Archive for category Technology

Patent That Becomes a Tool for Obstructing Innovation Needs to Go

Software patents have become an unnecessary obstruction to innovation. Company that used to oppose software patent are spending billions to acquire them (including Google). Small time developers (which could include open source and Smart-phones/Tablets Apps developer) are now being targeted. Software patent produces opposite effect of what patents are designed to do – i.e. promote innovation.It should therefore be abolished as soon as possible.

This Guardian article describe it well.

Patents are now a multibillion-dollar industry in which companies find it more attractive to make money suing each other for infringement than actually making things…..

Patents were supposed to protect innovation. Now they risk throttling it. ….software patents have provided no net benefit to the software industry, let alone to society as a whole…..

Tragically, because so many corporations which formerly opposed software patents have now joined the system, an effective solution will be harder to find. Once again consumers are pitted against the corporations. Where are the regulators when they are needed?

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News Roundup: Patent Circus; Android’s Security Flaw

In a demonstration of the ridiculousness of our current patent law, Apple is using patent to stifle competition and innovation. In Apple’s claim against one of Android tablet maker Motorola, it does not even have anything to do with hardware or software but only with the aesthetic effect. Apple managed to get injunction against Samsung’s launch in Europe. Tablet is not an invention of Apple. In Apple’s ideal world, all innovation and the burgeoning Android open source and free software innovation should cease so that they can continue to charge more for their iPad than the manufacturer of Android. That’s why the Pirate Party of Canada had proposed abolition of software patent and Electronic Frontier Foundation have been working hard to fight “bogus software patent”. Software developer and industry are being handcuffed by Patent trolls using our antiquated patent laws as their weapons. Microsoft and Oracle is also going after Android using the patent law. It is time we reform our patent law to encourage innovation, not protect anti-competitive business practices. Motorola have also went after Apple. Not sure if it’s a pre-emptive attack on expected Apple’s Patent lawsuit but Motorola have equally dubious claim on such things as antenna design, proximity sensing, and software management. A lot of these stuff are inevitable that it will end up being the same. Like how do you cross the ocean? You build a boat. Can the first one who set sail claim patent and prevent everyone else from crossing the ocean? The obsolete patent law is just slowing down innovation and getting it mired in business malpractices.

In other news, Riley Hassell, a mobile security expert claimed to have identified a security flaw in Google’s Android system. I don’t totally agree with one expert argument that Riley should have kept quiet since there is no fix yet. Microsoft on a lot of cases have been forced to act only after public disclosure by independent security expert. Have their been no public disclosure, only the rogue security expert would know and take advantage of it with people being unaware of it. That way they have a Zero day exploit they can use for longer time. Zero day is a term used to described a security flaw such as viruses or bugs that is so new nobody have a fix for it yet. Without public disclosure, Microsoft and Google might continue to be unaware, or content to fix it at a slower pace. And there are examples of that in the past. In this case, Google still deny a flaw exist. But now that everyone can verify the flaw, if the claim is true, then Google will be pressured to act sooner to fix it. If a fix can’t be done in short period of time, the public still needs to know and decide based on their comfort level whether to use the offending app or not. And Google can help its user by issuing an advisory.

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Twitter Ordered to Give Up User’s Info for Wikileaks Probe

A judge have ruled that Twitter must give up some of their user’s information to the U.S. government as part of their Wikileaks probe. This pertains to the secret court order mentioned in my previous blog – Patriot Act Being Used to Crackdown on Wikileak’s Supporters. The lawyers of some of these users are vowing to appeal.

Steven Aftergood, who works on government secrecy policy for the Federation of American Scientists, said the government’s aggressive pursuit of the Twitter accounts reflects one of two possibilities.

“Either the government is being extremely diligent in crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’. Or the other possibility is that they have no case whatsoever and they’re tallying up all conceivable leads,” he said. “The information they’re going to get from Twitter is indirect evidence at best.”

The same Virginia magistrate judge, Theresa Carroll Buchanan, was also the one who issued the original order, wherein Twitter was asked to keep the handover of user’s information secret.

