Apple refuses to hack into terrorist iPhone

Apple is being criticized by a British solider’s family for refusing to hack into an iPhone linked to December’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California.

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook spoke out against the court order on Wednesday, calling the demand “chilling” and saying that compliance would be a major setback for online privacy. Many digital rights groups agree.  The federal government’s attempts to capture data from tech companies has been met with apprehension and fear. Just a few months ago, several tech companies started standing up to government data requests. But not everyone agrees with Apple’s stance on this issue.

Major tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Apple all want to protect their customers’ data by securing it at the highest levels. But, federal governments like the US and the UK want these companies to find ways to hack into customer hardware and accounts, arguing that privacy should not come at the expense of national security. This ongoing battle over encryption puts tech giants on one side, and law enforcement and intelligence on the other.

Fusilier Lee Rigby was off duty and walking down the street near his barracks in Woolwich, England, in May 2013 when he was the victim of a brutal attack by two men who told witnesses they were avenging the killing of Muslims by British soldiers.  Ray McClure, Rigby’s uncle, believes that Apple is doing nothing more than “protecting a murderer’s privacy at the cost of public safety.”

“Valuable evidence is on that smartphone and Apple is denying the FBI access to that information,” McClure said, arguing that a warrant to search a smartphone should be no different than a warrant used to search a property.

In the court order handed to Apple, the company was told it must assist the FBI in unlocking the iPhone linked to San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook. In addition to unlocking the phone, The FBI wants Apple to build a new version of its iOS mobile software that would be able to bypass the iPhone’s security so that the agency could hack any device remotely. In an open letter published on Apple’s website, Tim Cook stated that Apple has been working with the FBI, providing data and advice on how to move forward. But the creation of software that would allow the FBI to bypass Apple’s security simply doesn’t exist. “The US government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create,” said Apple CEO Time Cook.

Article via Cnet, 18 February 2016

Photo: Apple CEO Tim Cook by Mike Deerkoski [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Hackers attacked the IRS

Hackers were recently able to break into the IRS and steal taxpayer identification numbers. The agency was able to detect the attack and shut it down on Tuesday. The breach means that it may be possible for the hackers to file fraudulent tax returns. The attack was done by attempting to obtain e-filing pins from over 450,000 stolen social security numbers. Attempts involving about 100,000 of those social security numbers were successful, the IRS said in a statement.

The IRS stated that the attacks did not originate in their system. It appears as though the social security numbers were stolen outside the IRS, and then used in the attack. They added that “no personal taxpayer data was compromised or disclosed” by its systems. The IRS said it will notify people affected by the attack and will mark their accounts to guard against identity theft.

All of this is part of why President Barack Obama proposed, on Tuesday, to spend $19 billion on more secure technology for the government. If approved, the funds would help in efforts like recruiting cybersecurity experts, reducing reliance on unsafe items like social security numbers. “The caliber of the enemy we’re facing is incredibly sophisticated and global,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the Senate Finance Committee at a hearing Wednesday, in response to a question about the most recent hack. The attackers are professionals that steal sensitive data from their targets, government and financial institutions throughout the world.

Attacks like these have become more prevalent as more tax filing and banking is done online. In the US 150 million tax returns are expected to be filed this season, with 80 percent of them expected to be filed online.

Despite storing a massive trove of data on American citizens, the federal government has struggled to protect it from hackers. That includes the IRS, which hackers attacked last year to steal tax records of perhaps 300,000 people. The agency has even struggled with fraudsters in its ranks; on Monday it successfully prosecuted an employee for identity theft and conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

Article via CNET, 10 February 2016

Photo: Please Insert Coin by arsheffield[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Voter ID law suppresses votes

Voter ID requirements are having an effect on suppressing voters, especially those of color, a recent research paper claims.

UCSD’s political science department has conducted research on the recent voter ID law changes, and have found that they are changing the makeup of voters. In the past few years there has been a wave to restrict voting to those that cannot show a proper ID. The motivation has come from the sentiment that if you need an ID to board a plan, then you should need one to vote. There is growing concern that allowing citizens to vote without showing proper ID could open up the process to fraud, via people using the names of the recently deceased to cast illegitimate votes. Other reasoning behind the updates to the law have stated that requiring an ID is a minor barrier to voting and should not have an effect on the process. This has been backed up by past research that showed that there was no difference between the voters who had to show an ID and those that were not required to in order to vote.

The problem is that these laws seem to be fixing a problem that doesn’t exist. It has been reported that most instances of voter fraud tend to be baseless. In contrast, the creation of an ID requirement has been found to be a barrier for voters.  It is estimated that 10% of Americans do not have the proper ID in order to cast a vote. As a result, the voting population gets skewed to being more white and more conservative. Some Republicans have admitted that defense of the new voter ID laws are aimed at the democratic voters.

The researchers found that these claims were turning out to be true. “We find that strict voter identification laws do, in fact, substantially alter the makeup of who votes and ultimately do skew democracy in favor of whites and those on the political right.” They even draw a broader point from this finding: “These laws significantly impact the representativeness of the vote and the fairness of democracy.”

Voting is not a privilege, it is a fundamental right of our democracy. Before 2006, not one state required that a person have a photo ID in order to cast a vote. Although past research may not have indicated that Voter ID laws would become a barrier to a civil right, this research generally pre-dates the especially strict voter ID laws that are on the books in many states today. Although the most recent study is still under peer review, it results are enough to cause alarm about the state of our voting rights in America.

