All posts in US News

Big Cable Owns Internet Access. Here’s How to Change That.

Surveying the landscape of internet access, one could be forgiven for a single dank conclusion: Winter is coming.

We know that Big Cable’s plan for high-speed internet access is to squeeze with “usage-based billing” and data caps, so as to milk ever-growing profits from their existing networks rather than invest in future-proof fiber optics. We’re also seeing that Big Cable has won the war for high-capacity, 25Mbps-download-or-better wired internet access, leaving AT&T and Verizon to concentrate primarily on mobile wireless. Indeed, Big Cable’s share of new and existing wired-access subscribers has never been greater — cable got both all new net subscribers in the third quarter of 2015 and captured millions of subscribers fleeing DSL — and its control over this market is growing faster than ever.

Wall Street analyst Craig Moffett predicts that, in the end, unless things change, cable will have 90 percent of subscribers in areas where it faces competition from only traditional DSL and will have the lion’s share of subscribers in areas where cable faces competition from souped-up copper-line DSL and fiber-to-the-node (aka “fiber to the neighborhood”).

We’re already seeing the deadening effects of this. Pew reports that home adoption of high-speed internet access has plateaued, while the percentage of smartphone-only users in the United States is growing. Just 8 percent of Americans were smartphone only in 2013. That number is now 13 percent—mostly lower-income households, minorities, and rural Americans. What’s the reason for nonadoption? Mostly cost: The monthly fee for high-speed internet is the main reason most of these people don’t have access at home. Smartphone-only users just don’t have same the quality of access as home high-speed internet subscribers. We are amplifying and entrenching existing inequality by not taking on this country’s internet access problem.

Islamic State fighters number far more than first thought, says CIA

US officials are shocked at the “Islamic State’s rapid growth.” Now, the CIA estimates that the Islamic State has somewhere between 20,000 to 31,500 fighters within its ranks. That number may include “some 15,000 foreign fighters in Syria alone, including 2,000 Westerners,” Al Jazeera reported, which noted the estimate is “far more than first thought.”

Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria number around 20,000 to 31,500 — a figure far higher than previously estimated, the Central Intelligence Agency has said.The new calculation includes some 15,000 foreign fighters in Syria alone, including 2,000 Westerners, a U.S. intelligence official told the AFP news agency on Thursday.

“The number is much higher than a previous estimate of 10,000,” Al Jazeera continues.

The scope of the operation, including the territory covered, indicates that tens of thousands of ISIS fighters participated in the recent fighting. The group is estimated to have anywhere around 50,000 members, thousands of foreign fighters and is more of an army rather than a smaller extremist group.

Can Hackers Decrypt Target’s PIN Data?

Slightly longer answer: it depends on whether they have access to the encryption key, or to a machine that contains the encryption key.

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about: there was recently a massive credit card breach at Target. If you’re like many people you probably heard about this three times. First in the news, then again in your email when Target notified you that you were a victim, and finally a third time when you checked your credit card bill. Not a proud day for our nation’s retailers.

The news got a bit messier today when Target announced the thieves had also managed to get their hands on the PIN numbers of unfortunate debit card customers. But this time there’s a silver lining: according to Target, the PIN data was encrypted under a key the hackers don’t have.

UN Team to Begin Syria CW Site Inspections ‘Within Next Week’

The Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is reviewing additional information received from Syria about its chemical weapons stockpiles, a United Nations spokesperson has said, ahead of onsite inspections and initial disabling of equipment which could start as early as next week. The OPCW Technical Secretariat, which together with the UN forms the team tasked with overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons production facilities, received information that was “additional to the disclosure on its chemical weapons program which Syria submitted on September 21,” UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York on Friday.

Not Even NSA Can Crack State Department’s Totally Anonymous Network

A far-flung group of geeks, supported by the U.S. State Department, has built a tool for anonymous communication that’s so secure that even the world’s most sophisticated electronic spies haven’t figured out how to crack it.

