• ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, October 10

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Massive Wildfires across Northern California. Blazes in Sonoma’s wine country have not been contained(New York Times)

    At least 10 dead so far, 1500 buildings destroyed.

    Comment: There are other fires in Southern California. Together, they challenge the state’s ability to respond.

     Tennessee’s centrist Republican Senator, Bob Corker, doubles down on his accusations against Trump

    The New York Times broke the news and did an in-depth interview with Corker, whose attacks on Trump are as personal as DJT’s angry tweets at Corker. The Times’ latest article is here.

    Comment: Corker’s attacks are important for three reasons

    • First, according to NYT reporters, Corker’s criticisms are merely the public voice of what most Senate Republicans say. Steve Bannon has said the same thing: establishment Republicans hate Trump and want to sink his agenda.
    • Second, since the Democrats oppose every Trump legislative initiative, he only chance to pass legislation is to hold together a narrow Republican majority. Now, Corker and McCain seem determined to oppose Trump. Add Rand Paul, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski to that grouping and you fall well short of 50 votes. (And most legislation will require 60.)
    • Third, Corker, as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is privy to the highest-levels of US intel and diplomacy. He has recently said that Trump could be leading the US into World War III.

    The husband-and-wife team indicted in the Democratic Congressional IT scandal have now turned on each other (Daily Caller)

    The indicted husband-and-wife team of former IT aides to Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz sat directly across from each other at the defendants’ table in federal court Friday in Washington, D.C., but refused to look at each other.

    Even as they are co-defendants in a U.S. case, Imran Awan’s own wife, Hina Alvi, has become the latest person to accuse him of fraud, filing papers against him in Pakistani court, according to Pakistani news channel ARY.

    Awan, his wife and two brothers — all previously on the payroll of House Democrats — became subjects of a Capitol Police investigation last year after investigators concluded they were submitting falsified invoices for equipment and had transferred “massive” data off a House server. After he was banned from the House network, Awan left a laptop with the username RepDWS in a Capitol Hill phone booth.

    Although The Washington Post has reported that investigators found that Awan and his relatives made unauthorized access to a congressional server 5,400 times, Wasserman Schultz has said concern about the matter was the stuff of the “right-wing media circus fringe.” –Daily Caller

    Comment: Whenever the defendants turn on each other, the prosecution benefits.

    What do we need to know?

    • Were the Democrats’ confidential information shared with outsiders, including foreign actors?
    • Why did Debbie Wasserman Schultz stick by her accused aide for so long? Did he have anything on her?
    • How deep and wide does this scandal go?

    Comment #2: Mainstream media has shown zero interest in this massive scandal.

    Today’s “WTF” story

    Comment: No matter how fearsome your school’s mascot, I’m betting that “Radioactive Wild Boars” is scarier.

    The University of Arkansas should really consider upgrading their Razorback symbol.

     

     

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  • For Equifax’s Chief Security Officer, how much expertise in computer science and data analysis would you expect?

    If your answer was ZERO, then you are correct!!

    At first, I thought this LinkedIn profile for Susan Mauldin, Equifax’s chief security officer, was a joke.

    It’s not.

    The joke is on us.

     

    Do you think the Chief Information Officer has a stronger background?

    Nope. BA in Russian, an MBA, and then some work in a bank.

    Here’s the report from CNN:

    In response to a CNNMoney inquiry, the company said Susan Mauldin is retiring as chief security officer and Dave Webb is retiring as chief information officer.

    A LinkedIn profile for Susan M. says she’s served in the CSO role since 2013. She previously worked at First Data Corporation, Sun Trust Banks and HP. She studied music in college and earned her MFA from the University of Georgia.

    Webb joined Equifax in 2010, according to his company bio. He previously served as chief operations officer at Silicon Valley Bank and as a vice president at Goldman Sachs. Before earning his MBA, Webb earned a bachelor’s degree in Russian from the University of London.

    Comment: Equifax, you got some ‘splainin’ to do. 

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, September 8

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ We are enduring the hardest test of our lifetime for national-disaster response efforts.

