On Friday afternoon, President Obama responded for the first time to the revelations of various National Security Agency data gathering programs—from recording all call records in and outside of the United States, to the PRISM program, which reportedly taps into the data streams of some of the largest data hosting companies in the country.
Here’s the gist: Although you, the citizens, have not heard of this, we have substantial oversight on these programs involving every branch of government. Legislators have been briefed (in regards to the telephone data, he said all members knew), and “if anybody in government wanted to go further than that top-line data … they would have to go back to a federal judge,” Obama said.
Basically, if you trust the system, you should trust us.
“In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok,” the president said. “But if you look at the details … I think we have struck a nice balance.”
The president also reassured that “no one is listening to your telephone calls” and that although he came into office with “a healthy skepticism about these programs,” he is reassured that they don’t overreach. “The modest encroachments on privacy that are involved … it was worth us doing,” he said.
The NSA leaks perpetrated by Edward Snowden will easily go down as one of the biggest revelations of the year, if not the decade. But the episode also raises new questions about the risk that insiders pose to government and corporate cybersecurity, in spite of the attention lavished on foreign hackers.
Snowden’s case is unique in that it uncovered a previously unknown surveillance apparatus that’s massive in size and scope. It’s not unique, however, in the way the whistleblower did his deed. Two-thirds of all reported data breaches involve internal actors wittingly or unwittingly bringing sensitive information to outsiders, according to industry analysts.
“It’s not an either-or proposition,” said Mike DuBose, a former Justice Department official who led the agency’s efforts on trade-secret theft. “But amidst all the concern and discussion over foreign hacking, what gets lost is the fact that the vast majority of serious breaches involving trade secrets or other proprietary or classified information are still being committed by insiders.”
DuBose is now the head of the Cyber Investigations unit at the risk-management firm Kroll Advisory Solutions. In February, his team authored a report warning that contractors, information-technology personnel and disgruntled employees—all descriptors that fit Snowden pretty well—pose a greater threat than hackers, “both in frequency and in damage caused.”
Not everyone agrees. Even though insiders generally play an outsized role across all reported data breaches, their role in confirmed data breaches is rather small, according to an annual study by Verizon. In 2012 specifically, internal actors accounted for 14% of confirmed data breaches. Of those, system administrators were responsible for 16%.
However common they are, cases like Snowden’s show how devastating one insider can be. The extent of the damage depends on what’s being exfiltrated, and from where, and there aren’t many standards for calculating losses. Most companies estimate the value of their trade secrets based on how much money they sank into the research and development of that knowledge. But for the government, it’s the potential impact on security that takes precedence—and that turns the question into a matter of subjective debate.
Last month, The Washington Post reported that Chinese spies compromised the designs for some of the Pentagon’s most sensitive weapons systems, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship.
If true, the report could have major consequences for national security. But Snowden’s case is equally consequential, if for different reasons, and it bolsters DuBose’s point about the relevance of insiders. Snowden may have rightfully uncovered evidence of government overreach, but if a midlevel contractor can steal top-secret information about the NSA and give it to the public in a gesture of self-sacrifice, someone else could do the same and hand the intelligence to more nefarious actors.
Mitt Romney’s social media guru does not quantify success in his candidate’s number of Facebook followers, but by their level of activity.
Despite a recent Pew report that pegs President Obama as winning the battle for digital audiences, Zac Moffatt, the head of the Romney campaign’s digital operation, says the Republican candidate is ahead of Obama in terms of building an engaged and dedicated online following.
The raw numbers lean Obama’s way. He has more than 27 million “Likes” on his Facebook page, for example, versus fewer than 5 million for Romney. But according to Moffatt, Romney’s followers are more likely to share information, post and spread the word about their candidate.
He cites June 28, the day of the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act as an example. On that day, he says, the Romney campaign saw activity in the form of comments or sharing from 27% of its list of followers, compared to 1.7% for Obama. “That’s how I’d define success for us,” Moffatt says.
