I got nasty habits; I take tea at three.
— Mick Jagger
Hah. Just be careful what water you use to make that tea, Mick. Could be an entirely different realm of nasty.
Late start here, too much to read this morning. I’ll keep updating this as I write. Start your day off, though, by reading Marcy’s post from last night. The claws are coming out, the life boats are getting punctured.
Many WordPress-powered sites infected with ransomware
Your next assignment this morning: check and update applications as out-of-date versions of Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Reader, Microsoft Silverlight, or Internet Explorer are most prone to this new wave of ransomware affecting WordPress sites. Back up all your data files to offline media in case you are hit with ransomware, and make it a habit to back up data files more frequently.
Planes inbound to the UK from regions with Zika virus may be sprayed
Take one tightly-closed oversized can, spray interior with insecticide, then insert humans before sealing for several hours. This sounds like a spectacularly bad idea to me. What about you? Yet this is what the UK is poised to do with planes flying in from areas with frequent Zika infections.
Comcast a possible smartphone service provider
NO. I don’t even have Comcast, yet I think this company is one of the worst suited to offering smartphones and service to their users. The company has expressed interest in bidding on spectrum for wireless, however. Comcast has struggled for years with one of — if not THE — worst reps for customer service. How do they think they will manage to expand their service offering without pissing off more customers?
AT&T obstructing muni broadband
No surprise here that AT&T is lobbying hard against more broadband, especially that offered by communities. The public knows there’s a problem with marketplace competition when they don’t have multiple choices for broadband, and they want solutions even if they have to build it themselves. When AT&T annoys a Republican lawmaker while squelching competition, they’ve gone too far. Keep an eye on this one as it may shape muni broadband everywhere.
VW delayed both its earnings report scheduled March 10th and its annual meeting scheduled April 21. The car maker says it needs more time to assess impact of the emissions control scandal on its books. New dates for the report and meeting have not been announced.
Volkswagen Financial Services, the banking arm of VW’s holding company structure which finances auto sales and leases, suffers from the ongoing scandal. Ratings firms have downgraded both the bank and parent firm. Not mentioned in the article: potential negative impact of emissions control scandal on VW’s captive reinsurer, Volkswagen Insurance Company Ltd (VICO).
Both the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency filed a civil suit against VW in Detroit this week. Separate criminal charges are still possible.
That’s a wrap, I’m all caught up on my usual read-feed. Get nasty as you want come 5:00 p.m. because it’s Friday!
You know the joke: 4:30 p.m. is better than an hour away from 5:00 p.m., right? Thursday is better than a week away from the weekend. For folks traveling home for the Lunar New Year holiday in China, there are four days left to get home, and the train stations are crazy-full. But today is better than five days away from family and friends.
Goldman Sachs questions capitalism
YEAH. I KNOW. I did a double-take when I read the hed on this piece. In a GS analysts’ note they wrote, “There are broader questions to be asked about the efficacy of capitalism.” They’re freaking out because the market isn’t acting the way it’s supposed to, where new entrants respond to fat margins generated by first-to-market or mature producers.
I wonder how much longer it will take them to realize they killed the golden goose with their plutocratic rewards for oligopolies? How long before they realize this isn’t capitalism at all?
Whistleblower tells Swiss (and banks) to get over themselves on whistleblowing
Interviewed last week, former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld said, “We have to make some changes in Switzerland — it’s long overdue … The environment there is hostile toward people exposing corruption.” Birkenfeld’s remarks prod Swiss lawmakers currently at work on whistleblowing legislation. When passed, the law is not expected to offer protections employees have in the U.S. and the UK (and we know those are thin and constantly under attack). But perhaps the law will prevent cases like Nestle SA’s suit against a former executive who disclosed food safety risks. That suit and another alleging a former UBS employee libeled the bank may be affected assuming the EU adopts the same approach toward whistleblowing and corruption reduction.
“Computer failure” at IRS halts acceptance of tax return e-filings
No details about the nature of the “computer failure” apart from a “hardware problem” or “hardware failure” appeared in any reports yesterday afternoon and overnight. The IRS expects to have repairs completed today to allow e-filings once again; filings already submitted are not affected.
