Three Business IP Scams to Watch For

It’s summer vacation season, and worth a reminder about some common business IP scams to watch out for.  Staff covering for vacations and unfamiliar with these may be more vulnerable to them.  While there are lots of scams out there, these three are the ones I get asked about most by clients.

The trademark registration scam.  Scammers monitor the trademark application process, and send an invoice to the trademark applicant that looks like it is part of the trademark application process.  If you read it very carefully it says it isn’t an invoice, and it is a pitch for a service, but its easy to mistake it for a legitimate invoice and pay it.  Most of these originate offshore, so good luck trying to get your money back.

The directory scam.  You get an invoice for the registration of your business in an important sounding directory.  Again, if you read it carefully it says it isn’t an invoice.  If you pay it, you may actually get listed in the directory – but the directory is useless.  And again, most of these originate offshore, so good luck trying to get your money back.

The domain name scam.  You get an email from an offshore domain name registrar saying that someone else has asked them to register your name as a domain name.  Their goal is to get you to pay them to register your name instead.  Of course it’s all a ruse.  If you do think it might be a good idea to get that domain registration for yourself, go through your normal registrar, not this one.

Cross-posted to Slaw

Emerging tech – potentially awesome and a privacy quagmire

I attended an event last night where Duncan Stewart of Deloitte talked about their TMT predictions for 2016.

It reinforced for me that the future of tech and what it will do for us is potentially awesome.  But also at the same time the amount of information that is being collected and stored about each of us is staggering.  That creates real privacy challenges, and real possibilities for abuse.  And because the information is there, there is a tendency for government and business alike to want to use it.

One scary aspect is that the more we get used to more information being collected about us, the more complacent we get.  Our personal freaky line – the line at which we stop using services because we are concerned about privacy issues – moves a little farther away.  That is in spite of the fact that the more information there is about us, the more ripe for abuse it is, and the more that we temper or alter our behaviour because we know we are being watched.

Think for a moment about all the information that is increasingly being collected about us.

  • Smartphones that know our every move and the most intimate and personal aspects of our lives.
  • Intelligent cars that know where we go and how we drive.
  • The internet of things where the stuff we own collects information about us.
  • Wearable tech that collects information about our fitness, and increasingly our health.
  • The trend for information and services to be performed in the cloud rather than locally, and stored in various motherships.
  • Big data that functions by saving as much information as possible.
  • Artificial intelligence and cognitive learning tools that can turn data into useful information and make inferences based on seemingly unconnected information.
  • Blockchain technology that has the potential to record surprising things about us.

On top of all this, it is becoming increasingly harder to understand when our info is staying on our device, when it goes somewhere else, how long it stays there, who has access to it, when it is encrypted, and who has access to the encryption keys.

It is in this context, and the fact that we just don’t have the time to spend to understand and make all the privacy choices that we need to make, that the Privacy Commissioner of Canada last week released a discussion paper titled Consent and privacy: A discussion paper exploring potential enhancements to consent under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act

The introduction states in part:

PIPEDA is based on a technologically neutral framework of ten principles, including consent, that were conceived to be flexible enough to work in a variety of environments. However, there is concern that technology and business models have changed so significantly since PIPEDA was drafted as to affect personal information protections and to call into question the feasibility of obtaining meaningful consent.

Indeed, during the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s (OPC’s) Privacy Priority Setting discussions in 2015, some stakeholders questioned the continued viability of the consent model in an ecosystem of vast, complex information flows and ubiquitous computing. PIPEDA predates technologies such as smart phones and cloud computing, as well as business models predicated on unlimited access to personal information and automated processes. Stakeholders echoed a larger global debate about the role of consent in privacy protection regimes that has gained momentum as advances in big data analytics and the increasing prominence of data collection through the Internet of Things start to pervade our everyday activities.

Cross-posted to Slaw

Enemy of the State – still topical

I recently watched the 1998 movie Enemy of the State .  It is a spy thriller about a lawyer being smeared by politicians because they believe he has information that can implicate them in criminal matters – the murder of a politician who was opposing a privacy bill that is really a bill empowering mass surveillance.  They use sophisticated, unsavoury, unethical, and illegal methods to watch him, discredit him, and retrieve the evidence.  No one is watching the watchers, who are out of control.

