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7Sep/13

California first to get electronic license plates? Easier to track?

The California State Senate approves a bill that would allow for a pilot program to test digital license plates. Will it involve tracking?

by Chris Matyszczyk

California is the home of everything that's new, exciting, and, well, accidentally nefarious.

It's a delight, therefore, to hear that we here in the Golden State might be the first to get electronic license plates.

Yes, the young and the restless of tech will be able to have their new "TE$LA1" plate beamed directly to their car.

What could be more moving? I am beaming at Ars Technica for discovering that a bill has passed the California State Senate, allowing for a pilot program to launch the scheme.

... CONTINUE READING »

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19Mar/12

There’s an app for that: How researchers pwned your mind

Researchers turn smartphone users into unwitting minions with a simple app

With mobile users becoming more reliant on their devices and accompanying applications, researchers from Northwestern University have discovered the ease with which user’s mobility can be “soft” controlled.

As smartphone apps become further and further integrate into our daily lives, you have to wonder if we’re in control of our desires or if mobile applications are starting to controlling us.

To discover the ease with which app users can be manipulated, researchers from the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University underwent a study to determine whether they could change the habits of a smartphone user’s mobility through gaming and social-networking applications. The goal was to compel them to visit areas less frequented.

How can an application affect on our decisions on a daily basis?

Like with advertising, we can be compelled by Foursquare to achieve or maintain our “Mayor” standing at a particular restaurant or venue. We might be manipulated, for instance, to travel not to the local pizza shop, but instead to the Chinese food store that we’ve been visiting repeatedly for the last month.

The research was conducted by John Rula and Fabián E.

Bustamant and titled, “Crowd (Soft) Control Moving Beyond the Opportunistic.” They used four foundational elements that work together offer individuals incentives:

  • Location: The location desired stated in terms of latitude and longitude, and optionally altitude and heading.
  • Action: The type of action to be triggered at the particular location and time.
  • Expiration Time: The time when the request is no longer valid; this is used to control the timing and relevancy of actions.
  • Ranking: The relative importance of the location. This can be used by the game to differentiate incentives by priority Rula and Bustamant created an Android-based augmented reality game titled, “Ghost Hunter,” which required users to chase monsters and ghosts throughout the neighborhood. The objective of the game was to “zap” the ghosts and monsters by capturing the augmented image on their mobile phone’s camera. But what users were not aware of was the researcher’s underlying intent.

The researchers had positioned the ghosts in exact locations, around a predetermined building. The resulting photographs of the “ghosts” enabled the researchers to create a 3D picture of the building from the collected images. While the photographic modeling of the building was successfully crowdsourced by the unsuspecting “Ghost Hunter” gamers, what the researchers had also discovered was the ability to compel users to capture images of the building from angles and locations typically not frequented, as the image below indicates.

While mobile users are concerned about their privacy, the ease with which they can be “soft” controlled raises a whole new issue altogether. Games and social networks not only offer a means of learning more about the people who use them, they can potentially offer a way to control their actions. Manipulating users into conducting illegal acts or luring them to dangerous locations is very much a reality.

Only days ago, three Japanese tourists were mislead by their GPS into the Moreton Bay in Australia during a low tide and became trapped in the thick mud. With the tide rising, they were forced to abandon their waterlogged rental car.

Ultimately, users will have to decide for themselves where they draw the line. As the research reiterates, “As augmented reality gamers can be trusted to exercise their best judgment during play, users of extended location based applications should be trusted to judge the suggestions made through CSC (Crowd Soft Control).”

Via http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/researchers-turn-smartphone-users-into-unwitting-minions-with-a-simple-app/

 

 

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15Mar/12

FBI’s most wanted smartphone

FBI Can't Crack Android Pattern-Screen Lock | Threat Level | Wired.com

Pattern-screen locks on Android phones are secure, apparently so much so that they have stumped the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The bureau claims in federal court documents that forensics experts performed “multiple attempts” to access the contents of a Samsung Exhibit II handset, but failed to unlock the phone.