FBI agent on new car purchases: entering ‘wild, wild west’
Four cybersecurity experts spoke at a meeting of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit yesterday, one of whom was an FBI cyber squad agent. The feedback from the speakers wasn’t reassuring, apart from the observation by a specialist from a start-up automotive cyber security firm that they did not know of a “real world incident where someone’s vehicle was attacked and taken over remotely by someone hacking into the vehicle.” A lawyer whose firm handles automotive industry cyber threats undercut any feeling of relief with an observation that judges aren’t savvy about cyber crime on vehicles. I think I’ll stick with my old school car for a while longer.
The Repair Coalition formed to protect the ‘Right to Repair’
Speaking of old school car, I hope I can continue to get it repaired in the future without worrying about lawsuits for copyright violations. We’ve already seen tractor owners in conflict with John Deere over repairs, and exemptions to copyright for repair have been granted only after tedious and costly effort, and then to the farmer only, not to their mechanic. Hence the emergence of The Repair Coalition, which takes aim at repealing the DMCA’s Section 1201 — terms in it make it illegal to “circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under [the DMCA].”
It’s long been an American ethic to “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without,” an ethic we need to restore to primacy if we are to reduce our CO2 footprint. Repairing rather than tossing goods is essential to our environmental health, let alone a necessity when wages for lower income workers remain stagnant.
That’s a wrap — I could go on but now we’re better than a day away from Friday. Whew.
Zika virus infects media with crappy reporting
I can’t tell you how many times in the last 24 hours I yelled at my computer, “Are you f****** kidding me with this crap?” With so many news outlets focused on hot takes rather than getting the story right, stupidity reached pandemic levels faster than mosquito-borne viruses. And all because Dallas County health officials and the Center for Disease Control used the words “sexually transmitted” in reference to a new Zika case in the U.S.
The following sampling of heds, tweets, and reports? WRONG.
The first case in which Zika virus was contracted inside the continental U.S. occurred in 2008. This was the first sexual transmission of the virus in the continental U.S. as well. Scientist Brian Foy had been studying Zika in Senegal during an outbreak; he had been infected by the virus, became ill, and was still carrying the virus when he came home to Colorado. His wife became infected though she had not traveled abroad, had not been bitten by a mosquito, and children residing in their home did not contract the virus. More details on the case can be found here.
The first cases of Zika virus in the U.S. in this outbreak were not locally transmitted inside the U.S., but contracted outside the continental 48 states and diagnosed on return here. States in which cases have been reported include Hawaii, New York, Virginia, Arkansas, Florida, and now Texas — in the case of the traveler who brought the disease home and infected their partner through sex.
It’s incredible how very little effort many news outlets put into researching the virus’ history or the case in Texas. Bonus points to Newsweek for trying to get it wrong in multiple tweets for the same story.
Gonna’ be a massive Patch Day for F-35 sometime soon
Whether or not Monday’s earthshaking sonic booms over New Jersey were generated by F-35 test flights, there’s still a long and scary list of bugs to be fixed on the fighter jet before it is ready for primetime. Just read this; any pilot testing these now is either a stone-cold hero, or a crazed numbnuts, and they’d better weigh between 136 and 165 pounds to improve their odds of survival.
Oral Roberts University mandates students wear FitBits for tracking
Guess the old “Mark of the Beast” is interpreted loosely at ORU in Oklahoma. Fitness is measured on campus by more than theological benchmarks. Begs the question: who would Jesus monitor?
The last straw: Fisher Price Wi-Fi-enabled toys leave kids’ info out in the open
Fisher Price is the fourth known manufacturer of products aimed at children and their families in which the privacy and safety of children were compromised by poor information security. In this case, Smart Toy Bears are leaking information about their young owners. Maybe it’s about time that either the FCC or FTC or Congress looks into this trend and the possibility toy makers are not at all concerned with keeping their youngest customers safe.
Forgot to note the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on lead contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan at 9:00 a.m. EST. C-SPAN3 will carry the hearing live.
Tap the brakes a few more times before you take off, eh? It’s all downhill from here.
The lesson: it’s hell by choice. Let’s choose better. What’ll we choose today?
BPS, replacement for plastic additive BPA, not so safe after all
Here’s a questionable choice we could examine: using BPS in “BPA-free” plastics. A study by Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA found that BPS negatively affects reproductive organs and increased the likelihood of “premature birth” in zebrafish, accelerating development of the embryos. Relatively small amounts and short exposures produced effects.
As disturbing as this finding may be, the FDA’s approach to BPA is worrisome. Unchanged since 2014 in spite of the many studies on BPA, the FDA’s website says BPA is safe. Wonder how long it will be before the FDA’s site says BPS is likewise safe?
