.

Shortly after it made the news, a video demonstrating the malware was posted to YouTube allegedly by Hutchins' co-defendant, who has not been named. Hutchins later tweeted: "Anyone got a kronos sample."

His mum, Janet Hutchins, told the Press Association it is "hugely unlikely" he was involved because he spent "enormous amounts of time" fighting attacks.

Research?

Meanwhile Ryan Kalember, a security researcher from Proofpoint, told the Guardian that the actions of researchers investigating malware may sometimes look criminal.

“This could very easily be the FBI mistaking legitimate research activity with being in control of Kronos infrastructure," said Kalember. "Lots of researchers like to log in to crimeware tools and interfaces and play around.”

The indictment alleges that Hutchins created and sold Kronos on internet forums including the AlphaBay dark web market, which was shut down last month.

"Sometimes you have to at least pretend to be selling something interesting to get people to trust you,” added Kalember. “It’s not an uncommon thing for researchers to do and I don’t know if the FBI could tell the difference.”

It's a sentiment echoed by US cyber-attorney Tor Ekeland, who told Radio 4's Today Programme: "I can think of a number of examples of legitimate software that would potentially be a felony under this theory of prosecution."

Hutchins could face 40 years in jail if found guilty, Ekelend said, but he added that no victims had been named.

This article also appears on NS Tech, a new division of the New Statesman focusing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Oscar Williams is editor of the NewStatesman's sister site NSTech.