House Democrats punt on net neutrality

Net neutrality was the Obama administration's top campaign pledge to the technology industry and a major priority of the current FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski

Net neutrality was the Obama administration's top campaign pledge to the technology industry and a major priority of the current FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski

In the latest development in the fight over so-called “net neutrality” regulations, House Democrats have shelved a last-ditch effort to broker a compromise between phone, cable, and internet companies on rules that would prohibit broadband providers from blocking or degrading online traffic flowing over their networks.

House Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., abandoned the effort late on Sept. 29 in the face of Republican opposition to his proposed net-neutrality rules. Those rules were intended to prevent broadband providers from becoming online gatekeepers by playing favorites with traffic.

The battle over net neutrality has pitted public interest groups and internet companies such as Google Inc. and Skype against the nation’s big phone and cable companies, including AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., and Comcast Corp.

Public interest groups and internet companies say regulations are needed to prevent phone and cable operators from slowing or blocking internet phone calls, online video, and other web services that compete with their core businesses.

They also want rules to ensure that broadband companies cannot favor their own online traffic or the traffic of business partners that can pay for priority access.

Many higher-education technology officials also support net-neutrality rules to ensure that smaller institutions without massive technology budgets are on a level playing field with their larger counterparts in being able to deliver online content to students.

But the phone and cable companies insist they need flexibility to manage network traffic so that high-bandwidth applications don’t hog capacity and slow down their systems. They say this is particularly true for wireless networks, which have more bandwidth constraints than wired systems.

The communications companies also argue that after spending billions to upgrade their networks for broadband, they need to be able earn a healthy return by offering premium services. Burdensome net-neutrality rules, they say, would discourage future investments.

Waxman’s proposal, the product of weeks of negotiations, attempted to carve out a middle ground by prohibiting internet traffic discrimination over wireline networks while giving broadband providers more leeway when it comes to managing traffic on wireless networks.

The plan would have allowed the Federal Communications Commission to impose fines of up to $2 million for net-neutrality violations, but it would not have given the FCC the authority to make new rules regarding broadband providers.

If that sounds familiar, it should: It bears a strong resemblance to a compromise plan on net neutrality released by Google and Verizon in August, to great dismay from public interest groups.

For the broadband companies, Waxman’s retreat is a setback. They fear the issue could now go back to the FCC, which deadlocked over the matter in August. The commission could impose more restrictive rules on the industry than a House compromise would have.

“If Congress can’t act, the FCC must,” Waxman said in a statement. He added that “this development is a loss for consumers.”

A spokesman for the educational technology organization EDUCAUSE said that while many net neutrality supporters in higher education might be disappointed by the issue’s legislative shelving, net neutrality “is not a dead issue at all.”

“When [lawmakers] got down to working on this issue, they saw that it was actually hard [to create a compromise],” said Gregory Jackson, EDUCAUSE’s vice president for policy and analysis. “They saw that this will take tough, frank discussion behind closed doors to reach compromises on a broad range of issues.”


In Schmidt’s vision, Google will search before you even ask

In the not-so-distant future, you’ll be walking down the street and your phone will beep and offer you a few lunch suggestions just around the corner, or it might tell you that the museum across the street is having an exhibit of that artist you once Googled: That’s Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s vision of the future, Computerworld reports. In a keynote address at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, Schmidt said that at some point in the future, Google’s search technology will be autonomous, meaning it will offer users search results even before they’ve looked for them. “While it sounds like science fiction to suggest that technology can help search for things you don’t even yet know you need, the opportunities to improve human discovery are very real in the future,” said Augie Ray, an analyst at Forrester Research. “Combining a person’s context — where they are, who they’re with — with their past opinions and actions, and the opinions and actions of others, can create tremendous value for people.” Autonomous search would take your past experiences, likes and dislikes and use them, along with geolocation information, to give you information about things that might interest you wherever you might be. Analysts say this kind of technology could be a reality within five years. However, it could be a big drain on the battery life of mobile devices.

