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Google’s Project Loon close to commercialization


Google is looking to create a way to connect four billion people still without basic internet access to the rest of the world, by utilizing hot-air balloons filled with LTE signals, capable of transmitting up to 20mbps to customers.

This is known internally as Project Loon and is one of the many Google X Labs projects currently being worked on, in conjunction with Google’s acquisition of SkyBox Imaging and $1 billion investment in SpaceX for low-orbit satellites.

Google understands the commercial benefit of having four billion new people on the internet, but is also focused on making internet a human right, rather than a luxury, and no matter where you are the internet should be affordable and available.

The balloons are capable of global deployment and Google’s current tests show over 100 days for each balloon, while in the early days the team would struggle to keep the balloons in the air for more than five. The amount of innovation in the past two years to make the balloons more reliable and the internet faster are huge in the context of potential internet access in remote areas.

Essentially the balloon is made of one part helium to get it in the air, and one part air to reduce the height. Google can remotely control the balloon by moving with the wind and changing the levels of air inside the balloon, allowing it to map a course for each balloon.

Having a fleet of balloons constantly circling the world is the end goal, meaning vast remote areas in places like Africa, Asia and even Europe always have internet connectivity of some kind. Google could rent the space to local carriers for a cheap price, and also look towards setting up its own wireless network in the country.

Google is still a few years from true commercialization of the balloons, but these new advancements in testing mean in a few years Google could be the major provider of remote access to internet, a lucrative market Facebook and other internet companies are fighting to win.


FCC Passes Strong Net Neutrality Laws

The Federal Communications Commission has voted in favor of the strongest net neutrality laws by three to two, in a landslide victory for consumer advocacy groups and net neutrality supporters who have battle for months to get the vote passed.

New laws will go into effect later this year, essentially stopping programs like prioritization of content and throttling. The FCC will also be given much more control over internet service providers, and will have more authority over the internet in general.

It is not certain that the bill will pass in Congress, considering the new Republican-backed government is strongly against the Title II reclassification of broadband providers. Republicans even asked for Chairman Tom Wheeler to reconsider the reclassification, even offering the FCC more control over the internet in general.

Wheeler made an excellent statement on the regulation:

The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet. It is simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field. Think about it. The Internet has replaced the functions of the telephone and the post office. The Internet has redefined commerce, and as the outpouring from four million Americans has demonstrated, the Internet is the ultimate vehicle for free expression. The Internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules.

This proposal has been described by one opponent as “a secret plan to regulate the Internet.” Nonsense. This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concepts: openness, expression, and an absence of gate keepers telling people what they can do, where they can go, and what they can think.

AT&T and Comcast both plan to sue the FCC on the new plan, but there attempts will not do much good considering President Obama and nearly every single internet company in the U.S. backs the idea of net neutrality in full.

The only current issue is the FCC will not disclose the plan, while the Chairman has stated it is what the internet wanted, it might come with a few small print details that would offer loopholes for the broadband companies.

However, this does not appear to be the case considering all of them are planning to the sue the FCC. Hopefully we will hear the finer details of the plan in the next few months.


Dutch-based SIM maker Gemalto has confirmed the British and American intelligence agencies GCHQ and NSA did attack the company’s office computers, but did not manage to steal encryption keys from the database.

It comes a week after The Intercept reported on Gemalto’s break-in, which came as a surprise to the organisation. Since that day, Gemalto’s stock has dropped by almost half a billion in value, potentially making this newest statement rash.

Gemalto claimed it had found the root cause of the attack within a week and managed to thwart efforts, but crypto-security experts claim this is near impossible given the magnitude and sophistication of NSA and GCHQ surveillance and malware.

In the case of the Iranian nuclear centrifuges, it took them over a year to notice the issues, and once they brought in experts it still took months to get rid of the Stuxnet attack. If the Iranian government cannot removing these attacks in under a month, how come Gemalto’s security team only took a few days to identify the problem.

It doesn’t seem plausible, and Gemalto is almost certainly hiding the truth of the attack and potentially the scale. Perhaps, in all honesty, the company does not yet know how much the NSA and GCHQ have rooted themselves into the core of the encryption system, but they are bound to find out with more investigation.

