April 6 – 13, 2013

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This week’s headline story: Bitcoin – A Wild, Unregulated Digital Currency

bitcoin-600x400A new kind of currency gained national attention this week when it was discovered that the Winklevoss twins, who you may remember as the Olympic rowers who claim to be the legal owners of Facebook, own around $11 million of the stuff. Bitcoin is a digital currency that is not managed by any government or central authority. It was created by a group of hackers in 2009 and is managed by a system of servers called bitcoin miners that track bitcoin transactions, and produce and sell 25 new bitcoins every 10 minutes. Yes, people pay real cash for bitcoins. One bitcoin goes for around $120. They are likely to go up in value in 2017, when bitcoin miners are programed to reduce production by 50 percent.

Because they are unregulated, bitcoins provide individuals with the ability to perform all kinds of transactions “off the books.” As many as 70,000 bitcoin transactions can occur in any given day. As you might guess, a good percentage of those transactions are for illegal goods or gains. However, bitcoin advocates are quick to point out that many, many perfectly legal transactions occur in bitcoin every day. The Winklevos twins and others like them believe that bitcoins represent the first true global currency. Other financial analysts call bitcoins a Ponzi scheme and a bubble waiting to burst leaving investors broke. Serious investors are beginning to invest in bitcoins on the chance that the currency might just take off and make a fortune for early investors.

and elsewhere in Tech News.

  • New technologies from AT&T and Japan’s NTT dramatically increase the distance that data can travel through long distance fiber-optic connections. The new breakthrough will help telecom companies cope with the anticipated surge in data use—projected at 30 to 40 percent a year, by increasing the throughput of undersea fiber optic cables.
    AT&T Researchers Set a Long-Haul Data Record [Tech Review]
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley leaders have teamed up to form a political-focused group named Fwd.us (pronounced “forward us”). Forward Us is committed to reform U.S. immigration policy so that talented, skilled immigrants are provided a path to citizenship. It also calls for higher standards and accountability in schools and increased focus on learning about science, technology, engineering and math. The end goal is to address the shortage of science, technology and engineering professionals in the U.S. to allow the country to advance economically.
    Facebook CEO Zuckerberg Gets Political [NewsFactor]
  • An online survey of around 3,000 respondents by VitalSmarts found that 78 percent of users believe online incivility is rising, and 2 in 5 users have blocked, unsubscribed or unfriended someone over an argument conducted via social media.The firm recommends keeping an eye on the use of offensive words, pausing to keep emotions in check, pointing out areas of agreement before noting the disagreements, and taking emotional conversations offline.
    Rising Rudeness in Social Media, Study Finds [NewsFactor]
  • Verizon and other wireless carriers have altered their privacy policies to begin selling member location data anonymously. The huge data sets show where people live, work, and play and should yield some valuable information for businesses, city planners, health professionals, and others. The move also provides carriers with a new sources of revenue.
    How Wireless Carriers Are Monetizing Your Movements [TechnologyReview]

and in Information Security news this week…

  • The latest security patch from Microsoft has caused some Windows 7 PCs to crash and not recover. “We’ve determined that the update, when paired with certain third-party software , can cause system errors,” said Dustin Childs, group manager of Response Communications for Microsoft Trustworthy Computing. Microsoft advises that Windows 7 users uninstall the update to revert to the pre-patch state.
    Windows Security Patch Killing Some PCs [NewsFactor]

and in Tech Industry news…

  • The PC market is down 13.9 percent compared with the year-ago, the steepest decline ever in a single quarter. Some analysts are blaming the decline on Microsoft’s new Windows 8 which some say not only failed to stimulate the market, but actually may have effectively killed it.
    Did Win 8 Kill the PC Market? Worst Quarterly Drop Ever [NewsFactor]
  • Google Glass is coming! The head-mounted computer will be released within a month and will cost $1500.
    Google Glass Shipping Within a Month — for $1,500 [NewsFactor]
  • Facebook has begun charging its users to send messages to individuals outside their friends list. It now costs $1 per message to send a message to a non-friend’s inbox. In the UK Facebook charges $15 per message to message celebrities. The new policy is intended to reduce spam, while making Facebook some money.
    Spam Attack? Facebook’s $1 Message Charge Expands [NewsFactor]
  • LinkedIn, the social network for professionals, has purchased mobile newsreader app Pulse. The acquisition indicates LinkedIn’s aspirations to become the go-to resource for industry-specific news on mobile devices.
    LinkedIn’s Mobile Strategy Gets a Pulse [Ecommerce Times]

and finally….

