Bitcoin

Two-Factor Authentication Fail: Identity Thieves Hijack Cellphone Accounts to Go After Virtual Currency (nytimes.com) 52

Reader Cludge shares an NYT report: Hackers have discovered that one of the most central elements of online security -- the mobile phone number -- is also one of the easiest to steal. In a growing number of online attacks, hackers have been calling up Verizon, T-Mobile U.S., Sprint and AT&T and asking them to transfer control of a victim's phone number to a device under the control of the hackers. Once they get control of the phone number, they can reset the passwords on every account that uses the phone number as a security backup -- as services like Google, Twitter and Facebook suggest. "My iPad restarted, my phone restarted and my computer restarted, and that's when I got the cold sweat and was like, 'O.K., this is really serious,'" said Chris Burniske, a virtual currency investor who lost control of his phone number late last year. A wide array of people have complained about being successfully targeted by this sort of attack, including a Black Lives Matter activist and the chief technologist of the Federal Trade Commission. The commission's own data shows that the number of so-called phone hijackings has been rising. In January 2013, there were 1,038 such incidents reported; by January 2016, that number had increased to 2,658. But a particularly concentrated wave of attacks has hit those with the most obviously valuable online accounts: virtual currency fanatics like Mr. Burniske. Within minutes of getting control of Mr. Burniske's phone, his attackers had changed the password on his virtual currency wallet and drained the contents -- some $150,000 at today's values. Most victims of these attacks in the virtual currency community have not wanted to acknowledge it publicly for fear of provoking their adversaries. But in interviews, dozens of prominent people in the industry acknowledged that they had been victimized in recent months.
Verizon

Verizon To Start Throttling All Smartphone Videos To 480p or 720p (arstechnica.com) 151

Verizon Wireless will start throttling video streams to resolutions as low as 480p on smartphones this week. Most data plans will get 720p video on smartphones, but customers won't have any option to completely un-throttle video. From a report: 1080p will be the highest resolution provided on tablets, effectively ruling out 4K video on Verizon's mobile network. Anything identified as a video will not be given more than 10Mbps worth of bandwidth. This limit will affect mobile hotspot usage as well. Verizon started selling unlimited smartphone data plans in February of this year, and the carrier said at the time that it would deliver video to customers at the same resolution used by streaming video companies. "We deliver whatever the content provider gives us. We don't manipulate the data," Verizon told Ars in February. That changes beginning on Wednesday, both for existing customers and new ones. The changes were detailed today in an announcement of new unlimited data plans. Starting August 23, Verizon's cheapest single-line unlimited smartphone data plan will cost $75 a month, which is $5 less than it cost before. The plan will include only "DVD-quality streaming" of 480p on phones and 720p on tablets.
Communications

Tech Companies Urge Supreme Court To Boost Cellphone Privacy (reuters.com) 29

More than a dozen high technology companies and the biggest wireless operator in the United States, Verizon, have called on the U.S. Supreme Court to make it harder for government officials to access individuals' sensitive cellphone data. From a report: The companies filed a 44-page brief with the court on Monday night in a high-profile dispute over whether police should have to get a warrant before obtaining data that could reveal a cellphone user's whereabouts. Signed by some of Silicon Valley's biggest names, including Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Snap and Alphabet's Google, the brief said that as individuals' data is increasingly collected through digital devices, greater privacy protections are needed under the law. "That users rely on technology companies to process their data for limited purposes does not mean that they expect their intimate data to be monitored by the government without a warrant," the brief said.
Communications

A New Way to Tell Your Airline You Hate It (bloomberg.com) 50

An anonymous reader shares a report: Airlines -- an industry not known for stellar customer interactions -- are joining the party, and not just to break the bad news about your flight. They're inviting you to ask questions, and maybe even complain. Two airlines have dipped their wings into the waters of two-way texting. Hawaiian Holdings's Hawaiian Airlines is adding the feature while JetBlue Airways took a stake in a software startup that will allow its call center staff to start texting customers in the coming months. Texting, technically called SMS (which stands for short message service), is arguably the world's most favored form of communication, but much of corporate America has been slow to adapt. The few that have -- including Verizon Wireless retailers, British telecom company Sky UK, and Nestle SA's frozen foods division -- are dwarfed by an array of local commerce, from insurance agents, veterinarians, air conditioning techs, and auto dealers who have already jumped in to conduct their business.
Businesses

