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Hacking the new world order

Thursday, 11 February, 2016 0 Comments

“Hackers used malware to penetrate the defenses of a Russian regional bank and move the ruble-dollar rate more than 15 percent in minutes.” So begins a recent Bloomberg story about a group of Russian hackers who infected Energobank in Kazan with the Corkow Trojan this time last year and placed more than $500 million in orders.

Hacked This is scary stuff, indeed, and hardly a day goes by now without some similar tale of nefarious hacking making the headlines. A lot of what’s going on is simply opportunistic crime being carried out by thieves equipped with keyboards as opposed to knives, but there’s a global dimension as well and this is what Adam Segal, Director of Cyberspace and Digital Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, addresses in his forthcoming book, The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age. Snippet:

This new age of spying is more than a national security concern. Since much cyber-espionage targets commercial secrets, it poses a persistent threat to America’s economic strength. Many countries are snooping. The US Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive (ONCIX) names France, Israel, and Russia, among others, as states collecting economic information and technology from American companies. During the 1980s and ’90s, the business class seats on Air France planes were allegedly bugged. While the airline has long denied the allegations, French intelligence officials have been forthright about the strategic importance of industrial espionage. As Pierre Marion, former director of France’s Directorate-General for External Security, said with regard to spying on the US, “In economics, we are competitors, not allies.”

Historians looking for a date on which to pin the start of the Cyber World War might yet settle upon 2009, the year in which the Stuxnet virus was launched into an Iranian nuclear facility. The disclosure of the Sony Pictures hacking scandal in November 2014 is another historical milestone. Both reveal the geopolitical aspect of hacking and its potential impact on security, business and personal data. The Hacked World Order is timely reading and a useful guide to the dangers that lurk along the infobahn.

Note: “Trolls, Hackers and Extremists — The Fight for a Safe and Open Web” is the title of a discussion at the Munich Security Conference tomorrow evening.


Twitter vs. trolls vs. terror vs. markets vs. censors

Wednesday, 10 February, 2016 0 Comments

Twitter is going to war with trolls — people who spread hate anonymously on the internet — armed with a Trust & Safety Council, which will draw on the expertise of the Center for Democracy and Technology, EU Kids Online, GLAAD, the National Cyber Security Alliance and 40 other groups and individuals. Statement:

“With hundreds of millions of tweets sent per day, the volume of content on Twitter is massive, which makes it extraordinarily complex to strike the right balance between fighting abuse and speaking truth to power,” Patricia Cartes, head of global policy outreach, wrote in a blog post. “It requires a multi-layered approach where each of our 320 million users has a part to play, as do the community of experts working for safety and free expression.”

By the way, not everyone sees the Twitter Trust and Safety Council as a blessing. It’s a version of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth says Robby Soave at Reason. Quote: “For my part, I would feel more comfortable if the Trust & Safety Council included at least a few principled speech or tech freedom groups, like the Foundation for Individual Rights and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.” And Julie Bindel, perhaps.

To help draw the line between poisonous hate speech that deserves to be blocked and disagreeable free speech worthy of protection, alternative voices must be heard and heeded. “We are in danger of making censorship the standard response to anything that offends,” argues Julie Bindel. “Recent attempts to ban Donald Trump and pick-up artist Roosh V from the UK would have achieved nothing politically constructive.”

Last year, the former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo confessed that “we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.” Fighting the trolls is now a priority for the new CEO Jack Dorsey. “Twitter stands for freedom of expression, speaking truth to power, and empowering dialogue. That starts with safety,” he tweeted earlier today. Along with battling trolls, he’s trying to stop terrorist groups using Twitter to recruit followers, and then there’s the tricky business of that plummeting share price.

Security: “Trolls, Hackers and Extremists — The Fight for a Safe and Open Web” is the title of a discussion at the Munich Security Conference on Friday evening.

Scandinavia: What’s a troll? The origins of this menacing word hark back to Old Norse, which spoke of strange beings that lived in caves and were hostile to humans. Given the Nordic roots of the term, it’s appropriate that the world’s most famous troll trapper, as it were, is the Swedish journalist Robert Aschberg, who has made a name for himself by exposing trolls on his TV show Trolljägarna (Troll Hunter).