An Android device requires the handset’s Google e-mail address and its accompanying password to unlock the handset once too many wrong swipes are made. The bureau is seeking that information via a court-approved warrant to Google in order to unlock a suspected San Diego-area prostitution pimp’s mobile phone. (For details on the pimp investigation, check out Ars Technica‘s story on the case.)

Locking down a phone is even more important today than ever because smart phones store so much personal information.

What’s more, many states, including California, grant authorities the right to access a suspect’s mobile phone, without a warrant, upon arrest for any crime.

Forensic experts and companies in the phone-cracking space agreed that the Android passcode locks can defeat unauthorized intrusions.

“It’s not unreasonable they don’t have the capability to bypass that on a live device,” said Dan Rosenberg, a consultant at Boston-based Virtual Security Research.

A San Diego federal judge days ago approved the warrant upon a request by FBI Special Agent Jonathan Cupina. The warrant was disclosed Wednesday by security researcher Christopher Soghoian, In a court filing, Cupina wrote: (.pdf)

Failure to gain access to the cellular telephone’s memory was caused by an electronic ‘pattern lock’ programmed into the cellular telephone. A pattern lock is a modern type of password installed on electronic devices, typically cellular telephones. To unlock the device, a user must move a finger or stylus over the keypad touch screen in a precise pattern so as to trigger the previously coded un-locking mechanism. Entering repeated incorrect patterns will cause a lock-out, requiring a Google e-mail login and password to override. Without the Google e-mail login and password, the cellular telephone’s memory can not be accessed. Obtaining this information from Google, per the issuance of this search warrant, will allow law enforcement to gain access to the contents of the memory of the cellular telephone in question.

Rosenberg, in a telephone interview, suggested the authorities could “dismantle a phone and extract data from the physical components inside if you’re looking to get access.” However, that runs the risk of damaging the phone’s innards, and preventing any data recovery.

Linda Davis, a spokeswoman for forensics-solutions company Logicube of suburban Los Angeles, said law enforcement is a customer of its CellXtract technology, which it advertises as a means to “fast and thorough forensic data extraction from mobile devices.” But that software, she said in a telephone interview, “is not going to work” on a locked device.

All of which is another way of saying those Android screen locks are a lot stronger than one might suspect.

It was not immediately clear whether the iPhone’s locking system is as powerful as its Android counterpart. But the iPhone’s passcode has been defeated with simple hacks, the latest of which was revealed in October 2010.

Clearly, the bureau is none too happy about having to call in Google for help. The warrant requires Google to turn over Samsung’s “default code” in “verbal” or “written instructions for overriding the ‘pattern lock’ installed on the Samsung model SGH-T679.” Google spokesman Chris Gaither would not say if Google would challenge any aspect of the warrant. Google, he said, does not comment on “specific cases.” “Like all law-abiding companies, we comply with valid legal process. Whenever we receive a request we make sure it meets both the letter and spirit of the law before complying,” he said in an e-mail. “If we believe a request is overly broad, we will seek to narrow it.” Photo: Mike Dent/Flickr

Via http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/fbi-android-phone-lock/

 

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9Mar/12

Deportation: There’s an app for that.

PHOENIX -- A group of pro-immigrant rights activists in Arizona aim to develop a smartphone application that would help immigrants notify friends, family and their attorney if they are detained and arrested during a traffic stop.

Arizona was the first state to pass a law to make it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant (SB 1070), leading to an increased crackdown and climate of fear among immigrants. A recent Department of Justice investigation on racial profiling of Latinos by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office found that Latinos were four to nine times more likely to be pulled over in a traffic stop than non-Latinos

“When someone gets pulled over the first thing to worry about is the family,” said Lydia Guzman, the president of the nonprofit Respect/Respeto.
For years, the nonprofit’s emergency hotline has monitored cases of possible civil rights violations against Latinos by local law enforcement, provided information about rights, and tracked down missing family members in immigration custody after undocumented drivers are detained.

