A cell phone start-up is looking to cash in on the current government surveillance hysteria sweeping much of the western world.
On Wednesday, encrypted communications company Silent Circle and Spanish cell phone start-up Geeksphone announced their debut product: Blackphone, an “NSA-proof” smartphone. The phone company tells users their product will be the first on the market to prevent government agencies and hackers from viewing personal information on their phones.
“I have spent my whole career working towards the launch of secure telephony products," said Phil Zimmermann, co-founder of Silent Circle. "Blackphone provides users with everything they need to ensure privacy and control of their communications, along with all the other high-end smartphone features they have come to expect."
The phone is scheduled to be unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain on February 24th. Consumers will be able to pre-order the phone once it is unveiled.
While the specifics of how the Blackphone will guard your information remain unclear, the general idea is this: the phone is designed to use encrypted data, secure file-sharing, and private internet browsing.
Despite the company’s claim that Blackphone will be “the world’s first smartphone placing privacy and control directly in the hands of its users,” this much is clear: Blackphone is not the first encrypted phone to hit the market. German company GSMK Cryptophone, for example, has been manufacturing encrypted communications products for years.
Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to see if Blackphone catches on. The company makes it painfully obvious in their promotional video for the phone that they hope to lure in customers frightened by the recent NSA leaks brought forth by Edward Snowden. The video, dark music and all, shows pictures of a number of newspaper front pages in the past year featuring headlines regarding government surveillance. The whole video has a fear-mongering vibe to it.
See it for yourself here:
A new report on the NSA shows that the controversial agency can access computers even when they’re not connected to the internet.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the NSA has placed software on over 100,000 computers around the world allowing agents to conduct surveillance on the machines using radio frequency technology.
Here’s a breakdown of how the James Bond-esque technology works.
Field agents first insert USB plugs containing tiny transceivers into the target computer. The transceiver then communicates with a briefcase-sized NSA field station that can be placed up to eight miles away from the computer. This station then relays information back to the NSA’s Remote Operations Center. The field station can install malware on the computer as well as import and extract any information agents wish to on the target computer.
NSA spokesperson Vanee Vines described the technology as an “active defense” technique that has not been used on American computers. Among the groups targeted by the technology are the Chinese and Russian militaries, drug cartels, trade institutions at the European Union, and occasionally U.S. partners near war zones like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and India.
“NSA's activities are focused and specifically deployed against -- and only against -- valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements," Vines said. "In addition, we do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of -- or give intelligence we collect to -- U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line."
Vines' last comment about using intelligence technologies to steal trade secrets is a dig at the Chinese Army. The Chinese Army has been caught many times in the past hacking into American industrial and military computers in order to steal trade secrets and intellectual property. Ironically, U.S. officials have loudly protested each time it’s been discovered that Chinese intelligence has tapped U.S. computers.
A senior U.S. official speaking with the Times said the tracking technology should be thought of in the same way submarines are.
“That is what the submarines do all the time,” the anonymous official said. “They track the adversary submarines”. With digital sureveillance, he concluded, the U.S. tries “to silently track the adversaries while they’re trying to silently track you.”
I think most of us can agree that red lights are a necessary evil. Notice I said most, not all, of us. Count German car maker Audi among those who think we can find a way around sitting at red lights.
Audi is developing a system that will let drivers know how long an upcoming traffic light will stay a certain color. The idea is that, once informed about how long they have to make it through a light, drivers can adjust their speeds accordingly and spend as little time waiting at red lights as possible.
The system will work by learning traffic light patterns using local data sources. The data will then be sent to the car using the vehicles WiFi system and -- voila -- a countdown will appear on the dash telling drivers how long they have to zip through the next light.
Audi has dubbed the developmental program “Traffic Light Assist” (TLA). TLA has been tested in Berlin, Verona, and Las Vegas thus far. A widespread implementation of the technology likely depends on whether local governments are willing to grant Audi access to their traffic light data. This is no doubt the biggest obstacle in Audi’s way right now.
It’s not hard to envision how many drivers would use the technology. If you see you’ve got 6 seconds to get through a light that’s 500 feet away, do you relax and agree to wait at the light for a few minutes? Or do you hit the gas and try squeeze through the intersection before the light turns red? The system seems like a great way to encourage speeding. Good luck convincing authorities otherwise.
We’ll wait and see how this one turns out, but I’d guess the chances of this tech really taking off are slim at best.
Massachusetts man Thomas Gagnon claims that Google is responsible for landing him in jail.
