Federal Government Continues Push to Disembowel the Fourth Amendment

The Department of Justice, the FBI and federal judges are continuing their push to disembowel the Fourth Amendment, submitting the United States Constitution to death by a thousand cuts.  In secret hearings, federal officials are arguing to federal judges that the Constitution simply does not apply to them, and these judges agree.  Of course, the legislature does not object, since the Democratic and Republican parties are strong proponents of the national security police state and surveillance society, and the bulk of the public simply don't care.  From CNET:
CNET has learned that U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco rejected Google's request to modify or throw out 19 so-called National Security Letters, a warrantless electronic data-gathering technique used by the FBI that does not need a judge's approval. Her ruling came after a pair of top FBI officials, including an assistant director, submitted classified affidavits.

The litigation taking place behind closed doors in Illston's courtroom -- a closed-to-the-public hearing was held on May 10 -- could set new ground rules curbing the FBI's warrantless access to information that Internet and other companies hold on behalf of their users. The FBI issued 192,499 of the demands from 2003 to 2006, and 97 percent of NSLs include a mandatory gag order.

FBI Internet Surveillance Plan Will Aid Totalitarian Governments and Criminal Networks Wordwide

From Foreign Policy:
The FBI wants a new law that will make it easier to wiretap the Internet. Although its claim is that the new law will only maintain the status quo, it's really much worse than that. This law will result in less-secure Internet products and create a foreign industry in more-secure alternatives. It will impose costly burdens on affected companies. It will assist totalitarian governments in spying on their own citizens. And it won't do much to hinder actual criminals and terrorists.
Read the whole article for an interesting history of this issue over the last 30 years.

Texas Set to Enact New Bill Protecting Email from Government Snooping

From Ars Technica:
Assuming that Texas Governor Rick Perry does not veto it, the Lone Star State appears set to enact the nation’s strongest e-mail privacy bill. The proposed legislation requires state law enforcement agencies to get a warrant for all e-mails regardless of the age of the e-mail.

On Tuesday, the Texas bill (HB 2268) was sent to Gov. Perry’s desk, and he has until June 16, 2013 to sign it or veto it. If he does neither, it will pass automatically and take effect on September 1, 2013. The bill would give Texans more privacy over their inbox to shield against state-level snooping, but the bill would not protect against federal investigations. The bill passed both houses of the state legislature earlier this year without a single "nay" vote.
Despite the Texas law, all Americans remain vulnerable to email snooping attacks from the federal government. 

Australian Govt Drops Microsoft Office Standard, Opts for ODF

The Delimiter reports:
In a move which appears to reverse its previous approach based on Microsoft’s file formats, the Australian Government’s central IT decision-making agency appears to have decided that it will standardise its office documents on the Open Document Format going forward. . . .

Sheridan added: “Support for ODF is available from a wide range of office productivity suites across a variety of operating system platforms, in both open-source and proprietary implementations, allowing agencies a great deal of flexibility in selecting a product which conforms to the COE Policy standard. Standardising on a format supported by a wide range of office suites provides for the greatest possible degree of interoperability without mandating the use of a specific product, as well as providing the best basis for reliable interchange of information between agencies deploying differing office productivity suites.”
ODF is an Open Document Format, originally developed by Sun Microsystems for the Open Office suite of programs.  

How Does a Password Hack Work?

A fairly well-detailed article at Ars Technica on the "Anatomy of a Hack" shows how hackers go about the process of cracking supposedly secure passwords.
In March, readers followed along as Nate Anderson, Ars deputy editor and a self-admitted newbie to password cracking, downloaded a list of more than 16,000 cryptographically hashed passcodes. Within a few hours, he deciphered almost half of them. The moral of the story: if a reporter with zero training in the ancient art of password cracking can achieve such results, imagine what more seasoned attackers can do.

