Archive for the ‘CyberChaos’ Category

As inequality soars, the nervous super rich are already planning their escapes

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Hedge fund managers are preparing getaways by buying airstrips and farms in remote areas, former hedge fund partner tells Davos during session on inequality

With growing inequality and the civil unrest from Ferguson and the Occupy protests fresh in people’s mind, the world’s super rich are already preparing for the consequences. At a packed session in Davos, former hedge fund director Robert Johnson revealed that worried hedge fund managers were already planning their escapes. “I know hedge fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway,” he said.

Johnson, who heads the Institute of New Economic Thinking and was previously managing director at Soros, said societies can tolerate income inequality if the income floor is high enough. But with an existing system encouraging chief executives to take decisions solely on their profitability, even in the richest countries inequality is increasing.

Johnson added: “People need to know there are possibilities for their children – that they will have the same opportunity as anyone else. There is a wicked feedback loop. Politicians who get more money tend to use it to get more even money.”

Global warming and social media are among the trends the 600 super-smart World Economic Forum staffers told its members to watch out for long before they became ubiquitous. This year, income inequality is fast moving up the Davos agenda – a sure sign of it is poised to burst into the public consciousness.

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and a Davos star attraction after giving the closing address in 2014, said he had spent a lot of time learning from the leaders behind recent social unrest in Ferguson. He believes that will prove “a catalytic event” which has already changed the conversation in the US, bringing a message from those who previously “didn’t matter”.

So what is the solution to having the new voices being sufficiently recognised to actually change the status quo into one where those with power realise they do matter?

Clarke said: “Solutions are there. What’s been lacking is political will. Politicians do not respond to those who don’t have a voice In the end this is all about redistributing income and power.”

She added: “Seventy five percent of people in developing countries live in places that are less equal than they were in 1990.”

The panellists were scathing about politicians, Wallis describing them as people who held up wet fingers “to see which way the money is blowing in from.”

Author, philosopher and former academic Rebecca Newberger-Goldstein saw the glass half full, drawing on history to prove society does eventually change for the better. She said Martin Luther King was correct in his view that the arch of history might be long, but it bends towards justice.

In ancient Greece, she noted, even the greatest moralists like Plato and Aristotle never criticised slavery. Newberger-Goldstein said: “We’ve come a long way as a species. The truth is now dawning that everybody matters because the concept of mattering is at the core of every human being.” Knowing you matter, she added, is often as simple as having others “acknowledge the pathos and reality of your stories. To listen.”

Mexican micro-lending entrepreneur Carlos Danel expanded on the theme. His business, Gentera, has thrived by working out that “those excluded are not the problem but realising there’s an opportunity to serve them.”

He added: “Technology provides advantages that can lower costs and enable us to provide products and services that matter to the people who don’t seem to matter to society. And that’s beyond financial services – into education and elsewhere.”

Which, Danel believes, is why business was created in the first place – to serve. A message that seemed to get lost somewhere in the worship of profit.

– To the original:

– Research thanks to Kierin M.

Powerful, highly stealthy Linux trojan may have infected victims for years

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Backdoor tied to espionage campaign that has targeted governments in 45 countries.

Researchers have uncovered an extremely stealthy trojan for Linux systems that attackers have been using to siphon sensitive data from governments and pharmaceutical companies around the world.

The previously undiscovered malware represents a missing puzzle piece tied to “Turla,” a so-called advanced persistent threat (APT) disclosed in August by Kaspersky Lab and Symantec. For at least four years, the campaign targeted government institutions, embassies, military, education, research, and pharmaceutical companies in more than 45 countries. The unknown attackers—who are probably backed by a nation-state, according to Symantec—were known to have infected several hundred Windows-based computers by exploiting a variety of vulnerabilities, at least two of which were zero-day bugs. The malware was notable for its use of a rootkit that made it extremely hard to detect.

Now researchers from Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab have detected Linux-based malware used in the same campaign. Turla was already ranked as one of the top-tier APTs, in the same league as the recently disclosed Regin for instance. The discovery of the Linux component suggests it is bigger than previously thought and may presage the discovery of still more infected systems.

