Too big to fall?

The Wall Street Journal, Target, Facebook, and the U.S. Federal Reserve – all of these organizations were subject to recent, successful data breaches, exposing sensitive financial and personal information. Mind you these organizations had significant resources to devote to cybersecurity. But as technology marches forward, the threats and vulnerabilities are likewise evolving.

Just today, the Pew Research Center reports that 18% of online adults have had their important personal information stolen, such as their Social Security Number, credit card or bank account information, up from 11% who reported the same in July 2013.

Any discussion about security would not be complete without mentioning the biggest story of this past week, and likely the entire year: the discovery of the ‘Heartbleed’ vulnerability. Much has been written this past week in tech blogs, networking magazines and mainstream media outlets about Heartbleed, which is not the name of another sophisticated Internet attack but rather a security vulnerability in OpenSSL software that lets a hacker access the memory of data servers. Just as its name implies, it’s a serious concern as it affects the most popular way for websites to encrypt secure data as it is transferred across the Internet, and allows bad actors to steal just the information that web users were trying to protect from prying eyes.

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Dropbox, Cloud Services and DMCA

Dropbox, a popular online cloud storage system used by individual users and small and medium-sized businesses, recently attracted some unwanted attention due to its copyright policies and terms of service.

On March 29, a Dropbox customer who subscribes to a paid, business version of the service, posted a screenshot of a file in his personal folder that was supposedly prevented from being shared under U.S. copyright law.

The user, Derrick Whitelaw, had attempted to generate a link to an MP4 video file stored in his Dropbox account, which he then sent to a friend over a messaging service. The recipient attempted to click on the link to the media file, but the Dropbox service intercepted the communication and issued this warning: ”Certain files in this folder can’t be shared due to a takedown request in accordance with the DMCA.”

Of course, as all rural broadband providers are well aware, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects the rights of copyright owners by attempting to prevent illegal file sharing via web services. Read more

Comcast Launches ‘Energy Rewards’ Trial in Pennsylvania

Last week, Comcast and a unit of NRG Energy launched a new pilot program that offers a variety of new perks and rewards for Comcast customers who agree to bundle their cable and broadband services with their energy bills.

The trial program is called Energy Rewards, a partnership of Energy Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of NRG Energy, and Comcast. The pilot is currently limited to about 584,000 customers who reside in areas of Allegheny County near Pittsburgh and Beaver County.

The program offers two energy subscription plans: a six-month variable “Guaranteed Savings” plan that offers 10% savings, or a fixed plan that locks in a price for one year. Customers enrolled in the trial program are eligible for special offers, such as a $25 Visa Prepaid Card simply for enrolling in the program and a three-month extended trial of HBO, Showtime or Starz which will end December 31, 2014, and is limited to digital video subscribers that have not subscribed to the selected channel in the past 120 days. Read more

Police Department Beta Tests Google Glass, Plans for Nex-Gen Apps

Last week Venture Beat reported that the New York City Police Department is beta testing Google Glass. For those of you who have not heard of this emerging hardware, Google Glass offers an Android-powered wearable computer built into a set of eye glasses, which, frankly, look and function a lot like the specs warn by Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

The glasses offer a heads-up display, allowing the user to interact with the Internet and his surroundings at the same time. In other words, information is displayed in the user’s eye-line which saves the user from having to stop what he is doing to access a radio, smartphone, tablet, laptop or other device. The glasses also offer wireless facial recognition software and the ability to record audio and video, and complete commands via vocal queues.

For the police department, Google Glass offers new and innovative applications, such as enabling officers to match a suspect’s name and face with information contained in various databases, such as the National Crime Information Center, and then display this information in front of their eyes, hands free, as they interrogate and question a suspect. Read more

Twitter Strikes Deals to Mine User Data

Over the weekend Twitter announced a new partnership with 300 Entertainment, a music industry firm which signs artists for recorded music, publishing and other deals. The deal does not have a financial component. Rather, under the terms of the partnership, 300 Entertainment will be able to access and analyze Twitter’s music data, including non-public information such as the location tags where a tweet is sent, and, in exchange, 300 will help Twitter organize and develop software that could be used by other artists, record labels or other media companies.

As the daughter of an IT security professional, my ears always prick up when I hear that someone is collecting and analyzing my conversations with other users. It’s interesting that Twitter has been able to strike these deals with third parties vendors, but other social media platforms, namely Facebook, have received widespread user backlash when trying to change their user privacy settings in order to allow for similar deals with advertisers and accommodate data mining by third-party vendors. One could argue that on Twitter, the information I put out there is in the public domain, but on Facebook, my private messages should remain private – but is anything on the Internet truly “private” anymore, especially on a social media platform? Read more

AT&T Files Patent App to Detect and Charge More for Bandwidth-Intensive Traffic

AT&T Mobility recently filed a patent application (US 20140010082) for a system that would enable the company to automatically charge subscribers more money for using file sharing, video and other bandwidth-intensive services.

The patent is entitled “Prevention of Bandwidth Abuse of a Communications System” and, just as the title suggests, its stated mission is to prevent a subscriber from “abusing a telecommunications system” by consuming more than his or her fair share of bandwidth.

The system would allot each user with a set amount of credits, and subscribers would dip into their credit total when they use select services or download certain types of content. The data being downloaded is then checked to determine if it is permissible or non-permissible based upon the user’s total available credits. AT&T explained that if the credit total is not sufficient, “[v]arious restriction policies also can be applied, such as levying additional fees and/or terminating the user’s access to the channel.”

The patent application was filed back in September 2013 but only made public in January 2014. To be fair, technology companies, AT&T included, file a lot of patent applications, and some are not granted while others are never put into practice. However, coming on the heels of AT&T’s sponsored data plan, and the Net Neutrality decision a few weeks ago, this will surely raise interest in the industry and concern from subscribers.  

User Backlash over Google’s Purchase of Nest

Last week, on the heels of CES and as I was putting the finishing touches on the New Edge, Google announced a $3.2 billion dollar deal to buy Nest, a four-year-old company that specializes in smart thermostats and smoke alarms from Tony Fadell, the “godfather” of the Apple iPod.

The deal is the second largest in Google’s history, behind its $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola back in 2012, which shows how highly Google is valuing Nest as a stepping stone into the smart home market.

My immediate reaction was disappointment — disappointment that the Internet giant will act as a road block in regard to Nest’s forward momentum, influence the start-up’s culture, change the one thing I love about Nest (it’s easy-to-use interface), and, perhaps most importantly, compromise the security of my personal data. Interestingly, I was not the only one who had strong feelings about the acquisition. The backlash was immediate, with a slew of negative comments and editorials, both from Nest users and the tech media. Read more

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