Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Deadly Internet – Cyberstalking, The New Domestic Violence

The Internet has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. It has become both the most useful and productive and the most abused and destructive tool in human history.

Domestic violence in our society has become epidemic. The Internet has become the latest weapon to inflict the deep psychological scars that the victims of domestic violence suffer. Social media, GPS tracking, spyware and email has become the weapons of choice for the abuser. Its the deadly Internet. The deep, dark and dirty web.

Cyberstalking, Tracking and Spying

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Stuart Miles

Spyware has become one of the most insidious tools at the hands of an abusive spouse or relationship partner. A survey by domestic violence charity Women’s Aid determined that 41% of abuse victims had been harassed using electronic devices or spyware. This technology has been used to trap and sometimes even enslave victims. Electronic surveillance can make the victim feel constantly watched and controlled. A second survey by Digital Trust claims it found that 50% of abusive partners had used spyware or electronic devices to snoop on their victims.

What is spyware? Spyware is software that enables a user to obtain covert information about another’s computer activities by transmitting data covertly from their hard drive. An abusive spouse who uses spyware can track web movements and even steal passwords to read emails and instant messages from their victims accounts. They can also steal user names and passwords for bank accounts. This can make the  victim feel that the abuser knows what they are thinking and doing at all times. Spyware can even be installed on cellphones allowing the abuser to know who the victim calls, talks to or text.

This form of domestic violence and control has taken hold in our society to the point where the courts have seemingly legalized tracking your husband or wife. In 2011 a New Jersey judge declared that using GPS technology to track a husband or wife suspected of cheating to be legal. A search of the Internet will reveal an entire industry that specializes in selling tracking technology to suspicious husbands and wives as well as advice on how to use it most effectively.  You can also find information on how to track a person using their cell phone. Another website gives detailed instruction on how to set up your spouse’s computer to spy on them.

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David Castillo-Dominici

Victims are left feeling powerless against abusers who seem to be acting legally to keep them under constant threat and surveillance. An abusive spouse can claim that they are keeping track of their partner to prevent or detect cheating and be within their rights when actually they are using the technology to create a psychological prison. Its called cyberstalking and its used to continue to maintain rigid control and instill fear into a domestic partner even when he or she has escaped the relationship. Cyberstalking is not just for troubled marriages. It occurs between unmarried couples, dating couples and even between people who barely know each other such as online dating relationships.  It is also just as prevalent among gay relationships.

Cyberstalking occurs on the Internet and the stalker can attack the victim in numerous ways. Stalkers have have been known to send the victim endless harassing emails and instant messages. One victim reported having received 1,600 emails messages in a single week from a man she met on an online dating site and rejected his romantic advances. The man continued to send her messages until she removed her profile from the site. Another victim, a man, was harassed online and then followed home from work by a woman he met online. Other victims report harassing phone calls and text messages to their cellphone. One man in Indiana sent a virus loaded email to his estranged wife’s workplace email hoping to get her fired.

Nearly every state has instituted an anti-cyberstalking law  and they are enforced. In December of 2014 the Supreme Court of the United States heard the case of Elonis v. United States. According to court documents, Anthony Elonis was sentenced to 44 months in prison for threatening to kill his (now ex-) wife, via violent Facebook postings. Elonis wrote in a 2010 message; “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.” Elonis claims the message were rap lyrics. The court will have to decide.

In other examples women have been sexually harassed by men they have met online including unwanted sexual images and even threats of rape. According to Department of Justice statistics 850,000 American adultsmostly women, have been victims of cyber-stalking each year. And 40% of women have experienced dating violence delivered electronically.

One victim of note was  senior vice president of a well known company.  He was the victim of a terminated employee who  began sending hundreds of emails with Photoshopped pornographic images of the victim to every single person throughout the company for months before it was stopped. The executive was so humiliated he left his job, changed his name and moved to a different state. The Internet has created an easy and effective way of striking at someone through technology. The attacker never has to leave the house.

Research indicates that these determined abusers use even their own children to infiltrate their victim’s home. They use Christmas or birthday presents such as phones, computers and toys pre-loaded with spyware to keep track of their victims. Abusers have also installed wireless hidden cameras in the home of victims and transmitted images over the Internet. 

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid said “Domestic abuse is about control and perpetrators will use any means available to maintain and increase their control. We increasingly hear stories of abusers adding tracking software to phones, placing spyware on personal computers and using the Internet to gather information about their partner.”

This type of tracking and surveillance can and has resulted in deadly encounters.  An abusive husband in  Arizona used the GPS in his wife’s cellphone to stalk her before allegedly murdering their two children and shooting himself.  

Social media is yet another tool used to stalk and harrass victims. Women especially have been stalked, verbally abused, threatened and even murdered using social media websites like Facebook. Some experts have said that the social media obsession has made tracking a victim fairly easy. The constant need to check in and update your status makes it easier for stalkers to keep track of their victims. Some victims have experienced harassment going from online to face-to-face when stalkers show up at restaurants or other public places the victim visits and posts on social media.

