Archives May 2015

Shhh… Everything Google – Key Announcements at the Google 2015 I/O Developer Conference

Note: The announcements start from 50:25 onwards.

And here’s a nice article from Quartz that sums up the key Google announcements:

Everything Google just announced at its I/O developer conference

Brace yourself.(Alice Truong/Quartz)

As anticipated, Google made a flurry of announcements during the two-and-a-half-hour keynote at its I/O developer conference. The company debuted the new capabilities of its next Android release, along with a photo-sharing app with unlimited storage; updates to its lo-fi virtual-reality headset made of cardboard; and much, much more.

Here’s a rundown of what was announced today:

Android M: Google didn’t reveal what the M actually stands for, but the next major release of Google’s mobile operating system will be packed with new goodies (many of which are broken out below). A feature called Chrome Custom Tab will let developers use Google’s browser within their apps, so they don’t have to build their own from scratch. M also will include more nuanced app permissions, with apps prompting users to grant or deny permissions when a feature launches, rather than at installation. (Users would be able to easily modify permissions after the fact as well.)

M’s hardware changes: Though some smartphone manufactures, such as Samsung, have already added fingerprint readers to their devices, Google is officially adding support for this in Android M. In addition, it will support USB type-C, the next-generation standard for charging and file transfer. When users plug in a USB type-C cable, they’ll be able to choose the type of connection, depending on whether they want to charge the device, use the device as a battery pack to charge another device, transfer files or photos, or connect to external devices such as keyboards.

Android Pay: Google didn’t talk about the fate of Google Wallet, but it did introduce Android Pay. Like Apple Pay, it’ll allow merchants to accept tap-to-pay transactions at the store, as well as purchases made on mobile apps. So far, about 7,000 merchants have agreed to accept Android Pay. People with Android M devices will be able to authorize payments with their fingerprints, similar to how Apple Pay works with Touch ID.

Power conservation: A new M feature called Doze will help mobile devices conserve battery life. When a device has been left unattended for an extended period, it’ll automatically enter a power-saving mode that will still allow alarms and important notifications to come through. With this feature, Google says, smartphone charges can last twice as long.

Google Photos: The company launched a new photo and video service with unlimited storage. The interface of makes it easy to scan through years of photos and can group photos of the same person over time (even back to birth, as indicated by the conference demo). The app also can be used to create collages, animations, and movies with soundtracks.

Android TV, Chromecast, and HBO Now: Playing catch-up to Apple, Google announced that HBO’s standalone streaming service, HBO Now, will head to Chromecast and Android devices. The company also revealed that it’s sold 17 million Chromecast devices, and that 20,000 apps have been built for its streaming dongle.

Android Auto: Android Now now has 35 car manufacturers on board, including GM, Hyundai, and Volkswagen. Just this week, Android Auto made its way to its first consumer car: the 2015 Hyundai Sonata.

Android Wear: Updates to Android Wear, the software used in Android smartwatches, include a low-power, always-on mode. This will let people keep useful information, such as directions, on their wrist without the display going dark. New wrist gestures will allow wearers to navigate the menus of a smartwatch so they don’t need to use both hands. And users will be able to add emoji to messages by drawing them on the watch face—the software would then detect and select the proper emoji.

Project Brillo and Weave: Based on Android, Project Brillo is Google’s underlying operating system for connected devices. Google also introduced Weave, a language that will allow internet-of-things devices to communicate with each other, with Nest products, and with smartphones.

A smarter Google Now: Google Now currently helps users plan their days, letting them know when to commute or pulling up boarding passes when they’re at the airport. But the company’s vision is to make it smarter and more actionable. The service is getting better at understanding context, so it can pull up information such as reviews or show times when a movie is referenced. In addition, with more than 100 partners on board for a pilot, it’ll be able to do things like hail an Uber or Lyft, reorder groceries from Instacart, and make restaurant reservations on OpenTable.

Faster loading and offline support: Good news for the next billion: Google has streamlined Search, Chrome, YouTube, and Maps so they work faster on slow internet connections. A more lightweight version of search on mobile is about 10 times smaller and loads 30% faster. Changes to Chrome, such as putting in placeholder images instead of loading actual ones, mean sites are about 80% smaller and use less memory. In some countries, offline access is available for Chrome, YouTube, and Maps.

Cardboard VR: Last year, Google showed off its lo-fi virtual reality headset, which can be constructed from cardboard. The headset has since been redesigned so it takes only three steps to construct and can fit phones with displays of up to 6 inches. The software developer kit will now support iOS as well as Android. Google also announced Expeditions, which will let students take field trips to far-flung parts of the globe using Cardboard.

Immersive 360-degree video: To create immersive video for virtual reality, Google previewed a new multi-camera array that can shoot videos in 360 degrees. Though the idea is to make this system, called Jump, available to anyone, Google also tapped GoPro to build and sell its own array with 16 Hero4 cameras.

Tools to test and increase exposure of apps: Cloud Test Lab, a result of Google’s acquisition last year of Appurify, will let developers easily test their apps on 20 Android devices. Universal App Campaigns will help them advertise their apps across AdMob, YouTube, and search ads in Google Play. Developers only have to set their ad budgets and specify how much they want to spend to add each new user. Google also will offer granular analytics for Google Play listings, so developers know if the photos they’ve chosen are attracting (or deterring) new users.

Shhh… The Internet of Things – Google's New Patent for a Creepy Wi-fi Connected Toy

Google snooping on your web browsing or email may now be the least of your worries.

