Tag: data

Cisco draws flak for China surveillance project

Despite facing harsh criticism in North America, Cisco is reportedly pushing ahead with plans to aid China in keeping its bustling population in check – with a wide surveillance network.

There is a loophole in the United States that says while companies may not provide or sell products to keep tabs on criminals, such as fingerprinting equipment, they are free to sell technology which could be exploited to do so. Think security cameras. 

The Wall Street Journal has looked over the proposed Peaceful Chongqing project. Terms of the project include western companies exporting equipment to, er, prevent crime. But China’s definitions of crime are loose, with recent proof easily found in the high-profile Ai Weiwei arrest.

Although he was eventually freed for his “tax crimes” it is hard not to draw a link between his political activism and an arrest.

Chongqing will see 500,000 security cameras installed across the city, and the WSJ says it’s “among the largest and most sophisticated” surveillance projects in China – and maybe even the world. 

Cisco insists it will not be supplying customised technology to crack down on criminals, nor does it flog video cameras. But it is not clear on compliance, and whether or not the kit could be modified or customised when it reaches those shores.

The Wall Street Journal’s scoop is here, and goes into great detail. It also mentions other potential bidders as HP – ex-SAP Action Man Leo Apotheker recently took a gushing tour of China and announced commitments to infrastructure, R&D, etc. Coincidence? Who knows.

The biggest thorn in the side of sceptical public and politicos will be the seemingly two-faced nature of potential deals. As Nokia Siemens Network received rightful scrutiny for selling surveillance equipment to Iran used to hunt dissidents – now spun off into a company called Trovicor – shouldn’t other companies selling equipment which could potentially be used in a similar way in China face similar criticism?

Or do the benefits of cut-throat capitalism outweigh any moral grey-areas? As companies adhere to and are bound by EU and US law, it certainly sends a mixed message to reach into the Chinese treasury for a quick buck. 

Daniel Hamilton, director at Big Brother Watch, tells us he’s outraged at the prospect. Speaking to TechEye, he says: “While it’s in the interests of Western companies to trade with China, actively assisting the regime in its efforts to control its citizens is nothing short of shameful.

“Beyond the stories of grandiose economic developments and promises of human rights reforms, China remains a fascist dictatorship in which pro-democracy activists are brutalised and freedom of speech is crushed.

“Firms involved in selling surveillance equipment to vile dictatorships such as that in force in China should be ashamed of themselves”.

Calling China a vile dictatorship is arguably a point of preference. In terms of trade, it’s a powerhouse, and the Western world must continue to adapt to that fact. Human rights activists rightly point out violations which are either made public or more commonly swept under its vast-reaching rug.

What does trading in equipment for such potential uses say about a company digging its heels into, and currying favour with, Beijing? Hamilton believes that while plenty of equipment is subject to regulation in the UK and across the EU, “no such rules exist in China.”

“The dictatorship will be free to use this kit as they wish;” he says, “including pursuing political vendettas against opponents of their rule.” “In trading with China, companies selling surveillance equipment must decide if they are content to put commercial interests above the human rights of 1.3 billion people.  

“If they choose the latter path, they may find many consumers in the west vote with their feet and cease using their services.”

EU ready to cut absurd data roaming charges

Mobile operators will no longer be allowed to get away with charging holiday-makers or business travellers extortionate mobile phone data prices.

The European Union (EU) is expected to order them to cap costs charged to customers using their phones to access data services while abroad.

Currently, data roaming is capped at a maximum of €50 (£45, $73). However, if the proposals go ahead the price in July 2012 will be capped at €0.90 (0.81p, $1.31) per megabyte. There will also be a ceiling maximum of €0.70 ( 0.63p, $1.01)  a megabyte in 2013 and €0.50 (0.40p, $0.72)  a megabyte by 2014. The latter price would remain in place until the end of June 2016 when the regulations expired.  

The new plans follow proposals by the European Commission last week, which said that it wanted to extend roaming caps on calls.

At the time it said: “The roaming market is not yet competitive and further regulatory intervention is required.”

However, each member state will be responsible for imposing and deciding what penalties a non complying mobile operator in their country will face. The EU has said that whatever is decided the penalty must be “effective, proportionate and dissuasive.”

Neelie Kroes, Digital Agenda Commissioner, is expected to announce the proposals in Brussels tomorrow.

The news has been welcomed by uSwitch, which has said that recent research has found that nearly half of Brits have returned home to a large bill after using their mobile phone abroad, with the average post-holiday mobile bill landing in at around £149.

83 percent of mobile phone users believe current charges were too high, while 33 million plan to take their mobile abroad with them this summer.

