The UK invents Big Brother and Big Mother! Scumbag AT&T gives data priority to their own content. Trump and his conflicts of interest are a recipe for disaster. WikiLeaks publishes HBGary emails as Barrett Brown is paroled. San Fran MUNI was hacked and you’ll never guess what happened next! World’s youngest billionaire is the co-founder of payment processor Stripe. Ethereum state clearing complete. The dangers of Bitcoin mining in Venezuela.
All this and more on the Neocash Radio podcast, episode 184 — Wednesday November 30th, 2016!
We’ve written out short overviews of the topics discussed on today’s show below! Be sure to listen in to the whole podcast to get more information, insights, and thoughts on each of them from JJ, Darren, and Randy!
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Described by Edward Snowden as the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy, the Investigatory Powers Bill has sailed through the UK parliament. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, was asked by BBC of his thoughts regarding the bill. He said, “This snoopers charter has no place in a modern democracy – it undermines our fundamental rights online.” The bill requires internet service providers keep a log of each internet users browsing habits for one year. This data will be made available to just about any government agency that requests it and likely whichever companies can grease the right hands.
When asked about why the campaign to stop it failed, Sir Tim Berners-Lee said, “I talked to James Blessing, chairman of the Internet Service Providers Association, about why its campaign had failed. He told me that for years, opponents had in fact won, making successive governments abandon mass surveillance plans. ‘This bill is a zombie, which has been rearing its head in one form or another since 2007. This time it’s alive,’ he said.”
As if spying on your every click isn’t enough the UK’s House of Commons passed a bill outlawing many types of pornography. The Digital Economy bill requires Adult websites to demand users sign up for a special age verification program — a porn registry. The bill also targets ticket scalpers referred to as “IT Crooks” due to the fact they use bots to buy tickets early and quickly. The bill affects broadband services and TV licenses for those over 75 years old — don’t forget you need a license to watch TV in the UK.
Remember AT&T, the company that spied on it’s users for-profit? They are at it again in the race to be the worst company in the world. AT&T owns DirecTV, and has announced that its streaming service—DirecTV Now—will be “zero rated,” so watching DirectTV content won’t count against customer’s data usage caps. This is the first step of a one-two punch set to knockout the free internet; “zero rating” is a way for broadband ISPs to establish a class system of content. This gives DirectTV privileged access to AT&T’s wireless users, and if competitors like Netflix and Hulu wanted their videos to not count against customers’ data usage caps, they will have to pay AT&T a bribe for this so-called “sponsored data.”
T-mobile has been using this same model for a while: give zero rating to your apps, services and content… then start ratcheting up the cost for data. Customers will either pay too much for data or use your services rather than hit the data cap prematurely. Yes, big companies like Netflix and YouTube can afford to pay for “sponsored data,” but independent and not-for-profit media producers would undoubtedly struggle to compete.
AT&T is a super massive company and for them to start this tiered system of data costs will have ripples throughout the web. Add in the fact that AT&T is actively working to acquire Time Warner—which of course includes CNN, TNT, HBO, the Warner Bros. TV/film studio, and the rights to the Game of Thrones and Batman franchises—and you can see where this is going. Imagine a future where you have only one Cable Provider and if you choose to use any websites not owned by them or not part of their “affiliate” program, you will have to pay substantial amounts so that the page loads in less than 30 seconds or so that your video won’t keep pausing to buffer or that your video game doesn’t freeze up right in the middle of a big battle. Free video might sound nice, but in the end, AT&T is fragging the open internet.
Donald Trump was rightly critical of the many conflicts of interest between the Clinton Foundation and foreign governments while Hillary served as Secretary of State, but now the world is wondering what will come of Trump’s global business empire. Trump tweeted today that he will be holding a press conference on December 15 to announce how he will be taken “completely out of business operations” so as to remove any appearance of conflict between professional and government dealings.
It’s not clear whether he’ll be selling his stake in his company or if he’ll be handing it over to family members, but even if he removes himself from the company on paper, the waters will still be cloudy and difficult to navigate. Besides listing several great examples of existing Trump conflicts of interest in places like the Philippines, Brazil, India, Turkey, Ireland, and Scotland, the New York Times also raises important questions about potential future conflicts:
“Even if Mr. Trump and his family seek no special advantages from foreign governments, officials overseas may feel compelled to help the Trump family by, say, accelerating building permits or pushing more business to one of the new president’s hotels or golf courses.”
In just a few weeks since the election, Trump has already raised concerns about a golf course of his in Scotland with a British politician, and he and his family have hosted real estate partners from India and the Philippines in his office, and Ivanka—in charge of planning and development for Trump Organization hotels—has been busy calling world leaders from Turkey, Argentina, and Japan. The Trump Organization has also been urging diplomats to consider staying in the new Trump hotel—just a few convenient blocks from the White House—when in Washington to meet the president or his team. What conflicts of interest?