  • Google has created new policies that allows its members to decide what happens to their data when they die. Google members can choose whether to delete their data after three, six, nine or 12 months of account inactivity. Alternatively, users can designate a digital next-of-kin to receive their data. The new policies provide users with privacy after death, and also address the immense amount of data that is accumulating online.
    How Long To Let a Digital Life Linger? Google Lets You Pick [NewsFactor]

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Hand Over Your Facebook Password, Please!

Most of us know that employers check social networks as part of their background check for prospective employees. The Associated press is reporting that some government agencies and companies are now asking for Facebook usernames and passwords as part of the job interview process so they can check the applicants private profile page. Facebook is fighting against the practice by threatening to sue the companies involved for violating member privacy. The ACLU is fighting the practice as well and calling it an invasion of privacy.

The concern over employers asking job seekers for Facebook login credentials has grown this past week. Senators Richard Blumenthala and Charles Schumer called for a federal investigation into the new hiring practice. Numerous employers in New York City, Seattle, Washington, and elsewhere across the nation have begun demanding that job applicants turn over their Facebook and e-mail user names and passwords. With 8 percent unemployment, Blumenthal and Schumer say that such requests amount to a form of coercion “that could set a dangerous precedent.” “In an age where more and more of our personal information — and our private social interactions — are online, it is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public,” Schumer said in a statement released Monday. “This is especially important during the job-seeking process, when all the power is on one side of the fence.” According to Blumenthal, a ban on such hiring practices is necessary to stop unreasonable and unacceptable invasions of privacy. “With few exceptions, employers do not have the need or the right to demand access to applicants’ private, password-protected information,” he said.

Want a Job? What’s Your Facebook Logon? [NewsFactor]
Senators Call for Probe Into Coercion of Facebook Logins [NewsFactor]

SOPA and PIPA Shelved

Two bills making their way through the House and Senate, intending to clamp down on Internet piracy, have run into a brick wall. PIPA (PROTECT Intellectual Property Act) is a bill in the Senate and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is in the House. Both originally intended to require Internet service providers, search engines, and online financial services to block Web sites that are suspected of distributing copyrighted material. Some feel that the bills represented the first major step towards government censorship of the Web.

Internet companies including Google, Microsoft, Wikipedia, Facebook, and many others have spoken out against the legislation, which is being driven by lobbyists from the Motion Picture Association, Recording Industry Association of America, and other IP owners. The tech companies fear that the legislation would alter the way that the Internet works, put Internet companies out of business, infringe on Internet freedom, and stifle innovation. Companies and legislators backing the bills believe that something must be done to reduce online piracy, which they say is responsible for eating away at media companies’ profits.

Last weekend, President Obama sided with the tech companies saying that the legislation should be shelved until it can address concerns over negative impact on the Internet. Over the course of the week many businesses, organizations, and individuals climbed on the anti-SOPA band wagon, which culminated in a Web blackout on Wednesday. Wikipedia, Reddit, WordPress, and hundreds of smaller sites went black Wednesday, replacing their Websites with anti-SOPA rhetoric. By Thursday morning, the pressure became too much and the sponsors of the bills announced a surrender of sorts. With elections around the corner, bill supporters feared that this hot-potato item might ruin their chances for re-election. Once elections are over, it is likely that the two bills return in one form or another.

2011 in Retrospect

Goodbye Steve

Perhaps the story that garnered the most attention this year was the death of Apple founder and visionary Steve Jobs who succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. Jobs transformed industries and lives be developing products like iTunes, iPods, iPhones, and iPads. For the past decade, the public has grown to expect yearly life-changing product announcements from Apple. This year, Jobs and Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S with Siri – digital assistant technology that promises to transform the way people interact with computers. This year Apple also launched iCloud, a system for storing music and data in the cloud for easy access from any Internet-connected computer.

2011 in the Cloud

History may look back on 2011 as “the year of cloud computing.” Apple wasn’t alone in developing cloud services. Just about every major tech company rolled out new cloud services this year. Amazon and Google, which have both been active in cloud computing for years, rolled out public cloud services for music to compete with Apple. Microsoft launched Office 365, a cloud-based version of Microsoft Office to compete with Google Docs. Businesses of all types and sizes are adopting both public and private cloud services for all types of business applications and services. This year has seen the start of a massive migration of data from private computers and servers to cloud servers to be accessed via the Internet.

