The Internet, from The Economist

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Technology: Will the internet eat your brain?

28 August 2014 - 10:55am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  That sinking feeling (again) Fly Title:  Technology Rubric:  A neuroscientist warns Mind Change: How Digital Technologies are Leaving their Mark on our Brains. By Susan Greenfield. Rider; 368 pages; £20. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk A PICTURE doing the rounds on social media a few months ago showed two Hong Kong lovers hugging on a train. Resting their heads on each other’s shoulders gave the girl and her boyfriend an ideal vantage point to gaze lovingly at the smartphone that each was fiddling with behind the other’s back. It was meant to be funny. But for Susan Greenfield, a British neuroscientist, this is no joke. For several years Lady Greenfield has been warning of what she sees as the dangers of computers and the internet, as they move out of the office and into people’s living rooms, pockets and personal lives. She has written newspaper articles and given lectures about the dangers of the digital world. She frets, worrying that smartphones and social networks are sucking users into an unsatisfying digital ...

Online gaming: Streaming down the Amazon

28 August 2014 - 10:55am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  That sinking feeling (again) Fly Title:  Online gaming Rubric:  Why Amazon is buying a video-game streaming site ON OCTOBER 4th 2013, tens of thousands of gamers packed the Staples Centre in Los Angeles to watch SK Telecom T1 triumph over Royal Club in the annual finals of “League of Legends”, a team-based video game; 32m people watched the games live at some point, about 50% more than watch “Sunday Night Football”. But they did not watch on television. They used Twitch.tv, a website founded in 2011 that streams live video directly to users’ computers. On August 25th Amazon announced that it would buy Twitch for $970m, an indication of the growing importance of video-streaming websites. Amazon was not the only one interested: a few months ago Google had been rumoured to be on the verge of offering $1 billion for the firm as well. Video-streaming websites are not new. Twitch.tv was spun out of Justin.tv, a site set up in 2007 to allow Justin Kan, one of its founders, to broadcast his life to anyone who was interested. ...

Computer security: Hacking the banks

28 August 2014 - 5:41am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Computer security Rubric:  Who lies behind the latest cyber attacks on JPMorgan Chase? Location:  SAN FRANCISCO Main image:  20140830_FNP503_473.jpg ROBBING a bank used to require a gun and a getaway car. Now hackers can attack financial institutions with a few clicks of a computer mouse. According to reports on August 27th from Bloomberg, America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is now investigating a series of cyber-intrusions at several American banks, including JPMorgan Chase, one of the biggest. The attackers are said to have siphoned off large amounts of data, including customers' bank-account details. Quite what their motive is remains a mystery. One theory is that the attacks are the work of Russian hackers retaliating against international sanctions imposed as a result of Russia’s involvement in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Another suggests that they are the work of criminals trying to profit from the data they pilfer. The ...

Video-game streaming: A new media monolith

27 August 2014 - 6:45am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Video-game streaming Rubric:  Why is Amazon paying $970m for Twitch, a video-game streaming startup? VIDEO GAMES were once thought to be the preserve of certain types of people, playing alone in dimly-lit rooms. But for the players of "Dota 2", a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game, who gathered in Seattle, Washington in mid-July, the experience was altogether different. They were there for “The International”, an annual tournament with a prize pot of nearly $11m. In addition to the 10,000 daily visitors who watched the games in person, up to 20m viewers watched the competition on Twitch, a video-games streaming website. Surprising as it may seem to those not part of this select world, Amazon said on August 25th that it would pay around $970m in cash for this Twitch, whose main purpose is to let youngsters watch each other playing games. The reason for the internet-retailing giant's interest is that the big audiences Twitch is gathering are turning it into a significant force in online media. The premise of Twitch is simple: viewers go to the website and are presented ...

