Category Archives: Technology

North Korea Behind WannaCry Attack

Not surprising, but outrageous nonetheless.

North Korea was behind the massive “WannaCry” cyberattack in May that spread around the world costing billions of dollars, White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert announced in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Monday.

In the article, entitled, “It’s Official: North Korea Is Behind WannaCry,” Bossert wrote that the Hermit Kingdom was the main culprit behind the May 2017 global cyberattack in which computers running Windows were targeted. During the infamous attack, data were encrypted and ransom payment, in the form of bitcoin, was demanded of users if they wanted their data back.

“Cybersecurity isn’t easy, but simple principles still apply. Accountability is one, cooperation another,” Bossert’s op-ed read. “They are the cornerstones of security and resilience in any society. In furtherance of both, and after careful investigation, the U.S. today publicly attributes the massive ‘WannaCry’ cyber attack to North Korea.”

Pushing Electric Vehicles

Heh. Is it too obvious why an electric company would be advocating for electric vehicles?

Still looking for tax benefits in 2017?

Plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) are now viable for most lifestyles and budgets with more than two dozen models now commercially available. If you buy a new, plug-in electric vehicle in 2017, you’re eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500.

On average, fueling a car with electricity is roughly the same as fueling with gasoline at $1/gallon.  Nearly 600,000 Americans have made the switch to driving electric.

Arrowhead Proposes to Track Students’ Internet Activity

Good move.

Students and parents at Arrowhead High School are pushing back against a new web-filtering service the school is putting in place, calling it an invasion of privacy and an attempt to micromanage students’ lives online.

One of the chief gripes, for the kids at least, is that the parents now can opt to get a weekly accounting of all the websites they visit during the school day. The filters will run not only on all school-owned devices but also student-owned devices if they are connected to the school’s Wi-Fi.

But that, experts suggest, might be the least of their worries.

Security and privacy advocates have raised concerns about the capacity of such providers to collect vast amounts of information about students that may be stored for years and could be hacked or co-opted for unintended purposes if not adequately protected.

“Imagine, if we had the internet search histories of a young George Bush or Barack Obama,” said Bradley Shear, a Maryland attorney who has launched a national campaign urging schools to annually delete reams of student data, including internet browsing histories, all digital communications and the biometric data — finger and palm prints, for example — some schools are now using to manage their lunch lines, libraries and more.

The worries of the opposition are fairly misguided. All of that information is already being tracked, stored, and hacked.

Madison Taxpayers Waste Money on Broadband

Two years. Half a million dollars. 19 people served. Way to go

After two years and spending more than $500,000, Madison is well short of goals for the pilot program. ResTech had delays in extending fiber cable to the neighborhoods, and once there, found unexpected barriers in getting permission from property owners to connect to buildings and so far has signed up few customers.

The problems were outlined in a story in the Wisconsin State Journal on Nov. 20, the same day the termination letter was sent.

The “Connecting Madison” pilot program has potential to bring service to 161 buildings with 1,083 apartments in the neighborhoods with connections projected by the end of 2016.

But as of Nov. 17, ResTech had made broadband service available to just 86 buildings and had only 19 customers.

Voyager Fires Thrusters for First Time Since Carter Was President

Wow… just, wow.

(CNN)It’s a good idea to have a backup plan, especially in interstellar space.

NASA scientists needed to reorient the 40-year-old Voyager 1 — the space agency’s farthest spacecraft — so its antenna would point toward Earth, 13 billion miles away. But the “attitude control thrusters,” the first option to make the spacecraft turn in space, have been wearing out.
So NASA searched for a Plan B, eventually deciding to try using four “trajectory correction maneuver” (TCM) thrusters, located on the back side of Voyager 1. But those thrusters had not been used in 37 years. NASA wasn’t sure they’d work.
Tuesday, engineers fired up the thrusters and waited eagerly to find out whether the plan was successful. They got their answer 19 hours and 35 minutes later, the time it took for the results to reach Earth: The set of four thrusters worked perfectly. The spacecraft turned and the mood at NASA shifted to jubilation.

FCC gets it right on net neutrality

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has decided to move forward with reversing Obama-era regulations of the interned dubbed “net neutrality.” In doing so, President Donald Trump’s FCC is upholding a bedrock conservative principle of free market capitalism.

