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DuckDuckGo Grows in 2015

December 30, 2015

Do you not love it when the little guy is able to compete with corporate giants?  When it comes to search engines DuckDuckGo is the little guy, because unlike big search engines like Google and Yahoo it refuses to track its users browsing history and have targeted ads.  According to Quartz, “DuckDuckGo, The Search Engine That Doesn’t Track Its Users, Grew More Than 70% This Year.”  Through December 15, 2015, DuckDuckGo received 3.25 billion queries up from twelve million queries received during the same time period in 2014.  DuckDuckGo, however, still has trouble cracking the mainstream..

Google is still the biggest search engine in the United States with more than one hundred million monthly searches, but DuckDuckGo only reached 325 million monthly searches in November 2015.  The private search engine also has three million direct queries via desktop computers, but it did not share how many people used DuckDuckGo via a mobile device to protect its users’ privacy.  Google, on the other hand, is happy to share its statistics as more than half of its searches come from mobile devices.

“What’s driving growth? DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg, reached via email, credits partnerships launched in 2014 with Apple and Mozilla, and word of mouth.  He also passes along a Pew study from earlier this year, where 40% of American respondents said they thought search engines ‘shouldn’t retain information about their activity.’… ‘Our biggest challenge is that most people have not heard of us,’ Weinberg says. ‘We very much want to break out into the mainstream.’”

DuckDuckGo offers an unparalleled service for searching.  Weinberg stated the problem correctly that DuckDuckGo needs to break into the mainstream.  Its current user base consists of technology geeks and those in “the know,” some might call them hipsters.  If DuckDuckGo can afford it, how about an advertising campaign launched on Google Ads?

Whitney Grace, December 30, 2015

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

The Ins and Outs of Hacking Software

December 23, 2015

Hacking software is and could be a potential problem.  While some government agencies, hacktivist organizations, and software companies are trying to use it for good, terrorist groups, digital thieves, and even law enforcement agencies can use it to spy and steal data from individuals.  The Technology Review shares some interesting stories about how software is being used for benign and harmful purposes in “The Growth Industry Helping Governments Hack Terrorists, Criminals, And Political Opponents.”

The company Hacking Team is discussed at length and its Remote Control System software, which can worm its way through security holes in a device and steal valuable information.  Governments from around the globe have used the software for crime deterrence and to keep tabs on enemies, but other entities used the software for harmful acts including spying and hacking into political opponents computers.

Within the United States, it is illegal to use a Remote Control System without proper authority, but often this happens:

“When police get access to new surveillance technologies, they are often quickly deployed before any sort of oversight is in place to regulate their use. In the United States, the abuse of Stingrays—devices that sweep up information from cell phones in given area—has become common. For example, the sheriff of San Bernardino County, near Los Angeles, deployed them over 300 times without a warrant in the space of less than two years. That problem is only being addressed now, years after it emerged, with the FBI now requiring a warrant to use Stingrays, and efforts underway to force local law enforcement to do the same. It’s easy to imagine a similar pattern of abuse with hacking tools, which are far more powerful and invasive than other surveillance technologies that police currently use.”

It is scary how the software is being used and how governments are skirting around its own laws to use it.  It reminds me of how gun control is always controversial topic.  Whenever there is a mass shooting, debates rage about how the shooting would never had happened if there was stricter gun control to keep weapons out of the hands of psychopaths.  While the shooter was blamed for the incident, people also place a lot of blame on the gun, as if it was more responsible.  As spying, control, and other software becomes more powerful and ingrained in our lives, I imagine there will be debates about “software control” and determining who has the right to use certain programs.

Whitney Grace, December 23, 2015
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Bye-Bye Paid Reviews

December 22, 2015

One has to admit that this sounds like a sweet way to make a few quick dollars: write a fake online review about a product or service highlighting good points and sellable features, post it on your social media accounts, Amazon, your blog, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and then collect a few bucks.  While Twitter might slowly be losing the social media race against Facebook and Instagram, the UK Telegraph says that the social network has another useful purpose: “Has Twitter Finally Killed The Mess Of The False Online Review?”