Exoskeleton assists paraplegic for only $40,000
Adjustable to its wearer’s body, SuitX’s exoskeleton helps paraplegic users to walk, though crutches are still needed. It’s not a perfect answer to mobility given the amount of time it takes to put on the gear, but it could help paraplegics avoid injuries due to sitting for too long in wheelchairs. It’s much less expensive than a competing exoskeleton at $70K; the price is expected to fall over time.
SuitX received an NSF grant of $750,000 last April for its exoskeleton work. Seems like a ridiculous bargain considering how much we’ve already invested in DARPA and other MIC-development of exoskeletons with nothing commercial to show for it. Perhaps we should choose to fund more NSF grants instead of DOD research?
Patches and more patches — Cisco, Android, Microsoft
Dudes behaving badly
I know I’ve missed something I meant to post, but I’ll choose to post it tomorrow and crawl back into my nest this morning to avoid my shadow. In the meantime, don’t drive angry!
Need more of it than usual given the wacky stuff I’ve been reading into the wee hours over the weekend — like this stuff:
Former DHS Secretary now University of California prez surveils staff emails
Holy cats. This is ugly. After an alleged network security breach in June last year at UCLA’s medical center, an outside party was contracted by University of California president Janet Napolitano to monitor networks at all of University of California’s campuses. Collection of content both inbound and outbound, in violation of UoC-Berkeley’s IT policy, is alleged. UCOP has been opaque about the reason for the monitoring or data collection. Keep an eye on this case.
DDoS attack on HSBC crimps UK freelancers’ tax filing
The end of January in the United Kingdom is the filing deadline for the self-employed. Unfortunately, those who banked with HSBC lost access to their records for roughly four hours on Friday due to a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. It’s the second service outage inside a month for HSBC. The last outage lasted roughly two days but was not attributed to a DDoS. If UK lawmakers were testy after the first outage in January, they’re going to be ugly today.
Oil crash: massive wealth transfer, or increased dependency on oil?
Francisco Blanch, Commodities and Derivatives Strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch, claims plummeting oil prices have transferred roughly $3 trillion to consumers away from oil producers, and the resulting uptick in consumption will spur the economy. This assumption neatly ignores the likelihood consumers will have to pay one way or another for increasing losses due to unchecked climate change. Buying more insurance against weather damage and paying more taxes to replace infrastructure, as well as paying more for food due to crop losses won’t stimulate anything but consumer frustration.
War of words inside military about F-35’s readiness
In a December memo, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation Michael Gilmore wrote that the Joint Program Office’s July 2017 deadline for the F-35 jet’s full warfighting capability is “not realistic.” Software completion, testing and debugging is the risk. Folks in JPO are pushing back, with at least one official grousing online. So not cool, JPO. Address the concerns and then get to work on that software. Americans are paying for a working jet, not trash talk on Facebook.
Speaking of military…Sonic boom(s) caused minor earthquake in New Jersey
Just for fun, browse through a Twitter search for tweets from last Friday. Something caused more than one sonic boom — perhaps as many as nine — loud enough to register as an earthquake on USGS’ meters. At first, the military said it knew nothing about it, claiming there are no training exercises or other missions in the area. NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility-Virginia, Federal Aviation Administration, and the North American Aerospace Defense Command had no knowledge of flights in the area capable of generating sonic booms. But then the Navy piped up later, saying the Naval Test Wing Atlantic had been conducting test flights. Though not named, the F-35 fighter is believed to be the source of the booms. Were JPO and Lockheed Martin trying to make a rather loud and indiscreet point?
Or were the sonic booms due to some other unknown/unspecified cause, given Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst’s inability to explain the booms when asked? USGS’ website is still taking feedback from folks in New Jersey — did you feel the earth move, too?
Time to taper off from espresso and move to an Americano. Hope your Monday is as caffeinated as you need it to be.
Sun Tzu said,
“There are five occasions when victory can be foretold: When the general knows the time to fight and when not to fight…”
Fridays are lousy times for fights, eh? Unless it’s just for fun.
Speaking of fun…
Oil crash wreaking havoc with MIC
Huh. Who could have guessed when buyers of defense goods suffer deep cuts in income, their suppliers feel the same pinch?
Kolkata-based call center workers arrested for telecom fraud
Some cyberthreats aren’t malware or hackers, but human beings with ready access to customers’ personal information and banking. In this case, three call center employees at Wipro-India working on UK accounts committed fraud of undisclosed nature, costing thousands of pounds. Seems to me these folks couldn’t have been too bright, traceability should have been easy. And being located in India offered no protection for either the criminals or the victims.
