Tech Giants Unite In Anti-Snooping Effort
Eight major United States high-tech companies have called on President Obama and governments worldwide to reform their surveillance practices.
Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple and AOL want governments to ensure that data collection by law enforcement and intelligence agencies is bound by rules and focuses on targeted suspects. They also want governments to be more transparent about the data they request.
“The security of users’ data is critical, which is why we’ve invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information,” said Google cofounder and CEO Larry Page.
“This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world,” he continued. “It’s time for reform, and we urge the U.S. government to lead the way.”
Some of the principles the tech industry suggests governments should embrace:
• Governments should pass laws imposing “sensible limitations” on their ability to compel service providers to disclose user data and should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes.
•Intelligence agencies should only collect data or compel its production under a clear legal framework with strong checks and balances. Independent review courts incorporating an adversarial process should be set up, and important rulings should be made public in a timely fashion.
•Companies should be permitted to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information, and allowed to promptly disclose this data to the public.
The call for independent reviewing courts and the inclusion of an adversarial process are a direct blow against the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is viewed as rubber-stamping the NSA’s requests without affording defendants or recipients of warrants the chance to be heard.
User anger over government surveillance is growing, particularly in light of recent revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency has infected 50,000 computer networks worldwide with malware, and that it is daily harvesting the locations of 5 billion cellphones around the world.
The Long, Hard Battle for Transparency
The Center for Democracy and Technology wrote the White House and Congress on these issues in July and November on behalf of coalitions representing various sectors of society.
In August, proponents of surveillance reform held closed-door meetings separately with President Obama and top administration officials about government surveillance.
Meanwhile, bipartisan support is growing for the USA Freedom Act, jointly introduced in October, by Rep. Jim Sesenbrenner, the lead author of the U.S. Patriot Act, and Sen. Patrick Leahy to rein in NSA’s bulk collection of data.
All Good Things Take Time
Don’t expect changes any time soon. The political process doesn’t work like the tech industry, where things change overnight.
The problem is that changes in technology have overtaken the law. When the Patriot Act was passed in 2001, it was inconceivable that someone could record every single telephone conversation. However, technology has improved dramatically and is able to accomplish this today and it’s easier to record everything now than it is to selectively record various conversations.
Between legal cases challenging surveillance and legislative measures being proposed, the Patriot Act is not going to be reauthorized in its exact same form when it comes up again for reauthorization in 2015.
Article in the Washington Post:
Chances are, if you were sitting at your computer yesterday, you were searching for Cyber Monday deals. Survey results indicated that 86% of working Americans planned to spend at least some time shopping or browsing for gifts during work hours on Cyber Monday.
Cyber Monday is the single biggest online shopping day of the year and this year retail experts say sales will be 15 percent more than they were in 2012. Online ads are expected to help drive the $2 billion in sales that was expected to take place on Cyber Monday.
Cyber Monday, so-called because of the rush of internet sales following a traditional Black Friday, is the busiest online shopping day of the year. Cyber Monday is similar to Black Friday, only without the long lines and pushy fellow shoppers. Online stores roll out deals at specific times on a first-come-first-served basis, and the best items generally sell out in seconds.
It’s also a less stressful environment in which to shop, because if one site runs out of an item you want, you don’t have to hop into your car and drive to another location hoping to find that same item elsewhere. Simply navigate to another online store and try your luck there.
Many Cyber Monday e-Tailers have committed to keep the shopping spree up for the entire week (can you say Cyber Week?) right through December 8th in an effort to make up for the slower than expected Black Friday sales. I suspect that shoppers will continue find better deals online for the entire month and perhaps even after the Christmas holiday.
The term “Cyber Monday” was coined by Shop.org, a division of the National Retail Federation, in a press release that reported the results of a 2004 research study
In 2012, online shopping traffic peaked just before lunchtime on the east coast – at 11:25 a.m. EST. Right around that time, web traffic soared for department stores, health and beauty retailers, home goods sellers and apparel stores.