“The [Turla] operations are being carried out in broader environments than we previously knew,” Kaspersky Lab expert Kurt Baumgartner told Ars. “All the other stuff we’ve seen from Turla has been windows based. This piece of the puzzle shows us that they do not limit themselves.”

…More:  

 

Exposed: NSA program for hacking any cell phone network, no matter where it is

Monday, December 8th, 2014

– Worth noting how high the percentage is for New Zealand in the chart which you can find in the original article.

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

The National Security Agency has spied on hundreds of companies and groups around the world, including in countries allied with the US government, as part of an effort designed to allow agents to hack into any cellular network, no matter where it’s located, according to a report published Thursday.

Armed with technical details of a specific provider’s current or planned networks, agents secretly attempt to identify or introduce flaws that will make it possible for communications to be covertly tapped, according to an article published by The Intercept. Security experts warned that programs that introduce security flaws or suppress fixes for existing vulnerabilities could cause widespread harm, since the bugs can also be exploited by criminal hackers or governments of nations around the world.

“Even if you love the NSA and you say you have nothing to hide, you should be against a policy that introduces security vulnerabilities,” Karsten Nohl, a cryptographer and smartphone security expert, told The Intercept. “Because once NSA introduces a weakness, a vulnerability, it’s not only the NSA that can exploit it.”

t’s not the first time the US agency has been reported to introduce backdoors into widely used technologies. Last year documents provided by former NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden—the same source for documents supporting Thursday’s story by The Intercept—showed that the NSA worked with standards bodies to adopt encryption technologies with known vulnerabilities in them. Two weeks later, the RSA division of EMC warned customers to stop using the default configuration of its BSAFE BSAFE toolkit and Data Protection Manager because it contained code reported to contain an NSA-engineered vulnerability.

The program reported Thursday, codenamed AURORAGOLD, has monitored messages sent and received by more than 1,200 email accounts associated with large cell phone operators around the world. One surveillance target is the GSM Association (GSMA), a UK-based group that works with Microsoft, Facebook, AT&T, Cisco Systems, and many other companies to ensure their hardware and software related to cellular technology is compatible. At the same time the NSA has been monitoring the group, other arms of the US government has funded GSMA programs designed to boost privacy on mobile networks. According to The Intercept:

The NSA focuses on intercepting obscure but important technical documents circulated among the GSMA’s members known as “IR.21s.”

Most cellphone network operators share IR.21 documents among each other as part of agreements that allow their customers to connect to foreign networks when they are “roaming” overseas on a vacation or a business trip. An IR.21, according to the NSA documents, contains information “necessary for targeting and exploitation.”

The details in the IR.21s serve as a “warning mechanism” that flag new technology used by network operators, the NSA’s documents state. This allows the agency to identify security vulnerabilities in the latest communication systems that can be exploited, and helps efforts to introduce new vulnerabilities “where they do not yet exist.”

The IR.21s also contain details about the encryption used by cellphone companies to protect the privacy of their customers’ communications as they are transmitted across networks. These details are highly sought after by the NSA, as they can aid its efforts to crack the encryption and eavesdrop on conversations.

Last year, The Washington Post reported that the NSA had already managed to break the most commonly used cellphone encryption algorithm in the world, known as A5/1. But the information collected under AURORAGOLD allows the agency to focus on circumventing newer and stronger versions of A5 cellphone encryption, such as A5/3.

The documents note that the agency intercepts information from cellphone operators about “the type of A5 cipher algorithm version” they use, and monitors the development of new algorithms in order to find ways to bypass the encryption.

NSA documents show that AURORAGOLD focuses on collecting details about virtually all technical standards used by cell phone operators.

– to the original article:

 

 

US government planes collecting phone data

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

– Remember the piece I posted not long ago entitled, “Crypto phones and dubious cell phone towers“, that was about unidentified cell towers scattered around the country soaking up data for unknown purposes?  

– Well, here’s another story along that line.

