RISKS Digest 30.10

Sunday 22 January 2017

Verizon remotely disables remaining Galaxy Note 7 phones

PGN <>

Date: Sat, 21 Jan 2017 10:16:58 PST

[Thanks to Dan Geer citing this item, in a different venue.]

Verizon Now Also Decides To Kill Remaining Note 7 Phones
*Fortune*, 15 Dec 2016

Verizon reversed course on Thursday and decided to allow Samsung to send a software update to customers that will automatically disable their Galaxy Note 7 phones. [...]

I think the implications of this are quite severe, and ominous for cloud storage and the Internet of Things, as well as mobile devices. The mere existence of such a disabling mechanism is likely to be exploited by the controlling entities, but also by others with illegitimate motives.

See also an interesting precursor: A rather spectacular defense-vs-offense battle along these lines is recaptured in this 31 May 2008 article:

“Revisiting the Black Sundau Hack'', in which DirectTV was able to execute a carefully engineered wipe-out of hacked Direct TV access, resulting in all hacked access cards being rewritten to "GAME OVER"—a week before the 2001 Superbowl.

The cloud ate your homework! via Jim Reisert <>

Date: Sun, 22 Jan 2017 15:28:05 -0700

"Code Studio had some technical difficulties and any student progress from 9:19 - 10:33 am PST on Friday, January 20th was not saved. The site is back up and student progress is being saved again."

[I suppose would-be coders might might learned that their own programs are not the only thing that can go wrong. PGN]

Nim Language Draws From Best of Python, Rust, Go, and Lisp

Serdar Yegulalp <>

Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 12:11:40 -0500 (EST)

Serdar Yegulalp, InfoWorld, 16 Jan 2017 via ACM TechNews, Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The under-development Nim programming language is advertised as blending the compilation speed and cross-platform targeting of Google's Go language, Rust's safe-by-default behaviors, the readability and ease of development of Python, and the metaprogramming capabilities of Lisp. Nim's syntax bears a strong resemblance to Python's, as it employs indented code blocks and some of the same syntax, while Go- and Rust-like features include first-class functions, distinct types, and object-oriented programming with composition favored over inheritance. Nim permits templates and generics, and expresses C code as a default setting, while it also is capable of generating C++, Objective-C, or JavaScript. Compile code caching means big projects with small changes to one module will recompile solely in that module. Nim's memory management uses a deferred reference counting system for default garbage-collecting, which can be completely disabled in favor of manual management when necessary. Nim intends to provide both a strong standard library and a solid assortment of third-party modules, while its biggest current drawback is the relatively small user-developer community for the language. Nevertheless, Nim helps create software that eventually must be swift and robust, with a less precipitous learning curve or cognitive overhead typically related to existing languages.

Will Blockchain-Based Election Systems Make E-Voting Possible?

Adam Stone <>

Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 12:11:40 -0500 (EST)

Adam Stone, *Government Technology*, 11 Jan 2017

Determining whether blockchain technology can accurately count votes and ensure the integrity of an electronic voting system was the purpose of a competition among university teams held by Kaspersky Lab. Kaspersky's Juan Guerrero says the blockchain's model has different peers in different systems vet each other's transactions. "If one of them gets hacked or one of them gets altered, all the others would be able to notice that change," he notes. Three submissions out of 19 were winners of the Kaspersky contest, including a "permissioned blockchain" model in which a central authority admits voting machines to the network and produces a distributed ledger of votes. The other winning submissions included a model founded on global public keys that encrypt ballots and provide voter receipts, and a solution based on the Open Vote Network and DRE-i and DRE-ip encryptions. To balance vote auditability and privacy, one solution would match voters with random identity numbers so those numbers could be exposed by an audit without compromising individual voters. To address the threat of voting under duress, most teams chose to stay with traditional voting places instead of remote voting. Guerrero says the results of the contest should help spark discussions among stakeholders—and U.S. voters—on finding proof-of-concept e-voting systems.

[We should remind Adam and Kaspersky that the concept of unhackable elections leads to Fake News items. In this case, even if the voting technology were perfect (which today depends on systems and networks that are not secure), there are too many weak links elsewhere in the process. In addition, there seem to be quite a few cryptographers in the voting integrity community who think that block chains would be gross overkill in this context. PGN]

Dutch Developer Added Backdoor to Websites He Built, Phished Over 20,000 Users

Bleeping Computer <>

Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 08:21:45 -0800

A Dutch developer illegally accessed the accounts of over 20,000 users after he allegedly collected their login information via backdoors installed on websites he built. According to an official statement, Dutch police officials are now in the process of notifying these victims about the crook's actions. The hacker, yet to be named by Dutch authorities, was arrested on July 11, 2016, at a hotel in Zwolle, the Netherlands, and police proceeded to raid two houses the crook owned, in Leeuwarden and Sneek.