The internet has been atwitter for years over the issue of net neutrality. One side of the debate argues that the government should ensure that everyone has equal access to the internet. The other side argues that the people and companies who own their piece of the internet should be able to do with it what they please. While there are certainly philosophical or theoretical skirmish lines in this debate, the real war is being fought by giants of American business. As is always the case, one only needs to follow the money to see why.

First, let us remember that the internet is simply a vast array of millions of computers that are interconnected by millions of networks. All of those computers and networks are owned by separate people and companies who voluntarily connect them to each other for their own purposes.

On the “equal access” side of the debate are the giant media and entertainment companies who produce the movies, news sites, games, pornography, commercial marketplaces and other content that people consume through the internet. They argue that whatever they produce should be equally available to anyone at any time by any means.

On the “free market” side of the debate are the giant telecommunications companies who own the massive networks that connect all of the computers to each other and to the consumers who access the internet. They argue that since these networks are their property, they should be able to manage it and charge people to access their network as they please.

The media companies are worried that if the government does not force net neutrality, then the telecommunications companies will be in a position of market power to force the media companies to pay for access to consumers. The telecommunications companies want to do just that in order to monetize their network.

This debate is not about the internet consumer and whether or not he or she will be able to access cat pictures on Instagram at 100 megabits per second. This debate is about whether or not the government should regulate people and their businesses on how they manage and monetize their private property. Specifically, it is about whether or not the government should force telecommunications companies to give everyone the same access on their networks. Interestingly, nobody is talking about the government forcing media companies to give everyone equal access to the content they produce.

One of the principles that has helped drive the American economy for centuries is that the government should regulate less — not more. Laissez-faire economics are fundamental to free market capitalism. And while some may fear the consequences of less regulation, the invisible hand of the free market has proven for centuries to be the best regulator of prices, market access, allocating scarce resources and consumer demand.

Let us walk through the worst case that the net neutrality adherents envision. In a world without the federal government regulating net neutrality, the telecommunications companies may manipulate the speed and access to certain internet content based on whether or not the content providers pay them. But remember that there is already competition — often very robust in urban areas — between internet service providers. If consumers are demanding access to certain internet content, they will speak with their consumer choices and the internet service providers will be forced to accommodate. Woe to the internet service provider, for example, who cannot deliver Netflix or Hulu without choppy buffering.

Until President Barack Obama came along and thrust net neutrality regulations on the nation, the internet was thriving with both internet service providers and media companies tripping over themselves trying to meet the demands of internet consumers. The Trump Administration’s FCC is on the right track in reversing Obama’s antifree market internet regulations. It is just such deregulation that will continue to allow the internet to be the transformational economic and societal engine that it is.

F-104 Will Launch Satelites

What an amazing journey this aircraft has had.

The F-104, designed just after the first jet-vs-jet air combat in The Korean War, was created to fly as fast as possible, hurtling past all the previous speed records. Less than a decade after test pilot Chuck Yeager first broke the speed of sound, it became the first jet to fly more than twice the speed of sound.

On top of a military career which lasted nearly 50 years, the F-104 found itself serving as an experimental testbed – a rocket-powered spacecraft stand-in that allowed pilots to practice the kind of rocket-thrust manoeuvring astronauts would use to control a spacecraft.

Now, some 60 years after the prototype first flew, the F-104 has found another role – as the launch vehicle for a new generation of tiny satellites.

[…]

Cubecab plans to launch very small satellites – known as cubesats – using a rocket that weighs a similar amount. It’s much smaller, and therefore cheaper, than any other launch  method currently available.

How will CubeCab launch these tiny satellites? Simple – they’ll use Starfighters.

Cubecab will strap its lightweight rockets, each carrying a satellite weighing around 10kg, on to the kind of underwing ‘pylons’ usually used to fire missiles. And Starfighters Inc, a Florida-based company which still flies a handful of F-104s, will take their pint-sized payloads up to the edge of the stratosphere and fire them into orbit.

State should standardize access to police body cam videos

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Actually, it was online yesterday, but I was busy. Here you go:

Technology has always pushed the boundaries of culture and it often takes time for the law to catch up. As body cameras become more common for police, the management of that footage has largely been left to individual law enforcement agencies. The Wisconsin State Assembly has passed a good bill to govern the public’s access to law enforcement body cam footage that the state Senate and governor should quickly enact into law.