Americans Are Dying Younger, Saving Corporations Billions (bloomberg.com) 274

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Steady improvements in American life expectancy have stalled, and more Americans are dying at younger ages. But for companies straining under the burden of their pension obligations, the distressing trend could have a grim upside: If people don't end up living as long as they were projected to just a few years ago, their employers ultimately won't have to pay them as much in pension and other lifelong retirement benefits. In 2015, the American death rate -- the age-adjusted share of Americans dying -- rose slightly for the first time since 1999. And over the last two years, at least 12 large companies, from Verizon to General Motors, have said recent slips in mortality improvement have led them to reduce their estimates for how much they could owe retirees by upward of a combined $9.7 billion, according to a Bloomberg analysis of company filings. "Revised assumptions indicating a shortened longevity," for instance, led Lockheed Martin to adjust its estimated retirement obligations downward by a total of about $1.6 billion for 2015 and 2016, it said in its most recent annual report.

Mortality trends are only a small piece of the calculation companies make when estimating what they'll owe retirees, and indeed, other factors actually led Lockheed's pension obligations to rise last year. Variables such as asset returns, salary levels, and health care costs can cause big swings in what companies expect to pay retirees. The fact that people are dying slightly younger won't cure corporate America's pension woes -- but the fact that companies are taking it into account shows just how serious the shift in America's mortality trends is.

Verizon

Verizon's New Rewards Program Lets It Track Your Browsing History (theverge.com) 84

The new "Verizon Up" rewards program released this week by Big Red awards users a credit for every $300 they spend on their Verizon bill that can be redeemed toward various rewards. The only catch is that Verizon requires you to enroll in Verizon Selects, a program that allows the company to track a huge chunk of your personal data. The Verge reports: That includes web browsing, app usage, device location, service usage, demographic info, postal or email address, and your interests. Furthermore, that data gets shared with Verizon's newly formed Oath combination (aka AOL and Yahoo), plus with "vendors and partners" who work with Verizon. Which is kind of a long list of people who have access to what feels like a fairly significant amount of your data. It's worth noting that Verizon has been operating under these terms and conditions for a while with an earlier rewards program called "Smart Rewards," which also required users to opt in to the Verizon Selects tracking program. But that doesn't make it any better that this is the trade-off you're forced to make to take advantage of the rewards.
AT&T

Verizon, AT&T Customers Are Getting Slower Speeds Because of Unlimited Data Plans (recode.net) 102

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Recode: Unlimited data plans are slowing down mobile speeds for Verizon and AT&T customers, according to data released today by mobile network measurement company OpenSignal. Verizon and AT&T reinstated their unlimited plans in February to compete with T-Mobile and Sprint, which have long offered unlimited data plans, and have since seen a deluge of demand. Greater data demand -- either more data usage or more customers -- means slower speeds. Think of it as increased traffic on a highway. Verizon and AT&T also have nearly double the subscribers of T-Mobile and Sprint, so changes in their offerings hit their networks harder. Both Verizon and AT&T saw a notable decline in speeds after introducing unlimited plans. T-Mobile and Sprint have been able to gradually account for the increase in data demand, so their speeds weren't negatively affected this year -- indeed, they both got faster since OpenSignal's February report. Verizon and T-Mobile were basically tied for speeds at the beginning of this year. Now, T-Mobile has taken the lead with an average LTE download speed of 17.5 Mbps, compared with Verizon's 14.9 Mbps. Here's a good comparison of the unlimited plans currently offered by the "Big 4" carriers.
Facebook

The Chiefs of Facebook, Google and Other Tech Giants Aren't Committing To Testify To the US Congress On Net Neutrality (recode.net) 46

Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix -- along with their telecom industry foes -- have not committed to sending their chief executives to testify before the U.S. Congress in September on the future of net neutrality. From a report: Not a single one of those companies told the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is convening the hearing, that they would send their leaders to Washington, D.C., in the coming weeks, even at a time when the Trump administration is preparing to kill the open internet rules currently on the government's books. The panel initially asked those four tech giants, as well as AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon, to indicate their plans for attendance by July 31. Now, the committee is pushing back its deadline indefinitely, as it continues its quest to engage the country's tech and telecom business leaders on net neutrality. "The committee has been engaging in productive conversations with all parties and will extend the deadline for response in order to allow for those discussions to continue," a spokesman said.
The Internet

House Panel Wants Google, Facebook, AT&T CEOs To Testify On Internet Rules (reuters.com) 35

The chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday asked the chief executives of Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon.com, AT&T, Verizon Communications and other companies to testify at a Sept. 7 hearing on the future of net neutrality rules. From a report: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is considering tossing out 2015 Obama administration net neutrality rules that reclassified internet service like a public utility. The rules bar providers from blocking, slowing or offering paid prioritization of websites. Many internet providers want Congress to step in and write permanent rules. Other chief executives asked to testify include the heads of Comcast, Netflix and Charter. Some companies including Facebook said they were reviewing the letter but none immediately said if they will testify.
Businesses

Verizon Accused of Throttling Netflix and YouTube, Admits To 'Video Optimization' (arstechnica.com) 52

New submitter dgatwood writes: According to an Ars Technica article, Verizon recently began experimenting with throttling of video traffic. The remarkable part of this story is not that a wireless ISP would throttle video traffic, but rather that Verizon's own Go90 video platform is also affected by the throttling. From the article, "Verizon Wireless customers this week noticed that Netflix's speed test tool appears to be capped at 10Mbps, raising fears that the carrier is throttling video streaming on its mobile network. When contacted by Ars this morning, Verizon acknowledged using a new video optimization system but said it is part of a temporary test and that it did not affect the actual quality of video. The video optimization appears to apply both to unlimited and limited mobile plans. But some YouTube users are reporting degraded video, saying that using a VPN service can bypass the Verizon throttling."
If even Verizon can get on board with throttling sans paid prioritization, why is Comcast so scared of the new laws that are about to go into effect banning it?

Network

Senator Doesn't Buy FCC Justification For Killing Net Neutrality (dslreports.com) 42

From a report: Senator Edward Markey this week questioned FCC boss Ajit Pai's justifications for killing popular net neutrality rules in a hearing in Washington. We've noted repeatedly that while large ISPs claim net neutrality killed broadband investment, objective analysis repeatedly finds that to be a lie. That's not just based on publicly-available SEC filings and earnings reports, but the industry's own repeated comments to investors and analysts. But that doesn't stop AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Charter (and the ocean of politicians, think tankers, consultants and other PR vessels they employ to make this misleading argument in the media on a daily basis) from making the claim anyway. And while Pai once again this week breathlessly proclaimed that net neutrality put a damper on network investment, Markey simply wasn't having it. "Publicly traded companies are required by law to provide investors accurate financial information, including reporting any risks or financial burdens," Markey said. "However, I have found no publicly traded ISP that has reported to its investors by law that Title II has negatively impacted investment in their networks. Many, in fact, have increased deployment and investment."
Communications

Telecom Lobbyists Downplayed 'Theoretical' Security Flaws in Mobile Data Backbone (vice.com) 33

An anonymous reader shares a report: According to a confidential document obtained by Motherboard, wireless communications lobby group CTIA took issue with an in-depth report by the Department of Homeland Security on mobile device security, including flaws with the SS7 network. In a white paper sent to members of Congress and the Department of Homeland Security, CTIA, a telecom lobbying group that represents Verizon, AT&T, and other wireless carriers, argued that "Congress and the Administration should reject the [DHS] Report's call for greater regulation" while downplaying "theoretical" security vulnerabilities in a mobile data network that hackers may be able to use to monitor phones across the globe, according to the confidential document obtained by Motherboard. However, experts strongly disagree about the threat these vulnerabilities pose, saying the flaws should be taken seriously before criminals exploit them. SS7, a network and protocol often used to route messages when a user is roaming outside their provider's coverage, is exploited by criminals and surveillance companies to track targets, intercept phone calls or sweep up text messages. In some cases, criminals have used SS7 attacks to obtain bank account two-factor authentication tokens, and last year, California Rep. Ted Lieu said that, for hackers, "the applications for this vulnerability are seemingly limitless."
Electronic Frontier Foundation

American ISPS Are Now Fighting State Broadband Privacy Proposals (eff.org) 74

The EFF complains that "the very companies who spent millions of dollars lobbying in D.C. to repeal our federal broadband privacy rights are now fighting state attempts to protect consumers because they supposedly prefer a federal rule." The EFF urges Californians to phone their state senator ahead of a crucial back-to-back committee hearings on Tuesday. An anonymous reader writes: "Congress stole your online privacy. Let's seize it back," begins an email that the EFF is sending to California supporters. It warns that "Big Telecom has massive amounts of money to spend on an army of lobbyists. But if Internet users from across California unite with one voice, we can defeat their misinformation campaign... Don't let the big ISPs coopt our privacy."

