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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Today\'s Scuttlebot: Found Money and Seeing in the Dark

Here are some of the more interesting items that the tech reporters and editors of The New York Times found on the Web recently. See more here.

Google X Chief on How 10 Times Better Is Easier Than 10 Percent
Wired.com |  The head of Google X explains why companies should pursue moonshots. The one he says leads the way Google, of course. - Claire Cain Miller

Sergey Brin, Please Pick Up Your Paychecks
Angrystatistician.blogspot.com |  Google’s co-founder is richer than he thinks. A blogger finds $2,256 he’s owed. Steve Wozniak and Meg Whitman are richer, too. - Quentin Hardy

Want to See in the Dark
Gigaom.com |  One day, there’ll be an app for that. - Jenna Wortham

Miguel Nicolelis Says the Brain Is Not Computable, Bashes Kurzweil’s Singularity
Technologyreview.com |  Blasphemy! The Church of the Singularity will not like this notion that humans will assimilate machines, not vice versa. - Damon Darlin

Any 2 Pages on the Web Are Connected by 19 Clicks or Less
Blogs.smithsonianmag.com |  A data visualization of the Web is eye candy, but it also shows why we get so easily immersed! while searching. - Damon Darlin

Indian Govt. Moves to Block 55 Facebook Pages
Timesofindia.indiatimes.com |  India, third-largest market for Facebook, is again accused of censorship. - Somini Sengupta

Bill Gates Is Not Satisfied With Microsoft Innovation
Cbsnews.com |  In a CBS interview, Bill Gates sidesteps any direct criticism of Steven Ballmer, giving a passive, vague answer. - Damon Darlin

Death in Singapore
Ft.com |  Acompelling international mystery involving gallium nitride chips, Huawei and a suspicious suicide. - Damon Darlin

Facebook Search Struggles With the Real World
Theverge.com |  A criticism of the new search engine is that it will only work if people “like” more items on Facebook. - Claire Cain Miller

Apple Computers Hit by Sophisticated Cyberattack

Cyberattacks, apparently, happen in threes.

After Facebook and Twitter announced that they were breached by sophisticated hackers in recent weeks, Apple said it had been attacked, too, in a rare admission for the technology giant.

In a statement to reporters Tuesday, Apple said some of its computers were infected with the same malware that hit Twitter and Facebook. Like Facebook, Apple confirmed that its employees’ computers were infected with malware when they visited a Web site for software developers. Neither company has named the Web site. But according to a person with knowledge of Facebook’s investigation, the compromised site, iPhonedevsdk, an online forum for software developers, is still infected. (In other words, unless you want to be owned by hackers, do not visit the site.)

“We identified a small number of systems within Apple that were infected and isolated them from our network,” pple said in a statement. “There is no evidence that any data left Apple. We are working closely with law enforcement to find the source of the malware.”

Twitter said attackers may have briefly accessed data for 250,000 user accounts and that it reset passwords for and alerted users whose data may have been vulnerable. Facebook said that no user data was taken in its attack. Both companies said that they were also working with law enforcement to trace the source of the attacks, which they described only as “sophisticated.”

In all three cases, the attackers exploited a well-known security hole in Oracle’s Java software. Java, a widely used programming language, is installed on more than three billion devices. It has long been hounded by security problems.

Last month, after a Fren! ch security researcher and blogger named Kafeine exposed a serious vulnerability in the software, the Department of Homeland Security issued a rare alert that warned users to disable Java on their computers. The vulnerability was particularly disconcerting because it let attackers download a malicious program onto its victims’ machines without any prompting. Users did not even have to click on a malicious link, they only had to visit an infected site for their computers to get infected.

After Oracle initially patched the security hole in January, the Department of Homeland Security said that the fix was not sufficient and recommended that, unless it was “absolutely necessary” to use Java, users should disable it on their computers completely. Oracle did not issue another fix until Feb. 1.

Apple said on Tuesday that it was releasing an updated Java malware removal tool that will check Macs for malware and remove it if found.

But security researchers say the Java exploit only gave hackrs a foothold into these companies’ systems, and that the companies should be more forthcoming with what the attackers did once inside.