The use of body cams by law enforcement has been expanding mainly due to the public’s pressure to do so. Americans grant a lot of power in our police and extend a lot of trust that they will use that power appropriately on our behalf. But that trust is not absolute and in the wake of a series of high profile incidents where a law enforcement officer killed a citizen under questionable circumstances, many members of the general public pushed for police to wear body cams to help discern the truth in such incidents.

On the other side of the coin, many law enforcement officers asked to use body cams under the belief that while a body cam video might indict a cop doing something illegally, it might also exonerate a cop who is wrongly being accused of committing a crime. Now that many law enforcement agencies are using body cams, the results are predictably varied. What we are finding is that the body cam footage of controversial incidents rarely conclusively show the “truth,” and a jolting video rarely quells the controversy.

While the use of body cam footage may not be the antidote to controversy that many had hoped, body cams have become a useful tool in the routine business of law enforcement. The question remains: now that we have thousands of law enforcement officers going about their work while recording themselves and all of the people around them, who is allowed to see those recordings?

In general, the video recorded by law enforcement’s body cams are public records. That means that upon request, the law enforcement agency must give that video to anyone who asks unless there is a compelling government interest not to do so. Our common law has always set a fairly high bar for withholding public documents, so the end result is that 95 percent of requests for police body cam video are granted.

The presents a problem in balancing the public’s right to know with the individual’s right to privacy and protection under the Fourth Amendment. While policies for when law enforcement officers activate their body cams vary, most of them are recording whenever they are engaging a member of the public for any reason. This means that even when an officer is engaging a citizen who has not committed a crime, which is the vast majority of the time, that engagement may be recorded and released on the internet for everyone to see.

For example, if an officer responds to an elderly person’s fall in his or her home, that could be recorded and released. If an officer responds to a woman who was raped, that encounter could be recorded and released. If an officer helps a person who slid into a ditch, that could be recorded and released. While some of these incidents are benign, releasing the video of the encounter could be embarrassing for the citizen, or worse, used by someone to harass or further traumatize a victim of a crime.

Rep. Jesse Kremer’s (R-Kewaskum) bill seeks to set some reasonable standards for when law enforcement body cams must be released and when they should be kept confidential. Under the bill, footage would be considered an open record and available to the public if it was taken in a public place and involved a death, assault, arrest or search. If one of those actions occurred in a place where a person had a reasonable expectation of privacy, then the footage could only be released if all of the people involved agree.

Under Kremer’s bill, police body cam footage would still be available for any legal action, civil or criminal, but only footage of actual or suspected criminal behavior could be released to the public. This strikes a reasonable balance that allows the public to continue to have general oversight of police in the most serious encounters, but protects the public from malcontents using police videos for harassment, bullying, preying, or just feeding their creepy voyeurism.

This bill was passed on a bipartisan voice vote in the Assembly and now sits in the Senate awaiting action. The Senate should pick up Kremer’s torch and carry it to Gov. Walker’s desk.

Engineering Wisconsin’s Roads for Autonomous Vehicles

Foxconn is pushing Wisconsin to the forefront of technology and innovation.

Spurred by Foxconn Technology Group and its plans for a mega-factory in Racine County, state highway planners are studying the possibility of including special lanes for driverless vehicles on I-94.

Should that come to pass — and at this point it is only something being contemplated — it would put Wisconsin in the vanguard of what many believe will be a key part of transportation in the future.

Driverless cars have been developed and are being tested, but there are no highway lanes dedicated to so-called autonomous vehicles, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Transportation said.

[…]

One possibility, Sheehy said, would be driverless lanes between the Foxconn plant and Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport as a way to move supplies and products to and from the factory.

He said the fact that Foxconn executives brought up the use of autonomous vehicles indicated the vision the company is bringing to the project.

“We’re thinking about two years down the road; they’re thinking 20 years down the road,” Sheehy said.

Facebook Trials Program to Combat Revenge Porn

This seems like it will not end well.

Facebook is testing a system that allows users to message themselves their nude photos in an effort to combat so-called revenge porn.

It will store a “fingerprint” of images to prevent any copies of them being shared by disgruntled ex-lovers.