Cyber Monday predictions for 2013:
Lastly – have you heard that Amazon.com is planning to deliver your online purchases using unmanned drones? Amazon Prime Air will provide some consumers with 30 minutes or less – to your door – deliveries for products weighing 5 pounds or less. Although the actually technology implementation is still 3 – 4 years away, you can be sure that Amazon.com CEO, Jeff Bezos will make it happen.
Here’s some info and a short video and picture of a drone:
Amazon Prime Air “Octocopter” introduction on You Tube
Chromecast is a $35 streaming dongle that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port and plays audio/video content on a high-definition TV using your Wi-Fi connection.
The basics: what it is and what it does:
You can use it to stream online videos from YouTube, Netflix and elsewhere, and use your computer, mobile phone or tablet as a remote control. It doesn’t have any kind of separate app store or user interface on your TV – everything gets controlled from your PC or mobile device.
The key word here is control: Your phone doesn’t stream videos directly to your Chromecast dongle. Instead, it just tells the device which video it should stream from the cloud. That means that you can use your phone for something else, or even turn it off, once the stream begins. This also helps preserve your smartphone battery
This kind of remote control capability only works with apps and sites that directly support Chromecast. In addition to that, users can also stream any web content directly from their computer’s Chrome browser, as long as they have a special Chrome extension installed.
The setup is remarkably easy if you follow Google’s directions and download the setup app on your computer or mobile device. Just get those apps, and the setup is literally done in two minutes. Plug the dongle into your TV, connect it to a power source and fire up the app on your computer or mobile device. Enter the password of your local Wi-Fi network, and you’re good to go.
Chromecast is a great device for Netflix viewing: Streams look as good as on any other device and navigating the Netflix catalog on a computer or mobile device works much better than on a connected device like the older WII we have for streaming Netflix.
The other use for Chromecast right now is streaming videos from YouTube. One limitation though is that streaming videos to Chromecast from your PC is only supported if you are on YouTube.com, and not if the video is embedded in a third-party website. That means that you’ll need to click through to YouTube.com before you can start watching on the big screen.
When Chromecast was introduced it was thought that the HDMI-CEC standard would be its secret killer feature and it is. Chromecast can automatically turn on TVs that support HDMI-CEC and even change the HDMI input, switching from live TV to whichever video you selected on your mobile device. One complaint is that turning on the TV doesn’t work if you plug your Chromecast unit into the TV’s USB port, which is why it makes sense to use the extra power adapter that Google ships with the device instead of USB.
Netflix and YouTube are clearly just the beginning for Chromecast. Hulu, Vimeo, HBO Go and others have already pledged their support, and many developers have begun creating apps and games for the device. All of this means that Chromecast will get substantially better over the months to come.
No additional monthly fees and only $35 to bring Netflix to a TV in your bedroom or den is really a no brainer even if you already have a smart TV, or watch Netflix with the game console that’s otherwise collecting dust in your living room. The device makes it easy to bring online video to the living room or kid’s room and in turn makes TV watching a lot more enjoyable. I’ve just ordered 3 more dongles for 2 TV’s at home and one here at the office.
More information is available here:
The title may seem like we’re taking agiant step backwards… but read on….
Coin is a new app and gadget that combines all of your credit and debit accounts into a single card.
If your wallet’s starting to get a little too thick to fit in your pocket, Coin might be able to lighten your load. That’s Coin, not coins.
It looks no different than a standard credit card, but it’s actually a small device that can act as a credit card, debit card or gift card. The device is available for pre-order and expected to start shipping next summer.
Coin CEO Kanishk Parashar said that the company was born from the ashes of the failed company Smart Market. That app, another mobile payment system, failed to notify customers when they were near a store that accepted the app. “There was no need for a card or wallet, but we didn’t see payments going through the system,” he told reporters.