Cyberstalking is the newest form of domestic violence. Its used to isolate and threaten a victim. The scars are as real and painful as those inflicted by physical violence. The Internet and associated technology has become a weapon against women and men who find out too late that a spouse or relationship partner has a dark side.

For women and anybody else who want to fight being stalked on social media wikihow.com has these tips. You can also find more information at FightCyberstalking.org

Now you know

 

 

 

 

 

App of the Week – Drugs.com Interaction App Suite

We have become a medicated society. It’s a sad fact and a topic for another website. But because of America’s infatuation with pill popping we need to understand the drugs and foods we take in and how they will react inside our bodies. According to the Food and Drug Administration prescription drugs kill over 100,000 people every year. Of that number 35,000 are in nursing homes. Many of these deaths are preventable if the people simply took time to understand what drugs they are taking and talk to their doctor(s) about interactions. You also need to have that in-depth understanding if you are the caregiver or have a loved one in a caring facility. A death or serious medical situation could arise simply by drinking grapefruit juice or eating the wrong foods with prescription drugs.

That is why Drugs.com has been named the App of the Week. The Drugs.com app is actually a suite of apps that cover many areas of drug usage for the consumer and the physician. Drugs.com currently only offers one of these app for the Android platform the rest are on the Apple platform only. We usually frown upon this limitation but this group of apps deserve recognition. Not all of the apps are free but if they prevent a poisoning how much is that worth? Understanding the drugs you are taking is critical for people with chronic medical conditions who must manage an extensive drug regimen, elderly people and people who see more than one doctor for various ailments.

The Drugs.com app suite includes an extremely helpful and powerful Medication Guide for the user. This provides the user a way to look up drug information, identify what pill they have, check interactions and and most importantly set up their own personal medication records. This feature is designed for the mobile user and requires an Internet connection. This app is free and available for Apple and the only app available for Android.

Another feature of the Drugs.com app is the Pill Identifier. Many people, especially the elderly struggle to read the small print on a pill bottle, get drug names confused or simply can’t tell pills apart without help. The Pill Identifier App is a searchable database of pill pictures that contains more than 14,000 prescription pills and over the counter medications available in the U.S. The user can search the database using the text imprinted on the pill, drug name, color and shape. The app is only .99 cents and also requires an Internet connection to view the pill images. It is available only for Apple iPhone and iPad.

The premium version is the Pill Identifier Pro app and is the same searchable database of pill images and sells for $39.95. The entire image database installs directly onto your mobile device, does not require an Internet connection and does not have any advertisements. It is only available for iPhone and iPad.

The Pill Reminder app keeps track of all your medications. When you add a prescription you can also choose to get pill reminders right on your mobile device. The app also allows you to add personal notes, get easy access to vital information about your meds online including information such as as side effects, dosage and safe use during pregnancy. The only thing I would add to this app is an alert that notifies you if a drug you have added to the list creates a dangerous interaction with another drug on the list. How did they miss that? This app is free and only available on iPhone.

Drugs.com is also providing an app for pros. The Drug Reference for Health Professionals is a comprehensive drug reference guide that is rapidly accessible. The app provides critical information about prescribing drugs, including dosing guidelines, drug interactions, potential adverse reactions, warnings and precautions. The entire database installs directly onto your mobile device. The app sells for $39.95, requires no Internet connection and is only available on Apple iPhone and iPad.

A Drug Reference for Consumers app is also available.  It provides easy to understand drug information displayed in a simple and readable mobile format. The consumer can find much of the same information on side effects, dosing, drug interactions, warnings and precautions in the pro version.The entire database installs directly onto your mobile device. It sells for $24.95 and needs no Internet connection. Available only for iPhone and iPad.

 

 

The Deadly Internet – The Deep, Dark & Dirty Web

canstockphoto24169675The African-American Cyber Report is examining what has become known as the deep or dark web. This is the first in a series of articles is intended to reveal to African-Americans the hidden, terrifying and illegal assortment of products and services you can buy on the dark web. We will also examine the dangers the dark web poses to women and children.

Hackers lurking in cyber space can threaten your bank account, your identity, your phone and other technology and even your home and auto. But the Internet has become a place that is far darker and far deadlier. The Internet has become a place where no matter what you want to buy it can be had. A place where nothing is sacred or protected. In this darkness the Internet is anonymous. A person with minimal skill can hide a criminal operation amongst the billions of websites and do whatever they please with almost no scrutiny or fear of the law. A place where well meaning technology permits the untraceable exchange of currency. Its the deep, dark or dirty web. 

What is the dark web?

Lets begin by accepting this simple fact; the Internet you know is a microscopic percentage of the total web.  As the average Internet user you are probably using Google, Bing or Yahoo search engine. And you probably use various social media websites and free email accounts like Gmail. Except for work you use the same sites and do the same thing online almost every time you sit in front of a computer. The average person doesn’t visit more than 20-25 websites regularly.

But there are literally billions of websites and trillions of webpages. And among these websites you can find almost everything you could imagine from rare artifacts to highly suspect and little researched information. But deep, deep in cyberspace are websites that are not looking for publicity or high visitor traffic. These websites are not selling ad space or giving away prizes. But you can buy human body parts, drugs, guns and children for sex. This is not imaginary or a joke. 

