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Facial Recognition Technology Will Change Your Life

Any celebrity can tell you that fame comes at a price. If millions of people know who you are and recognize your facial features, you can attract an awful lot of unwanted attention.

You may be thinking: “So? I’m not a celebrity, so this has nothing to do with me.”

Don’t be so sure about this. With recent advances in facial recognition tools, you too may suffer this aspect of fame. Yes, when you’re out of your house, complete strangers could recognize you and track your every move.

Much of this you bring on yourself. Consider, for example, your use of social media. You post what you eat, what TV shows you watch, where you meet your friends for drinks, and even what your pets are doing. All this personal information you post on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram means anyone who cares to look can easily find you with a browser search.

9/11 terrorists caught testing airport security months before attacks
Mohammed Atta (right) and Abdulaziz Alomari at a security checkpoint in Portland International Airport
September 10, 2001

As if this doesn’t leave you exposed enough, small, easily concealable cameras are nearly everywhere. Add a few minor tweaks to facial recognition technology which, when it becomes just a little cheaper and more readily available, will enable nearly anyone to follow nearly anyone else in real time.

Your privacy, then, could soon become extinct. Everything you do away from home- and when you do it- will be accessible to the world at large..

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Tom Cruise as John Anderton in Minority Report sees a video ad that has been customized for him, and that calls him by name.

How did we get here?

Take a close look at the photo above. Here you see Mohammed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari, two of the most import conspirators in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, passing through an airport security checkpoint. The next day, Atta and Alomari would hijack Flight 111 from Boston and fly it into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. They and their co-conspirators would murder 2,977 people.

To counter-terrorism professionals, this is one of the most disturbing of all 9/11-related images. It disturbs not for what it displays, but what it implies.

The photo demonstrates that law enforcement and intelligence professionals had the information to prevent the 9/11 atrocities. Atta and Alomari had been testing airport security systems for months, and were on federal watch lists. But airport cops couldn’t recognize and stop the pair, lacking the necessary facial recognition tools and image database.

Law enforcement and intelligence adopt FR

Following the 9/11 atrocity, the U.S government strove to make up for lost time. Security experts wanted advanced facial recognition tools- and fast. Electronics firms were happy to meet the new demand, and continually refined their cameras and algorithms to capture ever greater detail, nuance, and accuracy. Software engineers developed machine learning apps that could sift through gigantic image databases almost instantaneously, eliding over irrelevant photos.

Now the technology is nearly perfect. Chinese police recently used facial recognition tools to find a suspect in a dense crowd of 50,000 concert attendees. The PRC also uses the tools to catch jaywalkers and send them instant fine notifications.

Amazon, one of the leaders in the field, sells a real-time facial recognition system, called REKOGNITION, to police departments all over the U.S.

Commercial uses multiply

September 12, 2017 is another signature date in the history of facial recognition. On that date, Apple unveiled the iPhone X. Previous face-scanning phones could be spoofed easily with masks or video. The iPhone X could not. It was the first phone with a truly safe face-scanning security portal.

The success of the iPhone X has opened up other possible uses:

  • Automated tagging of individuals on Facebook and Instagram
  • Recognition of, and automatic adjustment of seat and steering wheel placement for, each authorized driver of a car driven by several people
  • Flagging of frequent hotel guests immediately on their entry into the lobby, so they can bypass the usual desk check-in, and their room doors will open automatically as they approach
  • Streamlining of airport security checks… Your face will be your boarding pass.
  • More convenient shopping… At an FR-enabled retail store, you simply walk in, pick up the goods you want to buy, and walk out. You never have to produce cash or swipe a card. The store automatically deducts the price of your purchases from your credit card.
  • Highly personalized advertising… As you pass a billboard, a kiosk, or a mall sign, it will display ads tailored to your known interests, and may even call you by name.

Don’t call any of this far-fetched. Some of these applications have been implemented already. Others are on the way, and will reach consumer markets shortly.

Can facial recognition threaten your privacy or safety?

FR Technology brings many benefits, but there may be a few drawbacks in it. It could become a serious threat to your privacy, or even your career or your safety.

In a future post, we will explore the dangers of FR technology in detail.

For the best deals in internet service, contact Satellite Country. We can help.

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HughesNet Pushes Satellite For Broadband Backup

If you operate a business, how will you respond if your wireline broadband service fails? Do you have an adequate backup?

