Microsoft earlier this week said it had fallen victim to “Strontium,” its code name for the Russian hacking group also known as “Fancy Bear,” which has been linked to recent attacks on Democratic Party systems.
The group launched a spear phishing attack that targeted vulnerabilities in both the Windows operating system and Adobe Flash, according to Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group.
The attack, first identified by Google’s Threat Analysis Group, involved two zero-day vulnerabilities in Flash and the down level Windows kernel, he explained. It used the Flash exploit to gain control over browsers, elevate privileges to escape the browser sandbox and install a backdoor to gain access to a user’s computer.
Microsoft is working with Google and Adobe on a patch and plans to release the fix by Nov. 8, when the next update is scheduled, Myerson said.
Those who use Microsoft Edge on the Windows 10 Anniversary Update are known to be protected from versions of the attack observed in the wild. Microsoft recommended that users upgrade to Windows 10 and said that those who enable Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection will be able to detect the attempted attacks.
Google should not have disclosed the vulnerability before the patches were made available, according to Myerson.
“We believe responsible technology industry participation puts the customer first, and requires coordinated vulnerability disclosure,” he said. “Google’s decision to disclose these vulnerabilities before patches are broadly available and tested is disappointing and puts customers at increased risk.”
Google on Monday revealed the Microsoft and Adobe vulnerabilities, noting that Adobe already had updated Flash to address the flaw. The Adobe patch is available through the Adobe updater and Chrome auto update.
Google, per its policy of seven-day disclosure of actively exploited critical vulnerabilities, reported the remaining critical vulnerability in Windows, noting that it was being exploited in the wild.
The vulnerability was a local privilege escalation that could be used as a security sandbox escape, noted Neel Mehta and Billy Leonard of Google’s Threat Analysis Group in an online post. They urged users to make sure that Flash was auto updated, or to manually update if necessary.
They should make sure to apply Windows patches, when available, Mehta and Leonard also wrote.
The new attacks came at a sensitive time in the United States, with the presidential election less than a week away. Federal and local officials have made a major effort to ensure the public has confidence in the electoral system.
Thus far, 48 states and 36 county and local governments have taken up an offer by the Department of Homeland Security to assist local governments with ensuring that the state and local election systems are protected against cyberattacks, DHS spokesperson Scott McConnell told TechNewsWorld.
The states of Illinois and Arizona were targeted more than a month ago by a suspected Russian hack that impacted 200,000 voters in the Illinois voter registration database.
There is little risk of a foreign hacker impacting the actual outcome of the race, but there are fears that a new round of cyberattacks could impact the level of confidence in the integrity of the system.
It’s widely known that human DNA evidence has had a major impact in the criminal justice system. Now another kind of DNA may have a similar impact in the fight to eradicate malicious software.
Malware DNA, also known as “malware provenance,” is the art and science of attributing elements of one object to another object. The technique has applications outside information security — for example, in genetics, or to test the authorship of student papers.
One way malware writers avoid detection of their programs is to craft polymorphic attacks. They dynamically change the code in their malware just enough to confound antivirus programs. Provenance counters that technique by identifying the amount of similar code in a program, or its “DNA.”
Every malware variant has an immutable part derived from its predecessors all the way back to its original malware family. For example, CryptoWall 3.0 shares the same genome with CryptoWall and the previous CryptoDefense.
The technique is not only very accurate, but also very fast. It can identify malware at machine language speeds and even detect zero day malware — that is, previously unseen malicious programs.
Stacks of Band-Aids
Up to now, malware fighters have been struggling to stem the tide of malware crashing over their systems, noted Igor Volovich, CEO of Romad Cyber Systems.
“We’ve got stacks of Band-Aids,” he told TechNewsWorld. “We keep adding more and more bandages, and we stop the bleeding for a while, but we never really fix the root cause.”
The information security for years has focused on preventing infections, but that’s proving to be inadequate in today’s threat landscape.
“We’ve got to respond,” Volovich said. “That’s why now you see things like threat hunting, trying to decrease the dwell time an attacker spends inside your network from the current average of 266 days to a few days or hours.”