Coin isn’t another system of payment, but a way of uniting several different methods of payment into a single device. Coin users plug a magnetic strip reader into a smartphone, swipe their cards, and sync their information through the company’s app.
In order to make a payment, users tap a button on the Coin card and pick which account they want to pay with, whether it’s a business credit card or a personal debit card. After picking an account, the Coin card is swiped just like using any other card.
It may seem a little risky to keep all your financial accounts bound to a single card. However, Parashar and his colleagues have engineered security measures into Coin. All communication between the Coin card, app and servers are heavily encrypted. All your financial information would be secured.
In addition, Coin cards themselves broadcast a low-power Bluetooth signal that detects where your smartphone is. It works on the concept of being on a leash. If you’re walking away from your card and go out of range of the Bluetooth, Coin locks itself from use and your iPhone will then signal you with an alert.
But even if you miss that alert, you don’t have to worry about other people using your card. After a certain period of time (determined by the user), Coin will automatically
deactivate and stop other people from using it.
Coin is currently available for pre-order for $50. It may seem like a hefty price to pay for a lighter wallet, but Coin executives are optimistic.
I see this as a big step forward in mobile payment processing and simplification but believe that the ultimate solution would be for your smart phone to manage and make all your mobile payments as well as manage all the different courtesy and awards cards stores hand out today.
For additional info:
Watch the video on YouTube here:
Microsoft’s New Windows 8.1 Ad Shows Off The Start Button!
With Windows 8 now the go to operating system for consumers and business users alike, Microsoft is hoping that bringing back the Start button in Windows 8.1 will make users fall in love with its newest operating system.
Users told Microsoft not to kill the Start button. Even Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen publicly griped about its loss when he reviewed an early version of Windows 8. After a lot of soul searching, Microsoft saw the light and listened to users.
Bringing it back is a step in the right direction, but, as mentioned before, if you already tried Windows 8, and hated it, Windows 8.1 probably won’t change your mind, Start button or not. The bigger problem is that the user interface just isn’t intuitive in a whole bunch of ways. It’s almost downright confusing. But, we have little choice in the matter, aside from abandoning PC’s and jumping to a MAC or Linux based system, we’ll all need to learn to like it.
On top of that – April of next year is the drop dead date for Windows XP’s extended support & security updates so if you don’t make a change before April 9th 2014, you’ll be surfing the net with a 12 year old operating system (that’s ancient in technology terms). When Windows XP was first developed the internet was a different place. Smartphones were non-existent, laptops were a luxury and tablet computers were a thing of science fiction
That said, here’s a YouTube video showing how the revived Start button will look when Windows 8.1 is released to the public on Oct. 18:
Updated Windows 8.1 Demo
ACTSmart – Be Prepared! Get Emergency Information on Your Cellphone from Mass.gov! There are now two primary methods that Massachusetts citizens can get emergency information on their cellphones, Ping4alerts! and Wireless Emergency Alerts.
Click for more information. (http://www.mass.gov/eopss/agencies/mema/get-emergency-information-on-your-cellphone.html)
Both of these methods will provide timely and important information about emergencies and hazards in your area and how you should respond to ensure your safety. Important messages may be delivered using both methods.
Q: What type of alerts will I receive?
A: The app receives a data feed from the National Weather Service for certain severe weather events. Messages are sent for watches and warnings for tornados, thunderstorms, flash floods, blizzards, hurricanes, and others. In addition, MEMA also uses Ping4alerts to send important information about potential or actual emergencies.
Q: How will Ping4alerts! notify me if an alert has been sent about severe weather or other emergencies?
A: When a new alert is sent, Ping4alerts! Will cause your phone to sound an audible alert and it will push a notification to your phone’s screen. In addition, certain severe messages about life threatening conditions may override the phone’s silent or vibrate settings to ensure that the user gets the message.