Imagine no more. We asked three cracking experts to attack the same list Anderson targeted and recount the results . . . Even the least successful cracker of our trio—who used the least amount of hardware, devoted only one hour, used a tiny word list, and conducted an interview throughout the process—was able to decipher 62 percent of the passwords. Our top cracker snagged 90 percent of them.  
The strength and speed of this attack is not surprising however, since the passwords were encrypted with the MD5 algorithm, which is widely considered to be cryptographically broken.  The first flaws were found in the algorithm in the 1990's, and many more followed over the course of the last ten years.  So the question is: are a lot of websites still using broken encryption schemes?  And if so, how many? And which ones?

US Entertainment Industry Continues Its Descent into Global Criminal Mafia

Security hysterics are among the greatest threats to our collective and individual security.  These are the types who say we have to sacrifice liberty for freedom, or safety for security.  Of course, they don't always put it quite so succinctly, but this, in effect, is what their position boils down to, whether it is the FBI, a corporate lobby or a group of "concerned citizens."  From Boing Boing:
The hilariously named "Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property" has finally released its report, an 84-page tome that's pretty bonkers. . . . The report proposes that software would be loaded on computers that would somehow figure out if you were a pirate, and if you were, it would lock your computer up and take all your files hostage until you call the police and confess your crime. This is the mechanism that crooks use when they deploy ransomware.

All of the Above: the FBI Continues Its Push for Insecure Network Communications

Tech Cruch asks: "Is the FBI Dumb, Evil, or Just Incompetent?"  Do we really have to choose here?  These attributes are not mutually exclusive.  The only correct answer to this question is: ALL OF THE ABOVE.  Excerpt:
A government task force is preparing legislation that would pressure companies such as Face­book and Google to enable law enforcement officials to intercept online communications as they occur,” according to the Washington Post, by fining them increasing sums until they build government-accessible back doors into their systems. . . .

the FBI would only be able to wiretap suspects who are either too dumb to use encryption — in which case they ought to be easy enough to catch without wiretaps — or who think they have nothing to hide. Meanwhile, they’d be setting a terrible precedent for other, more draconian governments. Critics say “We’ll look a lot more like China than America after this” … but the Obama administration, which not coincidentally appears to hate whistleblowers above all else, still seems poised to support this initiative. But wait, it gets worse. In order to claim this empty chalice, the powers that be will require a surveillance system that could be abused by the very kind of people it’s supposed to be used against. Could, and almost certainly would . . . 
The federal government wants us to give up security in the name of security. 

Facebook Syndrome: Hate It or Leave It

It is not going to be long before young people begin migrating away from Facebook in droves, if they aren't already.  From Slate:
A new report released this week from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that Facebook remains the leading social network among American teenagers. It’s also the most reviled. While some teenagers interviewed by Pew claimed they “enjoyed using it,” the majority complained of “an increasing adult presence, high-pressure or otherwise negative social interactions (‘drama’), or feeling overwhelmed by others who share too much.”
In other words, Facebook—as any adult with a profile knows—feels a lot like high school. “I think Facebook can be fun, but also it's drama central,” one 14-year-old girl said. “On Facebook, people imply things and say things, even just by a ‘like,’ that they wouldn't say in real life." Said another, “It's so competitive to get the most likes [on a Facebook picture]. It's like your social position.” Ninety-four percent of American teenagers maintain a Facebook profile, but that doesn’t mean they have to like it. “Honestly,” one 15-year-old girl told Pew, “I'm on it constantly but I hate it so much.” [Emphasis added.]
Perhaps it is time to start up Facebookers anonymous. 

Irony Alert: Google CEO Warns that Real World Privacy is Threatened by Online Activity

It is unclear whether these two Google executives are even aware of the irony here.  From Wired:
As younger and younger generations continue to give away their data and musings online, there is a real and present danger of their virtual identity usurping their actual identity in a damaging way. This was the warning put to the audience at Google's Big Tent event by executive chairman Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen of Google Ideas.

"As you age, more and more of your digital identity is determined by others and that indelible record is something new generations will live with for the rest of their lives," said Schmidt . . .