“It’s difficult. We try to get all of this information from them to reach their family, while at the same time we’re trying to advise them about their rights,” she said.

It was Guzman’s experience with Respect/Respeto and the increased crackdown on undocumented immigrants by local police using state laws that inspired her friend Todd Landfried, a spokesperson for Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, to come up with an idea for a smartphone app that could do what the group does and more.

The app will allow users to notify family, friends, attorneys and even their consulate when they get pulled over by law enforcement or when they are facing an emergency situation that puts their safety or civil rights at risk.

With the touch of a button, Landfried says, the “Emergency Alert and Personal Protection” app will send a pre-set list of people information about the person’s location using GPS technology and date and time of the incident. The app will also have an option to record audio and video, which is a common function on most mobile phones, but it will take it a step further by sending the audio and video to a “web interface” where the data can be stored and accessed by lawyers, for example.

It will also inform them, in English and Spanish, of their civil rights if they are arrested during a traffic stop; for example, reminding them that they have the right to remain silent and have an attorney present during questioning.

Guzman says the app could help people make split-second decisions at a crucial moment about who to call and how to get help. She says it would also provide immigrant advocates a starting point to search for undocumented immigrants once they are in the detention system – a search that can sometimes take days.

In order to take the app from idea to reality, Landfried and Guzman recently launched a 30-day crowdfunding campaign to support the development of the app. If they reach their goal of raising $225,000, they will work with a software developer to have the app ready by July. Donors would get the app, which will cost about $2, for free.

The app is similar to the “I’m Getting Arrested” app that launched in response to the arrests of protestors involved in the Occupy movement. Landfried and Guzman say their app would be designed to specifically address the situation of undocumented immigrants pulled over in traffic stops. They say it would consolidate functions on the phone to allow users to document, store and send photos, audio and video to web interface that can be used to document racial profiling or violations of civil liberties.

Landfried says he believes Latinos are well-positioned to make use of such an app based on recent trends of Latinos' usage of smartphones.
According to a 2010 Nielsen Company report, 45 percent of Hispanic mobile users have a smartphone compared to just over a quarter of white mobile users.

Landfried and Guzman say they hope the app can be a tool for tracking statistics of potential instances of racial profiling.

“Keeping in mind you have to protect the attorney-client privilege,” Landfried said. “If data was made anonymous, we can track how many times people hit the button for traffic stops and they can fill in later what the outcome was.”

“This is about protecting people. Everybody has rights, whether you like it or not,” he said.

Via http://newamericamedia.org/2012/03/im-getting-arrested-app-aims-to-help-those-detained-in-traffic-stops.php

 

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23Nov/11

Malls track shoppers’ cell phones on Black Friday

He knows when you are sleeping...

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Attention holiday shoppers: your cell phone may be tracked this year.
Starting on Black Friday and running through New Year's Day, two U.S. malls -- Promenade Temecula in southern California and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va. -- will track guests' movements by monitoring the signals from their cell phones.

While the data that's collected is anonymous, it can follow shoppers' paths from store to store.
The goal is for stores to answer questions like: How many Nordstrom shoppers also stop at Starbucks? How long do most customers linger in Victoria's Secret? Are there unpopular spots in the mall that aren't being visited?

While U.S. malls have long tracked how crowds move throughout their stores, this is the first time they've used cell phones.

But obtaining that information comes with privacy concerns.

The management company of both malls, Forest City Commercial Management, says personal data is not being tracked.

"We won't be looking at singular shoppers," said Stephanie Shriver-Engdahl, vice president of digital strategy for Forest City. "The system monitors patterns of movement. We can see, like migrating birds, where people are going to."

Still, the company is preemptively notifying customers by hanging small signs around the shopping centers. Consumers can opt out by turning off their phones.

