It’s been a year since the Obama-era net neutrality protections, which ensure all internet traffic is treated equally, were erased.
Although the doom-and-gloom prediction of a broken internet hasn’t yet come to pass, the future of the network is still very much in flux. At stake is who, if anyone, will police the internet to ensure that broadband companies aren’t abusing their power as gatekeepers. The 2015 rules adopted under FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, prevented broadband providers from blocking or slowing access to the internet, or charging for faster access. The rules also firmly established the FCC’s authority as the “cop on the beat” when it comes to policing potential broadband abuses.
That all changed when FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, took charge of the agency in 2017, threw out the old rules and stripped the FCC of its authority. Now, net neutrality supporters, broadband companies and the world await a federal appeals court decision expected this summer that will clarify whether the FCC’s repeal is even legal. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress and supporters in states vow to keep the fight alive and are pushing for legislation that would reinstate net neutrality.
Even though the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal the rules in December 2017, it wasn’t until six months later on June 11, 2018, that the rules officially came off the books.
The fight continues as net neutrality activists plan protests Tuesday to mark the first anniversary. Senate Democrats are also trying to force a vote on the Save the Internet Act, which the House passed in April. The legislation would restore the FCC’s authority to police the internet and would restore the 2015 rules, including a ban on blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.
FCC Chairman Pai led the fight to repeal, claiming the rules were based on outdated, heavy-handed regulations, which stifled broadband investment. Since the repeal, Pai claims broadband investment has gone up.
“The latest evidence reaffirms that our policies are working,” he said in a statement the day before the anniversary of the repeal. “Today’s figures show that investment in our nation’s broadband networks rose in 2018 for a second straight year, with an estimated increase of $3 billion.”
But net neutrality supporters argue Pai’s claims are off base and that investment among the largest broadband companies has actually declined since the repeal.
“Verizon, Comcast and Charter invested less in their networks after the net neutrality rules were repealed,” said Gigi Sohn, an adviser to former Chairman Wheeler. “And AT&T recently announced that it would do the same.”
But worse than that, Sohn and other net neutrality supporters say Pai’s repeal effectively stripped the FCC of its role in protecting consumers and competition in the broadband market. And the consequences have been dire.
“As a result, a fire department has no recourse when Verizon throttles its broadband, and AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint can sell precise geolocation information for its customers to data brokers who then sell them to bounty hunters without consequence,” Sohn said, referring to news last year that Verizon slowed the Santa Clara Fire Department’s service to a crawl while first responders were fighting wildfires in California and allegations that major wireless carriers have been selling customer location data.
If you still don’t feel like you understand what all the hubbub is about, have no fear. We’ve assembled this FAQ to put everything in plain English.
Net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally, regardless of whether you’re checking Facebook, posting pictures to Instagram or streaming movies from Netflix or Amazon. It also means companies like AT&T, which bought Time Warner, or Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, can’t favor their own content over a competitor’s.
The regulation prohibited broadband providers from blocking or slowing traffic and banned them from offering so-called fast lanes to companies willing to pay extra to reach consumers more quickly than competitors. It also established a so-called “general conduct rule” that gave the FCC power to step in when it felt ISPs were doing something that hurt competition or ultimately hurt consumers.
To make sure the rules stood up to court challenges, the agency also put broadband in the same legal classification as the old-style telephone network, which gave the FCC more power to regulate it.
The stricter definition provoked a backlash from Republicans, who said the move was clumsy and blunt. They claim the Democrats’ bill to restore the rules will give the FCC too much authority to regulate ISPs.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, appointed by President Donald Trump, called the old rules “heavy handed” and “a mistake.” He’s also argued the rules deterred innovation because internet service providers had little incentive to improve the broadband network infrastructure. (You can read Pai’s op-ed on CNET here.) Pai claims he took the FCC back to a “light” regulatory approach, pleasing both Republicans and internet service providers.
Supporters of net neutrality say the internet as we know it may not exist much longer without the protections. Big tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, and internet luminaries, including Tim Berners-Lee, fall in that camp.
As a matter of fact, they were. AT&T as well as a couple of industry groups sued the government, arguing the FCC didn’t have the authority to reclassify broadband. But in 2016, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the rules, dealing the FCC a significant victory. The ruling made it clear the FCC could regulate broadband. AT&T tried to appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court. And Trump’s Department of Justice urged the court to take the case. But ultimately, the high court rejected the appeal. And that 2016 ruling stands.
