Category Archives: Usa

WannaCry researcher denies in court about creating banking malware

The security researcher rose to fame for curbing the spread of the WannaCry ransomware recently

A security researcher who helped curb a global outbreak of the WannaCry ransomware earlier this year has told a court he is not guilty of charges of allegedly creating a notorious banking malware.

Marcus Hutchins, 22, said he was not guilty during a hearing at a Las Vegas court after he was arrested and detained earlier this week.

The news was confirmed by his attorney Adrian Lobo, speaking on Facebook Live to local reporter Christy Wilcox, at the court house.

Hutchins was granted bail on a bond of $30,000 during a hearing at a Las Vegas court.

But he will “not be released today lawyers says could not get bail in time,” according to Wilcox in a tweet.

He will not be allowed access to devices with an internet connection, said Wilcox, and he will be tagged to be monitored at all times.

Hutchins, also known as @MalwareTechBlog, stormed to fame earlier this year after he found a kill switch in the malware, known as WannaCry, amid a global epidemic of ransomware in May.

By registering a domain found in the code, he stopped the spread of the malware.

The Justice Department announced Thursday that it was charging Hutchins with malicious activity, unrelated to the WannaCry cyberattack.

The security researcher, a British native, was arrested shortly before boarding a flight home. He had been attending the Def Con security conference late last month. He was briefly detained in a federal detention facility in Nevada, then later questioned by the FBI at its field office in Las Vegas.

Hutchins was later indicted, along with an unnamed defendant, on six charges relating to allegations that he created the Kronos malware, a trojan that can steal banking usernames and passwords from victims’ computers.

He was also charged with five other counts, including wiretapping — thought to relate to the interception of passwords; and violating the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which serve as the basis of US hacking laws.

Hutchins will appear at a court in Wisconsin, where the case was filed, on August 8.

Developing… more soon. www.crimefiles.net

Henry Sapiecha

With just one wiretap order, US authorities listened in on 3.3 million phone calls

The order was carried out in 2016 as part of a federal narcotics investigation.

NEW YORK, NY — US authorities intercepted and recorded millions of phone calls last year under a single wiretap order, authorized as part of a narcotics investigation.

The wiretap order authorized an unknown government agency to carry out real-time intercepts of 3.29 million cell phone conversations over a two-month period at some point during 2016, after the order was applied for in late 2015.

The order was signed to help authorities track 26 individuals suspected of involvement with illegal drug and narcotic-related activities in Pennsylvania.

The wiretap cost the authorities $335,000 to conduct and led to a dozen arrests.

But the authorities noted that the surveillance effort led to no incriminating intercepts, and none of the handful of those arrested have been brought to trial or convicted.

The revelation was buried in the US Courts’ annual wiretap report, published earlier this week but largely overlooked.

“The federal wiretap with the most intercepts occurred during a narcotics investigation in the Middle District of Pennsylvania and resulted in the interception of 3,292,385 cell phone conversations or messages over 60 days,” said the report.

Details of the case remain largely unknown, likely in part because the wiretap order and several motions that have been filed in relation to the case are thought to be under seal.

It’s understood to be one of the largest number of calls intercepted by a single wiretap in years, though it’s not known the exact number of Americans whose communications were caught up by the order.

We contacted the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, where the wiretap application was filed, but did not hear back.

Albert Gidari, a former privacy lawyer who now serves as director of privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, criticized the investigation.

“They spent a fortune tracking 26 people and recording three million conversations and apparently got nothing,” said Gidari. “I’d love to see the probable cause affidavit for that one and wonder what the court thought on its 10 day reviews when zip came in.”

“I’m not surprised by the results because on average, a very very low percentage of conversations are incriminating, and a very very low percent results in conviction,” he added.

When reached, a spokesperson for the Justice Department did not comment

Contact me securely

Zack Whittaker can be reached securely on Signal and WhatsApp at 646-755–8849, and his PGP fingerprint for email is: 4D0E 92F2 E36A EC51 DAAE 5D97 CB8C 15FA EB6C EEA5.

If you see something, leak something. Telling the world holds people in office accountable, no matter how big or small it may be.

There are a number of ways to contact me securely, in ranking order.

Encrypted calls and texts

I use both Signal and WhatsApp for end-to-end encrypted calling and messaging. The apps are available for iPhones and Android devices.

You can reach me at +1 646-755–8849 on Signal or WhatsApp.

I will get back to you as soon as possible if I don’t immediately respond.

Encrypted instant messaging

You can also contact me using “Off The Record” messaging, which allows you to talk to me in real time on your computer. It’s easy to use once you get started. This helpful guide will show you how to get set up.

You will need a Jabber instant messaging account. There are many options to choose from. For anonymity, you should create an account through the Tor browser.

You can reach me at: zackwhittaker@jabber.at during working hours.

When you verify my fingerprint, it’s this: 914F503C 03771A5F A9E2AC91 95861FDA 9B3A7EAD.

Send me PGP email

My email address is zack.whittaker@gmail.com (remove the dot for PGP).

PGP, or “Pretty Good Privacy,” is a great (but tricky-to-use) way of emailing someone encrypted files or messages. PGP works on almost every email account and computer, but using it on your work or home email address won’t hide who you are, or the fact that you sent a reporter an email.

If you want to remain anonymous, go somewhere that isn’t your home or work network. Then, you should use the Tor browser, which hides your location, to access a free email service (like this one or this one).

The EFF has a set of easy-to-use tutorials on how to get started.

