Internet News (December 2017)

Uber mistake

Uber have yet again been the subject of the news headlines following a massive data breach. British officials including security agencies, MP’s and watchdogs have slammed Uber, the global transportation company after their smoke screening of a massive data breach that involved the records of over 57 million customer and drivers.

Already in the press following their failure to follow governing taxi firm guidelines, the firm continue to receive negative headlines following the concealment of the data breach that took place in 2016. The news of the disclosure raises further concerns around the company’s data protection policies and business ethics.

With exact figures yet to be confirmed regarding the affected customers across the globe, it is understood that over 600,000 drivers’ information from the US were exposed; the number of UK customers and employees who are at risk have yet to be confirmed.

It was a statement from Uber’s Deputy Information Commissioner, James Dipple-Johnstone, that highlighted Uber had not immediately informed customers and drivers when their details had been stolen, and that investigations could have taken place to assess and validate the effect it had on the persons affected.

Questions have been raised about how Uber conduct their business internally and externally, with Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson also questioning their procedures. Watson made open criticisms on Twitter, to Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, pointing out their failure to notify customers of the breach, and making the point that when Transport for London denied the renewal of their licence to operate, Uber succeeded to contact their customers, within 24 hours, asking them to protest the decisions that had been made.

Questions also raised in the letter included who was aware of the breach, as well as information regarding the staff members involved. Further investigations by the National Crime Agency and the National Security Centre are taking place, in order to determine how the breach has fully affected customers based in the UK. They have also expressed the concern that companies have a duty of care to their customers, and in this case the breach that occurred should have been reported immediately so that businesses could have worked alongside each other to limit any damages.

The revelation of Uber’s business practices, or lack of them, materialised prior to the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation where maximum fines of £17 million will be seen – these new regulations will be in place in 2018.

Kaspersky fights back

A full technical report has been published by Kaspersky Labs following claims that intelligence operatives based in Russia, stole American National Security Agency (NSA) secrets while using its antivirus tool. It is alleged that during 2015, an engineer from the NSA gathered information relating to the agencies’ cyber-weapons and worked with the information on his computer at home, while running the Russian based anti-malware software. It was then, it is claimed, that the classified information codes and other confidential documents were discovered by Kremlin spies via his own copy of Kaspersky antivirus.

These events have occurred at an unfortunate time following US officials placing a ban on the Russian software. The software is no longer to be used within any federal government system. The ban was put in place one month prior to the alleged incident. Kaspersky have denied any form of involvement.

Published last Thursday, the report had no record of the events in 2015. But on closer inspection, the event in fact occurred a year before in 2014. A computer user, using a Verizon FiOS IP address based in Baltimore was seen to fire up the Kaspersky software – once the computer was working, the software allocated a powerful cyber-attack code within the PC, and that code was was part of a collection codenamed the “Equation Group”.

During the next three months, a total of 37 unique Equation Group files were found within the computer. It was believed that the machine was owned by the developer of the highly sophisticated malware. Many of the files were confined to removable drives. Archived details were returned to Kaspersky’s servers for further investigation, and it’s contents included a collection of executable modules, classified Word documents and other files relating to the Equation Group project.

Eugene Kaspersky himself, is alleged to have ordered the information to be immediately destroyed – although the Infosec community remain sceptical.

American Congress Paving The Way For ISPs To Sell Customer Data

Under the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted for restrictions to be placed on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in order to limit the information about their customers they are permitted to divulge.

This rule has since been overturned earlier this year by the House of Representatives, a rule which required ISPs to specifically obtain a customer’s permission prior to sharing their browsing histories with other companies, and also to ensure they protected this data against hackers and responsibly informed customers of any breaches that may occur.

This is clearly a terrible thing for customer privacy, as ISPs can basically treat their customers as products that they can resell useful data to others for a larger pay day.

Following on from that, “Net Neutrality” issues have reared their ugly head once again, with the FCC under the leadership of Ajit Pai, someone that used to be emplyed as Associate General Counsel at Verizon Communications, one of the very ISP companies he now has the power to legislate over, a clear conflict of interests, have announced plans that they will be looking into repealing the net neutrality rules, with a vote taking place next month to finalise a decision to move forward with those plans.

The Net Neutrality rules, if you didn’t know, were put in place for the specific purpose of disallowing ISPs to selectively slow down or speed up traffic of specific websites, offering preferential treatment to companies that may potentially be paying them for the privilege. An example being perhaps Netflix, one of the most popular media streaming websites in the world, and one that accounts for a not insignificant portion of the overall internet traffic, being held to ransom by these ISPs in order to not get their website’s bandwidth throttled over their network unless they paid a fee for aforementioned preferential treatment. A practice that sounds not all that dissimilar to racketeering.

