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What the Ring hacks tell us about tech’s backward approach to security
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos onstage on January 16, 2020 in New Delhi, India. | Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images It’s not your fault if you get hacked. Blame tech companies for not forcing you to be more secure. If you build it they will come — but they won’t necessarily set up two-factor authentication. The software and devices that are increasingly integral to our daily lives are constantly compromising our privacy and security. But when these issues arise, regular people often get the blame. That’s because hacks and other online invasions are almost always avoidable. Users are lectured that they should have chosen long, unique passwords and that they should have subscribed to a password manager; that they should have set up two-factor authentication; that they should never use public wifi. In other words, they got burned because they didn’t do what they were told. It shouldn’t be this way. Glenn Chapman/AFP via Getty Images Ring security cameras are displayed at Amazon headquarters in Seattle, Washington, on September 25, 2019. “The problem with all of these kinds of solutions is they put the onus of security responsibility on the user,” Marc Rogers, VP of cybersecurity at access management company Okta, told Recode. “And the user is the least equipped person to do anything about that. They don’t understand the risks well, and they don’t want the complexity.” Take Amazon Ring, a video security device consumers are increasingly using to give themselves a sense of security and peace of mind in their homes. Ironically, these devices have left people feeling less secure, after a spate of high-profile hacks in late 2019 made it possible for strangers to commandeer Ring cameras to surveil and harass people in their own homes. In one instance, a strange man talked to and terrified an 8-year-old girl in her own bedroom, where her parents had placed a Ring security camera as a communication and security measure. “Security should be seen but not heard. It should be something that’s simple. It shouldn’t get in the way.” In response, Ring said it hadn’t done anything wrong and blamed the hacks on customers. It said the hacked customers had made their devices vulnerable by reusing old, compromised passwords. Some of these users have disputed that claim, but either way, the point is clear: The tech company faulted its customers, rather than acknowledging its own role in the situation. Months after news of these hacks went public, Ring has introduced a number of standard security measures for users, like default two-factor authentication — a feature that requires users provide a second piece of info, like a code from their phone, before they can get access to an account — and a dashboard through which they can monitor who else might be accessing their video feeds. Ring had stopped short of mandating two-factor for existing users, saying that doing so could cause mass logouts, but after sustained pressure, including an article I published last year calling for this change, Ring finally made two-factor a requirement for all users last week. But the fact remains that they sold insecure devices with inadequate safety protocols to an untold number of consumers first. Tech companies tend to put the onus of security on users in part because they are trying to get as many people as possible to use their devices, and they see any extra security measures as something that creates friction that might turn off those users. It’s also not a coincidence that good security practices, like any other extra layer of oversight, cost these companies more time and money to develop. “At Ring, our top priority is the safety and security of our customers. We understand that Ring users put their trust in our products, and we strive to maintain that trust so our customers can feel confident that their homes and personal information are safe with Ring,” Ring said in a statement to Recode. “We reinforced that commitment with the addition of mandatory two-step verification for all users, and we will continue to add additional features related to user privacy and account security while maintaining the convenience and ease-of-use our customers have come to expect.” Security and ease of use are often positioned as being diametrically opposed, with one coming at the expense of the other. They don’t have to be. Reconciling them will require a lot of effort, and no tech company will get everything right. There will also be some trade-offs between ease of use and security. But none of that should prevent tech companies from aiming for a reasonable balance and meeting basic standards. “We have to convince all the big companies that it is not the user’s responsibility to make their stuff secure,” Rogers said. “Security should be seen but not heard. It should be something that’s simple. It shouldn’t get in the way. But it should be there when it’s needed, shouldn’t force the users to do complicated things or memorize huge strings of numbers that they’re just going to write down.” “I don’t think you have to completely trade off one for another,” Jen King, director of consumer privacy at the Center for Internet and Society, told Recode. “And I think that people who are still making that argument are kind of in a mindset of 10-plus years ago.” Rather, she says, it’s a design issue. “There is a lot of work that’s been done in this area, both in the academic field, followed by corporate leaders in this space like Apple, to really try to understand human limitations and how we design products to minimize or anticipate those limitations so that people don’t have to work as hard,” King said. Instituting these best practices requires investments in people who do user experience research, which considers “how people think, [and] what their priorities and incentives are” in order to develop products and features that will ensure their security. It also requires looking at how others have solved these issues. “Certainly, there’s no excuse not to look around at your competition and see what other people are doing,” King said. What hardware and software companies need to do to make us all more secure Ultimately, it’s every tech company’s responsibility to make sure their products are secure in a way that’s accessible to