Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Tech Giants Face Antitrust Hearings

Jeff Bezos 

Leaders of the world's four most powerful companies will defend the Internet giants, painting them as US success stories in a fiercely competitive world during a major antitrust hearing Wednesday.

The unprecedented hearing will feature chief executives Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Sundar Pichai of Google and its parent firm Alphabet.

The CEOs will testify remotely at the hearing, which comes less than 100 days before the US election.

Zuckerberg is to say that the internet giant would not have succeeded without US laws fostering competition, but that the rules of the internet now need updating.

"Facebook is a proudly American company," Zuckerberg said in prepared remarks ahead of what will be a closely watched House Judiciary Committee hearing.

"Our story would not have been possible without US laws that encourage competition and innovation."

Bezos will paint online giant Amazon as an American "success" story, while accepting a need for scrutiny.

"I believe Amazon should be scrutinized," Bezos said in prepared remarks posted online ahead of the hearing.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Twitter Scam Address Blacklisted

Coinbase stopped around 1,100 customers from sending bitcoin to hackers who gained access to high-profile Twitter accounts last Wednesday. The attackers hacked over 100 Twitter accounts in a massive coordinated bitcoin scam.

According to Twitter, the hackers convinced some of the company’s employees to use internal systems and tools to access the accounts and help the hackers defraud users into sending them bitcoin.

According to Forbes, Coinbase and other cryptocurrency exchanges were able to stop some customers from sending bitcoin to the hackers by blacklisting the hackers’ wallet address. Coinbase says it prevented just over 1,000 customers from sending around $280,000 worth of bitcoin during last Wednesday’s attack. Roughly 14 Coinbase users sent around $3,000 worth of bitcoin to the scam’s bitcoin address before the company moved to blacklist it.

The cyber attack involved 130 accounts -- 45 of which were used to urge people to send them BTC. Data belonging to eight accounts was also downloaded and stolen; however, Twitter does not believe the hackers were able to access cleartext passwords and so mass password resets are not required.

Twitter is working with law enforcement to investigate the incident. The company is also conducting a forensic review of all impacted accounts.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Twitter Hack Highlights Security Concerns

This month the theme at Ethics Forum has been personal privacy and Big Tech. On Thursday, July 16, Twitter announced that 130 Twitter accounts were hacked in what constitutes one of the biggest security breaches of the social media platform.

The accounts that were hacked include high profile figures such as Barak Obama, Joe Biden, and Elon Musk.

Twitter reported, “For a small subset of these accounts, the attackers were able to gain control of the accounts and then send Tweets from those accounts.”

The first public signs of the intrusion came around 3 PM EDT on Wednesday, when the Twitter account for the cryptocurrency exchange Binance tweeted a message saying it had partnered with “CryptoForHealth” to give back 5000 bitcoin to the community, with a link where people could donate or send money.

The hack actually began on Tuesday night, when several verified Twitter accounts began tweeting out posts asking users to send them money through bitcoin. The hackers targeted employees with access to internal systems and tools in what the company described as a successful “coordinated social engineering attack.” The hackers raised the equivalent of over $115,000.
There is evidence that this attack was perpetrated by individuals who have specialized in hijacking social media accounts via “SIM swapping,” an increasingly rampant form of crime that involves bribing, hacking or coercing employees at mobile phone and social media companies into providing access to a target’s account.

KrebsOnSecurity reports a security source at one of the largest U.S.-based mobile carriers, who said the “j0e” and “dead” Instagram accounts are tied to a notorious SIM swapper who goes by the nickname “PlugWalkJoe.” Investigators have been tracking PlugWalkJoe because he is thought to have been involved in multiple SIM swapping attacks over the years that preceded high-dollar bitcoin heists.

Twitter has made this statement: "We have also been taking aggressive steps to secure our systems while our investigations are ongoing. We’re still in the process of assessing longer-term steps that we may take and will share more details as soon as we can."

Twitter removed any tweets across its platform that included screenshots of its internal tools, and in some cases temporarily suspended the ability of those accounts to tweet further.

Another Twitter account — @shinji — also was tweeting out screenshots of Twitter’s internal tools. Minutes before Twitter terminated the @shinji account, it was seen publishing a tweet saying “follow @6,” referring to the account hijacked from Lucky225.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

When a Riot Becomes a Revolution

Newgate Prison in London burned by rioters in 1780.

John H. Plumb was the European Advisory Editor for Horizon. This excerpt is from one of his essays. The essay appeared in the Autumn 1968 issue of Horizon. It is a timely reminder of some important history.

When Does a Riot Become a Revolution?

By J. H. Plumb

The senate house in flames; mobs roaring and rioting in the Forum, full of hate, hungry for blood - off they went looting and pillaging. Confronted by the rival gangs, they fought and killed even in the Sacra Via itself, not once, but year after year as the Roman Republic crumbled. And the empire of Augustus only brought an uneasy peace. Social welfare, free food, and free fun kept the excesses down, but it required little - rumor, bribes, stirring oratory - to bring the mobs back into the streets.