Buchanan also rejected a request that would have required the government to disclose whether it sought similar records from other social networking sites like Facebook.

Update: She ruled that user have no expectation of privacy since they shared their information with Twitter. Those information being sought by the government includes:

full contact details for the accounts (phone numbers and addresses), IP addresses used to access the accounts, connection records (“records of session times and durations”) and data transfer information, such as the size of data file sent to someone else and the destination IP.

…She further ruled that the request did not violate the account holder’s First Amendment rights since the order did not seek to control their speech or their associations. Nor did it violate the Fourth Amendment because the accountholders did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over subscriber information they freely provided to Twitter. (ars technica)

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Debunking the Bandwidth Capacity Myth; Stats and Misleading Marketing

BANDWIDTH CAPACITY AND SPEED STATS COMPARISONS

Speed Comparisons

High speed cable broadband (on a coaxial) has about 52 Mbps bandwidth (capacity). Actual speed per household is more likely around 6 Mbps, maxing out at 10 Mbps. Below is a table comparing the different speed and download speed for various applications.

WAN (Wide Area Network – 10Base-T) 10 Mbps
Wireless G (802.11g) 54 Mbps
LAN (Fast Ethernet – 100Base-T) 100 Mbps
Cable broadband 52 Mbps (Coaxial)
OC-3 155 Mbps (Optical fiber)
T4 274 Mbps (Optical fiber)
OC-12 600 Mbps (Optical fiber)
OC-24 1.244 Gbps (Internet backbone)
OC-48 2.488 Gbps (Internet backbone)
OC-192 10 Gbps (Backbone)
OC-256 13.271 Gbps (Backbone)
Applications Transfer Rate
Web page or E-mails very minimal
Apple iTunes 128 Kbps
Music Streaming or Download 192 Kbps to 256 Kbps
Webcam video 352×288 at 15 fps 298 Kbps
Skype high quality video chat 400 Kbps
Netflix Standard Video 1,500 Kbps
Netflix HD video 3,800 Kbps
World’s Ave. Download Speed
South Korea (World’s Top) 37.62 Mbps
Singapore, Singapore (30th World City Rank) 18.47 Mbps
North America 8.51 Mbps
Canada (38th Country’s ranking) 9.79 Mbps

Bandwidth Capacity and Reasonable Caps

Canada’s internet backbone consist of at least multiple OC-192 with ever increasing number of channels on each. A heavy users that could affect the bandwidth will be one who download at maximum transfer rate of 10 Mbps for 24 hours a day. That’s 100 GB per day. Average user would only use the internet for about 4 to 5 hours a day (less if they watch cable or normal TV also). And is not likely to be anywhere near the 6 Mbps to 10 Mbps of sustained transfer rate. Web browsing and e-mail usage have negligible effect on bandwidth usage. Netflix at HD is at the higher end of usage for average user, who would only watch 3 or 4 hours at that transfer rate in a day. That is less than half of the per household bandwidth capacity. If heavy users hogging the bandwidth is the real concern, then a minimum of 250 GB monthly cap would be a good starting point for low end users. A real bandwidth hog (which make up only a very small percentage of users) will quickly reach that cap in couple of days. Otherwise, users who only reaches 250GB in a month poses no real threat to the bandwidth capacity.

From a casual survey of people’s surfing habit, there is indication that there were more people downloading larger movie files before Netflix was introduced. And back then you don’t hear the ISP’s crying about reaching bandwidth capacity. Now that Canada have multiple of the faster OC-192 backbone, and people are turning to the lower bandwidth Netflix videos, there is suddenly an outcry about reaching capacity and the need to crackdown on “bandwidth hog”.

Study and Data Contradicts CRTC’s Assertion

The fiber optic backbone is continuously being developed to allow even higher capacity. As with everything to do with computers and technology, the prices also continue to come down. Meanwhile, the fiber transmission capacity have grown by a factor of 200 in the last decade, far outpacing the rise in internet demand by a wide margin. Graph below shows increasing bandwidth along with increasing # of channels.



