Security and the Internet of Things

An excellent (long) overview of the problems we're facing by computerizing the world while continuing to ignore the security of the devices we buy and install. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

Last year, on October 21, your digital video recorder ­- or at least a DVR like yours ­- knocked Twitter off the internet. Someone used your DVR, along with millions of insecure webcams, routers, and other connected devices, to launch an attack that started a chain reaction, resulting in Twitter, Reddit, Netflix, and many sites going off the internet. You probably didn't realize that your DVR had that kind of power. But it does.
All computers are hackable. This has as much to do with the computer market as it does with the technologies. We prefer our software full of features and inexpensive, at the expense of security and reliability. That your computer can affect the security of Twitter is a market failure. The industry is filled with market failures that, until now, have been largely ignorable. As computers continue to permeate our homes, cars, businesses, these market failures will no longer be tolerable. Our only solution will be regulation, and that regulation will be foisted on us by a government desperate to "do something" in the face of disaster.
In this article I want to outline the problems, both technical and political, and point to some regulatory solutions. Regulation might be a dirty word in today's political climate, but security is the exception to our small-government bias. And as the threats posed by computers become greater and more catastrophic, regulation will be inevitable. So now's the time to start thinking about it.
We also need to reverse the trend to connect everything to the internet. And if we risk harm and even death, we need to think twice about what we connect and what we deliberately leave uncomputerized.
If we get this wrong, the computer industry will look like the pharmaceutical industry, or the aircraft industry. But if we get this right, we can maintain the innovative environment of the internet that has given us so much.
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The market can't fix this because neither the buyer nor the seller cares. The owners of the webcams and DVRs used in the denial-of-service attacks don't care. Their devices were cheap to buy, they still work, and they don't know any of the victims of the attacks. The sellers of those devices don't care: They're now selling newer and better models, and the original buyers only cared about price and features. There is no market solution, because the insecurity is what economists call an externality: It's an effect of the purchasing decision that affects other people. Think of it kind of like invisible pollution.
Security is an arms race between attacker and defender. Technology perturbs that arms race by changing the balance between attacker and defender. Understanding how this arms race has unfolded on the internet is essential to understanding why the world-size robot we're building is so insecure, and how we might secure it. To that end, I have five truisms, born from what we've already learned about computer and internet security. They will soon affect the security arms race everywhere...

Do voter identification laws suppress minority voting? Yes. We did the research.

Scholars have been able to show that racial and ethnic minorities have less access to photo IDs, and extensive analysis reveals almost no evidence of voter fraud of the type ostensibly prevented by these laws. But determining just how many Americans are prevented from actually voting is another question altogether. The key question is not whether there could be worrisome effects from these laws, but whether clear-cut shifts in electoral participation and outcomes have actually occurred. Do voter identification laws skew the electorate in favor of one set of interests over others?
Because these laws are so new, it has been almost impossible to assess their consequences. Most of the existing studies have looked at the effects of not-so-strict ID laws or have assessed the consequences of strict ID laws in only one state or one election. The results have been mixed.
In our new study we are able to offer a more definitive assessment for several reasons.
First and most important, we have data from the nation’s most recent elections (2006-2014) and can single out and test the effect of the strict voter ID laws in multiple elections and multiple states. (We define states with “strict voter ID laws” as states where residents cannot vote without presenting valid identification during or after the voting process.)
Second, we have validated voting data so we know whether each of our respondents actually voted. Third, we have a huge sample — over a third of a million Americans from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study — which means that we can analyze the participation of racial and ethnic minorities in all states both before and after strict ID laws are implemented.
When we compare overall turnout in states with strict ID laws to turnout in states without these laws, we find no significant difference. That pattern matches with most existing studies. But when we dig deeper and look specifically at racial and ethnic minority turnout, we see a significant drop in minority participation when and where these laws are implemented.
Hispanics are affected the most: Turnout is 7.1 percentage points lower in general elections and 5.3 points lower in primaries in strict ID states than it is in other states. Strict ID laws mean lower African American, Asian American and multiracial American turnout as well. White turnout is largely unaffected.