You will need my public PGP key to email me securely, available here.

You can also verify my PGP fingerprint to be sure it’s me: 4D0E 92F2 E36A EC51 DAAE 5D97 CB8C 15FA EB6C EEA5.

You can also get this information on my Keybase profile.

When all else fails…

You can always send me things through the mail. My work address is:

Zack Whittaker c/o CBS,
28 E. 28th Street,
New York, NY 10016,
United States of America.

(Updated: January 14 with additional Keybase details.)
(Updated: April 30 with new Jabber fingerprint.)

Henry Sapiecha

The 20 people who USA President Donald Trump turns to & are not in the White House

Washington: Relationships have always been President Donald Trump’s currency and comfort, helping him talk his way into real estate deals over three decades in New York.

Those who know him best say that his outer confidence has always belied an inner uncertainty, and that he needs to test ideas with a wide range of people.

As Trump’s White House advisers jostle for position, the president has turned to another group of advisers – from family, real estate, media, finance and politics, and all outside the White House gates – many of whom he consults at least once a week.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is on the phone every week, encouraging Trump when he’s low and arguing that he should focus on the economy rather than detouring to other issues.

Developer Richard LeFrak is a soothing voice who listens to Trump’s complaints that cost estimates for the border wall with Mexico are too high. Sean Hannity tells the president that keeping promises on core Republican issues is crucial.

Trump’s West Wing aides, like President Bill Clinton’s staff two decades before, say they sometimes cringe at the input from people they can’t control, with consequences they can’t predict. Knowing these advisers – who are mostly white, male and older – is a key to figuring out the words coming from Trump’s mouth and his Twitter feed.

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Here, based on interviews with more than a dozen friends, top aides and advisers inside and outside the White House, are 20 of Trump’s outside touchstones:

The Mogul

Rupert Murdoch

Trump’s relationships depend on two crucial measures: Personal success and loyalty to him. Murdoch excels in both categories. His New York Post vaulted Trump from local housing developer to gossip-page royalty, and his Fox News Channel was pro-Trump in the 2016 general election.

The two share preferences for transactional tabloid journalism and never giving in to critics. (Trump said fallen Fox star Bill O’Reilly should not have settled sexual harassment complaints.)

The president’s relationship with Murdoch is deeper and more enduring than most in his life, and in their calls they commiserate and plot strategy, according to people close to both.

Murdoch even called the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, to buck him up after Spicer was savaged for a remark about Adolf Hitler.

Media baron Rupert Murdoch, pictured with Ivanka Trump

The Media

Sean Hannity

Presidents always deploy surrogates to appear on television to spout their talking points, but Trump has expanded on that by developing relationships with sympathetic media figures like Hannity who also serve as advisers.

Hannity, the Fox News host, defends Trump’s most controversial behaviour in public, but privately, according to people close to Trump, he urges the president not to get distracted, and advises him to focus on keeping pledges such as repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Chris Ruddy

The chief executive of Newsmax Media is a longtime Mar-a-Lago member and was a Trump cheerleader among conservative media well before the website Breitbart joined the parade. He employs writers and editors who tracked Trump’s career when they were at The New York Post. He recently visited the Oval Office, and he and Trump kibitz in Florida and by phone.

The Lawyer

Sheri Dillon

Dillon seemed out of place when she spoke at a too-large lectern in the lobby of Trump Tower on January 11, describing the steps Trump planned to take to separate himself from his business.

But Dillon, an ethics lawyer who worked out a highly criticised plan for Trump to retain ownership of his company but step back from running it, has repeatedly counseled the president about the business and made at least one White House visit. (Michael Cohen, a veteran Trump aide, has been serving as his personal lawyer.)

Campaign Advisers

Corey Lewandowski

Despite his “you’re fired” slogan, the president dislikes dismissing people. Lewandowski, Trump’s hot-tempered first campaign manager, was fired last June but never really went away.

A New England-bred operative whose working-class roots and clenched-teeth loyalty earned him Trump’s trust, he continued to be in frequent phone contact with Trump until the election and beyond.

Friends of Lewandowski say that he can see the windows of the White House residence from his lobbying office on Pennsylvania Avenue, and that the view is even better during his visits to the West Wing, including when the New England Patriots were at the White House in the past week.

Newt Gingrich

The former House speaker talks more with Trump’s top advisers than he does with the president, but his presence permeates the administration. Gingrich’s former spokesman is at the State Department, and two former advisers work in the West Wing.

Gingrich has relentlessly promoted Trump’s policy adviser, Stephen Miller, as the West Wing conservative ballast as the chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, has been under fire.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich. Photo: AP

Childhood Friend

Richard LeFrak

Their fathers were developers together in New York, and the two men have been friends for decades. LeFrak is a Mar-a-Lago member, and he agreed to be part of an infrastructure effort that Trump hopes to put forward. Trump has turned to him to vent frustrations about the slow pace of bureaucracy.

The Peers

Thomas Barrack

Trump divides the people around him into broad categories: family, paid staff and wealthy men like Barrack whom he considers peers.

A sunny and loyal near-billionaire who has socialised with the president for years, Barrack is less a strategic adviser than a trusted moneyman, fixer and sounding board who often punctuated his emails to Trump with exhortations like “YOU ROCK!” He has urged Trump to avoid needless, distracting fights.

