Weekly Tech News for April 21, 2019
Welcome to the April 21st, 2019 episode of the Raymond Tec News podcast. Each week I curate the articles, tweets, and backchannel sources to provide a 15 to 20-minute summary of tech news.
I’ll start off like I always do with the headlines to keep you up at night; data breaches, privacy concerns, and security threats. Then I’ll do this week’s feature, technology and its impact on America’s drug crisis, and I’ll wrap up the show with a series of stories to restore your faith in technology, and, maybe, humanity.
Let’s dive in to data breaches.
Table of Contents
Bounty UK, a website for new parents, has been fined 400,000 pounds for sharing and selling information of 14 million individuals without consent. ZDNet
Garfield County, Utah was attacked by ransomware. Not many details are known, but it’s believed that an employee clicked on a link in a phishing email. Security Week
3 chapters of the FBI National Academy Associates, a nonprofit training and education organization, independent of the FBI was breached and the attackers leaked personal information on over 23,000 individuals, including law enforcement officers. Data Breach Today
The most widely televised, or not televised, really, breach this week was a ransomware attack against the Weather Channel. This attack took the live broadcast off the air for more than an hour while the IT staff restored data from backups rather than paying the ransom. ZDNet
That’s it for data breaches, let’s move on to privacy headlines.
If you’ve setup a new Facebook account in the last two years Facebook may have “accidentally” stolen your email contacts. About 1.5 million new users had their email contacts exposed by the social media giant. Business Insider
Disabling location tracking on your Android device doesn’t keep you safe from Google’s SensorVault. Google maps, weather apps, and other sources are used by Google to keep track of your whereabouts. This information is then shared with law enforcement. Fortunately, law enforcement must first get a warrant for basic information then, Google requires that a shortlist of individuals be provided before they’ll release details that could identify you. The Hacker News
German camera maker Leica has felt the sting of China’s censors after an ad dramatizing the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests has been blocked by the nation. The Verge
Despite vehement denials that they have inappropriate ties to the Russian government, the Associated Press revealed that an agent has been following and questioning critics of Russian-based Kaspersky Labs. Kaspersky declined to respond for comment on whether he was hired directly by the firm. AP News
An Australian company that manufactures smartwatches that allow parents to track their children has shut down, after it was revealed that hackers could access personal data and even spoof children’s locations due to vulnerabilities. Data Breach Today
19 of the 28 member countries in the European Union have cast shadows on the future of Google News as we know it today. After passing the copyright directive, many of the details that Google News provides, including excerpts and even headlines, will require a royalty payment to the publisher. 9 to 5 Google
That’s a wrap for important privacy news. Let’s move on to security headlines.
To prevent criminals from using legitimate accounts as an excuse for loitering around people’s homes, Amazon is requiring delivery drivers take selfies as they make deliveries for identity verification. The Verge
To decrease loan fraud and claims, Brazil’s Itaú Unibanco will introduce facial biometrics at over 10,000 locations this month. ZDNet
This week Kaspersky Labs released research showing that 70 percent of all attacks now target Microsoft Office applications. ZDNet
Back in January I reported on a flaw in WinRAR compression software that went undiscovered for 19 years. Cyber criminals are exploiting these vulnerabilities, because so few people have heeded the warning to update the software. If you have WinRAR installed on your machine, please update it to protect yourself. Sophos Naked Security
Marcus Hutchins, the security researcher who is solely responsible for stopping the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attacks, has pleaded guilty to two charges related to computer hacking conspiracy relating to his role in the development of the Kronos banking trojan software. The Verge
Cisco’s Talos security division discovered a group that has hacked 40 different organizations using DNS hijacking techniques. By hijacking the DNS, these hackers were able to spy on all traffic on these sites. The scariest part about these attacks is that the hackers were hijacking top level domains like .co.uk and .ru. Wired
ASML, a Dutch chip manufacturer, has been accused of helping the Chinese government acquire trade secrets of companies. Some of their employees stole sensitive data from Silicon Valley companies. ZDNet
UK police are gearing up for a new campaign to deter online gamers from cybercrime. Though the links are tenuous, British law enforcement claim that 82 percent of young people recruited by online criminals gained their hacking skills through gaming. Sophos Naked Security
