Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

A contractor working for cell giant Sprint stored on an unprotected cloud server hundreds of thousands of cell phone bills of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile subscribers.

The storage bucket had more than 261,300 documents, the vast majority of which were phone bills belonging to cell subscribers dating as far back as 2015. But the bucket, hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS), was not protected with a password, allowing anyone to access the data inside.

It’s not known how long the bucket was exposed.

The bills — which contained names, addresses and phone numbers, and many included call histories — were collected as part of an offer to allow cell subscribers to switch to Sprint, according to Sprint-branded documents found on the server. The documents explained how the cell giant would pay for the subscriber’s early termination fee to break their current cell service contract, a common sales tactic used by cell providers.

In some cases we found other sensitive documents, such as a bank statement, and a screenshot of a web page that had subscribers’ online usernames, passwords and account PINs — which in combination could allow access to a customer’s account.

U.K.-based penetration testing company Fidus Information Security found the exposed data, but it wasn’t immediately clear who owned the bucket. Fidus disclosed the security lapse to Amazon, which informed the customer of the exposure — without naming them. The bucket was subsequently shut down.

A Verizon and AT&T phone bill from two customers. (Image: supplied)

A T-Mobile bill found on the exposed servers. A handful of Sprint bills were also found. (Image: supplied)

After a brief review of the cache, we found one document that said, simply, “TEST.” When we ran the file through a metadata checker, it revealed the name of the person who created the document — an account executive at Deardorff Communications, the marketing agency tasked with the Sprint promotion.

When reached, Jeff Deardorff, president of Deardorff Communications, confirmed his company owned the bucket and that access was restricted earlier on Wednesday.

“I have launched an internal investigation to determine the root cause of this issue, and we are also reviewing our policies and procedures to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” he told TechCrunch in an email.

Given the exposed information involved customers of the big four cell giants, we contacted each company. AT&T did not comment, and T-Mobile did not respond to a request for comment. Verizon spokesperson Richard Young said the company was “currently reviewing” the matter and would have details “as soon as it’s available.” (TechCrunch is owned by Verizon.)

When reached, a spokesperson for Sprint would not disclose the nature of its relationship with Deardorff nor would they comment on the record at the time of writing.

It’s not known why the data was exposed in the first place. It’s not uncommon for AWS storage buckets to be misconfigured by being set to “public” and not “private.”

“The uptrend we’re seeing in sensitive data being publicly accessible is concerning, despite Amazon releasing tools to help combat this,” said Harriet Lester, director of research and development at Fidus. “This scenario was slightly different to usual as it was tricky to identify the owner of the bucket, but thankfully the security team at AWS were able to pass the report on to the owner within hours and public access was shut down soon after.”

We asked Deardorff if his company plans to inform those whose information was exposed by the security lapse. We did not immediately receive a response.

Read more:


TechCrunch

Iran, one of the countries most strongly identified with the rise cyber terrorism and malicious hacking, appears now to be using an iron fist to turn on its own. The country has reportedly shut down nearly all internet access in the country in retaliation to escalating protests that were originally ignited by a rise in fuel prices, according to readings taken by NetBlocks, an NGO that monitors cybersecurity and internet governance around the world.

The last reports of outages came from yesterday (Saturday) evening, so we have contacted NetBlocks to get a more updated picture.

So far, the picture looks pretty bleak. Babak Taghvaee, a defense analyst and historian who is not based in Iran who has been posting some videos of the protest skirmishes, confirms to me that his own internet communication lines with contacts have also been broken, with phones still working, albeit with monitoring from the State.

Internet is completely shut-down and I can’t communicate [with] anyone,” he said. “People just can call abroad (just certain countries) using telephone which is being monitored.”

Currently, using Twitter as one marker, it seems that there are at least some people sending out media and messages from the country, specifically related to the protests, although without specific “messaging” against the government attached to them. This one comes from Tehran, above one of the country’s main highways, showing how traffic has backed up due to streets getting closed down:

And here is another with video from the ground, showing people and police swarming.

And of course the government is still Tweeting, too:

The protests arose in response to a decision by the state to raise the price of gas in the country by 50%.

As this AP article points out, Iran has some of the cheapest gas in the world — in part because it has one of the world’s biggest crude oil reserves — and so residents in the country see cheap gas as a “birthright.”