The Opioid Epidemic and the Face of Long-Term Unemployment

...a must-read story at Bloomberg, This Is the New Face of American Unemployment. It seeks to give a better picture of long-term un and underemployment through five profiles, each chosen to illustrate a widely-reported impediment: low mobility, criminal records, disability, labor shortage, and “mature workers”.
However, when you read the stories carefully, they actually depict two overarching problems: discrimination and the far-ranging impact of the opioid epidemic.
And separately, the story has buried in it a factoid that indicts the performance of our ruling classes: “Nearly half of U.S. children now have at least one parent with a criminal record.”
The most gripping story is the first, that of Tyler Moore of Mingo, West Virginia, who is meant to stand as the poster child of “low mobility”. But the reason it would be better if he could get out of Mingo is that the town and area are collapsing due to the closure of coal mines, which had been the anchors of the economy.
And it isn’t that Moore is not willing to go, even though he would prefer to remain near his aging father. It’s that the only thing that has kept him alive is family and community safety nets.
Even though the story doesn’t dwell on it, it is not hard to discern that Mingo is awash in drugs and despair...
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The bigger point is that neoliberalism treats individuals as able to make their own way, when people are products of their families and communities. And we have entire sections of the country being laid waste by the combination of economic distress, poor education, weak social safety nets, and despair. And regulatory neglect made a bad situation vastly worse. This damage greatly compounded by Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, targeting less well educated doctors in areas with a lot of manual workers who would suffer from accidents and long-term orthopedic pain. On top of that, Purdue sold what was an alleged longer-term formulation, and when patients would report pain when the dose ran out after 8 hours, the MDs would be told to increase the dosage...
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The key is that the ravaging of swathes of rural America wasn’t simply the result of economic misfortune. Sustained looting in the form of being targeted by a predatory opioid producer made a bad situation vastly worse. And the coastal elites call the victims deplorables when that label fits much more properly on the Sacklers and the experts that helped them perfect their lucrative strip-mining of working class communities.

Republicans Want Retirement Plans That Keep Wall Street Rich

Several states, most notably Illinois and California, are in the process of opening up their public retirement plans to workers in the private sector to allow people to save without giving so much money to the financial industry. Under this plan, workers in private firms would have the option to contribute to a state-managed system. 
This would have the advantage of keeping the same plan even as someone changed jobs and the fees would be far lower. Instead of fees of 1.0-1.5 percent, workers would likely be seeing fees in the range of 0.2-0.3 percent. Did I mention this was voluntary? 
Okay, so we’re talking about giving workers the option to save for their own retirement in individual accounts. If the Republican Party stood for anything other than giving money to rich people, this would be it. 
But the Republicans are up in arms against making it easier for workers to save. Paul Ryan and his gang are planning to deny states the right to offer such plans...
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They argue, incredibly, that workers need safeguards with their savings and that the government must have oversight over employers sending checks to the state system.
This one is too stupid even for Washington politics. Everyone knows that there is nothing the Republicans in Congress hate more than government regulations that protect workers. This is why they were so anxious to repeal the fiduciary rule requiring financial advisers to act in the interest of their clients. This is why they want to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The story here is about as simple as it gets. Republicans’ buddies in the financial industry will lose a lot of money if workers can put their money in these state-sponsored retirement systems instead of having to rely on their rip-off outfits. The Republicans are rigging the system to transfer tens of billions of dollars a year from ordinary workers to their rich friends.  The only principle here is giving more money to the rich.

Politics Stressing You Out? You Aren’t Alone

Something I've been worried about. I wish there was historical data, to see if/how different this post-election period is. Still:

More than half of Americans — 57 percent — say that the current political climate is a "very" or "somewhat" significant source of stress in their lives, according to a new survey released by the American Psychological Association (APA).
What's more, fully two-thirds (66 percent) say that the future of the nation is a significant source of stress.
The new survey, conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of APA, is part of a larger poll about stress conducted by the organization since 2006. But 2016 was the first year that APA asked about the impact of politics, an addition prompted when psychologists who are part of the organization reported a spike in patient anxiety about the 2016 election. In January of this year, the APA followed up with additional questions, yielding the data released Wednesday.
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But concern about the future of America runs across party and educational lines. Majorities of both Republicans (59 percent) and Democrats (76 percent) say they are significantly worried about the nation in the long run. That's also true for more than 60 percent of respondents across all levels of education. 
Anxiety about politics may have contributed to an overall increase in Americans' stress levels in just the past few months, too. Between August 2016 and January 2017, Americans' overall average reported stress level rose from 4.8 to 5.1 on a 10-point scale, the survey found.