Hackers

2011 also goes down in history for its huge amount of hacker activity. Daily targeted attacks increased four hundred percent over 2011. Nearly every form of networked device is at risk: computers, cars, smart phones, and even printers. Several major network and database breaches made the news this year. Perhaps the largest was Sony’s PlayStation network which was out of commission for over a month. More serious was the attack on security firm RSA, where security tokens for hundreds of companies were stolen leaving those companies vulnerable to attack. Many other companies and organizations were hacked in 2011. The Privacy Clearinghouse has tracked a total of 535 breaches in the U.S. involving 30.4 million sensitive records over the course of the year. In 2011 we also learned that some news organizations, such as one belonging to Richard Murdock, have a habit of hacking cell phones to gain juicy tidbits of news. News companies have also been the target of hackers as both Fox News and NPR were hacked and had bogus news stories posted on their Twitter feeds and Web sites. The past year saw the birth of a dangerous virus named stuxnet, that attacks industrial systems. We have also witnessed the rise of hactivist groups such as Anonymous, LulzSec, and AntiSec. These groups claimed responsibility for breaking into the networks belonging to hundreds of businesses, law enforcement agencies, and government agencies, including the FBI and U.S. defense contractors, and releasing confidential data for what they consider to be a righteous cause. Dozens of young hackers have been jailed for their participation in these hacker collectives.

Cyber Attacks

2011 has also seen a huge increase in state-sponsored cyber attacks including attacks on government agencies, U.S. defense contractors, and banks, not to mention one drone aircraft. U.S. intelligence agencies accuse China and Russia for many of the cyber attacks. The pentagon has designated cyberspace as an “operational domain” and threatens a military response to cyber attacks. The White house passed a new cyber security plan to help protect the nations critical infrastructure. But, it’s not just the U.S. that is concerned, every country on the Internet is dealing with cyber attacks and working to bolster their defenses. At the global Web Summit, nations deliberated over a cyber-nonproliferation pact to assist in curbing cyber-attacks between countries.

Social and Political Change

In 2011 the Internet and social media served as powerful tools for social and political change. Protest organizers in Egypt utilized Facebook, Twitter, and other online tools to gather public discontent into demonstrations that eventually ousted then-President Mubarik. The revolution fever spread through Internet channels to Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Jordon, Kuwait, Moroco, and Oman where citizens took to the streets to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with their governments in what has become known as the Arab Spring. The Web is being used to coordinate protests across the U.S., and around the world. stemming from the Occupy Wall Street movement, to express discontent with economic management by banks and governments. In the UK, the Web was used to orchestrate violent demonstrations featuring beatings, arson and burglaries across many cities including Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol.

Censorship

As the Internet and Web empowers citizens to organize and express themselves, governments this year, are debating an Internet “kill switch” that would allow them to shut down the Internet in circumstances of public unrest. Egypt, and other Arab countries have implemented such actions during demonstrations, but still the demonstrators found ways around the Internet black-out to communicate their plight to the rest of the world. In other censorship news, U.S. lawmakers deliberate over the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) which would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders requiring Internet Service Providers, search engines, and online financial services to block websites that are accused of infringing copyright. Some feel the bill represents the first significant step towards U.S. government censorship of Web content.

Privacy and Transparency

Privacy and transparency were huge issues in 2011. Wikileaks released hundreds of thousands of leaked confidential government documents to the public. In reaction to the move, several online banks and financial services have blocked Wikileaks transactions, leaving Wikileaks financially strapped and struggling. Google and Facebook have both been scrutinized and criticized by European and U.S. governments for collecting private data about users and using it for marketing and ads. Both companies are under mandatory privacy audits in the U.S. for the next 20 years. The U.S. is considering regulations to curb Internet companies from tracking users online, while the industry has come up with its own “Do Not Track” option which no company seems to be implementing with any seriousness. Cell phone companies have also been the focus of government attention as it was discovered that many handsets regularly send private usage data to the cellular providers. Net neutrality also remains a hotly debated issue, as the FCC put new policies in place that require telecom companies and ISP’s to be more transparent about their network management practices and to provide equal treatment to all Internet applications.

Mobile Tech Industry

It was an active year for the tech industry with many shifts in power and influence. 2011 was the year of the tablet. While Apple’s iPad remains the market leader, dozens of Android tablets are now also competing in the market. High-end eBook readers like Amazon’s Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet incorporate LCD displays and offer added functionality to compete with tablet PCs at a lower price. The success of the Kindle, has contributed to the success of eBooks. Amazon reports that it now sells more ebooks than paper books. The cellular industry has seen major shifts as well. At the beginning of 2011, AT&T held an exclusive contract with Apple for the iPhone. Now Verizon and Sprint share that privilege. The iPhone remains the most popular smart phone, however, Android has become the most popular smartphone platform due to the many inexpensive Android handsets available. AT&T’s bid to buy TMobile was shut down by government regulators. Verizon and AT&T are buying up spectrum in competition to provide the best service to the most customers.

