Tag Archives: Internet

Who Is Supposed To Watch The Henhouse?

Let’s assume for the moment that while we may not yet know the full extent of Russian efforts to attack our election systems and voter rolls, we do know that they did so and will make future efforts to repeat their invasions based on what they have learned from 2016.  If this proposition seems reasonable, then the actions of the current administration are almost incomprehensible.

We have the official announcement that Chris Painter will leave the US State Department’s office of cyber issues at the end of this month. [TheHill]   Why the coordinator for US cyber issue policy would be leaving isn’t clear, but what is worthy of note is that Secretary of State Tillerson says staffing is a matter of “leaning in” and that the Cyber Security unit of the Department of State was organized by Secretary Clinton in 2011 to organize disparate parts of the department which dealt with cyber crime, cyber-security, internet freedom, and the protection of dissidents’ digital security. [NextGov]  One possible conclusion is that Tillerson is further truncating an already compressed organizational chart.

There are at least 50 reasons why more, not less, departments of the US government should be gearing up (not down) before the next round of elections: Alabama…Wyoming.

In September 2016 ABC News reported that Russian hackers targeted nearly half the US state voter registration systems and were successful in infiltrating four of them.  By that time 18 states had reached out to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson for assistance with cyber-security.  As of June 2017 reports were published saying that there may have been as many as 39 breaches of state cyber security in regard to voter rolls and/or election systems. [VF] The hackers may have targeted swing states, and voter registration officials.

This onslaught would seem to support the idea that MORE needs to be done by the US Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security (as well as the Election Assistance Commission) to help states prevent future hacks and assaults on our elections.  At this point the obvious clashes with the ideological.

There is baked into Republican ideology the notion that more can always be done with less.  The central concept appears to be that offices are filled to the transoms with unnecessary employees doing unimportant jobs.  However, consider the manpower needed to assist 50 states with 50 disparate voting systems from attacks by foreign powers intent upon doing everything from malicious mischief to outright fraud.  We might well ask not only who’s watching the hen house, but who’s even available to answer the phones?

The irony of the current situation lies in the 2016 Republican Platform which made some important promises:

“The platform highlights the recent passage of cybersecurity information sharing legislation and calls for a U.S. response to national state attacks that would include “diplomatic, financial and legal pain, curtailing visas for guilty parties, freezing their assets, and pursuing criminal actions against them.” It also calls for the U.S. to take an offensive strategy against cybersecurity attacks “to avoid the cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor.” Supply chain issues, cyber workforce, cyber insurance, and the right to “self-defense” against cyber attackers were also included in the platform.”

Indeed, we’ve had the cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor, but all we’ve heard from the current Republican administration is the disparagement of investigations of Russian interference as a Witch Hunt and Hoax, the suggestion that it would be “nice” if we had better relations with the Russians, talks about returning the Russian spy compounds in New York and Maryland, and now the Department of State will be operating without a coordinator for cyber-security.

What Americans should be advocating are:

  1. Full and adequate funding for the Election Assistance Commission, the only agency specifically tasked with testing and certifying election equipment in our elections.
  2. Adequate staffing and funding for cyber-security activities in the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice.
  3. Prioritization of cyber-security efforts to prevent attacks on our election systems by agents of foreign powers or the foreign powers themselves, as demonstrated by a nationwide effort to coordinate with all the election jurisdictions in this country to assist them in countering cyber assaults.

What happened in 2016 was a serious attack, a “Pearl Harbor” in GOP parlance, and the American public deserves to have this issue taken seriously.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Politics

Cub and Pup Slaughter Bill Passes Senate and Other Folks Are Stalking You

What human beings are capable of doing to one another can be supremely egregious, but what we’re capable of doing to the rest of the animal kingdom defies comprehension at times, and March 21, 2017 was one of those moments.  The Senate of the United States of America voted in favor of HJR 69, otherwise known as the Cub and Pup Slaughter Bill, or more exquisitely politely the “non-subsistence take of wildlife in Alaskan wildlife refuges.”  For the record, Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) voted in favor of the bill, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto voted against it. [Vote 92]  The bill makes it perfectly AOK to track down and slaughter bear cubs and wolf pups in a Wildlife REFUGE.

As if stalking cubs and pups isn’t bad enough, the self-same Senate voted in favor of Senator Jeff Flake’s bill to allow Internet Service Providers to sell your information to whomever. SJRes 34 “disapproves” a rule protecting our privacy as customers from whomever for whatever purposes.  Thus we may be stalked to our lairs by advertisers unknown for the purpose of targeted messages and other forms of commercial relations. However, it might not end there. Who knows?  Once more, Senator Dean Heller voted in favor of Customer Hunting (that would be US with targets on our backs) and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto voted against this form of hunting. [Vote  94]  Senator Bill Nelson commented:  “With today’s vote, Senate Republicans have just made it easier for American’s sensitive information about their health, finances and families to be used, shared, and sold to the highest bidder without their permission,” he continued.” [Hill]

At this rate it won’t be too long before we can empathize with bears and wolves?