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Devices that gather data from millions of mobile phones are being flown over the US by the government, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The “dirtbox” devices mimic mobile phone tower transmissions, and handsets transmit back their location and unique identity data, the report claims.

While they are used to track specific suspects, all mobile devices in the area will respond to the signal.

The US Justice Department refused to confirm or deny the report.

The Wall Street Journal said it had spoken to “sources familiar with the programme” who said Cessna aircraft fitted with dirtboxes were flying from at least five US airports.

The department said that it operated within federal law.

– More…

 

Crypto phones and dubious cell phone towers

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

HackedPhoneMysterious Phony Cell Towers Could Be Intercepting Your Calls

Every smart phone has a secondary OS, which can be hijacked by high-tech hackers

Like many of the ultra-secure phones that have come to market in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks, the CryptoPhone 500, which is marketed in the U.S. by ESD America and built on top of an unassuming Samsung Galaxy SIII body, features high-powered encryption. Les Goldsmith, the CEO of ESD America, says the phone also runs a customized or “hardened” version of Android that removes 468 vulnerabilities that his engineering team team found in the stock installation of the OS.

His mobile security team also found that the version of the Android OS that comes standard on the Samsung Galaxy SIII leaks data to parts unknown 80-90 times every hour.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that the phone has been hacked, Goldmsith says, but the user can’t know whether the data is beaming out from a particular app, the OS, or an illicit piece of spyware.  His clients want real security and control over their device, and have the money to pay for it.

To show what the CryptoPhone can do that less expensive competitors cannot, he points me to a map that he and his customers have created, indicating 17 different phony cell towers known as “interceptors,” detected by the CryptoPhone 500 around the United States during the month of July alone. Once the phone connects with the interceptor, a variety of “over-the-air” attacks become possible, from eavesdropping on calls and texts to pushing spyware to the device.

“Interceptor use in the U.S. is much higher than people had anticipated,” Goldsmith says.  “One of our customers took a road trip from Florida to North Carolina and he found 8 different interceptors on that trip.  We even found one at South Point Casino in Las Vegas.”

– More…

– 16Sep14 – More on this story…

Why the Security of USB Is Fundamentally Broken

Monday, August 11th, 2014

– If you liked what I posted yesterday, you’l love today.

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Computer users pass around USB sticks like silicon business cards. Although we know they often carry malware infections, we depend on antivirus scans and the occasional reformatting to keep our thumbdrives from becoming the carrier for the next digital epidemic. But the security problems with USB devices run deeper than you think: Their risk isn’t just in what they carry, it’s built into the core of how they work.

That’s the takeaway from findings security researchers Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell plan to present next week, demonstrating a collection of proof-of-concept malicious software that highlights how the security of USB devices has long been fundamentally broken. The malware they created, called BadUSB, can be installed on a USB device to completely take over a PC, invisibly alter files installed from the memory stick, or even redirect the user’s internet traffic. Because BadUSB resides not in the flash memory storage of USB devices, but in the firmware that controls their basic functions, the attack code can remain hidden long after the contents of the device’s memory would appear to the average user to be deleted. And the two researchers say there’s no easy fix: The kind of compromise they’re demonstrating is nearly impossible to counter without banning the sharing of USB devices or filling your port with superglue.

“These problems can’t be patched,” says Nohl, who will join Lell in presenting the research at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. “We’re exploiting the very way that USB is designed.”

‘IN THIS NEW WAY OF THINKING, YOU HAVE TO CONSIDER A USB INFECTED AND THROW IT AWAY AS SOON AS IT TOUCHES A NON-TRUSTED COMPUTER.’

Nohl and Lell, researchers for the security consultancy SR Labs, are hardly the first to point out that USB devices can store and spread malware. But the two hackers didn’t merely copy their own custom-coded infections into USB devices’ memory. They spent months reverse engineering the firmware that runs the basic communication functions of USB devices—the controller chips that allow the devices to communicate with a PC and let users move files on and off of them. Their central finding is that USB firmware, which exists in varying forms in all USB devices, can be reprogrammed to hide attack code. “You can give it to your IT security people, they scan it, delete some files, and give it back to you telling you it’s ‘clean,’” says Nohl. But unless the IT guy has the reverse engineering skills to find and analyze that firmware, “the cleaning process doesn’t even touch the files we’re talking about.”

