Sci-Tech


The Communist Party of China plans to launch a bizarre ‘social credit’ system for its citizens

big brother facebook

25th Oct 2016

PICTURE a world where every single action you make is monitored by the federal government.

Accidentally running a stop sign on a deserted street at 3am? That’s on your record.

Subtly scanning those slightly-fancier $6.99/kilo apples as the ordinary $4.99/kilo ones? That’s on the record too, thief.

Posted a harmless narcissistic selfie to your social feed? The government is ogling you as we speak.

All your social media activity, job movement, leisure activities and online purchases are ranked and perpetually monitored.

Oh — and did we mention this whole thing is both public and mandatory?

It sounds like a creepy George Orwell knock-off, but China’s government is actually developing a “social credit system” in which it monitors each individual citizen and collates information about their day-to-day lives.

The Communist Party of China hopes the ambitious plan will create a culture of “sincerity”, where citizens will be kept in line.

The whole thing is designed to assess each individual person’s trustworthiness in the eyes of the government, and your actions have the power to dramatically alter the rest of your life.

Each person is given a numerical “score” that could determine whether they qualify for financial loans down to getting a nicer room in a hotel or a better table at a restaurant.

It can even affect how many dates you pull, because the information is publicly available, and your social circle can influence your number.

In other words, if you want to live the high life, you and everyone you associate with had better comply.

The Chinese government is hoping that every one of its 1.3 billion citizens will soon be enrolled in a national database that includes all these little details.

The idea has been in development since 2003, but China hopes it will be fully achieved by 2020. It could spark a dramatic shift in how citizens interact with each other and the outside world.

For example, posting pro-government statuses to social media, recycling and showing evidence of fiscal responsibility in your purchases will increase your score.

Wasteful spending, posting political opinions without permission and posting information the Chinese government deems controversial — such as about the Tiananmen Square massacre or Tibet — will decrease your score.

Last month, the Chinese government released a revised plan detailing how the elaborate system would work.

big-brother-1984

A translation recently published by Oxford University China researcher Rogier Creemers points out that a person’s “score” would be publicly available and integral to their place in society.

It states: “Eliminate credit information obstacles between all localities, all departments as well as state organs and people’s organisations, social organisations, enterprises and undertaking work units, and move forward credit information interconnection, exchange and sharing according to the law.”

It also warns that any person or company who is deemed “untrustworthy” could see sanctions imposed on them: “All localities and all departments must carry out their proper functions, mutually co-ordinate, shape joint forces, and build credit supervision, warning and punishment systems where if trust is broken in one place, restrictions are imposed everywhere.”

What your friends say and do can also influence your public score — a feature that will create social pressure among citizens.

It stresses the importance of this being a communal system, saying “all levels’ governments must play a leading role” in helping to “stimulate the common participation and joint governance of the entire society, and realise the effective convergence of government leadership and joint social action.”

The country’s state news agency Xinhua reported on the social credit system two years ago, saying it would focus on four key areas: administrative affairs, commercial activities, social behaviour, and the judicial system.

The system would be accompanied by a related reward and punishment mechanism, with individual identity card numbers or organisation numbers to allow for the sharing of information.

While China’s government has sought to keep tabs on its citizens for decades, this would be the first of its kind of include technologies such as big data, cloud computing and the mobile internet.

The scoring system is public, and your friends’ rankings can affect your own. This creates social pressure to conform.Source:Bloomberg

Last year, China’s central bank gave eight private firms permission to provide personal credit reference services.

Alibaba’s Sesame Credit Management was permitted to score people based on their hobbies, interaction with friends, spending and lifestyle.

China Daily reported the rating method consisted of a numerical score scale between 350 and 950 points, with a higher score making it easier to borrow money.

For example, people with 600 points or more were permitted to take out a loan of less than 5,000 yuan ($A972) when shopping on Alibaba’s online marketplace.

Those with more than 666 points could take out a cash loan of up to 50,000 yuan ($A9719).

Creemers told Fast Company this is nothing new.

“They’ve been working on the credit system for the financial industry for a while now,” he said. “But, in recent years, the idea started growing that if you’re going to assess people’s financial status, you should equally be able to do that with other modes of trustworthiness.”

He points out that — while it comes with certain efficiencies — it’s ultimately just another means by which the government can directly control its people.

“On the one hand, this credit system is the institution of commonsensical rules for market behaviour. On the other hand, it’s a control tool.

“The Party sets out a way of behaving, then it makes that way of behaviour rational. You take away the ability for people to decide on what they think is good and you take away their choice of living a different lifestyle.”

