Tags: online news

How a Maverick Took on the Online Privacy Violators & Won

How a Maverick Took on the Online Privacy Violators & Won

Beyond • December 7, 2011

Online privacy may be reasonably considered to be this decade’s leading oxymoron. An Opera Software study revealed that although 22 percent of people in the United States are concerned about losing their jobs, 25 percent are concerned about a breach of their online privacy. There is ample justification for these concerns. A Carnegie Mellon University study gathered publicly available personal information for thousands of Americans, including social network profiles, and reported that they were able to deduce accurate social security numbers for 8.5% of all citizens. At a time when millions of people post detailed personal information on social media, they are leaving themselves wide open for identity theft and other criminal actions. What may surprise many is that even the government agencies and leading web and telecom businesses that promise to keep personal information secure are actually data colanders. That’s where a hirsute heterodox named Christopher Soghoian has been earning a reputation as the Ralph Nader of online privacy. He champions the rights of citizens while kicking the violators in the shins. Soghoian Showed the Ease of Printing Fake Boarding Passes Soghoian first came to national prominence in 2006 when the FBI showed up at his house at 2 am to seize the computers on which he had created a site that allowed anyone to take advantage of an outrageous Transportation Security Administration digital dereliction and generate fake boarding passes on Northwest Airlines, with a default name of Osama Bin Laden. The Feds were not amused but closed the criminal investigation without filing charges - and three years later actually hired Soghoian to work in the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. His freewheeling maverick ways were not the best match for the staid government agency and he was released a year later, but by then his name was synonymous with divulging and publicizing security breaches at the highest levels. Named & Shamed Soghoian has “named and shamed” a remarkable array of leading online and telecom corporations: Dropbox had a back door that allowed them full access to all uploaded files Sprint Nextel had a secret website for law enforcement agents to GPS-track 8 million subscribers every year Yahoo had a price list they charged the US government for turning over private information on their users AT&T’s voicemail was open to phone-hacking due to their policy of not requiring a password to access it Google’s Gmail had SSL encryption turned off by default All of these major security lapses and privacy violations were active until Soghoian got through with them. Armed with little more than his blog and his innate sense of outrage, he led a one-man pitched battle with the forces of privacy evil for years until he was given a paid fellowship by the George Soros Open Society Foundation to publicly grade online and telecom privacy practices. 39% of Americans Still Use Unsafe Passwords Now that he is properly enabled, Soghoian will continue his initiatives to keep our online and communications privacy safe, but we still have to do our part. Even with all of these revelations of egregious privacy violations and the ease at which our personal data can be accessed, nearly two out of every five internet users in the United States still do not use safe passwords but resort to easily crackable generics such as 123456 or “password.” Simple Steps to Maintain Online Security Maintaining personal privacy and security is not a lost cause. There are various simple steps anyone can take to strengthen the safety of their online data: Don’t post anything anywhere (including “private” profiles) that reveals personal details Mix up your passwords and use at least half non-alphanumeric characters Never reply to spam emails Turn on cookie notices in your browser Check for https, lock icons and correct URLs before entering any sensitive data Don’t reply or click on bank or payment facilitator emails that do not address you by name We can’t rely on iconoclast Soghoian to do it all for us. We have to give him a fighting chance!


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Meeting the Challenge of Solar-Powered Data Centers

