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07
Jul
2015

ProxyHam Uses A Radio Connection To Add A Physical Layer of Obfuscation To IP Addresses

by Bill

The high stakes game of cat and mouse that continues to unfold among snoops and privacy conscious communities just became even more interesting with the upcoming release of ProxyHam.  At the August DefCon hacker conference in Las Vegas, a developer is scheduled to debut a device that includes a “hardware proxy” using a radio connection to create a physical layer of obfuscation that makes it all but impossible to determine a user’s actual location.

ProxyHam is an open-source device, that the developer, Ben Caudill

Reportedly built for less than $200.00. The box connects to any nearby Wi-Fi and relays the Internet connection of a user over a 900 Megaherz radio connection to a computer (with an intended range of 2.5 miles). If the device works as advertised, it would create a scenario where even after investigators have fully traced the internet connection of a target, they would find only the ProxyHam box and not the location of the intended target.

Caudill works as a researcher for the consultancy group Rhino Security Labs, told Wired magazine that “the problem with Wi-Fi as a protocol is that you can’t get the range you need. If the FBI kicks down the door, it may not be my door, but it’ll be so close they can hear me breathe. [ProxyHam] gives you all the benefits of being able to be at a Starbucks or some other remote location, but without physically being there.”

The beta of ProxyHam that will be sold at DefCon will be very basic, but future models already in development will also include accelerometers designed to warn its owner if the device is moved from its hiding place, or may even include a microphone and other detection hardware according to Caudill.

Why would the creation of this kind of device be good thing? Caudill intends ProxyHam to protect the most sensitive targets on the Internet. “Journalists and dissidents in Arab Spring countries, for instance…these people have very high security requirements,” Caudill says. “This is that last-ditch effort to remain anonymous and keep yourself safe.” However, opponents are already pointing out the kind of catastrophes that a working ProxyHam might cause as unintended consequences when used by people with less noble goals.

As with any technological advancement, the good and bad are determined by the intent of the user – but as we are seeing with the contemplation of devices like this one, the battle over Privacy may accelerate the intensity of good and bad outcomes alike.

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29
Jun
2015

Google Plans To Turn Payphones Into Wi-Fi Hotspots Globally With Intersection

by Bill

Google Co-Founder Larry Page announced that Google is launching a new startup named Sidewalk Labs by acquiring two companies behind the recent New York City LinkNYC initiative. The initiative is designed to convert old pay phones into free public Wi-Fi hubs. Immediately after acquiring both companies, Google merged them into one entity with a singular purpose. To bring Wi-Fi to everyone, everywhere, for free, by utilizing existing infrastructure points in cities, nationally and eventually globally.

Control Group was providing the interface of the new hubs, while Titan was overseeing the advertising and marketing that pay for the project. Now under the same Google flag, the new venture is named Intersection and will begin to utilize everything from pay phones to bus stops as it’s underlying technology base.

“The vision really is to make cities connected places where you can walk down any street and have access to free ultra high speed Wi-Fi,” said Dan Doctoroff, the former CEO of Bloomberg and former deputy mayor of New York City, who now heads up Sidewalk Labs. “The possibilities from there are just endless.”

Right now in the United States roughly 55 million people don’t have access to high-speed broadband according to FCC reports. Many are in rural areas not yet targeted by Intersection, but once the main population hubs and major cities are sorted out it would be a logical next phase to work outward toward more rural areas as well.

“We think a lot about equity, and here we have a project that’s going to bring connectivity to people for free and fulfill the needs of government to generate revenues,” Doctoroff said. “That’s one of the beauties of doing something in New York first,” he says. “What happens here is seen everywhere.”

As mobile device proliferation and market penetration continues to expand each year, the necessary connectivity has lagged behind in many places as for-profit entities continue to find ways to block municipal Wi-Fi efforts and other attempts to make the world an ‘always on’ environment. Google has a lot to gain by having everyone connected all the time, and Intersection is another step toward that goal.

