Even more embarrassing than a student discovering your GPS tracking device on his car, as the FBI found out last year, is having to ask him to give the expensive piece of equipment back.

So security researcher Brendan O’Connor is trying a different approach to spy hardware: building a sensor-equipped surveillance-capable computer that’s so cheap it can be sacrificed after one use, with off-the-shelf parts that anyone can buy and assemble for less than fifty dollars.

At the Shmoocon security conference Friday in Washington D.C., O’Connor plans to present the F-BOMB, or Falling or Ballistically-launched Object that Makes Backdoors. Built from just the hardware in a commercially-available PogoPlug mini-computer, a few tiny antennae, eight gigabytes of flash memory and some 3D-printed plastic casing, the F-BOMB serves as 3.5 by 4 by 1 inch spy computer. And O’Connor has designed the cheap gadgets to dropped from a drone, plugged inconspicuously into a wall socket, thrown over a barrier, or otherwise put into irretrievable positions to quietly collect data and send it back to the owner over any available Wifi network. With PogoPlugs currently on sale at Amazon for $25, O’Connor built his prototypes with gear that added up to just $46 each.

“If some target is surrounded by bad men with guns, you don’t want to have to retrieve this, but you also don’t want to have to pay four or five hundred dollars for every use,” says O’Connor. “The idea is that it’s as close to free as possible. So you can throw a bunch of these sensors at a target and get away with losing a couple nodes in the process.”

read more

Details are still somewhat light at the moment, but reports are now coming out that the popular Megaupload file-sharing site has been shut down by Federal prosecutors in the US, and that the site’s founders and other individuals have been charged with violating piracy laws. According to The New York Times, the indictment says that the company has cost copyright holders some $500 million in lost revenue, and that the site was at one time the 13th most popular on the internet. As the Times also notes, this news comes a day after Megaupload voluntarily blacked out its website to protest the SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy legislation now being considered by Congress.

read more

Web sites from Wikipedia, Google and Facebook to Mozilla, Major League Gaming and Reddit are dark today in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), but bill supporters insist the effort is nothing but a publicity stunt and an abuse of power. In a Tuesday statement, Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)—and a former Connecticut senator—said Web sites participating in the blackout are “resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging.”

The MPAA and its musical counterpart, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), have been big supporters of SOPA and PIPA, prompting opponents to accuse bill sponsors of bowing to lobbying dollars. Both bills target overseas “rogue” Web sites that traffic in fake goods, from purses and prescription drugs to pirated DVDs and MP3s. But the power that SOPA and PIPA provide to the Justice Department to go after these bills is worrisome to opponents, who fear the legislation will put legitimate Web sites at risk. As a result, Jan. 18 has been dubbed SOPA/PIPA blackout day, with many high-profile Web sites shutting down service or adding anti-SOPA/PIPA signage to their sites.

read more

Carrier IQ has recently found itself swimming in controversy. The analytics company and its eponymous software have come under fire from security researchers, privacy advocates and legal critics not only for the data it gathers, but also for its lack of transparency regarding the use of said information. Carrier IQ claims its software is installed on over 140 million devices with partners including Sprint, HTC and allegedly, Apple and Samsung. Nokia, RIM and Verizon Wireless have been alleged as partners, too, although each company denies such claims. Ostensibly, the software’s meant to improve the customer experience, though in nearly every case, Carrier IQ users are unaware of the software’s existence, as it runs hidden in the background and doesn’t require authorized consent to function. From a permissions standpoint — with respect to Android — the software is capable of logging user keystrokes, recording telephone calls, storing text messages, tracking location and more. It is often difficult or impossible to disable.

How Carrier IQ uses your behaviour data remains unclear, and its lack of transparency brings us to where we are today. Like you, we want to know more. We’ll certainly continue to pursue this story, but until further developments are uncovered, here’s what you need to know.

read more

Google has refused to rule out extending controversial facial recognition technology, despite being hit by a storm of complaints over privacy. The internet search giant already offers one facial recognition feature through its Picasa photo software, which scans your pictures and suggests matches with other pictures that may include the same people. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt would not rule out a further roll-out, saying: ‘It is important that we continue to innovate.’

However, he said the decision to introduce facial recognition on a wider basis would not be taken lightly. ‘Facial recognition is a good example… anything we did in that area would be highly, highly planned, discussed and reviewed,’ he told the Financial Times.