In other words, the system could improve how workers and citizens function in their day-to-day lives.

But this comes at the expense of personal freedom. Is that really worth it?

 

 

source:http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/wtf/the-communist-party-of-china-plans-to-launch-a-bizarre-social-credit-system-for-its-citizens/

1 in 2 American Adults Already In Facial Recognition Network

19th Oct 2016

Half of all American adults are already in some sort of facial recognition network accessible to law enforcement, according to a comprehensive new study.

Conducted over a year and relying in part on Freedom of Information and public record requests to 106 law enforcement agencies, the study, conducted by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology, found American police use of facial recognition technology is a scattered, hodgepodge network of laws and regulations.

“Looking at the sum total of what we found, there have been no laws that comprehensively regulate face recognition technology, and there’s really no case law either,” Clare Garvie, an associate at the CPT, told Vocativ. “So we find ourselves having to rely on the agencies that are using that technology to rein it in. But what we found is that not every system — by a long shot — has a use policy.”

That so many American adults are in at least one facial recognition database is largely due to the fact that at least 26 states, and likely more, share their Department of Motor Vehicles databases with the FBI, state police, or other law enforcement agencies, the study found. Compounded with that, police often have access to mugshot databases. Garvie’s study found that most law enforcement agencies don’t purge such records, even if the arrested suspect is found not guilty, unless a court orders it. The sole known exception is the Michigan State Police, which does expunge photos after a set amount of time.

us-states

 

 

 

 

source:http://www.vocativ.com/368572/facial-recognition-databases/

Invisible Plasma Shield, Which Protects Earth From Radiation, Discovered 7,200 Miles Above Planet

moon

8th Oct 2016

The Earth is protected from fast-moving “killer electrons” by an invisible plasma shield, which is located thousands of miles above the planet’s surface, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Colorado Boulder.

High above the Earth’s atmosphere, harmful electrons that make up the outer band of the Van Allen radiation belt travel at nearly the speed of light, pelting everything in their path. Exposure to such high-energy radiation can harm satellite electronics and pose serious health risks to astronauts. However, despite their intense energy, these electrons — circling around the planet’s equator — cannot come below 7,200 miles from the Earth’s surface due to the shield, scientists said in a study, published in the journal Nature on Thursday.

“It’s almost like theses electrons are running into a glass wall in space,” Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado Boulder and the study’s lead author said, in a statement. “Somewhat like the shields created by force fields on Star Trek that were used to repel alien weapons, we are seeing an invisible shield blocking these electrons. It’s an extremely puzzling phenomenon.”

The invisible shield, dubbed the “plasmaspheric hiss,” is made up of very low-frequency electromagnetic waves in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Scientific data and calculations have helped researchers deduce that the hiss deflects incoming electrons, causing them to smash into neutral gas atoms in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, and ultimately disappear.

“It’s a very unusual, extraordinary, and pronounced phenomenon,” John Foster, associate director of MIT’s Haystack Observatory, said in a statement. “What this tells us is if you parked a satellite or an orbiting space station with humans just inside this impenetrable barrier, you would expect them to have much longer lifetimes. That’s a good thing to know.”

The latest study is based on data collected by NASA’s Van Allen Probes that are orbiting within the harsh environments of the Van Allen radiation belt. During the study, the researchers observed an “exceedingly sharp” barrier against harmful electrons, which was steady enough to withstand a solar wind shock in October 2013. To determine what could create and maintain such a barrier, the researchers considered a few possibilities, including effects from the Earth’s magnetic field and radio signals from human transmitters on Earth.

“It’s like looking at the phenomenon with new eyes, with a new set of instrumentation, which give us the detail to say, ‘Yes, there is this hard, fast boundary,’” Foster said.

 

 

source:http://www.ibtimes.com/invisible-plasma-shield-which-protects-earth-radiation-discovered-7200-miles-above-1730214

Tech billionaires convinced we live in the Matrix are secretly funding scientists to help break us out of it

matrix-doorway

6th Oct 2016

Some of the world’s richest and most powerful people are convinced that we are living in a computer simulation. And now they’re trying to do something about it.

At least two of Silicon Valley’s tech billionaires are pouring money into efforts to break humans out of the simulation that they believe that it is living in, according to a new report.

Philosophers have long been concerned about how we can know that our world isn’t just a very believable simulation of a real one. But concern about that has become ever more active in recent years, as computers and artificial intelligence have advanced.

Elon Musk – The chance that we are not living in a computer simulation is ‘one in billions’

That has led some tech billionaires to speculate that the chances we are not living in such a simulation is “billions to one”. Even Bank of America analysts wrote last month that the chances we are living in a Matrix-style fictional world is as high as 50 per cent.

