Thursday, April 23
Hot on the heels of a recent Wall Street Journal report about hackers breaching a U.S. military fighter-jet project comes this chilling article from Popular Science on the rise of Chinese hackers and their targeting of America:
Hackers are pervasive, their imprint inescapable. There are hacker magazines, hacker clubs and hacker online serials. A 2005 Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences survey equates hackers and rock stars, with nearly 43 percent of elementary-school students saying they “adore” China’s hackers. One third say they want to be one. This culture thrives on a viral, Internet-driven nationalism. The post-Tiananmen generation has known little hardship, so rather than pushing for democracy, many young people define themselves in opposition to the West. China’s Internet patriots, who call themselves “red hackers,” may not be acting on direct behalf of their government, but the effect is much the same.
The entire piece is worth digging into.
Purchased by Yahoo in 1999—for over $4 billion dollars—the once-popular free website hosting service GeoCities is being shut down. Reports Forbes:
A posting on a Yahoo Help page for GeoCities on Thursday said the service was no longer accepting new customers and that it will be closing later this year, with more details about how individuals can save their data coming this summer.
In the late 90s, GeoCities had more than 3 million users, but the service eventually lost the new generation of Internet users to social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.
Wednesday, April 22
The United Nations has put treasures from the world library—thousands of rare manuscripts, books, and maps—online for everyone to sift through.
Hoping to help kids stay safe on the Internet, the Department of Homeland Security is reaching out to schools. USA Today reports:
The pioneering program, to be announced today at the RSA security conference here, will teach youngsters not just to be wary of online predators and bullies but alert to the tricks of data thieves and scam artists.
Michael Kaiser, executive director of the nonprofit National Cyber Security Alliance that will administer the program, said the larger goal is to prompt schools nationwide to “embrace a comprehensive approach to teaching cybersecurity, cybersafety, and cyber ethics.”
Science Applications International Corp. will begin sending volunteer instructors into schools in Maryland this week, and tech giant EMC will do likewise in coming weeks in schools in California and Massachusetts. Microsoft, Symantec, Cisco and other tech firms support the program financially.
Based on research, the education push is rather necessary:
According to surveys by NCSA and the Pew Internet American Life Project, 79% of teens who use the Internet are not careful about sharing personal information, yet only 3% of state school curriculums includes lessons about smart use of social networks and chat rooms.
Fortune dives into the rural broadband efforts:
Rural America is about to get gold-plated broadband service, if the results of a recent survey of telecommunications companies are to be believed.
Of the 100 rural operators polled by telecom-equipment maker Calix, nearly two-thirds say they plan to apply for federal stimulus money aimed at getting rural communities hooked up to speedy Internet connections. And most providers say they are looking at deploying super-fast fiber-to-the-home technology instead of the coaxial cable or copper technologies that now serve most urban and suburban U.S. communities.
Later in the article, IIA co-chairman Bruce Mehlman is quoted:
The enthusiasm shown by the small to mid-sized rural providers in the survey strikes a very different tone from the comments made by their big brothers, such as AT&T (T, Fortune 500), Verizon (VZ, Fortune 500) or Comcast (CMCSA, Fortune 500), all of whom have hinted they might drop out of the grant race altogether if the government tries to impose too many restrictions on the grant recipients’ business practices. (Some of this, undoubtedly, is part of the political process.) “If regulations are onerous, then yes, it will slow down investment,” says Bruce Mehlman, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, a trade group.
Check out the full Fortune piece.
Tuesday, April 21
While college researchers are busy controlling Twitter with their brains, a new company is busy making it easier for people to waste time at work. Introducing Spreadtweet, a Twitter client that looks like a typical Excel spreadsheet.
(Via the New York Times “Bits” blog.)
The website TurnItIn.com offers a web-based plagiarism detection service used by teachers to keep students honest. As part of the service, the site adds full term papers to a database, where it’s used for future plagiarism checks.
The database led to students from Virginia and Arizona to sue TurnItIn. The accusation was copyright infringement. But now, via Ars Technica, comes word that after two years of arguing the lawsuit has been thrown out:
TurnItIn has known for years that this would be a sensitive issue, and in 2002 commissioned an opinion from law firm Foley & Lardner. The group concluded that the use of the papers constituted fair use, but admitted that “the archival of a submitted work is perhaps the most legally sensitive aspect of the TURNITIN system.” The lawyers argue that because the text is not displayed or distributed to anyone, it can hardly be called “infringement.” Fair use should allow TurnItIn to do what it does.
A federal court agreed that this was legal, for two reasons. First, TurnItIn required students to enter into a “binding agreement” when they uploaded papers to the site. Second, TurnItIn’s use was “fair” according to the four factors found in US copyright law, with most weight being given to the “transformative” nature of what TurnItIn was doing with the papers.
WIth the Obama administration working to overhaul cybersecurity in the U.S., online hackers and spies keep justifying that overhaul. The latest breach, as the Wall Street Journal reports, is particularly severe:
Computer spies have broken into the Pentagon’s $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter project—the Defense Department’s costliest weapons program ever—according to current and former government officials familiar with the attacks.
Similar incidents have also breached the Air Force’s air-traffic-control system in recent months, these people say. In the case of the fighter-jet program, the intruders were able to copy and siphon off several terabytes of data related to design and electronics systems, officials say, potentially making it easier to defend against the craft.
Even scarier is the fact that snooping on the jet project appears to have been going on since 2007.
Read Write Web reports on a cool—and a tad creepy—breakthrough out of the University Wisconsin-Madison:
[B]iomedical engineering doctoral student Adam Wilson has successfully tested a “brain wave monitor” to Twitter publishing interface, allowing him to compose a message merely by thinking and publish it to the arguably too-popular microblogging service.
Either the gates of Hell have begun to open or this is a grad student who really knows how to publicize his work by riding the bandwagon of popular culture. Both are probably true.
Are the days of keyboards numbered? Probably not—at least not soon—but the sci-fi fantasy of controlling computers simply by thinking may not be fantasy after all.
For years, the idea of allowing states to collect online sales taxes—regardless of where companies are located—has continued to percolate. And as Business Week reports, a major push is now afoot:
In the next week, legislators are expected to introduce bills in the House and Senate promising to do away with the “physical presence” requirement. If a bill passes — and that’s a big “if” — it would require all online retailers, except for the tiniest companies, to collect sales taxes in the 23 states that are part of the Streamlined Sales Tax Project. The states would compensate the retailers for the trouble, while promising not to sue them for tax collection mistakes that are made.
Major online retailers like Amazon and Apple are, of course, fighting the bill—and given their financial strength, chances are they’ll succeed.