The Federal Communications Commission has brought AT&T to a $25,000,000 settlement over its mismanagement of customer data between the end of 2013 and the end of 2014. Rather than face litigation, AT&T has agreed to the FCC’s largest-ever settlement in relation to data and privacy loss or theft. (Another fairly large settlement happened less than a year ago, regarding Sprint’s violation of the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003, which cost them $7,500,000.)
Foreign Contractors Sold Customer Information
The largest settlement in history did not go unchallenged for a reason: the charges against AT&T are most egregious, with the FCC saying that between November 2013 and April 2014 at a call center in Mexico, a (contracted) customer service representative was bribed to steal AT&T customer social security numbers and then use them to get stolen phones unlocked on the network.
A similar scheme, the agency says, took place in Colombia between February and July 2014, as well as May to December in the Philippines. In each case, a single employee was all it took. The majority of the victimized customers were Spanish-speaking, which is the reason they were routed to these offshore call centers in the first place.
The agency feels that gross negligence was practiced by AT&T in the form of “lax data security policies,” according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who made a statement in the official press release:
As the nation’s expert agency on communications networks, the Commission cannot — and will not — stand idly by when a carrier’s lax data security practices expose the personal information of hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Americans to identity theft and fraud. As today’s action demonstrates, the Commission will exercise its full authority against companies that fail to safeguard the personal information of their customers.
Also read: Net Neutrality Astroturf
FCC Hasn’t Always Been This Proactive
Some may remember that when AT&T was found in 2006 to have colluded with the legally dubious NSA wiretapping scheme, in which all customer calls were routed through government servers to be eavesdropped upon, the Commission scandalously chose not to investigate the matter. Constitutionally, this might have been a safe move, since, unlike a police organization such as the DEA, their job is to enforce regulations that they themselves must charter, whereas DEA enforces laws made by legislators.
Nevertheless, Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey said of the decision,
“The FCC, which oversees the protection of consumer privacy under the Communications Act of 1934, has taken a pass at investigating what is estimated to be the nation’s largest violation of consumer privacy ever to occur. If the oversight body that monitors our nation’s communications is stepping aside then Congress must step in.”
Nearly 300,000 Stolen Phones Unlocked
That the agency knows of, a total of 290,803 stolen cell phones were successfully unlocked using compromised data that the crooked employees obtained. If one assumes the median black market price of the phones was in the neighborhood of $80, the scheme could have taken in as much as $23 million. Like as not, the employees were paid a tiny fraction of this amount for their part in it.
This figure is not including any other proceeds that could be gained from the use of the user data, such as credit card fraud, bank accounts, et cetera. To this end, AT&T has already paid for credit monitoring services for customers affected by the Mexico breach, and will do the same for customers in affected by those in Colombia and the Philippines.
Images from Shutterstock.
Uber Is Paying Hackers to Keep Quiet
Uber Technologies Inc. has reportedly paid hackers to delete scores of private data stolen from the company in a security breach that was concealed for over a year. The revelation provides further confirmation that, when it comes to cyber security, crime does pay.
Massive Data Breach
According to Bloomberg Technology, hackers retrieved the personal data of 57 million Uber customers and drivers at some point last year. Nobody heard about it because the rideshare company paid the hackers $100,000 to keep quiet. A purge at the front office of Uber also ensured that the massive cyber breach was kept under wraps.
The compromised data was from October 2016 and included the names, phone numbers and addressed of 50 million Uber riders globally. About seven million drivers had their personal information accessed as well.
At the time of the cyber attack, Uber was inundated with a slew of legal issues stemming from alleged privacy violations. Rather than shine even more negative spotlight on the company, Uber executives decided to pay hackers to stay quiet.
“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over as CEO in September, said in a statement that was published by Bloomberg. “We are changing the way we do business.”
Hackers have done a masterful job infiltrating companies and governments in recent years. As a reminder, recent cyber attacks levied against Yahoo!, Target Corp and Equifax Inc. dwarf Uber’s 57 million compromised accounts.
Various reports indicate that cyber attacks are bleeding the global economy dry. One report, issued by the World Economic Forum, suggests that cyber crime cost the world economy $445 billion in 2016. If cyber crime were its own market cap, it would exceed Microsoft Inc., Facebook Inc. and ExxonMobil Corp
The Fall of Uber?
Uber revolutionized the ride-hailing business over the span of seven years by giving more power to the consumer. Several missteps later, the company finds itself in legal hot water, with its future appearing less certain than it did just one year ago.
The rideshare company faces at least five U.S. probes ranging from bribes to illicit software and right up to unethical pricing schemes. According to another Bloomberg report, Uber is under investigation for violating price transparency regulations, not to mention the alleged theft of documents for Google’s autonomous cars.
