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Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Original Story:

A prominent hacker set to be sentenced in federal court this week for breaking into numerous computer systems worldwide has provided a trove of information to the authorities, allowing them to disrupt at least 300 cyberattacks on targets that included the United States military, Congress, the federal courts, NASA and private companies, according to a newly filed government court document.

The hacker, Hector Xavier Monsegur, also helped the authorities dismantle a particularly aggressive cell of the hacking collective Anonymous, leading to the arrest of eight of its members in Europe and the United States, including Jeremy Hammond, who the Federal Bureau of Investigation said was its top “cybercriminal target,” the document said. Mr. Hammond is serving a 10-year prison term.

The court document was prepared by prosecutors who are asking a judge, Loretta A. Preska, for leniency for Mr. Monsegur because of his “extraordinary cooperation.” He is set to be sentenced on Tuesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan on hacking conspiracy and other charges that could result in a long prison term.

It has been known since 2012 that Mr. Monsegur, who was arrested in 2011, was acting as a government mole in the shadowy world of computer hacking, but the memorandum submitted to Judge Preska late on Friday reveals for the first time the extent of his assistance and what the government perceives of its value. It also offers the government’s first explanation of Mr. Monsegur’s involvement in a series of coordinated attacks on foreign websites in early 2012, though his precise role is in dispute.

The whereabouts of Mr. Monsegur have been shrouded in mystery. Since his cooperation with the authorities became known, he has been vilified online by supporters of Anonymous, of which he was a member. The memo, meanwhile, said the government became so concerned about his safety that it relocated him and some members of his family.

“Monsegur repeatedly was approached on the street and threatened or menaced about his cooperation once it became publicly known,” said the memo, which was filed by the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

Born in 1983, Mr. Monsegur moved to the Jacob Riis housing project on the Lower East Side of Manhattan at a young age, where he lived with his grandmother after his father and aunt were arrested for selling heroin. He became involved with hacking groups in the late 1990s, drawn, he has indicated, to the groups’ anti-government philosophies.

Mr. Monsegur’s role emerged in March 2012 when the authorities announced charges against Mr. Hammond and others. A few months later, Mr. Monsegur’s bail was revoked after he made “unauthorized online postings,” the document said without elaboration. He was jailed for about seven months, then released on bail in December 2012, and has made no further postings, it said.

The memo said that when Mr. Monsegur (who used the Internet alias Sabu) was first approached by F.B.I. agents in June 2011 and questioned about his online activities, he admitted to criminal conduct and immediately agreed to cooperate with law enforcement.

That night, he reviewed his computer files with the agents, and throughout the summer, he daily “provided, in real time, information” that allowed the government to disrupt attacks and identify “vulnerabilities in significant computer systems,” the memo said.

“Working sometimes literally around the clock,” it added, “at the direction of law enforcement, Monsegur engaged his co-conspirators in online chats that were critical to confirming their identities and whereabouts.”

His primary assistance was his cooperation against Anonymous and its splinter groups Internet Feds and LulzSec.

“He provided detailed historical information about the activities of Anonymous, contributing greatly to law enforcement’s understanding of how Anonymous operates,” the memo said.

Neither Mr. Bharara’s office nor a lawyer for Mr. Monsegur would comment about the memo.

Mr. Monsegur provided an extraordinary window on the activities of LulzSec, which he and five other members of Anonymous had created. The memo describes LulzSec as a “tightly knit group of hackers” who worked as a team with “complementary, specialized skills that enabled them to gain unauthorized access to computer systems, damage and exploit those systems, and publicize their hacking activities.”

The memo said that LulzSec had developed an “action plan to destroy evidence and disband if the group determined that any of its members had been arrested, or were out of touch,” and it credits Mr. Monsegur for agreeing so quickly to cooperate after being confronted by the bureau. Had he delayed his decision and remained offline for an extended period, the document said, “it is likely that much of the evidence regarding LulzSec’s activities would have been destroyed.”

After his arrest, Mr. Monsegur provided information that helped repair a hack of PBS’s website in which he had been a “direct participant,” and helped patch a vulnerability in the Senate’s website. He also provided information about “vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure, including at a water utility for an American city, and a foreign energy company,” the document said.

The coordinated attacks on foreign government websites in 2012 exploited a vulnerability in a popular web hosting software. The targets included Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and Brazil, according to court documents in Mr. Hammond’s case. The memo said that “at law enforcement direction,” Mr. Monsegur tried to obtain details about the software vulnerability but was unsuccessful.

“At the same time, Monsegur was able to learn of many hacks, including hacks of foreign government computer servers, committed by these targets and other hackers, enabling the government to notify the victims, wherever feasible,” the memo said.

The memo does not specify which of the foreign governments the United States alerted about the vulnerabilities.

But according to a recent prison interview with Mr. Hammond as well as logs of Internet chats between him and Mr. Monsegur, which were submitted to the court in Mr. Hammond’s case, Mr. Monsegur seemed to have played a more active role in directing some of the attacks. In the chat logs, Mr. Monsegur directed Mr. Hammond to hack numerous foreign websites, and closely monitored whether Mr. Hammond had success in gaining access to the sites.