Under Barrack’s leadership, Trump’s inaugural committee raised a record $US106.7 million ($141.4 million), much of it from big corporations, banks and Republican megadonors like Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Barrack also helped usher Paul Manafort, the international political operative under scrutiny for his ties to Russia, into the Trump fold last year. The velvet-voiced Barrack does not seek out attention for himself, one of the most important and elusive qualities by which the president judges people.

Stephen Schwarzman

The chairman and chief executive of the Blackstone Group, Schwarzman is the head of Trump’s economic advisory council. He and the president don’t speak daily, West Wing aides said, but do talk frequently.

Schwarzman has counselled him on a number of topics, including advising him to leave in place President Barack Obama’s executive order shielding young undocumented immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” from deportation.

Steve Roth

A good way to get on Trump’s side is to do a deal with him, particularly if it means rescuing him from his own financial crisis. That’s what real estate tycoon Steve Roth did a decade ago when he bought out Trump’s share in a New York City real estate deal that went sour.

Roth, head of Vornado Realty Trust and a longtime Democratic donor, also helped Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, when he injected $80 million into 666 Fifth Avenue, a Kushner family property in danger of defaulting on $US1.1 billion in loans. Trump speaks with Roth frequently, and is leaning on him to help develop a trillion-dollar infrastructure package expected this year.

Phil Ruffin

Trump has 20-odd business partners, but none is closer to him than Ruffin, 82, a Texas billionaire who has lent his ear and private jet.

The president was best man at the 2008 wedding of Ruffin to his third wife, a 26-year-old model and former Miss Ukraine. Ruffin has a knack for showing up when Trump needs him most and remains a die-hard defender.

“This stuff about him having financial investments all over Russia – that’s just pure crap,” Ruffin told Forbes. “I went to Russia with him. We took my airplane. We were having lunch with one of the oligarchs there. No business was discussed.”

Carl Icahn

Rounding out Trump’s roster of wealthy octogenarians is this 81-year-old corporate raider and real estate mogul who occupies perhaps the most respected perch in the president’s circle of businessmen buddies.

The affection is long-standing: The New York-bred Icahn has known Trump and his family for decades.

It’s also numerical: Icahn is worth an estimated $16 billion, a major plus in the eyes of a president who keeps score. Icahn serves as a free-roving economic counsellor and head of Trump’s effort to reduce government regulations on business.

Man of Mystery

Roger Stone

Few alliances in politics are as complicated as the 40-year relationship between the Nixon-tattooed Stone and Trump. Stone won’t say how frequently they speak these days, but he shares the president’s tear-down-the-system impulses and is ubiquitous on cable, on radio and on the website InfoWarsnews defending Trump.

The Clubgoers

Ike Perlmutter

Perlmutter, the chief executive of Marvel Comics who is so reclusive that few public photographs exist of him, has been informally advising Trump on veterans issues. The two men are old friends, and Perlmutter has been a presence at Mar-a-Lago club.

Robert Kraft

The owner of the Patriots is a Democrat but his loyalty to Trump, Kraft once said, dates partly to the president’s thoughtfulness when Kraft’s father died. Trump loved talking about the Patriots during the campaign, and Kraft has been a Mar-a-Lago presence since the transition.

The First Lady

Melania Trump

Melania Trump is uninterested in the limelight, but she has remained a powerful adviser by telephone from New York. Among her roles: giving the president feedback on media coverage, counselling him on staff choices and urging him, repeatedly, to tone down his Twitter feed. Lately, he has listened closely and has a more disciplined Twitter finger.

US first lady Melania Trump. Photo: AP

The Governor

Chris Christie

Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and palace gatekeeper, has shown a capacity to hobble his rivals, but few have been finished off. The most durable has been Christie, whose transition planning, several West Wing aides now concede, should not have been discarded. He has been a frequent Oval Office visitor and has worked with the White House on the opioid addiction crisis.

The Speaker

Paul Ryan

Trump and the clean-cut and wonky Wisconsinite aren’t exactly best friends forever. But their relationship is closer than in the bad old days of the 2016 campaign when Ryan delayed a hold-my-nose endorsement of Trump, whose morality he had long questioned. But as the president’s agenda passes through the razor-blade gantlet of the House, where Ryan faces the constant threat of opposition and overthrow, the two men have become foxhole buddies.

The Sons

Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump

The two sons and the president insist they no longer discuss company business. But the family is close and Trump still speaks to his sons frequently, inquiring about their lives and searching for gut-checks on his own.

– The New York Times

Henry Sapiecha

Tech giants circle over big data as antitrust regulators take note

Wealth and influence in the technology business have always been about gaining the upper hand in software or the machines that software ran on.

Now data – gathered in those immense pools of information that are at the heart of everything from artificial intelligence to online shopping recommendations – is increasingly a focus of technology competition. And academics and some policymakers, especially in Europe, are considering whether big internet companies like Google and Facebook might use their data resources as a barrier to new entrants and innovation.

Google data centre in Oklahoma. image www.intelagencies.com

In recent years, Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft have all been targets of tax evasion, privacy or antitrust investigations. But in the coming years, who controls what data could be the next worldwide regulatory focus as governments strain to understand and sometimes rein in US tech giants.

The European Commission and the British House of Lords both issued reports last year on digital “platform” companies that highlighted the essential role that data collection, analysis and distribution play in creating and shaping markets. And the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development held a meeting in November to explore the subject, “Big Data: Bringing Competition Policy to the Digital Era.”

