Privacy-themed mobile released

The first Smartphone dedicated to maintaining a user’s privacy is now available for purchase. Blackphone, a “security-enhanced Android build” running PrivatOS, has been called spy-proof – meaning it has the ability to prevent intelligence organisations, such as the National Security Agency, from keeping tabs on users of the device. Users of the phone will be able to make calls, send texts, videos and chats securely, as well as transfer files and browse the Internet through a secure virtual private network. The device was unveiled in January and the shipping of orders has commenced marking the beginning of the latest privacy phenomenon. 

Energy companies hit by cyber attack

Following recent warnings aimed at energy companies against the impending threat of cyber attack, the industrial control systems of hundreds of European and US energy companies have been infected by a sophisticated cyber weapon operated by a state-backed group with apparent ties to Russia, according to leading US online security group, Symantec. The malware known as “Energetic Bear” allows it operators to monitor energy consumption in real time, or to cripple physical systems such as power plants and gas pipelines. The organisation behind the attack is believed to have compromised the computer systems of more than 1,000 organisations in 84 countries in a campaign spanning 18 months. 

Facebook probed over data protection fears

The ICO is to investigate if Facebook has broken data protection laws by conducting a psychological experiment on users without their consent. Two US universities were involved in the experiment, conducted in 2012, in which Facebook filtered 689,000 users’ newsfeeds to study the effect on users’ emotions. One test reduced users’ exposure to their friends’ “positive emotional content”, resulting in fewer positive posts of their own. The publication of the report unleashed negative criticism over the way in which the research was conducted, particularly the lack of consent. The ICO has announced that it is too early to determine exactly what part of the law Facebook may have infringed. 

Google Glass could breach the Data Protection Act

The ICO has warned that Google Glass and other wearable technology could breach the Data Protection Act in some circumstances and that consumers’ personal information must be looked after. The ICO published a blog stating that personal use of wearable technology will not breach the Act, but if organisations use the technology to process information, they will be bound by the law and so must process the information in compliance. This will include ensuring that people are informed about how their details are being collected and used, only collecting information that is relevant and ensuring that data is deleted once no longer required. A Google spokesperson has retaliated by saying that Google Glass has been designed with privacy in mind and the technology giant has issued an etiquette guide for users to follow when wearing the device. 

Australian online dating profiles hacked 

The Australian Privacy Commissioner has announced that dating website Cupid Media Ltd has breached the Australian Privacy Act 1988 by failing to take reasonable steps to secure the personal information held on its dating websites. It has been announced that in January 2013, hackers gained unauthorised access to Cupid webservers and stole the personal information of approximately 254,000 Australian Cupid site users. The personal information included full names, dates of birth, email addresses and passwords. The investigation into the incident has found that Cupid did not have password encryption processes in place. Cupid has cooperated with the Commissioner’s investigations and is taking remedial steps in response. 

Million plus affected by data breach in Montana

The US state of Montana is notifying more than a million people of a massive data breach that took place nearly a year ago, but was only recently discovered. Montana officials are warning that the anonymous hackers gained access to a server containing the state’s Department of Public Health and Human Services data, potentially exposing the confidential medical and identification information of residents, former residents, and even deceased residents. Though it is not believed that the breach resulted in any actual data exposure or identity theft, free credit monitoring is being offered (and recommended) to those whose personal information was involved.

Major Supreme Court ruling protects mobile privacy 

In what has been described as a ‘sweeping victory’ for privacy rights, the Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that the police need warrants to search the mobile phones of people they arrest. In his judgement, Chief Justice John Roberts recognised that mobile phones are central to the everyday life of Americans and that they provide a digital record of all aspects of Americans lives. The decision will offer protection to the 12 million people arrested in the US every year but its impact is set to be much broader. The ruling almost certainly applies to searches of tablets and laptop computers, and its reasoning may also apply to searches of homes and businesses and of information held by third parties such as phone companies.