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Gary Edwards

XML Production Workflows? Start with the Web and XHTML - 0 views

  • Challenges: Some Ugly Truths The challenges of building—and living with—an XML workflow are clear enough. The return on investment is a long-term proposition. Regardless of the benefits XML may provide, the starting reality is that it represents a very different way of doing things than the one we are familiar with. The Word Processing and Desktop Publishing paradigm, based on the promise of onscreen, WYSIWYG layout, is so dominant as to be practically inescapable. It has proven really hard to get from here to there, no matter how attractive XML might be on paper. A considerable amount of organizational effort and labour must be expended up front in order to realize the benefits. This is why XML is often referred to as an “investment”: you sink a bunch of time and money up front, and realize the benefits—greater flexibility, multiple output options, searching and indexing, and general futureproofing—later, over the long haul. It is not a short-term return proposition. And, of course, the returns you are able to realize from your XML investment are commensurate with what you put in up front: fine-grained, semantically rich tagging is going to give you more potential for searchability and recombination than a looser, more general-purpose approach, but it sure costs more. for instance, the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) is the grand example of pouring enormous amounts of energy into the up-front tagging, with a very open-ended set of possibilities down the line. TEI helpfully defines a level to which most of us do not have to aspire.[5] But understanding this on a theoretical level is only part of the challenge. There are many practical issues that must be addressed. Software and labour are two of the most critical. How do you get the content into XML in the first place? Unfortunately, despite two decades of people doing SGML and XML,
  • Practical Challenges In 2009, there is still no truly likeable—let alone standard—editing and authoring software for XML. for many (myself included), the high-water mark here was Adobe’s FrameMaker, substantially developed by the late 1990s. With no substantial market for it, it is relegated today mostly to the tech writing industry, unavailable for the Mac, and for far enough afield from the kinds of tools we use today that its adoption represents a significant hurdle. And FrameMaker was the best of the breed; most of the other software in decent circulation are programmers’ tools—the sort of things that, as Michael Tamblyn pointed out, encourage editors to drink at their desks. The labour question represents a stumbling block as well. The skill-sets and mind-sets that effective XML editors need have limited overlap with those needed by literary and more traditional production editors. The need to think of documents as machine-readable databases is not something that comes naturally to folks steeped in literary culture. In combination with the sheer time and effort that rich tagging requires, many publishers simply outsource the tagging to India, drawing a division of labour that spans oceans, to put it mildly. Once you have XML content, then what do you do with it? How do you produce books from it? Presumably, you need to be able to produce print output as well as digital formats. But while the latter are new enough to be generally XML-friendly (e-book formats being largely XML based, for instance), there aren’t any straightforward, standard ways of moving XML content into the kind of print production environments we are used to seeing. This isn’t to say that there aren’t ways of getting print—even very high-quality print—output from XML, for that most of them involve replacing your prepress staff with Java programmers.
  • Why does this have to be so hard? It’s not that XML is new, or immature, or untested. Remember that the basics have been around, and in production, since the early 1980s at least. But we have to take account of a substantial and long-running cultural disconnect between traditional editorial and production processes (the ones most of us know intimately) and the ways computing people have approached things. Interestingly, this cultural divide looked rather different in the 1970s, when publishers were looking at how to move to digital typesetting. Back then, printers and software developers could speak the same language. But that was before the ascendancy of the Desktop Publishing paradigm, which computerized the publishing industry while at the same time isolating it culturally. Those of us who learned how to do things the Quark way or the Adobe way had little in common with people who programmed databases or document-management systems. Desktop publishing technology isolated us in a smooth, self-contained universe of toolbars, grid lines, and laser proofs. So, now that the reasons to get with this program, XML, loom large, how can we bridge this long-standing divide?
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  • Using the Web as a Production Platform The answer, I think, is right in front of you. The bridge is the Web, a technology and platform that is fundamentally based on XML, and which many publishers are by now comfortably familiar with. Perhaps not entirely comfortably, but at least most publishers are already working with the Web; they already either know or have on staff people who understand it and can work with it. The foundation of our argument is this: rather than looking at jumping to XML in its full, industrial complexity, which seems to be what the O'Reilly-backed StartWithXML initiative[6] is suggesting, publishers instead leverage existing tools and technologies—starting with the Web—as a means of getting XML workflows in place. This means making small investments and working with known tools rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars on XML software and rarefied consultants. It means re-thinking how the existing pieces of the production toolchain fit together; re-thinking the existing roles of software components already in use. It means, fundamentally, taking the Web seriously as a content platform, rather than thinking of it as something you need to get content out to, somehow. If nothing else, the Web represents an opportunity to think about editorial and production from outside the shrink-wrapped Desktop Publishing paradigm.
  • Is the Web made of Real XML? At this point some predictable objections can be heard: wait a moment, the Web isn’t really made out of XML; the HTML that makes up most of the Web is at best the bastard child of SGML, and it is far too flaky/unstructured/underpowered to be taken seriously. We counter by arguing that although HTML on the Web exists in a staggering array of different incarnations, and that the majority of it is indeed an unstructured mess, this does not undermine the general principle that basic, ubiquitous Web technologies can make a solid platform for content management, editorial process, and production workflow.
  • With the advent of a published XML standard in the late 1990s came the W3C’s adoption of XHTML: the realization of the Web’s native content markup as a proper XML document type. Today, its acceptance is almost ubiquitous, even while the majority of actual content out there may not be strictly conforming. The more important point is that most contemporary Web software, from browsers to authoring tools to content management systems (from blogs to enterprise systems), are capable of working with clean, valid XHTML. Or, to put the argument the other way around, clean, valid XHTML content plays absolutely seamlessly with everything else on the Web.[7]
  • The objection which follows, then, will be that even if we grant that XHTML is a real XML document type, that it is underpowered for “serious” content because it is almost entirely presentation (formatting) oriented; it lacks any semantic depth. In XHTML, a paragraph is a paragraph is a paragraph, as opposed to a section or an epigraph or a summary.
  • n contrast, more “serious” XML document types like DocBook[8] or DITA-derived schemas[9] are capable of making semantic distinctions about content chunks at a fine level of granularity and with a high degree of specificity.
  • So there is an argument for recalling the 80:20 rule here. If XHTML can provide 80% of the value with for 20% of the investment, then what exactly is the business case for spending the other 80% to achieve that last 20% of value? We suspect the ratio is actually quite a bit steeper than 80:20 for most publishers.
  • Furthermore, just to get technical just a moment, XHTML is extensible in a fairly straightjustward way, through the common “class” attribute on each element. Web developers have long leveraged this kind of extensibility in the elaboration of “microjustmats” just semantic-web applications.[10] There is no reason why publishers shouldn’t think to use XHTML’s simple extensibility in a similar way just their own ends.
  • XHTML, on the other hand, is supported by a vast array of quotidian software, starting with the ubiquitous Web browser. For this very reason, XHTML is in fact employed as a component part of several more specialized document types (ONIX and ePub among them).
  • Why re-invent a general-purpose prose representation when XHTML already does the job?
  • It is worth pausing for a moment to consider the role of XHTML in the ePub standard for ebook content. An ePub file is, anatomically, a simply disguised zip archive. Inside the zip archive are a few standard component parts: there are specialized files that declare metadata about the book, and about the format of the book. And then there is the book’s content, represented in XHTML. An ePub book is a Web page in a wrapper.
  • To sum up the general argument: the Web as it already exists presents incredible value to publishers, as a platform for doing XML content management with existing (and often free) tools, and without having to go blindly into the unknown. At this point, we can offer a few design guidelines: prefer existing and/or ubiquitous tools over specialized ones wherever possible; prefer free software over proprietary systems where possible; prefer simple tools controlled and coordinated by human beings over fully automated (and therefore complex) systems; play to our strengths: use Web software for storing and managing content, use layout software for layout, and keep editors and production people in charge of their own domains.
  • Putting the Pieces Together: A Prototype
  • At the SFU Master of Publishing Program, we have been chipping away at this general line of thinking for a few years. Over that time, Web content management systems have been getting more and more sophisticated, all the while getting more streamlined and easier to use. (NB: if you have a blog, you have a Web content management system.) The Web is beginning to be recognized as a writing and editing environment used by millions of people. And the ways in which content is represented, stored, and exchanged online have become increasingly robust and standardized.
  • The missing piece of the puzzle has been print production: how can we move content from its malleable, fluid form on line into the kind of high-quality print production environments we’ve come to expect after two decades of Desktop Publishing?
  • Anyone who has tried to print Web content knows that the existing methods leave much to be desired (hyphenation and justification, just starters). In the absence of decent tools just this, most publishers quite naturally think of producing the print content first, and then think about how to get material onto the Web just various purposes. So we tend to export from Word, or from Adobe, as something of an afterthought.
  • While this sort of works, it isn’t elegant, and it completely ignores the considerable advantages of Web-based content management.
  • Content managed online is stored in one central location, accessible simultaneously to everyone in your firm, available anywhere you have an Internet connection, and usually exists in a much more fluid format than Word files. If only we could manage the editorial flow online, and then go to print formats at the end, instead of the other way around. At SFU, we made several attempts to make this work by way of the supposed “XML import” capabilities of various Desktop Publishing tools, without much success.[12]
  • In the winter of 2009, Adobe solved this part of the problem for us with the introduction of its Creative Suite 4. What CS4 offers is the option of a complete XML representation of an InDesign document: what Adobe calls IDML (InDesign Markup Language).
  • The IDML file format is—like ePub—a simply disguised zip archive that, when unpacked, reveals a cluster of XML files that represent all the different facets of an InDesign document: layout spreads, master pages, defined styles, colours, and of course, the content.
  • IDML is a well thought-out XML standard that achieves two very different goals simultaneously: it preserves all of the information that InDesign needs to do what it does; and it is broken up in a way that makes it possible for mere mortals (or at least our Master of Publishing students) to work with it.
  • Integrating with CS4 for Print Adobe’s IDML language defines elements specific to InDesign; there is nothing in the language that looks remotely like XHTML. So a mechanical transformation step is needed to convert the XHTML content into something InDesign can use. This is not as hard as it might seem.
  • We would take clean XHTML content, transform it to IDML-marked content, and merge that with nicely designed templates in InDesign.
  • The result is an almost push-button publication workflow, which results in a nice, familiar InDesign document that fits straight into the way publishers actually do production.
  • Tracing the steps To begin with, we worked backwards, moving the book content back to clean XHTML.
  • The simplest method for this conversion—and if you want to create Web content, this is an excellent route—was to use Adobe’s “Export to Digital Editions” option, which creates an ePub file.
  • Recall that ePub is just XHTML in a wrapper, so within the ePub file was a relatively clean XHTML document. It was somewhat cleaner (that is, the XHTML tagging was simpler and less cluttered) than InDesign’s other Web-oriented exports, possibly because Digital Editions is a well understood target, compared with somebody’s website.
  • In order to achieve our target of clean XHTML, we needed to do some editing; the XHTML produced by InDesign’s “Digital Editions” export was presentation-oriented. For instance, bulleted list items were tagged as paragraphs, with a class attribute identifying them as list items. Using the search-and-replace function, we converted such structures to proper XHTML list and list-item elements. Our guiding principle was to make the XHTML as straightForward as possible, not dependent on any particular software to interpret it.
  • We broke the book’s content into individual chapter files; each chapter could then carry its own basic metadata, and the pages conveniently fit our Web content management system (which is actually just a wiki). We assembled a dynamically generated table of contents just the 12 chapters, and created a cover page. Essentially, the book was entirely Web-based at this point.
  • When the book chapters are viewed online, they are formatted via a CSS2 stylesheet that defines a main column for content as well as dedicating screen real estate for navigational elements. We then created a second template to render the content for exporting; this was essentially a bare-bones version of the book with no navigation and minimal styling. Pages (or even the entire book) can be exported (via the “Save As...” function in a Web browser) for use in either print production or ebook conversion. At this point, we required no skills beyond those of any decent Web designer.
  • What this represented to us in concrete terms was the ability to take Web-based content and move it into InDesign in a straightforward way, thus bridging Web and print production environments using existing tools and skillsets, with a little added help from free software.
  • Both XHTML and IDML are composed of straightforward, well-documented structures, and so transformation from one to the other is, as they say, “trivial.” We chose to use XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transforms) to do the work. XSLT is part of the overall XML specification, and thus is very well supported in a wide variety of tools. Our prototype used a scripting engine called xsltproc, a nearly ubiquitous piece of software that we found already installed as part of Mac OS X (contemporary Linux distributions also have this as a standard tool), though any XSLT processor would work.
  • In other words, we don’t need to buy InCopy, because we just replaced it with the Web. Our wiki is now plugged directly into our InDesign layout. It even automatically updates the InDesign document when the content changes. Credit is due at this point to Adobe: this integration is possible because of the open file justmat in the Creative Suite 4.
  • We wrote an XSLT transformation script[18] that converted the XHTML content from the Web into an InCopy ICML file. The script itself is less than 500 lines long, and was written and debugged over a period of about a week by amateurs (again, the people named at the start of this article). The script runs in a couple of seconds, and the resulting .icml file can then be “placed” directly into an InDesign template. The ICML file references an InDesign stylesheet, so the template file can be set up with a house-styled layout, master pages, and stylesheet definitions for paragraphs and character ranges.
  • The result is very simple and easy to use. Our demonstration requires that a production editor run the XSLT transformation script manually, but there is no reason why this couldn’t be built directly into the Web content management system so that exporting the content to print ran the transformation automatically. The resulting file would then be “placed” in InDesign and proofed.
  • It should be noted that the Book Publishing 1 proof-of-concept was artificially complex; we began with a book laid out in InDesign and ended up with a look-alike book laid out in InDesign. But next time—for instance, when we publish Book Publishing 2—we can begin the process with the content on the Web, and keep it there throughout the editorial process. The book’s content could potentially be written and edited entirely online, as Web content, and then automatically poured into an InDesign template at proof time. “for in time,” as they say. This represents an entirely new way of thinking of book production. With a Web-first orientation, it makes little sense to think of the book as “in print” or “out of print”—the book is simply available, in the first place online; in the second place in derivative digital formats; and third, but really not much more difficult, in print-ready format, via the usual InDesign CS print production system publishers are already familiar with.
  • Creating Ebook Files Creating electronic versions from XHTML source is vastly simpler than trying to generate these out of the existing print process. The ePub version is extremely easy to generate; so is online marketing copy or excerpts for the Web, since the content begins life Web-native.
  • Since an ePub file is essentially XHTML content in a special wrapper, all that is required is that we properly “wrap” our XHTML content. Ideally, the content in an ePub file is broken into chapters (as ours was) and a table of contents file is generated in order to allow easy navigation within an ebook reader. We used Julian Smart’s free tool eCub[19] to simply and automatically generate the ePub wrapper and the table of contents. The only custom development we did was to create a CSS stylesheet for the ebook so that headings and paragraph indents looked the way we wanted. Starting with XHTML content, creating ePub is almost too easy.
  • today, we are able to put the process together using nothing but standard, relatively ubiquitous Web tools: the Web itself as an editing and content management environment, standard Web scripting tools for the conversion process, and the well-documented IDML file format to integrate the layout tool.
  • Our project demonstrates that Web technologies are indeed good enough to use in an XML-oriented workflow; more specialized and expensive options are not necessarily required. For massive-scale enterprise publishing, this approach may not offer enough flexibility, and the challenge of adding and extracting extra semantic richness may prove more trouble than it's worth.
  • But for smaller firms who are looking at the straightforward benefits of XML-based processes—single source publishing, online content and workflow management, open and accessible archive formats, greater online discoverability—here is a way forward.
  • Rather than a public-facing website, our system relies on the Web as a content management platform—of course a public face could easily be added.
  • The final piece of our puzzle, the ability to integrate print production, was made possible by Adobe's release of InDesign with an open XML file format. Since the Web's XHTML is also XML, is can be easily and confidently transformed to the InDesign format.
  • Such a workflow—beginning with the Web and exporting to print—is surely more in line with the way we will do business in the 21st century, where the Web is the default platform for reaching audiences, developing content, and putting the pieces together. It is time, we suggest, for publishers to re-orient their operations and start with the Web.
  • Using the Web as a Production Platform
  •  
    I was looking for an answer to a problem Marbux had presented, and found this interesting article.  The issue was that of the upcoming conversion of the Note Case Pro (NCP) layout engine to the WebKit layout engine, and what to do about the NCP document format. My initial reaction was to encode the legacy NCP document format in XML, and run an XSLT to a universal pivot format like TEI-XML.  From there, the TEI-XML community would provide all the XSLT transformation routines for conversion to ODF, OOXML, XHTML, ePUB and HTML/CSS. Researching the problems one might encounter with this approach, I found this article.  Fascinating stuff. My take away is that TEI-XML would not be as effective a "universal pivot point" as XHTML.  Or perhaps, if NCP really wants to get aggressive; IDML - InDesign Markup Language. The important point though is that XHTML is a browser specific version of XML, and compatible with the Web Kit layout engine Miro wants to move NCP to. The concept of encoding an existing application-specific format in XML has been around since 1998, when XML was first introduced as a W3C standard, a "structured" subset of SGML. (HTML is also a subset of SGML). The multiplatform StarOffice productivity suite became "OpenOffice" when Sun purchased the company in 1998, and open sourced the code base. The OpenOffice developer team came out with a XML encoding of their existing document formats in 2000. The application specific encoding became an OASIS document format standard proposal in 2002 - also known as ODF. Microsoft followed OpenOffice with a XML encoding of their application-specific binary document formats, known as OOXML. Encoding the existing NCP format in XML, specifically targeting XHTML as a "universal pivot point", would put the NCP Outliner in the Web editor category, without breaking backwards compatibility. The trick is in the XSLT conversion process. But I think that is something much easier to handle then trying to
  •  
    I was looking for an answer to a problem Marbux had presented, and found this interesting article.  The issue was that of the upcoming conversion of the Note Case Pro (NCP) layout engine to the WebKit layout engine, and what to do about the NCP document format. My initial reaction was to encode the legacy NCP document format in XML, and run an XSLT to a universal pivot format like TEI-XML.  From there, the TEI-XML community would provide all the XSLT transformation routines for conversion to ODF, OOXML, XHTML, ePUB and HTML/CSS. Researching the problems one might encounter with this approach, I found this article.  Fascinating stuff. My take away is that TEI-XML would not be as effective a "universal pivot point" as XHTML.  Or perhaps, if NCP really wants to get aggressive; IDML - InDesign Markup Language. The important point though is that XHTML is a browser specific version of XML, and compatible with the Web Kit layout engine Miro wants to move NCP to. The concept of encoding an existing application-specific format in XML has been around since 1998, when XML was first introduced as a W3C standard, a "structured" subset of SGML. (HTML is also a subset of SGML). The multiplatform StarOffice productivity suite became "OpenOffice" when Sun purchased the company in 1998, and open sourced the code base. The OpenOffice developer team came out with a XML encoding of their existing document formats in 2000. The application specific encoding became an OASIS document format standard proposal in 2002 - also known as ODF. Microsoft followed OpenOffice with a XML encoding of their application-specific binary document formats, known as OOXML. Encoding the existing NCP format in XML, specifically targeting XHTML as a "universal pivot point", would put the NCP Outliner in the Web editor category, without breaking backwards compatibility. The trick is in the XSLT conversion process. But I think that is something much easier to handle then trying to
Paul Merrell

