Yahoo’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Month

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Aren’t you glad you don’t work at Yahoo?

Where to begin … For starters, the Associated Press is reporting that Yahoo disabled its e-mail forwarding service effective the beginning of October.

Yahoo has a rather benign statement in its Help Center “explaining” why the service has been disabled:

“Automatic forwarding sends a copy of incoming messages from one account to another. The feature is under development.  While we work to improve it, we’ve temporarily disabled the ability to turn on Mail Forwarding for new forwarding addresses.  If you’ve already enabled Mail Forwarding for new forwarding addresses in the past, your e-mail will continue to forward to the address you previously configured.”

This hardly passes the snicker test, of course.

Disabling the auto-forwarding feature for new forwarding addresses came at the same time it was revealed that a 2014 hack of Yahoo’s platform resulted in the theft of ~500 million e-mail accounts including information on addresses, phone numbers, passwords, security questions and answers, plus birthdays.

It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that the reason Yahoo disabled its automatic forwarding function for new forwarding addresses was to deter concerned or frightened Yahoo Mail users from making a mass exodus to rival services.

But this is only the latest in a string of stumbles by the company in just the past few weeks.

For one, Yahoo is now defending a class-action lawsuit accusing the company of security negligence in the wake of 2014’s half-billion e-mail accounts theft.

There’s also a report from Reuters that for the past 18 months, Yahoo has been scanning all incoming Yahoo Mail messages for a wide range of keyword phrases — all on behalf of our friends in the federal government.

And if those weren’t enough, the much-ballyhooed announcement this past summer that Verizon was planning to acquire Yahoo for $4.8 billion has devolved to this: Verizon is now asking Yahoo for a $1 billion discount on the purchase.

It’s little wonder some people are calling the company “Whowee” instead of “Yahoo” these days …

Are small businesses under increasing risk of cyber-attacks?

cyberWhen it comes to cyber-security, high-visibility data breaches get all the press, which is understandable.

But small businesses are also victims of cyber-attacks.  And sometimes those events can be financially devastating.

Now a newly published survey quantifies the extent to which small businesses are at risk.  The National Small Business Association polled nearly 850 U.S. small business owners (most with annual revenues between $500,000 and $25 million) in August 2013).  The NSBA survey found that nearly 45% of the respondents’ businesses had been the victim of cyber attacks such as malware, spyware or banking Trojans.

The average cost of these cyber attacks was reportedly nearly $9,000 – with some dollar amounts going much higher.

Separately, another study shows that a record number of cyber attacks targeted small businesses in 2012.  Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report examined 855 data breaches and found that over 70% of them involved victim companies with fewer than 100 employees.

Verizon’s 2013 report is showing a continuing increase in cyber attacks on small business, meaning that 2012 was no fluke.

What’s going on here?

According to the Verizon study’s conclusions as well as comments from security experts like Vikas Bhatia, small and medium-sized businesses could be doing a better job of “offensive defense.”

Among the mistakes commonly observed in small businesses are these:

  • Lack of conducting regular backups of business data
  • Neglecting to store backed up data offsite
  • Failing to test data restore functions on a periodic basis
  • Neglecting to keep antivirus software up to date, including software patches and updates
  • Practicing sloppy password protection behaviors (using plain-language passwords … using identical passwords across multiple accounts, etc.)
  • Not understanding cloud-based data storage and what outsourced providers’ liabilities are (and are not) for protecting data

There’s no question that cyber-security continues to be a big challenge – and probably a growing one – for many companies.

But it’s also pretty evident that many businesses could be doing more to protect themselves from the heartburn (and financial fallout) along the way.

Personal rights and liberties: Have we reached a tipping point?

Bill of Rights, being chipped away?As many of you know, I live in Maryland.  Around here, we’re well-familiar with the process by which Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are turned into the delicacy for which our state is so famous.

It’s simple:  We place the live crabs in a pot of water and slowly turn up the heat.  This “slow cooking” does the trick every time … and the hapless crabs are none the wiser.

I wonder if something similar is happening to us right now when it comes to our rights and liberties?