Many use their cars not just to get around themselves but to provide informal taxi services to others, so — regardless your opinion on whether using fossil fuels is something to be defended or not — hiking up the prices cuts right to ordinary people’s daily lives, and has served as the spark for protest in the country over bigger frustrations with the government and economy, as Iran continues to struggle under the weight of US sanctions.

Clamping down on internet access as a way of trying to contain not just protesters’ communication with each other, but also the outside world, is not an unprecedented move; it is part and parcel of how un-democratic regimes control their people and situations. Alarmingly, its use seems to be growing.

Pakistan in September cut off internet access in specific regions response to protests over conflicts with India. And Russia — which has now approved a bill to be able to shut down internet access should it decide to — is now going to start running a series of drills to ensure its blocks work when they are being used in live responses.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.


TechCrunch

India said on Monday that it is moving ahead with its plan to revise existing rules to regulate intermediaries — social media apps and others that rely on users to create their content — as they are causing “unimaginable disruption” to democracy.

In a legal document filed with the country’s apex Supreme Court, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said it would formulate the rules to regulate intermediaries by January 15, 2020.

In the legal filing, the government department said the internet had “emerged as a potent tool to cause unimaginable disruption to the democratic polity.” Oversight of intermediaries, the ministry said, would help in addressing the “ever growing threats to individual rights and nation’s integrity, sovereignty and security.”

The Indian government published a draft of guidelines for consultation late last year. The proposed rules, which revise the 2011 laws, identified any service — social media or otherwise — that have more than 5 million users as intermediaries.

Government officials said at the time that modern rules were needed, otherwise circulation of false information and other misuse of internet platforms would continue to flourish.

The Monday filing comes as a response to an ongoing case in India filed by Facebook to prevent the government from forcing WhatsApp to introduce a system that would enable revealing the source of messages exchanged on the popular instant messaging platform, which counts India as its biggest market with more than 400 million users.

Some have suggested that social media platforms should require their users in India to link their accounts with Aadhaar — a government-issued, 12-digit biometric ID. More than 1.2 billion people in India have been enrolled in the system.

Facebook executives have argued that meeting such demands would require breaking the end-to-end encryption that WhatsApp users enjoy globally. The company executives have said that taking away the encryption would compromise the safety and privacy of its users. The Supreme Court will hear Facebook’s case on Tuesday.

India’s online population has ballooned in recent years. More than 600 million users in India are online today, according to industry estimates. The proliferation of low-cost Android handsets and access to low-cost mobile data in the nation have seen “more and more people in India become part of the internet and social media platforms.”

“On the one hand, technology has led to economic growth and societal development, on the other hand there has been an exponential rise in hate speech, fake news, public order, anti-national activities, defamatory postings, and other unlawful activities using Internet/social media platforms,” a lower court told the apex court earlier.


TechCrunch

Internet providers are real bastards: they have captive audiences whom they squeeze for every last penny while they fight against regulation like net neutrality and donate immense amounts of money to keep on lawmakers’ good sides. So why not turn the tables? Here are 13 ways to make sure your ISP has a hard time taking advantage of you (and may even put it on the defensive).

Disclosure: Verizon, an internet provider guilty of all these infractions, owns TechCrunch, and I don’t care.

1. Buy a modem and router instead of renting

The practice of renting a device to users rather than selling it or providing it as part of the service is one of the telecommunications industry’s oldest and worst. People pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars over years for equipment worth $ 40 or $ 50. ISPs do this with various items, but the most common item is probably the modem.

This is the gadget that connects to the cable coming out of your wall, and then connects in turn (or may also function as) your wireless and wired router. ISPs often provide this equipment at the time of install, and then charge you $ 5 to $ 10 per month forever. What they don’t tell you is you can probably buy the exact same item for somewhere between $ 30 and $ 100.

The exact model you need will depend on your service, but it will be listed somewhere, and they should tell you what they’d provide if you ask. Look online, buy a new or lightly used one, and it will have paid for itself before the year is out. Not only that, but you can do stuff like upgrade or change the software on it all you want, because it’s yours. Bonus: The ISP is limited in what it can do to the router (like letting other people connect — yes, it’s a thing).

2. Avoid service calls, or if you can’t, insist they’re free

I had an issue with my Comcast internet a while back that took them several visits from a service tech to resolve. It wasn’t an issue on my end, which was why I was surprised to find they’d charged me $ 30 or so every time the person came.