Since March 25th, a public channel on instant messaging platform Telegram, called Read My Lips, has been leaking hacking tools and personal information of Iranian hackers. The channel’s stated mission is to expose the Iranian Ministry’s methods and motives for their cyberattacks. Wired
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, or CFIUS, the governing body behind the failed Broadcom-Qualcomm merger and Chinese divestment of dating app Grindr, has again forced Chinese investors to divest their holdings in a US-based companie. This time the target was a healthcare startup called PatientsLikeMe. TechCrunch
SafeGuard Cyber, a digital risk protection provider, released a statement saying that known Russian Twitter bot activity spiked after the release of the Mueller report. ZDNet
Two pieces of information in the heavily redacted Mueller Report highlight how far Russia had its tentacles into the US’ information networks. The report shows evidence that Russia attempted to hack into Clinton’s campaign five hours after then candidate Trump called for Clinton to produce deleted emails. It also shows that an unnamed county in Florida had its election system compromised. CNN
We’re all done with security headlines. Let’s move on to all the news that doesn’t fit one of our other categories.
Zoom, the video conferencing company, and the social media network Pinterest both had hugely successful IPOs this week, roughly 81 percent and 25 percent above expectations, respectively. TechCrunch
Audi’s new E-tron electric vehicle has had its planned production numbers slashed due to a battery availability shortage. The Verge
SiriusXM’s has announced a new Essential plan that includes over 300 stations for $8.99 per month. This package is for online streaming only and doesn’t include Howard Stern’s 2 channels. The Verge
ZDNet has some recommendations for cord cutters this week, with their article “10 best free video streaming services for cord cutters.” If you’re looking to lose the cable bill or reduce your monthly spending on streaming services, check out the article in the show notes. ZDNet
Lyft’s e-bike division is pulling thousands of bikes out of service in New York City, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. after dozens of reports of riders being hurt when front brakes malfunctioned. The Verge
Google is adding new features to its Lens app for Android phones, which will allow users to sort what they see through the mixed reality camera. With these coming updates, users will be able to find dining and shopping destinations, as well as translate text real-time on the screen. 9 to 5 Google
Prosper, a company that offers low interest fixed term personal loans, was fined three-million-dollars by the SEC this week after the company made a coding error. The error showed investors receiving returns on loans that had been defaulted on, inaccurately inflating investor expectations. TechCrunch
Keeper is a new startup that is helping gig economy workers save money on taxes. Uber, Lyft, and many other companies classify their employees as independent contractors which makes paying taxes difficult. Keeper estimates that gig workers who make more than $25,000 per year are overpaying their taxes by $1,550 a year. By offering a service that connects to financial accounts, Keeper is attempting to be the accountant that gig workers can’t afford. TechCrunch
Google is facepalming hard this week after a Pixel 3 user requested a refund on his defective device, returned it, and placed an order for a different model. Rather than refunding and sending out the replacement unit, Google’s shipping department sent out 10 brand new Pixel 3 devices, bringing the total cost of the mishap for Google to nine-thousand-dollars. Legally, Google can’t force the user to return them. 9 to 5 Google
Ancestry is in hot water after a Canadian market ad went viral this week. As you heard at the top of the show, a white man asks a black woman to marry him and move north to escape what will surely be a horrific fate. Most of the retweets of the ad asked the company why they felt it necessary to romanticize and whitewash what was a traumatic experience for black females in the south. Wired
Ahold Delhaize, a Dutch grocery conglomerate, has been rolling out robots in many of its US stores. These robots currently roam the aisles looking for and announcing spills and other hazards but will soon be upgraded with the ability to scan shelves to keep items in stock for customers. The newly equipped robots will debut in Giant Eagle stores in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Akron. ZDNet
The United Kingdom has added the ability to get information about citizen services to Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. UK residents will be able to ask questions about banking holidays, the national minimum wage, pensions, childcare, and taxes. Computer Weekly
New York City’s IT teams are back in the news this week. In 2017, the city created a taskforce to analyze the algorithms the government’s departments use to service residents to avoid bias. Members of the task force have begun speaking out after many agencies have failed to provide the necessary data to analyze and are calling the task force a publicity stunt. The Verge
Now it’s time for this week’s feature story.