This is a tough sell. Obama’s campaign team is legendary for its online prowess and its data-driven digital outreach. The Obama campaign appears to have raised the bar yet again, with the release of a mobile app that integrates digital outreach with the door-to-door shoe-leather efforts of volunteers, providing canvassers with voter-registration lists, neighborhood maps, campaign talking points and a fundraising interface.
According to Moffatt, the release of this app so late in the game points to the challenges of leveraging digital assets in the real world.
“The Obama folks knew they were going to be running for president three years ago,” he says. “It took them 100 days to build out this app that does all these pieces. You should look at that as realistic of how difficult it is to build a multipurpose, integrated app.”
The Romney campaign “still has millions of doors being hit every month, whether or not we have an app,” Moffatt says.”That just reduces some of the barriers, but it’s not going to stop us from doing what we do every day.”
The Romney campaign does have a couple of apps, including one that was built to deliver advance news of the candidate’s vice presidential pick. Although the app failed to scoop the press on the news about Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., it did generate 100,000 “Likes” on the Romney campaign’s Facebook page, Moffatt says, while gathering email addresses and other data on potential supporters.
The campaign has been mum on how it is going to retool Mitt’s VP app for the general-election drive, but Moffatt says he has a plan. “I wouldn’t be much of a digital director otherwise,” he says.
Using search and other online media as a conduit to more standard advertising fare is an important part of the online media mix. Moffatt’s research has shown that in a given week, there are one in three voters who don’t watch live television other than sports. “That just means they live on DVR, Netflix and Hulu. If we ran our entire campaign predicated on TV, that’s a lot of voters we’re missing,” he says.
And in Ohio, that figure could be 2 million voters. “The election will be won or lost most likely in that group,” Moffatt says.
In the Nevada caucuses, for example, the Romney team placed an ad on Google that directed people searching for information on Newt Gingrich to an ad that criticized the former House Speaker for taking consulting fees from federally backed mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
In the 2012 cycle, Moffatt says, digital has seen a transformation from a “base list-building and fundraising effort” to “becoming a persuasion and mobilization tool.” In 2008, digital strategy was not a major piece of Romney’s primary election bid. Now, Moffatt says, the numbers make it impossible to ignore.
Romney’s immediate family is more engaged on digital than in the past, and this has meant greater exposure for the candidate to social media. Ann Romney was an early adopter of the photo-sharing site Pinterest. Romney’s sons are active on Twitter and Facebook.
Presumptive vice presidential nominee Ryan has a lot of everyday, hands-on experience with social media. “Whenever it breaks into your peer groups, it makes a difference,” Moffatt says.
Where the election won’t be won or lost is on Twitter. Moffatt says he’s a little irate about the Pew report, which gives the Romney campaign low marks for use of Twitter, and criticizes both campaigns for failing to engage ordinary users via retweets.
“We try to keep the Twitter account in Mitt’s voice, and have him be a part of it. It limits the amount we do. We’re not able to tweet 25 times a day like the Obama folks have.”
That’s not to say that the candidate is tapping out his own tweets, or even dictating them to staff. “It’s more often that something will occur, and he’s like, ‘We should get that out on Twitter,'” Moffatt says.
In the cold calculus of presidential politics, here’s how things are supposed to work. You spend hours of travel time going from campaign rally to campaign rally, where if you’re lucky and your staff has found a big enough venue, a few thousand people will watch you give the same old stump speech. You hope it’ll get picked up in the news, even though the last thing you’ll be doing is breaking news (unless it’s for an unplanned gaffe).
If you answer questions, it’s in a controlled Town Hall format, not a cacophonous free-for-all. You trumpet your appearances in advance for maximum exposure. And you certainly don’t try for anything major during your opponents’ convention.
President Obama broke all those rules Wednesday afternoon, when he became the first candidate of either party to do an AMA (“ask me anything”) on Reddit. The appearance was a complete surprise, even for veteran Redditors (who immediately demanded Obama post a picture to prove it was him; he complied).
The president also broke news, floating the idea of a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (which gave rise to Super PACs) for the first time.