Entertainment Tech Industry

3D TV’s still haven’t really taken off like expected, but Microsoft’s Kinect and XBox game system have been a huge success in living room entertainment. The Kinect’s motion-driven game controller has transformed gaming into a physical activity. Dance games have become all the rage displacing the previously popular guitar playing games. Speaking of living room entertainment, Netflix grew huge in 2011 with Netflix users eating up as much as one third of all Internet traffic. Netflix blew it though, when it nearly doubled its fees, and lost hundreds of thousands of customers. In the mean time, Google, Microsoft, and Apple all have plans to take over TV and living room entertainment.

Winners and Losers

2011 has seen renewed investment in the tech industry allowing young companies like Groupon and Spotify to rapidly grow into major players. Meanwhile established companies work hard to stay relevant by using their talent and market position to control the direction of the industry. Google launched its social network Google+, providing the first serious competitor to Facebook. Google+ is growing rapidly, with 62 million current users. Some believe it will grow to 400 million in 2012 – still significantly shy of Facebook’s current 800 million users. Companies like Google, Amazon and Apple have been successful at ininnovating and staying relevant against fresh young talent, while Microsoft, Yahoo, and Blackberry have been less successful. 2012 will be a telling year for many of these companies.

2012 and Beyond

2011 has been a remarkable year for those of us that enjoy observing technology’s impact on people, cultures, societies, and the world. So what can we expect in 2012? Well it’s all conjecture, but I think it’s safe to assume that information security, privacy, net neutrality and government censorship will grow to become more demanding issues. The rapid rise in serious cyber attacks from numerous sources makes it seem likely that 2012 will feature prominent and perhaps catastrophic attacks on major online resources, and national infrastructure. There is likely to be a call-to-cyberarms as governments and populations recognize the extent of their online vulnerabilities. With the stressed state of the global economy and the upcoming national elections in the U.S., our online lifestyles are sure to become the focus of political expression from politicians, their supporters, and disgruntled citizens and groups. While there are a lot of indicators to fuel pessimism for 2012, there are also many indicators that support optimism. Technologies continue to evolve to provide better communication, more rapid problem solving, and more engaging forms of expression and entertainment. Without a doubt, 2012 will bring many new technologies with which we can improve our lives and our world. Technology does more than merely amplify the human condition; it provides opportunity and freedom of expression for populations that have been downtrodden and oppressed. It is the great equalizer. It provides opportunities to advance civilization and culture. It is likely that we will continue to see radical global change brought about with the help of technologies in 2012 and beyond. Managing this change in a positive direction will require strong and wise global leadership from political leaders, as well as from teachers and students like you.

Wikileaks Releases 251,000 Confidential Government Documents

Wikileaks is the target or widespread criticism for recently publishing its full collection of 251,000 uncensored classified U.S. government documents. The whistle-blowing website had previously released only a relatively small amount of the leaked documents with portions of the documents edited out in order to protect individuals. This week all of the documents were made public, with nothing edited out. The Fed strongly condemned Wikileaks for compromising national security, endangering sensitive global relations, and putting lives in danger. Several mainstream media corporations, including the New York Times, have broken ties with Wikileaks over what they call wikileaks’ unethical behavior. Wikileaks blames a German journalist for publishing the information needed to access the documents, while others suspect Wikileaks made the information easy to access in hopes of the documents being discovered and released.

The secrets that the documents contain, will no doubt make front page news over the next weeks, as pressure from governments to shut down Wikileaks and arrest Wikileaks founder Julian Assange intensifies.

Interestingly, the Wikileaks site was attacked and taken down for several hours shortly after the release of the documents.

Egypt Cuts Off Internet Access

Last week, demonstrations erupted across Egypt calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. Many of the demonstrations were organized through the use of Facebook and Twitter.. “This revolution will be called the revolution of the internet youth,” one member of a Facebook group calling for protests wrote. “We will take it all the way to the end.” Unrest in the country built over the period of days with Egyptian police using tear gas and water cannons in attempts to disperse the crowds. President Obama cautioned the Egyptian government to refrain from using violence against its citizens. Friday, the Egyptian government shut down most Internet and cell phone service in the country in hopes of inhibiting communication between organizers and between Egypt and the rest of the world. It is unprecedented for a modern country like Egypt, with 80 million citizens, to shut down the Internet. Doing so only enraged protestors further fueling the unrest. Meanwhile other countries have become concerned that the unrest in Egypt might spread to within their own borders. China is filtering out all news about Egypt from its Internet services. Opposition groups in Iran have begun using the Internet to plan their own demonstrations against President Mubarak. The situation illustrates the power of the Internet to aid democracies and empower oppressed groups. It also opens our eyes to the possibility of government control of communications networks in times of crisis.