The EFF's site points out that more than 83% of Americans support the privacy regulations which were repealed in March by the U.S. Congress, according to a new poll released last week. That's even more than the 77% of Americans who support keeping current net neutrality protections in place, according to the same poll. The EFF now hopes that California's newly-proposed legislation could become a model for privacy-protecting laws in other states. And back in Silicon Valley, the San Jose Mercury News writes that California "has an obligation to take a lead in establishing the basic privacy rights of consumers using the Internet. Beyond being the right thing to do for the whole country, building trust in tech products is an essential long-term business strategy for the industry that was born in this region."

The EFF has also compiled an interesting list of past instances where ISPs have already tried to exploit the personal information of their customers for profit.
AT&T

Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T Want Congress To Make a Net Neutrality Law Because They Will Write It (theverge.com) 170

From a report on The Verge: Companies and organizations that rely on an open internet rallied on Wednesday for a "day of action" on net neutrality, and America's biggest internet service providers have responded with arrogance and contempt for their customers. Comcast's David Cohen called arguments in favor of FCC regulation "scare tactics" and "hysteria." Beyond the dismissive rhetoric, ISPs are coincidentally united today in calling for Congress to act -- and that's because they've paid handsomely to control what Congress does. There's one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on, and that's taking money from ISPs. The telecommunications industry was the most powerful lobbying force of the 20th century, and that power endures. It's no secret that lobbyists in Washington write many of the laws, and the telecom industry spends a lot of money to make sure lawmakers use them. We've already seen net neutrality legislation written by the ISPs, and it's filled with loopholes. It's not just in Congress -- companies like AT&T have deep influence over local and state broadband laws, and write those policies, too. Some pro-net neutrality advocates are also arguing today that Congress should act, and there are some good reasons for that. Laws can be stickier than the judgements of regulatory agencies, and if you want to make net neutrality the law of the land that's a job for Congress. But there's a reason the ISPs are all saying the same thing, and it's because they're very confident they will defeat the interests of consumers and constituents. They've already done it this year under the Republican-controlled government. Further reading: 10M+ web users saw yesterday's net neutrality protest -- but rules are still getting scrapped.
Businesses

3 ISPs Have Spent $572 Million To Kill Net Neutrality Since 2008 (dslreports.com) 150

An anonymous reader quotes a report from DSLReports: A study by Maplight indicates that for every one comment submitted to the FCC on net neutrality (and there have been roughly 5 million so far), the telecom industry has spent $100 in lobbying to crush the open internet. The group found that Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) have spent $572 million on attempts to influence the FCC and other government agencies since 2008. "The FCC's decision, slated to be announced later this summer, will be a clear indicator of the power of corporate cash in a Trump administration," notes the report. "Public sentiment is on the side of keeping the Obama administration's net neutrality policies, which prevented internet companies from blocking, slowing or giving priority to different websites." Congressional lobbying forms indicate that Comcast alone has spent nearly $4 million on lobbying Congress on net neutrality issues from the end of 2014 through the first quarter of 2017.
Verizon

Millions of Verizon Customer Records Exposed in Security Lapse (zdnet.com) 44

Zack Whittaker, reporting for ZDNet: An Israeli technology company has exposed millions of Verizon customer records, ZDNet has learned. As many as 14 million records of subscribers who called the phone giant's customer services in the past six months were found on an unprotected Amazon S3 storage server controlled by an employee of Nice Systems, a Ra'anana, Israel-based company. The data was downloadable by anyone with the easy-to-guess web address. Nice, which counts 85 of the Fortune 100 as customers, plays in two main enterprise software markets: customer engagement and financial crime and compliance including tools that prevent fraud and money laundering. Nice's 2016 revenue was $1.01 billion, up from $926.9 million in the previous year. The financial services sector is Nice's biggest industry in terms of customers, with telecom companies such as Verizon a key vertical. The company has more than 25,000 customers in about 150 countries.
Businesses

Tech Giants Rally Today in Support of Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 126

From a report: Technology giants like Amazon, Spotify, Reddit, Facebook, Google, Twitter and many others are rallying today in a so-called "day of action" in support of net neutrality, five days ahead of the first deadline for comments on the US Federal Communications Commission's planned rollback of the rules. In a move that's equal parts infuriating and exasperating, Ajit Pai, the FCC's new chairman appointed by President Trump, wants to scrap the open internet protections installed in 2015 under the Obama administration. Those consumer protections mean providers such as AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and Verizon are prevented from blocking or slowing down access to the web. Sites across the web will display alerts on their homepages showing "blocked," "upgrade," and "spinning wheel of death" pop-ups to demonstrate what the internet would look like without net neutrality, according to advocacy group Battle for the Net. But most of the pop-ups The Verge has seen have been simple banners or static text with links offering more information.
Privacy