As government regulators dig into this new era of data competition, they may find that standard antitrust arguments are not so easy to make. Using more and more data to improve a service for users and more accurately target ads for merchants is a clear benefit, for example. And higher prices for consumers are not present with free internet services.

“You certainly don’t want to punish companies because of what they might do,” said Annabelle Gawer, a professor of the digital economy at the University of Surrey in England, who made a presentation at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development meeting. “But you do need to be vigilant. It’s clear that enormous power is in the hands of a few companies.”

Maurice Stucke, a former Justice Department antitrust official and a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law, who also spoke at the gathering, said one danger was that consumers might be afforded less privacy than they would choose in a more competitive market.

CLUB LIBIDO BANNER BRUNETTE THROWS KISSESooo

The competition concerns echo those that gradually emerged in the 1990s about software and Microsoft. The worry is that as the big internet companies attract more users and advertisers, and gather more data, a powerful “network effect” effectively prevents users and advertisers from moving away from a dominant digital platform, like Google in search or Facebook in consumer social networks.

Evidence of the rising importance of data can be seen from the frontiers of artificial intelligence to mainstream business software. And certain data sets can be remarkably valuable for companies working on those technologies.

A prime example is Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn, the business social network, for $US26.2 billion last year. LinkedIn has about 467 million members, and it houses their profiles and maps their connections.

Microsoft is betting LinkedIn, combined with data on how hundreds of millions of workers use its Office 365 online software, and consumer data from search behaviour on Bing, will “power a set of insights that we think is unprecedented,” said James Phillips, vice president for business applications at Microsoft.

In an email to employees, Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, described the LinkedIn deal as a linchpin in the company’s long-term goal to “reinvent productivity and business processes” and to become the digital marketplace that defines “how people find jobs, build skills, sell, market and get work done.”

IBM has also bet heavily on data for its future. Its acquisitions have tended to be in specific industries, like its $US2.6 billion purchase last year of Truven Health, which has data on the cost and treatment of more than 200 million patients, or in specialised data sets useful across several industries, like its $US2 billion acquisition of the digital assets of Weather Co.

Meet_Russian_728_90

IBM estimates that 70 per cent of the world’s data is not out on the public web, but in private databases, often to protect privacy or trade secrets. IBM’s strategy is to take the data it has acquired, add customer data and use that to train its Watson artificial intelligence software to pursue such tasks as helping medical researchers discover novel disease therapies, or flagging suspect financial transactions for independent auditors.

“Our focus is mainly on non-public data sets and extending that advantage for clients in business and science,” said David Kenny, senior vice president for IBM’s Watson and cloud businesses.

At Google, the company’s drive into cloud-delivered business software is fuelled by data, building on years of work done on its search and other consumer services, and its recent advances in image identification, speech recognition and language translation.

For example, a new Google business offering – still in the test, or alpha, stage – is a software service to improve job finding and recruiting. Its data includes more than 17 million online job postings and the public profiles and résumés of more than 200 million people.

Its machine-learning algorithms distilled that to about 4 million unique job titles, ranked the most common ones and identified specific skills. The job sites CareerBuilder and Dice are using the Google technology to show job seekers more relevant openings. And FedEx, the giant package shipper, is adding the service to its recruiting site.

That is just one case, said Diane Greene, senior vice president for Google’s cloud business, of what is becoming increasingly possible – using the tools of artificial intelligence, notably machine learning, to sift through huge quantities of data to provide machine-curated data services.

“You can turn this technology to whatever field you want, from manufacturing to medicine,” Greene said.

Fei-Fei Li, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is taking a sabbatical to become chief scientist for artificial intelligence at Google’s cloud unit. She sees working at Google as one path to pursue her career ambition to “democratise AI,” now that the software and data ingredients are ripe.

“We wouldn’t have the current era of AI without the big data revolution,” Li said. “It’s the digital gold.”

In the AI race, better software algorithms can put you ahead for a year or so, but probably no more, said Andrew Ng, a former Google scientist and adjunct professor at Stanford. He is now chief scientist at Baidu, the Chinese internet search giant, and a leading figure in artificial intelligence research.

Rivals, he added, cannot unlock or simulate your data. “Data is the defensible barrier, not algorithms,” Ng said.

New York Times

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Henry Sapiecha

Donald Trump speech at CIA memorial risks fueling intelligence feud

In first official act, Trump pledges support for agency he has attacked

  • Former director ‘angered’ by political speech at wall for dead officers

Trump makes first speech as president to CIA audience in Virginia.

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Henry Sapiecha

Trump concedes Russia likely hacked DNC, attacks USA intelligence agencies over leaks

US President-elect Donald Trump acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that he believes Russian operatives hacked the Democratic Party during the election, but he continued to dispute intelligence reports that Moscow acted to help him win.

During an at times rancorous press conference, he angrily denounced the publishing of claims he had been caught in a compromising position in Russia and attacked news organisations for publishing the claims, while also lashing US intelligence agencies over the leak of an explosive but unverified dossier.

“I think it was Russia,” Mr Trump conceded at the press conference in New York when asked who was responsible for the leaks of Democratic emails during the campaign.

But Mr Trump said he believes Russia would have released damaging information about him had they obtained such information.

Mr Trump also addressed questions about his relationship with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, saying “If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that’s an asset not a liability. I don’t know if I’ll get along with Vladi­mir Putin. . .but even if I don’t does anyone in this room think Hillary Clinton will be tougher on Putin than me? Give me a break.”