Sarah Kunstler, a lawyer for Mr. Hammond, said on Saturday: “The government’s characterization of Sabu’s role is false. Far from protecting foreign governments, Sabu identified targets and actively facilitated the hacks of their computer systems.”

At his sentencing in November, Mr. Hammond was prohibited by Judge Preska from naming the foreign governments that Mr. Monsegur had asked him to hack. But, according to an uncensored version of a court statement by Mr. Hammond that appeared online that day, the target list included more than 2,000 Internet domains in numerous countries.

Mr. Hammond’s sentencing statement also said that Mr. Monsegur encouraged other hackers to give him data from Syrian government websites, including those of banks and ministries associated with the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Original Story:

(CNN) -- People have the "right to be forgotten" and search engines like Google must remove certain unwanted links, Europe's top court decided in a surprise ruling Tuesday.

The case, which spotlighted the clash between privacy and freedom of information advocates, centered on a Spanish man's efforts to remove historic links to his debt problems.

In its decision, the European Court of Justice found operators of search engines such as Google were the "controller" of information. They were therefore responsible for removing unwanted links if requested.

"An Internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties," the judges said in a statement about the ruling.

A Google spokesman, in an email to CNN, said the ruling was "disappointing," and that the company needed time to "analyze the implications." Google had previously argued it was only hosting the data and said it was up to the individual websites to remove the data.

The decision came as a surprise to the industry and legal experts, as it ran contrary to the court's Advocate General opinion, whose guidance is usually followed.
Does Google know too much about us?
Your G-mail is watching you
Getting caught on Google maps

"For Google, this result creates a headache -- and potentially huge costs," University of East Anglia Law School lecturer Paul Bernal said. "The ruling looks like a strong decision in favor of privacy and individual rights -- and against the business models of search engines, and certain aspects of freedom of speech."

The case arose in 2010, when Mario Costeja Gonzalez complained to the Spanish Data Protection Agency about an old newspaper notice detailing his social security debts.

The advertisement was placed in a Spanish newspaper by the Ministry of Labour in 1998. It detailed a property auction being held to recover the debts.

Gonzalez argued that he had long resolved his debts and the information was no longer relevant. He complained that details about his old debts were coming up in Google search results, which he said violated his data protection rights.

The Spanish privacy watchdog rejected the complaint against the newspaper, saying it was right to publish the information at the time of the auction.

However, it also said that Google had no right to spread the news about Gonzalez further and ruled that the search engine must remove the link from the list of results. Google challenged the ruling with the Spanish High Court which referred the case up to EU's top court.

International watchdog Index on Censorship said the ruling "violates the fundamental principles of freedom of expression."

"It allows individuals to complain to search engines about information they do not like with no legal oversight. This is akin to marching into a library and forcing it to pulp books." Index said in a statement.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Warnings Along F.C.C.’s Fast Lane

Original Story:

The next time the loudmouth in the next cubicle interrupts you with yet another recap of his weekend, just start talking about “net neutrality.”

He will immediately bury his head back in his work, perhaps even lay it on the desk and begin napping.

But a topic that generally begets narcolepsy is about to become, well, interesting. The government is contemplating changing the rules for how content is delivered over the Internet, which could mess with people’s TV programming and web browsing, so there may soon be fire in those glazed-over eyes.

Wait, we’ve seen this before: Remember the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, the dispute two years ago in which the entertainment companies, backed by the government, took on Silicon Valley? It was the Little Big Horn. Time and again, when the government tries to insert itself between the Internet and its users, it gets clobbered. This could end up the same way. Here’s why:

This Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on whether to move forward with a proposal that would allow broadband providers to charge extra to content providers if they want their programming delivered in a fast lane so it streams reliably.

In a letter released on Friday, Tom Wheeler, the F.C.C. chairman, said he cared deeply about the principle of net neutrality, or the equal treatment of content on the Internet.

“My commitment to protect and preserve the open Internet remains steadfast,” he wrote. But regardless of how he spins it, Mr. Wheeler is really proposing two Internets: One slow, where most of the traffic lives, and one fast, for those who can afford it. On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Wheeler would propose new language, as soon as Monday, saying that the agency will not allow the web to be divided into fast and slow lanes.

Netflix already cut such a deal with Comcast, complained about it, and then turned around and struck essentially the same deal with Verizon, which is kind of a nifty trick when you think about it. Comcast and other broadband providers point out that Netflix sucks up about 30 percent of the system’s capacity, so that it should pay more than others only makes sense.

But why should you, as someone who just wants to use the web to surf or watch programming, care whether companies like Netflix and Hulu have to pay companies like Comcast and Verizon to ensure smooth feeds? Well, even though consumers won’t be charged directly for the faster service, we all know where those fee increases will end up landing. I just received a notice from Netflix that the price of a new membership is rising $1, to $8.99. It’s still small money and a bargain at that, but as its costs and that of other companies go up, what had been a cheap alternative for lots of programming could start to become costly.

