Weekend Reads: Digital Rights, Extended Random, and the Boundaries of User Privacy

One of the biggest mobile stories of the month has been Apple’s acknowledgement that it deliberately throttles the performance of its recent phones as their battery life decreases. While the company argues this is a helpful feature that extends the useable time of their devices between charges, the announcement has sparked public outcry and multiple lawsuits due to the company’s failure to alert users when throttling was activated or to let them know that if they just replaced their battery their phone would immediately and significantly speed right back up. What does this story reveal about our modern digital rights to the devices we buy? —Kalev Leetaru @ Forbes

That plane flying overhead could very well be scooping up your most intimate data, especially if you live in Texas. The Texas National Guard has reportedly equipped two of its RC-26 military aircraft with cell phone data-collecting dragnets, known as dirt boxes. The ability of government agencies to add new modifications to their aerial surveillance capabilities without any real oversight should sound an alarm for all Americans, not just those who live in the Lone Star State. —Dan King @ The American Conservative

Yesterday, David Benjamin posted a pretty esoteric note on the IETF’s TLS mailing list. cap032At a superficial level, the post describes some seizure-inducingly boring flaws in older Canon printers. To most people that was a complete snooze. To me and some of my colleagues, however, it was like that scene in X-Files where Mulder and Scully finally learn that aliens are real. Those fossilized printers confirmed a theory we’d developed in 2014, but had been unable to prove: namely, the existence of a specific feature in RSA’s BSAFE TLS library called “Extended Random” — one that we believe to be evidence of a concerted effort by the NSA to backdoor U.S. cryptographic technology. —Matthew Green @ Cryptography Engineering

Dec. 18 marked the fourth anniversary of this site breaking the news about a breach at Target involving some 40 million customer credit and debit cards. It has been fascinating in the years since that epic intrusion to see how organized cyber thieves have shifted from targeting big box retailers to hacking a broad swath of small to mid-sized merchants. —Krebs on Security

We show how third-party scripts exploit browsers’ built-in login managers (also called password managers) to retrieve and exfiltrate user identifiers without user awareness. To the best of our knowledge, our research is the first to show that login managers are being abused by third-party scripts for the purposes of web tracking. The underlying vulnerability of login managers to credential theft has been known for years. —Gunes Acar @ Freedom to Tinker

Our analysis then reveals that polarized teams—those consisting of a balanced set of politically diverse editors—create articles of higher quality than politically homogeneous teams. The effect appears most strongly in Wikipedia’s Political articles, but is also observed in Social Issues and even Science articles. Analysis of article “talk pages” reveals that politically polarized teams engage in longer, more constructive, competitive, and substantively focused but linguistically diverse debates than political moderates. More intense use of Wikipedia policies by politically diverse teams suggests institutional design principles to help unleash the power of politically polarized teams. —Sean Stevens @ Heterodox Academy

There are predictions that half of U.S. universities will fail in the next 15 years. Will technology be responsible for some or all of these failures, or does technology have the potential to save the American university? The purpose of this Viewpoint is to examine the dual role of technology in the future of higher education. It argues that technology-enhanced teaching and learning can dramatically improve the quality and success of higher education, but learning technologies alone will not save the university. However, universities that lack the leadership, motivation and the resources to innovate with technology are good candidates for failure. —Henry C. Lucas @ Communications of the ACM

“Let’s go bowling!” my son suggested on the first weekend of winter vacation. It sounds like such a wholesome, old-fashioned idea for family fun. It’s an activity that people of any age and skill level can try. And there is plenty of downtime between turns for conversation. But if you’ve been to a bowling alley recently, you know that this vision of bowling is horribly outdated. —Naomi Schaefer Riley @ Acculturated