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Filed under Congress, Heller, Interior Department, Internet, Nevada politics, Politics

Trump Invites Cyber Attack

Cyber Attack Combo If you have a computer and use the Internet read the following statement from candidate Donald Trump very carefully:

“When asked about documents stolen in a cyber attack on the Democratic National Committee’s servers, (1) Trump suggested hackers had also breached Clinton’s personal email server.

“By the way, if they hacked, they probably have her 33,000 emails. (2)  I hope they do,” the GOP nominee told reporters, referring to Russia, who security experts suspect was behind the hack. “They probably have her 33,000 emails that she lost and deleted.”

He also addressed the country directly: (3) “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you can find the 33,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” [TPM] [numbering added]

Let’s begin with Number One. The e-mails are a piece of the interminable GOP Benghazi nothing-burger which to date has yielded the participation of no less than 10 Congressional investigations; 252 witnesses called to testify, 62 hours of publicly available hearings, and 13 published reports – none of which indicate that Secretary Clinton did anything wrong.  But, there is always hope in GOP hearts. A hope expressed by Trump, who offered ZERO evidence that the hack included Clinton’s personal server.  He has no evidence her server was hacked – he just hopes so.  Let that sink in a second.

Number Two: He hopes they hacked her server.  Who hopes for someone else to be the victim of a cyber-attack?  Does anyone really wish for the Russians or any other source to cyber-attack anyone in the United States of America?  Is he really saying that he hopes a foreign power hacked one of our government officials?   After 10 Congressional investigations, an FBI report, and every single published report exonerating the former Secretary of State of any illegal activity – Trump is still wishing for something, anything, to come to light which would assist his political campaign.  This is Richard Nixon on steroids.  This isn’t keeping an “enemies list,” or “taping Oval Office conversations.” This is actively seeking assistance from a foreign power (probably the Russians) to get results of cyber-attacks on the United States of America.

Number Three: Now witness the stretch in the Trump Tweet.

Trump Cyber Attack Tweet If the Russians, or some other power, has found deleted e-mails then Trump wants them “handed over.”   On Twitter, Trump wants the e-mails handed over to authorities, but during the press conference he suggests that the media will jump all over the opportunity to publish them for click bait.  And, all this without offering a single attributable FACT that the deletions are “illegal,” or that they would contain any information relevant to the  investigations.

Worse still for Mr. Trump, there has been an FBI investigation and the security logs show NO evidence of any foreign hacks on the server in question. [NYT] [WaPo]  Therefore, all we can say is that Mr. Trump is trying to perpetuate the Fox News mythology of “missing e-mails” and not-very-smoking guns.  And yet more bad news for the mythologizers, the hacker who made claims about getting into Secretary Clinton’s e-mail server flat out lied. [PCWorld]

Let’s Get Serious

Mr. Trump’s anodyne platitudes and sweeping generalizations notwithstanding – there are a couple of things that he obviously doesn’t understand.

First, there’s cyber-war.  He called American efforts “obsolete.” I suppose we might thank him for suggesting that our enemies could safely underestimate our capacity. However, all sides understand  this is not the case.  For a more in-depth report on Mr. Trump’s inadequacies in regard to the nature and effectiveness of the U.S. cyber arsenal please read this piece in the Atlantic.

Secondly, there’s the insidiousness of suggesting that any foreign power should be applauded for gaining access to U.S. information via cyber-attacks.

In August 2015, Russian hackers carried out a cyber-attack on the Pentagon.  The attack shut down the unclassified e-mail system for the Joint Staff for about two weeks.  No classified information was accessed, nothing was stolen, and only unclassified accounts were involved in the cyber-attack – thank goodness. [USNWR]  However, we have to believe that there will be other, more sophisticated, and more egregious attacks to come.  Is Mr. Trump suggesting that if the Russians found out something useful for his campaign they should turn it over to the FBI and the Press? – From the Pentagon?

In June 2015, we learned the Chinese had hacked the computers of the Office of Personnel Management. The agency estimated about 4.2 million federal employees were affected, including 1.5 million who are members of the U.S. military. [WSJ]  Is Mr. Trump suggesting the hackers hand over any information which might be of any use to his campaign to the FBI and the Press?

