DuckDuckGo Makes Search Enhancements by Leveraging Yahoo Partnership

December 13, 2016

The article on Duck.co titled New Features from a Stronger Yahoo Partnership relates the continuation of the relationship between DuckDuckGo and Yahoo. DuckDuckGo has gained fame for its unique privacy policy of not tracking its users, which of course flies in the face of the Google Goliath, which is built on learning about its users by monitoring their habits and improving the search engine using that data. Instead, DuckDuckGo insists on forgetting its users and letting them search without fear of it being recorded somewhere. The article conveys some of the ways that Yahoo is mingled with the David of search engines,

In addition to the existing technology we’ve been using, DuckDuckGo now has access to features you’ve been requesting for years: Date filters let you filter results from the last day, week and month. Site links help you quickly get to subsections of sites. Of course our privacy policy remains the same: we don’t track you. In addition, we’re happy to announce that Yahoo has published a privacy statement to the same effect.

Paranoid internet users and people with weird secretive fetishes alike, rejoice! DuckDuckGo will soon be vastly improved. The article does not state an exact date for this new functionality to be revealed, but it is coming soon.

Chelsea Kerwin, December 13, 2016

Tor Phone to Take on Google

December 13, 2016

Tor users have nil or very limited options to surf Underground Web anonymously as Android-powered phones still manage to scrape user data. The Tor Project intends to beat Google at its own game with Tor-enabled smartphone.

An article that appeared on arsTechnica and titled Tor Phone Is Antidote to Google “Hostility” Over Android, Says Developer, says:

The prototype is meant to show a possible direction for Tor on mobile. We are trying to demonstrate that it is possible to build a phone that respects user choice and freedom, vastly reduces vulnerability surface, and sets a direction for the ecosystem with respect to how to meet the needs of high-security users.

The phone is powered by custom-made CopperHead OS and can be run only on Google Nexus or Pixel hardware phones. Of course due to high technicalities involved, it is recommended only for Linux geeks.

For voice calls, according to the article:

To protect user privacy, the prototype runs OrWall, the Android firewall that routes traffic over Tor, and blocks all other traffic. Users can punch a hole through the firewall for voice traffic, for instance, to enable Signal.

Google’s Android is an Open Source platform that OEMs can customize. This creates multiple security threats enabling hackers and snoopers to create backdoors. CopperHead OS, on the other hand, plugs these security holes with verified boot and also stops Google Play Store from overriding native apps. Seems the days of mobile Tor are finally here.

Vishal Ingole, December  13, 2016

Torrent Anonymously with AlphaReign

December 12, 2016

Peer-to-peer file sharing gets a boost with AlphaReign, a new torrent sharing site that enables registered users to share files anonymously using Distributed Hash Table.

TorrentFreak in an article titled Alphareign: DHT Search Engine Takes Public Torrents Private says:

AlphaReign.se is a new site that allows users to find torrents gathered from BitTorrent’s ‘trackerless’ Distributed Hash Table, or DHT for short. While we have seen DHT search engines before, this one requires an account to gain access.

The biggest issue with most torrent sites is The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which prohibits the sites (if possible) and the search engines from displaying search results on the search engine result page. As content or torrent indexes on AlphaReign are accessible only to registered users, seeders and leechers are free to share files without risking themselves.

Though most files shared through torrents are copyrighted materials like movies, music, software and books, torrents are also used by people who want to share large files without being spied upon.

AlphaReign also manages to address a persistent issue faced by torrent sites:

AlphaReign with new software allows users to search the DHT network on their own devices, with help from peers. Such a system would remain online, even if the website itself goes down.

In the past, popular torrent search engines like YTS, KickAssTorrents, The Pirate Bay, Torrentz among many others have been shut down owing to pressure from law enforcement agencies. However, if AlphaReign manages to do what it claims to, torrent users are going to be the delighted.

Vishal Ingole, December  12, 2016

At Last an Academic Search, but How Much Does It Cost?