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18
Jun
2015

Google Trends Goes Real Time

by Bill

Trending newsWhen Google launched its GoogleTrends.com service in 2012 it was a somewhat useful way to see what people had been searching for and talking about recently. The problem was that all too often it was only able to look back into the recent past for stories and topics that had already become stale. Now the service is getting a much-needed upgrade and it may soon become the premier place to find out what the world has on its mind. The functionality hasn’t changed at all, but Google Trends now tracks stories in real time, giving anyone access to what the Internet wants to know in the present moment.

As of today, you can watch minute-by-minute information coming in from more than 100 billion searches taking place via Google during each month and Trends also utilizes the information available from Google News and YouTube, for a much more robust view of what people want to know and why they want to know it.

Some insiders see this as an attempt to leapfrog Twitter, which had become the go-to source for up to the minute discourse. “Social media data focuses on what people are talking about publicly,” said Steve Grove, head of Google’s News Lab Search. In many ways, data goes a layer deeper than that, to what people are really interested in. When you’re searching, you’re not really editing yourself. You find out what people are really interested in. It’s very real, very raw, very personal,” Grove told a Wired reporter.

As information becomes more plentiful and easier to sort or search, there is an increasing desire to keep that data fresh. Google Trends is now an exceptional tool for finding the freshest data about the public mindset, and something many National Net clients might use to generate content, publicity or marketing campaigns that resonate with their audience effectively.

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12
Jun
2015

Office of Personnel Management Security Breached By Hackers

by Bill

Data SecurityThe Office of Personnel Management is the government’s Human Resources department and it was recently disclosed that their database has been hacked by an outside party. The government had said the breach exposed personal information of approximately four million people including Social Security numbers, birthdates and addresses of current or former federal workers – but a new report shows that the hackers (who are believed to be from China) may have also accessed SF-86 forms which are documents used by government officials to conduct background checks for worker security clearances.

SF-86 forms disclose a lot of additional information including things like friends, spouses and other family members as well as each applicant’s past interactions with foreign nationals, and in the case of high security clearance individuals that information might be a serious cause for concern outing foreign operatives and making them vulnerable in their own country.

There are also questions about the actual number of people affected by the breach with Bloomberg now reporting that the original figure of four million may actually be a lot closer to 14 million individuals including current and former federal employees along with many contractors dating all the way back to the 1980s.

A story like this has a strong chilling effect, and it should. Even with the full power of the federal government behind it, the OPM Security system was breached and sensitive data was extracted. While NationalNet follows all of the industry best practices and maintains the most current security protocols possible, we also acknowledge that the world currently exists in an environment that makes virtually any bit of data accessible to entities that are clever and persistent enough to access it. Data security in 2015 is as much about strategy as it is about technology. Keeping sensitive files offline unless online versions are necessary, moving data, partitioning it and continually taking steps to change the way things are stored or where they are stored is an essential component of a strong defense. Leaving it all in one place, neatly assembled together and using the same security measures without evolving them over time is begging to be breached – whether you are the federal government or any private commercial business.

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03
Jun
2015

Google I/O 2015: Big Tech Announcements and App Changes

by Bill

When Steve Jobs was at their helm, Apple developer conferences were always the biggest show of the year for most developers, but since his passing many have started looking toward the Google I/O conference for innovative milestones. The 2015 conference is turning out to be filled up important announcements and a shift away from Apps… so here is a primer on the things you might want to keep on eye on as you move your own sites forward.

Android M will be replacing Google Lollipop and it brings some important upgrades. For example, Chrome will now be in all your Apps, the new software allegedly improves battery life and has USB-C support, Google Now is also on Tap to make it even more accessible, there is a new Google Photos app with free online storage and the company is continuing its crusade to bring developing countries online by adding offline maps and chrome to its platforms.

