Hi everyone, welcome to the Sunday, December 30th, 2018 episode of the aRTy News podcast, brought to you by Raymond Tec. For those of you listening for the first time, I scour the web every week for tech news and curate the articles, tweets, and backchannel sources to provide you, the non-nerd, a concise summary where I answer the question, “Why does this matter to me?”
Like usual, I’ll be starting off with the scary stuff, the data breaches, privacy concerns, and security threats and ending the episode with the stuff that will leave a smile or tear of joy on your face, because I’d rather leave everyone feeling warm and fuzzy rather than cowering under the covers.
Let’s rip the band aid off and jump right in.
Surprisingly, there was only one small data breach this week. A government computer in South Korean was attacked and a file containing personal details of 1,000 North Korean defectors was stolen. It’s a scary leak but it was identified quickly, and the reach is mercifully limited.
With so little to talk about in data breaches, I’ve included a link from TechCrunch in the show notes that does a good job describing the increasing need for vigilance in 2019. Be sure to check that out.
In case you’re wondering what I mean by increasing need for vigilance, I’m referring to taking responsibility for your own cyber security in 2019. The presence of the internet is only going to increase in coming years with every corner of our lives being touched by technology. In the process of this digitization, our information is being scattered to the wind in leaks and breaches.
Don’t look to your government for relief from cyber threats. Modern governments are ill-equipped to handle the fast-changing pace of this digital landscape. The easy path for legislatures is to whittle away at our digital rights and decrease freedom and democracy online.
Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization that ranks countries based on political rights and civil liberties, released its 2018 report denoting its 12th straight year of democratic erosion throughout the world. The internet has been a tool for liberation of oppressed peoples, but authoritarian regimes have figured out how to curb those abilities through a variety of methods such as the Sudanese government, which has blocked internet access for activists in recent weeks, Myanmar’s jailing of journalists as spies, Russia’s spreading disinformation using the innocuously named Internet Research Agency, or labeling legitimate media outlets as “fake news” to quiet voices of reason.
Your voice matters. Democracy provides a voice for everyone. Suppressing those voices on the internet suppresses democracy. Even when your opinion conflicts with someone else’s, it’s important to hear those voices. In the words of famed biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, quote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” end quote.
There’re links for ways for you to get involved in the show notes at raymondtec.com.
Let’s move on to privacy concerns.
A security researcher has discovered that unpatched DSL modems across France and Spain are running old software which allows attackers to get their WiFi network names and passwords. In these times of smart homes and connected alarm systems, having a vulnerable wireless network is a huge liability. I know most of my listeners are in the US, but I wanted to remind everyone that they should be updating the software on all their devices.
Most of the security threats I report on are old techniques given a new, digital shine. But 2018 saw the rise of a whole new type of cyber security nuisance: Cryptojacking. It’s a pretty simple concept. An attacker gains access to a system not to steal information, but to steal your computer’s processing power and your electricity.
Cryptojackers use your computer to mine Bitcoin. Mining requires a lot of processing power, which uses a lot of electricity. I reported in November on a school administrator in China who was fired for running up the school’s electricity bill by using the computer lab for personal gain. Cryptocurrency’s value decline has seen a decline in this movement as well, but there’s always some money to be made, especially with automated attacks like Cryptojacking.
Link in the show notes for more complete details on how these attacks work.
On Thursday, the 27th a massive outage at CenturyLink, an internet-based phone service provider, caused outages of 911 services in many states and provinces across the US and Canada. If you’ve never had to rely on 911 in an emergency, consider yourself lucky. I find the thought of 911 being down terrifying. Here’s what you need to know: Most 911 services are centralized per county in the US. This means they are basically just routing calls to your local Police, Ambulance, and Fire services. What I’m going to do to combat the fear this outage creates is find my local police, fire, and ambulance services direct line and save those as contacts in my phone as well as write them down and leave them on my fridge. If you’re in a small town, I’d recommend you find information for neighboring town’s services too, in case the outage hits multiple agencies.
Finally, in security threats, we’re all in danger because of the gullibility of wealthy people. Reid Hoffman, early co-founder of PayPal and co-founder of LinkedIn, admitted that he unknowingly backed a disinformation campaign against Alabama Republican Roy Moore in the 2017 special election. The billionaire donated 750,000 dollars to American Engagement Technologies, a group that used technique’s similar to Russia’s, to urge Republican voters to vote for anyone other than Roy Moore. In an interview in the Washington Post, Hoffman stated that he did not and would never knowingly back a disinformation campaign and quote “would have refused to invest in any organization that I knew might conduct such a project.”
With the weight of everything we just talked about hanging heavy in the air, I wanted to take a moment to remind you that New Year’s might not be a time filled with hope for everyone. Sufferers of suicidal thoughts may never tell friends and family about it, but you, my well informed friend, can look for the warning signs and reach out. Keep an eye out for friends or family who may exhibit one or more of the following: Excessive sadness or moodiness, sudden calmness, withdrawal, changes in personality or appearance, dangerous or self-harmful behavior, recent trauma or life crisis, or making preparations such as making a will or giving away personal possessions.
Individuals who are suicidal may also come out and tell you. Don’t assume they’re being dramatic. Stay with them and ask for help from other friends or family members, if you can. Ask the person to give you any weapons or sharp objects they may have. Keep them as calm as possible and call 911 or take them to an emergency room where they can get professional treatment.
I know a tech podcast might seem like a strange place for this type of reminder, but I’ve lost friends to suicide and I want others to understand how to respond.