    Huge Hurricanes Back-to-Back and a Third Looming

    The number of elderly in South Florida only compounds the potential tragedy.

    Comment: So far, I have been impressed by 

    • The high quality of weather forecasts, often 4-5 days out
    • The learning by federal, state, and local authorities after Katrina
    • The much-greater competence of authorities in Texas than in Louisiana, in Houston than in NOLA, and in FEMA today than under Bush. (Granted, being more competent than NOLA officials is a very low bar.)
    • The exceptional contributions by volunteers in Texas. Here’s hoping for the same in Florida.
    • The absence of looting and other predation after Harvey. (Again, a welcome improvement over Katrina.)

    Here’s hoping the worst weather forecasts don’t come true for Florida, the response is as effective as in Texas, and that the long-term recovery effort lets people rebuild their lives.

    The hack of Equifax computers records is the most massive to date

    It exposes sensitive personal data on 44% of the US population.

    To compound the injury, several executives seem to have sold the company’s stock before the hack was publicly disclosed.

    ZipDialog has a separate post on the mess (link here)

     Rules for dealing with  alleged sexual assault on campus to be rewritten by Department of Education 

    The New York Times gets the basic story right (link here):

    Saying that the Obama administration’s approach to policing campus sexual assault had “failed too many students,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Thursday that her administration would rewrite the rules in an effort to protect both the victims of sexual assault and the accused.

    Ms. DeVos did not say what changes she had in mind. But in a strongly worded speech, she made clear she believed that in an effort to protect victims, the previous administration had gone too far and forced colleges to adopt procedures that sometimes deprived accused students of their rights. –New York Times

    Comment: The problem is their headline: “Betsy DeVos Says She Will Rewrite Rules on Campus Sex Assault”

    She plans to rewrite the rules on allegations of campus sex assault.

    The key word is “allegation.” That word is missing from the NYT headline.

    The victims deserve thorough, fair investigations, with appropriately harsh penalties for sexual harassment and coercion when those have been proven. At the same time, the accused deserve through, fair investigations and a chance to present their side. The whole point of due process is to sort through the allegations.

    ◆ FIRE, the leading supporter of free speech on campus, uses this headline:

    Education Department says it will finally confront its role in campus due process crisis (FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education)

    ◆ Competition in Artificial Intelligence: IBM invests $240 million in AI Research Lab with MIT (Forbes)

    Forbes reports IBM is struggling in the area, competing against Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.

    The lab will focus on areas like training AI algorithms that don’t require extensive supervision and exhaustive manual labeling of data. Right now, many deep learning systems require people to go through and label each piece of data — like, say, that’s a car in the image.

    In hardware, the lab hopes to move beyond what’s popular in AI today — namely, graphics processors usually made by Nvidia — and start experimenting with processors that don’t rely on traditional chip designs, such as quantum computing, an area IBM has already been pursuing. –Forbes

    Comment: This is another example of how US leadership in basic research in the physical and biological sciences pays off for the larger US economy. A glance at Kendall Square (next to MIT) and Silicon Valley’s close connection to Stanford reinforce this critical point.

    While the Humanities sink into political advocacy, second-rate ideology, and irrelevance to most serious students, the sciences and empirical social sciences continue to advance.

    The Debbie Wasserman Schultz scandal continues to unfold (Daily Caller)

    The scandal centers on IT professional, Imran Awan, who (with family members) handled computers and software for lots of Democratic House members, led by DWS.

    Awan was arrested trying to flee to his native Pakistan with significant cash. Federal prosecutors have brought some charges against him and expect to bring more.

    Awan’s wife has already fled to Pakistan.

    Because the family handled sensitive computer work for many Congressmen, they had access to all their computer files.

    Most D’s fired them after the initial investigations turned up serious problems. DWS did not and actually pushed hard against investigators. We still don’t know why.

    It is unclear whether sensitive information was stolen and perhaps sent to overseas entities, used for blackmail, etc.