The problem isn’t limited to thumb drives. All manner of USB devices from keyboards and mice to smartphones have firmware that can be reprogrammed—in addition to USB memory sticks, Nohl and Lell say they’ve also tested their attack on an Android handset plugged into a PC. And once a BadUSB-infected device is connected to a computer, Nohl and Lell describe a grab bag of evil tricks it can play. It can, for example, replace software being installed with with a corrupted or backdoored version. It can even impersonate a USB keyboard to suddenly start typing commands. “It can do whatever you can do with a keyboard, which is basically everything a computer does,” says Nohl.

The malware can silently hijack internet traffic too, changing a computer’s DNS settings to siphon traffic to any servers it pleases. Or if the code is planted on a phone or another device with an internet connection, it can act as a man-in-the-middle, secretly spying on communications as it relays them from the victim’s machine.

Most of us learned long ago not to run executable files from sketchy USB sticks. But old-fashioned USB hygiene can’t stop this newer flavor of infection: Even if users are aware of the potential for attacks, ensuring that their USB’s firmware hasn’t been tampered with is nearly impossible. The devices don’t have a restriction known as “code-signing,” a countermeasure that would make sure any new code added to the device has the unforgeable cryptographic signature of its manufacturer. There’s not even any trusted USB firmware to compare the code against.

The element of Nohl and Lell’s research that elevates it above the average theoretical threat is the notion that the infection can travel both from computer to USB and vice versa. Any time a USB stick is plugged into a computer, its firmware could be reprogrammed by malware on that PC, with no easy way for the USB device’s owner to detect it. And likewise, any USB device could silently infect a user’s computer. “It goes both ways,” Nohl says. “Nobody can trust anybody.”

– More…

 

Leaked docs show spyware used to snoop on US computers

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

– Truly, I think we have less and less of a chance to keep our computers secure and our communications private.  If we haven’t been hacked, it is only because there are so many of us and so few hackers/criminals to go around.   Or it’s because we have not sufficiently irritated someone in the officialdom enclosing us.

– Personally, I am considering setting up from scratch (wipe the disk and install a virgin copy of the operating system) one specific computer for my essential banking and financial activities.   This machine would be only used for these activities and nothing else.  I’ll keep its anti-vius and malware defenses fully updated and, when I am not using it, it will be turned off and disconnected.   And, when I do use it, I will shut off and disconnect the other systems on my LAN in case they are infected.

– I’m also considering changing all my passwords as well.

– Paranoid or playing the odds?  I think it is hard to tell but the saying ‘better safe than sorry’ does come to mind.

– And should I not worry so much and simply assume that my government will look out for me?  

– I Don’t think so.  They are too busy doing the bidding the corporate world.  And I am irrelevant to the corporate world useless they can use me  somehow to increase their profits.

– Nope, other than me, nobody else has my back on this.  And those who think it isn’t so will eventually find out the truth the hard way.

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

imagesSoftware created by the controversial UK-based Gamma Group International was used to spy on computers that appear to be located in the United States, the UK, Germany, Russia, Iran, and Bahrain, according to a leaked trove of documents analyzed by ProPublica.

It’s not clear whether the surveillance was conducted by governments or private entities. Customer e-mail addresses in the collection appeared to belong to a German surveillance company, an independent consultant in Dubai, the Bosnian and Hungarian Intelligence services, a Dutch law enforcement officer, and the Qatari government.

The leaked files—which were posted online by hackers—are the latest in a series of revelations about how state actors including repressive regimes have used Gamma’s software to spy on dissidents, journalists, and activist groups.

The documents, leaked last Saturday, could not be readily verified, but experts told ProPublica they believed them to be genuine. “I think it’s highly unlikely that it’s a fake,” said Morgan Marquis-Bore, a security researcher who while at The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto had analyzed Gamma Group’s software and who authored an article about the leak on Thursday.