CIA unveils new rules for collecting information on Americans

Reuters <>

Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 20:56:30 -0500

Tesla's Self-Driving System Cleared in Deadly Crash

Neal E. Boudette <>

Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2017 00:18:04 -0500

Neal E. Boudette, *The New York Times*, 19 Jan 2017

The highway agency found that while Tesla’s Autopilot feature didn’t prevent a crash in Florida, the system performed as it was intended.

Re: How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument

GKing 50c <>

Date: Tue, 17 Jan 2017 21:05:52 -0800

More on GKing's previous item via NNSquad again from

The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called "50c party" posts vociferously argue for the government's side in political and policy debates. As we show, this is also true of the vast majority of posts openly accused on social media of being 50c. Yet, almost no systematic empirical evidence exists for this claim, or, more importantly, for the Chinese regime's strategic objective in pursuing this activity. In the first large-scale empirical analysis of this operation, we show how to identify the secretive authors of these posts, the posts written by them, and their content. We estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social-media comments a year.

The first-ever close analysis of leaked astroturf comments from China's "50c party" reveal Beijing's cybercontrol strategy

Cary Doctorow <>

Date: January 19, 2017 at 11:20:11 AM EST

[Note: This item comes from friend David Rosenthal. DLH]

Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing, 18 Jan 2017 <>

The Harvard Institute for Quantitative Science team that published 2016's analysis of the Chinese government's '50c Party', who flood social media with government-approved comments has published a new paper, How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument, in which they reveal their painstaking analysis of a huge trove of leaked emails between 50c Party members and their government handlers.

The research refutes the widely held view that the 50c Party is a group of paid piece-workers who pile on to people who post negative comments about the government; rather, the 50c Party is a closely coordinated group of government workers whose messages are part of their normal, salaried duties, and consist largely of upbeat talk about upcoming government initiatives -- or issues that distract from scandals.

The analysis also reveals semantic features of 50c Party posts, making it possible to use relatively simple language classifiers to make guesses about which posts come from 50c Party members, and validates this hypothesis with a sly way of getting 50c Party members to reveal themselves through deceptive private messages.

One implication: if we assume that the Chinese government is very good at controlling public opinion, and if we want to adopt their tactics to counter Trump, this suggests that we should: a) coordinate to make a lot of noise about the Trump-denying activities over the next four years (e.g., California expanding public healthcare); b) coordinate to make a lot of noise about arbitrary upbeat subjects ("this new music is just great") on days when Trump is trying to draw everyone's attention to himself. But of course, the 50c Party is able to issue talking points to hundreds of thousands of people and make them work in lockstep.

One way to parsimoniously summarize existing empirical results about information control in China is with a theory of the strategy of the regime. This theory, which as with all theories is a simplification of the complex realities on the ground, involves two complementary principles the Chinese regime appears to follow, one passive and one active. The passive principle is do not engage on controversial issues: do not insert 50c posts supporting, and do not censor posts criticizing, the regime, its leaders, or their policies. The second, active, principle is stop discussions with collective action potential, by active distraction and active censorship. Cheerleading in directed 50c bursts is one way the government distracts the public, although this activity can be also be used to distract from general negativity, government related meetings and events with protest potential, etc. (Citizens criticize the regime without collective action on the ground in many ways, including even via unsubstantiated threats of protest and viral bursts of online-only activity—which, by this definition, do not have collective action potential and so are ignored by the government.)

These twin strategies appear to derive from the fact that the main threat perceived by the Chinese regime in the modern era is not military attacks from foreign enemies but rather uprisings from their own people. Staying in power involves managing their government and party agents in China's 32 provincial-level regions, 334 prefecture-level divisions, 2,862 county-level divisions, 41,034 township-level administrations, and 704,382 village-level subdivisions, and somehow keeping in check collective action organized by those outside of government. The balance of supportive and critical commentary on social media about specific issues, in specific jurisdictions, is useful to the government in judging the performance of (as well as keeping or replacing) local leaders and ameliorating other information problems faced by central authorities (Dimitrov, 2014a,b,c; Wintrobe, 1998). As such, avoiding any artificial change in that balance—such as from 50c posts or censorship—can be valuable. Distraction is a clever and useful strategy in information control in that an argument

Japan testing USB phone charging in public buses

TheNextWeb via Henry Baker <>

Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2017 12:55:55 -0800

FYI—What could possibly go wrong? It is well known that the NSA—as well as other nation-state actors—place malicious USB chargers in public places that can infect computers and phones that are attached.

Mix ­ in Mobile You need a *USB condom* (but from a *trusted vendor* !!) to protect your phone.

As someone who's been walking around with a beat-up iPhone 5 and a battery ready to die on me any moment, having access to more public phone charging stations is something I can absolutely get behind. It seems Japan is sympathetic to this need.

According to Japanese news outlet IT Media, a public transport bus in the Tokyo area has introduced, and is currently testing, USB charging stations for commuter phones and tablets.

