Privacy and security: Spying and hacking galore; Verizon’s transparency report; Obama’s proposed changes

Once again, we find news where tech, privacy and security meet:

• In case you missed it or need it drilled into your head even more, there’s a whole lot of spying and hacking going on. A report released today by security company CrowdStrike shows that the Syrian Electronic Army — which lately has the hots for Microsoft — and other hackers are getting better and bolder. The New York Times Bits blog breaks out some of the report’s findings: Hacking targets range from Western energy companies to universities in various parts of the world; the virtual world has become a front in real wars; if software succeeds in preventing an attack, perpetrators just go after hardware; and cybercrooks like to strike during high-profile events.

On the privacy front, is it time to cry uncle? Mike Cassidy wrote recently that we might as well admit that we’re toast.

• But wait. For those who haven’t given up all hope, transparency’s the word: Verizon has released its first transparency report, becoming the first major U.S. telecom company to do so. Like tech companies before it, Verizon reported a rise in data requests in 2013 compared to 2012, to a total of 320,000. Also like tech companies, the company said it could not disclose more details about the 1,000 to 2,000 national security orders it received because it’s legally prohibited from doing so. Other numbers Verizon disclosed: subpoenas, court orders (including wiretap orders), warrants, requests for content and location information, and emergency requests.

Late last year, AT&T said it would also be releasing a transparency report in early 2014.

Meanwhile, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has reiterated her company’s call to be allowed to be more transparent with its users: “We need to be able to rebuild trust with our users, not only in the U.S. but internationally,” Mayer reportedly said Tuesday at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. After the many disclosures about NSA spying that includes information that the government gathers user data from tech companies, Yahoo and others have petitioned the government regarding the restrictions about disclosing the numbers of national security orders they receive.

As we noted last week, President Obama said in a speech that companies would be able “to make public more information than ever before about the orders they have received to provide data to the government.”

• Speaking of Obama’s proposals to make changes in NSA spying practices, nobody should hold their breath that they’re going to happen soon, according to the Washington Post. For one thing, the directive requires that a plan to transfer control of the phone records from the government to a third party be in place by March 28. That’s a bit ambitious, some say, considering phone companies have said they don’t want that political hot potato.


Photo: A protester with the organization Code Pink wears giant glasses with the message “Stop Spying” as NSA Director Keith Alexander testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 29, 2013. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)


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