Image result for hughesnet satellite images

This is a question many business owners are asking since last month’s massive outage of Comcast services. Millions of residential customers were effected, and thousands of businesses were crippled by the outage. It affected a large portion of the U.S., from east coast to west, and all Comcast services suffered: phone, TV, internet, and business services. Ironically, even the Down Detector failed.

(The Down Detector is an online service that tracks cable and satellite service outages. It tracks dozens of internet, video, phone, gaming, and social media services. It even monitors access to individual TV channels.)

Comcast blamed the outage on a fiber cut in a Manhattan system owned by one of its backbone ‘partners’. The incident affected both business and residential customers.

Can anything insure against lost connections?

HughesNet cited the Comcast outage as the type of catastrophic surprise businesses need to insure themselves against. And HughesNet says it has the solution.

HughesNet Network Solutions now offers a backup high-speed broadband service for such events. It will automatically switch users to satellite broadband when their terrestrial web connections fail. The backup service is under the name of HughesNet Internet Continuity. For a mere $39.99 per month, it insures against losses due to DSL, cable, or telecom down time.

With the backup system, the customer gets a WiFi modem, an antenna, a router, and a radio. Once the terrestrial network is restored, the HughesNet Continuity system switches back to it automatically.

The backup system operates at speeds of up to 25 MB/S for uploads, and 3 MB/S for downloads. These speeds meet the FCC definition of broadband.

The need for some sort of internet insurance has long been evident. As many as 90% of businesses have suffered at least one web service interruption. A third report facing an outage every month. Such outages can block access to critical systems.

At minimum, the service interruptions bring loss of revenue. In extreme cases, they can alienate customers and even force business closure.


(For the most reliable web connection, talk to Satellite Country. We can help.)


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California Enacts New Privacy Law

The Golden State claims to have blazed a trail in the protection of online privacy.  The California legislature has passed, and Governor Jerry Brown has signed, an online privacy bill that its supporters say requires full disclosure and the right to opt out of data sharing and third-party sharing. The consumer will also be able to delete collected data if he wishes.

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Some consumer advocates are unsatisfied with the bill. They say that businesses should be required to obtain opt-in consent before collecting or sharing user data. Some internet service providers and online advertisers fiercely opposed the bill, though, so it couldn’t have been entirely toothless.

All parties will have ample time to adapt to the new law. It won’t be in force until 2020.

Was the privacy bill necessary?

Advocates of the privacy law point to recent events that they say indicate need for action. Among these are a pattern of serious data breaches, Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data, scrutiny of tech platforms by Congress, and the FCC’s handing off of online privacy concerns to the FTC.

An even tougher data privacy bill had been scheduled for placement on this November’s ballot. Now that the California legislature has acted, though, the sponsors of this tougher bill have agreed to abandon their effort.

The lobby that most actively promoted the bill is Common Sense Media. Two Democrats, Senator Robert Hertzberg and Assemblyman Ed Chau, introduced it n the legislature.

Did anyone object?

Some analysts say the new law will bring more harm than good. The critics argue that web users gladly exchange personal data for free goods and services. The new law would inhibit these exchanges. Web users, then, would miss out on many essential services- or would have to pay for them.

Some privacy advocates say the California law doesn’t go far enough. They want the ‘opt out’ standard replaced with ‘opt in’. In other words, ISPs, browsers, and social media couldn’t collect user data without express consent from users. Under the the new privacy standard, consumers can opt out of sharing or commercial use of their data. But they have to act affirmatively to do so. They waive their online privacy unless they remember to act affirmatively to protect it.

The new law incorporates a separate children’s rights section. This section does require opt in parental consent for sale of data from minors under 16 yeas old. The law provides for fines and lawsuits for breaches of this section.

Will other states follow suit?

Will California’s online privacy bill be a model for other states? It’s too early to tell. The state’s political and cultural climates are so unusual, it can be difficult to predict when its accepted practices will be adopted elsewhere.


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Zuckerberg in the Hot Seat

Mark Zuckerberg may soon cease to be a Master of the Universe. At least, that’s what we can gather from some of the Congressional reactions to his recent testimony on Capitol Hill.

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The Facebook CEO has been under fire lately over some of the social platform’s questionable business practices. These include blocking or ‘shadow-banning’ content for political reasons, limiting the reach of ads customers had paid for, and selling user data to third parties.

