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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Yahoo and Facebook Explain Their Collaboration with NSA

Marissa Mayer, the current Chief Executive Officer of Yahoo, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook responded to critics who have charged tech companies with doing not enough to fight off NSA surveillance. Mayer explained that executives faced jail for disclosing government secrets.


Yahoo and Facebook, as well as a number of some other tech leaders, want to publish the number of requests they receive from the spy agency. However, organizations are forbidden by law to disclose how much information they provide.

Yahoo was asked why tech giants hadn’t simply told the public about what the United States surveillance industry was looking for. Mayer explained that releasing classified data is treason. However, Yahoo from the beginning has been skeptical of those NSA requests, and even sued the foreign intelligence surveillance court, providing the legal framework for NSA surveillance, but without success.

Mark Zuckerberg also believes that the government had done a “bad job” of balancing people’s privacy and its duty to protect. After the truth about PRISM was revealed and the US responded that they aren’t spying on any Americans, Zuckerberg pointed out that it was no help to inspire confidence in companies trying to serve people worldwide. Facebook and others were pushing successfully for more transparency and are still ready to sue in order to get this.

A few days ago, executives from Yahoo, Facebook, Google and other tech giants met the president’s group on intelligence and communications, whose task is to review the technologies used by the NSA. The meeting resulted from the lawsuits Yahoo and Facebook filed again to force the surveillance court to allow them to disclose more data. Yahoo claimed that its inability to respond to news reports has harmed the company’s reputation and has undermined its business not only in the US but everywhere. Aside from Yahoo and Facebook, Microsoft and Google also filed their latest legal briefs to force the court to disclose more data. For example, Google was asking to be allowed to publish detailed statistics about the types of national security requests it received. In addition, the company has also asked the court to hold its hearing in open rather than behind closed doors. 

Google’s CEO Talks about the Nature of US Surveillance

Eric Schmidt recently claimed it was time for a public debate about the nature of the NSA’s surveillance activities, while admitting that spying was an undeniable fact of our modern life. Schmidt said there had been spying and surveillance for years, and he wasn’t going to pass judgment on that, because it was the nature of the society.

Along with other largest tech firms in the world, Google has been pressing the American government to be more transparent about the surveillance orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). Schmidt pointed out that the search giant has filed legal briefs to force the court to disclose more data.

Eric Schmidt also clarified that his comments were based on the presumption that information disclosed by Edward Snowden was “roughly accurate”. Snowden revealed that the NSA operated a program called PRISM, which internal agency documents claimed offered direct access to the servers of tech giants including Google. However, Google denied this characterization.

Schmidt, who has been at Google for a dozen years, said he believed most citizens of the United States would support the NSA working to protect people, but wouldn’t appreciate the government misuse of their information. Google also expressed concern that the publicity surrounding Snowden’s revelations would lead to the Internet becoming less global, as some countries tried to enact greater protections for their citizens.

Eric Schmidt explained that the real danger of this publicity is that other countries would try to put very serious encryption (so-called “balkanization”) – to essentially split the worldwide web and that the Internet would become more country specific. This could break the way the Internet works.

Google’s representative was also talking about innovation and the impact of new technologies on the society of the United States. In his talk, Schmidt dismissed criticisms by such experts as Evgeny Morozov, the Belarusian author of The Net Delusion, who were skeptical of claims that the worldwide web would lead to greater democratization. Eric Schmidt pointed out that Morozov was a unique critic in that he was the only one making those arguments, but he later added Julian Assange to the list as well.

Pentagon Will Fight Leaks by Consolidating Data

The US Department of Defense has decided to defeat hackers by putting all of data in one place. The cunning plan developed by some military geniuses is to consolidate the department’s 15,000 networks into a single “joint information environment” that would be protected by JIE, a new set of security protocols. The Pentagon called this a “single security architecture”, but the hackers would have a better name for it – a “target”.