The FCC, led by Pai, voted on Dec. 14, 2017, to repeal the 2015 net neutrality regulations. On June 11, 2018, the rules officially came off the books. As a consequence, today there aren’t rules that prevent broadband providers from slowing or blocking your access to the internet. And there’s nothing to stop these companies from favoring their own services over a competitor’s.
One of the most significant changes that’s often overlooked is that the FCC’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” order also stripped away the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband, handing it to the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC is the new cop on the beat. It can take action against companies that violate contracts with consumers or that participate in anticompetitive and fraudulent activity. But critics, which include consumer advocates and Democrats such as Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, complain the FTC doesn’t have the technical expertise to handle net neutrality complaints. They also claim the FTC lacks the FCC’s rule-making authority and it can take years to investigate complaints.
The one rule that was spared is the so-called “transparency rule,” which requires broadband providers to disclose how they manage their networks. The FCC now requires service providers to commit to disclosing when and under what circumstances they block or slow traffic, as well as if and when they offer paid priority services.
More than 22 million comments were filed with the FCC when the agency was considering repealing the 2015 rules. That was a record. But analysis of the comments showed that an overwhelming number of them were duplicates or submitted by automated bots. Roughly 2 million of the 22 million comments submitted used stolen identities. About half a million were sent from Russian email addresses.
Then there was the controversy over a supposed cyberattack on the comment system that temporarily shut down the platform on the same day thousands of net neutrality supporters responded to comedian John Oliver’s call to flood the agency with comments.
That “cyberattack” didn’t happen. The FCC’s inspector general reported in August last year that the FCC had misled Congress and the public when it said the outage in May 2017 was the result of a cyberattack. Instead, the IG suggested the outage occurred because the agency hadn’t prepared its website for a flood of visitors.
There are also a number of states, such as California and Washington, that have passed their own laws governing an open internet. Several other states, including New York, are considering similar legislation.
California’s law is based on the 2015 protections, but it goes further. It also outlaws some zero-rating offers, such as AT&T’s, which exempts its own streaming services from its wireless customers’ data caps. The law also applies the net neutrality rules to so-called “interconnection” deals between network operators, something the FCC’s 2015 rules didn’t explicitly do.
The FCC and Department of Justice have questioned the states’ right to enact their own net neutrality laws.The FCC actually included a provision in the “Restoring Internet Freedom” order, which pre-empts states from creating their own regulations. The Justice Department has filed lawsuits against some states, including California.
The new law was supposed to take effect Jan. 1. But last fall, the state struck a deal with the Justice Department to temporarily not enforce the new law until a lawsuit challenging the FCC’s repeal of the federal regulations is resolved.
The repeal of the FCC’s net neutrality rules was a big change in policy. But for most people, things haven’t really changed.
Over time, though, they could. Whether you think the changes will be for better or worse depends on whom you believe.
Pai and many Republicans say freeing up broadband providers from onerous and outdated regulation will let them invest more in their networks.
Net neutrality supporters, including Democrats like Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, consumer advocacy groups, civil rights organizations and technology companies like Google and Mozilla say that repealing the 2015 rules and stripping the FCC of its authority will lead to broadband companies controlling more of your internet experience. This may lead to higher prices.
The US Federal Appeals Court for the DC Circuit in February heard oral arguments in the case challenging the FCC’s repeal of the 2015 rules.
Two of the big questions being asked in this lawsuit are whether the FCC had sufficient reason to change the classification of broadband so soon after the 2015 rules were adopted and whether the agency has the right to pre-empt states, like California, from adopting their own net neutrality laws.
As mentioned, California struck a deal with the Justice Department in October that it wouldn’t enforce its net neutrality law until the lawsuit in the DC Circuit, challenging the agency’s repeal, is resolved.
A decision in the case is expected sometime this summer.
Democrats and Republicans agree Congress should ultimately step in to end the regulatory ping-ponging that has been going on between Democrats and Republicans when they control the commission.
But that’s where the agreement ends. Democrats in the House passed the Save the Internet Act, which would essentially reinstate the 2015 order and once again make the FCC the agency in charge of policing broadband. But Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has blocked it from a vote.
Republicans oppose the bill, saying they are still worried that the FCC will have too much control over the internet. And they’re pushing for a bipartisan compromise.
While it’s clear the bill would have an uphill battle in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, Democrats were able to pass a Congressional Review Act resolution in the Senate last year that would’ve repealed the FCC’s order to dismantle the 2015 rules. But it’s unlikely any Republicans will defect again to pass this legislation, even if Democrats succeed in getting it to the floor of the Senate.
If it passes both houses of Congress, it still has to be signed into law by Trump. And White House advisors have already said they are advising the president to veto it.