This comes at a time when Google is also investing heavily in home automation with Nest, Brillo and Weave creating a new layer of connectivity for developers to build tools that help manage all of your lights, temperatures, locks and more via secure WiFi or Bluetooth connections.

However, pundits are most interested in the way Google seems to be shifting its direction away from individual apps and back toward the web. So much of the conference centers on the improvements being made to Google Now. A system that essentially cannibalizes the data from individual apps you would normally want to open and pushes that same data into web based features that you are already using already. As an example, why would you open up and app to find the nearest open gas station if Google Now can seamlessly include that information when you want to know it? Google has invested heavily in creating an engine that can determine what you want, when and where you want it so it can predictively present data that you need right now… without having you go and get it yourself.

Of course that opens the Pandora’s box of debates about whether Google is doing this to help its app creating partners or to steal their work and use it as its own content for the purpose of driving more traffic to its own web-based ubiquitous ads. From a consumer perspective, a web that brings you information without making you find it may sound like a great thing… but for the people creating that data and having it presented in other ways by Google without much in the way of shared monetization… it may be a sign of hard times to come – especially if Google manages to keep people on the web where it is so dominant and away from the independent apps many companies are now creating as stand-alone products.

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20
May
2015

Privacy And Technology Interests Converge for Showdown At White House

by Bill

HackersA recent letter cosigned by decision makers at Apple, Google, and others who believe the government is putting American citizens at risk by requiring tech companies to include a “back door for law enforcement” have has been issued to President Obama, and the letter openly urges the President to take immediate action and prevent such a move by Congress before the damage is done.

The Washington Post obtained a copy of the letter as governmental interests, tech leaders and watchdog groups continue to draw battle lines around the protection of seemingly incongruous national security, privacy and technology interests in the wake of Edward Snowden’s mass surveillance whistleblowing attempts.

FBI Director FBI James B. Comey argues locking out law enforcement would put innocent people at risk. Watchdogs claim the right to privacy is too important to overlook and a lack of protection of that right makes our national security a pointless exercise at best because we would no longer be protecting a fundamental element of the American way of life. While Tech companies have stated that a “backdoor for the good guys” would also necessitate creating a vulnerability that could just as easily be exploited by the people the government aims to defend us against.

The letter states in part that “Encryption protects billions of people every day against countless threats—be they street criminals trying to steal our phones and laptops, computer criminals trying to defraud us, corporate spies trying to obtain our companies’ most valuable trade secrets, repressive governments trying to stifle dissent, or foreign intelligence agencies trying to compromise our and our allies’ most sensitive national security secrets… This protection would be undermined by the mandatory insertion of any new vulnerability into encrypted devices and services. Whether you call them ‘front doors’ or ‘back doors,’ introducing intentional vulnerabilities into secure products for the government’s use will make those products less secure against other attackers.”

The letter which was also signed by civil society groups, leviathan companies like Facebook, Cisco, and HP goes on to argue that requiring businesses to shred their own encryption policies would cause those businesses to endure undue financial risk as consumers continue to become increasingly aware of the complicity with the government’s ability to spy on American citizens.

The letter states plainly that “Introducing mandatory vulnerabilities into American products would further push many customers—be they domestic or international, individual or institutional—to turn away from those compromised products and services. Instead, they—and many of the bad actors whose behavior the government is hoping to impact—will simply rely on encrypted offerings from foreign providers, or avail themselves of the wide range of free and open-source encryption products that are easily available online…. The Administration faces a critical choice: will it adopt policies that foster a global digital ecosystem that is more secure, or less?” the letter asks. “That choice may well define the future of the Internet in the 21st century.”

Whether one believes Edward Snowden to be a Saint or a Spy – there can no longer be any doubt that his action have opened up a national dialogue about the importance of privacy and security, as well as the complicated interplay between the factions who are now tasked with finding a way to provide us with both. How these deliberations are ultimately resolved will shape the future of the Internet on a fundamental level, and NationalNet will continue to monitor these discussions on behalf of our fully managed hosting clients who rely on us to provide the highest level of security allowed by law and the greatest degree of privacy possible in the current political climate.

