The Internet, from The Economist

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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 ...

Cyber-security and the NSA: Once more unto the breaches

10 July 2014 - 1:29am
AMERICA’s Congress has been struggling for years to come up with legislation to address cyber-security issues, without success. Now it is trying yet again. On July 8th a draft bill, known as the Cyber Information Sharing Act, or CISA, cleared the Senate’s intelligence committee and will now be debated by the full chamber. The proposed legislation is likely to face stiff opposition from privacy groups, who have already given warning about some of its provisions.We have been here before. In 2012 another cyber-security bill, the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), was heavily promoted by its supporters, but ended up being stymied because of concerns that it did not do enough to protect people’s privacy. Since then, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the mass surveillance activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) have made folk even warier of anything that could result in more information ending up in the hands of government.That is why CISA faces an uphill struggle. The bill has provisions that would, among other things, encourage the government to share more classified information about cyber-threats with private firms and give companies greater legal protection against potential lawsuits when sharing data about cyber-risks with government agencies.Swiftly circulating intelligence about hackers’ activities is a great way to make life harder for ...

Babbage: July 9th 2014: Jerks

9 July 2014 - 1:33pm
THIS week our correspondents discuss cyber security and “jerk tech”  Comment Expiry Date:  Thu, 2014-07-24

University of California and sharing businesses: Steer clear of peer-to-peer

30 June 2014 - 11:21am
THE e-mail was clear enough. Last Monday, Belinda Borden, the director of travel services for the enormous University of California (UC) system, wrote to faculty members warning them not to use new "sharing businesses" such as taxi services Uber and Lyft and the room-rental service Airbnb:Dear Colleagues,UCOP’s Office of General Counsel has determined that third party lodging and transportation services, commonly referred to as peer-to-peer or sharing businesses, should not be used because of concerns that these services are not fully regulated and do not protect users to the same extent as a commercially regulated business. As the market matures and these businesses evolve, the University may reconsider whether reimbursement of travel costs provided by peer-to-peer or sharing businesses will be allowed. Therefore, until further notice, please do not use services such as Uber, Lyft, Air B&B or any other similar business while traveling on or engaging in UC business.Predictably enough, Ms Borden's e-mail sparked a controversy. Airbnb and Uber publicly criticised the university's decision, and Gavin Newsom, California's lieutenant governor, penned a letter to UC chief Janet Napolitano complaining about the change. Now UC is backtracking—sort of. Ms Borden's e-mail "regrettably went out before the office of the UC president had completed its review of ...

Schumpeter: Hit me baby one more time

26 June 2014 - 10:58am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Creative destruction Fly Title:  Schumpeter Rubric:  Napster’s founders demonstrate the challenges of entrepreneurial second acts Main image:  20140628_WBD000_0.jpg SOON after Napster’s launch 15 years ago, in June 1999, the music-sharing service became America’s most talked-about firm, and one of the fastest-growing companies yet seen. Its teenage founders, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, were commissaries of cool. But Napster’s glory was short-lived. Record labels pummelled it with lawsuits, saying that its peer-to-peer file-sharing technology, which made it easy for people to pirate music, was as dangerous and illegal as a punk rocker’s drug habit. In 2001 a court ruled that Napster helped facilitate copyright infringement. The firm later filed for bankruptcy and its brand was sold. Having become the music industry’s Antichrists, Messrs Fanning and Parker have spent the past 15 years trying to rebrand themselves and launch new ventures, with decidedly ...

Digital remembrance: The colour purple

23 June 2014 - 10:05am
REBECCA MEYER was taken too soon, on her sixth birthday. Having survived rounds of treatment for cancer, the girl, one of Kathryn and Eric Meyer's three children, finally succumbed. She will be remembered through the colourful lifeblood of the web.The death of a child is always a tragedy, and people of good will try to make sense of it through whatever means they have. Her father, Mr Meyer, is beloved among web design and development circles both for his expertise with the arcana of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) used for webpage layout and formatting and for the generosity, clarity and goodwill with which he shares what he knows. He has also been a force for common standards, working to keep CSS characteristics in sync across browsers made by different firms, which makes the job of designers and programmers much easier. (Mr Meyer is a friend of your correspondent's as well.)Mr Meyer has an engaged online presence. He was the one, for instance, to raise a hue and cry when a fellow web standards guru abruptly erased his presence across all websites. (Said person was fine, just tired of living in public.) Rebecca's diagnosis, treatment, struggle and passing played out through social media as Mr Meyer turned to his broader community for moral support for him and his family.Many of the Meyers' friends, acquaintances, colleagues and well-wishers struggled to find any ...


