Patents

Tribal 'Sovereign Immunity' Patent Protection Could Be Outlawed (arstechnica.com) 90

AnalogDiehard writes: The recent -- and questionable -- practice of technological and pharmaceutical companies selling their patents to U.S. native Indian tribes (where they enjoy "sovereign immunity" from the inter partes review (IPR) process of the PTO) and then the tribes licensing them back to the companies is drawing scrutiny from a federal court and has inspired a new U.S. bill outlawing the practice. The IPR process is a "fast track" (read: much less expensive) process through the PTO to review the validity of challenged patents -- it is loved by defendants and hated by patent holders. Not only has U.S. Circuit Judge William Bryson invalidated Allergan's pharmaceutical patents due to "obviousness," he is questioning the legitimacy of the sovereign immunity tactic. The judge was well aware that the tactic could endanger the IPR process, which was a central component of the America Invents Act of 2011, and writes that sovereign immunity "should not be treated as a monetizable commodity that can be purchased by private entities as part of a scheme to evade their legal responsibility." U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) -- no stranger to abuses of the patent system -- has introduced a bill that would outlaw the practice she describes as "one of the most brazen and absurd loopholes I've ever seen and it should be illegal." Sovereign immunity is not absolute and has been limited by Congress and the courts in the past. The bill would apply only to the IPR proceedings and not to patent disputes in federal courts.
The Internet

Russian Troll Factory Paid US Activists To Fund Protests During Election (theguardian.com) 606

bestweasel writes: The Guardian reports on another story about Russian meddling, but interestingly, this one comes from a respected Russian news source, the RBC. From the report: "Russian trolls posing as Americans made payments to genuine activists in the U.S. to help fund protest movements on socially divisive issues. On Tuesday, the newspaper RBC published a major investigation into the work of a so-called Russian 'troll factory' since 2015, including during the period of the U.S. election campaign, disclosures that are likely to put further spotlight on alleged Russian meddling in the election. RBC said it had identified 118 accounts or groups in Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that were linked to the troll factory, all of which had been blocked in August and September this year as part of the U.S. investigation into Russian electoral meddling. Perhaps the most alarming element of the article was the claim that employees of the troll factory had contacted about 100 real U.S.-based activists to help with the organization of protests and events. RBC claimed the activists were contacted by Facebook group administrators hiding their Russian origin and were offered financial help to pay for transport or printing costs. About $80,000 was spent during a two-year period, according to the report."
Government

'Significant' Number of Equifax Victims Already Had Info Stolen, Says IRS (thehill.com) 105

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: The IRS does not expect the Equifax data breach to have a major effect on the upcoming tax filing season, Commissioner John Koskinen said Tuesday, adding that the agency believes a "significant" number of the victims already had their information stolen by cyber criminals. "We actually think that it won't make any significantly or noticeable difference," Koskinen told reporters during a briefing on the agency's data security efforts. "Our estimate is a significant percent of those taxpayers already had their information in the hands of criminals." The IRS estimates that more than 100 million Americans have had their personally identifiable information stolen by criminal hackers, he said.

The Equifax breach disclosed in early September is estimated to have affected more than 145 million U.S. consumers. "It's an important reminder to the public that everyone can take any actions that they can ... to make sure we can do everything we can to protect personal information," Koskinen said of the breach on Tuesday, in response to a reporter's question. The IRS commissioner advised Americans to "assume" their data is already in the hands of criminals and "act accordingly."

Twitter

Twitter Is Crawling With Bots and Lacks Incentive To Expel Them (bloomberg.com) 95

An anonymous reader shares a report: On Wednesday, the exterior of Twitter's San Francisco headquarters bore an eerie message: "Ban Russian Bots." Someone -- the company doesn't know who -- projected the demand onto the side of its building. Bots, or automated software programs, can be programmed to periodically send out messages on the internet. Now Twitter is scrambling to explain how bots controlled by Russian meddlers may have been used to impact the 2016 president election. Twitter was designed to be friendly to bots. They can help advertisers quickly spread their messages and respond to customer service complaints. Research from the University of Southern California and Indiana University shows that 9 to 15 percent of active Twitter accounts are bots. Many innocuously tweet headlines, the weather or Netflix releases. After the election, there was little discussion inside the company about whether the platform may have been misused, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because it is private. But the ubiquity and usefulness of bots did come up. At one point, there were talks about whether Twitter should put a marking on bot accounts, so that users would know they were automated, one of the people said. Yet most of the conversation after the election focused on whether Trump's tweets violated Twitter's policies, the person said.
Businesses

