About Those VPNs

December 26, 2018

News and chatter about VPNs are plentiful. We noted a flurry of stories about Chinese ownership of VPNs. We receive incredible deals for VPNs which are almost too good to be true. We noted this write up from AT&T (a former Baby Bell) and its Alienvault unit: “The Dangers of Free VPNs.”

The idea behind a VPN is hiding traffic from those able to gain access to that traffic. But there is a VPN provider in the mix. From that classic man in the middle position, the VPN may not be as secure as the user thinks.

The AT&T Alienvault viewpoint is slightly different: VPNs are the cat’s pajamas as long as the VPN is AT&T’s.

We learned from the write up:

Technically, VPN providers have the capacity to see everything you do while connected. If it really wanted to, a VPN company could see what videos you watched, read emails you send, or monitor your search history.

The write up points out without reference to lawful intercept orders, national security letters, and the ho hum everyday work in cheerful Ashburn, Virginia:

Thankfully, reputable providers don’t do this. A good provider shouldn’t take any logs of your activity, which means that although they could theoretically access your data, they discard it instead. These “no-log” companies don’t keep copies of your data, so even if they get subpoenaed by a government agency, they have no data that they can hand over. VPN providers may take different types of logs, so you need to be careful when reading the fine print of any potential provider. These logs can include your traffic, DNS requests, timestamps, bandwidth and IP address.

The write up includes a “How do I love thee” approach to the dangers of free VPNs.

Net net: Be scared. Just navigate to this link. AT&T provides VPN service with the goodness one expects.

By the way, note the reference to “logs.” Many gizmos in a data center offering VPN services maintain logs. Processing these auto generated files can yield quite useful information. Perhaps that’s why there are free and low cost services.

Zero logs strikes Beyond Search as something that is easy to say but undesirable and possibly difficult to achieve.

Are VPNs secure? Is Tor?

In January 2019, Beyond Search will cover more dark cyber related content. More news is forthcoming. Let’s face it enterprise search is a done deal. The Beyond Search goose is migrating to search related content plus adjacent issues like AT&T promoting its cheerful, unmonitored, we’re really great approach to online.

Stephen E Arnold, December 26, 2018

Deep Fakes: Technology Is Usually Neutral

December 18, 2018

Ferreting out fake news has become an obsession for search and AI jockeys around the globe. However, those jobs are nothing compared to the wave of fake photos and videos that grow increasingly convincing as technology helps to iron out the wrinkles. That’s a scary prospect to more than a few experts, as we discovered in a recent MIT Technology Review article, “Deepfake Busting Apps Can Spot Even A Single Pixel Out of Place.”

According to the story:

“That same technology is creating a growing class of footage and photos, called “deepfakes,” that have the potential to undermine truth, confuse viewers, and sow discord at a much larger scale than we’ve already seen with text-based fake news.”

Deepfakes are fun and possibly threatening to some. The “experts” at high tech firms will use their management expertise to reduce any anxieties the deepfakes spark. But some Luddites think these videos and images have the potential to disrupt governments and elections in countries where online is pervasive. Beyond Search is comforted by the knowledge that bright, objective, ethical minds are on the case. One question: What if these whiz kids are angling for a more selfish outcome?

Patrick Roland, December 18, 2018

Quote to Note: Experts from UK Take a Look at US Social Media

December 17, 2018

I read “Silicon Valley’s ‘Belated and Uncoordinated’ Efforts at Dealing with Russian Fake News Revealed.” The report was created by experts in the UK and leaded to the Washington Post.

Here’s a quote which suggests the principal finding:

“Social media have gone from being the natural infrastructure for sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement to being a computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike,” the authors of the report wrote.

The idea is that technology is neutral until a person figures out how to use it as a weapon or to his or her advantage.

In the case of social media, the companies managed as if they were high school science clubs’ entries in a Science Fair, have created some interesting tools. A few of the tools are similar to the wizard who creates a death ray, uses it to cook a burger, and gives the gizmo away at a yard sale. A clever person picks it up and starts vaporizing the pets and the neighbors.