Mr Trump made his remarks in his first news conference as President-elect, ending a period of 167 days since he has fielded questions from the full media contingent. Past winners of the presidency have traditionally faced the press far earlier.

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On Wednesday morning the president-elect angrily denounced news reports about a dossier of potentially compromising information Russia has allegedly gathered about him, citing denials from the Kremlin that it has any such intelligence.

The president-elect also charged via Twitter that his “crooked opponents” are trying to undermine his electoral victory. He accused the intelligence community of leaking the information to get in “one last shot at me,” saying, “Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

President-elect Donald Trump listens to a question during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York image www.intelagencies.com

At the news conference on Wednesday he attacked US intelligence agencies over the leak of the dossier, which was published in full by the news and entertainment website Buzzfeed on Tuesday.

“I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out there,” Mr Trump told the news conference. He called the dossier that makes salacious claims about him “fake news” and “phony stuff.”

Mr Trump acknowledged Russia was likely behind the hack of the DNC image www.intelagencies.com

“I think it’s a disgrace … That’s something that Nazi Germany would have done,” the Republican said days ahead of his inauguration.

Mr Trump’s comments follow the revelation Tuesday night that a classified report delivered to Mr Trump and President Obama last week, according to US officials, included a section summarising allegations that Russian intelligence services have compromising information about Mr Trump’s personal life and finances.

The officials said that US intelligence agencies have not corroborated those allegations but believed the sources involved in the reporting were credible enough to warrant inclusion of their claims in the highly classified report on Russian interference in the presidential campaign.

Earlier Wednesday, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin called the allegations that Russia has collected compromising information about Trump an “absolute fantasy.”

Soon after, Mr Trump tweeted: “Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is ‘A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.’ Very unfair!”

Most media organisations reported only on the existence of the report and that intelligence officials had included a summary of it in their briefings with Mr Trump and Mr Obama on Russia’s attempts to sway the election. But BuzzFeed News published a document supposedly created by a former British intelligence official. The information it contains has not been verified.

Mr Trump and other officials appeared to focus on BuzzFeed’s publication of the report, denying that the document possesses any truth.

Mr Trump said Wednesday morning that he had no relationship with Russia that could compromise him.

“Russia has never tried to use leverage over me,” he said. “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA — NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”

The Washington Post with Reuters

Tech giants circle over big data as antitrust regulators take note

Wealth and influence in the technology business have always been about gaining the upper hand in software or the machines that software ran on.

Now data – gathered in those immense pools of information that are at the heart of everything from artificial intelligence to online shopping recommendations – is increasingly a focus of technology competition. And academics and some policymakers, especially in Europe, are considering whether big internet companies like Google and Facebook might use their data resources as a barrier to new entrants and innovation.

google-data-centre-in-oklahoma-image-www-intelagencies-com

In recent years, Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft have all been targets of tax evasion, privacy or antitrust investigations. But in the coming years, who controls what data could be the next worldwide regulatory focus as governments strain to understand and sometimes rein in US tech giants.

The European Commission and the British House of Lords both issued reports last year on digital “platform” companies that highlighted the essential role that data collection, analysis and distribution play in creating and shaping markets. And the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development held a meeting in November to explore the subject, “Big Data: Bringing Competition Policy to the Digital Era.”

As government regulators dig into this new era of data competition, they may find that standard antitrust arguments are not so easy to make. Using more and more data to improve a service for users and more accurately target ads for merchants is a clear benefit, for example. And higher prices for consumers are not present with free internet services.

“You certainly don’t want to punish companies because of what they might do,” said Annabelle Gawer, a professor of the digital economy at the University of Surrey in England, who made a presentation at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development meeting. “But you do need to be vigilant. It’s clear that enormous power is in the hands of a few companies.”

club-libido-banner-muscle-man-shadow

Maurice Stucke, a former Justice Department antitrust official and a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law, who also spoke at the gathering, said one danger was that consumers might be afforded less privacy than they would choose in a more competitive market.

The competition concerns echo those that gradually emerged in the 1990s about software and Microsoft. The worry is that as the big internet companies attract more users and advertisers, and gather more data, a powerful “network effect” effectively prevents users and advertisers from moving away from a dominant digital platform, like Google in search or Facebook in consumer social networks.

Evidence of the rising importance of data can be seen from the frontiers of artificial intelligence to mainstream business software. And certain data sets can be remarkably valuable for companies working on those technologies.

A prime example is Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn, the business social network, for $US26.2 billion last year. LinkedIn has about 467 million members, and it houses their profiles and maps their connections.

Microsoft is betting LinkedIn, combined with data on how hundreds of millions of workers use its Office 365 online software, and consumer data from search behaviour on Bing, will “power a set of insights that we think is unprecedented,” said James Phillips, vice president for business applications at Microsoft.

In an email to employees, Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, described the LinkedIn deal as a linchpin in the company’s long-term goal to “reinvent productivity and business processes” and to become the digital marketplace that defines “how people find jobs, build skills, sell, market and get work done.”

IBM has also bet heavily on data for its future. Its acquisitions have tended to be in specific industries, like its $US2.6 billion purchase last year of Truven Health, which has data on the cost and treatment of more than 200 million patients, or in specialised data sets useful across several industries, like its $US2 billion acquisition of the digital assets of Weather Co.

IBM estimates that 70 per cent of the world’s data is not out on the public web, but in private databases, often to protect privacy or trade secrets. IBM’s strategy is to take the data it has acquired, add customer data and use that to train its Watson artificial intelligence software to pursue such tasks as helping medical researchers discover novel disease therapies, or flagging suspect financial transactions for independent auditors.

