Cuba open to US tech companies

President Obama’s recently trip to Cuba has opened the door for US based internet companies to do business with the island.

Obama’s visit is the first by a US president since the communist revolution of 1959. Since 1962, the US has imposed trade and travel restrictions that have kept US based companies out of Cuba. But since 2008, the Bush and Obama administrations have overseen a slow return to diplomatic relations with Cuba. Now that there is more communication between the two countries, industry experts are concerned about a virtual land grab by companies like Google and Airbnb.

During the President’s visit to Cuba, he announced that Google would be expanding wi-fi in Cuba. Other companies like Airbnb and Bookings.com are also looking to take advantage of the thawing climate between the US and Cuba. These US companies are attracted to Cuba’s lucrative tourism industry, and are quickly trying to claim their stake in this new market. The time is ripe for these technology companies to take advantage of the coming opportunities.

Cubans have limited access to the internet. Only about 25 percent of the population is currently online and only a little over 12 percent of the households have a computer at home. This is expected to shift as Google provides more wi-fi and broadband access across the country.

Airbnb has been operating for about a year already, allowing Americans to book accomodations in Cuba. Although technically travel to Cuba has been illegal except under special circumstances, 161,000 Americans were among the 3.5 million tourists from all over the world who visited Cuba last year. Commercial flights are expected to resume in the fall, giving way to a larger market for sites like Bookings.com. In the coming weeks, its parent company Priceline will begin allowing US customers to book vacations in Havana and plans to sign deals with existing hotels and tourism countries.

Article via Cnet, 21 March 2016

Photo: Press conference, Havana by IIP Photo Archive [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


New medical testing: affordable and quick

Kanav Kahol, a biomedical engineer and researcher at Arizona State University, realized that physicians and engineers were doing little to make diagnostic testing more affordable. As a result, billions of people receive inadequate preventative healthcare. Intent on creating a solution, Kahol moved back to New Delhi in 2011 where he developed the Swasthya Slate.

The Swasthya Slate is a mobile medical device that performs 33 medical tests covering a broad range of assessments, including blood pressure, heart rate, heamoglobin, HIV, malaria, and typhoid. The device is roughly the size of a large textbook and costs $600. Each test takes one to two minutes, and results are automatically stored on the patient’s cloud-based medical records.

After finishing the slate in Jan. 2013, Kahol introduced it to 2.1 million people served by medical clinics in the Northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Swasthya Slate is now used in six continents, and the next generation of the device—HealthCube—was tested last month in Clinica Internacional, Peru’s most prestigious hospital. Alvaro Chavez Tori, Clinica’s general manager, is optimistic about the integration of the HealthCube in Peru and Latin America as the “acceptance of the technology was amazingly high.”

HealthCube has great potential in the United States as well. Over 10 percent of the U.S. population still lacks health insurance, and thus receives less preventative care and experiences greater serious illness. Basic tests provided by Swasthya Slate and HealthCube would alert Americans to health issues early and affordably, cutting costs for citizens and for the government.

Article via The Washington Post, March 11, 2016

Photo: Infant patients get a checkup via World Bank Photo Collection [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Panel: U.S. government sending mixed encryption messages

Privacy professionals are saying the U.S. government is sending mixed encryption messages to technology companies. They build privacy and security by design in products and services, but leave them open to backdoor access by default. This issue became more prominent after an argument whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can force Apple, Inc. to unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

On Feb. 16th, a federal judge ordered Apple to provide the FBI with software to disable the security feature that auto-erases the phone’s data after multiple incorrect attempts to enter the pass code. Demetrios Eleftheriou, Symantec Corp. global privacy director said, “It just seems like there’s a bit of an inconsistent message from the government. We have law enforcement on the one end saying you build back doors, they want broken by design.”  On the other end are “the regulators saying you have to incorporate security by default, privacy by default in the product,” he said.

