Wired | CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher
More and more personal and household devices are connecting to the internet, from your television to your car navigation systems to your light switches. CIA Director David Petraeus cannot wait to spy on you through them.
Earlier this month, Petraeus mused about the emergence of an “Internet of Things” — that is, wired devices — at a summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” Petraeus enthused, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.” All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you’re a “person of interest” to the spy community. Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the “smart home,” you’d be sending tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room’s ambiance.
“Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,” Petraeus said, “the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.” Petraeus allowed that these household spy devices “change our notions of secrecy” and prompt a rethink of “our notions of identity and secrecy.” All of which is true — if convenient for a CIA director.
The CIA has a lot of legal restrictions against spying on American citizens. But collecting ambient geolocation data from devices is a grayer area, especially after the 2008 carve-outs to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Hardware manufacturers, it turns out, store a trove of geolocation data; and some legislators have grown alarmed at how easy it is for the government to track you through your phone or PlayStation.
That’s not the only data exploit intriguing Petraeus.
He’s interested in creating new online identities for his undercover spies — and sweeping away the “digital footprints” of agents who suddenly need to vanish.
“Proud parents document the arrival and growth of their future CIA officer in all forms of social media that the world can access for decades to come,” Petraeus observed.
“Moreover, we have to figure out how to create the digital footprint for new identities for some officers.” It’s hard to argue with that. Online cache is not a spy’s friend. But Petraeus has an inadvertent pal in Facebook.
Why? With the arrival of Timeline, Facebook made it super-easy to backdate your online history. Barack Obama, for instance, hasn’t been on Facebook since his birth in 1961. Creating new identities for CIA non-official cover operatives has arguably never been easier. Thank Zuck, spies. Thank Zuck.
Last week I posted an article about an app being developed to help undocumented immigrants, specifically in Arizona, notify their family and attorney that they've been arrested. Lest this blog be judged neither fair nor balanced, here's an app for those in the other 49 states.
iWitness: A new iPhone app that looks to stop crime in its tracks
It’s happened to all of us. You’re walking alone and you get that creepy feeling that someone is watching or tracking your movements. You feel unsafe, and you’re not sure what to do, so you clutch your mobile phone.
Greg Heuss wants to turn that fear into a situation of empowerment with iWitness, an iPhone application that not only quickly notified 911 but records audio and video of the events taking place. The Seattle upstart, which plans to release the iPhone app in the next 30 days, has been flying under the radar for a bit now. But the company, which just landed $600,000 in seed capital, is starting to share more of what it’s up to.
Heuss shared the idea behind iWitness with GeekWire, noting that the application was built by early pioneers in the e-911 sector.
Here’s how it works.
“Any time the user feels endangered, the user simply touches the screen of their phone,” explains Heuss, who previously worked at PerfectMatch and EyeAlike. “At that point, the phone begins capturing video and audio of the scene … a steady light is emitted from the phone, and the user’s GPS coordinates are recorded. If a “threat” feels imminent, the user touches the screen again, triggering the following: 911 is called, an SMS/email notice is sent to six contacts previously authorized by the user, and a loud siren begins to sound.” The iWitness iPhone app costs $30 per year, with the company planning to work on an Android version and its own standalone device that could be provided to children or seniors who don’t own smartphones.
“The space is wide open, the team is assembled, and the technology is built,” says Heuss, adding that focus groups, including those with law enforcement agencies, have responded positively to the concept.
“No one out there is using video and audio in an app like this so we separate ourselves immediately there,” said Heuss, adding that they plan to market the application to women.
“It is tough for males to really understand the “fear” that exists out there with women. My wife, for example, calls me every night for those 30 seconds she is walking across the parking lot to her car from her office – just so people know she is talking to someone. Gals in our office actually dial 911 on their phone and walk to the bus stop with their finger on the call button until they safely get on the bus.”
The advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s BHH Labs launched a campaign at the film, music and interactive festival South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, that is raising ire among critics.
In what appears to be a case of poor judgment, BBH Labs kicked off a campaign called “Homeless Hotspots.” Yep. It is exactly what it sounds like—walking, talking homeless people who provide access to a 4G network in exchange for a donation (BHH Labs suggests $2 per 15 minutes).
The homeless people in question include Clarence from New Orleans, who lost his house to Hurricane Katrina, and Jeffrey from Pittsburgh who was treated for traumatic brain injury. Their short biographies are heart-wrenching, immediately evoking empathy for their situation.
The 13 men who have been chosen to participate in the program are roaming the streets of Austin in T-shirts that say “I am a 4G hotspot.” The campaign has drawn ire from some who claim it’s dehumanizing.