At some point in the past, something went terribly wrong between Gagnon and his ex-fiancee. Not only did the couple call of their wedding, put a restraining order was placed on Gagnon. Presumably, the two hadn’t communicated in some time. That is, until Google+ got involved.
Google+, the social network that internet giant Google is trying ever so hard to impose on Google users, is known to rake through the contacts list of gmail users and invite people to join Google+. Normally, this isn’t such a big problem. People you know will receive an email asking them to join the network. They’ll probably ignore it and move on with their day. Big deal.
But when one of your contacts is an ex-fiancee with a restraining order on you, things can get ugly.
Gagnon’s ex-fiancee received an automated Google+ email from him recently. She contacted police immediately and reported the email. Police determined that the email violated the terms of Gagnon’s restraining order, and arrested him. His attorney Neil Hourihan will argue at a February 6th hearing that Google -- not Gagnon -- should be held responsible for the illegal email.
According to internet privacy attorney Bradley Shear, an expert in his field, Gagnon may be able to bring a serious lawsuit against Google.
"If he didn't send it -- if Google sent it without his permission and he was jailed for it -- Google could be facing major liability," Shear said.
Target announced Friday that the massive data hack last month took more than just the credit and debit card information of 40 million customers.
Now the retail giant says the personal information, including names, phone numbers and postal and e-mail addresses, of up to 70 million customers was also leaked.
Not everyone affected by the card breach will also be affected by the personal information breach. Officials say there is likely some overlap between the two groups.
"I know that it is frustrating for our guests to learn that this information was taken and we are truly sorry they are having to endure this," CEO Gregg Steinhafel said in a statement.
Target tried to restore consumer confidence in December by offering 15 percent off the weekend after the breach.
Target’s stock is down more than one percent Friday morning. They expect fourth-quarter sales at stores open longer than a year will be down about 2.5 percent.
Deric Lostutter, the Anonymous hacktivist who helped expose the brutal rape of a 16-year-old girl, faces more jail time for his actions than the football players convicted of committing the rape.
Lostutter posted a video of the rape on the high school football team's "Roll Red Roll" fan page, drawing national media attention to the brutal assault. He admits to appearing in the video behind the Guy Fawkes Anonymous mask, but denies having hacked the site. If convicted of hacking, he could face 10 years in jail— five times what the rapists face.
Lostutter, a 26-year old corporate cyber security consultant, was handcuffed and detained by the FBI in his small town of Steubenville, Ohio while the feds ransacked his house. Agents took his computer and Xbox, claiming they had a search warrant in connection to Lotstutter’s hacking of the Roll Red Roll website, which claims to be “the most famous high school website in the world!”
The website became infamous with the story of two “Big Red” high school football players who were charged with raping a 16-year-old girl who was drunk and unresponsive at a party.
Lotstutter also released a cell phone video of the attack and threatened to release the suspects’ personal information. He was bluffing, but it did the trick. The video went viral.
"Yeah," said Lotstutter, who quickly revealed the man behind the “KYAnonymous” mask. "And it should've. All these kids stood around filming it, laughing, watching it and mocking it and none of them stood up...they're all pieces of crap human beings. It was kind of appalling to me and to the nation, if not the world."
“It was everything that I’d ever preached, and now there’s this group of people getting off the couch and doing something about it. I wanted to be part of the movement,” he said.
The rape investigation revealed a cover-up on the part of the school’s principal, Steubenvile school superintendant, former football coach and other adults. Charges have just been dropped against Lynnett Gorman, an elementary school principal charged with failing to report child abuse, but the cases remain unresolved for the others.
One of the rapists, Ma'lik Richmond, has been released from juvenile detention after serving six months of his one-year term. He will have to register as a sex offender for the next 20 years. The other, Trent Mays, was sentenced to an additional year for another charge.
A 16-year-old was reported to police after doing what he thought was a good deed.
The teen, Joshua Rogers, is a self-described “white hat” computer security researcher. Rogers tries to hack websites with sole intent of exposing security weaknesses in the site. Typically these weaknesses are reported and fixed to prevent future hackers with ill intentions from entering the site.
On December 26th, Rogers was able to hack the database of the Victoria, Australia Transportation Department website. He was able to see the full names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, and partial credit card numbers of passengers who use the site.
He immediately reported the security weakness to Public Transport Victoria (PTV), but his report went unanswered. Since the government was ignoring his report, he took it to The Age newspaper in Melbourne.
Once The Age contacted PTV about the report, government officials reported Rogers to the police. The Age does not say whether the police have taken any legal action against Rogers at this time.