And now at least two billionaires are funding scientists in an effort to try and break us out of that simulation. It isn’t clear what form that work is taking.

“Many people in Silicon Valley have become obsessed with the simulation hypothesis, the argument that what we experience as reality is in fact fabricated in a computer,” writes The New Yorker’s Tad Friend. “Two tech billionaires have gone so far as to secretly engage scientists to work on breaking us out of the simulation.”

The detail came from a New Yorker profile of Sam Altman, who runs Y Combinator which helps develop tech companies.

Mr Friend didn’t indicate whether Mr Altman was one of those two, or who those people might be. A number of prominent tech billionaires have discussed the idea of the simulation – including Elon Musk, who has used his fortune to fund potentially odd efforts in the past.

Mr Musk spoke earlier this year about the fact that he believes that the chance that we are not living in a computer simulation is “one in billions”. He said that he had come to that conclusion after a chat in a hot tub, where it was pointed out that computing technology has advanced so quickly that at some point in the future it will become indistinguishable from real life – and, if it does, there’s no reason to think that it hasn’t done already and that that’s what we are currently living through.

If we aren’t actually living through a simulation, Mr Musk said, then all human life is probably about to come to an end and so we should hope that we are living in one. “Otherwise, if civilisation stops advancing, then that may be due to some calamitous event that stops civilisation,” he said at the Recode conference.

Mr Altman seemed to echo that fear and told the New Yorker that he was concerned about the way that the devices that surround us might lead to the extinction of all consciousness in the universe. He spoke about how the best scenario for dealing with that is a “merge” – when our brains and computers become one, perhaps by having our brains uploaded into the cloud.

“These phones already control us,” he said. “The merge has begun – and a merge is our best scenario. Any version without a merge will have conflict: we enslave the A.I. or it enslaves us.

“The full-on-crazy version of the merge is we get our brains uploaded into the cloud. I’d love that. We need to level up humans, because our descendants will either conquer the galaxy or extinguish consciousness in the universe forever. What a time to be alive!”

 

 

source: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/computer-simulation-world-matrix-scientists-elon-musk-artificial-intelligence-ai-a7347526.html

Human lifespan has hit its natural limit, research suggests

6th Oct 2016

Humans are unlikely to ever blow out more than 125 candles on their birthday cake, according to research that suggests that our lifespan has already hit its natural limit.

The oldest human who ever lived, according to official records, was 122-year-old Frenchwoman Jeanne Louise Calment, who died in 1997.

Now a team of American researchers suggest Calment is unlikely to lose the top spot any time soon, as their research shows that though more people reach old age each year, the ceiling for human lifespan appears to be stuck at around 115 years.

“The chances are very high that we [have] really reached our maximum allotted lifespan for the first time,” said Jan Vijg, co-author of the research from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Figures such as Aubrey de Grey, chief scientific officer at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (Sens) Research Foundation, have previously claimed that the first person to reach 1,000 years old is likely to be alive today.

But the new study suggests that is highly unlikely. The upshot, says Vijg, is that people should focus on enjoying life and staying healthy for as long as possible. “That’s where we have to invest our money,” he said.

The notion of extending the human lifespan has captured imaginations for millennia. Among scientists, enthusiasm for the idea has grown in recent years with a host of Silicon Valley companies springing up to join academic institutions in attempting to chip away at issue of longevity – among them Google’s California Life Company, or Calico, as it is known – with big-buck prizes such as the Palo Alto Longevity Prize adding to the clamour.

But the researchers, writing in the journal Nature, describe how analysis of records from a number of international databases suggests there is a limit to human lifespan, and that we have already hit it.

Using data for 41 countries and territories from the Human Mortality Database, the team found that life expectancy at birth has increased over the last century. That, says Vijg, is down to a number of factors, including advances in childbirth and maternity care, clean water, the development of antibiotics and vaccines and other health measures.

But while the proportion of people surviving to 70 and over has risen since 1900, the rate of improvements in survival differ greatly between levels of old age. Large gains are seen for ages 70 and up, but for ages 100 or more the rate of improvement drops rapidly. “[For] the oldest old people, we are still not very good at reducing their mortality rates,” said Vijg.

What’s more, in 88% of the countries, the ages showing the greatest rate of improvement have not changed since 1980.

The researchers then turned to the International Database on Longevity and analysed data from France, UK, the US and Japan – four countries with a high proportion of those aged 110 or above – so-called “supercentenarians”.