“Why is nobody asking what the payload is” Sean Sullivan, a security adviser at the Finnish antivirus company F-Secure tweeted. “The Java exploit only opened the door. What walked in”

Social networks are a prime target for hackers, who look to use people’s personal data and particularly their social connections in what are known as “spearphishing” attacks. In this type of attack, a victim is se! nt an e-m! ail, ostensibly from someone they know on Facebook or other social networking site, containing a malicious link or attachment. Once the link is clicked or attachment opened, attackers take control of a user’s computer. If the infected computer is inside a company’s system, the attackers are able to gain a foothold. In many cases, they then extract passwords and gain access to sensitive data.

In an article published Monday evening, The New York Times reported that one group of Chinese cyberattackers, which has been tied to a specific military unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army, leveraged the social connections of its targets to send malicious e-mails that eventually allowed them to compromise thousands of organizations, ranging from Coca-Cola to the International Olympic Committee.

Hackers have been attacking organizations inside the United States at an alarming rate. Th number of attacks reported by government agencies last year topped 48,500 â€" a ninefold jump from the 5,500 attacks reported in 2006, according to the Government Accountability Office.

One on One: Susan P. Crawford, Author of \'Captive Audience\'

Using the Internet or a cellphone keeps getting more expensive. But for network providers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless, new technologies have made services cheaper to deliver. So why the higher costs

Susan P. Crawford offers one point of view in her new book “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.” Ms. Crawford, a law professor who served as special assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation policy, says mergers in the American broadband and wireless industries have stifled competition, which hurts the consumer in the end.

In an interview, Ms. Crawford explained the highlights of her book. An edited version of the transcript follows.


What is the main message behind your book, and why did you decide to write it


I wrote “Captive Audience” because I saw thatyears of deregulation and a wave of mergers had left America with neither competition nor adequate oversight when it comes to high-speed Internet access. Based on how people actually use these connections and how much they are required to pay, we are being gouged: We are all paying too much for services that are both uncompetitive and second-class, and not enough Americans are being served adequately by reasonably priced, world-class services.

This problem isn’t just affecting social equality and fairness, although those effects are important; the middle class is tightly squeezed and poor and rural people are relying on public libraries and McDonald’s for free, inferior Wi-Fi access. Because high-speed Internet access is our century’s version of electrification, it’s also likely affecting our nation’s economic growth.

I focused on the Comcast/NBCUniversal merger as a lens for the book because that gigantic deal touched on all parts of the telecommunications industry at the same ! time that it merely reflected how bad things had gotten. The monopoly power of local cable incumbents over wired access is striking. The big cable players, Time Warner Cable and Comcast, never enter each others’ territories.

I wrote “Captive Audience” because we cannot afford to put this problem on the too-hard pile. We are slouching toward the past, and failures of government policy have gotten us in this position. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon Wireless, and AT&T aren’t evil; they are serving their shareholders’ interests by dividing markets, picking targets, and making more money from the same number of subscribers. But where are the policies that are going to unleash competition in urban areas and require world-class network coverage everywhere else The book is aimed at encouraging leaders across the country to take on this challenge.


What are the unique problems or challenges that the American wireless industry faces compared to other countries


Wireles access is not only a separate market, it’s also a highly concentrated market in America. Verizon Wireless and AT&T, who together account for about two-thirds of U.S. wireless subscribers, can raise prices with impunity and often appear to act in lockstep: Both companies introduced “share everything” plans within about a month of each other and announced they would phase out unlimited use data plans. Their average revenues per household or per user continue to climb; in Europe, where wireless carriers face much more competition, average revenues per user have fallen by 15 percent over the past five years.

To add color to this picture, the kinds of high-speed wired Internet access connections sold by cable incumbents aren’t up to global standards. In Asian countries, Northern Europe, and even Australia, fiber optic connections to homes and businesses exist or are planned to c! arry virt! ually unlimited communications that are symmetrical, allowing for an equal ability to publish data as well as passively watch it. Our cable systems aren’t built to provide that kind of equal upload capacity. We are paying much more than people in other countries for inferior service.