Beyond • November 9, 2011

The internet seems to many of its users as something that is just “there.” Web surfers may be aware of the energy consumption of their own computers and mobile devices, but they rarely if ever consider that the data they are accessing is being provided by expansive server farms, some of which use up more energy than a small town. 1.5% of the total generated electricity in the United States is consumed by data centers, and that percentage is expected to rise year on year. 1/3rd of California’s Electricity Must Be Solar Apple has been approved by North Carolina’s Catawba County to reshape over 170 acres to create a solar panel array in order to feed electricity to its new energy-hungry local data center, and many server farm operators are looking to solar as their zero carbon footprint renewable source of choice. Inland California is swiftly becoming one of the world’s primary solar power centers mostly due to Governor Jerry Brown’s commitment to generate one third of the state’s massive electrical needs through solar energy. The main problem with locating server farms in the Mojave Desert are the temperatures, which regularly zoom over 120 degrees F, and thus require enormous current draws just to keep the servers cool enough to operate. If the electricity is channeled hundreds of miles away to areas of California’s coastline, which benefit from somewhat milder ambient temperatures, the energy losses through transmission diminish the benefits of the solar generation. Hours of Sunshine, Ray Angle & Ambient Temperatures Locations such as the highlands around Arica, Chile or Ica, Peru have the advantage of nearly 99% sunshine hours, a near-equatorial geographical positioning for optimal sun ray angle, and sufficient elevation to avoid extremely high temperatures. But due to their remoteness they have not yet been tapped for solar server farms. Sun ray angle is a prime determining factor in eliminating the very arid Arctic territories from consideration even though they do offer extremely favorable cold temperatures that minimize the energy requirements to extensively cool those hot-running server farms. Another advantage of these sorts of locations is that they are often subject to higher than average consistent wind speeds, which can facilitate air turbines supplementing the solar production. Iceland Is Becoming a Primary Server Farm Choice British cloud computing company Colt is building a data center in Iceland, of all places, but it’s not as crazy as it may seem at first. Iceland rides astride a volcanic hotspot and thus derives virtually all of its electrical supply through geothermal sources, and the low ambient temperatures year round help hold down the air conditioning costs. Reykjavik’s temperatures average consistently between 30 and 55 degrees F and the capital has not seen an 80 degree day in recorded history. The position halfway across the North Atlantic Ocean also allows companies in both North America and Europe to operate their web services from a single optimal location. Modern Server CPUs Slash Electricity Requirements Server-specific CPUs such as Intel’s Sandy Bridge 8 core Xeons and AMD’s Interlagos 16 module Opterons have taken massive leaps forward in minimizing energy consumption as performance per watt ratios skyrocket. Applying the latest technologies in microprocessor design can cut down a data center’s power consumption by up to 90% over older CPUs. Still the data needs of the world’s burgeoning online population continue to grow, and with the advent of cloud computing, the requirements for server farms is forecasted to keep growing indefinitely. The majority of data centers and server farms unfortunately are still reliant on primary grid power and consume an insignificant amount of solar or other renewable energy. The newer data centers are tripping all over each other to declare themselves fully renewable, but most server farms are still facilities that were designed in the last century and do not reflect the realities of today’s preferred energy-generating profiles. It costs millions of dollars to update servers to the most modern and energy-efficient microprocessors, thus it is an expenditure that some data centers try to delay as much as possible… even though the electricity savings could go a long way towards paying for the upgrades.


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Paper.li and Tweeted Times Pioneer Twitter-Based Curated Content

Beyond • October 27, 2011

They said print publishing was dead and that the newest mode of media was in the digital sector. It’s true that media has shifted from the hands of publishing giants to digital nomads from traditional names down to remote bloggers with cult-like followings. But what no one really expected was the next step…newspapers 2.0. Newspapers are making a comeback, but now custom-tailored to the appetites of the individual, with content being as unique as the reader itself. Why are newspapers back? I would say that the approach of well-organized easily digested compact content is even more favorable in a time when we’re overwhelmed with data across multiple platforms. We want data and we consume it in record quantities, but we still need a systemized way of consuming it. Newspapers offered that; now, newspapers 2.0 master that demand. Paper.li Lets You be at the Publisher’s Helm I first came across Paper.li by a Twitter follower. I clicked on a quick link, was ushered to his online newspaper and was instantly captivated. The content was organized, vividly designed and relevant to my interest. I instantly become a Paper.li fan. Paper.li calls itself a “content curation service” that lets users publish digital newspapers based on preferred topics. It takes URLs from follower tweets, extracts URL content and publishes a paper that’s already organized based on content/categories. It’s easily searchable, and content curation can be customized per your preferences via either keywords, hashtags or users. The idea capitalizes on the digital revolution by pairing Scribd’s publishing capabilities with the Twitter and Facebook data filter provided by HardlyWork.In. Paper.li’s founder Eduard Lambelet believes that “mainstream media can’t cover everything really. It’s extremely difficult to search for this kind of content top to bottom. You really need to have small curators [and] small editors in chief — millions of them covering content.” Paper.li currently publishes over 300,000 digital newspapers, has 1.5 million monthly visitors and just received an additional $2 million in development funding this year. Clearly, this is a great tool that’s just going to get better. Tweeted Times Curates Follower Tweets for Customized Content Paper.li’s competitors include iPad accessible Tweeted Times, which generates a newspaper-like interface on web-sourced stories by people you follow. But unlike Paper.li where the audience is your consumer group, Tweeted Times works best for your own usage first, curating a customized newspaper that meets your interests. And this is really where the future of media and marketing is headed. This is a lot like what we saw with the blogosphere explosion that catered to niche interests and where bloggers commanded more credibility and attention than traditional media outlets and reporters. In the same way, every aspect of media is becoming more customized to our interests and our “tribe.” And here is where marketing in these new channels becomes even more crucial, since you’re now catering to a select and possibly very large group that all fall within your target range – unlike old venues where perhaps a small margin of the audience would be a part of your consumer group. Going back to Tweeted Times, it works like Paper.li by taking the most important information from your Twitter feed so you don’t miss anything you should have or wanted to know. Your newspaper also gets rebuilt hourly so it’s always fresh and up-to-date. You can also create a newspaper based on any topics, or Twitter ‘lists’ that you might have. What’s the Difference Between Paper.li and Tweeted Times? While they serve the same purpose, the two have different functionalities that might or might not cater to your interests. Paper.li allows for colors, pictures, subsections and article tweets via Twitter. Tweeted Times is colorless, has few pictures and a simpler layout. However, unlike Paper.li, there are no ads and each article can be Tweeted and/or liked on Facebook.


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