Tag: US

Republicans vote to end US internet privacy

US Republicans cheerfully voted to allow the big telcos and ISPs to spy on consumers and flog their personal details to the highest bidder.

The US House voted on Tuesday 215-205 to repeal regulations needing internet service providers to do more to protect customers’ privacy.

The White House said President Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump strongly supports the repeal of the rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission in October under then-President Barack Obama.

The rules forced internet providers to ask consumer consent before using precise geolocation, financial information, health information, children’s information and web browsing history for advertising and marketing.

Last week, the Senate voted 50-48 to reverse the rules in a win for AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications who paid a lot of money to get their Tame Republican candidate’s elected.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai in a statement praised the decision of Congress to overturn “privacy regulations designed to benefit one group of favoured companies over another group of disfavoured companies”.

Last week, Pai said consumers would have privacy protections even without the Obama internet provider rules, but most sane people think that you must be smoking something to believe that is true.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it is not rocket science to work out that companies “should not be able to use and sell the sensitive data they collect from you without your permission”.

One critic of the repeal, Craig Aaron, president of Free Press advocacy group, said major Silicon Valley companies shied away from the fight over the rules because they make so much dosh from flogging consumer data.

“There are a lot of companies that are very concerned about drawing attention to themselves and being regulated on privacy issues, and are sitting this out in a way that they haven’t sat out earlier privacy issues,” Aaron said.

One amusing side effect of the story is that interest in VPNs in the US is suddenly booming.

Farmers turn to hackers to save them from tractor makers

US farmers are paying Eastern European hackers to crack their tractors so that they can actually repair them.

Tractor maker John Deere puts locks on its tractors because it does not want farmers to  perform “unauthorised” repairs on farm equipment. It wants the farmers to wait for one of its dealers to show up and repair it. They are also worried that the tractor maker could remotely shut down a tractor and there wouldn’t be anything a farmer could do about it.

A licence agreement John Deere required farmers to sign in October forbids nearly all repair and modification to farming equipment, and prevents farmers from suing for “crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment … arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software”.

The agreement applies to anyone who turns the key or otherwise uses a John Deere tractor with embedded software. It means that only John Deere dealerships and “authorised” repair shops can work on newer tractors.

However this does not sit well with farmers who feel that if they have bought a tractor they should be allowed to do with it what they like. So they go to some dodgy part of the internet and pay for a crack from the nice man in the Ukraine.

This saves a fortune in time and money. If you want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic—he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can’t drive out of the shop. Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorise the part.

 

ZTE cuts a deal with US prosecutors over Iran

ZTE is close to cutting a deal with US prosecutors over its Iran dealings.

Apparently ZTE will plead guilty to US criminal charges and pay hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties over allegations it violated US laws that restrict sale of US technology to Iran. We guess the upside of the deal is that the US will not shut the company down and prevent it using US tech in its products,

The company has not yet signed a deal with the US Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Justice and the US Department of Treasury, but it is pretty likely. ZTE really wants the incident to go away.

The only thing that can really go wrong is if Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump takes an interest. Trump is very much against Iran because his chum Bibi Netanyahu wants a world war against the country.  Trump also does not like Chinese companies coming into the US either so might take the opportunity to scuttle any deal.

ZTE is expected to plead guilty to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, among other charges, the source said, and pay penalties in the hundreds of millions.

The Commerce Department investigation followed reports by Reuters in 2012 that the company had signed contracts to ship millions of dollars worth of hardware and software from some of America’s best-known technology companies to Iran’s largest telecoms carrier.

Trump’s FCC boss calls Net Neutrality a mistake

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said today that net neutrality was “a mistake” and the Commission was taking steps to turn it into a telco’s wet dream.

Pai said that net neutrality injected tremendous uncertainty into the broadband market and uncertainty was the enemy of growth.

To be fair Pai has always been opposed to net neutrality and voted against the proposal when it came up in 2015. He had been widely expected to dismantle net neutrality to allow telos to charge people what they like. Basically, Pai’s thinks that internet providers were doing just fine under the old rules and that the new ones have hurt investment.

Both of those points have been discounted. There’s little competition in the wired broadband market, and Consumerist investigated the investment claims in early 2016 and found that internet providers were estimated to spend more in the coming year.

