Tag Archives | Computers

The Dangers Of The Growing Malware-Industrial Complex

Via the MIT Technology Review, Tom Simonite writes:

A freshly discovered weakness in a popular piece of software, known in the trade as a “zero-day” vulnerability, can be cashed in for prices in the hundreds of thousands of dollars from defense contractors, security agencies and governments. This trade in zero-day exploits is poorly documented, but it is perhaps the most visible part of a new industry that in the years to come is likely to swallow growing portions of the U.S. national defense budget.

It became clear that this type of assault would define a new era in warfare in 2010, when security researchers discovered a piece of malicious software known as Stuxnet. Now [known] to have been a project of U.S. and Israeli intelligence, Stuxnet was carefully designed to infect multiple systems needed to access and control industrial equipment used in Iran’s nuclear program.

No U.S. government agency has gone on the record as saying that it buys zero-days.

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Using Smart Gadgets As Tools Of Social Control

How devices will soon begin pressuring us to “fix” our behavior. Via the Wall Street Journal, Evgeny Morozov writes:

Many smart technologies are heading in a disturbing direction. A number of thinkers in Silicon Valley see these technologies as a way not just to give consumers new products that they want but to push them to behave better. The central idea is clear: social engineering disguised as product engineering.

Last week in Singapore, Google Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette restated Google’s notion that the world is a “broken” place whose problems, from traffic jams to inconvenient shopping experiences to excessive energy use, can be solved by technology. The futurist and game designer Jane McGonigal, a favorite of the TED crowd, also likes to talk about how “reality is broken” but can be fixed by making the real world more like a videogame, with points for doing good.

Insurance companies already offer significant discounts to drivers who agree to install smart sensors in order to monitor their driving habits.

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Furniture Chain’s Rental Computers Sent 185,000 Spyware Emails Containing Customers’ Passwords, Explicit Photos, Financial Information Back to Headquarters

The Atlanta-based national furniture chain Aaron’s offers computers on a rent-to-own basis. Many of the computers contained secretly activated spyware which tracked customers’ locations, took webcam photos inside their homes, and forwarded intimate photos and information back to corporate servers, reports NBC News:

Spyware installed on computers leased from furniture renter Aaron’s Inc. secretly sent 185,000 emails containing sensitive information — including pictures of nude children and people having sex — back to the company’s corporate computers, according to court documents filed Wednesday in a class-action lawsuit.

According to the filings, some of the spyware emails contained pictures secretly taken by the rental computers’ webcams or other sensitive information including Social Security numbers, social media and email passwords, and customer keystrokes, the Federal Trade Commission determined last year.

Aaron’s officials have previously said the company never installed the spyware on computers rented out of 1,140 company-operated stores and blamed individual franchisees for installing it.

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Silent Circle, The New Encryption App That Is Terrifying The Government

The idea is to “democratize encryption” by making it available to the non-tech-savvy with the push of a button. Will this be used for good or evil? Slate‘s Ryan Gallagher explains:

The startup tech firm Silent Circle’s groundbreaking encrypted data transfer app will enable people to send files securely from a smartphone or tablet at the touch of a button—photographs, videos, spreadsheets, you name it—sent scrambled from one person to another in a matter of seconds.

The technology uses a sophisticated peer-to-peer encryption technique that allows users to send encrypted files of up to 60 megabytes through a “Silent Text” app. The sender of the file can set it on a timer so that it will automatically “burn”—deleting it from both devices after a set period of, say, seven minutes. It’s a game-changer that will almost certainly make life easier and safer for journalists, dissidents, diplomats, and companies trying to evade surveillance.

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Internet Connection Is Civil Right, German Court Rules

In the near future, in certain regions of the world, denying someone internet will be considered a barbaric, criminal act. Computer World UK reports:

Internet access is crucial to everyday life and the loss of connectivity is deserving of financial compensation, the German Federal Court of Justice has ruled. Because having an internet connection is so significant for a large part of the German population, a customer whose service provider failed to provide connectivity between December 2008 and February 2009 is entitled to compensation.

The plaintiff was erroneously disconnected and demanded that the unnamed telecommunications company pay for costs that incurred in switching to a new provider. The plaintiff also demanded compensation of €50 per day for the period his was unable to use his DSL service.

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A Box For Manipulating The News On Other People’s Computer Screens

The artistic creation of Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev, the Newstweek device allows for "altering reality on a per-network basis" by literally changing the headlines on people's screens:
Newstweek is a device for manipulating news read by other people on wireless hotspots. Built into a small and innocuous wall plug, the Newstweek device allows writers to remotely edit news read on wireless devices without the awareness of their users. While news is increasingly read digitally, it still follows a top-down distribution model and thus often falls victim to the same political and corporate interests that have always sought to manipulate public opinion. Newstweek intervenes upon this model, providing opportunity for citizens to have their turn to manipulate the press; generating propaganda or simply 'fixing facts' as they pass across a wireless network.
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Man Arrested For ID Theft Of Most Of Greece

It’s reaching the point where we probably should give up even trying to have identities. Via the Toronto Star:

Greek police have arrested a man on suspicion of stealing the personal data of roughly two thirds of the country’s population, police officials in Athens said on Tuesday.

The 35-year old computer programmer was also suspected of attempting to sell the 9 million files containing identification card data, addresses, tax ID numbers and licence plate numbers. Greece’s population is 11 million.

Police were also looking into whether the man had obtained the data files by hacking into a government server and whether he had an accomplice, officials said. The files were discovered after police raided his home.

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British ‘UFO Hacker’ Gary McKinnon Will Not Be Extradited To United States

Curiosity about UFOs is what inspired McKinnon, who has Asperger’s syndrome, to engage in what American officials have called the “biggest military computer hack of all time.” The Guardian reports:

The home secretary, Theresa May, defied the American authorities on Tuesday by halting the extradition of British computer hacker Gary McKinnon, a decision criticised by the US state department but welcomed with delight by campaigners and politicians across parties in the UK.

McKinnon was first indicted by an American grand jury in November 2002 for hacking into US military computers, including the Pentagon and NASA, from his north London bedroom while he was looking for UFOs. He could have faced a prison sentence of up 70 years under US law.

May told Members of Parliament she had taken the quasi-judicial decision on human rights grounds because of medical reports warning that McKinnon, who has Asperger’s syndrome and suffers from depressive illness, could kill himself if sent to stand trial in the US.

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Judge Rules Against Man Suing Over Sickness From Wi-Fi And Cellphones

A blow for the millions of Americans who claim to be allergic to the electromagnetic waves given off by 21st century technology. Arthur Firstenberg should perhaps join the Wi-Fi refugees living in the mountains of West Virginia. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports:

Arthur Firstenberg lost what might have been his final round in court Tuesday, when state District Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that no scientific study has yet proved that electromagnetic stimulus adversely impacts personal health.

In January 2010, Firstenberg, who has long argued that electromagnetic radiation emitted by cellphones, smartphones, wireless routers and other apparatus can cause illness, sued his neighbor, Raphaela Monribot, for $1 million over the use of such electronic equipment at Monribot’s west-side home.

Court documents quote Firstenberg as complaining that he suffered acute effects of electromagnetic stimulus (EMS) and that, “Whenever I returned home, even for a few minutes, I felt the same sickness in my chest and my health was set back for days.”

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