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11
May
2015

Court Strikes A Blow to Government Mass Collection of Phone Records

by Bill

With the Patriot Act coming up for renewal in just a month’s time, The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled recently that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone metadata by the NSA wasn’t in fact authorized by section 215 of the Patriot Act, in contradiction to assertions made by the intelligence community, since the program was revealed by Edward Snowden about two years ago.

While this ruling will not result in an immediate stoppage of the program, and it is possible that the ruling will be overturned on appeal, it could very well signal the end of the controversial collection of all American’s Mobile phone metadata, as it will be a problematic position for lawmakers to explicitly approve the program. As stated in the ruling: “We hold that the text of § 215 cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” the ruling reads. “We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously. Until such time as it does so, however, we decline to deviate from widely accepted interpretations of well‐established legal standards.”

A reform bill known as the USA Freedom Act, which seeks to rein in metadata collection, has been introduced in the House, but is presently opposed by Republicans. The ruling does not declare the metadata collection unconstitutional, the position taken by the ACLU in it’s arguments before the court, stating that the program was a breach of the fourth amendment protections against warrantless search and seizure, but merely states that if congress really intends that the government should be collecting all of this data, it needs to explicitly state so.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence in defending the program was of the position that the re-authorization of the Patriot Act in 2010 and 2011 were an implicit approval of the program, however In the wake of the Snowden leaks, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the primary authors of the bill, stated that the blanket collection of American’s phone metadata was never envisioned when they proposed the Patriot Act, rather that 215 was intended for targeted investigations, not for mass surveillance.

As these stories continue to take root, it becomes increasingly obvious each day that privacy and data security go hand-in-hand in the modern world. Proper server management and data storage best-practices go a long way toward keeping your content secure from third-parties, and while government interaction would likely be needed to fend off NSA level eavesdropping, it is even more important to protect your data from getting into the hands of less scrupulous hackers or data miners.

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28
Apr
2015

Google Updates Algorithm to include Mobile Ease of Use

by Bill

Google is updating it’s algorithm once again, and some are referring to this update as “mobilegeddon!” It’s a strong statement, but the change is going to have a large impact on search results. The reason for the intense verbiage is that Google is now allowing a site’s mobile usability to strongly influence search results. The new change makes a lot of sense – people are using their mobile devices and tablets to access the internet more than ever these days, and while using a mobile device, people are likely to bounce from a site with poor mobile design.

Google employees say that the new update will affect more results than either Penguin from 2013, or Panda from 2011 – which affected 4% and 12% of results respectively. This change is different than Panda or Penguin, which simply sought to rid the web of spammy link factories and keyword farms. This new algorithm is Google’s attempt to shape the internet in the image it sees fit. However, you can stay ahead of the curve with great hosting to keep your SEO game, and your mobile compatibility, which is now going to be an integral part of SEO, on top.

Dan Sullivan, a respected writer for Search Engine Land, has said that ultimately, this change by Google may not be the best move. It might demote results that are completely valid and relevant for users on a computer, due to a few extra clicks on the site’s mobile version. However, it’s clear that Google wants to push businesses to beef up their mobile game, and this isn’t the first time Google has tried to shape the web business. Google Fiber, the company’s fiber optic network which is now in place in 4 cities, threatened Internet Service Providers and caused them to come out with faster speeds, to keep their businesses relevant.

Overall, this change will encourage site owners to make sure their mobile versions are functioning and easy to use, and like always, with any big Google algorithmic change, site owners must also change with the times, or risk becoming irrelevant. Fortunately National Net servers and support staff are already well acquainted with the needs of mobile traffic and the infrastructure we provide for our clients makes every site you build as mobile friendly as your design and content allow.