December 9, 2016

I love Google.  You love Google.  Everyone loves Google so much that it has become a verb in practically every language.  Google does present many problems, however, especially in the inclusion of paid ads in search results and Google searches are not academically credible.  Researchers love the ease of use with Google, but there a search engine does not exist that returns results that answer a simple question based on a few keywords, NLP, and citations (those are extremely important).

It is possible that a search engine designed for academia could exist, especially if it can be subject specific and allows full-text access to all results.  The biggest problem and barrier in the way of a complete academic search engine is that scholarly research is protected by copyright and most research is behind pay walls belonging to academic publishers, like Elsevier.

Elsevier is a notorious academic publisher because it provides great publication and it is also expensive to subscribe to it digitally.  The Mendeley Blog shares that Elsevier has answered the academic search engine cry: “Introducing Elsevier DataSearch.”  The Elsevier DataSearch promises to search through reputable information repositories and help researchers accelerate their work.

DataSearch is still in the infant stage and there is an open call for beta testers:

DataSearch offers a new and innovative approach.  Most search engines don’t actively involve their users in making them better; we invite you, the user, to join our User Panel and advise how we can improve the results.  We are looking for users in a variety of fields, no technical expertise is required (though welcomed).  In order to join us, visit https://datasearch.elsevier.com and click on the button marked ‘Join Our User Panel’.”

This is the right step forward for any academic publisher!  There is one thing I am worried about and that is: how much is the DataSearch engine going to cost users?  I respect copyright and the need to make a profit, but I wish there was one all-encompassing academic database that was free or had a low-cost subscription plan.

Whitney Grace, December 9, 2016

The One Percent Have Privately Disappeared

December 8, 2016

People like to think that their lives are not always monitored, especially inside their domiciles.  However, if you have installed any type of security camera, especially a baby monitor, the bad news is that they are easily hacked.  Malware can also be downloaded onto a computer to spy on you through the built-in camera.  Mark Zuckerberg  coves his laptop’s camera with a piece of electrical tape.  With all the conveniences to spy on the average individual, it is not surprising that the rich one percent are literally buying their privacy by disappearing.  FT.com takes a look about, “How The Super-Rich Are Making Their Homes ‘Invisible.’”

The article opens with a description about how an entire high-end California neighborhood exists, but it is digitally “invisible” on Google Street View.  Celebrities live in this affluent California neighborhood and the management company does not even give interviews.  Privacy is one of the greatest luxuries one can buy in this age and the demand will grow as mobile Internet usages increases.  The use of cameras is proportional to Internet usage.

People who buy privacy by hiding their homes want to avoid prying eyes, such a paparazzi and protect themselves from burglars.  The same type of people who buy privacy are also being discreet about their wealth.  They do not flaunt it, unlike previous eras.  In the business sector, more and more clients want to remain anonymous so corporations are creating shell businesses to protect their identities.

There is an entire market for home designs that hide the actual building from prying eyes.  The ultimate way to disappear, however, is to live off the grid:

For extra stealth, property owners can take their homes off the grid — generating their own electricity and water supply avoids tell-tale pipes and wires heading on to their land. Self-sufficient communities have become increasingly popular for privacy, as well as ecological, reasons; some estimates suggest that 180,000 households are living off the grid in the US alone.

Those people who live off the grid will also survive during a zombie apocalypse, but I digress.

It is understandable that celebrities and others in the public eye require more privacy than the average citizen, but we all deserve the same privacy rights.  But it brings up another question: information needs to be found in order to be used.  Why should some be able to disappear while others cannot?

Whitney Grace, December 8, 2016

Increasingly Sophisticated Cybercrime

December 8, 2016

What a deal! Pymnts.com tells us that “Hacked Servers Sell for $6 On The Dark Web.” Citing recent research from Kapersky Lab, the write-up explains:

Kaspersky Lab researchers exposed a massive global underground market selling more than 70,000 hacked servers from government entities, corporations and universities for as little as $6 each.

