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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Cincinnati Bell Sells Wireless Arm to Verizon

There is a “thing” going around the Internet these days that is intended to illuminate aspects of reading ability. The “thing” (I am not sure what to call it) is a paragraph of horribly misspelled text, but with each word containing the approximate number of correct letters, and the correct first and last letters of each word. The “thing” attempts to demonstrate that the mind reads words as images, and that so long as the borders are correct, the brain fills in the blanks and providers the proper words.

I was not really surprised that I could read the paragraph, since my brain has a funny way of transposing letters and numbers and tricking me into reading things that actually don’t exist. Like the sign that encouraged people to “club and gutter” their pets (it really said, “curb and gutter” in an attempt to maintain clean sidewalks). Or phone numbers that are perpetually out of order – mostly because I have flipped some of the numbers and am calling people or places that don’t exist. Read more

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

Brick-and-Mortar Bookstore Comeback?

This is my second New Edge entry on brick-and-mortar bookstores, and it may seem a bit odd considering the “tech” nature of this publication. However, those of you who know me understand that I have a fascination with both sides of technology: how it has the potential to improve our lives, on the one hand (my previous entries on technology assisted weight loss come to mind), and how it may represent a loss of our humanity (more on that later).

I started thinking more about this topic when I saw that, according to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent brick-and-mortar bookstores has actually increased, by just under 20%, since 2009. The total is still half what is was in the 1990s.

What is behind the increase after years of bookstores closing when they could compete with Amazon? It’s a number of factors, in all likelihood. However, what’s most interesting (and of most relevance to this publication) is that part of the increase in independent bookstores is driven by their embrace of social media. This article discusses how one bookstore has used social media to drive an increase in traffic to its brick-and-mortar location. It’s a bit more than just plain advertising, it’s getting people’s attention via Facebook or Twitter with off-beat or quirky content, in ways that drive them to visit the store. As the marketing manager says “[i]t’s important to us that we show our customers, via social media or otherwise, that we’re…real people, real humans who have actually read those ‘you might also like’ book recommendations.” Read more

Déjà Vu All Over Again; or, There’s a Computer Gunning for Your Job

Charlie Chaplin in his 1936 film “Modern Times.”

In his 1936 film “Modern Times,” Charlie Chaplin used his well-loved Little Tramp character to warn audiences of the dangers of the (then new) mechanical age. These timesaving machines could easily turn on their masters, Chaplin felt. Though a comedy, “Modern Times” delivered an undeniably ominous message.

Fast forward nearly 80 years, and there’s another mechanical menace afoot: This time it’s computers that could take jobs away from human workers. Authors Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne evaluated the chances of computers taking over various professions in their recent paper entitled “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization?” In the paper, the authors quantify the risks imposed by automation, and then rank occupations (from 1 to 702) according to the chances they may be taken over by computers. They conclude that some 47% of all jobs in the United States are vulnerable within the next two decades.

Among the jobs Frey and Osborne find to be at greatest risk are tax preparers, insurance underwriters and library technicians. The single most vulnerable position? Telemarketer.

The most secure positions are those which require critical judgment and face-to-face interaction, such as physicians, social workers and elementary school teachers.

The takeway: workers who wish to keep their jobs in the computer age will need to be able to complement, rather than compete with, software applications. Head-to-head it’s no contest.

How Disney Made it into a New Edge Post (It’s Really About the Rural Broadband Experiments)

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Olaf, the Disney snowman whose lack of experience with heat is evidenced by his dreams of summer. (Illustration courtesy Disney.wikia).

Last week I mentioned the catalogue of Rural Broadband Experiments Expressions of Interest (RBOE) that NTCA & friends created. If I thought the task of entering my assigned stack of filings was numbing, then enter the dragon of summing the value of all the requests. You’re probably thinking, “Quit complaining, it’s a single click on Excel and you’re done.” Except that the “cost” columns were anything but a uniform set of data that would permit that sort of single button execution. In the first instance, it seems that each of the half-dozen or so people who worked on the catalogue had a different way of expressing dollars and integers. So, a project valued at $2.7 million could be logged variously as “2.7M” or “$2.7M” or “$2,700,000” or some other variant – understandable to human readers but, in aggregate, unintelligible to Excel.

While taking the opportunity to revisit all 970+ entries and revise them to uniform manner, I enjoyed a fresh opportunity to notice a few things. First, many filers (325, by my count) did not specify an amount. Many claimed they were unable to predict the costs. One explained that it was actually legally barred from providing communications services, but was interested in doing so, anyway, and so it filed an expression of interest. For those who have seen Disney’s “Frozen,” it reminded me of Olaf the snowman: “Oh, I don’t know why, but I’ve always loved the idea of summer, and sun, and all things hot . . .” Read more

FSBC (the Flat Stanley Broadband Challenge)

It’s been a while, but here is another entry in our Flat Stanley Broadband Challenge:

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The best part about being pregnant is the free Wi-Fi (caption and photo shared by Melanie Jore).

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