The ramifications for this rollback of the rules put in place could certainly spell dark times coming for the internet as a whole, though this legislation only directly affects the United States, people across the world will most likely be affected due to traffic to American servers still being within the network that’s being throttled by the providers.

A vote is due to take place next month that could see an end to the Obama-era protocols that were designed to prevent broadband providers interfering with internet users access. The FCC expect the vote to take place and be successful, due to Republicans being both the driving and political controlling force in control of the FCC.

Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii who serves on the Senate Commerce Committee, wants to see the voices heard of the millions of “Angry Net Neutrality” supporters by a full ballot. The 2015 regulation, currently requires the content of internet to be treated the same as others, and prohibits broadband providers from blocking sites as well as slowing down traffic. The ban also covers internet companies who attempt to to charge other companies in order to access their customers quicker than their competitors. Democrats from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Hawaii are urging people to preserve the current regulations. Schatz fears that by allowing broadband companies to have more control of the internet, it will then lead to less choices and not as much access for Americans. Of the FCC’s plans, Schatz describes the move as a threat “to end the internet as we know it”.

Grassroots organisers have reported that Congress received over 200,000 calls within the first 24 hours of the release of the proposal. Protest groups including “Fight For The Future” are planned to take place at Verizon stores during the week prior to the FCC vote that is due to take place on December 14th.

Want to be healthier? There’s an app for that…

OurPath, an app that has helped over 500 patients to adjust their unhealthy lifestyles to a more healthier regime in a short period of time could save the NHS £0.5 billion during the next 10 years.

Chris Edson, alongside his partner Mike Gibbs launched the healthy lifestyle app in June 2016, which is credited with helping over 500 patients with weight loss by changing their lifestyles by using the innovative app. Their aim was to battle life threatening diseases, such as heart disease, lung cancer and diabetes by helping users of the app to make changes in their unhealthy lifestyles.

Users of the app can see changes in their habits from as little as three months, with an average drop in weight of 7kg (just over 1 stone). Securing £0.5 million of investment from 500 Startups, an American venture capital firm, and Bethnal Green Ventures based in the UK in May 2017, the partners are aiming to make the app more accessible throughout the NHS.

With a background in engineering and quantum computing, Edson additionally shows a passion towards the field of medicine. It was a family member being on the verge of developing Type 2 Diabetes that gave Edson the motive he needed to develop the OurPath app. The family member went on to try the program and successfully made a 10kg loss in their own weight.

The principles behind the plan is by way of what is known as ‘Third Wave’ Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). Self sabotage is one of the largest complications when people are changing their lifestyle habits and failing in their personal efforts. OurPath is aimed at patients own wants and needs, and works with their own values. If a patient’s aims are that they “want to be healthy for my kids”, then the program adapts to develop a patient plan along those lines.

In addition to this, a set of scales are set up within the patients home which are then linked to a 3G network. When the patient weighs themselves, the data is then sent through the network to the patients personal “OurPath” mentor. The personal mentor is a registered dietician, and is available for 24/7 assistance. The information is also sent to their ‘OurPath Group’  – the group consists of up to 10 people, alongside the patient who are also completing the program.

The group is very much like a WhatsApp group, with members providing coaching and encouragement during the programme. If a member of the group has not weighed in for a while, each member of the group can reach out to the member, offering support and encouragement in times of need, or when a patient is struggling with their own plan. A partnership with pharmaceutical company Roche, based in the UK has been announced by Edson and Gibbs, with a view to targeting 750,000 new patients that could potentially use the application during the next five years.

Guideline figures from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence detail that every 3kg of weight loss can be cost effective, if the treatment is less than £1000. OurPath costs the NHS £300 throughout the persons lifetime, thus making a £700 saving. If the program continues until 2020, the NHS would be making a saving of a whopping £525 million.

OurPath is currently available privately, but is also now being trialled as a Type 2 Diabetes measure within small areas of the NHS across the UK. Due to the NHS being slow to adopt new ideas, the use of the app has taken a while to gain ground. Although the developments were slow during the last two years, the partnership eventually successfully achieved their first NHS commission.

NHS regulations, approvals, trials, data security and evidence were required in order to gain their first commission. However, when dealing with an individuals health, these checks had to be carried out with a fine-tooth comb before the NHS were confident enough to agree to the programme.