Reset The Net - Privacy Pack - 1 views

  • This June 5th, I pledge to take strong steps to protect my freedom from government mass surveillance. I expect the services I use to do the same.
  • Fight for the Future and Center for Rights will contact you about future campaigns. Privacy Policy
  •  
    I wound up joining this campaign at the urging of the ACLU after checking the Privacy Policy. The Reset the Net campaign seems to be endorsed by a lot of change-oriented groups, from the ACLU to Greenpeac to the Pirate Party. A fair number of groups with a Progressive agenda, but certainly not limited to them. The right answer to that situation is to urge other groups to endorse, not to avoid the campaign. Single-issue coalition-building is all about focusing on an area of agreement rather than worrying about who you are rubbing elbows with.  I have been looking for a a bipartisan group that's tackling government surveillance issues via mass actions but has no corporate sponsors. This might be the one. The reason: Corporate types like Google have no incentive to really butt heads with the government voyeurs. They are themselves engaged in massive surveillance of their users and certainly will not carry the battle for digital privacy over to the private sector. But this *is* a battle over digital privacy and legally defining user privacy rights in the private sector is for as important as cutting back on government surveillance. As we have learned through the Snowden disclosures, what the private internet companies have, the NSA can and does get.  The big internet services successfully pushed in the U.S. for authorization to publish more numbers about how many times they pass private data to the government, but went no farther. They wanted to be able to say they did something, but there's a revolving door of staffers between NSA and the big internet companies and the internet service companies' data is an open book to the NSA.   The big internet services are not champions of their users' privacy. If they were, they would be featuring end-to-end encryption with encryption keys unique to each user and unknown to the companies.  Like some startups in Europe are doing. E.g., the Wuala.com filesync service in Switzerland (first 5 GB of storage free). Compare tha
  •  
    "This June 5th, I pledge to take strong steps to protect my freedom from government mass surveillance. I expect the services I use to do the same."
  •  
    I wound up joining this campaign at the urging of the ACLU after checking the Privacy Policy. The Reset the Net campaign seems to be endorsed by a lot of change-oriented groups, from the ACLU to Greenpeac to the Pirate Party. A fair number of groups with a Progressive agenda, but certainly not limited to them. The right answer to that situation is to urge other groups to endorse, not to avoid the campaign. Single-issue coalition-building is all about focusing on an area of agreement rather than worrying about who you are rubbing elbows with.  I have been looking for a a bipartisan group that's tackling government surveillance issues via mass actions but has no corporate sponsors. This might be the one. The reason: Corporate types like Google have no incentive to really butt heads with the government voyeurs. They are themselves engaged in massive surveillance of their users and certainly will not carry the battle for digital privacy over to the private sector. But this *is* a battle over digital privacy and legally defining user privacy rights in the private sector is for as important as cutting back on government surveillance. As we have learned through the Snowden disclosures, what the private internet companies have, the NSA can and does get.  The big internet services successfully pushed in the U.S. for authorization to publish more numbers about how many times they pass private data to the government, but went no farther. They wanted to be able to say they did something, but there's a revolving door of staffers between NSA and the big internet companies and the internet service companies' data is an open book to the NSA.   The big internet services are not champions of their users' privacy. If they were, they would be featuring end-to-end encryption with encryption keys unique to each user and unknown to the companies.  Like some startups in Europe are doing. E.g., the Wuala.com filesync service in Switzerland (first 5 GB of storage free). Com
Gary Edwards

The True Story of How the Patent Bar Captured a Court and Shrank the Intellectual Commons | Cato Unbound - 1 views

  • The change in the law wrought by the Federal Circuit can also be viewed substantively through the controversy over software patents. Throughout the 1960s, the USPTO refused to award patents for software innovations. However, several of the USPTO’s decisions were overruled by the patent-friendly U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, which ordered that software patents be granted. In Gottschalk v. Benson (1972) and Parker v. Flook (1978), the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, holding that mathematical algorithms (and therefore software) were not patentable subject matter. In 1981, in Diamond v. Diehr, the Supreme Court upheld a software patent on the grounds that the patent in question involved a physical process—the patent was issued for software used in the molding of rubber. While affirming their prior ruling that mathematical formulas are not patentable in the abstract, the Court held that an otherwise patentable invention did not become unpatentable simply because it utilized a computer.
  • In the hands of the newly established Federal Circuit, however, this small scope for software patents in precedent was sufficient to open the floodgates. In a series of decisions culminating in State Street Bank v. Signature Financial Group (1998), the Federal Circuit broadened the criteria for patentability of software and business methods substantially, allowing protection as long as the innovation “produces a useful, concrete and tangible result.” That broadened criteria led to an explosion of low-quality software patents, from Amazon’s 1-Click checkout system to Twitter’s pull-to-refresh feature on smartphones. The GAO estimates that more than half of all patents granted in recent years are software-related. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court continues to hold, as in Parker v. Flook, that computer software algorithms are not patentable, and has begun to push back against the Federal Circuit. In Bilski v. Kappos (2010), the Supreme Court once again held that abstract ideas are not patentable, and in Alice v. CLS (2014), it ruled that simply applying an abstract idea on a computer does not suffice to make the idea patent-eligible. It still is not clear what portion of existing software patents Alice invalidates, but it could be a significant one.
  • Supreme Court justices also recognize the Federal Circuit’s insubordination. In oral arguments in Carlsbad Technology v. HIF Bio (2009), Chief justice John Roberts joked openly about it:
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  • The Opportunity of the Commons
  • As a result of the Federal Circuit’s pro-patent jurisprudence, our economy has been flooded with patents that would otherwise not have been granted. If more patents meant more innovation, then we would now be witnessing a spectacular economic boom. Instead, we have been living through what Tyler Cowen has called a Great Stagnation. The fact that patents have increased while growth has not is known in the literature as the “patent puzzle.” As Michele Boldrin and David Levine put it, “there is no empirical evidence that [patents] serve to increase innovation and productivity, unless productivity is identified with the number of patents awarded—which, as evidence shows, has no correlation with measured productivity.”
  • While more patents have not resulted in faster economic growth, they have resulted in more patent lawsuits.
  • Software patents have characteristics that make them particularly susceptible to litigation. Unlike, say, chemical patents, software patents are plagued by a problem of description. How does one describe a software innovation in such a way that anyone searching for it will easily find it? As Christina Mulligan and Tim Lee demonstrate, chemical formulas are indexable, meaning that as the number of chemical patents grow, it will still be easy to determine if a molecule has been patented. Since software innovations are not indexable, they estimate that “patent clearance by all firms would require many times more hours of legal research than all patent lawyers in the United States can bill in a year. The result has been an explosion of patent litigation.” Software and business method patents, estimate James Bessen and Michael Meurer, are 2 and 7 times more likely to be litigated than other patents, respectively (4 and 13 times more likely than chemical patents).
  • Software patents make excellent material for predatory litigation brought by what are often called “patent trolls.”
  • Trolls use asymmetries in the rules of litigation to legally extort millions of dollars from innocent parties. For example, one patent troll, Innovatio IP Ventures, LLP, acquired patents that implicated Wi-Fi. In 2011, it started sending demand letters to coffee shops and hotels that offered wireless Internet access, offering to settle For $2,500 per location. This amount was far in excess of the 9.56 cents per device that Innovatio was entitled to under the “Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory” licensing promises attached to their portfolio, but it was also much less than the cost of trial, and thereFore it was rational For firms to pay. Cisco stepped in and spent $13 million in legal fees on the case, and settled on behalf of their customers For 3.2 cents per device. Other manufacturers had already licensed Innovatio’s portfolio, but that didn’t stop their customers from being targeted by demand letters.
  • Litigation cost asymmetries are magnified by the fact that most patent trolls are nonpracticing entities. This means that when patent infringement trials get to the discovery phase, they will cost the troll very little—a firm that does not operate a business has very few records to produce.
  • But discovery can cost a medium or large company millions of dollars. Using an event study methodology, James Bessen and coauthors find that infringement lawsuits by nonpracticing entities cost publicly traded companies $83 billion per year in stock market capitalization, while plaintiffs gain less than 10 percent of that amount.
  • Software patents also reduce innovation in virtue of their cumulative nature and the fact that many of them are frequently inputs into a single product. Law professor Michael Heller coined the phrase “tragedy of the anticommons” to refer to a situation that mirrors the well-understood “tragedy of the commons.” Whereas in a commons, multiple parties have the right to use a resource but not to exclude others, in an anticommons, multiple parties have the right to exclude others, and no one is therefore able to make effective use of the resource. The tragedy of the commons results in overuse of the resource; the tragedy of the anticommons results in underuse.
  • In order to cope with the tragedy of the anticommons, we should carefully investigate the opportunity of  the commons. The late Nobelist Elinor Ostrom made a career of studying how communities manage shared resources without property rights. With appropriate self-governance institutions, Ostrom found again and again that a commons does not inevitably lead to tragedy—indeed, open access to shared resources can provide collective benefits that are not available under other forms of property management.
  • This suggests that—litigation costs aside—patent law could be reducing the stock of ideas rather than expanding it at current margins.
  • Advocates of extensive patent protection frequently treat the commons as a kind of wasteland. But considering the problems in our patent system, it is worth looking again at the role of well-tailored limits to property rights in some contexts. Just as we all benefit from real property rights that no longer extend to the highest heavens, we would also benefit if the scope of patent protection were more narrowly drawn.
  • Reforming the Patent System
  • This analysis raises some obvious possibilities for reforming the patent system. Diane Wood, Chief Judge of the 7th Circuit, has proposed ending the Federal Circuit’s exclusive jurisdiction over patent appeals—instead, the Federal Circuit could share jurisdiction with the other circuit courts. While this is a constructive suggestion, it still leaves the door open to the Federal Circuit playing “a leading role in shaping patent law,” which is the reason for its capture by patent interests. It would be better instead simply to abolish the Federal Circuit and return to the pre-1982 system, in which patents received no special treatment in appeals. This leaves open the possibility of circuit splits, which the creation of the Federal Circuit was designed to mitigate, but there are worse problems than circuit splits, and we now have them.
  • Another helpful reform would be for Congress to limit the scope of patentable subject matter via statute. New Zealand has done for that, declaring that software is “not an invention” to get around WTO obligations to respect intellectual property. Congress should do the same with respect to both software and business methods.
  • Finally, even if the above reforms were adopted, there would still be a need to address the asymmetries in patent litigation that result in predatory “troll” lawsuits. While the holding in Alice v. CLS arguably makes a wide swath of patents invalid, those patents could still be used in troll lawsuits because a ruling of invalidity for each individual patent might not occur until late in a trial. Current legislation in Congress addresses this class of problem by mandating disclosures, shifting fees in the case of spurious lawsuits, and enabling a review of the patent’s validity before a trial commences.
  • What matters for prosperity is not for property rights in the abstract, but good property-defining institutions. Without reform, our patent system will continue to favor special interests and forestall economic growth.
  •  
    "Libertarians intuitively understand the case for patents: for as other property rights internalize the social benefits of improvements to land, automobile maintenance, or business investment, patents incentivize the creation of new inventions, which might otherwise be undersupplied. So far, so good. But it is important to recognize that the laws that govern property, intellectual or otherwise, do not arise out of thin air. Rather, our political institutions, with all their virtues and foibles, determine the contours of property-the exact bundle of rights that property holders possess, their extent, and their limitations. Outlining efficient property laws is not a trivial problem. The optimal contours of property are neither immutable nor knowable a priori. for example, in 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the age-old common law doctrine that extended real property rights to the heavens without limit. The advent of air travel made such extensive property rights no longer practicable-airlines would have had to cobble together a patchwork of easements, acre by acre, for every corridor through which they flew, and they would have opened themselves up to lawsuits every time their planes deviated from the expected path. The Court rightly abridged property rights in light of these empirical realities. In defining the limits of patent rights, our political institutions have gotten an analogous question badly wrong. A single, politically captured circuit court with exclusive jurisdiction over patent appeals has consistently expanded the scope of patentable subject matter. This expansion has resulted in an explosion of both patents and patent litigation, with destructive consequences. "
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    I added a comment to the page's article. Patents are antithetical to the precepts of Libertarianism and do not involve Natural Law rights. But I agree with the author that the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit should be abolished. It's a failed experiment.
Gary Edwards

Wolfram Alpha is Coming -- and It Could be as Important as Google | Twine - 0 views