 

As Obesity Rises, Remote Pacific Islands Plan to Abandon Junk Food

An important experiment:

While many governments struggle to ban soda to curb obesity, the tiny Torba Tourism Council in the remote Pacific island nation of Vanuatu is planning to outlaw all imported food at government functions and tourist establishments across the province’s 13 inhabited islands.
Provincial leaders hope to turn them instead into havens of local organic food. The ban, scheduled to take effect in March, comes as many Pacific island nations struggle with an obesity crisis brought on in part by the overconsumption of imported junk food.

Why Polls Differ On Trump’s Popularity: It’s cherry-picking season already

What’s the real story? The differences between the polls aren’t random, or at least they don’t appear to be based on the relatively limited amount of data we have so far. Instead, Trump’s approval ratings are systematically higher in polls of voters — either registered voters or likely voters — than they are in polls of all adults. And they’re systematically higher in polls conducted online or by automated script than they are in polls conducted by live-telephone interviewers. Here’s every approval rating poll that we can find for Trump so far this month:2...

Many excellent details of the intricacies and science behind popularity polls in the article. The kicker, however:

In some ways, the pattern reflected the one before November’s election, when reporters and pundits selectively interpreted the evidence and assumed that Hillary Clinton was a much heavier favorite than she really was based on the polls. Trump is not very popular, but he’s also no more unpopular than Barack Obama was for much of his presidency. If his numbers hold where they they are right now — especially among registered voters — Republicans would probably hold their own in 2018, and 2020 would be another highly competitive election.
What’s different, as I mentioned, is Trump’s approval ratings are much worse than what a president typically enjoys at this stage of his term. So the question is whether his ratings will continue to decline or if he steadies the ship, or eventually pivots and sees his approval ratings improve. It’s possible — I’d wager more likely than not if forced to bet — that Trump’s ratings will continue to decline over the next six to 18 months, at which point he’d be in trouble since he’s starting from a low baseline. But while he faces a lot of challenges — mostly of his own making — he sometimes benefits from news coverage that overextends itself and predicts his immediate demise only to have to pull back later, perhaps making him seem more formidable in the process. We learned that lesson the hard way in the primaries, and then we often watched the same feeding-frenzy mentality take hold in the general election. While the news is unfolding at an exceptionally brisk pace, changes to Trump’s popularity ratings are likely to be slower.

Upward Distribution of Wage Income Behind Social Security's Shortfall

The "shortfall" in Social Security is political sleight-of-hand, a tax dodge for the wealthy. 

From the video transcript. Dean Baker:

...They love to talk about the issue of aging and it's kind of, you know, strange however you want to put it. The point about aging is it is true, we are getting older, that's actually a good thing in the sense that people are living longer. Most of us think that's a good thing because as medical care and our wellbeing improve people do live longer lives. But what's weird is that this isn't new. This has always been true. It's not unexpected. People knew that we were going to live longer. You can go back our projections that were made back in the '30's, they are almost exactly on line in terms of how much longer people would live and the increase in the size of the retired population relative to the working population. So, none of that is new. We knew about it, it's not a new story. There's nothing qualitatively different from what's projected to happen in the next 10, 20, 30 years than what's happened in the last 30, 40 years. So, that's not new. What is new, and Speaker Ryan is less anxious to talk about this is that we've had a large upwardly distribution in wage income. And the reason why that matters you referred to the cap on wage income - $127,000. Income above the cap is not subject to taxation. The last time there was a major overhaul of the program in 1983, they set the cap at a level where only 10% of wage income went over the top, avoided taxation. Today, because there's been so much upwardly distribution of income, close to 20%, almost twice as large a share of wage income goes over the top and avoids taxation. That's a big part of the projected shortfall in social security. I'm not saying it's the whole story, but it's a very big part of the story. And it's a part of the story that Speaker Ryan and other Republicans aren't anxious to talk about...