Obama to Appoint Execs From Uber, Mastercard & Microsoft to Cybersecurity Panel

Cybersecurity is a big issue this year, with people becoming more and more aware of the steps that both governments and companies are making to gain access to or stop others accessing their data. After its recent attempt to get Apple to help bypass the security features on an iPhone, the FBI rather embarrassingly revealed that government systems had been accessed by an unknown party since 2011. In a move to help combat cybersecurity issues, President Obama intends to appoint executives from several major technology companies to a new cybersecurity panel to help act on these matters.

As part of a $19 billion proposal, the Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity will see people who are described by President Obama as being “dedicated individuals [who will] bring a wealth of experience and talent to this important role, and I look forward to receiving the Commission’s recommendations.”.

Among the names appear the likes of General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA from 2005 till 2014; Ubers Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan; the CEO of MasterCard Ajay Banga and corporate vice president of Microsoft Research, Peter Lee. With these being just a few of the names listed, the list seems to be focused on gathering the support of those who have experience within the industry, and while the released statement may be an announcement of his intent, any of the members on the list could provide valuable insight into cybersecurity.

White House Pledges $4b to Developing Self-Driving Cars

The Obama Administration has pledged to invest nearly $4 billion to accelerate the development of self-driving cars, and related infrastructure, in the US. The White House plans to support the burgeoning automated vehicle industry – which includes Google’s own endeavour (pictured above) –  over the next ten years, according to NBC News.

“Automated vehicles open up possibilities for saving lives, saving time and saving fuel,” Anthony Foxx, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, said at a press conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

President Obama will formally reveal the plan on Tuesday, during his State of the Union address, as part of a program to build a “21st century transportation system.” The federal government hopes to present a “model state policy” on self-driving cars within the next six months to offer “a path to consistent national policy,” a White House press release says.

The $3.9 billion investment from the government will be used to develop pilot programs to test “connected vehicle systems” across the United States, with the hope that it will make travelling a safer and more efficient experience.

“We know that 83 percent of car accidents are due to human error,” Foxx added. “What happens if human error could be eliminated? That’s a powerful possibility, and that’s a possibility worth pursuing.”

Russian Hackers Read Obama’s Email

According to the New York Times, Russian hackers may have gotten access to Obama’s White House email. While the White House itself has been silent on the issue, the emails were likely accessed during a hack related to the recent power outage. Sources with knowledge of the previous hack noted that Russians, likely connected to the Kremlin, were the perpetrators of the hack, a claim echoed again. Email at the White House was disrupted for about a month while the last vestiges of the hack were purged.

Despite being able to read Obama’s email, the hack is not as grievous as it could have been as it only breached the unclassified network. This means only unclassified emails sent to and from the system were accessed. Officials were quick to stress that no classified system was breached nor was classified information lost. The New York Times’s source suggests that the hack originated with a breach of the State Department’s unclassified network and found its way to the White House. That hack was so widespread, that to quote the New York Times:

“The disruptions were so severe during the Iranian nuclear negotiations in Vienna in November, officials needed to distribute personal email accounts, to one another and to some reporters, to maintain contact.”

Since the hack, Obama has reduced the frequency of his emails. Obama has been known for fighting against the Secret Service to keep access to his BlackBerry and email, unlike his predecessor, Geoge W. Bush, who completely eschewed email.  Given the recent revelations that the Pentagon unclassified networks were also hacked, it raises the issue as to how much these systems can be trusted and whether or not they are more of a liability than an asset.

Thank you New York Times for the information

Hack Puts Edward Snowden in the White House

It seems that Edward Snowden may have finally usurped President Obama and taken his place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. A cheeky ‘hacker’ has added the business Edwards Snow Den – purportedly a snowboarding shop – to the grounds of the White House on Google Maps.

Edward Snowden has become notorious since leaking confidential NSA documents, gained through his defense contract employer, that revealed mass surveillance of citizens at home and abroad on a criminal scale, back in 2013. Since leaking the documents, Snowden has been in hiding in Russia – a country he was forced to reside in when his passport was cancelled en route to Cuba – ever since on political asylum for fear of prosecution.

The amusing gag was achieved by getting Edwards Snow Den listed as a verified business and then, once given the thumbs-up by Google, the business changed its address to place it within the White House. Although Edwards Snow Den has had its verified business status revoked by Google, its Google+ page is still active, but Google seem to be actively trying to remove the prank.