“Today, the torch at the FCC has been passed to a new generation, dedicated to renewal as well as change. We are confident in the decades-long, cross-party consensus on light-touch internet regulation … and we are on track to returning to that successful approach,” Pai said.

He cites the commission’s approval of zero-rating schemes — this, he says, is exactly why all four carriers are now offering unlimited data plans.

This is also rubbish as zero rating isn’t involved in these plans at all. Telcos offer highly competitive unlimited data plans because the last FCC chairman kept them in a competitive environment, leaving four nationwide wireless providers and a clear set of rules for them to follow.

Pai seems to think that the FCC should do nothing unless there’s a huge market failure and that competition can preserve an open internet even without rules.

The fact that the US telcos are hardly in competition and well just use their quasi-monopoly powers to double charge heavy web users is no part of Pai’s reality.

ZTE fears US action could hit results

Chinese telco outfit ZTE fears that penalties it expects to incur for allegedly breaking US sanctions against Iran will be a kick in the bottom line.

In March, the US government hit ZTE with some of the toughest-ever US export restrictions for the alleged breaches. It has since issued temporary reprieves on the curbs, which are now due to take effect next month.

ZTE said in a filing to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange said that it had been actively cooperating and communicating with relevant U.S. government departments to reach a conclusion of the investigation.

“The outcome of the settlement issues still remains uncertain but will likely have a material impact on the financial conditions and operating results of the company.”

Measures it has taken to placate Washington include a management overhaul and the appointment of a new chief export compliance officer based in the United States.

If no settlement or reprieve extension were reached before the deadline, US suppliers would be banned from doing business with ZTE, which could cut off much of the Chinese company’s supply chain. ZTE relies on US suppliers for about one-third of its components.

US rocket man held phone searched by airport security

A NASA rocket scientist was detained by US Customs and Border Patrol and pressured to turn over his phone and access PIN.

The move poses some serious security problems because US Customs and Border Patrol lacked the security clearance to hack Sidd Bikkannavar’s phone and since he worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) this is a big deal.

Bikkannavar says his phone was issued by NASA and may have contained sensitive material that wasn’t supposed to be shared. Then there is the small matter that Bikkannavar is a US citizen and should not have been forced to give over his phone under the US constitution.

A CBP officer escorted Bikkannavar to a back room, and told him to wait for additional instructions. About 40 minutes later an officer took him to an interview room and sort of explains that I’m entering the country and they need to search my possessions to make sure I’m not bringing in anything dangerous.

The officer also presented Bikkannavar with a document titled “Inspection of Electronic Devices” and explained that CBP had authority to search his phone. Bikkannavar did not want to hand over the device, because it was given to him by JPL and is technically NASA property. He even showed the officer the JPL barcode on the back of phone. CBP asked for the phone and the access PIN despite Bikkannavar’s protests.

The officer insisted that he had a right to search the phone and did not allow him to leave until he handed over his PIN. This is also odd as Courts have ruled that travellers are not legally required to unlock their devices, although agents can detain them for significant periods of time if they do not.

When the phone  was returned Bikkannavar immediately turned it off because he knew he had to take it straight to the IT department at JPL. Once he arrived in Los Angeles, he went to NASA and told his superiors what had happened. The cybersecurity team at JPL was not happy about the breach. After all if Russia or China wanted US rocket plans all it would have to do was compromise the US Customs and Border Patrol which is not that difficult.

Air force peeved after Lockheed Martin botched GPS satellite testing

A Lockheed Martin subcontractor botched testing on a key component for the US’s newest Global Positioning System satellites.

According to Bloomberg   subcontractor Harris forced another delay in the delivery of the first of 32 planned GPS III satellites until later this month, and the Air Force is rather hacked off.

Major General Roger Teague, the Air Force’s chief of space programs said that the cock up will mean that the $528 million satellite 34 months late.

Lockheed has a contract to build the first 10 of the satellites designed to provide a more accurate version of the Global Positioning System.  Now the Air Force is wondering if it should award the contract for the rest of the system to Boeing and Northrop Grumman.

Teague said that the incident was avoidable and raised significant concerns with Lockheed Martin subcontractor management/oversight and Harris programme management.

Ceramic capacitors which take higher-voltage power from the satellite’s power system and reduce it to a voltage required for a particular subsystem have been a headache for the project.