The researchers found that the maximum reported age at death rapidly increased between 1970 and the early 1990s, rising by around 0.15 years every year. But in the mid-to-late 90s, a plateau was reached, with the yearly maximum reported age at death at around 115 years.

Modelling of the possibility of living beyond such an age offered further insights. “Based on the data we have now, the chance that you will ever see a person of 125 [years] in a given year is about 1 in 10,000,” said Vijg.

The apparent limit to human lifespan, the authors say, is not down to a set of biological processes specifically acting to call time on life. Rather, it is a byproduct a range of genetic programmes that control processes such as growth and development.

Henne Holstege from VU University, Amsterdam works on ageing of centenarians, and previously led research into Dutch supercentenarian Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper, who died aged 115. She says the new study suggests “there seems to be a wall of mortality that modern medicine cannot overcome”.

“If you die from heart disease at 70, then the rest of your body might still be in relatively good health. So, a medical intervention to overcome heart disease can significantly prolong your lifespan,” she said. “However, in centenarians not just the heart, but all bodily systems, have become aged and frail. If you do not die from heart disease, you die from something else.”

Medical interventions, she says, cannot solve the problem of overall decline, with the only promising approach lying in slowing down the ageing process itself. But, she added, “It is however not yet clear if and how this can be accomplished.”

But Tom Kirkwood, associate dean for ageing at Newcastle University, is sanguine that the lifespan ceiling will continue to rise.

“There is no set programme for ageing and we know that the process, which is ultimately driven by the build-up of faults and damage in the cells and organs of the body, is to some degree malleable,” he said. “Even without any change in the biology of ageing, it is almost inevitable that the current record will be broken.”

Cynthia Kenyon, vice president of ageing research at Calico, is also optimistic.

“No one, particularly not evolutionary theorists, predicted that single-gene mutations could slow the aging process and double the lifespans of animals. But they can,” she said. “While we don’t have demographic data supporting the idea that the maximum human lifespan is now increasing, that certainly doesn’t mean it’s impossible.”

 

 

source; https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/05/human-lifespan-has-hit-its-natural-limit-research-suggests

NSA contractor arrested in alleged theft of classified material

1024px-CIA.svg

6th oct 2016

The FBI has arrested a National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who is accused of stealing and disclosing classified computer codes developed by the agency to hack foreign governments, The New York Times reports.

Assistant Attorney General John Carlin on Wednesday confirmed the Aug. 27 arrest of Harold Thomas Martin III, 51, of Glen Burnie, Md. Officials say he stole “six classified documents obtained from sensitive intelligence and produced by a government agency in 2014.”

“These documents were produced through sensitive government sources, methods and capabilities, which are critical to a wide variety of national security issues,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “The disclosure of the documents would reveal those sensitive sources, methods and capabilities.”

A five-page complaint, which accuses Martin of theft of government property and unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials, provides scant details about the contents of those documents.

Citing several senior law enforcement and intelligence officials, the Times reports that some of the information suspected to be stolen by the contractor was dated.

Like former NSA contractor-turned-leaker Edward Snowden, Martin worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, which develops and operates many of the agency’s clandestine cyber tools, according to the Times.

Booz Allen Hamilton declined to comment for this story.

The arrest comes less than two months after hackers attempted to auction off what they claim is the source code to a vaunted, likely state-sponsored hacking group many believe is affiliated with the NSA.

The FBI began investigating the alleged leak in August, according to reports.

There is no definitive proof the auction is genuine, but security researchers say files released to prove the code’s authenticity appear valid. The hacking group, known as the Shadow Brokers, has yet to conclude the bidding.

Those files, however, were last updated in October 2013 — before the “production” of the six classified documents in the Martin arres

 

 

source:http://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity/299432-government-contractor-arrested-for-allegedly-stealing-classified

How to build a mini-EMP generator to disrupt electronic gadgets

system-failure

22nd Sept 2016

Have you ever got mad at the blaring music from your neighbours at 3.00 am in the night? It is one of those neighbours who don’t ever listen to anybody and play full pitched music in the middle of the night. Do you think it is time to teach such neighbours an unforgettable lesson? For such occasions and more, EMP is your best friend.

If you watched movies like Matrix, you will know that Neo and his gang used EMP to stave off intelligent machines. This is the same EMP you will be using to put a stop to your obnoxious neighbour. An electromagnetic pulse (EMP), also sometimes called a transient electromagnetic disturbance, is a short burst of electromagnetic energy. Such a pulse’s origination may be a natural occurrence or man-made and can occur as a radiated, electric or magnetic field or a conducted electric current, depending on the source.