Shrove Tuesday: Between Carnival and Lent

Tuesday, 9 February, 2016 0 Comments

Strijd tussen Carnaval en Vasten (The Fight Between Carnival and Lent) was the title Pieter Bruegel the Elder gave to this painting, which dates from 1559. Today, Shrove Tuesday, the day when we transition from indulging our appetites to curbing them for 40 days and 40 nights, is a good time to ponder its depiction of feasting and fasting, winter and spring, burlesque and piety, the inn and the church.

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent

“The artist lived at a time of great religious upheaval, when the Protestant Reformation was in full swing, and when many of the old customs were coming under threat. The Catholic attachment to Lenten rites of observance was heavily criticised by the Protestant reformers, while the spirit of Carnival was being crushed by those in authority on both sides of the religious divide. Catholic authorities became suspicious of Carnival because its parodies of church ritual seemed suddenly more pointed and subversive after the assaults of Luther and Calvin; while Protestant church leaders, for their part, disliked its spirit of excess and indulgence, distrusted its theatricality, and abominated its pagan origins. Bruegel’s view of the customs that he so vividly recreated is hard to establish, although there is a clue perhaps in the elevated perspective from which he has chosen to look down on the scene. I suspect his attitude to popular faith and festivity may have been one of amused but affectionate detachment — touched, too, by nostalgia for a world that was disappearing even as he painted it.” — Andrew Graham-Dixon


Who lost in New Hampshire?

Tuesday, 9 February, 2016 0 Comments

Prediction: The big losers in New Hampshire will be the media. The obsessional coverage of Donald Trump and his every quip and comment has put the issues in second place. Donald Trump “Now the airwaves are cluttered, there are too many messages, and in a Tower of Babel society we all focus on that which everybody else does,” wrote Bob Lefsetz in his newsletter a week ago. Snippet:

“But that does not mean television and newspapers did not love telling his story, it injected excitement, it sold advertising, and in the era of big data it was all opinion all the time. True, there were polls showing Trump with significant traction, but the data pros said that at this point in the game polls are unusually inaccurate.

But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

What we are witnessing in this phase of the US presidential race is herd media. The New York York Times has already decided that Hillary Clinton is the best choice, while the Guardian calculates that whipping up Trump frenzy is good click bait. The only alternative to the biased, cynical MSM looks like being Twitter.


Europe will continue to speak English after Brexit

Monday, 8 February, 2016 0 Comments

What will be the role of English in the European Union if the British vote for Brexit? To use one of those phrases that most speakers of English do not understand, with one fell swoop English would change overnight from being the community’s unchallenged lingua franca to a minority language spoken natively only by the Irish if the British decided to leave. Naturally, English would remain essential for doing business in Brussels, but its prestige would be tarnished and its authority questioned.

Or would it? There is a counter-argument that even if Brexit were to happen, English would expand its role as the EU’s working language because of its growing global influence, which is powered by the dynamism of North America, the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere. As well, it’s preeminent position in science and business remains unchallenged and, on a practical level, its lack of genders and related conjugations, unlike Germanic and Latin languages, makes it attractive to millions of learners looking for jobs in a world where the universal English “you” offers a practical way of avoiding those social minefields caused by formal modes of address in other languages. Yes, the spelling system is inconsistent, but this is balanced by the incredible depth and breadth of the English vocabulary.

Brexit Question: In a post-Brexit EU, would UK English be replaced by US English? This is a tricky one because anti-Americanism is the only form of racism that’s acceptable in Europe and the speaking of UK English or “Oxford English”, as some affectedly like to say, is seen as a form of superiority. But this is silly because US English, with its preference for structures such as “He didn’t do it yet”, is simpler than UK English with its preference for the more complex present perfect tense: “He hasn’t done it yet.” This is not to say that US English is a pidgin unworthy of sophisticated Europeans. Far from it, but it is an uncomplicated language, with simplified spelling and reduced vocabulary, that has demonstrated enormous value for a nation that has successfully absorbed millions upon millions of newcomers from a of broad spectrum of linguistic groups. And now that Europe is receiving vast wave of migrants, the need for a basic, continent-wide language makes more sense than ever.

