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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Two Electric Utilities to Offer Gigabit Broadband Service

Two electric utilities, Missouri-based Co-Mo Comm and Georgia’s Habersham EMC (HEMC), are the latest to announce plans to offer 1 Gbps broadband service.

Co-Mo expects to make the service available beginning in August of this year, and it will be priced at $99 per month. Customers currently subscribing to 20 mbps, 50 mbps or 100 mbps service will be given a free speed upgrade to 35 mbps, 100 mbps, or 1 Gbps, respectively.

“This is the gold standard of Internet,” said Ken Johnson, Co-Mo Connect’s president and General Manager/CEO for Co-Mo Electric Cooperative. “There is nothing faster in the world for residents and businesses than what we’re offering right here in our little slice of rural Missouri.” 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

Before You Make an Offer….

Many years ago, when my wife and I were shopping for our first home, we did our fair share of due diligence. When considering a particular house that caught our eye, we’d investigate schools, traffic, proximity to mass transit, and the neighborhood in general before deciding whether or not to submit an offer.

Fast forward to the 21st century. There’s now an additional factor that prospective home owners are considering: broadband speed.

U.K.-based property search website Rightmove now allows users to check the broadband speeds available at specific properties, in addition to the usual data about schools and transportation. Read more

End of XP Support Marks a Heyday for Hackers

Complete with a countdown clock, Microsoft is making it very clear that is will no longer support the Windows XP operating system after April 8, 2014. That means no more updates, patches or security fixes of any kind for XP, which was first released nearly 12 years ago. Without ongoing support, Windows XP systems will be especially vulnerable to hackers and any malware that users might encounter. In addition, support for Office 2003 products will also end on this date.

Not only will XP and Office 2003 users be more vulnerable, but online security firms warn that they may be targeted by scammers and phishing attacks that try to insert malware in the guise of helping users migrate to a new OS. Another cause for concern is that an estimated 95% of American Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are said to run on Windows XP. Although most banks are said to be paying Microsoft for extended support and migrating away from XP, the prospects that ATMs routinely used by consumers to conduct financial transactions may become vulnerable is resulting in apprehension. Read more

$19 Trillion May Be A Reasonable Number As Tech Hits A Tipping Point

John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, was recently quoted as saying that the “Internet of Things,” a term used to describe machine-to-machine connections on a massive scale, will add $19 trillion – not billion, trillion – to worldwide economic growth over the next 10 years. It may be tempting to dismiss this figure as hyperbole. Rampant speculation a few years ago that everyone would soon have a smart refrigerator that orders milk and eggs on its own probably did more to dilute the machine-to-machine concept than to promote it.

But since the jokes about the toaster talking to the microwave died down, the “Internet of Things” has started to become a reality as the costs of sensors have dropped and broadband connections increased. The smart home, with remote-operated or pre-programmed webcams, lights, locks and thermostats, is increasingly common. And in rural areas, smart agriculture is spreading quickly, as irrigation, livestock monitoring, and checking fuel levels are among the tasks that are performed automatically and remotely with greater frequency. Read more

The Soft Underbelly of Net Neutrality: How the Comcast-Netflix Deal Shines a Much-Needed Spotlight on Why the Real Issue is Network Interconnection

When policymakers and press reports talk about net neutrality, there has been, until recently, an understandable tendency to focus exclusively on the end user impact: “If Carrier X or Cable Company Y would just stop mistreating its customers by throttling Internet traffic, all would be good in the world.”

This isn’t to say that the end user impact isn’t the ultimate concern – it is. But if you focus only on the symptoms, you can’t diagnose and cure the problem. And because net neutrality is so complex, and because the politics of power surrounding it are so thorny, it’s much easier to latch onto the symptoms, propose “consumer friendly” band-aids and avoid a more detailed analysis of the problems. But superficial steps won’t get us far in solving the real issues.

You can see this in how Netflix’s latest brushes with Verizon and Comcast are shaking out. What Verizon and Comcast have done is smart business and perfectly logical. Even as Verizon consumers in particular have reported problems streaming Netflix, neither Verizon nor Comcast appears, at least based upon current information, to have violated any law or rule or policy in dealing with Netflix. The key seems to be that Verizon and Comcast weren’t doing anything to Netflix; it seems that their beefs were instead with Netflix’s ISP. In other words, even though there was a consumer impact and it looked to some like a net neutrality battle, it wasn’t at all. Instead, this was a plain old interconnection dispute, the kind that used to get resolved relatively cleanly and clearly – even for the smallest carriers or consumers – back when we actually had rules governing how networks talked to one another. Read more

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