Mathew J. Schwartz writes: Dear antivirus vendors: Are you aiding and abetting National Security Agency (NSA) spying?
That’s the subject of an open letter, sent in October to leading antivirus vendors, from 25 different privacy information security experts and organizations. The letter asks the vendors to detail whether they’ve ever detected state-sponsored malware or received a government request to whitelist state-sponsored malware, and how they would respond to any such requests in the future.
The letter, sent from Dutch digital rights foundation Bits of Freedom, requested that the firms respond by November 15. “Please let us know if you feel that you cannot, or cannot fully, answer any of the above questions because of legal constraints imposed upon you by any government,” it said.
“Since we learned that the NSA has surreptitiously weakened Internet security so it could more easily eavesdrop, we’ve been wondering if it’s done anything to antivirus products,” letter signatory Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer of BT, said in a blog post. “Given that it engages in offensive cyberattacks — and launches cyberweapons like Stuxnet and Flame — it’s reasonable to assume that it’s asked antivirus companies to ignore its malware. We know that antivirus companies have previously done this for corporate malware.”
As of two weeks ago, however, only six security vendors — ESET, F-Secure, Kaspersky Lab, Norman Shark, Panda, and Trend Micro — had responded to the request for information. [Continue reading...]
David Streitfeld writes: On its home territory, Amazon.com is routinely hailed as a jobs machine. Thanks to its warehouse building spree, it is hiring tens of thousands of workers, plus many more for the holidays. President Obama, speaking at the retailer’s Chattanooga, Tenn., warehouse in July, called Amazon “a great example of what’s possible.”
Referring to an Amazon program that offers tuition assistance to hourly workers, Mr. Obama said, “That’s the kind of approach that we need from America’s businesses.” He also celebrated the company’s achievement in general, saying, “I look at this amazing facility and you guys, you don’t miss a beat.”
The recession might have cut deeper in Europe, making the question of new jobs even more crucial, but the attitude there is much cooler toward Amazon and its high-tech ways. In Germany, there is continuing labor strife. France is erecting barriers against the company’s aggressive discounting. And in Britain, the warehouses that so impressed President Obama have been compared, in a February story in The Financial Times, with a “slave camp.”
That shocking charge resurfaced in the latest investigation, when a BBC reporter, Adam Littler, went to work briefly at Amazon’s Swansea warehouse. His report, broadcast this week on the show “Panorama,” showed him hustling to keep up with the demands of his hand-held scanner, which gave him only a few moments to find each product.
In his ten-and-a-half-hour night shift, Mr. Littler said: “I managed to walk or hobble nearly 11 miles, just short of 11 miles last night. I’m absolutely shattered.” He added, “We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner in, we’re holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves.”
Michael Marmot, a labor expert identified by the BBC as “one of Britain’s leading experts on stress at work,” told the show that with “the characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness.” [Continue reading...]
In August, Democracy Now! interviewed Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland on her undercover investigation:
“Fulfillment,” in Amazon’s lexicon, is all about getting what you want and getting it now. It is the acme of the consumer age through which the maximum number of desires can be fulfilled in the minimum amount of time. And it is in the service of this debased expression of human existence, that Amazon dedicates all its efforts.
But Amazon’s commitment to fostering customer loyalty, creates the impression of a human interest, concealing the indifference that the company displays towards its own workers — workers who are treated so badly that they probably envy their counterparts at Walmart.
The fact that Amazon calls its warehouses “fulfillment centers” shows the degree to which as a company, Amazon views its employees as simply expendable cogs in a machine. And since the closest most Amazon customers ever come to a human interaction with the company comes indirectly via UPS deliverers, most of Amazon’s actual workers toil invisibly in conditions far removed from anything that could be defined as fulfilling. Adding insult to injury, these workers then get branded with job titles like “Pick Ambassador” — tokens of respect, clearly designed to obscure the lack of respect with which Amazon views its employees.
In 2011, the Allentown Morning Call reported on conditions inside Amazon’s Lehigh Valley warehouse:
Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain. Employees were frequently reprimanded regarding their productivity and threatened with termination, workers said. The consequences of not meeting work expectations were regularly on display, as employees lost their jobs and got escorted out of the warehouse. Such sights encouraged some workers to conceal pain and push through injury lest they get fired as well, workers said.