Marketing Land, who first spotted the anomaly, had confirmation from Google that the listing had been taken down, but it still appears on a Google Maps search. How long it will remain, however, is unknown, so if you want to see it live, head over there now.

Thank you The Verge for providing us with this information.

Intelligence Agencies Point to Russian Involvement in Recent White House Hacking

The recent White House power outage has turned into being something more than that. CNN reports that US officials have admitted that the White House’s network has been hacked in the process, but the affected computers were part of a non-classified network serving the executive office.

Still, the attackers were able to access sensitive information, such as the president’s real-time daily schedule. CNN also reports that the attackers used an account on the State Department network to phish their way into the White House.

“We’re constantly updating our security measures on our unclassified system but we’re frankly told to act as if we need not put information that’s sensitive on that system. In other words, if you’re going to do something classified, you have to do it on one email system, one phone system.” Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security adviser, told CNN.

The Secret Service and Intelligence Agencies are already investigating the matter, but it looks like clues point to Russia being behind the attack, or at least the hackers originate from the aforementioned country.

The attackers are said to have covered their tracks by routing their activity through a lot of servers throughout the world.

Thank you Endgadget for providing us with this information

Google Said to Have Regular Meetings with White House Officials

The Wall Street Journal apparently got their hands on some visitor logs and emails linking high-ranking Google employees, including Eric Schmidt, meeting with White House officials 230 times across two terms, adding up to once a week meet-ups in the last four years.

Some of the meetings also look to have taken place during the final weeks before the commission settled with Google. The documents apparently help show how Google has become a lobbying powerhouse in recent years, such that it was able to defeat a major antitrust investigation.

It looks like Comcast has a similar kind of power in the government, having it be the only company to outspend Google’s $16.8 million in lobbying dollars last year. However, Comcast apparently met just 20 times in the last few years.

Also, it is reported that Google employees have moved over to roles in the White House in the past, having Obama naming former VP Megan Smith as his new chief technology officer last year.

Thank you Yahoo! Tech for providing us with this information

Apple’s Tim Cook Warns Obama That Sacrificing Privacy Will Have “dire consequences”

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has criticised US President Barrack Obama’s executive order for enhanced cybersecurity, saying the move will have “dire consequences”.

Cook was speaking at a cybersecurity summit organised by the White House, just moments before President Obama was set to take the stage.

“We still live in a world where all people are not treated equally. Too many people do not feel free to practice their religion or express their opinion or love who they choose,” Cook said.

“A world in which that information can make a difference between life and death,” Cook said. “If those of us in positions of responsibility fail to do everything in our power to protect the right of privacy, we risk something far more valuable than money. We risk our way of life.”

“Fortunately, technology gives us the tools to avoid these risks. It is my sincere hope that by using them and by working together, we will.”

He added that “history has shown us that sacrificing our right to privacy can have dire consequences.”

James Comey, Director of the FBI, criticised Apple’s use of encryption last year, saying, “Criminals and terrorists would like nothing more than for us to miss out.”

Source: The Guardian

North Korea Threatens to Blow Up the White House

In a totally reasonable and not at all childish reaction to a comedy movie, North Korea has threatened to bomb the White House in retaliation for the release of the Seth Rogen film The Interview.

After the Sony Pictures hack last month, the group claiming responsibility threatened Sony not to release The Interview – a comedy about two journalists attempting to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un – else they would release confidential information gathered from the hack, and even attack any cinema that dared screen the film.

After initial reticence, Sony did release the movie over Christmas, both online and to a limited cinema run, and North Korea is not happy. In a statement published by state-run Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s Policy Department of the National Defence Commission said:

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has already launched the toughest counteraction. Nothing is more serious miscalculation than guessing that just a single movie production company is the target of this counteraction. Our target is all the citadels of the U.S. imperialists who earned the bitterest grudge of all Koreans.

The army and people of the DPRK are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the U.S. in all war spaces including cyber warfare space to blow up those citadels.

Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland, the cesspool of terrorism, by far surpassing the “symmetric counteraction” declared by Obama.

The U.S. should reflect on its evil doings that put itself in such a trouble, apologize to the Koreans and other people of the world and should not dare pull up others. “

So, unless the US government apologises for a movie it had no hand in producing, North Korea will blow up the White House, presumably with its nefarious moon-mounted space laser. Sounds fair.