The electromagnetic pulse generator, or EMP generator, is a device capable of generating a transient electromagnetic disturbance that radiates outward from its epicenter, disrupting electronic devices (or frying, depending on its capacity). Some EMP bursts are naturally occurring, such as electrostatic discharge (ESD), where others, such as the nuclear electromagnetic pulse (NEMP), are man-made.

How to make your own EMP Generator

To make your own EMP generator you will need the following :

  1. Soldering iron
  2. solder
  3. disposable camera
  4. voltmeter
  5. small toggle button
  6. insulated thick copper cable
  7. enamel-coated wire,
  8. a high-current momentary switch.
  9. rubber gloves
  10. and other electronic/electrical accessories

Once you have got all the materials ready, follow this step by step guide to make your own EMP device.

Disclaimer : Playing with EMPs is dangerous and you may ruin your electronic equipment including medical gadgets and computers. This tutorial is only for educational purpose and Techworm is not responsible if you dont put together this experiment in lab conditions. Using EMP may also be illegal in some countries and we dont condone such actions.

If you agree to above terms, let’s get on with building your own EMP device.

Step 1: Obtain a disposable point-and-shoot camera
Purchase a cheap disposable camera such as the Kodak variety sold at the local drug store.

Step 2: Put on a pair of rubber gloves and open up

Put your rubber gloves to avoid the possibility of receiving a painful shock when opening up the camera; it’s flash capacitor carries 330 volts or so, when fully charged.

Step 3: Open the frame and locate the large electrolytic capacitor
Using the flat end of a screwdriver,carefully pry the camera’s chassis so that it cannot damage the printed circuit board beneath. Once open, locate the large electrolytic capacitor — the black cylindrical looking component with two leads — and the PCB to which it’s attached. Bear in mind that the side of the capacitor with the markings represents the negative terminal.

Step 4: Test the flash capacitor’s charge
Grab a voltmeter, set it to the 1000-volt scale, and verify that the capacitor is discharged. If voltmeter cannot find a reading, the capacitor’s discharged and you can skip step 5.

Step 5: Discharge the flash
To discharge the capacitor we’ll first need to activate the flash by inserting batteries and film into the camera and turning on the flash. Next, we press the shoot button and immediately remove the batteries to prevent the capacitor from charging again. Use the voltmeter once again to ensure full discharge. If a residual charge persists, place a 100-ohm resistor across the leads to ensure that the flash is fully discharged.

emp1

Step 6: Remove the PCB and replace its charge switch
Remove the capacitor’s PCB and find the on/off button. Peel this off and solder a push button in its place on top of the solder pads to reduce the risk of electric shock.

Step 7: Solder the capacitor

Solder two insulated copper cables onto the capacitor’s two terminals and wire one end to a high current momentary switch as shown below. The high current momentary switch can easily be procured from the Internet. Leave the other end unattached for now.emp2

 Step 8: Form the load coil

Wrap the enamel-coated wire 7 to 15 turns around a circular object with a diameter of 2 inches. Ensure the wire lines up precisely with no crease or overlap. Place double-sided tape around the diameter of the circular object to help with this.

Once you’ve created a satisfactorily thick loop, remove the object. Now bind the coil with adhesive tape but leave two protruding leads to connect the terminals. If you have an iron rod handy, you may slip it through the center of the coil to intensify the generated magnetic field.

Step 9: Connect coil and the switch
Use sandpaper to remove the enamel coating of the tips of the two wire leads protruding from the coil before attaching one to the other terminal of the capacitor. Next, attach the remaining lead to the ”on” side of the switch.

The end result will be a PCB with a switch to turn the charger circuit on and off along with a load coil that’s switched across the capacitor.

emp-3

Step 10: Charge the EMP generator and fire
Simply re-insert the battery into the camera’s PCB to provide a power supply. When you’re ready to test out your creation, fetch the handheld electronic device you’d like to disrupt and flip the on switch. Do not simultaneously hold down the charge button while firing the pulse or you may damage the circuit.emp4

 

 

source:http://www.techworm.net/2016/07/build-mini-emp-generator-disrupt-electronic-gadgets.html

France bans the use of plastic crockery and cutlery to aid battle against climate change

suspicious

21st Sept 2016

Plastic crockery and cutlery is to be banned in France unless it is made from biologically sourced materials.

The law comes into force in 2020. It is part of a French environmental initiative called the Energy Transition for Green Growth, part of a package aimed at tackling climate change.

But, the Independent reported, the move faces a challenge from Pack2Go Europe, a Brussels-based organisation representing European packaging manufacturers.