If your ISP wants to send someone out, ask whether it’s free, and if it isn’t, tell them to make it free or ask if you can do it yourself (sometimes it’s for really simple stuff like swapping a cable). If they charge you for a visit, call them and ask them to take it off your bill. Say you weren’t informed and you’ll inform the Better Business Bureau about it, or take your business elsewhere, or something. They’ll fold.

When someone does come…

3. Get deals from the installer

If you do end up having someone come out, talk to them to see whether there are any off the record deals they can offer you. I don’t mean anything shady like splitting cables with the neighbor, just offers they know about that aren’t publicized because they’re too good to advertise.

A lot of these service techs are semi-independent contractors paid by the call, and their pay has nothing to do with which service you have or choose. They have no reason to upsell you and every reason to make you happy and get a good review. Sometimes that means giving you the special desperation rates ISPs withhold until you say you’re going to leave.

And as long as you’re asking…

4. Complain, complain, complain

This sounds bad, but it’s just a consequence of how these companies work: The squeaky wheels get the grease. There’s plenty of grease to go around, so get squeaking.

Usually this means calling up and doing one of several things. You can complain that service has been bad — outages and such — and ask that they compensate you for that. You can say that a competing ISP started offering service at your location and it costs $ 20 less, so can they match that. Or you can say your friend just got a promotional rate and you’d like to take advantage of it… otherwise you’ll leave to that phantom competitor. (After all, we know there’s often little or no real competition.)

What ISPs, and, more importantly, what their customer service representatives care about is keeping you on as a customer. They can always raise rates or upsell you later, but having you as a subscriber is the important thing.

Note that some reps are more game than others. Some will give you the runaround, while others will bend over backwards to help you out. Feel free to call a few times and do a bit of window shopping. (By the way, if you get someone nice, give them a good review if you get the chance, usually right after the call or chat. It helps them out a lot.) Obviously you can’t call every week with new demands, so wait until you think you can actually save some money.

Which reminds me…

5. Choose your service level wisely

ISPs offer a ton of choices, and make it confusing on purpose so you end up picking an expensive one just to be sure you have what you need. The truth is most people can probably do pretty much everything they need on the lowest tier they offer.

A 1080p Netflix stream will work fine on a 25 Mbps connection, which is what I have. I also work entirely online, stream high-def videos at a dozen sites all day, play games, download movies and do lots of other stuff, sometimes all at the same time. I think I pay $ 45 a month. But rates like mine might not be advertised prominently or at all. I only found out when I literally asked what the cheapest possible option was.

That said, if you have three kids who like to watch videos simultaneously, or you have a 4K streaming setup that you use a lot, you’ll want to bump that up a bit. But you’d be surprised how seldom the speed limit actually comes into play.

To be clear, it’s still important that higher tiers are available, and that internet providers upgrade their infrastructure, because competition and reliability need to go up and prices need to come down. The full promise of broadband should be accessible to everyone for a reasonable fee, and that’s still not the case.

6. Stream everything because broadcast TV is a joke

Cord-cutting is fun. Broadcast TV is annoying, and getting around ads and air times using a DVR is very 2005. Most shows are available on streaming services of some kind or another, and while those services are multiplying, you could probably join all of them for well under what you’re paying for the 150 cable channels you never watch.

Unless you really need to watch certain games or news shows as they’re broadcast, you can get by streaming everything. This has the side effect of starving networks of viewers and accelerating the demise of these 20th-century relics. Good ones will survive as producers and distributors of quality programming, and you can support them individually on their own merits. It’s a weird transitional time for TV, but we need to drop-kick them into the future so they’ll stop charging us for a media structure established 50 years ago.

Something isn’t available on a streaming service? 100 percent chance it’s because of some dumb exclusivity deal or licensing SNAFU. Go pirate it for now, then happily pay for it as soon as it’s made available. This method is simple for you and instructive for media companies. (They always see piracy rates drop when they make things easy to find and purchase.)

This also lets you avoid certain fees ISPs love tacking onto your bill. I had a “broadcast TV fee” on my bill despite not having any kind of broadcast service, and I managed to get it taken off and retroactively paid back.

