Protecting Our Email

Last month it came out that David Petraeus, the former Director of the CIA former Afghan war commander, had an affair in late 2011 with Paula Broadwell, the author of his autobiography.  Broadwell had been sending anonymous, harassing emails to Jill Kelley a volunteer at an Air Force base in Tampa, Florida.  The emails reportedly threatened Kelley to stop flirting with Petraeus.  Petraeus reportedly broke off the affair after discovering that Broadwell was sending the harassing emails. 

Kelley informed an associate at the FBI Office in Tampa about the threatening emails.  The FBI traced the emails to Broadwell who was also exchanging intimate emails with an anonymous email address that was later discovered to belong to Petraeus.  After the whole situation was discovered by Petraeus’s supervisor, he informed the White House, which led to Petraeus offering his resignation to President Obama. 

The fact that the FBI was able to trace the email without the person knowing that their privacy was being invaded and that the FBI did not need a warrant to trace the email is absolutely outrageous. Online privacy with regards to email needs to change. This Petraeus affair highlights that online privacy needs to change and governments should not be able to access people’s data whenever they want.

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Your Data should be available to You

Twitter has made a feature available to download all of the tweets that you have ever tweeted. This move by Twitter really shows that they are committed to the idea that user’s own the data that they share to the site. Twitter makes this data available as well as the meta data that goes along with every tweet. 

This move by Twitter is following similar moves taken by Google and Facebook, the two other social media platforms. This action should be taken by every major platform that relies on user generated content. They also have made this data downloadable in various different ways such as html and csv files. 

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Changing the Way Universities Use the cloud

After hearing several speakers this past semester I want to reflect on what some of our speakers have shared specifically on how they relate to cloud computing in natural science research.

We spoke about how a lot of research is done locally on someone’s machine or by a specific department. The university pays for these machines local to the department and they may be even paying for that person’s local machine.  But what I do not understand is why something similar to Amazon EC2 or Google App Engine is not implemented so that data can be stored in a sequential manner and then be accessed by anyone with the right permissions the data. Because the data should be accessible in many different formats, this project would be a major undertaking. It would probably be a major undertaking and could require the combined efforts of many of the top research Universities around the country.

Open Stack is a Infrastructure as a Service that was started by NASA and RacksSpace and is essentially an open source version of Amazon Web Services EC2. The universities could use Open Stack in order to create a servie similar to EC2 or Google App Engine. Using Open Stack would significantly reduce the time it would stack to develop the universities infrastructure as a service system. A service suggest as this would then make previous research data available to anyone and ensure that the data of the research lives on past the researchers themselves. This would also make it that data that confirmed previous research can be available and looked into. 


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Apple’s iBook application

In this article, Kovach talks about the new “iBook” app that Apple has released. It’s a tool where people can self-publish their works and sell them in the Apple iBooks store. However, the catch is that after using iBook and publishing it, the author can not sell it anywhere else, unless the author is offering it for free on the store and distributing it for free somewhere else. This has caused controversy over Apple’s control in personal works. The article references Wineman, “It’s akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty.” So although you are using Apple’s tool to make something, Apple gets some ownership in it.

I think that this is silly and that Apple may be going a little overboard in their customer retention strategy. Reading this user end agreement, who would even want to publish their book on iBook? Essentially Apple is binding the author to using their system, and limiting their works to Apple users. And while Apple customers are everywhere, that’s still not enough publicity and readership for most authors. A better alternative for self-publishing would be on Kindle’s system. People can read books from anywhere as long as they have a (free) Amazon Kindle account. Personally, I’ve read quite a lot of self-published books on Kindle, and a lot of them have skyrocketed in popularity because of the platform it was published on. Kindle is so widespread and available to everyone, while publishing on iBook greatly limits an author’s chance of success.

This idea is similar to the last blog post I wrote about Farmville being popular simply because of the platform it was released on. I think that most of the time, if you publish in a place with a huge userbase, then more people will read your book or play your game (with exceptions of course. There’s always the double-edged sword of your book being less noticed in a big site than on a smaller site.) But either way, I would always choose to use another platform over iBook- if it’s my writing, then I want to control where it goes and who can read it. I don’t want to be bound by the Apple ecosystem.

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Menacing Malware: Stuxnet

A while back I read an extremely interesting article about computer malware called “Stuxnet”.  This was a virus, that most believed was designed by some nation, that interrupted Iran’s nuclear program.  It was so well designed that it took computer scientists and analysis from around the world to figure out how the bug was written.  Wikipedia describes Stuxnet as a “worm initially spreads indiscriminately, but includes a highly specialized malware payload that is designed to target only Siemens supervisory control and data acquisition(SCADA) systems that are configured to control and monitor specific industrial processes.  Stuxnet infects PLCs by subverting the Step-7 software application that is used to reprogram these devices”.  As a result, the devices would fail and would constantly have to be replaced.  This lead to Iran’s nuclear program being delayed by years.  More information, and an absolutely awesome read can be found here.

What captures my interest most about this article is the use of Cyberwarfare.  Many believe a country, assumably the United States, is behind the development of this malicious bug. However, no one knows for sure.  I believe as the realm of Big Data begins to increase, it becomes more and more important to protect all of this data.  However, if sophisticated malware such as Stuxnet is developed, that may become harder and harder to do.  Companies around the world spend millions of dollars to project confidential customer information, such as bank cards, etc.  Surely as more and more data is generated, it will become harder to protect.  If anyone has a chance to check out the article, let me know what you think.  It is a long article but I promise it is worth the read!

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Explore The Milky Way Galaxy

Last month Google launched an experimental interactive web app called 100,00 stars.  It allows you to visualize the exact location of stars throughout the galaxy. It is built upon data collected from NASA, ESA, and other sources.  It’s pretty neat and is meant to be used inside of Google chrome. It is also pretty processor intensive for a webapp and they recommend that you close other programs when using the site. You can also click on 87 different stars and learn more about them.

It is a pretty incredible application when you think about it, it is giving a visual representation to this immense amount of astronomical data that is available about our milky way galaxy. It’s also pretty incredible that Google employees can build these incredible visualizations based on these massive data sets. And then they make these visualizations available to the public for free. It is pretty mind blowing and incredibly awesome that Google does things like this. Just imagine that they send a satellite into space and Google makes Google Solar System, an extension of Google Earth.

Check it out here.

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Pirate of Cyberinfrastructure

A friend sent me this article by a Michigan SI professor (which is a companion piece to this.  Both are rather long but are very interesting) after overhearing me discuss cyber-infrastructure.  It provides an interesting philosophical slant on the big data revolution and its roots.  I was particularly struck by the notion that structures in society could start to mimic the structures designed on a computer chip.

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