Wireless Emergency Alert system: Have you received an emergency alert on your cell phone about severe weather, an AMBER Alert or another emergency and were unsure of what it was or where it came from? Beginning in June 2012, the Wireless Association and the wireless industry joined the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to offer a robust and reliable Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system.
There are three different kinds of WEA alerts:
1. Imminent Threat Alerts – Alerts that include severe man-made or natural disasters where an imminent threat to life or property exists:-Most WEAs will be issued by NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS). WEAs will be used by the NWS only for the most imminent and severe weather conditions. This includes automatic alerts when Warnings are issued for: Tornados, Flash Floods, Blizzards, Ice Storms, Hurricanes, and Tsunamis.
-Imminent Threat alerts may be issued by authorized state officials, such as the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Alerts must meet certain criteria that are established in the FCC rules to ensure that only the most urgent messages are sent as a WEA.
2. AMBER Alerts – Alerts that meet the U.S. Department of Justice’s criteria to help law enforcement search for and locate an abducted child. These alerts are sent by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
3. Presidential Alerts – Alerts issued by the President or a designee. While these alerts will appear on a person’s mobile device similar to a text message, they are differentiated from a regular text message because they include a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice. WEAs are not text messages but instead use a different kind of technology to ensure they are delivered immediately and are not subjected to potential congestion (or delays) on wireless networks. There are no fees/charges for this service (does not count as a text message). The device’s location information is used only for the delivery of the Wireless Emergency Alert and is not tracked by the provider or the government.
WEAs will be sent to those within a targeted area, unlike text messages, which are not location based. While WEAs will be targeted, an alert usually is sent to an entire county. As some counties are quite large, you may need to investigate further after you receive a WEA to learn whether you may be in harm’s way. Your best use of WEA is to immediately seek additional information about the imminent threat impacting your area.
If you have a WEA-enabled phone, you are automatically enrolled. The number of WEA-capable devices continues to grow, and many of the new phones (both smartphones and non-smartphones) that are sold from participating carriers will be able to receive these alerts. If your device has the Wireless Emergency Alerts logo (see logo to right), then it is WEA-capable. If you have an older phone, you might need to only upgrade your device’s software, rather than purchase a new one. To confirm Wireless Emergency Alerts are available in your area and your device is capable of receiving the alerts, please check with your carrier.
Wireless Emergency Alerts are just one notification tool available to the public. If you do not have a WEA-enabled phone, then you can still rely on other means of receiving emergency information. This includes NOAA Weather Radios, news media coverage, ping4alerts!, the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on radio and TV broadcasts, social media, and other alerting methods. Many communities in Massachusetts operate some type of local emergency notification (“reverse 911” type) system that may require registration in order to get local alerts and messages from the community. WEAs are designed to supplement, not replace these other notification methods (which can be done by contacting local public safety agencies).
More information about WEA (including links to cell phone carrier information) is available on the CTIA website. For FAQs, see FEMA’s WEA/CMAS website or the National Weather Service website. WEA is also known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) and the Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN). WEA/CMAS/PLAN are part of FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).
ACTSmart – Be Prepared! If a natural disaster strikes, what will happen to your pet? Be prepared: make a plan and prepare a disaster kit for your pet.
Last week we talked about Ready.gov and what they are suggesting for natural and man-made disasters. This week we’ve recommending the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and what they recommend in case of a disaster. We especially liked their recommendations for your pets! There were LOTS of great suggestions that we hadn’t thought about! And, you can sign up for email updates and RSS feeds about any topic that interests you!