My feature topic this week, technology’s role in America’s drug crisis, may be inappropriate for young or sensitive ears. Listener discretion is advised.
Whether you or a loved one are recovering from addiction or, in the worst-case scenario, grieving from the loss of someone you know, this elephant sits quietly in the corner of every American living room. Overdose deaths are the number one killer of Americans under the age of 50. The number of overdose deaths in the United States has grown from about 16,000 in 1999 to over 70,000 in 2017. That’s 12,000 more people dead in one year than all the American casualties during the entire Vietnam war. Over that 18-year period, more than 300,000 people were lost to drug overdoses. Drug Abuse | The Vietnam War
Illegal drug sales are a huge business and like any business it looks for ways to maximize profits and drive down costs. The internet has played a small role in increasing these disheartening numbers. Dark web marketplaces like the Silk Road, Silk Road 2, and Dream Market have all contributed to the ease with which addicts can get their drug of choice. But what happens when the supply runs low?
Drugs are mixed with easily made alternatives like Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a legal drug that was designed in 1959 for anesthetic use and over the next five decades became available in a wider variety of forms including pills and patches for chronic pain treatment. The common availability of the ingredients and the ease of making it makes fentanyl an ideal option for cutting other drugs, even drugs that don’t have a sedative effect like heroin. Vice | Rapid Response Industrial Group | News-Herald
Just this month, a popular seller on the dark web called sinmed, was taken down by a federal joint task force. Sinmed was in the top 3 percent of vendors on Dream Market. The trio behind the screenname were caught after shipping more than 1,000 packages to buyers in 43 states. Once the indictment was unsealed, it was revealed the group had laundered more than 2.3 million dollars in cryptocurrency and were sitting on an inventory of about half a million Xanax pills they’d cut, stamped, and bottled themselves. There was also a significant amount of fentanyl-laced heroin and other assorted drugs on the premises. Wired
But there’s more to this epidemic than just death statistics and drug dealers. Laws and social attitudes cause the issues that lead to illegal drug use. The US’s war on drugs has been a long fought and resounding failure. A modern prohibition that has worked as well as alcohol prohibition in the 1920’s. The drug war started with the criminalization of marijuana and heroin by President Nixon and his Chief Domestic Advisor John Ehrlichman who saw the anti-war left and pro-civil rights blacks as enemies of the White House. President Reagan further criminalized non-violent drug offenses with policies that saw the country’s incarceration rate skyrocket. These policies continued through George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton’s presidency, despite Clinton’s advocacy of treatment over incarceration during his 1992 campaign. CNN | Drug Policy.org
When a nation has become so deeply entrenched in the vilification of drug dealers and users, how do you get out of it? Portugal’s answer, in 2001, was decriminalization. Portugal abolished all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs. A 2009 study by the libertarian think-tank the Cato Institute concluded that the policies were a resounding success. Illegal drug use among teens was down, rates of new HIV and hepatitis infections dropped, and the number of people seeking treatment doubled. That last point is the real key: it means drug users were no longer shamed and driven underground. Time | The Guardian
The internet didn’t start this epidemic. Opioids have been used and abused for over two hundred years; morphine was invented in 1803 and marketed by the German pharmaceutical company Merck. The invention of the hypodermic needle in 1853 meant an easier, quicker delivery of pain relief. It’s been estimated that by the end of the 1860’s 400,000 male veterans of the US Civil War were addicted to opioids. Smart Drug Policy
That also means ineffective drug policies didn’t start the current health crisis. So, what did? A combination of ease of access, policies that shamed, compassionate but misguided doctors, and a public uneducated about the warning signs of addiction. Doctors did their best to ease the pain and suffering of millions of patients with opioids. Many patients took those opioids and found the associated relief of physical and mental anguish addictive. New York Times
So, how can we, as a nation, address the issue? It requires a complex, multi-faceted approach. President Trump took a positive step in August of 2017 by declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency, but more needs to be done on the legislative side. Pre-emptive education to reduce the likelihood of addiction is a necessary goal. Addiction often results from trauma such as difficult family situations or childhood physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Exposure to alcohol and drug abuse as a child and family histories of addiction can also increase the likelihood of becoming an addict as an adult. Educational campaigns on social media coupled with informational apps can be helpful on this front. Twin Lakes Recovery Center | Positive Choices
Treatment over incarceration would be a big step in reducing the stigma around finding and getting help. This point is critical to save those who are currently caught in the addictive cycle.