Source: We Are Anonymous

The White House Promises $263 Million For Police Body Cameras

President Obama has pledged a cool $263 million, which would be put toward providing law enforcement agencies with body cameras for their officers.

This is of course a roll-on action of the events in Ferguson, with $75 million of the fund being put to good use by purchasing cameras (around 50,000 of them), with the rest of it set to storage, training and outreach programs that will hopefully increase the level of trust between law enforcement officers, and the general public.

Source: Engadget.

White House Wants to Make Illegal Downloads a Felony Offense

The White House has weighed in on the issue of media copyright infringement online, asserting that illegal downloads should be made a felony offense. Alex Niejelow, Chief of Staff to the US Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator and National Security Council’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy, said in a statement, “we believe that federal criminal law should be modernized to include felony criminal penalties for those who engage in large-scale streaming of illegal, infringing content in the same way laws already on the books do for reproduction and distribution of infringing content.”

The White House affirmed its position on the matter in response to two online petitions calling for more leniency in intellectual property laws, citing the failed Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) as dangerously restrictive.

Source: The Hill

Original RickRoll Video Blocked by YouTube

It appears that the popular video-sharing website, YouTube, has blocked access to a seven years old RickRoll video, preventing users from hearing the still-popular “Never Gonna Give You Up” line. The video itself was uploaded by user ‘cotter548’ and was simply titled “RickRoll’D” and had nearly 71 million views, having YouTube blocking it in several countries, including the US.

YouTube did not comment immediately on the reason for blocking the video, which takes us to another similar but brief incident in 2012. Astley himself did not comment on the service’s action as well, but given that he did not write the song himself, he is thought not to have anything to do with the video’s removal. RCA is said to have released the track, which was co-written by Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman.

The track itself is said to have spent 23 weeks on the Hot 100 list back in 1987 and 1988, having it be the top song played during that period. The meme entitled ‘Rickrolling’ started to surface ten years later when Internet users started pranking their friends by sending a link of something that looked interesting and relevant, having it open to Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” shimmy.

It then quickly went viral and recipients over the years are stated to have included the Church of Scientology, the MTV Europe Music Awards, the new York Mets, MIT and various radio listeners. It is said that even the White House ‘roll’d’ a bored town hall attendee in 2011, having Astley himself popping out of an obnoxious float to Rickroll the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade in 2008.

Thank you Billboard for providing us with this information
Image courtesy of Billboard

Apple And Other Companies To Donate Free Hardware And Services To Schools

With the US Government launching its ConnectED initiative, which will help get US classrooms into the internet era, several major companies have joined The White House to give them a helping hand. Apple alone plans to donate a whopping $100 million in iPads, MacBooks and software to underprivileged schools.

Autodesk and O’Reilly Media will also be giving away free content and software, while Microsoft will heavily discount Windows to lower the prices of educational computers. Mobile networks will be lending a hand too, AT&T and Sprint will be offering free wireless and broadband for several years, and while Verizon aren’t giving away free services, they’ll still be donating $100 million in cash to other needs for these schools.

There are many issues that need fixing in schools all around the world, not just America, and these free or discount services, as well as donations, aren’t going to solve problems, but they’ll certainly ease the burden on the system and a lot of good can come out of it in time. Either way, it’s great that these companies are willing to help a new generation, but only time will tell us how effective the scheme has been.

Thank you Engadget for providing us with this information.

White House Trying To Prevent Ruling On NSA

The White House has acknowledged for the first time that the NSA’s bulk data collection of internet and phone activity was authorized by President Bush after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. With the administration of current President Barack Obama, filing papers with the Northern Districts of California to try and prevent a federal judge from issuing a ruling to see whether the government’s surveillance programs are constitutional.

James R. Clapper Jr. the director of national intelligence wrote;

“President Bush issued authorizations approximately every 30 to 60 days. Although the precise terms changed over time, each presidential authorization required the minimization of information collected concerning American citizens to the extent consistent with the effective accomplishment of the mission of detection and prevention of acts of terrorism within the United States. The NSA also applied additional internal constraints on the providentially authorized activities.”