The Value of a Connected Audience
Though the AMA was unannounced, word quickly spread on Twitter, and Reddit’s servers were overwhelmed. The site said more than 200,000 people were trying to view Obama’s Q&A at any one time. More than 1.8 million people subscribed to the thread.
Ask any politician if they would like to speak directly to 1.8 million people for an hour — or even 200,000 — and they’ll probably start weeping with joy at the thought. For comparison, Obama’s DNC acceptance speech in 2008 — held in the open air at Mile-high stadium in Denver — had a capacity crowd of 84,000.
So let’s recap. Obama sat at a laptop for one hour, typed out answers to all of ten questions (leaving hundreds unanswered), ending with a quick in-joke referencing a popular meme (the “not bad” Obama rage face). In return he won the attention and interest of nearly 2 million people on Reddit, and many more without. (On the Internet, Reddit has a coolness factor that goes far beyond its borders.)
Creating New Rules
Regardless of your affiliation, that kind of return on investment has to change the political calculation. Don’t be surprised, in 2016, if candidates from both parties spend a lot of time doing online AMAs — official ones on Reddit, and otherwise.
Is that a good thing? There are reasons to think not. The AMA format does allow candidates to cherry-pick which questions they’re going to respond to. It’s “ask me anything,” not “I’ll answer everything.”
Then again, it would be hard for politicians to ignore questions that get a lot of upvotes, making the format superior to, say, a Twitter Town Hall. And giving the candidate time to type out answers is something of a win-win: the candidates gets to double-check their answer for gaffes (though Obama did accidentally refer to “a asteroid” in response to a NASA question), while the questioner gets a more measured, longer response.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, the AMA may be the worst form of political Q&A — except for all the others that have been tried.
The weekend started off with a bang, thanks to the dazzling opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. That was spectacular enough to get everyone super-ready for the athletic competition involving our entire planet.
There were plenty of stories about the Olympics, and at the same time, your intrepid Mashable team discovered so much more — happenings in the digital world, tech innovations that felt like they were from a future world, and GIFs, comics and weekend fun that seemed to be from another world entirely.
Best of all, we’ve gathered all those stories here for you, in one big easy-to-peruse package. So take a look at the latest Weekend Recap, where you can catch up with the entire weekend of delightful news and views, right here:
In their last days on Earth before launching to the International Space Station, astronauts sees the same thing: two rows of trees that punctuate the otherwise austere landscape outside the space launch facility in Baikonur, Russia.
The trees that outline the T-shaped path are mismatched in size, but that’s for a reason. Each one was planted by an astronaut just before he or she launched to space, a tradition that Yuri Gagarin started 50 years ago when he planted the first tree just before he became the first human in space. His tree is the largest.
A fresh three-member crew — Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman and European astronaut Alexander Gerst — will launch to the ISS on Wednesday. All three astronauts planted their trees last week.
“There’s a whole wealth of Russian traditions,” NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, who planted a tree before his mission in 2012, told Mashable. “Some are funny, some are beautiful.”
Many Russian traditions are based on the success of what a cosmonaut did before. “In a lot of ways, it’s about honoring the person who came before you,” Marshburn said.
The simple ceremony always takes place shortly before launch, no matter the environment. Be it a harsh Russian winter or an even colder political standoff, the tree will be planted.
But given the current political climate between the U.S. and Russia, these trees have a deeper meaning within the space community, which, until very recently, has been able to operate above bureaucratic squabble.
As the U.S. continues to unleash sanctions against Russia for its involvement in the crisis in Ukraine, both nations have put targets on the backs of each other’s space programs.
In April, NASA sent a memo to employees stating that it was cutting all ties with Russia, except for when it comes to the space station — as the U.S. depends on Russia to launch its astronauts to the ISS.
“We’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017,” NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel told Mashable in April. “The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians. It’s that simple.”
Although NASA, at the time, said politics wouldn’t make it to the space station, Russia unveiled a different plan just weeks later. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters on May 13 that Moscow would deny U.S. requests to use the ISS after 2020. He also said he would prevent the U.S. from using Russian-made rocket engines to launch military satellites.