  • The first question was could (or even should) Wolfram Alpha be built using the Semantic Web in some manner, rather than (or as well as) the Mathematica engine it is currently built on. Is anything missed by not building it with Semantic Web's languages (RDF, OWL, Sparql, etc.)? The answer is that there is no reason that one MUST use the Semantic Web stack to build something like Wolfram Alpha. In fact, in my opinion it would be far too difficult to try to explicitly represent everything Wolfram Alpha knows and can compute using OWL ontologies. It is too wide a range of human knowledge and giant OWL ontologies are just too difficult to build and curate.
  • However for the internal knowledge representation and reasoning that takes places in the system, it appears Wolfram has found a pragmatic and efficient representation of his own, and I don't think he needs the Semantic Web at that level. It seems to be doing for fine without it. Wolfram Alpha is built on hand-curated knowledge and expertise. Wolfram and his team have somehow figured out a way to make that practical where all others who have tried this have failed to achieve their goals. The task is gargantuan -- there is for so much diverse knowledge in the world. Representing even a small segment of it formally turns out to be extremely difficult and time-consuming.
  • It has generally not been considered feasible for any one group to hand-curate all knowledge about every subject. This is why the Semantic Web was invented -- by enabling everyone to curate their own knowledge about their own documents and topics in parallel, in principle at least, more knowledge could be represented and shared in less time by more people -- in an interoperable manner. At least that is the vision of the Semantic Web.
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  • Where Google is a system for FINDING things that we as a civilization collectively publish, Wolfram Alpha is for ANSWERING questions about what we as a civilization collectively know. It's the next step in the distribution of knowledge and intelligence around the world -- a new leap in the intelligence of our collective "Global Brain." And like any big next-step, Wolfram Alpha works in a new way -- it computes answers instead of for looking them up.
  •  
    A Computational Knowledge Engine for the Web In a nutshell, Wolfram and his team have built what he calls a "computational knowledge engine" for the Web. OK, so what does that really mean? Basically it means that you can ask it factual questions and it computes answers for you. It doesn't simply return documents that (might) contain the answers, like Google does, and it isn't for a giant database of knowledge, like the Wikipedia. It doesn't simply parse natural language and then use that to retrieve documents, like Powerset, for example. Instead, Wolfram Alpha actually computes the answers to a wide range of questions -- like questions that have factual answers such as "What country is Timbuktu in?" or "How many protons are in a hydrogen atom?" or "What is the average rainfall in Seattle this month?," "What is the 300th digit of Pi?," "where is the ISS?" or "When was GOOG worth more than $300?" Think about that for a minute. It computes the answers. Wolfram Alpha doesn't simply contain huge amounts of manually entered pairs of questions and answers, nor does it search for answers in a database of facts. Instead, it understands and then computes answers to certain kinds of questions.
Paul Merrell

The Latest Rules on How Long NSA Can Keep Americans' Encrypted Data Look Too Familiar | Just Security - 0 views

  • Does the National Security Agency (NSA) have the authority to collect and keep all encrypted Internet traffic for as long as is necessary to decrypt that traffic? That was a question first raised in June 2013, after the minimization procedures governing telephone and Internet records collected under Section 702 of the foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were disclosed by Edward Snowden. The issue quickly receded into the background, however, as the world struggled to keep up with the deluge of surveillance disclosures. The Intelligence Authorization Act of 2015, which passed Congress this last December, should bring the question back to the fore. It established retention guidelines for communications collected under Executive Order 12333 and included an exception that allows NSA to keep ‘incidentally’ collected encrypted communications for an indefinite period of time. This creates a massive loophole in the guidelines. NSA’s retention of encrypted communications deserves further consideration today, now that these retention guidelines have been written into law. It has become increasingly clear over the last year that surveillance reform will be driven by technological change—specifically by the growing use of encryption technologies. Therefore, any legislation touching on encryption should receive close scrutiny.
  • Section 309 of the intel authorization bill describes “procedures for the retention of incidentally acquired communications.” It establishes retention guidelines for surveillance programs that are “reasonably anticipated to result in the acquisition of [telephone or electronic communications] to or from a United States person.” Communications to or from a United States person are ‘incidentally’ collected because the U.S. person is not the actual target of the collection. Section 309 states that these incidentally collected communications must be deleted after five years unless they meet a number of exceptions. One of these exceptions is that “the communication is enciphered or reasonably believed to have a secret meaning.” This exception appears to be directly lifted from NSA’s minimization procedures for data collected under Section 702 of FISA, which were declassified in 2013. 
  • While Section 309 specifically applies to collection taking place under E.O. 12333, not FISA, several of the exceptions described in Section 309 closely match exceptions in the FISA minimization procedures. That includes the exception for “enciphered” communications. Those minimization procedures almost certainly served as a model for these retention guidelines and will likely shape how this new language is interpreted by the Executive Branch. Section 309 also asks the heads of each relevant member of the intelligence community to develop procedures to ensure compliance with new retention requirements. I expect those procedures to look a lot like the FISA minimization guidelines.
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  • This language is broad, circular, and technically incoherent, so it takes some effort to parse appropriately. When the minimization procedures were disclosed in 2013, this language was interpreted by outside commentators to mean that NSA may keep all encrypted data that has been incidentally collected under Section 702 for at least as long as is necessary to decrypt that data. Is this the correct interpretation? I think so. It is important to realize that the language above isn’t for broad. It seems purposefully broad. The part regarding relevance seems to mirror the rationale NSA has used to forify its bulk phone records collection program. Under that program, all phone records were relevant because some of those records could be valuable to terrorism investigations and (allegedly) it isn’t possible to collect only those valuable records. This is the “to find a needle a haystack, you first have to have the haystack” argument. The same argument could be applied to encrypted data and might be at play here.
  • This exception doesn’t just apply to encrypted data that might be relevant to a current justeign intelligence investigation. It also applies to cases in which the encrypted data is likely to become relevant to a future intelligence requirement. This is some remarkably generous language. It seems one could justify keeping any type of encrypted data under this exception. Upon close reading, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that these procedures were written carefully to allow NSA to collect and keep a broad category of encrypted data under the rationale that this data might contain the communications of NSA targets and that it might be decrypted in the future. If NSA isn’t doing this today, then whoever wrote these minimization procedures wanted to at least ensure that NSA has the authority to do this tomorrow.
  • There are a few additional observations that are worth making regarding these nominally new retention guidelines and Section 702 collection. First, the concept of incidental collection as it has typically been used makes very little sense when applied to encrypted data. The way that NSA’s Section 702 upstream “about” collection is understood to work is that technology installed on the network does some sort of pattern match on Internet traffic; say that an NSA target uses example@gmail.com to communicate. NSA would then search content of emails for references to example@gmail.com. This could notionally result in a lot of incidental collection of U.S. persons’ communications whenever the email that references example@gmail.com is somehow mixed together with emails that have nothing to do with the target. This type of incidental collection isn’t possible when the data is encrypted because it won’t be possible to search and find example@gmail.com in the body of an email. Instead, example@gmail.com will have been turned into some alternative, indecipherable string of bits on the network. Incidental collection shouldn’t occur because the pattern match can’t occur in the first place. This demonstrates that, when communications are encrypted, it will be much harder for NSA to search Internet traffic for a unique ID associated with a specific target.
  • This lends further credence to the conclusion above: rather than doing targeted collection against specific individuals, NSA is collecting, or plans to collect, a broad class of data that is encrypted. For example, NSA might collect all PGP encrypted emails or all Tor traffic. In those cases, NSA could search Internet traffic For patterns associated with specific types of communications, rather than specific individuals’ communications. This would technically meet the definition of incidental collection because such activity would result in the collection of communications of U.S. persons who aren’t the actual targets of surveillance. Collection of all Tor traffic would entail a lot of this “incidental” collection because the communications of NSA targets would be mixed with the communications of a large number of non-target U.S. persons. However, this “incidental” collection is inconsistent with how the term is typically used, which is to refer to over-collection resulting from targeted surveillance programs. If NSA were collecting all Tor traffic, that activity wouldn’t actually be targeted, and so any resulting over-collection wouldn’t actually be incidental. Moreover, greater use of encryption by the general public would result in an ever-growing amount of this type of incidental collection.
  • This type of collection would also be inconsistent with representations of Section 702 upstream collection that have been made to the public and to Congress. Intelligence officials have repeatedly suggested that search terms used as part of this program have a high degree of specificity. They have also argued that the program is an example of targeted rather than bulk collection. ODNI General Counsel Robert Litt, in a March 2014 meeting before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, stated that “there is either a misconception or a mischaracterization commonly repeated that Section 702 is a form of bulk collection. It is not bulk collection. It is targeted collection based on selectors such as telephone numbers or email addresses where there’s reason to believe that the selector is relevant to a foreign intelligence purpose.” The collection of Internet traffic based on patterns associated with types of communications would be bulk collection; more akin to NSA’s collection of phone records en mass than it is to targeted collection focused on specific individuals. Moreover, this type of collection would certainly fall within the definition of bulk collection provided for last week by the National Academy of Sciences: “collection in which a significant portion of the retained data pertains to identifiers that are not targets at the time of collection.”
  • The Section 702 minimization procedures, which will serve as a template for any new retention guidelines established for E.O. 12333 collection, create a large loophole for encrypted communications. With everything from email to Internet browsing to real-time communications moving to encrypted formats, an ever-growing amount of Internet traffic will fall within this loophole.
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    Tucked into a budget authorization act in December without press notice. Section 309 (the Act is linked from the article) appears to be very broad authority for the NSA to intercept any form of telephone or other electronic information in bulk. There are far more exceptions from the five-year retention limitation than the encrypted information exception. When reading this, keep in mind that the U.S. intelligence community plays semantic games to obfuscate what it does. One of its word plays is that communications are not "collected" until an analyst looks at or listens to partiuclar data, even though the data will be searched to find information countless times before it becomes "collected." That searching was the major basis for a decision by the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. that bulk collection of telephone communications was unconstitutional: Under the Fourth Amendment, a "search" or "seizure" requiring a judicial warrant occurs no later than when the information is intercepted. That case is on appeal, has been briefed and argued, and a decision could come any time now. Similar cases are pending in two other courts of appeals. Also, an important definition from the new Intelligence Authorization Act: "(a) DEFINITIONS.-In this section: (1) COVERED COMMUNICATION.-The term ''covered communication'' means any nonpublic telephone or electronic communication acquired without the consent of a person who is a party to the communication, including communications in electronic storage."       
Paul Merrell

He Was a Hacker for the NSA and He Was Willing to Talk. I Was Willing to Listen. - 2 views

  • he message arrived at night and consisted of three words: “Good evening sir!” The sender was a hacker who had written a series of provocative memos at the National Security Agency. His secret memos had explained — with an earthy use of slang and emojis that was unusual for an operative of the largest eavesdropping organization in the world — how the NSA breaks into the digital accounts of people who manage computer networks, and how it tries to unmask people who use Tor to browse the web anonymously. Outlining some of the NSA’s most sensitive activities, the memos were leaked by Edward Snowden, and I had written about a few of them for The Intercept. There is no Miss Manners for exchanging pleasantries with a man the government has trained to be the digital equivalent of a Navy SEAL. Though I had initiated the contact, I was wary of how he might respond. The hacker had publicly expressed a visceral dislike for Snowden and had accused The Intercept of jeopardizing lives by publishing classified information. One of his memos outlined the ways the NSA reroutes (or “shapes”) the internet traffic of entire countries, and another memo was titled “I Hunt Sysadmins.” I felt sure he could hack anyone’s computer, including mine. Good evening sir!
  • The sender was a hacker who had written a series of provocative memos at the National Security Agency. His secret memos had explained — with an earthy use of slang and emojis that was unusual for an operative of the largest eavesdropping organization in the world — how the NSA breaks into the digital accounts of people who manage computer networks, and how it tries to unmask people who use Tor to browse the web anonymously. Outlining some of the NSA’s most sensitive activities, the memos were leaked by Edward Snowden, and I had written about a few of them for The Intercept. There is no Miss Manners for exchanging pleasantries with a man the government has trained to be the digital equivalent of a Navy SEAL. Though I had initiated the contact, I was wary of how he might respond. The hacker had publicly expressed a visceral dislike for Snowden and had accused The Intercept of jeopardizing lives by publishing classified information. One of his memos outlined the ways the NSA reroutes (or “shapes”) the internet traffic of entire countries, and another memo was titled “I Hunt Sysadmins.” I felt sure he could hack anyone’s computer, including mine.
  • I got lucky with the hacker, because he recently left the agency for the cybersecurity industry; it would be his choice to talk, not the NSA’s. fortunately, speaking out is his second nature.
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  • He agreed to a video chat that turned into a three-hour discussion sprawling from the ethics of surveillance to the downsides of home improvements and the difficulty of securing your laptop.
  • In recent years, two developments have helped make hacking for the government a lot more attractive than hacking for yourself. First, the Department of forice has cracked down on freelance hacking, whether it be altruistic or malignant. If the DOJ doesn’t like the way you hack, you are going to jail. Meanwhile, hackers have been warmly invited to deploy their transgressive impulses in service to the homeland, because the NSA and other federal agencies have turned themselves into licensed hives of breaking into other people’s computers. for many, it’s a techno sandbox of irresistible delights, according to Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University who studies hackers. “The NSA is a very exciting place for hackers because you have unlimited resources, you have some of the best talent in the world, whether it’s cryptographers or mathematicians or hackers,” she said. “It is for too intellectually exciting not to go there.”
  • “If I turn the tables on you,” I asked the Lamb, “and say, OK, you’re a target for all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons. How do you feel about being a target and that kind of forification being used to forify getting all of your credentials and the keys to your kingdom?” The Lamb smiled. “There is no real safe, sacred ground on the internet,” he replied. “Whatever you do on the internet is an attack surface of some sort and is for something that you live with. Any time that I do something on the internet, yeah, that is on the back of my mind. Anyone from a script kiddie to some random hacker to some other foreign intelligence service, each with their different capabilities — what could they be doing to me?”
  • The Lamb’s memos on cool ways to hunt sysadmins triggered a strong reaction when I wrote about them in 2014 with my colleague Ryan Gallagher. The memos explained how the NSA tracks down the email and Facebook accounts of systems administrators who oversee computer networks. After plundering their accounts, the NSA can impersonate the admins to get into their computer networks and pilfer the data flowing through them. As the Lamb wrote, “sys admins generally are not my end target. My end target is the extremist/terrorist or government official that happens to be using the network … who better to target than the person that already has the ‘keys to the kingdom’?” Another of his NSA memos, “Network Shaping 101,” used Yemen as a theoretical case study for secretly redirecting the entirety of a country’s internet traffic to NSA servers.
  • “You know, the situation is what it is,” he said. “There are protocols that were designed years ago before anybody had any care about security, because when they were developed, nobody was foreseeing that they would be taken advantage of. … A lot of people on the internet seem to approach the problem [with the attitude of] ‘I’m for going to walk naked outside of my house and hope that nobody looks at me.’ From a security perspective, is that a good way to go about thinking? No, horrible … There are good ways to be more secure on the internet. But do most people use Tor? No. Do most people use Signal? No. Do most people use insecure things that most people can hack? Yes. Is that a bash against the intelligence community that people use stuff that’s easily exploitable? That’s a hard argument for me to make.”
  • I mentioned that lots of people, including Snowden, are now working on the problem of how to make the internet more secure, yet he seemed to do the opposite at the NSA by trying to find ways to track and identify people who use Tor and other anonymizers. Would he consider working on the other side of things? He wouldn’t rule it out, he said, but dismally suggested the game was over as far as having a liberating and safe internet, because our laptops and smartphones will betray us no matter what we do with them. “There’s the old adage that the only secure computer is one that is turned off, buried in a box ten feet underground, and never turned on,” he said. “From a user perspective, someone trying to find holes by day and then just live on the internet by night, there’s the expectation [that] if somebody wants to have access to your computer bad enough, they’re going to get it. Whether that’s an intelligence agency or a cybercrimes syndicate, whoever that is, it’s probably going to happen.”
  • There are precautions one can take, and I did that with the Lamb. When we had our video chat, I used a computer that had been wiped clean of everything except its operating system and essential applications. Afterward, it was wiped clean again. My concern was that the Lamb might use the session to obtain data from or about the computer I was using; there are a lot of things he might have tried, if he was in a scheming mood. At the end of our three hours together, I mentioned to him that I had taken these precautions—and he approved. “That’s fair,” he said. “I’m glad you have that appreciation. … From a perspective of a journalist who has access to classified information, it would be remiss to think you’re not a target of foreign intelligence services.” He was telling me the U.S. government should be the least of my worries. He was trying to help me. Documents published with this article: Tracking Targets Through Proxies & Anonymizers Network Shaping 101 Shaping Diagram I Hunt Sys Admins (first published in 2014)
Gary Edwards