Eleftheriou asserts that the U.S. government needs to consider if their ambivalent stance on consumer encryption is compatible with the new European Union General Data Protection Regulation requirements for privacy by design and security by default. “A weakness is a weakness. It can be exploited by anybody.”

Will DeVries, Google Inc. privacy counsel said companies “want the process to be really clear, really defined and based on principles that we can apply globally to our services that actually make sense and keep us all safe.”DeVries believes the argument against accessing a terrorist’s phone is just one “red herring”. “We’re actually worried about the precedent of saying can you ask a tech company to undermine the security of devices that’s out in the public, not just for the device they’re talking but a security flaw that then can be used on any device,” DeVries said.

Companies can be ordered to assist with law enforcement to get at some data, Chris Jay Hoofnagle, member of the advisory board of Bloomberg BNA’s Privacy & Data Security Law Report, said. “Obviously, what makes this situation so dangerous and difficult is that the work the government would like Apple to do could be used prospectively and could be used to erode privacy and security in devices generally,” Hoofnagle said. The technology industry is at this point in time now where the devices can outsmart these forensic appliances so whatever happens paves the way for the future of device security.

Hoofnagle sees that this tinkers with the Fourth Amendment. “We might come to a world in the U.S. where we basically have different Fourth Amendment standards for the terrorism case where maybe we do feel as though the phone should be unlocked versus other types of crimes that aren’t as serious.”

Article via Bloomberg BNA, February 19, 2016

Photo: System Lock via Yuri Samoilov


Apple will make iPhone harder to hack

Apple has plans to make their iPhone harder to hack amid the current controversy with the FBI.

The FBI wants Apple to create new firmware that would allow them to hack into encrypted data on an iPhone that belongs to a San Bernardino terrorist. Apple CEO Tim Cook is fighting the request citing the infringement on digital privacy. He also wrote an open letter to explain Apple’s position. Now the company is thinking of taking further steps and prevent passcode-free recovery mode in future iPhones.

The FBIs current request for backdoor access to the iPhone would require Apple to create software that would allow the FBI to bypass security features that prevent hacking. Specifically, the FBI has already looked at an online backup on iCloud of the phone, but they want Apple to disable a security feature that would allow them to have as many tries as possible to unlock the phone. In order to comply, Apple would have to change their operating system to no longer have this feature, which would make millions of iPhone users vulnerable.

As this issue has escalated, Apple is looking to prevent these types of request in the future. When it comes to iCloud security, Apple encrypts its data on its servers but still owns the decryption keys. So if the FBI asks Apple for iCloud data, Apple can decrypt iPhone backups and hand them to the FBI. Now the company is thinking of changing that.

Instead, Apply may give the private keys to the customer, which would remove Apple from being able to decrypt backups. This would mean that future government request for decrypted data would not be possible, but it also means that Apply would not be able to help customers either, since they would not be able to decrypt their backups.

In the Future Apple wants to find a way to limit or do away with DFU (device firmware update) mode. Apple created DFU mode for troubleshooting purposes, such as when your iPhone doesn’t work anymore because of a broken operating system.  If such a big crash happens, Apple lets you boot your iPhone into DFU mode, so that you can reinstall a fresh version of iOS without having to enter a passcode.

DFU mode is at the center of the debate because its current design makes the FBI requests possible, if Apple chooses to make the software changes. You can currently reinstall a new operating system without having to enter a passcode. In fact this is how many jailbreak the iPhone. But, if Apple requires that you enter your passcode to enter into DFU mode, that all changes. Apple would no longer have the ability to create software that lets the government hack into your phone.

In the wake of increasing government request of user data and the revelation of NSA breaches by Snowden, Apple has make it harder to hack iPhones. The tech giant looks to stay that course and increase security for the protection of its customers and their data.

Article via TechCrunch, 25 February 2016

Photo: Tim Cook explica su postura al FBI del caso San Bernardino by iphonedigital [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

 


Uber defends driver screening

Uber is back in the news for yet another controversy concerning their drivers. The tech company recently settled a suit with customers who accused the company of less rigorous background checks than was advertised. Now their driver screening process is being scrutinized again as Jason Dalton, an Uber driver,  confessed to a Saturday shooting spree in Kalamazoo, Michigan while picking up customers.

