Bernie Sanders regains access to voter files after bitter fight over data breach

Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with rival candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (L) ... in Las Vegas, Nevada October 13, 2015.

(By Megan Cassella and James Oliphant, Reuters) – U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders regained access to crucial voter files on Friday after taking the Democratic National Committee to court and accusing party leaders of trying to undermine his White House bid and help rival Hillary Clinton.

The DNC had blocked access to the voter data after a Sanders campaign staffer improperly accessed Clinton’s voter files, prompting charges of theft from the Clinton campaign and setting off a bitter political fight in what had been a relatively peaceful Democratic nominating race.

The DNC agreed to restore access to the files after Sanders sued the committee in U.S. District Court, accusing it of improperly suspending the campaign’s access to the voter data. The DNC said the Sanders campaign had supplied information about the breach and promised to cooperate with an investigation.

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“Based on this information, we are restoring the Sanders campaign’s access to the voter file, but will continue to investigate to ensure that the data that was inappropriately accessed has been deleted and is no longer in possession of the Sanders campaign,” DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

The political brawl came one day before a debate between the presidential rivals, fueling rising tensions and highlighting complaints from Sanders and his liberal allies that the DNC is trying to help Clinton, particularly by limiting the number of debates and scheduling them on low-viewership periods like Saturday nights.

“In this case it looks like they are trying to help the Clinton campaign,” Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said at a news conference on Friday afternoon before filing the lawsuit. He accused the DNC of taking the Sanders campaign “hostage” by blocking its access to the files.

“We need our data, which has been stolen by the DNC. That’s what we want back,” Weaver said.

Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters in a conference call the Sanders staff had taken vital data that constituted a “strategic road map” for the campaign’s voter turnout models and strategies.

“The Sanders campaign stole data from our campaign,” Mook said. “There is some damage here that cannot be undone.”

The Sanders campaign said the breach of the confidential files, which contain information such as past voting and donation history, was an isolated incident and fired a staffer involved. It blamed the breach on the DNC’s software vendor, Washington-based NGP VAN, for dropping the firewall between the various Democratic candidates’ data.

The DNC rents access to its master voter list to campaigns, which augment the data with their own information. The firewalls are supposed to block campaigns from spying on their rivals.

An audit released by the Clinton campaign showed the breach was more extensive than the Sanders campaign described, with at least 24 occasions when the Sanders campaign “saved” lists of Clinton data, from four different users.

“We are asking that the Sanders campaign and the DNC work expeditiously to ensure that our data is not in the Sanders campaign’s account,” Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said.

Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs called the allegation of theft “outrageous” and said the campaign did not keep or use any of the voter data.

“We are not aware of one piece of data in the possession of our campaign that resulted from the DNC vendor’s firewall failure,” Briggs said.

Full access for weekend

He said the campaign would have full access to the voter files again on Saturday morning, in time for a weekend of campaigning.

The incident comes at a bad time for Sanders, the U.S. senator from Vermont who is trying to stop the heavily favored Clinton from running away with the party’s 2016 presidential nomination. Sanders has been lagging behind Clinton, with 29 percent support to her 60 percent in recent Reuters/Ipsos polling.

Sanders, Clinton and a third candidate, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, will debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Saturday night.

Stu Trevelyan, chief executive officer of DNC software vendor NGP VAN, acknowledged the breach in a statement and called it a “brief isolated issue” that was fixed and is now being reviewed.

According to his LinkedIn account, Trevelyan is a former campaign and White House staffer for Hillary Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton. He also donated $403.20 to Ready PAC – an outside group then known as Ready for Hillary PAC that supports Clinton – in December 2013, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Josh Uretsky, the Sanders campaign staffer fired for accessing the voter file, told MSNBC that his intent was to document and understand the scope of the problem so it could be reported.

“To my knowledge, we did not export any records or voter file data that were based on those scores,” he said.

Sanders supporters were outraged by the DNC’s response to the breach.

“I think the DNC’s crossed the line and it’s going to open up a whole new part in the campaign season,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, a liberal group that endorsed Sanders. “I think this is a gloves-off moment.”

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and and Luciana Lopez and Emily Flitter in New York; Writing by Steve Holland and John Whitesides; Editing by Bill Trott, Lisa Shumaker and Michael Perry)

San Bernardino gunman linked to al-Qaida cleric

Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric, became a central figure in the luring of Western Muslims to violent extremism, harnessing the Internet for Al Qaeda's goals before his 2011 death in a drone attack. San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook may have been more inspired by Awalaki than the Islamic State, widely considered to be the primary inspiration for the attack that killed 16. Tashfeen Malik, left, and Syed Rezi Farook.

Lost In Translation: IoT Adoption In Southeast Asia In 2015

southeast asia map We spent a large part of the year in the cities of Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur speaking to local enterprises about this (too) broad and (too) overused term: the Internet of Things (IoT). We discovered very quickly that, although IoT seems to be very much overly/wrongly used in the English-speaking world, there really isn’t a direct local translation in these four locales. As… Read More

Convicted murderers, felons pitch Silicon Valley venture capitalists in prison

For a jar of Folgers coffee and a Heath candy bar, Steven Klaas convinced a fellow inmate last week to sketch a brand logo for his personal shopping business plan. On Thursday, the convicted murderer from San Jose stood confidently underneath a basketball hoop in a Vacaville prison gymnasium and pitched The Shopping Sherpa to six venture capitalists in business suits.