Last year, the Air Force and contractors discovered that Harris hadn’t conducted tests on the components, including how long they would operate without failing, that should have been completed in 2010.

Harris spent June to October of last year doing follow-up testing on the wrong parts instead of samples of the suspect capacitors installed on the first three satellites.

Harris “immediately notified Lockheed and the government” after a post-test inspection, Teague said in his message.

“The capacitors met all mission qualification requirements,” he said, so “we are confident the capacitors are mission-ready”.

But Teague said in an interview that Harris was required to perform not only a test to show that the part met design specifications but a separate one to assess the component’s reliability and whether it met a requirement to last 15 years. That second test wasn’t accomplished because “they used the wrong test item,” he said.

The Air Force has decided to accept the first satellite even if its capacitors may be flawed because removing them could delay the delivery until October and cost about $70 million,

The Air Force must pay $100 million to replace the suspect capacitors on the second and third satellites. That’s because the satellites are being developed under cost-reimbursement-type contracts, which require the Pentagon to pay for cost increases, the service said.

Foxconn will build in the US

huet_fox_chickenFoxconn is considering setting up a display making plant in the United States in an investment that will cost $7 billion.

Company chairman and chief executive Terry Gou said the move was to attempt to get around US President Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump’s planned protectionism and a trend for politics to underpin economic development.

Foxconn’s proposal to build a display plant, which would be planned with its Sharp unit, will depend on many factors, such as investment conditions, that would have to be negotiated at the U.S. state and federal levels, Gou said.

Gou said that Foxconn had been considering such a move for years but the issue came up when Foxconn business partner Masayoshi Son, head of Japan’s SoftBank talked to Gou before a December meeting Son had with Trump.

Son pledged a $50 billion of investment in the United States and inadvertently disclosed information showing Foxconn’s logo and an unspecified additional $7 billion investment. At the time, Foxconn issued a brief statement saying it was in preliminary discussions to expand its U.S. operations, without elaborating.

The United States has no panel-making industry but it is the second-largest market for televisions. An investment for a display plant would exceed $7 billion and could create about 30,000-50,000 jobs.

“I thought it was a private conversation, but then the next morning it was exposed,” Gou said. “There is such a plan, but it is not a promise. It is a wish.”

This is also a long way from manufacturing iPhones in the US.

If any deal goes ahead it will likely not provide many US jobs either. Foxconn is keen on creating heavily robotised plants with limited human staff.

Bug researcher found himself deep in the US army network

US Army - Wikimedia CommonsA security bug researcher who was invited by the US Army to look for holes in the system found himself rather a little deeper into the network that he, or the army expected.

The US Army shared some surprising results from its first bug bounty programme — a three-week trial in which they invite 371 security researchers “trained in figuring out how to break into computer networks they’re not supposed to”.

The Army said the experiment was a success and it received more than 400 bug reports, 118 of which were unique and actionable.

Participants who found and reported unique bugs that were fixed were paid upwards of $100,000…

The Army also shared high-level details on one issue that was uncovered through the bounty by a researcher who discovered that two vulnerabilities on the goarmy.com website could be chained together to access, without authentication, an internal Department of Défense website.

The researcher got in through an open proxy, meaning the routing wasn’t shut down the way it should have been. But the researcher, without even knowing it, could get to this internal network, because there was a vulnerability with the proxy, and with the actual system.

On its own, neither vulnerability was particularly interesting, but when you pair them together, it’s serious.

Chinese ZTE in big trouble

big-trouble-in-little-chinaChinese telecom equipment maker ZTE is slashing about 3,000 jobs, including a fifth of positions in its struggling handset business in China.

The company is already facing US trade sanctions that could severely disrupt its supply chain and is getting rid of about five percent of its 60,000 stron global workforce.

Its global handset operations will shed 600 jobs, or 10 percent of the total, with the cuts concentrated in China. Things have not been going very well in China and the outfit is losing market share.

A local manager in one of the company’s overseas branches said a 10 percent quota was given to shed staff in his department by the end of January.

The US Commerce Department first announced in March that it would impose a ban on exports by US companies to ZTE for allegedly breaking Washington’s sanctions on sales to Iran.

While this has not happened yet it could nobble the company’s supply chain because it relies on US companies including Qualcomm, Microsoft and Intel for about a third of its components.