Prepare a Pet Disaster Kit
Prepare a disaster kit for your pet(s), so evacuation will go smoothly for your entire family. Ask your veterinarian for help putting it together. Here is a checklist to get you started. Some examples of what to include are:
Disaster Supplies for Pets
- Food (in airtight waterproof containers or cans) and water for at least 2 weeks for each pet
- Food and water bowls and a manual can opener
- For cats: litter box and litter
- For dogs: plastic bags for poop
- Clean-up items for bathroom accidents (paper towels, plastic trash bags, bleach-containing cleaning agent)
- Medications for at least 2 weeks, along with any treats used to give the medications and pharmacy contact for refills
- Medical records
- Rabies vaccination certificate
- Current vaccination record
- If your pet has a microchip, a record of the microchip number
- Prescription for medication(s)
- For cats, most recent FeLV/FIV test result or vaccination date
- Summary of pertinent medical history; ask your veterinarian for a copy
- Sturdy leashes or harnesses
- Carrier or cage that is large enough for your pet to stand comfortably and turn around; towels or blankets
- Pet toys and bed (familiar items to help the pet[s] feel more comfortable).
- A handout containing identification information (in the event you get separated from your pet)
- Current photo of pet
- Pet’s descriptive features (age, sex, neutered/non-neutered status, color(s), and approximate weight)
- Microchip number
- Owner contact information (cell phone, work phone, home phone)
- Contact information of a close relative or friend,
- A handout with boarding instructions, such as feeding schedule, medications, and any known allergies and behavior problems
- Documents, medications, and food should be stored in waterproof containers
Even though the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, which forecasters had predicted would be more active than normal, has turned out to be something of a dud so far…. that’s no reason to consider it over! Today marks the statistical “peak day” for the season which runs from June 1st to November 30th. We’re saying, ACTSmart – Be Prepared! All month long we’ll be posting preparedness tips and information on Facebook as well as on our GoAmerican.com web site.
We’re including business, family and even pet tips, many that we found when we signed up at Ready.gov. which FEMA has created to help citizens “Plan, Prepare and Stay Informed.” We’ve joined the National Preparedness Community whose mission is to “harness the power of every individual through education, training, and volunteer service to make communities safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to the threats of terrorism, crime, public health issues, and disasters of all kinds.”
Anyone can join and it’s FREE – simply go to Ready.gov and click on the “Pledge To Prepare” button where you’ll fill out a simple form with your email address and geographic location. Signing up will get you access to exclusive resources, regional groups, national forms, and updates from FEMA and emergency management personnel. If you sign up for their monthly news email, they keep you informed about all types of Ready.gov-related issues and send them directly to you via email.
It’s not just for hurricane season either – the information is timely and relevant for:
- Basic Disaster Supplies Kit recommended items
- FAMILY EMERGENCY PLAN
- CARING FOR ANIMALS DURING AN EMERGENCY
- Business Continuity Planning
- KIDS Activities including “Call a Family Meeting and Make a Plan!”
One “disaster” tip that we’re formulating into a company policy is “Communications during and after a disaster.” A common problem during and after a disaster is lack of power, phone and internet communication lines. Our new policy is that we will also communicate via Facebook and Twitter with our clients. All clients will be receiving our emergency communications procedure so they’ll know how to reach us and how we’ll communicate with them in the event of a “communications out” situation. It’s a great policy for every business and every family to consider putting in place.
On July 31st 2013, Massachusetts law makers quietly enacted a new sales tax regulation hidden within the much reported on Gasoline and Tobacco tax increases.
Many IT service providers are still not even aware of this new regulation or how it will affect both their business and that of their clients.
Basically, effective July 31st, Computer Service providers and consultants are now required to charge 6.25% sales tax on all professional services relating to the services defined in the NEW definition of “services”.
The “Legal Speak”
According to The Mass Department of Revenue (DOR) “The term “Services” shall be limited to the following items, telecommunications services, computer system design services and the modification, integration, enhancement, installation, or configuration of standardized or prewritten software.
The application of the sales and use tax to Computer/Software Services will not apply to personal or professional services that do not themselves constitute computer system design. Or software modification services and that are not directly related to a particular system integration project involving the sale of computer hardware or software. Two examples of such non-taxable and professional services may include (1) consulting and evaluation services with respect to existing computer systems to identify deficiencies and needs and (2) services to prepare a business to use modified software, such as training.”