“We are urging the European Commission to do the right thing and to take legal action against France for infringing European law,” said Eamonn Bates, secretary general of Pack2go Europe.

He said there was no proof that biologically sourced material was any more environmentally beneficial.

Mr Bates said the ban could make the litter problem worse because consumers would believe that packaging left in the countryside would be biodegradable.

The move against disposable cutlery and crockery is part of a growing trend to outlaw the use of plastic in several parts of the world.

Karnataka in India has banned the use of plastic across the entire state. San Francisco banned plastic shopping bags in 2007 and plastic water bottles on public properties in 2014. In Britain customers must pay 5p for each plastic bag.

 

 

source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/17/france-bans-the-use-of-plastic-crockery-and-cutlery-to-aid-battl/

How Spy Tech Firms Let Governments See Everything on a Smartphone

nsa-spying-keyhole

4th Sept 2016

Want to invisibly spy on 10 iPhone owners without their knowledge? Gather their every keystroke, sound, message and location? That will cost you $650,000, plus a $500,000 setup fee with an Israeli outfit called the NSO Group. You can spy on more people if you would like — just check out the company’s price list.

The NSO Group is one of a number of companies that sell surveillance tools that can capture all the activity on a smartphone, like a user’s location and personal contacts. These tools can even turn the phone into a secret recording device.

Since its founding six years ago, the NSO Group has kept a low profile. But last month, security researchers caught its spyware trying to gain access to the iPhone of a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates. They also discovered a second target, a Mexican journalist who wrote about corruption in the Mexican government.

Now, internal NSO Group emails, contracts and commercial proposals obtained by The New York Times offer insight into how companies in this secretive digital surveillance industry operate. The emails and documents were provided by two people who have had dealings with the NSO Group but would not be named for fear of reprisals.

The company is one of dozens of digital spying outfits that track everything a target does on a smartphone. They aggressively market their services to governments and law enforcement agencies around the world. The industry argues that this spying is necessary to track terrorists, kidnappers and drug lords. The NSO Group’s corporate mission statement is “Make the world a safe place.”

Ten people familiar with the company’s sales, who refused to be identified, said that the NSO Group has a strict internal vetting process to determine who it will sell to. An ethics committee made up of employees and external counsel vets potential customers based on human rights rankings set by the World Bank and other global bodies. And to date, these people all said, NSO has yet to be denied an export license.

But critics note that the company’s spyware has also been used to track journalists and human rights activists.

“There’s no check on this,” said Bill Marczak, a senior fellow at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. “Once NSO’s systems are sold, governments can essentially use them however they want. NSO can say they’re trying to make the world a safer place, but they are also making the world a more surveilled place.”

The NSO Group’s capabilities are in higher demand now that companies like Apple, Facebook and Google are using stronger encryption to protect data in their systems, in the process making it harder for government agencies to track suspects.

The NSO Group’s spyware finds ways around encryption by baiting targets to click unwittingly on texts containing malicious links or by exploiting previously undiscovered software flaws. It was taking advantage of three such flaws in Apple software — since fixed — when it was discovered by researchers last month.

The cyberarms industry typified by the NSO Group operates in a legal gray area, and it is often left to the companies to decide how far they are willing to dig into a target’s personal life and what governments they will do business with. Israel has strict export controls for digital weaponry, but the country has never barred the sale of NSO Group technology.

Since it is privately held, not much is known about the NSO Group’s finances, but its business is clearly growing. Two years ago, the NSO Group sold a controlling stake in its business to Francisco Partners, a private equity firm based in San Francisco, for $120 million. Nearly a year later, Francisco Partners was exploring a sale of the company for 10 times that amount, according to two people approached by the firm but forbidden to speak about the discussions.

The company’s internal documents detail pitches to countries throughout Europe and multimillion-dollar contracts with Mexico, which paid the NSO Group more than $15 million for three projects over three years, according to internal NSO Group emails dated in 2013.

“Our intelligence systems are subject to Mexico’s relevant legislation and have legal authorization,” Ricardo Alday, a spokesman for the Mexican embassy in Washington, said in an emailed statement. “They are not used against journalists or activists. All contracts with the federal government are done in accordance with the law.”

Zamir Dahbash, an NSO Group spokesman, said that the sale of its spyware was restricted to authorized governments and that it was used solely for criminal and terrorist investigations. He declined to comment on whether the company would cease selling to the U.A.E. and Mexico after last week’s disclosures.