The bifurcation of the Internet is a scary prospect and the F.C.C. itself is divided over the proposed rules: Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner, has called for a delay in any changes, and Mignon Clyburn, a fellow Democrat on the five-member panel, has joined her in pushing back against the aggressive plan that Mr. Wheeler has set out.

A potentially more threatening pushback arrived on Wednesday when a coalition of tech companies — Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, and just about every other digital company you have ever heard of — registered their opposition to the changes in a letter to the F.C.C.

The signatories did not mince words, calling the proposal “a grave threat to the Internet.”

The letter goes on: “The commission’s longstanding commitment and actions undertaken to protect the open Internet are a central reason why the Internet remains an engine of entrepreneurship and economic growth,” it reads, continuing, “This commission should take the necessary steps to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce so that America continues to lead the world in technology markets.”

Translation: You are about to break the Internet and you will be deeply sorry if you do.

In the debate between the Beltway vs. the Valley, my money is on the Valley. Remember in 2012 when a clueless Congress lumbered into Internet regulation by coming up with SOPA and a companion bill in the Senate (the Protect I.P. Act)? The entertainment companies that backed the legislation thought it was no big deal, but then a group of Silicon Valley players — many of the same ones who are now coalescing to oppose new Internet regulations — unleashed their user base and a huge wave of protest erupted. Both bills went down hard.

In the weeks after the SOPA debacle, I was at the Sundance Film Festival and then in Hollywood, talking with entertainment executives. They looked like extras from “The Walking Dead,” with bite marks all over them. They didn’t know what hit them because they did not understand the intimate relationship that the Valley has with its customers.

Google, Facebook, Twitter and the like offer you an endless array of useful products, many of them at a cost of absolutely nothing. (You actually trade oodles of privacy and data for the privilege, but that’s another column.) By contrast, cable companies, which provide most of the broadband, supply an endless array of entertainment, but at a very dear price that is not going to endear them to anyone. Add in the fact that broadband providers are the ones we call when the web isn’t working — have you ever contacted Netflix when your movie was endlessly buffering? — and you can see how they get the blame for everything and credit for nothing.

All this comes as Comcast, the No. 1 cable company, is also appearing before the F.C.C. and Congress seeking to acquire Time Warner Cable, the No. 2 cable company. Between looking for approval on the merger and greater flexibility in how it delivers web content, Comcast is asking for a great deal of permission and control, all at the same time.

The F.C.C. is in the position of proposing new rules because in January, a three-judge panel struck down the commission’s previous attempts to exercise control to ensure that all traffic is treated equally. So far, the commission has declined to treat the web as a public utility because it did not want to discourage investment by the big providers, but if it had the will and foresight, many believe it could exercise more authority in a way that would pass judicial muster. It would mean going back to the drawing board, and taking on some powerful interests, but it might be worth it.

The public has an expectation that the web will work like other utilities: When people turn on a light switch, the room lights up, and when they twist a faucet handle, water comes out. People expect the same of the Internet — always on, always working.

We don’t want two Internets — a good one and a bad. We want the money and investment to flow toward a single infrastructure that works rapidly and efficiently, as it does in so many other countries. It should be a medium in which videos of your niece dancing to Beyoncé, streaming coverage of Occupy Wall Street and “House of Cards” all play smoothly when you hit a button.

Given the mounting opposition, the F.C.C. commissioners would be well advised to delay any changes this Thursday. And if they don’t, they may end up starring in a sequel: “SOPA II: When Nerds Bite Back.”

Tuesday, May 06, 2014


Original Story:

Just when you thought it couldn't get any easier to order pizza ...

Later this year, the streaming video service Hulu will serve up a Pizza Hut advertisement that allows viewers to order a pizza right within the ad.

The feature combines Pizza Hut's online ordering system with Hulu's interactive advertising system. It's the kind of thing that could become more common as companies take advantage of emerging interactive ad capabilities.

Mike Hopkins, the chief executive of Hulu, promoted the Pizza Hut ad campaign at Hulu's annual presentation for advertisers in New York on Wednesday. He called the ad an "in-stream purchase unit" and said other advertisers could use it to initiate product sales in the future.

Hopkins also promoted the fact that whatever TV show a viewer is watching will resume right after the order -- in this case, for a 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza or a comparable delicacy -- is placed. Pizza Hut is owned by Yum! (YUM, Fortune 500) Brands.

Hulu, which is owned by the parent companies of ABC, Fox and NBC, includes ads on both its free and paid streaming services. This differentiates it from the ad-free services of two rivals: Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500) Prime.

Hopkins also promoted other ad innovations, including 360-degree ads for mobile devices. He showed an example for a car company that let a user look up, down and around from the drivers' seat of a car, taking advantage of the accelerometers inside some smart phones.

 Hulu's free service is currently only available on desktop computers, while its subscriber service, Hulu Plus, works on phones, tablets and other devices. But Hulu said it would enable part of its free service on phones this summer.

Hopkins also confirmed what has been widely reported for months: Hulu is in what he called "active discussions" with cable and satellite distributors to "integrate Hulu Plus into their set-top-boxes."

Netflix is also in talks with distributors about making its streaming service available through set-top-boxes, and announced several deals with small distributors last week. To top of page