The Pentagon claims that the protocols will make it easier to detect intrusions and identify illegal “insiders” accessing a network. Media reports say that the brilliant idea was suggested by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs Army General Martin Dempsey. The plan suggests that the system can potentially save billions of dollars by eliminating redundant, overlapping systems.

There are some unhappy with the decision. Actually, there is a so-called “bureaucratic” reluctance to change the situation in the Pentagon, but the industry experts weren’t really surprised. In the meantime, the head of DISA, Air Force Lieutenant General Ronnie Hawkins, has warned that JIE was pushing the Department into unchartered territory. Hawkins described the venture as the digital equivalent of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the western US. It is known that JIE will be financed under the Pentagon’s $23 billion cybersecurity budget.

The experts point at the technology consideration as to whether 15,000 networks are able to coalesce into a common environment. It seems that it wouldn’t be a single architecture but more of a “standard security architecture”. In order to stop insider leaks, the JIE is supposed to track network activity through “identity access management” technology.

The supervisors of the system will have to look for warning signs of a potential insider threat – for example, whether people like Edward Snowden are authorized to be where they are at, and whether they have the administrative privileges. However, the plan can reverse and many industry observers point out that Snowden might have still slipped through the network, and in case of a consolidated network existence, the whistleblower would have had access to even more information.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Google Wants to Launch “Robo Taxi” Automated Service

The speculations are that Google is seriously thinking of creating a totally automated taxi service. Media reports claimed that not only was Google developing software for major auto companies, it has been also designing its own self driving car, and thinking of putting together a “robo taxi” fleet.

The rumors in the industry are that the tech giant has been in talks with contract manufacturers to design and build autonomous cars to Google’s own specifications. Historically, the company has talked big about self driving cars and does have the available tech, but was always trying to get the top manufacturers on side.

Despite the rumors that Google is going to sell self driving cars to ordinary people, the tech giant is believed to be seriously considering the premise of an autonomous “robo-taxi” service which will pick up passengers on demand. Undoubtedly, the company would have to find a willing region for its experiment first. The reports reveal that Google hopes it will manage to cut down on individual car ownership and reduce accidents.

It is believed that the company has hopes for a return to the car as a top commodity, and the rumors are that Google has been holding talks with such auto components giant as Continental AG. In addition, the industry observers point out that Google also invested $258 million in a taxi app service, Uber, which allows users get cabs on demand.

If true, the project is really ambitious. Not only would the tech giant have to develop and build a cost effective fleet, it would also have the task to ensure public safety and convince wary customers who might be resistant to the very idea of automated drivers. In addition, the idea in question would see the Internet giant go head to head against the gigantic automotive industry and its formidable lobby. In the meanwhile, Google has reportedly been working behind the scenes for quite some time in order to get people used to the idea. It is said that the company successfully won licensing and testing for autonomous vehicles in several states, including Florida, Nevada and, California, as well as in Washington DC.

Apple Trying to Prevent Ebook Punishment

Apple’s legal team is trying to prevent DoJ getting an injunction over the company’s ebook antics. The US Department of Justice believes that an injunction will stop the tech giant fixing the price of ebooks. In response, the company complained that the DoJ injunction will “inflict punishment” and therefore must be rejected by the court.

The two parties are trying to find out how to stop the tech giant shafting its clients with its anti-trust antics. A few weeks ago, the judge ruled that Apple had conspired with 5 major publishers to undermine pricing by competitors including Amazon.com. The latter is known as a leader of ebook market.

Media reports confirm that the Department of Justice wants the company to hire an external monitor and allow ebook retailers add hyperlinks to their own sites in their applications without charge. The Apple was also required to set limits on how the company negotiates for other material, like movies, music and TV shows.

The tech giant claimed that the government can’t make a successful company change the way it makes business decisions. Apple sees itself as a very powerful company, while the government has no power to run the country.