Fake reviews cost consumers millions of dollars each year, because they believe that first hand accounts from regular people trump a corporate advertising account.  However, it spawned a big market for people to spend a few dollars to pay someone write a fake review and give a product/service a positive spin.  The consumer is getting tired of fake reviews, as are online retailers like Amazon and the US government, which has even drafted the Consumer Review Freedom Act.

Twitter is jumping into action using big data moves like real time data sentimental analysis, location-based apps that search social media content for content, and algorithms to analyze tweets

“Chief executive Giles Palmer believes that apps such as Twizoo are only the start of how products and businesses are evaluated, especially as social media continues to evolve. ‘Until recently, social media monitoring has been a listening business where companies and brands have kept an eye on what their customers are doing, but not doing too much about it…But with mobile customers are after products and goods where they want to make an instant decision based on instant data. What’s more they want that data to be reliable and to be truthful; Twitter provides that.’”

Consumers are being more discerning about the products and services they purchase, but they also trust reviews to help them evaluate them so they will not be duped.  High praise for Twitter for proving how social media is valuable as a learning tool and also for proving it is still a worthwhile network.


Whitney Grace, December22, 2015
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Amazon Punches Business Intelligence

November 11, 2015

Amazon already gave technology a punch when it launched AWS, but now it is releasing a business intelligence application that will change the face of business operations or so Amazon hopes.  ZDNet describes Amazon’s newest endeavor in “AWS QuickSight Will Disrupt Business Intelligence, Analytics Markets.”  The market is already saturated with business intelligence technology vendors, but Amazon’s new AWS QuickSight will cause another market upheaval.

“This month is no exception: Amazon crashed the party by announcing QuickSight, a new BI and analytics data management platform. BI pros will need to pay close attention, because this new platform is inexpensive, highly scalable, and has the potential to disrupt the BI vendor landscape. QuickSight is based on AWS’ cloud infrastructure, so it shares AWS characteristics like elasticity, abstracted complexity, and a pay-per-use consumption model.”

Another monkey wrench for business intelligence vendors is that AWS QuickSight’s prices are not only reasonable, but are borderline scandalous: standard for $9/month per user or enterprise edition for $18/month per user.

Keep in mind, however, that AWS QuickSight is the newest shiny object on the business intelligence market, so it will have out-of-the-box problems, long-term ramifications are unknown, and reliance on database models and schemas.  Do not forget that most business intelligence solutions do not resolve all issues, including ease of use and comprehensiveness.  It might be better to wait until all the bugs are worked out of the system, unless you do not mind being a guinea pig.

Whitney Grace, November 11, 2015
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


CEM Platform Clarabridge 7 Supports Silo Elimination

November 10, 2015

The move to eliminate data silos in the corporation has gained another friend, we learn in Direct Marketing News’ piece, “Clarabridge Joins the Burn-Down-the-Silos Movement.” With their latest product release, the customer experience management firm hopes to speed their clients’ incorporation of business intelligence and feedback. The write-up announces:

“Clarabridge today released Clarabridge 7, joining the latest movement among marketing tech companies to speed actionability of data intelligence by burning down the corporate silos. The new release’s CX Studio promises to provide users a route to exploring the full customer journey in an intuitive manner. A new dashboard and authoring capability allows for “massive rollout,” in Clarabridge’s terms, across an entire enterprise.

“Also new are role-based dashboards that translate data in a manner relevant to specific roles, departments, and levels in an organization. The company claims that such personalization lets users take intelligence and feedback and put it immediately into action. CX Engagor expedites that by connecting business units directly with consumers in real time.”

We have to wonder whether this rush to “burn the silos” will mean that classified information will get out; details germane to a legal matter, for example, or health information or financial data. How can security be applied to an open sea of data?

Clarabridge has spent years developing its sentiment and text analytics technology, and asserts it is uniquely positioned to support enterprise-scale customer feedback initiatives. The company maintains offices in Barcelona, London, San Francisco, Singapore, and Washington, DC. They also happen to be hiring as of this writing.