On that note…

7. Watch your bill like a hawk

Telecoms just love putting things on your bill with no warning. It’s amazing how much a bill can swell from the quoted amount once they’ve added all the little fees, taxes and service charges. What are they, anyway? Why not call and ask?

You might find out, as I did, that your ISP had “mistakenly” been charging you for something — like equipment — that you never had nor asked for. Amazing how these lucrative little fees tend to fall through the cracks!

Small charges often increase and new ones get added as well, so download your bill when you get it and keep it somewhere (or just keep the paper copies). These are really handy to have when you’re on the phone with a rep. “Why wasn’t I informed my bill would increase this month by $ 50?” “Why is this fee more now than it was in July?” “Why do I pay a broadcast fee if I don’t pay for TV?” These are the types of questions that get you discounts.

Staying on top of these fees also means you’ll be more aware when there are things like mass refunds or class action lawsuits about them. Usually these have to be opted into — your ISP isn’t going to call you, apologize and send a check.

As long as you’re looking closely at your bill…

8. Go to your account and opt out of everything

When you sign up for broadband service, you’re going to get opted into a whole heap of things. They don’t tell you about these, like the ads they can inject, the way they’re selling this or that data or that your router might be used as a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

You’ll only find this out if you go to your account page at your ISP’s website and look at everything. Beyond the usual settings like your address and choice of whether to receive a paper bill, you’ll probably find a few categories like “privacy” and “communications preferences.”

Click through all of these and look for any options to opt out of stuff. You may find that your ISP has reserved the right to let partners email you, use your data in ways you wouldn’t expect and so on. It only takes a few minutes to get out of all this, and it deprives the ISP of a source of income while also providing a data point that subscribers don’t like these practices.

9. Share your passwords

Your friend’s internet provider gets him streaming services A, B and C, while yours gives you X, Y and Z. Again, this is not about creators struggling to get their content online, but rather all about big media and internet corporations striking deals that make them money and harm consumers.

Share your (unique, not reused!) passwords widely and with a clean conscience. No company objects when you invite your friends over to watch “Fleabag” at your house. This just saves everyone a drive!

10. Encrypt everything and block trackers

One of the internet companies’ many dirty little deals is collecting and selling information on their customers’ watching and browsing habits. Encrypting your internet traffic puts the kibosh on this creepy practice — as well as being good security.

This isn’t really something you can do too much to accomplish, since over the last few years encryption has become the rule rather than the exception, even at sites where you don’t log in or buy anything. If you want to be sure, download a browser plug-in like HTTPS everywhere, which opts you into a secure connection anywhere it’s available. You can tell it’s secure because the URL says “https://” instead of “http://” — and most browsers have other indicators or warnings as well.

You should also use an ad blocker, not necessarily to block ads that keep outlets like TechCrunch alive (please), but to block trackers seeded across the web by companies that use sophisticated techniques to record everything you do. ISPs are among these and/or do business with them, so everything you can do to hinder them is a little mud in their eye.

Incidentally there are lots of ways you can protect your privacy from those who would invade it — we’ve got a pretty thorough guide here.

11. Use a different DNS

Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

On a similar note, most ISPs will usually be set up by default with their own “Domain Name Service,” which is the thing that your browser pings to convert a text web URL (like “techcrunch.com”) to its numerical IP address.

There are lots of these to choose from, and they all work, but if you use your ISP’s, it makes it much easier for them to track your internet activity. They also can block certain websites by refusing to provide the IP for content they don’t like.

TechCrunch doesn’t officially endorse one, but lots of companies offer free, fast DNS that’s easy to switch to. Here’s a good list; there are big ones (Google, Cloudflare), “open” ones (OpenDNS, OpenNIC) and others with some niche features. All you need to do is slot those two numbers into your internet configuration, following the instructions they provide. You can change it back at any time.

Setting up a VPN is another option for very privacy-conscious individuals, but it can be complicated. And speaking of complicated…

12. Run a home server

This is a bit advanced, but it’s definitely something ISPs hate. Setting up your home computer or a dedicated device to host a website, script or service seems like a natural use of an always-on internet connection, but just about everyone in the world would rather you sign up for their service, hosted on their hardware and their connection.

Well, you don’t have to! You can do it on your own. Of course, you’ll have to learn how to run and install a probably Unix-based server, handle registry stuff, install various packages and keep up to date so you don’t get owned by some worm or bot… but you’ll have defied the will of the ISP. That’s the important thing.

