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4Feb/11

POLL: Do You Think An Internet “Kill Switch” Is An Effective Way To Protect National Security?

In the aftermath of Egypt and Tunisia's government-imposed Internet shut-downs, there has been a lot of talk this week about the U.S. Senate's Internet "Kill Switch" bill. No one argues that our networks are vulnerable to attack. Senators say they have committed to this power only to protect against "external cyber attacks". This raises several questions and deserves serious debate:

  • In a global network, is there really a distinction between internal and external threats?
  • Under what circumstances would the President use this power, and with what oversight?
  • Could the financial damage of isolating U.S. commerce from foreign customers outweigh the potential damage from attack?
  • Does the risk of an "Egyptian-style" shut-down really exist in Western Democracies, and if it does, is it a fair trade-off for national security?

That leads to today's poll question:

Do you think an Internet "Kill Switch" is an effective way to protect National Security?

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Of course, there are few perfect Yes/No answers in this world. Please feel free to share your comments below, and we encourage you to use the "Like" and "Share" buttons to elicit more opinions from others.

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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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2Feb/11

The Flip-side of Mandatory Data Retention: Flickr Accidentally Deletes 4,000 Photos – Can’t Get Them Back

Zurich-based photoblogger Mirco Wilhelm says Flickr deleted his paid ("Pro") account by mistake and lost 4,000 of his photos. Flickr confirmed that Wilheilm's account was mistakenly deleted after he reported that another user was stealing his photos.

According to an email from the company:

Unfortunately, I have mixed up the accounts and accidentally deleted yours.

Given all the recent discussion regarding government-mandated data retention for investigative purposes, this event certainly emphasizes what can happen when there is no data retention policy in place. Unlike many popular online services, who typically disable accounts before deleting them (if they are ever deleted at all), Flickr apparently sends closed accounts directly to the incinerator.

Read more at http://www.observer.com/2011/tech/flickr-accidentally-deletes-users-4000-photos-and-cant-get-them-back

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1Feb/11

Internet Explorer Flaw Could Disclose Passwords

Via MSNBC:

A recently discovered flaw in Internet Explorer could allow criminals to collect passwords and banking information. Microsoft is warning Windows users to be aware of the problem, with a manual work-around available, but there is no downloadable software fix available yet. So far, Microsoft says it “has not seen any indications of active exploitation of the vulnerability.”

Read the article: http://technolog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/02/01/5967710-ie-flaw-could-mean-access-to-passwords

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27Jan/11

Mixed Messages: US Govt. Tells Companies to Collect User Data, But Not To Use It

Last month the US Federal Trade Commission testified before Congress in order to establish "Do Not Track" legislation, challenging companies to either self-regulate, or face potentially stiff laws prohibiting the tracking of Internet users. This week the US Department of Justice testified before congress to establish regulations requiring data retention for the purposes of investigation and prosecution.

"Data retention is fundamental to the department's work in investigating and prosecuting almost every type of crime," US deputy assistant attorney general Jason Weinstein told a congressional subcommittee on Tuesday. "In some ways, the problem of investigations being stymied by a lack of data retention is growing worse." Weinstein acknowledged that greater data retention requirements raise legitimate privacy concerns but "any privacy concerns about data retention should be balanced against the needs of law enforcement to keep the public safe."

Emphasizing the vast disparity between the testimony of  these two Federal organizations is the following statement from the FTC's own prepared statement to Congress expressing a principal of "reasonable security and limited retention for consumer data" among companies collecting sensitive data.

"A key to protecting privacy is to minimize the amount of data collected and held by ISPs and online companies in the first place," according to John Morris, general counsel at the non-profit Center for Democracy & Technology. "Mandatory data retention laws would require companies to maintain large databases of subscribers' personal information, which would be vulnerable to hackers, accidental disclosure, and government or other third party access."

The DOJ's request would require "an entire industry to retain billions of discrete electronic records due to the possibility that a tiny percentage of them might contain evidence related to a crime," says Kate Dean, executive director of the Internet Service Provider Association. "We think that it is important to weigh that potential value against the impact on the millions of innocent Internet users' privacy."

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27Jan/11

Unlike: Facebook’s Plan To Turn YOU Into A Spokesperson

The funny thing about world-domination is that even when you achieve it, you still have to finance it. Maybe that's why Facebook keeps coming up with crazy money-making schemes.

Last week it was disclosing users' addresses and phone numbers to third-parties. The latest puts you in the role of company spokesperson by turning your "likes" and "checkins" into sponsored ads on your friend's pages--without your consent. Currently there is no way for users to disable this "feature".

Read more at http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110126/ap_on_hi_te/us_tec_facebook_ads

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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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11Jan/11

Winona Ryder Fears Accidentally Opting-Into Al Queda

Careful What You Click F

Actress Winona Ryder doesn't use the Internet. She just got her first smartphone, but finds it unpredictable. She had a laptop, but rarely used it.

She's fearful of technology. And that just might make her smarter than you.

