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Are we giving up privacy for convenience?

Amazon Alexa
Photo Credit: Cort S./jageekblog.com

While watching the NBC Nighty News today and I saw an a story about authorities in Bentonville, Arkansas seeking the recordings from an Amazon Echo unit in connection with a murder. The authorities seem to believe that the Echo may have recorded something relevant to the murder. They have issued a warrant for Amazon to turn over the recordings. Amazon for their part is holding firm on the side of privacy, and has not yet turned over anything. The legal bar has not been met, in their opinion.

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South Carolina’s Chumley files bill to create law to block porn

Image Credit: © Diana Eller | Dreamstime.com

South Carolina state representative Bill Chumley (R-Spartanburg), has introduced a bill designed to fight human trafficking by blocking pornography on any device sold in the state. According to GoUpstate.com, the bill will require manufacturers of devices to install digital blocking on all computers and phones sold within the states borders. The manufacturers of the devices would be able to remove the block by paying the state $20 per device sold. The end users of the products would also be able to get the blocks removed by proving their age, confirming they have received a written warning of the dangers, and paying the $20. The proceeds of the fees will go to the states fund to combat human trafficking. It should be noted that Rep. Chumley represents South Carolina’s upstate region, which according to authorities is a “hotbed” of human trafficking activity.

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AT&T in FCC crosshairs over net neutrality, and the debate continues.

Net Neutrality

The FCC now has AT&T in is crosshairs over violating net neutrality rules by allowing its users to use its new DIRECTV Now video streaming service, without charging them any data, a practice known as “zero rating”. According to an article on Cnet the FCC sent a letter on Thursday informing AT&T that they believe, through a preliminary investigation, that this zero rate offer is in violation of net neutrality rules. It should be noted that zero rating is not specifically prohibited, but the FCC can take action on a case by case basis. The FCC is also investigating Verizon over claims that it is doing the same with access to its GO90 service.

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Snap, Inc’s (Snapchat) Spectacles….Why do we need this?

Image Credit: spectacles.com
Image Credit: spectacles.com

Back in September Snapchat made two rather large announcements, the first of which being that they are changing their name to Snap, Inc, dropping the chat from their name. The second announcement is that they are Introducing a new product called “Spectacles”. This new product is essentially a pair of sunglasses with a camera built in, the device will enable users to take hands free videos, or “snaps” and upload them to their Snapchat accounts.  If this sounds like it had been done before, that is because it has. Google made a limited release of a product that had similar features called “Google Glass”. Google’s attempt was not very successful.  They had issues with pricing, privacy and a general negative image, primarily brought on by Glassholes. While Snap has the mistakes of Google to learn from, I am still asking the same thing about Spectacles that I asked about Glass, why in the hell do we need this.

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Some good tips for spotting fake news

Fake News
Image Credit: someecards.com

Recently the issue of fake and inaccurate news, also called junk news, has found its way in to public discussion. This is not a new problem, but with the amount of fake news relating to the most recent election, the issue is receiving much broader attention. Many are putting the blame fully on the social media companies like Facebook, or search and news aggregators such as Google. While these companies do have a responsibility to help address the problem, the blame is not entirely at their doorstep. The users of those services are also in part to blame, as they are the ones who visit and worse yet share the offending material. As news consumers, social media users, and even as bloggers, we share in the responsibility to mitigate the negative effects of fake news. It starts with being able to identify fake news; here are some tips for spotting a fake news story.

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The fake news problem facing Social Media (..were looking at you Facebook)

On November 8th, 2016 something that many thought was impossible happened, NYC business mogul and reality TV star Donald J. Trump was elected as the President of the United States of America. President-Elect trump has had a widely controversial campaign. His often belligerent words and actions and his unpredictability make many in this country nervous, or in some cases even down right scared. Whether this distaste for and fear of the President-Elect is warranted, only time will tell, but one thing Americans who didn’t vote Trump want right now is someone to blame. It seems they found many things to blame, bad polling, poorly timed FBI investigations, poor voter turnout, and so on. But there is one target of blame that keeps coming up, and with increasing volume, “fake news”

Social media platforms as Facebook and search platforms like Google are facing widespread criticism for providing an avenue for inaccurate, and often down right fabricated news stories to become widely disseminated, and sometimes even viral.  Anybody who has been on the internet for any period of time has come across these types of stories, and sometimes they can be hard to tell from legitimate news. Many of the fake news websites look like legitimate news sources, and in many cases this is by design, to make it look like their false information has some authority. When these stories fit the narrative that someone already believes, they have a tendency to share these articles, further perpetuating false story. In today’s world where people get much of their news from social media, and the news shapes public opinion, this is a big problem; a problem that many feel swayed the last election to favor the Republicans.

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Microsoft joins The Linux Foundation..Did Hell freeze over?