During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time.
An emergency room doctor in June called federal regulators to report an “unsafe environment” after he treated several Amazon warehouse workers for heat-related problems. The doctor’s report was echoed by warehouse workers who also complained to regulators, including a security guard who reported seeing pregnant employees suffering in the heat.
In a better economy, not as many people would line up for jobs that pay $11 or $12 an hour moving inventory through a hot warehouse. But with job openings scarce, Amazon and Integrity Staffing Solutions, the temporary employment firm that is hiring workers for Amazon, have found eager applicants in the swollen ranks of the unemployed.
Many warehouse workers are hired for temporary positions by Integrity Staffing Solutions, or ISS, and are told that if they work hard they may be converted to permanent positions with Amazon, current and former employees said. The temporary assignments end after a designated number of hours, and those not hired to permanent Amazon jobs can reapply for temporary positions again after a few months, workers said.
Temporary employees interviewed said few people in their working groups actually made it to a permanent Amazon position. Instead, they said they were pushed harder and harder to work faster and faster until they were terminated, they quit or they got injured. Those interviewed say turnover at the warehouse is high and many hires don’t last more than a few months.
From Jeff Bezos’s point of view, Amazon represents nothing less than the nature of the future and in saying this he is expressing a kind of technological determinism — the latest face of unstoppable progress.
But what he is articulating is more importantly a philosophy of commerce in which human interaction is seen as redundant or a form of inefficiency.
Sure, he wants to cultivate strong relationships, but these aren’t relationships between people; they are relationships between customers and an amorphous corporate entity towards which we are meant to turn for the fulfillment of all our needs.
Finally, just in case anyone took the bait of the promise of goods delivered by drones (a prospect that should be viewed as skeptically as the chances of Santa Claus climbing down a chimney), James Ball lists a few of the logistical problems:
It’s all well and good for the unmanned vehicles to fly to a particular GPS site, but how does it then find the package’s intended recipient? How is the transfer of the package enacted? What stops someone else stealing the package along the way? And what happens when next door’s kid decides to shoot the drone with his BB rifle?
None of that starts to come close to the legal minefield using drones in this way entails. At present, flying drones of this sort for commercial use would be illegal in the US. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates this area, intends to make commercial drones legally viable and workable by 2015, but this deadline is all-but impossible: managing the skies with this much low-level traffic is a problem people are nowhere near solving. Opening up crowded urban areas full of terror targets to large numbers of flying platforms is always going to be packed with conflicting interests and difficulties. And all this has come before the first lawsuit caused after someone is injured by a faulty drone (or that one your neighbour shot), crashing down to earth.
What Jeff Bezos announced amounted, essentially, to an aspiration to change how his company delivers products, in about five years time, if technology advances and regulation falls his way. If his TV appearance hadn’t included the magic word “drones”, Bezos’s vague aspirations to change an aspect of his company’s logistics probably wouldn’t have made waves. Lucky for him, he did – winning his company positive publicity just ahead of what is usually the biggest online shopping day of the year, the dreadfully named Cyber Monday.
Floating an exciting-but-impractical innovation for a swath of press coverage is such an old PR tactic you’d hope no one would fall for it, and yet everyone still does.
Fallout from NSA surveillance threatens ‘the existence of the World Wide Web’ says agency’s former director
The Wall Street Journal reports: Revelations about the NSA’s surveillance operations are fueling international efforts to divide up the Internet by country, [Michael Hayden, former director of both the NSA and the CIA] said, which is a movement the U.S. government — and U.S. tech companies — have worked hard to prevent.
“This is threatening the existence of the World Wide Web,” Mr. Hayden said, adding that a Balkanization of the Internet is “a no-fooling danger.”
In the near term, Germany wants a “no-spy” agreement and has sought to insert tough data-privacy measures into a long-sought U.S.-European trade pact. Ms. Merkel told parliament last Monday the NSA affair was “putting to the test” Germany’s relationship with the U.S., and the trade pact negotiations in particular.
The Washington Post reports: Microsoft is moving toward a major new effort to encrypt its Internet traffic amid fears that the National Security Agency may have broken into its global communications links, said people familiar with the emerging plans.