But the bigger issue could be privacy. For this type of search technology to work, your phone and Google would need to know where you are all the time. And many people might have a big problem with that…

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Texting ban report met with anger, skepticism

Are texting-while-driving bans working? In a controversial report released Sept. 28, the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that texting bans are not reducing crashes, MSNBC reports. The claims that anti-texting laws do not reduce crashes touched a nerve with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who responded harshly to the report, calling it misleading and flawed. “Last Thursday, I blogged about misleading claims from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) disparaging the effectiveness of good laws and good enforcement in our campaign to end distracted driving,” LaHood wrote in his blog “The Fast Lane.” “Unfortunately, they’re at it again today with another misleading ‘study.’ There are numerous flaws with this ‘study,’ but the most obvious is that they have created a cause and effect that simply doesn’t exist.” The results of the HLDI study, released at the Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting in Kansas City, found that as a result of texting bans, not only was there not a reduction in crashes, there was a slight increase in crash frequency, especially for young drivers, who are most likely to text and drive. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have anti-texting laws. “You can’t say laws don’t work,” said David Strickland, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator. “It’s too early to make an assessment.” He said strong enforcement and public awareness was needed, but these take time to take hold. When there are high visibility, education, and good laws, “it works,” he said, referring to the success of new Department of Transportation campaigns…

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Rutgers student kills self after sex act broadcast online

Students convicted in the invasion-of-privacy case could face five years in prison. (Courtesy

Rutgers students charged in the invasion-of-privacy case could face five years in prison. (Photo courtesy

A Rutgers University student jumped to his death off a bridge a day after authorities say two classmates surreptitiously recorded him having sex with a man in his dorm room and broadcast it over the internet.

Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge last week, said his family’s attorney, Paul Mainardi. Police recovered a man’s body on Sept. 29 in the Hudson River just north of the bridge, and authorities were trying to determine if it was Clementi’s.

ABC News and the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., reported that Clementi left on his Facebook page on Sept. 22 a note that read: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” On Sept. 29, his Facebook page was accessible only to friends.

Two Rutgers freshmen have been charged with illegally taping the 18-year-old Clementi having sex and broadcasting the images via an internet chat program.

Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights group Garden State Equality, said in a statement that his group considers Clementi’s death a hate crime.

“We are heartbroken over the tragic loss of a young man who, by all accounts, was brilliant, talented, and kind,” Goldstein said. “And we are sickened that anyone in our society, such as the students allegedly responsible for making the surreptitious video, might consider destroying others’ lives as a sport.”

On the Rutgers campus, there was dismay over Clementi’s death and the circumstances that led to it.

Freshman Jonathan Pena said he was in a dorm lounge on Sept. 19 when someone came in and mentioned the sex webcast happening that night. “I knew him as a nice kid,” Pena said. “I didn’t know why anyone was bothering him with that.”

Rutgers president Richard McCormick sent a letter to the campus community, saying school officials were “profoundly saddened by this report.”

“If the charges are true, these actions gravely violate the university’s standards of decency and humanity,” McCormick wrote.

News of Clementi’s death came the same day that Rutgers—the flagship university in a state known for ruthless mob bosses, petulant reality show stars, and cutthroat drivers—launched a two-year project to get people on campus to behave better.

Under the aegis of that project, students, faculty, and other employees have been encouraged to attend a series of lectures, presentations, and discussions on civility, exploring such topics as how cell phones, iPods, and other gadgets affect civility, as well as sportsmanship for athletes and fans.

One of the defendants, Dharun Ravi, was Clementi’s roommate, Mainardi told the Star-Ledger. The other defendant is Molly Wei. Ravi and Wei could face up to five years in prison if convicted.

A lawyer for Ravi did not immediately return a message from the Associated Press (AP) seeking comment. It was unclear whether Wei had retained a lawyer.