“Our focus is mainly on non-public data sets and extending that advantage for clients in business and science,” said David Kenny, senior vice president for IBM’s Watson and cloud businesses.

At Google, the company’s drive into cloud-delivered business software is fuelled by data, building on years of work done on its search and other consumer services, and its recent advances in image identification, speech recognition and language translation.

For example, a new Google business offering – still in the test, or alpha, stage – is a software service to improve job finding and recruiting. Its data includes more than 17 million online job postings and the public profiles and résumés of more than 200 million people.

Its machine-learning algorithms distilled that to about 4 million unique job titles, ranked the most common ones and identified specific skills. The job sites CareerBuilder and Dice are using the Google technology to show job seekers more relevant openings. And FedEx, the giant package shipper, is adding the service to its recruiting site.

That is just one case, said Diane Greene, senior vice president for Google’s cloud business, of what is becoming increasingly possible – using the tools of artificial intelligence, notably machine learning, to sift through huge quantities of data to provide machine-curated data services.

“You can turn this technology to whatever field you want, from manufacturing to medicine,” Greene said.

Fei-Fei Li, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is taking a sabbatical to become chief scientist for artificial intelligence at Google’s cloud unit. She sees working at Google as one path to pursue her career ambition to “democratise AI,” now that the software and data ingredients are ripe.

“We wouldn’t have the current era of AI without the big data revolution,” Li said. “It’s the digital gold.”

In the AI race, better software algorithms can put you ahead for a year or so, but probably no more, said Andrew Ng, a former Google scientist and adjunct professor at Stanford. He is now chief scientist at Baidu, the Chinese internet search giant, and a leading figure in artificial intelligence research.

Rivals, he added, cannot unlock or simulate your data. “Data is the defensible barrier, not algorithms,” Ng said.

New York Times

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Henry Sapiecha

 

Trump Receives Russia Hacking Report. Contents, true or false??

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Hours after concluding his meeting with the U.S.’s top intelligence officials, President-elect Donald Trump didn’t immediately continue his previous denial that the Russian government was behind the election season hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

Trump did, however, promptly issue a statement contradicting the report’s scope.

His statement, which was emailed to the media around 2:30 P.M., claimed that regardless of who was behind the hacks, they caused “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.”

However, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which prepared the report, explicitly said they never attempted to judge how many votes Russia might have swayed — just that it was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intent to favor Trump over his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

“We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election,” the report read. “The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze U.S. political processes or U.S. public opinion.”

It would likely be impossible to determine how many voters stayed home or chose Trump over Clinton because of the hacks, as well as their subsequent news coverage, especially in Russian outlets like RT, which the report called “a platform for Kremlin messaging.” Clinton lost by 74 electoral votes — a minimum of at least two states — though she received more total votes than any American presidential candidate in history save President Obama in 2008. She received 2.8 million more votes than Trump.

ODNI, which presented the report to President Obama on Thursday, made a declassified version available to the public late Friday afternoon. It contains few genuine revelations not previously reported in the news, though it’s noteworthy for breaking down the independent major intelligence agencies’ conclusions. The CIA and FBI both have “high confidence” that Putin ordered a hacking campaign to injure Clinton’s campaign. The NSA, which intercepted messages of senior Russian officials celebrating Trump’s win, expressed “moderate confidence” in that conclusion.

The report maintains, also with high confidence, that the online character Guccifer 2.0, who had claimed to be a Romanian hacktivist while slowly dispensing various documents stolen from Democrats’ servers, was a tool of Russian intelligence to disseminate those files. Vocativ reported in July that Guccifer 2.0 was lying about his identity and likely Russian, and in September that he seemed to leaking information about Democrats specifically in states vital for a Trump victory.

Trump added in his statement “that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.” That, however, wasn’t even up for debate. It wasn’t mentioned in ONDI’s report, and prominent voting experts, as well as FBI Director James Comey, proclaimed before the election that a major attack on the U.S.’s physical voting machines was unlikely. Subsequent audits found no evidence of foreign tampering.

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Henry Sapiecha

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New Trump national security adviser shared classified information with Australia

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US president-elect Donald Trump’s recently-appointed national security adviser was investigated for inappropriately sharing highly-classified intelligence with Australian forces.

Retired US three-star lieutenant general Michael Flynn, a maverick who spent more than 33 years in US Army intelligence, worked alongside Australian forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

An outspoken believer in assisting allies on the battleground despite red tape preventing the flow of information, Lt Gen Flynn said the sharing of intelligence with Australian and British forces that left him in hot water was done “with the right permissions”.

“I’m proud of that one,” Lt Gen Flynn told The Washington Post. “Accuse me of sharing intelligence in combat with our closest allies, please.” His unconventional style and strong resume – he was tapped by US commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal to be his top intelligence officer and promoted by President Barack Obama as Defence Intelligence Agency director – was obviously attractive to fellow maverick Mr Trump.
Lt Gen Flynn was pushed out of the DIA job after two years in the role and has labelled Mr Obama a “liar”.

His views on the Middle-East are aligned with Mr Trump and both men are prolific users of Twitter.

During the recent presidential campaign Lt Gen Flynn, a registered Democrat, called Mr Trump’s chief opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, “the enemy camp” and joined the call to “lock her up” in jail.

He also raised eyebrows when he sat alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a lavish party in Moscow last year.

