Roland’s Sunday Smart Trends #210
April 13th, 2008

Stephen Moss on the House of Lords blog

You know blogging’s truly gone global when the House of Lords starts doing it ( Who next? Simon Heffer? Brian Sewell? Joseph de Maistre? So how are these most unlikely internet surfers faring? “Some may wonder if the House of Lords generates much publicity,” wrote Lord Dholakia soon after the blog was launched. He insisted it did. Sadly, his blog, headlined “Is Anybody Listening?”, prompted only one comment. A few days later, however, Lord Norton hit on an issue that electrified the readership: the dating of Easter.
Source: Stephen Moss, The Guardian, April 7, 2008

FBI Data Transfers Via Telecoms Questioned

When FBI investigators probing New York prostitution rings, Boston organized crime or potential terrorist plots anywhere want access to a suspect’s telephone contacts, technicians at a telecommunications carrier served with a government order can, with the click of a mouse, instantly transfer key data along a computer circuit to an FBI technology office in Quantico. The circuits — little-known electronic connections between telecom firms and FBI monitoring personnel around the country — are used to tell the government who is calling whom, along with the time and duration of a conversation and even the locations of those involved.
Source: Ellen Nakashima, The Washington Post, April 8, 2008

E-passport security flaw allows remote ID of nationality

Security researchers have discovered a technique for reliably detecting the presence and nationality of a nearby e-passport. […] Security precautions ought to prevent unauthorised access to data held on a next-generation e-passport. But a trio of researchers from Lausitz University of Applied Sciences, Germany and Radboud University, in The Netherlands, have shown that its trivial to at least remotely detect the presence of a passport and determine its nationality. “Although all passports implement the same international standard, experiments with passports from ten different countries show that characteristics of each implementation provide a fingerprint that is unique to passports of a particular country,” the researchers explain.
Source: John Leyden, The Register, April 8, 2008

Breaking into a power station in three easy steps

“I will tell (you) how to break into a nuclear reactor,” Ira Winkler, president of security firm ISAG said as he launched into his presentation on “How to Take Down the Power Grid” at RSA 2008 on Tuesday night. “Frankly, it’s really easy to break into the power grid,” he said. “It happens all the time.”
Source: Elinor Mills, CNET’s News Blog, April 8, 2008

UCI study sheds new light on habits, roles of blog readers

In a first-of-its-kind study, UC Irvine researchers have provided new insight into blog readers’ online habits and experiences, as well as how they perceive their roles in blog-based communities. […] A better understanding of the reader-blogger connection could lead to new, advanced features that would enable richer interactions between the two groups. For readers, an installed add-on could enrich their experience by tracking blog habits of which they might not be aware. For bloggers, a logging tool could help them easily distinguish between different types of readers and allow them to better connect with audiences.
Source: UC Irvine news release, April 9, 2008

The New E-spionage Threat

[Note: This is “a BusinessWeek probe of rising attacks on America’s most sensitive computer networks uncovers startling security gaps.” Here is an example.]
The e-mail message addressed to a Booz Allen Hamilton executive was mundane — a shopping list sent over by the Pentagon of weaponry India wanted to buy. But the missive turned out to be a brilliant fake. Lurking beneath the description of aircraft, engines, and radar equipment was an insidious piece of computer code known as “Poison Ivy” designed to suck sensitive data out of the $4 billion consulting firm’s computer network. The Pentagon hadn’t sent the e-mail at all. Its origin is unknown, but the message traveled through Korea on its way to Booz Allen. Its authors knew enough about the “sender” and “recipient” to craft a message unlikely to arouse suspicion. Had the Booz Allen executive clicked on the attachment, his every keystroke would have been reported back to a mysterious master at the Internet address, which is registered through an obscure company headquartered on the banks of China’s Yangtze River.
Source: Brian Grow, Keith Epstein and Chi-Chu Tschang, BusinessWeek Magazine, Cover Story, April 10, 2008

One Place for Your Many Online Lives

FriendFeed is tearing down the walls between Web haunts such as Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc. Attention, attention: The latest tech darling has arrived, and it goes by the name of FriendFeed. Silicon Valley is buzzing about the seven-month-old startup, which offers a promising if somewhat messy new Internet service. Part of the interest comes from the blue-ribbon pedigrees of its founders, including Google (GOOG) alums Paul Buchheit and Bret Taylor, who honchoed Gmail and Google Maps. But just as much of the hullabaloo stems from how the founders are addressing a growing issue online: the balkanization of the Web.

Source: Heather Green, BusinessWeek Magazine, April 10, 2008

FCC proposes cell phone alert system

A nationwide alert system will use cell phones or other mobile devices to send text messages to Americans when an emergency occurs, the Federal Communications Commission will announce Wednesday, according to an FCC representative. The representative said cell phone companies that voluntarily opt into the system would send text-based alert messages to subscribers in response to three types of events: A disaster that could jeopardize the health and safety of Americans, such as a terrorist attack (these would trigger a national alert from the president of the United States); Imminent or ongoing threats such as hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes; Child abductions or Amber alerts.
Source: CNN, April 9, 2008

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