Tech Monopolies are Getting Like Airlines in Disregard for Consumers

New Orleans   The current global ransomware hack impacting 74 countries could gross the bad guys up to $3 billion, experts say. A couple of intrepid computer guys, one in Britain and another in the US, thwarted the hacking temporarily in a couple of lucky moves, reportedly. Many believe its impact will continue to be felt as more computers fire up this week.

Digging deeper it turns out once the finger pointing starts that computers are susceptible when they are not updated. A kneejerk reaction is to say, whoops, someone got lazy here or there, but it’s more complicated. Much of it has to do with the business model of Microsoft and the rest of the tech monopolies. They discontinued “supporting,” which really means fixing, Microsoft XP, so if you were a huge outfit that had paid them millions for XP, like FedEx or the British National Health Service, if you didn’t move all of your thousands of computers over to whatever their latest product was, then you were a sitting duck.

Anyone who has a computer operating on Microsoft Windows has mixed feelings about the way they do these updates. On Windows 7, the number of times I might wake up and find that overnight my computer had been updated without so much as a nevermind, and I had lost whatever websites were on my browser for study or had to recover Word and Excel files endlessly, there was time lost and cursing involved. Then in an update recently my computer was caught in an endless update cycle until Windows 10 was installed, their latest shot at the world, forcing me to start all over on everything. Suddenly, 10 doesn’t recognize my camera, and it won’t let me send emails from a right-click from my Passport or tape recorder. They do kind of let you schedule updates, but it’s all brute force. Bottom line, it’s easy to imagine tech departments in a lot of big shops, deciding to pick and choose and turn off updates until they are good and ready, but the notion that Microsoft can sell a product and then stop supporting it is absurd. When my car breaks, GM and Ford will still have the parts and fix it, regardless of how old my vehicle or how many miles I have on it.

Apple is certainly no better, and possibly worse. I’m still trying to figure out how to recover all my iTunes that are supposedly on their cloud, but now they are claiming they don’t recognize any of my passwords, and don’t email me a the protocol for a new one. A friend lost all of what they had on their iPod when they got a different computer. I have the same old, beat-up computer, but I’m in a new world. Google…hmm… maybe better but trying to get on their Project Fi phone program for international calls, they didn’t ever say exactly that the version of the phone it accepted has an X on it, and won’t take any responsibility. Wonder why so many people buy stuff from Amazon, they actually refund on mistakes and have some customer service.

So, hey, we’re all on computers, and we’re all vulnerable, and a lot of us are techno-peasants, and I’ll admit it, so we’re going to mess up, but these huge tech monopolies are treating us like cattle, rather than customers, and that’s going to mean more worldwide computer meltdowns. Don’t blame the victims, and be careful even on the criminals, because the tech monopolies are creating and enabling these disasters.

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Is This Really the End of Email?

password-creator-for-androidNew Orleans   In the wake of massive and disruptive hacking of emails in the corporate and political world, there was a piece in the paper the other day essentially announcing the end of email. The author was making a case that it was time to return to direct and telephonic communication on any matters pretty much more important than a grocery list. We might wonder about all of that even if it is abundantly clear that soon email systems should come with a caution or a cigarette pack warning that pops up before you hit the “send” button. In fact, is there already an app for that? If so, we should all get it!

We think of email as ubiquitous now with a gazillion messages sent daily, but is it? There’s every indication that texting, Facebook messaging, Snapchat, and even Instagram are more common communications tools for many of the under-30’s in the developed world than email. No small part of that may be the ability to utilize a more informal language and briefer protocols than even common in emails. On the other side of the divide, there are the old dogs, and there are some of them still barking in union halls, corporate corridors, and even political offices who have their assistants print out their emails and often handle their replies.

Some of these dogs know how to bury their bones or at least keep others from uncovering them. Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina was quoted during the first of the Democratic National Committee released by WikiLeaks that he had never used email yet, and had no plans to ever use email in the future. I’ve often told the story of Mayor Marc Morial of New Orleans, now the longtime head of the National Urban League, based in New York City, telling me he looked forward to leaving office so he could see what a Blackberry was like and use email. Politics is almost the ultimate transactional business, so at the best some were huge fans of the Animals and were always humming, “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” and at the worst, well, as Hillary Clinton’s email program has demonstrated, let’s just not go there. On the other hand we had John Podesta a former White House Chief of Staff and ultimate political professional using a Gmail address, when he must have known even if never hacked, Google never destroys emails leaving a permanent record just out there waiting.

Can we keep email and use encryption? I’d like to think so, but then there’s the federal lawsuit trying to break Moxie Marlinspike’s best-in-class system. Can messaging encryption like WhatsApp be better? Maybe, but then I read a long article in The New Yorker about the coup in Turkey and how the Gulenists were in deep trouble once the Turkish intelligence got into their homemade app called ByLock that had 200,000 users forcing them to “go underground” with something else called Eagle. We’ve all read about the FBI having to pay big bucks to “unlock” an IPhone. You have to wonder whether or not there’s anything that cannot be hacked?

Should we worry about this at all? Most of us not only have nothing to hide, but pretty low key, boring correspondence and lives for that matter in the eyes of the outside world, even if vital to ourselves, our work, and families. Nonetheless, we’re somebody, too! Do we just sigh and accept the tradeoff between privacy and convenience? Do we exchange paranoia for openness?

