Friday, March 21, 2014

It's easy to intimidate the guilty and when it comes to taxes, we all think we're guilty.
IRS monitor: $1 million phone scam 'largest ever'
… The impostor claims to be an Internal Revenue Service representative and tells "intended victims they owe taxes and must pay using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer," an IRS inspector general office said.
"The scammers threaten those who refuse to pay with arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver's license."
The IRS has received more than 20,000 reports about the scam.
...Tax-related phone scams are among the "dirty dozen" fraud techniques the IRS warned about earlier this tax season. It also warned of phishing emails, preparer fraud and claims a preparer can offer "free money."

It had to be convincing enough that the judge agreed, didn't it?
Perhaps one of the stupidest things a prosecutor trying to defend criminal prosecution under CFAA can say is to admit that they have no understanding of what the alleged “hacker” did that made his conduct a hack or violation of CFAA.
But that’s pretty much what happened in a Philadelphia courtroom yesterday during Weev’s appeal of his conviction. Mike Masnick of TechDirt has some good coverage of it:
We’ve been covering the ridiculous DOJ case [No bias here! Bob] against Andrew “weev” Auernheimer for quite some time. If you don’t recall, Auernheimer and a partner found a really blatant security hole on AT&T’s servers that allowed them to very easily find out the email addresses of iPad owners. There was no breaking in to anything. The issue was that AT&T left this all exposed. But, with a very dangerous reading of the CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) and a bunch of folks who don’t understand basic technology, weev was sentenced to 3.5 years in jail (and has been kept in solitary confinement for much of his stay so far). Part of the case is complicated by the fact that weev is kind of a world class jerk — who took great thrill in being an extreme online troll, getting a thrill out of making others miserable. But, that point should have no standing in whether or not exposing a security hole by basically entering a URL that AT&T failed to secure, becomes a criminal activity.
Throughout the case, it’s been clear that the DOJ was trying to make up an interpretation of the law that had no basis in the actual technology world. And it became abundantly clear at a hearing before the appeals court concerning weev’s case, that the DOJ really has no idea what weev did. They’re just sure it’s bad because it involves computers and stuff. Seriously, as reported by Vice:
He had to decrypt and decode, and do all of these things I don’t even understand,” Assistant US Attorney Glenn Moramarco argued.
Read more on TechDirt.

MSFT owns the computers, they provide the Hotmail service, they suspect a breach – is there a limit to what they can investigate?
I reported the criminal complaint about ex-Microsoft employee Alex Kibkalo over on, but one aspect of the case has raised privacy concerns – that Microsoft searched the contents of his Hotmail account for evidence that he was providing trade secrets to a blogger who had been leaking information about Windows. There was no indication that they had obtained a subpoena to do so, either. Peter Bright reports:
The blogger contacted the third party using a Hotmail account. After confirming that the source leak was, indeed, authentic, Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computer Investigations (TWCI) team investigated the Hotmail account in an attempt to identify the blogger and his source. In doing so, they discovered e-mails from Kibkalo. Further digging revealed that Kibkalo created a virtual machine on Microsoft’s corporate network which he used to upload stolen information to SkyDrive.
The Microsoft investigation raises a potentially alarming privacy issue. The complaint says that TWCI asked Microsoft’s Office of Legal Compliance prior to reviewing the contents of the Hotmail inbox and that OLC authorized the request. The terms of service that cover the company’s online services do indicate that Microsoft reserves the right to access communications to protect the company’s rights and property and to turn over content to comply with valid legal requests.
Read more on Ars Technica, where they obtained a statement from Microsoft explaining what happened and why. I doubt all privacy advocates will find their explanation satisfactory.

(Related) Fortunately, the Justice Dept isn't bothered by such things...
Matt Apuzzo reports:
A federal judge has admonished the Justice Department for repeatedly requesting overly broad searches of people’s email accounts, a practice that he called “repugnant” to the Constitution.
The unusually sharp rebuke by Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola came last week in a kickback investigation involving a defense contractor. The case highlights the broad authority the government believes it has in searching email accounts, a power that gives the Justice Department potential access to a trove of personal information about anyone it investigates, even in routine criminal cases.
“The government continues to submit overly broad warrants and makes no effort to balance the law enforcement interest against the obvious expectation of privacy email account holders have in their communications,” Judge Facciola wrote. employee is suing the pharmacy chain over its controversial health-screening program.
Read more on New York Times.