regular users. Apple’s Face ID and Touch ID, which allow you to unlock your iPhone with tech that either recognizes your face or your fingerprint, are a move in the right direction. The process is faster and often easier than entering in a passcode, all while ensuring security. “When Touch ID came out, I think it was something like less than one in five people even had a PIN code on their iPhone. And the reason why is they found it inconvenient,” Rogers said. “Apple brought out Touch ID. And that went up to like 80 or 90 percent of people had security on their phone. It wasn’t because they suddenly woke up and decided they needed security, it was because security suddenly met their lifestyle — it became convenient.” Stephen Lam/ Getty Images Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller speaks about Touch ID in San Francisco, California, on September 9, 2015. Other companies have other creative security solutions. Google offers a version of two-factor authentication wherein an alert will simply pop up on your phone if it’s in range of another device that’s asking permission, which is much easier than retrieving a text code or going to an authenticator app for a code. The different methods for two-factor authentication vary in their relative security — dynamically generated codes in an app have historically been more secure than sending a code via text, for example — but are all better than no two-factor at all. At the very least, big tech companies should institute some basic best practices. These include suggesting or requiring more difficult passwords, as well as shipping devices with their own unique password attached. Device and software makers should make sure their default settings — which are what most people end up using — are the most secure options they have, rather than an option for only people who are privacy savvy. They should also mandate two-factor authentication, although that can be trickier for the less tech-savvy among us. In fact, they should take that as a challenge and explore inventing an easier alternative. Rogers suggests that using biometrics — like a thumbprint or face scan — to prove who you are can be both secure and easy to use. This isn’t to say keeping up with security challenges is easy. The security issues companies have to contend with are getting more difficult as hackers become more savvy and as we desire our apps and devices to become more connected with one another. We like the convenience of effortlessly sharing a photo from our phones to a social network; we expect to seamlessly upload our contact lists to new accounts. We just want to be in control of the process. “In the old days, if you wanted to compromise a phone, you would have to break into the phone,” Rogers said. “Now, the application you target has all these permissions. And every permission that an app has is something that can be exploited,” he said. To combat these added difficulties, he suggests looking for software and device makers that engage in a concept called “zero trust,” a model that assumes you can’t trust anyone, even people within your own company. It continually verifies that an app or device or person connecting to your account actually should have access. More and more companies are testing this model, including Google, the pharmaceutical company Allergan, and Okta, though it’s far from mainstream. “We should automatically assume that any connection that we see coming from the internet into a phone or from an app to another app or an app to data could be untrustworthy, and then take every step we can do to dynamically assess it, and treat it as untrusted until we can prove that it is trusted,” Rogers said. “We start off protecting things from that kind of model and then you’re going to have a much more strong system.” While there have been numerous government attempts to create regulation around basic digital security practices, none have gotten off the ground. The Federal Trade Commission can fine companies for egregious data breaches and issue reports, creating a rough idea of guidelines, but these efforts fall short of actually being able to legislate that companies meet those standards. So for now, in the absence of regulation requiring security and privacy best practices, consumers are reliant on tech companies to take the initiative to act in our best interests — but as we’ve seen so far, they tend to hurl blame at us first. Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.
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Odd Job: The comedian’s therapist
Comedians get up onstage and talk about trauma. But who do they talk to about it offstage? | iStockphoto/Getty Images Meet the in-house psychologist for The Laugh Factory in LA. Onstage, the comedians at The Laugh Factory weave anecdotes about breakups, problem relatives, and bad first dates for laughs. But Ildiko Tabori always gets the real story. When comics are sitting in Tabori’s office, traumas are presented without a punchline. That’s her job: to help funny people deal with the problems that stick around long after the crowd finishes laughing at them, like a real-life Dr. Katz. Tabori has been The Laugh Factory’s therapist-in-residence for nine years, and in that time she’s worked with dozens of different comedians who’ve made their way through the Sunset Strip institution. Her clients can either meet her at her own Los Angeles practice, where she works with her other civilian patients, or if pressed for time, at an upstairs enclave in The Laugh Factory before they go on in the evening. The first six sessions Tabori has with a comedian are pro bono. Any additional sessions are arranged with a copay. After nearly 10 years in the business, she says she feels like a full-fledged member of the comedy family — fluent in its jargon, culture, and neuroses — despite never performing herself. There is a mythologized idea, promoted in everything from the Joan Rivers documentary to WTF with Marc Maron, that all comedians suffer from extreme psychological issues and that the act of performing serves some sort of dual artistic and palliative purpose. Tabori feels like that’s only partly true. She was hired by The Laugh Factory because of the addiction and self-harm issues that have historically decimated the standup community, but she believes that everybody, funny or not, has their own mental health strain. Comedians aren’t special, they