Cyber-attacks aren’t playground dodge ball. Those who unsure of this proposition should read the articles in Wired, Business Insider, and Ars Technica on Stuxnet and Nitro Zeus.  For a truly nightmare scenario, imagine an attack on the U.S. electrical grid. [The Hill] Just such an attack happened in Ukraine last December. [Wired]  Is Mr. Trump suggesting that the Press might find it amusing to have the power go out in a major U.S. city during a campaign event for his opponent, Secretary Clinton?

The bottom line is that NO ONE, should be rooting for a cyber-attack, for any reason under any circumstances. NO ONE should be rooting for a foreign power to find a way into our secure information, our military operations, our personnel files, our electrical grid, our defense contractors, our banking institutions, our hospitals, our schools, or our retailing systems.

NO ONE.

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Filed under Politics, privacy, Republicans

Don’t Feed The Net Trolls!

Net Neutrality

If you like your Internet the way it is then you are supporting “net neutrality.”  As of now corporations like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast cannot charge you (or your company) more for higher speed service. 

Meanwhile  back in the U.S. Senate, Senator Ted “Cuban-Canadian” Cruz is staging a full on frontal attack on Net Neutrality – using a lovely combination of lies, misunderstandings, obfuscation, and downright idiocy to make his points.  Here’s a classic:

“CRUZ: When you regulate a public utility, it calcifies it — it freezes it in place. Let’s give a simple contrast. The Telecommunications Act of 1934 was adopted to regulate these [brings out an old rotary-dial phone]. To put regulations in place and what happened? It froze everything in place. This is regulated by Title II. [pulls out an iPhone] This is not.” [Wonkette]

WRONG, WRONG, AND WRONG.  Excuse me, but my smart-phone has an FCC number on the back. It is regulated just as every other phone is regulated, by the provisions of the 1934 Communications Act.  Far from being “calcified” the phones in my life have run the gamut from the Tulip Phone in my grandparent’s hallway to the smart-phone in my pocket.  The old Tulip Phone and my smart-phone are subject to the same Communications Act of 1934.  So, Senator Cruz can haul out Grandma’s Tulip, or the 1957 rotary, or the 1966 Ma Bell wall phone, or the Princess Phone, or the not-quite-portable cellular Bag Phone, or the Flip Top, or the smart-phone … and it’s perfectly obvious that the Communications Act of 1934 didn’t “calcify” anything.  (See Also: Bob Cesca – “Whopper”)

Not that being dead wrong has ever stopped the Tea Party Darlin’ from Calgary before.  So, he goes off some more:

CRUZ: “”Net Neutrality” is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.”   [Gizmodo]

Silly, Silly, and Silly.   There’s not much substance here, just an admixture of political cynicism, buzzword rhetoric, and silliness in the service of some very very profitable corporations.   The logic herein is non-existent: If you don’t like the President and you don’t like health insurance reforms then you won’t like Net Neutrality.  Huh?  This is all froth and no beer.

What the President wants is to prevent the corporations from BLOCKING, THROTTLING, OBFUSCATION, AND USING PAID PRIORITIZATION. [White House]   As a consumer, you don’t want to be blocked from the legal content of your choice.  As a consumer, you don’t want the corporations to deliberately slow down some content and speed up others based on the type of service or your ISP’s preference.

As a consumer you want INCREASED not decreased transparency.  There should be no special treatment of points of connectivity between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.  And, as a consumer you don’t want to be “stuck in the slow lane” because you didn’t pay some extra fee to the ISP.

Who’s Opposed to Net Neutrality?  The Daily Dot provides a succinct summary:

Going back to 2005 (when the phrase “net neutrality” first shows up in lobbying disclosure reports), the principle’s biggest opponents (Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and their allies) have lobbied against net neutrality about three times as hard as the biggest proponents of neutrality (Level 3, Google, Microsoft and their allies).

It’s not that the Big Three are struggling for money – AT&T reported just under $129 billion in sales/revenue (2013), Verizon reported $121 billion in sales/revenue (2013), and Comcast reported about $65 billion in the same category. {Marketwatch 11/19}

They’re also spending that money on a major lobby effort to end net neutrality, and the following chart (Daily Dot) shows how much from 2005 to 2012:

Net Neutrality spending

Senator Cruz might just as well show up on the Senate floor wearing an auto racing fire-suit bedecked in corporate logos, with the largest sponsorships decaled on his vehicle advertising Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast.

Which side are you on? If you happen to me a multi-billion dollar communications corporation you don’t want to be a “utility,” you want to be “deregulated!”  If you happen to be a consumer – as are most of us – you want Net Neutrality – you depend on it for sending holiday photos to relatives, for looking for job openings, for finding information on topics of special interest, to make vacation bookings, to watch a movie or video, or for all the other things the Internet has to offer.

