Increasing Understanding of Technology and Communication

Invitation to Legally Hack the U.S. Pentagon


Ok, everyone just calm-down, this is an invitation only event.  On Wednesday the Pentagon invited outside hackers, who have been vetted, to test the cyber security of some public U.S. Defense Department websites as part of a pilot project next month, the first such program ever by the federal government.

“Hack the Pentagon” is modeled after similar competitions known as “bug bounties” conducted by many large U.S. companies, including United Continental holdings Inc (UAL.N), to discover security gaps in their networks.

Such programs allow cyber experts to find and identify problems before malicious hackers can exploit them, saving money and time in the event of damaging network breaches.  “I am confident that this innovative initiative will strengthen our digital defenses and ultimately enhance our national security,” said Defense Secretary Ash Carter in a statement unveiling the pilot program.

He told reporters it was time for the Pentagon to learn from best practices across industry, especially since the military was “not getting good grades across the enterprise” for its level of cyber security.

“We can’t just keep doing what we’re doing.  The world changes too fast; our competitors change too fast,” he said during a public discussion at the RSA conference.

DJ Patel, the White House’s chief data scientist and a former executive with eBay and LinkedIn, said bounties had become the fastest and most efficient way of securing networks at a time when software was becoming increasingly complex and more difficult to test.  He went on to say, other federal agencies were watching the Pentagon project and could follow suit, which would further enhance collaboration and result in greater economies of scale.

“When people hear ‘bug bounty,’ they think we are just opening ourselves to attack, but what people forget is, we are always under attack these days,” he said.  “By bringing crowds to the problem … you’re getting a jump on the curve.”

The Pentagon has long tested its own networks using internal “red teams,” but this initiative would open at least some of its vast network of computer systems to cyber challenges from across industry and academia.

Participants must be U.S. citizens and will have to submit to a background check (and marijuana test) before being turned loose on a predetermined public-facing computer system. The Pentagon said other more sensitive networks or key weapons programs would not be included, at least initially.

The initiative is being led by the Pentagon’s defense Digital Service, set up last November to bring experts from the tech sector into the military for short stints.

Read Article (Andrea Shalal | | 03/02/2016)

I truly hope the system enhancements are a success.  But enhancements to federal computer systems alone do not appear to be enough to meet the challenges of our world class competitors’ hackers.

The Digital Era is all pervasive; effecting Cultural, National & International laws as well as the General Public, Governments, Government Officials and even Law Enforcement.  It’s up to each individual to get a little Tech-savvy for their own wellbeing and that of their loved ones.

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Public Supports Apple Over The FBI – or Does It?


There were two polls released this week and they show different results!  Oh yes my friends, “the game is afoot”.  These findings reflect a divisive debate between Apple and the U.S. government over the iPhone 5c that belonged to one of the San Bernardino attackers.

Fifty-one percent of respondents to a Pew Research Center poll, released Monday, said Apple should unlock the iPhone in order to help the FBI.  Thirty-eight percent said Apple should not and 11% had no opinion.  The telephone survey of 1,002 adults conducted February 18-21 had a margin of error of plus-minus 3.7%. (Methodology here.)

The Pew report leads one to believe that a majority of the public – or close to it – wants Apple to unlock the phone – they agree with the FBI’s position.

But wait, according to the results of a national online poll released Wednesday by Reuters/Ipsos, forty-six percent said they agreed with Apple’s position, thirty-five percent said they disagreed, and 20% had no opinion.  The poll of 1,576 adults was conducted February 19-23, had a margin of error of 3.2%. (Methodology here.)

There was one notable difference between the two polls: wording of the question posed to the respondents.

Pew Research Center asked:

As you may know, [the FBI has said that accessing the iPhone is an important part of their ongoing investigation into the San Bernardino attacks] while [Apple has said that unlocking the iPhone could compromise the security of other users’ information] do you think Apple?