"Kids are coming online and saying things that will follow them round for rest of lives," said Cohen, "faster than the physical maturation process. Parents should talk to them about privacy years before the birds and the bees" . . . 

Washington Post Pretends Legislative Process Is Not Dominated by Special Interests

The United States federal government is today a wholly owned subsidiary of a handful of powerful corporations.  These corporations own our so-called "elected representatives" and write our laws. Things do not have to be this way, but unfortunately, barring a popular insurrection, things are very unlikely to change anytime in the near future.  From the Washington Post:
Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has vowed to conduct a comprehensive review of our nation’s copyright laws to determine whether they are “still working in a digital age.” That’s a long overdue task. But there’s a danger that the process will be dominated by a handful of special interest groups that have long been reflexively hostile to technological progress [emphasis added].

Last year’s defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) caused industry groups to intensify their lobbying efforts. And they haven’t been subtle about it. In the wake of the SOPA defeat, Motion Picture Association of America chairman Christopher Dodd warned legislators: “Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.” . . . 
There's a danger that the process will be dominated by a handful of special interest groups?  What planet is this author from?  It is a veritable certainty that any such process in the US Congress is dominated by a handful of special interest groups.  Pretending otherwise is certainly not helpful.  

Flickr Redesign Adds 1 Terabyte of Free Space

From the Verge:
Yahoo has just announced a complete redesign of Flickr at its New York City event — the new site is live now and it comes with one terabyte of free photo space. Yahoo SVP Adam Cahan just made the announcement and said that "Flickr had become about words, little images, blue links. It was not about the photo anymore." But the new photostream changes that, will full-resolution images and a clean homepage with all the emphasis on images — it looks a lot like the Instagram web profile header.
From the Flickr Blog:
In the beginning, Flickr innovated the way people share and discover photos. Today, we are shifting the photo-sharing landscape again. We’re releasing a Flickr that’s more spectacular, much bigger, and one you can take anywhere.

Biggr. A free terabyte of space
At Flickr, we believe you should share all your images in full resolution, so life’s moments can be relived in their original quality. No limited pixels, no cramped formats, no memories that fall flat. We’re giving your photos room to breathe, and you the space to upload a dizzying number of photos and videos, for free. Just how big is a terabyte? Well, you could take a photo every hour for forty years without filling one.
And yep, you heard us. It’s free. 

Spectaculr. A new, beautiful experience for your photos
We want Flickr to be the most amazing community and place for you to share your photos. So, we’re also revealing a beautiful new design that puts photos at the heart of your Flickr experience, where they should always be. Whether it’s a sweeping landscape or a family portrait, we want every photo to be at its most spectacular . . .

Corporate Media Monopolies Hinder Technological Development

Today, corporate media consolidation has resulted in a situation where a handful of companies now exert virtual monopoly control over our media environment.  From the New York Times:
Susan Crawford, a professor at the school, has written a book, “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age,” that offers a calm but chilling state-of-play on the information age in the United States. She is on a permanent campaign, speaking at schools, conferences and companies — she was at Google last week — and in front of Congress, asserting that the status quo has been great for providers but an expensive mess for everyone else. 

Ms. Crawford argues that the airwaves, the cable systems and even access to the Internet have been overtaken by monopolists who resist innovation and chronically overcharge consumers. 

The 1996 Telecommunications Act, which was meant to lay down track to foster competition in a new age, allowed cable companies and telecoms to simply divide markets and merge their way to monopoly . . . 

The FBI Is a Threat to Your Security

There are probably not many people who would argue that everyone should be less safe, but that is effectively what the FBI wants with its demands for new internet spying capabilities.  From the Washington Post:
The FBI is pushing for expanded power to eavesdrop on private Internet communications. The law enforcement agency wants to force online service providers to build wiretapping capabilities into their products. But a group of prominent computer security experts argues that mandating “back doors” in online communications products is likely to compromise the security of Americans’ computers and could even pose a threat to national security.