Consider these recent news developments:

And let’s not forget this other news shocker:  “The Supreme Court upholds Maryland legislation allowing law enforcement officials to collect DNA from any person detained or arrested – even before they’re charged with anything.”

Sometimes it’s easier to see what’s happening from the vantage of distance.  My brother, Nelson Nones, writes me the following from outside the United States:

It’s time for Americans of all political stripes to stand up and put a stop to this. 

Conservatives should be alarmed over the plainly obvious violations of our Constitution, the supreme law of our land:

  • Amendment 1:  “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech …”
  • Amendment 4:  “The right of the people to be secure in their … papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the … things to be seized.”

Non-conservatives should be just as alarmed.  In fact, every citizen should be alarmed.

Anyone who thinks Chinese censorship and the Great Chinese Firewall are bad things, but supports what our government is doing as described in recent news on account of “security,” is a complete hypocrite.

Resorting to legalistic “workarounds” is no less hypocritical.  For example, some might claim that governments have unfettered legal power to engage in surveillance of electronic data because it doesn’t violate the “right of people to be secure in their … papers.”  However, any such interpretation is plainly contrary to the framers’ intent:  Intellectual property existed only on paper in 1791, when the Bill of Rights came into effect!

Others might maintain that warrantless government surveillance, backed up by gag orders to keep the surveillance secret, is “reasonable” in national security situations involving either domestic subversion or foreign intelligence operations.

This was the argument the Executive Branch put forward to the Supreme Court in Katz v. United States (1967).  But the Supreme Court unanimously overruled the Executive Branch by holding that, at least in cases of domestic subversive investigations, compliance with the warrant provisions of the Fourth Amendment was required.  

Justice Lewis Powell, writing for the Court, said that whether or not a search was reasonable was a question which derived much of its answer from the warrant clause; except in a few narrowly circumscribed classes of situations, only those searches conducted pursuant to warrants were reasonable (refer to Warrantless “National Security” Electronic Surveillance, http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment4/annotation05.html#1).

In other words, the government attempted to legitimatize warrantless electronic surveillance through the courts, but lost. Case closed.

To Nelson’s comments, I would add that the Supreme Court’s upholding of Maryland’s sweeping DNA law (on a 5-4 decision), means that your and my DNA can be collected and kept on file with the government for the rest of our lives — and who knows what they could do with that information.  Dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia’s arguments in this case are strong, persuasive – and withering.

The question now before us is … what are we going to do about it?  My brother proposes civil disobedience, if necessary, to wipe away these blemishes – even going so far as leaking the contents of National Security Letters.

Would anyone care to offer alternative ideas – ones that work more within the system?  Your thoughts and comments are welcomed – and you can keep them anonymous if you wish!

Microsoft’s “next of Kin”? None, evidently.

Microsoft Kin logoPeople say that today’s digital world has dramatically shortened the business and product development cycle. But even so, the amount of time it took for Microsoft to pull its Kin social phone off the market – a mere six weeks after its launch – has to be a record, or close to one.

For those who missed this eye-blink of a product introduction, the Kin was supposed to be a major component in Microsoft’s efforts to become a player in the mobile market, in response to the success of Apple’s iPod and iPhone, as well as a variety of new smartphones that are powered by Google’s Android software.

The New York Times has reported that this latest development “is the latest sign of disarray for Microsoft’s recently reorganized consumer products unit.”

Amazingly, for a product that was in development for several years and reportedly represented a resource investment of well over $1 million, Microsoft sold only a relative handful of units during the Kin’s star-crossed six-week introduction. Reports of sales volume vary – from a few thousand units on the upper end to as few as 500 on the low end. Either way, it’s a stunning defeat for a company that up until a short time ago, seemed well on its way to being an important player in the field.

What was Kin’s problem? In a nutshell, consumers didn’t like the product nor the way it was being sold. Verizon, Microsoft’s service provider partner, priced Kin service agreements like a smartphone – at ~$70 per month when combined with the mandated voice plans. But many people felt that the platform was mediocre and didn’t possess anything near the functionality of a smartphone. “A feature phone, not a smartphone,” was the common complaint.

Some people are wondering if there’s a bigger story afoot: whether or not Microsoft is still committed to its Windows Phone 7 platform. It’s fallen so far behind iPhone and Android, what are its chances of success now?

