Sunday, March 30, 2008

Flock Revisited

I first reviewed the Flock browser in May 2007. I have to admit that after I used it awhile the novelty wore off and I didn't use it as much. I think that I downloaded the updated version after hearing about it or perhaps I used Flock and it advised me of the update. I'm using Version 1.1 now and enjoying it. I don't think I'll lose interest this time.

Flock is built on the Firefox platform. Consequently, some Firefox extensions will work with Flock, which also has extensions of its own. The latest version seems to be on the right track as "The Social Web Browser." It integrates social websites like Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, and Flickr all in one easy to use web browser. There are 17 social networks, blogging sites, media sites, and email services that work almost seamlessly with Flock.

Flock has a sidebar that can be switched between "People," Feeds, Favorites, Accounts and Services, and Web Clipboard.

The People sidebar shows feeds from Twitter, Facebook, and You Tube. In other words, it shows social networks. This makes it very convenient to monitor Twitter or Facebook while your browsing the web. Unfortunately as I write this, there is a problem with the Facebook application.

Feeds shows your RSS feeds, which can be organized in folders. You are shown the number of unread items. If you click on a folder, then all of the items in that folder are shown in the browser. If you click on a feed within the folder, then only that feed is shown in the browser. New Feeds are easily added with a single click.

Favorites is, of course, your bookmarks. The sidebar is divided into Local Favorites (bookmarks) and Online Favorites (e.g., New Favorites can be added with a single click.

Accounts and Services is all of your social networks, blogs, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and everything else organized in Flock.

The Web Clibboard allows you to drag and drop text, links, and images to save for later use. These can also be organized in folders. The items that you drag and drop appear with links labeled View, Email, Blog, and Delete. They're self-explanatory. Flock has a built in blog editor that can be associated with a particular blog. In fact, I've prepared this entry with the Flock blog editor. Here's a tip for the Web Clipboard --- when you drag and drop a website URL use the little icon that appears to the left. If you do this, then the title of the webpage will appear with the item. The Clipboard allows you to save items for later viewing, blogging, or sharing via email.

A photo uploader, which I've never used, allows you to upload photos from your computer by dragging them to the uploader.

A Media Bar can appear at the top or bottom of the browser. This can display media from a selected media feed; e.g., photos from Flickr or Facebook or videos. You can subscribe to your favorite feeds from the Media Bar.

There is a My World page that shows your Friend Activity, Favorite Feeds, Favorite Sites (most recently viewed favorites), and Favorite Media in side-by-side columns on a single page.

I think I've only scratched the surface of what Flock can do. It is extremely flexible and customizable, but the basic functions are fairly intuitive. There are easy to follow set up guides and lots of support online for those things that you don't find intuitive. I would recommend Flock to anyone who enjoys surfing the web and social networks. I'm not quite ready to use it as my default browser, but I use it whenever I'm surfing the web and want to check on Twitter and Facebook or when I'm writing a blog post. In fact, I'm likely to open Flock when I spot interesting items so that I can add interesting bits to the Web Clipboard that I think are fodder for future posts.

This isn't a "how to" guide so if you're interested go ahead and

Get Flocked

Jump in, read the guides, and give it a whirl.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

A Good Reason to Encrypt Your Business Computers

I recently learned of Florida Statute section 817.5681 thanks to an article in The Florida Bar Journal. It seems like hardly a day goes by that there isn't a story about a lost or stolen laptop full of confidential data. Of course, the risk isn't limited to laptops. Hackers, unscrupulous employees, burglars, or others may breach the security of a desktop as well. Plus USB thumbdrives, portable hard drives, and personal digital assistants can also be lost, stolen, or copied and returned.

Losing unencrypted computerized "personal information" about your clients or customers can be very expensive. Florida, 36 other states, and the District of Columbia have enacted data breach laws that impose substantial duties and fines when an unauthorized person acquires unencrypted data. How expensive? How about up to $500,000.00? In addition, you must without unreasonable delay notify every Florida resident whose unencrypted personal information was acquired by an unauthorized person and restore the integrity of your computerized data system. The cost of notifying every one of your customers could be substantial.