The fundamental problem is that eavesdropping facilities are a double-edged sword. They make it easier for the U.S. government to spy on the bad guys. But they also make it easier for the bad guys to hack our computers and spy on us. And, the researchers say, the Internet’s decentralized architecture makes it particularly hard to build effective and secure wiretapping capabilities online.

Yahoo Seeking to Acquire Tumblr

According to reports coming out today, Yahoo is engaged in negotiations to acquire the Tumblr blogging platform.  Microsoft and Facebook have apparently also expressed interest in the acquisition.  From Forbes:
the social blogging site is in serious talks with Yahoo YHOO -0.07%, which is looking to secure a strategic investment, partnership or even an outright acquisition. In the latter scenario, the price could top $1 billion, which would represent a 25% premium over the valuation Tumblr got in its last funding round.

News in News Readers: Here Come the Clones!

When Google announced that it would be shutting down its RSS news reader app, Google Reader, a few months ago, there was a strong backlash from its dedicated long term user base.  The shut-down led to calls for the creation of clones and substitutes from disappointed users.  These alternatives have now begun to come online. Among them is CommaFeed, an open source clone.  You can check it out here

One of my favorite aspects of Google reader was the sharing function.  This functionality has not yet been integrated into these initial versions of the Google Reader substitutes, but I am keeping my fingers crossed for future updates.

Buycott: The Consumer Activist App

A new phone app that was rolled out this month scans product barcodes and provides the user with information about the corporations that make the product.  From Forbes:
The app itself is the work of one Los Angeles-based 26-year-old freelance programmer, Ivan Pardo, who has devoted the last 16 months to Buycott. “It’s been completely bootstrapped up to this point,” he said. Martinez and another friend have pitched in to promote the app. . . .

Pardo’s handiwork is available for download on iPhone or Android, making its debut in iTunes and Google GOOG +2.02% Play in early May. You can scan the barcode on any product and the free app will trace its ownership all the way to its top corporate parent company, including conglomerates like Koch Industries.  Once you’ve scanned an item, Buycott will show you its corporate family tree on your phone screen . . . 

BlackBerry Messenger is Coming to Android and iOS

From BGR:
BGR has learned from multiple trusted sources that Research In Motion is planning to bring its beloved BlackBerry Messenger app and service to Android, and eventually to iOS as well. According to our sources, RIM has not yet finalized details surrounding timing or pricing, but we have heard that the company might make the software free to all users. We’re also told strategy is still being developed, however, and RIM may end up charging users a one-time fee or even a recurring fee for access to its BBM service on third-party platforms. . . .

5G: Coming to a Network Near You?

Samsung has announced a breakthrough in the development of so-called "5G" technology that would allow for speeds hundreds of times faster than current 4G networks.  But the company says the new technology would likely not be ready for widespread commercial use for a number of years.  From PCMag:

Samsung said today that it has made a breakthrough in the development of "5G" technology, which will ultimately be several hundred times faster than current 4G networks.

But don't expect to see a "5G" icon atop your mobile gadget in the near future. This is just the beginning, and Samsung said it does not expect the commercialization of the technology until at least 2020.

To make the faster, more bandwidth-intense 5G a reality, networks will need a variety of frequencies, "much like an increased water flow requires a wider pipe," Samsung said. One solution is something known as millimeter-wave bands, but at this point, it is limited to short-distance transmissions.

Unlocking Technology: Lawmakers Propose Bill to Legalize Everyday Behavior

Last year, it was effectively made illegal to unlock your cell phone in order to switch your carriers.  A number of bills have been proposed since then to address the absurd laws currently on the books regarding this matter, but activist and consumer protection groups found many of them lacking.  A new bill proposed in the House is receiving more positive attention.  From Ars Technica:
New legislation sponsored by Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO) takes a broader approach to the issue. In addition to explicitly legalizing cell phone unlocking, the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013 also modifies the DMCA to make clear that unlocking copy-protected content is only illegal if it's done in order to "facilitate the infringement of a copyright." If a circumvention technology is "primarily designed or produced for the purpose of facilitating noninfringing uses," that would not be a violation of copyright.