Can we look forward to similar “concern” for those with government health insurance? “It's for your own good!”
Hunter Stuart reports:
A CVS employee is suing the pharmacy chain over its controversial health-screening program.
CVS cashier Roberta Watterson claims the company made her disclose personal information, including her weight and level of sexual activity, threatening to charge her $600 a year if she refused.
CVS’ so-called “wellness review,” first reported last year, is a fairly extreme example of a trend of companies looking to cut health-care costs by pushing employees into wellness programs.
Critics claim such programs let employers meddle in workers’ lives, unfairly penalize those who have difficulty meeting certain health targets and may put employee privacy at risk.
Read more on Huffington Post.

Well, this is what happens when you threaten to comment on the Emperor's New Clothes in the digital age.
Turkey bans Twitter — and Twitter explodes
… “We now have a court order,” declared Erdogan, who’s ensnared in a scandal inflamed by social media over recordings that purportedly reveal corruption in his administration. “We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.”
There’s no arguing: it has been witnessed.
After Turkey’s Twitter was apparently disabled, the hashtag #TwitterisblockedinTurkey went supernova, though Twitter is still accessible via the site’s SMS service, which allows Turks to text in a tweet.

Pew – Emerging and Developing Nations Want Freedom on the Internet
by Sabrina I. Pacifici on March 20, 2014
“There is widespread opposition to internet censorship in emerging and developing nations. Majorities in 22 of 24 countries surveyed say it is important that people have access to the internet without government censorship. In 12 nations, at least seven-in-ten hold this view. Support for internet freedom is especially strong in countries where a large percentage of the population is online. And, in most of the countries polled, young people are particularly likely to consider internet freedom a priority. These are among the main findings of a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 21,847 people in 24 emerging and developing economies from March 3, 2013 to May 1, 2013. All interviews were conducted face-to-face.”

Gee, a monopoly acting like a monopoly. What a surprise! Haven't I been ranting against “natural monopolies” in cable and Internet? (Yes, you have Bob)
Netflix blasts Internet providers: 'Consumers deserve better'
… "Some big ISPs are extracting a toll because they can -- they effectively control access to millions of consumers and are willing to sacrifice the interests of their own customers to press Netflix and others to pay," Hastings wrote.
… The issue flared up earlier this year following news that Netflix streaming speeds for customers of ISPs including Verizon and Comcast were slowing, as these firms attempted to extract a fee from Netflix in exchange for connecting directly to their networks and resolving the issue.
Netflix announced an agreement with Comcast last month in which it will indeed pay for a connection, and has been in talks with Verizon as well. But Hastings said the company was engaging in these talks "reluctantly."
"If this kind of leverage is effective against Netflix, which is pretty large, imagine the plight of smaller services today and in the future," Hastings wrote.

More properly, an obfuscation report.
According to Kevin Bankston, Comcast has become the first cable ISP to issue a transparency report. You can read it here (pdf). It’s obvious that the section on NSL is still pretty useless when you contrast it to the specificity of their report on criminal and emergency requests, but that’s the fault of the government for not allowing companies to be more specific.

Just a brief follow-up on New Jersey's over-protectionist laws. Something for all industries to think about.
The Fight Over Tesla Shows How Little Value Dealerships Add

For all my students. Please. (I'll highlight a couple tricks)
Real Excel power users know these 11 tricks
There are two kinds of Microsoft Excel users in the world: Those who make neat little tables, and those who amaze their colleagues with sophisticated charts, data analysis, and seemingly magical formula and macro tricks.
"If" formulas
IF and IFERROR are the two most useful IF formulas in Excel. The IF formula lets you use conditional formulas that calculate one way when a certain thing is true, and another way when false. For example, you can identify students who scored 80 points or higher by having the cell report “Pass” if the score in column C is above 80, and “Fail” if it’s 79 or below.
Flash Fill
Easily the best new feature in Excel 2013, Flash Fill solves one of the most frustrating problems of Excel: pulling needed pieces of information from a concatenated cell. When you’re working in a column with names in “Last, First” format, for example, you historically had to either type everything out manually or create an often-complicated workaround.
In Excel 2013, you can now just type the first name of the first person in a field immediately next to the one you’re working on, click on Home > Fill > Flash Fill, and Excel will automagically extract the first name from the remaining people in your table. [Now there is no excuse for sorting students by first name! Bob]
Quick analysis
Excel 2013’s new Quick Analysis tool minimizes the time needed to create charts based on simple data sets. Once you have your data selected, an icon appears in the bottom right hand corner that, when clicked, brings up the Quick Analysis menu.
This menu provides tools like Formatting, Charts, Totals, Tables and Sparklines. Hovering your mouse over each one generates a live preview.

Another one for my niece, the Guitar Goddess
– it is very important if you want to play the guitar that all the strings are tuned properly. Otherwise “Highway To Hell” really WILL sound like hell. FreeTuner is a site, powered on HTML5, which enables you to tune your guitar via your microphone.

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