Posts Tagged ‘Data’

Betrayal the biggest threat to data security, says cyber sleuth McAfee

August 27th, 2015

The day after the first hack of United States adultery website Ashley Madison, a world-leading cyber security expert John McAfee was also breaking into the company’s security systems.

As someone who has spent his life battling so-called “black-hat hackers” – those who use their computer knowledge to breach security – and analysing cyber security breaches, McAfee’s purpose was to unravel the initial hackers’ crime.

In doing so, he revealed the key risk to companies: people are always the weakest link.

“There will always be the risk of someone betraying a company purposely or accidentally,” Texas-based McAfee says.

McAfee describes how he called the assistants of two executives at the company telling them he was part of the governmental investigation and their bosses were suspected of involvement in the hack.

Within moments, the assistants were handing over sensitive passwords without checking McAfee’s pretext, enabling him widespread access to information and systems. He has since propounded that the original crime was an inside job, but not involving the assistants and bosses he targeted.

“Social engineering is a means of using people to do the hacking for you, using knowledge of how people respond to stress, fear, greed and other factors,” McAfee explains.

Another danger to companies is smart devices, which hackers will increasingly target because they give easy access to central systems, he warns.

“Employees use them as work stations, for communication and remote access to systems, yet they are the most insecure devices in the world. They are architecturally designed to gather information about us,” McAfee says
Education crucial

Employee education was the best way to protect a company; a focus area in a speech he will deliver at a Lawtech summit on the Gold Coast in September.

The founder of global computer security software company McAfee Inc, which was sold to Intel in 2010, is now concentrating on a two-year-old company, Future Tense Central, that provides next generation personal and corporate security products.

Other companies are similarly developing products with algorithms that change passwords every second, meaning even if hackers gain access, the data they can download is minimal.

McAfee says the biggest beneficiaries of cases such as Ashley Madison are lawyers whose bank accounts would swell.

Those representing companies needed to prepare for the worst. Others must lock confidential records away from anything containing a “moving electron”.

McAfee sees a threat from the so-called “Internet of Things” in which everything from cars to fridges will be connected to the internet, a tremendous advantage to consumers but a huge hacking risk.

Fridges will be able to weigh the milk left in your carton and automatically place an order to replenish it. Televisions are already able to record our private conversations and yet they are hugely popular, he says.

“That’s how crazy we’ve become. We buy devices that we acknowledge listen to us, send that data to anyone they want, to do anything they want with it.”
Stronger privacy laws

McAfee has long been a proponent for stronger privacy laws to restrict the ability of governments and agencies to spy on their citizenry.

People who blindly download applications and agreed to allow access to their data also needed to take more responsibility for their lives.

“We think we have done something good for ourselves. We have not. We are about to learn that in a very drastic way.”

He said he regards the world as on a path to George Orwell’s 1984. Alternatively it could lead us to a world of total freedom, depending on how wise we are in our choices of accepting technology.

“Devices can intercept conversations within half a mile, insert software and take control of your device to listen to you 24 hours a day. That needs to be reversed.”

McAfee does not doubt his views keep him on the list of those who watch.


Kennedy: Big data meets WWII

August 27th, 2015

What if big data could help aggregate (or maybe even rewrite) history?

What if $1 billion worth of software could crunch all the available facts about World War II, for example, and challenge or build on assumptions historians have made about the war over the last 70 years?

Quietly, college interns around America are feeding vast stacks of information — maps, troop movements, photographs and videos — into a computer program created to be used by U.S. intelligence agencies to track down terrorists.


By connecting the dots on documented events during the World War II era — 26,500 and counting, so far — scholars hope to apply sophisticated data analysis to the shifting sands of history. But first, somebody has to stack all these facts like cord wood.

This is actually happening, and it’s being pushed by a Chattanooga man, Richard Ector, a former Navy officer, nuclear engineer, member of the U.S. diplomatic corps and green-power entrepreneur. Ector and an old government friend, Paul Pope, have started a nonprofit organization called Envisioning History Inc. to spearhead the effort.


Perhaps the better question, Ector says, is “Why not?”

“Somebody’s got to wade in and do it the first time,” Ector says. “It [World War II] is the most cataclysmic event in human history. Yet, it was self-inflicted, and it was a hyper-accelerated lab for the evolution of human society.”