Astronauts, however, have subtly voiced their continued commitment to teamwork — a seemingly passive protest to the two countries’ efforts to drag the ISS into their battle.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who planted his own tree alongside Marshburn, is among the most vocal. In an April interview with RT, the ISS commander condemned weaponizing space.
And just hours after the news broke that Russia wanted to ban the U.S. from the ISS — coincidentally, that was on the same day a crew of both American and Russian astronauts was returning to Earth — Hadfield tweeted this:
And just on day after the U.S. issued its first round of sanctions against Russia, NASA released the photo below before a scheduled launch, showing the two flags together.
“Living in space really does break down barriers,” Marshburn said. “It is a family up there. We have to survive.”
Even NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in March — around the time Russia invaded Crimea — that the space station has been the cornerstone of peaceful relations.
During a press conference, Bolden, who commanded the first U.S.-Russian space shuttle mission in 1994, told the story of flying with Russian cosmonauts only a few years after the Cold War. The men talked of their families and of their aspirations for the world over dinner.
“I found that our relationship with the Russians in the space program has been the same ever since,” Bolden said. “We have weathered the storm through lots of contingencies.”
For his part, Marshburn, who is currently training in Houston for a future ISS mission, said he will continue to work as though the next trip will be with Russia. He’ll still study Russian, and he’ll work with Russian cosmonaut colleagues on site.
“We are well padded from the political goings on,” said Marshburn. “So, I just don’t think about it because who knows where it’s going to go.”
And as long as NASA astronauts climb into a Russian spacecraft, they’ll continue to add their tree to the growing grove around the Baikonur Cosmodrome as well.
“Nyan Cat has transformed into this viral entity that has surpassed not only everything I originally expected for my art but for memes in general,” Torres recently told Mashable. “It’s gained its own amazing subculture with incredibly creative fans.”
2. Keyboard Cat
Orange tabby cat Fatso (a.k.a. Keyboard Cat) most recently appeared in a parody of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Google+ Hangout in February 2012.
Keyboard Cat’s origins, however, date back to 1984, and its popularity rose in 2007 after a clip was uploaded to YouTube. That video now has 25 million views. Keyboard Cat tends to make appearances in spoofs and even in commercials.
Meet the Kitlers, cats that look like dictator Adolf Hitler — mustache included.
News channel CNN even gave the Kitlers a segment in 2010, after comedian Stephen Colbert gave the meme a nod.
Without Happy Cat, the humor website — which turned 5 this year — might not exist.
Maybe I Can Has Cheezburger will give Happy Cat a cameo in its forthcoming reality TV show.
7. Breading Cats
Warning: Please do try this at home.
Breading Cats, the series of photos featuring cats with bread has headgear, resurfaced this year after Gawker published an article about the “hot new Internet meme” in January. The meme began last fall.
8. Chemistry Cat
We’d call this wisecrack a “smarty pants,” but we’re not sure Chemistry Cat is wearing any.
This feline’s jokes are a thing of science…literally.
This critter’s name says it all. Longcat is known for its body length.
“Longcat is LOOOOOOONG,” says the Longcat entry in Urban Dictionary.
The torso is likely good for “meows” and such.
10. Business Cat
What if your boss was a cat? The world may never know, but for now, you can live vicariously through Business Cat.
This tie-clad advice animal image macro series rattles orders similar to human office bosses.
11. Anxiety Cat
Not as cool as Hipster Kitty, this advice animal image macro is full of one emotion: anxiousness.
Anxiety Cat freaks out over every little thing, akin to real cats.
12. Serious Cat
Not gonna make any jokes here, you know, ’cause Serious Cat won’t care. We’ll let Urban Dictionary describe this uptight feline:
“A very f***ing serious white cat popularized by imdb.com user Timmys_DownTheBloodyWell. He is Emperor and Supreme overlord of a board called ‘The Sandbox’ as well as President of the Anti-squirrel coalition. In his spare time he enjoys spreading awareness of the seriousness of a thread, killing infidels (mostly squirrels), and he also taking long llama rides on the beach.”
