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Trump Team Planning Possible Retaliation for Classified Leak Allegations

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Jenna McLaughlin reports in Foreign Policy:

President Donald Trump’s inner circle is war-gaming how best to respond to the Washington Post’s bombshell report that he shared classified intelligence with the Russians about an Islamic State plot, sensitive information reportedly passed to the United States by Israel.

One option under consideration? Attack former President Barack Obama and his administration over their handling of sensitive data, in particular through one information-sharing program regarding cybersecurity threats.

According to a source with knowledge of a White House meeting that took place Wednesday morning, Trump’s team is considering launching an investigation into a Department of Homeland Security program that shares information on cyberattacks in an effort to coordinate globally on countering digital threats, insinuating that it inappropriately opened up streams of sensitive data to Russia and other nonallies. Another option under consideration is placing a story in the media about the program, similarly accusing it of sharing sensitive information.

The White House told Foreign Policy that it was not aware of any such meeting or discussions with Russia to participate in that information-sharing program.

The program in question, known as the Automated Indicator Sharing capability, allows companies to provide information about potential cyberattackers, like IP addresses and emails, to the U.S. government and international partners. The Department of Homeland Security is working on expanding the program to sharing “characteristics of cyberattacks” to help “identify and block adversary methods that we’ve never seen before,” wrote Scott McConnell, a department spokesman, in an email to FP.

The administration’s approach in this instance is a “bag of crazy cats,” the source with knowledge of the meeting said.

Another source close to the White House confirmed to FP that Trump and his team have been interested in targeting the Homeland Security program for the past couple weeks. Nothing has been decided, the source added, but it’s an option on the table.

Sources with knowledge of the program found the idea absurd.

One former Department of Homeland Security official, when contacted by FP and told about the Trump team’s plans, laughed in response. “That doesn’t make sense,” he said.

“It seems ludicrous,” the former official added.

While there is some cybersecurity information that the United States shares around the globe, including with Russia and China, “there’s certain information out there that’s beneficial for everyone to have, like, ‘Hey, this Windows program has a bug.’ When we share cybersecurity information with the Russians, we’re protecting their systems, making sure that no one hijacks their planes and missiles.”

Additionally, the former official said, nothing the department has in its information-sharing program is particularly sensitive. It would just be “indicators of an attack,” the source said. “Nothing is going to be vital to national security.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 May 2017 at 3:50 pm

Outlook for college grads

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Very interesting column by Danielle Paquette in the Washington Post on the impact of automation and AI on highly compensated jobs (banking, finance, software engineering). The column opens with:

The job title “Wall Street trader” once evoked sleek suits, martini-soaked lunches and chaotic offices  — a gateway to prosperity at a relatively young age. But earlier this year, Marty Chavez, the chief financial officer of Goldman Sachs, revealed that some of the investment bank’s well-paid humans were being replaced by unpaid robots.

Over the last seventeen years, the number of stock traders at the firm has shrunk from 600 to two, he told  a Harvard computer science symposium in January. . .

And it concludes with:

. . .“Investment banking is next on the chopping block,” Webb said. And engineering isn’t off the hook, either. “The next iteration of artificial intelligence,” she said, “is artificial intelligence creating software for itself.”

In one Google Brain experiment, for example, software became better at teaching itself tasks — such as navigating a maze, for example — than the engineers who were charged with making it smarter.

“That obviates the need,” she said, “for a human engineer.”

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2017 at 8:15 pm

Jason Koebler switched from Chrome to Opera, and so did I

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Jason Koebler writes at Motherboard:

It’s time to break up with Chrome and all the RAM it eats up.

If the purpose of a web browser is to load, view, and interact with the largest percentage of websites on the internet, then the best web browser in the world is Google Chrome, which can handle just about anything you throw at it. But if you like opening more than a couple tabs at once, Google Chrome is not the browser for you.

Over the last few years, I have grown endlessly frustrated with Chrome’s resource management, especially on MacOS. Admittedly, I open too many tabs, but I’d wager that a lot of you do, too. With Chrome, my computer crawls to complete unusability multiple times a day. After one too many times of having to go into Activity Monitor to find that one single Chrome tab is using several gigs of RAM, I decided enough was enough.

