Tech Brief: Older Amazon Echo Devices Vulnerable to ‘Wiretap’ Hack

Government Brief

  • Concerned about cybersecurity risks posed by the “internet of things,” Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced a bill to have the federal government’s procurement of connected devices meet “thorough, yet flexible” guidelines. Internet-connected devices are vulnerable to distributed denial of service attacks and some can effectively be reconfigured to spy on users. (The Hill)
  • Big tech companies oppose a bipartisan measure meant to stem sex trafficking. The Senate’s Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 would allow victims to sue websites for “knowingly or recklessly” enabling the crime — but the Internet Association says it’s too broad and could spark a wave of “frivolous” lawsuits. (MediaPost)
  • In one of the largest contracts awarded in 2017, the General Services Administration gave 10 companies places on the $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Services contract. The EIS is a next-generation contractual vehicle designed to replace the outgoing Networx. (Nextgov)

Business Brief

  • Inc. Echo devices purchased before 2017 are vulnerable to a traceless hack that could turn them into microphones recordable on a personal remote server, a British security researcher showed. The process would require initial physical contact with the object but there’s no software fix for the older devices. (WIRED)
  • Since the beginning of the year when they were about equal, the speed of T-Mobile US Inc.’s network has steadily increased, while those of Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. have declined, according to new data released by OpenSignal. In February, the larger networks started offering unlimited plans to compete with T-Mobile, leading to an influx of new traffic which can slow speeds. (Recode)
  • Snap Inc. shares fell 4 percent and closed at a record low following news the company cannot be traded on the S&P 500 or major British index FTSE Russell. S&P 500 rules disqualify Snap due to its “multiple share class structures” and the FTSE Russell doesn’t accept companies where public investors lack voting rights. (TechCrunch)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Senate Commerce Committee considers FCC nominees Ajit Pai, Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr 10 a.m.
FCC open meeting 10:30 a.m.
D.C. Startup Week stakeholders meeting 4 p.m.
Tech in Motion and BMC tech panel on Big Data 6 p.m.
No events scheduled.

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Proposed Sex Trafficking Law Threatens Open Internet, Silicon Valley Warns
Wendy Davis, MediaPost

The Silicon Valley trade group Internet Association is warning against a proposed law aimed at curbing sex trafficking, warning that the measure “jeopardizes bedrock principles of a free and open internet.” “This bill is overly broad and will be counterproductive in the fight to combat human trafficking,” the Internet Association states.

Bitcoin has split in two, so you can have double the cryptocurrency
Shannon Liao, The Verge

A little after 8AM ET today, Bitcoin was split into Bitcoin Cash, an alternative cryptocurrency, in a chain split that had been anticipated for months. The split, called a “hard fork,” comes out of a bitcoin group’s desire to combat high transaction fees and a bitcoin size limit that made mining larger blocks invalid.

Dark web markets boom after AlphaBay and Hansa busts
Leo Kelion, BBC News

Trade on several of the dark web’s illegal markets has boomed since two major players were shut by the authorities last month, according to research carried out for the BBC. The US and Dutch authorities forced AlphaBay and Hansa offline to prevent the sale of drugs, weapons and malware.

Amazon, In Sign Of Growth, Holds Job Fair For US Warehouses
Matt O’Brien, The Associated Press

Amazon is holding a giant job fair Wednesday and plans to make thousands of job offers on the spot at nearly a dozen U.S. warehouses. Though it’s common for Amazon to ramp up its shipping center staff in August to prepare for holiday shopping, the magnitude of the hiring spree underscores Amazon’s growth when traditional retailers are closing stores – and blaming Amazon for a shift to buying goods online.

Commodity Dip, Euro Gains Hit Stocks; Gold Drops: Markets Wrap
Robert Brand, Bloomberg

Mining and oil shares weighed on Europe’s benchmark equity index as crude fell for a second day and most industrial metals traded lower. The surging euro added a further headwind.

Intellectual Property and Antitrust

Large Patent Holders Eye Startup Equity in Return for Patent Sale
Malathi Nayak, Bloomberg BNA

A handful of large patent holders, including telecom giant AT&T Inc., have agreed to pool patents for sale to startups in exchange for equity when the up-and-coming companies raise venture capital funds.

What Steve Bannon Wants to Do to Google
Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic

Over the past year, the old idea of enforcing market competition has gained renewed life in American politics. The basic idea is that the structure of the modern market economy has failed: There are too few companies, most of them are too big, and they’re stifling competition.

Telecom, Wireless and TV

Bye-Bye Networx: GSA Awards 50 $billlion Next-Gen Telecom Contract
Frank Konkel, Nextgov

The General Services Administration has awarded 10 companies—a mix of telecommunications companies and systems integrators—spots on its $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Services contract. The companies are Verizon, AT&T, Level 3 Communications, CenturyLink, Core Technologies, Granite Telecommunications, Harris Corp., MetTel, BT Federal and MicroTech.

Verizon and AT&T customers are getting slower speeds because of unlimited data plans
Rani Molla, Recode

Unlimited data plans are slowing down mobile speeds for Verizon and AT&T customers, according to data released today by mobile network measurement company OpenSignal. Verizon and AT&T reinstated their unlimited plans in February to compete with T-Mobile and Sprint, which have long offered unlimited data plans, and have since seen a deluge of demand.

