Officials Want Facebook to Halt End-to-End Encryption Plans



BuzzFeed News reported that officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia are set to publish an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The officials do not want Facebook to enact end-to-end encryption across its messaging services. The text of the open letter is in the BuzzFeed News article.

The letter is signed by U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. The letter, as BuzzFeed News puts it, “raises concerns that Facebook’s plan to build end-to-end encryption into its messaging apps will prevent law enforcement agencies from finding illegal activity conducted through Facebook, including child sexual exploitation, terrorism, and election meddling.”

The officials want Facebook to “prioritize public safety” in designing its encryption by enabling law enforcement to gain access to illegal content in a manageable format and by consulting with local governments ahead of time to ensure the changes will allow this access.

In short, Facebook is being pressured to allow law enforcement to spy on the messages sent and received by users of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Much of the wording of the letter indicates that the purpose of this is to enable law enforcement to catch people who are grooming or trafficking children. But, the letter doesn’t say anything about the limitations that various governments would have regarding what they can snoop on. Nothing is said about requiring a warrant before accessing the information.

Personally, I find this sketchy. If Facebook decides to succumb to the bidding of these world leaders, they will be opening a Pandora’s Box that they will not be able to reverse. Once a big social media site allows law enforcement to indiscriminately spy on users – there is nothing that will stop it from happening.


Instagram Introduces Threads



Instagram announced that Facebook is launching Threads from Instagram. I supposes this wording is intended to make it very clear that Instagram is owned by Facebook. Threads is a new “camera-first” messaging app that helps you stay connected to your close friends.

Threads is designed for Instagram users who want to be able to communicate with their closest circle of friends. The idea is for people to use Threads to post photos and videos of how they are feeling or what they are doing to a small group in a dedicated private space.

Threads is a standalone app designed with privacy, speed, and your close connections in mind. You can share photos, videos, messages, Stories, and more with your Instagram close friends list. You are in control of who can reach you on Threads, and you can customize the experience around the people who matter most.

It appears that Threads is intended to replace the Close Friends feature that was released on Instagram last year. Instead of messaging your Close Friends on Instagram, you can instead use Threads to message the people on your Instagram Close Friends list.

You can also continue to message Close Friends on Instagram. However, I think there will be a time when the company will drop that in favor of having people use Threads.

Status is another new feature. It is intended to be used to send a quick thing to your close friends. You can choose from a suggested status, which include an emoji and a two or three word description. Or, you can create your own status. Instagram says that only close friends will see it, and the feature is completely opt-in.

Instagram (and Facebook) appear to be trying to assure Instagram users that Threads is very private. Keep in mind that anything you put on either Instagram, Facebook, or Threads, can be seen by Facebook and might be among the data that the company collects.


RSS – In a Modern Era #1398



RSS – In a Modern Era is a presentation I have been giving across the country that talks about podcasting and where we have been and where we are and where we are going. It is my personal insight based on my nearly 15 years of Podcasting. This is a non-traditional episode of the show presented during International Podcast Day.

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Zynga Data Breach Affects 200 Million Android and iOS Gamers



Hacker News has reported that a hacker has claimed to have breached the mobile game company Zynga, Inc. Earlier this year, the same hacker reportedly sold almost a billion user records stolen from approximately 45 popular online services.

According to Hacker News, the hacker managed to breach the Words With Friends game, which has a database of more than 218 million users. Zynga posted a Player Security Announcement about this on September 12, 2019. It doesn’t say very much.

Cyber attacks are one of the unfortunate realities of doing business today. We recently discovered that certain player account information may have been illegally accessed by outside hackers. An investigation was commenced, leading third-party forensics firms were retained to assist, and we have contacted law enforcement.

While the investigation is ongoing, we do not believe any financial information was accessed. However, we have identified account login information for certain players of Draw Something and Words With Friends that may have been accessed. As a precaution, we have taken steps to protect these users’ accounts from invalid logins. We plan to further notify players as the investigation proceeds.

Forbes reported that the Zynga breach affects all players on both Android and iOS platforms who installed and signed up to play Words With Friends before September 3, 2019. Forbes points out that the hacker told Hacker News that data belonging to Draw Something, and from a discontinued game called OMGPOP, was also accessed.

What Zynga data has potentially been compromised? It may include: names, email addresses, login IDs, hashed passwords, password reset tokens if one had ever been requested, phone numbers where provided, Facebook IDs if connected to the social media platform, and Zynga account IDs.