Source: fiber-optics.info

In fact, data transmission capacity is growing faster than data storage and computational power, leading some to predict that the transmission limitation, in the optical data delivery backbone system, will become obsolete.

Furthermore, a study conducted by University of Minnesota at the end of 2009 have shown that internet growth in the U.S. have slowed from the normal 50-60% down to 40-50%. A study by North American Network Operating Group (NANOG) agree with MINTS and CISCO’s study, which shows a manageable growth of 50% and dispelling the false notion of “Exaflood” bogging down the network.

South Korea, Japan, Singapore and China are on track to implementing Fiber-to-home network that would significantly boost the bandwidth in each household, providing 100 Mbps at an affordable price. Meanwhile, CRTC’s planned UBB would create an artificial limit on bandwidth capacity. This would eliminate the need for major ISP to spend money to improve the network. Canadians will be left behind with 20th century network technology while other country advances.

CRTC needs to be reformed and staffed with experts of the new information technology. It needs to shift away from a board totally dominated by ex-executives of the telecommunication firm they are supposed to be regulating.

MISLEADING MARKETING

Bell is promoting their high speed HSPA network as 4G. 4G is 4th generation cellular wireless standard with peak download speed of 1 Gbit/sec (stationary) to 100 Mbits/sec (on cars or train). Bell and other companies current speed is HSPA with speed of up to 7.2 Mbits/sec only. HSPA+ maximum speed is  21 Mbits/sec and is a 3.5G NOT 4G. Bell points to the U.N. body, ITU (International Telecommunications Union), redefining of faster 3G as 4G as a license for them to now market the same HSPA network as 4G. ITU’s re-definition of 3G as 4G is creating confusion and could lead to people being mislead into thinking they now have the next generation high speed wireless network when they do not.

ABI Research analyst Philip Solis points out that the true next generation will come with ODFMA and not HSPA. For the average consumer who is not too concern nor need such a speed, they probably won’t mind the relabeling. But it is causing unnecessary confusion in the technology standardization sector.

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Another Case of Bell UBB Overcharges

Another case of Bell overcharging on data usage was reported by CBC today. A couple in BC was charged thousands of dollars for data usage. It took them months of fighting Bell and hiring a lawyer before their bill was reversed. And then they were charged a thousand dollar again. Bell claimed that someone might be accessing their internet by connecting to their phone (with their phone acting as a hotspot). They said it is impossible because their phone was off when the supposed data usage occurred. Bell is still investigating the cause of the error.

This is the second reported incident in a month. The first one involved several people who have noticed that they were being charged exorbitant data usage fees when they have not used their internet that much.

UBB (Usage Based Billing) is highly controversial and the excuses being used by the telecom companies and CRTC is that there is a strain on the internet backbone or network. The truth is there is no evidence of internet backbones reaching its capacity. Speed slowdown are usually due to speed throttling by the major ISP. The pro-major carrier policy has lead to mass outraged among Canadians. It has forced the Harper government, who could be facing an election this spring, to take action and stop the CRTC’s lopsided UBB policy. How much effect this would have remains to be seen since UBB were already in place at Bell and Rogers even before the CRTC’s ruling. It might temporarily help prevent the smaller ISP from being metered on the wholesale price being paid to the major carrier.

This might be a temporary relief only and the issue might come back after the election since CRTC is still not backing down and might end up having its way in the end. A signature campaign ran by Open Media have solicited more than 400,000 signatures so far. The petition can be found here: http://www.stopthemeter.ca

Previous blogs related to UBB:

Breaking the Net/Cell Carrier Duopoly, Plus Other Tips

Canadian Inundate Internet to Express Anger at CRTC’s Ruling

Bell Overestimated Customer’s Internet Usage Due to Software Bug

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Social Engineering Threat – Your Personal & Financial Information; Voters Manipulation

Social Engineering relates to the practice of deceiving people or manipulating public opinion through misrepresentation. The perpetrators usually pretend to be someone they are not. In terms of stealing your personal information, Social Engineers use all kinds of low tech tricks to get information out of you. Politically, Social Engineers use various ways to manipulate public opinion. With the wide use of social media nowadays, social engineering for political purposes has adopted new means to take advantage of this new medium. The new methods that can be used are illustrated below.