The documents confirm many details that have already been reported about Gamma, such as that its tools were used to spy on Bahraini activists. Some documents in the trove contain metadata tied to e-mail addresses of several Gamma employees. Bill Marczak, another Gamma Group expert at the Citizen Lab, said that several dates in the documents correspond to publicly known events—such as the day that a particular Bahraini activist was hacked.

Gamma has not commented publicly on the authenticity of the documents. A phone number listed on a Gamma Group website was disconnected. Gamma Group did not respond to e-mail requests for comment.

The leaked files contain more than 40 gigabytes of confidential technical material, including software code, internal memos, strategy reports, and user guides on how touse Gamma Group software suite called FinFisher. FinFisher enables customers to monitor secure Web traffic, Skype calls, webcams, and personal files. It is installed as malware on targets’ computers and cell phones.

price list included in the trove lists a license of the software at almost $4 million.

The documents reveal that Gamma uses technology from a French company called Vupen Security that sells so-called computer “exploits.”

Exploits include techniques called “zero days” for “popular software like Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and many more.” Zero days are exploits that have not yet been detected by the software maker and therefore are not blocked.

Vupen has said publicly that it only sells its exploits to governments, but Gamma may have no such scruples. “Gamma is an independent company that is not bound to any country, governmental organisation, etc.,” says one file in the Gamma Group’s material. At least one Gamma customer listed in the materials is a private security company.

Vupen didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Many of Gamma’s product brochures have previously been published by the Wall Street Journal andWikileaks, but the latest trove shows how the products are getting more sophisticated.

In one document, engineers at Gamma tested a product called FinSpy, which inserts malware onto a user’s machine, and found that it could not be blocked by most antivirus software.

Documents also reveal that Gamma had been working to bypass encryption tools including a mobile phone encryption app, Silent Circle, and were able to bypass the protection given by hard-drive encryption products TrueCrypt and Microsoft’s Bitlocker.

Mike Janke, the CEO of Silent Circle, said in an e-mail that “we have serious doubts about if they were going to be successful” in circumventing the phone software and that Silent Circle is working on bulletproofing its app.

Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment.

The documents also describe a “country-wide” surveillance product called FinFly ISP which promises customers the ability to intercept Internet traffic and masquerade as ordinary websites in order to install malware on a target’s computer.

The most recent date-stamp found in the documents is August 2, coincidung with the first tweet by a parody Twitter account, @GammaGroupPR, which first announced the hack and may be run by the hacker or hackers responsible for the leak.

On Reddit, a user called PhineasFisher claimed responsibility for the leak. “Two years ago their software was found being widely used by governments in the middle east, especially Bahrain, to hack and spy on the computers and phones of journalists and dissidents,” the user wrote. The name on the @GammaGroupPR Twitter account is also “Phineas Fisher.”

GammaGroup, the surveillance company whose documents were released, is no stranger to the spotlight. The security firm F-Secure first reported the purchase of FinFisher software by the Egyptian State Security agency in 2011. In 2012, Bloomberg News and The Citizen Lab showed how the company’s malware was used to target activists in Bahrain.

In 2013, the software company Mozilla sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company after a report by The Citizen Lab showed that a spyware-infected version of the Firefox browser manufactured by Gamma was being used to spy on Malaysian activists.

– To the original:  

 

Net Neutrality may be on the ropes

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

– Big money interests don’t give up.   They see the possibility to extract more profits for themselves from a ‘controlled’ Internet and the goal of increasing profits is their one aim.  The idea that it might disadvantage the rest of us simply doesn’t come into it.

– As I have said before, these situations come about because we, humanity, have not come to a clear decision about what our civilization should be about.

– Should we choose to make it a civilization which has the optimization of the quality of life for all of us as its highest priority?