For example, Lofgren's bill would likely make it legal for consumers to rip DVDs for personal use in much the same way they've long ripped CDs. It would remove legal impediments to making versions of copyrighted works that are accessible to blind users. And it would ensure that car owners have the freedom to service their vehicles without running afoul of copyright law.

"Americans should not be subject to fines and criminal liability for merely unlocking devices and media they legally purchased," said Rep. Lofgren in a press release.

Blueprints for 3-D Printed Gun Going Viral

The online blueprints for a 3-D printed gun published by a company called Defense Distributed are going viral online, with distribution help from Kim Dotcom's recent venture.  The blueprints have already been downloaded 100,000 times.  From Forbes:
That’s the number of downloads of the 3D-printable file for the so-called “Liberator” gun that the high-tech gunsmithing group Defense Distributed has seen in just the last two days, a member of the group tells me . . .

The controversial gun-printing group is hosting those files, which include everything from the gun’s trigger to its body to its barrel, on a service that has attracted some controversy of its own: Kim Dotcom’s Mega storage site . . .

The gun’s blueprint, of course, may have also already spread far wider than Defense Distributed can measure. It’s also been uploaded to the filesharing site the Pirate Bay, where it’s quickly become one of the most popular files in the site’s 3D-printing category. “This is the first in what will become an avalanche of undetectable, untraceable, easy-to-manufacture weapons that will turn the tables on evil-doers the world over,” writes one user with the name DakotaSmith on the site. “Share and enjoy.”

Obama Administration Wants Backdoor Access into All Internet Communications

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is likely to come out in support of a plan that would require basically all internet communications technologies to include a backdoor that would give government easier access to wiretap and spy on those communications.  Excerpt:
The Obama administration, resolving years of internal debate, is on the verge of backing a Federal Bureau of Investigation plan for a sweeping overhaul of surveillance laws that would make it easier to wiretap people who communicate using the Internet rather than by traditional phone services, according to officials familiar with the deliberations.

The F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III . . .  since 2010 has pushed for a legal mandate requiring companies like Facebook and Google to build into their instant-messaging and other such systems a capacity to comply with wiretap orders . . .

While the F.B.I.’s original proposal would have required Internet communications services to each build in a wiretapping capacity, the revised one, which must now be reviewed by the White House, focuses on fining companies that do not comply with wiretap orders. 
What this boils down to, is government opposition to secure online communications.  Any backdoor into such communications technologies will expose users to unintended threats, because those vulnerabilities will be exploited in unintended ways.  

Your Credit Card Company and Bank are Threats to Your Information Security

Today, online hacktivist group Anonymous has launched Operation USA, which is targeting U.S. government and banking websites.  Ahead of the attack, the US Department of Homeland Security downplayed the planned operation.  According to reports
“OpUSA poses a limited threat of temporarily disrupting U.S. websites,” the homeland security bulletin states, saying the attackers will likely use commercial hacking tools in a variety of “nuisance-level” strikes, defacing websites or temporarily knocking them offline.
Once again, the Department of Homeland Security appears to have proven themselves to be both ignorant and inept.  Hackers are already claiming to have leaked detailed credit card information on 10,000 individuals to the website pastebin.  The leak contains names, addresses, home phone numbers, social security numbers, credit card numbers, mother's maiden name, the answers to the card holder's so-called "security question" and so on.  Make sure your information is not in the leak, and if it is, take appropriate action.  This hack succinctly demonstrates how woefully inadequate the security protocols are at some of the world's largest banks and credit card companies.  The question we should be asking is not, why would a hacktivist group engage in such malicious behavior.  Your working assumption should be that hackers are ALWAYS attempting to access your personal and financial information.  The real question is why are these corporations that we trust with our personal and financial information so insecure?  