I switched to Opera, a browser I had previously thought was only for contrarians.

This, after previous dalliances with Safari and Firefox left me frustrated. Chrome has a built-in advantage, because web developers optimize their pages for the most popular browser (Chrome!). And so as Chrome gets more popular, its compatibility continues to get better while Safari’s and Firefox’s would suffer (at least in theory). Safari uses an engine known as WebKit and Firefox uses Gecko, while Chrome is built on an engine called Blink, which is used in all Chromium-based browsers (Chromium is a fully featured, open source browser that served as the backbone for Chrome).

Safari manages resources well but didn’t work great with a lot of streaming video. More importantly, Safari doesn’t use favicons (the tiny icons on the tab that tell you what site you’re on), which, can I just say, is a WILD design decision and a complete deal breaker for anyone who opens a lot of tabs. I found Firefox to be slow and ran into compatibility issues as well—this experiment was over a year ago so I don’t remember the specifics, but I didn’t love it. I spent only a couple hours with the upstart Vivaldi browser before getting frustrated with its non-Chrome-ness.

After several months of using Opera, most of my web browsing problems have been solved. Wednesday, Opera released a new version of its browser, called “Reborn,” which adds in-browser WhatsApp, Facebook, and Telegram messaging. For now, this feature is just a gimmick to me: The real appeal of Opera is that it is essentially Chrome but with a better, less disastrous and less time consuming mechanism of failure.

Because Opera is also based on Blink, I almost never run into a website, plugin, script, or video that doesn’t work flawlessly on it. In fact, Opera works almost exactly like Chrome, except without the resource hogging that makes me want to throw my computer against a brick wall.

This is exactly the point, according to Opera spokesperson Jan Standal: “What we’re doing is an optimized version of Chrome,” he said. “Web developers optimize most for the browser with the biggest market share, which happens to be Chrome. We benefit from the work of that optimization.”

Why I can’t use Chrome anymore

One of the original draws of Chrome was that it handles each tab as a separate process. This means that if one tab crashes, it doesn’t crash the whole browser. This innovation—once the selling point of the browser—is one of the reasons why Chrome is a nightmare to use today. As we started running powerful applications within tabs and as websites became bloated with autoplaying videos, tracking scripts, and ads, each individual tab we open has the potential to be a resource hog. That’s how you end up with a couple tabs using multiple gigs of RAM. Though I’ve tried extensions like the Great Suspender and OneTab, these never felt like full solutions and neither did much to help my problem.

Google has tried to rein in resource-hogging tabs, but in my experience on MacOS, new versions of Chrome haven’t solved the problem. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2017 at 4:20 pm

Posted in Software, Technology

Comey’s Testimony on Huma Abedin Forwarding Emails Was Inaccurate

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Peter Elkind reports in ProPublica:

FBI director James Comey generated national headlines last week with his dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, explaining his “incredibly painful” decision to go public about the Hillary Clinton emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

Perhaps Comey’s most surprising revelation was that Huma Abedin — Weiner’s wife and a top Clinton deputy — had made “a regular practice” of forwarding “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton messages to her husband, “some of which contain classified information.” Comey testified that Abedin had done this so that the disgraced former congressman could print them out for her boss. (Weiner’s laptop was seized after he came under criminal investigation for sex crimes, following a media report about his online relationship with a teenager.)

The New York Post plastered its story on the front page with a photo of an underwear-clad Weiner and the headline: “HARD COPY: Huma sent Weiner classified Hillary emails to print out.” The Daily News went with a similar front-page screamer: “HUMA ERROR: Sent classified emails to sext maniac Weiner.”

The problem: Much of what Comey said about this was inaccurate. Now the FBI is trying to figure out what to do about it.

FBI officials have privately acknowledged that Comey misstated what Abedin did and what the FBI investigators found. On Monday, the FBI was said to be preparing to correct the record by sending a letter to Congress later this week. But that plan now appears on hold, with the bureau undecided about what to do.

ProPublica is reporting a story on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton emails and raised questions with government officials last week about possible inaccuracies in Comey’s statements about Abedin.