Late last week, it became known that Google has filed its creepiest patents yet – for a toy that can control other Wi-fi connected devices. Well for starters, just imagine this: If that toy senses you’re looking at it, it will rotate its head and look back at you…

Shhh… USA Freedom Act Fails Again – Senators Reject Bill to Scrap NSA Bulk Collection

And check out the following Guardian article below:

USA Freedom Act fails as senators reject bill to scrap NSA bulk collection

Ben Jacobs and Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington and Spencer Ackerman in New York
Saturday 23 May 2015 05.46 BST

Bill fails for the second time after vote in the small hours of Saturday morning, but Rand Paul thwarts Republican leaders’ attempts to extend Patriot Act

For the second time in less than a year, US senators rejected a bill to abolish the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records.

By a vote of 57-42, the USA Freedom Act failed on Friday to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance in the Senate after hours of procedural manoeuvering lasted into the small hours Saturday morning.

The result left the Senate due to reconvene on May 31, just hours before a wellspring of broad NSA and FBI domestic spying powers will expire at midnight.

Architects of the USA Freedom Act had hoped that the expiration at the end of May of the Patriot Act authorities, known as Section 215, provided them sufficient leverage to undo the defeat of 2014 and push their bill over the line.

The bill was a compromise to limit the scope of government surveillance. It traded the end of NSA bulk surveillance for the retention through 2019 of Section 215, which permits the collection of “business records” outside normal warrant and subpoena channels – as well as a massive amount of US communications metadata, according to a justice department report.

Although the bill passed the House of Representatives by a massive 338-88 margin last week, it was unable to overcome concerns from Republicans about the process of letting telecom companies take responsibility about the collection data from the NSA.

Republican leadership was hoping for a short-term extension of the Patriot Act which would push debate into early June, once the Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess.

This was considered far more likely than a two-month extension of the legislation, which was considered a forlorn hope and failed by a 45-54 vote shortly after the USA Freedom Act failed to reach cloture on Saturday morning.

Nevada Republican Dean Heller, a co-sponsor of the bill, told reporters early on Friday: “We’re losing the ‘politics of going home’ argument with our conference.”

He added that proponents of a short term extension were able to argue that supporting the bill meant staying on Capitol Hill all week. “So how do you win that argument?” Heller said.

The answer was by making senators stay regardless of how they voted as Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, a virulent opponent of NSA surveillance, torpedoed any attempt to kick the can down the road.

On Saturday morning, after both cloture votes failed, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell asked for unanimous consent to extend the Patriot Act for a week. Paul objected. Objections were then heard from Paul, as well as from Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich on four-day, two-day and one-day extensions. Eventually McConnell gave up and announced that the Senate would adjourn until 31 May, the day before the key provisions of the Patriot Act expire.

The failure of the USA Freedom Act leaves the Senate in an impasse.

Republican whip John Cornyn, a strident supporter of extending the Patriot Act, divided the Senate into three groups on Friday.

As he put it, there are those who want a “straight extension, those who like USA Freedom and those who like nothing”.

Those who want a straight extension of the Patriot Act are in a distinct minority and supporters of the USA Freedom Act still cannot muster the necessary super majority to advance the bill. The result means those who are more than happy to simply let Section 215 expire on May 31 are in the driver’s seat.

When reporters asked Paul on Saturday morning whether he was concerned about the provisions of the Patriot Act expiring at the end of the month, the Kentucky Republican seemed unworried “We were liking the constitution for about 200 years and I think we could rely on the constitution.”

There still is some room for compromise. Arizona Republican John McCain, when asked if the USA Freedom Act was better than a lapse, said: “There are some programs that are affected by ‘Freedom USA’ that I would be very concerned about shutting down.” He added “but obviously anything is better than shutting down the whole operation.”

McCain also noted that “you can argue whether we should be doing the mega data thing but you can’t argue that it’s a good idea to shut down the whole thing.”

However, that shouldn’t be seen as any sort of endorsement of the NSA reform bill by hawks in Senate GOP caucus. Representative Tom Massie, a Kentucky Republican who came to the Senate floor to witness the vote Saturday morning, told reporters he was surprised at how strongly many of his fellow Republicans felt about the compromise reform bill. “They really don’t like the Freedom Act,” he said.

In the meantime, barring a breakthrough in the coming days, “the whole operation may be shutdown regardless” as the May 31 deadline looms closer.

Mitch McConnell may still be majority leader but for now, it’s Rand Paul’s Senate.

Shhh… Fraudulent Practices at Fake Cancer Charities

This is really sick…


Fake Cancer Charities Gave Sick Kids Expired Meds and Little Debbie Cakes

Michael Daly
Only in America05.19.159:39 PM ET

The family behind four so-called cancer charities enriched themselves on donations while giving junk food and bad drugs to sufferers, the feds say—but they’re not facing jail time.

If you think the worst of us are behind bars, consider what you can be accused of doing and not face so much as a minute in jail:

You and your family can run four cancer charities that raise $187 million on false pretenses in the name of kids with cancer and women with breast cancer and the terminally ill of all ages—but spend less than 3 percent of that money on cancer victims.

Meanwhile, you can pay yourself and your relatives big salaries and over-generous bonuses while using donated funds to pay for cars, Disney World trips, jet ski outings, luxury travel, and college tuitions.

And you can use company credit cards for personal expenses, including meals at Hooters, gas, car washes, cellphone apps and games, iTunes songs, and dating website subscriptions, as well as ticket to concerts, sporting events, and movies.