Surprisingly enough, the authorities appear to be caving in to Apple not like they were with Microsoft. Thus far, the Department of Justice has already suggested halving the length of its previously intended injunction to 5 years from 10, with leave to seek 5 one-year extensions in case of necessity. The judge also recommended that Apple hold staggered negotiations with the publishers, starting in 2 years, thus trying to minimize the chance of future collusion. Although the authorities removed a demand about the management of App Store, it appeared not good enough for the giant which still believes that it did nothing wrong and can continue.

The Department of Justice said that Apple is going to continue business as usual, paying no attention to the antitrust legislation. The outfit told the court that it should have no confidence that Apple effectively is able to ensure that its unauthorized conduct won’t be repeated. The authorities pointed out that there must be significant oversight by a person not inside Apple’s culture of insensitivity to basic tenets of antitrust legislation.

Gang Arrested over Cyber Tax Fraud

5 members of a suspected criminal gang, responsible for stealing the identities of 700 UK citizens, were arrested on suspicion of an attempted tax fraud.


Media reports confirmed that a 35-year-old man from Bologna, Italy, was charged with cheating HM Revenue and Customs and is currently in custody after investigators arrested him upon landing at Stansted airport. 4 other members were also arrested at Stansted, London and Kent, but were released on bail. Italian police revealed that the men were of Nigerian origin. The officers responsible for investigating online crime explained that the individual in Bologna had applied for £500,000 in rebates and had received over £100,000 within a year after stealing the identity of 700 British citizens. UK investigators traced the suspicious applications from the Internet and came to Italy this past May to meet a local prosecutor.

HM Revenue and Customs is at the moment investigating a so-called “cyber attack” by a group suspected of illegally obtaining personal information in order to set up false self-assessment accounts with the authority, starting over the 2012 Royal Jubilee weekend. The intent was to steal false tax rebates.

According to assistant director of criminal investigation, the online systems of the authority proved extremely resilient to such cyber attacks, so they correctly identified and prevented most of false repayment attempts from the outset. The authority confirmed that the arrests in question clearly demonstrate people suspected of attempting to cheat British taxpayers by defrauding HMRC will be caught, with international assistance in case of necessity.

The Italian investigators identified their suspect and then tracked him by the communications police from his apartment on the city’s outskirts. It turned out that he flew frequently to the UK. After his arrest, Italian officials together with two British customs and revenue officials searched his house and seized electronic devices. It was quite a modest apartment shared by the suspect with his wife, mother-in-law and two kids. The Italian official suggested that there must be a fault in the British system to allow this kind of fraud, because Italy hasn’t seen this kind of crime as this kind of operation remains more paper-based there.

Teenagers Care about Online Privacy

According to the 2012 Teens and Privacy Management Survey conducted by Pew Internet, teenagers are probably more worried about online privacy than adults – it turned out that they have taken steps to uninstall or avoid many teen apps over concern about their privacy.

According to statistics, teen girls are more likely to delete location data, and most of them have disabled location tracking features on mobile phones and in applications, as they are worried about others’ access to that private data. The survey in question was conducted among American teenagers ages 12-17.

Over 50% of all teens have downloaded applications to their cell phone or tablet PC and 51% of teen apps users have also avoided certain software because of privacy concerns. More than 25% have uninstalled an application because they found out that it was collecting personal data which they didn’t want to share. Finally, over 46% have switched off location tracking features on their cell phone or in an application since they were worried about the privacy of their data.

9 Million UK Users Suffered from Cybercrime

It turned out that 8% of cybercrime targets suffered financial losses – among them, people aged over 55 were least likely victims. In the meantime, the financial impact of cybercrime varies, with the overall cost to the economy estimated at £27 billion annually.

Over 9 million UK Internet users have had their accounts hacked. Of them, 8% of the population explained that they have lost money in 2012 due to cybercrime. Online security experts pointed out that it was quite surprising that 2.3% of the population reported losing over £10,000 to Internet fraudsters.