The DOR intends to provide “additional guidance” in the future regarding application of this services tax. The initial guidance provided by the state, as stated in TIR 13-10, is currently very limited and the law, in its current iteration, is very open ended and as should expected, favors the State and not the consumer of these types of services.
So, in a real life example, this means that when a consumer purchases a piece of software (say an antivirus program)and then hires a third party (computer guy) to install and configure that software, the third party (computer guy) is required to charge the consumer 6.25% sales tax on the hourly rate charged to perform the installation.
Another example – when a consumer buys a new computer system and then engages a computer service company to install and configure it for them – the computer guy must charge sales tax on the service rate he charges to perform this work. Business network service and installations will incur the same 6.25% sales tax as well.
One more example – If you or your company hires a web designer/consultant to build, update and/or modify your website, this type of service is now taxable as well.
My interpretation – As we see it, this impacts almost all of our clients and the services that we provide and every home or business computer user that hires a third party to perform pretty much any service on their computers and networks! We have reached out to our tax accountant as well as the Mass DOR to get a more exact definition and will report any new information we receive.
I’ve personally called around to dozens of computer service providers both large and small throughout the South Shore and in every single instance, the Service providers are still operating under the “old” tax regulations and have not yet adopted these new requirements. It’s only a matter of time – when these companies start seeing the new online ST-9 sales tax reporting forms requiring that they separately report and pay their service tax liabilities – they will be playing and paying catch up with the Mass DOR.
I’ll be talking about this with Kevin Tocci, Monday night between 6:30 and 7:00 on Monday Night Talk on 95.9 WATD. I’ll also be discussing it with Rob Hakala and Lisa Azizian on my regular Tuesday morning spot on the South Shore’s Morning News Show at 8:11am, also on WATD. Tune in or you can listen LIVE on the website at 959watd.com.
Link to the new law as posted on MASS DOR website:
Article/post in The Boston Business Journal:
If you want to be even more confused about this law, have a look at this site:
It’s not enough that we need to worry about the security cameras installed on every other telephone pole, street sign and office building – NOW we need to check the TV sets in our living rooms.
Today’s high-end televisions are almost all equipped with “smart” PC-like features, including Internet connectivity, apps, microphones and cameras. But a recently discovered security hole in some Samsung Smart TVs shows that many of those bells and whistles aren’t ready for prime time.
The research was conducted on different models of 2012 Samsung Smart TVs and was presented this week at the Black Hat cyber security conference in Las Vegas.
In a formal statement, Samsung said it takes user safety very seriously. Addressing the camera flaw, a company spokesperson said, “The camera can be turned into a bezel of the TV so that the lens is covered, or disabled by pushing the camera inside the bezel. The TV owner can also unplug the TV from the home network when the Smart TV features are not in use.” Samsung also recommends that customers use encrypted wireless access points.
The flaws in Samsung Smart TVs, which have now been patched, enabled hackers to remotely turn on the TVs’ built-in cameras without leaving any trace of it on the screen. While you’re watching TV, a hacker anywhere around the world could have been watching you. Hackers also could have easily rerouted an unsuspecting user to a malicious website to steal bank account information. Samsung quickly fixed the problem after security researchers at iSEC Partners informed the company about the bugs. Samsung sent a software update to all affected TVs.
Bottom Line: When all else fails or you’re just not sure…. you can always put tape over the cameras. A low tech solution for a high tech problem.
These types of glitches speak to the larger problem of gadgets that connect to the Internet but have virtually no security to speak of.
If something can connect to the internet, it can be hacked. Security cameras, lights, heating control systems, smart implanted medical devices and even door locks and windows are now increasingly coming with features that allow users to control them remotely. Without proper security controls, there’s little to stop hackers from invading users’ privacy, stealing personal information or spying on people.