CancerFundUS2

“This is as about as bad as it can get: taking money away from cancer victims,” Jessica Rich, chief of the Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection, told reporters as her agency and the attorneys general of all 50 states brought a complaint against Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, the Breast Cancer Society, and the Children’s Cancer Fund of America.

To make matters even worse, one of the charities allegedly used some of what little it did spend on cancer victims to furnish sick kids with expired antibiotics that are in fact contraindicated for children.

Another of the charities provided breast cancer victims with drugs that, in the words of a federal complaint, “are not typically used for the treatment of breast cancer and, in some instances, are not recommended for use by persons who have had cancer.”

“Some have even been associated with an increased risk of cancer,” notes the complaint filed this week by the Federal Trade Commission.

The charities are said to have passed along as “direct patient aid” such donated items as adult diapers, sample-size toiletries, and Little Debbie snack cakes.

“They make people happy,” James Reynolds Sr., patriarch of the extended Tennessee family that runs the four charities, is quoted as saying by the complaint.

Reynolds then switched to Moon Pies.

“They make you happier,” Reynolds supposedly said.

And, even though the clan managed to get the Little Debbie snack cakes, the Moon Pies, the adult diapers, and the rest for next to nothing, the charities are said to have claimed the retail amount in financial filings. The idea, apparently, was to make it look like they devoted more of the donations to cancer patients than what little they did.

All the while, the charities are said to have raised ever more money with false and misleading claims, passing themselves off as being “on the forefront for the fight against cancer” and “on the forefront of actually helping needy children with cancer.”

In an alleged effort to squeeze more money out of unsuspecting donors, the charities scripted such telemarketing pitches as, “I understand [your hesitation to give]; however, we never want to have to tell a family that is stretching their finances to the breaking point that, ‘We’re sorry, but the CANCER FUND has fallen short of its fundraising goal, so we won’t be able to provide you with a wig for your child to cover the hair loss due to chemotherapy.’”

Never mind that these charities did not have a program to provide wigs to sick children.

The charities also claimed: “We help cancer patients anywhere in the United States. Men, women, and children with over 240 types of cancer.”

And although they seem not to provide hospice care of any kind, they still claimed: “We also do the hospice care for the terminally ill…We’re the ones that do the hospice care for the cancer patients afflicted with cancer from infants to adults…One hundred percent of our proceeds go to hospice care.”

The complaint notes that in fact “100% of the donations do not go to hospice care.”

On top of all this, the companies allegedly claimed millions of dollars in tax deductions for items delivered to cancer patients—even though the charities purchased nothing but rather served only as a conduit, if the goods existed at all.

And James Reynolds Sr. awarded plum jobs not only to his son, wife, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law, but also to his ex-wife, his stepson, and even a step-nephew.

One of the supposed charities, the Breast Cancer Society, was run by Reynolds’s son, James Jr.; the Children’s Cancer Fund of America was run by Reynolds’s ex-wife, Rose Perkins. Both have agreed not to contest the complaint and to shut those two charities down.

Under the deal they cut with the feds, the son officially faces a judgment of $65 million, but that will be suspended after he pays just $75,000. Perkins is hit with a $30 million judgment, but that will be suspended without her paying a penny due to her supposed lack of funds.

In the meantime, the son is insisting on the Breast Cancer Society’s website that he has not admitted guilt to anything:

“While the organization, its officers and directors have not been found guilty of any allegations of wrongdoing, and the government has not proven otherwise, our Board of Directors has decided that it does not help those who we seek to serve, and those who remain in need, for us to engage in a highly publicized, expensive, and distracting legal battle around our fundraising practices.”

And the patriarch, James Reynolds Sr., is promising to fight the allegations against himself and the other two charities, Cancer Fund of America and Cancer Support Services.

The feds and the combined attorneys general are resolved to press their civil case against him.

But the most Reynolds Sr. presently risks is a monetary judgment that he may escape paying the way his son and his ex-wife did.

He faces not a minute behind bars, where the very worst of us supposedly reside.

One should never wish anybody to fall terminally ill, but if Reynolds Sr. does, let him eat Little Debbie snack cakes.

Or, better yet, Moon Pies.

Shhh… Bruce Schneier on How We Sold Our Souls & Privacy to Internet Giants

It’s simple. Whenever Bruce Schneier speaks, listen.

How we sold our souls – and more – to the internet giants

Bruce Schneier
Sunday 17 May 2015 11.00 BST

Last year, when my refrigerator broke, the repair man replaced the computer that controls it. I realised that I had been thinking about the refrigerator backwards: it’s not a refrigerator with a computer, it’s a computer that keeps food cold. Just like that, everything is turning into a computer. Your phone is a computer that makes calls. Your car is a computer with wheels and an engine. Your oven is a computer that cooks lasagne. Your camera is a computer that takes pictures. Even our pets and livestock are now regularly chipped; my cat could be considered a computer that sleeps in the sun all day.

Computers are being embedded into all sort of products that connect to the internet. Nest, which Google purchased last year for more than $3bn, makes an internet-enabled thermostat. You can buy a smart air conditioner that learns your preferences and maximises energy efficiency. Fitness tracking devices, such as Fitbit or Jawbone, collect information about your movements, awake and asleep, and use that to analyse both your exercise and sleep habits. Many medical devices are starting to be internet-enabled, collecting and reporting a variety of biometric data. There are – or will be soon – devices that continually measure our vital signs, moods and brain activity.