The trial is in Australia, where studies suggest one in five women aged 18-45 may have had image-based abuse.

But one expert says there will still be problems outside Facebook and related sites such as WhatsApp and Instagram.

Facebook said it looked forward “to getting feedback and learning” from the trial.

Drones at Work

Doing the work Americans won’t do?

It could be a scene from Blade Runner 2049; the flying drone hovers in the warehouse aisle, its spinning rotors filling the cavernous space with a buzzing whine.

It edges close to the packages stacked on the shelf and scans them using onboard optical sensors, before whizzing off to its next assignment.

But this is no sci-fi film, it’s a warehouse in the US – one of around 250,000 throughout the country, many gargantuan in size: retail giant Walmart’s smallest warehouse, for example, is larger than 17 football fields put together.

And these automated drones are now doing the jobs humans – on foot, or operating fork-lift trucks and mechanical lifts – used to do: and they’re doing them more cheaply and more accurately.

Layoffs at Tesla

That stinks.

Tesla has fired at least 400 employees this week, including associates, team leaders and supervisors, a former employee told Reuters on Friday.

The dismissals were a result of a company-wide annual review, Tesla said in an emailed statement, without confirming the number of employees leaving the company.

‘It’s about 400 people ranging from associates to team leaders to supervisors. We don’t know how high up it went,’ said the former employee, who worked on the assembly line and did not want to be identified.

Tesla Inc fired about 400 employees this week, including associates, team leaders and supervisors, a former employee told Reuters on Friday

Though Tesla cited performance as the reason for the firings, the source told Reuters he was fired in spite of never having been given a bad review.

Tesla is an innovative company that is pushing the boundaries of culture and technology. It is also a company that consistently fails to meet expectations, is propped up by taxpayers, and is apparently very poorly managed. It would be nice to see a better managed company acquire them, their patents, and move it forward.

We’re Listening

And this is why, despite the fact that I love technology and am a certified geek, I will not have one of these kinds of devices in my home.

A major flaw has been detected in the newly-unveiled Google Home Mini speaker that allows it to secretly record conversations without users knowing.

Last week, Google showed off its next-generation smart speakers at an event in San Francisco. Following the event, it sent members of the press home with a review unit of the Google Home Mini, expected to launch on October 19.

Android Police tech blogger and founder Artem Russakovskii was the first to discover a bug in the software used by those devices. After using the gadget, he went to his Google (GOOG)activity account page and noticed it was populated with audio clips recorded in his home.

The Google Home Mini saved recordings at times when the wake word “OK Google” wasn’t used. (A wake word typically triggers smart devices like Google Home and the Amazon Echo to start listening to your verbal commands).

AP Obtains Recording of Embassy Audio Attack

Wow. It seems clear that it was a deliberate attack.

Washington (CNN)A new audio recording said to capture what was heard by some US embassy workers amid a series of attacks on American diplomats in Cuba is adding another layer of intrigue around the mysterious incidents that sickened at least 22 US diplomats and family members.

The recording — obtained by The Associated Press and released on Thursday — is the first publicly reported audio sample said to be related to attacks that, according to a US official, may have involved the use of an acoustic device.
The device was so sophisticated, it was outside the range of audible sound, the official said. And it was so damaging, the source said, that one US diplomat now needs to use a hearing aid.
But what remains unknown is what kind of device may have been used, where exactly it was placed, and who put it there.

Unsent Text Serves as Last Will and Testament

Fascinating.

A court in Australia has accepted an unsent, draft text message on a dead man’s mobile phone as an official will.

The 55-year-old man had composed a text message addressed to his brother, in which he gave “all that I have” to his brother and nephew.

The message was found in the drafts folder on the man’s phone after he took his own life last year .

Brisbane Supreme Court ruled that the wording of the text indicated that the man intended it to act as his will.

In the message, the man gave details of how to access his bank account and where he had hidden money in his house.

“Put my ashes in the back garden,” he wrote. “A bit of cash behind TV and a bit in the bank.”

According to ABC News, the man’s wife applied to manage his assets and argued that the text message was not valid as a will because it was never sent.

Typically, for a will to be valid in Queensland, it must be written and signed by two witnesses.

As technology evolves, so does everyone’s jurisprudence.