Via http://money.cnn.com/2011/11/22/technology/malls_track_cell_phones_black_friday/

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20Apr/11

Police Search Cell Phones During Traffic Stops

ACLU seeks information on Michigan program that allows cops to download information from smart phones belonging to stopped motorists.

The Michigan State Police have a high-tech mobile forensics device that can be used to extract information from cell phones belonging to motorists stopped for minor traffic violations. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan last Wednesday demanded that state officials stop stonewalling freedom of information requests for information on the program.

ACLU learned that the police had acquired the cell phone scanning devices and in August 2008 filed an official request for records on the program, including logs of how the devices were used. The state police responded by saying they would provide the information only in return for a payment of $544,680. The ACLU found the charge outrageous.

"Law enforcement officers are known, on occasion, to encourage citizens to cooperate if they have nothing to hide," ACLU staff attorney Mark P. Fancher wrote. "No less should be expected of law enforcement, and the Michigan State Police should be willing to assuage concerns that these powerful extraction devices are being used illegally by honoring our requests for cooperation and disclosure."

A US Department of Justice test of the CelleBrite UFED used by Michigan police found the device could grab all of the photos and video off of an iPhone within one-and-a-half minutes. The device works with 3000 different phone models and can even defeat password protections.

"Complete extraction of existing, hidden, and deleted phone data, including call history, text messages, contacts, images, and geotags," a CelleBrite brochure explains regarding the device's capabilities. "The Physical Analyzer allows visualization of both existing and deleted locations on Google Earth. In addition, location information from GPS devices and image geotags can be mapped on Google Maps."

The ACLU is concerned that these powerful capabilities are being quietly used to bypass Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

"With certain exceptions that do not apply here, a search cannot occur without a warrant in which a judicial officer determines that there is probable cause to believe that the search will yield evidence of criminal activity," Fancher wrote. "A device that allows immediate, surreptitious intrusion into private data creates enormous risks that troopers will ignore these requirements to the detriment of the constitutional rights of persons whose cell phones are searched."

The national ACLU is currently suing the Department of Homeland Security for its policy of warrantless electronic searches of laptops and cell phones belonging to people entering the country who are not suspected of committing any crime.

Via http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/34/3458.asp

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9Feb/11

iConfess: Penance, There’s an App for That

I confess, though I consider myself a spiritual person, I'm not very religious. People born of a particular faith have all kinds of excuses for their lack of observance. But, usually, it just boils down to a matter of convenience. That's not my problem. I take my kids to religious school every week. I Facebook with a rabbi, a minister, a Jogye, a couple Hasidim, and members of an entire profession that most modern religions have determined to be Satan's disciples. I have plenty of opportunity, and ample reason, to pray and ask for forgiveness.

But, for those of you still searching for excuses, here's one less: If you happen to be Catholic, you no longer have to schlep your tuchas to the confessional. Now the "Jesus Phone" will bring the power of the confessional to the palm of your hand. What's more, this app not only received the coveted blessing of St. Jobs himself, but it even got the Pope's blessing for goodness sake. Which is impressive and shows great benevolence on the part of the church, considering that this app clearly duplicates existing ecclesiastical functionality.

I'm impressed that the Vatican is willing to embrace technology with open arms. Science, after all, is not their strong subject. The only question I have is, should one's iPhone become an item of evidence in a legal context, is it possible that this app will confess your sins to the police as well?

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6Feb/11

Verizon’s iPhone Commercials Are So Snarky, You’d Think They’ve Been Stuck on AT&T For the Last 4 Years


Once again, Verizon isn't pulling any punches. I caught this commercial during the SuperBowl. Though there are actual differences between the iPhones sold on At&T and Verizon networks -- some favoring Verizon, and at least one, that I know of, favoring AT&T -- Verizon has chosen to make it all about The Network.


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2Feb/11

Senators Deny Similarities Between Egypt’s Internet Blocking & USA’s “Kill Switch” Bill

Some have suggested that our legislation would empower the president to deny U.S. citizens access to the Internet. Nothing could be further from the truth.
-Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.)