With facial recognition a face is detected and tagged by the user. It is then rotated so that the eyes are level and scaled to a uniform size and compared with all the other pictures on the user’s database. The system then displays any close matches. There are fears this technology could be added to the Google Goggles tool, which was launched last year. This currently allows people to search for inanimate objects, like the Eiffel Tower, on the internet by taking a picture of it on a mobile phone. However, if combined with facial recognition software, customers could use it to identify strangers on the street. In theory this could make it very easy to track someone’s private information down just by taking a picture of them.

read more

A new paper to be published in the upcoming issue of Marketing Science shows that removing DRM from music leads to a decrease in piracy. Or phrased differently, DRM appears to be an incentive for people to pirate music instead of buying it. The researchers from Rice and Duke University used analytical modelling to come to this seemingly common sense conclusion. DRM only hurts legitimate customers. The phrase above has been written a few dozen times, and it’s now supported by an academic report. Researchers from Rice and Duke University looked into the effect of digital restrictions on music piracy. In their paper “Music Downloads and the Flip Side of Digital Rights Management Protection” they conclude that DRM doesn’t prevent piracy at all. Quite the opposite.

read more
Eric Schmidt - the future is friendlyEric Schmidt explains the changes at the top of Google and his vision of what the world of computing will look like in 50 years’ time.


“I am incredibly optimistic about what is going to be possible in the next decade, we have spent our whole career getting to this point”

Changes at the top of Google are ultimately tactical matters. When he looks ahead a decade or more, Schmidt knows that he is standing on the cusp of the next big shift in technological innovation. Google is a search company. Facebook is a social media company. But Schmidt uses the word “social” more often in his discussion with journalists than “search”. Search, he says, is becoming social.

Anyone who thought Google could be starting on the down curve had better reconsider.


Some of the highlights of this conference are:

  • Schmidt says, Facebook is not a competitor because the more people use Facebook the more they use Google. “That is a net positive.”
  • “We still think of search as something you type,” Schmidt said. “Perhaps a decade from now, you will think, well, that was interesting, I used to type but now it just knows.
  • There will be a ubiquitous computational capability that is just so free and so amazing that people will assume that it is an assistant. It knows who you are, it knows what you do, it makes suggestions, it intuits things for you.
  • 10-15 years ago, we couldn’t do the maps. We couldn’t do the searches. We couldn’t physically do it. You couldn’t get enough hardware. You couldn’t get enough power, whereas now it is trivial. So 50 years from now, people will think of us the way we think of the conversion from black and white to colour television. They will think: ‘Why couldn’t they do these extraordinary things?’
  • The rise of Google, the rise of Facebook, the rise of Apple, I think are proof that there is a place for computer science as something that solves problems that people face every day.
  • It eventually gets resolved, and in the case of StreetView (where personal data was inadvertently collected), resolved quite positively. I think that will be the norm. The days when we could just ship a product are gone. We do much, much more than five years ago. It is a permanent change.
  • There will certainly be future rows and battles, but as society faces a new technological age – the age of convergence and convenience – the future power of Google is almost impossible to overestimate.

read more

Do you tend to forget what has been spoken to you over the phone, especially when it involves capturing medical instructions, legal processes, and financial advice? Then the Telephone Consultation Recorder might just be your cup of tea. After all, this recording device will make sure every spoken word between professional services and a client (that’s you) is captured for posterity.

The recorder will issue a clearly audible beep to make sure both parties are aware that their conversation is being recorded. It must be plugged into your phone via the included splitter cable before it can kick into action, while its sensitive internal microphone will capture every detail of a consultation.

It may also be used when dialing a “your call may be recorded” company in case you’re unsatisfied with the representative but can not later prove that this conversion ever occurred.

With dual automatic gain control and adjustable recording levels, you will get superior sound quality. All consultations will be saved in the MP3 file format onto any SD memory card (up to 32GB in capacity), and to get an idea on how long that is, a 4GB SD memory card can already hold up to 40 hours of conversation.
At $159.95 MSRP, it can be obtained here.

Calling drunk… Your boss’s daughter… 3am… Not gonna happen.

read more

Anyone who has ever tramped through a dim, Escher-esque parking garage in search of a “lost” automobile might welcome an abracadabra technology that could help locate it. But what if that magic involved an array of 24/7 surveillance cameras and was also available to police and auto repossessers? What if it could be tapped by jilted lovers, or that angry guy you accidentally cut off in traffic? Would the convenience be worth the loss of privacy? Those are some of the questions civil libertarians and others are asking as technology capable of spying on motorists and pedestrians is converted to widespread commercial use.

Santa Monica Place recently unveiled the nation’s first camera-based “Find Your Car” system. Shoppers who have lost track of their vehicle amid a maze of concrete ramps and angled stripes can simply punch their license plate number into a kiosk touch screen, which then displays a photo of the car and its location. Developed by New York-based Park Assist, the Santa Monica Place system goes beyond programs found at the Grove and Westfield Century City shopping centers, where electronic billboards alert shoppers to packed parking aisles and shepherd them to vacant spaces.

read more