Where is this all going? My companera and I watched an episode of a widely touted, and supposedly “most relevant” show on television the other night on Netflix. The episode featured an implant behind the ear and a small thumb drive size device everyone carried around constantly that filmed and recorded every part of everyone’s lives, allowing someone to search back in old experiences from their past, unless they had deleted it. Is that where we’re going? If so, I guess we should enjoy email while we have it, and start calling these days, the good old days!

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Secrets? Who Has Secrets Anymore?

yahoohackLittle Rock   If you ever want to keep a secret, don’t ever write it down anywhere. Don’t walk, but run away the internet! That’s increasingly the single biggest clue to protecting your privacy.

The evidence mounts daily as the tidal surges of data seep out of every conceivable internet portal and stream into hands both nefarious and purposeful. Let’s look at some cases in point.

  • WikiLeaks has to be in the conversation, but someone has to explain Julian Assange to me these days. Is he about transparency or anarchy? Is he serving a greater cause or an agent of the KGB? The fact that we’re scratching our heads, means there is a big warning sign attached to anything with a WikiLeaks label these days.
  • Yahoo had all of the critical data lifted from a half-million customers in the latest and largest hackfest, including social security numbers and the whole enchilada. The biggest concern in the papers was whether it would lower Yahoo’s sale price to the telecoms.
  • The FBI arrested someone in August who had lifted the source code for hacking into foreign government websites (and just maybe we should discuss that sometime, too!), but now they aren’t clear if he was a Snowden wannabe or a hoarder who couldn’t keep himself from taking stuff home. Booz Allen has made billions subcontracting to NSA and other agencies for this kind of spy craft, but seems to be running a Swiss cheese factory.
  • Yahoo seems to have answered a secret subpoena from the government and created a scanner for its email to try and isolate messages for an alleged terrorist the G-men were tracking.

The list is endless: Apple, one bank after another, credit companies, department stores, hotels, and on and on. Pretty much if you operate in the modern economy, your data is eventually going to end up everywhere, partly because it cost money for companies to protect it, and they would rather apologize for the breech and say, “it’s happening to everyone,” rather than provide the security they are implicitly promising whenever you turn over your information.

No worries, you could go with encryption right?

Not if you follow what is happening to Open Whisper, reputedly the best encryption site out there developed by Mr. Encryption, Moxie Marlinspike, an eccentric, genius hacker and programmer. The government has secretly subpoenaed his company for information. We know this because the ACLU has won some court proceedings trying to protect Marlinspike and his operation. Nonetheless the government is still after Open Whisper because they are trying to collect information that the company expressly says that it does NOT collect.

We’re living in a catch-22 world now. We can’t live with the internet, but we can’t live without it. At this point we need to come to grips with the fact that unless we’re hand signaling to someone out in the wilderness somewhere, no secret is safe, and of course even while our lips might be moving and our hands waving, an eye in the sky probably has our GPS coordinates handy and some footage available.

Our lives are an open book. Get used to it!

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Please enjoy Suzanne Vega’s We of Me. Thanks to KABF.

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Hacking is Everywhere, What are You Saying on Your Email?

silhouettenoire-blocked22            Douala, Cameroon     Crossing the world to places where you feel lucky to have internet, rather than thinking it’s as common as air, I follow this hacking thing perhaps more than the average bear.

In Germany between Hamburg and Berlin, a funny thing happened to me that in my naiveté, I ignored blithely until returning to the United States. It was a situation I wrote off, jokingly, in mi companera’s words as Mercury-in-Retrograde, when mechanical things and even simple communications go awry. I would send an email in Hamburg tightening down a meeting or a pickup, and somehow it would never be received. My blog wouldn’t show up for posting in New Orleans. Finally hitting New Orleans I consulted our server mastermind, thinking, duh, it might be me, not them. Sure enough he and his team found that 87 of my emails had been blocked from so-called “blacklisted” sites. I’m still sorting it out, and working to tell people that in some cases their homes are even blacklisted, not just random buildings, coffeehouses, and hostels. They recommend that I go through a VPN network like people do in China and Russia, so that I’m linking virtually to an eye-spy server in the US with a random address and then bouncing on from there. Maybe their right. Maybe it’s the way we all need to go?

With emails being randomly hacked throughout the US now, first with tech companies and Hollywood, and now politics and most recently former General and Secretary of State Colin Powell, I read that a network anchor had stayed home to delete his entire Gmail account so that he wouldn’t be taking a chance. Others in public life are also scouring their emails. Senator Lindsey Graham told a reporter, no problem, he had never sent an email yet, so he wasn’t worried. What world does he live in, and can we move it farther from the rest of us?

The simple lesson might be, don’t say anything in private that you wouldn’t want to have made public, but who among us could ever live in that glass house forever. Even if we tried, that doesn’t protect us from misinterpretation or, you know, Mercury-in-Retrograde.

Veterans of the burn from previous hackers say that in fact you learn to be more careful. Law firms have created abbreviations that essentially say, talk to me in person, and don’t put it in an email.

None of this is a step towards more transparency and in fact it seems to be a step away from the quick and fluid communication that is part of the gift of email.

So what’s the solution? Go all German and flip IP addresses and blacklists like cards in a deck in the name of privacy, but that may mean even emails that you might want to read are being blocked from you or slow-death in a spam file. Meanwhile weeks may go by before some poor sucker, like me, realizes he’s talking to the internet, and not the people he’s trying to reach.

I’m with the “no substitute for good judgement” crew, because we have to communicate to move forward, but what a mess!

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