On Why Wired Posted The AT&T Docs

Wired News: Why We Published the AT&T Docs

A file detailing aspects of AT&T’s alleged participation in the National Security Agency’s warrantless domestic wiretap operation is sitting in a San Francisco courthouse. But the public cannot see it because, at AT&T’s insistence, it remains under seal in court records.

[…] AT&T claims information in the file is proprietary and that it would suffer severe harm if it were released.

Based on what we’ve seen, Wired News disagrees. In addition, we believe the public’s right to know the full facts in this case outweighs AT&T’s claims to secrecy.

As a result, we are publishing the complete text of a set of documents from the EFF’s primary witness in the case, former AT&T employee and whistle-blower Mark Klein — information obtained by investigative reporter Ryan Singel through an anonymous source close to the litigation. The documents, available on Wired News as of Monday, consist of 30 pages, with an affidavit attributed to Klein, eight pages of AT&T documents marked “proprietary,” and several pages of news clippings and other public information related to government-surveillance issues.

Slashdot: Wired Releases Full Text of AT&T NSA Document

Later: a WaPo article — Web Site Says Papers May Be From Lawsuit Filed Against AT&T

I Don’t Think There’s Any “May” About It

Voice Encryption May Draw U.S. Scrutiny

Philip R. Zimmermann wants to protect online privacy. Who could object to that?

He has found out once already. Trained as a computer scientist, he developed a program in 1991 called Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP, for scrambling and unscrambling e-mail messages. It won a following among privacy rights advocates and human rights groups working overseas — and a three-year federal criminal investigation into whether he had violated export restrictions on cryptographic software. The case was dropped in 1996, and Mr. Zimmermann, who lives in Menlo Park, Calif., started PGP Inc. to sell his software commercially.

Now he is again inviting government scrutiny. On Sunday, he released a free Windows software program, Zfone, that encrypts a computer-to-computer voice conversation so both parties can be confident that no one is listening in. It became available earlier this year to Macintosh and Linux users of the system known as voice-over-Internet protocol, or VoIP.

What sets Zfone apart from comparable systems is that it does not require a web of computers to hold the keys, or long numbers, used in most encryption schemes. Instead, it performs the key exchange inside the digital voice channel while the call is being set up, so no third party has the keys.

Slashdot’s Online: Zimmermann, Encrypted VoIP, and Uncle Sam

Google and Transparency

The One Bit of Info Google Withholds: How It Works – [pdf]

“It’s somewhat of a paradox,” said Jordan Rohan, a financial analyst at RBC Capital Markets. “Google’s whole purpose is to make information easier to access — unless, of course, you want to know information about Google.”

[…] Although Google playfully reveals how much chicken and coffee its engineers consume every month, as it did during Google Press Day last year, the company won’t disclose much potentially helpful information about its core business, such as how many search queries it returns, how many companies advertise through Google and whether ad prices are increasing or decreasing.Google’s unwillingness to disclose little more than the legally required basics of how it does what it does — and where it’s headed — has left advertisers puzzled, partners confused, competitors nervous and investors frustrated. Even seasoned Wall Street analysts are left scratching their heads at precisely how Google posted $6.1 billion in revenue last year.

[…] Search advertising is praised as a cost-effective way to reach consumers when they have something specific on their minds. It’s also maddeningly complex. Unlike Yellow Pages or newspapers, many marketers have little clue when or where their ads will appear. That’s because Google’s system is a dynamic auction. Advertisers bid for placement, but price is only one factor in ranking the ads. Google also uses “click-through-rate” — if ads aren’t clicked on much, they will be replaced by others that are. Searchers are more likely to be interested in those ads, which helps marketers sell products and Google get paid.

“It’s a great system,” said Joshua Stylman, managing partner at Reprise Media Inc., a New York firm that manages search campaigns for advertisers such as Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., BellSouth Corp. and Guess Inc. “Inherently all of the constituencies have the same incentive.”

But it’s tricky to do well, and Google in August made it even harder when it began adding other factors to the ad-ranking mix, including some it wouldn’t disclose.

“It’s become more of a black box, because they don’t tell you specifically what those attributes are, nor do they explain the interplay between them,” Stylman said. “The opacity of the auction is making it more challenging to manage.”