The cybersecurity firm said the newly discovered xDedic marketplace currently has a listing of 70,624 hacked Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) servers for sale. It’s reported that many of the servers either host or provide access to consumer sites and services, while some have software installed for direct mail, financial accounting and POS processing, Kaspersky Lab confirmed.

Kapersky’s Costin Raiu notes the study is evidence that “cybercrime-as-a-service” is growing, and has been developing its own, well-organized infrastructure. He also observes that the victims of these criminals are not only the targets of attack, but the unwitting server-owners. xDedic, he says, represents a new type of cybercriminal marketplace.

Kapersky Lab recommends organizations take these precautions:

*Implement multi-layered approach to IT infrastructure security that includes a robust security solution

*Use of strong passwords in server authentication processes

*Establish an ongoing patch management process

*Perform regular security audits of IT infrastructures

*Invest in threat intelligence services”

Stay safe, dear readers.

Cynthia Murrell, December 8, 2016

Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube: A Spirit of Cooperation

December 6, 2016

I found this write up interesting. No philosophy or subjective comment required. The title of the write up is “Partnering to Help Curb Spread of Online Terrorist Content.” This is what is called “real” news, but that depends upon one’s point of view.

I highlighted this passage:

Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube are coming together to help curb the spread of terrorist content online. There is no place for content that promotes terrorism on our hosted consumer services. When alerted, we take swift action against this kind of content in accordance with our respective policies.

The idea is to use “digital fingerprints” in the manner of Terbium Labs and other companies to allow software to match prints and presumably take action in an automated, semi automated, or manual fashion. The  idea is to make it difficult for certain content to be “found” online via these services.

The write up adds:

As we continue to collaborate and share best practices, each company will independently determine what image and video hashes to contribute to the shared database. No personally identifiable information will be shared, and matching content will not be automatically removed. Each company will continue to apply its own policies and definitions of terrorist content when deciding whether to remove content when a match to a shared hash is found. And each company will continue to apply its practice of transparency and review for any government requests, as well as retain its own appeal process for removal decisions and grievances. As part of this collaboration, we will all focus on how to involve additional companies in the future.

I noted the word “collaborate” and its variants.

The filtering addresses privacy in this way:

Throughout this collaboration, we are committed to protecting our users’ privacy and their ability to express themselves freely and safely on our platforms. We also seek to engage with the wider community of interested stakeholders in a transparent, thoughtful and responsible way as we further our shared objective to prevent the spread of terrorist content online while respecting human rights.

Fingerprints in the world of law enforcement are tied to an individual or, in the case of Terbium, to an entity. Walking back from a fingerprint to an entity is a common practice. The business strategy is to filter content that does not match the policies of certain organizations.

Stephen E Arnold, December 6, 2016

Social Media Surveillance Now a Booming Business

December 5, 2016

Many know that law enforcement often turns to social media for clues, but you may not be aware how far such efforts have gotten. LittleSis, a group that maps and publishes relationships between the world’s most powerful entities, shares what it has learned about the field of social-media spying in, “You Are Being Followed: The Business of Social Media Surveillance.”

LittleSis worked with MuckRock, a platform that shares a trove of original government documents online. The team identified eight companies now vending social-media-surveillance software to law enforcement agencies across the nation; see the article for the list, complete with links to more information on each company. Writer Aaron Cantú describes the project:

We not only dug into the corporate profiles of some of the companies police contract to snoop on your Tweets and Facebook rants, we also filed freedom of information requests to twenty police departments across the country to find out how, when, and why they monitor social media. …

One particularly well-connected firm that we believe is worth highlighting here is ZeroFOX, which actively monitored prominent Black Lives Matter protesters in Baltimore and labeled some of them, including former Baltimore mayoral candidate DeRay McKesson, ‘threat actors.’ The company reached out to Baltimore officials first, offering it services pro-bono, which ZeroFOX executives painted as a selfless gesture of civic responsibility. But city officials may have been especially receptive to ZeroFOX’s pitch because of the powerful names standing behind it.