Popularized by Apple with its iPhone X, facial recognition technology will be coming to a PC near you next year. Microsoft will be integrating 4K cameras into desktops and laptops to expand its facial recognition abilities allowing users to log in on their PCs. With the insecurity of web cameras, I recommend everyone disable their web cams and cover them with a piece of electrical tape.
No, I’m not joking.
2019 will be the year that defenders of digital privacy need to closely watch what the US government is doing. 2018 saw several public hearings where tech giant CEOs showed how little most legislators know about technology. Well, these same behemoths have been preparing for a showdown over data use and privacy. Intel has gone so far as to draft a bill for legislators to use which is more favorable to corporations than individuals.
I’ll be sure to keep you regularly updated but do yourself a favor and follow your legislators on social media and make your voice heard.
Illustrating why it’s important to have an open internet, journalists at TechCrunch reported several apps linked to rings sharing illegal images of children. These apps, hosted on the Google Play Store were removed immediately. These apps linked to groups within Facebook’s text messaging service, WhatsApp, which allowed WhatsApp moderators to begin dismantling those groups.
Unfortunately, during their investigation, TechCrunch reporters discovered that these apps were displaying ads that earned income for people promoting this filth. Google and Facebook’s responses have been less than satisfying, but I’m hoping that this will spur them to action.
Since 2016, 10 schools in a province in China’s southwest have required their students to wear intelligent uniforms. These uniforms have two chips which track students entering and exiting school grounds. Each movement, on or off school property, is sent to both parents and school administrators. My first thought was, we’ll I’d just slip out of the uniform and sneak out of school. Well, these school administrators thought of that. There are also facial recognition cameras at school entrances, so if a student leaves school property without their uniform or with someone else’s uniform, a voice booms over the loud speakers alerting school authorities.
Unfortunately, there are no checks and balances in place to stop administrators from tracking students once they have left school property. One principal said that staff “choose not to” track children.
If that wasn’t scary enough and you really didn’t want to sleep tonight, I have two recommendations for you related to the sprawl that is Amazon. First, I recommend Patriot Act, a political news show hosted by writer and comedian Hasan Minhaj, available on Netflix. The episode is simply titled Amazon. And if you happen to not be a Netflix subscriber, I’d recommend you check out Wired’s article titled “Why It’s Hard to Escape Amazon’s Long Reach.” They’ve done a phenomenal job cataloging and describing the personal impact all of Amazon’s subsidiaries have on our lives.
Moving on to security threats.
Google’s Duo, a video calling app that directly competes with Apple’s FaceTime, has reached a new milestone: 1 Billion downloads from the Google Play store. This is remarkable considering Google’s other social failures this year, specifically the ending of support for Allo and Google Plus. Google Duo offers end-to-end encrypted video calls and is available on both Android and Apple devices, making it a good alternative to FaceTime for those of you who don’t use Apple.
After Netflix dropped the ax on Marvel Comics’ smash hit Luke Cage, showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker has signed on with Amazon to begin producing shows. National Guard soldiers from Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah will convene in Maryland to learn cyber warfare operations. 2018 saw the rise of the electric scooter rideshare revolution and the digital native pop star. 2018 was also the year the streaming wars got more fractious. While still top of the streaming heap, Netflix and Amazon face more competition in 2019 with announcements from specialized content providers like Disney. If you prefer your entertainment on the big screen, MoviePass rival, Stubs A-List by AMC might fulfill your feature-length need for entertainment.
For those of you still on Facebook, you’ll be happy to know that its fact checking department is still hard at work doing its best to dispel disinformation. I was surprised to learn this was a department staffed by real people, and not some AI solution cranking out probabilities of truthiness. More factual details in the TechCrunch article linked in the show notes.
Finally, in other, and weirder, news, researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology have been tricking fish with an Augmented Reality tank. By using a tank that could sense and react to the fish, researchers were able to learn that the fish is smart enough to know its being duped. Actually, jokes aside, this is interesting research, because it will likely lead to a better understanding of our own biology, specifically, how our eye movement Is used to understand the world.
The Good News
In good news for Uber drivers, the company has agreed to pay some 160,000 drivers involved in a class action law suit 11 cents per mile for all on-trip miles that were driven. This lawsuit has arisen because Uber tried to classify drivers working full time hours as independent contractors, thus denying them adequate compensation. Boring but good news. Moving on.
In wonderful news for those with anger management issues this week, it’s been confirmed by Emily Dreyfuss at Wired that yelling at your Alexa will reduce your stress. Don’t take out your pent-up rage on your spouse or children. Yell at Alexa. According to Ms. Dreyfuss, she bonds with her husband by teaming up on the perpetually perky artificial intelligence. This one was a fun read, but, for me personally, I’ll mind my P’s and Q’s for when the robots do eventually take over.
I’ve got two related pieces of good news to share for fans of the environment. First, Tesla has announced its supercharger stations will cover 100% of Europe in 2019, making them nearly as available as gas stations. And second, MIT scientists founded a company called 24M which is creating energy dense battery tech for everything from smart phones to electric cars. Energy dense is just a fancy way of saying more power in smaller, cheaper battery packs. Products from 24M should be available in early 2020. Links for more details on both stories in the show notes.
Finally, in news to make you go, aww, Snapchat has finally developed the technology we’ve all been waiting for: the ability to use their famous lenses on dogs! No longer does your pooch have to feel left out when you take selfies. Fido can sport those oversized sunglasses or sparkling halos just like you.
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Have a great week and a happy and safe new year, everyone!