According to the survey, about 18% of the respondents had experienced attempts to break into their Internet accounts, including email, Internet banking, gaming and social media. 30% of them said it had happened more than once. The researchers revealed that people aged 55 to 64 were least likely to be targeted by cyber criminals – the rate was around 11%, perhaps because they are more care more about security. More than 25% of people aged 18 to 24 have become a victim of cyber attack.

92% of respondents said they had lost nothing in 2012 due to any kind of cybercrime. However, over 3% of more than 1,500 surveyed had lost up to £100, another 2.5% complained they had lost up to £10,000, and 2% claimed to have lost over £10,000.

For comparison, back in 2011, a British government claimed that the overall cost to the economy was £27 billion per year, of which identity theft accounted for £1.7 billion and Internet scams and ripoffs – another £1.4 billion. According to the report, the main loser was UK business, which lost £21 billion due to high levels of IP theft and industrial espionage.

In the meantime, now the social media revolution had changed the way hackers do their job. They explain that a computer virus which used to steal credit card information now creates bogus Instagram “likes” that could be used to generate buzz for someone. Fake “likes” are sold in batches on online hacker forums. For example, one can get 1,000 Instagram followers for $15 and 1,000 Instagram “likes” for $30, while 1,000 credit card numbers cost only $6. Apparently, cyber crime has a clear impact on the lives of average British citizens, with their accounts and credentials being compromised, perhaps even multiple times.

China and NSA to Spy on the UN

It seems that the spying etiquette doesn’t exist anymore after failing to deal with a very embarrassing situation in the United Nations.


It turned out that the US National Security Agency has recently cracked the encryption protecting the UN’s internal videoconferencing system, but when it got there it found out China was already there and listening in. It seems that the spooks hacked the United Nations that has its headquarters in New York, a year ago. Within 3 weeks of initially gaining access to the system of the United Nations, the National Security Agency had increased the number of such decrypted communications from a dozen to over 450.

According to the US spooks, there had been numerous data breaches since 2004 to a Chinese military unit in Shanghai. In response, Chinese authorities denied all the claims, while the United States instead made an attempt to arrest the person who catches it and have them shot.

This turn of events is actually a follow up from a story about the NSA spying on the European Union. The report also exposed a “Special Collection Service”, jointly staffed by the CIA and NSA, which exists in more than 80 embassies and consulates across the globe, usually without the knowledge of the host country. Everything was revealed by Edward Snowden – a US citizen and former NSA contractor.

China under Massive DDoS Attack

A large DDoS attack has taken down much of the country’s Internet a few days ago. According to estimations, it was the biggest DDoS attack the Chinese government ever faced.


The attack started early weekend and in a few hours it picked up to the point of affecting Internet users. The security experts explained that the attack targeted the .cn registry that was eventually knocked out for 2 to 4 hours. Fortunately, most .cn websites weathered the storm, relying on registry records stored by their service providers.

After the attack has stopped, the Chinese users were again able to access all sites smoothly, except those that discuss democracy, dissidents, Tibet and the Tiananmen Square massacre, along with a few thousand other things that communists didn’t like to discuss.

The main question was who was responsible for this attack. Despite the fact that things were quiet on the international front, the country is embroiled in a few internal PR disasters, including the trial of Bo Xilai and a crackdown on social media. Although the infamous Great Firewall of China was always good at filtering embarrassing online searches, it was never designed with security in mind – or, at least, not this type of security.

The security experts admit that despite its sophistication and apparent success, the attack could have been carried out by a single individual.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Why Do We Work Eight Hours a Day?