The immediate catalyst for the hearings was a recent report about Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica. The latter had apparently collected user data through an app called Global Science Research. More than 270,000 people allowed use of their data, but Cambridge was able to collect data about their friends, too. Cambridge used the data to promote Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

At this news, Congressional Democrats erupted. Of course, it may help to keep matters in perspective. Facebook had also allowed the Obama reelection campaign to exploit user data in 2012- and had not charged for it. Obama campaign officials even bragged about Facebook’s willingness to help them, and Mr. Zuckerberg visited the White House dozens of times between 2009 and 2013.

The legacy press apparently saw no problem with this. Many establishment reporters even hailed Obama for his genius and foresight in use of social media.

The Rules Change

It wasn’t the data collection itself, then, that offended the high and mighty. It wasn’t even the fact that most of it was without user consent. Facebook’s real crime, evidently, was that in 2016 a REPUBLICAN campaign had been able to exploit its user data.

Never mind that Obama’s people had used Facebook data far more extensively- and in the general election, while Cambridge had used it for Trump only during the primary. Never mind that Facebook had been happy- even eager- to help Obama. If Trump benefited, then data collection practices that had hitherto been perfectly acceptable were suddenly grave sins.

Mr. Zuckerberg Goes to Washington

And so, Mark Zuckerberg was required to explain himself to Congress. Democrats flayed him over Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg was deeply respectful and promised that he would try very very hard to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.

Some Republicans asked about censorship of conservative posts. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) grilled Zuckerberg closely about it. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) asked how Facebook determines what is or isn’t offensive content. In the face of this line of inquiry, the witness dodged and weaved, offering carefully worded and evasive responses.

On the whole, Mr. Zuckerberg proved carefully prepared- and quite slippery. We got the impression that Facebook may never provide a full accounting for its privacy and censorship practices, and that the reforms it promises will only be cosmetic.


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Ditching Twitter & Facebook: Part II

You’ve hate Twitter and Facebook. I hate Twitter and Facebook. Despite our exasperation with them, though, we can scarcely imagine living without them. We need reliable platforms for connection with family and friends, and we don’t know where else to go. We worry that ditching the biggest network platforms will bring social isolation.

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Don’t give up. There are multiple alternatives, one for almost every specialized need. Which one is best for you will depend on your interests and personality.

Here are a few of the more popular social media platforms:


LinkedIn is geared for professionals job seekers, and others seeking work or business opportunities. It has more than 500 million users in more than 200 countries. LinkedIn defines its mission as “…connect(ing) the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”

Employers post job openings on LinkedIn, job seekers post curriculum vitae on it, and both use it to maintain and extend contact networks. Job seekers can review profiles of hiring managers and see if any of their existing contacts can introduce them.

Users can even post articles and share video on LinkedIn.


Perhaps you’re fed up with shadowbanning and other abuse dished out by Twitter. Maybe you’re frustrated with its 140-character limit. If this is the case, GAB may be platform you need.

GAB is what Twitter claims to be, but isn’t. GAB is a truly open platform that doesn’t censor user posts. It also allows longer posts, with a 300-character limit.

GAB does enforce a code of conduct, just as other social media do. GAB is much more specific about what it forbids, though, and doesn’t exploit vague standards as an excuse for political censorship.

Mighty Networks

Unlike Facebook, which attempts to connect people who already know each other, Mighty Networks seeks to expand user social contacts. The platform’s ‘pods’ are based on common interests. With the Mighty Networks, it’s easier to reach new people who share the same passions and concerns.

Users can join existing ‘pods’ or create their own. With a Mighty Network account, you can organize contacts by similarity, shared interests, or physical proximity. You can even earn money for building a community.


Mastodon is a decentralized open-source network. It allows up to 500 characters per post, so it’s better than twitter at enabling extended conversation.

Mastodon differs from other social media in that it doesn’t sell user data to advertisers. Mastodon permits no advertising, data mining, or walled gardens.


Diaspora bills itself “the anti-Facebook”. Like Mastodon, it is a decentralized network. Instead of holding user data on centrally located servers controlled by a giant corporation, Diaspora operates on independently controlled servers in many locations. Users own all of their data on the network.

With your Diaspora account, you don’t have to use your own name, and you control who gets to see your posts.


NextDoor was founded on the theory that social media have alienated us from our neighbors. Most of our Twitter and Facebook contacts live far away from us, and few of us know many of the people who live nearby.

NextDoor was designed to reintroduce you to your neighbors, and its networks are based on geographic location. NextDoor is a forum for informing users about events in their neighborhoods. The platform is useful for planning local events, warning neighbors about dangerous visitors, reporting lost and found items, and even scheduling babysitters.