A Stab At Changing the Paradigm

Microsoft tests ‘pay as you go’ computers [pdf]

In a departure from their traditional business models, Microsoft and hardware makers will test a pay-as-you-go plan for PC users in emerging markets around the world — letting consumers buy time on their home computers through prepaid cards and subscriptions.

The initiative, dubbed Microsoft FlexGo, aims to lower the barrier to buying a PC by requiring a smaller initial payment. After paying for minutes on the PC over time, consumers ultimately own it outright — albeit for a higher total cost than if they had paid in full up front.

After quietly testing the concept in Brazil for the past year, Microsoft and its partners are preparing to roll it out for additional tests in other parts of the world. The company will show the technology this week at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Seattle.

Related: Mystery deal is high-security chip for ‘FlexGo’ [pdf]

The details of Microsoft Corp.’s mysterious deal with Transmeta Corp. have finally been revealed. And none of the speculation was even close.

The microprocessor company has been working for the past year on a high-security, power-efficient chip for Microsoft’s new “FlexGo” pay-as-you-go PC initiative in developing nations.

Slashdot’s Microsoft Introduces Pay-as-You-Go Computing

Report from the Spam War Front

The Fight Against V1@gra (and Other Spam)

If individual users also have personal spam filters installed on their computers, their in-box spam count can be reduced to a trickle.

But spam continues to account for roughly 70 percent of all e-mail messages on the Internet, despite tough antispam laws across the globe (including the Can-Spam Act in the United States), despite vigorous lawsuits against individual junk-mail senders and despite the famous prediction, by Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum in 2004, that spam would be eradicated by 2006.

The continuing defiance of spammers was demonstrated last week when one of them forced Blue Security, an antispam company based in Israel, to shut down its services. The company gave customers the power to enact mob justice on spammers by overloading them with requests to be removed from mailing lists. A spammer in Russia retaliated by knocking out Blue Security’s Web site and threatening virus attacks against its customers. Blue Security said it would back off rather than be responsible for a “cyberwar.”

[…] Zombies now deliver half to three-quarters of all spam, according to a Federal Trade Commission report to Congress in December on the state of the spam problem. Among the zombies’ many advantages is an ever-shifting collection of I.P. addresses.

Another trump card was handed to spammers just over a year and a half ago, when VeriSign, the security and services company that controls the dot-com and dot-net network domains, unveiled a quicker way to update domain names.

Although a boon to people setting up their own sites, the new system decreased the time needed for a newly registered domain name to be activated, to 5 minutes from about 12 hours. That put spammers, armed with stolen credit cards and a willingness to buy and quickly abandon domain names, at a new advantage.

Digital Distribution and Classical Music

Critic’s Notebook: Urge.com and Online Classical (Whatever That Is)

So far, perhaps the most notable innovation that iTunes has brought to the classical field has been creating an impetus to get the musicians’ union to agree on new terms regarding broadcast rights for downloads. This paved the way, for instance, for Deutsche Grammophon to team up with the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic to sell live recordings under the rubric “DG Concerts.” This hardly represents a crass sellout to popular taste.

It remains to be seen what spin, if any, MTV gives to its classical section on Urge. There is every indication that the site is attempting to match the iTunes standard.

Related: A unimpressed review of Urge from the WaPo — New Media Player: Nice Features, but It’s No ITunes

Berners-Lee on the Future of the WWW

Web inventor sees his brainchild ready for big leap [pdf]

“My personal view is that a lot of it is coming together now. That is very gratifying to see. We’re moving into another mode with established technology. I’m very optimistic at this moment,” Berners-Lee said in a telephone interview ahead of the annual World Wide Web conference, which will be bigger than ever before when it opens in Edinburgh, Scotland on Monday.

“The whole industrial environment is more exciting. We had the bubble and the burst, but now you see a low of young companies again. There’s renewed enthusiasm among VCs (venture capitalists) to invest in start-ups. I get a feeling of upsurge in activity.”

[…] He is no fan, however, of fenced-off Web areas specially designed for mobile devices such as the new “.mobi” suffix. He wants websites and devices to be smart enough to figure out what the best way is to present information to consumers.