Should Europeans be unwilling to learn US English because it would represent to them the ultimate acceptance of American supremacy, there is an alternative: Hiberno-English. The English spoken in Ireland manages quite well without the intricacy of the present perfect — “How long are you in Brussels?” — or the nuisance of pronouncing “th” in words such as this, that and those. In this way, it is actually nearer the original pronunciation that lexicographer David Crystal is now championing. Another advantage of Hiberno-English is that its speakers use the entire UK English vocabulary and enhance it with colourful coinages of their own: “yoke” (thing), “craic” (enjoyment), and lively alternative meanings — “cute” (clever), “savage” (excellent) and “bold” (naughty). What’s not to like? And then there’s the spelling: “reigns” for “reins”, and so on.

Sunday World

A Brexit would rattle the already shaky EU structure and it would pose a severe crisis for the island of Ireland, but it need not be all downside. Hiberno-English could be the light at the end of the tunnel and it might not be long before Martin Schulz is saying, “C’mere to me, Jean-Claude. Where’s the feckin’ yoke for opening the bottles? Tisn’t in the press, anyway. The turnout was desperate last night, wasn’t it?”


Drones for Good: Loon Copter wins $1 million prize

Sunday, 7 February, 2016 0 Comments

The winner of the $1 million prize at the Drones for Good event in Dubai this weekend was the Loon Copter, a prototype drone that can fly, float and swim underwater. Equipped with a “buoyancy chamber” that fills with water, the drone can sink beneath the surface, tilt 90 degrees and use its four rotors to swim around. This piece of ingenuity is the product of the Embedded System Research Lab at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Its potential uses include searching for sunken objects, environmental monitoring and underwater structure inspection.

The Robotics Award for Good went to SuitX, an exoskeleton system designed to improve the physiological gait development of children. It’s a product of the Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory at the University of California. “SuitX is just one of the companies hoping to boost interest in exoskeleton research,” writes Signe Brewster in MIT Technology Review. “Competing suits like the ReWalk, which costs $70,000 and weighs about 50 pounds, are striving to reduce costs while improving functionality. If exoskeleton makers can drive suit costs down to a few thousand dollars, they could start competing with motorized wheelchairs.”

The winners of the UAE national competition were the BuilDrone team, who designed a drone that can detect and repair leaks in pipelines, and students from Ajman University, who developed a smart guidance system for the blind that assists them in avoiding obstacles using a vibration signals.

Yes, we need to keep a close watch on those nerds, but drones, robots and AI can be, and are, a force for good.


How did the UN get it so wrong on Julian Assange?

Saturday, 6 February, 2016 0 Comments

That’s the question posed by Joshua Rozenberg in the Guardian. “Assange has always been free to leave the embassy at any time,” says Rozenberg, adding: “Of course, he knew he would be arrested for breach of his bail conditions. Of course, he knew he would face extradition to Sweden. Of course, he knew that he might face extradition to the United States once proceedings in Sweden were at an end. But that does not mean he was detained, and still less that his detention was of an arbitrary character.”

Rozenberg outlines the faulty logic of the UN working group, but it is his colleague Marina Hyde who really gets to the heart of the matter with this devastating assessment of Assange: “He can issue limitless portentous statements, and declaim from all the Juliet balconies he likes, but for my money he looks more and more like just another guy failing to face up to a rape allegation.”

Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for Julian Assange’s alleged victim, named as SW, was as critical of the UN group as she was of the purported rapist. She told the Daily Mirror:

“The panel seems to have a lack of understanding of the fact the alleged rape of a woman is one of the most serious violations and abuses of human rights.

That a man arrested on probable cause for rape should be awarded damages because he has deliberately withheld himself from the judicial system for over five years is insulting and offensive to my client — and all victims.

It is time that Assange packs his bag, steps out of the embassy and begins to cooperate with the Swedish Prosecuting Authority.”

Both the UN and Assange have emerged from this looking shabby and shameless.


Recommended reading

Friday, 5 February, 2016 0 Comments

The reader

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” — Alan Bennett, The History Boys

“Some of these things are true and some of them lies. But they are all good stories.” — Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall


Cisco + Jasper = $1.4 billion IoT bet

Thursday, 4 February, 2016 0 Comments

Why has Cisco just spent $1.4 billion on acquiring Jasper Technologies, the developer of an Internet of Things cloud platform? $1.4 billion is an awful lot of money and an “Internet of Things cloud platform” sounds very nebulous, so what’s the big deal? Well, for its money Cisco is buying a company that really knows the booming Internet of Things (IoT) industry and that’s a big deal, indeed.