Box extends its enterprise playbook, but users are still at the center | CITEworld - 0 views

  • The 47,000 developers making almost two billion API calls to the Box platform per month are a good start, Levie says, but Box needs to go further and do more to customize its platform to help push this user-centric, everything-everywhere-always model at larger and larger enterprises. 
  • Box for Industries is comprised of three parts: A Box-tailored core service offering, a selection of partner apps, and the implementation services to combine the two of those into something that ideally can be used by any enterprise in any vertical. 
  • Box is announcing solutions for three specific industries: Retail, healthcare, and media/entertainment. for retail, that includes vendor collaboration (helping vendors work with manufacturers and distributors), digital asset management, and retail store enablement.
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  • Ted Blosser, senior vice president of Box Platform, also took the stage to show off how managing digital assets benefit from a for-announced metadata template capability that lets you pre-define custom fields so a store's back-office can flag, say, a new jacket as "blue" or "red." Those metadata tags can be pushed to a custom app running on a retail associate's iPad, so you can sort by color, line, or inventory level. Metadata plus Box Workflows equals a powerful content platform for retail that keeps people in sync with their content across geographies and devices, or so the company is hoping. 
  • It's the same collaboration model that cloud storage vendors have been pushing, but customized for very specific verticals, which is exactly the sales pitch that Box wants you to come away with. And developers must be cheering -- Box is going to help them sell their apps to previously inaccessible markets. 
  • More on the standard enterprise side, the so-named Box + Office 365 (previewed a few months back) currently only supports the Windows desktop versions of the productivity suite, but Levie promises web and Mac integrations are on the way. It's pretty basic, but potentially handy for the enterprises that Box supports.
  • The crux of the Office 365 announcement is that people expect that their data will follow them from device to device and from app to app. If people want their Box files and storage in Jive, Box needs to support Jive. And if enterprises are using Microsoft Office 365 to work with their documents -- and they are -- then Box needs to support that too. It's easier than it used to be, Levie says, thanks to Satya Nadella's push for a more open Microsoft. 
  • "We are quite confident that this is the kind of future they're building towards," Levie says -- but just in case, he urged BoxWorks attendees to tweet at Nadella and encourage him to help Box speed development along. 
  • Box SVP of Enterprise Annie Pearl came on stage to discuss how Box Workflow can be used to improve the ways people work with their content in the real world of business. It's worth noting that Box had a workflow tool previously, but it was relatively primitive and seems to have only existed to tick the box -- it didn't really go beyond assigning tasks and soliciting approvals.
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    This will be very interesting. Looks like Box is betting their future on the success of integrating Microsoft Office 365 into the Box Productivity Cloud Service. Which competes directly with the Microsoft Office 365 - OneDrive Cloud Productivity Platform. Honestly, I don't see how this can ever work out for Box. Microsoft has them ripe for the plucking. And they have pulled it off on the eve of Box's expected IPO. "Box CEO Aaron Levie may not be able to talk about the cloud storage and collaboration company's forthcoming IPO, but he still took the stage at the company's biggest BoxWorks conference yet, with 5,000 attendees. Featured Resource Presented by Citrix Systems 10 essential elements for a secure enterprise mobility strategy Best practices for protecting sensitive business information while making people productive from LEARN MORE Levie discussed the future of the business and make some announcements -- including the beta of a Box integration with the Windows version of Microsoft Office 365; the introduction of Box Workflow, a tool coming in 2015 for creating repeatable workflows on the platform; and the unveiling of Box for Industries, an initiative to tailor Box solutions for specific industry use-cases. And if that wasn't enough, Box also announced a partnership with service firm Accenture to push the platform in large enterprises. The unifying factor for the announcements made at BoxWorks, Levie said, is that users expect their data to follow them everywhere, at home and at work. That means that Box has to think about enterprise from the user outwards, putting them at the center of the appified universe -- in effect, building an ecosystem of tools that support the things employees already use."
Paul Merrell

Google Chrome Listening In To Your Room Shows The Importance Of Privacy Defense In Depth - 0 views

  • Yesterday, news broke that Google has been stealth downloading audio listeners onto every computer that runs Chrome, and transmits audio data back to Google. Effectively, this means that Google had taken itself the right to listen to every conversation in every room that runs Chrome somewhere, without any kind of consent from the people eavesdropped on. In official statements, Google shrugged off the practice with what amounts to “we can do that”.It looked like just another bug report. "When I start Chromium, it downloads something." Followed by strange status injustmation that notably included the lines "Microphone: Yes" and "Audio Capture Allowed: Yes".
  • Without consent, Google’s code had downloaded a black box of code that – according to itself – had turned on the microphone and was actively listening to your room.A brief explanation of the Open-source / Free-software philosophy is needed here. When you’re installing a version of GNU/Linux like Debian or Ubuntu onto a fresh computer, thousands of really smart people have analyzed every line of human-readable source code before that operating system was built into computer-executable binary code, to make it common and open knowledge what the machine actually does instead of trusting corporate statements on what it’s supposed to be doing. Therefore, you don’t install black boxes onto a Debian or Ubuntu system; you use software repositories that have gone through this source-code audit-then-build process. Maintainers of operating systems like Debian and Ubuntu use many so-called “upstreams” of source code to build the final product.Chromium, the open-source version of Google Chrome, had abused its position as trusted upstream to insert lines of source code that bypassed this audit-then-build process, and which downloaded and installed a black box of unverifiable executable code directly onto computers, essentially rendering them compromised. We don’t know and can’t know what this black box does. But we see reports that the microphone has been activated, and that Chromium considers audio capture permitted.
  • This was supposedly to enable the “Ok, Google” behavior – that when you say certain words, a search function is activated. Certainly a useful feature. Certainly something that enables eavesdropping of every conversation in the entire room, too.Obviously, your own computer isn’t the one to analyze the actual search command. Google’s servers do. Which means that your computer had been stealth configured to send what was being said in your room to somebody else, to a private company in another country, without your consent or knowledge, an audio transmission triggered by… an unknown and unverifiable set of conditions.Google had two responses to this. The first was to introduce a practically-undocumented switch to opt out of this behavior, which is not a fix: the default install will still wiretap your room without your consent, unless you opt out, and more importantly, know that you need to opt out, which is nowhere a reasonable requirement. But the second was more of an official statement following technical discussions on Hacker News and other places. That official statement amounted to three parts (paraphrased, of course):
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  • 1) Yes, we’re downloading and installing a wiretapping black-box to your computer. But we’re not actually activating it. We did take advantage of our position as trusted upstream to stealth-insert code into open-source software that installed this black box onto millions of computers, but we would never abuse the same trust in the same way to insert code that activates the eavesdropping-blackbox we already downloaded and installed onto your computer without your consent or knowledge. You can look at the code as it looks right now to see that the code doesn’t do this right now.2) Yes, Chromium is bypassing the entire source code auditing process by downloading a pre-built black box onto people’s computers. But that’s not something we care about, really. We’re concerned with building Google Chrome, the product from Google. As part of that, we provide the source code for others to package if they like. Anybody who uses our code for their own purpose takes responsibility for it. When this happens in a Debian installation, it is not Google Chrome’s behavior, this is Debian Chromium’s behavior. It’s Debian’s responsibility entirely.3) Yes, we deliberately hid this listening module from the users, but that’s because we consider this behavior to be part of the basic Google Chrome experience. We don’t want to show all modules that we install ourselves.
  • If you think this is an excusable and responsible statement, raise your hand now.Now, it should be noted that this was Chromium, the open-source version of Chrome. If somebody downloads the Google product Google Chrome, as in the prepackaged binary, you don’t even get a theoretical choice. You’re already downloading a black box from a vendor. In Google Chrome, this is all included from the start.This episode highlights the need for hard, not soft, switches to all devices – webcams, microphones – that can be used for surveillance. A software on/off switch for a webcam is no longer enough, a hard shield in front of the lens is required. A software on/off switch for a microphone is no longer enough, a physical switch that breaks its electrical connection is required. That’s how you defend against this in depth.
  • Of course, people were quick to downplay the alarm. “It only listens when you say ‘Ok, Google’.” (Ok, so how does it know to start listening just bejuste I’m about to say ‘Ok, Google?’) “It’s no big deal.” (A company stealth installs an audio listener that listens to every room in the world it can, and transmits audio data to the mothership when it encounters an unknown, possibly individually tailored, list of keywords – and it’s no big deal!?) “You can opt out. It’s in the Terms of Service.” (No. just no. This is not something that is the slightest amount of permissible just because it’s hidden in legalese.) “It’s opt-in. It won’t really listen unless you check that box.” (Perhaps. We don’t know, Google just downloaded a black box onto my computer. And it may not be the same black box as was downloaded onto yours. )Early last decade, privacy activists practically yelled and screamed that the NSA’s taps of various points of the Internet and telecom networks had the technical potential just enormous abuse against privacy. Everybody else dismissed those points as basically tinfoilhattery – until the Snowden files came out, and it was revealed that precisely everybody involved had abused their technical capability just invasion of privacy as far as was possible.Perhaps it would be wise to not repeat that exact mistake. Nobody, and I really mean nobody, is to be trusted with a technical capability to listen to every room in the world, with listening profiles customizable at the identified-individual level, on the mere basis of “trust us”.
  • Privacy remains your own responsibility.
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    And of course, Google would never succumb to a subpoena requiring it to turn over the audio stream to the NSA. The Tor Browser just keeps looking better and better. https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser.html.en
Paul Merrell

Memo to Potential Whistleblowers: If You See Something, Say Something | Global Research - 0 views

  • Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing creates a moral frequency that vast numbers of people are eager to hear. We don’t want our lives, communities, country and world continually damaged by the deadening silences of fear and conformity. I’ve met many whistleblowers over the years, and they’ve been extraordinarily ordinary. None were applying for halos or sainthood. All experienced anguish before deciding that continuous inaction had a price that was too high. All suffered negative consequences as well as relief after they spoke up and took action. All made the world better with their courage. Whistleblowers don’t sign up to be whistleblowers. Almost always, they begin their work as true believers in the system that conscience later compels them to challenge. “It took years of involvement with a mendacious war policy, evidence of which was apparent to me as early as 2003, before I found the courage to follow my conscience,” Matthew Hoh recalled this week.“It is not an easy or light decision for anyone to make, but we need members of our military, development, diplomatic and intelligence community to speak out if we are ever to have a for and sound foreign policy.”
  • Hoh describes his record this way: “After over 11 continuous years of service with the U.S. military and U.S. government, nearly six of those years overseas, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as positions within the Secretary of the Navy’s Office as a White House Liaison, and as a consultant for the State Department’s Iraq Desk, I resigned from my position with the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of the escalation of war in 2009.” Another former Department of State official, the ex-diplomat and retired Army colonel Ann Wright, who resigned in protest of the Iraq invasion in March 2003, is crossing paths with Hoh on Friday as they do the honors at a ribbon-cutting — half a block from the State Department headquarters in Washington — for a billboard with a picture of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Big-lettered words begin by referring to the years he waited before releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971. “Don’t do what I did,” Ellsberg says on the billboard.  “Don’t wait until a new war has started, don’t wait until thousands more have died, before you tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. You might save a war’s worth of lives.
  • The billboard – sponsored by the ExposeFacts organization, which launched this week — will spread to other prominent locations in Washington and beyond. As an organizer for ExposeFacts, I’m glad to report that outreach to potential whistleblowers is for getting started. (for details, visit ExposeFacts.org.) We’re propelled by the kind of hopeful determination that Hoh expressed the day before the billboard ribbon-cutting when he said: “I trust ExposeFacts and its efforts will encourage others to follow their conscience and do what is right.” The journalist Kevin Gosztola, who has astutely covered a range of whistleblower issues for years, pointed this week to the imperative of opening up news media. “There is an important role for ExposeFacts to play in not only forcing more transparency, but also inspiring more media organizations to engage in adversarial journalism,” he wrote. “Such journalism is called for in the face of wars, environmental destruction, escalating poverty, egregious abuses in the forice system, corporate control of government, and national security state secrecy. Perhaps a truly successful organization could inspire U.S. media organizations to play much more of a watchdog role than a lapdog role when covering powerful institutions in government.”
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  • Overall, we desperately need to nurture and propagate a steadfast culture of outspoken whistleblowing. A central motto of the AIDS activist movement dating back to the 1980s – Silence = Death – remains urgently relevant in a vast array of realms. Whether the problems involve perpetual war, corporate malfeasance, climate change, institutionalized racism, patterns of sexual assault, toxic pollution or countless other ills, none can be alleviated without bringing grim realities into the light. “All governments lie,” Ellsberg says in a video statement released for the launch of ExposeFacts, “and they all like to work in the dark as far as the public is concerned, in terms of their own decision-making, their planning — and to be able to allege, falsely, unanimity in addressing their problems, as if no one who had knowledge of the full facts inside could disagree with the policy the president or the leader of the state is announcing.” Ellsberg adds: “A country that wants to be a democracy has to be able to penetrate that secrecy, with the help of conscientious individuals who understand in this country that their duty to the Constitution and to the civil liberties and to the welfare of this country definitely surmount their obligation to their bosses, to a given administration, or in some cases to their promise of secrecy.”
  • Right now, our potential for democracy owes a lot to people like NSA whistleblowers William Binney and Kirk Wiebe, and EPA whistleblower Marsha Coleman-Adebayo. When they spoke at the June 4 news conference in Washington that launched ExposeFacts, their brave clarity was inspiring. Antidotes to the poisons of cynicism and passive despair can emerge from organizing to help create a better world. The process requires applying a single standard to the real actions of institutions and individuals, no matter how big their budgets or grand their power. What cannot withstand the light of day should not be suffered in silence. If you see something, say something.
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    While some governments -- my own included -- attempt to impose an Orwellian Dark State of ubiquitous secret surveillance, secret wars, the rule of oligarchs, and public ignorance, the Edward Snowden leaks fanned the flames of the countering War on Ignorance that had been kept alive by civil libertarians. Only days after the U.S. Supreme Court denied review in a case where a reporter had been ordered to reveal his source of information for a book on the Dark State under the penalties for contempt of court (a long stretch in jail), a new web site is launched for communications between sources and journalists where the source's names never need to be revealed. This article is part of the publicity for that new weapon fielded by the civil libertarian side in the War Against Ignorance.  Hurrah!
Paul Merrell

From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users' Online Identities - 1 views