The next evolution in cyberdefense will be to disrupt an attacker’s ability to do what they do and do it at scale, globally and consistently, he explained. “Unfortunately, none of the solutions that have been offered by the industry over all these years have been able to do that in any meaningful way.”
That can change with the use of provenance. With it, even zero day malware — malware previously unseen by security researchers — can be stopped in its tracks.
“In reality, all zero day malware is a variance of previously seen malware,” said Arun Lakhotia, a professor of computer science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
“They’re mostly not new malware code — they’re mostly variations of previous malware,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Writing new software takes up time and money so malware authors don’t write new software every day, so most malware is a variant of a previous version.”
That’s where genetics enters the picture. Each variant is like the child of a parent. Just as paternity can be identified with biological DNA, so can malware paternity be identified with coding DNA.
Because it’s expensive to write new malware code, provenance can hurt criminals where it hurts the most — the wallet — because they won’t be able to reuse their malicious code so freely.
“If we can disrupt what they’re doing through economic means without having to throw them in jail, we can eradicate malware as we know it,” Volovich said.
Microsoft last week unveiled its new vision for bringing 3D to the masses through a modernized version of its Paint application for Windows 10. Paint 3D will be available in the Windows 10 Creators Update.
Anyone who would like to start creating and sharing in Paint 3D can do so by joining the Windows Insider Program — available for PC and Phone — the company said.
To date, most computer users have been limited to a two-dimensional canvas, even though we live in a multidimensional world, noted Megan Saunders, general manager for the Windows Experience Group.
3D could improve the communication of ideas, and even accelerate comprehension, because objects that are three-dimensional better represent the world, she pointed out. For individuals trained in sophisticated CAD or design programs, 3D Paint thus could be a valuable tool for expression.
Unlike more complicated commercial applications for rendering of 3D images, Paint 3D allows for the creation of fully 3D objects using mouse and keyboard, touchscreen or stylus inputs.
Lowing the Barrier to Entry
Microsoft could face established 3D modeling software tools such as SolidWorks, AutoCAD and Rhino3D as it enters the 3D design space. However, Microsoft Paint for Windows never was a serious competitor to Adobe’s Photoshop.
“Like its predecessor versions, Paint 3D is very much an entry-level product,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
“To my mind, its purpose is to familiarize consumers, especially youngsters, with 3D technologies and help them become more comfortable using those tools,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“In that sense, it’s very much a forward-facing solution with the goal of democratizing and growing demand for 3D technologies organically,” King added. “That’s more or less opposite from the approaches we’ve seen other 3D vendors pursue to date.”
Better Computing Power
Although Paint 3D can not boast the most advanced tools, it might allow users to do more with ordinary desktop computers and mobile devices.
“What is different is that we are beginning to have the raw computing power to turn the vision into reality,” observed Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics.
“Essentially, it’s a tremendous use of co-processing power — CPU and GPU — to deliver real-time, renderable objects as ordinary things,” said Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.
The field is still in its early stages, but the “enthusiasts and bleeding edge users” who experiment with the new products will “give us a glimpse of what — in an improved version — will become commonplace in one or two upgrade cycles,” Entner told TechNewsWorld.
Still, “the biggest barrier to past and even many current 3D products is that they fit into the class of ‘solutions looking for a problem,'” noted Pund-IT’s King.
“For most consumers, 3D printers and the like qualify as overpriced luxury items that gather dust after the first few times they’re operated,” he pointed out.
Fully 3D Future
Although many products and software solutions proclaim with some justification that the future is now, the future still could be somewhere down the line in the case of 3D.
“Microsoft is right, that 3D will become the expectation at some point,” Endpoint Technologies Associates’ Kay told TechNewsWorld.
“As far as the particular tool and how many people will adopt it as a regular part of their regimen, it’s hard to say,” he added.
There could be creative niches that will adopt it deeply — but not everyone is an artist Kay noted. “It’s still early days yet, and a lot of people will check it out and play with it but not adopt it for everyday use.”
I had a fascinating experience last week. I got to see and experience the new Jaguar I-Pace, the company’s electric answer to the as-yet-unannounced Tesla Y SUV, long before I’ll actually get to see the prototype. I didn’t just get to see the car — I got to understand intimately why the car was created and what went into its design. I got to experience aspects of the vehicle viscerally, without actually getting into it.