Frankly, I agree with the wife. The fact that he killed himself is relevant. If he met an untimely demise, then perhaps an unsent text would be relevant. But given the fact that he chose the moment of his own death, his unwillingness to send the text first indicates that he didn’t intend for it to be his final word.

Equifax Failed to Patch Known Vulnerability

Yikes.

Equifax was alerted to the breach by the U.S. Homeland Security Department on March 9, Smith said in the testimony, but it was not patched.

On March 15, Equifax’s information security department ran scans that should have identified any systems that were vulnerable to the software issue but did not, the testimony said.

As a result, “the vulnerability remained in an Equifax web application much longer than it should have,” Smith said. “It was this unpatched vulnerability that allowed hackers to access personal identifying information.”

It’s one thing to get hacked. It’s quite another to know about it and refuse to take basic countermeasures for weeks on end.

Bill Climbs for Volkswagon

Ouch.

The diesel emissions cheating scandal will cost Volkswagen an extra $3bn (€2.5bn), because engines are proving “far more technically complex and time consuming” to adapt the company said.

The additional cost, for fixing engines in the United States, takes the total bill to $30bn.

Two years after the problems first emerged, Volkswagen is still struggling to put the crisis behind it.

Separately Munich prosecutors made an arrest in connection with the scandal.

Dangers of Rail Transport Persists

Huh. Groups like the Sierra club sure were quiet about the dangers of transporting fuels by rail when they were opposing pipelines.

Canadian Pacific, which in 2014 was hauling 7 to 11 trains per week on its Wisconsin route, reported in 2016 that its weekly traffic was down to 1 to 3 trains.

That translates to a roughly 97 percent reduction in the number of oil trains passing through La Crosse County.

“It’s kind of a good thing, but there are still concerns,” said Alan Stankevitz, a La Crescent-based wildlife photographer and editor of a rail safety watchdog blog.

Those concerns include ethanol, ammonia, benzene and other unknown hazardous materials that are transported by rail every day, about which the public — and some first responders — have little knowledge and that pose potential threats to thousands of people who live and work near railroad tracks as well as to the Mississippi River, flanked by two major rail carriers.

“There’s still plenty of other hazardous materials that if they were to get into the river system would be catastrophic,” said Stankevitz, who was one of nine plaintiffs who took the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to court in 2015 in an unsuccessful attempt to block BNSF Railway from expanding its capacity in Wisconsin.

Bill Davis, director for the Wisconsin chapter of the Sierra Club, shares that concern.

While the Sierra Club didn’t like the idea of putting people at risk to move fossil fuels, the group also warned about the environmental dangers of hazardous materials moving over aging rails and bridges.

Russians Stoked BLM Discord?

Are the BLM folks all just Russian puppets?

The Black Lives Matter ad appeared on Facebook at some point in late 2015 or early 2016, the sources said. The sources said it appears the ad was meant to appear both as supporting Black Lives Matter but also could be seen as portraying the group as threatening to some residents of Baltimore and Ferguson.

Related: Russian-bought Facebook ads sought to amplify political divisions

New descriptions of the Russian-bought ads shared with CNN suggest that the apparent goal of the Russian buyers was to amplify political discord and fuel an atmosphere of incivility and chaos, though not necessarily to promote one candidate or cause over another. Facebook’s review of Russian efforts on its platform focused on a timeframe from June 2015 to May 2017.

Summit Credit Union Sues Equifax

It’s tough to see how Equifax survives this. But it is also an important message to businesses that they must take data security seriously.

It states that Equifax was negligent in securing its website from the hacker intrusion, in failing to detect the intrusion for weeks and in failing to notify consumers of the breach for nearly six weeks. Equifax also knew or should have known that its data security measures were inadequate, the lawsuit states.

Summit, with $2.6 billion in assets, 34 locations in Wisconsin and more than 162,000 members, is asking for orders temporarily and permanently barring Equifax from negligent business practices that are alleged in the lawsuit, along with unspecified costs, restitution and damages.

“Financial institutions often incur the costs of fraud due to others’ data breaches,” Summit said in a statement issued Friday. “Equifax may be the largest compromise in U.S. history, and we believe Equifax should cover any losses incurred due to their breach.”

On another note, if you want a job right now, get into IT security.