In the United States, Labor Day is celebrated the first Monday of September to honor the contributions workers have made to the country. To mark the occasion, Americans close their office doors to head to the beach, fire up the barbecue and shop for bargains.
For many countries in the rest of the world, however, May 1, better known as May Day or International Workers' Day, is the annual holiday to celebrate the labor movement. Because of its significance, May Day has become an occasion not only of international celebration, but also widespread protest, entirely fitting given that the first May Day was sparked by a labor demonstration. And although the holiday today isn't well recognized within the United States, May Day is in fact of American origin and came out of the struggle to get workers the right to an eight-hour workday.
In August 1866, the newly constituted National Labor Union urged Congress to pass a law mandating the eight-hour workday. The group's efforts fell short on the national level (and the National Labor Union eventually dissolved some seven years later), but the message trickled down to the states.
In 1867, the Illinois Legislature passed a law mandating an eight-hour workday. The legislation may have been intended to hand a victory to workers, but employers simply refused to cooperate.
On May 1, 1867, a citywide strike in Chicago devolved into bedlam as police clashed with demonstrators. Police suppressed the strikers with force, effectively allowing private employers to continue skirting state law.
In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant issued a proclamation that guaranteed both a stable wage and an eight-hour workday, but it only applied to government employees. Workers in private enterprise hoped they could get the same legal guarantees in a national law.
In the 1870s and 1880s, the eight-hour workday became a key demand of labor unions across the country. The National Labor Union had dissolved, but in its place rose other groups, such as the Knights of Labor and later the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (the precursor to today's American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL–CIO). May 1 also became an annual day in which to organize strikes and hold demonstrations in support of the movement. As workers' demands were continuously rebuffed, calls came for an armed uprising.
In 1886, labor unions called for a national strike for a shorter workday, a call which drew over 300,000 workers to demonstrate in support on May 1. In Chicago, strikes turned to violent conflict between workers, a mix of anarchists and socialists, and strikebreakers in the Haymarket area between May 3 and 4. In the aftermath of the violence, labor leaders associated with the local movement were round up, tried and executed.
What would become known as the Haymarket massacre served to both galvanize the movement among its supporters as well as weaken labor in the view of the public, who had seen its violent side, one of the reasons why Americans commemorate the labor movement in September instead.
In 1890, the government for the first time began tracking the number of hours workers put in every week. That year, full-time manufacturing employees worked an average of 100 hours a week and building tradesmen were on the job an average 102 hours. Even if the labor movement had gotten louder and more aggressive with its demands, little had changed in terms of workers' conditions.
For the rest of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, labor groups won the right to an eight-hour workday typically on a local level or across an industry group. In 1916, railroad workers won the right to an eight-hour workday and overtime pay with the passage of the Adamson Act. Decades later, the National Industrial Recovery Act, enacted to combat the Great Depression and later replaced with the Wagner Act, provided for the establishment of maximum workweeks and minimum wages. Still, it wasn't until the 1950s that most Americans actually achieved the eight-hour workday.

Wild Sex Party Busted at a Michigan Masonic Temple

Do you get all hot and bothered when you're sitting inside a temple? Because, if so, you might want to connect with the group that allegedly had a "drug fuelled sex party" inside a Masonic temple in Michigan recently. They might be your spirit guides. 
Don't let anyone tell you they don't party hard in Michigan. This story, alerted to us by Raw Story, is almost too hard to believe. The Battle Creek Enquirer reports police officers in Battle Creek, Michigan responded to calls about a fight at the Masonic temple around 2:19 a.m. last Sunday. But when the police arrived the physical altercations taking place were not violent. Take it away, News Channel 3: 
Sources told us the first officer to walk inside, was shocked to find a couple performing a lewd sex act, along with drugs, multiple nude women and men videotaping it all behind these closed doors. 
The Enquirer says five women were dancing onstage. All were ordered to get dressed and leave. 
Maybe there's a reasonable explanation, though. Charlie, a representative for the Masonic Temple who refused to be identified further, told News Channel 3 that a group paid $900 to rent the building for a "dance party" that night. He also denied accusations that this was not the first time a sex party had occurred behind the organizations doors. The Masonic temple where the alleged drug fuelled sex party took place is next door to the Battle Creek police department and across the street from the county courthouse. 
No other reports exist about the story, and what drugs were present is never made clear. But, still: a group of people were allegedly busted videotaping a swinging, stoned orgy inside a Masonic temple in Battle Creek, Michigan. 


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