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Filed under Internet, Net Neutrality

A Net Neutral For Whom?

Computer WiresOne of the original “demands” from the House Republicans in their communications concerning fiscal issue negotiations with the Administration was Internet Neutrality. [PCMag]  The reason this is a major cause for ultra-conservatives has serious implications for rural America, important for us because if nothing else Nevada has miles and miles of miles and miles.

Boiled down to its essence, the Republicans are advocating the deregulation of the telecommunications sector of the economy, currently overseen by the Federal Communications Commission.  They appear to be upset by 2010 FCC guidelines concerning Internet Access. [PCMag]  Those rules are particularly helpful for rural areas of the country — including:

(1) Transparency over fixed and wireless networks. In other words, ISPs and carriers must make available the ways they manage their networks, disclose their terms of service, and provide consumers with the information they need to know about how their broadband service works. (2)  No blocking of content, services, applications, and non-security compromised devices. (3)  No discrimination against lawful network traffic.

In other words, the telecommunications companies must provide customers with service which isn’t packaged, bundled, or constricted to their advantage, or which discriminates against lawful network traffic.  The Commission was specifically concerned for the interests of rural broadband users who in many instances may have only one provider.

“The … network effects of ubiquitous broadband will not be realized if consumers are all constrained by careful bundling, packaging, and discriminatory practices that whittle away the end-to-end structure of the public Internet,” the report said. “‘Openness’ is not just another bromide, but a principle we must tenaciously preserve. The value of open networks is not a novel concept, but the Commission must act to ensure that the genius of the open Internet is not lost.” [CW]

And the open Internet should include rural America:

“… Dean Brenner, vice president of government affairs at mobile chipset maker Qualcomm, praised the report, saying it correctly recognizes wireless broadband as a way to serve rural areas. The FCC estimates in the report that wireless broadband service covers nearly 96% of the entire U.S. population, but only 83% of the rural population.” [CW]

There’s an instructive example of what happens when the big telecommunications corporations apply their pressure to rural areas — Fire Island, New York — a location only about a mile and a half outside the NYC metropolitan area.  Verizon wanted to change its format for providing Internet access to the area:

“Verizon has asked both the New York Public Service Commission and the FCC to allow it to substitute Voice Link for copper landline in Fire Island and other locations in New York and New Jersey, claiming that Voice Link is an equivalent service. Experience on Fire Island clearly shows that it isn’t, with residents vociferously describing Voice Link as “a failed pilot”  and an “experiment that hasn’t worked.” Yet Verizon persists in its efforts to force customers to give up traditional telephone and DSL for unregulated wireless “substitutes.” [CommonC]

Verizon wanted to provide what it called “Voice Link” instead of providing service for the landlines, and instead of providing Internet access using fiber optics.  Residents complained that the Voice Link system didn’t work with such services as Life Alert, and firefighters spoke of dropped calls for emergency services.  The citizens of Fire Island were upset because the corporation was eliminating their DSL services to be replaced by a less reliable Voice Link system.  There were other problems:

“Customers didn’t have a choice — they were assigned a product that lacked many basic features — Voice Link cannot receive collect calls in case a friend is in need; it is incompatible with heart monitors that seniors rely on; small businesses cannot use it process credit cards or faxes. Yet it cost about the same as traditional phone service!” [CommonC]

Aside from the “safety” issues with this telecommunications product, the part about small business should be highlighted — small businesses in this area, although close to a major metropolitan area, could not process credit card transactions.   If the FCC rules did not protect customers from arbitrary telecommunications corporation actions, and did not prohibit discrimination among customers, then the residents of Fire Island would have had little recourse to solve their telecommunications problems with Verizon.  If the residents of Fire Island, NY had serious issues with a product which did not meet their needs — then what chance would the residents of East Deer Breath, NV have?

Eventually, Verizon backed down and offered their customers on Fire Island more choice:

“Bowing the pressure from public interest groups, local elected officials, and regulators in Washington and Albany, Verizon just announced that they will build fiber optic service to the affected Fire Island residents. Voice Link will be an option for customers who choose it.  Verizon did the right thing here, but only after advocates and policymakers held their feet to the fire. Consumer protection and universal service are common sense policies, and shouldn’t require mobilizing cadres of grassroots activists and politicians applying thumbscrews.”  [ComC 9/13]

Nor should residents in rural areas have to “mobilize” to get reliable broadband services in their homes.

Meanwhile back at the ALEC ranch, the communications companies have helpfully provided a “resolution” on their version of  net neutrality, carefully crafted to promote the interests of the telecom giants.  We’ve already been warned in this piece from the NVRDC, and we should keep watching.

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Filed under Economy, Politics