It could not be learned how the mistake occurred. The FBI and Abedin declined ProPublica’s requests for comment on the director’s misstatements.

According to two sources familiar with the matter — including one in law enforcement — Abedin forwarded only a handful of Clinton emails to her husband for printing — not the “hundreds and thousands” cited by Comey. It does not appear Abedin made “a regular practice” of doing so. Other officials said it was likely that most of the emails got onto the computer as a result of backups of her Blackberry.

It was not clear how many, if any, of the forwarded emails were among the 12 “classified” emails Comey said had been found on Weiner’s laptop. None of the messages carried classified markings at the time they were sent.

Comey’s Senate testimony about Abedin came as he offered his first public explanation for his decision to reveal the existence of the emails on Oct. 28, days ahead of the 2016 election and before FBI agents had examined them.

When agents obtained a search warrant that allowed them to read the messages, they turned out to be mostly duplicates of emails the bureau had obtained earlier in the investigation. Comey announced just before Election Day that nothing had changed in the Clinton case, which had been closed four months earlier without criminal charges.

During his testimony, Comey said that part of the reason for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 May 2017 at 2:56 pm

Why your next Echo command should be: ‘Disconnect me from the internet’

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Tim Johnson writes at McClatchy:

Dr. Herbert Lin, one of the nation’s pre-eminent thinkers on cybersecurity policy, shuns the internet-connected devices that fill some American homes.

He’ll have nothing to do with “smart” refrigerators, hands-free home speakers he can call by name, intelligent thermostats and the like.

“People say to me, ‘How can you have a doctorate in physics from MIT and not trust in technology?’ And I look at them and say, ‘How can I have a doctorate in physics from MIT and trust technology?’ ” Lin said.

Part of what he distrusts is the “internet of things,” and the ease with which hackers can penetrate “smart” devices with digital worms and shanghai them into massive robotic networks to launch crippling digital attacks or generate ever greater quantities of spam.

It is a mistrust based on mathematics. Internet-enabled devices are exploding in number. Gartner, a research giant in technology, says the devices will climb from 6.4 billion at the end of last year to 25 billion by 2020. Such growth sharply augments the power of hidden robotic networks, or botnets.

[RELATED: If the NSA can be hacked, is anything safe?]

Now, an unseen battle unfolds. Weaponized digital worms are entering the scene and infecting masses of devices that obediently await instructions from a remote master to spring to action, possibly a new botnet attack.

The threat from botnets is so serious that FBI Director James Comey brought them up at a Senate hearing last week, saying the “zombie armies” created from internet devices can do tremendous harm.

(RELATED: This new Amazon device can give you fashion advice. But, warns UNC prof, what else it is finding out?)

“Last month, the FBI – working with our partners, with the Spanish national police – took down a botnet called the Kelihos botnet and locked up the Russian hacker behind that botnet,” Comey said. “He’s now in jail in Spain, and the good people’s computers who had been lashed to that zombie army have now been freed from it.”

Further botnet attacks are inevitable. . .

Continue reading.

Do read the entire article. One feels a sense of urgency. Later in the article:

Now a new worm, dubbed Hajime – Japanese for “beginning” – is spreading.

The Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab estimated in late April that the Hajime worm had already penetrated 300,000 devices worldwide and could rally them into a botnet army at a moment’s notice.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2017 at 7:09 pm

The great British Brexit robbery: how democracy was hijacked

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Carole Cadwalladr writes in the Guardian:

“The connectivity that is the heart of globalisation can be exploited by states with hostile intent to further their aims.[…] The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty.”
Alex Younger, head of MI6, December, 2016

“It’s not MI6’s job to warn of internal threats. It was a very strange speech. Was it one branch of the intelligence services sending a shot across the bows of another? Or was it pointed at Theresa May’s government? Does she know something she’s not telling us?”
Senior intelligence analyst, April 2017

In June 2013, a young American postgraduate called Sophie was passing through London when she called up the boss of a firm where she’d previously interned. The company, SCL Elections, went on to be bought by Robert Mercer, a secretive hedge fund billionaire, renamed Cambridge Analytica, and achieved a certain notoriety as the data analytics firm that played a role in both Trump and Brexit campaigns. But all of this was still to come. London in 2013 was still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics. Britain had not yet Brexited. The world had not yet turned.