Some governments are sensing weakness in the ride-hailing service, and are moving toward banning the Uber app entirely. London is the most prominent example of a city that has taken definitive steps to outlaw the service over a “lack of corporate responsibility.”
Even with its legal troubles, Uber is a revolutionary technology that has influenced a bevy of other innovations aimed at improving the human experience.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Ethereum Notches Two-Month High as Bitcoin Offspring Triggers Volatility
Digital currency Ethereum climbed to a two-month high on Monday, taking some of the heat off Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, which have slumped since the weekend.
Ethereum Forges Higher Path
Concerns over Bitcoin created a favourable tailwind for Ethereum (ETH/USD), which is the world’s No. 2 digital currency by total assets. Ether’s price topped $340.00 on Monday and later settled at $323.54. That was the highest since June 20.
At its peak, ether was up 10% on the day and 70% for the month of August.
The ETH/USD was last down 2.2% at $315.02, according to Bitfinex. Prices are due for a brisk recovery, based on the daily momentum indicators.
Fractured Bitcoin Community
Bitcoin and its offshoot, Bitcoin Cash, retreated on Monday following a volatile weekend. The BTC/USD slumped at the start of the week and was down more than 3% on Tuesday, with prices falling below $3,900.00. Just last week, Bitcoin was trading at new records near $4,500.00.
Bitcoin Cash, which emerged after the Aug. 1 hard fork, climbed to new records on Saturday, but has been in free-fall ever since. The BTH was down another 20% on Tuesday to $594.49, according to CoinMarketCap. Its total market value has dropped by several billion over the past two days.
Analysts say that a “fractured” Bitcoin community has made Ethereum a more attractive bet this week. The ether token has shown remarkable poise over the past seven days, despite trading well shy of a new record.
Other drivers behind Ethereum’s advance are steady demand from South Korean investors and growing confidence in a smooth upgrade for the the ETH network. The upgrade, which has been dubbed “Metropolis,” is expected in the next several weeks. Its key benefits include tighter transaction privacy and greater efficiency.
Ethereum Prices Unaffected by ICO Heist
Fin-tech developer Enigma was on the receiving end of a cyber-heist on Monday after hackers took over the company’s website, mailing list and instant messaging platforms. The hack occurred three weeks before Enigma’s planned Initial Coin Offering (ICO) for September 11.
In addition to defacing the company’s website, the hackers pushed a special “pre-sale” ahead of the ICO. While many users realized it was a scam, 1,492 ether tokens – valued at $495,000 – were directed into the hackers’ cryptocurrency wallet by unsuspecting backers.
The irony in all this is that Engima is a cryptography company that prides itself on top-notch security protocols. The company issued a statement that its servers had not been compromised.
Ethereum Prices on Track for 35% Monthly Drop
It has been a difficult month for ethereum. The world’s No. 2 digital currency has lost a third of its value over the past 30 days following a series of cyber breaches targeting vulnerable wallets and ICOs.
Ethereum Struggles to Regain Momentum
Ethereum (ETH/USD) was trading near $197.00 Sunday at 6:30 BST, according to Bitfinex. That represents a decline of around 5%. At current values, ethereum’s market cap was $18.4 billion.
The ETH/USD exchange rate has struggled throughout July, with prices briefly falling below $160.00. The decline, which amounted to a 60-day low, lured bargain-hunters back into the market. After surging back toward $250.00, the ETH/USD has consolidated below the $220-mark, which continues to offer strong resistance. On the opposite side of the spectrum, major support is located at $180.00.
A price recovery may prove elusive in the short-term, with the Relative Strength Index (RSI) and Stochastic indicator signalling weak underlying momentum.
Despite its recent decline, ethereum’s value has surged more than 2,200% this year.
Cyber Attacks, SEC Weigh on Market
The ethereum network suffered a large-scale cyber breach earlier this month resulting in the loss of tens of millions of dollars. A community of ethical hackers quickly banded together to “rescue” hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tokens.
Blockchain-based trading platform Coindash was also hijacked during an initial coin offering (ICO). The breach exposed Coindash’s ether wallet address, resulting in the loss of $7 million worth of ether.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has also taken an interest in the ethereum-based ICO market. Last week, the regulator concluded that a certain multi-million dollar token sale last year violated securities law. Although ICOs have been compared to crowd-sourcing, the SEC maintained that some tokens were in fact securities.
Analysts say the SEC ruling could impact the future of ICOs, although it remains unclear how the regulator is pursuing this market. The SEC’s July 25 press release cautions investors about ICOs in general.
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