The WikiLeaks Saga (Part 2)

Assange in the UK on his way to jail.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t give so much attention to one story. But, this story strikes me as a significant milestone in our evolving views on freedom of speech, transparency in government and business, and hacking culture. As this story continues to evolve it gets all the more interesting and significant.

So to recap: In recent weeks, the popular whistle blowing site WikiLeaks has posted hundreds of thousands of confidential government documents for the world to view. the US government and its allies have condemned the action and are considering ways to shut down Wikileaks and prosecute its founder Julian Assange. Assange has been in hiding for several years living a nomadic life around Europe fearing retaliation from companies and governments that have been exposed on his site. Several US companies with which Wikileaks has done business, including Amazon, PayPal, EveryDNS, Mastercard and Visa cut off service to WikiLeaks, some believe they were asked to do so by the U.S. Government. There have been Distributed Denial of Service attacks against the WikiLeaks Web site initiated from unknown sources. Wikileaks has been forced to relocate its servers in order to stay in business. Recently, charges of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion were brought against Assange in Sweden by two young Swedish ladies who had a relationship with Assange last Summer.

This week, Assange turned himself in to British law enforcement and now faces extradition to Sweden. Assange has threatened that many more private and damaging U.S. documents will be published on his site, if the U.S. presses charges against him. Many Assange supporters are protesting the actions against WikiLeaks and Assange. One group identifying itself as “Anonymous” has launched Distributed Denial of Service Attacks against the businesses and governments that have acted against WikiLeaks. The founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, John Perry Barlow, has called it “the first infowar.” He told his twitter followers that “The field of battle is WikiLeaks” and “You are the Troops.” The group “Anonymous” recently posted a change in its strategy. Rather than running DDOS attacks the group plans to study the leaked documents and broadcast important issues that they reveal in order to throw more fuel on the fire. Wikileaks now runs on hundreds of “mirror sites” and would be difficult if not impossible to shut down should anyone try. Meanwhile, attacks persist from other Assange groupies. Two hackers have been arrested in Sweden, while protests heat up around the world.

Meanwhile, some ex-WikiLeaks staff have announced that they plan to launch a rival to WikiLeaks. The new site to be called OpenLeaks will maintain an open and transparent approach, which they feel Assange has corrupted in the original WikiLeaks design. They believe Assange has hijacked WikiLeaks to promote his own political agenda. Some insight into that agenda can be found in Assange’s 1996 “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” that opened with the lines: “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.”

There is no telling where this battle of wills will lead. Stay tune for more next week.

The Noose Tightens Around WikiLeaks’ Neck

Wikileaks Director, Julian Assange

The U.S. Government, along with other governments around the world became enraged this week when WikiLeaks published 250,000 confidential diplomatic cables from the U.S. State Department on the Wikileaks Web site. WikiLeaks is a Web site that allows whistle-blowers to publish confidential documents designed to incriminate their employer. In this case the documents posted exposed the private conversations between diplomats unveiling secret plans, previously unknown alliances, and covert operations. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton condemned the release of the diplomatic cables, and stated that the US is taking aggressive steps to hold responsible those that stole the information, and to make sure nothing like this happens again.

The founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange is in hiding with a last-known location somewhere in the UK. Assange and his colleagues claim to be taking steps to protect themselves from death threats. Assange is also wanted in Sweden to face questioning over alleged sex crimes. It’s only natural to wonder if Assange wasn’t set up in an effort to discredit him. WikiLeaks.org came under heavy attack this week by denial-of-service attacks from multiple sources. In an effort to defend itself from the attacks WikiLeaks extended its number of servers provided by Amazon. Shortly thereafter, Amazon booted Wikileaks off its servers under pressure from the U.S. government. Later that day, the company EveryDNS expelled WikiLeaks from its service invalidating the Wikileaks.org domain. Wikileaks then obtained a new domain at wikileaks.ch utilizing servers in France. The French government is working to expel WikiLeaks from its country as well. Meanwhile PayPal has closed the WikiLeaks account set up to provide WikiLeaks with supporter donations.

Wikileaks maintains its philosophy that its service supports freedom of speech, and encourages more open and honest operations in government and business. With growing pressure against WikiLeaks from governments and businesses, it is unlikely that the company will be able to hold out much longer.