Cynthia Murrell, November 10, 2015

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


Data Analytics Is More Than Simple Emotion

November 6, 2015

Hopes and Fears posted the article, “Are You Happy Now? The Uncertain Future Of Emotion Analytics” discusses the possible implications of technology capable of reading emotions.  The article opens with a scenario from David Collingridge explaining that the only way to truly gauge technology’s impact is when it has become so ingrained into society that it would be hard to change.  Many computing labs are designing software capable of reading emotions using an array of different sensors.

The biggest problem ahead is not how to integrate emotion reading technology into our lives, but what are the ethical concerns associated with it?

Emotion reading technology is also known as affective computing and the possible ethical concerns are more than likely to come from corporation to consumer relationships over consumer-to-consumer relationships.  Companies are already able to track a consumer’s spending habits by reading their Internet data and credit cards, then sending targeted ads.

Consumers should be given the option to have their emotions read:

“Affective computing has the potential to intimately affect the inner workings of society and shape individual lives. Access, an international digital rights organization, emphasizes the need for informed consent, and the right for users to choose not to have their data collected. ‘All users should be fully informed about what information a company seeks to collect,’ says Drew Mitnick, Policy Counsel with Access, ‘The invasive nature of emotion analysis means that users should have as much information as possible before being asked to subject [themselves] to it.’”

While the article’s topic touches on fear, it ends on a high note that we should not be afraid of the future of technology.  It is important to discuss ethical issues right now, so groundwork will already be in place to handle affective computing.

Whitney Grace, November 6, 2015

Wall Street Sees Challengers to the Bloomberg Terminal

September 25, 2015

Few industries rely on timely data quite like Wall Street, and the trading platform that has long been the industry favorite has been enjoying that revenue stream for almost 30 years. However, the New York Times now reports that “The Bloomberg Terminal, a Wall Street Fixture, Faces Upstarts.” Writer Nathaniel Popper notes that funds from the popular terminal enable the company’s news endeavors: BusinessWeek and the Bloomberg Business website, it seems, “cost more than they earn.” Will all that fall away if the Bloomberg terminal loses ground to the competition?

The article relates:

“Bloomberg has sustained several challenges to its dominant market position, fending off smaller competitors hoping to bite off a corner of its business. And it has the cash reservoirs to wage a vigorous defense this time around. But Bloomberg’s own history shows that it is not easy to maintain a profitable market position like the one it has held for more than two decades. Bloomberg rose to prominence in the 1990s by nimbly replacing earlier Wall Street data companies — like Quotron and Telerate — that failed to change quickly enough to protect their longtime market dominance. Morgan Downey, the former Bloomberg executive who is building Money.Net, said he decided to leave Bloomberg in late 2013 and create a low-cost challenger after seeing how slowly Bloomberg was changing and how many of the company’s clients wanted a cheaper alternative.”

Cheaper, it seems, is the key word here. Firms are under pressure to cut costs amid new regulations and shifting markets; they are now eyeing lower-cost alternatives to the Bloomberg terminals, which run about $25,000 per year each. See the article for more on the competition, like Money.Net and chat provider Symphony.

What of Thomson Reuters? According to the article, that company’s terminal sales in the U.S. continue to disappoint, though they have done well in certain niche markets. Their terminals, we’re told, are “not notably cheaper than Bloomberg’s.” Will the upstarts topple both venerable firms?

Popper reports stockbrokers have been complaining about Bloomberg’s terminal pricing and lack of innovative product design. Then again, retired New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is said to be taking a more active role in the company. Perhaps with his efforts, it will manage to fend off the challengers. For now.

Cynthia Murrell, September 25, 2015

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

The Sad eCommerce Search Realities

September 9, 2015

We love it when articles make pop cultures references as a way to get their point across.  Over at Easy Ask, an articled entitled “ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ – The Realities of eCommerce Search” references the Keith Richards and Mick Jagger song explaining how a Web site loses a customer.  The potential customer searches for an product, fails to find using the search feature, so the person moves onto a new destination.