Music and shopping: Beware of Beethoven

21 August 2014 - 11:15am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What China wants Fly Title:  Music and shopping Rubric:  What you hear affects what you buy online Main image:  20140823_WBD001_0.jpg EVER since Muzak started serenading patrons of hotels and restaurants in the 1930s, piped-in music has been part of the consumer experience. Without the throb of a synthesiser or a guitar’s twang, shoppers would sense something missing as they tried on jeans or filled up trolleys. Specialists like Mood Media, which bought Muzak in 2011, devise audio programmes to influence the feel of shops and cater to customers’ tastes. The idea is to entertain, and thereby prolong the time shoppers spend in stores, says Claude Nahon, the firm’s international chief. Music by famous artists works better than the generic stuff that people associate with Muzak. The embarrassing brand name was dropped in 2013. Online shopping is an under-explored area of merchandising musicology. A new study commissioned by eBay, a shopping website, aims to ...

LinkedIn: Workers of the world, log in

14 August 2014 - 10:59am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Back to Iraq Fly Title:  LinkedIn Rubric:  The social network has already shaken up the way professionals are hired. Its ambitions go far beyond that Location:  MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA Main image:  20140816_WBD001_0.jpg A LOT of room in an office is a sign either of a blossoming company or a shrivelling one. Happily for Frank Han, the empty space at Kenandy, a cloud-computing company in Redwood City, a few miles south of San Francisco, indicates the former. As manager of “talent acquisition”, he is busy filling it. Since he joined Kenandy last October, Mr Han has recruited 32 of the nearly 80 staff. At some point when hiring half of them, he used LinkedIn. LinkedIn, based a bit farther south in Mountain View, had its origins in 2002 as a “network of people”, says Allen Blue, one of its founders. “We had in mind a tool for ourselves,” he explains, “and we were entrepreneurs.” People ...

Babbage: August 12th 2014: Probing questions

12 August 2014 - 2:28pm
THIS week our correspondents discuss the Rosetta space probe's triangular "orbit", and the reality of net neutrality Comment Expiry Date:  Wed, 2014-08-27

Daily chart: Comparing conflicts

12 August 2014 - 9:57am
The disparity of attention and casualties among global conflicts LARGE demonstrations in support of Gaza are taking place across Europe. Unease about the situation in Ukraine consumes people's minds. Though it has long been known that there is little correlation between the attention paid to conflicts and their level of casualties, the disparity is depressing. Since the start of the year, an estimated 30,000 people have died in Syria, about 20 times the number in Ukraine—though the latter gets far more attention in terms of Google searches. Likewise, the war in Iraq resulted in thousands of deaths so far this year. Yet it was largely out of mind until June, when the Islamic State offensive intensified, and again last week, as America announced air strikes. Searches for Gaza and Israel have waned over the past fortnight, as searches for Iraq and Syria picked up. And some conflicts get almost no attention at all. At least 2,500 have died in the Central African Republic this year, but Google searches for the African country (not shown) have been basically non-existent.   Comment Expiry Date:  Wed, 2014-08-27

The Economist explains: How a new type of "evercookie" tracks you online

6 August 2014 - 7:50pm
INTERNET firms want to gather as much information as possible about web users' browsing habits, so they can serve more accurately targeted (and hence more lucrative) advertisements. But consumers don't like being spied on. As a result, modern web browsers have built-in features to prevent some of the most common forms of tracking, in order to maintain users' privacy. That has not deterred marketers, who have come up with ever more inventive ways of keeping tabs on people's online behaviour. Their latest trick exploits web browsers' ability to draw elaborate graphics, and uses it to identify users. How does it work?The traditional approach to tracking involves sending a tracking code, stored in a small file called a "cookie", to a web browser when a website is first visited. (Economist.com, like many other sites, uses this approach.) On subsequent visits, the browser sends this code back to the website along with page requests. Modern browsers make it easy to disable such tracking, either by blocking the delivery of cookies altogether or erasing them when the browser window is closed. Marketers have therefore developed cleverer ways to store the tracking code using so-called "evercookies", which hide the code in various virtual nooks and crannies that exist in modern web browsers. If a user deletes a cookie, an evercookie script can then recreate it. The result is a ...