Source: www.news.com.au

In the dark can be found a subset of sites that that aren’t accessible from a regular browser at all. These are called darknets and have URLs that don’t end in the traditional host suffixes you are used to like .com,.net, .org,.us .fr, .eu, and so on. These dark websites require special browsers to even find. 

What is the Tor network?

The Tor network is not hard to understand. Its an anonymous web browser. That means it’s simply a network of servers that bounce your Internet search and traffic around the web making it extremely difficult for anyone to figure out who you are or where you are. The Internet is a network of networks and there are probably hundreds of millions of servers online. Some public and well known and many private and unknown. Using the Tor browser allows you to visit these hidden places. But take note; Tor makes it tough but not impossible to find you. I have seen motivated law enforcement agencies invest the time, money and technology to find a criminal when they really want to. Don’t forget that. Other anonymous or dark web browsers include I2P and Freenet

The Tor network is probably the best known darknet web browser. That infamy comes from sites such as the notorious Silk Road black market. Silk Road, created as an illegal drug marketplace was busted by the FBI. Its founder, Ross Ulbricht, also known as Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested, his fortune in bitcoins seized and is currently on trial. Even though the Silk Road and other drug markets was busted others quickly sprnng up to take their place.

Website addresses on the Tor network follow the form of a random string of letters followed by the .onion suffix. A dark web address may look like this link on a deep web directory: allyour4nert7pkh.onion. You can only access these links using the Tor browser you can download here. To visit a link on the dark web, you must either know the full address or find it on a deep web directory such as Hidden Wiki, Pastebin or All You’re Wiki or check out Reddit, where many threads are devoted to discussions about dark web business.

How do you get to the dark web? Its not as hard as you may think. You can search “Hidden Wiki” with the Tor browser to hit its surface web address. You can go from there to the Deep Web (.onion) version that holds dozens of links categorized as commercial services, marketplaces, financial services and of course erotica. 

While the dark web is a frightening market place of sex, drugs and weapons there are also useful tools for journalists, researchers, or thrill seekers.  But before you go strolling through the dark web just out of curiosity remember this. Using the Tor browser is not illegal but can arouse suspicion with the law. Law enforcement knows many illegal transactions usually begin in the hidden corners of the dark web.  These transactions often move out in the open for retail, private dialoging, or in-person meetups. That’s how most people get caught by law enforcement officials. Another thing to keep in mind is that this is a place where criminals work. You could find yourself in contact with some extremely dangerous people whether you are careful or not. There is also the potential for scams, computer viruses, police stings and God knows what else.

What can you buy and sell on the dark web?

Greg Virgin founder of cyber security company RedJack, said “People have estimated that more than 70 percent of the activity on the Dark Net is illegal.” 

Besides the typical selection of counterfeit watches, jewelry, fashions and electronics much of the  illegal activity involves money; counterfeit cash, in many cases. Some sites provided extensive listings for euros, hacked PayPal accounts, cloned credit cards with PINs, and more. Other sites offered corporate account numbers for sale. Yet another site showed images off stacks of counterfeit $20 bills selling them 10 bills for $80. Users even offered advice on how to exchange the phony cash.  You can also find websites selling drugs of all types. You can everything from run of the mill marijuana to cocaine, crack and designer drugs like Ecstasy. One site offered drugs to induce miscarriages.

Truly darker sites are used to support terrorism by seeking donations to recruit jihadists in the United States. “…to establish a new Islamic front both in the United States and around the world.” Other websites promoted racist and anti-government propaganda with a email sign up form for the coming “revolution.”

Murder is another big business on the dark web with one site seeking to crowd fund assassinations. Another website makes it easy to obtain high-powered firearms. Of course, no questions are asked and no background checks.

When Virgin isn’t running RedJack.com he works with the International Justice Mission to find and rescue children being bought and sold on the dark web as sexual slaves. Virgin said because of his work, he believes arrests are coming in the near future. “We believe we’ve found dozens of victims, that there’s a strong possibility for rescue,” he said.

Retired FBI executive assistant director agent Shawn Henry spent 15 years leading cyber investigations around the world. “Imagine from a law enforcement perspective the challenge in identifying people who have never gotten together physically, who live in five separate countries,” Henry said, adding that the dark web is a nightmare for law enforcement.

Henry pointed out that  the dark web is also the source of all the high-profile hacks of the past year. Some of the country’s largest retailers including Target, Home Depot, Chase, Neiman Marcus have all been broken into. Even the U.S. government database holding personal information for employees with sensitive security clearance was not immune to hacker intrusion.

“Can you protect the network from being breached? That’s out the window now,” Henry said. “We need to change the paradigm here and it needs to be: how soon after an adversary makes access do we detect them.”

Henry’s biggest fear is hackers, working through the anonymity of the  dark web, attacking power plants and financial systems; cyber terrorism.