Personally, I have never understood why someone would decided to breach Zynga (or any other gaming company) for the purpose of stealing data. The hacker must be aware that what they are doing is illegal. There is always the potential that hacker will be caught have will have to face legal consequences.


Verizon is Buying Jaunt



Verizon has acquired some assets of virtual reality video start-up Jaunt XR. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. According to CNBC, Verizon will own Jaunt’s software and technology, among other assets.

Jaunt also announced this news on its website.

Jaunt XR today announced the acquisition of its software, technology, and certain other assets by Verizon Communications for an undisclosed amount. Jaunt XR is a leader in the immersive industry with a focus on the scalable creation and distribution of volumetric video of humans.

Jaunt stated that it will be assisting Verizon with the transition of select portions of the software and technology for a brief period of time.

“We are thrilled with Verizon’s acquisition of Jaunt’s technology,” said Mitzi Reaugh, President & CEO of Jaunt XR. “The Jaunt team has built leading-edge software and we are excited for its next chapter with Verizon.”

The Verge reported that it is unclear exactly what parts of Jaunt XR’s technology Verizon is buying, or whether Jaunt XR will continue to exist after they finish assisting Verizon “for a brief period of time”.

The Verge also noted that Verizon has a history with VR and AR. Last year, Verizon launched RYOT Innovation Studio, which aims to build immersive entertainment that shows off Verizon’s faster 5G network speeds.

I haven’t been able to find anything that specifically states how the purchase of Jaunt XR will affect Verizon customers. For whatever reason, Verizon isn’t being incredibly clear about that. I’m assuming that whenever Verizon is ready, they will let everyone know about this new purchase and how they are planning to use it.


City of Phoenix Offers Free Sustainable Home Design Plans



Home Design Plans CompetitionRooted firmly in mid-century modern design and with a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses, the City of Phoenix and the American Institute of Architects ran a “Sustainable Home Design Competition for a ‘near net-zero energy’ single family home” in 2018.

The design was to be for a house in climate zone 2, which indicates a need primarily for cooling, and was part of the City’s goal to become a carbon-neutral and zero-waste city. As a step towards achieving these goals, the City of Phoenix wanted to encourage the construction of ultra-low energy use homes.

The prize was US$100,000 and the winning design, Home NZ, came from Marlene Imirzian & Associates Architects, in partnership with SCL Consulting, Henderson Engineers and Desert Skies Energy Services.

The building is 2,185 square feet and sits on 60′ by 110′ lot. Inside there are three bedrooms, family and living rooms, kitchen, laundry, bathroom and garage for a build cost around US$350,000. As built, it has a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index of 33 but with the addition of renewable energy sources (solar), this falls to 0. For comparison, a standard new home has a HERS rating of around 100.

Home NZ Side View

By using heat reflective glazing, passive cooling and natural convection, plus low energy lighting and smart systems, the Home NZ can expect to save around $2,000 in comparison to a similar standard property. Of course, it’s not just about saving money, it’s about saving the planet…

These competitions are often great exemplars of technology, but in this case, it’s an affordable family home that can be built today. And even better, the City of Phoenix has made the plans available for free. All you have to do is go here, sign the disclaimer, and download 88 MB of pdf.

And if you are ever in the Phoenix area, I’d recommend a trip to Taliesin West in neighbouring Scottsdale to learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright.


Germany Shuts Down Illegal Data Center in Former NATO Bunker



The Associated Press reported that German investigators arrested seven people in connection with an illegal data processing center that was installed in a former NATO bunker. It was located in Traben-Trarbach, a town that is located near the Mosel River in western Germany.

According to the Associated Press, the German investigators believe the facility served a number of dark web sites. Among them were “Wall Street Market” (drugs, hacking tools, financial-theft wares), “Cannabis Road” (drugs), and “Orange Chemicals” (synthetic drugs). The authorities believe that a botnet attack on German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom, that happened in 2016, came from this data center.

Krebs on Security posted a drawing of the bunker. According to Krebs on Security, German police reportedly seized $41 million worth of funds allegedly tied to the markets (mentioned above), and more than 200 servers that were operating throughout the underground temperature controlled, ventilated and closely guarded facility. Krebs on Security also reported that German authorities seized at least two Web domains in the raid.

Deutsche Welle reported that in Germany, service providers cannot be prosecuted for hosting illegal websites unless it can be proven that they are aware of and supporting the illegal activity.

From what I’ve been reading about this, it appears that some of the people who were arrested, and some who are being investigated, are allegedly connected to other crimes beyond the illegal data processing center. If so, it seems likely that many people involved will end up with some legal consequences.