Tag: data

The technology to find a downed aircraft exists

Technology which means that planes cannot just “drop off the radar” like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, exists, but airlines felt it was too expensive to bother with.

Medium reports how technology needed to stream crucial flight data to the ground is already on the market – only airlines balked at the $100,000 price tag.

Commercial airliners do transmit some information: radio transponders identify them when scanned by radar, and many are fitted with an Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, which periodically relays text-message like snippets of information about the aircraft’s status.

In the case of Flight MH370, the transponders seem to have stopped transmitting, and the airline has reportedly declined to comment about ACARS signals while the incident is being investigated.

Computer scientist Krishna Kavi, now at the University of North Texas, proposed streaming this data to cloud storage, in a system he dubbed the “glass box”.

The only problem is that transmitting data through satellites isn’t cheap, and if such a system were operating continuously, the cost would be prohibitive. Wired claimed it would cost “billions of dollars” to implement flight data streaming across the airline industry.

But most of the data is based on the maker of the existing black box technology L-3 which spun a false premise that all flight data would need to be streamed, all of the time.

Paul Hayes, safety and insurance director with Ascend, an aviation consultancy based said that systems could be designed to be triggered by unusual flight events, and only then start streaming flight data.

Such devices are already on the market, fitted to around 350 planes run by about 40 operators and they transmit data that help airlines plan maintenance, or work out how to minimise fuel consumption.

Richard Hayden, a director of FLYHT, the company that makes the system said that it transmits data via Iridium satellitesand can be programmed to start streaming flight data when a plane deviates from its flight plan, or instruments suggest something is going wrong.

If a plane is blown out of the sky by a bomb, or suffers a sudden catastrophic structural failure at cruising altitude it will not be much help but in those rare cases, conventional black boxes are really the only viable technology.

After the Air France disaster, the International Civil Aviation Organisation did consider installing the technology but the industry has concluded that the likely savings were too small. 

Carmakers steal your trip data

Carmakers have been collecting and keeping data about where drivers have been.

A US government watchdog has found that owners of those cars cannot demand that the information be destroyed.

The Government Accountability Office found major automakers have differing policies about how much data they collect and how long they keep it.

According to the Detroit News,  the carmakers collect location data in order to provide drivers with real-time traffic information, to help find the nearest gas station or restaurant, and to provide emergency roadside assistance and stolen vehicle tracking.

Toyota, Honda and Nissan were at the centre of the investigation along with navigation system makers Garmin and TomTom and app developers Google Maps and Telenav.

The report found automakers had taken steps to protect privacy and were not selling personal data of owners, but said drivers are not aware of all risks.

Senator Al Franken said more work needed to be done to ensure privacy protections for in-car navigation systems and mapping apps. He plans to reintroduce his location privacy legislation sometime this year.

As cars get smarter, there is more than just navigation systems creating interesting data. Event data recorders, known as “black boxes,” store data in the event of crashes. Transponders like EZ-PASS transmit location and are used in some instances by law enforcement and for research. Some owners also agree to monitoring of driving habits to qualify for lower insurance rates or to keep tabs on teen drivers.

A contractor that works with three of the companies told the GAO that when a consumer requests services, information such as location, vehicle information number and other information may be kept for up to seven years. 

Boffins lose back-up battle

Boffins who fail to back up their data are causing a huge problem for modern science.

According to a study published today in Current Biology, which we get for the centrefold of the sexually liberated protozoa.  crucial data is going missing making it impossible to check results.

Authors of 516 biological studies published between 1991 and 2011 were emailed and asked for the raw data of their experiments so that it could be replicated. More than 90 percent of the oldest data, from papers written more than 20 years ago has died. Only 23 percent of papers published as recently as 2011 still had accessible data.

Timothy Vines, a zoologist at the University of British Columbia, who led the effort said there had been no systematic estimates of how quickly the data held by authors actually disappears.

More a quarter of studies active email addresses couldn’t be found, with defunct addresses listed on the paper itself and web searches not turning up any current ones. For another 38 percent of studies, their queries led to no response. Another seven percent of the data sets were lost or inaccessible.

In one case the data was saved on three-and-a-half inch floppy disks, so no one could access it, because they no longer had the proper drives, Vines said.

Vines said that old data was extremely useful to his own research on a pair of toad species native to Eastern Europe that seem to be in the process of hybridising.