The wireless industry claims that there is extensive competition in the U.S., including four nationwide operators and seven providers, each serving more than four million subscribers, but that’s like claiming that the New York Giants and the Tappan Zee High School team both play football. The players other than AT&T and Verizon Wireless aren’t on the same level. Scale and spectrum holdings matter a great deal in this industry.


Why do we face these issues What happened


In a word: Consolidation.

When the cellular phone emerged as a consumer product in the 1980s, it operated in 800 MHz frequencies, for which the F.C.C. initially gave away two licenses for 40 MHz of spectrum in each o the 306 market areas in the United States â€" one to a wireless provider and one to a wired provider. Small-market licenses frustrated the buildup of viable nationwide wireless infrastructure; companies in urban areas had only a few voice channels, which wasn’t enough capacity to serve demand, and companies in rural areas couldn’t produce enough revenue to survive. No one could operate at the scale needed to make the business worthwhile.

The 1980s licensing process led, predictably, to quick consolidation and market-division agreements among the applicants. This desirable “beachfront” low-frequency spectrum â€" so-called because these frequencies travel well over long distances and inside buildings, which means operators have to build just a third or a fourth as many towers as they do in areas where they’re using higher frequencies â€" went to the corporate ancestors of today’s AT&T and Verizon.

In some ways the wireless marketplace is even worse than the wired market: It has! been a c! oncentrated field since 1995, and it is growing more concentrated more quickly each year. Verizon (32%) and AT&T (31%) divide the vast majority of the market between them in terms of both spectrum holdings and revenues, with Sprint (17% market share) and T-Mobile (11%) barely hanging on as distant third and fourth players, with uncertain ability to constrain the prices charged by Verizon and AT&T.


The carriers always seem to complain about a looming “spectrum crisis” threatening the quality of our wireless services. Is there truly a spectrum shortage threatening the quality of our services


In my view, the duopoly players, Verizon Wireless and AT&T, have plenty of spectrum. If they wanted to increase data capacity, they’d build more towers and feed them with fiber. But that would be expensive, and it’s in thei interest to keep expectations low and scarcity in place. I’d like to see real nationwide competition; to get there, T-Mobile would need to have access to low-band spectrum. Wireless is just the last 50 feet of a wire, and what we really need is wholesale, reasonably priced fiber running deep into neighborhoods and business districts around the country. If that facility is in place, you’ll see lots of wireless competition.


There is chatter that you could be a potential successor to Julius Genachowski as the F.C.C. chair. What would you be seeking to change if you were given that role


In any F.C.C. chair, we should be looking for someone who will vigorously fight for communications policy that can help us as a nation achieve our boldest aspirations. We need a bolder vision and bigger action for a brighter high-speed Intern! et access! future. Over all, I think history will find that Julius Genachowski has done a good job. But if we really want to be the nation that leads the world in 21st century technologies, then we need a chairman â€" whoever that may be â€" who is willing to tackle the hardest of challenges and understands how to harness the power of competition, innovation, and investment to break through today’s bottlenecks.

I think that means lowering barriers to the installation of wholesale fiber rings across the country, so that cities can use control over their rights-of-way to mandate the kind of inexpensive basic facility their citizens need. It means ensuring that competitive retail fiber providers are able to get access to these wholesale facilities and to programming they need to serve Americans. It means making low-interest, long-term financing available to new entrants, as well as subsidizing new facilities where appropriate in rural areas. The whole country needs a fiber upgrade. We need to ensure that everyon has cheap, fast, abundant connectivity, and without dramatic changes in policy we won’t get there.

Palestinian Blogger Chips Away at Israel\'s Image, One Ill-Advised Instagram at a Time

A young Israeli soldier was reprimanded by his superiors this week after his urge to share his life in the military with friends and strangers online led him to post a photograph on Instagram offering a view of the back of a Palestinian boy’s head in the cross hairs of a sniper rifle.

The photograph was discovered last week by the Palestinian-American activist Ali Abunimah, who monitors social networks for “raw and unfiltered” glimpses of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank to publicize on The Electronic Intifada, a site he co-founded.

