Headache? For Tim Cook And Apple The Headache Is Called China

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘TC’ NEWS)

 

Headache? Tense nervous headache? Perhaps your name is Tim Cook. For poor Tim has woken up this Sunday morning with a giant headache, and its name is China.

Yesterday Apple removed all major VPN apps from its App Store in the country. These VPNs aided internet users there to get around the government’s vast system of censorship and access uncensored sources of media. But by doing so, Apple has clearly decided to put its business before the interests of the population, opposition leaders and activists.

For example, Golden Frog, which makes privacy and security software including VyprVPN, was just one of several providers who said its software had been unceremoniously dumped from the App store. This was even after the company had supported Apple in their backdoor encryption battle with the F.B.I. last year. There’s loyalty for you.

Another, ExpressVPN, a provider based outside of China, said “all major VPN apps” including its own had been purged from Apple’s China-based store. Apple had told them that its app was removed because “it includes content that is illegal in China.” That’s semantics. The ‘illegal content’ referred to is the operation of an unlicensed VPN, a requirement which came in January. Will China ever license a VPN for users to circumvent its censorship? I think you can think of the answer to that one.

This is no small matter. This is the first time China has won the battle to pressure a major foreign tech platform to get rid of software that helped people tunnel out of China’s restrictive version of the Internet.

Is it as simple as that? This is where Tim’s headache comes in. Apple’s business in China is huge, but under pressure.

Apple’s Chinese market share and shipment volume fell for the first time last year. According to market data from IDC for 2016, Apple had a year-on-year decline in China with the tech giant’s shipments volume to China falling from 58.4 million units in 2015 to 44.9 million in 2016. Its market share dropped 4 points to 9.6 percent, even as the whole Chinese smartphone market actually grew 9 percent for the full year.

China’s leading phone vendors OPPO, Huawei and vivo are happily breathing down Tim’s neck in the ever-quickening pace of China’s mobile market.

Furthermore, this year research came out that said Apple was at risk of falling out of the top 5 smartphone vendors in China, with local brand Xiaomi snagging the fourth-place spot that was previously held by Apple, according to Canalys. The next iteration of the iPhone could help it revive its influence, but that remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Xiaomi, Huawei and others are building out their own Siri competitors, which, as Amazon Alexa has shown, is one of the next waves of computing.

So we can see where Mr Cook is under pressure. China is Apple’s second market after the US and has far more potential for growth. To stay in the country he must walk a delicate balancing act with the famously restrictive authorities, while growing sales.

But, like a captain navigating his ship between two large rocks, he’s about to get well and truly stuck.

Apple can’t afford to pull out of China, and in theory it can’t afford to piss-off the government by allowing access to unlicensed VPN apps.

That leaves those that want to ‘see’ outside of China via a phone needing to either jailbreak their iPhones or switch to version of Android with less oversight. The GreatFire company offers ‘censorship-proof’ alternatives like its Android VPN FreeBrowser. But the pickings in this area are slim.

Google doesn’t have quite the same political headache as Apple. It can always take the “we can’t control all these Android flavours as easily, sorry guys!” approach.

But perhaps the biggest headache Tim has is that Apple not have a leg to stand on when it is once again confronted with governmental censorship elsewhere.

How will Apple now argue against the Trump administration effectively, after cow-towing to China in this fashion?

When next Apple must face-off with this intransigent White House over criminality or terrorism attacks at home, any protestations they make will be empty after their capitulation in China.

There is really only one way out: Apple should have stood its ground. It should have relied on its standing in the market as the provider of the most sought after, premium, mobile device.

If the indications are anything to go by, Apple’s entrance into AR & VR could make the next iPhone the hottest device since the first one. Why not make a government think twice before attracting the intense ire of their tech-hungry populations?

In sticking to its principles, Apple would have been able to hold its head high in the US and globally. It could have maintained its brand values amongst its devoted user-base around the world.

What’s the name of the pill to cure Tim’s oncoming headache? Its called resolve.

Privacy: Is There No Longer Is Such A Thing On Planet Earth?

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Opinion

Living with Our Privacy Violated

The rule has never changed: Every phenomenon or positive change has a tax to be paid, whether we like it or not.This rule also applies to the enormous technological progress we are witnessing and its unlimited positive outcomes on our lives, businesses and communities. Here, the tax users pay is represented by forbidden acts and taboos becoming accepted and incorporated into our lives.

