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Government’s hacking powers increase as bipartisan effort to block fails

(TECH NEWS) Both sides of the aisle came together to try to stop potential government hacking, but lost. How did this happen and why?

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Easier hacking

Despite strong opposition, modifications to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure quietly went into effect last Thursday, expanding government hacking and surveillance powers.

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The changes to Rule 41 give the ability for intelligence agents to legally obtain warrants to hack into computers that are outside the judicial district where an original warrant was issued.

This is directly meant to target computers running encryption software like virtual private networks (VPNs), The Onion Router (TOR), or other protection and anonymity tools.

What is Rule 41?

The changes to Rule 41 were first discussed in a regular review of criminal procedure conducted by federal judges, with the suggested rule change submitted to the Supreme Court earlier this year. It was approved in a private vote earlier this year, but was not subject to congressional approval, and went into effect on December 1.

Rule 41 is one of the 61 Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which provides guidelines for how the U.S. government must conduct criminal investigations.

This rule covers search and seizure and the issuing of warrants, and regarding computer crimes previously required warrants to be issued by judges in the district where the computer was located.

With the changes to the rule, “if the FBI wants to hack you but they don’t have evidence that passes muster with your local federal judge, they will be able to take their case to a more lenient (or more naïve) judge located anywhere in the country,” according to digital rights group Fight for the Future.

Bipartisan opposition

Last week, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers, along with digital rights organizations, pushed Congress to take more time to consider the rule change and the impacts it could have. Rather than have the rule change occur on December 1, the group urged delaying the decision until July, which would provide more time to thoroughly discuss the potential impacts of the change.

In his previous opposition to the rule change, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said, “This proposed solution essentially gives our government a blank check to infringe upon our civil liberties.” In a tweet following the news that the rule changes moved forward, Edward Snowden said:

“Without a debate or any new law, the rights of every American—and basic privacy of people around the world—have been narrowed.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), another member of the opposing bipartistan group, added that the new powers provided could be especially problematic in the hands of an administration of President-elect Donald Trump, a Republican who has “openly said he wants the power to hack his political opponents the same way Russia does.”

#Rule41

Brian is a staff writer at The American Genius who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, and majored in American Culture Studies and Writing. Originally from California, Brian has a podcast, "Revolves Around Me," and enjoys public transportation, bicycles, the beach.

Tech News

Onboarding for customers and employees made easy

(TECH NEWS) Cohere enables live, virtual onboarding at bargain prices to help you better support and guide your users.

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onboarding made easy

Web development and site design may be straightforward, but that doesn’t mean your customers won’t get turned around when reviewing your products. Onboarding visitors is the simplest solution, but is it the easiest?

According to Cohere–a live, remote onboarding tool–the answer is a resounding yes.

Cohere claims to be able to integrate with your website using “just 2 lines of code”; after completing this integration, you can communicate with, guide, and show your product to any site visitor upon request. You’ll also be able to see what customers are doing in real time rather than relying on metrics, making it easy to catch and convert customers who are on the fence, due to uncertainty or confusion.

There isn’t a screen-share option in Cohere’s package, but what they do include is a “multiplayer” option in which your cursor will appear on a customer’s screen, thus enabling you to guide them to the correct options; you can also scroll and type for your customer, all the while talking them through the process as needed. It’s the kind of onboarding that, in a normal world, would have to take place face-to-face–completely tailored for virtual so you don’t have to.

You can even use Cohere to stage an actual demo for customers, which accomplishes two things: the ability to pare down your own demo page in favor of live options, and minimizing confusion (and, by extension, faster sales) on the behalf of the customer. It’s a win-win situation that streamlines your website efficiency while potentially increasing your sales.

Naturally, the applications for Cohere are endless. Using this tool for eCommerce or tech support is an obvious choice, but as virtual job interviews and onboarding become more and more prevalent, one could anticipate Cohere becoming the industry example for remote inservice and walkthroughs.

Hands-on help beats written instructions any day, so if companies are able to allocate the HR resources to moderate common Cohere usage, it could be a huge win for those businesses.