STEALING YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION

A wide misconception of how to protect your privacy and personal information is that you need to protect your computer and saved data. However, Social Engineers do not need to hack into your account. Techniques used by Social Engineers are nothing new. Famous social engineers and former computer criminal Kevin Mitnick claim that it is easier to trick someone into giving a password than it is to spend the effort to hack a system.

Survey or Research Fraud– One technique used to make people reveal their personal information is by phone call saying they are conducting survey on behalf of your financial institution or as part of a research. Sometimes they will promise you a gift. Once the question starts rolling in, they could ask question like your birthday, address, income and employer. That information can then be used to apply for a credit card or apply for credit using your name.  Other low tech method would be a smooth talking con chatting with you on a bar to get some personal information out of you.

Social Networks – One instance of social engineering involves a simple google search of a victim’s e-mail address. It then gave the perpetrator lots of personal information such as phone numbers and address. Most user also have their personal information readily available on Facebook. A lot of uninformed Facebook users unsuspectingly shared their personal information with third-party app developer.

Phishing scam – this technique uses e-mail or instant messaging to fool people into providing personal information by making themselves appear legitimate. It is with this method that foreign hackers were able to hack into Government of Canada’s Finance Department and Treasury Board’s computer network.

Those are just a few of the examples. A good general rule of thumb is never give out your password or personal information that you normally use to authenticate your financial account.

MANIPULATING VOTERS

After the media’s excitement about Egypt’s “Facebook revolution”, I’ve warned against overhyping social media. It is just another tool that those who seek to manipulate information would adopt and use to its advantage before long.

Unauthorized Access

A malicious government don’t need to put much effort into social engineering. They can just access your census, passport information or personal information. They can then tailored their appeal to you based on your ethnicity and religion. Measures needs to be in place such that user id of any officials accessing personal private information is logged.

Canada’s government was mired in controversy when they mailed out Jewish Rosh Hashanah greeting cards in 2007 and 2008. On both occasions, some of the recipients expressed serious concerns.

“I was a little alarmed at the idea that the government might have some list of Canadian Jews, whether or not they’re using that for benevolent or malevolent or cynical reasons,” Mr. Terkel said. “It doesn’t seem my religion should be the business of any federal government.” – Jonathan Terkel (Reported by Canada.com)

The government claim they got their names from local community. But several recipients disputed that, expressing similar claim as Jonathan Terkel.

He says he subscribes to no Jewish publications and doesn’t give to any specifically Jewish causes, so he isn’t sure how the PMO got his name.

It is not clear where the government got the people’s religious information from and it might very well not be as I described above. However, a government that single out a specific group based on religion or ethnicity is just a bit unnerving.

Political Army of Internet Posters

A political party could try to influence public opinion by creating an illusion of popular opinion. This can be done by staffing their war room or campaign strategy central with armies of posters who populate internet forum and news sites comments section with their talking points. This employ the “Big Lie” technique where

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.

Plus people are vulnerable to the bandwagon effect. Where they are more likely to adopt what they perceive as popular opinion. A desire to belong to what is popular and what is hip.

Social Media

Just as I was preparing to write about social engineering and how it could be a threat to democracy, when voters are manipulated through orchestrated misinformation, a developing story came out about the internet activist group called “Anonymous” and their war with security firm HBGary Inc.

HBGary Inc is a digital security firm with close ties to U.S. government officials from Air Force, CIA, FBI, etc. Anonymous reportedly used SQL injection vulnerability in HBGary’s system to attack them along with the use of social engineering technique. Anonymous gained access to the site and troves of HBGary’s e-mails which have since been posted at Torrent’s site.

Some e-mail revelation includes HBGary working with the Bank of America’s Law Firm and the U.S. government to undermine Wikileaks, and helping U.S. Chamber of Commerce to campaign against Progressive Bloggers. They are also said to be working on a new rootkit for windows that will be undetectable. But the real revelation for me pertaining to social engineering is the fact that HBGary plan to develop a software for the U.S. government that would allow them to have control over a large numbers of virtual social media profile (i.e. fake personas). Such large amount of virtual profiles could be used to propagate fake opinion and false news.