Suspicions at Microsoft, while building for several months, sharpened in October when it was reported that the NSA was intercepting traffic inside the private networks of Google and Yahoo, two industry rivals with similar global infrastructures, said people with direct knowledge of the company’s deliberations. They said top Microsoft executives are meeting this week to decide what encryption initiatives to deploy and how quickly.
Documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden suggest — but do not prove — that the company is right to be concerned. Two previously unreleased slides that describe operations against Google and Yahoo include references to Microsoft’s Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger services. A separate NSA e-mail mentions Microsoft Passport, a Web-based service formerly offered by Microsoft, as a possible target of that same surveillance project, called MUSCULAR, which was first disclosed by The Washington Post last month.
Though Microsoft officials said they had no independent verification of the NSA targeting the company in this way, general counsel Brad Smith said Tuesday that it would be “very disturbing” and a possible constitutional breach if true. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: The recent revelation that the National Security Agency was able to eavesdrop on the communications of Google and Yahoo users without breaking into either company’s data centers sounded like something pulled from a Robert Ludlum spy thriller.
How on earth, the companies asked, did the N.S.A. get their data without their knowing about it?
The most likely answer is a modern spin on a century-old eavesdropping tradition.
People knowledgeable about Google and Yahoo’s infrastructure say they believe that government spies bypassed the big Internet companies and hit them at a weak spot — the fiber-optic cables that connect data centers around the world and are owned by companies like Verizon Communications, the BT Group, the Vodafone Group and Level 3 Communications. In particular, fingers have been pointed at Level 3, the world’s largest so-called Internet backbone provider, whose cables are used by Google and Yahoo.
The Internet companies’ data centers are locked down with full-time security and state-of-the-art surveillance, including heat sensors and iris scanners. But between the data centers — on Level 3’s fiber-optic cables that connected those massive computer farms — information was unencrypted and an easier target for government intercept efforts, according to three people with knowledge of Google’s and Yahoo’s systems who spoke on the condition of anonymity. [Continue reading...]
CNBC reports: Google, the giant of the Internet, thought about moving its servers out of the U.S. after the NSA debacle, said Eric Schmidt, the company’s chairman, on Friday at the Paley International Council Summit in New York.
“Actually, we thought about that and there are many, many reasons why it’s impossible for Google to leave the United States, although it’s attractive,” Schmidt said.
“But the reason it’s an interesting idea is because American firms are subject to these rules, the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] rules, Patriot Act and so forth, and this government surveillance is really a problem.”
Web Index: Designed and produced by the World Wide Web Foundation, the Web Index is the first multi-dimensional measure of the World Wide Web’s contribution to development and human rights globally. It covers 81 countries, incorporating indicators that assess the areas of universal access; freedom and openness; relevant content; and empowerment.
First released in 2012, the 2013 Index has been expanded and refined to include 20 new countries and features an enhanced data set, particularly in the areas of gender, Open Data, privacy rights and censorship. The Index combines existing secondary data with new primary data derived from an evidence-based expert assessment survey.
This is the second edition of the Web Index, which will be published annually. It will eventually allow for comparisons of trends over time and the benchmarking of performance across countries, continuously improving our understanding of the Web’s value for humanity.
It’s up a flight of stone steps, past the circulation desk and the Romance stacks, over in Science Fiction, far corner.
On a sunny Tuesday in October, federal officers entered the public library in the Glen Park section of this city and arrested a young man who they say ran a vast Internet black market — an eBay of illegal drugs.
Their mark, Ross William Ulbricht, says he is not the F.B.I.’s Dread Pirate Roberts, the nom de guerre of the mastermind behind the marketplace, Silk Road. And the facts, his lawyer says, will prove that.
However this story plays out, Silk Road already stands as a tabloid monument to old-fashioned vice and new-fashioned technology. Until the website was shut down last month, it was the place to score, say, a brick of cocaine with a few anonymous strokes on a computer keyboard. According to the authorities, it greased $1.2 billion in drug deals and other crimes, including murder for hire.
That this story intruded here, at a public library in a nice little neighborhood, says a lot about the dark corners of the Internet. Glen Park isn’t the gritty Tenderloin over the hills, or Oakland or Richmond out in East Bay. And that is precisely the point. The Dark Web, as it is known, is everywhere and nowhere, and it’s growing fast.