Ernest Doku, technology expert at uSwitch.com, said that the new changes had not come a moment too soon: “People have been paying extortionate prices for the privilege of using their mobile abroad and millions have been stung by a nasty bill on their return.
“Even though the EU made a tentative first step to curb costs last year through the introduction of the €50 cap, it didn’t go far enough.

“The cap simply limited the amount people could use their phone, rather than the high prices they were being charged. By lowering call and text charges to a manageable level, consumers now have the freedom to roam at an affordable cost.”

However he warns that the ruling doesn’t cover popular holiday destinations in Europe such as Turkey, which doesn’t fall into the EU member states.

We contacted the GSM Association, which said that it looked forward to examining the European Commission’s final proposals and to engaging with all stakeholders over the coming months.

“We share the Commission’s belief that competition, not price caps, must be the right long term solution,” it said in a statement.

“Any proposed structural measures will need assessing in detail.  Implementing solutions based on them would need to be efficient in terms of costs; limited to the roaming market, proportionate in terms of impact; and easy to use for customers. It would be counter-productive to combine stringent price caps with structural measures to foster competition in this market.”

However, there are some sore points. In a statement it said: “We are disappointed that the Commission is considering the retail data roaming market as a candidate for price cap regulation, in addition to proposing structural measures. If any price caps are introduced, they should be set at true “safeguard” levels to avoid dampening innovation and competition in the market.

 “The mobile industry will continue to invest and innovate to help deliver the EU’s Digital Agenda. Supportive EU policies and regulations can enable this. It is vital that we find the right balance to ensure the necessary investments in future networks that will be needed to cater for the explosion of mobile data traffic.”

Tony Blair suffers data leak

A hacker outfit calling itself TeaMp0isoN hacked into the server of a staffer working for Tony Blair and stole the former British Prime Minister’s address book.

It has released Blair’s address book including the names, phone numbers and addresses of numerous British politicians and personal contacts. It also has published Blair’s National Insurance number.

The data was nicked in December 2010. Team Poison claimed that it still had access to the mail server where the data was stored.

A Blair spokesman told CNN  that the data was not obtained from Blair himself, but rather the personal email account of a former staffer.

Team Poison member “TriCk” twittered that Blair’s office was lying about how it got the info.

It said that the leak was retribution for Blair’s role in the “War on Terror” and his support of the US-led war in Iraq.

Team Poison is a hacker group that has ties to Pakistan. Last week it declared “war” on rival hacker group LulzSec and defaced the website of one Sven Slootweg. Team Poison claims Slootweg is a member of LulzSec, something that Slootweg denies. 

FBI breaks network in LulzSec hunt

The FBI has been wiping shedloads of businesses off the internet as its flatfoots act like bulls in china shops in data centres.

The Untouchables appear to be so desperate to shut down LulzSec and Anonymous they do not care who gets hurt in the cross fire.

The FBI has  seized web servers in a raid on an empty data centre. Sites on data centres tend to belong to a lot of companies but it seems that the FBI did not care. Several websites, including those run by the New York publisher Curbed Network, dropped off the word wide wibble.

The Untouchables carried out their raid at 1:15 am on the data centre used by DigitalOne, which is based in Switzerland.

In the morning DigitalOne had to write to shedloads of customers explaining why their servers had been taken offline.

DigitalOne’s chief executive, Sergej Ostroumow, said that this problem was caused by the FBI, not the company. Ostroumow said they took three enclosures with equipment plugged in, “possibly including your server” – unfortunately it could not check.

Ostroumow said that the Feds were only interested in one of the company’s clients but had taken servers used by others.

As a result of the FBI’s “unprofessional work” the company could not start its servers, and its own website is offline. Support doesn’t work.

For the last 15 hours the staff had been working to solve the problem and things might be sorted out by later today.

A deep throat in the FBI said the raid was part of a joint effort by the FBI, CIA and cybercrime bureaux in Europe which are targeting LulzSec.

It is not clear why FBI agents took more servers with them than they sought.  Curbed Network included blogs covering real estate, restaurants and other topics.

We guess the Feds were just looking for a pizza place that was open at 3AM after the raid. 

LulzSec UK census hack is only a drop in the ocean

Remember those reassurances from the UK government that the mandatory census will be treated with the utmost security? LulzSec says it has compromised all of the data and will be making it public. This proves several things. First, LulzSec are smart. Second, the United Kingdom has no idea about security – as we’ve been shouting from the rooftops since we first started publishing on TechEye.