While like any disaster movie the plot is a bit over the top, it was fascinating to watch the movie again from a 2016 lens.  I challenge anyone to watch it and still say “I have nothing to hide” to dismiss privacy and surveillance concerns.

In a related sentiment, a recent study confirms that the knowledge that we may be watched puts a chilling effect on what we do.  This Techdirt article is a good summary of that study.

220px-Enemy_of_the_State

Cross posted to Slaw.

Panama Papers – Points to Ponder

The Panama papers revelations are worth pondering on many levels. (This Wired article is a good summary.)

My first reaction to the high level tax evasion and corruption allegations was to blanch at the thought that someone had basically given the entire contents of a law firm’s document management system to a third party.

As a lawyer, the fact that law firm files were leaked causes me to wince. After all, solicitor-client privilege is a fundamental tenet of democratic society. Law firms take the security of their files very seriously, and getting access to this information would not be an easy task.

This has parallels to the Snowden leaks. I’ve said before that Snowden should be congratulated, not prosecuted.

But this is not the same.

Snowden leaked information about one government entity. This is a leak with personal, sensitive, and confidential information about thousands of individuals and corporations. Some of the activities exposed by the press are no doubt illegal or unethical, some may raise a debate over were the line should be between tax avoidance and tax evasion, and issues around tax havens in general.

But that does not justify this kind of breach to the press.

Unfortunately this has set a smell test where anyone who has an offshore company, or any business such as a law firm that is involved in their creation, gets unfairly tarred with suspicion.

According to press reports the journalists won’t release the actual documents to respect the privacy of the innocent. That’s good – but that shouldn’t be a decision that a journalist should have to, or should get to make.

Apple fought the FBI to keep phones secure.  In that case the end the FBI was seeking did not justify the means. That is largely because it puts the information of everyone using an iPhone at risk. So how is this leak that exposes legal files of thousands of people any different? It seems that one minute we are applauding security and privacy – and yet we now seem to be applauding a massive breach of security and privacy.

It is too easy to dismiss this as a risk that is peculiar to law firms in tax havens that are perceived to facilitate unsavoury activities. Has this perhaps put a bigger target on law firms for both inside and outside hackers?

An IT security firm told me this morning that they have been contacted by a number of law firms that are wondering what shape their security measures are in in light of the Panama Papers.

Perhaps law firms everywhere should take another look at their security measures to reduce the chances this could happen to them.

Cross-posted to Slaw

E-mail – more secure than a postcard

The Apple – FBI tempest got me thinking about email security.  (Even though that fight was over device security, not email platform and transmission security.)

Email security has improved over the past couple of years, no doubt in part due to the Snowden – NSA revelations.  Many providers of hardware, software, internet infrastructure, and online services have taken steps to implement encryption in general, and to plug the gaps in the chain where encryption was missing.  Some, for example, had gaps as they passed email to other mail providers unencrypted, even if they encrypted it while they had it.  Encryption while in transmission is the baseline everyone should be working towards.

Anyone with their own mail server can enable TLS (transport layer security) to encrypt email that travels to other servers that use TLS. That encrypts server to server. (If your company has its own email server – ask about it.)  Some clients require their law firms to use TLS.

Webmail applications should in addition to using TLS, use https (take a look if you use one) to encrypt communication between your own desktop and their web server.  Our IT manager tells me that not all webmail applications use TLS.

While email doesn’t always have total end-user to end-user encryption, it’s a lot better than it used to be, and certainly a lot more seamless to set up and use than email encryption used to be.  It used to be said that email was no more secure than a postcard.  That’s no longer true.

Cross-posted to Slaw

 

 

Has Apple lost its mojo, or is something else going on here?

Apple had an event this week where they announced new products.  But it lacked the excitement and wow factor that we have come to expect.  Has Apple lost its mojo, or is something else going on here?

New product announcements from Apple and Google seem less impressive than they used to be.  They seem more evolutionary than revolutionary.

There could be a number of reasons for that.

Product innovation is happening at a faster pace than ever before.  Are we getting so used to that pace that we have higher expectations for innovation than before?

Is the smartphone / tablet field so mature that it is less likely to be the subject of any new revolutionary “wow” or “just one more thing” developments?

Has the prospect for revolutionary development moved from the relatively mature smartphone / tablet field to things like virtual reality, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, drones, self-driving cars, wearables, and the internet of things?   (See Gartner’s latest Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.)