In a statement issued this week, Senators' Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and  Tom Carper (D-Del.) said that their intent was to allow the president "to protect the U.S. from external cyber attacks," not to shut down the Internet.

Aside from the obvious civil liberties concerns, the problem I see is largely a mechanical one, and it demonstrates the Senators' lack of fundamental understanding when it comes to the world in which they legislate: By the time a cyber attack is apparent, it's no longer likely an "external" threat. The most effective attacks known today are distributed amongst a multitude of machines in various locations, making it impossible to protect citizens without shutting down the Internet -- if such a thing could even be accomplished in this country.

The U.S. network infrastructure is much more complex and diverse than that of Egypt. In part, that has to do with the shear differences in scale. But, perhaps surprisingly, it also has to do with the age of our network. Parts of our interconnected network go back five decades. Some interconnected networks predate the Internet itself. And these are interconnected with new infrastructure being added every day without the need for government knowledge or consent.

Most importantly, when the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was conceived, it was specifically designed to survive and reroute against an outage. That means, depending on the final draft, the law would likely be either ineffective, dangerous, or both.

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13Jan/11

Privacy Law’s Gone Ex Parte Like it’s 1986…or 1984

A byproduct of life in the 21st Century is that many of the perks of a post-centennial lifestyle require the abdication of a fair bit of privacy to cyberspace. That means that the paper records that once required a search warrant to read (and maybe the forceful extraction from your cold-dead-hands), are now in the possession of companies who don't. Of course there's Facebook and Twitter. Those didn't exist in the 20th. Century. But, what about your phone records and email? While your phone company has long been subject to a warrant or subpoena, in the 21st. Century new "self-service" tools have been developed to help telcos manage the onslaught of requests made particularly attractive by the fact that most of us carry what amounts to a homing-beacon in our pockets. Similarly, while email has always been an attractive source of discovery, until recently most of it resided on each correspondent's physical, and virtual, desktop waiting to get written-over by something more current. Today, it's more likely been put out to pasture in a seemingly-endless "server farm", waiting to be picked by a custodian of records.

Even our personal computers, which have always required a search warrant, and often require a cascading series of search warrants covering various regions of storage space and categories of searches, are rapidly being replaced by windows to the web -- sleek sheets of glass and sculpted-aluminum that act as a portal to your virtual existence. Like a supermodel, these tablets are thin and beautiful, but two-dimensional, with very little substance inside. What makes these devices a reality today is a combination of near-ubiquitous Internet connectivity and access to your personal online data once it's established. Even the notion of "backing up" is becoming a thing of the past, because the data you see, isn't really here. It's somewhere else, presumably safe from destruction, but not necessarily from dissemination. Like many things in life, it's a trade-off.

But, not when it comes to fighting crime. The shift of discovery from physical space to cyberspace is a decided advantage for law enforcement. In fact, Google reports that it responded to more than 4200 discovery requests in the first-half of 2010 alone. One of the reasons these requests have become so popular is that online data is easier seize than a laptop, and often much more useful. Much of what can be had requires no search warrant at all, and thanks to online tools, can be had without even so much as contacting the service provider. Why? Because, unlike the data on your hard drive, you don't necessarily own your data when it's stored in cyberspace.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act was enacted by Congress in 1986 -- long before most people had access to the Internet, email, or a cellphone. When Mark Zuckerberg's only friends were his stuffed animals. Mind you, it was revolutionary for it's time -- enacted to extend government restrictions on wire taps from telephone calls to also include transmissions of electronic data by computer. But, it doesn't address current evolution. Today, far more can be gleaned from a historical records search than any telephone wiretap. Perhaps that's why last year the Department of Justice argued in favor of warantless email searches. Or why in the same year the DOJ argued that cellphone users had abdicated any expectation of privacy by using a service that stores location data.

Read more at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/technology/10privacy.html?_r=2&pagewanted=2&ref=technology

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