– Or will we allow it to continue, by default, to be a Darwinian stage upon which we all struggle and in which the strongest cyclically and repeatedly corner the power and wealth of the world?   And these cyclic struggles to be periodically  punctuated by wars as different dominant factions vie or by revolutions because the unreasonably repressed and disadvantaged revolt against the unfairness.

– The calls for revolution are growing even now.

– A few years ago, I read the Rifters Trilogy (SciFi) by Peter Watts.  These were Starfish (July 1999), Maelstrom (October 2001) and Behemoth: Seppuku (December 2004).  Excellent books all.

– But what stuck with me from this series was Watts’ prediction that the world’s Internet would at some point be divided up into smaller regional units as a way of dealing with the rise of viruses, malware and attempts by various factions to control the medium of discourse.  

– Interestingly, Europeans are talking about doing just that as are some other countries.  

– Within such regional Internets, each region could have the Internet it wants.  

– And between regional Internets, the interfaces would be a matter of negotiation between regions.   Today, we can see the beginnings of such separations when we observe the Great Firewall of China.

– It is sad that it will come to this but, until we decide on a world for all of us rather than a world for the strong and greedy, we will inevitably have the conflicts and power grabs that will lead us down this road.

– dennis

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Net NeutralityLast week, an obscure but potentially internet-transforming document was leaked from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. It revealed that government regulators are considering rules that would give big companies a chance to make their online services run faster than smaller ones.

The proposed rules were revealed in the New York Timesand they would overturn the principle of “network neutrality” on the internet. Put simply, network neutrality allows you to use services from rich companies like Google and small startups with equal speed through your ISP. You can read a blog hosted on somebody’s home server, and it loads just as quickly as a blog on Tumblr.

Without network neutrality, Tumblr could cut a deal with your ISP — let’s say it’s Comcast — and its blogs would load really quickly while that home server blog might take minutes to load pictures. It might not even load at all. You can see why people in the freedom-of-speech obsessed United States might not be happy with chucking network neutrality. It privileges some speech over others, based on financial resources.

At the same time, ISPs would love to end network neutrality because they want to charge more to major players like Netflix in order to support their streaming content. Now, it looks like the FCC is thinking seriously about letting ISPs have what they want.

Over at Slate, lawyer Marvin Ammori sums up:

The FCC is going to propose that cable and phone companies such as Verizon, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable are allowed to discriminate against them, giving some websites better service and others worse service. Cable and phone companies will be able to make preferred deals with the companies that can afford to pay high fees for better service. They will even be allowed to make exclusive deals, such as making MSNBC.com the only news site on Comcast in the priority tier, and relegating competitors to a slow lane. The FCC is authorizing cable and phone companies to start making different deals with thousands or millions of websites, extracting money from sites that need to load quickly and reliably. So users will notice that Netflix or Hulu works better than Amazon Prime, which buffers repeatedly and is choppy. New sites will come along and be unable to compete with established giants. If we had had such discrimination a decade ago, we would still be using MySpace, not Facebook, because Facebook would have been unable to compete.

The chairman believes he can help us in one way: He will make sure all these highly discriminatory new tolls are “commercially reasonable.” Will that matter? No. Commercially reasonable deals won’t be measured by the market. If Amazon is paying twice what eBay is paying, the FCC will only make sure each price is reasonable, not that the prices are nondiscriminatory.

He adds that this “reasonable” pricing will hardly be reasonable, unless your company is insanely rich:

So, according to the FCC, when Verizon discriminates against a startup, we shouldn’t be alarmed, because (while being discriminated against), this startup can hire a lot of expensive lawyers and expert witnesses and meet Verizon (a company worth more than $100 billion) at the FCC and litigate this issue out, with no certainty as to the rule. The startup will almost certainly lose either at the FCC or on appeal to a higher court, after bleeding money on lawyers.

Big internet service companies have been pushing the FCC to craft such regulations for years. In 2010, we wrote about a proposal from Amazon and Google, urging the FCC to adopt pay-to-play rules that would allow some companies to get their content to your eyeballs faster than smaller players. It’s no exaggeration to say that rules like this would destroy the internet as we know it.