This year, we have had two surprising stories of technology monitoring our activity: Samsung televisions that listen to conversations in the room and send them elsewhere for transcription – just in case someone is telling the TV to change the channel – and a Barbie that records your child’s questions and sells them to third parties.

All these computers produce data about what they’re doing and a lot of it is surveillance data. It’s the location of your phone, who you’re talking to and what you’re saying, what you’re searching and writing. It’s your heart rate. Corporations gather, store and analyse this data, often without our knowledge, and typically without our consent. Based on this data, they draw conclusions about us that we might disagree with or object to and that can affect our lives in profound ways. We may not like to admit it, but we are under mass surveillance.

Internet surveillance has evolved into a shockingly extensive, robust and profitable surveillance architecture. You are being tracked pretty much everywhere you go, by many companies and data brokers: 10 different companies on one website, a dozen on another. Facebook tracks you on every site with a Facebook Like button (whether you’re logged in to Facebook or not), while Google tracks you on every site that has a Google Plus g+ button or that uses Google Analytics to monitor its own web traffic.

Most of the companies tracking you have names you’ve never heard of: Rubicon Project, AdSonar, Quantcast, Undertone, Traffic Marketplace. If you want to see who’s tracking you, install one of the browser plug-ins that let you monitor cookies. I guarantee you will be startled. One reporter discovered that 105 different companies tracked his internet use during one 36-hour period. In 2010, the seemingly innocuous site Dictionary.com installed more than 200 tracking cookies on your browser when you visited.

It’s no different on your smartphone. The apps there track you as well. They track your location and sometimes download your address book, calendar, bookmarks and search history. In 2013, the rapper Jay Z and Samsung teamed up to offer people who downloaded an app the ability to hear the new Jay Z album before release. The app required that users give Samsung consent to view all accounts on the phone, track its location and who the user was talking to. The Angry Birds game even collects location data when you’re not playing. It’s less Big Brother and more hundreds of tittletattle little brothers.

Most internet surveillance data is inherently anonymous, but companies are increasingly able to correlate the information gathered with other information that positively identifies us. You identify yourself willingly to lots of internet services. Often you do this with only a username, but increasingly usernames can be tied to your real name. Google tried to enforce this with its “real name policy”, which required users register for Google Plus with their legal names, until it rescinded that policy in 2014. Facebook pretty much demands real names. Whenever you use your credit card number to buy something, your real identity is tied to any cookies set by companies involved in that transaction. And any browsing you do on your smartphone is tied to you as the phone’s owner, although the website might not know it.

Surveillance is the business model of the internet for two primary reasons: people like free and people like convenient. The truth is, though, that people aren’t given much of a choice. It’s either surveillance or nothing and the surveillance is conveniently invisible so you don’t have to think about it. And it’s all possible because laws have failed to keep up with changes in business practices.

In general, privacy is something people tend to undervalue until they don’t have it anymore. Arguments such as “I have nothing to hide” are common, but aren’t really true. People living under constant surveillance quickly realise that privacy isn’t about having something to hide. It’s about individuality and personal autonomy. It’s about being able to decide who to reveal yourself to and under what terms. It’s about being free to be an individual and not having to constantly justify yourself to some overseer.

This tendency to undervalue privacy is exacerbated by companies deliberately making sure that privacy is not salient to users. When you log on to Facebook, you don’t think about how much personal information you’re revealing to the company; you chat with your friends. When you wake up in the morning, you don’t think about how you’re going to allow a bunch of companies to track you throughout the day; you just put your cell phone in your pocket.

But by accepting surveillance-based business models, we hand over even more power to the powerful. Google controls two-thirds of the US search market. Almost three-quarters of all internet users have Facebook accounts. Amazon controls about 30% of the US book market, and 70% of the ebook market. Comcast owns about 25% of the US broadband market. These companies have enormous power and control over us simply because of their economic position.

Our relationship with many of the internet companies we rely on is not a traditional company-customer relationship. That’s primarily because we’re not customers – we’re products those companies sell to their real customers. The companies are analogous to feudal lords and we are their vassals, peasants and – on a bad day – serfs. We are tenant farmers for these companies, working on their land by producing data that they in turn sell for profit.

Yes, it’s a metaphor, but it often really feels like that. Some people have pledged allegiance to Google. They have Gmail accounts, use Google Calendar and Google Docs and have Android phones. Others have pledged similar allegiance to Apple. They have iMacs, iPhones and iPads and let iCloud automatically synchronise and back up everything. Still others let Microsoft do it all. Some of us have pretty much abandoned email altogether for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We might prefer one feudal lord to the others. We might distribute our allegiance among several of these companies or studiously avoid a particular one we don’t like. Regardless, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid pledging allegiance to at least one of them.

After all, customers get a lot of value out of having feudal lords. It’s simply easier and safer for someone else to hold our data and manage our devices. We like having someone else take care of our device configurations, software management, and data storage. We like it when we can access our email anywhere, from any computer, and we like it that Facebook just works, from any device, anywhere. We want our calendar entries to appear automatically on all our devices. Cloud storage sites do a better job of backing up our photos and files than we can manage by ourselves; Apple has done a great job of keeping malware out of its iPhone app store. We like automatic security updates and automatic backups; the companies do a better job of protecting our devices than we ever did. And we’re really happy when, after we lose a smartphone and buy a new one, all of our data reappears on it at the push of a button.

In this new world of computing, we’re no longer expected to manage our computing environment. We trust the feudal lords to treat us well and protect us from harm. It’s all a result of two technological trends.