13. Talk to your local government

ISPs hate all the things above, but what they hate the most by far is regulation. And you, as a valued citizen of your state and municipality, are in a position to demand it. Senators, representatives, governors, mayors, city councils and everyone else actually love to hear from their constituency, not because they desire conversation but because they can use it to justify policy.

During the net neutrality fight, a constant refrain I heard from government officials was how much they’d heard from voters about the issue and how unanimous it was (in support, naturally). A call or email from you won’t sway national politics, but a few thousand calls or emails from people in your city just might sway a local law or election. These things add up, and they do matter. State net neutrality policies are now the subject of national attention, and local privacy laws like those in Illinois are the bane of many a shady company.

Tell your local government about your experience with ISPs — outages, fees, sneaky practices or even good stuff — and they’ll file it away for when that data is needed, such as renegotiating the contracts national companies sign with those governments in order to operate in their territories.

Internet providers only do what they do because they are permitted to, and even then they often step outside the bounds of what’s acceptable — which is why rules like net neutrality are needed. But first people have to speak out.


TechCrunch

You wake up, and check your phone, and see a new condemnation. Some awful person has said something outrageously insulting. Something actually evil, if you think about it. Something that belittles, dehumanizes, and/or argues against the freedom and agency of a whole category of people.

You add your voice to the furious chorus in response. How can you not? These people may never understand how wrong they are, they’re too ignorant and wedded to their idiocy for that, but they need to know that they are opposed, and their opponents are legion.

We all know what you mean when you say ‘these people.’ The ones who voted for those awful faces on every news site and TV channel, the ones whose names alone cause you to clench with fury. The ones responsible for the awful, unforgivable things happening at the border. The ones responsible for the reports of violence in the streets.

If pushed you’d probably admit that only some of These People are genuinely evil. More than you could have imagined in your worst nightmares five years ago, but still, only some. Others may be prisoners of their upbringing, or their ignorance, or victims of their own hardships, lashing out wildly. But what they all seem to have in common is an incapacity for compassion.

It’s easy to distance yourself from Them. It’s hard not to. The overwhelming majority of the people with whom you actually interact are Us.

You know you should try to feel compassion for Them, as you should for everyone. Not sympathy. Sympathy is very different. But your religion, or your spirituality, or your morality, or simply your belief, teaches you compassion for all. But how can you hold compassion for people who seem incapable of compassion themselves? People who don’t condemn, who actually cheer, what’s happening at the border?

And so every online outrage leaches a little more compassion away, widens and deepens the abyss between Us and Them a little further. You know intellectually that many of these viral outrages stem from bots, programmed by trolls or worse, and each new one does not represent every member of … them.

But you can’t help but grow more certain with each new outrage, in your heart if not your head, that there is a Them. That there are no longer people with whom one can reasonably disagree. That there are now only Us, and Them.

You realize when you think about it that this makes it easier to give people who are notionally Us a pass when they too behave with a flagrant lack of compassion, or judge people’s whole lives by their worst moments, or prioritize the purity of the process they have decreed over any actual results accomplished.

You realize that the growing abyss between Us and Them makes both sides close ranks, makes it harder for people who are Them and yet who have uneasy, even horrified feelings about what’s happening at the border in their name, to at least speak against it. They should anyway. Of course they should. But people are weak. The easier something becomes, the more that people do it.

You understand, on some level, that the online divide is different from the awful things actually happening offline. That the latter matters, deeply, and the former … not so much. That the former distracts both sides from great systemic injustices which have learned to lie hidden in bland terminology, coolly steering clear of the outrage of Us versus Them.

But you slept poorly, you’re exhausted, and you already have so much to do, so many duties to attend to at your frustrating job, so many worries to keep at bay, once you get out of this bed. Maybe all that is because of those systemic injustices, but those are a rot, those are cancer, those are bone-deep, and the evils at the border are an open wound about which something must done immediately. They are responsible for those evils. They must be fought and stopped.

So you add your voice to the furious chorus. And you give more money to those fighting the real fight at the border, because you know that’s what’s actually important. And maybe before you roll out of bed you pause to wonder how much the great online divide represents reality, or how much it prefigures reality; whether They really have all lost their minds and their moral compasses.

And you can’t help but wonder: even if they haven’t, what can now be done?


TechCrunch


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