The quick response is a worry to anti-surveillance experts however, considering Gemalto’s SIM security is on over 2 billion SIMs worldwide. If Gemalto is not seriously hiring to prevent another attack and investigate the full extent of the attack, it could lead to the malware (if it is there) staying on the system forever.

Interestingly, the Dutch government has been extremely quiet about the attack, similar to Belgium’s government in the Belgacom attack. This is another worry, if European countries are not only scared to speak out against the UK and US, but working in partnership with the two countries.

Source: The Intercept


Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour wins Oscar


On the most celebrated night in movies in the United States, director Laura Poitras, journalist Glenn Greenwald and some of team who worked on Citizenfour went on stage to accept the Oscar for ‘Best Documentary'; following the change in Edward Snowden’s life following the revelations of U.S. global surveillance.

The documentary showed a different side to the usually confident Snowden, appealing to those that believe he is some sort of “traitor” and he only did it to perk himself into the annuals of history.

Poitras was able to capture footage in Hong Kong, where Snowden met journalist Glenn Greenwald (who went on to create The Intercept) and Guardian Ewen MacAskill to discuss the NSA documents, alongside film of his time in Moscow, Russia, where he resides to this day.

Compared to the previous face of leaking government documents, Julian Assange, Snowden is a lot more out of focus. In the early days, the NSA whistleblower did not want to appear at all on camera, in case the campaign became all about him and not the fact millions of people were being spied on.

It has been almost two years since Snowden first revealed information on the NSA and these revelations have lead to huge backlash against the U.S. government from internet companies and other governments. Brazil has closed its internet borders, Germany has went cold turkey on all U.S. partnerships and other countries are following.

It has also brought a heightened sense of awareness that any and all communication could be watched, leading even more people underground to source information. Google and Apple have worked to protect mobile users with new encryption tools, and companies like Microsoft and Twitter have actively took the U.S. government to court over these illegal attacks.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but the acknowledgement for best documentary goes a good way to spreading the message.


Apple spends $2 billion in European data centers


Apple wants to make its infrastructure in Europe larger and eco-friendly, investing $2 billion into two data centers powered by 100 percent renewable energy. The data centers are paramount to Apple’s iTunes, Siri, iCloud and iMessage services, which need to delivered directly for maximum efficiency.

Athenry, Ireland and Viborg, Denmark are the two sites for Apple’s development, which will be underway in the next few months and fully operational by 2017. It is a new push by Apple to establish more data centers worldwide, as its services continue to grow with the massive iPhone and iPad sales.

“We are grateful for Apple’s continued success in Europe and proud that our investment supports communities across the continent,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. “This significant new investment represents Apple’s biggest project in Europe to date. We’re thrilled to be expanding our operations, creating hundreds of local jobs and introducing some of our most advanced green building designs yet.”

This is one of the first data center projects to run on 100 percent renewables, others in the U.S. still utilize some of non-renewable energy. Apple has been one of the largest investors in green energy, spending billions on a solar farm in the U.S.

Apple is not loved in the European Union due to its apparent tax dodging scandals, but these two new data centers might mend the damage, plus it offers new security against U.S. surveillance groups. Apple also based one data center in the Republic of Ireland, keeping it out of range from the UK’s own surveillance team, GCHQ.

Both centers will be 166,000 square meters and offer local services, in Athenry there will be indoor swimming pools and other recreational spots alongside natural wildlife, in Viborg excess heat from the data center will be used to warm homes.

Apple is also hiring a small force to work on the data centers, bringing money into the local economy.

Data centers are becoming a more realized opportunity by many internet companies, keen to bring local data to regions and countries. Facebook, Google and even Riot Games are working on data centers in the U.S. and Europe, to create a direct route to customers.

Even though data centers offer much better networking, it is a risk for smaller companies since the maintenance and land costs can be quite high, however some of the expenses can be offset by leasing the data center to other companies—Apple will not do this we suspect.