A screenshot of an image posted on Instagram by an Israeli soldier. A screenshot of an image posted on Instagram by an Israeli soldier.

Before the 20-year-old Israeli sniper who uploaded the photograph was able to delete his account from the social network, Mr. Abunimah and other bloggers copied it and the snapshot was published on news sites in Israel and around the world â€" dealing another self-inflicted blow to the Israeli military’s effort to use the Web to burnish its image.

After a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces told reporters that sharing the photograph was “a severe incident which doesn’t accord with the I.D.F.’s spirit and values,” the young man also deleted his Facebook account, where he had posted images of himself using his sniper rifle as a comic prop.

A screenshot from the Facebook account of Mor Ostrovski, a young Israeli soldier. A screenshot from the Facebook account of Mor Ostrovski, a young Israeli soldier.

The Israeli veterans’ group Breaking the Silence, which collects testimony from soldiers who have served in the Palestinian territories first occupied by Israel in 1967, posted a screenshot of the photograph on Facebook side-by-side with a very similar image “taken by another Israeli soldier in Hebron in 2003.”

A photograph taken through the scope of a rifle in the West Bank in 2003, released this week by the Israeli veterans group Breaking the Silence.Breaking the Silence, via Facebook A photograph taken through the scope of a rifle in the West Bank in 2003, released this week by the Israeli veterans grou! p Breakin! g the Silence.

In a statement on the two images, the veterans wrote:

Both pictures are testaments to the abuse of power rooted in the military control of another people. Ten years have passed. Technology and media have changed. The distribution of images has changed. But the exaggerated sense of power and the blatant disregard for human life and dignity have remained: this is what occupation looks like.

Israel is not the only country that has been forced to confront the irrepressible urge of young recruits to share aspects of their lives in uniform online that their superiors would rather keep from public view. Just months into the uprising in Syria, graphic video clips of forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad torturing prisoners and gloating over dead bodies became ammunition in the propaganda battle being waged online. As that struggle escalated into armed conflict into war, similar images of rebel fighters committing atrocities were passed around on social networks by Assad supporters.

The American abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib predated Facebook and Instagram, but it resonated online in large part because of the disturbing snapshots the prison guards took of themselves reveling in the humiliation of their captives. Similarly, the Pentagon’s effort to win a propaganda battle with the Afghan Taliban has been undermined by damaging trophy shots American soldiers took of themselves urinating on insurgents they killed in battle and posing with civilians they killed for sport.

Like the activist bloggers in Syria who are working to undermine their enemies, Mr. Abunimah and his colleagues at the Electronic Intifada scour the Web for material to counter Israelis who use social media platforms to cast their army’s activities in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip in a positive light.

In an online chat with The Lede on Tuesday, Mr. Abunimah explained that the Electronic Intifada bloggers, “monitor social media content produced by Israelis and Palestinians in the context of the ‘conflict.’ This has proven to be a source of newsworthy content that is often raw and unfiltered by P.R. machinery.”

Asked how they manage to monitor such a torrent of information, Mr. Abunimah said:“We try to keep an eye on various streams. Without being too specific, we may pay attention to particular tags.” The same principle, he said, “applies to all popular social media platforms: YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.”

Mr. Abunimah added: “we’re always on the lookout for sock puppetry and astroturfing that Israel or surrogates may launch P.R. campaigns that are not overtly identified as such. So we look at the output of individuals because we cannot assume that all propaganda is put out with the state’s name on it.” The Electronic Intifada helped uncover one such covert campaign in 2011, in which an Israeli actor pretended to be a disillusioned supporter of the Gaza flotilla movement for a fake video blog post.

As The Lede reported in 2010, the battle between supporters of Israelis and Palestinians is even waged between the lines of Wikipedia entries on the history of the conflict. That year, Naftali Bennett, a rising political star and a leader of Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank, explained that he was training a group of about 80 activists to edit Wikipedia entries to make sure that information in the online encyclopedia reflected the worldview of Zionist groups. For example, he said, “if someone searches ‘the Gaza flotilla,’ we want to be there; to influence what is written there, how it’s written and to ensure that it is balanced and Zionist in nature.”