Still, a number of tech researchers have come forward saying that it’s disappointing that the government is choosing to punish researchers who are trying to help them out.
''It's truly disappointing that a government agency has developed a website which has these sorts of flaws,'' said Phil Kernick of the cyber security company CQR. ''So if this kid found it, he was probably not the first one. Someone else was probably able to find it too, which means that this information may already be out there.''
Ty Miller, director of Threat Intelligence, a group that locates and reports security flaws in websites, says the information stored on PTV’s site is the exact type of information routinely sought out by hackers.
''Most of the stuff is personally identifiable information that is often used for things like identity theft,” Miller said. “...for example, ringing up your bank, and then answering their basic questions - like, 'what's your birthday, what's your address'. That then allows you to maybe reset a password for internet banking and then make fraudulent transactions.''
As Slate writer Kim Zetter notes, governments have a long history of punishing hackers whose only intent was to help an organization by exposing security flaws in their website. U.S. hacker Andrew Auernheimer is currently serving a three and half year prison sentence after he and friend discovered and publicized a security hole in AT&T’s website.
Photo credit: Simon Schluter
T-Mobile revealed their latest attempt at mobile supremacy on Wednesday when it announced it would pay early termination fees for whoever made the switch from Sprint, AT&T, or Verizon.
The company announced it would pay fees up to $650, including a maximum of $350 per line and $300 per phone. This comes a week after AT&T announced it would offer T-Mobile customers $450 in credit if they made the switch to them.
But it seems T-Mobile has the upper hand after delivering big numbers in 2013. The company added 4.4 million customers last year, its biggest growth in eight years.
T-Mobile added 1.6 million new subscribers in its fourth quarter alone, bringing its total customer number to almost 47 million people.
The company says this is proof its “uncarrier” strategy and “Simple Choice Plan” with no annual contract is working after only eight months.
Subscribers making the switch to T-Mobile from one of the three other nationwide mobile providers will have to trade their old phone, buy a new one from the company and give up their current phone number.
Offering to pay for termination fees might be what gets even more people flock to T-Mobile, according to CEO John Legere, who says “78% of customers said they would switch if someone paid their early termination fees.”
“We will become famous for this in 2014,” Legere told reporters at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “We’re going to force the industry to change. I want every customer to have a complete choice. It’s going to be a healthier industry.”
Perhaps adding insult to injury, T-Mobile is even urging customers to visit T-Mobile.com/break-up and write their mobile carrier a break-up letter.
“It’s not a bribe. It’s transformational for our industry,” T-Mobile’s chief marketing officer, Mike Sievert said at CES.
The company said competitors’ customers can make the switch starting Thursday.
T-Mobile stock is up to 101.6% since last May, according to Forbes, while both Verizon and AT&T stock are down over the same time span.
Sources: Forbes, CNN Money
In an era of economic hardship yet rapid technological advance, digital currency is often viewed as a beacon of hope for the future. Bitcoin, the internet’s most popular digital currency, has its skeptics due to the currency’s unpredictable fluctuation in value as a result of its deregulation. Still, many use the currency on a daily basis, and several investors are hoping to cash in on the currency if it ever truly takes off.
A new investigation by the Congressional Research Service may dash the hopes of those opportunistic early adopters. After extensively researching Bitcoin, the organization claims that the existence of the digital currency may violate a relatively ancient law: the Stamp Payments Act of 1862.
The Stamp Payments Act was originally designed to discourage institutions from issuing money with a sum of less than $1. The law reads: “Whoever makes, issues, circulates, or pays out any note, check, memorandum, token, or other obligation for a less sum than $1, intended to circulate as money or to be received or issued in lieu of lawful money of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”
The way Bitcoin works is by breaking a single digital “coin” into extremely tiny values, which could potentially dip below $1. According to the provisions outlined by Stamp Act, this could technically make the online institutions that issue Bitcoin illegal.
According to some finance scholars, whether or not Bitcoin will be allowed to continue in the United States mostly depends on whether the government will want to take action against it, not necessarily the violation of The Stamp Act in particular.
“A lot depends on whether the government becomes anxious to move against Bitcoin. Whether this is the most appropriate statute under which to control Bitcoin, I’m not so confident,” said Darrell Duffie, finance professor at Stanford University, via Wired.
According to this Quora response as well as information found on several Bitcoin-specific sites, early adopters of the currency have long viewed the Stamps Payment Act of 1862 as a potential threat to Bitcoin's future.