My experience was possible due to an alliance between Dell, HTC and Jaguar. It dovetails with a project that Nvidia and Audi have undertaken to showcase cars in dealerships without the dealerships actually having to floor the car. It opens the door, ironically, to an even more localized experience than Tesla has with its store front dealerships.
I think VR eventually will change how we buy most physical things, and I find it amazing that it is starting with cars first. I’ll focus on that this week and close with my product of the week, which has to be this amazing new car from Jaguar. I loved it so much I got on a list to order it.
There are three visual technologies in the process of coming to market right now. There’s augmented reality, which Google Glass showcased and nearly killed. AR overlays information over the real world — usually through some kind of small head-mounted projector muck like a heads-up display. Like heads-up displays, AR doesn’t really change what you see — it enhances or augments it.
The newest of the new visual technologies is mixed-reality, which uses massive computing power to render and blend the real world with what is rendered. In its final form, you can’t tell the difference. It is pretty rough and more proof-of-concept now, with Microsoft’s Hololens the closest to production. That’s largely because it cheats, though — it is more an augmented reality device.
Virtual Reality is a fully rendered technology that places you in an environment. There are low-end offerings that use smartphones, which actually are surprisingly good. High-end versions use high-end PCs, as well as workstations and headsets from firms like HTC and Facebook subsidiary Oculus Rift. They now can create experiences that are ever harder to distinguish from reality. This is the technology that Jaguar, Dell and HTC demonstrated.
Firms like Audi and Jaguar are working to figure out how to get people more excited about new cars, how to find new ways to engage and drive purchases, and how to assist in the car ordering process. This last is where Audi and Nvidia focused their effort.
Their project enables a space in dealerships where a prospective buyer can put on a VR headset and then see the full range of options. It’s as if the customer’s perfect car were right there. Options include not only interior and exterior finishes and colors, but also features. Customers then can experience each feature or package as they would if they actually were driving the car. They can figure out, before paying for it, whether the car is worth their money.
This is particularly important for newly launched cars. Mistakes often are made in ordering, because people either don’t realize they want a feature or it accidentally gets left out. That happened to me last month, when I got the Mercedes I’d ordered. A feature I’d asked for was left off the final order sheet due to changes made to the ordering system.
Had I been able to see the rendering of the car I’d ordered, I would have caught the omission and not have missed this important feature (built in garage door opener and self-dimming mirrors).
This is just the start, though, and Jaguar, Dell and HTC took it further. (I should point out that the Dell workstations used to create and show this technology used Nvidia graphics solutions, so Nvidia is in both systems.)
VR on Steroids
What Jaguar did was add significantly to this experience by changing the presentation from just a showcase for the car to a showcase for the whole story that surrounds the car. Manufacturers can hope we fall in love with a car at first sight, and some of us certainly do, but a far more powerful way to sell us on a car is to build a compelling story around it. It’s like the difference between seeing actors’ head shots vs. getting to know them and experiencing their art.
They started our tour by taking us up above Earth to about where the Space Station orbits. That gave us an amazing, almost god-like view as they walked us through the birth of the car and built the car out with each storied major component, while both showcasing and telling us the back story.
We then plunged to Earth were we could see the rendered car perform on roads. We got to sit in the car and have each major feature showcased, with Jaguar’s top designer explaining why each feature existed and, in some cases, why particular decisions were made.
As a result, the car wasn’t two dimensional for us. We left understanding deeply why the car was the way it was, and that helped drive a higher level of lust in us.
Wireless providers thrive on peddling a myriad of extra features and services on top of your basic service plan. Early nights and weekends, roadside assistance, mobile TV, hotspots and GPS are all fair game and can add anywhere between a couple of bucks to $10 or more to your wireless bill each month, per service.
What’s even more concerning is that many people don’t even look at their monthly bill. Checking your bill and eliminating some of these unnecessary perks can go a long way to putting some extra dough back in your pocket each month. Here are 12 ideas to help cutting back on your wireless cell and data plan:
1 Use Wi-Fi whenever possible.
A most obvious tip yet equally rewarding as well… using Wi-Fi whenever possible will help cut down on data usage, especially when streaming music or video to your smartphone. I realize that some may disable Wi-Fi when not in use due to extra battery drain but forgetting to turn it back on could be a financial mistake if you don’t have an increasingly rare unlimited data plan. Just use caution when submitting sensitive information over public hotspots and you should be fine.