Behind ZeroFOX are weighty names indeed, like Mike McConnell, former director of the NSA, and Robert Rodgiguez, who is tied to Homeland Security, the Secret Service, and a prominent security firm. Another company worth highlighting is Geofeedia, because its name appears in all the police-department records the project received so far. The article details how each of these departments have worked with that company, from purchase orders to contract specifications. According to its CEO, Geofeedia grew sevenfold in just the last two years.

Before closing with a call for readers to join the investigation through MuckRock, Cantú makes this key observation:

Because social media incites within us a compulsion to share our thoughts, even potentially illegal ones, law enforcement sees it as a tool to preempt behavior that appears threatening to the status quo. We caught a glimpse of where this road could take us in Michigan, where the local news recently reported that a man calling for civil unrest on Facebook because of the Flint water crisis was nearly the target of a criminal investigation. At its worst, social media monitoring could create classes of ‘pre-criminals’ apprehended before they commit crimes if police and prosecutors are able to argue that social media postings forecast intent. This is the predictive business model to which Geofeedia CEO Phil Harris aspires. [The link goes to a 23-minute interview with Harris at YouTube.]

Postings forecast intent”— because no one ever says anything online they don’t really mean, right? There is a reason the pre-crime-arrest concept is fodder for tales of dystopian futures. Where do details like civilian oversight and the protection of civil rights come in?

Cynthia Murrell, December 5, 2016

Bug-Free, Efficient Tor Network Inching Towards Completion

November 30, 2016

The development team behind the Tor Project recently announced the release of Tor 0.2.9.5 that is almost bug-free, stable and secure.

Softpedia in a release titled New Tor “The Onion Router” Anonymity Network Stable Branch Getting Closer says:

Tor 0.2.9.5 Alpha comes three weeks after the release of the 0.2.9.4 Alpha build to add a large number of improvements and bug fixes that have been reported by users since then or discovered by the Tor Project’s hard working development team. Also, this release gets us closer to the new major update of The Onion Router anonymity network.

Numerous bugs and loopholes were being reported in Tor Network that facilitated backdoor entry to snooping parties on Tor users. With this release, it seems those security loopholes have been plugged.

The development team is also encouraging users to test the network further to make it completely bug-free:

If you want to help the Tor Project devs polish the final release of the Tor 0.2.9 series, you can download Tor 0.2.9.5 Alpha right now from our website and install it on your GNU/Linux distribution, or just fetch it from the repositories of the respective OS. Please try to keep in mind, though, that this is a pre-release version, not to be used in production environments.

Though it will always be a cat and mouse game between privacy advocates and those who want to know what goes on behind the veiled network, it would be interesting to see who will stay ahead of the race.

Vishal Ingole, November 30, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Tor Comes to the Rescue of Turkish Online Activists

November 29, 2016

Authorities in Turkey have effectively banned the use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Tor, however, has to come to the rescue of users, particularly online activists who want to get the word out about the social unrest in the country.

Motherboard in a report tiled Turks Are Flocking to Tor After Government Orders Block of Anti-Censorship Tools says:

Turkish Internet users are flocking to Tor, the anonymizing and censorship circumvention tool, after Turkey’s government blocked Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Usage of Tor inside of Turkey went up from around 18,000 users to 25,000 users on Friday, when the government started blocking the popular social media networks, according to Tor’s official metrics.

Apart from direct connection to the Tor Network through TOR browser, the network also allows users to use bridge relays that circumvent any access restrictions by ISPs. Though it’s not yet clear if ISPs in Turkey have also banned Tor access; however, the bridge relay connections have seen a spike in number since the ban was implemented.

It is speculated that the Government may have notified ISPs to ban Tor access, but failed to tell them to do so effectively, which becomes apparent here (a Tweet by a user):

I believe the government just sent the order and didn’t give any guide about how to do it,” Sabanc? told Motherboard in an online chat via Twitter. “And now ISPs trying to figure it out.

This is not the first time Tor has come to the rescue of online activists. One thing though is sure, more and more people concerned about their privacy or do not want to be repressed turning towards anonymous networks like Tor.

Vishal Ingole, November 29, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

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