The first is the rise of cloud computing. Basically, our data is no longer stored and processed on our computers. That all happens on servers owned by many different companies. The result is that we no longer control our data. These companies access our data—both content and metadata—for whatever profitable purpose they want. They have carefully crafted terms of service that dictate what sorts of data we can store on their systems, and can delete our entire accounts if they believe we violate them. And they turn our data over to law enforcement without our knowledge or consent. Potentially even worse, our data might be stored on computers in a country whose data protection laws are less than rigorous.

The second trend is the rise of user devices that are managed closely by their vendors: iPhones, iPads, Android phones, Kindles, ChromeBooks, and the like. The result is that we no longer control our computing environment. We have ceded control over what we can see, what we can do, and what we can use. Apple has rules about what software can be installed on iOS devices. You can load your own documents onto your Kindle, but Amazon is able to delete books it has already sold you. In 2009, Amazon automatically deleted some editions of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from users’ Kindles because of a copyright issue. I know, you just couldn’t write this stuff any more ironically.

It’s not just hardware. It’s getting hard to just buy a piece of software and use it on your computer in any way you like. Increasingly, vendors are moving to a subscription model—Adobe did that with Creative Cloud in 2013—that gives the vendor much more control. Microsoft hasn’t yet given up on a purchase model, but is making its MS Office subscription very attractive. And Office 365’s option of storing your documents in the Microsoft cloud is hard to turn off. Companies are pushing us in this direction because it makes us more profitable as customers or users.

Given current laws, trust is our only option. There are no consistent or predictable rules. We have no control over the actions of these companies. I can’t negotiate the rules regarding when Yahoo will access my photos on Flickr. I can’t demand greater security for my presentations on Prezi or my task list on Trello. I don’t even know the cloud providers to whom those companies have outsourced their infrastructures. If any of those companies delete my data, I don’t have the right to demand it back. If any of those companies give the government access to my data, I have no recourse. And if I decide to abandon those services, chances are I can’t easily take my data with me.

Political scientist Henry Farrell observed: “Much of our life is conducted online, which is another way of saying that much of our life is conducted under rules set by large private businesses, which are subject neither to much regulation nor much real market competition.”

The common defence is something like “business is business”. No one is forced to join Facebook or use Google search or buy an iPhone. Potential customers are choosing to enter into these quasi-feudal user relationships because of the enormous value they receive from them. If they don’t like it, goes the argument, they shouldn’t do it.

This advice is not practical. It’s not reasonable to tell people that if they don’t like their data being collected, they shouldn’t email, shop online, use Facebook or have a mobile phone. I can’t imagine students getting through school anymore without an internet search or Wikipedia, much less finding a job afterwards. These are the tools of modern life. They’re necessary to a career and a social life. Opting out just isn’t a viable choice for most of us, most of the time; it violates what have become very real norms of contemporary life.

Right now, choosing among providers is not a choice between surveillance or no surveillance, but only a choice of which feudal lords get to spy on you. This won’t change until we have laws to protect both us and our data from these sorts of relationships. Data is power and those that have our data have power over us. It’s time for government to step in and balance things out.

Adapted from Data and Goliath by Bruce Schneier, published by Norton Books. To order a copy for £17.99 go to bookshop.theguardian.com. Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and CTO of Resilient Systems Inc. He blogs at schneier.com, and tweets at @schneierblog

Shhh… Brett King on FinTech & the Death of the Retail Banking Branches

I have had the privilege to listen live in Hong Kong recently on technology futurist Brett King’s talk about a hot topic, FinTech – a contraction and combination of the words Financial and Technology, a ubiquitous term for any technology applied to financial services.

In sum, King’s argument is that with the way the millennials (those born at and after the turn of this century) get information and change the way they interact with the rest of the world, the financial services industry have to think seriously about FinTech because technology is re-defining the way we think about financial services. Put candidly, King ponders why are retail banks becoming more and more like Apple stores?

Here’s my original audio recording. Enjoy!

Shhh… US Congress on Track to End NSA's Bulk Phone Collection Program?

The House overwhelmingly approved Wednesday legislation to end the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records. Are you counting on it? I’m not as it’s highly likely secret “alternatives” have already been paved to have the NSA continue business as usual…

Shhh… Jack Barsky – The Spy Among US

(Above) Photo credit: CBS 60 Minutes

http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_video.swf

http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_video.swf

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Shhh… Former CIA Officer Sentenced for Leaks to NYT Reporter

(Above) photo credit: RT (Image from twitter.com @Manuel_Rapalo)

No matter what the judge thinks, one can’t help feeling sorry for Jeffrey Sterling (see the New York Times story below) considering how David Petraeus got away so lightly.

Ex-C.I.A. Officer Sentenced in Leak Case Tied to Times Reporter

By MATT APUZZOMAY 11, 2015

LEXANDRIA, Va. — A former Central Intelligence Agency officer on Monday was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on espionage charges for telling a journalist for The New York Times about a secret operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. The sentence was far less than the Justice Department had wanted.

The former officer, Jeffrey A. Sterling, argued that the Espionage Act, which was passed during World War I, was intended to prosecute spies, not officials who talked to journalists. He asked for the kind of leniency that prosecutors showed to David H. Petraeus, the retired general who last month received probation for providing his highly classified journals to his biographer.

The case revolves around an operation in which a former Russian scientist provided Iran with intentionally flawed nuclear component schematics. Mr. Sterling was convicted in January of disclosing the operation to James Risen, a reporter for The Times, who had revealed it in his 2006 book, “State of War.” Mr. Risen described it as a botched mission that may have inadvertently advanced Iran’s nuclear program.