The Middlesex County, N.J., prosecutor’s office charged the pair, both 18, with two counts apiece of invasion of privacy, claiming they used the webcam to view and transmit a live image of Clementi on Sept. 19. Ravi also was charged with two more counts of invasion of privacy, alleging he tried to transmit another encounter of Clementi on Sept. 21.


Lawmaker’s net neutrality compromise: Solution or last gasp?

As House Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., prepares to release his legislative proposal for new rules to preserve an open internet, a leaked version reveals that it would limit the FCC’s authority to enforce net neutrality, Ars Technica reports. According to the leaked draft, internet service providers (ISPs) would be forbidden to “unjustly or unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful traffic over a consumer’s wireline broadband internet access service.” But the proposal would not apply to wireless broadband, and the FCC would be given no new rulemaking authorities regarding ISPs. If that sounds familiar, it should: It bears a very strong resemblance to the Google/Verizon “compromise” plan on net neutrality released to great dismay from public-interest groups in August. How did we get from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s proposals for clear net-neutrality enforcement and ISP transparency rules to this? First, factor in massive pushback, threats of lawsuits, and Capitol Hill lobbying from ISPs. Next, plug in a bitterly partisan midterm election year, which seems to have scared the daylights out of the Obama administration. Various D.C. folk have said they believe the FCC’s reluctance to carry out its own agenda is a by-product of pressure from the White House itself…

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Rutgers freshmen charged for using hidden camera on a student

In a case of video voyeurism gone high-tech, a pair of Rutgers University freshmen secretly placed a camera in a dorm room earlier this month and broadcast a live feed of a fellow student’s “sexual encounter” on the internet, reports the Star-Ledger. It’s unclear how many people saw the intimate images of the unsuspecting 18-year-old on the Piscataway, N.J., campus online, law-enforcement officials said. But someone eventually tipped off campus police. Dharun Ravi, 18, and Molly Wei, 18, were charged with two counts each of invasion of privacy for using the camera Sept. 19 to view and transmit the live sex scene, said Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan. Ravi is also charged with two additional counts of invasion of privacy for unsuccessfully trying to capture a second scene involving the same student two days later, Kaplan said. Rutgers officials said the students also might face discipline on campus for the alleged invasion of privacy. “The university takes these matters seriously and has policies to deal with student behavior. Under federal law, the university cannot comment on specifics involving student conduct,” said Sandra Lanman, a Rutgers spokeswoman…

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Mobile device boom sparks U.S. web address shortage

A telecommunications official on Sept. 28 warned that the United States could run out of unique internet addresses to assign to new devices by the end of next year, Reuters reports. Internet Protocol version 4, known as IPv4, provides the dominant architecture for the internet. It requires devices to have unique identifiers, known as an IP address, but it only has space for 4.3 billion of those addresses. The recent profusion of mobile devices like Research in Motion’s BlackBerry and Apple’s iPad, and the expansion of internet services to more homes, have quickly depleted available addresses. An upgrade to the internet’s main communications protocol with more space, called IPv6, is available—but adoption in the United States has lagged behind Europe, China, and other countries. “We now face an exhaustion of IPv4 addresses,” Lawrence Strickling, administrator of the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said at a meeting of government and industry stakeholders. “Fortunately, IPv6 will support 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses,” Strickling said, and he urged organizations to deploy and integrate IPv6 widely. But the transition might not be easy. It could cost enterprises a lot of money, and the new technology might not work well with the technology they use now…

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New tool helps explore path to more tech grads

Policy makers and philanthropists have a new resource in the effort to increase the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math, reports the Associated Press: An online tool developed by the Business-Higher Education Forum with help from Ohio State University debuted Sept. 27. The new tool allows people to see what combinations of policies might create the most interest in such degrees and careers, such as retaining more teachers or starting an elementary science club. More than 200 research variables are included in the model, which was developed by Raytheon Co. A national push is on to double the number of graduates in the STEM fields by 2015. The new tool is available free of charge, and state-level data will be available for the first time for Texas, Arizona, California, Maine, and Florida.