Other Networks

These are a few of the more popular general interest social platforms. There are others that cater to special interests. Ello bills itself the creator’s network, “built by artists for artists”. Dogster and Catster connect pet lovers. Peanut connects mothers seeking emotional support, advice, or opportunities to vent. Wanelo is a network for avid shoppers. Vero is a photo-sharing platform.

There are other networks, such as Tumblr and Reddit, that are already well established.

If you look, you can find a suitable substitute for Twitter and Facebook.

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In just twelve years, our tools for coping with natural disaster have improved dramatically. Compare what was available in 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with what we have now.

Image result for hurricane harvey images

Why does information technology matter?

Snapchat, new and unfamiliar to most of us in 2005, has seen heavy use for live storm updates since Hurricane Harvey made landfall. Thousands of Texans have used the app to report power outages and post updates about their immediate surroundings. Some users call on it to inform relatives that they’re safe. Snapchat’s Map section highlights areas of heaviest use, continually updating data about areas needing emergency relief.

Snap said that its usage skyrocketed over the weekend, with nearly 300,000 posts on its Harvey Our Stories page.

Facebook has also been essential to the relief effort. With Facebook Live, users mark themselves “safe” or post video pleas for aid.

How does FEMA use social media?

Official agencies also rely on social media for more effective response. FEMA, for example, hires temporary staff to scan the internet for relevant information. These “social listeners” aggregate Facebook, Snapchat, and other social media posts. With this data, FEMA hones its relief efforts. The agency then sends crews to observe affected areas. From their reports, FEMA directs “the right information to the right people”.

Information technology also helps in directing the aid to where it’s needed. Without modern tools, effective logistics can be nearly impossible. In an emergency, it is largely based on sheer guesswork. After Hurricane Katrina, some relief agencies had thousands of tarps and blankets piled up in one place- far from where they were needed. With updated real-time information, this mistake could have been prevented.

With the social media tools available now, relief agencies can disperse supplies much more efficiently. Aid goes where it’s needed. As the situation evolves, so does the data tracking it.  Aid workers can adjust continually to changing circumstance.

What has changed since 2005?

Twelve years ago, FEMA waited for assessments before providing aid. That doesn’t work well, though, and FEMA knows it. Its current policy is to act quickly. It moves as much supply and personnel as possible, as quickly as possible. If it has more than it needs, it can scale back.

Without dramatic advances in information technology since 2005, this more nimble FEMA would never have emerged.


(For timely information, you need a strong internet connection. Talk to us. We can help.)


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Can you trust social media? Is your privacy always safe in the hands of Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram?

Most of us don’t give much thought to how social media are handling our personal data. Perhaps we should.

The network effects of digital communication enable extremely rapid growth for firms that get in early, and over time they can dominate their market segments. Within a few years, they can acquire monopolies or near-monopolies. Once such near-monopoly is Facebook. Because of its massive user base- numbering in the billions- it gets close attention from advertisers. It crowds out other media- especially print.

This, in itself, could create serious problems for you. But what if Facebook becomes the dominant means of authenticating personal identity? You may soon be unable to handle the ordinary business of life without an account.

The Zuckerberg Mafia finally hit me where it hurts.”

Consider the case of Jason Ditzian, who operates the website The Bold ItalicHe was recently kicked out of a San Francisco ride-sharing service, City CarShare, after Getaround bought it. Getround had founded its platform on Facebook, and authenticated membership through it. Lacking an account, Ditzian could no longer use City CarShare. As he put it, “The Zuckerberg Mafia finally hit me where it  hurts.”

Getaround’s user agreement states: “We may permit third-party advertising networks to collect information about your use of our service over time…” It goes on to state that this could include location information. Getaround, then, would know where you’ve been- and when you’ve been there. Could this be a threat to your well-being?

What are you telling the world about yourself?

Most people post huge amounts of personal data on social media. Your Facebook posts may reveal:

  • Where you live
  • Who your friends or lovers are
  • Where you travel
  • What pets you have
  • Where you work
  • What you read
  • Your musical tastes
  • Your political or religious commitments and opinions

This can provide a nearly complete profile of your personality, background, and interests. What happens if this information falls into the wrong hands?

Could governments get your data?

 So far, your social media posts are used mainly to benefit advertisers. This may not be a serious problem for you. But what if governments or hostile political activists get their hands on the data? Consider China, for example. It has begun assigning “citizen scores” for applicants for housing or jobs. Its scores are derived largely from information on social media.