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  • That HUGE Equifax hack….really bad. Also bad: three execs there sold stock before the disclosure

    The hack itself was massive, exposing 143 million names and their social security numbers to criminals.

    That’s about 45% of the US population.

    It is one of the largest and most-damaging computer hacks ever, according to Engadget.

    The criminals had access to information that could allow them to create or take over accounts for many of the people impacted since they have names, addresses, birth dates, social security numbers and “in some cases” drivers license numbers. –Engadget

    Now, Bloomberg is reporting

    Three Equifax Inc. senior executives sold shares worth almost $1.8 million in the days after the company discovered a security breach that may have compromised information on about 143 million U.S. consumers.

    Marisa Salcines, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based company, didn’t immediately return a call for comment.–Bloomberg

    Comment: Confer Desi Arnaz

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 16

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     The big stories are all about spying and cyber crime.

     The Washington Post and New York Times lead the reporting on Trump revealing highly-classified information to the Russians. Although the reports are anonymously sourced, they include considerable detail, including the fact that White House people had to clean up after the spill in Aisle 6. They also cite “former intelligence officials,” suggesting Obama’s people are still in the mix, leaking.

    • Washington Post report here.
    • NYT report here
    • The White House has publicly said the reports are false, but they didn’t really say what was false.
    • Every news organization is working on this and I expect plenty more to emerge. 

    Assessment: The anti-Trump left is at DEFCON3, preparing to go nuclear. The anti-Trump right is almost as vocal. Today, their favorite word is treason; tomorrow, it will be impeachment. 

    Those reactions are excessive. At least they are excessive given what we know right now.

    Let’s step back and see what we know.

    Assuming the news reports are largely accurate, Trump told the Russians about a particular kind of terrorist threat that he thought would be of mutual concern. The basic charge against him is that he spoke too freely.

    That’s not illegal, and it’s certainly not treason.

    But it’s not smart, either.

    At this point, we still do not know what damage, if any, his “loose lips” caused–or might cause.

    Although Trump did not disclose “sources and methods” directly, he said enough (according to the WaPo and NYT) that Russian intelligence agencies can walk back the remarks and discover something they shouldn’t know about those sources and methods, particularly about our sources of sensitive human intelligence. We are told that this human intelligence came through an ally, which “owns” the information and will be none-to-pleased. For years, our allies have thought that telling a secret to Washington is pretty close to publishing it.

    Again, assuming these basic facts are accurate, why did Trump do it? My guess: Inexperience, braggadocio, and likely a continued misreading of Russia’s intentions.

    What concerns me is not treason. You don’t do that in a room full of people, as I have tried to remind some friends.

    What concerns me is an undisciplined personal style combined with a chaotic White House organization. This is no way to run a railroad. Or a superpower.  

     Who executed the ransomware attacks? Clues point to North Korea, says the NYT

    The software uses tools we know the North Koreans used in earlier attacks on Sony Pictures and the Bangladesh Central Bank.

    The indicators are far from conclusive, the researchers warned, and it could be weeks, if not months, before investigators are confident enough in their findings to officially point the finger at Pyongyang’s increasingly bold corps of digital hackers. The attackers based their weapon on vulnerabilities that were stolen from the National Security Agency and published last month. –New York Times

    Comment: The attack on Sony was political, designed to punish them for a comedic film they thought mocked Kim Jong Un. The attack on the Bangladesh Central Bank was simply a robbery. That’s what the latest attack was–a crime to earn money.

    I doubt they will earn much money, and I think they will pay a high price because the Chinese were hit by these attacks. You think Beijing likes that?

    Btw, as China puts more pressure on Pyongyang, who will step in to help the North Koreans. There is already evidence the Russians are interested. We know the Iranians are already helping, too.

     Will the US move its embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital? Fox News’ Connor Powell recently reported that Netanyahu told Trump not to move the US embassy right now. Powell’s report is completely false, according to contemporaneous notes of the meeting by the Israelis. Netanyahu was so infuriated by the story that he released private documents proving it false. The story is here in the Jerusalem Post. Similar story here in the Daily Beast.