So much of this research is paid for with public funding, much of it coming through grants that stipulate that resulting data be made freely available to the public. Additionally, field data is affected by the circumstances of the environment in which it’s collected—thus, it’s impossible to perfectly replicate later on, when conditions have changed, he said. 

NSA drowns under an ocean of data

All is not well in the land of US spooks despite them having access to all the data on citizens that they can eat.

William Binney, creator of some of the computer code used by the National Security Agency to snoop on Internet traffic around the world, has warned that the agency knows too much.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the NSA can’t understand the data it has because it has too much to do anything useful with it.

Binny said that the NSA’s addiction to data had made it dysfunctional and the agency is drowning in useless data.

He described an agency where analysts are swamped with so much information that they can’t do their jobs effectively, and the enormous stockpile is an irresistible temptation for misuse.

His warning mirrors concerns shown in the Snowden documents. An internal briefing document in 2012 about foreign mobile phone location tracking by the agency said the efforts were “outpacing our ability to ingest, process and store” data.

In March, some NSA analysts asked for permission to collect less data through a program called Muscular because the “relatively small intelligence value it contains does not justify the sheer volume of collection”.

US mobile data doubles

US people cannot get enough of their mobile phones and consumption of mobile data nearly doubled.

In a report Chetan Sharma, a consultant for wireless carriers, said that worldwide, the average consumption was 240 megabytes a month this year, up from 140 megabytes last year.

This figure means that in the US your average bod downloaded the equivalent of 1,200 photos compared with 690 photos he downloaded a month last year.

Sharma thinks that the uptick in data use could be attributed, at least partly, to the widespread coverage of LTE, which is 10 times faster than its predecessor, 3G.

Another reason was the popularity of phones with bigger screens, like the newer Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone, which download bigger images.

There is also the rise of people using tablets to connect to the worldwide wibble on the move.

Big tech to lose billions from US spying

US companies are losing billions as foreign companies look closer to home to avoid NSA snooping.

According to the Wall Street Journal, companies and politicians are seeing an opportunity to take business from the US in the wake of Edward Snowden’s allegations about NSA spying.

Three of Germany’s largest email providers, including partly state-owned Deutsche Telekom teamed up to offer a new service, Email Made in Germany.

This promises that by encrypting email through German servers and using the country’s strict privacy laws, U.S. authorities won’t be able to snoop as easily.

Now the service is reporting more than 100,000 Germans have signed up.

The Journal said that foreign countries were seeking to use data-privacy laws as a competitive advantage to boost domestic companies against Google and Microsoft.

Of course it would be more expensive for Germans to use such a service and requires maintaining ignorance about the way the interent works.

What might happen is the development of something like a “Euro cloud,” in which consumer data could be shared within Europe but not outside the region.

Brazil is about to insist that data about Brazilians be stored on servers in the country and India is going to stop government employees from using email services from Google and Yahoo

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation estimates that fallout from revelations about NSA activities could cost Silicon Valley up to $35 billion in annual revenue. Most of this is going to come from lost overseas business.

The Cloud Security Alliance found that 56 percent of non-US members said security concerns made it less likely that they would use US based cloud services and ten percent have already scrapped a contract.

Microsoft has admitted that the NSA spying has the potential to erode the trust of customers around the world.

It is impossible for the big technology companies to undo any damage, particularly when the extent of NSA activities is secret and other nations have been critical of the US.

Smaller companies, which have been battling Google and Amazon for ages, see the NSA surveillance programme as a present from Santa.

Oliver Dehning, chief executive of antispameuropeGmbH, which builds spam-protection software said that it was an opportunity to strike back and protect the home market. 

ICO agitates for prison sentences, not just fines

An ex Barclays bank employee has been fined over £3,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office for accessing private customer records. But this had led the ICO to call for more strict punishments, including the threat of prison.

Jennifer Addo, 27, appeared at Croydon Magistrates Court today. She was prosecuted under section 55 of the Data Protection Act and fined £2,990 for 23 offences, as well as being made to pay out £250 in a victim surcharge and £120 prosecution costs.

The branch noted Addo when a customer reported information about his account had been passed on to a partner. Addo had illegally gained access to the same customer’s details 22 times between 10 May 2011 and 8 August 2011. 

Addo was aware that she was not supposed to access customer details but confessed she decided to look anyway, passing information on to her friend. The ICO had been in touch with Addo but received no response until the prosecution today.