The Justice Department said that Mr. Sterling’s disclosures compromised an important C.I.A. operation and jeopardized the life of a spy. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he faced more than 20 years in prison, a calculation with which the Justice Department agreed. Prosecutors sought a “severe” sentence in that range.

Prosecutors maintain that the program was successful, and said Mr. Sterling’s disclosure “was borne not of patriotism but of pure spite.” The Justice Department argued that Mr. Sterling, who is black, had a vendetta against the C.I.A., which he had sued for racial discrimination.

Judge Leonie M. Brinkema gave no indication that she was swayed by the government’s argument that the book had disrupted a crucial operation, or harmed national security. She said she was most bothered that the information revealed in “State of War” had jeopardized the safety of the Russian scientist, who was a C.I.A. informant. Of all the types of secrets kept by American intelligence officers, she said, “This is the most critical secret.”

She said Mr. Sterling had to be punished to send a message to other officials. “If you knowingly reveal these secrets, there’s going to be a price to be paid,” she said.

Mr. Sterling, 47, spoke only briefly to thank the judge and court staff for treating him kindly as the case dragged on for years. Barry J. Pollack, a lawyer for Mr. Sterling, said jurors got the verdict wrong when they voted to convict. “That said, the judge today got it right,” he said.

Under federal rules, Mr. Sterling will be eligible for release from prison in just under three years.

The sentence caps a leak investigation that began under President George W. Bush and became a defining case in the Obama administration’s crackdown on government leaks. Under Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the Justice Department prosecuted more people for having unauthorized discussions with reporters than all prior administrations combined.

For years, Mr. Sterling’s case was known most for the Justice Department’s efforts to force Mr. Risen to reveal his source. At the last minute, under pressure from journalist groups and liberal advocates, Mr. Holder relented and did not force Mr. Risen to choose between revealing his source or going to jail. Prosecutors won the case without Mr. Risen’s testimony.

Since the conviction, the case has been notable because of the stark differences in sentences handed down to leakers. Midlevel people like Mr. Sterling have been charged most aggressively. John C. Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer, served about two years in prison. Two former government contractors, Donald J. Sachtleben and Stephen J. Kim, are serving prison time. Thomas A. Drake, a former National Security Agency official, faced the prospect of years in prison but received a plea deal on a minor charge and avoided serving time after his lawyers won critical rulings before the trial.

By comparison, the F.B.I. investigated a decorated military leader, retired Gen. James E. Cartwright, after public reports described a highly classified wave of American cyberattacks against Iran. But that investigation has stalled because investigators considered the operation too sensitive to discuss at a public trial.

Mr. Petraeus, meanwhile, retains his status as an adviser to the Obama administration despite giving Paula Broadwell, his biographer, who was also his lover, notebooks containing handwritten classified notes about official meetings, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and the names of covert officers. Ms. Broadwell had a security clearance but was not authorized to receive the information.

Mr. Petraeus also admitted lying to the F.B.I., and the leniency of his plea deal infuriated many prosecutors and agents.

In court documents filed in Mr. Sterling’s case, the Justice Department argued that Mr. Petraeus’s crimes were not comparable. “None of this classified information was included in his biography, made public in any other way, or disclosed by his biographer to any third parties.”

Shhh… Spy Game: The Thais, the Israelis & the Wiretapping Devices

Perhaps the Thai army (see story below) felt insulted being left out of the spy game…?

ThaiArmy


Army interrupts Israeli demonstration of wiretapping devices to Special Branch Bureau

May 8, 2015 12:24 pm

BANGKOK: A group of soldiers today raided the meeting room of the Special Branch Bureau and detained nine Israeli technicians and staff while they were demonstrating electronic wire tapping devices to special branch police.

But after the interruption of the planned demonstration by soldiers from the Second Calvary Division of the First Army Region, Royal Thai Police commissioner Pol Gen Somyot Phumphanmuang came out to defend the demonstration saying it was merely a misunderstanding caused by misinformation.

The commissioner said the Royal Thai Police and the Special Branch Bureau have been allocated budget from the government to procure wiretapping devices for use.

He said an Israeli supplier has approached the Royal Thai Police and scheduled today to demonstrate its devices.

However he said as the Army has learned of the Israeli approach, it then asked the firm to explain whether these electronic devices have been granted import permission legitimately or not.

He said the soldiers then invited the Israeli technicians and staff to their office for clarification and to display import documents.

He said the Israeli firm has insisted all its devices have been imported for demonstration legally.

Pol Gen Somyot said an Army colonel had phoned him saying he suspected some devices might be illegally smuggled into the country and sought his permission to interrupt the demonstration.

The commissioner recalled he immediately rang the First Army Region commander and the commander of the Second Calvary Division and also explained to the Israeli technicians of the Army’s request and the firm agreed to cooperate.

Pol Gen Somyot added it happened because of misunderstanding and he would ask the firm to return again for demonstration.

Shhh… NSA Rats Exposed – The "Facebook-NSA Queen" & Mysterious Death of Dave Goldberg

Some thoughts for the weekend… listen especially to the first six and a half minutes of this clip below about the conspiracy theories surrounding the recent mysterious death of Dave Goldberg, the husband of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg – the “Facebook-NSA Queen”.

Shhh… NSA Have More Data Than They Can Handle

Are you wondering why this “problem” (data overload – see article below) did not happen earlier…?