Software will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent. Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user’s situational awareness by displaying real-time local information.(TechDirt)

During the Egyptian’s revolution, Twitter played an important role in providing up to the second update from the grassroot level. Foiling attempts by Egyptian government to block out news and instigate violence to create excuse for crackdown. I thought at that time that future authoritarian regime could use Twitter to spread false information and put fake posters claiming to support the dictator. But then I thought with a popular uprising the scale of Egypt, the army of government posters would easily be outnumbered.

But that has changed with HBGary revelation. Their plan is to allow the capability for one person to control 10 personas. That way they don’t need to outnumber the real dissenters. They need 10 times less than the amount of real people. It is not inconceivable that the numbers could easily be increased to more than 10 per one controlling person. When such tool is used in a democratic election, it would lead to propagation of false information and undermine fair election.


Added February 27, 2011 2:00 pm EST

An illustrative example of how repetitive lies and corrupted media can influence voters sentiments.

As an example of how repetitive lies can influence public opinion. There are times when people would express opinion based on what they perceive as true because it was heard repeatedly. Say person A would tell his friend that Mr. Smith is a racist or Billy is a “leftie”. But if challenged to prove it and forced to pause and think, all he could think of was lots of people posting comments at a news site said so. Upon thinking further, he realized he does not know any facts and was just relying on hearsay. A lot of people would just go with perceived popular opinion. If so many people think so then it must be true.

Nowadays, lots of news outlets and networks get their news from one source (e.g. Canadian Press, Associated Press, etc). You can read the same sentence paragraph or whole news article with exactly the same content repeated and presented under different newspaper, TV network and news website. So if the news is corrupted at the source, then the false news will just propagate down different news outlets giving it an air of legitimacy. The whole news agency does not have to be corrupted, it just take one journalist working for that agency injecting a misleading news at the critical moment of election or history making event.

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Egypt Day 16 – Day of Civil Disobedience; Social Media Overhyped?

In another positive development for the pro-democracy group, thousands of workers across the country have gone on strike. They include newspaper workers and railway workers.Telecom workers are also said to be blocking some roads.

Vice President Soleiman, who is increasingly becoming the voice of the government and appears to be calling the shots, warned protesters that he would use “police tools” or there would be a coup if they don’t give up. Soleiman have previously talked about the protesters in condescending tone treating the youth protesters like kids saying he would ask their parents to take them home. In threatening them with police force and coup, he said he foresaw:

“the dark bats of the night emerging to terrorize the people” if the situation is not resolved.

Scattered military deployment have been reported. Another million man march is being called for Friday. It is being called “Friday of Martyrs”, touted as a massive funeral to honor those who have died.

In Kharga, al-Wadi al-Gadid province South of Cairo, protesters were voicing objection to the re-instatement of an officer they said is “authoritative”.  Riot broke out and security services reportedly opened fire killing at least 3 and injuring about 100, lots of them with severe injuries.

In an embarrassing development for U.S. President Obama, report have came out about testy exchange of phone conversation with Saudi Arabia where Obama was told that he must support Mubarak and allow him to stay in power to oversee the transition. Saudi went on to say that if U.S. withdraw their aid then Saudi will bankroll Egypt. This conversation was held on January 29. Obama have repeatedly voiced support for an “orderly transition” and have not specifically called for Mubarak to step down.

Al Jazeera’s summary of the days events:

Social Media Hype?

The role of the social media have been discussed by various media a lot. Some have coined the term “Facebook revolution”. I think that is like calling some past revolution a TV revolution or radio revolution. Maybe we should not be overhyping and sensationalizing it too much. Instead focus on what the revolution is all about. Don’t get me wrong, social media is a great tool, one that would probably also be used for propaganda eventually (if it is not already being used). Instead of focusing on specific social media brand it is more important to focus on the infrastructure or internet backbone and make sure free flow of information continue and any new restrictive censorship law are quashed.

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