“There are actually terrorist groups that are calling for electronic jihad,” Henry said. “What if the lights go out for a week, two weeks, a month? How do we handle that as a nation?” He said he believed it “absolutely” possible.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin_accepted_here_printableBitcoin is a digital currency that was created in 2009 by a mysterious person using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto. Transactions are conducted without bank or other transaction middle men that can trace a purchase. Much like cash there are no transaction fees and no need to give your real name. A Bitcoin wallet can be on a person’s smartphone, tablet or held somewhere online. More and more legitimate merchants are beginning to accept the digital currency allowing the consumer to buy everything from web hosting services to pizza or even manicures. On the dark web it can buy guns, drugs, sex and murder.

“Bitcoin is a virtual currency that obscures the people doing the transaction,” said Bruce Upbin, a managing editor for Forbes. “It’s a piece of code that’s shared between two parties to replace currency.”

Anyone can buy bitcoin, but it’s not cheap. One bitcoin is about $300, although it’s been as high as $1,000.

Now you know.

 

 

 

 

 

President Obama Launches Cyber Initiatives – Part 3 Cyber Warfare

cameron-obama-showcase_image-6-a-7809 President Obama is beginning the final two years of his presidency facing the daunting task of working with a Republican controlled House and Senate. That fact has not stopped him from announcing several initiatives aimed at improving cyber security, expanding the availability of high speed Internet and defending the nation against cyber warfare. This the third of a three part article by the AACR reporting on these initiatives.

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have agreed to to expand cooperation and cyber security efforts between the two nations. The leaders of the two nations met in Washington this week  and discussions focused on enhancing the cyber security of both nations. The bilateral talks focused on a range of collaborative cyber-initiatives that include staging “war games” to test bank and financial infrastructure readiness. President Obama has announced sweeping proposals on data breaches, hacking and information sharing ahead of his State of the Union address.

The planned war games, a joint exercise between the nations, will focus on the financial sector taking place over the coming year. The first target will be the City of London, Wall Street, the Bank of England and other commercial banks. That will be followed by “further exercises to test critical national infrastructure,” according to  the British government.

British intelligence services, GCHQ and MI5,  will work with the U.S. National Security Agency and the FBI to create “a joint cyber cell.” The cell will have an operating presence in each country and have co-located staff from each agency.

A joint statement on cybersecurity released by both leaders indicated agreement to expand efforts to enhance the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure in both nations. The statement also noted that the two countries will strengthen threat information sharing and intelligence cooperation on cyber issues as well as support new educational exchanges between U.S. and British cybersecurity scholars and researchers.

One example of the expanded cyber security efforts between the two countries is an agreement to work with the technology industry to promote and align their cybersecurity best practices and standards. This includes the U.S. Cybersecurity Framework and the United Kingdom’s Cyber Essentials scheme. Meanwhile, the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) and CERT-UK will cooperate on computer network defense and sharing information to address cyber-threats and manage cyber-incidents. 

The two leaders also agreed to fund a new Fulbright Cyber Security Award. The money would make cyber security research possible for up to six months. 

“We agree that the cyber-threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges that our nations face,” the White House said, in a statement. “Every day, foreign governments, criminals and hackers are attempting to probe, intrude into and attack government and private sector systems in both of our countries.”

However the two leaders did not agree on everything. British Prime Minister reiterated the need to be able to intercept suspected terrorist communications but only in extreme situations and with a warrant signed by the British Home Office Secretary.

President Obama was not so eager to embrace the issue saying only of the need to balance privacy needs with the US’s “ability to operate in cyberspace” with a rational, consistent framework. The president also pointed out the role of tech companies, who would be called upon to establish back doors into customer accounts if governments were allowed to snoop inside encrypted communications. Businesses would need to be able to fulfill their pledges to their customers, Obama noted. But many tech companies have begun to balk at the request of government agencies to look into their customers affairs. The president stopped short of calling for a law requiring a “back door” to break encrypted devices.

President Obama did however admit the White House has had discussions with device manufacturers and software providers to find ways for authorities to gain access to the encrypted data without compromising the privacy and civil liberties of citizens.

“The dialogue that we’re engaged in is designed to make sure that all of us feel confident that if there is an actual threat out there, our law enforcement and our intelligence officers can identify that threat and track that threat at the same time that our governments are not going around fishing into whatever text you might be sending on your smart phone,” Obama said.

But any agreement between the communication industry and the government to access individual private data is sure to spark a major court battle.

Prime Minister Cameron was more blunt stating his belief that it’s justifiable to demand access to encrypted data on mobile devices, much the same as laws allow telephone conversations to be tapped or mail intercepted and read.

“We’re not asking for backdoors; we believe in very clear front doors through legal process that should help to keep our countries safe,” Cameron said. “My only argument is that as technology develops as the world moves on, we should try to avoid the safe havens that otherwise could be created for terrorists to talk to each other.”

Cameron is reportedly urging Obama to criticize tech companies for offering encrypted communications that cannot be cracked by government authorities for terrorist investigations.

Many experts believe that any attempt to insert back doors into encryption technology would fail because of the abundance of free tools for encrypting communications.

FBI Director James Comey said in October that he wants Congress to update a 20-year-old law to give law enforcement authorities access to encrypted data of suspected criminals.