Terminology note: IoT means connected machines talking to one another via the internet. Example: a factory floor equipped with intelligent robots, a road filled with smart cars, a wind farm stocked with connected turbines or a home furnished with thinking thermostats.

Rob Salvagno, Cisco VP of Corporate Business Development, wrote a blog post yesterday stating that “Cisco’s Intent to Acquire Jasper is All About Making IoT Simple, Scalable and Interoperable.” Snippet:

“When I first met the CEO, Jahangir Mohammad, I was immediately impressed with his visionary approach to the opportunities available in IoT and his foresight in building a unique business to capture those opportunities. 10 years ago, when everyone was focused on flip phones and the early adoption of smartphones, Jahangir and team focused their energies on connecting everything else, including GPS units, cars, security systems and point of sale devices. This early insight has proved fruitful, and now many millions of ‘things’ are connected to the network and working on Jasper’s platform.”

IoT systems generate huge amounts of data and a platform is needed to process, manage and make sense of it all. The cloud is where the action is because companies can scale up as the IoT-generated data volume grows and grows and grows. Acquiring Jasper is a big bet, but a smart one from Cisco’s point of view because its core strength is networking and the IoT is all about the network.


Liam Neeson in ‘Death of an OLED TV Salesman’

Wednesday, 3 February, 2016 0 Comments

In conjunction with Sunday’s Super Bowl 50, LG has just released a commercial for its Signature OLED TV. It must have cost a fortune as it stars Liam Neeson and was produced by Ridley Scott. Is it a winner? The Verge is deathly: “…we’ve got a schlocky 60-second journey through a Tron knock-off fantasy land, with Neeson growling cliches about how ‘the future belongs to us.'” John Gruber is equally morbid: “As with many Super Bowl ads, I feel like they would’ve gotten more bang for their buck by just setting fire to a few million dollars in cash and putting the video on YouTube.”

“My character is an enigmatic man from the future who has traveled back to the present day on a very important mission,” said Liam Neeson to/for LG. “He represents that inner appeal, that curiosity we have to find out about the future.”

One gets the feeling at times that Ridley Scott has made a handsome trade of recycling memes from the iconic television commercial that introduced the Apple Macintosh personal computer. But is LG happy to be placed in a spectrum that’s 30 years behind Apple? Is it so incurious that it’s willing to be associated with a tired rerun of “1984”?


Trump antics, analytics and the vision thing

Tuesday, 2 February, 2016 1 Comment

A week ago, TechNewsWorld published a piece by Rob Enderle titled “How Trump Wins: Master Manipulator, Meet Analytics.” Snippet: “There is no doubt Trump is a master manipulator, and he has figured out how to use social media to turn this advanced skill into a near superpower. If this skill disparity holds, he won’t just win the election — it will be a rout.”

A week is a long time in politics. Donald Trump lost in Iowa last night, Marco Rubio is heading to New Hampshire with the wind at his back and we’re now looking at a “Three-Way Republican Race,” according to Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal.

Marco Rubio Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group and he “provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market,” among other things. He also writes for CIO, which serves the needs of Chief Information Officers (CIOs), and his latest column is titled “The Internet of Things has a vision problem.” His very valid point is that the the Internet of Things is more a tech term than a convincing argument about how life would be better in a world where all imaginable devices talk to each other. Quote:

“With the Internet of Things (IoT) the problem starts with the name, which doesn’t convey a core value but a technical state (connected things) and focuses people again on quantity rather than quality. ‘Smart’ was far better because it implied a solution that made things better as opposed to just made things different. A connected device isn’t inherently better than a disconnected device unless you somehow add intelligence or additional needed functionality.”

Perhaps the IoT needs a Steve Jobs to sell the concept to the masses? Talking of the Apple genius, Rob Enderle concluded his column on The Donald and analytics thus: “Trump may be the best indicator of what would have happened had Jobs run for president in a social media/analytics world.” Doubt it. After all, a connected device isn’t inherently better than a disconnected device unless you somehow add intelligence.

Bottom line: Marco Rubio’s strong third position in Iowa is very significant. If he does well in New Hampshire and wins in South Carolina, the nomination is his.