Finally, in the interim until these previous two suggestions can be implemented, additional resources both on and offline can be used to reduce the chances of overdose deaths. I reported back in January on an app developed by researchers at the University of Washington that can turn a smartphone into a breathing rate monitor to detect when an opioid user is on the precipice of an overdose. This sort of technology coupled with safe injection sites where users can go to be monitored while using can dramatically decrease the instances of overdose deaths. Engadget
Using data-driven, science-based approaches to solve problems is key, especially when the problem is as large as this national health crisis.
Alright, that was really heavy, let’s wrap up this episode with some good news.
US Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, has introduced new consumer privacy legislation on Friday that will give users more transparency and control over how and when their data is collected and used. Named the Privacy Bill of Rights Act, it would prohibit companies from using personal data in discriminatory ways and force companies to safeguard all obtained data. The Federal Trade Commission would receive a website to inform consumers of their rights, and companies would be required to inform users what and how personal information is being collected, used, or retained, how the company is sharing or selling their personal information, and how long the information will be retained. I’ll keep an eye on this one and keep the podcast updated. Health IT Security
An island country named Berylia has undergone a massive cyberattack during their national elections. The attack has compromised their 4G cellphone networks, power grid, and water purification systems. Of course, their election systems weren’t safe either. Fortunately, Berylia is a fictional island nation and what I’ve described is this year’s Locked Shields annual exercise. Organized by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, the event gives national cybersecurity teams a chance to participate in a live-fire cyber-attack. The good guys, or in cybersecurity jargon, blue teams, participate from their home counties to protect the fake infrastructure which has been built in Estonia. Seeing cooperative events to thwart malicious attacks is always exciting. ZDNet
Andre T. Mitchell of Brooklyn has seen a lot in his 52 years. One of eight children raised by a single mother in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood, his excellence in school made him the target of ridicule which eventually led to him becoming a drug user and teen father. Trying to raise a child on minimum wage is impossible, so he resorted to selling drugs and stealing, eventually landing him in jail. This lifelong Brooklyn resident has created a group called “Man Up!” which aims to reduce violence in communities. The community organization is built on the Cure Violence model which uses three data-driven approaches. 1 Interrupt the transmission by preventing potentially violent situations. 2 Identify and treat those at high risk of participating in violence. 3 Mobilize the community to change cultural norms. An independent study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation Center found that rates of gun violence have fallen by 50 percent since “Man Up!” started operating. Free Think
That’s it for this week in tech news that matters to you. If you’ve enjoyed the podcast, please share what you found interesting in a post on your social media by linking to Raytec dot co slash listen. That’s r-a-y-t-e-c dot c-o slash listen. That will always link directly to the current episode’s show notes along with a podcast player. I really appreciate anyone who’s willing to share my podcast.
Links to source articles and other noteworthy news are in the show notes. Articles in this week’s extracurricular reading include an study on how sleep deprivation can be deadly, how pro-diversity hiring can do as much harm as good, how the Starz Network is abusing the DMCA to harass journalists, and so much more. The show notes have links to each of the podcast apps I’m listed on and links to my social media. If you have any information, updates, or constructive criticism, feel free to reach out.
Thanks for listening and have a great week!