Despite Sanctions, Russian Organisations Acquire Microsoft Software (reuters.com) 44

An anonymous reader shares a report: Software produced by Microsoft has been acquired by state organizations and firms in Russia and Crimea despite sanctions barring U.S-based companies from doing business with them, official documents show. The acquisitions, registered on the Russian state procurement database, show the limitations in the way foreign governments and firms enforce the U.S. sanctions, imposed on Russia over its annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Some of the users gave Microsoft fictitious data about their identity, people involved in the transactions told Reuters, exploiting a gap in the U.S. company's ability to keep its products out of their hands. The products in each case were sold via third parties and Reuters has no evidence that Microsoft sold products directly to entities hit by the sanctions. "Microsoft has a strong commitment to complying with legal requirements and we have been looking into this matter in recent weeks," a Microsoft representative said in an emailed response to questions from Reuters.
Businesses

Israeli Spies 'Watched Russian Agents Breach Kaspersky Software' (bbc.com) 194

Israeli spies looked on as Russian hackers breached Kaspersky cyber-security software two years ago, according to reports. From a report: The Russians were allegedly attempting to gather data on US intelligence programs, according to the New York Times and Washington Post. Israeli agents made the discovery after breaching the software themselves. Kaspersky has said it was neither involved in nor aware of the situation and denies collusion with authorities. Last month, the US government decided to stop using the Russian firm's software on its computers. The Israelis are said to have notified the US, which led to the ban on Kaspersky programs. The New York Times said that the situation had been described by "multiple people who have been briefed on the matter."
Government

North Korean Hackers Stole U.S.-South Korean Military Plans, Lawmaker Says (nytimes.com) 110

North Korean hackers stole a vast cache of data, including classified wartime contingency plans jointly drawn by the United States and South Korea, when they breached the computer network of the South Korean military last year, a South Korean lawmaker said Tuesday (alternative source). From a report: One of the plans included the South Korean military's plan to remove the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, referred to as a "decapitation" plan, should war break out on the Korean Peninsula, the lawmaker, Rhee Cheol-hee, told reporters. Mr. Rhee, a member of the governing Democratic Party who serves on the defense committee of the National Assembly, said he only recently learned of the scale of the North Korean hacking attack, which was first discovered in September last year. It was not known whether any of the military's top secrets were leaked, although Mr. Rhee said that nearly 300 lower-classification confidential documents were stolen. The military has not yet identified nearly 80 percent of the 235 gigabytes of leaked data, he said.
Advertising

Google Uncovers Russia-Bought Ads On YouTube, Gmail and Other Platforms (reuters.com) 345

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Google has discovered Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads on its YouTube, Gmail and Google Search products in an effort to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a person briefed on the company's probe told Reuters on Monday. The ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated entity that bought ads on Facebook, but may indicate a broader Russian online disinformation effort, according to the source, who was not authorized to discuss details of Google's confidential investigation. The revelation is likely to fuel further scrutiny of the role that Silicon Valley technology giants may have unwittingly played during last year's election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow's goal was to help elect Donald Trump. Google has uncovered less than $100,000 in ad spending potentially linked to Russian actors, the source said.
Businesses

Office Depot, Best Buy Pull Kaspersky Products From Shelves (bleepingcomputer.com) 155

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for BleepingComputer: Both Office Depot and Best Buy have removed Kaspersky Lab products from shelves. The ban has been in effect since mid-September, and the two chains are offering existing Kaspersky customers replacement security software. The first store to remove Kaspersky products from shelves was Best Buy, on around September 8. At the time, the FBI was pressuring the private sector to cut ties with the Russian antivirus maker, which was the subject of a Senate Intelligence Committee on the suspicion it may be collaborating with Russian intelligence agencies. Kaspersky vehemently denied all accusations. A week after Best Buy removed Kaspersky products from shelves, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a Binding Operational Directive published ordering the removal of Kaspersky Lab products off government computers. A day later, Office Depot announced a similar decision to ban the sale of Kaspersky products in its stores. Additionally, Office Depot is letting customers exchange their Kaspersky copy with a one-year license for McAfee LiveSafe.
Mars

SpaceX's Mars Vision Puts Pressure on NASA's Manned Exploration Programs (marketwatch.com) 142