As evidenced in her "Late Night" interview with Jimmy Fallon, these days, such concerns are the fodder for comedians. It's the current equivalent of being afraid to drive or swim. In the late 20th. Century, it might have been a fear of handing one's money over to an ATM machine. Or more recently, making a purchase online. But, well over 30,000 people died in car accidents in 2009. Another 24,000 were injured. In a similar period, more that 3000 people died from drowning. Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. Not if it keeps you safe.

Most of us either fear what we don't know, or fear what we do. There's also a whole complicated subset of irrational, or misguided fears that really fall into the first category. According to her own interview, Ryder falls into the former classification.

Ryder told Fallon, "We're a button away from joining Al Queda!"

How many times have you accidentally opted yourself into joining a mailing list because you forgot to un-approve your pre-approved consent? What about that time when you accidentally installed a bunch of "trial-ware" that came along with a program you legitimately wanted to use. Somewhere, before or after the end-user-license agreement you didn't read, it may have been an option. In the 90's one of my attorney-client's accidentally sold a good investment when he was dabbling with online day trading. I have met people who accidentally purchased cars on eBay. Meanwhile, I promise (though I don't recommend confirming it) that many forms of contraband are just a few clicks, or even a typo, away from where you sit this very moment. Last Summer I gave National Public Radio (NPR) a glimpse into just how easy it can be. Even if you bleed apple pie filling, you're still just a click away from looking like someone else.

I haven't tried it myself, but I'll bet joining Al Queda requires, at least, the completion of an annoying CAPTCHA in order to submit a membership application.  While I'm sure Ryder has no interest in joining, just the accusation, or even a rumor, that she ever supported a terrorist organization, or had some other frighting interest, could be just as detrimental. Remember Christine O'Donnell, the Republican Party's most famous witch? In some parts of the country that's harder to understand than extremism.

Ryder: "We're a button away from joining Al Queda."

Remember, Ryder works in the industry that was most famously asked, "Are you, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?"

Maybe -- even if unwittingly -- she's on to something. Maybe we'd have several thousand fewer vehicular deaths every year if more drivers understood the engineering that goes into the highway, or a car, it's tires, or even just its brakes and safety systems. Sure, it might scare a few people out of driving altogether. But it might make the rest think a little harder before they accelerated into a turn, or tried to beat a red light across a wet intersection. Maybe, if more people really understood the Internet better before hopping on the "Information Superhighway", law enforcement might have fewer accidents to investigate.

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10Jan/11

Filed Under “Things You Thought You Could Take for Granted”: Court Holds there is a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in the Contents of Emails

Show of hands: How many people have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you send an email? It turns out, as late as December 2010, you may have had no reasonable expectation of privacy when it came to your email correspondence -- at least that was the opinion of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). And, between your Internet Service Provider's (ISP) Terms of Service (TOS), and the 1986 Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. §§ 2701-2712), you may not have under various circumstances.

M. Scott Koller, of McKennon | Schindler in Newport Beach, CA has written a very comprehensive overview of the decision, why it was ever in doubt, and the 1986 act that got us here in the first place.

Read more at http://www.reasonableexpectation.com/2011/01/09/stored-email-protected-by-the-4th-amendment/

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10Jan/11

McAfee Predicts Mobile Devices May Be Corporate America’s Real Trojan Horse

If security firm McAfee is right, 2011 may be the tablet computer takes over corporate America. Or more specifically, the year the tablet takes over corporate networks. McAfee predicts that the onslaught of consumer-owned and lent smartphone and tablet devices entering and exiting the office space may pose a new unanticipated threat to corporate security. Their concern is that, not only is the consumer largely ill-prepared to secure devices that may amount to a hole in the Trojan wall big enough to drive a wooden horse into, but that the lack of comprehensive security tools designed around the likes of iPhones, iPads and Android devices, leaves them ill-equipped, even if they were prepared. Potentially, this could mean that personal gadgetry may become the host du jour for new infectious computer viruses, malware, and most alarmingly, remote access to the network the form of "Trojan horses".

While McAfee, one of the world's largest anti-virus software manufacturers, is understandably concerned about the interconnection of consumer-maintained -- and largely unsecured -- devices to more secure corporate networks, I think they may be missing an even bigger threat. While for years USB "thumb drives" have been cheap and affordable, and available in sizes small enough to swallow, they still required the physical removal of data from the premises. This meant exhaustively copying and then walking data out of the building. (See "sneakernet".) And, while every year these storage devices hold more and more data, so does the average corporate server. It's unlikely that portable media will ever quite catchup.

On the other hand, the prevalence of high-powered personal computing devices (yes, I'm talking about your average smartphone) connected to the corporate network allows, not only for the immediate transmission of data off-the-premises, but potentially even the cheapest, least sophisticated, pre-paid Android phone, left "cradled" overnight to a desktop computer, (the same cradle used to charge the battery, and synchronize contacts and calendar events,) could allow for unrestricted unauthorized remote network access over a hard-to-trace personal cellular data connection. Not only is this possible today, but it doesn't require a sophisticated computer virus to accomplish.

Read more at http://www.technewsworld.com/story/71541.html

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