The terms “breach" and “breach of the security of the system” mean

unlawful and unauthorized acquisition of computerized data that materially compromises the security, confidentiality, or integrity of personal information maintained by the person.

It does not, however, mean the good faith acquisition of the personal information by an employee or agent so long as the information is not used in an unauthorized manner. So, what is the “personal information” that is protected? “Personal information” means

an individual's first name, first initial and last name, or any middle name and last name, in combination with any one or more of the following data elements when the data elements are not encrypted:

(a) Social security number.

(b) Driver's license number or Florida Identification Card number.

(c) Account number, credit card number, or debit card number, in combination with any required security code, access code, or password that would permit access to an individual's financial account.

It “does not include publicly available information that is lawfully made available to the general public from federal, state, or local government records or widely distributed media.”

There is hope though. The astute among you have already noticed the repeated use of the words "unencrypted" and “encrypted.” By definition the loss or unauthorized access to encrypted personal information does not violate the statute and is not subject to the substantial penalties or duties.

In one of those moments of serendipity, one of my favorite podcasts, Security Now with Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte, just happened to be discussing and highly recommending a hard drive encryption program called TrueCrypt. Steve Gibson really loved it. It can encrypt your laptop hard drive, portable hard drives, and flash drives. By using this or similar programs, you can protect yourself and your customers from the loss of data and the penalties of section 817.5681.

Of course, you should also use a firewall and periodically scan your computer for spyware and viruses. An estimated 500,00 to 2,000,000 computers worldwide are believed to be infected with spyware and other malware that could be used to steal personal information. A friend’s computer recently slowed to a crawl. I recommended that she download free software to scan for spyware and viruses. After days and days of scanning, she was able to identify and eliminate thousands of malware programs and the computer was good as new. I think she has learned her lesson. Don’t learn your lesson the hard way.

In closing, I can’t resist pointing out that, as usual, government protects itself from the expenses, penalties, and duties that it burdens private business with. The penalties don’t apply to governmental agencies who have custody of personal information. The penalties do, however, apply to private government contractors who lose personal information. The government is, of course, a major offender when it comes to the unauthorized disclosure of personal information. The IRS lost 490 laptops with personal taxpayer information and State of Florida lost a laptop containing Florida driver’s license numbers. Maybe the government ought to invest in a little encryption too.

Copyright Notice: All Rights Reserved Harry Thomas Hackney, P.A. 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

This Is News! Gimme A Break ABC!

We've been hearing complaints from the press for quite some time that Hillary Clinton wouldn't release her schedules from when she was first lady. Well, she finally released the schedules and the press rushed to review them. And what is the best that they can come up with after all this breathless anticipation? What was the first bombshell revealed? Here is the headline from ABC News -- "Hillary Was in White House on 'Stained Blue Dress' Day." That's it? That's the best they can do?

Geesh, give it a rest. ABC ought to be embarrassed. I'm not even a Hillary fan and I don't get the point of dredging this up now. The very first thing they do after all the brouhaha about the schedules is look to see whether she was in the White House on an embarrassing day eleven years ago? Was that ever an issue? Now I can see why she didn't release the schedules. If I was a public figure and all the press could do is this idiocy, I don't think I'd release my schedule either.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Real Story in the Spitzer Case

As usual, the Spitzer story is getting the shallow treatment while the most interesting aspects of the story are glossed over or ignored. The focus is on the salacious ---- how much was he spending; what does "Kristen/Ashley" look like in a bikini; why do politicians wives take this abuse? Who cares? The real story is how Spitzer was caught. Big Brother really is watching and we should all be afraid, very afraid. In fact, some elements of the story do have a "1984" quality to them. According to Phillip Carter, a New York lawyer, and author of an Intel Dump blog post, Spitzer was nailed by the Bank Secrecy Act, which was passed in 1970. I am troubled about how he was caught and believe that it illustrates how all of these government “reporting” laws can be used for other than their claimed purposes. Step 1 pass a law that casts a wide net and results in all kinds of reports of "suspicious activity." Step 2 sift through the nets looking for "leads." Step 3 go on a fishing expedition focused on a promising lead generated by nothing more than the most general of suspicions. Is this really probable cause or just a pretext for an investigation?