Breaking It Down

The ability to wage cyber war is as important as  sending bombers and warships to attack a target. The U.S. need to step up its cyber defenses and this is a step that indicates the president is aware of this need. After all its his job to defend the United States against all threats. Cooperating with the British is a no brainer and its unlikely the Republicans can disagree with this move. But what about the rest of NATO and Europe? Maybe they are in on the program but I haven’t heard too much about it. The real meat of this agreement is the exchange of experts and information and the cyber war games that will take place. This type of activity can lead to great strides in defending this nation and Great Britain again cyber attacks. Right now there is some jihadist looking for a way to take down the banks, Wall Street or affect some other section of the economy. Not to mention maybe a nuclear power plant or water supply. It is easier to attack this nation’s infrastructure through the Internet rather than taking us on militarily. No one is stupid enough to try that.

 

 

 

 

President Obama Launches Cyber Offensive – Part 2 Broadband

Courtesy of Castillo Dominici

Courtesy of Castillo Dominici

President Obama is beginning the final two years of his presidency facing the daunting task of working with a Republican controlled House and Senate. That fact has not stopped him for announcing several initiatives aimed at improving cyber security, expanding the availability of high speed Internet and defending the nation against cyber warfare. This the second of a three part article by the AACR reporting on these initiatives.

President Obama’s cyber push continues with an effort to bring broadband to small and rural communities. The president called for the repeal of laws that block local communities from creating their own broadband networks.

The president’s efforts brings to light a question the FCC has been dodging for nearly a decade. The question is; How much authority does the FCC have to regulate and promote the Internet? On one side of the argument is FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler with the support of Democrats including the president who believe existing regulations empower the agency to promote broadband and expand competition over states rights.  The Republicans and FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai do not believe that the federal agency can pre-empt state laws.

According to Wheeler the FCC’s authority to bypass state laws comes from a provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act Section 706. This section gives the agency a basis for all of its regulatory authority over the Internet.

Section 706 says the FCC “shall encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans.” The section also states that the agency should use it’s authority to “promote competition” in local markets and “remove barriers to infrastructure investment.”

Section 706 was bolstered last year when a federal appeals court struck down the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet rules but upheld the agency’s authority to regulate other aspects of the Internet.

The FCC is preparing to clash with the Republican controlled Congress and states by taking the first steps to overturn state laws during an open meeting February 26. At that meeting the agency is set to vote on petitions filed by Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board and the government of Wilson, NC, which wants to expand existing gigabit broadband networks. The petitions asks the FCC to strike down state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that limit municipal broadband deployments. Should the FCC vote to strike down these state laws there is sure to be opposition in Congress leading to a long drawn out legal battle possible ending up in the Supreme Court.

Currently 19 states prohibit local governments from building or running their own broadband networks. The president said that needs to change to encourage competition and the rollout of higher-speed networks.

“Count on 20-plus state attorneys general to challenge, constitutionally, the FCC’s frontal assault on their core sovereign state functions of determining economic and fiscal policy,” said Scott Cleland, president of Precursor, a Washington, DC-based consultancy that works with broadband clients. He expects it to be one of the agency’s toughest fights.

President Obama’s position is not popular with large cable and telephone companies that provide the bulk of the nation’s Internet service. In a release from Mediacom,  the nation’s eighth largest cable television company and one of the leading cable operators focused on serving the smaller cities in the United States the company wrote “The president’s remarks clearly show that the White House wants to waste taxpayer dollars to supplant our nation’s private-sector broadband providers with government-owned utility companies.”

The telecommunications industry is also opposed to allowing the FCC to regulate the Internet as a public utility.

The president believes greater broadband speeds would create jobs and allow local businesses to compete in the global economy. In a speech at Cedar Falls Utilities the president said,”Today high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

President Obama is pushing the Federal Communications Commission to pre-empt state laws he believes squelches competition and promised the White House will work to cut red tape so more communities can get connected.

A new White House report revealed that in urban areas 94 percent of Americans can purchase an Internet connection of 25 megabits per second while only 51 percent of Americans have the same access in rural areas.

“Tens of millions of Americans have only one choice for that next-generation broadband. So, they’re pretty much at the whim of whatever Internet provider is around,” Obama said.

In a related announcement The White House stated that the Commerce Department would promote greater broadband access by hosting regional workshops and offering technical assistance to communities. The Agriculture Department also will provide grants and loans of $40 million to $50 million to assist rural areas.

Breaking It Down

This is far more important than just bringing high speed Internet to rural communities. The real issue here is the monopoly many cable and Internet companies have in small towns and rural communities and how that monopoly impacts the community. And that problem has some profound repercussions. Such as the lack of high speed Internet for rural schools. In order for a district to provide the best quality education for its students it must have access to the Internet. That means every classroom and office and every home. Leaving any community out in the cyber cold is doing a dis-service to the people of that community. Much like denying a town phone service. You cut them off from the world. The president is right. Its no longer a choice but a necessity to be connected to the rest of the world. Many local business could also benefit from high speed Internet as well and many would agree. Being deprived of the ability to communicate does not benefit anyone. Neither does being trapped and restricted by the local cable company. The only way to change things is to open the playing field for more competition. Those small local cable companies don’t like that idea. They have a captive market and seeing someone else come in and improve upon what they are doing is bad news.