Offering insight into his more open, untraditional philosophy of sharing information, in 2010 he co-wrote the report Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan.

It concluded the US intelligence community “must open their doors to anyone who is willing to exchange information, including Afghans and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) as well as the US military and its allies”.

Lt Gen Flynn has confidently defended the incident that involved passing sensitive information to Australia and Britain.

“The investigation on me was for sharing intelligence with the Brits and Australians in combat, and I’m proud of that one,” Lt Gen Flynn said. “That was substantiated because actually I did it.

“But I did it with the right permissions when you dig into the investigation.” Lt Gen Flynn said he met with Mr Trump mid-2015 and described the real estate billionaire as a “very serious guy”, “good listener” and possessing similar views.

“I found him to be in line with what I believed,” he told the Washington Post.

Originally published as Trump’s new adviser is seriously scary
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Henry Sapiecha

Evidence points to another Snowden at the NSA it appears

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In the summer of 1972, state-of-the-art campaign spying consisted of amateur burglars, armed with duct tape and microphones, penetrating the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Today, amateur burglars have been replaced by cyberspies, who penetrated the DNC armed with computers and sophisticated hacking tools.

Where the Watergate burglars came away empty-handed and in handcuffs, the modern- day cyber thieves walked away with tens of thousands of sensitive political documents and are still unidentified.

Now, in the latest twist, hacking tools themselves, likely stolen from the National Security Agency, are on the digital auction block. Once again, the usual suspects start with Russia – though there seems little evidence backing up the accusation.

In addition, if Russia had stolen the hacking tools, it would be senseless to publicize the theft, let alone put them up for sale. It would be like a safecracker stealing the combination to a bank vault and putting it on Facebook. Once revealed, companies and governments would patch their firewalls, just as the bank would change its combination.

A more logical explanation could also be insider theft. If that’s the case, it’s one more reason to question the usefulness of an agency that secretly collects private information on millions of Americans but can’t keep its most valuable data from being stolen, or as it appears in this case, being used against us.

In what appeared more like a Saturday Night Live skit than an act of cybercrime, a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers put up for bid on the Internet what it called a “full state-sponsored toolset” of “cyberweapons.” “!!! Attention government sponsors of cyberwarfare and those who profit from it !!!! How much would you pay for enemies cyberweapons?” said the announcement.

The group said it was releasing some NSA files for “free” and promised “better” ones to the highest bidder. However, those with loosing bids “Lose Lose,” it said, because they would not receive their money back. And should the total sum of the bids, in bitcoins, reach the equivalent of half a billion dollars, the group would make the whole lot public.

While the “auction” seemed tongue in cheek, more like hacktivists than Russian high command, the sample documents were almost certainly real. The draft of a top-secret NSA manual for implanting offensive malware, released by Edward Snowden, contains code for a program codenamed SECONDDATE. That same 16-character string of numbers and characters is in the code released by the Shadow Brokers. The details from the manual were first released by The Intercept last Friday.

The authenticity of the NSA hacking tools were also confirmed by several ex-NSA officials who spoke to the media, including former members of the agency’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit, the home of hacking specialists.

“Without a doubt, they’re the keys to the kingdom,” one former TAO employee told the Washington Post. “The stuff you’re talking about would undermine the security of a lot of major government and corporate networks both here and abroad.” Another added, “From what I saw, there was no doubt in my mind that it was legitimate.”

Like a bank robber’s tool kit for breaking into a vault, cyber exploitation tools, with codenames like EPICBANANA and BUZZDIRECTION, are designed to break into computer systems and networks. Just as the bank robber hopes to find a crack in the vault that has never been discovered, hackers search for digital cracks, or “exploits,” in computer programs like Windows.

Credit: MATT MAHURIN

Credit: MATT MAHURIN

The most valuable are “zero day” exploits, meaning there have been zero days since Windows has discovered the “crack” in their programs. Through this crack, the hacker would be able to get into a system and exploit it, by stealing information, until the breach is eventually discovered and patched. According to the former NSA officials who viewed the Shadow Broker files, they contained a number of exploits, including zero-day exploits that the NSA often pays thousands of dollars for to private hacking groups.

The reasons given for laying the blame on Russia appear less convincing, however. “This is probably some Russian mind game, down to the bogus accent,” James A. Lewis, a computer expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, told the New York Times. Why the Russians would engage in such a mind game, he never explained.

Rather than the NSA hacking tools being snatched as a result of a sophisticated cyber operation by Russia or some other nation, it seems more likely that an employee stole them. Experts who have analyzed the files suspect that they date to October 2013, five months after Edward Snowden left his contractor position with the NSA and fled to Hong Kong carrying flash drives containing hundreds of thousands of pages of NSA documents.

So, if Snowden could not have stolen the hacking tools, there are indications that after he departed in May 2013, someone else did, possibly someone assigned to the agency’s highly sensitive Tailored Access Operations.

In December 2013, another highly secret NSA document quietly became public. It was a top secret TAO catalog of NSA hacking tools. Known as the Advanced Network Technology (ANT) catalog, it consisted of 50 pages of extensive pictures, diagrams and descriptions of tools for every kind of hack, mostly targeted at devices manufactured by U.S. companies, including Apple, Cisco, Dell and many others.

Like the hacking tools, the catalog used similar codenames. Among the tools targeting Apple was one codenamed DROPOUTJEEP, which gives NSA total control of iPhones. “A software implant for the Apple iPhone,” says the ANT catalog, “includes the ability to remotely push/pull files from the device. SMS retrieval, contact-list retrieval, voicemail, geolocation, hot mic, camera capture, cell-tower location, etc.”

