Mar 252015
The law applies online to social media and other web services

Today the Australian internet industry celebrated twenty years of commercial operations with the Rewind/Fast Forward conference that looked at the evolution of the online economy down under and its future.

Naturally the Internet of Things was an important part of the discussion looking at the internet’s future and one of the panels examined the effects of the IoT on industry and society.

During the session chairman of the Communications Alliance industry association, John Stanton, raised an important point about how the IoT creates problems for existing laws and the regulators as a wave of connected devices are released onto the market place.

The risks are varied, and Stanton’s list isn’t exhaustive with a few other aspects such as liability not explored while some of the issues he raises are a problem for other internet based services like cloud computing and social media.

Roaming rules

Having fought many regulatory battles over roaming charges and access between networks, it’s not surprising Stanton and the Communications Alliance would raise this as an issue.

Dealing with roaming devices will probably be a big challenge for mobile Machine to Machine (M2M) technologies, particularly in the logistics, airline and travel industries. We can expect some bitter billing battles between clients and their providers before regulators start to step in.

Number schemes

Again this is more an issue for mobile M2M consumers. Currently every SIM card has its own phone number once the service is activated.  It may be that regulators have to revise their numbering schemes or allow providers to use alternative addressing methods to contact devices.

Data sovereignty

Where data lives is going to continue to be a vexed issue for cloud computing consumers, particularly given the varied laws between nations.

Short of an international treaty, it’s difficult to see how this problem is going to be resolved beyond companies learning to manage the risks.

Identity management

Data integrity is essential for the IoT and accurately determining the identity of individuals and devices is going to be a challenge for those designing systems.

Over time we can expect to see some elegant and clever solutions to identity management in the IoT however masquerading as a legitimate device will always be a way malicious actors will try to hack systems.


For domestic users, the privacy of what remains in data stores is going to be a major concern as domestic devices and wearables gather greater amounts of personal information. We can expect laws to be tightened on the duties and obligations of those collecting the data.

Access Security

Who can do what with a networked device is another problem, should a malicious player or a defective component get onto the system, the damage they can do needs to be minimised. What constitutes unlawful access to a computer network and the penalties needs to be carefully thought out.

Spectrum allocation and cost

Governments around the world have been reaping the rewards of selling licenses to network operators. As the need for reliable but low data usage IoT networks grows, the economics of many of the existing licenses changes which could present challenges for both the operators and governments.

Access to low cost and low data access networks

Following on from the economics of M2M networks, the question of mandating slicing of scarce spectrum for IoT applications or reserving some frequencies becomes a question. How such licenses are granted will cause much friction and many headaches between regulators and operators.

Commercial value of information

How much data is worth will always be a problem in an economy where information is power and money. This though may turn out to be more subtle as information is only valuable in the eyes of the beholder.

Where information becomes particularly valuable is in financial markets and highly competitive sectors so we can see the IoT becoming part of insider trading and unfair competition actions. These will, by definition, be complex.

Like any new set of technologies the internet of things raises a whole new range of legal issues as society adapts to new ways of doing business and communicating. What we’re going to see is a period of experimentation with laws as we try to figure out how the IoT fits into society.

Mar 192015
how to protect your computer and social media data with strong passwords

A lack of trust in technology’s security could be costing the global economy over a trillion dollars a panel at the Australian Cisco Live in Melbourne heard yesterday.

The panel “how do we create trust?” featured some of Cisco’s executives including John Stewart, the company’s Security and Trust lead, along with Mike Burgess, Telstra’s Chief Information Security Officer and Gary Blair, the CEO of the Australian Cyber Security Research Institute.

Blair sees trust in technology being split into two aspects; “do I as an individual trust an organisation to keep my data secure; safe from harm, safe from breaches and so forth?” He asks, “the second is will they be transparent in using my data and will I have control of my data.”

In turn Stewart sees security as being a big data problem rather than rules, patches and security software; “data driven security is the way forward.” He states, “we are constantly studying data to find out what our current risk profile is, what situations are we facing and what hacks we are facing.”

This was the thrust of last year’s Splunk conference where the CISO of NASDAQ, Mark Graff, described how data analytics were now the front line of information security as threats are so diverse and systems so complex that it’s necessary to watch for abnormal activity rather than try to build fortresses.

The stakes are high for both individual businesses and the economy as technology is now embedded in almost every activity.

“If you suddenly lack confidence in going to online sites, what would happen?” Asks Stewart. “You start using the phone, you go into the bank branch to check your account.”

“We have to get many of these things correct, because going backwards takes us to a place where we don’t know how to get back to.”

Gary Blair described how the Boston Consulting Group forecast digital economy would be worth between 1.5 and 2.5 trillion dollars across the G20 economies by 2016.

“The difference between the two numbers was trust. That’s how large a problem is in economic terms.”

As we move into the internet of things, that trust is going to extend to the integrity of the sensors telling us the state of our crops, transport and energy systems.

The stakes are only going to get higher and the issues more complex which in turn is going to demand well designed robust systems to retain the trust of businesses and users.

Feb 262015
data guard

A few years ago Ransomware was a joke, malware would install a screen that would demand a ransom be paid to ‘unlock’ the computer. It was easy to get around and almost trivial to remove.

Then came Cryptolocker, a nasty piece of malware that would gleefully encrypt a victim’s hard drives, rendering them inaccessible unless a sizeable ransom was paid.

Ransomware suddenly became serious.