“That was before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump,” a former Cambridge Analytica employee who I’ll call Paul tells me. “It was back when we were still just a psychological warfare firm.”

Was that really what you called it, I ask him. Psychological warfare? “Totally. That’s what it is. Psyops. Psychological operations – the same methods the military use to effect mass sentiment change. It’s what they mean by winning ‘hearts and minds’. We were just doing it to win elections in the kind of developing countries that don’t have many rules.”

Why would anyone want to intern with a psychological warfare firm, I ask him. And he looks at me like I am mad. “It was like working for MI6. Only it’s MI6 for hire. It was very posh, very English, run by an old Etonian and you got to do some really cool things. Fly all over the world. You were working with the president of Kenya or Ghana or wherever. It’s not like election campaigns in the west. You got to do all sorts of crazy shit.”

On that day in June 2013, Sophie met up with SCL’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, and gave him the germ of an idea. “She said, ‘You really need to get into data.’ She really drummed it home to Alexander. And she suggested he meet this firm that belonged to someone she knew about through her father.”

Who’s her father?

“Eric Schmidt.”

Eric Schmidt – the chairman of Google?

“Yes. And she suggested Alexander should meet this company called Palantir.”

I had been speaking to former employees of Cambridge Analytica for months and heard dozens of hair-raising stories, but it was still a gobsmacking moment. To anyone concerned about surveillance, Palantir is practically now a trigger word. The data-mining firm has contracts with governments all over the world – including GCHQ and the NSA. It’s owned by Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of eBay and PayPal, who became Silicon Valley’s first vocal supporter of Trump.

In some ways, Eric Schmidt’s daughter showing up to make an introduction to Palantir is just another weird detail in the weirdest story I have ever researched.

A weird but telling detail. Because it goes to the heart of why the story of Cambridge Analytica is one of the most profoundly unsettling of our time. Sophie Schmidt now works for another Silicon Valley megafirm: Uber. And what’s clear is that the power and dominance of the Silicon Valley – Google and Facebook and a small handful of others – are at the centre of the global tectonic shift we are currently witnessing.

It also reveals a critical and gaping hole in the political debate in Britain. Because what is happening in America and what is happening in Britain are entwined. Brexit and Trump are entwined. The Trump administration’s links to Russia and Britain are entwined. And Cambridge Analytica is one point of focus through which we can see all these relationships in play; it also reveals the elephant in the room as we hurtle into a general election: Britain tying its future to an America that is being remade – in a radical and alarming way – by Trump.

There are three strands to this story. How the foundations of an authoritarian surveillance state are being laid in the US. How British democracy was subverted through a covert, far-reaching plan of coordination enabled by a US billionaire. And how we are in the midst of a massive land grab for power by billionaires via our data. Data which is being silently amassed, harvested and stored. Whoever owns this data owns the future.

My entry point into this story began, as so many things do, with a late-night Google. Last December, I took an unsettling tumble into a wormhole of Google autocompletesuggestions that ended with “did the holocaust happen”. And an entire page of results that claimed it didn’t.

Google’s algorithm had been gamed by extremist sites and it was Jonathan Albright, a professor of communications at Elon University, North Carolina, who helped me get to grips with what I was seeing. He was the first person to map and uncover an entire “alt-right” news and information ecosystem and he was the one who first introduced me to Cambridge Analytica.

He called the company a central point in the right’s “propaganda machine”, a line I quoted in reference to its work for the Trump election campaign and the referendum Leave campaign. That led to the second article featuring Cambridge Analytica – as a central node in the alternative news and information network that I believed Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon, the key Trump aide who is now his chief strategist, were creating. I found evidence suggesting they were on a strategic mission to smash the mainstream media and replace it with one comprising alternative facts, fake history and rightwing propaganda.

Mercer is a brilliant computer scientist, a pioneer in early artificial intelligence, and the co-owner of one of the most successful hedge funds on the planet (with a gravity-defying 71.8% annual return). And, he is also, I discovered, good friends with Nigel Farage. Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s communications director, told me that it was Mercer who had directed his company, Cambridge Analytica, to “help” the Leave campaign.

