US Attorneys Hacked by Russian Agents

1. Good Monday Morning

It’s August 2nd. The World Wide Web turns 21 years old this week. CERN still maintains the first webpage, called “The Project.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,229 words — about a 4 1/2 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:“After careful consideration of the CDC’s updated guidelines, and in light of current conditions, Twitter has made the decision to close our opened offices in New York and San Francisco as well as pause future office reopenings, effective immediately.” — Twitter statement last Tuesday

a) Google will begin showing verified company logos in Gmail for organizations that authenticate their email server. The company says you’ll start seeing them this year.(9to5Google)

b) Facebook implemented new rules that prohibit advertisers from targeting the interests or activities of 13-17 year old users. Only age, gender, and location can be used to select users to see ads. It’s a significant setback for anyone who sells anything — even entertainment — to middle and high school students. Facebook properties Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp are covered by the ban.

c) The Big 5 Tech companies (Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft) announced quarterly earnings last week. The five combined in Q2 for $332 billion in revenue and $76.5 billion in net income for the period. That buys a lot of spacecraft. Two areas where the firms seem to have insurmountable leads are cloud computing and advertising. Both experienced double-digit year-over-year growth. 

Our take: Facebook in particular enjoyed 56% year-over-year growth in advertising largely due to a 47% increase in ad prices. Since the ads are sold at auction, there are more dollars chasing opportunities, which ultimately increases pricing. We’ve seen that with every Facebook advertising client this quarter. And there’s no pandemic slowdown either. Q2 Facebook ad revenue was up 28% in 2019, 10% in 2020, and 56% this year.

3. Search Engine News — Google Shopping Plus Direction on Redirects

As back-to-school shopping begins in earnest this month, Google is promoting three programs for local retailers. The company says that more than half of school shoppers check online inventory before heading to a store.

Google’s inventory solutions include the ability to run “inventory ads” showing shoppers in search that you have a product in stock. We know that click rates improve when an ad and search result appear on the same page for the same product.

Google also has also introduced a two click product called Pointy for very small retailers. The software is accessible through Google My Business and will connect your Google account and point-of-sale system. 

Google also has news for website managers regarding redirects. The company’s Gary Illyes now says that redirects should stay in place for “at least one year,” and advises that they should be kept as long as possible for users. Gary posted this on Twitter and called it a “concrete answer,” which is something they almost never say.

4. Spotlight Explainer — US Attorney Hacked

The Justice Department announced last week that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service had access to emails from 27 US Attorneys offices. Among them were four districts in New York that had at least 80% of their accounts compromised.

What is Solar Winds again? SolarWinds is a software company that was compromised by Russian agents during 2020. Their software then allowed other software to be compromised. Some questions about the company’s finances and cybersecurity practices remain. 

Who else was hacked? The U.S. government confirms that agencies within the State, Treasury, Energy, Homeland Security, and Health departments were all hacked. Private companies were also compromised, including Equifax, Cox, Cisco, and Nvidia. The software that was compromised was used by 33,000 organizations. 

Details were scant and remain hard to track although we learned this spring that acting Homeland Security director Chad Wolf had his email account compromised. 

So they’re still hacking? Last week’s announcement about the US Attorneys hacks was one of the first and most specific with details. There wasn’t a new hack, but we learned more details last week.

What else is new? We’ve talked to more than one technologist about this issue after a friendly organization asked us for a referral. None of the organizations were accepting new business. At the start of this summer, there were 465,000 open cybersecurity jobs in the U.S.  Forget plastics. Go into cybersecurity.

5. Debunked — German Group Coordinated Australian Protests

Stellar reporting at The Guardian came out last week that alleges a German conspiracy theory group called the Free Citizens of Kassel coordinated anti-lockdown protests in Australia that resulted in more than 60 arrests.

6. Following Up — Unencrypted VPN Server Found

Virtual Private Networks (called VPNs) create a secure connection between you and the internet, but some unscrupulous companies offer free VPN services and then sell your data. Others may be cutting cornersand not using good security practices. 

Ars Technica discovered one of those last week from Canadian company Windscribe. Ars’ review found that the company’s servers were left unencrypted among other issues.

Here’s Lifehacker on how to choose a VPN and Wirecutter’s recommendations for two VPN services. The sweet spot for consumer internet retail remains $50-$75 annually so expect to pay in that range for quality VPN services.

7. Protip — Google Drive Security Warnings

Google is doing some security cleanup on files that its users store on Google Drive. If you use that service, you’ve undoubtedly seen security warnings in the last couple of weeks. And you if manage multiple Google networks you’ll have seen many, many security warnings for all the accounts. So. Many. Warnings.

But fear not, because here’s a handy explainer to show you how to accept or remove the new security patch. It’s super-simple and will save you from so many warning messages. Really, just a lot of them.

8. Screening Room – Miss America

Please make that Ms. America in your mind as you listen to Bert Parks warble. The folks at Dick’s Sporting Goods remain great marketers and offer this seasonal sixty second spot.

9. Science Fiction World — Google’s “Time Crystals”

Let’s preface this whole thing by agreeing that The Next Web’s Tristan Greene is really, really excited about a Google announcement dealing with (squints at paper) a new phase of matter.

OK, so it is a big deal because it could potentially be a tottering step to maybe taking another tottering step. Or watching the soon-to-be walking child fall down on their butt. And that walking has to do with zero-entropy motion. And quantum computers. And really, well, Tristan suggests warp drive and just needs to settle down. But in his defense, he does caveat everything and goes so far as to write, “ … it could accelerate the timeline for quantum computing breakthroughs from “maybe never” to “maybe within a few decades.

Read about the interesting and cool crystals here.

10. Coffee Break — What Your Browser Leaks About You

I’m not going to sell you on using a VPN every week (although you should). But your coffee break today should feature one of my favorite demonstrations: Robin Linus’ excellent tool that shows you on one screen how much information your browser leaks about you.

11. Sign of the Times

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