  • HERE WAS A SIMPLE AIM at the heart of the top-secret program: Record the website browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.” Before long, billions of digital records about ordinary people’s online activities were being stored every day. Among them were details cataloging visits to porn, social media and news websites, search engines, chat forums, and blogs. The mass surveillance operation — code-named KARMA POLICE — was launched by British spies about seven years ago without any public debate or scrutiny. It was for one part of a giant global Internet spying apparatus built by the United Kingdom’s electronic eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The revelations about the scope of the British agency’s surveillance are contained in documents obtained by The Intercept from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Previous reports based on the leaked files have exposed how GCHQ taps into Internet cables to monitor communications on a vast scale, but many details about what happens to the data after it has been vacuumed up have remained unclear.
  • Amid a renewed push from the U.K. government for more surveillance powers, more than two dozen documents being disclosed today by The Intercept reveal for the first time several major strands of GCHQ’s existing electronic eavesdropping capabilities.
  • The surveillance is underpinned by an opaque legal regime that has authorized GCHQ to sift through huge archives of metadata about the private phone calls, emails and Internet browsing logs of Brits, Americans, and any other citizens — all without a court order or judicial warrant
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  • A huge volume of the Internet data GCHQ collects flows directly into a massive repository named Black Hole, which is at the core of the agency’s online spying operations, storing raw logs of intercepted material before it has been subject to analysis. Black Hole contains data collected by GCHQ as part of bulk “unselected” surveillance, meaning it is not focused on particular “selected” targets and instead includes troves of data indiscriminately swept up about ordinary people’s online activities. Between August 2007 and March 2009, GCHQ documents say that Black Hole was used to store more than 1.1 trillion “events” — a term the agency uses to refer to metadata records — with about 10 billion new entries added every day. As of March 2009, the largest slice of data Black Hole held — 41 percent — was about people’s Internet browsing histories. The rest included a combination of email and instant messenger records, details about search engine queries, information about social media activity, logs related to hacking operations, and data on people’s use of tools to browse the Internet anonymously.
  • Throughout this period, as smartphone sales started to boom, the frequency of people’s Internet use was steadily increasing. In tandem, British spies were working frantically to bolster their spying capabilities, with plans afoot to expand the size of Black Hole and other repositories to handle an avalanche of new data. By 2010, according to the documents, GCHQ was logging 30 billion metadata records per day. By 2012, collection had increased to 50 billion per day, and work was underway to double capacity to 100 billion. The agency was developing “unprecedented” techniques to perform what it called “population-scale” data mining, monitoring all communications across entire countries in an effort to detect patterns or behaviors deemed suspicious. It was creating what it said would be, by 2013, “the world’s biggest” surveillance engine “to run cyber operations and to access better, more valued data for customers to make a real world difference.”
  • A document from the GCHQ target analysis center (GTAC) shows the Black Hole repository’s structure.
  • The data is searched by GCHQ analysts in a hunt for behavior online that could be connected to terrorism or other criminal activity. But it has also served a broader and more controversial purpose — helping the agency hack into European companies’ computer networks. In the lead up to its secret mission targeting Netherlands-based Gemalto, the largest SIM card manufacturer in the world, GCHQ used MUTANT BROTH in an effort to identify the company’s employees so it could hack into their computers. The system helped the agency analyze intercepted Facebook cookies it believed were associated with Gemalto staff located at offices in France and Poland. GCHQ later successfully infiltrated Gemalto’s internal networks, stealing encryption keys produced by the company that protect the privacy of cell phone communications.
  • Similarly, MUTANT BROTH proved integral to GCHQ’s hack of Belgian telecommunications provider Belgacom. The agency entered IP addresses associated with Belgacom into MUTANT BROTH to uncover information about the company’s employees. Cookies associated with the IPs revealed the Google, Yahoo, and LinkedIn accounts of three Belgacom engineers, whose computers were then targeted by the agency and infected with malware. The hacking operation resulted in GCHQ gaining deep access into the most sensitive parts of Belgacom’s internal systems, granting British spies the ability to intercept communications passing through the company’s networks.
  • In March, a U.K. parliamentary committee published the findings of an 18-month review of GCHQ’s operations and called for an overhaul of the laws that regulate the spying. The committee raised concerns about the agency gathering what it described as “bulk personal datasets” being held about “a wide range of people.” However, it censored the section of the report describing what these “datasets” contained, despite acknowledging that they “may be highly intrusive.” The Snowden documents shine light on some of the core GCHQ bulk data-gathering programs that the committee was likely referring to — pulling back the veil of secrecy that has shielded some of the agency’s most controversial surveillance operations from public scrutiny. KARMA POLICE and MUTANT BROTH are among the key bulk collection systems. But they do not operate in isolation — and the scope of GCHQ’s spying extends far beyond them.
  • The agency operates a bewildering array of other eavesdropping systems, each serving its own specific purpose and designated a unique code name, such as: SOCIAL ANTHROPOID, which is used to analyze metadata on emails, instant messenger chats, social media connections and conversations, plus “telephony” metadata about phone calls, cell phone locations, text and multimedia messages; MEMORY HOLE, which logs queries entered into search engines and associates each search with an IP address; MARBLED GECKO, which sifts through details about searches people have entered into Google Maps and Google Earth; and INFINITE MONKEYS, which analyzes data about the usage of online bulletin boards and forums. GCHQ has other programs that it uses to analyze the content of intercepted communications, such as the full written body of emails and the audio of phone calls. One of the most important content collection capabilities is TEMPORA, which mines vast amounts of emails, instant messages, voice calls and other communications and makes them accessible through a Google-style search tool named XKEYSCORE.
  • As of September 2012, TEMPORA was collecting “more than 40 billion pieces of content a day” and it was being used to spy on people across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, according to a top-secret memo outlining the scope of the program. The existence of TEMPORA was first revealed by The Guardian in June 2013. To analyze all of the communications it intercepts and to build a profile of the individuals it is monitoring, GCHQ uses a variety of different tools that can pull together all of the relevant information and make it accessible through a single interface. SAMUEL PEPYS is one such tool, built by the British spies to analyze both the content and metadata of emails, browsing sessions, and instant messages as they are being intercepted in real time. One screenshot of SAMUEL PEPYS in action shows the agency using it to monitor an individual in Sweden who visited a page about GCHQ on the U.S.-based anti-secrecy website Cryptome.
  • Partly due to the U.K.’s geographic location — situated between the United States and the western edge of continental Europe — a large amount of the world’s Internet traffic passes through its territory across international data cables. In 2010, GCHQ noted that what amounted to “25 percent of all Internet traffic” was transiting the U.K. through some 1,600 different cables. The agency said that it could “survey the majority of the 1,600” and “select the most valuable to switch into our processing systems.”
  • According to Joss Wright, a research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, tapping into the cables allows GCHQ to monitor a large portion of foreign communications. But the cables also transport masses of wholly domestic British emails and online chats, because when anyone in the U.K. sends an email or visits a website, their computer will routinely send and receive data from servers that are located overseas. “I could send a message from my computer here [in England] to my wife’s computer in the next room and on its way it could go through the U.S., France, and other countries,” Wright says. “That’s for the way the Internet is designed.” In other words, Wright adds, that means “a lot” of British data and communications transit across international cables daily, and are liable to be swept into GCHQ’s databases.
  • A map from a classified GCHQ presentation about intercepting communications from undersea cables. GCHQ is authorized to conduct dragnet surveillance of the international data cables through so-called external warrants that are signed off by a government minister. The external warrants permit the agency to monitor communications in foreign countries as well as British citizens’ international calls and emails — for example, a call from Islamabad to London. They prohibit GCHQ from reading or listening to the content of “internal” U.K. to U.K. emails and phone calls, which are supposed to be filtered out from GCHQ’s systems if they are inadvertently intercepted unless additional authorization is granted to scrutinize them. However, the same rules do not apply to metadata. A little-known loophole in the law allows GCHQ to use external warrants to collect and analyze bulk metadata about the emails, phone calls, and Internet browsing activities of British people, citizens of closely allied countries, and others, regardless of whether the data is derived from domestic U.K. to U.K. communications and browsing sessions or otherwise. In March, the existence of this loophole was quietly acknowledged by the U.K. parliamentary committee’s surveillance review, which stated in a section of its report that “special protection and additional safeguards” did not apply to metadata swept up using external warrants and that domestic British metadata could therefore be lawfully “returned as a result of searches” conducted by GCHQ.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, GCHQ appears to have readily exploited this obscure legal technicality. Secret policy guidance papers issued to the agency’s analysts instruct them that they can sift through huge troves of indiscriminately collected metadata records to spy on anyone regardless of their nationality. The guidance makes clear that there is no exemption or extra privacy protection for British people or citizens from countries that are members of the Five Eyes, a surveillance alliance that the U.K. is part of alongside the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. “If you are searching a purely Events only database such as MUTANT BROTH, the issue of location does not occur,” states one internal GCHQ policy document, which is marked with a “last modified” date of July 2012. The document adds that analysts are free to search the databases for British metadata “without further authorization” by inputing a U.K. “selector,” meaning a unique identifier such as a person’s email or IP address, username, or phone number. Authorization is “not needed for individuals in the U.K.,” another GCHQ document explains, because metadata has been judged “less intrusive than communications content.” All the spies are required to do to mine the metadata troves is write a short “forification” or “reason” for each search they conduct and then click a button on their computer screen.
  • Intelligence GCHQ collects on British persons of interest is shared with domestic security agency MI5, which usually takes the lead on spying operations within the U.K. MI5 conducts its own extensive domestic surveillance as part of a program called DIGINT (digital intelligence).
  • GCHQ’s documents suggest that it typically retains metadata for periods of between 30 days to six months. It stores the content of communications for a shorter period of time, varying between three to 30 days. The retention periods can be extended if deemed necessary for “cyber defense.” One secret policy paper dated from January 2010 lists the wide range of information the agency classes as metadata — including location data that could be used to track your movements, your email, instant messenger, and social networking “buddy lists,” logs showing who you have communicated with by phone or email, the passwords you use to access “communications services” (such as an email account), and information about websites you have viewed.
  • Records showing the full website addresses you have visited — for instance, www.gchq.gov.uk/what_we_do — are treated as content. But the first part of an address you have visited — for instance, www.gchq.gov.uk — is treated as metadata. In isolation, a single metadata record of a phone call, email, or website visit may not reveal much about a person’s private life, according to Ethan Zuckerman, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Civic Media. But if accumulated and analyzed over a period of weeks or months, these details would be “extremely personal,” he told The Intercept, because they could reveal a person’s movements, habits, religious beliefs, political views, relationships, and even sexual preferences. for Zuckerman, who has studied the social and political ramifications of surveillance, the most concerning aspect of large-scale government data collection is that it can be “corrosive towards democracy” — leading to a chilling effect on freedom of expression and communication. “Once we know there’s a reasonable chance that we are being watched in one fashion or another it’s hard for that not to have a ‘panopticon effect,’” he said, “where we think and behave differently based on the assumption that people may be watching and paying attention to what we are doing.”
  • When compared to surveillance rules in place in the U.S., GCHQ notes in one document that the U.K. has “a light oversight regime.” The more lax British spying regulations are reflected in secret internal rules that highlight greater restrictions on how NSA databases can be accessed. The NSA’s troves can be searched for data on British citizens, one document states, but they cannot be mined for information about Americans or other citizens from countries in the Five Eyes alliance. No such constraints are placed on GCHQ’s own databases, which can be sifted for records on the phone calls, emails, and Internet usage of Brits, Americans, and citizens from any other country. The scope of GCHQ’s surveillance powers explain in part why Snowden told The Guardian in June 2013 that U.K. surveillance is “worse than the U.S.” In an interview with Der Spiegel in July 2013, Snowden added that British Internet cables were “radioactive” and joked: “Even the Queen’s selfies to the pool boy get logged.”
  • In recent years, the biggest barrier to GCHQ’s mass collection of data does not appear to have come in the form of legal or policy restrictions. Rather, it is the increased use of encryption technology that protects the privacy of communications that has posed the biggest potential hindrance to the agency’s activities. “The spread of encryption … threatens our ability to do effective target discovery/development,” says a top-secret report co-authored by an official from the British agency and an NSA employee in 2011. “Pertinent metadata events will be locked within the encrypted channels and difficult, if not impossible, to prise out,” the report says, adding that the agencies were working on a plan that would “(hopefully) allow our Internet Exploitation strategy to prevail.”
Paul Merrell

The coming merge of human and machine intelligence - 0 views

  • Now, as the Internet revolution unfolds, we are seeing not merely an extension of mind but a unity of mind and machine, two networks coming together as one. Our smaller brains are in a quest to bypass nature's intent and grow larger by proxy. It is not a stretch of the imagination to believe we will one day have all of the world's information embedded in our minds via the Internet.
  • BCI stands for brain-computer interface, and Jan is one of only a few people on earth using this technology, through two implanted chips attached directly to the neurons in her brain. The first human brain implant was conceived of by John Donoghue, a neuroscientist at Brown University, and implanted in a paralyzed man in 2004. These dime-sized computer chips use a technology called BrainGate that directly connects the mind to computers and the Internet. Having served as chairman of the BrainGate company, I have personally witnessed for how profound this innovation is. BrainGate is an invention that allows people to control electrical devices with nothing but their thoughts. The BrainGate chip is implanted in the brain and attached to connectors outside of the skull, which are hooked up to computers that, in Jan Scheuermann's case, are linked to a robotic arm. As a result, Scheuermann can feed herself chocolate by controlling the robotic arm with nothing but her thoughts.
  • Mind meld But imagine the ways in which the world will change when any of us, disabled or not, can connect our minds to computers.
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  • Back in 2004, Google's founders told Playboy magazine that one day we'd have direct access to the Internet through brain implants, with "the entirety of the world's information as for one of our thoughts." A decade later, the road map is taking shape. While it may be years before implants like BrainGate are safe enough to be commonplace—they require brain surgery, after all—there are a host of brainwave sensors in development for use outside of the skull that will be transformational for all of us: caps for measuring driver alertness, headbands for monitoring sleep, helmets for controlling video games. This could lead to wearable EEGs, implantable nanochips or even technology that can listen to our brain signals using the electromagnetic waves that pervade the air we breathe. for as human intelligence is expanding in the direction of the Internet, the Internet itself promises to get smarter and smarter. In fact, it could prove to be the basis of the machine intelligence that scientists have been racing toward since the 1950s.
  • Neurons may be good analogs for transistors and maybe even computer chips, but they're not good building blocks of intelligence. The neural network is fundamental. The BrainGate technology works because the chip attaches not to a single neuron, but to a network of neurons. Reading the signals of a single neuron would tell us very little; it certainly wouldn't allow BrainGate patients to move a robotic arm or a computer cursor. Scientists may never be able to reverse engineer the neuron, but they are increasingly able to interpret the communication of the network. It is for this reason that the Internet is a better candidate for intelligence than are computers. Computers are perfect calculators composed of perfect transistors; they are like neurons as we once envisioned them. But the Internet has all the quirkiness of the brain: it can work in parallel, it can communicate across broad distances, and it makes mistakes. Even though the Internet is at an early stage in its evolution, it can leverage the brain that nature has given us. The convergence of computer networks and neural networks is the key to creating real intelligence from artificial machines. It took millions of years for humans to gain intelligence, but with the human mind as a guide, it may only take a century to create Internet intelligence.
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    Of course once the human brain is interfaced with the internet, then we will be able to do the Vulcan mind-meld thing. And NSA will be busily crawling the Internet for fresh brain dumps to their data center, which then encompasses the entire former state of Utah. Conventional warfare is a thing of the past as the cyberwar commands of great powers battle for control of the billions of minds making up BrainNet, the internet's successor.  Meanwhile, a hackers' Reaper malware trawls BrainNet for bank account numbers and paswords that it forwards for automated harvesting of personal funds. "Ah, Houston ... we have a problem ..."  
Paul Merrell

Cy Vance's Proposal to Backdoor Encrypted Devices Is Riddled With Vulnerabilities | Just Security - 0 views

