Sunday, May 15, 2016

Enquiring minds want to know?
Over on Wired, Kim Zetter reviews what’s been revealed in court cases and the media about how the FBI hacks individuals’ computers.   Some of the names and cases may seem familiar to you, like Carnivore and Magic Lantern, and more recently, the PlayPen operation, but as Kim rightly notes, there’s more that we don’t know than we do know:
For example, what exactly is the government doing with these tools?  Are they just grabbing IP addresses and information from a computer’s registry?  Or are they doing more invasive things—like activating the webcam to take pictures of anyone using a targeted machine, as they sought to do in a 2013 case?  How are the tools tested to make sure they don’t damage the machines they infect?  The latter is particularly important if the government installs any tool on the machines of botnet victims, as the recent Rule 41 changes suggest they might do.
Do investigators always obtain a search warrant to use the tools?  If yes, do the spy tools remain on systems after the term of the search warrant ends or do the tools self-delete on a specified date?  Or do the tools require law enforcement to send a kill command to disable and erase them?  How often does the government use zero-day vulnerabilities and exploits to covertly slip their spyware onto systems?  And how long do they withhold information about those vulnerabilities from software vendors so they can be exploited instead of patched?
Read more on Wired.
Realistically, there’s no way we will ever know all the tools and methods the FBI uses – at least until such methods are long-retired.  Nor would most people want such full disclosure and transparency if it would hamper law enforcement from going after “the bad guys.”   The problem, as always, stems from abuses and over-use.  If the FBI were really held to getting probable cause warrants before such techniques could be used, and if ISPs were able to notify their users at some point instead of being gagged, would you still be as concerned?  I suspect some of my readers would be, but that the majority of Americans might think that as long as such protections were in place, it would be a “reasonable” balance.

“Those who do not understand science should understand that repeating the claim that, ‘Science is hard!’ is no substitute for progress.”  Last week my entire Computer Security class worked the math to generate RSA public keys, and encrypt a message to me, as an in-class exercise.  Any one of them could manage this effort better than the existing OPM “leadership.”  See this Dilbert:
FCW – OPM’s sensitive data on feds still not encrypted
by Sabrina I. Pacifici on
Federal Computer Week, Adam Mazmania, May 13, 2016 – “More than a year after a hack of Office of Personnel Management systems compromised more than 22 million records, the agency has not been able to encrypt all the sensitive data on 4 million federal employees, including Social Security numbers.  “There are still elements of OPM systems that are difficult to encrypt,” acting OPM Director Beth Cobert said during a May 13 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee…”

“Und vat evil do you vish us to forget for you, mein herr?” 
Report – 75 percent of requests to be forgotten denied by Google
by Sabrina I. Pacifici on
Report: 2 years in, 75 percent of Right to Be Forgotten asks denied by Google More than 50 percent of requests come from Germany and the UK.  Greg Sterling, Search Engine Land: “Google refuses roughly 70 percent to 75 percent of requests, according to the data.  The chart reflects the most common categories or justifications for URL removal requests, on the left.  On the right are the reasons that Google typically denies RTBF requests.  Google most frequently denies removal requests that concern professional activity.  Following that, Google often denies requests where the individual involved is the source of the content sought to be removed.”

I think we will always have people who criticize science – the problem is that only a small proportion of the population cares about the criticism.  And we shouldn’t waste much time criticizing astrology, intelligent design, or alien autopsies. 
Commentary – We risk becoming a society of technological prowess and philosophical illiteracy
by Sabrina I. Pacifici on
Chronicle of Higher Education – John Kaag and David O’Hara May 13, 2016 – “We are on the verge of becoming the best trained, and least educated, society since the Romans — and reducing the humanities to a type of soft science will only hasten this trend.  As the sciences rightly grow, a free society must ensure that criticism of the sciences grows apace.  Effective criticism depends on distance, in this case on an unshakeable difference, between the humanities and the STEM fields.  That is not to say that STEM researchers can’t or shouldn’t be experts in the humanities, but rather that the work that the humanities do should not be judged by the metrics of hard science.  As Aristotle, Plato’s most famous student, suggests at the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics, “precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions.”  Similarly, we should not expect the humanities to be driven or dominated by the objectives of science.  Plato teaches us that part of the liberal arts’ enduring mission is precisely to critique these objectives…”

We debated this in class.  Our take was that Facebook was telling India what it needed, not listening.  Sounds like the Guardian agrees. 
The inside story of Facebook’s biggest setback

Perspective.  How to kill the cable industry?
Google Fiber is the most audacious part of the whole Alphabet
   Google began digging up dirt and laying fiber optic pipes in Kansas City, Kan., five years ago in April. Its first customers were wired the following year.
For the years after, it was unclear — certainly outside of Google — just what Google wanted to accomplish with this first venture outside of its core business.  Now it's evident: Google was using Kansas City as a testbed for an audacious project — one to take on broadband providers like Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon, which enjoy long-held duopolies and monopolies across the country, and build out a national service.  To provide real competition.
Googlers won't say this out loud, but they despise the cable industry.  They find it inert, predatory and, worst, anti-innovation.  So Google wants to replace it.
   Wireless is a big deal for Alphabet.  If it works, it means it can deliver broadband without having to build out or buy fiber networks.  No dirt to dig up; no last mile to cross.  That means its network can swell much more, much faster.
Pipes aren't cheap.  It cost Google more than $1 billion to spread across the Kansas City region and will likely cost as much in each new Fiber city, according to sources.
But wireless could be far cheaper — a fifth of the cost of fiber, which is roughly $1,000 per home, according to industry insiders.

No doubt this will enliven my PowerPoint presentations. 
Everything’s coming up Simpsons: make your favorite Simpsons quotes into GIFs with this new generator
Just in case you didn't have enough outlets for indulging your TV geek tendencies on the internet, the Simpsons quote generator Frinkiac has added a whole new dimension to its already thorough search engine.
Whereas before you could merely search Frinkiac for your favorite Simpsons quote and attach it to the accompanying image from the show, you can now search for your favorite Simpsons quote and attach it to an accompanying GIF, which everyone knows is just the more fun evolution of a boring old still photo.
   To make a GIF with Frankiac, search for a Simpsons quote, select the frames from the accompanying scene that you'd like to include in the GIF, and then click "make GIF."

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