It will be red faces all around for the government which decided to enforce the archaic obligatory census – punishable by hefty fines if you choose not to hand over your personal information to a shadowy anonymous data centre. We doubt your data will be secure if you filled out the form on paper: data entry workers have been working hard to digitise all your content.

We point you to quotes from earlier this year and reassurance from the National Statistics. There is “a lot of misinformation in the media.” “No one gets access to the records.”

However, our security professor told us at the time: “The government has proven time and time again that it can’t be trusted with a laptop, let alone the details of millions of people. 

“There’s no doubt we’ll be hearing soon that our details have been hacked.”

Although LulzSec will claim it’s doing it for the lulz, we should, perhaps, applaud the anonymous collective for showing up the shocking defences our government leans on. It will seem like one of the largest data leaks and quite close to home for us here in Britain, but actually this is just a drop in the ocean.

There is a slim chance the British population will be unknowingly farming gold in some Chinese World of Warcraft clone. And it is disturbing that the entire country will have every detailed census entry available against their will – although most of the country is quite happy to hand that data to Zuckerberg for free anyway.

But compared to the potential for cyber terrorism this is nothing. An expert with high levels of access to government spoke on condition of anonymity to TechEye – and has told us that the only thing that will make us stand up and take note will be a truly catastrophic disaster. We are not talking data theft. We are talking significant, weighted attacks on the country’s infrastructure. Hospitals. Power grids. Airports. Data leaks are just the beginning.

This is not sensationalism. This is real. The entire country needs to wake up from its nap – Sony didn’t teach us squat, neither will this, if true, but it should.

Yesterday’s Evening Standard ran an opinion piece that suggested we learn from LulzSec as consultants – and it’s not a bad idea, except for the fact they’re in it for the lulz.

*EyeSee Lulzsec claims not to have compromised the census. Just everything else. 

Top websites leaking our data to third party players

While cookie laws are hitting the UK and US, scientists have found that naughty websites are directly leaking our private information to third party trackers.  

Of the 120 “popular websites” studied by scientists at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the US, three-quarters were found to have leaked our information including email addresses, our home addresses and the IP address of our PCs.

Computer Science people at the institute said that despite law agencies trying to stop cookies and companies capturing our information, the  “problem of privacy has worsened significantly.”

He said that the scientist’s findings were “increasingly worrisome” and insisted that it was time the government looked at how “first-party sites” to protected the privacy of their users.

This is because third-party sites had a strong economic incentive to continue to collect and aggregate user information, meaning they wouldn’t give up doing this without a fight.

The scientists found that just over half of sites leaked private information, while this number rose to 75 percent if site user IDs were included.

Hypochondriacs surfing health sites, and travel bods were also more at risk with the study finding that  search strings sent to healthcare websites and travel itineraries on flight reservation sites were leaked the most.

This was a contradiction to previous thoughts that the bulk of information was leaked from popular social networking sites .

The boffins came to their new conclusions by focusing on sites that encourage users to register, since users often share personal and personally identifiable information, including their names, physical address, and email address, during the registration process.

They found that information is leaked through a number of routes to third-party sites that track users’ browsing behaviour for advertisers. In some cases, information was passed deliberately to the third-party sites. In others it was included, either deliberately or inadvertently, as part of routine information exchanges with these sites. Depending on the site, the leakage occurred as users were creating, viewing, editing, or logging into their accounts, or while navigating the websites.

And there was some advice for those of us concerned with our data, including blocking the setting of cookies and using an advertising blocking feature.  

Boffins come up with faster data storage

Boffins have come up with a way speed up conventional hard drives and solid state drives (SSD) which they think will be thousands of times faster than current hard-drives.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego faculty have said that their new invention will give a speed of thousands of times faster than a conventional hard drive and up to seven times faster than current SSDs. 

Dubbed Moneta, the system uses phase-change memory (PCM) which is an emerging data storage technology that stores data inside the crystal structure of a metal alloy.  The alloy is  called a chalcogenide and apparently doing all this makes things super fast because PCM is faster and simpler to use than flash memory.

And the boffins have had a little help from their tech friends with Micron Technology, BEEcube and Xilinx so there are a few places that are going to want to put it on the shelves.

According to the scientists unlike conventional hard disk drives, solid state storage drives have no moving parts. Although faster than hard disk, flash memory is still too slow to meet modern data storage and analysis demands, particularly in the area of high performance computing where the ability to sift through enormous volumes of data quickly is critical. They said examples include storing and analysing scientific data collected through environmental sensors, or even web searches through Google.