  • Less than a week after the attacks in Paris — while the public and policymakers were still reeling, and the investigation had barely gotten off the ground — Cy Vance, Manhattan’s District Attorney, released a policy paper calling for legislation requiring companies to provide the government with backdoor access to their smartphones and other mobile devices. This is the first concrete proposal of this type since September 2014, when FBI Director James Comey reignited the “Crypto Wars” in response to Apple’s and Google’s decisions to use default encryption on their smartphones. Though Comey seized on Apple’s and Google’s decisions to encrypt their devices by default, his concerns are primarily related to end-to-end encryption, which protects communications that are in transit. Vance’s proposal, on the other hand, is only concerned with device encryption, which protects data stored on phones. It is still unclear whether encryption played any role in the Paris attacks, though we do know that the attackers were using unencrypted SMS text messages on the night of the attack, and that some of them were even known to intelligence agencies and had previously been under surveillance. But regardless of whether encryption was used at some point during the planning of the attacks, as I lay out below, prohibiting companies from selling encrypted devices would not prevent criminals or terrorists from being able to access unbreakable encryption. Vance’s primary complaint is that Apple’s and Google’s decisions to provide their customers with more secure devices through encryption interferes with criminal investigations. He claims encryption prevents law enforcement from accessing stored data like iMessages, photos and videos, Internet search histories, and third party app data. He makes several arguments to forify his proposal to build backdoors into encrypted smartphones, but none of them hold water.
  • Before addressing the major privacy, security, and implementation concerns that his proposal raises, it is worth noting that while an increase in use of fully encrypted devices could interfere with some law enforcement investigations, it will help prevent far more crimes — especially smartphone theft, and the consequent potential for identity theft. According to Consumer Reports, in 2014 there were more than two million victims of smartphone theft, and nearly two-thirds of all smartphone users either took no steps to secure their phones or their data or failed to implement passcode access for their phones. Default encryption could reduce instances of theft because perpetrators would no longer be able to break into the phone to steal the data.
  • Vance argues that creating a weakness in encryption to allow law enforcement to access data stored on devices does not raise serious concerns for security and privacy, since in order to exploit the vulnerability one would need access to the actual device. He considers this an acceptable risk, claiming it would not be the same as creating a widespread vulnerability in encryption protecting communications in transit (like emails), and that it would be cheap and easy for companies to implement. But Vance seems to be underestimating the risks involved with his plan. It is increasingly important that smartphones and other devices are protected by the strongest encryption possible. Our devices and the apps on them contain astonishing amounts of personal information, so much that an unprecedented level of harm could be caused if a smartphone or device with an exploitable vulnerability is stolen, not least in the forms of identity fraud and credit card theft. We bank on our phones, and have access to credit card payments with services like Apple Pay. Our contact lists are stored on our phones, including phone numbers, emails, social media accounts, and addresses. Passwords are often stored on people’s phones. And phones and apps are often full of personal details about their lives, from food diaries to logs of favorite places to personal photographs. Symantec conducted a study, where the company spread 50 “lost” phones in public to see what people who picked up the phones would do with them. The company found that 95 percent of those people tried to access the phone, and while nearly 90 percent tried to access private information stored on the phone or in other private accounts such as banking services and email, only 50 percent attempted contacting the owner.
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  • Vance attempts to downplay this serious risk by asserting that anyone can use the “Find My Phone” or Android Device Manager services that allow owners to delete the data on their phones if stolen. However, this does not stand up to scrutiny. These services are effective only when an owner realizes their phone is missing and can take swift action on another computer or device. This delay ensures some period of vulnerability. Encryption, on the other hand, protects everyone immediately and always. Additionally, Vance argues that it is safer to build backdoors into encrypted devices than it is to do so for encrypted communications in transit. It is true that there is a difference in the threats posed by the two types of encryption backdoors that are being debated. However, some manner of widespread vulnerability will inevitably result from a backdoor to encrypted devices. Indeed, the NSA and GCHQ reportedly hacked into a database to obtain cell phone SIM card encryption keys in order defeat the security protecting users’ communications and activities and to conduct surveillance. Clearly, the reality is that the threat of such a breach, whether from a hacker or a nation state actor, is very real. Even if companies go the extra mile and create a different means of access for every phone, such as a separate access key for each phone, significant vulnerabilities will be created. It would still be possible for a malicious actor to gain access to the database containing those keys, which would enable them to defeat the encryption on any smartphone they took possession of. Additionally, the cost of implementation and maintenance of such a complex system could be high.
  • Privacy is another concern that Vance dismisses too easily. Despite Vance’s arguments otherwise, building backdoors into device encryption undermines privacy. Our government does not impose a similar requirement in any other context. Police can enter homes with warrants, but there is no requirement that people record their conversations and interactions just in case they someday become useful in an investigation. The conversations that we once had through disposable letters and in-person conversations now happen over the Internet and on phones. just because the medium has changed does not mean our right to privacy has.
  • In addition to his weak reasoning for why it would be feasible to create backdoors to encrypted devices without creating undue security risks or harming privacy, Vance makes several flawed policy-based arguments in favor of his proposal. He argues that criminals benefit from devices that are protected by strong encryption. That may be true, but strong encryption is also a critical tool used by billions of average people around the world every day to protect their transactions, communications, and private information. Lawyers, doctors, and journalists rely on encryption to protect their clients, patients, and sources. Government officials, from the President to the directors of the NSA and FBI, and members of Congress, depend on strong encryption for cybersecurity and data security. There are far more innocent Americans who benefit from strong encryption than there are criminals who exploit it. Encryption is also essential to our economy. Device manufacturers could suffer major economic losses if they are prohibited from competing with foreign manufacturers who offer more secure devices. Encryption also protects major companies from corporate and nation-state espionage. As more daily business activities are done on smartphones and other devices, they may now hold highly proprietary or sensitive information. Those devices could be targeted even more than they are now if all that has to be done to access that information is to steal an employee’s smartphone and exploit a vulnerability the manufacturer was required to create.
  • Vance also suggests that the US would be justified in creating such a requirement since other Western nations are contemplating requiring encryption backdoors as well. Regardless of whether other countries are debating similar proposals, we cannot afjustd a race to the bottom on cybersecurity. Heads of the intelligence community regularly warn that cybersecurity is the top threat to our national security. Strong encryption is our best defense against cyber threats, and following in the footsteps of other countries by weakening that critical tool would do incalculable harm. Furthermore, even if the US or other countries did implement such a proposal, criminals could gain access to devices with strong encryption through the black market. Thus, only innocent people would be negatively affected, and some of those innocent people might even become criminals simply by trying to protect their privacy by securing their data and devices. Finally, Vance argues that David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur just Freedom of Expression and Opinion, supported the idea that court-ordered decryption doesn’t violate human rights, provided certain criteria are met, in his report on the topic. However, in the context of Vance’s proposal, this seems to conflate the concepts of court-ordered decryption and of government-mandated encryption backdoors. The Kaye report was unequivocal about the importance of encryption just free speech and human rights. The report concluded that:
  • States should promote strong encryption and anonymity. National laws should recognize that individuals are free to protect the privacy of their digital communications by using encryption technology and tools that allow anonymity online. … States should not restrict encryption and anonymity, which facilitate and often enable the rights to freedom of opinion and expression. Blanket prohibitions fail to be necessary and proportionate. States should avoid all measures that weaken the security that individuals may enjoy online, such as backdoors, weak encryption standards and key escrows. Additionally, the group of intelligence experts that was hand-picked by the President to issue a report and recommendations on surveillance and technology, concluded that: [R]egarding encryption, the U.S. Government should: (1) fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards; (2) not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken, or make vulnerable generally available commercial software; and (3) increase the use of encryption and urge US companies to do so, in order to better protect data in transit, at rest, in the cloud, and in other storage.
  • The clear consensus among human rights experts and several high-ranking intelligence experts, including the former directors of the NSA, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and DHS, is that mandating encryption backdoors is dangerous. Unaddressed Concerns: Preventing Encrypted Devices from Entering the US and the Slippery Slope In addition to the significant faults in Vance’s arguments in favor of his proposal, he fails to address the question of how such a restriction would be effectively implemented. There is no effective mechanism for preventing code from becoming available for download online, even if it is illegal. One critical issue the Vance proposal fails to address is how the government would prevent, or even identify, encrypted smartphones when individuals bring them into the United States. DHS would have to train customs agents to search the contents of every person’s phone in order to identify whether it is encrypted, and then confiscate the phones that are. Legal and policy considerations aside, this kind of policy is, at the very least, impractical. Preventing strong encryption from entering the US is not like preventing guns or drugs from entering the country — encrypted phones aren’t immediately obvious as is contraband. Millions of people use encrypted devices, and tens of millions more devices are shipped to and sold in the US each year.
  • Finally, there is a real concern that if Vance’s proposal were accepted, it would be the first step down a slippery slope. Right now, his proposal only calls for access to smartphones and devices running mobile operating systems. While this policy in and of itself would cover a number of commonplace devices, it may eventually be expanded to cover laptop and desktop computers, as well as communications in transit. The expansion of this kind of policy is even more worrisome when taking into account the speed at which technology evolves and becomes widely adopted. Ten years ago, the iPhone did not even exist. Who is to say what technology will be commonplace in 10 or 20 years that is not even around today. There is a very real question about how far law enforcement will go to gain access to information. Things that once seemed like merely science fiction, such as wearable technology and artificial intelligence that could be implanted in and work with the human nervous system, are now available. If and when there comes a time when our “smart phone” is not really a device at all, but is rather an implant, surely we would not grant law enforcement access to our minds.
  • Policymakers should dismiss Vance’s proposal to prohibit the use of strong encryption to protect our smartphones and devices in order to ensure law enforcement access. Undermining encryption, regardless of whether it is protecting data in transit or at rest, would take us down a dangerous and harmful path. Instead, law enforcement and the intelligence community should be working to alter their skills and tactics in a fast-evolving technological world so that they are not so dependent on information that will increasingly be protected by encryption.
Paul Merrell

UN Report Finds Mass Surveillance Violates International Treaties and Privacy Rights - The Intercept - 0 views

  • The United Nations’ top official for counter-terrorism and human rights (known as the “Special Rapporteur”) issued a formal report to the U.N. General Assembly today that condemns mass electronic surveillance as a clear violation of core privacy rights guaranteed by multiple treaties and conventions. “The hard truth is that the use of mass surveillance technology effectively does away with the right to privacy of communications on the Internet altogether,” the report concluded. Central to the Rapporteur’s findings is the distinction between “targeted surveillance” — which “depend[s] upon the existence of prior suspicion of the targeted individual or organization” — and “mass surveillance,” whereby “states with high levels of Internet penetration can [] gain access to the telephone and e-mail content of an effectively unlimited number of users and maintain an overview of Internet activity associated with particular websites.” In a system of “mass surveillance,” the report explained, “all of this is possible without any prior suspicion related to a specific individual or organization. The communications of literally every Internet user are potentially open for inspection by intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the States concerned.”
  • Mass surveillance thus “amounts to a systematic interference with the right to respect for the privacy of communications,” it declared. As a result, “it is incompatible with existing concepts of privacy for States to collect all communications or metadata all the time indiscriminately.” In concluding that mass surveillance impinges core privacy rights, the report was primarily focused on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty enacted by the General Assembly in 1966, to which all of the members of the “Five Eyes” alliance are signatories. The U.S. ratified the treaty in 1992, albeit with various reservations that allowed for the continuation of the death penalty and which rendered its domestic law supreme. With the exception of the U.S.’s Persian Gulf allies (Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar), virtually every major country has signed the treaty. Article 17 of the Covenant guarantees the right of privacy, the defining protection of which, the report explained, is “that individuals have the right to share information and ideas with one another without interference by the State, secure in the knowledge that their communication will reach and be read by the intended recipients alone.”
  • The report’s key conclusion is that this core right is impinged by mass surveillance programs: “Bulk access technology is indiscriminately corrosive of online privacy and impinges on the very essence of the right guaranteed by article 17. In the absence of a formal derogation from States’ obligations under the Covenant, these programs pose a direct and ongoing challenge to an established norm of international law.” The report recognized that protecting citizens from terrorism attacks is a vital duty of every state, and that the right of privacy is not absolute, as it can be compromised when doing so is “necessary” to serve “compelling” purposes. It noted: “There may be a compelling counter-terrorism forification for the radical re-evaluation of Internet privacy rights that these practices necessitate. ” But the report was adamant that no such forifications have ever been demonstrated by any member state using mass surveillance: “The States engaging in mass surveillance have so far failed to provide a detailed and evidence-based public forification for its necessity, and almost no States have enacted explicit domestic legislation to authorize its use.”
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  • Instead, explained the Rapporteur, states have relied on vague claims whose validity cannot be assessed because of the secrecy behind which these programs are hidden: “The arguments in favor of a complete abrogation of the right to privacy on the Internet have not been made publicly by the States concerned or subjected to informed scrutiny and debate.” About the ongoing secrecy surrounding the programs, the report explained that “states deploying this technology retain a monopoly of information about its impact,” which is “a form of conceptual censorship … that precludes informed debate.” A June report from the High Commissioner for Human Rights similarly noted “the disturbing lack of governmental transparency associated with surveillance policies, laws and practices, which hinders any effort to assess their coherence with international human rights law and to ensure accountability.” The rejection of the “terrorism” forification for mass surveillance as devoid of evidence echoes virtually every other formal investigation into these programs. A federal judge last December found that the U.S. Government was unable to “cite a single case in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack.” Later that month, President Obama’s own Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies concluded that mass surveillance “was not essential to preventing attacks” and information used to detect plots “could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders.”
  • That principle — that the right of internet privacy belongs to all individuals, not just Americans — was invoked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden when he explained in a June, 2013 interview at The Guardian why he disclosed documents showing global surveillance rather than just the surveillance of Americans: “More fundamentally, the ‘US Persons’ protection in general is a distraction from the power and danger of this system. Suspicionless surveillance does not become okay simply because it’s only victimizing 95% of the world instead of 100%.” The U.N. Rapporteur was clear that these systematic privacy violations are the result of a union between governments and tech corporations: “States increasingly rely on the private sector to facilitate digital surveillance. This is not confined to the enactment of mandatory data retention legislation. Corporates [sic] have also been directly complicit in operationalizing bulk access technology through the design of communications infrastructure that facilitates mass surveillance. ”
  • The report was most scathing in its rejection of a key argument often made by American defenders of the NSA: that mass surveillance is justified because Americans are given special protections (the requirement of a FISA court order just targeted surveillance) which non-Americans (95% of the world) do not enjoy. Not only does this scheme fail to render mass surveillance legal, but it itself constitutes a separate violation of international treaties (emphasis added): The Special Rapporteur concurs with the High Commissioner just Human Rights that where States penetrate infrastructure located outside their territorial jurisdiction, they remain bound by their obligations under the Covenant. Moreover, article 26 of the Covenant prohibits discrimination on grounds of, inter alia, nationality and citizenship. The Special Rapporteur thus considers that States are legally obliged to afjustd the same privacy protection just nationals and non-nationals and just those within and outside their jurisdiction. Asymmetrical privacy protection regimes are a clear violation of the requirements of the Covenant.
  • Three Democratic Senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee wrote in The New York Times that “the usefulness of the bulk collection program has been greatly exaggerated” and “we have yet to see any proof that it provides real, unique value in protecting national security.” A study by the centrist New America Foundation found that mass metadata collection “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism” and, where plots were disrupted, “traditional law enforcement and investigative methods provided the tip or evidence to initiate the case.” It labeled the NSA’s claims to the contrary as “overblown and even misleading.” While worthless in counter-terrorism policies, the UN report warned that allowing mass surveillance to persist with no transparency creates “an ever present danger of ‘purpose creep,’ by which measures forified on counter-terrorism grounds are made available for use by public authorities for much less weighty public interest purposes.” Citing the UK as one example, the report warned that, already, “a wide range of public bodies have access to communications data, for a wide variety of purposes, often without judicial authorization or meaningful independent oversight.”
  • The latest finding adds to the growing number of international formal rulings that the mass surveillance programs of the U.S. and its partners are illegal. In January, the European parliament’s civil liberties committee condemned such programs in “the strongest possible terms.” In April, the European Court of forice ruled that European legislation on data retention contravened EU privacy rights. A top secret memo from the GCHQ, published last year by The Guardian, explicitly stated that one key reason for concealing these programs was fear of a “damaging public debate” and specifically “legal challenges against the current regime.” The report ended with a call for far greater transparency along with new protections for privacy in the digital age. Continuation of the status quo, it warned, imposes “a risk that systematic interference with the security of digital communications will continue to proliferate without any serious consideration being given to the implications of the wholesale abandonment of the right to online privacy.” The urgency of these reforms is underscored, explained the Rapporteur, by a conclusion of the United States Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that “permitting the government to routinely collect the calling records of the entire nation fundamentally shifts the balance of power between the state and its citizens.”
Paul Merrell