He is also concerned about how some Internet providers in the United States have started to filter data, giving priority to premium data for which the operator receives an additional fee. They can do this, because they own the cables, the service, the portals and other key applications.

“The public will demand an open Internet,” he said.

On his blog, at http://dig.csail.mit.edu/breadcrumbs/blog/4, Berners-Lee pays hommage to the democratic principles of the designers of the Internet who decided that all data packets were created equal. “I tried then to make the Web technology, in turn, a universal, neutral, platform.”

“It is of the utmost importance that, if I connect to the Internet, and you connect to the Internet, that we can then run any Internet application we want, without discrimination as to who we are or what we are doing.”

A Real Rhetorical Stretch

Jockeying for a position in the Net Neutrality fight: Politicos propose new action on Net neutrality

Called the “Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act,” the bill is designed to “provide an insurance policy for Internet users against being harmed by broadband network operators abusing their market power to discriminate against content and service providers,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement.

Citing government statistics that 98 percent of Americans have at most two choices for broadband service, Sensenbrenner said such a “virtual duopoly” is ripe for anticompetitive practices, and “a clear antitrust remedy is needed.”

[…] Republican Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Sam Brownback of Kansas also have joined the opposition against the idea of legislating Net neutrality. In a one-page letter (click for PDF) to their Senate colleagues dated May 16, they argued that doing so would “penalize broadband access providers for making major improvements to the Internet.”

The senators also charged that such rules would “deprive parents of new technologies they may use to protect their families from online harm.”


Salon on the EFF v. AT&T Suit

AT&T can’t silence whistle-blower

A federal judge denied AT&T’s request on Wednesday to force the Electronic Frontier Foundation to return documents the nonprofit organization received from a retired AT&T employee.

The documents that former AT&T technician Mark Klein gave EFF earlier this year, and which the court has sealed, contain details of what EFF and Klein are alleging is a secret agreement between the telecommunications company and the National Security Agency to provide the government agency with illegal access to communications belonging to its customers. In a preface to the documents, Klein said he was motivated to blow the whistle in 2004 “when it became clear to me that AT&T, at the behest of the National Security Agency, had illegally installed secret computer gear designed to spy on Internet traffic.”

The documents, which Klein released to the New York Times and other newspapers before the court sealed them, describe how AT&T diverted the communications of customers to a secret room that the company maintained at its hubs in San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Calif., Los Angeles and Seattle. The rooms housed “computer gear for a government spy operation which taps into the company’s popular WorldNet service and the entire Internet,” Klein wrote. “These installations enable the government to look at every individual message on the Internet and analyze exactly what people are doing.”

Klein’s assertions help support a class-action lawsuit that EFF filed against AT&T in January on behalf of its customers, alleging that the company violated the wiretap statute, the FISA statute and several communications and privacy laws in aiding the government’s domestic spying operation without a court order.

EFF’s announcement, and their webpage on the suit

Culture Shift? Or Just More Of The Same?

Colleges Chase as Cheats Shift to Higher Tech

At the University of California at Los Angeles, a student loaded his class notes into a handheld e-mail device and tried to read them during an exam; a classmate turned him in. At the journalism school at San Jose State University, students were caught using spell check on their laptops when part of the exam was designed to test their ability to spell.

And at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, after students photographed test questions with their cellphone cameras, transmitted them to classmates outside the exam room and got the answers back in text messages, the university put in place a new proctoring system.

“If they’d spend as much time studying,” said an exasperated Ron Yasbin, dean of the College of Sciences at U.N.L.V., “they’d all be A students.”

[…] Mr. Dapremont said technology had made cheating easier, but added that plagiarism in writing papers was probably a bigger problem because students can easily lift other people’s writings off the Internet without attributing them.

Still, some students said they thought cheating these days was more a product of the mind-set, not the tools at hand.

“Some people put a premium on where they’re going to go in the future, and all they’re thinking about is graduate school and the next step,” said Lindsay Nicholas, a third-year student at U.C.L.A. She added that pressure to succeed “sometimes clouds everything and makes people do things that they shouldn’t do.”