Stephen Eckersley, head of enforcement for the ICO, said that for all the banking industry’s safeguards, it still relies on the honesty of staff to respect private records.

“This case proves, yet again, why we need a more appropriate penalty for the crime of personal data theft,” Eckersley said. “With the law as it stands, this prosecution isn’t even recorded on the police national computer which means that an offender could apply for a job in a high street bank tomorrow and the potential employer wouldn’t be informed about the offence.

“The current ‘fine only’ regime is clearly not deterring people from breaking the law,” Eckersley said.

In addition to the fine, Addo lost her job at Barclays.

The ICO is using this particular case to agitate for what it calls more effective “deterrent sentences” – among them prison time.

France: tax non-EU companies for European data

France has suggested that the European Union should tax companies if they are transferring personal data outside of the bloc.

The move will target cloud companies but also those who outsource to call or data centres in foreign parts.

According to the LocalFrance has put forward several new ideas ahead of an EU summit next month.

One of them is that governments bring in new tax rules that would require non-European internet companies to pay taxes in Europe on profits earned there.

The introduction of tax rules for digital companies would ensure that profits they generate in Europe are subject to taxation and the revenues shared among the member states, according to a French briefing document.

The idea is that it will close tax structures that have allowed companies like Amazon and Google to pay little tax in most European countries.

This is a hot button question given the austerity policies governments across Europe are implementing, British MPs carpeted internet company executives over their tax avoidance schemes, although they appeared to be legal means through loopholes.

Another proposal France suggested was the taxing data transfers outside of Europe.

The transfer of personal data outside the EU is highly regulated but it still happens when companies outsource certain tasks, such as customer sales and help lines to offshore call centres.

If such activity is taxed then companies would have no compelling reason to offshore their data and call centres. Of course, it would be a major headache to police. 

NSA can hack your smartphone

The German press has discovered that the NSA has had the power to hack into smartphones, including the so-called super-secure Blackberry.

Top secret NSA documents seen by der Spiegel said iPhones, BlackBerry devices and Google’s Android mobile operating system are all able to be hacked.

Apparently the NSA can take contact lists, SMS traffic, notes and location information about where a user has been.

The NSA has set up working groups to tackle each operating system, to gain secret access to the data held on the phones.

According to der Spiegel, the agency is particularly proud of how much data it can get out of an Apple iPhone and how they can use this to hack the computer they sync with.

The weapons of choice are “scripts” which enable additional access to at least 38 iPhone features.

Blackberrys have been hackable since 2009, where agents could see and read SMS traffic.

Briefly the NSA lost this ability after the Canadian company changed the way it compresses its data. Fortunately for the US, Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency regained access to BlackBerry data and told them how it did it.

The cache of documents also reveals that the NSA has succeeded in accessing the BlackBerry mail system, which was known to be very secure.

This could mark a huge setback for the company, which has always claimed that its mail system is uncrackable. 

Spy-bothering cloud service to hit the shops

The recent leaks which indicate that the NSA has adopted a “spy on everyone” policy has created a new business opportunity for companies who do not want their data in the hands of the US or its allies.

Lockbox, a tech startup founded in 2008, just received $2.5 million in seed funding for its end-to-end encryption cloud service, Client Portal.

This shows how much interest there is out there in keeping spy agencies out of the cloud. Lockbox encrypts and compresses files before they are uploaded to the cloud. Only a person in possession of the corresponding key can unlock, or decrypt, the files.

This makes it hard for the NSA, hackers, or business competitors to look at sensitive and private files.

It is not a covert company either. It already has sold its services to NASA and Coca-Cola.

Lockbox’s Client Portal lives on Amazon’s S3 servers. The encryption is fairly strong – Lockbox developed the encryption libraries that Google uses in Android.

The technology threatens to make life harder for the Prism dragnet, which will be unable to sniff out any code words at all – effectively creating an encrypted darkweb which Prism may not be able to see.

However, the Snowden files revealed NSA infrastructure from several years ago, so it is unknown how effective such methods would be today. 

Lockbox CEO Peter Long said in a press release that businesses that have stayed away from the cloud in the past are excited by the global opportunities the company has opened.

He said that over the next few months his outfit will be signing new partners, customers, and expanding the business.

It is about to unveil its iOS apps, which will allow users to securely view encrypted files on iPhones and iPads.

The program is not cheap and will cost $500 per year. Users can share the service with 20 other people.