No sooner was the old Silk Road shut down than a new, supposedly improved Silk Road popped up. Other online bazaars for illegal guns and drugs are thriving.
And the Dread Pirate Roberts — the old one, a new one, who knows? — is back, taunting the authorities. (The pseudonym is a reference to a character in the film “The Princess Bride” who turns out to be not one man but rather many men passing down the title.)
“It took the F.B.I. two and a half years to do what they did,” the Dread Pirate Roberts wrote last week on the new Silk Road site. “But four weeks of temporary silence is all they got.”
So catch us if you can, the Dread Pirate is saying. The new Silk Road has overhauled its security and “marks the dawn of a brand new era for hidden services,” he wrote.
The question is, can anyone really stamp out the Dread Pirates? Like the rest of the Internet, the Dark Web is being shaped and reshaped by technological innovation. [Continue reading...]
One of Google’s top lawyers testified before Congress Wednesday about surveillance, demanding urgent reform of email privacy laws and warning of threats to the open Internet and to the United States economy. Meanwhile, Google engineers who work on security railed against the government online.
The backlash against government Internet surveillance could hurt the United States economy, partly because businesses and consumers could abandon United States cloud companies, said Richard Salgado, the director for law enforcement and information security at Google, in testimony before the Senate judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law.
Quartz reports: Cisco announced two important things in today’s earnings report: The first is that the company is aggressively moving into the Internet of Things — the effort to connect just about every object on earth to the internet — by rolling out new technologies. The second is that Cisco has seen a huge drop-off in demand for its hardware in emerging markets, which the company blames on fears about the NSA using American hardware to spy on the rest of the world.
Cisco chief executive John Chambers said on the company’s earnings call that he believes other American technology companies will be similarly affected. Cisco saw orders in Brazil drop 25% and Russia drop 30%. Both Brazil and Russia have expressed official outrage over NSA spying and have announced plans to curb the NSA’s reach.
Analysts had expected Cisco’s business in emerging markets to increase 6%, but instead it dropped 12%, sending shares of Cisco plunging 10% in after-hours trading. [Continue reading...]
If Cisco currently feels like its operations have been undermined by the NSA, it hasn’t shown much reticence in the past about making its technology available where it would likely be used for surveillance.
In 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported: Western companies including Cisco Systems Inc. are poised to help build an ambitious new surveillance project in China—a citywide network of as many as 500,000 cameras that officials say will prevent crime but that human-rights advocates warn could target political dissent.
The system, being built in the city of Chongqing over the next two to three years, is among the largest and most sophisticated video-surveillance projects of its kind in China, and perhaps the world. Dubbed “Peaceful Chongqing,” it is planned to cover a half-million intersections, neighborhoods and parks over nearly 400 square miles, an area more than 25% larger than New York City.
The project sheds light on how Western tech companies sell their wares in China, the Middle East and other places where there is potential for the gear to be used for political purposes and not just safety. The products range from Internet-censoring software to sophisticated networking gear. China in particular has drawn criticism for treating political dissent as a crime and has a track record of using technology to suppress it.
An examination of the Peaceful Chongqing project by The Wall Street Journal shows Cisco is expected to supply networking equipment that is essential to operating large and complicated surveillance systems, according to people familiar with the deal.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports: Cyber espionage between nations has reached such damaging levels it risks not only the trust between friendly countries, but the future of the internet itself.
That is the view of Eugene Kaspersky, the ebullient chief executive of Russian security firm Kaspersky Labs, who is in Canberra this week to deliver the message to politicians and business leaders.
Speaking ahead of his speech to the National Press Club on Thursday, Mr Kaspersky told Fairfax Media he was “very surprised” and concerned about the extent of espionage currently undertaken by Western countries. He also warned Australia to invest in educating a new generation of security engineers to future-proof its critical systems.
“Cyber espionage is not new,” he said. “We knew that from years ago, but I did not expect it in such a huge scale and coming from so many different nations.”
Mr Kaspersky said he feared governments would withdraw to their own parallel networks away from the prying eyes of others, and would cease investing in the development of the public internet, products and services.
“If governments and enterprises exit the public internet, there will be a lot less investment. If they emigrate to a separate zone, I’m afraid the internet will have a crisis”. [Continue reading...]