Zika virus may be transmitted sexually?
At least two cases so far suggest the virus may be transferred between partners during sex. One case involved a Colorado State University researcher who came down with Zika in 2008 after infection in Senegal. His wife came down with it after he came home from abroad; both tested positive for Zika antibodies. His children in the same household did not get sick, however.
Ukrainian power plant attackers now using BlackEnergy-infected Word documents
Though earlier attempts to launch BlackEnergy relied on Powerpoint and Excel documents, the attackers now use Word documents — but all document types contained macros that were enabled. Kaspersky’s SecureList says the entities most at risk for BlackEnergy infection are:
At some point, this will move beyond energy and government targets. Keep your software patched and updated, run antivirus frequently, don’t open emails or documents you weren’t expecting, and only enable macros after validating the document’s source. This is pretty much standard operating practice for the last decade if you’ve been smart.
If you’re looking for something to read this weekend, you might try comparing two different translations of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The quote I used above is from the E. F. Calthrop version; the same bit in the Lionel Giles version renders,
“Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: … He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. …”
The Giles version is both more simplistic — at some points too much so — but filled with supplemental commentators’ content fleshing out interpretation. Relevant to political and business warfare, as much as traditional and asymmetric warfare today.
Save me a seat at the bar at the end of the day!
War All The Time — seems appropriate now, and it’s been more than a dozen years since this song was released. Also rather pathetic that MTV censored a reference to suicide in this tune, like a drop of merthiolate on a gaping wound.
Say it isn’t so, girl! Wendy’s investigating possible breaches
On the face it, this doesn’t sound like a corporate-wide cybersecurity event. It may be confined to specific stores. But fast food chain Wendy’s contracted a security firm to look into unauthorized credit card charges made to cards used at their stores. Wendy’s joins Jimmy John’s and Chick-Fil-A in the growing list of compromised fast food chains.
Ransomware infects Israel’s Electric Authority
No outage has been reported as a result of ransomware infection of Israel’s electrical power system via phishing. Computers may have been isolated from the system’s network, though. The full extent of the malware’s impact is difficult to determine from reports available online; some likened this to the cyberattack on a Ukrainian power plant, and others called this a hacking, though neither description appears to fit well.
California struggles with self-driving car regulations
Oh dear Cthulhu…this bit:
Google has concluded that human error is the biggest risk in driving, and the company wants to remove the steering wheel and pedals from cars, giving people minimal ability to take over.
But computers never, ever make mistakes, right? No wonder California is struggling with this…but no. Even though Google’s DeepMind AI mastered GO a decade early, it can’t master California’s highways.
New high-speed wireless internet service launched by former Aereo CEO
Using microwave technology, new gigabit internet service provider Starry will begin in Boston this year once the FCC approves a limited test run in 15 cities. For now, this looks like a solution for urban areas, but it could be an alternative in rural areas where existing telecoms/ISPs fail to provide high-speed internet in spite of federal funds allocated to expand coverage. Imagine using wind turbine towers for Starry microcells to carry gigabit service to rural America.
All right, everybody back to the front, back to the foreverwar.
While looking for Wednesday, I discovered there’s a video short series based on a grownup version of Wednesday Addams character. Cute, though from Wednesday’s POV becoming an adult isn’t all the fun one might expect.
So much for those carefree days when one could leave all the bad news and difficult choices to parental figures. It was all an illusion there were ever any grownups in charge.
Playstation moves to U.S. as Sony melds and migrates interactive entertainment divisions
What’s this really all about? Does this consolidation of Sony Computer Entertainment with Sony Network Entertainment and their move to California as Sony Interactive Entertainment allow better collaboration with Sony Pictures? Or does this allow for easy access by U.S. government entities suspicious of Playstation Network as a potential terrorist communications platform? Or is this a means to secure a leaky business by pulling more of Sony Group inside a single network? Sony explained SIE will “retain and expand PlayStation user engagement, increase Average Revenue Per Paying Users and drive ancillary revenue” — but that sounds like fuzzy vapor to me.
“Bent spear? Oh, THAT bent spear…” Air Force review omits report of damage to nuke
I hope like hell President Obama has already called someone on the carpet and asked for heads to roll. Not reporting a “bent spear” event in a review of U.S. nuclear force isn’t exactly a little boo-boo. A “bent spear” in 2007 spawned a rigorous investigation resulting in a large number of disciplinary actions including resignations and removals from duty.