EFF's Latest Privacy Report Criticizes Amazon and WhatsApp Over Policies That 'Fall Short' (betanews.com) 12

An anonymous reader shares a report: The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published the latest edition of its "Who has your back" privacy report. This is the seventh report from the digital rights group, and this year it criticizes both WhatsApp and Amazon for having policies that "fall short of other similar technology companies." Four big telecom companies -- AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Verizon -- performed very poorly, while at the other end of the scale Adobe, Credo, Dropbox, Lyft, Pinterest, Sonic, Uber, Wickr, and WordPress were all praised. In all, the report rates 26 technology companies in five key areas relating to privacy and government data requests: "Follows industry-wide best practices," "Tells users about government data requests," "Promises not to sell out users," "Stands up to NSL gag orders" and "Pro-user public policy: Reform 702." While the report points out that some progress has been made, generally speaking, in the technology world, AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Verizon were all awarded a single star out of a possible five. Amazon and WhatsApp both scored just two out of five, leading the Electronic Freedom Foundation to say: "We urge both Amazon and WhatsApp to improve their policies in the coming year so they match the standards of other major online services."
AT&T

Forced Arbitration Isn't 'Forced' Because No One Has To Buy Service, Says AT&T (arstechnica.com) 342

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: AT&T is denying that its contracts include "forced arbitration" clauses, even though customers must agree to the clauses in order to obtain Internet or TV service. "At the outset, no AT&T customer is ever 'forced' to agree to arbitration," AT&T Executive VP Tim McKone wrote in a letter to U.S. senators. "Customers accept their contracts with AT&T freely and voluntarily; no one 'forces' them to obtain AT&T wireless service, DirecTV programming, or other products and services." AT&T was responding to concerns raised by Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who previously alleged that AT&T's use of forced arbitration clauses has helped the company charge higher prices than the ones it advertises to customers. While AT&T is correct that no one is forced to sign up for AT&T service, there are numerous areas of the country where AT&T is the only viable option for wired home Internet service. Even in wireless, where there's more competition, AT&T rivals Verizon and Sprint use mandatory arbitration clauses, so signing up with another carrier won't necessarily let customers avoid arbitration. One exception is T-Mobile, which offers a way to opt out of arbitration. The terms of service for AT&T Internet and DirecTV require customers to "agree to arbitrate all disputes and claims" against AT&T. Class actions and trials by jury are prohibited, although individual cases in small claims courts are allowed. AT&T doesn't offer any way to opt out of the arbitration/small claims provision, so the only other option is not buying service from AT&T.
Yahoo!

Tumblr's Unclear Future Shows That There's No Money in Internet Culture (nymag.com) 58

Earlier this month as Verizon completed its acquisition, a number of Tumblr employees, as well as those at other Verizon-owned properties, like the Huffington Post, were laid off. This comes at an interesting time for Tumblr, which is increasingly struggling to find a business model. From an article on NYMag: The future of Tumblr is still an open question. The site is enormously popular among the coveted youth crowd -- that's partly why then-CEO Marissa Mayer paid $1 billion for the property in 2013 -- but despite a user base near the size of Instagram's, Tumblr never quite figured out how to make money at the level Facebook has led managers and shareholders to expect. For a long time, its founder and CEO David Karp was publicly against the idea of inserting ads into users' timelines. (Other experiments in monetization, like premium options, never caught on: It's tough to generate revenue when your most active user base is too young to have a steady income.) Even once the timeline became open to advertising, it was tough to find clients willing to brave the sometimes-porny waters of the Tumblr Dashboard. Since it joined Yahoo, the site has started displaying low-quality "chum"-style ads in between user posts on the Dashboard. Looked at from a bottom-line perspective, Tumblr is an also-ran like its parent company -- a once-hot start-up that has eased into tech-industry irrelevance. [...] It is rare, but not at all unprecedented, for a site to reach Tumblr's size, prominence, and level of influence and still be unable to build a sustainable business. Twitter steers a huge portion of online culture, and has become an essential water cooler and newswire for journalists, tech workers, and otaku Nazis, but still has trouble turning a profit.

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