And that’s not all the bad news for Microsoft on the consumer side of the business. Gizmodo is reporting that Microsoft has also cancelled a project to develop its Courier tablet computer that would have competed with the iPad.

This is just the latest in a string of Microsoft consumer initiatives that have basically fallen flat – Money, Encarta, and now the Kin and Courier.

Once, Microsoft would have hung in there for the long haul. It doesn’t seem so today.

Next on Wal-Mart’s Low-Price Hit List: Cell Phone Service

Wal-Mart logoIf you’re like many people, your monthly cell phone bill has been creeping higher and higher over time. The addition of second and third lines, family plans, text and data messaging has provided big leaps in functionality at the cost of just modest additional fees … but those fees do add up.

Today, just in time for the recession, the average monthly cell phone bill for Americans, at nearly $80, is as high as it’s ever been. So it’s no wonder that new suppliers have been nosing around this market for awhile now, including those offering VoIP phone services over the web at a fraction of the cost.

And now Wal-Mart has gotten into the fray. On course to become the low-price leader in seemingly every imaginable consumer product and service, Wal-Mart has decided to roll out a new wireless cell phone service called Straight Talk.

Instead of the plethora of “complicated, convoluted and confusing” contracts that seem to be so common in the industry, Wal-Mart’s Straight Talk is offering just two plans – and neither of them requires a signed contract.

One plan offers unlimited minutes, texting and mobile web user for $45 per month. A cheaper, $30 monthly plan allows for 1,000 voice minutes, 1,000 text messages and 30 megabytes of web usage. Consumers may refill their monthly balances by buying refill cards at Wal-Mart stores or by registering online.

And what about those irritating “add on” charges that always seem to add $10 or $15 extra to your monthly bill? Wal-Mart’s aiming to limit those as well. For example, 411 directory assistance calls are free.

A pilot program, conducted this summer partnership with TracFone Wireless at 234 stores, was so successful that Wal-Mart has decided to introduce the program nationally in time for the holiday shopping season. In fact, the rollout begins this week at 3,200 Wal-Mart stores across the country. Wal-Mart is promoting the service as one that will save consumers ~$500 a year.

Considering how cost-conscious people are at the present time, the promise of savings like that are enough to encourage even those families saddled with early termination penalty clauses in their service contracts to ditch their current suppliers.

Here’s a prediction: It won’t be long before Verizon and AT&T begin to offer similarly discounted and/or no-contract services to their customers. Now, if only they had done so before … they might actually have higher customer satisfaction scores than their current mediocre (or worse) ratings.

The Broad and the Beautiful

It took awhile, but access to faster Internet service is finally beginning to even out across all geographic regions of the United States.

A new study on broadband growth conducted by comScore, Inc., a digital marketing intelligence firm, finds big gains for broadband in rural areas. As of the end of 2nd Quarter 2009, an estimated 75% of rural households with Internet access now have broadband service. (Rural markets are defined as those having less than 10,000 population).

Two years ago, comScore counted only 59% of rural households connected to the Internet having broadband service.

Not surprisingly, large metropolitan areas with populations over 50,000 have higher broadband penetration (92% of Internet households), but this percentage is up only a couple points in the past year.

Who’s providing these broadband services? A just released study by Leichtman Research Group found that 19 service providers account for well over 90% of the U.S. market – the largest among them being Comcast and Time Warner for cable … and AT&T and Verizon for telephone.

Indeed, some metro markets are beginning to approach broadband saturation. For instance, in the New York metropolitan area comScore finds 96% of all Internet households are using broadband. It’s 92% in Chicagoland, and nearly 90% in Philadelphia and San Francisco-Oakland-San José.

The Internet broadband penetration for the country as a whole — at nearly 70 million households now — is estimated to be over 85%, meaning that rural areas are still relatively under-served. But the differential is shrinking quickly. Chalk up yet another instance where regional differences are disappearing – thus making rural markets more attractive not just to consumers, but also for rural-based businesses and for companies that rely on far-flung employees who telecommute from home.

It makes saving money on gasoline and avoiding rush-hour traffic snarls more attractive than ever!