When the capital of empire moved to the east, the mob was not lost. At Byzantium it rioted with equal violence, played on by oligarchs and factions in politics and religion. For centuries the mob rose and destroyed, tearing down buildings, pillaging, burning, and howling as it went.

In the summer of 1780, London erupted. By June 7, the city was a sea of flames; the prisons were broken open; the breweries were looted, and the gutters flowed with beer. Roman Catholic chapels and households were first desecrated, then wrecked, and finally burned. Among the rioters at least 285 were shot dead, 173 wounded, and 450 taken prisoner. These, the famous Gordon Riots, were unusual only in their extent. There had been wild rioting, burning, and looting in the 1760's and 70's, in 1733, 1736, and 1753 London had been at the mercy of mobs, as it had been time and time again during the previous century.

Not only in London but in towns throughout the kingdom generations of Englishmen had to learn to live with riots as they did with disease or death. It became a part of the nature of society. Nor was rioting an Englishman's vice; across the Channel they were just as violent. Inn the 1620's, 30's, and 40's France erupted in bloody riots that, in Normandy, finally turned into a peasants' war. For the rest of the century scarcely a year passed without mobs coming out in the streets of some provincial town or of Paris itself. They wreaked their vengeance on those whom they thought responsible for their misery.

The French Revolution changed the nature of European riots quite fundamentally. The mobs began to acquire more than a directing intelligence (they had rarely been without that) and to fall under the leadership of political strategists bent on using them for long-term ideological ends. Gradually the dispossessed and the frustrated acquired a deeper, a more ruthless, sense of identity, which encompassed violence, tragedy, pain, and even death for the sake of the future. And so the riot became an instrument of revolution. The European towns and countryside became even more violent in the nineteenth century; and England did, too - at least until 1850.

Things got better toward the end of the nineteenth century. Baron Haussmann drove his great boulevards through the riotous heart of Paris, providing excellent vistas for the rifle and, later, the machine gun and the tank. The weapons at the command of authority outdistanced the capacity of the mob to retaliate once the issue was joined.  It was not until the 1920's and 30's that the riot was resuscitated by the paramilitary formation of the Fascists, the Nazis, and the Action Fran├žaise on the one hand, and the Communist Party on the other. The military fanatics having been crushed, riots declined in Europe into protest that teetered along the border of violence but rarely broke into it.

Last spring Europe again burst into flames, with student riots from Colchester to Cracow. Although these riots were usually provoked by academic situations, they are being exploited by acute political leaders. The students have become a type of false proletariat (a California professor has written “a student is a nigger”), and they are exploited as such. Attempts have been made – and with some success this past spring in France – to harness student idealism to the political programs of the working class. These recent riots in Europe belong to the tradition of both radical socialism and anarchism, but they are different in dimension from most American student riots and totally different in kind from the Negro rioting that America is experiencing.

The American riot is, as it were, the grandchild of the classical riot, which was bigger, more incoherent, more desperate – a deeper convulsion in the bowels of society – than the recent disturbances in Europe. The present American experience is, more precisely, akin to the riots of prerevolutionary Europe, before the mobs became infiltrated with political agents and exploiters who turned the riot to social revolutionary ends. This stage may be beginning in America, however, and it could develop rapidly.

The classical riot was generally more than a sudden hysterical outburst of anguish and despair. While it lacked political leaders, it did not lack leadership. Usually there were journeymen, artisans, skilled craftsmen, modest yeoman farmers, who made up the hard core of the mob and led it to its targets. Their approach was often direct - to break open the granaries, to lower prices by threats of destruction, or to improve wages or even secure work.

But the root causes of most riots were economic and specific. They never aimed at overturning the structure of eighteenth-century society, any more than most rioting Negroes wished to overturn American capitalism and its social structure. The rioters were out to secure immediate benefits - economic, social, and local - not to start a revolution.

In England in the seventeenth century rioters tore down the hedges with which landowners had enclosed the peasants' common fields. In the eighteenth century they ripped up turnpike tollgates that taxed the movement of their goods. Riots worked more often than not. True, some rioters were caught, some hanged, some transported, some imprisoned; but the rioting mass escaped scot free, often with loot, and many times they were successful in winning their immediate short-term aims.

So far the American urban riot is working in the same way as it historic counterparts. "A little Easter shopping," said a Negro women going off with a coat in the Washington looting that followed the murder of Martin Luther King. And apart from immediate gains there are practical and psychological gains, too.

The practical gain is quite simple. Large physical losses of property scare owners into action. A urgent sense that something positive must be done for Negroes immediately follows riot. It is a sobering fact that, as in the past so in the present, riots rarely fail; the rioters always win - not in the long term, of course, but in the short term.

