Saturday, February 27, 2016

Not uncommon, initial estimates are really guesstimates. (Do you believe the IRS knows the exact number of “additional taxpayers” targeted?)
The IRS says hackers stole data for twice as many taxpayers as initially expected
… In total, cyber criminals may have accessed tax data for more than 700,000 taxpayers by hacking the agency’s “Get Transcript” tool, which allows taxpayers to obtain copies of previous tax returns, the IRS said. Criminals tried to use the tool to steal tax data for roughly 500,000 additional taxpayers but failed, the agency said.
The latest tally was uncovered during a nine-month investigation of the “Get Transcript” application, leading back to when it was launched in January 2014.
… When the IRS first reported the issue in May, it said 114,000 taxpayers may have had their tax data compromised. In August, it bumped the total up to about 330,000.

You didn't think they were going to ignore all that data, did you?
Joshua Phillip reports:
An insider in China has revealed to the Epoch Times that he helped build a database that is now being used to handle Americans’ personal information stolen in cyberattacks.
The FBI revealed on June 4, 2015, that a cyberattack, allegedly from China, stole personal information on close to 21.5 million U.S. federal employees after breaking into the computer files of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Subsequent Chinese cyberattacks have also targeted personal data on Americans, including the February 2015 breach of Anthem that stole close to 80 million records.
According to the insider, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has built the database needed to make use of the massive trove of stolen data. He said that to create the spy database, the CCP brought in a small group of independent software developers from the United States, who worked alongside Chinese security branches to implement the system.
There’s a lot more to this report on Epoch Times, but given that they’ve granted their source anonymity, even though they seem confident the source is reliable, I’m a bit hesitant to rely on this without some other sourcing.

I think this points to the new FTC strategy: “Get serious about security or we will get serious for you.”
James Denvil and Paul Otto of Hogan Lovells write:
The FTC wants companies to listen. More precisely, the FTC wants companies to pay attention to and promptly to respond to reports of security vulnerabilities. That’s a key takeaway from the Commission’s recent settlement with ASUSTek (“ASUS”). In its complaint against the Taiwanese router manufacturer, the FTC alleged that ASUS misrepresented its security practices and failed to reasonably secure its router software. The Commission cited the company’s alleged failure to address vulnerability reports as one of the its primary concerns. The settlement reiterates the warnings contained in the FTC’s recent Start with Security Guide and prior settlements with HTC America and Fandango: the FTC expects companies to implement adequate processes for receiving security vulnerability reports and addressing them within a reasonable time.
Read more on Hogan Lovells Chronicle of Data Protection. Additional discussion of this matter can be found on Covington & Burling’s Inside Privacy

In search of Free? Fuel for the debate.
The Plan to Give Every Cellphone User Free Data
More than half the people on the planet still don’t have Internet access. But figuring out how to get them online is as much of a political challenge as it is a technological one.
… In brainstorming possible alternatives, Song realized he kept returning to the same question: What if all mobile phones came automatically connected to the Internet at no additional charge?
… “Each person that gets added to the network adds value to everybody on the network,” Song said.
… For such a shift to take place on mobile networks, Song says there will have to be a more rigorous economic analysis. But he believes a good starting point might be to enable, by default, free 2G Internet connections at speeds around 9.6 kilobits per second—which is slow, really slow if you’re used to high-speed Internet. [Test your speed at or Bob] (He outlined his proposal in more detail in a blog post.)
“That’s about a quarter of the speed of what dial-up would be,” Song said.
… Song and others believe it’s most likely that mobile-network operators would be open to implementing his idea in areas of the developing world—where there are a significant number of people who still don’t have the Internet. This is already happening to some extent: In India, the telecommunications company Aircel says it will offer free Internet at 64 kilobits per second beginning in the fall. And T-Mobile has offered free 2G data roaming overseas.
… Upfront costs might be minimal, but diminished access to data—the deep well of personal information collected about people when they go online—would be a big deterrent. In other words, if people opted for free access that’s slower and more basic instead of paying for more expensive high-speed connections, less data would be collected about them.

As Tesla proves that this model works, will GM (et al) start selling direct? Will their dealers try to block them?
Tesla wins big victory in Indiana to bypass dealers. Shares surge
An Indiana state Senate panel ruled Thursday that Tesla Motors could sell its cars directly to buyers without franchised dealers, a victory for the electric-vehicle maker and a blow to dealers and traditional automakers.
The Commerce and Technology Committee of the State Senate stripped an amendment out of a bill that would have blocked Tesla’s direct sales, an amendment in part driven by lobbying by General Motors and the state’s car dealers.
GM’s counsel testified at a hearing, arguing that allowing direct sales by Tesla would put franchised automakers at a disadvantage.

For my Data Management students, these opportunities will not last long. Transform or die.
How to Transform a Traditional Giant into a Digital One
If you’re not turning your company into a “math house” you’re headed for serious trouble. Every industry will soon be driven by digitization and every winning company will be using algorithms, or mathematical rules for processing information, to shape the end-to-end customer experience. Any advantages you have now will pale in comparison with a great set of algorithms that differentiates the customer experience. It is the algorithms that will create value for the business.

Perspective. Has Amazon reinvented TV as it was in the 1960's?
Amazon Debuts Its First Original Show With Ads, Hinting at a New, Free Video Business
Amazon has spent billions to create and acquire TV shows that it shows without ads to boost the value of its Prime membership program. Now, for the first time, it has unveiled an original video series that will be supported by ads and live outside Prime’s walls.
On Thursday, the company released the first episode of Season 3 of “The Fashion Fund,” a 10-episode reality show series produced by Conde Nast Entertainment that follows top fashion design contestants as they compete for a $400,000 grand prize. The show is available for free to anyone who visits, so long as they are willing to sit through a few minutes of commercials.

Watching the industry flounder.
Hack Education Weekly News
… The Chicago Board of Education has unanimously approved the addition of computer science as a graduation requirement for all CPS students beginning with next year’s freshmen.
… “Public Universities Struggle Without State Aid Amid Illinois Budget Crisis,” NPR reports. Earlier this week, Chicago State University said that it was going to have to end of the semester early because of the budget impasse. But as of today, “Chicago State University Sends Layoff Notices To All Employees.”
Via Boing Boing: “NH bill would explicitly allow libraries to run Tor exit nodes.” [Browse free or die! Bob]
… Harvard will no longer use the phrase “house masters” to describe dorm administrators. [Because: slavery. Bob]
David Perry has published a chilling set of slides from the University of Houston explaining how faculty should respond to the new law-of-the-land in Texas that allows people to carry concealed weapons on (public university) campuses in the state.