‘Sniffers & taps on journalists’: WikiLeaks publishes HBGary emails as whistleblower Barrett Brown is paroled
To commemorate whistleblower Barrett Brown’s early release on parole, WikiLeaks has published a searchable database of over 60,000 emails reportedly leaked from former U.S. cybersecurity contractor HBGary. Barrett Brown is a Texas-based journalist who spent nearly two years locked in a federal prison cage for his reporting on the HBGary emails hacked by Anonymous in 2011 and the 2012 hack of private intelligence company Stratfor.
Brown was one of the earliest reporters to shed light on the shadowy U.S. corporate surveillance industry, revealing how government agencies and private “intelligence firms” work together to spy on people with little to no oversight. Emails from the HBGary hack showed proposals and plans to spread disinformation and create messages to “sabotage or discredit” organizations like WikiLeaks and to go after individual journalists.
One presentation created in collaboration with Palantir—Peter Thiel’s big data analysis company—stressed that WikiLeaks “would fold” without support from writers like Glenn Greenwald and proposed smear campaigns as a way to silence them, arguing that “ultimately most [writers] if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause.”
Brown’s house and his mother’s house were raided by the FBI and Brown was hit with felony charges for “obstruction of justice, threatening a federal officer and being an accessory after the fact” and was sentenced to 63 months in jail.
The San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI) fell victim to a ransomware attack over the weekend. The entire ticketing system was offline on Friday evening and all day Saturday, with all agent computer screens displaying the message: “You Hacked, ALL Data Encrypted. Contact For Key(firstname.lastname@example.org)ID:681”.
The hacker demanded 100 Bitcoin (~$73,000 USD) to decrypt the files, and threatened to release 30GB of documents and data reportedly accessed during the hack. MUNI officials opened the fare gates and allowed free rides until the system was able to be restored, apparently without paying the ransom. According to the MUNI annual operating budget, ticket sales generate around $559,000 per day.
MUNI was not specifically targeted in this ransomware attack; rather, the hacker’s code was automatically scouring for vulnerable computer systems. In a funny twist, the hacker behind this MUNI attack also got hacked this weekend, with an anonymous security researcher sharing details of his findings with the KrebsOnSecurity blog:
“A review of more than a dozen Bitcoin wallets this criminal has used since August indicates that he has successfully extorted at least $140,000 in Bitcoin from victim organizations. […] The vast majority of organizations victimized by this attacker were manufacturing and construction firms based in the United States, and most of those victims ended up paying the entire ransom demanded — generally one Bitcoin (currently USD $732) per encrypted server.”
A new Forbes report shows that new funding for online payment processor Stripe brings the company’s valuation at $9.2 billion. This makes both of the Stripe co-founders, Patrick and John Collison—ages 28 and 26, respectively—worth a minimum of $1.1 billion each.
Stripe processes online transactions for companies like Kickstarter, Lyft and Wish, but as a private company, it doesn’t disclose its revenue figures. Forbes’ sources say that the company processed around $20 billion in 2015-16, and according to its share of transactions, the estimated revenue would be around $450 million in that year.
Stripe’s investors include Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, and PayPal co-founders Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, and Elon Musk.
Ethereum’s network has been cleansed of empty accounts but not without some hiccups. Beginning after the most recent hard fork the Ethereum network started to remove empty accounts used to attack the network. The clean up has completed but a consensus bug with the Geth client caused it to hard fork from the rest of the network. A fix was found and Geth users need to update to 1.5.3. The bugged chain has about 165 abandoned blocks.
The Secret, Dangerous World of Venezuelan Bitcoin Mining: How cryptocurrency is turning socialism against itself
Reason.com takes an in-depth look at the growing use of Bitcoin in Venezuela, as the bolivar continues to tank in value. There are great profiles of how Venezuelans are using Bitcoin to get access to food and other necessities as store shelves continue to dry up. The story talks about one Bitcoin miner in Venezuela who makes $1,200 daily, using it to import food from the U.S. through Amazon’s Prime Pantry service. The miner purchases Amazon gift cards through the cryptocurrency-friendly website eGifter, and uses software to mask the location of his computer, and then routes his orders home to Venezuela through a Miami-based courier service.
Another Venezuelan profiled uses a prepaid Neteller card that he loads with Bitcoin and can then spend U.S. dollars on Walmart.com and on trips he makes to Colombia every three weeks to stock up on goods for his family.
The government is cracking down and arresting Bitcoin miners, and the state-controlled Venezuelan Television Corporation has run stories calling Bitcoin a tool of “cybercriminals.” The danger extends beyond government enforcement; one of the miners featured in this story was also kidnapped and held ransom recently, leaving him feeling fearful and wanting to leave Venezuela.