NSA is so overwhelmed with data, it’s no longer effective, says whistleblower

Summary:One of the agency’s first whistleblowers says the NSA is taking in too much data for it to handle, which can have disastrous — if not deadly — consequences.

By Zack Whittaker for Zero Day | April 30, 2015 — 14:29 GMT (22:29 GMT+08:00)

NEW YORK — A former National Security Agency official turned whistleblower has spent almost a decade and a half in civilian life. And he says he’s still “pissed” by what he’s seen leak in the past two years.

In a lunch meeting hosted by Contrast Security founder Jeff Williams on Wednesday, William Binney, a former NSA official who spent more than three decades at the agency, said the US government’s mass surveillance programs have become so engorged with data that they are no longer effective, losing vital intelligence in the fray.

That, he said, can — and has — led to terrorist attacks succeeding.

Binney said that an analyst today can run one simple query across the NSA’s various databases, only to become immediately overloaded with information. With about four billion people — around two-thirds of the world’s population — under the NSA and partner agencies’ watchful eyes, according to his estimates, there is too much data being collected.

“That’s why they couldn’t stop the Boston bombing, or the Paris shootings, because the data was all there,” said Binney. Because the agency isn’t carefully and methodically setting its tools up for smart data collection, that leaves analysts to search for a needle in a haystack.

“The data was all there… the NSA is great at going back over it forensically for years to see what they were doing before that,” he said. “But that doesn’t stop it.”

Binney called this a “bulk data failure” — in that the NSA programs, leaked by Edward Snowden, are collecting too much for the agency to process. He said the problem runs deeper across law enforcement and other federal agencies, like the FBI, the CIA, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which all have access to NSA intelligence.

Binney left the NSA a month after the September 11 attacks in New York City in 2001, days after controversial counter-terrorism legislation was enacted — the Patriot Act — in the wake of the attacks. Binney stands jaded by his experience leaving the shadowy eavesdropping agency, but impassioned for the job he once had. He left after a program he helped develop was scrapped three weeks prior to September 11, replaced by a system he said was more expensive and more intrusive. Snowden said he was inspired by Binney’s case, which in part inspired him to leak thousands of classified documents to journalists.

Since then, the NSA has ramped up its intelligence gathering mission to indiscriminately “collect it all.”

Binney said the NSA is today not as interested in phone records — such as who calls whom, when, and for how long. Although the Obama administration calls the program a “critical national security tool,” the agency is increasingly looking at the content of communications, as the Snowden disclosures have shown.

Binney said he estimated that a “maximum” of 72 companies were participating in the bulk records collection program — including Verizon, but said it was a drop in the ocean. He also called PRISM, the clandestine surveillance program that grabs data from nine named Silicon Valley giants, including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, just a “minor part” of the data collection process.

“The Upstream program is where the vast bulk of the information was being collected,” said Binney, talking about how the NSA tapped undersea fiber optic cables. With help from its British counterparts at GCHQ, the NSA is able to “buffer” more than 21 petabytes a day.

Binney said the “collect it all” mantra now may be the norm, but it’s expensive and ineffective.

“If you have to collect everything, there’s an ever increasing need for more and more budget,” he said. “That means you can build your empire.”

They say you never leave the intelligence community. Once you’re a spy, you’re always a spy — it’s a job for life, with few exceptions. One of those is blowing the whistle, which he did. Since then, he has spent his retirement lobbying for change and reform in industry and in Congress.

“They’re taking away half of the constitution in secret,” said Binney. “If they want to change the constitution, there’s a way to do that — and it’s in the constitution.”

An NSA spokesperson did not immediately comment.

Shhh… Profile: Michael G. Vickers, the Retiring Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence

(Above) photo credit: US Department of Defense

Here’s an insightful piece from the New York Times (below) on a key man in the Pentagon previously featured in the Hollywood movies “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “Zero Dark Thirty”:

A Secret Warrior Leaves the Pentagon as Quietly as He Entered

MAY 1, 2015
The Saturday Profile
By THOM SHANKER

WASHINGTON — ASKED what he is looking forward to, Michael G. Vickers, who retired this week as under secretary of defense for intelligence, answered without hesitation: “Sleeping.”

Having participated in virtually every significant global crisis of the past four decades, either as a supporting player or just as often cast in a starring, if uncredited, role, he has missed a lot of that. “I get kept awake by near-term things and long-term things,” he says.

Most Americans do not even know the job Mr. Vickers is leaving, just days after his 62nd birthday, even though the Pentagon commands the intelligence community’s largest share of the vast federal budget for spying, about $80 billion, and manages the most intelligence employees, about 180,000 people.

For a man who once practiced infiltrating Soviet lines with a backpack-size nuclear weapon, Mr. Vickers has a mellow, professorial demeanor. In addition to Army Special Forces training, he has studied Spanish, Czech and Russian and holds a doctorate in strategy from Johns Hopkins University. (Of his 1,000-page dissertation, he says, “It’s a good doorstop.”) His answers to policy questions are disciplined, cautious and usually organized in two parts, or three, or more.

So ask: What exactly kept you awake? First, as the military would say, are the crocodiles closest to the canoe.

“Our immediate threats are terrorism, particularly from global jihadist groups that want to attack the United States. It is a constant danger,” Mr. Vickers said. “And cyber is now in that category.”

Add the rising Russian challenge to the European order, which Mr. Vickers categorizes as “a fairly near-term problem,” along with “the things that could happen on the Korean Peninsula.”

And the over-the-horizon threats?