To store data, the PCM memory chips switch the alloy between a crystalline and amorphous state based on the application of heat through an electrical current. To read the data, the chips use a smaller current to determine which state the chalcogenide is in.

Moneta also uses Micron Technology’s first-generation PCM chips and is claimed to read large sections of data at a maximum rate of 1.1 gigabytes per second. It can apparently also write data at up to 371 megabytes per second.

And the boffins want to build the second generation of the Moneta storage device in the next six to nine months. He has high hopes when it comes to marketing with claims that the the technology could be ready for market in just a few years .

Aussie boffins create "unhackable" data transfer

Aussie boffins claim to have created a virtually unhackable data transfer.

While we know people have made this claim before, we have to admit that this technique strikes us as pretty secure, as your average script kiddie rarely has access to quantum states.

Currently systems use classical light to carry information which hackers can easily tap into.

However it is a little harder to copy the information encoded in quantum states without being noticed by the system.

Apparently single photon devices will ensure communication and information systems are secure from hackers, “guaranteeing peace of mind for the users.”

The boffins work for the Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) nodes at Sydney and Macquarie universities.

They have created a pair of photons using a device just 100 microns long which means that hundreds could be used on a single computer chip, which could help make quantum computing a realistic endeavour.

In a press release, Michael Steel, CUDOS chief investigator said he had generated individual pairs of photons in the smallest device ever by slowing light down using silicon photonic crystals.

At 100 microns long CUDOS’s quantum photon device is 100 times smaller than the one-centimetre devices used by other groups.

He said that: “We are able to do this by slowing light down through the use of silicon photonic crystals, which means the ultrashort device behaves as a much longer device, so that the photons are generated in only 100 microns”.

The shorter the device, the less chance that the photons have from being stepped on by a cat which is potentially alive or dead. 

Apple does not track anyone

Apple Messiah Steve Jobs has poured cold water on claims that Apple spies on iPhone users.

As politicians gear up to haul Apple before various senate committees, Jobs has entered into the fray saying that the iphone does not spy on users while Android phones do.

MacRumors said that one of its readers sent an email to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, asking for clarification and explanations regarding the “consolidated.db” file built into iOS.

It is this file which keeps a log of longitude and latitude coordinates from mobile triangulation towers.

The reader asked if Jobs could explain the necessity of the passive location-tracking tool embedded in the iphone. He threatened to switch to a Droid because it would not track him.

The reader got a usual short reply from Jobs, or at least the person who answers emails for him.

Dedicated followers of Apple will be relieved to know that St Steve said that the information being circulated in the press was all false.

Jobs said that Google did track people and Apple didn’t. “The info circulating around is false.”

It seems that Apple’s angle on this is that while Android collects the data, Apple leaves it stored on the phone for a year and does nothing with it.

Jobs appears to be asking users to trust him that it does nothing with the data, and while Apple followers might be prepared to trust him with their first born, it does seem strange that the outfit gathers the data and makes such an effort to store it and back it up.

Inspector Knacker of the Yard has known that Apple stores the data for nearly a year, although we are yet to see any court cases where location data on the phone has been used as evidence.

Jobs was also incorrect about how the Android phone handles the data. To get the information off a droid you have to seriously hack the phone. Even then the history of a user’s location is much more limited than in iOS.

South Korea probes Hyundai hack

South Korea’s financial watchdog launched an investigation into the hacking of Hyundai Capital, the consumer finance unit of Hyundai Motor Group.

According to Reuters, the Financial Supervisory Service is concerned about how personal data on 420,000 of Hyundai Capital’s 1.8 million customers ended up in the paws of hackers.

Over the weekend Hyundai admitted that its database was leaked when an unidentified hacker attacked its database.

The personal information nicked was the name, email, and mobile phone information but apparently there was no financial transaction information directly taken.

Vice President Hwang Yoo-no said there was “a possibility that some secret information was hacked, including customer passwords and credit ratings.” In short passwords were leaked for around 13 thousand customers and the hackers had pretty much access to everything if they used them.

The company said in a statement on Sunday it was conducting its own investigation into the incident. But the hack has sent the financial markets into a spin.

After all if you can’t trust a bank to be secure, who can you trust? What is alarming is that the finance outfit’s security system failed completely, which is why the Financial Supervisory Service is concerned.

The cracker’s removal of customer data began in February of this year. However, Hyundai Capital remained oblivious. Apparently it only discovered the security breach after it was contacted by a hacker last week. In other words, the security system was dependant on a hacker telling them that he had just hacked them.

Hyundai Capital gives cash for car financing, personal loans and home mortgages. It is owned by Hyundai and GE Capital.