People might not sense this gradual transformation but they eventually accept it in return for using technology. Speaking of attempts to maintain some privacy has become impossible – privacy has been violated with a knockdown.

A group of scientists from Harvard University has developed a mosquito-sized robot that can steal samples of your DNA without you feeling it. Professor of Computer Science Margo Seltzer said that the privacy we used to know before no more exists, adding that current techniques such as credit cards, internet networks, highway radars, cameras in streets, social media and emails can all leave a digital print of us by which we can be followed.

In 2013, more than five billion data records were lost or stolen, according to the Breach Level Index (BLI). This reveals that perhaps only those distant from the world of internet were not subject to violation of privacy– and they did not avoid it for fear or cautiousness but because they weren’t capable of affording such technology – yet, they are certainly on their way there.

Half the world’s population is constantly connected to the Internet while the other half is on its way. According to Gartner, Inc. there will be 25 billion smartphones by 2020. At that time, no one will be safe regardless if he uses a smartphone or not. Saudi Arabia, for example, has a population of 30 million people, having 24 million internet users and 48 million subscribers of mobile telecommunication services.

Violations taking place every second with data and information divulged have become manifest for anyone connected to the internet. And it is impossible to stop or block them.

Take what has been published by founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange in 2013 as an example – he published a huge archive of correspondences for former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger since 1973 till 1976. These correspondences were classified as top secret and totaled 1.7 million, five-fold what has been previously published in WikiLeaks.

Another example is former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Edward Snowden, currently residing in Russia, who has unveiled that the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Britain have jointly developed a technology that permits access to many global internet activity, call logs, individuals’ emails and a huge content of other digital telecommunications.

Misuse of personal data is a growing challenge all over the world. Requests were made to governments to take charge of protecting the future of citizens’ privacy and their social prosperity. However, it seems that none is capable of that, with governments themselves failing to protect their own classified data. So, how would a normal individual be able to do that?!

Till now there are no realistic solutions that show optimism in ending the violation of our privacy. Given that we have agreed to be connected to the Internet and to use smartphones, we should admit that our privacy has been violated irreversibly, even if we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Aldosary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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Wikileaks: The CIA Is Using Popular TVs, Smartphones And Cars To Spy On Their Owners

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Wikileaks: The CIA is using popular TVs, smartphones and cars to spy on their owners

March 7 2017

Wikileaks posts alleged trove of CIA hacking tools

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Anti-secrecy group Wikileaks on Tuesday said it had obtained a top-secret trove of hacking tools used by the CIA to break into phones, communication apps and other electronic devices, and published confidential documents on those programs. (Reuters)

The latest revelations about U.S. government’s powerful hacking tools potentially takes surveillance right into the homes and hip pockets of billions of users worldwide, showing how a remarkable variety of every day devices can be turned to spy on their owners.

Televisions, smartphones and Internet-connected vehicles are all vulnerable to CIA hacking, according to the Wikileaks documents released Tuesday. The capabilities described include recording the sounds, images and the private text messages of users, even when they use encrypted apps to communicate. The CIA also studied whether it could infect vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks, which Wikileaks said could allow “nearly undetectable assassinations.”

In the case of a tool called “Weeping Angel” for attacking Samsung SmartTVs, Wikileaks wrote, “After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on, In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.”

The documents, which The Washington Post could not independently verify and the CIA has declined to confirm, list supposed tools for cracking into such widely popular devices as Apple’s iPhone or the Android smartphones whose operating system is made by Google, but there are marked differences from the 2013 revelations by the National Security Agency’s former contractor Edward Snowden.

His documents largely described mass surveillance of Internet-based communications systems, more often than the individual devices that appear to have been the focus of the CIA. By targeting devices, the CIA could gain access to even well-encrypted communications, on such popular apps as Signal and WhatsApp, without having to crack the encryption itself. The Wikileaks reports appear to acknowledge that difference by saying the CIA “bypassed” as opposed to defeated encryption technologies.

Resignation and frustration rippled through Silicon Valley on Tuesday as technologists grappled with revelations of yet another government attempt to exploit their systems.

“The argument that there is some terrorist using a Samsung TV somewhere – as a reason to not disclose that vulnerability to the company, when it puts thousands of Americans at risk — I fundamentally disagree with it, “ said Alex Rice, chief technology officer for Hacker One, a startup that enlists hackers to report security gaps to companies and organizations in exchange for cash.

Privacy experts say the CIA may have been forced into focusing on vulnerable devices because the Internet overall has become more secure through more widespread deployment of encryption. In this new world, devices have become the most vulnerable link.