“When you step back a bit and look at enduring strategic problems,” he said, “then you look at the Middle East, where you have terrorism and proxy wars and the danger of religious wars and dangers of sectarian conflict.” He warns that religious and sectarian wars tend to be viciously heartfelt, and therefore bloody and protracted.

Attention must be paid to what, he predicts, will be this century’s most dynamic region: “East Asia and the rise of China — how to engage and manage that relationship and that with our allies, and keep the peace in that region.”

Each of those regions poses a difficult challenge for American policy makers, but Mr. Vickers warned of the prospect of more than one exploding simultaneously, with individual risks turning into a cascade of crises from, say, Mali to Pakistan or across East Asia.

“The challenge in the current world is that, for the first time since early in the Cold War, you have more of a risk of crises in multiple regions turning into broader conflict,” he said.

DURING the Cold War, Mr. Vickers was a member of the Green Berets assigned to infiltrate Warsaw Pact borders should World War III break out. His mission: Detonate a portable nuclear bomb to blunt an attack by the overwhelming numbers of Soviet tanks.
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He was sent to Central America and the Caribbean during the era of small anticommunist wars, helping to end an airline hijacking and a hostage case involving Honduran government officials. He was also assigned to what a military biography euphemistically calls “contingency operations against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.”

Leaving the Army for the Central Intelligence Agency, he joined the invasion of Grenada. And after the Marine barracks in Beirut were bombed in 1983, killing 241 United States servicemen, he was given sensitive counterterrorism work in Lebanon.

As a rising C.I.A. officer, Mr. Vickers was the chief strategist for the largest covert action in American history, smuggling arms and money to Afghan mujahedeen battling Soviet invaders in Afghanistan.

After the collapse of communism in Europe, Mr. Vickers took a break in the policy world, writing white papers on budgets and strategy and how to restructure the military — until he was summoned to the Pentagon not long after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The grim connection was not lost on Mr. Vickers.

Al Qaeda blossomed among those same anti-Soviet “freedom fighters” in the years when Afghanistan, which had received billions of dollars in covert American assistance during the Soviet occupation, was paid scant attention by Washington after Moscow’s army marched home in disgrace.

“We made a mistake at the end of the Cold War by disengaging from that region,” Mr. Vickers said, “and I don’t think we want to do that again.”

FOR the past eight years at the Pentagon, he first managed Special Operations policy and then intelligence programs. He was former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’s handpicked liaison to the C.I.A. for the SEAL Team 6 mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Vickers’s efforts contributed to the accelerated expansion of Special Operations forces — doubling personnel numbers, tripling their budget and quadrupling the pace of deployments.

But there is another military truism — if your favorite tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail — and Mr. Vickers is aware of the dangers for the Special Operations forces.

“For all of the capabilities that S.O.F. has as a force-multiplier, as a small-footprint, big-impact force, it is not a panacea for all of your strategic problems,” he said.

Mr. Vickers’s Pentagon tour also witnessed growth in another signature weapon of the post-9/11 period: unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance and attack. Early in the counterterrorism wars, the Pentagon could barely keep half a dozen drones airborne at one time; the ceiling now is 65.

“The combination of ‘armed,’ ‘precision,’ ‘reconnaissance’ has been one of the most dramatic innovations,” he said. “It has been a critical operational instrument in the successes we have had against core Al Qaeda, in particular.”

Yet the drone program has come under harsh public scrutiny, especially since President Obama revealed that a January strike by a C.I.A. drone on a Qaeda target in Pakistan killed two Western hostages, one of them an American. Mr. Vickers demurred when asked whether that portion of the lethal drone program now operated covertly by the C.I.A. should fold under the Pentagon.

But he addressed the broader issue of whether the benefits of killing terrorists with remotely piloted, pinpoint strikes by drones outweighs the risks of alienating the public.

“As precise as this instrument is, as important as this instrument is, it is one tool and it is not enough to bring stability to an area,” he said. Landing Hellfire missiles on terrorists does not end terrorism; policy has to address the underlying local grievances that lead to radicalism, he added.

To strategically defeat adversaries, he said, “you have to change the postwar governance to make the victory stick.”

With a résumé that reads like an action-movie character’s biography, Mr. Vickers has been depicted in one film, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” and drawn into controversy over another, “Zero Dark Thirty.” He was absolved after a two-year inquiry into whether classified information was leaked to the filmmakers behind “Zero Dark Thirty.” Critics had argued that administration officials hoped the movie could burnish the president’s commander-in-chief credibility.

Near the conclusion of his retirement ceremony on Thursday, Mr. Vickers said he already had a glimpse of his new, quieter life.

He said that when a Pentagon work crew removed a special telephone installed in his home for after-hours secure communications, he found that his cable connection was accidentally cut at the same time — and he had lost all access to the outside world via Internet and TV.

A version of this article appears in print on May 2, 2015, on page A5 of the New York edition with the headline: Action Role of a Lifetime, Often Uncredited.

Shhh… AirBus Plans Legal Actions Against NSA/BND Spying Claims – NSA Involved in Industrial Espionage

(Above) Photo Credit: APA/EPA/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO

It shouldn’t be any surprise if one has been following related news, including an earlier post this week on how the German foreign intelligence agency BND has been supporting NSA spying activities in Europe via a former US espionage base in Bad Aibling. Expect other similar actions against the NSA following the lead by Airbus (see video clip below).

And expect not just a tirade of questions on the German authorities but also the NSA and Obama administration. The NSA massive eavesdropping program was designed solely to protect America against terrorist threats? And nothing to do with industrial corporate espionage? Look who’s talking…