Due to the partnership with Roche, Edson and Gibbs can now continue with their development of the app and are looking to expand its use across the globe during 2018. The numbers using the app in the UK are also set to rise. The easy and simplicity of the programme has proved successful, and the team are continuing to develop strategies on changing the way people’s brains work, and how to change old habits through their own personal choices.

EA Woes Continue Over Star Wars Battlefront 2 Loot Boxes

Recently a significant event in video gaming has occurred…one of a battle between the publishers and developers versus the players that has come to such a head, that its legality is being investigated and legislation is being considered.   This current story involves the monetisation publishers and developers are building into their video games software in order to make extra profits from their work after the initial release and retail sales.

“Loot boxes” are the main focus of this recent hubbub, directly in relation to what has been seen by many as the incredibly negative and relatively overt abuse of systems design and psychology in the recently released Star Wars: Battlefront 2 game, published by Electronic Arts (EA), another way to try and squeeze money out of its players in the form of a lengthy carrot and stick style rewards system, combined with the ability for the player to purchase more “rewards” directly.

Now, you might think “What’s the problem? If people want to spend money instead of time in a game then that’s entirely up to them,” and to an extent you’d be correct, certainly the player should make their own minds up based on a value judgement, and whether they believe it even necessary to spend more money at all.

On the other hand though, the tricks and systems these types of games employ in order to maximise profits are considered by many to be truly devious, or at the very least exploitative, mainly due to the fact that the ‘rewards’ that you purchase are ‘loot boxes’ which contain random items, so you’re not so much directly purchasing a digital product or service so much, as you’re instead purchasing a chance at receiving the item you’re perhaps buying these boxes for in the first place.

In certain cases this might be quite an innocent way to extend the life of a game, combined with a means to earn a few extra pounds from dedicated players that enjoy the game. Conversely, games such as Overwatch, developed by Blizzard Entertainment, use a perceivable. fair and flat earn rate for loot boxes over time invested playing, and all the items contained inside of them are of a purely cosmetic nature, such as changing the look of your character for example.

On the more exploitative side of things, such as the recent Star Wars: Battlefront 2 game as an example, which employs, at first glance, the same practices as Overwatch, it soon becomes apparent that the similarities are only skin deep. Once you dig into what these loot boxes can potentially contain, such as items that directly affect game  play, with the arguably stronger or at least more sought after items which can give you a leg up on the competition, combined with the fact that the earn rate for these boxes is skewed in favour of frustrating the player into buying more with real money, you can quickly see the differences between the two, and why the practice is so derided.

This game is far from the first of its kind to employ such a system. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, published by Warner Brothers had a similar, albeit lesser, outcry upon its release just over a month ago for basically the same reason. Even that game is probably too recent an example to convey just how long systems like this have been permeating gaming, as mobile games are the far more prolific place to see this kind of tactic. The mobile gaming space is different, in that more money is made from players downloading initially free games, and then coerced  into feeling incentivised to spend after the fact, on items and factors that speed up their progression through the game for example.

Compared with either Battlefront 2 or Shadow of War, both ‘Triple A’ games retailing at full price, ranging from somewhere around £35 – £50, even more for special editions, and that’s not even including games that include season passes which players can buy to experience more content at a later date once it has been released. Sooner or later, something has to give.

The question of whether the randomness of these loot boxes is considered gambling is still up for debate, but one thing is for sure, legislators and governments are now beginning to turn their focus towards this game, and games like it, to determine whether they are indeed gambling. And if so, how are they to go about regulating these games, and even if they aren’t, will they take into account that the psychological practices employed are used to exploit money from a demographic that is predominantly children or young adults, and the legality and morality of such practices.

Some governments have now publicly announced they are investigating the game and others of its ilk, with a subset of those, such as Hawaii, giving a public statement about their initial impressions of the system upon hearing about it and their intentions moving forward regarding it.

Hawaii’s public statement issued by State Representatives Chris Lee and Sean Quinlan was particularly damning regarding the systems employed and their exploitative nature, with Chris Lee stating, “We’re here today to ensure future protections for kids, youth, and everyone when it comes to the spread of predatory practices in online gaming, and the significant financial consequences that it can have on families and has been having on families around this nation.”

“This game is a Star Wars themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money, it’s a trap, and this something we need to address to ensure that, particularly kids who are underage, who are not psychologically and emotionally mature enough to be able to gamble, which is why gambling is prohibited under 21 [years of age], are protected from being trapped into these cycles which have compelled many folks to spend thousands of dollars in gaming fees online.”

Very damning and decisive words from Hawaii on this issue, and while some may argue that their reaction and approach was a little heavy handed, their underlying message about the exploitative and predatory practices is clearly apparent. Belgium has also made it clear that it will be investigating and considering legislation against these kinds of systems in games, stating very clearly that, “The combination of money and addiction is gambling.”