The U.S. National Security Agency and its counterpart in the UK GCHQ have both been branded for a huge attack on SIM manufacturer Gemalto by The Intercept, who claim a covert operation was in place to steal encryption keys for large batches of SIM cards, allowing both agencies to bypass normal measures for wiretapping and surveillance.

It is the second large scale attack headed by the British intelligence unit GCHQ with help from the NSA on a European component provider, the previous being Belgium’s Belgacom.

Once again, Gemalto claim it had no idea that the SIMs were un-secure, and in an interview executive vice president Paul Beverly claims the first act is to get to the bottom of how this happened and the extent of the hack, before charging into legal battles with both agencies.

The complete disregard for the law has been apparent in all of the reports from Edward Snowden’s leaked files, showing the GCHQ and NSA both do not care about the potential effects and abuses in surveillance and hacking. A humorous gesture while both look to cozy up to internet companies at home, claiming they should work together on security.

The hacked SIMs allow for almost universal control of Gemalto’s network, which consists of up to 2 billion SIMs. U.S. carriers like T-Mobile, Sprint and UK carriers like Vodafone and EE are all partners – and their users have been actively monitored by the agencies.

GCHQ has been working with a team specifically for hacking into top priority areas in Gemalto’s servers, to steal private information. The team has been active since 2010, but GCHQ has been working on ways to grab more mobile knowledge since 2007.

Both intelligence agencies have declined to comment.


Russian researchers link firmware bugs to U.S. government


Russian security firm Kaspersky has reported “the most sophisticated computer and network attack” is part of an operation by the U.S. government to maintain surveillance on Russian, Chinese, Iranian, Iraqi and Afghani networks.

The attack was similar to the U.S. and Israel’s Stuxnet attack on Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010, capable of breaking down one fifth of the centrifuges before the Iranian nuclear workers managed to spot the deficiency.

Kaspersky Labs managed to figure out what the attack was, noting that the worm was able to bury deep into the firmware of a computer, rendering it inoperable to surveillance. Even if the computer’s hard drive was removed, it would still hold the surveillance programming on, and the only way to destroy it would be to destroy the computer.

Effects were even worse if the worm managed to find its way onto a network, capable of sending tons of data back to the U.S., all without the program ever revealing its true intentions. According to Kaspersky, the program mimics a normal Windows updater.

Several governments have distanced themselves from the U.S. government due to the mass surveillance reports from NSA Edward Snowden, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel who found out the NSA were listening in on the Chancellor’s conference meetings, and Brazil who developed a fiber optic cable to Portugal, removing its internet ties with the U.S.

However, this report is the first solid proof that the U.S. has been implanting surveillance technology on other country’s networks. The U.S. government could face serious consequences economically, especially with China who have just recently warmed to the U.S.


Iran Learned From NSA Cyber Attacks


Iran suffered from one of the most sophisticated cyber attacks in 2010, when the National Security Agency and other U.S. and Israeli operatives implemented a virus worm on Iranian nuclear power plants—named Stuxnet—destroying one fifth of its main nuclear centrifuges.

Even though the Stuxnet attack has been documented as one of the most sophisticated and hard to spot attacks, the Iranian intelligence force managed to notice it before all of the work on nuclear material had been corrupted.

Following the attack, Iran started investing more time into cyber warfare, learning from the Stuxnet attack and utilizing the same code on Saudi Aramco in 2012. Iranian cyber forces have also been responsible for attacking hundreds of companies worldwide, in the U.S., Europe, Japan, South Korea and other countries with DDoS (denial of service) attacks.

These attacks are normally used to steal private information about infrastructure or anything relating to the government, and the Tehran unit normally uses evasive measures to block any traces back to Iran.

In a recently leaked NSA document from whistleblower Edward Snowden, a report says the NSA are worried about Iran’s continued investment in cyber attacks, claiming it is learning from earlier attacks on Iran.

Iran is noted as one of the most dangerous countries for cyber attacks in the world, on the same level as China, Russia and the U.S. for potential damage. It is also the most active out of the four, using several tactics to steal information and damage infrastructure in several countries.

Continued attacks might lead to more NSA intervention, but in the past five years Iran has gained a lot of information on cyber security, making it harder for anyone to attack Tehran without being noticed by the defensive unit.