2 Negotiate a lower rate.
Despite what you’ve probably been taught, everything is negotiable. Your mileage here will vary but you’ll never know unless you ask. This usually works best in person at your local authorized retailer, but deals can be arranged over the phone as well. One way to segue into a negotiation is threatening to take your business elsewhere. I had one wireless carrier offer me a high-end phone free of charge if I agreed to sign another contract. Normally I would have had to pay $200 for said phone but I got it free simply by mentioning I was interested in another carrier.
3 Ask for corporate / organization / educational discounts.
Thousands of companies, organizations and educational institutions have partnerships in place with wireless carriers to offer discounts to employees, members and students. The problem is that most people don’t know about these as wireless providers don’t exactly advertise them front and center.
Most simply require you to enter your organizational or school e-mail address to see if you qualify. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all have discount pages for your convenience. I’ve personally seen discounts range from 10 percent to as much as 25 percent.
4 Evaluate wireless data usage.
True unlimited data is a rare commodity these days. As smartphones became more widespread, carriers quickly realized they could make more on average by charging less for fixed data packages and banking on the notion that at least some would go over their data allotment and have to purchase additional data at a much higher rate each month.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those of us that are grandfathered into comparatively expensive unlimited data plans that don’t need to be. I was a perfect example of this not too long ago. After analyzing my data usage over the past two years, I realized I never once exceeded 2GB on any given month. For me, it made more sense financially to drop the expensive unlimited plan in exchange for a cheaper 2GB plan.
5 Buy off-contract / used phones.
If you aren’t obsessed with owning the latest and greatest phone, you can save yourself a lot of money by purchasing an off-contract phone or even better, a used handset from eBay or Craigslist. While most Apple products tend to hold their value over time, you can find some fantastic deals on an array of Android handsets if you spend a little time digging around.
But before you go shelling out money on a deal that seems too good to be true, there are a few things to be aware of. It’s entirely possible that a second-hand phone could have a bad ESN / MEID / IMEI, which would render it useless. This can happen for any number of reasons such as if the device was reported lost or stolen, if it’s still active on the original owner’s account, or if money is owned on the account to which the device is tied to.
Additionally, if your wireless provider doesn’t provide an off-contract discount, there’s no reason to take advantage of off-contract phones. AT&T, for example, rolls their carrier subsidy into the price of service each month. Even after you’ve “paid” for your smartphone, you’re still being charged that same hidden fee each month.
6 Avoid early upgrade plans.
Early upgrade plans for AT&T, T-mobile and Verizon may seem like a great idea at first glance – get a new phone every six months or one year – but once you do the math, they are little more than a rip-off phone rental service. If you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to read over my previous analysis of these programs and save yourself a ton of money over the long haul.
7 Consider alternative carriers / pre-paid.
The big four are responsible for providing the majority of wireless service in the US but there are alternatives. Regional carriers like C Spire and U.S. Cellular are great places to start your search if they provide service in your area. Optionally, pre-paid carriers like Virgin Mobile, MetroPCS and Aio Wireless all piggyback off the major providers’ networks (usually Sprint). It’s not uncommon to find a great deal here but be sure to read the fine print as some carriers don’t offer high-speed 4G LTE just yet.
8 Consider a family plan if you are paying for multiple lines.
If you are paying for more than one line of service, a family plan is certainly worth looking into. Most plans allow you to add an additional line for as low as $9.99 each and the more lines you add, the more you save overall. The savings sure beat paying for lines individually but take note of what each carrier offers. While some provide unlimited packages, others rely on a shared pool of minutes or data which could present a problem if you have a talkaholic or data hog in the family.
9 Use the same carrier as friends and family.
If a family plan isn’t in the cards, perhaps the next best thing is to sign up with a carrier that the majority of your friends and family use. Most carriers offer free in-network calling and texting to other subscribers on their network. If the majority of the people you keep in touch with all use a certain carrier, you could save some by joining them and opting for a smaller bundle of voice minutes or text messages.