For those two lines of code (and a bit more), you’ll pay anywhere from $39 to $129 for the listed packages. Custom pricing is available for larger businesses, so you may have some wiggle room if you’re willing to take a shot at implementing Cohere business-wide.

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Tech News

Smart clothing could be used to track COVID-19

(TECH NEWS) In order to track and limit the spread of COVID-19 smart clothing may be the solution we need to flatten the curve–but at what cost?

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COVID tracking clothing

When most people hear the phrase “smart clothing”, they probably envision wearables like AR glasses or fitness trackers, but certainly not specially designed fabrics to indicate different variables about the people wearing them–including, potentially, whether or not someone has contracted COVID-19.

According to Politico, that’s exactly what clinical researchers are attempting to create.

The process started with Apple and Fitbit using their respective wearables to attempt to detect COVID-19 symptoms in wearers. This wouldn’t be the first time a tech company got involved with public health in this context; earlier this year, for example, Apple announced a new Watch feature that would call 911 if it detected an abnormal fall. The NBA also attempted to detect outbreaks in players by providing them with Oura Rings–another smart wearable.

While these attempts have yet to achieve widespread success, optimism toward smart clothing–especially things like undershirts–and its ability to report adequately someone’s symptoms, remains high.

The smart clothing industry has existed in the context of monitoring health for quite some time. The aforementioned tech giants have made no secret of integrating health- and wellness-centric features into their devices, and companies like Nanowear have even gone so far as to create undergarments that track things like the wearer’s heart rate.

It’s only fitting that these companies would transition to COVID assessment, containment, and prevention in the shadow of the pandemic, though they aren’t the only ones doing so. Indeed, innovators from all corners of the United States are set to participate in a “rapid testing solutions” competition–the end goal being a cheap, fast, easy-to-use wearable option to help flatten the curve. The “cheap” aspect is perhaps the most difficult; as Politico says, the majority of people have a general understanding of how to use wearable technology.

Perhaps more importantly, the potential for HIPPA violations via data access is high–and, during a period of time in which people are more suspicious of technology companies than ever, vis-a-vis data sharing, privacy could be a significant barrier to the creation, distribution, and use of otherwise crucial smart clothing.

There is no denying that the Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated, among other things, technological advancement in ways unseen by many of us alive today. Only time will tell if smart clothing–life-saving potential and all–becomes part of that trend.

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Tech News

Say goodbye to browser cookies – Google wants to give you ‘trust tokens’

(TECH NEWS) Google plans to do away with third-party cookies in favor of “trust tokens”. The question is, will they gain our trust?

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Privacy concerns should be at an all-time high with the sheer number of people working from home–something that may have been factored into Google’s recent decision to begin phasing out third-party cookies in their Chrome browser.

In doing so, Chrome would join browsers such as Safari and Firefox–two popular alternatives that have been more proactive about protecting user privacy in the past, according to The Verge.

Cookies, for those who don’t know, are small pieces of information stored on your computer by websites you visit; when third-party cookies are downloaded from these sites, they can track your activity across the internet, thus resulting in unpleasantries like targeted ads and location-based services appearing in your browser.

It’s all a little too accurate to your habits for comfort, so Google is proposing a separate solution: trust tokens.

No, trust tokens are not the newest form of currency on CBS Survivor–they’re “smart” iterations of cookies that will validate your access to a specific website without tracking you once you leave that page. This way, you get to keep your website-specific data–passwords, usernames, and preferences–without having your privacy encroached upon any more than Google already does (admittedly, that doesn’t sound like much of a change, but bear with us).

The real catch for trust tokens is that they don’t actually identify you the way that cookies do, and while some of the side effects of trust tokens may resemble cookie use–e.g., advertisers knowing you clicked on their ad–tokens are a decidedly less personal, more private way to access web content.

Google isn’t just throwing out third-party cookies as a gesture, it seems. Along with the announcement about trust tokens, Google mentioned that they plan to create more transparency around ads–specifically by allowing you to see why you’re seeing a specific ad and from whom and where the ad originated. An extension to help lend additional information about ads is also in the works.

These changes are expected to be implemented within the year. For now, though, you should stick to Firefox or Safari if you’re worried about cookies–you’ll be able to get back to your Chrome tabs soon enough.

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