Another, codenamed IRATEMONK, is, “Technology that can infiltrate the firmware of hard drives manufactured by Maxtor, Samsung, Seagate and Western Digital.”

In 2014, I spent three days in Moscow with Snowden for a magazine assignment and a PBS documentary. During our on-the-record conversations, he would not talk about the ANT catalog, perhaps not wanting to bring attention to another possible NSA whistleblower.

I was, however, given unrestricted access to his cache of documents. These included both the entire British, or GCHQ, files and the entire NSA files.

But going through this archive using a sophisticated digital search tool, I could not find a single reference to the ANT catalog. This confirmed for me that it had likely been released by a second leaker. And if that person could have downloaded and removed the catalog of hacking tools, it’s also likely he or she could have also downloaded and removed the digital tools now being leaked.

In fact, a number of the same hacking implants and tools released by the Shadow Brokers are also in the ANT catalog, including those with codenames BANANAGLEE and JETPLOW. These can be used to create “a persistent back-door capability” into widely used Cisco firewalls, says the catalog.

Consisting of about 300 megabytes of code, the tools could easily and quickly be transferred to a flash drive. But unlike the catalog, the tools themselves – thousands of ones and zeros – would have been useless if leaked to a publication. This could be one reason why they have not emerged until now.

Enter WikiLeaks. Just two days after the first Shadow Brokers message, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, sent out a Twitter message. “We had already obtained the archive of NSA cyberweapons released earlier today,” Assange wrote, “and will release our own pristine copy in due course.”

The month before, Assange was responsible for releasing the tens of thousands of hacked DNC emails that led to the resignation of the four top committee officials.

There also seems to be a link between Assange and the leaker who stole the ANT catalog, and the possible hacking tools. Among Assange’s close associates is Jacob Appelbaum, a celebrated hacktivist and the only publicly known WikiLeaks staffer in the United States – until he moved to Berlin in 2013 in what he called a “political exile” because of what he said was repeated harassment by U.S. law enforcement personnel. In 2010, a Rolling Stone magazine profile labeled him “the most dangerous man in cyberspace.”

In December 2013, Appelbaum was the first person to reveal the existence of the ANT catalog, at a conference in Berlin, without identifying the source. That same month he said he suspected the U.S. government of breaking into his Berlin apartment. He also co-wrote an article about the catalog in Der Spiegel. But again, he never named a source, which led many to assume, mistakenly, that it was Snowden.

In addition to WikiLeaks, for years Appelbaum worked for Tor, an organization focused on providing its customers anonymity on the Internet. But last May, he stepped down as a result of “serious, public allegations of sexual mistreatment” made by unnamed victims, according to a statement put out by Tor. Appelbaum has denied the charges.

Shortly thereafter, he turned his attention to Hillary Clinton. At a screening of a documentary about Assange in Cannes, France, Appelbaum accused her of having a grudge against him and Assange, and that if she were elected president, she would make their lives difficult. “It’s a situation that will possibly get worse” if she is elected to the White House, he said, according to Yahoo News.

It was only a few months later that Assange released the 20,000 DNC emails. Intelligence agencies have again pointed the finger at Russia for hacking into these emails.

Yet there has been no explanation as to how Assange obtained them. He told NBC News, “There is no proof whatsoever” that he obtained the emails from Russian intelligence. Moscow has also denied involvement.

There are, of course, many sophisticated hackers in Russia, some with close government ties and some without. And planting false and misleading indicators in messages is an old trick. Now Assange has promised to release many more emails before the election, while apparently ignoring email involving Trump. (Trump opposition research was also stolen.)

Edward Snowden speaks via video link from Moscow to attendees at a discussion about an International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistleblowers in New York City, September 24, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Edward Snowden speaks via video link from Moscow to attendees at a discussion about an International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistleblowers in New York City, September 24, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

In hacktivist style, and in what appears to be phony broken English, this new release of cyberweapons also seems to be targeting Clinton. It ends with a long and angry “final message” against “Wealthy Elites . . . breaking laws” but “Elites top friends announce, no law broken, no crime commit[ed]. . . Then Elites run for president. Why run for president when already control country like dictatorship?”

Then after what they call the “fun Cyber Weapons Auction” comes the real message, a serious threat. “We want make sure Wealthy Elite recognizes the danger [of] cyberweapons. Let us spell out for Elites. Your wealth and control depends on electronic data.” Now, they warned, they have control of the NSA’s cyber hacking tools that can take that wealth away. “You see attacks on banks and SWIFT [a worldwide network for financial services] in news. If electronic data go bye-bye where leave Wealthy Elites? Maybe with dumb cattle?”

Snowden’s leaks served a public good. He alerted Americans to illegal eavesdropping on their telephone records and other privacy violations, and Congress changed the law as a result. The DNC leaks exposed corrupt policies within the Democratic Party.

But we now have entered a period many have warned about, when NSA’s cyber weapons could be stolen like loose nukes and used against us. It opens the door to criminal hackers, cyber anarchists and hostile foreign governments that can use the tools to gain access to thousands of computers in order to steal data, plant malware and cause chaos.

It’s one more reason why NSA may prove to be one of Washington’s greatest liabilities rather than assets.

About the Author

James Bamford is the author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA From 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. He is a columnist for Foreign Policy magazine.

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Henry Sapiecha