It seems that because Spitzer was governor of New York his bank flagged him as a “Politically Exposed Person” (PEP) who was at “higher risk” for “financial crimes.” Apparently, PEPs are subject to higher scrutiny internationally and banks may be fined for failing to report on them. This ought to make you think twice about seeking public office. If you're elected, you are automatically deemed to be under suspicion. Because the money Sptizer was moving around was below the $10,000.00 reporting limit, his bank's computer surveillance systems flagged them for possible structuring. So the bank reported him to the IRS for possible structuring to avoid the Suspicious Activity Reporting requirements of the so-called “Bank Secrecy Act.”

That name "Bank Secrecy Act" is Orwellian. It ought to be called the “Bank Total Lack of Privacy Act.” Anyone who has ever read “1984” will recognize “Bank Secrecy Act” to describe a law that requires your bank to spy on you as Newspeak,. Newspeak is words “deliberately constructed for political purposes: words, that is to say, which not only had in every case a political implication, but were intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them." It is also what we call Doublespeak. The fact that our government frequently uses Newspeak/Doublespeak (e.g., “Patriot Act”) has always troubled me. "Patriot Act" is Newspeak, but the "9/11 Counterterrorism Act" would've avoided Newspeak and been accurate. The fact that the government would rather give it a Newspeak name for marketing purposes when perfectly good names suffice worries me.

Spitzer’s bank reported him to Federal authorities not because he broke a law, but because as a politician his banking transactions were already automatically suspect. The “Bank Total Lack of Privacy Act” imposed a duty to report a general suspicion to the government. That gave the pretext to investigate the Governor of New York generally, including wiretaps. The wiretap is how they found out about the call girl connection. Keep in mind too that it gave the Republican controlled Executive Branch of the Federal government a pretext to wiretap the phones of a very powerful elected Democrat. There is no reason to suspect that this was a politically motivated surveillance of an opposition politician. I'm not a conspiracy nut. I think it was just a lucky byproduct of the wide net cast by the Bank Total Lack of Privacy Act. However, you don’t have to make much of a leap in logic to see where this easily could be abused. As is often asked, "You're comfortable that George has this power? Okay, how will you feel if Hillary gets the power?" Who needs to break into the Watergate when you’ve got so many opportunities for pretextual investigations based on the volumes of crimes enshrined in the U.S. Code?

People think that prominent public figures are “above the law” and always “get a break.” This is an example though of what really happens --- they’re held to a higher level of scrutiny and when caught get slammed so no one will look like they’re “going easy” on them. Spitzer could be charged with violations of the Federal Mann Act because he paid a call girl to travel from New York to meet him in Washington, D.C. The Mann Act was intended to address “white slavery” and pimps. Coincidentally, Reason magazine just happened to feature an article entitled "The 'White Slavery Panic'" in its most recent edition.

The Mann Act could be used here to charge Spitzer with a felony for what would have been a misdemeanor if he’d gone down to the corner and picked up a hooker. Alternatively, he could have gone down to the Mayfair Hotel bar and picked up a woman of easy virtue for dinner and drinks and committed no crime at all. Better yet, he could have just hit on some impressionable young intern in his office because that’s “just sex” even when you lie about it under oath. If you take advantage of a much younger intern, you not only don't have to resign, but the press defends you AND you can be sanctimonious about your indiscretions too.

Ben Stein commented on the insidiousness of this investigation on CBS News Sunday Morning this morning. The title of his piece was "Elections More Important Than Call Girls." His take on it was that the normal penalty for sex with a prostitute is a misdemeanor. The "john" is usually fined. The penalty does not involve deposing an elected official. In his opinion, the democratically elected governor of New York was run out of office by some nosy unelected Federal bureaucrats. The people of New York have been denied their choice of governor and he has been replaced by a man who was not elected to that office. That troubled him and it troubles me.