These companies often control not only Internet but also telephone and television access in these small towns and communities. Its a monopoly and I have seen it first hand. Current state laws allows this and it is possibly the result of elected representatives not acting against the wishes of big campaign contributors. Yeah, I might be out of line for saying it but its the truth.

In order to bring broadband to a rural community someone has to invest in the infrastructure. There has to money spent to  pay for the equipment and cable, especially if its fiber optic cable. Where is that invest going to come from? The same people that pay for roads and bridges to connect local communities. But if there is no willingness to invest then nothing gets done. The president must fan the flames of competition in order to get these people connected.

 

President Obama Launches Cyber Offensive

 

 

President-Obama-Might-Issue-Cybersecurity-Executive-Order-by-Wednesday-ReutersPresident Obama is beginning the final two years of his presidency facing the daunting task of working with a Republican controlled House and Senate. This fact has not stopped him for announcing several initiatives aimed at improving cyber security, expanding the availability of high speed Internet and defending the nation against cyber warfare. The AACR is reporting on these initiatives in a three part article.

In his State of the Union speech scheduled for Januarry 20th, President Obama will propose a national data breach notification law that would require businesses to notify consumers within 30 days of a breach. Currently there is no national data breach standard and each of the fifty states have their own laws regulating data breach notification. This patchwork of laws allows companies that suffer a data breach to pick and choose what laws to obey since many large corporations have location across the nation if not the globe. This may also allows them to delay notification and investigation or even hide data breaches. They also use this lack of a national standard to set up defenses against lawsuits and unleash public relations efforts to put the best possible light on the situation.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee is planing to introduce a data breach notification bill that closely resembles the President’s proposal. Major breaches at retailers like Home Depot, Staples and Target has raised consumer awareness and anger prompting Congress and the White House to respond.

Senator Nelson’s bill would require companies suffering a data breach “of a certain magnitude” to report it to the government.  No definition was given as to what the magnitude would be. Consumers would be informed within 30 days that their information had been compromised. The measure would also direct the Federal Trade Commission to create nationwide data security standards.

 The President’s Personal Data Notification and Protection Act, if passed, would supersede nearly four dozen state statutes that regulate data breach notification. This bill is one of a several of measures President Obama proposed in a speech delivered Jan. 12 at the Federal Trade Commission. The President argued the proposal is aimed at protecting against cyber threats aimed at  American companies, consumers and infrastructure while safeguarding privacy and civil liberties.

The President also outlined new steps by the government to assist victims of identity theft. These actions include supporting the Federal Trade Commission which is creating a new one-stop resource for victims at IdentityTheft.gov .  He is also expanding efforst to share information to ensure federal investigator’s ability to regularly report evidence of stolen financial and other information to companies whose customers are directly affected.

“America’s personal information, including financial information, gets stolen,” Obama said. “And the problem is growing, and it costs us billions of dollars. In one survey, nine out of 10 Americans say they feel like they’ve lost control of their personal information. In recent breaches, more than 100 million Americans have had their personal data compromised, like credit card information. When these cybercriminals start racking up charges on your card, it can destroy your credit rating. It can turn your life upside down. It may take you months to get your finances back in order. So this is a direct threat to the economic security of American families and we’ve got to stop it.” -President Barack Obama

President Obama has proposed a national breach notification bill before. In 2011, as part of a comprehensive cybersecurity legislative agenda, the President offered a similar breach notification bill that would have required businesses to notify consumers in 60 days, not 30 days as the new bill would. Since then various lawmakers have proposed a national data breach notification, but none were ever brought up for votes in either the House or the Senate.

Another proposal being tabled by the president is the  Student Digital Privacy Act. This legislation would require that data collected for educational purposes is only used for that purposes. The Presidents’s proposal is based on California’s statute.

President Obama is also cracking down on hacking. The president will try to persuade Congress to stiffen the sentence for hackers, and even expand the definition of hacking. If the law passes the punishment for pure hacking would double from five to 10 years.

“We want cybercriminals to feel the full force of American justice, because they are doing as much damage, if not more these days, as folks who are involved in more conventional crime,’ said the president.

The increased prison sentences would be part of an expansion to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act originally passed 21 years ago. The president’s re-defining  of what ‘hacking’ means is an attempt to crack down on the wave of high-profile cyber crimes  such as the the theft of private celebrity photos, the Sony Pictures hack and the various stores hit by Point-of-Sale malware.

Breaking It Down

President Obama is doing exactly what a president is supposed to do, protect the people of the United States. His cyber initiatives are exactly what the nation needs right now after a horrendous year of data breaches and hacking. The president is acting not only in the interest of the nation but he is challenging the Republican controlled Congress to either oppose him or demonstrate they can govern. Either way he wins. Black people have seen the way Republicans have obstructed the president since the day he took office. The president sees the need to take proactive steps toward creating greater cyber security for the consumer and obstructing, delaying or refusing to act on these needs will definitely hurt the Republicans in the upcoming presidential election. Black consumers should pay attention since we are just as much victimized as other consumers when a data breach occurs but also to see if the Republicans are willing to work with the president. Will they try to stonewall his legislative initiatives? This will tell black voters what the Republicans are really up to. The question is; are they still a bunch of angry white men or are they looking to govern by compromise? The Republican problem is the Tea Party and other conservative. These renegade Republicans have been causing all kinds of trouble for Speaker John Boehner including trying to unseat him as the Speaker of the House. American consumers are waiting for the government to act and President Obama is leading the way. But will Republicans follow?