Remember that technology is neutral mantra. That’s something repeated by individuals who have not read The Technological Bluff by Jacques Ellul.

Does one want to access “all the world’s information”? Not me. Selectivity, editorial controls, policy controls, and informed decision making are helpful.

Anyone remember that Pandora’s box thing? In January 2019, Beyond Search is switching focus, and we are introducing a Web log to complement our video series “DarkCyber.”

Times, they are a-changin’.

Stephen E Arnold, December 17, 2018

Factualities for November 28, 2018

November 28, 2018

Fake news or real news? Often tough to say when numbers are thrown around without explanations of the sample, method, and analytic approach. Believe these data or not, particularly when nice round numbers are offered as solid data:

  • 10 million miles a day. The number of miles a Google Waymo vehicle drives in a virtual world. Source: Technology Review
  • 500,000. The number of Google users’ data exposed in a recent Google security lapse. Source: Ars Technica
  • 5,000. The number of faces a human can recognize. Source: Discover Magazine
  • 19. The number of people who fall off a cruise ship each year. Source: Lifehacker
  • 108 months. The prison sentence for Dark Web drug dealer “NoStress.” Source: US Department of Justice
  • $1,400,000. Amount paid for Banksy painting which self destructed in front of the buyer. Source: Slashgear
  • 20 percent in five years. The decline in US share of global venture capital funding. Source: VentureBeat

Stephen E Arnold, November 28, 2018

Factualities for November 21, 2018

November 21, 2018

Believe ‘em or not.

  • $1.17 million. Russian bank cash losses due to cyber attacks at Russian banks in the first eight months of 2018. Losses were down from $16.46 million in the same period in 2017. Source: Reuters
  • 4,300. Number of blockchain start ups in the world. More than 200 are in Israel. Source: No Camels
  • 35 million. Allegedly the number of US voter records for sale on the Dark Web. Source: TechRadar
  • One. The number of Google pop up hardware stories in Bucktown, Illinois. Source: ABC 7 Chicago
  • $2.2 billion. Size of the quantum computing market in 2025. Source: Site Pro News
  • 33 percent. The percentage of university historians from ethnic minorities who experience discrimination. Source: Independent

Stephen E Arnold, November 21, 2018

Factualities for November 14, 2018

November 14, 2018

Believe ‘em or not. I am not the least suspicious of round numbers.

  • 50 percent. Percent of WhatsApp users who do not know that Facebook owns the messaging application. Source: The Next Web
  • $100 million amount PwC (a consulting firm) will spend on training employees who are self starters. Source: Techcrunch
  • Less than one second. Time required to destroy a low end drone with a 50 kilowatt laser. (Your PowerPoint laser will be less than five milliwatts.) Source: Gizmodo
  • One. Rank of the US in economic competitiveness. Source: Next Big Future
  • Three years. How long an Apple iPhone will last. Source: Cult of Mac
  • Six percent. Growth in global Internet access growth, which was down from 19 percent in 2017. Source: Technology Review

Stephen E Arnold, November 14, 2018

Factualities for November 7, 2018

November 7, 2018

Believe ‘em or not.

  • 900 percent. Amount Facebook inflated its ad watching data. Source: Slashdot
  • $390 billion. Size of the global cyber weapon market in 2014. Estimated growth rate: 4.4 percent. Source; Transparency Market Research
  • 66 percent. Calculated segment of the US population which has
    heard about software robots. Source: Pew
  • $1 billion. The amount Massachusetts Institute of Technology will spend for its Schwarzman College of Computing which will focus on artificial intelligence. Source: Digital Trends
  • 2019. When Jeff Bezos will send tourists into space. Source: Recode
  • $45 billion. Amount invested in Softbank’s Vision Fund. Source: Quartz

Stephen E Arnold, November 7, 2018

Censorship: Deleted and Blocked Content Popular

November 7, 2018

The Internet is a tool and companies harness the Internet to offer services, such as social media, search, news, and commerce. These companies act as portals for users to post their information and content. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects companies from being held liable for their users’ actions. This means that companies cannot be sued or prosecuted for what their users share. This could all change.