“The digital divide has never hit us over the head with a more blunt display of unselfconscious gall,” said ReadWriteWeb’s Jon Mitchell who also wonders why their T-shirts say “I am a hotspot.” Mitchell cited Content Magazine editor Erin Kissane’s tweet, “Last thought before sleeping: the difference between ‘I’m running a hotspot’ and ‘I am a hotspot’ is a difference that matters.” “We are not selling anything. There is no brand involved. There is no commercial benefit whatsoever,” BHH Labs responded to the criticism in a blog post. The problem is they are selling and branding something: their company. Not to mention, the company’s current project “Underheard in NY.” BHH Labs used that project to segue to the “Homeless Hotspots” campaign.
In a blog post on March 6, BHH Labs compared “Homeless Hotspots” with street newspapers, like San Francisco’s Street Sheet or New York City’s Street News. That analogy is troublesome because street newspapers serve to advocate the plight of homeless people by enabling them to work.
Typically, street newspapers are staffed by homeless people and report on topics that are relevant to their struggle. The newspapers are then distributed for free to the homeless, who can sell them on the streets in exchange for a donation. Using a human being as an Internet connection for a festival is not quite the same thing.
BHH Labs did admit their analogy was ill-conceived.
“The biggest criticism (which we agree with actually) is that Street Newspapers allow for content creation by the homeless (we encourage those to research this a bit more as it certainly does not work exactly as you would assume),” the BHH Labs said in a statement.
It’s not just the lack of meaningful content that is bothersome.
The “Homeless Hotspot” campaign turns these 13 men into a social experiment with apparently little merit.
“It was an honest attempt to help, but the chosen priorities left it with all model and no substance,” said Mitchell.
This post was originally published on CBSNews.com’s Tech Talk blog.
Aside from preparing the cases of the Megaupload defendants, a team of lawyers is working hard to grant the site’s users access to their personal data. The cyberlocker is working out a deal with the Department of Justice to allow users to download their personal files. Interestingly enough, Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom reveals that these users include many high-ranking US Government officials.
In the wake of the MegaUpload shutdown many of the site’s users complained that their personal files had been lost due to collateral damage.
From work-related data to personal photos, the raid disabled access to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of files that were clearly not infringing.
With most of the news coverage focusing on Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom and the racketeering, copyright infringement and money laundering charges, the fate of these users hasn’t received the attention it deserves.
By taking down Megaupload many of the site’s users were directly harmed. To resolve this matter Megaupload has been talking to the Department of Justice.
“Megaupload’s legal team is working hard to reunite our users with their data. We are negotiating with the Department of Justice to allow all Mega users to retrieve their data,” Kim Dotcom told TorrentFreak.
Over the past weeks Megaupload has been looking into the various options they have to grant users temporary access. Interestingly enough, this quest revealed that many accounts are held by US Government officials.
“Guess what – we found a large number of Mega accounts from US Government officials including the Department of Justice and the US Senate.” “I hope we will soon have permission to give them and the rest of our users access to their files,” Dotcom told us.
One of the affected Megaupload users.
Megaupload itself is not the only outfit concerned about the lost data of the site’s users. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) took up the issue as well and launched the MegaRetrieval campaign to make an inventory of disadvantaged users.
Thus far EFF hasn’t made a decision on how to move forward, which will in part depend on the outcome of the negotiations between Megaupload and the Department of Justice.
“EFF continues to identify more people who have lost access to legitimate personal files. Our goal is to help them get their files back as quickly and efficiently as possible,” EFF staff attorney Julie Samuels told TorrentFreak.
Megaupload users who’re missing vital data, including US Government officials, can contact the EFF at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aside from securing user data, EFF is extremely worried about the consequences the Megaupload case has on other file-hosting services.
“In general we are very concerned about the implications the ‘Mega conspiracy’ indictment has for the future of cloud computing and file-hosting services, and innovation more generally. It’s hard to imagine how the nature in which this went down won’t have a chilling effect going forward. We hope to come up with processes for future cases that will counteract that,” Samuels said.
It is expected that in the coming week more news will come out about an eventual resurrection of Megaupload, so users can download their personal files.
SAFFiR: the autonomous, firefighting humanoid robot
It took six years, but at long last, Anna Konda has a formidable firefighting partner. SAFFiR, also known as the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, is being shaped by scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory. As the story goes, it’s a humanoid robot that’s being engineered to “move autonomously throughout the ship, interact with people, and fight fires, handling many of the dangerous firefighting tasks that are normally performed by humans.” Outside of being stoic (and brawny)
from tip to tip, it’s also outfitted with multi-modal sensor technology for advanced navigation and a sensor suite that includes a camera, gas sensor, and stereo IR camera to enable it to see through smoke. We’re told that its internal batteries can keep it cranking for a solid half-hour, while being capable of manipulating fire suppressors and throwing propelled extinguishing agent technology (PEAT) grenades. Wilder still, it’ll be able to balance in “sea conditions,” making it perfect for killing flames while onboard a ship. Of course, it’s also being tweaked to work with a robotic team, giving it undercover powers to eventually turn the flames on the folks that created it. Paranoid? Maybe. But who are we to be too careful?