Commercial property: Stores of value

31 July 2014 - 11:00am
Issue:  Winning the battle, losing the war Fly Title:  Commercial property Rubric:  The rise of e-commerce has set off a boom in the market for warehouses Location:  NEW JERSEY Published:  20140802 Source:  The Economist Newspaper Version:  16 Historic ID:  VO4HQKA

Google and cyber-security: Zeroing in

15 July 2014 - 10:33pm
IN OUR special report on cyber-security in this week’s issue of The Economist, we highlighted the threat posed by so-called “zero-day vulnerabilities” in software. Spooks and cyber-criminals love to get their hands on these flaws because they are not yet widely known and so no “patch”, or fix, is available for them. Nefarious types can exploit zero-days to spy on, or steal from, folk using the software in question until such flaws are discovered. Some firms even deliberately go looking for vulnerabilities and then sell this insight to intelligence agencies.Google is fed up with this state of affairs. The company claims to have seen zero-days used to target human-rights activists and conduct industrial espionage. It has also been targeted by intelligence agencies keen to snoop on everything from web searches to e-mails. So its eagerness to crack down on zero-days is hardly surprising. On July 15th Google announced that it was setting up Project Zero, a team of security researchers dedicated to hunting down zero-days in popular software and bringing their existence to light. The trickiness with unearthing zero-days is how to report their existence. If a flaw is revealed before a patch is available, then plenty of crooks and spooks alerted to its existence could try to exploit it. Project Zero’s team says it will send reports of ...

A special report on cyber-security: Defending the digital frontier

10 July 2014 - 11:40am
COMPANIES, markets and countries are increasingly under attack from cyber-criminals, hacktivists and spies. They need to get much better at protecting themselves Comment Expiry Date:  Fri, 2014-07-25

Business: Digital disease control

10 July 2014 - 10:59am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Prevention is better than cure Fly Title:  Business Rubric:  Basic security hygiene goes a long way Main image:  20140712_SRD003_0.jpg SAFEGUARDING CYBER-SECURITY is a bit like trying to keep an infectious disease at bay. Nasty software can spread swiftly to large populations, so it has to be identified quickly and information passed on immediately to ensure that others can protect themselves. Ideally, organisations should avoid catching an infection in the first place—but that requires them to get better at basic security hygiene. The story of the hackers who hit the bull’s eye at Target is revealing. They are thought to have broken into the computers of a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning firm that was a supplier to Target and had access to login details for the retailer’s systems. Once inside, the hackers were able to install malware on Target’s point-of-sale system that captured credit- and debit-card details at tills before the data were ...

The internet of things: Home, hacked home

10 July 2014 - 10:59am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Prevention is better than cure Fly Title:  The internet of things Rubric:  The perils of connected devices Main image:  20140712_SRD004_0.jpg ONE NIGHT IN April a couple in Ohio was woken by the sound of a man shouting, “Wake up, baby!” When the husband went to investigate, he found the noise was coming from a web-connected camera they had set up to monitor their young daughter while she slept. As he entered her bedroom, the camera rotated to face him and a string of obscenities poured forth. The webcam was made by a company called Foscam, and last year a family in Houston had a similar experience with one of their products. After that episode, Foscam urged users to upgrade the software on their devices and to make sure they had changed the factory-issued password. The couple in Ohio had not done so. The problem arose even though Foscam had taken all the right steps in response to the initial breach, which shows how hard it is to protect devices hooked up ...

Cybercrime: Hackers Inc

10 July 2014 - 10:59am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Prevention is better than cure Fly Title:  Cybercrime Rubric:  Cyber-attackers have multiplied and become far more professional AT 2PM ON March 20th 2013 the hard drives of tens of thousands of computers in South Korea were suddenly wiped clean in a massive cyber-attack. The main targets were banks and news agencies. At first the assault looked like a case of cyber-vandalism. But as they probed deeper, the computer sleuths investigating it came to a different conclusion. The operation, which they dubbed “Dark Seoul”, had been carefully planned. The hackers had found their way into the targets’ systems a couple of months earlier and inserted the software needed to wipe drives. Just before the attack they added the code needed to trigger it. Looking at the methods the intruders used, the investigators from McAfee, a cyber-security firm, thought that the attack might have been carried out by a group of hackers known for targeting South Korean military information. But they could not be sure. Tracing the exact source of an ...