To the overwhelming majority of Americans, black or white, rich or poor, a fundamental change in social structure is just as unthinkable as it was to eighteenth-century Englishmen. But as long as the conditions that lead to violence continue, the riot with its emotional release and its material windfalls and illusory social gains will go on and on, hot summer after hot summer, as it did for centuries in Europe.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Regulation of Big Tech

When Bill Gates says it is necessary to regulate the Tech Sector, Americans should take this seriously. He appeared on "The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations" on June 24, 2020.

“Technology has become so central that government has to think: What does that mean about elections? What does that mean about bullying?” Gates said in the interview at the Economic Club of Washington, DC. “So, yes, the government needs to get involved.”

Americans have concerns about personal privacy due to technologies that can collect massive amounts of data. According to a 2019 survey of the Pew Research Center, most Americans feel that they have little control over how their personal information is collected and used by businesses and government. About 6 out of 10 persons sampled believed that "it is not possible to go through daily life without having their data collected."

In other countries more than 80% of the people surveyed say the power of big tech companies should be limited. Those countries include Germany, India, Indonesia, Thailand and New Zealand.

Countries disagreeing the most with regulation of big tech companies include Nigeria and Japan. More than 40% of people surveyed in those nations say they didn't think those companies need more restrictions. 

About 74% of respondents worldwide agree with this survey statement: "Technology is displacing our jobs." 

Globally, about 77% say they worry that their internet privacy is at risk. 

85% of those sampled agree with the statement that "the world needs a global set of internet standards.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Personal Privacy and Data Collection

Concerns about personal privacy and data collection continue as more advanced technologies are applied. This issue is not going away. Federal protections are held up by partisan politics and the reality that legislation cannot keep pace with technological advances. The laws enacted today are likely to be obsolete within a matter of months.

According to a 2019 survey of the Pew Research Center, most Americans feel that they have little control over how their personal information is collected and used by businesses and government. around 6 out of 10 persons sampled believed that "it is not possible to go through daily life without having their data collected."

The survey discovered that 70% of those sampled believe that their personal data is less secure now than five years ago.

In general, we want protection from entities that seek to gain financially from our information, but we also want the government to effective use data to track potential terrorist activity. The Pew survey found that 49% say it is acceptable for government to collect data about all Americans to assess who might be a potential terrorist threat.

Nobody is fooled by the lengthy privacy notices from banks and financial services. They are written by lawyers who are retained by the companies to protect them from legal liability rather than to inform users as to how their personal information might be shared. The term “privacy notice” gives the impression that the organization is going to protect personal information instead of how it is going to disclose that information.

In the absence of a comprehensive federal data privacy and data security law, individual states fill the gap. An example is The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) which took effect on 1 January 2020. The California Consumer Privacy Act requires that companies "notify users of the intent to monetize their data, and give them a straightforward means of opting out of said monetization."

For now, these are the best practices for protecting personal information: 

Be alert to impersonators and scammers.
Safely dispose of personal information.
Keep security software updated.
Lock your computer to avoid security breaches when not being used by you.
Avoid phishing emails.
Be wise about Wi-Fi use, especially in public venues such as coffee shops.
Do not click on social media surveys.
Never share personal information by email or on social media.
Change passwords every 6-8 months and keep these private.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Notre Dame-IBM Launch Tech Ethics Lab

In the first season of The West Wing, Sam Seaborn made a poignant point that privacy and data security would be the hot button issue of the decades ahead. In this Big Data Age, huge sums of information can be captured more easily than ever. In this environment, the application of advanced technologies has become a two-edged sword. It is applied across every industry: banking, marketing, entertainment, small businesses, and government.

The 2020 US Census has a legitimate purpose. The data helps states achieve adequate representation in Congress and the appropriate level of federal funding. However, some citizens are not eager to share their personal information. We have become aware of the potential dangers of data collection. We know that data is used to sell us products that we really don't need and to slant political messages to target audiences. We have learned not to click on those Facebook surveys that collect personal information that is sold to make Facebook richer, while those surveyed receive no gain.

The ethics of advanced technologies concern everyone. However, the conversation about the reach of advanced technologies requires experts. To that end, the University of Notre Dame has launched a collaboration with IBM that will address the ethical issues surrounding the use of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum computing.

Funded by a 10-year, $20 million IBM commitment, the new Notre Dame-IBM Tech Ethics Lab will conduct research and promote models for the ethical application of technology within the tech sector, business and government.

The Tech Ethics Lab will be based at the University and will operate as a separate unit within the University’s Technology Ethics Center (ND-TEC).

Mark McKenna, Professor of Law at Notre Dame and founding director of ND-TEC, said: “Rather than following the ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach sometimes used in developing new technologies, we hope to provide resources that allow developers and industry to create better, more responsible technologies that positively benefit society.”