Dec 8 – 15

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This week’s headline story: President’s Task Force Poised to Take On NSA

obamaLast August, President Obama promised that a task force would review the NSA’s Internet and telephone spying practices. The task force recommendations report was submitted to the White House yesterday, but the White House hasn’t yet decided when it will make it public. According to people familiar with the recommendations, the task force is calling for a change in leadership for the NSA, from military to civilian. The group also recommends that the collection and storage of phone records be managed by the phone companies rather than the government. Stricter limitations are advised regarding how the NSA gathers and holds the electronic information of Americans.

The White House has said it will consider the panel’s recommendations in its own review of surveillance programs and policies, which is planned for completion by the end of the month.

and elsewhere in Tech News.

  • NSA Chief on Spying: There’s No Other Way [NewsFactor]
    Despite privacy concerns, NSA chief Keith Alexander warned that global threats are growing, and the only way the NSA has to “connect the dots” is through its surveillance programs. Alexander took pains to underscore that the NSA is not listening in on Americans’ phone calls or reading their Internet messages without court approval.
  • Most Internet Traffic Isn’t Actually Coming from Humans [NewsFactor]
    You already know that there is a whole lot of bits traveling over the the Internet backbone. We’ve heard that video downloads account for a majority of bandwidth usage. A new study by research firm Incapsula has discovered that most Internet traffic isn’t actually generated by humans. It turns out that now BOTS are more active on the Internet than humans. The study found that Internet traffic generated by bots is up 21 percent compared with last year. That puts bots ahead of humans 61 percent to 39 percent. A significant proportion of the bot-generated Internet traffic comes from search engines. However 24 percent of bot traffic has malicious intent. On the bright side, the good kind of bot traffic is growing, while malicious bot traffic has lessened slightly over the past couple years.
  • Court Case Could Mean ‘Death’ of Software Patents [NewsFactor]
    The Supreme Court has decided to hear an appeal from electronic marketplace Alice Corp., in its attempt to patent its computer-implemented escrow systems, software, and methods. While the Supreme Court has already ruled that abstract ideas, natural phenomena and laws of nature cannot be patented it has refused so far to decide whether software, online-shopping techniques and medical diagnostic tests fit into that realm. This case may decide the point for software. If the Supreme Court upholds the ruling it could invalidate many existing software patents or at least make them more difficult to defend in lawsuits.

and in Information Security news this week..

  • Identity Theft Crimes on the Rise in U.S. [NewsFactor]
    Identity theft crimes are on the rise in the U.S.. So says the results of a national household survey of 70,000 people issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The findings indicate that 1 out of every 14 Americans age 16 or older was a target or a victim of identity theft.

and in Tech Industry news…

  • Are the New AT&T Plans Better for You? [NewsFactor]
    AT&T has followed TMobile’s lead by offering discounted cellular plans for individuals who do not wish to purchase a new phone at a discounted price. The new plans called AT&T Mobile Share Value Plans, require no annual service contract, and offer a monthly savings of at least $15.
  • Google Adds to Its Menagerie of Robots [NYTimes]
    Why Is Google Buying So Many Robot Startups? [MIT Tech Review]
    Google has just added one of the biggest robotics companies to its menagerie. The company confirmed Friday that it has completed the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, an engineering company that has designed mobile research robots for the Pentagon. The company, based in Waltham, Mass., has gained an international reputation for machines that walk with an uncanny sense of balance and can run faster than the fastest humans. Boston Dynamics makes the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired. There are many conjectures about what Google is planning to do with its robot army, one analyst makes an astute observation. MIT reporter Will Knight speculates that Google is mostly interested in the information robots will collect about human behavior. In a recent article, Knight wrote that “…bots could have a huge impact both at work and at home. Whoever provides the software that controls and manages these robots not only stands to make a fortune by selling that software; they will have access to a vast new repository of data about how we live and work.”

and finally…

  • Week-long ‘Hour of Code’ campaign lures millions of U.S. students to computer coding [Washington Post]
    Millions of students from kindergarten through 12th grade celebrated Computer Science Education week by taking part in the “Hour of Code,” a nationwide campaign to raise interest in computer science. The campaign featured free tutorials by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft titan Bill Gates that are designed to get U.S. students interested in computer science. “Don’t just buy a new video game — make one,” President Obama urges in a video he recorded on behalf of the campaign. “Don’t just download the latest app — help design it. Don’t just play on your phone — program. No one’s born a computer scientist, but with a little hard work — and some math and science — just about anyone can become one.” By the end of last week, one out of every six U.S. students had written computer code as a result of the campaign.

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