An anonymous reader shares a report: Entrepreneur Elon Musk's announcement late last month accelerating plans for manned flights to Mars ratchets up political and public relations pressure on NASA's efforts to reach the same goal. With Musk publicly laying out a much faster schedule than NASA -- while contending his vision is less expensive and could be financed primarily with private funds -- a debate unlike any before is shaping up over the direction of U.S. space policy. Industry officials and space experts consider the proposal by Musk's Space Exploration to land people on the red planet around the middle of the next decade extremely optimistic. Some supporters concede the deadline appears ambitious even for reaching the moon, while Musk himself acknowledged some of his projected dates are merely "aspirational." But the National Aeronautics and Space Administration doesn't envision getting astronauts to Mars until at least a decade later, a timeline NASA is finding increasingly hard to defend in the face of criticism that it is too slow.
Government

US Senate Panel Approves Self-Driving Car Legislation (reuters.com) 123

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill to speed self-driving cars to market without human controls and bar states from imposing regulatory road blocks. The bill still must be approved by the full Senate. The U.S. House passed a similar version last month unanimously. General Motors Co, Alphabet Inc, Ford Motor Co and others have lobbied for the landmark legislation. Despite some complaints from Republicans, the Senate bill does not speed approval of self-driving technology for large commercial trucks after labor unions raised safety and employment concerns. The measure, the first significant federal legislation aimed at speeding self-driving cars to market, would allow automakers to win exemptions from current safety rules that prohibit vehicles without human controls. States could still set rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections, but not performance standards.
AI

Artificial Intelligence Has 'Great Potential, But We Need To Steer Carefully,' LinkedIn Co-founder Says (cnbc.com) 73

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman joined other tech moguls in voicing concern about artificial intelligence on Wednesday. From a report: "It has great potential, but we need to steer carefully," Hoffman said on Halftime Report. Hoffman stressed corporate transparency when asked what happens if companies use AI to attack nation-states. The possibility of manipulating how people consume information remains an unanswered question. During last year's U.S. presidential election, Facebook advertisements linked to Russia mainly focused on the states of Michigan and Wisconsin, and Hoffman says information battles are "in the very early days." AI must be improved, Hoffman says, to "[hold] corporations accountable" when nation-states are using the technology to attack. "Corporations normally deal with other corporations, not with governments," Hoffman said. The "ultimate" solution, he says, is "having more kinds of functions and features within AI that show abhorrent patterns." That way patterns raise a red flag for humans to investigate, Hoffman noted.
Privacy

US Studying Ways To End Use of Social Security Numbers For ID (securityweek.com) 311

wiredmikey quotes a report from Security Week: U.S. officials are studying ways to end the use of social security numbers for identification following a series of data breaches compromising the data for millions of Americans, Rob Joyce, the White House cybersecurity coordinator, said Tuesday. Joyce told a forum at the Washington Post that officials were studying ways to use "modern cryptographic identifiers" to replace social security numbers. "I feel very strongly that the social security number has outlived its usefulness," Joyce said. "It's a flawed system." For years, social security numbers have been used by Americans to open bank accounts or establish their identity when applying for credit. But stolen social security numbers can be used by criminals to open bogus accounts or for other types of identity theft. Joyce said the administration has asked officials from several agencies to come up with ideas for "a better system" which may involve cryptography. This may involve "a public and private key" including "something that could be revoked if it has been compromised," Joyce added.
United Kingdom

UK Government Could Imprison People For Looking At Terrorist Content (betanews.com) 271

Mark Wilson writes: Not content with trying to "combat" encryption, the UK government also wants to criminalize looking at terrorist content. The leading Conservative party has announced plans which threaten those who "repeatedly view terrorist content online" with time behind bars. New laws will be introduced that could see consumers of terrorist content imprisoned for up to 15 years. The same maximum sentence would face those who share information about police, soldiers or intelligence agencies with a view to organizing terrorist attacks.
Social Networks

Facebook Says 10 Million US Users Saw Russia-linked Ads (reuters.com) 252

Some 10 million people in the United States saw politically divisive ads on Facebook that the company said were purchased in Russia in the months before and after last year's U.S. presidential election, Facebook said on Monday. From a report: Facebook, which had not previously given such an estimate, said in a statement that it used modeling to estimate how many people saw at least one of the 3,000 ads. It also said that 44 percent of the ads were seen before the November 2016 election and 56 percent were seen afterward. The ads have sparked anger toward Facebook and, within the United States, toward Russia since the world's largest social network disclosed their existence last month. Moscow has denied involvement with the ads.

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