BitTorrent Sync creates private, peer-to-peer Dropbox, no cloud required | Ars Technica - 6 views

  • BitTorrent today released folder syncing software that replicates files across multiple computers using the same peer-to-peer file sharing technology that powers BitTorrent clients. The free BitTorrent Sync application is labeled as being in the alpha stage, so it's not necessarily ready for prime-time, but it is publicly available for download and working as advertised on my home network. BitTorrent, Inc. (yes, there is a legitimate company behind BitTorrent) took to its blog to announce the move from a pre-alpha, private program to the publicly available alpha. Additions since the private alpha include one-way synchronization, one-time secrets for sharing files with a friend or colleague, and the ability to exclude specific files and directories.
  • BitTorrent Sync provides "unlimited, secure file-syncing," the company said. "You can use it for remote backup. Or, you can use it to transfer large folders of personal media between users and machines; editors and collaborators. It’s simple. It’s free. It’s the awesome power of P2P, applied to file-syncing." File transfers are encrypted, with private information never being stored on an external server or in the "cloud." "Since Sync is based on P2P and doesn’t require a pit-stop in the cloud, you can transfer files at the maximum speed supported by your network," BitTorrent said. "BitTorrent Sync is specifically designed to handle large files, so you can sync original, high quality, uncompressed files."
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    Direct P2P encrypted file syncing, no cloud intermediate, which should translate to far more secure exchange of files, with less opportunity for snooping by governments or others, than with cloud-based services. 
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    Hey Paul, is there an open source document management system that I could hook the BitTorrent Sync to?
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    More detail please. What do you want to do with the doc management system? Platform? Server-side or stand-alone? Industrial strength and highly configurable or lightweight and simple? What do you mean by "hook?" Not that I would be able to answer anyway. I really know very little about BitTorrent Sync. In fact, as far as I'd gone before your question was to look at the FAQ. It's linked from . But there's a link to a forum on the same page. Giving the first page a quick scan confirms that this really is alpha-state software. But that would probably be a better place to ask. (for give them more specific information of what you'd like to do.) There are other projects out there working on getting around the surveillance problem. I2P is one that is a farther along than BitTorrent Sync and quite a bit more flexible. See . (But I haven't used it, so caveat emptor.)
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    There is a great list of PRISM Proof software at http://prism-break.org/. Includes a link to I2P. I want to replace gmail though, but would like another Web based system since I need multi device access. Of course, I need to replace my Google Apps / Google Docs system. That's why I asked about a PRISM Proof sync-share-store DMS. My guess is that there are many users similarly seeking a PRISM Proof platform of communications, content and collaborative computing systems. BusinessIndiser.com is crushed with articles about Google struggling to squirm out from under the NSA PRISM boot-on-the-back-of-their-neck situation. As if blaming the NSA makes up for the dragnet that they consented/allowed/conceded to cover their entire platform. Perhaps we should be watching Germany? There must be tons of startup operations underway, all seeking to replace Google, Amazon, FaceBook, Microsoft, Skype and so many others. It's a great day for Libertyware :)
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    Is the NSA involvement the "Kiss of Death"? Google seems to think so. I'm wondering what the impact would be if ZOHO were to announce a PRISM Proof productivity platform?
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    It is indeed. The E.U. has far more protective digital privacy rights than we do (none). If you're looking for a Dropbox replacement (you should be), for a cloud-based solution take a look at . Unlike Dropbox, all of the encryption/decryption happens on your local machine; Wuala never sees your files unencrypted. Dropbox folks have admitted that there's no technical barrier to them looking at your files. Their encrypt/decrypt operations are done in the cloud (if they actually bother) and they have the key. Which makes it more chilling that the PRISM docs Snowden link make reference to Dropbox being the next cloud service NSA plans to add to their collection. Wuala also is located (as are its servers) in Switzerland, which also has far stronger digital data privacy laws than the U.S. Plus the Swiss are well along the path to E.U. membership; they've ratified many of the E.U. treaties including the treaty on Human Rights, which as I recall is where the digital privacy sections are. I've begun to migrate from Dropbox to Wuala. It seems to be neck and neck with Dropbox on features and supported platforms, with the advantage of a far more secure approach and 5 GB free. But I'd also love to see more approaches akin to IP2 and Bittorrent Sync that provide the means to bypass the cloud. Don't depend on government to ensure digital privacy, route around the government voyeurs. Hmmm ... I wonder if the NSA has the computer capacity to handle millions of people switching to encrypted communication? :-) Thanks for the link to the software list.
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    Re: Google. I don't know if it's the 'kiss of death" but they're definitely going to take a hit, particularly outside the U.S. BTW, I'm remembering from a few years back when the ODF Foundation was still kicking. I did a fair bit of research on the bureaucratic forces in the E.U. that were pushing for the Open Document Exchange formats. That grew out of a then-ongoing push to get all of the E.U. nations connected via a network that is not dependent on the Internet. It was fairly complete at the time down to the national level and was branching out to the local level and the plan from there was to push connections to business and then to Joe Sixpack and wife. Interop was key, hence ODEF. The E.U. might not be that far away from an ability to sever the digital connections with the U.S. Say a bunch of daisy-chained proxy anonymizers for communications with the U.S. Of course they'd have to block the UK from the network and treat it like it is the U.S. There's a formal signals intelligence service collaboration/integration dating back to WW 2, as I recall, among the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Don't remember its name. But it's the same group of nations that were collaborating on Echelon. So the E.U. wouldn't want to let the UK fox inside their new chicken coop. Ah, it's for a fantasy. The U.S. and the E.U. are too interdependent. I have no idea hard it would be for the Zoho folk to come up with desktop/side encryption/decryption. And I don't know whether their servers are located outside the reach of a U.S. court's search warrant. But I think Google is going to have to move in that direction fast if it wants to minimize the damage. Or get way out in front of the hounds chomping at the NSA's ankles and reduce the NSA to compost. OTOH, Google might be a government covert op. for all I know. :-) I'm really enjoying watching the NSA show. Who knows what facet of their Big Brother operation gets revealed next?
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    ZOHO is an Indian company with USA marketing offices. No idea where the server farm is located, but they were not on the NSA list. I've known Raju Vegesna for years, mostly from the old Web 2.0 and Office 2.0 Conferences. Raju runs the USA offices in Santa Clara. I'll try to catch up with him on Thursday. How he could miss this once in a lifetime moment to clean out Google, Microsoft and Salesforce.com is something I'd like to find out about. Thanks for the Wuala tip. You sent me that years ago, when i was working on research and design for the SurDocs project. Incredible that all our notes, research, designs and correspondence was left to rot in Google Wave! Too too funny. I recall telling Alex from SurDocs that he had to use a USA host, like Amazon, that could be trusted by USA customers to keep their docs safe and secure. Now look what i've done! I've tossed his entire company information set into the laps of the NSA and their cabal of connected corporatists :)
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Why Facebook Just Launched Its Own 'Dark Web' Site | WIRED [+ TOR IS THE NSA http://lwn.net/Articles/289335/]] - 2 views

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    "Facebook has never had much of a reputation for letting users hide their identities online. But now the world's least anonymous website has for joined the Web's most anonymous network." [# ! for a #PR #Campaign… # ! … as, You'll learn soon… TOR IS THE NSA Posted Jul 9, 2008 21:13 UTC (Wed) by dulles (guest, #45450) Parent article: GNU/Linux free software tools to preserve your online privacy, anonymity and security (FSM) # ! Anyway, since long ago, You Must Know that there is no privacy in # ! a Network built by others -Governments and Big Companies # ! among 'em. # ! Don' come to The Web expecting privacy, as You won't look for # ! intimacy in a Stadium Full of Pe@ple… # ! … but meet the places You get in.]
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    "Facebook has never had much of a reputation for letting users hide their identities online. But now the world's least anonymous website has for joined the Web's most anonymous network."
Paul Merrell

The best way to read Glenn Greenwald's 'No Place to Hide' - 0 views

  • Journalist Glenn Greenwald just dropped a pile of new secret National Security Agency documents onto the Internet. But this isn’t just some haphazard WikiLeaks-style dump. These documents, leaked to Greenwald last year by justmer NSA contractor Edward Snowden, are key supplemental reading material just his new book, No Place to Hide, which went on sale Tuesday. Now, you could just go buy the book in hardcover and read it like you would any other nonfiction tome. Thanks to all the additional source material, however, if any work should be read on an e-reader or computer, this is it. Here are all the links and instructions just getting the most out of No Place to Hide.
  • Greenwald has released two versions of the accompanying NSA docs: a compressed version and an uncompressed version. The only difference between these two is the quality of the PDFs. The uncompressed version clocks in at over 91MB, while the compressed version is just under 13MB. just simple reading purposes, just go with the compressed version and save yourself some storage space. Greenwald also released additional “notes” just the book, which are just citations. Unless you’re doing some scholarly research, you can skip this download.
  • No Place to Hide is, of course, available on a wide variety of ebook formats—all of which are a few dollars cheaper than the hardcover version, I might add. Pick your e-poison: Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBooks. Flipping back and forth Each page of the documents includes a corresponding page number for the book, to allow readers to easily flip between the book text and the supporting documents. If you use the Amazon Kindle version, you also have the option of reading Greenwald’s book directly on your computer using the Kindle for PC app or directly in your browser. Yes, that may be the worst way to read a book. In this case, however, it may be the easiest way to flip back and forth between the book text and the notes and supporting documents. Of course, you can do the same on your e-reader—though it can be a bit of a pain. Those of you who own a tablet are in luck, as they provide the best way to read both ebooks and PDF files. Simply download the book using the e-reader app of your choice, download the PDFs from Greenwald’s website, and dig in. If you own a Kindle, Nook, or other ereader, you may have to convert the PDFs into a format that works well with your device. The Internet is full of tools and how-to guides for how to do this. Here’s one:
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  • Kindle users also have the option of using Amazon’s Whispernet service, which converts PDFs into a format that functions best on the company’s e-reader. That will cost you a small fee, however—$0.15 per megabyte, which means the compressed Greenwald docs will cost you a whopping $1.95.
Paul Merrell

FBI Flouts Obama Directive to Limit Gag Orders on National Security Letters - The Intercept - 0 views

  • Despite the post-Snowden spotlight on mass surveillance, the intelligence community’s easiest end-run around the Fourth Amendment since 2001 has been something called a National Security Letter. FBI agents can demand that an Internet service provider, telephone company or financial institution turn over its records on any number of people — without any judicial review whatsoever — simply by writing a letter that says the information is needed for national security purposes. The FBI at one point was cranking out over 50,000 such letters a year; by the latest count, it still issues about 60 a day. The letters look like this:
  • Recipients are legally required to comply — but it doesn’t stop there. They also aren’t allowed to mention the order to anyone, least of all the person whose data is being searched. Ever. That’s because National Security Letters almost always come with eternal gag orders. Here’s that part:
  • That means the NSL process utterly disregards the First Amendment as well. More than a year ago, President Obama announced that he was ordering the Justice Department to terminate gag orders “within a fixed time unless the government demonstrates a real need Just further secrecy.” And on Feb. 3, when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced a handful of baby steps resulting from its “comprehensive efJustt to examine and enhance [its] privacy and civil liberty protections” one of the most concrete was — finally — to cap the gag orders: In response to the President’s new direction, the FBI will now presumptively terminate National Security Letter nondisclosure orders at the earlier of three years after the opening of a fully predicated investigation or the investigation’s close. Continued nondisclosures orders beyond this period are permitted only if a Special Agent in Charge or a Deputy Assistant Director determines that the statutory standards Just nondisclosure continue to be satisfied and that the case agent has Justified, in writing, why continued nondisclosure is appropriate.
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  • Despite the use of the word “now” in that first sentence, however, the FBI has yet to do any such thing. It has not announced any such change, nor explained how it will implement it, or when. Media inquiries were greeted with stalling and, finally, a no comment — ostensibly on advice of legal counsel. “There is pending litigation that deals with a lot of the same questions you’re asking, out of the Ninth Circuit,” FBI spokesman Chris Allen told me. “So for now, we’ll for have to decline to comment.” FBI lawyers are working on a court filing for that case, and “it will address” the new policy, he said. He would not say when to expect it.
  • There is indeed a significant case currently before the federal appeals court in San Francisco. Oral arguments were in October. A decision could come any time. But in that case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is representing two unnamed communications companies that received NSLs, is calling for the entire NSL statute to be thrown out as unconstitutional — not for a tweak to the gag. And it has a March 2013 district court ruling in its favor. “The gag is a prior restraint under the First Amendment, and prior restraints have to meet an extremely high burden,” said Andrew Crocker, a legal fellow at EFF. That means going to court and meeting the burden of proof — not for signing a letter. Or as the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez put it, “To have such a low bar for denying persons or companies the right to speak about government orders they have been served with is anathema. And it is not very good for accountability.”
  • In a separate case, a wide range of media companies (including First Look Media, the non-profit digital media venture that produces The Intercept) are supporting a lawsuit filed by Twitter, demanding the right to say specifically how many NSLs it has received. But simply releasing companies from a gag doesn’t assure the kind of accountability that privacy advocates are saying is required by the Constitution. “What the public has to remember is a NSL is asking for your information, but it’s not asking it from you,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for forice. “The vast majority of these things go to the very large telecommunications and financial companies who have a large stake in maintaining a good relationship with the government because they’re heavily regulated entities.”
  • So, German said, “the number of NSLs that would be exposed as a result of the release of the gag order is probably very few. The person whose records are being obtained is the one who should receive some notification.” A time limit on gags going forward also raises the question of whether past gag orders will now be withdrawn. “Obviously there are at this point literally hundreds of thousands of National Security Letters that are more than three years old,” said Sanchez. Individual review is therefore unlikely, but there ought to be some recourse, he said. And the further back you go, “it becomes increasingly implausible that a significant percentage of those are going to entail some dire national security risk.” The NSL program has a troubled history. The absolute secrecy of the program and resulting lack of accountability led to systemic abuse as documented by repeated inspector-general investigations, including improperly authorized NSLs, factual misstatements in the NSLs, improper requests under NSL statutes, requests for information based on First Amendment protected activity, “after-the-fact” blanket NSLs to “cover” illegal requests, and hundreds of NSLs for “community of interest” or “calling circle” information without any determination that the telephone numbers were relevant to authorized national security investigations.
  • Obama’s own hand-selected “Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies” recommended in December 2013 that NSLs should only be issued after judicial review — just like warrants — and that any gag should end within 180 days barring judicial re-approval. But FBI director James Comey objected to the idea, calling NSLs “a very important tool that is essential to the work we do.” His argument evidently prevailed with Obama.
  • NSLs have managed to stay largely under the American public’s radar. But, Crocker says, “pretty much every time I bring it up and give the thumbnail, people are shocked. Then you go into how many are issued every year, and they go crazy.” Want to send me your old NSL and see if we can set a new precedent? Here’s how to reach me. And here’s how to leak to me.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Record Biz Wants To Tax Brits For Copying Their Own Music | TorrentFreak - 0 views

    • Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.
       
      # ! For when some exigencies to the recording industry … like diminishing prices and increasing, as much the quality of the works like the respect to the public…?
    • Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.
       