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Amazon launches ‘Kindle for the Web’

Amazon has unveiled a program that allows Kindle electronic books to be sampled in a web browser, AFP reports. “Kindle for the Web” is featured on the online retail giant’s web site,, and book samples can be embedded on other web sites or shared through Facebook and Twitter. Users can click on a “Read First Chapter Free” button on selected Amazon books, and a browser window opens featuring the sample chapter. The eBook also can be purchased directly from the browser. “With Kindle for the Web, it’s easier than ever for customers to sample Kindle books—there’s no downloading or installation required,” Amazon Kindle director Dorothy Nicholls said in a statement. “Kindle for the Web is also a great way for bloggers and authors to promote books on their web sites by letting visitors read a chapter without leaving their site.” Bloggers or web site owners who sign on to “Kindle for the Web” can earn referral fees from Amazon when customers buy books using the links on their web sites, Amazon said…

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Network Security Glossary of Terms

ACL (access control list): A method of keeping in check the internet traffic that attempts to flow through a given hub, router, firewall, or similar device. Access control is often accomplished by creating a list specifying the IP addresses and/or ports from which permitted traffic can come. The device stops any traffic coming from IP addresses or ports not on the ACL.

Address space probe: An intrusion technique in which a hacker sequentially scans IP addresses, generally as the information-gathering prelude to an attack. These probes are usually attempts to map IP address space as the hacker looks for security holes that might be exploited to compromise system security.

Agent: A computer program that reports information to another computer or allows another computer access to the local system. Agents can be used for good or evil. Many security programs have agent components that report security information back to a central reporting platform. However, agents can also be remotely controlled programs hackers use to access machines.

AH (authentication header): An IPsec header used to verify that the contents of a packet have not been modified while the packet was in transit.

Alias: A shortcut that enables a user to identify a group of hosts, networks, or users under one name. Aliases are used to speed user authentication and service configuration. For example, in configuring a firewall, a user can set up the alias “Law School” to include the IP addresses of every network user in a university’s law school.

Auto-partitioning: A feature on some network devices that isolates a node within the workgroup when the node becomes disabled, so as not to affect the entire network or group.

Backdoor: A design fault, planned or accidental, that allows the apparent strength of the design to be easily avoided by those who know the trick.

Block cipher: A procedure that translates plain text into coded text, operating on blocks of plain text of a fixed size (usually 64 bits). Every block is padded out to be the same size, making the encrypted message harder to guess.

Blocked port: A security measure in which a specific port is disabled, stopping users outside the firewall from gaining access to the network through that port. The ports commonly blocked by network administrators are the ports most commonly used in attacks.

Botnet: A collection of computers that are infected with small bits of code (bots) that allow a remote computer to control some or all of the functions of the infected machines. The botmaster who controls the infected computers has the ability to manipulate them individually, or collectively as bot armies that act in concert. Botnets are typically used for disreputable purposes, such as Denial of Service attacks, click fraud, and spam.

Certificate: An electronic document attached to someone’s public key by a trusted third party, which attests that the public key belongs to a legitimate owner and has not been compromised. Certificates are intended to help you verify that a file or message actually comes from the entity it claims to come from.

Certificate authority (CA): A trusted third party (TTP) who verifies the identity of a person or entity, then issues digital certificates vouching that various attributes have a valid association with that entity.

CHAP (Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol): A type of authentication where the person logging in uses secret information and some special mathematical operations to come up with a number value. The server he or she is logging into knows the same secret value and performs the same mathematical operations. If the results match, the person is authorized to access the server. One of the numbers in the mathematical operation is changed after every login, to protect against an intruder secretly copying a valid authentication session and replaying it later to log in.