That’s the takeaway from the latest revelations from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. The NSA has used aggressive computer attack techniques to monitor people using the Tor network, a service that’s funded by the U.S. government and allows users to remain anonymous when they’re connected to the Internet. But the agency has not been able to undermine the core of the Tor system, which was developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in 2002. It remains a viable means for people to connect to the Internet anonymously. Although Tor’s complete reliability has been called into question in light of the NSA’s efforts — which may have begun as early as 2006, according to the Washington Post — for now it’s State Department 1, NSA 0, in the anonymity wars.

Formula for Creating Billion-Dollar (Internet) Companies

“We often think of (how) the Internet enables you to do new things,” Ev Williams told a recent XOXO conference in Portland, Oregon. “But people just want to do the same things they’ve always done.”

Williams, in cofounding Blogger, Twitter, and Medium, has helped make much of the Internet we know today, and he has come to the realization that the Internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.”

In this way, he says, organizing your startup around the Next Big Idea isn’t nearly as useful (or profitable) as taking a Very Old Problem and solving it in A New Way

India Flooding World with Tainted Drugs, and Getting Away with It

Each time we take medicine, we assume that the manufacturer did its best to produce a quality product. Evidence is mounting, however, that some pharmaceutical manufacturers in countries like India cut corners and send low-quality products to major, developed markets. Worse still, they may have separate production lines for drugs they sell in developing markets like Africa, where poor quality is more likely to go unnoticed.

In mid-2013, India’s largest drugmaker, Ranbaxy, pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to several criminal offenses relating to the fraudulent manufacture and sale of adulterated drugs. (The United States is the biggest importer of generic Indian drugs.) Among other revelations, Ranbaxy’s executives acknowledged that “more than 200 products in more than 40 countries” are affected by “elements of data that were fabricated to support [Ranbaxy’s] business needs.” In other words, Ranbaxy made up facts and figures to demonstrate product safety for myriad drugs, including critical HIV medicines paid for by U.S. tax dollars and destined for the poor in Africa. As a consequence, the company was fined $500 million.

Meet Abu Omar: Al Qaeda Busted Him Out of Abu Ghraib. Now He Fights in Syria

Waiting for the tram in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep, Abu Omar is on his way to the mall. No groceries today, his shopping list includes a Turkish-made tablet computer and a small GPS navigation device loaded with digital maps of the Middle East.

“It’s nothing special,” says Abu Omar, an Iraqi national, as he puts the goods in his rucksack. “But this stuff might come in handy after I make it to Syria.”

Abu Omar, a handsome young man with long black hair, is not the only one making the trek to Syria. Hundreds of Iraqi prisoners, mostly suspected or convicted jihadists, were freed in July after al Qaeda-linked militants staged a deadly jailbreak at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. At the time, Iraqi and Western authorities feared that some of those men would travel to Syria, helping to fuel the rise of extremist groups there. Those fears have now become a reality.

Google Begs Court to Reconsider Ruling That Wi-Fi Sniffing Is Wiretapping

Google is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider a recent ruling finding Google potentially liable for wiretapping when it secretly intercepted data on open Wi-Fi routers.

The Mountain View-based company said the September 10 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will create “confusion” (.pdf) about which over-the-air signals are protected by the Wiretap Act, including broadcast television.

The case concerns nearly a dozen combined lawsuits seeking damages from Google for eavesdropping on open Wi-Fi networks from its Street View mapping cars. The vehicles, which rolled through neighborhoods around the world, were equipped with Wi-Fi–sniffing hardware to record the names and MAC addresses of routers to improve Google location-specific services. But the cars also gathered snippets of content.

The search giant petitioned the San Francisco-based appeals court to reconsider its decision that allowed the case to proceed at trial — a ruling that upended Google’s defense.

Google claimed it is was legal to intercept data from unencrypted, or non-password-protected Wi-Fi networks. Google said open Wi-Fi networks are “radio communications” like AM/FM radio, citizens’ band and police and fire bands, and are “readily accessible” to the general public and exempt from the Wiretap Act — a position the appeals court rejected.