Many of those are in early days, and we have not yet grasped how they will impact us.  Some, such as AI, are behind the scenes, so while we have the benefit of it, its not something we can hold in our hand. And some are not as personal or multifunctional as a phone or tablet, and may never be something everyone will have.

To put that in perspective, almost everyone has a smartphone or tablet.  But it wasn’t that many years ago that a phone was considered a household or office device that you just made phone calls on – not a personal device that is basically a internet connected computer that performs a myriad of tasks.

We forget that while the ipad, for example, was revolutionary when it came out, there had been several attempts to create tablets earlier.  They failed because they missed the mark on features and useability – in part because the tech had to catch up with the concept.  Like the entertainer who is perceived as an overnight success, but has spent years as a starving artist.

Cross-posted to Slaw

When corporate policies can backfire

Businesses and organizations rely on internal and external policies and procedures to document the way they do certain things. But if not written carefully, they can actually add risk.

Many of these are compliance based. In other words, they set out how in practice the business will deal with various legal obligations. Depending on the nature and size of the business, they could deal with things like privacy, anti-spam, workplace safety, money laundering, and the list goes on.

Having these policies can help reduce legal risk, and help ensure that employees do the right thing.

Sometimes businesses create policies and procedures that impose obligations on themselves more onerous than needed to comply with the law. There are a number of reasons for doing that. Perhaps the business feels a moral obligation to do better on the environment, for example. Or perhaps there is a strong corporate culture around customer service that goes far beyond consumer protection laws.

But perhaps the business does not really understand the laws in the area and the actual obligations they impose.

No matter what the reason, the risk is that by creating a more onerous policy / procedure than necessary, the business can increase its legal obligations. Sort of like writing its own more onerous laws.

That increased obligation may become the standard or promise to which the business is judged by customers, by regulators, and by courts.

That’s fine if it is a conscious decision, but not if it is an unintended consequence of misunderstanding the laws they must comply with.

Cross-posted to Slaw

Apple fights court imposed FBI backdoor order

Apple CEO Tim Cook has taken a very public stand against an FBI request and court order to create a backdoor into the Apple operating system.  This arose from the investigation into the San Bernardino mass shooting last December.

See this article on ZDNet for more details.  And Read Tim Cook’s customer letter posted on the Apple website for a more complete explanation of Apple’s position.

Kudos to Tim Cook and Apple for this.

Security and privacy experts continue to point out that backdoors are a bad idea that cause far more harm than good.

See, for example, this ZDNet article from yesterday about a new report saying “European cybersecurity agency ENISA has come down firmly against backdoors and encryption restrictions, arguing they only help criminals and terrorists while harming industry and society.”

Cross-posted to Slaw

Update to Internet Explorer 11 now for security

Microsoft has just ended support for Internet Explorer versions 10 and earlier.  That means Microsoft will no longer provide security patches, which makes them risky to use from a security perspective.

Anyone still using those versions should update to IE 11 immediately.  Those using Windows 10 can use the Edge browser instead.  Edge works well, but unfortunately does not yet support add ons like password managers.  Another option is of course to use Chrome.

If there is a need to use an earlier version of IE because of legacy internet applications that are not up to current standards, IE 11 includes an “enterprise mode” that will run those.

And if you are still using Windows 8 or an earlier operating system, it’s time to upgrade to at least 8.1.  Security support is still available, but not full support. Windows 10 is the best option.  For most, that upgrade is free.  If you are still using Windows XP – yes, some still are – its way past the time to upgrade – its not even getting security support anymore, and is a potential security risk.

Cross posted to Slaw

CES 2016

The annual Consumer Electronics Show is now underway in Las Vegas – where tech companies show off their latest and greatest.  Popular themes this year include drones, internet of things, and cars.   And of course TVs.  LG is showing OLED 4K TVs that are impossibly thin – 2.57 mm, yes, mm thin.  While they are expensive, and there isn’t much 4K content yet, that is expected to change much faster than HD came to market.

It is easy to scoff at some of the individual items that show up at CES, and certainly some of them will never gain any traction, but the better focus is on trends and where we are headed.  ZDNet, for example, sees IOT and wearable becoming useful, and AR and VR getting a purpose beyond gaming.

If you are interested in following CES, there is lots of coverage in the tech press – such as CNET  and The Verge.

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Cross posted to Slaw