Gusto, formerly ZenPayroll, raises $30M ‘opportunistic round,’ boasts 25,000 customers

Gusto signage at the company's San Francisco office on December 18, 2015.

Gusto, the payroll and benefits service provider formerly known as ZenPayroll, has raised over $30 million for in what its chief executive calls an “opportunistic insider round” and the amount could go up to $50 million. The company also disclosed that it now counts more than 25,000 businesses in the United States as customers, which makes up 0.5 percent of all employers.

A filing found on the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission website revealed that Gusto was in the process of bringing in upwards of $50 million more in funding. Chief executive Joshua Reeves told VentureBeat that this wasn’t a new round, rather that it was categorized as part of Gusto’s Series B round that it announced in April. “Last month we knew that there was a lot of interest from existing investors to put in more capital,” he said. “We decided to take in more capital because we wanted to give investors a chance to increase their position. They’ve been incredibly supportive and helpful.”

image (5)

Reeves cautioned that this wasn’t a down round. When asked about Gusto’s valuation, he declined to cite specifics, initially saying that it was “significantly higher” before telling us that it was “hundreds of millions of dollars higher.” To put it into context, during its Series B round, its valuation was reported at $560 million.

Many of the company’s existing investors joined in, specifically people who wanted to put more money in during the last round but weren’t able to due to allocation constraints, Some new ones may also join in the future, but Reeves wasn’t forthcoming. However, he did disclose that the company raised the new funds in a week and a half before going back to building a business.

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“We set out to do $20 million, but were oversubscribed, and so we raised more than that,” Reeves said. We’re told that the money isn’t going to really be used for anything, just as a “buffer.” It doesn’t need any money, but it’s using it as a position of power, something that other companies have done before, like Docker. “We always wanted the ability to control our destiny,” he remarked. To date, the company has raised over $116 million in funding.

Right now Gusto seems to have a stockpile of funding that it hasn’t used, but the Reeves isn’t worried about the money. For him it’s about the customer: the company is in the business of helping to solve this pain point that every small- to medium-sized business (less than 100 employees) has to deal with. And Gusto is starting from the ground up and that seems to be working because of its growth across the U.S., the only market in which it operates .

Gusto client breakdown

Most of its customers are within the tech sector (15 percent), but Gusto has its arms in a multitude of industries, including media (14 percent), consulting (10 percent), healthcare (9 percent), legal (8 percent), and others. Reeves revealed that his company is now processing several billion dollars in payroll annually.

Many of the customers are in the small business space, which makes sense, as Gusto is looking to solve a major pain point that companies have: all the paperwork and needless effort to do taxes, process payroll, handle health insurance, and more. It’s relying on modern technology to change the way business is being done. Small businesses, as Reeves described, were “previously inaccessible” and couldn’t be reached in a cost-effective way.

Targeting small businesses also gives Gusto some discipline, which is different from other services like ADP. “When you start with enterprises, you have to create custom features, one-off tools, and functionality.” Reeves explained. “When you serve small businesses, you have to build a product that works from the first day. Expansion is dictated by one thing: are they able to give an exceptional experience.”

“We wanted to solve a real problem, something that affected mainstream businesses.” Reeves said that the company is interested in building a meaningful service, especially from a trust standpoint, something that the company takes very seriously because what they’re providing is mission critical to the employers. “We strive to build a 50-year business,” he remarked.

Because Gusto offers not only payroll processing, but also healthcare and workers compensation insurance, we inquired whether Reeves was worried if the company would face regulatory issues similar to Zenefits. He said he wasn’t concerned and that his company works very closely with the government: “We absolutely respect the law and are following the correct protocols to best serve our customers that’s best for them. We’re going to get it right.”

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Google Play services 8.4 ships with user churn predictions, custom emails for App Invites

Android's custom App Invites, now with in-app content.

Google today announced the availability of Google Play services version 8.4 for building Android apps.

With this new package, Android developers can now incorporate actual app content into custom email messages for App Invites, a feature that lets end users send other people invitations to use apps.

“So, for example, if you have a favorite cooking app that you want to share with your friends, your invite to use the app can include a favorite recipe from the app,” developer advocate Laurence Moroney wrote in a blog post. “They get the immediate benefit of being able to access the desired content, giving them a more informed choice about whether or not they decide to install the app to get richer and more content.”

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Google first introduced App Invites in May and started letting developer customize the images and call-to-action buttons in Play services version 8.1 in September. Today’s feature update could help Google boost usage of Android apps even further.

But perhaps the most exciting part of this update is how Google is starting to give developers a sense of what to expect. Now, through the getChurnProbability, getSpendProbability, and getSpendPercentile calls to the Player Stats application programming interface (API), Play services offers predictions of user churn and user spend on games for the week ahead.