Cryptolocker eventually was unpicked with a cracking tool released and the ring’s alleged founder, Evgeniy Bogachev, now on the run from US authorities with a three million dollar reward for his arrest.

A better class of ransomware

Now the gangs running the ransomware scams are even more sophisticated and well resourced with Andrei Taflan of Romanian security company BitDefender describing how Bitcoin values are often tracking ransomware activity.

“When we see Bitcoin values surging we watch for increased ransomware activity. Someone is buying Bitcoins to unlock their data,” Taflan told me last week in an underground bar appropriately called The Rabbit Hole.

Taflan’s colleague Bogdan Botezatu describes how the ransomware problem is getting worse, not better, with Cryptowall patching the weaknesses that led to Bogachev’s downfall.

One of the fascinating aspects of Cryptowall is that it’s polymorpic – it changes shape to elude traditional signature based anti-virus programs. The malware also creates unique Bitcoin wallets to make tracking transaction harder.

Paying the ransom

Many businesses being infected by Cryptowall and having data locked away by an industrial grade encryption program makes it a no brainer to pay the demands. It’s a profitable business.

Faced this rather impressive piece of work, Botezatu raises a chilling prospect about ransomware in the Internet of Things; how long, he asks, will it take ransomware to target more sensitive devices we use, including cars and medical implants?

Botezatu’s concern illustrate why security with the Internet of Things is absolutely essential if industry and the public are to have any confidence in connected devices.

Feb 252015

There’s a fundamental problem with smart devices warns Kim Zetter and Andy Greenberg in Wired magazine.

In Why Firmware Is So Vulnerable to Hacking, and What Can Be Done About It, Zetter and Green look at the problem with the embedded software that is shipped with every computerised device from Personal Computers to smart sensors.

The problem with firmware is that it’s difficult to check it’s not been changed, awkward to upgrade and complex to find, the Wired piece mentions how even the batteries in Apple laptops have vulnerable software embedded into their chips.

As the smart devices become common in our homes, cars and workplaces suppliers will have to do more to secure their software.

Feb 222015
how are we using data in our business

“To my knowledge we have had no data breaches,” stated Tim Morris at the Tech Leaders conference in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney on Sunday.

Morris, the Australian Federal Police force’s Assistant Commissioner for High Tech Crime Operations, was explaining the controversial data retention bill currently before the nation’s Parliament which will require telecommunications companies to keep customers’  connection details – considered to be ‘metadata’ – for two years.

The bill is fiercely opposed by Australia’s tech community, including this writer, as it’s an expensive   and unnecessary invasion of privacy that will do little to protect the community but expose ordinary citizens to a wide range of risks.

One of those risks is that of the data stores being hacked, a threat that Morris downplayed with some qualifications.

As we’re seeing in the Snowden revelations, there are few organisations that are secure against determined criminals and the Australian Federal Police are no exception.

For all organisations, not just government agencies, the question about data should be ‘do we need this?’

In a time of ‘Big Data’ where it’s possible to collect and store massive amounts of information, it’s tempting to become a data hoarder which exposes managers to various risks, not the least that of it being stolen my hackers. It may well be that reducing those risks simply means collecting less data.

Certainly in Australia, the data retention act will only create more headaches and risks while doing little to help public safety agencies to do their job. Just because you can collect data doesn’t mean you should.

Feb 212015

Samsung’s spying TV sets attracted headlines that worried many people but until yesterday no-one had looked at exactly what data was being sent by the devices to Samsung.

Pen Test Partners looked at the data flowing too and from Samsung smart TVs and found that yes, the devices are listening and transmitted data back to their – and other company’s – servers.

That is pretty well what is expected, the real concern though is the quality of what’s being transmitted with Pen Test describing it as a mishmash of code with not even a gesture towards security, “what we see here is not SSL encrypted data. It’s not even HTTP data, it’s a mix of XML and some custom binary data packet.”

One of the concerns about the Internet of Things has been the quality and security of the data being transmitted, the Samsung TV shows both are lacking.

For the IoT to deliver the benefits it promises, connections need to be secure and data reliable. Right now it appears the vendors of consumer products aren’t delivering the basics necessary to make the technologies dependable.

Feb 172015
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

Paul Wallbank joins Tony Delroy on ABC Nightlife nationally from 10pm Australian Eastern time on Thursday, February 19 to discuss how technology affects your business and life.

If you missed the show, the program is available for download from the ABC site.

For the February 2015 program Tony and Paul look at robot driven hotels, the internet of rubbish bins and how your TV could be listening to you.

Last year a lawyer read the terms and conditions of his new Samsung TV and discovered that the company recommended people don’t discuss sensitive information around it. This has lead to widespread, and justified, concerns that all our smart devices – not just TVs but smartphones and connected homes – could be listening to us. What happens to this data and can we trust the people collecting it?

The internet of rubbish bins

It’s not only your TV or smartphone that could be watching you, in Western Australia Broome Shire Council is looking at tracking rubbish bins to make sure only council issued ones are emptied.

Shire of Broome waste coordinator Jeremy Hall told WA Today  the council’s garbage truck drivers had noticed more bins than usual were getting emptied and a system needed to be put in place to identify “legitimate” bins.

While Australian councils are struggling with rubbish bins a hotel in Japan is looking to replace its staff with robots and room keys with face recognition software. The Hen-na Hotel is due to open later this year in Nagasaki Prefecture, the Japan Times reports.

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