Could something similar happen here? Could the state use your data to ruin your life? Could it guess your location at any given moment, based on your Facebook posts?

The personal information Facebook can collect now is already a severe threat to privacy. At least you can opt out of participating, though.

What if that option is taken from you? If enough businesses and social groups require social media proof of I D, you may have to give in. Your survival may require it. You would have to leave yourself vulnerable to those who would use your personal data against you.

(For the best broadband connection, talk to us. We can help. To get the most out of your broadband connection, read our blog. Comment and share for your friends.)

The enclosed images are from Black Mirror, a Netflix series. It is said to be a contemporary version of The Twilight Zone.  

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Can you keep a secret? No, you can’t, at least not for long. With ever more of your electronic devices, appliances, utility meters, fitness trackers, and home security systems connected to the internet, it’s nearly certain that at least one of them will rat on you sooner or later.

Could Your Devices Be Subpoenaed?

Allison Berman, writing for Singularity Hub, warned that the connected devices in your home could be subpoenaed as witnesses against you. She cited a 2015 murder case, for which police asked Amazon to turn over cloud-based data sent by an Alexa-enabled Echo device in the home of James Andrew Bates, in whose hot tub detectives had found the body of his colleague, Victor Collins. On the night of the murder, the device had been used for streaming music. The Echo device, equipped with seven mikes, listens constantly for the ‘wake word’ that will activate it, making it receptive to commands. Just before and after sensing the wake word, Echo begins recording sound and transmitting it to Amazon’s cloud.

Police believe the Echo device may have recorded audio germane to their investigation.

In the near future, police may solve crimes by interrogating refrigerators, thermostats, TV sets, stereos, phones, tablets, and security systems. With multiple electronic witnesses, they can obtain fairly accurate and comprehensive pictures of the crimes, as they seek to do by interviewing multiple witnesses to an auto accident.

Privacy laws regarding connected devices are very weak. Because the information is stored in the cloud, the owner or user of the devices doesn’t own the data they transmit. It’s not protected to the same degree that documents in his house are.

Could Your Connected Devices Be Hacked?

Of course, any connected device can be hacked. If Alexa is hacked, could a hostile party listen to everything you say in your home? And if you have twenty connected devices in your home, a hacker might obtain eerily accurate and complete information about what you do all day. Could he use it to blackmail you? What could a stalker do if he knows where you’ll be, when, and for what reason?

Hackers could also hijack your devices to spread false information about you. Patrick Frey, who blogs as ‘Patterico’, suffered a ’SWATting’ attack in 2011 after a hacker ‘spoofed’ his cellphone number to place a midnight 911 call. Pretending to be Frey, the caller said he had shot his wife.

Sheriff’s deputies pounded on Frey’s door and rang his doorbell. When he opened the door, they pointed their guns at him and told him to put his hands up. The deputies handcuffed Frey and placed him in a squad car. Then they awakened his wife, led her downstairs, and frisked her. After ascertaining that the children were safe, the police finally left.

The incident could easily have cost Frey his life. Cops are likely to be nervous in confronting a man they believe to be armed and to have just committed a murder.

Can You Trust Browsers and Social Media?

Loss of privacy need not require either hacking or law enforcement inquiry. Certain browsers, such as Google, and social media, such as Facebook, offer overly complicated terms of service– as long as 30,000 words. Few, if any, users read them. The rules are nearly inscrutable for a reason. They’re meant to protect providers from liability, not to protect your privacy.

Since you don’t pay for Google and Facebook services, you are their product. They earn their money through sale of advertising, so they want as much data about you as possible. Their advertisers demand it.

Two years ago, Facebook faced a media firestorm after the discovery that it had been manipulating the emotional states of thousands of users. Facebook had learned that the emotional impact of the images it showed users would affect the character of their posts. With this information, it could reinforce advertising messages.

You reveal far more through social media than you’d guess. MIT’s ‘Gaydar’ project confirmed that one could reliably infer that a particular subject was gay, based solely on his social media posts, even if he had never admitted it openly, and even if he was trying strenuously to keep it hidden. Another MIT project, called ‘Psychopath’, tracked social media posts to determine presence or absence of schizophrenia.

Can You Trust Your Smart TV Set?

On Monday, February 6, Vizio settled a lawsuit over claims that it had violated consumer privacy. The plaintiffs had alleged that Vizio’s connected ‘smart’ TV sets had been tracking ‘second by second’ data about customer viewing habits. To this, Vizio had allegedly added specific demographic information: age, sex, marital status, size of household, income, home ownership, and household value. The company is alleged to have sold this information to third parties. The third parties would use it to enable targeted advertising.