Inc. takes a look at how this could change in the article, “Facebook, Google, And Twitter Must Censor The Web, Demand Investors.” Why would this change? It would change because bad actors use social media and other services for illegal activities. The law that could change the DMCA is the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and Web sites would be held liable for content posted on them. Any content posted on say Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. that results in illegal activities could get the Internet providers arrested.

“FOSTA creates a legal precedent to hold Internet providers responsible for user-created content that drives other behaviors. Hate speech might lead to murder and terrorism, for instance. Therefore, it’s easy to imagine that the US government will pass laws similar to FOSTA holding Internet providers legally liable for that content. Other examples of user-content that might face FOSTA-style laws include sexual harassment, racism, fake news, and election interference.”

Investors are not happy about this inevitability and at future shareholder meetings they will demand these companies clean up their acts. Since nobody wants to see CEOs and other employees arrested, investors are pushing for censorship of user-generated content.

This would mean the end of free speech on the Internet, because everyone finds everything and anything offensive. It also violates the First Amendment. The backlash is going to huge and we cannot wait to see how 4chan, YouTube, and Reddit react.

Whitney Grace, November 7, 2018

Memes and an App Apocalypse?

November 5, 2018

It used to be all about the apps and their versatility, but now apps are clunky especially when you want to make a meme. Memes are one of the Internet’s currencies, a good meme can hook a ton of views, hits, subscribers, and potentially go viral. Going viral ranks a meme’s longevity and can even go down in Internet infamy. Making memes are not as simple as one would think, take a look at The Atlantic’s article, “What’s The Best App For Making Memes?”

The answer: none. App meme makers available in the Apple App Store used to be a useful tool, but these apps have not been maintained and do not make the quality memes now in demand. The only time these apps are used are when they are being made fun of. The current meme creation app offerings are very poor, some meme creators rely on their computers instead of their mobile devices.

There is a high demand and someone can make money if a meme app was designed correctly:

“Recognizing this need, some apps have emerged in recent months to corner the market. But building the killer meme app is incredibly challenging. Many memers say that for one app to have everything they’d need, it would have to incorporate advanced photo- and video-editing tools and a highly precise eraser. And it would have to be flexible enough to adapt to new formats in real time.”

Memes are not one size fits all, however, and anything that works for one individual is fine. Memes are jokes and casual entertainment for quick Internet consumption. The goal is that memes generate laughter for an instant, then you one onto the next one. Whatever process that works for making them is fine.

Whitney Grace, November 5, 2018

Verizon: Doing What Telcos Do

November 5, 2018

Sometimes it is still hard to believe that Yahoo and AOL are now owned by the same company. What is even harder to believe is that Verizon owns all of them. Verizon, AOL, and Yahoo are in for an upset, because the San Francisco Gate reports, “Head Of Verizon’s AOL, Yahoo To Depart.”

Tim Armstrong is replacing its media and advertising with Oath President and COO Guru Gowrappan will assume the position on October 1. Armstrong will remain with Verizon until the end of the year and will act as a strategic advisor.

We learned that Gowrappen has an interesting background:

“Gowrappan joined Verizon in April and before that was global managing director of Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba. Armstrong was tasked with growing Verizon’s ad business in a challenge to Facebook and Google, but that business remains one of Verizon’s less profitable divisions. Armstrong came to Verizon when it bought AOL in 2015 and began overseeing Yahoo when Verizon bought it in 2017.”

Armstrong apparently has failed to “patch” up AOL and Yahoo as a rival to Google and Facebook. Perhaps it is a thankless task, but Beyond Search does not think this former Baby Bell would think AOL and Yahoo thoughts without the former Googler’s inputs, PowerPoints, and positive cheers.

Now Verizon has a couple of email services and some ageing online services. Yahoo seemed like a contender when it had Yahoo Groups, chatrooms, and even auctions, but these fizzled as social media and Amazon moved with purpose. AOL remained in the dial up era when compared to zippy new services like Instagram.

Verizon will have to work some Bell magic to give these services a chance in today’s online marketplace.

Whitney Grace, November 5, 2018

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