    It remains to be seen if Fox will withdraw the report–and the reporter.

     Sharp clash between Trump’s team and Netanyahu after a “senior White House official” said the Western Wall was part of the West Bank and not part of Israeli territory. Story here in the Jerusalem Post.

    It seems that the official was prompted to make the statement after members of Netanyahu’s team asked if Netanyahu could join Trump on the visit to the Western Wall and whether Israeli photographers could document the event, to which the Americans replied that the Western Wall was a “disputed territory.”

    The official allegedly went on to say: “This is not your territory but rather part of the West Bank.”

    A source close to the preparations team in Israel told Channel 2 that the statements made by the White House official were received with utter shock by Netanyahu’s team. –Jerusalem Post

    Reuters reports the Israelis are asking the White House to explain the diplomat’s comment, which contradicts the most deeply held views of nearly all Israelis and the stated views of the US President himself.

    Until the 1967 war, Jerusalem was divided and Jews were prohibited (by Jordan) from visiting the Western Wall. Israel, by contrast, perhaps Christians and Muslims to visit their Holy Sites freely within Israel, including sites within Jerusalem’s Old City.

    Comment: Are the Keystone Cops running the White House? Or are the Arabists still running the State Department, perhaps as holdovers from the Eisenhower Administration?

    Whatever the problem is, somebody needs to come in, clean house, and get these operations running efficiently and working in the same direction.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, May 16

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Hospitals, corporations, the world brace for more “ransomware” cyberattacks on Monday  (Financial Times)

    Current data show more than 1.3m computer systems are still vulnerable to infection by WannaCry, which has paralysed hospitals, disrupted transport networks and immobilised businesses, according to cyber security analysts.

    So far, 200,000 computers across 150 countries are known to have been infected in the first wave of the WannaCry cyber attack. ….

    Russia, Ukraine, India and Taiwan were the most seriously affected countries, according to cyber security company Kaspersky Lab. –Financial Times

     How to catch the crooks? Mostly cyber-sleuthing, plus some old-fashioned techniques (New York Times)

    Investigators are following much the same process that detectives in the physical world have used for decades: secure the crime scene, collect forensic evidence and try to trace the clues back to the perpetrator.

    But for all of their similarities to traditional crimes, cyberattacks have major digital twists that can make them much harder to solve and can greatly magnify the damage done.

    Private cybersecurity firms typically help the official agencies, and the official agencies stretch around the world. Some governments pitch in, some don’t, especially authoritarian governments unwilling to see outside investigators search their internal networks.

    The problem is finding “real” clues among the red herrings.

    Criminals are aware their emails contain revealing clues, and they try to cover their tracks. “People use cloakers, which hide your identity, making you look as if you are someone and somewhere else,” she said.

    Like tracing the license plates of a stolen car back to the wrong person, this can lead investigators astray. “But a good detective can track them,” Patricia Lewis [of London’s Chatham House think tank] said. “They always leave digital bread crumbs that can be followed.” –New York Times

     North Korea fires another missile, says (probably falsely) it can launch nuclear weapons.

    ⇒ Australia says it holds China responsible for North Korea  (Washington Post)

    Comment: Russia is not happy either, since the latest missile landed near their port of Vladivostok.

     Today in lawsuits before the Supreme Court! Can a student, arrested for creating mayhem in school by repeated belching, sue the officer who was sent in to arrest him?  (Daily Caller)

    Comment: Our country has a heckuva lot of problems. This is not one of them. Hand it to Judge Judy.

     Congressional Republicans have overturned 14 last-minute Obama regulations and kept one  (Washington Post)

    The 1996 Congressional Review Act gave Republicans the power to reverse end-of-term rules by the president with a simple majority, within a set time.

    The deadline for scuttling the rules that President Barack Obama imposed during his final months in office was last Thursday. –Washington Post

    The regulations overturned affect the coal industry, broadband customers, hunters, and women seeking health care at abortion providers.

    Bloomberg reports: “The US Economy is Back on Track” Steady growth, it says, but not much more.

     

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