What happens is that a Web site search function might not understand all the query terms or it might return results that fail to meet the shopper’s need.  The worst option any eCommerce shop could show a shopper is a “no results found” page.  It might be a seem like simple feature to overcome, but search algorithms need to be fine tuned like any other coding.   The good news that decent eCommerce searches have already been designed.

“How can you avoid these misunderstandings? One approach is to employ search software that understands the words in the search and how they relate to each other and the site’s catalog. These search engines are called ‘Contextual Search’ and employ ‘Natural Language Processing’ software. Remember diagramming sentences in elementary school and identifying the nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Knowing the role of a word in a website search helps find the right products.”

Contextual search that uses natural language processing treats queries based on a user’s true intentions, rather than giving each term the same weight.  Contextual search is more intuitive and yields more accurate results.  The article finishes by saying the customers “get what they need.” Ah, what a wise use of The Rolling Stones.

Whitney Grace, September 9, 2015
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


An Obscure Infographic About London Coffee Shops

July 29, 2015

Here’s a unique pair of graphics, particularly of interest for anyone who can see themselves enjoying a cup of joe in London. Gizmodo presents “A Taxonomy of Hip Coffee Shop Names.” The infographic from Information is Beautiful lays out London’s hipster coffee shops by both naming convention and location. Both charts size their entries by popularity– the more popular a shop the bigger disk (coaster?) its name sits upon. The brief write-up sets the scene:

“As you walk down the sidewalk, you see a chalkboard in the distance. As you step a little closer, you smell the deep musk of coffee emanating from an artfully distressed front door. Out steps a man with a beard, a Mac slung under his arm, sipping from small re-useable flat white-sized cup. You’ve stumbled across another hip coffee shop. Now, what’s it called?

“Information is Beautiful … breaks the naming structure down by type: there are ones themed around drugs, chatter, beans, brewing, socialism and more. But they all share one thing in common: they sound just like they could be hand-painted above that scene you just saw.”

So, if you like coffee, London, hipsters, or taxonomy-graphics, take a gander. From Alchemy to Maison d’être to Window, a shop or two are sure to peak the curiosity.

Cynthia Murrell, July 29, 2015

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


Monkeys Cause System Failure

July 28, 2015

Nobody likes to talk about his or her failures.  Admitting to failure proves that you failed at a task in the past and it is a big blow to the ego.  Failure admission is even worse for technology companies, because users want to believe technology is flawless.  On Microsoft’s Azure Blog, Heather Nakama posted “Inside Azure Search: Chaos Engineering” and she explains that software engineers are aware that failure is unavoidable.  Rather than trying to prevent failure, they welcome potential failure.  Why?  It allows them to test software and systems to prevent problems before they develop.

Nakama mentions it is not a sustainable model to account for every potential failure and to test the system every time it is upgraded.  Azure Search borrowed chaos engineering from Netflix to resolve the issue and it is run by a bunch of digital monkeys

“As coined by Netflix in a recent excellent blog post, chaos engineering is the practice of building infrastructure to enable controlled automated fault injection into a distributed system.  To accomplish this, Netflix has created the Netflix Simian Army with a collection of tools (dubbed “monkeys”) that inject failures into customer services.”

Netflix basically unleashes a Search Chaos Monkey into its system to wreck havoc, then Netflix learns about system weaknesses and repairs accordingly.  There are several chaos levels: high, medium, and low, with each resulting in more possible damage.  At each level, Search Chaos Monkey is given more destructive tools to “play” around with.  The high levels are the most valuable to software engineers, because it demonstrates the largest and worst diagnostic failures.

While letting a bull loose in a china shop is bad, because you lose your merchandise, letting a bunch of digital monkeys loose in a computer system is actually beneficial.  It remains true that you can learn from failure.  I just hope that the digital monkeys do not have digital dung.

Whitney Grace, July 28, 2015

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


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