These filings made by the White House come directly after another federal judge earlier this week said that the NSA’a data collection activities were likely unconventional. The Obama administration has argued that even with the leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, further more revelations about the NSA’s surveillance and data collection programs could put the governments security at risk if they were to be divulged in court. With this being said the US District Court has ordered the government to evaluate how and if Snowden’s leaks had affected the Invocation of the State Secrets Privilege, with this being the main defense that the Obama administration is relying on to stop the ruling and prevent information being used in court. We’ll keep you updated on this story as more develops.

Thank you CNET for the information provided.

Image courtesy of Lifestyle Lounge.

US President Not Allowed To Use An iPhone Due To “Rubbish” Secuirty

Apple’s security on the iPhone is apparently so bad that the US president’s officials will not allow him to use one, according to an article from Fudzilla. This might not come as a surprise for many, but apparently the men in black from the White House share the same thoughts.

President Barack Obama was asked by the tame Apple press why he could not be like them and use an iPhone. After all with all the questions that reporters could ask Obama, why he does not use an Apple product is the top of the list for any of the Tame Apple Press. However, their questions revealed an answer which the Apple press office would not like circulated.

Obama said he is not allowed to have Apple’s smart phone, the iPhone, for “security reasons.” Apple security is apparently so bad that it would be like giving all his personal data to the Chinese, Russians, or NSA. In fact, he happens to like his BlackBerry after coming to the White House in 2009, though he said only 10 people have his personal email address.

The company recently halted plans to be sold and is trying to chart a new course by focusing on large business and government clients. All this was a bit of a shock to the Tame Apple Press who instead ran many yarns about how Obama does use an iPad so he is one of them after all.

Thank you Fudzilla for providing us with this information

National Federation Of The Blind Attacks CAPTCHA

The BBC brought to our attention recently that there was a petition created on the WhiteHouse.Gov website for the government to “Side with the blind over obstructionist companies to secure a Treaty for the Blind that makes books accessible globally.” which is more about books not being available to the blind. As well as the National Federation of the Blind attacking CAPTCHA.  Being visually impaired doesn’t mean that you are 100 percent blind, and to be legally blind does not mean that you can’t see. It could just be that you cannot see without glasses, or even with glasses things are extremely blurry to the point where you can only really see shapes. Making reading words extremely difficult.

People who are blind are still people, they just aren’t able to see things clearly, making them rely more on other senses. Though you are not always able to rely on your senses when CAPTCHA doesn’t function properly. Websites want to prevent programs from easily gaining access to their websites and spamming them with junk, with many of us we can figure out what a CAPTCHA says, but someone with a disability, it might not be so easy, being able to view a blurry word or words, can be extremely difficult for some. And then if you can’t understand what it says you can click to hear, which doesn’t necessarily sounds like the letters or words presented in the CAPTCHA.

Image courtesy of Captcha.tv

The White House responds to phone unlock petition, agrees that it should be allowed

After collecting a total of 114,322 signatures via an online petition on The White House’s website to remove DMCA exemptions for unlocking cellphones which was implemented by the Librarian of Congress, The White House has given a response: You should be able to unlock your phone with no legal penalty as long you own the phone.

It should be noted that the term “unlocking” should not be confused with the term “jail-breaking”, but unlocking was made illegal without carrier permission during late January, a decision made just after removing a DMCA exemption that lets users go ahead with it. This caused anger among many phone owners and eventually a petition was filed on The White House’s page where they’ll have to give an official response once 100,000 signatures are collected.

The White house made it clear that unlocking should be allowed, so long as the phone is not under contract. The response also said that it should apply for second hand or any other mobile devices where you buy or receive it as a gift and wish to activate the wireless network of preference or need, even if it isn’t the one which the device was first activated with. All consumers deserve that flexibility.

The White House also said that Librarian of Congress have made this decision against the advice that came from the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) who is The President’s advisory organization for such matters in hand.

The response also added that The Obama Administration would support to address this issue to make it clear that neither criminal law or technological locks should prevent consumers from switching carriers when they are no longer under a service contract or any other obligation. It also noted The Chairman of Federal Communication Commission Genachowski voiced his concern about mobile phone unlocking. Therefore, NTIA will be formally engaging with FCC to address this issue.

Although it maybe a while before this is discussed upon, having The White House’s official response should boost some pressure to reverse the decision eventually in the people’s favour.

Via: Gizmodo