Secure Quantum Internet

Government researchers have revealed that they have been working on a cryptographically secure quantum internet for over two years.  From MIT Technology Review:
One of the dreams for security experts is the creation of a quantum internet that allows perfectly secure communication based on the powerful laws of quantum mechanics.
The basic idea here is that the act of measuring a quantum object, such as a photon, always changes it. So any attempt to eavesdrop on a quantum message cannot fail to leave telltale signs of snooping that the receiver can detect. That allows anybody to send a “one-time pad” over a quantum network which can then be used for secure communication using conventional classical communication.   . . . .

Today, Richard Hughes and pals at Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico reveal an alternative quantum internet, which they say they’ve been running for two and half years. Their approach is to create a quantum network based around a hub and spoke-type network. All messages get routed from any point in the network to another via this central hub. . . .

Government Spyware Disguised as Mozilla Firefox

Is there no limit to the mendacity of government and business?  Mozilla reports that it has sent a cease and desist letter to spyware firm Gamma International to prevent them from hiding their malicious code behind the Firefox brand.  Excerpt:
A recent report by Citizen Lab uncovered that commercial spyware produced by Gamma International is designed to trick people into thinking it’s Mozilla Firefox. We’ve sent Gamma a cease and desist letter today demanding that these illegal practices stop immediately.

As an open source project trusted by hundreds of millions of people around the world, defending Mozilla’s trademarks from this type of abuse is vital to our brand, our users and the continued success of our mission. Mozilla has a longstanding history of protecting users online and was named the Most Trusted Internet Company for Privacy in 2012 by the Ponemon Institute. We cannot abide a software company using our name to disguise online surveillance tools that can be – and in several cases actually have been – used by Gamma’s customers to violate citizens’ human rights and online privacy.

It’s important to note that the spyware does not affect Firefox itself, either during the installation process or when it is operating covertly on a person’s computer or mobile device. Gamma’s software is entirely separate, and only uses our brand and trademarks to lie and mislead as one of its methods for avoiding detection and deletion.

Through the work of the Citizen Lab research team, we believe Gamma’s spyware tries to give users the false impression that, as a program installed on their computer or mobile device, it’s related to Mozilla and Firefox, and is thus trustworthy both technically and in its content.

Has the Internet Already Killed Television?

From NPR:
In a flashy presentation to advertisers Wednesday night, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt declined to forecast that Internet video will displace television watching. Instead he declared: "That's already happened."

Schmidt said "the future is now" for YouTube, which recently passed the milestone of 1 billion unique visitors every month. But, he added with the Third World in mind, if you think that's a large number, "wait until you get to 6 (billion) or 7 billion."

Schmidt and YouTube, which billed the event as a "brandcast," shifted away from the video platform's relationship to TV.

Are Americans Leaving Facebook in Droves?

It is likely only a matter of time before Facebook goes the way of Friendster and Myspace.  If you are wondering what Friendster and Myspace are, others may be doing the same about Facebook in a few short years.  The Guardian reports that users are beginning to leave Facebook in droves.  Excerpt:
Facebook has lost 10 million users in the US and seen no growth in monthly visitors in the UK over the past year, according to data from market research firm Nielsen.
Research shows that the number of unique visitors to the Facebook website from computers, smartphones and tablets has fallen from 153m in March 2012 to 142m in March this year, having peaked at 158m last August.

The news came as Facebook announced its latest quarterly results, saying it had 1.11 billion monthly active users around the world, up 23% from a year ago. Mobile monthly active users were 751 million, up 54%. But much of the growth is coming from poorer nations, where advertising revenues are lower.
The article speculates that the drop in web traffic may not indicate an equally large drop off in actual use, as many people may simply be using Facebook's smartphone app instead of visiting the website.  But it is also quite likely that many people have begun to leave Facebook over privacy concerns.