Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:
1. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and, thanks to Strava, the location of U.S. bases in Yemen. An Australian college student discovered that data collected and made public by Strava, a fitness tracking app with a social media component, could help reveal the location of military bases and the identities of personnel who work with classified materials. The app, which is popular with U.S. military personnel, allows users to geographically track their workouts, like runs or bike rides, and share them publicly. Using the Strava Heat Map, curious individuals can find secret U.S. military bases and possible patrol routes. Militaries and intelligence agencies have known for some time that social media can pose an operational security risk. Apps often collect geolocation data by default, which can unintentionally reveal the locations or individuals associated with sensitive facilities. Other times, military personnel simply forget to disable geolocation features, like the time a Russian soldier famously took a selfie while deployed in Ukraine when the Kremlin was asserting that there were no Russian soldiers in the country.
2. Setting ambitious targets. The UN Broadband Commission announced it set an ambitious goal of connecting 75 percent of the world’s population to the internet by 2025. The Broadband Commission is a group of CEOs, policymakers, and academics to improve internet access and broadband availability to the roughly 3.8 billion who remain unconnected. The 75 percent target was one of seven the commission set, and others include reducing the cost of access, improving gender equality in accessing digital services, and increasing people’s proficiency in using new technologies. Improving internet access has long been viewed as a way to lift populations out of poverty and spur economic development, even if the hard evidence for these claims are scant. Nevertheless, the Commission's target is another step toward achieving universal access to the internet, one of the UN's sustainable development goals.
3. Nationalize this! A leaked National Security Council proposal to create a nationalized 5G network ignited backlash this week, with Republicans, Democrats, and industry experts roundly criticizing the idea. Although perhaps dead-on-arrival, the proposal, written by a NSC staffer, evinces the growing fear that China’s technological rise will undercut U.S. national security. Chinese state-backed companies like Huawei and ZTE are racing to establish 5G standards and deploy new equipment, and could dominate the next generation of wireless technology. While a U.S.-built and owned 5G network would theoretically be more resilient against Chinese incursion, the cost of building such a network would be prohibitively expensive and upset nearly everyone. Really, everyone hates this idea.
4. No need to reinvent the wheel. The UK government has issued cybersecurity guidance for UK-based critical infrastructure operators that are regulated under the EU's Network and Information Security Directive. Energy suppliers, healthcare networks, financial institutions, and other industries covered by the directive may be fined upwards of £17 million (or $24 million) if they fail to comply with the newly issued guidelines. The UK guidance closely mirrors the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology' (NIST) cybersecurity framework, which will come as a relief to companies that operate on both sides of the Atlantic. The NIST framework is seen as a gold standard to improve cybersecurity in an organization and U.S. companies have sought to ensure that cybersecurity regulatory frameworks in other jurisdictions are compatible with the U.S. approach.
5. Please accept this note of protest. The government of Cuba is protesting a new U.S. initiative to help Cubans access to information online. Last week, the State Department announced the creation of a "Cuba Internet Task Force" as part of an effort to improve "free and unregulated flow of information" in the island nation. This week, the Cuban government handed a protest note to the top U.S. official in Havana, arguing the new task force was a violation of Cuban sovereignty and subversive. During the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations in the Obama administration, Google signed a deal with ETECSA, the Cuban telecom monopoly, to improve internet access. Relations, however, have since soured as a result of President Trump's effort to roll back the Obama administration's easing of restrictions on doing business with Cuba.