Ector, a 65-year-old U.S. Naval Academy graduate, said he got the idea to apply big data to World War II history while visiting prospective colleges with his son several years ago. He noticed while touring Princeton University that it offered no course on World War II history. Since much of what’s happening today — boundaries in the Middle East, U.S.-Russia relations, etc. — is shaped by the World War II era (defined by the Envisioning History as 1918-1950), it makes sense that the keys to some of today’s problems might be hidden in plain sight.

Envisioning History is using software developed by the Silicon Valley data analysis company Planatir to aid the U.S. anti-terrorism effort. The Planatir geo-locating software is based on methods first used by PayPal to track down fraud, and was made available to the nonprofit organization through a philanthropic grant.

To simplify, Ector explains that the Planatir software is like applying the Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon game to war records — to see, for example, if event A precipitated event B, which then led to event C, in a way that historians might have never have thought about before. To use another metaphor about the software, Ector explains: “It’s like walking into a library wearing a pair of magic goggles that lets you see everything on a subject.”

Envisioning History is in its formative stages, and Ector is careful not to oversell its potential. But momentum is building to carry on with the experiment. A network of college interns from such places as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Florida State University, the University of North Carolina, Appalachian State University and the University of California at San Diego is entering the data. At this point the interns are merely stacking the data. Any great new revelations about the war will come later when historians engage the new tools.

Meanwhile, the University at Tennessee at Martin this fall will become the first university to add a history course based on the Envisioning History data model. Ector hopes it’s one of many to come. The effort is being funded by some veterans groups, but Ector hopes as more universities embrace the concept, deep-pocket funding will follow.

“We know we have substance. We know we have a $1 billion software package. The next step is to pull together the pedagogical techniques to make it worthwhile,” Ector says.

Ector’s father fought in World War II, and his son is now training to be a military pilot. If Ector can help deepen our understanding of war history, it will honor them both.


Simple Circuit Could Double Cell Phone Data Speeds

November 24th, 2014

A relatively simple circuit invented by researchers at the University of Texas could let smartphones and other wireless devices send and receive data twice as fast as they do now.

The circuit makes it possible for a radio to send and receive signals on the same channel simultaneously – something known as “full-duplex” communications. That should translate to a doubling of the rate at which information can be moved around wirelessly.

Today’s radios must send and receive at different times to avoid drowning out incoming signals with their own transmissions. As a smartphone accesses the Internet via a cell tower, for example, its radio flips back and forth between sending and receiving, similar way to the way two people having a conversation take turns to speak and listen.

The new circuit, known as a circulator, can isolate signals coming into a device from those it is sending out, acting as a kind of selective filter in between a device’s antenna and its radio circuitry. Circulators are already a crucial part of radar systems, but until now they have always been built using strong magnets made from rare earth metals, making them bulky and unsuited to the circuit boards inside devices such as laptops and smartphones.

The new circuit design avoids magnets, and uses only conventional circuit components. “It’s very cheap, compact, and light,” says Andrea Alù, the associate professor who led the work. “It’s ideal for a cell phone.”

The two-centimeter-wide device could easily be miniaturized and added to existing devices with little modification to the design. “This is just a standalone piece of hardware you put behind your antenna.”

Alù’s circulator design looks, and functions, like a traffic circle with three “roads,” in the form of wires, leading into it. Signals can travel into, or out of, the circle via any of those wires. But components called resonators spaced around that circle force signals to travel around it only in a clockwise direction.

When a wireless device’s antenna is connected to one of the wires leading into the circle, it isolates signals that have just been received from those the device has generated for transmission itself. The new design is described by Alù and colleagues in a paper in the journal Nature Physics.

“This is definitely a significant research development,” says Philip Levis, an associate professor at Stanford. “It’s a very new way to look at a very old problem, and has some very good results.” However Levis notes that work remains to be done to convert the lab-bench breakthrough into something practical for the crucial frequency bands used for Wi-Fi, cellular, and other communications.

Alù says that his circulator can easily be adjusted to work at a wide range of frequencies, and that he is exploring options for commercializing the design. The circuit could, for instance, help simplify and improve technology being tested by some U.S. and European cellular carriers that uses a combination of software and hardware to allow full-duplex radio links (see “The Clever Circuit That Doubles Bandwidth”).

Joel Brand, vice president for product management at startup Kumu Networks, which developed that technology, says the new device could indeed be useful. “We would be happy to take advantage of it,” he says.


Get Adobe Flash player