“The idea that the CIA and NSA can hack into devices is kind of old news,” said Johns Hopkins cryptography expert Matthew Green. “Anyone who thought they couldn’t was living in a fantasy world.”

Snowden’s revelations and the backlash made strong encryption a major, well-funded cause for both privacy advocates and, perhaps more importantly, technology companies that had the engineering expertise and budgets to protect data as it flowed across the world.

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and many other companies announced major new initiatives, in part to protect their brands against accusations by some users that they had made it too easy for the NSA to collect information from their systems. Many Web sites, meanwhile, began encrypting their data flows to users to prevent snooping. Encryption tools such as Tor were strengthened.

Encrypting apps for private messaging, such as Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp exploded in popularity, especially among users around the world who were fearful of government intrusion. In the days following the U.S. presidential election, Signal was among the most downloaded in Apple’s app store and downloads grew by more than 300 percent.

Open Whispers Systems, which developed Signal, released a statement: “The CIA/Wikileaks story today is about getting malware onto phones, none of the exploits are in Signal or break Signal Protocol encryption.” WhatsApp declined to comment, and Telegram did not respond to requests for comment. Google declined to comment, while Samsung and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

U.S. government authorities complained loudly that the new wave of encryption was undermining their ability to investigate serious crimes, such as terrorism and child pornography. The FBI sued Apple in hopes of forcing it to unlock an iPhone used by the San Bernadino killers before announcing it had other ways to crack the device amid heavy public criticism.

Against that backdrop, many privacy advocates argued that devices — often called “endpoints” for their place on chains of communications that can criss-cross continents — were the best available target left in a world with widespread online encryption. The Wikileaks documents suggests that the CIA may have reached the same conclusion.

“It would certainly be consistent with the hypothesis that we’ve made real progress in the encryption we’ve been introducing,” said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group. “It’s impossible to be 100 percent certain, but reading the tea leaves, it’s plausible.”

The Wikileaks revelations also will serve as a reminder that, for whatever the political backlash to revelations about digital spying, it is not going away and probably will continue to grow. The focus on hacking into individual devices — rather than the messages traveling between them — is likely to increase pressure on companies to make those devices safer because, as experts have long said, they are the most vulnerable target in a long chain of digital interactions.

That could be especially important for U.S. tech companies, such as Google, Apple and Facebook, that have worked to rebuild their reputations as stewards of their users’ privacy in recent years.

Cybersecurity experts, meanwhile, reacted with alarm to the news of the Wikileaks release.

“This is explosive,” said Jake Williams, founder of Rendition Infosec, a cybersecurity firm. The material highlights specific antivirus products that can be defeated, going further than a release of NSA hacking tools last year, he said.

The CIA hackers, according to WikiLeaks, even “discussed what the NSA’s …hackers did wrong and how the CIA’s malware makers could avoid similar exposure.”

Hackers who worked at NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit said the CIA’s library of tools looked comparable. The description of the implants, which are software that enable a hacker to remotely control a compromised device, and other attack tools appear to be “very, very complex” and “at least on par with the NSA,” said one former TAO hacker who spoke on condition his name not be used.

The WikiLeaks release revealed that they have sophisticated “stealth” capabilities that enable hackers not only to infiltrate systems, but evade detection, as well as abilities to “escalate privileges” or move inside a system as if they owned it.

“The only thing that separates NSA from commodity malware in the first place is their ability to remain hidden,” the former TAO hacker said. “So when you talk about the stealth components, it’s huge that you’re seeing a tangible example here of them using and researching stealth.”

Computer security experts noted that the release includes no actual tools or exploits, “so we don’t know if WikiLeaks did not get them or is just not choosing to publish them,” Nicholas Weaver, a computer security researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. “However we should assume that whoever stole this data has access to the exploits and tools.”

He noted that the dates in the files suggest the tools were taken in February or March 2016 and that there are at least two documents marked Top Secret, “which suggests that somebody in early 2016 managed to compromise a Top Secret CIA development system and is willing to say that they did.”

One internal CIA document listed a set of Apple iPhone “exploits” — or tools that can be used to compromise the device by taking advantage of software flaws. Some of the tools are based on “zero-days,” which are software vulnerabilities that have not been shared with the manufacturer. So “some of these descriptions will allow Apple to fix the vulnerabilities,” Weaver said. “But at the same time, they’re out in the public and whoever stole this data could use them against U.S. interests.”

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