Microsoft <3 Linux
Image Credit: Microsoft

In what many will consider shocking news Microsoft has not only been on a path of embracing Linux, but now they have  joined the Linux Foundation as a Platinum member, as reported by TechCrunch. To me this news is not at all surprising, as Microsoft has been making friendly overtures towards open source for the last few years, not only contributing to many Open Source projects, but releasing some of its once propriety code to the Open Source community, which they have been slowly doing for over a decade, but only recently have they been taking it seriously. In recent months they have also collaborated with Canonical, makers of Ubuntu, to include some Linux functionality right inside of Windows. In addition to this there has been a concerted push to get Microsoft products onto other platforms, including its SQL Server, Visual Studio for Mac, and Office mobile for Android to name a few.

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Congressional Blunder – Senate calls wrong CEO to testify in Time Warner merger hearing

In their latest blunder the Senate has called the wrong CEO to testify in the ATT/Time Warner merger hearings. As reported by CNET, it seems the Senate called Rob Marcus, the former CEO of Time Warner Cable, instead of Jeff Bewkes the CEO of Time Warner. The confusion may be understandable as Time Warner Cable was, in fact, a part of Time Warner at one time. However TWC was spun off into its own company back in 2008, and has nothing to do with Time Warner. I would expect that, out of anybody, the panel that is investigating whether or not the $85 Billion merger between two behemoth companies should take place, should probably know who the Chief Executives involved are. Then again with this Congress, perhaps my expectations are a bit too high. I suppose it could be worse, at least they didn’t call Tim Armstrong (the CEO of AOL).

” Celebgate” hacker gets 18 MOS, We’ve learned nothing.

Today CNET, among other outlets is reporting that the man behind the “CelebGate” ( AKA,  “The Fappening” phishing scam that lead to the release of  nude photos of celebrities,  was sentenced to 18 months in prison. 36 year old Ryan Collins used phishing, a technique to surreptitiously obtain information by posing as a legitimate company or person, to obtain usernames and passwords from unwitting victims. He then used this information to access services such as iCLOUD to obtain the pictures. Him getting caught and convicted is a great thing, our system worked. The question that I pose is what have the rest of us learned, how many secrets do we have hiding in our email and online storage/backup accounts?

One of the biggest, chinks in the armor of online storage is the user. Many people simply are uneducated or willfully ignorant of the risks that online storage can pose. Many users have no idea that those nudes they snapped are being automatically synced to their storage, frequently set as a default option on many phones. Maybe they have emails they sent or received that contain sensitive information and they deleted them but forget that they may stay in archive or trash. It is often preached that if you don’t want something to get out, don’t take the pic in the first place, and certainly don’t upload it anywhere.

Companies have made many strides in recent years in regards to protecting customer data. Introducing various encryption schemes, more complex password requirements and multi factor authentication to name a few. The problem is that the average internet doesn’t understand how these systems protect them, nor do they understand the potential flaws in the system. In addition to that we live in a world where speed is king, we want to accomplish tasks as fast, and in as few steps as is possible. Things like 2FA, CAPTHA and the more secure types of encryption require extra steps that are inconvenient.

 

The DDOS attack on Dyn and the Dangers of the Internet of Things

Todays DDOS attack against DNS Service provider DYN brought caused outages at several prominent websites. Reuters published a great piece on the attacks, but something stood out about their post. They stated in their reporting the following:

“attacks were coming from tens of millions of Internet-connected devices — such as web cams, printers and thermostats — infected with malicious software that turns them into “bots” that can be used in massive distributed denial of service attacks.”

This is significant, and alarming.

So what is this Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things, or IoT is all of the new era connected devices we use. This is a broad range of products including connected home hardware such as Light Bulbs & Switches, Thermostats, Outlets and more. Many appliances now feature internet connectivity, like internet connected fridges and washing machines. Let’s not forget our entertainment products, gaming consoles, TV’s, media boxes (like Fire TV, or Roku) and such. The list of IoT devices is really quite expansive, and constantly growing.

Why is this Significant?

The way we use technology has rapidly changed over the last decade. The internet went from a place where 10’s of millions of computers and servers co-existed, to a place where 100s of millions of devices coexist. The IoT era is upon us, and with these new devices, comes a new avenue for bad actors to launch attacks. This works because a lot of these devices are constantly online, and many users really don’t see them as computing devices, even though they are. These devices are network enabled, they can store data, and they can be remotely hacked to have malicious code installed without the users really noticing. They can lay in wait for the command to strike, and in a lot of cases the user will never even know their device was part of the attack. While these devices are not individually very powerful, the sheer numbers of them make them quite dangerous. Many users hook these devices up without knowing the risks to not only their home networks (they could make for a point of entry), but also the risks to others. Not to mention the obvious fact that hackers could also gain control of the devices themselves, and wreak havoc on your equipment or spy on you.

So what can be done?

On the manufacturers side they must work to make these devices more secure, in a way that even non-technical users understand. We as users can keep devices that we don’t need to access remotely behind our routers and firewalls. We must keep our firmware up to date. If it must be accessed remotely use good passwords and change them often. People a lot smarter than me will work out other solutions to these problems in due time. The convenience of these devices cannot be overstated, and I certainly wouldn’t advocate anyone stop using them, I know I will continue using mine. All parties involved with IoT, users, service providers and manufacturers alike should be aware of the risks posed by these devices. All concerned should take steps to ensure their devices are secure. I have a feeling though with the new attention generated, things will begin to change.


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