The second article triggered two investigations, which are both continuing: one by the Information Commissioner’s Office into the possible illegal use of data. And a second by the Electoral Commission which is “focused on whether one or more donations – including services – accepted by Leave.EU was ‘impermissable’”.

What I then discovered is that Mercer’s role in the referendum went far beyond this. Far beyond the jurisdiction of any UK law. The key to understanding how a motivated and determined billionaire could bypass ourelectoral laws rests on AggregateIQ, an obscure web analytics company based in an office above a shop in Victoria, British Columbia.

It was with AggregateIQ that Vote Leave (the official Leave campaign) chose to spend £3.9m, more than half its official £7m campaign budget. As did three other affiliated Leave campaigns: BeLeave, Veterans for Britain and the Democratic Unionist party, spending a further £757,750. “Coordination” between campaigns is prohibited under UK electoral law, unless campaign expenditure is declared, jointly. It wasn’t. Vote Leave says the Electoral Commission “looked into this” and gave it “a clean bill of health”.

How did an obscure Canadian company come to play such a pivotal role in Brexit? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2017 at 8:42 am

Bosses believe your work skills will soon be useless

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Danielle Paquette reports in the Washington Post:

Nearly a third of business leaders and technology analysts express “no confidence” that education and job training in the United States will evolve rapidly enough to match the next decade’s labor market demands, a new report from the Pew Research Center finds.

About 30 percent of the executives, hiring managers, college professors and automation researchers who responded to the Pew survey felt future prospects looked bleak, anticipating that firms would encounter more trouble finding workers with their desired skill sets over the next decade.

“Barring a neuroscience advance that enables us to embed knowledge and skills directly into brain tissue and muscle formation, there will be no quantum leap in our ability to ‘up-skill’ people,” wrote Andrew Walls, managing vice president at Gartner, an IT consulting firm.

“Seriously? You’re asking about the workforce of the future?” added another respondent, a science editor who asked to stay anonymous. “As if there’s going to be one?”

Lee Rainie, Pew’s director of Internet, science and technology research, the study’s co-author, helped canvass, reaching out to 8,000 decision makers in Pew’s database. About 1,400 responded, and many of those told the researchers they were bracing for machines to transform the ways humans work — sometimes in unpredictable ways.

“People are wrestling with this basic metaphysical question: What are humans good for?” he said. “It’s important to figure that out because this blended world of machines and humans is already upon us and it’s going to accelerate.”

Most of the business and technology professionals expected new training programs to emerge, both at schools and on the private market, to better prepare the future labor force. But 30 percent of the 1,408 respondents doubted such a quick transformation could take place. They felt, according to the report, that “adaptation in teaching environments will not be sufficient to prepare workers for future jobs.”

Jerry Michalski, the founder at REX, a technology think tank in Portland, Ore., feared public schools and universities aren’t keeping up with changes in the economy.

“They take too long to teach impractical skills,” he wrote, “and knowledge not connected to the real world.” [Of course, the skill of learning how to learn efficiently and effectively is a highly practical skill, given that training is immediately outdated as technology evolves—having the skill of learning will not be outdated. The skill of learning is one of the skills learned in the liberal arts, which I a sure Mr. Michalski would discard in a heartbeat. He doesn’t get how liberal arts teaches highly valuable skills, but he does get that it leads people to think for themselves and question authority, and that’s the last thing on earth a corporate culture wants. It wants people who will follow orders and chase whatever kibble they’re doling out to motivate the workers to keep the wealth flowing to the top. – LG]

“I’m skeptical that educational and training programs can keep pace with technology,” added Thomas Claburn, editor-at-large at Information Week, a news site. [And thus the importance of learning how to learn. – LG] . . .

Continue reading.

Increasingly I am concerned that our government and other institutions are not planning their response to the upcoming vaporization of millions of jobs. What are they going to do? Is the plan to wait until it hits and then make a plan?

Written by LeisureGuy

7 May 2017 at 4:24 pm

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