19 June 2014 - 7:18am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  How far can Amazon go? Fly Title:  Amazon Rubric:  At 20 Amazon is bulking up. It is not—yet—slowing down Location:  PHOENIX AND SEATTLE Main image:  20140621_FBD001.jpg HIGH-TECH creation myths are expected to start with a garage. Amazon, impatient with ordinary from the outset, began with a road trip. In the summer of 1994 Jeff Bezos quit his job on Wall Street, flew to Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife MacKenzie and hired a car. While MacKenzie drove them towards the Pacific Northwest, Jeff sketched out a plan to set up a catalogue retailing business that would exploit the infant internet. The garage came later, in a suburb of Seattle, where he set up an office furnished with desks made from wooden doors. About a year later, Amazon sold its first book. The world saw a website selling books and assumed that Amazon was, and always would be, an online bookshop. Mr Bezos, though, had bigger ...

Alibaba's IPO: The wait for eight eight

16 June 2014 - 12:01pm
THE world’s largest e-commerce firm will soon float shares in New York in what may well be the largest initial public offering in history. And yet, the prospectus Alibaba offered last month to investors describing its pending IPO did not reveal who exactly would control the firm. All punters could surmise was that ordinary shareholders like themselves would be powerless. The firm’s proposed governance structure gives complete control in perpetuity to a secret cabal not named in the initial offering document. Comment Expiry Date:  Tue, 2014-07-01

How rumours start: Don't panic!

12 June 2014 - 11:33am
MANY of us will have played Chinese whispers as kids. One child thinks of a sentence, whispers it to the next in a long line of children, and by the time it gets to the end it has changed beyond recognition to general hilarity. Social media means that we can all now play Chinese whispers on a global scale. Nok Air, a Thai carrier, sent out a tweet yesterday explaining that one of its planes had not, in fact, been in a collision with a Thai Airways Airbus A320. According to the Daily Telegraph, confusion reigned after it was reported that a Thai Airways plane had struck a nok, which is Thai for bird. Social media quickly interpreted that as meaning the carrier not one of our feathered friends. People then got into a bit of a lather before Nok tweeted the clarification to end the panic. Hitting a nok can, of course, be dangerous either way. Thankfully the Telegraph reports that the plane “which was carrying 151 passengers from Bangkok to the southern city of Nakhon Si Thammarat, landed safely, although the impact left ‘a scratch’ on the edge of the left wing.” Comment Expiry Date:  Fri, 2014-06-27

Monitor: You’re in my browser

5 June 2014 - 11:00am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Nanosats are go! Fly Title:  Monitor Rubric:  A new piece of technology makes it possible to use a browser for video calls Main image:  20140607_TQD003_0.jpg IT has been possible for a while to use a web browser on a computer or mobile device for a video chat, but this has required downloading a plug-in with additional software. For some people that is too bothersome or tricky to install, and others have worried about introducing unfamiliar software to their devices. Now a new standard makes it possible to make video calls through a web browser without any shenanigans. Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) is an open protocol that enables web browsers quickly to set-up audio and video connections between two or more computers without the addition of new software or running a separate program, such as Skype or FaceTime. Users simply click on a link from a website or an e-mail invitation, and WebRTC opens up an area inside their web browser for the ...

Football in Saudi Arabia: Where the popular will matters

29 May 2014 - 11:00am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Bucked off Fly Title:  Football in Saudi Arabia Rubric:  The beautiful game provides a rare space for candour and criticism Location:  RIYADH Main image:  20140531_MAP003_0.jpg IN ANY other situation a crowd of thousands of vocal Saudis would be quickly jumped on and quietened by the security forces. Yet week in week out, in stadiums across the kingdom, Saudis cheer on teams such as Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, both in Riyadh, the capital. “Football has emerged as a rare area for free speech,” says a Saudi professor. Football is the one activity where the royal family can most plainly be swayed by popular pressure. In 2012 Prince Nawaf bin Faisal felt obliged to step down as head of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation when ordinary Saudis turned against him after the national team failed to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. Last year fans of Al-Nassr tried to oust the team’s head, Prince ...