The Google Maps API has received enhancements that allow users to tap and zoom in or out on a specific area on a map with a polygon around an area. For instance, think of a single neighborhood in San Francisco.

And Android apps can also get smarter about identifying a device’s location with this version of Play services. The Fused Location Provider feature, which relies on GPS, Wi-fi and cell towers, can now make a calculation using not one but multiple cell towers. And the detection using Wi-fi is better now, especially indoors, Moroney wrote.

Today’s update, which is available through the Android Studio integrated development environment (IDE), follows Play services 8.3, which was released last month.

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Google will drop SHA-1 encryption from Chrome by January 1, 2017


Back in September 2014, Google outlined its plans to drop support for the SHA-1 cryptographic hash algorithm in Chrome. The schedule has moved around a bit, and now the company is committing to ditching outdated encryption technology by January 1, 2017.

Browsers and websites encrypt traffic to protect the contents of online communications using a hash function. A unique fingerprint is created for each chunk of data and is digitally signed to prove that a message has not been altered or tampered with when it passes through various servers.

When the Certificate Authority and Browser Forum published their Baseline Requirements for SSL in 2011, SHA-1 was essentially deprecated. They identified security weaknesses in SHA-1 and recommended that all certificate authorities (CAs) transition away from SHA-1 based signatures, with a full sunset date of January 1, 2016.

Currently, Chrome does not treat SHA-1 certificates as secure, and the plan is to completely stop supporting them over the next year. This will happen in two steps:

  1. Chrome 48, which is currently in beta and slated for release by the end of January 2016, will display a certificate error if it encounters a site with a leaf certificate that is signed with a SHA-1-based signature, is issued on or after January 1, 2016, and chains to a public CA. A later version of Chrome in 2016 may extend the criteria, but Google hasn’t decided that for certain yet. Because public CAs must stop issuing SHA-1 certificates in 2016, Google is hoping “that no one will encounter this error.”
  2. Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 16.01.45

  3. Chrome will completely stop supporting SHA-1 certificates by January 1, 2017. Sites that have a SHA-1-based signature as part of the certificate chain (not including the self-signature on the root certificate),
    includes certificate chains that end in a local trust anchor and those that end at a public CA, will trigger a fatal network error. Both Microsoft Edge and Mozilla Firefox are also targeting January 1, 2017, though Google says it may “considering moving it earlier to July 1, 2016.”

So the date is still a moving target, but Google is hoping that by 2017, Chrome will no longer support SHA-1. Because Chrome uses the certificate trust settings of the operating system it is installed on, where possible, users may actually see a fatal network error in the browser even sooner, assuming they install the latest security update.

In short, if your site still depends on a SHA-1 certificate, you should replace it as soon as possible. Instead, your servers should use SHA-2 certificates, support non-RC4 cipher suites, and follow TLS best practices. Google specifically recommends supporting TLS 1.2 and prioritizing the ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_128_GCM cipher suite.

Facebook says its object detection tech has improved by 60% in one year

Facebook News Feed

Facebook is back again, boasting its gains in artificial intelligence. Today the company’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, is talking up improvements in Facebook’s capabilities when it comes to two types of image recognition.

“Teaching computers to be able to detect and differentiate between objects — to train them to understand what the patterns in the pixels mean — is something the Facebook AI Research (FAIR) team has been working on for the last year,” Schroepfer wrote in a Facebook post. “They’ve made huge progress in a short time. FAIR has been able to create more than a 60 percent improvement in its object detection and segmentation technology in a year.” Those two tasks imply correctly identifying different objects in images and precisely narrowing down their locations in the images.

Facebook's improved object detection and segmentation system.

Above: Facebook’s improved object detection and segmentation system.

Image Credit: Facebook

Schroepfer went on to point out that Facebook placed second in the 2015 Microsoft Common Objects in Context (COCO) image recognition competition, in which Microsoft Research took first place. This year Microsoft also won another industry competition, ImageNet.

Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Baidu, and even Apple have all been building up their supplies of artificial intelligence talent in recent years, and these competitions provide opportunities to demonstrate technical progress. But what’s arguably more important for ordinary people who aren’t artificial researchers is how the research leads to better products and services.

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Google and Apple have boasted this year about improvements in the area of speech recognition.

This past spring Schroepfer demonstrated how Facebook could make machines answer questions about short snippets of text and identify sports in videos. Last month, Schroepfer described an early implementation of a mobile app that could take questions about a photo from a blind person and then provide a spoken answer. Today, Schroepfer is more forward-looking, talking about how Facebook’s latest achievements in image recognition could affect everyday Facebook users.

“By enabling computers to recognize objects in photos, it will be easier to search for ‘the picture of the fruit bowl’ without you having to explicitly tag each photo you upload,” Schroepfer wrote. “It will also help us make sure your feed is filled with the photos you most want to see. People with vision loss will be able to understand what is in a photo their friends share because the system will be able to tell them, regardless of the caption posted with the image. While there is still so a long ways to go, I’m really excited by the progress the team has made.”

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