Now it looks like the rules that Googlezon wished for are actually in process.

Writing in the New Yorker, law professor Tim Wu explains:

The new rule gives broadband providers what they’ve wanted for about a decade now: the right to speed up some traffic and degrade others. (With broadband, there is no such thing as accelerating some traffic without degrading other traffic.) We take it for granted that bloggers, start-ups, or nonprofits on an open Internet reach their audiences roughly the same way as everyone else. Now they won’t. They’ll be behind in the queue, watching as companies that can pay tolls to the cable companies speed ahead. The motivation is not complicated. The broadband carriers want to make more money for doing what they already do. Never mind that American carriers already charge some of the world’s highest prices, around sixty dollars or more per month for broadband, a service that costs less than five dollars to provide. To put it mildly, the cable and telephone companies don’t need more money.

Wu has studied corporate controls of electronic communication for most of his life, and is the author of a terrific book about telecom monopolies called The Master SwitchHe’s worked as an adviser for the FCC, and has personally talked to President Obama about the need for net neutrality. So his disappointment is palpable when he notes that the leaked rules, confirmed as real by insiders at the agency, would allow internet companies to pay ISPs payola to get their traffic privileged above others.

This is the first step toward a world where corporate monopolies on content start affecting not just what you can see and read online — but also how you gain access to it. The signal will be out there, but your ISP just won’t deliver it to you.

An internet without network neutrality will look a lot like television does now. You’ll depend entirely on your cable company to get broadcasts, and they will only deliver their handpicked channels in their cable packages. There will probably be a little room for the web equivalent of public access television, but it will be so underfunded and slow to load that almost nobody will see it.

It used to be that when a show couldn’t make it on broadcast television, we would watch it online. That’s how amazing stuff like Dr. Horrible made it into the world. But without net neutrality, we lose that option too. If a company doesn’t have the money or legal acumen to get its content included in ISP packages, you will never see its programming. You’ll never have those shows; you’ll never have those apps; and you’ll never know what you’re missing.

– To the original…

 

The Net Closes Around Us

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

– An intense article, below, about how very much of our digital data is being sucked up and analyzed for all sorts of reasons and we do, and will, have very little to say about it.   

– It’s the digital future – read it and weep.  Some quotes:

“In November, the British tech blogger Doctorbeet discovered that his new LG Smart TV was snooping on him. Every time he changed the channel, his activity was logged and transmitted unencrypted to LG. Doctorbeet checked the TV’s option screen and found that the setting “collection of watching info” was turned on by default. Being a techie, he turned it off, but it didn’t matter. The information continued to flow to the company anyway.”

the Drug Enforcement Administration already subpoenas utility company records to determine if electricity consumption in specific homes is consistent with a marijuana-growing operation. What will come next? Will eating habits collected by smart fridges be repackaged and sold to healthcare or insurance companies as predictors of obesity or other health problems — and so a reasonable basis for determining premiums? Will smart lights inform drug companies of insomniac owners?”

“When everything is increasingly tracked and viewed through the lens of technological omniscience, what will the effect be on dissent and protest? Will security companies with risk assessment software troll through our data and crunch it to identify people they believe have the propensity to become criminals or troublemakers — and then share that with law enforcement? (Something like it already seems to be happening in Chicago, where police are using computer analytic programs to identify people at a greater risk of violent behavior.)”

– dennis

– = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = –

Twice in my life — in the 1960s and the post-9/11 years — I was suddenly aware of clicks and other strange noises on my phone.  In both periods, I’ve wondered what the story was, and then made self-conscious jokes with whoever was on the other end of the line about those who might (or might not) be listening in.  Twice in my life I’ve felt, up close and personal, that ominous, uncomfortable, twitchy sense of being overheard, without ever knowing if it was a manifestation of the paranoia of the times or of realism — or perhaps of both.

I’m conceptually outraged by mass surveillance, but generally my personal attitude has always been: Go ahead.  Read my email, listen to my phone calls, follow my web searches, check out my location via my cell phone.  My tweets don’t exist — but if they did, I’d say have at ‘em.  I don’t give a damn.