Zika virus: risk to U.S. mounting
There have been more non-locally transmitted cases of Zika virus here in the U.S. as another Latin American country warns women against pregnancy. Not to worry, it’s not like Ebola, relax, we’ve been told…except that we’ve seen this playbook before, where there were casualties as a pandemic began before either federal or state agencies took effective action. In the case of Zika, we may not see mortalities; casualties may be serious birth defects following a rapid spread with mosquito season. Fortunately President Obama has now asked for more accelerated research into Zika, though we may not see results before Aedes mosquito season hits its stride this year. For more information about this virus, see the CDC’s Zika website.
EU seeks hefty fines in draft law to overhaul auto industry regulations
At fines of €30,000 (£22,600) per vehicle found in violation, the EU might get some results out of proposed regulations governing automotive emissions standards. But the problem hasn’t been the lack of EU standards — it’s the inability to validate and extract compliance when so many member states are willing to turn a blind eye to their constituent manufacturers’ failings in order to preserve employment. Can the EU make these fines stick once new regulations are passed?
By the way, Consumer Reports published a really snappy overview of the VW emissions scandal. Worth a read.
Con Edison’s creaky website leaves online customers exposed
You’d think by now after all of the successful hacks on business and government websites that companies would catch a clue. But no, not in the case of Con Edison. Read the article here so you know what to watch for at other websites; all of ConEd’s site’s links do not open fully encrypted connections. This is a really easy thing to fix, should be the very first thing every single business allowing customers to log in or pay online should check.
Heading out to act like an adult for the next eight hours. Maybe less.
Hope by this afternoon all the major thoroughfares are clear and transportation nearly back to normal along the east coast. You’d think by now we’d have developed and installed self-maintaining highways that melt ice and snow, right?
For now, let’s dig.
A former Goldman Sachs exec parts company with CenturyLink
They called it “creating an environment that was unproductive,” and maybe it was — a diversified telecom organization may not be a great fit for an investment banker, leading to some less-than-productive discussions. But a nearly unanimous vote said Joseph Zimmel, retired GS exec, should not apply for re-election to CenturyLink’s board of directors. Wonder if the rumored-but-not-completed acquisition of Rackspace had anything to do with this rocky situation?
Retail Mixed Bag: Wal-Mart retrenches, Staples rethinks, Shoes.com kicks butt
The Arkansas-based retailer is closing up its 102 Wal-Mart Express stores, as well as a few of its full-sized stores. Were the smaller stores simply too much overhead, or were they cannibalizing sales from larger stores, or did Amazon finally cut into Wal-Mart’s sales enough that Wal-Mart needed to reduce?
Staples, one of the two largest big box office supply retailers, changed up some of its senior management while indicating it may back out of its proposed merger with the other mega office supply retailer, Office Depot. The merger has not received approval yet from the USDOJ. This unresolved deal may be a bigger liability in terms of expense by now, especially when all retail sales have slowed down.
Shoes.com is looking for cash to make some acquisitions. This Canadian online shoe retailer is bucking the retail trend with a strong uptick in sales in spite of stiff competition from Zappos and Amazon.
All three retailers mirror a turn-down in consumption — even Shoes.com. If retail was doing well, there’d be less need to close brick-and-mortar stores or buy up market share.
Six GOP Senators suck up to ISPs while annoying broadband users
Quel surprise: a handful of GOP Senators sent a letter to the FCC saying that standard broadband speeds are arbitrary, and most users don’t need the current baseline speed.
I’d like to know why some tech media won’t name names. Fortunately, The Hill listed the signatories. Senators Roy Blunt (MO), Steve Daines (MT), Deb Fischer (NE), Cory Gardner (CO), Ron Johnson (WI) and Roger Wicker (MS) wrote,
“Looking at the market for broadband applications, we are aware of few applications that require download speeds of 25 Mbps … Netflix, for example, recommends a download speed of 5 Mbps to receive high-definition streaming video, and Amazon recommends a speed of 3.5 Mbps.”
The stupid, it burns almost as much as the visible corporate whoring. Like nobody in their world has multiple users in a household sharing service or online gamers or emerging technology which does need increasingly higher speeds. Hope these folks aren’t on committees for cybersecurity issues — wait, what? Every one of these six dipschitz is on the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet. ~screaming into pillow~
I can’t with this. I must change gears or go insane. Keep the wheels on the road, kids.