While the local Bureau of Transportation hasn't formally announced or confirmed the trials, numerous passengers so far have reported seeing the charging ports. The service runs free of charge, with at least five of these wall-mounted charging hotspots placed inside the bus.

According to reports, the service is currently available solely in a single bus. It remains unclear how long testing will continue or whether it will eventually roll out to more buses.

Japan isn't the only country to have offered phone charging stations in public transport vehicles. Last September, London also equipped a limited number of buses with USB chargers. Similarly, Singapore ran trials with wall-mounted phone chargers on at least 10 buses in September last year.

So don;t be surprised if you see the service available on one of the buses in your local area sometime soon. But until then: Better make sure you keep your portable battery pack in your backpack.

The Fine Art of Sniffing Out Crappy Science

Chronicle of Higher Education <>

Date: Thu, 19 Jan 2017 07:45:51 -0800


Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin West, a pair of scientists at the University of Washington, think it's time to arm students with boots and shovels. They have published the outline of a course, titled "Calling Bullsh*t," which would try to teach how to spot bad data and misleading graphs at a time when bending statistics has become a popular art form.

Facebook and Falsehood

Chronicle of Higher Education <>

Date: Thu, 19 Jan 2017 07:56:28 -0800

via NNSquad

If businesses, public intellectuals, and academics want to start addressing the problem, they are going to have to start thinking in political terms, just as climate scientists have had to get politicized to engage in the debates over global warming. If Facebook and other companies are going to act effectively against fake news, they need to take a directly political stance, explicitly acknowledging that they have a responsibility to prevent the spread of obvious falsehoods, while continuing to allow the sites' users to express and argue for a variety of different understandings of the truth that are not obviously incompatible with empirical facts.

Re: Fake News

Peter Houppermans <>

Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 15:33:25 +0100

I find it interesting that in all the reporting and arguing about fake news and the effects it has there has been one thing left untouched: the fact that the very label "fake news" is, in itself, manipulative.

Any attempt to address "fake news" should start with the consideration that it may be better to replace the term with what it really is: lies.

[Peter H, Yes. See RISKS-29.95,96, and RISKS-30.03. But a lie lies in the eyes of the beholder and the beheld. How about Fox's use of *faux news*?. The now-common use of *Falsehood* seems less onerous than "Lies".
*Prevarication* might be a suitable alternative, while later pretending you had not prevaricated might be a *postvarication*? PGN]

Subject: Re: Nissan's Path to Self-Driving Cars? Humans in Call Centers

Michael Bacon <>

Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 11:52:25 +0000

Seamless Autonomous Mobility?

I can hardly wait for them to outsource the call centre!

Re: Leap-seconds

Kurt Seifried <>

Date: Tue, 17 Jan 2017 18:46:15 -0700

> Why is the millisecond precise position of the sun more important than all > other uses of time?

Because satellites and other things that actually care.

So what's your suggestion to deal with leap years and the undefining of the year?

It's so weird to me that people **** all over leap seconds, but are fine with leap years and arbitrary timezone changes.

To be fair my plan to deal with leap seconds for CVE entries is to ideally say they are optional and round down if needed (to 59), we're lucky in that being off by a second is ok.

Re: Leap-seconds

Bob Frankston <>

Date: 17 Jan 2017 22:16:20 -0500

Satellites can't use UTC because it's too imprecise. They need the more precise times such as UT2. These are computed from TAI plus a correction factor. They don't use wall clock notation (HH::MM)—minutes don't exist in UT2 nor UTC, so why do we even care about minutes?

Leap years are a red-herring here since we don't assume any interval beyond weeks are constant. You cannot say minutes are not 60 seconds. Period. It is a definition. They are not about 60 second—it is a definition. Time zones are about presentation and not about keeping as such.

If you want sun-minutes for your sundial, fine—but no need to make the rest of us use it.

I have a longer paper for Springer about this but didn't want to get into all the issues on my essay.

Re: Leap-seconds

Kurt Seifried <>

Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 08:18:03 -0700

Ah, I stand corrected: we have>

* second <> (symbol s): "*duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine <> levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 <> atom*"

Other units of time defined by the standard include <> (1 min = 60 s) <> (1 h = 60 min) <> (1 d = 24 h) The year is defined in an informative annex: <> (1 a = 365 d or 366 d)

So you are correct, the minute is defined as 60 seconds and years are defined as normal or leap.

However we still have the problem of time/the earth getting out of sync (great page: So then the problem becomes how do we reconcile various time keeping standards? leap seconds? stretch the leap second over a week like Amazon Web Services and Google? Simply ignore it and let GPS devices wander about a bit? ;)

Re: Leap-seconds

Bob Frankston <>

Date: 18 Jan 2017 10:23:39 -0500

Easy to resolve because HH:MM is just a naming convention like time zones. So we just do a daylight-like adjustment in 5000 year in case anyone then cares about what happens back on the old planet.

[I hope that resolves this exchange. PGN]