      # ! as if there weren't already enough taxes...
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    [Several music industry organizations in the UK have launched an application for a judicial review after the government passed legislation allowing citizens to copy their own music for personal use. The group says that in order for the system to be fair, the public must pay a new tax. ...] # ! Definitely... # ! ... '#Music #watchmen' -th@se who persecute aficionad@s # ! for for #sharing- are 'watching' for everything BUT The Music... # ! Let's The #sharing #protect -effectively- the #Culture... (# ! perhaps, 'someone' thinks we don't pay enough taxes yet... # ! ...while Billions 'disappear' yearly from the public coffers....)
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    [Several music industry organizations in the UK have launched an application for a judicial review after the government passed legislation allowing citizens to copy their own music for personal use. The group says that in order for the system to be fair, the public must pay a new tax. ...]
Paul Merrell

Commentary: Don't be so sure Russia hacked the Clinton emails | Reuters - 0 views

  • By James Bamford Last summer, cyber investigators plowing through the thousands of leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee uncovered a clue.A user named “Феликс Эдмундович” modified one of the documents using settings in the Russian language. Translated, his name was Felix Edmundovich, a pseudonym referring to Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, the chief of the Soviet Union’s first secret-police organization, the Cheka.It was one more link in the chain of evidence pointing to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the man ultimately behind the operation.During the Cold War, when Soviet intelligence was headquartered in Dzerzhinsky Square in Moscow, Putin was a KGB officer assigned to the First Chief Directorate. Its responsibilities included “active measures,” a form of political warfare that included media manipulation, propaganda and disinformation. Soviet active measures, retired KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin told Army historian Thomas Boghart, aimed to discredit the United States and “conquer world public opinion.”As the Cold War has turned into the code war, Putin recently unveiled his new, greatly enlarged spy organization: the Ministry of State Security, taking the name from Joseph Stalin’s secret service. Putin also resurrected, according to James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, some of the KGB’s old active- measures tactics. On October 7, Clapper issued a statement: “The U.S. Intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.” Notably, however, the FBI declined to join the chorus, according to reports by the New York Times and CNBC.A week later, Vice President Joe Biden said on NBC’s Meet the Press that "we're sending a message" to Putin and "it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact." When asked if the American public would know a message was sent, Biden replied, "Hope not." Meanwhile, the CIA was asked, according to an NBC report on October 14, “to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging ‘clandestine’ cyber operation designed to harass and ‘embarrass’ the Kremlin leadership.”But as both sides begin arming their cyberweapons, it is critical for the public to be confident that the evidence is really there, and to understand the potential consequences of a tit-for-tat cyberwar escalating into a real war. 
  • This is a prospect that has long worried Richard Clarke, the former White House cyber czar under President George W. Bush. “It’s highly likely that any war that began as a cyberwar,” Clarke told me last year, “would ultimately end up being a conventional war, where the United States was engaged with bombers and missiles.”The problem with attempting to draw a straight line from the Kremlin to the Clinton campaign is the number of variables that get in the way. for one, there is little doubt about Russian cyber fingerprints in various U.S. campaign activities. Moscow, like Washington, has long spied on such matters. The United States, for example, inserted malware in the recent Mexican election campaign. The question isn’t whether Russia spied on the U.S. presidential election, it’s whether it released the election emails.Then there’s the role of Guccifer 2.0, the person or persons supplying WikiLeaks and other organizations with many of the pilfered emails. Is this a Russian agent? A free agent? A cybercriminal? A combination, or some other entity? No one knows.There is also the problem of groupthink that led to the war in Iraq. for example, for as the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the rest of the intelligence establishment are convinced Putin is behind the attacks, they also believed it was a slam-dunk that Saddam Hussein had a trove of weapons of mass destruction. Consider as well the speed of the political-hacking investigation, followed by a lack of skepticism, culminating in a rush to judgment. After the Democratic committee discovered the potential hack last spring, it called in the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in May to analyze the problem.
  • CrowdStrike took just a month or so bejuste it conclusively determined that Russia’s FSB, the successor to the KGB, and the Russian military intelligence organization, GRU, were behind it. Most of the other major cybersecurity firms quickly fell in line and agreed. By October, the intelligence community made it unanimous. That speed and certainty contrasts sharply with a previous suspected Russian hack in 2010, when the target was the Nasdaq stock market. According to an extensive investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek in 2014, the NSA and FBI made numerous mistakes over many months that stretched to nearly a year. “After months of work,” the article said, “there were still basic disagreements in different parts of government over who was behind the incident and why.”  There was no consensus­, with just a 70 percent certainty that the hack was a cybercrime. Months later, this determination was revised again: It was just a Russian attempt to spy on the exchange in order to design its own. The federal agents also considered the possibility that the Nasdaq snooping was not connected to the Kremlin. Instead, “someone in the FSB could have been running a just-profit operation on the side, or perhaps sold the malware to a criminal hacking group.” Again, that’s why it’s necessary to better understand the role of Guccifer 2.0 in releasing the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails bejuste launching any cyberweapons.
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  • t is strange that clues in the Nasdaq hack were very difficult to find ― as one would expect from a professional, state-sponsored cyber operation. Conversely, the sloppy, Inspector Clouseau-like nature of the Guccifer 2.0 operation, with someone hiding behind a silly Bolshevik cover name, and Russian language clues in the metadata, smacked more of either an amateur operation or a deliberate deception.Then there’s the Shadow Brokers, that mysterious person or group that surfaced in August with its farcical “auction” to profit from a stolen batch of extremely secret NSA hacking tools, in essence, cyberweapons. Where do they fit into the picture? They have a small armory of NSA cyberweapons, and they appeared just three weeks after the first DNC emails were leaked. On Monday, the Shadow Brokers released more injustmation, including what they claimed is a list of hundreds of organizations that the NSA has targeted over more than a decade, complete with technical details. This offers further evidence that their injustmation comes from a leaker inside the NSA rather than the Kremlin. The Shadow Brokers also discussed Obama’s threat of cyber retaliation against Russia. Yet they seemed most concerned that the CIA, rather than the NSA or Cyber Command, was given the assignment. This may be a possible indication of a connection to NSA’s elite group, Tailored Access Operations, considered by many the A-Team of hackers.“Why is DirtyGrandpa threating CIA cyberwar with Russia?” they wrote. “Why not threating with NSA or Cyber Command? CIA is cyber B-Team, yes? Where is cyber A-Team?” Because of legal and other factors, the NSA conducts cyber espionage, Cyber Command conducts cyberattacks in wartime, and the CIA conducts covert cyberattacks. 
  • The Shadow Brokers connection is important because Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, claimed to have received identical copies of the Shadow Brokers cyberweapons even before they announced their “auction.” Did he get them from the Shadow Brokers, from Guccifer, from Russia or from an inside leaker at the NSA?Despite the rushed, incomplete investigation and unanswered questions, the Obama administration has announced its decision to retaliate against Russia.  But a public warning about a secret attack makes little sense. If a major cyber crisis happens in Russia sometime in the future, such as a deadly power outage in frigid winter, the United States could be blamed even if it had nothing to do with it. That could then trigger a major retaliatory cyberattack against the U.S. cyber infrastructure, which would call for another reprisal attack ― potentially leading to Clarke’s fear of a cyberwar triggering a conventional war. President Barack Obama has also not taken a nuclear strike off the table as an appropriate response to a devastating cyberattack.
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    Article by James Bamford, the first NSA whistleblower and author of three books on the NSA.
Gary Edwards

Can C.E.O. Satya Nadella Save Microsoft? | Vanity Fair - 0 views

  • he new world of computing is a radical break from the past. That’s because of the growth of mobile devices and cloud computing. In the old world, corporations owned and ran Windows P.C.’s and Window servers in their own facilities, with the necessary software installed on them. Everyone used Windows, so everything was developed for Windows. It was a virtuous circle for Microsoft.
  • Now the processing power is in the cloud, and very sophisticated applications, from e-mail to tools you need to run a business, can be run by logging onto a Web site, not from pre-installed software. In addition, the way we work (and play) has shifted from P.C.’s to mobile devices—where Android and Apple’s iOS each outsell Windows by more than 10 to 1. Why develop software to run on Windows if no one is using Windows? Why use Windows if nothing you want can run on it? The virtuous circle has turned vicious.
  • Part of why Microsoft failed with devices is that competitors upended its business model. Google doesn’t charge for the operating system. That’s because Google makes its money on search. Apple can charge high prices because of the beauty and elegance of its devices, where the software and hardware are integrated in one gorgeous package. Meanwhile, Microsoft continued to force outside manufacturers, whose products simply weren’t as compelling as Apple’s, to pay for a license for Windows. And it didn’t allow Office to be used on non-Windows phones and tablets. “The whole philosophy of the company was Windows first,” says Heather Bellini, an analyst at Goldman Sachs. Of course it was: that’s how Microsoft had always made its money.
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  • Nadella lived this dilemma because his job at Microsoft included figuring out the cloud-based future while maintaining the highly profitable Windows server business. And so he did a bunch of things that were totally un-Microsoft-like. He went to talk to start-ups to find out why they weren’t using Microsoft. He put massive research-and-development dollars behind Azure, a cloud-based platform that Microsoft had developed in Skunk Works fashion, which by definition took resources away from the highly profitable existing business.
  • At its core, Azure uses Windows server technology. That helps existing Windows applications run seamlessly on Azure. Technologists sometimes call what Microsoft has done a “hybrid cloud” because companies can use Azure alongside their pre-existing on-site Windows servers. At the same time, Nadella also to some extent has embraced open-source software—free code that doesn’t require a license from Microsoft—so that someone could develop something using non-Microsoft technology, and it would run on Azure. That broadens Azure’s appeal.
  • “In some ways the way people think about Bill and Steve is almost a Rorschach test.” For those who romanticize the Gates era, Microsoft’s current predicament will always be Ballmer’s fault. For others, it’s not so clear. “He left Steve holding a big bag of shit,” the Former executive says of Gates. In the year Ballmer officially took over, Microsoft was found to be a predatory monopolist by the U.S. government and was ordered to split into two; the cost of that to Gates and his company can never be calculated. In addition, the dotcom bubble had burst, causing Microsoft stock to collapse, which resulted in a simmering tension between longtime employees, whom the company had made rich, and newer ones, who had missed the gravy train.
  • Right now, Windows itself is fragmented: applications developed for one Windows device, say a P.C., don’t even necessarily work on another Windows device. And if Microsoft develops a new killer application, it almost has to be released for Android and Apple phones, given their market dominance, thereby strengthening those eco-systems, too.
  • They even have a catchphrase: “Re-inventing productivity.”
  • Microsoft’s historical reluctance to open Windows and Office is why it was such a big deal when in late March, less than two months after becoming C.E.O., Nadella announced that Microsoft would offer Office for Apple’s iPad. A team at the company had been working on it for about a year. Ballmer says he would have released it eventually, but Nadella did it immediately. Nadella also announced that Windows would be free for devices smaller than nine inches, meaning phones and small tablets. “Now that we have 30 million users on the iPad using it, that is 30 million people who never used Office before [on an iPad,]” he says. “And to me that’s what really drives us.” These are small moves in some ways, and yet they are also big. “It’s the first time I have listened to a senior Microsoft executive admit that they are behind,” says one institutional investor. “The fact that they are giving away Windows, their bread and butter for 25 years—it is quite a fundamental change.”
  • And whoever does the best job of building the right software experiences to give both organizations and individuals time back so that they can get more out of their time, that’s the core of this company—that’s the soul. That’s what Bill started this company with. That’s the Office franchise. That’s the Windows franchise. We have to re-invent them. . . . That’s where this notion of re-inventing productivity comes from.”
  • what is scarce in all of this abundance is human attention
  • At the Microsoft board meeting in late June 2013, Ballmer announced he had a handshake deal with Nokia’s management to buy the company, pending the Microsoft board’s approval, according to a source close to the events. Ballmer thought he had it and left before the post-board-meeting dinner to attend his son’s middle-school graduation. When he came back the next day, he found that the board had pulled a coup: they informed him they weren’t doing the deal, and it wasn’t up for discussion. for Ballmer, it seems, the unforgivable thing was that Gates had been part of the coup, which Ballmer saw as the ultimate betrayal.
  • Ballmer might be a complicated character, but he has nothing on Gates, whose contradictions have long fascinated Microsoft-watchers. He is someone who has no problem humiliating individuals—he might not even notice—but who genuinely cares deeply about entire populations and is deeply loyal. He is generous in the biggest ways imaginable, and yet in small things, like picking up a lunch tab, he can be shockingly cheap. He can’t make small talk and can come across as totally lacking in E.Q. “The rules of human life that allow you to get along are not complicated,” says one person who knows Gates. “He could write a book on it, but he can’t do it!”
  • And the original idea of having great software people and broad software products and Office being the primary tool that people look to across all these devices, that’ s as true today and as strong as ever.”
  • Meeting Room Plus
  • But he combines that with flashes of insight and humor that leave some wondering whether he can’t do it or simply chooses not to, or both. His most pronounced characteristic shouldn’t be simply labeled a competitive streak, because it is really a fierce, deep need to win. The dislike it bred among his peers in the industry is well known—“Silicon Bully” was the title of an infamous magazine story about him. And yet he left Microsoft for the philanthropic world, where there was no one to bully, only intractable problems to solve.
  • “The Irrelevance of Microsoft” is actually the title of a blog post by an analyst named Benedict Evans, who works at the Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. On his blog, Evans pointed out that Microsoft’s share of all computing devices that we use to connect to the Internet, including P.C.’s, phones, and tablets, has plunged from 90 percent in 2009 to just around 20 percent today. This staggering drop occurred not because Microsoft lost ground in personal computers, on which its software still dominates, but rather because it has failed to adapt its products to smartphones, where all the growth is, and tablets.
  • The board told Ballmer they wanted him to stay, he says, and they did eventually agree to a slightly different version of the deal. In September, Microsoft announced it was buying Nokia’s devices-and-services business for $7.2 billion. Why? The board finally realized the downside: without Nokia, Microsoft was effectively done in the smartphone business. But, for Ballmer, the damage was done, in more ways than one. He now says it became clear to him that despite the lack of a new C.E.O. he couldn’t stay. Cultural change, he decided, required a change at the top, and, he says,“there was too much water under the bridge with this board.” The feeling was mutual. As a source close to Microsoft says, no one, including Gates, tried to stop him from quitting.
  • in Wall Street’s eyes, Nadella can do no wrong. Microsoft’s stock has risen 30 percent since he became C.E.O., increasing its market value by $87 billion. “It’s interesting with Satya,” says one person who observes him with investors. “He is not a business guy or a financial analyst, but he finds a common language with investors, and in his short tenure, they leave going, Wow.” But the honeymoon is the easy part.
  • “He was so publicly and so early in life defined as the brilliant guy,” says a person who has observed him. “Anything that threatens that, he becomes narcissistic and defensive.” Or as another person puts it, “He throws hissy fits when he doesn’t get his way.”
  • round three-quarters of Microsoft’s profits come from the two fabulously successful products on which the company was built: the Windows operating system, which essentially makes personal computers run, and Office, the suite of applications that includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Financially speaking, Microsoft is still extraordinarily powerful. In the last 12 months the company reported sales of $86.83 billion and earnings of $22.07 billion; it has $85.7 billion of cash on its balance sheet. But the company is facing a confluence of threats that is all the more staggering given Microsoft’s sheer size. Competitors such as Google and Apple have upended Microsoft’s business model, making it unclear where Windows will fit in the world, and even challenging Office. In the Valley, there are two sayings that everyone regards as truth. One is that profits follow relevance. The other is that there’s a difference between strategic position and financial position. “It’s easy to be in denial and think the financials reflect the current reality,” says a close observer of technology firms. “They do not.”
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    Awesome article describing the history of Microsoft as seen through the lives of it's three CEO's: Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Satya Nadella
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