LG and Samsung have also been accused of collecting viewer data through their connected TV sets.

What Can You Do?

What can you do to protect yourself? Update your passwords often. Encrypt what you can. Always stay aware of when your connected devices are switched on.

It may help to assume that everything you do will become public- and live accordingly.

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Was it the Russians?

We learned last week that someone hacked Democratic National Committee servers, then leaked embarrassing e-mail to WikiLeaks. The ensuing media firestorm had DNC officials on the defensive, and intensified friction between the Sanders and Clinton camps. The DNC blamed the Russians for the breach, though evidence of their involvement is meager and circumstantial.

You might believe this has nothing to do with you. Since you don’t have to worry about international spy rings, you don’t need to concern yourself with cybersecurity. Right?

It would be dangerous to assume that you’re safe. Governments, including our own, could turn their attention to you if they think you have information they need. Corporate interests, criminal gangs, and individuals might spy on you for the same reason. If you work for a company with valuable intellectual property, you face a higher likelihood of becoming a target. How, then, can you avoid being victimized by hackers?

Protecting your computer files begins with educating yourself. According to CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm, the DNC breach was a case of ‘spear-phishing’. Spear-phishers exploit familiarity with their victims. These hackers know at least a little about their intended victims. It may be their names, e-mail addresses, or references to social events, friends, or family members. The spear-phisher pretends to be someone his intended victim knows.

Spear-phishing e-mail comes from forged (‘spoofed’) addresses, and appears to be from someone the intended victim knows. For example, it may seem to be from a colleague or a supervisor.

Spear-phishing attacks can be difficult to avoid because they appear to come from trusted sources. Successful spear-phishers usually begin with ‘social  engineering’. This is research of the victim’s social media profiles and online activity. The ‘social engineer’ attempts to learn as much as possible about the victim, his friends, and his employer.

How, then, can you avoid falling prey to such attacks? First, monitor your online activity. Take an especially close look at your presence on social media. Are you giving too much information away? Does the world at large need to know your cat’s name, where your mother lives, or all the awards you won in elementary school? Visit to track how much you’re sharing. It may make your hair stand on end.

Second, think before responding to e-mail. If someone you know sends a message that’s out of character, be suspicious. Be especially careful with requests for urgent response or wire transfers of money.  If you’re unsure, call or text the apparent source for confirmation. Avoid downloading attachments to messages you weren’t expecting.

Finally, ask your employer to do more. Businesses can block e-mail from unfamiliar sources with authentication software. ValiMail is one e-mail security firm that enables organizations to control who sends e-mail under their names.

With a few simple precautions, you can avoid hacking of your e-mail. Stay alert, and your files should be secure.

And avoid getting close to Vladimir Putin. He’s a rascal.

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If you spend much time online, your privacy is unsafe unless you take steps to protect it. What may be even more dismaying is that the rules governing online privacy are inconsistent. They inhibit only a few of the worst potential violators, leaving others free to vacuum up as much of your personal data as their technologies allow.

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission unwittingly underscored this inconsistency. Tom Wheeler, the FCC Chairman, announced a proposal for imposing strict new privacy rules on internet service providers.  From the consumer’s point of view, the proposal was a huge step forward, as ISPs would have to protect personal information, report breaches, and obtain consumer consent for personal data collection. Consumers would have to ‘opt in’ to allow collection of personal information. The new regulations would make it more difficult to use consumer data for targeted advertising.

Unfortunately, the new rules would exempt Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other browsers and social media. The American Civil Liberties Union expressed disappointment with the proposed new rules, and other consumer groups gave them only qualified endorsement. Some ISPs panned the proposal. AT&T, for example, called it discriminatory. The telecom giant objected that broadband providers would be held to stricter standards than other online companies.

Since the FCC won’t do much to protect you, you have to protect yourself when using social media. Consider using an ad blocker. Carefully review the privacy policy of any social website you visit.

You need to be vigilant to guard your privacy on any social medium. Some websites change privacy settings frequently, without notifying users. Facebook is especially notorious for this.

If you find that your privacy settings have been changed without your consent, change them back. Then send a complaint to the site administrators. This will not guarantee that the site’s policies will change, but it may help. If enough users complain, administrators may finally pay attention.

Above all else, remain alert. The best safeguard for your privacy is your own common sense.

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