Uber Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan said that Mr. Dalton had no prior criminal background and no red flags that appeared during his background check that would have cause the company to be concerned. “No background check process would have flagged and anticipated this situation,” Sullivan said.

Until Saturday there were no complaints with Jason Dalton’s driving record with Uber. He had given more than 100 rides since starting with Uber at the end of January and had a rating of 4.73 out of 5. The only indications that he may be dangerous didn’t come until last Saturday, when several riders including one passenger complained of erratic driving. According to the Michigan police, Dalton then started a shooting rampage at 6pm where he wounded 9 people, killing 6. Michigan police state that Dalton started at 6pm by shooting a woman multiple times in a parking lot, and then drove around for hours randomly gunning down innocent bystanders. There have been no connections made between the driver and his victims.

One reason for the emphasis on Uber’s driver screenings is because they have missed criminals before, and they were able to use their job with the service to offend again. Houston is one of the few cities the requires Uber drivers to pass a FBI fingerprint check after an ex-con Uber driver allegedly raped one of his passengers. The city did not believe that Uber’s driver screenings and background checks were thorough enough, since the driver was able to pass Uber’s checks, although he had served 14 years in prison. Prosecutors in California have also questioned Uber’s driver screenings after a driver was found to have been convicted of murder, but Uber’s background check failed to reveal the criminal history.

Critics say that Uber would catch more of these criminals if they ran fingerprints in their background checks. The company currently runs the names of potential drivers through seven years of county and federal courthouse records, a multi-state criminal database, national sex offender registry, Social Security trace and motor vehicle records. Uber rejects anyone with a history of violent crimes, sexual offenses, gun-related violations or resisting arrest. But in light of the recent events, Uber seems to be leaning toward introducing fingerprint identification as part of their process.

Article via CNet, 22 February 2016

Photo via Newsday.com


Nation divided over Apple decision

Apple’s decision to refuse the FBI order requiring the company to unlock a phone used by Syed Farook, one of the terrorists in the San Bernardino shooting, has divided the nation into two camps. Those who support the company believe that the FBI order jeopardizes individual privacy. Others argue that Apple’s challenge threatens national security.

In order to unlock Syed Farook’s iPhone, Apple would have to design a new software that would provide a backdoor through the phone’s security features. That software does not yet exist, and Apple argues it should stay that way.

“The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices,” states Tim Cook’s response posted on the Apple website.

The non-profit advocacy group Fight for the Future organized demonstrations across the nation following the Apple decision in order to show solidarity with the company. Evan Greer, the organization’s campaign director, spoke about the importance of encryption in protecting public facilities like hospitals and airports, as well as in assuring the safety of individuals.

“For myself as a member of the LGBT community, I know there are a lot of people that have heightened needs for security. A breach is not just inconvenient or embarrassing, but can put people in threat of physical violence,” Greer said.

Henry Nickel, a San Bernardino city councilman, has the opposing opinion that Apple’s decision is an obstruction of justice. He likens Apple’s refusal to access the contents of Farook’s phone to a landlord’s refusal to unlock a suspect’s door in the face of a search warrant.

“I do not feel that digital data is in any way subject to additional protection from search or seizure than any other aspects of our lives,” Nickel said. “Apple is simply wrong if it believes digital information is somehow more sacred than any other type of information.”

San Bernardino Mayor R. Carey Davis felt similarly. “The attacks on December 2nd was the deadliest terrorist attack in the US since 9/11, and law enforcement officials continue to follow up on leads related to the case… It is my hope that Apple cooperates given the circumstances of this investigation,” he said.

Article via: The Washington Post, 19 February, 2016

Photo: Laughing Squid iPhone Webclip Icon by Scott Beale [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]