13. Ceiling Cat
“Ceiling cat is watching you masturbate.” With those words plopped onto this photo, the pic rose to fame in 2006, according to Know Your Meme.
14. Lenin Cat
Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin first got the cat meme treatment in 2007, when I Can Has Cheezburger posted a photo of the stern-looking cat with the attached text:
“MAKE READY MY SHIP GENERAL. IT IS TIME TO SHOW THOSE DOGS WHAT WE ARE MADE OF.”
The text-over-photo meme gives another meaning to “Leninism,” don’t you think?
15. OMG Cat
So this is how OMG Cat reacted when he found out he was chosen for Mashable‘s “15 Best Cat Memes Ever” list.
Coulter was trying to comment on the overall civil behavior of the two candidates during Monday’s debate when compared with the interruptions and arguing of the second debate. However, the term is widely considered offensive and derogatory. There’s even a movement, R-Word, asking people to pledge not to use the word.
Coulter’s tweet immediately sparked a harsh reaction from many Twitter users that continues Tuesday morning:
@anncoulter Did you really use that word? You have to be kidding me!
United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano took a jab at Congress for failing to act on cybersecurity during a panel on the subject Monday at the 2012 Social Good Summit.
Congress has so far failed to pass cybersecurity legislation this year. Both chambers have their own versions of cyber bills, but they have yet to pass in the opposite chamber due to a partisan divide on the appropriate role of the government in cybersecurity.
“This has been a very interesting and troubling discussion in Congress,” she said. “It gets to the question which is ‘how does the government, which has overall security responsibly, interact with the private sector when an attack on private sector could have multiple rippling effects throughout the country?’ When you get into this debate, it’s a Washington, D.C. thing about government regulating the private sector.”
A bill supported by many Senate Democrats first called for government-set cybersecurity standards for private businesses deemed crucial to national security, such as power grids. Republicans balked at the idea, deeming it excessive government regulation of private business. The Senate bill was later rewritten to offer a compromise between the two camps, but that version also stalled.
Meanwhile, House Republicans passed their own cybersecurity bill, designed to encourage information-sharing between private businesses, under a veto threat from the White House. That bill hasn’t been passed by the Senate.
Napolitano’s position in this debate is somewhere in the middle: She doesn’t see absolute government regulation as the right answer for cybersecurity, but rather wants to build a cooperative cybersecurity relationship between businesses and the government with some government oversight of crucial industries.
“I think regulation in the traditional sense isn’t the right relationship,” she said. “It has to be one of mutually beneficial partnership and responsibility… if you’re doing the balance statement for a private company, security for others isn’t something you can reflect on your own balance sheet, but it is a responsibility. That’s what government has: responsibility is shared equally.”
She added that Barack Obama is weighing an executive order on cybersecurity — a possible move that privacy experts are watching closely, but a step Napolitano supports.
“Congress wasn’t able to act this year, it got stuck in the regulatory versus non-regulatory dichotomy,” said Napolitano. “The president is considering moving forward with an executive order that would help with this.”
When asked if private businesses would need to experience a cataclysmic cyberattack in order for them and politicians to make progress on cybersecurity, Napolitano said that it would spur progress, but added that’s not her preferable path.
“It’s only going to take one takedown for need for that partnership to become apparent,” she said. “An example from the non-cyber world: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is within the Department of Homeland Security. It became clear after Katrina and the response, or or lack thereof, that it was broken. What’s happened is that we’ve used that crisis to fix FEMA. FEMA is now very agile, astute and target-oriented. That crisis crystallized action.”
“I hope there’s an alternative,” she added. “The problem with [cybersecurity] is that if you have a crisis, first of all it could be multiple crises happening simultaneously, second is that it could have damaging rippling effects that puts life and limb at risk, third is that we don’t have all the protocols in place to deal with a truly massive problem.”
Read more of Mashable’s coverage of the 2012 Social Good Summit: