Wireless Internet

These cheap phones come at a price -- your privacy

Cheap phones are coming at the price of your privacy, security analysts discovered.

At $60, the Blu R1 HD is the top-selling phone on Amazon. In November 2016, researchers caught it secretly sending private data to China. Shanghai Adups Technology, the group behind the spying software on the Blu R1 HD, called it a mistake. But analysts at Kryptowire found the software provider is still making the same "mistake" on other phones. At the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday, researchers from Kryptowire, a security firm, revealed that Adups' software is still sending a device's data to the company's server in Shanghai without alerting people. But now, it's being more secretive about it. "They replaced them with nicer versions," Ryan Johnson, a research engineer and co-founder at Kryptowire, said. "I have captured the network traffic of them using the command and control channel when they did it."

GAO Report: Internet of Things: Communities Deploy Projects by Combing Federal Support with Other Funds and Expertise

Communities are increasingly deploying IoT devices generally with a goal of improving livability, management, service delivery, or competitiveness. GAO was asked to examine federal support for IoT and the use of IoT in communities. This report describes: (1) the kinds of efforts that selected federal agencies have undertaken to support IoT in communities and (2) how selected communities are using federal funds to deploy IoT projects.

GAO reviewed documents and interviewed officials from 11 federal agencies identified as having a key role in supporting IoT in communities, including agencies that support research or community IoT efforts or that have direct authority over IoT issues. GAO interviewed a non-generalizeable sample of representatives from multiple stakeholder groups in four communities, selected to include a range of community sizes and locations and communities with projects that used federal support. GAO also reviewed relevant literature since 2013 and discussed federal efforts and community challenges with 11 stakeholders from academia and the private sector, selected to reflect a range of perspectives on IoT issues. GAO requested comments on a draft of this product from 11 federal agencies. Five agencies provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. Six agencies did not provide comments.

FTC Announces Winner of its Internet of Things Home Device Security Contest

The Federal Trade Commission announced that a mobile app developed by a New Hampshire software developer was awarded the top prize in the agency’s competition seeking tools to help consumers protect the security of their Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The FTC launched the contest in January to challenge innovators to develop a tool that would help address security vulnerabilities of IoT devices.

With the assistance of an expert panel of five judges, the FTC awarded Steve Castle the $25,000 top prize for his proposal for a mobile app, “IoT Watchdog.” As a software developer, Castle said he was motivated to enter the contest to distill his network security knowledge and experience into a tool that can help users easily determine if their devices are out of date or if their networks are insecure. The mobile app he proposed seeks to help users manage the IoT devices in their home. It would enable users with limited technical expertise to scan their home Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networks to identify and inventory connected devices. It would flag devices with out-of-date software and other common vulnerabilities and provide instructions on how to update each device’s software and fix other vulnerabilities.

How Smart Devices Could Violate Your Privacy

Where smart technologies are concerned, the expectation of privacy extends only from the consumer to machine. Once the machine communicates with an outside server – even where data is sent to a server controlled by the product's manufacturer – privacy is violated. Currently, law enforcement can obtain a search warrant compelling a third party to turn over data recorded by the smart device if the company can control or access the information.

The Supreme Court has yet to consider a case that specifically addresses whether, in an era of modern technology where we regularly choose to give personal data to third parties, a person should have an expectation of privacy in the information. As the law stands, once information is voluntarily disclosed to a third party, he does not. One case currently pending at the Supreme Court may tee up the issue of the Third Party Doctrine in the digital age, but until the Court takes on such a case, this premise holds true. It seems the one thing technologists and lawyers alike agree on is that the "right" to privacy could be overcome by technology very soon. The danger is that the new standard will become: You have the right to remain silent, but your smart home does not.

Verizon accused of throttling Netflix and YouTube, admits to “video optimization”

Verizon acknowledged using a new video optimization system but said it is part of a temporary test and that it did not affect the actual quality of video. The video optimization appears to apply both to unlimited and limited mobile plans. But some YouTube users are reporting degraded video, saying that using a VPN service can bypass the Verizon throttling. The Federal Communications Commission generally allows mobile carriers to limit video quality as long as the limitations are imposed equally across different video services despite network neutrality rules that outlaw throttling. The net neutrality rules have exceptions for network management. "We've been doing network testing over the past few days to optimize the performance of video applications on our network," said a Verizon spokesperson. "The testing should be completed shortly. The customer video experience was not affected."

Netflix speeds on Verizon Wireless appear to be capped for some customers

With net neutrality fresh on the minds of many in the United States, it seems that the data speeds at which Verizon Wireless customers can stream Netflix videos have quietly been capped in some instances. Until one or both companies provide clarification, it’s a bit early to point the finger at Verizon. Verizon rivals AT&T and T-Mobile include some level of video “optimization” (better described as throttling) as part of their base unlimited data plans. Sprint does not, and Verizon has never given any indication that it would put a limit on video streaming speeds for unlimited customers.

Independence, Net Neutrality, and E-rate are Thorny Issues at FCC Confirmation Hearing

On July 19, 2017, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing to examine the nominations of Ajit Pai, Jessica Rosenworcel, and Brendan Carr for seats on the Federal Communications Commission.

On March 7, President Donald Trump nominated Pai, the FCC’s current chairman, for a second five-year term ending June 30, 2021. Rosenworcel is nominated for a term that would end June 30, 2020. Carr, the current general counsel at the FCC, has actually been nominated for two terms, one expiring June 30, 2018 and the second ending June 30, 2023. Carr served as legal adviser to then-FCC Commissioner Pai for three years before Pai was named chairman and appointed Carr as general counsel.

Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) characterized the hearing as both an examination of the nominees and a FCC oversight hearing, “fulfilling a commitment I’ve made to hold regular, biannual oversight hearings of the Commission.” His opinions of the nominees: “In my view, the FCC will be in very good hands when all three of these nominees are confirmed.” He noted Chairman Pai’s efforts around transparency and FCC processes, network neutrality, and robocall prevention.

Sen Bill Nelson (D-FL), the committee’s ranking member, raised issues around all three nominations. Concerning Rosenworcel, he noted that she should not have been forced to step down from the FCC at the end of 2016 when the Senate failed to reconfirm her.

Sen. Nelson identified two concerns about Brendon Carr: 1) “two consecutive terms to which the Senate is being asked to confirm you would provide you with the longest single, initial period of service of any nominee to the FCC” and 2) “it is hard to recall a similar situation where someone was nominated to serve at the commission alongside, rather than to follow, their current boss.” He stressed that it is important to have commissioners who have independent voices and “ones who will fight for consumers and the public interest.” He later asked Carr to cite an issue that he and Chairman Pai disagree on – Carr failed to answer on more than one occasion. “Going forward, I’ll make my own decisions; I’ll call it the way I see it,” Carr said. “I think my record shows that I’m not a shrinking violet.” Sen. Nelson called that response “not confidence-building.”

Finally, Sen. Nelson congratulated Chairman Pai on some recent pro-consumer actions, but said, “[M]any view these most recent consumer protection actions as mere icing on what is otherwise an unpalatable cake. A cake constructed out of actions that eliminate competitive protections, that threaten dangerous industry consolidation, that make the Internet less free and less open, and that weaken critical consumer protections for those most vulnerable.”

Net Neutrality

Network neutrality and the FCC’s 2015 decision to classify broadband internet access service providers as telecommunications providers under Title II of the Communications Act were key issues for the hearing. In his opening remarks, Chairman Thune said,

“I am pleased that Chairman Pai has sought to hit the reset button on the 2015 Title II Order, because, as I have previously said, the FCC should do what is necessary to rebalance the agency’s regulatory posture under current law. I continue to believe, however, that the best way to provide long-term protections for the Internet is for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation. Two and a half years ago I put forward legislative principles and a draft bill to begin the conversation, and I stand ready and willing today to work toward finding a lasting legislative solution that will resolve the dispute over net neutrality once and for all.”

Two senators questioned the nominees about the impact of the Title II decision on broadband investment in the US. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) cited stats, offered by broadband providers, that investment has gone down. He took issue with a New York Times story that said investment had gone up since the 2015 order. He said that increase included foreign investment, some of which he said was spurred by the Title II disincentive to invest in the US, and that there was evidence that US infrastructure investment had declined precipitously.

On the other side was Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) who said that almost half of the venture capital funds, or about $25 billion, invested since 2015 was in Internet-related businesses, with broadband providers investing $87 billion, the highest rate in a decade. Sen Markey said investment and job creation are high, so there is no problem that rolling back Title II or reviewing net neutrality rules would fix.

Both senators asked Chairman Pai for his take on their respective views, but the chairman's answer was cautious given that he has an open proceeding before him and comments on his proposal to roll back Title II and review the rules are still coming in. He said that evidence of decreased investment was one of his concerns, but that the FCC was testing that theory, as well as the opposite, as part of its due diligence.

E-Rate

While Rosenworcel, Carr and Chairman Pai all generally agreed on the importance of the FCC's E-rate program -- which makes broadband services more affordable for schools and libraries -- they initially refrained from an outright promise not to cut its funding. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) had to ask Rosenworcel a second time before she explicitly said she would not reduce the funding for E-rate. Neither Pai nor Carr would make that commitment.

Broadband Deployment

The three nominees were largely unanimous on measures to expedite rural broadband like “dig once” policies, which require installation of conduits for fiber-optic cable when preparing infrastructure such as roads. The policies aim to reduce cost and limit wait times for installing fiber in different municipalities.

“I think it would be helpful for ‘dig once’ policies and similar policies to be the law of the land,” Chairman Pai told Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

“The agency, working with local jurisdictions, should try to come up with a model code — one that includes policies like ‘dig once,’” Rosenworcel said. She added that there should be incentives built in for local communities to adopt the model.

Senators also pressed the three on the need for accurate coverage maps so that subsidies issued to companies to build out their infrastructure are actually targeted to the right places.

“I would hope to get your commitment that the commission will work to ensure that mapping data used at the FCC accurately accounts for on-the-ground mobile coverage,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO). The nominees affirmed they are committed to working toward ensuring accurate data coverage moving forward.