Market failures: Not my problem

10 July 2014 - 10:59am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Prevention is better than cure Fly Title:  Market failures Rubric:  Providing incentives for good behaviour Main image:  20140712_SRD005_0.jpg HEATHER ADKINS, THE head of Google’s security-incidents team, has what she calls a “monthly patch day”, when she updates the software running on all of the electronic devices in her home. If everybody were like Ms Adkins, cyber-security would be much less of a problem. But even with the best of intentions, people forget to update software, install antivirus programs and so on. The problem is that by weakening their own defences, they do not just make themselves more vulnerable to being hacked; they may also cause harm to other web users by making it possible, say, for an intruder surreptitiously to take over their device and use it to attack other computers. The same holds true in the corporate world. Target spent a fortune each year on cyber-security, but was attacked via a heating and air-conditioning supplier ...

Vulnerabilities: Zero-day game

10 July 2014 - 10:59am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Prevention is better than cure Fly Title:  Vulnerabilities Rubric:  Wielding a controversial cyber-weapon Main image:  20140712_SRD002_0.jpg “HOW DO YOU protect what you want to exploit?” asks Scott Charney, an executive at Microsoft. He highlights a dilemma. Intelligence agencies look for programming mistakes in software so they can use them to spy on terrorists and other targets. But if they leave open these security holes, known in tech jargon as “vulnerabilities”, they run the risk that hostile hackers will also find and exploit them. Academics, security researchers and teams from software firms unearth hundreds of vulnerabilities each year. One recent discovery was the Heartbleed bug, a flaw in a widely used encryption system. Software-makers encourage anyone who finds a flaw to let them know immediately so they can issue “patches” for their programs before hackers can take advantage of them. That is how most vulnerabilities are dealt with. Some firms ...

Remedies: Prevention is better than cure

10 July 2014 - 10:59am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Prevention is better than cure Fly Title:  Remedies Rubric:  More vigilance and better defences can make cyberspace a lot safer Main image:  20140712_SRD005_1.jpg CYBERSPACE WILL NEVER be completely secure. The threats posed by what Sir David Omand, an academic and former head of Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency, calls “the cesspit of modernity”—online crime, espionage, sabotage and subversion—are not going to disappear. Nor is the temptation for governments to treat the internet as a new combat zone, alongside land, sea, air and space. In 1996 John Perry Barlow, a cyber-libertarian, issued a “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” addressed to governments, insisting: “You have no moral right to rule us, nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.” He turned out to be wrong. Governments have shown in a variety of ways—from the theft of industrial secrets by Chinese spies to the mass surveillance conducted by Western ...

Logistics: The flow of things

10 July 2014 - 10:59am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Don’t leave us this way Fly Title:  Logistics Rubric:  For an export superpower, China suffers from surprisingly inefficient logistics Location:  SHANGHAI AND SUZHOU Main image:  20140712_CNP002_0.jpg TWO examples of the infrastructure that has helped make China a mighty trading power can be found on the outskirts of Shanghai: Yangshan, the world’s busiest container port, and Pudong airport, the world’s third-biggest handler of air cargo. Radiating out across the country are more than 100,000km (62,000 miles) of expressways and a comparable length of railways. Given all this new infrastructure, you might expect China to have a world-class logistics industry, too. It does not.  Logistics covers transportation, warehousing and the management of goods. Its Chinese translation, wu liu, literally means “the flow of things”. But that flow within the country is costly and cumbersome. Much of ...

A special report on cyber-security: Defending the digital frontier

10 July 2014 - 10:59am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Prevention is better than cure Fly Title:  A special report on cyber-security Rubric:  Companies, markets and countries are increasingly under attack from cyber-criminals, hacktivists and spies. They need to get much better at protecting themselves, says Martin Giles Main image:  20140712_SRD001_0.jpg THE TERM “CYBERSPACE” was coined by William Gibson, a science-fiction writer. He first used it in a short story in 1982, and expanded on it a couple of years later in a novel, “Neuromancer”, whose main character, Henry Dorsett Case, is a troubled computer hacker and drug addict. In the book Mr Gibson describes cyberspace as “a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators” and “a graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system.” His literary creation turned out to be remarkably prescient. Cyberspace has become shorthand for the computing devices, networks, fibre-optic cables, wireless ...