 

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16
Apr
2015

Hotel WiFi Is No Vacation For Security Conscious Business Travelers

by Bill

New has recently broke that business travelers at hundreds of hotels have been unwittingly putting their digital security at risk, due largely to the reliance of some hotel chains on routers that have vulnerabilities in surprisingly significant ways. Researchers from the security firm Cylance discovered an attacker may distribute malware to guests; monitor and record data over hotel networks, or most chillingly gain access to a hotel’s keycard systems.

This flaw in security stems allegedly from authentication vulnerability in the firmware of routers made by ANTlabs, a Singapore firm with their products already installed in hotels in the US, Europe and beyond. Cylance security operatives were able to gain direct access to the root file system of ANTlabs devices, allowing them to copy configuration files from the device file system and to write any other file to them, including malware scripts that could be used to infect the computers of Wi-Fi users who logged into these networks.

Researchers announced 277 of the devices in 29 countries are accessible over the internet, along with many more they weren’t able to uncover over the internet because they’re protected behind a firewall – though that would not enhance the security of hotel guests if a hacker was logged into the hotel WiFi network locally.

Justin Clarke, a researcher with Cylance’s new SPEAR (Sophisticated Penetration Exploitation and Research) team, said the devices are often also connected to a hotel’s property management system – serving as the core software that runs reservation systems and maintains guest data profiles. “In cases where an InnGate device stores credentials to the PMS [property management system], an attacker could potentially gain full access to the PMS itself,” explained researchers in a blog post published about the incident.

Beyond the risks to nefarious groups of civilians and hackers who want access to credit cards or other sensitive financial data, these flaws in security also represent another way for governmental agencies to track people and constrain travel. In fact, one of the most famous cases of subverting a hotel’s electronic key system resulted in the assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai during 2011. In that case assassins, believed to be Israeli Mossad agents, reprogrammed the door lock of his hotel room and while it still is not known exactly how the attackers compromised that key system – this news of rampant vulnerability across hotel WiFi networks shows plainly that hotel security on a digital level needs to be amped up quite a bit if guests are ever to feel secure in their sleep.

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13
Apr
2015

Microsoft Windows Server Nano May Shrink Linux Cloud Computing Market

by Bill

<img class="alignleft" src="https://cdn-images.nationalnet.com/cloud-computing-sm useful site.jpg” alt=”Cloud Computing” width=”220″ height=”147″ />As cloud computing continues to gain momentum, monolithic brands like Google and Twitter are building out their own massive data networks for online services distributed across thousands of machines. Up to this point the most efficient way for them to execute their software with that many nodes in the hardware network has been to utilize Linux, the open source operating system backed by a technology called “containers.”

The corollary fact from a Microsoft perspective is that means they aren’t using Windows, and for the Redmond giant of the OS industry, that presents a very large problem moving forward.  Unlike Linux Windows has proven to be a poor choice for the kind of massive cloud networks that appear to be the future of modern computing – especially now that Windows NT is defunct. That’s why Microsoft is shifting their efforts and retooling Windows to avoid obsolescence.

First, Microsoft announced it would add Linux-like container technology to Windows and now they have revealed that they are also developing a trimmed down version of there OS named Windows Server Nano, designed to run as a whole new kind of container which would add another new level of system security.

Microsoft Windows Server Nano will compete with Linux CoreOS – representing a major challenge to the competitive advantage Linux presently holds on the future of online services that operate by necessity across hundreds or thousands of distributed network machines (the foundation of the cloud).

Under new CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft appears to finally be bending its own product line to the needs of its potential customers, instead of attempting to evangelize an internal vision in the hope of swaying IT professionals toward an MS-centric worldview.

Many businesses now run containers on public cloud computing services like Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud or Microsoft Azure, but the new Microsoft Windows Server Nano would instead allow containers to run on virtual machines, which provides a much needed improvement in cloud data security. Whether Microsoft can chip away at Linux market share remains to be seen, but unlike in years past, at least it now appears Microsoft is willing to build what people want instead of trying to convince them to want something else.

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