Article via, 9 February 2016

Photo Proof Voter ID Lowers Turnout by Democracy Chronicles [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Will robots become the next speech writers?

As this is an election year, the American public will be hearing many speeches from  politicians addressing the nation.  Phrases such as “My Fellow Americans”, “main street” and “small businesses” are staples that they average person can predict to hear from any politician. These political phrases are not only predicted by Americans, but now are being predicted by robots.

“Mr. Speaker, supporting this rule and supporting this bill is good for small business. It is great for American small business, for Main Street, for jobs creation. We have an economy that has created nearly 2 million jobs in the past couple of months: apparel, textiles, transportation and equipment, electronic components and equipment, chemicals, industrial and commercial equipment and computers, instruments, photographic equipment, metals, food, wood and wood products. Virtually every state in the union can claim at least one of these industrial sectors. In fact, one young girl, Lucy, wanted to make sure that the economy keeps growing. That should not be done on borrowed money, on borrowed time.”

This speech was written by a computer.

This comes from a research project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The researchers created a predictive algorithm that laid down words based on the previous 5 words that came before them. In program analyzed 3800 speeches that were introduced in the House.

The program is not perfect. There were speeches produced that came out a bit non-sensical. One computer generated address had this to say:

“For example, I mean probably all of us have had a mom or a grandmom or an uncle to whom we say, hey, I noticed your legs are swelling again. Fluid retention. Fluid retention.”

What this project does show is that their artificial intelligence can be useful, and maybe be the starting place for speech writing. It is not unrealistic to assume that future State of the Union addresses may first start with an algorithm.


Article via The Washington Post, 25 January 2016

Photo: 01-27-11 at 14-34-48 bySpeaker John Boehner  [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Obama seeking smart gun tech

President Obama is ordering the federal government to study smart gun technology.

On Monday, Obama told the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to look into smart gun technology, such as fingerprint and radio-frequency identification. The goals are to track lost or stolen guns and to prevent accidental gunfire. The president cited a 2013 Department of Justice report as inspiration for the studying smart gun technology. Obama was quoted saying that “…the (DOJ) made clear that technological advancement in this area could help reduce accidental deaths and the use of stolen guns in criminal activities…”

These actions and others were addressed in a speech from the White House on Tuesday by the President. Obama outlined this memo and other executive actions meant to tackle gun violence. This speech comes one month after 14 people in San Bernardino, California were fatally shot by a couple influenced by radical islamic beliefs. In response, gun sales rose sharply amid fear of extremists.

In addition to encouraging gun safety, these executive actions will expand background checks in order to  close the “gun show loophole”. This loophole allows gun dealers conducting business at gun shows or online to do so without conducting background checks. Current laws exempts gun collectors and hobbyists from conducting background checks before selling a firearm.

Although The President’s recommendations are consistent with the Second Amendment and supported by the “overwhelming majority of the American people, including gun owners”, it is unlikely to find support among gun rights groups. These groups have stated that smart technology is a way for the federal government to track gun owners.

Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement Tuesday that the NRA would not allow “law-abiding gun owners to become scapegoats for President Obama’s failed policies…The NRA will continue to fight to protect the fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed under our Constitution.”

Obama plans to address gun violence during a nationally televised town hall meeting at George Mason University in Virginia on Thursday night. In his speech Tuesday, he recalled the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 20 children and six teachers dead. Obama stated, “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad”.

In his memo, he continues with that sentiment stating that “…developing and promoting technology that would help prevent these tragedies is an urgent priority…”

Article via CNET, 6 January 2016

Photo: 44 by SAL [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Google car halted by California

Google has been famously testing out their version of a driverless car. The company wants to transform transportation by taking the driver out of the equation.

Driverless cars will be able to shuttle people from place to place while reducing the human error that is often the catalyst for road accidents.The California Department of Motor Vehicles recently made a proposal of rules for driverless cars. These new rules were presented for public commentary in mid December of 2015. The DMV wants to involve the public and will be hosting two workshops early in 2016, one in Sacramento and the other in Los Angeles.This proposal draft is the next step in allowing driverless cars on California roads. But Google is unhappy about one of the provisions.

The regulators are calling for the manufacturers of driverless cars to meet several safety and performance standards. These include things such as protecting the privacy of operators from the needless collection of user data and having a third party independently access performance. The rules also call for a licensed human driver, capable of taking over the steering wheel and pedals in the event of an emergency. The problem is that Google’s prototype for a driverless car does not have a steering wheel or pedals.

Google’s maintains that it wants to improve safety by equipping the car itself with protocols that surpass what a human could detect. For instance their cars have sensors that detect objects as far as two football fields away–in all directions. The state of California is looking at the broader aspect of autonomous cars, and remains more conservative on the issue. They  have warned Google in the past to add steering wheels and pedals. California legislators pushed The DMV to require that driverless cars contain wheels and people to steer them whenever they’re operated on public roads.

Google is disappointed that California legislators are limiting the potential of fully autonomous vehicles, the company said. Although the company is still in the prototyping phase where changes can easily be made, it is still a setback.


Article via TechNewsWorld, 18th December 2015

Photo:Auto che guidano da sole. Forse non le vedremo mai sulle nostre strade by Automobile Italia [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]