Top Stories for the Week of February 22, 2017

  • From Category5 Technology TV S10E23
  • February 22, 2017
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Here are the stories we're following for the week of Wednesday February 22, 2017

Cayla is now illegal in Germany

Remember the Cayla doll we reported on during Episode 481? Well, it's now illegal in Germany to sell the talking doll. And that's just the beginning.

A German government watchdog has ordered parents to "destroy" the internet-connected doll for fear it could be used as a surveillance device. According to a report from BBC News, the German Federal Network Agency said the doll (which contains a microphone and speaker) was equivalent to a "concealed transmitting device" and therefore prohibited under German telecom law... In December last year, privacy advocates said the toy recorded kids' conversations without proper consent, violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

Cayla uses a microphone to listen to questions, sending this audio over Wi-Fi to a third-party company that converts it to text. This is then used to search the internet, allowing the doll to answer basic questions, like "What's a baby kangaroo called?" as well as play games. In addition to privacy concerns over data collection, security researchers found that Cayla can be easily hacked. The doll's insecure Bluetooth connection can be compromised, letting a third party record audio via the toy, or even speak to children using its voice.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has said toys like this "subject young children to ongoing surveillance...without any meaningful data protection standards." One researcher pointed out that the doll was accessible from up to 33 feet away -- even through walls -- using a bluetooth-enabled device.


Sent to us by: The Albuquerque Turque

The founder of a Florida marketing firm who used illicit tactics to send spam email has been sent to jail.

A marketer who used stolen email accounts to collect more than a million dollars by spamming people has been sent to prison for four years.

Timothy Livingston, 31, was handed the 48-month term after he pleaded guilty to counts of conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with computers and access devices, conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with electronic mail, and aggravated identity theft.

The sentence was handed out on Thursday by Judge William J Martini in the New Jersey District court where Livingston pled guilty to the charges last year.

Based in Boca Raton, Livingston ran and operated a marketing company called A Whole Lot of Nothing LLC, which specialized in sending out bulk emails for clients.

The US Department of Justice said, "Livingston's clients included legitimate businesses – such as insurance companies that wished to send bulk emails to advertise their businesses – as well as illegal entities, such as online pharmacies that sold narcotics without prescriptions".

What the clients did not know (or chose not to ask) was how Livingston was able to send out so many emails. The marketer had an arsenal of botnet-controlled accounts and compromised servers he used to help send out the spam runs without being identified or detected by spam filters. He would then collect a commission every time one of his junk mail messages was converted to a sale.

Livingston's co-defendant, Tomasz Chmielarz of New Jersey, also admitted writing the malware used to infect and control the botnets.

By the time Livingston was finally caught, it is estimated his spamming network was able to rack up around $1.35m in ill-gotten gains. He will have to forfeit all of that as part of his plea deal.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

Bill Gates thinks the government should tax robots who take the jobs of human workers.

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and world’s richest man, said in an interview Friday that robots that steal human jobs should pay their fair share of taxes.

“Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, Social Security tax, all those things,” he said. “If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”

Gates made the remark during an interview with Quartz. He said robot taxes could help fund projects like caring for the elderly or working with children in school. Quartz reported that European Union lawmakers considered a proposal to tax robots in the past. The law was rejected.


Sent to us by: Jeff Weston

February's critical update to Microsoft Windows has been delayed, despite its urgency

Microsoft has delayed the release of a security update that would have fixed a vulnerability cyber thieves are known to be exploiting.

The fix was to be released as part of Microsoft's regular monthly security update for its Windows software.
In a blog, it said a "last minute issue" had got in the way of the updates being sent out as usual.

The delay is thought to be related to changes Microsoft was due to make to the way updates were delivered.

The February update was scheduled to include a patch for a problem with a part of Windows that handles particular types of file-transfers.

The bug was first reported to Microsoft in September and code to exploit it is believed to be available to malicious hackers. The flaw is present in most versions of Windows and could leave users open to attacks that let hackers crash vulnerable machines.

Microsoft has already delayed releasing the file-transfer fix because it wanted to include it with other updates for the same Windows sub-system that it previously planned for February.

February was also when Microsoft was due to break its security fixes into two - one for Windows and another for its browsers. Getting the separation and testing system to work reliably is believed to have caused the delay.

No date has been given for when the delayed update will be delivered.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

Using machine learning, Google's Project Loon is moving quickly to bringing Internet service to areas where it was previously unavailable.

Researchers at Google say they are “years closer” to rolling out a network of huge balloons to provide connectivity to rural areas.

The Project Loon team, part of the company’s X research lab, said it was now able to use machine learning to predict weather systems.

It means the firm has far greater control over where its balloons go, making it possible to focus on a specific region, rather than circumnavigating the globe.

Clustering a small number of balloons greatly reduces the cost of the idea, Google’s “captain of moonshots”, Astro Teller, told reporters.

He says, "We can now run an experiment and try to give service in a particular place in the world with ten, twenty or thirty balloons,” he said, rather than the hundreds needed previously.

“Real users” will be able to use the system in the “coming months”, he added - but he did not specify where the initial roll out would take place.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash


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