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The coming switch to 5G cellular networks will be a boon to businesses in many ways, but it will also create a vast new “attack surface” for hackers.
The main attraction to 5G — “lightning-fast” internet speeds — is also what creates the risk. Why? Because it will fuel a huge influx of “smart” devices that can connect more easily and efficiently to the web through 5G than they are able to today with WiFi and 3G/4G.
We’re still in the early days of the Internet of Things revolution, but 5G will make this field explode. In just a few years, we can expect to see billions more of these devices enter the market, from workplace-specific gadgets to smart buildings, robocars and home appliances.
There’s just one problem — the Internet of Things is mostly comprised of insecure devices, which are extremely easy to hack.
Consequently, 5G will essentially flood the market with countless new vulnerable endpoints, many of which will put businesses at risk of data breaches, sabotage, extortion and other threats.
Sneaking into your network
The primary danger for businesses is that the surge in IoT devices will create a plethora of new backdoors that hackers can use to sneak inside their networks. These attacks will totally blindside companies.
Consider this example: In 2018, a Las Vegas casino was breached after hackers snuck in through a vulnerable ‘smart’ thermometer in a lobby fish tank.
This type of peripheral attack will be difficult for businesses to contain in the coming years. Remember, as smartdevices replace traditional products (like door locks, thermostats, lightbulbs, etc.) and create whole new product categories (e.g., smart speakers, smart desks, remote sensors), they are essentially adding a ton of new endpoints to the periphery of the business network. These devices are often insecure by design, and they’re more likely to be overlooked because they reside on the edge of the network.
This makes IoT devices an ideal target for hackers. It’s an easy way for them to bypass a company’s cybersecurity and get a foothold on the network. Once inside, they can look for other devices on the network and gradually move into the core business.
Physically disruptive attacks
This large IoT attack surface has other consequences for companies besides data breaches. It can also lead to “kinetic” cyber attacks — a digital attack that has a physical consequence.
That is because IoT devices are now increasingly controlling important physical functions, like power flow, air conditioning, door locks, building systems, vehicle operations, etc.
If one of these devices is hacked, it could be “weaponized” to commit an act of physical sabotage. However, even just disabling it with malware — such as ransomware — would be enough to cause a disruption to a business. Take the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack. This disrupted IoT devices around the world, including MRI scanners, blood-storage refrigerators and police traffic cameras.
For years, businesses have faced cyber extortion from a type of attack known as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS). As the Internet of Things grows bigger, these attacks will get much worse.
In a DDoS attack, the hacker knocks a company’s website offline or disrupts its connection to the Internet by flooding it with traffic. To do this, the hacker needs to harness the power of thousands of other devices, in what is called a “botnet.” In the past, botnets were made up of infected computers, but now hackers are starting to create them from IoT devices, as in the case of the 2016 Mirai botnet or this 2017 attack on a university which used infected vending machines and lightbulbs.
IoT botnets can be significantly larger and more powerful than computer botnets, and 5G data speeds will make this problem even worse.
Limiting business risk
As 5G expands the attack surface, businesses need to change their thinking in order to keep up.
To start with, companies should treat IoT devices the same way they do computers. This means keeping them updated and patched, monitored for threats, and including them in preventive measures like firewalls and anti-virus. Segment the network as much as possible too, in order to isolate IoT devices from more sensitive areas of the network. Companies also need to prioritize post-breach contingency planning. Know what to do and who to call in the event of a successful attack. Cyber insurance is also critical.
Jason Glassberg is co-founder of Casaba Security (www.casaba.com), a cybersecurity and ethical hacking firm that advises businesses ranging from startups to Fortune 100s. He is a former cybersecurity executive for Ernst & Young and Lehman Brothers.
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The Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), which is in its infancy today, will have a profound impact on operations in every industry from aerospace to automotive, from chemicals to construction, from manufacturing to mining and beyond.
Companies that recognize and act wisely on the potential of IIOT will reap the advantages of improved performance, enhanced customer satisfaction and greater profitability. Those that do not, will almost surely fall behind.
Among the specific benefits that IIOT systems can provide are:
Large, successful companies have the advantages of well-qualified teams and adequate financial resources. In addition, existing providers of IIOT products and services are better equipped to meet the needs of sizable companies.
On the other hand, small to mid-sized companies face daunting challenges; e.g., constantly evolving technology and standards, lack of in-house expertise and an ever-expanding universe of vendors that offer an ever-increasing variety of solutions. Exciting as new offerings can be, the people and process modifications required to bring plans to fruition present yet another hurdle.