But back to data breaches. This situation has gotten out of hand and the laws have fallen dangerously behind the technology. The American economy is in danger from the repeated loss of consumer data along with the loss of intellectual data. Companies are having billions of dollars of research and development stolen by hackers. Our global competitive advantage is being destroyed and we need to act and act strongly. It is in the interest of the nation to go after hackers as well as companies that fail to secure personal data effectively. But 30 days?  This is the cyber age and that means things happen at light speed. Can you imagine what damage a hacker could do to your credit in 30 days if they have your banking information?  Let’s be real for a minute, ten days is far more reasonable and gives the consumer a chance to fight back. The company should be required to report the breach immediately to law enforcement. If they require more than ten days before reporting the breach to consumers then let them make their case to federal law enforcement and get their permission to conceal the breach a little longer.

We need new and more powerful data storage standards and strip away protections corporations have against being sued by consumers impacted by data breaches. The courts need to step in and make corporations pay for their sloppiness.

 

 

App of the Week – ClassDojo

 

classdojoSome of us remember the day when you dreaded that call from your teacher. Or the letter home. It was an old school way of alerting your parents of what was happening in class and it was not always good news. Black parents should be aware and monitor their child’s progress and performance in class. It is vital to your child’s education that you know exactly what they are doing and how they are performing. As a parent you can help your child by spotting weaknesses and deficiencies in their classroom performance early. That is what ClassDojo can do for you.

ClassDojo is the App of the Week. This app helps to keep parents and teachers in constant communication about the performance and behavior of students in the classroom.  Teachers using the app can encourage a better classroom atmosphere by providing immediate feedback to parents of a student’s accomplishments or infractions.

For students the app helps to encourage new skills and improved behavior. The recognition of the child’s progress can be recorded for the parents to see.

The app is applicable to all grades kindergarden through 12th grade as well as speciality classes.

ClassDojo permits teachers to communicate with parents in real time via text-based messaging, photos and voice notes. The app also tells children how well they are doing and collect points for good behavior and class performance and lose points for not performing or behaving. When a child has points deducted the app will notify the parent who has signed up for the service.

According to the ClassDojo website the app is currently being used by one out of two schools in the United States. The app is one of the many innovations to be spurred by the estimated $7.9 billion education software market for students from pre-kindergarten to high school. Although there are similar behavior-tracking programs ClassDojo may be the most popular.

As with any app there some who are not completely pleased with it. Some parents, teachers as well as privacy advocates say ClassDojo, and other new unproven education technologies are being deployed without proper consideration for students privacy.

These critics believe that the “carrot-and-stick” method of classroom discipline is outmoded saying the behavior apps themselves are too subjective. Some don’t believe that teachers should reward or penalize students for undefined acts like “disrespect.” They argue that behavior databases could potentially label a student as a problem and this label could stick with them for years.

My only question about this app is; What does it to do monitor the performance of the teacher and school? The app appears to be a one way street. What if the deficiencies of teacher is responsible for the child under-performing in certain subjects? I would argue there should be an app that monitors a teacher’s and schools abilities and performance. This would be an equally or even more valuable app for parents.

ClassDoJo is free and available for Apple and Android platforms.

ALERT! – Phishing Email Scam hits LinkedIn – ALERT!

Scammers are phishing for LinkedIn members log in credentials by sending emails that are supposed to be from LinkedIn Support.

Symantec Senior Security Response Manager  Satnam Narang wrote about the phishing campaign observed over the past week.

In the post Narange stated; “The body of the email claims that irregular activities have prompted a ‘compulsory security update’ for the recipient’s LinkedIn account.”

Instead, opening the attachment leads to a website, which looks like a legitimate LinkedIn login page, he said. The scammers have changed the websites source so that the login and password credentials are sent to the scammer.

Victims are duped into believing the email is authentic by using a lowercase ‘i’, as opposed to an uppercase ‘I’ in the bogus LinkedIn address.

Symantec pointed out that the scammers used HTML attachments in order to bypass browser blacklists. These black lists serve to keep users off phishing websites. Narang stated the best defense against this scam is to  implement LinkedIn’s two-step verification for improved login security.

“With two-step verification enabled, even if a user’s credentials are compromised, an attacker would not be able to log-in without having access to the user’s mobile phone,” he said.

If you believe that you have been scammed and you credentials are compromised then please change your password immediately and notify LinkedIn support.

Car Shopping? Study First!

 

Car shopping is not something you do everyday. So to do it right you need to study. We all get a little faint and our heart begins to pound when the new cars are introduced annually. But in reality black people need to make sure they are getting the right car for the right price. So again, you need to study both the car and how you will finance it.