For the last six years, the NSO Group’s main product, a tracking system called Pegasus, has been used by a growing number of government agencies to target a range of smartphones — including iPhones, Androids, and BlackBerry and Symbian systems — without leaving a trace.

Among the Pegasus system’s capabilities, NSO Group contracts assert, are the abilities to extract text messages, contact lists, calendar records, emails, instant messages and GPS locations. One capability that the NSO Group calls “room tap” can gather sounds in and around the room, using the phone’s own microphone.

Pegasus can use the camera to take snapshots or screen grabs. It can deny the phone access to certain websites and applications, and it can grab search histories or anything viewed with the phone’s web browser. And all of the data can be sent back to the agency’s server in real time.

In its commercial proposals, the NSO Group asserts that its tracking software and hardware can install itself in any number of ways, including “over the air stealth installation,” tailored text messages and emails, through public Wi-Fi hot spots rigged to secretly install NSO Group software, or the old-fashioned way, by spies in person.

Much like a traditional software company, the NSO Group prices its surveillance tools by the number of targets, starting with a flat $500,000 installation fee. To spy on 10 iPhone users, NSO charges government agencies $650,000; $650,000 for 10 Android users; $500,000 for five BlackBerry users; or $300,000 for five Symbian users — on top of the setup fee, according to one commercial proposal.

You can pay for more targets. One hundred additional targets will cost $800,000, 50 extra targets cost $500,000, 20 extra will cost $250,000 and 10 extra costs $150,000, according to an NSO Group commercial proposal. There is an annual system maintenance fee of 17 percent of the total price every year thereafter.

What that gets you, NSO Group documents say, is “unlimited access to a target’s mobile devices.” In short, the company says: You can “remotely and covertly collect information about your target’s relationships, location, phone calls, plans and activities — whenever and wherever they are.”

And, its proposal adds, “It leaves no traces whatsoever.”

 

 

source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/03/technology/nso-group-how-spy-tech-firms-let-governments-see-everything-on-a-smartphone.html

It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies

4th Sept 2016

Susan* bought her 6-year-old son John an iPad when he was in first grade. “I thought, ‘Why not let him get a jump on things?’ ” she told me during a therapy session. John’s school had begun using the devices with younger and younger grades — and his technology teacher had raved about their educational benefits — so Susan wanted to do what was best for her sandy-haired boy who loved reading and playing baseball.

She started letting John play different educational games on his iPad. Eventually, he discovered Minecraft, which the technology teacher assured her was “just like electronic Lego.” Remembering how much fun she had as a child building and playing with the interlocking plastic blocks, Susan let her son Minecraft his afternoons away.

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At first, Susan was quite pleased. John seemed engaged in creative play as he explored the cube-world of the game. She did notice that the game wasn’t quite like the Legos that she remembered — after all, she didn’t have to kill animals and find rare minerals to survive and get to the next level with her beloved old game. But John did seem to really like playing and the school even had a Minecraft club, so how bad could it be?

Still, Susan couldn’t deny she was seeing changes in John. He started getting more and more focused on his game and losing interest in baseball and reading while refusing to do his chores. Some mornings he would wake up and tell her that he could see the cube shapes in his dreams.

Although that concerned her, she thought her son might just be exhibiting an active imagination. As his behavior continued to deteriorate, she tried to take the game away but John threw temper tantrums. His outbursts were so severe that she gave in, still rationalizing to herself over and over again that “it’s educational.”

Then, one night, she realized that something was seriously wrong.

“I walked into his room to check on him. He was supposed to be sleeping — and I was just so frightened…”

We now know that those iPads, smartphones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug.

She found him sitting up in his bed staring wide-eyed, his bloodshot eyes looking into the distance as his glowing iPad lay next to him. He seemed to be in a trance. Beside herself with panic, Susan had to shake the boy repeatedly to snap him out of it. Distraught, she could not understand how her once-healthy and happy little boy had become so addicted to the game that he wound up in a catatonic stupor.

There’s a reason that the most tech-cautious parents are tech designers and engineers. Steve Jobs was a notoriously low-tech parent. Silicon Valley tech executives and engineers enroll their kids in no-tech Waldorf Schools. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to no-tech Montessori Schools, as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Many parents intuitively understand that ubiquitous glowing screens are having a negative effect on kids. We see the aggressive temper tantrums when the devices are taken away and the wandering attention spans when children are not perpetually stimulated by their hyper-arousing devices. Worse, we see children who become bored, apathetic, uninteresting and uninterested when not plugged in.

But it’s even worse than we think.

We now know that those iPads, smartphones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex — which controls executive functioning, including impulse control — in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels — the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic — as much as sex.