Critical success factors
The success of IIOT installations depends on factors such as conducting a realistic up-front analysis of the costs and benefits, evaluating whether execution plans are achievable and ensuring interoperability among both systems and communication vendors while safeguarding the security of equipment, data and personnel.
Because interoperability and reliability are critical and because there are so many disparate pieces from so many disparate suppliers, selecting the right systems integrator may be the single most important decision a business makes. Checking references of such vendors to determine both the personnel and processes they employed and the results they achieved is absolutely essential.
Steps to take now
Because IIOT is always evolving, reading multiple publications and attending some of the ever-available webinars can be invaluable. In-person events, particularly trade shows and conferences, provide not only valuable information but also a broader perspective. Attendance can create an understanding of the broader ecosystem.
Meanwhile, customer and vendor consultations can supply information about what would make those relationships more profitable as well as market intelligence about paths that other entities are pursuing.
Are there areas in which your company might benefit from an IIOT deployment? Is there an IIOT solution that would truly differentiate your enterprise from its competitors?
If so, consider carefully whether your company will truly be better off in terms of customer satisfaction, revenues and expenses as a result of implementation and whether it has the capacity to navigate successfully the required changes. In brief, will the benefits truly outweigh the costs?
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Microsoft will no longer provide security updates for Windows 7 as of January 14, 2020, which is one year away. There are two ways to get around this date, but they’ll cost you.
One year from today — on January 14, 2020 — Microsoft’s support for Windows 7 will cease. That means no more updates or fixes, including security fixes after that date, which is the first Patch Tuesday of 2020, unless a customer pays.
Microsoft introduced Windows 7 in July, 2009. A number of enterprise customers didn’t begin deploying Windows 7 well into its lifecycle, and in some cases, only months before Windows 10 debuted in July,Microsoft officials said as of last fall that more than half of all Windows devices in the enterprise were running Windows 10, with the rest running Windows 7 and other older versions of Windows. Yet the support clock has ticked on.
Microsoft officials have announced two ways that Windows 7 users can continue to get security updates beyond the January 14, 2020 date. Both of these ways are designed for business customers, not consumers.
Microsoft will sell paid Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESUs) on a per-device basis, with the price increasing each year. These ESUs will be available to any Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Enterprise users with volume-licensing agreements, and those with Windows Software Assurance and/or Windows 10 Enterprise or Education subscriptions will get a discount. These ESUs will provide Windows 7 Extended Security Updates through January 2023.
Microsoft also will provide ESUs for no additional cost to customers who buy the Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop service, which is designed to to allow users to virtualize Windows 7 and 10, Office 365 ProPlus apps and other third-party applications by running them remotely in Azure virtual machines. Those wanting to virtualize Windows 7 after Microsoft support ends in January 2020 will be able to do so for three years by using WVD. WVD still is not available in public preview, but is expected to be sometime this calendar quarter. Microsoft has not yet announced a final availability date or pricing for WVD.
A related reminder: As of January 14, 2020 — the date when Microsoft is slated to stop providing support for Windows 7 -Microsoft will no longer support Office 365 ProPlus on Windows 7. Customers paying for ESUs will continue to receive support for Office 365 ProPlus on Windows 7 for up to three years after that date, however. In addition, there are more Microsoft products for which support is ending on January 14, 2020: Exchange Server 2010, Windows Server 2008/R2, and Windows 7 for Embedded Systems (but not Windows Embedded Standard 7).
I’ve had several Windows 7 users ask me if Microsoft might end up extending Windows 7 support for everyone beyond January because a number of customers won’t be ready to move off it. I have not seen or heard any indications for such a move. And users shouldn’t read into Microsoft’s decision to bring the coming Chromium-based version of Edge to Windows 7 as Microsoft planning to extend Windows 7 support. Microsoft’s plan to bring Edge to Windows 7 is meant to support those who pay for extended support beyond January 2020 — and to throw a bone to those still figuring out their post-Windows-7
End of “mainstream” support for Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 installed occurred on January 13, 2015. Mainstream support includes no-charge incident support and paid incident support; security update support; and the ability to request non-security updates. End of extended support for the product, on January 14, 2020, means the end of paid support; free security update support; and Extended Hotfix Support.
Windows 8.1 customers will continue to get security updates from Microsoft for free until January 10, 2023. Windows 10 users get free support based on the date when their version of Windows 10 was introduced.
Update: If you’re wondering what Microsoft’s guidance is, re: the pending end of support for Windows 7, it’s not simply “move to Windows 10.” Microsoft is using the end of support to try to get users to go all the way and move to Microsoft 365, its bundle of Windows 10, Office 365 and EMS.