Financing a car is not difficult. There is a lender for every credit score. But are you getting the right deal for your credit score? Are you working with the right lender? As African-Americans we need to be on our toes because we are often unfairly treated when it comes to lending institutions.

According the Center for Responsible Lending African Americans and Latinos  will attempt to negotiate the price of a loan with car dealers more often than white consumers. Latinos and African-Americans reported negotiating, 39 percent and 32 percent respectively, their interest rate. But in comparison only 22 percent of white respondents attempted this negotiation. But white car buyers still secured lower interest rates. This held true even when credit scores were comparable.

Black and Latinos car buyers also reported more instances of receiving misleading information and they were nearly twice as likely as white consumers to be sold multiple add-on products, services and warranties.  To see all the dirty laundry you need to download the full report here.

The next step in buying a car is to make sure you get the right car. Again you need to study, shop and compare. A car salesman once told me to never go into a dealership without having at least three cars on your shopping list that will suit your needs and your budget. Your dream car may not be the right car for you but if the salesman sees that gleam in your eye he knows he’s got you!  Study, shop and compare cars before you make a final decision. Here are the two best auto comparison sites and I encourage black people to use these tools to focus your shopping and get better informed about the vehicle you want, competing models.

Kelly Blue Book – For some car sales people this is the Holy Grail of car sales. The first thing many of them do when they talk about a car is the Kelly Blue Book value, re-sale value and quality ratings. Almost everyone has heard of  this website and publication.  The KBB comparison tool itself is fairly simple and allows you to select your make, model, year, and trim for all the cars on your list. Once you have your selected cars on the comparison list you’ll be able to see and compare everything you want to know about each one. KBB’s comparison tool will show you how much you’ll likely pay for a vehicle, mileage and warranty information. Compared to other websites the comparison function is fairly basic but it is still useful and a good place to begin your car buying odyssey. And of course everyone trusts Kelly Blue Book.

Edmunds.comEdmunds’ car comparison tool is as easy as KBB and it too permits side-by-side comparisons of vehicles rather than researching one vehicle at a time. Edmunds.com allows the car shopper to compare up to four cars at once. As I said its fairly basic but it is enough to deliver a good amount of data for your informed shopping. There has been some questions about the site’s impartiality and suspect pricing results so be aware of that going in.

Being a smart car buyer means that you start shopping before you leave home. Make a list of the size, features, technology and gas mileage you are looking for.  Don’t be stuck on a single brand. Look for the sales and discounts. Don’t hesitate to mention you have your eye on another car at another dealership and ask the salesman if he will match his competitor’s price. Focus on getting the best deal as much as getting the car you want. Another good idea is to get pre-approved financing. That will help you to stay firm on the price. And don’t be pressured.

Buying a car based on looks alone is like marrying a beauty queen only to discover too late she is a nut case with expensive tastes. Both will suck you dry.

Now you know.

 

Walmart Says; Trade in that Gift Card!

America’s favorite store, Walmart, is taking trade ins. Walmart has teamed up with CardCash to launch a new Walmart-branded site  that allows consumers to trade in unused, partially used or unwanted gift cards. Every year gift cards by the tens of millions are given as gifts.  African-Americas are no more guilty than anybody else when it comes to taking the easy way out when it comes to gift buying.  And yes we love Walmart.

A report from MarketResearch.com  revealed that in 2014 the U.S. prepaid and gift card transaction value was projected to reach $247 billion. An 11 percent increase over 2013.

The new Walmart website, named walmart.cardcash.com, is now  being heavily promoted on the Walmart.com website. The trade in website was activated on Christmas day and offers up to 97 percent of the value of the original gift card. The site accepts cards from over 200 different retailers. Walmart seems to be targeting Amazon.com by offering as much as 95 percent in trade-in value for their cards. Other sites, such as the Gap for example, only garner 84 percent of their original value. A site that is intended to syphon off some of Amazon’s sales would not be a surprise since Walmart offered to match Amazon’s online prices during the holiday season. The exchange rate for card trade ins will fluctuate with market conditions. Conditions that impact the exchange rate include how many cards from similar retailers are being traded in and other factors.

The new service is simple to use. The consumer enters the merchant’s name on their card and the value. The website instantly makes an offer for the card that the consumer can either accept or reject. If they accept the offer they enter the full card number, PIN and other basic customer information. Walmart then emails a Walmart e-Card that can be used online or printed out and used at a local store.

There’s no minimum balance requirement so consumers can even exchange cards that have been used but still have a balance remaining on them.

Breaking It Down

Walmart did not get as big as they are without some smarts. It is obvious that they are fighting back against the big online retailers; think Amazon.com. But they also know that every year millions of gift cards go unused. In 2012 alone $2 billion dollars in gift cards went un-redeemed. Yeah, that’s billion with a capitol B! Walmart decided they wanted some of that easy cash floating around out there and this is how they decided to do it. As for the consumer how can you lose on this deal? What doesn’t Walmart have? And how often are you in the store? And how long have you had that $10 Jamba Juice gift card sitting in your wallet? Not much longer if Walmart can help it.