This addictive effect is why Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience at UCLA, calls screens “electronic cocaine” and Chinese researchers call them “digital heroin.” In fact, Dr. Andrew Doan, the head of addiction research for the Pentagon and the US Navy — who has been researching video game addiction — calls video games and screen technologies “digital pharmakeia” (Greek for drug).

That’s right — your kid’s brain on Minecraft looks like a brain on drugs. No wonder we have a hard time peeling kids from their screens and find our little ones agitated when their screen time is interrupted. In addition, hundreds of clinical studies show that screens increase depression, anxiety and aggression and can even lead to psychotic-like features where the video gamer loses touch with reality.

In my clinical work with over 1,000 teens over the past 15 years, I have found the old axiom of “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” to be especially true when it comes to tech addiction. Once a kid has crossed the line into true tech addiction, treatment can be very difficult. Indeed, I have found it easier to treat heroin and crystal meth addicts than lost-in-the-matrix video gamers or Facebook-dependent social media addicts.

That’s right — your kid’s brain on Minecraft looks like a brain on drugs.

According to a 2013 Policy Statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 8- to 10 year-olds spend 8 hours a day with various digital media while teenagers spend 11 hours in front of screens. One in three kids are using tablets or smartphones before they can talk. Meanwhile, the handbook of “Internet Addiction” by Dr. Kimberly Young states that 18 percent of college-age internet users in the US suffer from tech addiction.

Once a person crosses over the line into full-blown addiction — drug, digital or otherwise — they need to detox before any other kind of therapy can have any chance of being effective. With tech, that means a full digital detox — no computers, no smartphones, no tablets. The extreme digital detox even eliminates television. The prescribed amount of time is four to six weeks; that’s the amount of time that is usually required for a hyper-aroused nervous system to reset itself. But that’s no easy task in our current tech-filled society where screens are ubiquitous. A person can live without drugs or alcohol; with tech addiction, digital temptations are everywhere.

So how do we keep our children from crossing this line? It’s not easy.

The key is to prevent your 4-, 5- or 8-year-old from getting hooked on screens to begin with. That means Lego instead of Minecraft; books instead of iPads; nature and sports instead of TV. If you have to, demand that your child’s school not give them a tablet or Chromebook until they are at least 10 years old (others recommend 12).

Have honest discussions with your child about why you are limiting their screen access. Eat dinner with your children without any electronic devices at the table — just as Steve Jobs used to have tech-free dinners with his kids. Don’t fall victim to “Distracted Parent Syndrome” — as we know from Social Learning Theory, “Monkey see, monkey do.”

When I speak to my 9-year-old twin boys, I have honest conversations with them about why we don’t want them having tablets or playing video games. I explain to them that some kids like playing with their devices so much, they have a hard time stopping or controlling how much they play. I’ve helped them to understand that if they get caught up with screens and Minecraft like some of their friends have, other parts of their lives may suffer: They may not want to play baseball as much; not read books as often; be less interested in science and nature projects; become more disconnected from their real-world friends. Amazingly, they don’t need much convincing as they’ve seen first-hand the changes that some of their little friends have undergone as a result of their excessive screen time.

Developmental psychologists understand that children’s healthy development involves social interaction, creative imaginative play and an engagement with the real, natural world. Unfortunately, the immersive and addictive world of screens dampens and stunts those developmental processes.

We also know that kids are more prone to addictive escape if they feel alone, alienated, purposeless and bored. Thus the solution is often to help kids to connect to meaningful real-life experiences and flesh-and-blood relationships. The engaged child tethered to creative activities and connected to his or her family is less likely to escape into the digital fantasy world. Yet even if a child has the best and most loving support, he or she could fall into the Matrix once they engage with hypnotic screens and experience their addicting effect. After all, about one in 10 people are predisposed towards addictive tendencies.

In the end, my client Susan removed John’s tablet, but recovery was an uphill battle with many bumps and setbacks along the way.

Four years later, after much support and reinforcement, John is doing much better today. He has learned to use a desktop computer in a healthier way, and has gotten some sense of balance back in his life: He’s playing on a baseball team and has several close friends in his middle school. But his mother is still vigilant and remains a positive and proactive force with his tech usage because, as with any addiction, relapse can sneak up in moments of weakness. Making sure that he has healthy outlets, no computer in his bedroom and a nightly tech-free dinner at the dinner table are all part of the solution.

*Patients’ names have been changed.

 

 

source: http://nypost.com/2016/08/27/its-digital-heroin-how-screens-turn-kids-into-psychotic-junkies/