First Amendment

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) pressed all of the nominees on their commitment to the First Amendment in light of the many statements President Trump has made disparaging outlets covering his Administration. Sen. Udall pointed to a story that the White House could use AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner as a way to punish CNN for its stories and suggested the Administration might want to reward Sinclair by approving Sinclair’s purchase of Tribune television stations. Each of the nominees pledged to speak out against violence or intimidation against journalists. Chairman Pai reiterated that the White House had not contacted him about retaliating against negative news stories and said he would not do so if asked. And he promised that the FCC would not be used to punish media companies or reward others and would be troubled by any attempt to pressure it to do so.

"I have not directly had any conversations with anyone in the administration with respect to media regulatory proceedings," Chairman Pai said. "To the best of my knowledge, no one on my staff or in the FCC has indirectly had any such conversations as well."

“I have consistently stated that I believe … that First Amendment freedoms, including the freedom of the press, are critical,” Pai added. “If I were ever asked by anyone in the administration to take retaliatory action, for instance, in a media regulatory proceeding, I would not do so.”

Conclusion

If all of the hearing’s nominees are confirmed by the full Senate, the FCC would have a 3-2 Republican majority. Senators on the committee have until July 21 to submit additional questions for the nominees who will be given time to reply in writing.

To Close Digital Divide, Microsoft to Harness Unused Television Channels

Microsoft will harness the unused channels between television broadcasts, known as white spaces, to help get more of rural America online.

In an event at the Willard Hotel in Washington, where Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated a coast-to-coast telephone call a century ago, Microsoft plans to say that it will soon start a white-spaces broadband service in 12 states including Arizona, Kansas, New York and Virginia to connect two million rural Americans in the next five years who have limited or no access to high-speed internet. Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, said white spaces were “the best solution for reaching over 80 percent of people in rural America who lack broadband today.” To support the white-spaces plan, Microsoft is appealing to federal and state regulators to guarantee the use of unused television channels and investments in promoting the technology in rural areas. But the company faces many hurdles with the technology.

Microsoft said its goal was not to become a telecom provider. It will work with local internet service providers like Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities in Virginia and Axiom Technologies in Maine by investing in some of the capital costs and then sharing in revenue. It has also opened its patents on the technology and teamed with chip makers to make devices that work with white spaces cheaper.

An audacious 5G power (pole) grab

[Commentary] Telecommunications companies are preparing to roll out the next generation of wireless networks, dubbed “5G,” which promise an enormous increase in capacity and connectivity. These networks not only will increase competition in broadband, they are a key enabling technology for a host of advanced products and services. They also represent a gateway to better economic opportunities in inner-city areas that are underserved by broadband today.

But these new networks are different in structure and appearance too. Instead of high-powered antennas on tall towers, they rely on an array of lower-power transmitters closer to the ground that serve much smaller “cells.” That’s why mobile phone companies are concerned that cities and counties will throw up bureaucratic or financial roadblocks to 5G in their communities. It’s not a groundless worry; wireless companies already have encountered local resistance in places where they have introduced the new technology. It’s the look and the intrusiveness of the small cell networks that seems to spark the controversy. People are upset about the deployment of thousands of pieces of equipment the size of small appliances being placed strategically and liberally on publicly owned “vertical infrastructure” (that’s bureaucratese for municipal utility poles, street lights and even traffic lights). That means a lot of equipment in full view and in proximity — really close in some cases — to houses and people. The wireless industry has a solution to this potentially huge NIMBY headache: A bill in the California legislature (SB 649) that would “streamline” the approval process for putting small cell networking gear on public poles and lights. If it’s on property the government controls, approval would be automatic in most cases, so local governments couldn’t drag out the permitting process with public hearings and studies. The bill also would limit how much rent locals can charge the companies for space on their poles and lights.

The telecommunication industry has been pushing this “streamlining” strategy in other states, with various degrees of success. Eleven have adopted some sort of laws to limit the local permitting process and pole fees. Legislators in other states, like Washington, have been more skeptical. California’s lawmakers ought to be wary as well and show more interest in protecting the rights of communities to govern the use of their infrastructure, rather than letting telecommunication companies make those decisions for them.

Michigan may consider Rivada's bid alongside FirstNet

Rivada Networks said it received the top score among three bidders to build Michigan’s statewide public safety broadband network. But that doesn’t at all mean it will beat out FirstNet for its first statewide win.

Michigan’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget recommended that the state analyze Rivada’s bid alongside FirstNet’s proposal “to determine the best value bid for the state,” the company said this morning in a release. Michigan is the second state to select a vendor for a potential alternative to FirstNet, Rivada said, following the lead of New Hampshire, which is also considering Rivada’s offering. “We are honored that our alternative plan for public safety broadband in Michigan will have the chance to be placed side-by-side with the federal government’s offering,” said Declan Ganley, Rivada’s co-CEO, in the announcement. “By putting out this RFP (request for proposal), Michigan has given its governor a real choice, as envisioned in the legislation that created FirstNet.”