And in some sense, I don’t, even though everyone, including me, is embarrassed by something.  Everyone says something about someone they would rather not have made public (or perhaps have even said).  Everyone has some thing — or sometimes many things — they would rather keep to themselves.

Increasingly, however, as the U.S. surveillance state grows ever more pervasive, domestically and globally, as the corporate version of the same expands exponentially, as prying “eyes” and “ears” of every technological variety proliferate, the question of who exactly we are arises.  What are we without privacy, without a certain kind of unknowability?  What are we when “our” information is potentially anyone’s information?  We may soon find out.  Arecent experiment by two Stanford University graduate students who gathered just a few month’s worth of phone metadata on 546 volunteers has, for instance, made mincemeat of President Obama’s claim that the NSA’s massive version of metadata collection “is not looking at people’s names and they’re not looking at content.”  Using only the phone metadata they got, the Stanford researchers “inferred sensitive information about people’s lives, including: neurological and heart conditions, gun ownership, marijuana cultivation, abortion, and participation in Alcoholics Anonymous.”

And that’s just a crude version of what the future holds for all of us.  There are various kinds of extinctions.  That superb environmental reporter Elizabeth Kolbert has just written a powerful book, The Sixth Extinction, about the more usual (if horrifying) kind.  Our developing surveillance world may offer us an example of another kind of extinction: of what we once knew as the private self.  If you want to be chilled to the bone when it comes to this, check out today’s stunning report by the ACLU’s Catherine Crump and Matthew Harwood on where the corporate world is taking your identity. Tom

Invasion of the Data Snatchers
Big Data and the Internet of Things Means the Surveillance of Everything
By Catherine Crump and Matthew Harwood

Estimates vary, but by 2020 there could be over 30 billion devices connected to the Internet. Once dumb, they will have smartened up thanks to sensors and other technologies embedded in them and, thanks to your machines, your life will quite literally have gone online.

The implications are revolutionary. Your smart refrigerator will keep an inventory of food items, noting when they go bad. Your smart thermostat will learn your habits and adjust the temperature to your liking. Smart lights will illuminate dangerous parking garages, even as they keep an “eye” out for suspicious activity.

Techno-evangelists have a nice catchphrase for this future utopia of machines and the never-ending stream of information, known as Big Data, it produces: the Internet of Things.  So abstract. So inoffensive. Ultimately, so meaningless.

A future Internet of Things does have the potential to offer real benefits, but the dark side of that seemingly shiny coin is this: companies will increasingly know all there is to know about you.  Most people are already aware that virtually everything a typical person does on the Internet is tracked. In the not-too-distant future, however, real space will be increasingly like cyberspace, thanks to our headlong rush toward that Internet of Things. With the rise of the networked device, what people do in their homes, in their cars, in stores, and within their communities will be monitored and analyzed in ever more intrusive ways by corporations and, by extension, the government.

– More…

– Research thanks to:  Piers L.

Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’?

Monday, March 17th, 2014

“With the enemy’s approach to Moscow, the Moscovites’ view of their situation did not grow more serious but on the contrary became even more frivolous, as always happens with people who see a great danger approaching.

At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal power in the human soul: one very reasonably tells a man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of escaping it; the other, still more reasonably, says that it is too depressing and painful to think of the danger, since it is not in man’s power to foresee everything and avert the general course of events, and it is therefore better to disregard what is painful till it comes, and to think about what is pleasant.”

– Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Natural and social scientists develop new model of how ‘perfect storm’ of crises could unravel global system

A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with “Elites” based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:

“… accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.”

The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:

“Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.”

Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from “increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput,” despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.

Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.” In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:

“…. appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.”

Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that “with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites.”

In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners”, allowing them to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.” The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases).”

Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:

“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

However, the scientists point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation.

The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth:

“Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.”

The NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business – and consumers – to recognise that ‘business as usual’ cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately.

Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies – by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance – have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years. But these ‘business as usual’ forecasts could be very conservative.

– To the original article:  ➡