In response to this incredibly public and damning backlash from online communities and now government legislators, EA has made the decision to disable loot boxes in Battlefront 2, albeit only temporarily, until they can tweak things in a way that they believe will be deemed more acceptable.

NHS To Employ Ethical Hackers To Beef Up Cyber Security

The NHS will be employing a number of ethical hackers, spending some £20 million GBP to do so.

Sometimes more commonly referred to as “White Hats”, ethical hackers are computer security experts who specialise in employing penetration testing, along with other methodologies, in order to shore up and secure systems against attackers.

This decision comes just months after the NHS had roughly a third of its systems compromised by a ransomware attack known as WannaCry and clearly has a direct correlation. Head of Data Centre Security at NHS Digital, Dan Taylor, expressed that they would be running a “Near-real-time monitoring and alerting service that covers the whole health and care system”, and also, “[Improve our] ability to anticipate future vulnerabilities while supporting health and care in remediating current known threats.”

The NHS had been caught completely off guard by WannaCry earlier this year, the UK’s National Audit Office claimed, because they had failed to keep their security solutions current and failed to follow cyber-security policy.

Taylor extolled the new security being implemented, emphasizing it will be much more effective at providing information about what has been infected and where. “In an event like WannaCry, the centre could help hospitals know where they are getting infected from in real time, which was a big issue at the time, organisations were unsure how they were being infected.”

Minority Report Style AI Will Filter The Bad Things, UK Home Sec Claims

UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd believes that Artificial Intelligence employing tactics similar to the kind of crime prevention used in the movie “Minority Report” will be the way forward in the war to prevent content such as terrorist propaganda from being posted online.

The Telegraph quoted Rudd as she stated that “Companies should press ahead with development and deployment of Artificial Intelligence systems that could spot such content before it is posted on the internet and block it from being disseminated.” The implication here is that large social networks such as Facebook should be coding and utilising AI designed to detect and block the offending content.

While the future precognition might not be entirely accurate, AIs would be able to act as a filter in front of the content posted before humans had a chance to look at it, essentially stopping the content before it ever emerged on the website publicly. This system sounds great in principle, but perhaps the issue is far more complicated than you would be initially led to believe. Perhaps a writer posting commentary on terrorist activity for example, and by simply including wording along the same lines for the purposes of disclosure in journalism, would then find that their article would then get flagged for the very same thing.

The loneliness of the short distance shopper

Elderly shoppers are avoiding their weekly shop due to the high tech automated checkout machines. The charity group, Anchor, England’s largest not-for-profit provider of housing and care for older people, have reported that the elderly are intimidated by the automated checkouts, and feel that the new paying systems are unfriendly.

Some elderly shoppers, use their weekly shopping trip as a social experience, and taking the personal touch of a checkout operator away, can make their weekly shop a “miserable experience”.

In addition to this, the charity added that by removing seating areas from shopping centres and in high streets is making the older people of Britain feel “unwelcome”. The high street should be made a welcoming experience for the whole community, and the lack of facilities and unwelcoming surroundings can add to the feelings of loneliness and isolation within the older population.

It is estimated that 1.2 million people in the UK are victims of chronic loneliness according to the “Campaign To End Loneliness”. The recent campaign has also highlighted that automated checkouts are taking away some people’s only chance to have contact and talk with another human being  during the day, perhaps even their week.

Recent figures show that 24% of the older generation are put off shopping due to the impersonal automated checkout systems, whilst another 60% do not visit the high street, due to the lack of seating areas should they need to rest. The charity Anchor are currently promoting their “Standing Up 4 Sitting Down” campaign to help improve resting places and seating areas along high streets and in shops for the older generation.

Numbers within the older generation within the UK are continuing to rise. It is thought that if they are drawn away from high street shopping areas, retailers could miss out on at least £4.5 billion in sales over the next decade.

There are still a significant number of older people that do not use the internet and depend on their weekly trip out to the shops. Data shows that the majority of over-75s who have used the internet has increased from 19.9% in 2011, to 40.5% in 2017, whilst younger pensioners who use the internet – aged between 65 and 74 – have increased from 52% in 2011 to 77.5% in 2017.

It is important for local councils and retailers to ensure that the shopping facilities are made welcome destinations to everyone in their communities. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case, and as always it comes down to cost basically – rather than employing a new member of the team, the team member is being replaced by an up to date machine that in the long run, could save the retailer money instead of the costs of an annual salary.

Internet News – November 2017

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