Microsoft has demonstrated new software that can pull together real-time multilingual vocal translations using your own voice.
Monolingual TTS currently handles 26 different languages, although it’s not instant just yet — it takes about an hour of training to get the experimental software acquainted with your own utterances.
Demonstrated at Microsoft’s TechFest 2012 showcase, the software can even mix up foreign language pronunciation of place names with directions in your native tongue. It also complements those efforts with a 3D image of your head, animating your lips along to the foreign words you’d otherwise butcher.
IBM’s Watson may have trounced former champion Ken Jennings in Jeopardy, but now it’s facing an even bigger challenge: proving that it can make money for its creators.
It’s well on the way. Last week, IBM said that it was working with Citi to “explore how the Watson technology could help improve and simplify the banking experience,” but for the past six months, Big Blue has also teamed up with health insurer WellPoint to turn Watson into a machine that can support the doctors of the world.
IBM isn’t saying too much about what Watson will be doing at Citi. The two companies plan to build “the first consumer banking applications” for the supercomputer. WellPoint is a bit more forthcoming. In December, the health insurer said that it was working with Cedars-Sinai Hospital’s Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute to help physicians treat cancer patients.
That kind of context is hard to get nowadays using internet sources. Last summer, when Gondek was exploring the idea of using Watson for medical diagnoses, he ran into a San Diego doctor at a health conference in California. “He said nowadays when he is dealing with patients, he spends the first 10 minutes talking to them about all the diagnoses they found by doing searches,” he says. “It’s just human nature. They will focus in on the most severe or life-threatening one. They will have a few mild systems and will decide that they have some horrible cancer. And so he has to talk them down.”
Gondek’s dream is that Watson could somehow help doctors and patients get a better context on their healthcare — and help financial service customers get the same kind of weighted context on their investments. “What if something like Watson could get you more involved with your health?”
Emergency Medicine Resident Physician Iltifat Husain believes that Watson could never replace a doctor, but he says that it could be turned into a useful medical triage system, where patients tell Watson their symptoms and it figures out whether they need to come into the hospital for treatment.
There’s a lot that Watson isn’t going to be able to do, no matter how hard it crams, says Husain, who works at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He’s taking about the very human act of getting a read on a patient: How does their voice change when describing symptoms? How do they sit? What do their eyes say? “One of the first things I learned about medicine once I actually started practicing as a physician was medical texts only provide you with 50 percent of the education you need,” he says. “The rest you learn on the job.”
WellPoint says its medical learning application is still a year away. In the meantime, Gondek and the IBM researchers are putting Watson through its own machine learning bootcamp.
“It’s a little like sending Watson to medical school. We don’t just push a button and instantly Watson can offer medical advice,” Gondek says. “We need experts to show us what’s important in the domain. We need experts to come up with test scenarios that Watson can learn from.”
Location-based apps are all the rage these days: "check in" services are becoming more and more popular, your photos can be easily geotagged, and that's not even to mention a little scandal Apple dealt with last year regarding exactly how much location information the iPhone stores. While this trend might not materially affect the average citizen, it can literally be a life-or-death situation for a certain segment of the population — the armed forces. The US Army has issued a statement warning the troops against using locations services on their mobile devices, noting that deployed service members need to be more aware of the world of social media and potentially security concerns surrounding the use of apps like Facebook and Foursquare. For example, the simple act of uploading a photo to Facebook (something most people do without even thinking about it) could tip off the location of an entire unit.
While this may sound obvious to those familiar with the intricacies of location services, the army already has at least one example of the danger of uploading sensitive photos to the internet. Back in 2007, soldiers took photos of a fleet of new helicopters that arrived at a base in Iraqi and posted them online — enemy forces were able to determine the exact location of the choppers and destroyed four of them in an attack. The Army isn't forcing its soldiers to avoid these services entirely, though it does recommend excersizing due caution, like not sharing location with anyone you don't know in real life and disabling the geotagging features on your smartphone. While geotagging features are certainly handy sometimes, they certainly aren't worth risking one's life over, especially if you're an active soldier in the armed forces.
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.
I would not believe this, had I not witnessed it with my own eyes. Of course, the caricatures have been changed to protect the confessed. In reality, no cartoon could do the actual characters justice. (Pardon the pun.) What it proves is that the right to remain silent is, perhaps, the greatest legal tool in the entire box.