10 Bundle services to save money.
Just as insurance companies offer multi-policy discounts, telecoms will throw a discount or two your way if you bundle multiple services under one account. It seems like every time I have to call Comcast, they offer me a bundle that includes Internet, voice and television at a discounted rate. The same type of deals can be had with AT&T, Verizon and probably several others I can’t think of at this time. As mentioned earlier, it never hurts to ask, especially if you have multiple services through different providers.
11 Use free texting apps.
Free texting apps like WhatsApp, TextMe, Viber, Nimbuzz and GroupMe have exploded in popularity over the past few years. Much like iMessage and BlackBerry Messenger, these services all use data to circumvent traditional text messaging delivery methods. This simply means messages sent using these programs count against your data plan (or nothing at all if on Wi-Fi) instead of a text messaging plan. If your friends and family are on the same programs you use, you could ditch your text messaging plan and save anywhere between $5 and $30 per month
12 Utilize data compression apps.
Another method to extend the life of your capped data plan is to try a data compression app. One such example is the Onavo Extend app for Android, iPhone and iPad. Onavo Extend has garnered excellent reviews on both platforms though be aware that like Amazon’s solution to speed up the Kindle browser and Opera, it works by directing all traffic through their servers to compress data. The app provides a breakdown of your data usage so you can see which apps are consuming the most and make more informed usage choices. Best of all, the app is free of charge.
Google’s Pixel smartphone, which made its debut last month, has gathered some high praise from reviewers.
“The Google Pixel is now the best Android smartphone you can buy,” wrote Joanna Stern in The Wall Street Journal.
“The other leading contender was disqualified due to spontaneous combustion,” she added, referring to Samsung’s doomed Galaxy Note7, which was recalled for safety reasons.
Stern was impressed with Pixel’s display; its high pixel count made the blacks in photos appear deeper, colors more vibrant, and everything sharper.
“The AMOLED display makes photos look better — even ones taken on an iPhone,” she wrote.
Keep Your Pixels Dry
Pixel “offers the look and competence of an iPhone with a truly great cameraand loads of innovative software and services,” David Pierce noted in a review for Wired.
“It changes my answer to the question I hear most often: ‘What phone should you get?’ You should get a Pixel,” he wrote.
“The immediate joke everyone, including me, made on Twitter after the Pixel launch was that Google made an iPhone,” Pierce added. “Well, that’s true. As it turns out, an iPhone running Android is exactly what I’ve been waiting for.”
Pixel is a standout compared to other heavyweights in the market, according to Lisa Eadicicco, who reviewed it for Time.
“All told, the Pixel is Google’s first smartphone that can go toe-to-toe with Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy flagship,” she wrote. “It’s on equal footing with those phones in most of the areas that really matter, although its lack of water resistance is a setback. Still, Android fans who pick up the Pixel should be pleased, so long as they keep it dry.”
Google hit a home run with its first branded smartphone, said Cnet reviewer Lynn La.
“With Pixel, Google stepped up to bat, called its shot and knocked it out of the park,” she wrote.
It’s a departure from Google’s earlier Nexus smartphones, because you don’t have to be an Android enthusiast to appreciate what Google has accomplished with the Pixel.
“The only thing you’ll have to be enthusiastic about is owning a phone that’s beautiful, takes awesome photos, and has smooth performance,” La wrote. “If you are, the Pixel’s for you.”
The Pixel’s performance was won kudos from Jason Cross, writing for PC World.
“Android fans often complain about phones (especially Samsung’s) that lead benchmark charts, but still somehow seem to stutter, chop, and sputter when you use them,” he explained.
“The Pixel XL does none of that,” he wrote. “At every turn it is smooth, fast, and most of all, responsive.”
“Indeed, this may be the smoothest and most responsive Android phone I’ve ever used,” he added.
Rain on Pixel’s Parade
Some reviewers were unimpressed by Google’s smartphone offering.
“The absence of a major competing Android device works out especially well for Google because the Pixel is, relatively speaking, mediocre,” Brian X. Chen wrote for The New York Times.
“It is slower than Apple’s iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S7, Samsung’s smaller flagship phone,” he noted.
“Photos shot with Pixel’s camera don’t look as good as the iPhone’s,” Chen continued. “And Google’s built-in artificially intelligent virtual assistant, called Assistant, is still fairly dumb.”
Pricing may be an issue with the Pixel models, noted David McQueen, research director for consumer devices and strategic technology at ABI Research.
The Pixel is priced at US$650 and the larger Pixel XL is selling for $770.
“This is quite expensive for what you’re getting, and the build quality isn’t as good as other flagship phones in the market,” McQueen told TechNewsWorld. “It’s going to be a bit problematic for Google to create differentiation for the hardware at that price point.”
Reviews for Google’s Daydream View VR headset began to appear on Thursday, and the consensus among those who were able to test the new US$79 device appears to be two thumbs up.
Although it has limitations, Daydream could be a gateway to affordable virtual reality technology, they suggested. The headset, which is powered by the VR platform introduced in Android 7.1 Nougat, needs to be paired with Google’s new line of Pixel and Pixel XL phones.
Unlike Google’s low-end Cardboard headset, Daydream is made of lightweight fabric and paired with a simple yet intuitive controller.
As with any new technology platform, there is a chicken-and-egg challenge to overcome regarding software for the device, but Google already has lined up content from a number of partners, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and CNN, in addition to its own offerings.
Early adopters will be able to make virtual visits to museums, faraway cities, other planets and more.
The View headset also can operate as a very personal home theater, providing a virtual big screen experience. Google has lined up partners including YouTube, Hulu, HBO Now and Netflix. Daydream also can be used as a VR video gaming platform.
VR Done Simple
The Daydream View is a rather simple unit, but it provides a true VR experience for the budget-minded early adopter.
“The View might be significantly more wearable than a Google Cardboard viewer, but it’s still essentially the same thing: a phone holster with some lenses in it,” wrote Peter Rubin for Wired.
“One of the strongest points Daydream View has in its favor is the comfort of wearing it. … Google has hit the mark with its design,” noted Digital Trends‘ Julian Chokkattu.
Among the Daydream View’s limitations are power consumption.
“VR apps and games will drain your phone’s battery quicker than almost any other activity,” wrote Nathan Olivarez-Giles for The Wall Street Journal.
The controller for the Daydream View, which reviewers mostly praised, is not without its issues. The consensus view seems to be that there is much room for improvement.
“It sometimes stops working,” noted Chokkattu, in his case, possibly due to a lost Bluetooth connection.
“My controller’s position sometimes drifted out of place, mostly during experiences that snap the cursor toward something on screen, pulling it away from the remote’s real-world orientation,” wrote The Verge‘s Adi Robertson.
The Reality of VR Today
VR technology is still in its early days, but Daydream View is a “much more serious crack at bringing VR to mainstream audiences,” said Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.
“It is a great showcase for YouTube VR,” he told TechNewsWorld.
However, Daydream View “is really still just the entry level to VR,” observed Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics.
“This is a device that the early evangelist will adopt, as it provides a basic VR capability,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“Google Daydream View has the benefit of being Android device-agnostic as opposed to the Samsung Gear VR, and at a lower price — $79 vs. $99,” noted Stephanie Llamas, lead analyst for AR/VR technology at SuperData Research.
“The Google name also lends itself to brand visibility, which will attract the trust of many consumers,” she told TechNewsWorld.
Years ago, I worked as one of Rev. Robert Schuller’s body guards (it was something to do on Sundays, I wasn’t particularly religious) and one of his sayings was “when given lemons, make lemonade.”
Personally, I wasn’t excited about either presidential candidate, but I actually think Trump could be a better technology candidate than Clinton would have been. That is because she just didn’t seem to fundamentally get why a personal email server was a huge security breach, nor how classifications actually work. That was during a time when the nation was under a massive cyber threat — and still is.
After the election, I looked into which candidate best used technology and which one seemed to have a better grasp of what is needed. You might ask why I waited until after the election, and that is because my best example didn’t exist until 10 days ago and wasn’t disclosed until last week.
I’ll close with my product of the week: the BlackBerry DTEK 60, which is the best secure phone currently in the market. It blends an Android user experience with what is arguably the best security solution in the general market.
The Role of Analytics
Ironically, in both the first and second Obama elections, the president trounced his Republican rivals largely by using a very experienced and very effective analytics team. Sadly, that competence didn’t transition with him into office. However, his team set the standard during the elections.
That was particularly fascinating to watch during the second election, against Romney, because you’d think, given that analytics is a business tool, Romney would have been better with it. While Obama deployed a small experienced team, Romney used two companies that cost far more and didn’t have election experience. Thus Romney entered the final days of his failed campaign thinking he was going to win — just like Clinton did.
During the final 10 days of the campaign, Trump pivoted his analytics effort to better target his limited resources, unlike Clinton who had a much larger budget.
Until last week, the use of analytics was one of the big annoyances for me in this campaign. Both sides seemed to know that the polling data was worthless, and Clinton surely had access to Obama’s campaign resources. Trump supposedly ran casinos, which live or die largely on analytics. Yet neither seemed to be able to spell “analytics.” In the end Trump fixed his problem, and that likely bodes well for his term.
Now I can certainly argue that part of the reason Trump fixed it is because he didn’t like the results he was seeing, and the reason Clinton didn’t is that she did. Regardless of the reason, Trump did pivot to ensure the quality of the information he was given and he has shown a tendency to reuse things that work for him. I’ll hope that isn’t just a fluke.
Given that the foolish war in Iraq was largely the result of bad, biased, and corrupted intelligence, any move to assure the accuracy of data is a critical one.
The Cybersecurity Issue
I missed this completely until I got a report from the ITIF on Trump’s technology positions. I was clearly unimpressed with Clinton, thanks not only to her use of a private email server, but also her seeming inability to grasp how big a problem a mistake like that was. Trump seemed just to want to use that event to advantage, though, and also didn’t seem to grasp the true gravity of it, nor be very articulate on cybersecurity. It appeared both candidates were clueless.
Apparently, I missed a meeting. While Trump has few positions, he actually has a strong one on cybersecurity. He has argued that the U.S. has obsolete cybersecurity capabilities and is falling behind other countries, according to the ITIF, and both of those observations are correct. He has argued that cyber has to be part of our thought processes.
He also has promised to enforce stronger protections against Chinese hackers and that U.S. responses will be swift, robust and unequivocal. While I’d personally like to omit the Chinese part of this — a response strategy should apply to anyone, not just China — but it is a solid step in the right direction.
Trump doesn’t have a lot of positions, which suggests the ones he does have will get the greatest focus. The fact that he calls out cybersecurity so prominently is a good sign.
In the past, heightened rhetoric and propaganda were the tools of choice for those looking to convince an electorate to vote them into office, and conspiracy theories were their bane. This election season has seen the rise of a new form of persuasion, one that’s unique to the Information Age.
For months, WikiLeaks creator Julian Assange had promised to rain bombshells on the narrowing field of presidential candidates, and he indicated that Hillary Clinton would be the target of the release. Rumors had swirled around the secrets the former secretary of state might have wanted to protect when she deleted more than 30,000 emails from a private server.
As the U.S. celebrated Independence Day, WikiLeaks released the first batch of emails, and the fireworks began. Nothing in the emails proved particularly damaging for Clinton’s presidential aspirations, though.
WikiLeaks had released troves of sensitive information in the past, so at first glance its actions represented nothing new. However, that particular series of leaks was about to introduce much of the world to a new form of propaganda.
The Tainted Well
During the Cold War, authoritarian regimes had their own mouthpieces, along with enough control over the populace to stomp out dissenting voices, noted Mark Fenster, a professor at the University of Florida and author of Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture.
“They were organs of the state, and they spoke about whatever it was the government wanted to speak about,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Those were obviously perfect means of distributing propaganda — particularly if the government was also able to suppress any other voices from making it to the public.”
With the rise of the Internet, it became difficult to drown out competing voices. From the delivery of “paquetes” of digitized American culture in Cuba to hacktivism in China, the Internet has provided tools that make it next to impossible for any government to silence its critics completely, or to screen outside ideas from their view.
“We’ve got an interesting experiment going on right now,” Fenster said in an interview conducted prior to last week’s election, “if the allegations are true that Russian hackers, ordered by the Russian government, got hold of email documents from [Clinton campaign manager] John Podesta, the DNC and the Clinton campaign, and are releasing them collectively to in order to manipulate the election for their preferred candidate: Donald Trump.”
The cache of Clinton campaign documents might not have been as devastating as Assange initially indicated, but it undoubtedly added a new dimension to this election season and introduced the public to what might be called the “tainted well.”
“This isn’t propaganda in the classic since,” Fenster said, “but it is a way of trying to shape government opinion.”
Because of the positive adjectives Pressident-Elect Donald Trump used to describe Russian leader Vladimir Putin during the campaign, speculation grew that the leaked emails were intended specifically to damage Clinton’s chances.
However, it is still not clear that Russia — even if it did commission the hacks — aimed to sway the election toward Trump. Russia might have been trying to prevent either candidate from having a mandate upon taking office, suggested Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, in a conversation prior to the election.
I think “Russia isn’t trying to promote either candidate at the moment, it is operating to ensure that neither of them will be able to actually govern if elected, operating under a broad strategy of discrediting the government and effectively fermenting revolt,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Facebook and Google have amended their internal policies regarding advertising on fake news posts in response to increasing pressure from users and a growing controversy within the company.users
Facebook, for good or ill, has become the primary news source for an increasing number of .
There are mounting concerns that the U.S. presidential election may have been influenced by unvetted fake news stories trending on the network during the last few weeks of the cycle. Some of the news stories that appeared in Facebook’s trending topics section were found to contain misleading or completely false information that may have influenced voting behavior.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has come under withering fire from critics over his dismissal of those concerns.
In an interview on stage at the Techonomy16 conference last week, Zuckerberg said the notion that fake news on Facebook may have influenced the presidential election results was a “pretty crazy idea.”
The amount of fake news circulating on Facebook was small, he maintained.
The suggestion that Trump supporters were influenced by a few fake news stories could indicate “a profound lack of empathy” on the part of critics, Zuckerberg claimed.
He also seemed to believe that fake news stories came in equal numbers from the right and the left.
Facebook on Monday announced a new policy that appears to create some space between the need to admit the company has a problem and its acknowledgment that there are entities that might be using the site to manipulate public opinion.
“In a accordance with the Audience Network Policy, we do not integrate or display ads in apps or sites containing content that is illegal, misleading or deceptive, which includes fake news,” the company said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by spokesperson Andy Stone. “While implied, we have updated the policy to explicitly clarify that this applies to fake news. Our team will continue to closely vet all prospective publishers and monitor existing ones to ensure compliance.”
The company declined to comment on a Buzzfeed report that a group of Facebook employees is working in secret to form a force to confront the company’s upper management about the amount of fake news permeating its pages.
Google, which has faced criticism that its search engine returns fake news stories as prominent responses to certain queries, announced changes as well.
It will extend its policy disallowing misrepresentation in its ads to include disallowing their placement on misrepresentative content, the company said. Further, it will restrict ad serving on pages that are deceptive or evasive regarding the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the website.
Facebook earlier this year took heat for biasing in its Trending Topics pages. The company denied engaging in any deliberate manipulation, but it made a couple of significant changes to how it curates news stories trending on the site.
It moved toward reliance on algorithms to determine trending content, but that system has allowed an increasing number of fake news stories into the kitty, according to critics.
“Facebook likes to think of itself as a technology company, and news might be a relatively small part of their product line that drives traffic and time spent on site,” said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at Poynter.
“I think Mark Zuckerberg is finding out, however, that he and Facebook are publishers, even if they would prefer not to be,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Having an algorithm decide which stories trend does not absolve Facebook “from the obligation to publish responsibly,” Edmonds added.
Addressing attempts to circulate fake news is part of that responsibility, he said, though he also emphasized that he did not believe fake news tipped the election results.
“Facebook is becoming a de facto media company whether it likes it or not,” said Tim Mulligan, senior analyst Midia Research.
“It already acts as a first point of contact for many digital consumers of new content. It is effectively the consumer’s digital dashboard for content,” he told TechNewsWorld.