Republicans try to take cheap phones and broadband away from poor people
Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Nineteen Republican lawmakers are trying to eliminate subsidies that help poor people purchase cell phone service and broadband. The legislation filed on Friday targets Lifeline, which is a Universal Service Fund program paid for by surcharges on phone bills. If the bill passes, low-income Americans would no longer be able to use $9.25 monthly subsidies toward cellular phone service or mobile broadband.

Senators introduce bipartisan bill to bring high speed wireless to rural America
Ali Breland, The Hill

A pair of senators introduced bipartisan legislation on Tuesday that aims to improve wireless networks in underserved rural areas of America. In Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Maggie Hassan’s (D-N.H.) Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum (AIRWAVES) bill, they propose opening up spectrum space for commercial licensed and unlicensed use with the hope that doing so will drive down wireless costs and increase its accessibility.

Mobile Technology and Social Media

Snap hits record low after getting rejected from the S&P 500
Katie Roof, TechCrunch

Snap shares fell 4% and closed at a record low on Tuesday at $13.10, but it wasn’t just because of the dreaded lockup expiration, which allowed some insiders to finally sell shares. Snap faced another devastating blow when it was revealed that the company won’t make it into the S&P 500, a popular stock market index.

Trump: Foxconn CEO confided plant deal could swell to $30B
Scott Bauer, The Associated Press

President Donald Trump casually mentioned Tuesday that Foxconn’s chairman told him in confidence the electronics giant’s investment could reach $30 billion, triple the size of last week’s deal with Wisconsin that some already viewed as optimistically inflated.

Facebook Is Working on a Video Chat Device
Mark Gurman and Sarah Frier, Bloomberg

Facebook Inc. is working on a video chat device for the home — the first major hardware product from its experimental Building 8 lab. Featuring a laptop-sized touchscreen, the device represents a new product category and could be announced as soon as next spring’s F8 developer conference, according to people familiar with the matter.

China’s Didi Takes on Rival Uber in Europe
Marie Mawad, Bloomberg

Uber Technologies Inc. and Didi Chuxing are once again going head-to-head, this time in Estonia. The Chinese giant with a multi billion-dollar war chest is backing Estonia’s Taxify OU with a financial investment and support on technology developments, the companies said Tuesday.

Uber, Lyft Face Setback in Push to Block Seattle Union Effort
Greg Bensinger, The Wall Street Journal

A federal judge on Tuesday dealt a setback to ride-hailing companies Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. in their battle to block a unionization effort in Seattle for thousands of contract drivers.

‘No major incidents’ as driverless buses launch in Estonia
BBC News

Authorities have reported “no major incidents” after the first three days of a driverless bus service in the Estonian capital Tallinn. A pair of vehicles are operating on a route through the city as part of the Baltic state’s presidency of the European Union, and have so far managed not to collide with any other road users, national broadcaster ERR reports.

Apple shares sail to record high on healthy iPhone sales
Anya George Tharakan and Stephen Nellis, Reuters

Apple Inc on Tuesday delivered surprisingly strong fiscal third-quarter earnings and signaled that its upcoming 10th-anniversary phone lineup is on schedule, driving the stock up 6 percent to an all-time high in after-hours trading. The stock climbed above its intraday record high to $159.10 after the company reported better-than-expected iPhone sales, revenue and earnings per share.

Cybersecurity and Privacy

A Hacker Turned an Amazon Echo into a ‘Wiretap’
Andy Greenberg, WIRED

Every good paranoiac sees an always-listening device like an Amazon Echo as a potential spy sitting in plain sight. Now one security researcher has shown exactly how fine the line is between countertop computer and surveillance tool.

Senators offer bill to boost security of internet-connected devices
Joe Uchill, The Hill

A bipartisan group of senators unveiled legislation Tuesday to bring more security to internet-connected devices, often referred to as the “internet of things.” Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced the “Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017.”

Germany Tests Facial Recognition Technology at Rail Station
The Associated Press

German authorities have launched a six-month test of automatic facial recognition technology at a Berlin railway station, which the country’s top security official says could be used to improve security in the future. More than 200 people volunteered to have their names and two photos stored for the project at Suedkreuz station, where three cameras film an entrance and an escalator.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

If SoundCloud Disappears, What Happens to Its Music Culture?
Jenna Wortham, The New York Times

This summer, an engineer named Matthew Healy moved to Berlin to work at SoundCloud, a popular music-streaming service. He started his job on a Monday.

The ‘creepy Facebook AI’ story that captivated the media
Chris Baraniuk, BBC News

The newspapers have a scoop today – it seems that artificial intelligence (AI) could be out to get us. “‘Robot intelligence is dangerous’: Expert’s warning after Facebook AI ‘develop their own language’”, says the Mirror.

Research Reports

DEFENSE CYBERSECURITY: DOD’s Monitoring of Progress in Implementing Cyber Strategies Can Be Strengthened
Government Accountability Office

Officials from Department of Defense (DOD) components identified advantages and disadvantages of the “dual-hat” leadership of the National Security Agency (NSA)/Central Security Service (CSS) and Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) (see table). Also, DOD and congressional committees have identified actions that could mitigate risks associated with ending the dual-hat leadership arrangement, such as formalizing agreements between NSA/CSS and CYBERCOM to ensure continued collaboration, and developing a persistent cyber training environment to provide a realistic, on-demand training capability.