Should unlock the iPhone

Should NOT unlock the iPhone

Don’t know/Refused

The Reuters/Ipsos poll asked:

Apple is opposing a court order to unlock a smart phone that was used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack. Apple is concerned that if it helps the FBI this time, it will be forced to help the government in future cases that may not be linked to national security, opening the door for hackers and potential future data breaches for smartphone users. Do you agree or disagree with Apple’s decision to oppose the court order?

The way in which a poll question is phrased is known to have a significant effect on polling results (similar to “leading the witness”).  The Pew question, which mentioned what the FBI wants and provided less information about Apple’s concerns, could have played a role in how respondents answered that question.

Responses to both polls differed broadly by age group and political affiliation.

The password on the phone in question, was accidentally reset soon after the government took possession of it, rendering its information inaccessible.  An auto-erase feature is enabled on iPhones if the password is incorrectly entered 10 times.  Apple says the FBI wants the ability to unlock the phone using multiple password attempts – a method known as brute-forcing.  And last week, a judge ordered Apple to cooperate with the FBI so they could gain access to Farook’s device.

James Comey, the FBI chief, wrote this week the litigation against Apple “is about victims and justice.”  He appeared to have support from the CIA.

Apple’s lawyers, who are expected to file the company’s formal response to the judge’s order by Friday, are reportedly considering using its First Amendment rights to decline cooperating with the FBI.

Read Article (Krishnadev Calamur | | 02/24/2016)

It should be noted that public opinion should have no bearing on this case.  But it does provide interesting information for the curious. Also, poll questions should be clear, brief, complete and not (leading) in any way.  Pew should know better.

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The Digital Divide: EU vs US Over Data Protection


If you haven’t noticed, Facebook has been having issues in Europe.  Privacy, Internet security, and storage of data are all things Max Schrems considered when he launched legal actions against Facebook.  How is our privacy protected in the digital age?  Are there cultural ways of dealing with a problem?  Where do security measures become overly intrusive?

These are a few if the questions that were addressed at the European Institute sponsored panel on February 22nd featuring Max Schrems on “The Digital Divide: EU v. US over Data Protection.”  Topics ranged from the ways Europe and the United States differ in their perspectives on privacy law (hint: the US has next to none) to the nuances of the European courts system to the fate of foreigner data in the hands of US based corporations.

The event began with a speech from Max Schrems, a PhD candidate at the University of Vienna, who famously took unprecedented legal actions against Facebook for their inadequate (read: complete lack of) compliance with European privacy law, as well as the possible distribution of information to the NSA in the wake of the Snowden revelations.

Schrems began by providing a brief overview of the actions he took, as well as the privacy violations that had occurred, with the purpose of outlining both the legal implications and the transnational effects of privacy law in Europe.  He made the important distinction that privacy is a cultural issue, and discussions regarding privacy have not right or wrong answers.  Rather, they fall along a grey scale depending on culture, background, and personal conditioning.

This becomes an issue within the digital age as we communicate without the hindrance of national borders, but instead with a reliance on global networks.  In this situation, who makes the privacy laws?  How do these global networks protect the personal data of citizens in different nations, with different perspectives and legal initiatives?

In Europe, privacy is regarded as a fundamental human right.  However, when Schrems began investigating the protection of his personal data, he found that these laws were blatantly unenforced.  Additionally, he brought greater publicity to the inadequacy of the Safe Harbor agreement – some US corporations were required to protect EU and Swiss citizens under EU privacy laws – as he regarded it with suspicion in lieu of Edward Snowden’s release of information regarding US intelligence.  Since this time, Schrems has created the group ‘Europe v Facebook’ on behalf of 25,000 users.

Through his speech, Schrems relayed both his story, as well as the intricacies of the ways in which Facebook is subject to both US and EU law.  In his research, he has found both to consider privacy in different ways.  While the US is concerned primarily with the specific data pulled, the EU maintains a greater focus on what data is generally accessible and the theoretical possibility of its usage.

As of today, the United States’ “privileged” status has been revoked due to its inadequate privacy law, however there have been talks to create an EU-US privacy shield, though the reality of that idea is unclear.

After Schrems’ speech, the event turned to a panel discussion featuring Max Schrems, Julia Angwin, and Peter Micek with Anya Schiffrin and Adam Tooze as moderators on the subjects of privacy law and EU-US relations.

While Schrems’ “David and Goliath” suit against Facebook and investigation of the Safe Harbor agreement are only the starting point for an ongoing discourse on privacy and data protection, the event was enlightening and brought about an important conversation to improve transparency between two nations as they navigate the inevitable transition to a more digital age.

As Schrems stated, the discussion of privacy is “not a tangible debate,” but that doesn’t mean we don’t need tangible actions.

Read Article (Nikki Shaner-Bradford | | 02/23/2016)

The Digital Era is all pervasive; effecting Cultural, National & International laws as well as the General Public, Governments, Government Officials and even Law Enforcement.  It’s up to each individual to get a little Tech-savvy for their own wellbeing and that of their loved ones.

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Apple Files [Motion to Vacate] in FBI Case


In a discussion with Apple executives today, TechCrunch was informed that Apple had filled a ‘motion to vacate’ in the case of the FBI compelling Apple to assist in unlocking an iPhone belonging to Syed Farook.  The executive said that “within hours” Apple had provided the information requested by the government on December 6 and again on December 16, and that it cooperated again on January 22 (responded to on the 26).

A Motion to Vacate asks the same court to withdraw its decision.  Which in this case is the original court order compelling Apple to assist in unlocking the iPhone of Syed Farook.  If granted, this would in essence, put the FBI and Apple back to square one.

Apple says that it would have to create a ‘Government OS’ or govtOS, for the FBI in order to cooperate with the FBI.  It would also need to create an FBI forensics lab on site that Apple says could likely be used to unlock iPhones in the future, which law enforcement officials have already indicated in public statements.

In the motion, Apple hinges its argument on the fact that the FBI is attempting to greatly expand the use of the All Writs Act:

No court has ever granted the government power to force companies like Apple to weaken its security systems to facilitate the government’s access to private individuals’ information.  The All Writs Act does not support such sweeping use of judicial power, and the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution forbid it.

On February 16, Apple says that the FBI filed an order with the court that required Apple to create this software and within hours the court had granted the request.  Apple re-stated that it had no warning or communication from the government before the order was published.

Apple also states that the request violates Apple’s constitutional rights.  Microsoft said today that it will file and amicus brief with the courts to support Apple in its battle with the government.  At a congressional hearing today, its Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said that the case has implications for others.  Apple says that it expects more companies to file amicus support for its efforts to oppose the order.

The defense

Apples reasoning in the brief rests on three pillars.  First, that forcing Apple to write code that weakens its devices and the security of its customers constitutes a violation of free speech as protected by the Constitution.

Second, that the burden the FBI is putting on it by requesting that Apple write the software and assist in unlocking the device is too large.  The burden would then extend to what Apple views is the inevitable onslaught of additional devices that would follow after the precedent was set.

Third, Apple argues that the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process clause prohibits the government from compelling Apple to create the new version of iOS.  Apple argues that there is no court precedent for forcing a company to create something new, like GovtOS.

The filing

Apple argues that if it complies, a litany of requests (it says hundreds) would come in within “a matter of days.”  Its establishing that there is a precedent being set here, that this is not about an isolated case alone:

“The government says: “Just this once” and “Just this phone.”  But the government knows those statements are not true; indeed, the government has filed multiple other applications for similar orders, some of which are pending in other courts.  And as news of this Court’s order broke last week, state and local officials publicly declared their intent to use the proposed operating system to open hundreds of other seized devices -- in cases having nothing to do with terrorism.  If this order is permitted to stand, it will only be a matter of days before some other prosecutor, in some other important case, before some other judge, seeks a similar order using this case as precedent.”


Apple is currently in a war of both court orders and public opinion in the case of a locked iPhone.  The FBI want Apple to build a special version of iOS, that would weaken the device’s security and install it on the device.  This version of iOS would allow the FBI to “brute force” the device’s pin code by trying it hundreds or thousands of times without delay or the device erasing itself.

It’s worth noting that Apple has had a long history of cooperating with law enforcement requests for information. While it has not unlocked iPhones, it has extracted data from phones.

FBI Director James Comey and Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell are set to testify on encryption at a March 1 Congressional hearing.

Read Article (Matthew Panzarino | | 02/25/2016)

Logic Dictates, the primary option for the FBI is to create their own world class hacking team and forensic laboratory.  But to do so means they would have to compromise on the (character) of acceptable team members.  So the questions are, (1) do they have a choice and (2) when will they, inevitably, do it?  After all, it’s really the most economical way to go, no matter the cost.

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The Digital Divides’ Impact on Politicians & Law Enforcement


While the impact of the digital divide on politicians & law enforcement may differ slightly from its impact on the general public, it’s effects are no less far reaching; literacy is still an issue but policy becomes a game changing addition.

Silicon Valley luminaries are easily mocked as having a precious, narrow take on the world. People in the tech industry can’t see past themselves, critics often charge; they act as if the products they build sit at the center of everything with no regard for the impact they make in society.

But this year revealed, the techies were right: Technology did rule many issues in 2015. And not only did tech dominate the news, it often moved too quickly for politicians, regulators, law enforcement officials and the media to understand its implications. This year we began to see the creaking evidence of our collective ignorance about the digital age.

This sorry showing ought to prompt a resolution for the new year. In 2016, let’s begin to appreciate the dominant role technology now plays in shaping the world, and let’s strive to get smarter about how we think about its effects.

“The pace of technological change has never been faster, so it’s more important for people to understand things that are harder to keep on top of,” said Julius Genachowski, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and now a partner at the Carlyle Group investment firm.

That may sound tough to do – but fortunately, it is not impossible.

First, to understand the problem, consider the year’s headlines. From terrorism to protests of over police abuse, from the scandal at Volkswagen to global tensions over energy and the climate, from public Internet access to jobs displacement by automation. Technology was central to just about every major news story that came across the wire.

The news often highlighted a failure to grasp the effects of change. For instance, presidential candidates and law enforcement authorities were at a loss to explain how they might prevent terrorists from using social media to inspire attacks around the globe. When they tried to do so, they failed to exercise basic digital acumen – see Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton calling to shut down parts of the Internet, a policy idea many experts dismissed as unrealistic, if not impossible.

The media, meanwhile, was blindsided by the rise of movements buoyed by social media. Then there were the regulators, who fared little better at understanding the implications of technology. Volkswagen’s disclosure of cheating on emissions tests. Officials appeared similarly surprised by the unabated rise of the ride-hailing service Uber.

The headlines of 2015 highlight a collective failure to anticipate the reach of technology. “What you’re seeing is an anxiety over how technology is changing things,” said Aneesh Chopra, first chief technology officer of the United States, 2009-2012, appointed by President Obama.  Mr. Chopra cited an example in the debate over privacy, security and encryption technologies. Many technology companies, including Apple and Google, have expanded their use of encryption software to safeguard users’ information.

To which the Federal Bureau of Investigation responded angrily, saying this prevents authorities from searching a criminals’ mobile device even after obtaining a court order. And Members of Congress have accused tech companies of abetting terrorists and child pornographers.

But as the general public can turn to startup services such as ‘Master Level High-Tech Webinars’, efforts by the government to gain tech-industry expertise, which includes improvements in health care technology – are stalled in debates. The efforts, however, do suggest that if industry experts and lawmakers or regulators work together, they can find solutions to thorny problems introduced by new technologies.

Read Article (Farhad Manjoo | | 12/23/2015)

More and more federal & state department, agencies and organizations are realizing that Digital Literacy has reached a critical level. This article is an example of just pervasive the digital divide actually is.

But students and volunteers can only do so much to help those in need of assistance with technology. You can help address Digital Literacy by supporting our startup campaign. Visit our website and support us on Indiegogo.

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