just tend to be more open about their ailments. We talked about that, the unique anxieties and stresses of a career in comedy, and how both she and her clients grieved over an untimely death in the family. How did you end up getting your job at The Laugh Factory? It came about in 2011. I’ve been doing it nine years now. What happened was that Jamie Masada, the owner of The Laugh Factory, created a real comedy family with him as the godfather. The comedians have often gone to him for advice, and he has been there to support them. Courtesy of Dr. Ildiko Tabori Dr. Ildiko Tabori. At least once a year the comedy world loses someone to an overdose or a suicide or something to that effect. He recognized that comedians needed a little more support than he could provide. I came into the mix because somebody recommended me to him. I met with him, and it went from there. What’s your day-to-day like? How is this gig different from more traditional therapy jobs? Comedians schedule appointments with me and I see them. The only difference is that I can see them at the club. Obviously not onstage, but at the offices there. I can also see them in my offices or online. Comedians travel a lot, and the medical field is evolving that way [to allow online sessions]. Are you ever with someone the same night they’ll be performing? Yes, but we don’t really talk about their performances per se. Unless there’s an issue with it. But the ability to perform is less of a focus, and it’s more emphasized on the issues in their life. What would you say are the differences you notice by working with comedians, compared to more general therapy services? Comedians are a unique bunch of people. I’ve often described it as the hardest job in entertainment. It’s the only job where you get immediate feedback, when you’re onstage doing standup. It’s not the same thing as it was in the ’70s and ’80s — comedians are doing a whole lot of stuff, they’re writing, they’re acting. I truly believe — and I have nothing to base this on other than my own experience working with them — but they probably have higher IQs than the general population. That would be a great dissertation topic for a grad student. They have to think on their feet, they have to be really quick. It’s about observing everything and turning that into something we can laugh at. We all have the same experiencesin life — we all have our families, we all walk the dog — but they can flip it. “It’s the only job where you get immediate feedback, when you’re onstage doing standup” They’re on the road a lot. They are spending all this time by themselves, in these not-so-nice hotel rooms away from their families. I’ve had an experience recently with one of my comedian patients who works on cruise ships, and he’s away from his kids and his wife. It’s really hard. You miss things. Your social support is limited. You have all this downtime, you work for an hour at night, and then there’s more downtime. You spend a lot of time spinning the wheels in your head. After nine years of working at The Laugh Factory, do you think you have a better context for the comedy industry? Are you able to relate with them more? Oh yeah. Ever since I was little I was a comedy fan, but I didn’t understand anything about the life of a comedian. They have trained me and trained me well. I started my career in the LA County Jail. I’ve never been incarcerated, so I didn’t know anything about inmates. They taught me what their life is like. It’s the same thing with comedians, though I’m not comparing inmates to comedians. Is that training process about learning their culture and the jargon, or does it go deeper than that? It is about that, but it’s also about learning their internal thinking and what’s consistent between the comedians. Like, I now know that you’re lonely in a hotel room by yourself at night. I now know you’re upset when you’ve had a couple bad nights in a row. I now know that newer comedians are going to be more upset about jokes that are bombing than more seasoned comedians. That’s the stuff they’ve taught me. What are some of the core trends you notice across all your comedian clients? We talk about the things you and I would talk about. Relationships, finance, family problems, substance abuse, those sorts of things. You find that with anybody. With comedians, though, we talk about success; if they’re getting more successful, or if they’re not successful, or if they’re stuck in the status quo. One of my patients has been with me for nine years, and I’ve watched his success increase to the point where he can’t go into a grocery store. He lost his anonymity. You say, “I want to be famous,” and now you’re famous, and it’s not as fun as it looked. When somebody’s career isn’t going in the way they want it to, and they’re watching their comedy friends rise, there’s this sense where they want to support their friends but they’re also kind of jealous. It’s cognitive dissonance, having those two feelings. That’s a big trend as well. Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images Comedian Jermaine Fowler onstage at The Laugh Factory. Should people be honest about being jealous of their friends? Oh absolutely. Jealousy is a normal human emotion, just like happiness, sadness, and anger. You have to process it and bring it up. There’s nothing wrong about saying, “I’m kinda jealous of you,” or, “I’m kinda jealous of my friend who’s famous now.” Owning your feelings is a way of empowering yourself. When you talk to your client who’s now considerably more famous than when you met him, does he feel like the same person? Do the same themes come up in your sessions with him? They feel like the same person. They experience the same feelings. The focus of those feelings might be different, but the feelings are still there. If you’re an anxious person, you’re still gonna be an anxious person, you’re just going to be anxious about different things. Does it help you at all, as a therapist, when you’re familiar with someone’s comedy work? Half the time I don’t know the comedian or their work. In order to understand them, I don’t need to watch their work. That’s common across many LA therapists. I work with a lot of people in the entertainment industry, and a lot of the time I don’t know who they are when they walk in my office. I can tell because they’re pretty, but I don’t know if they’re well-known or not. Sometimes, though, when a comedian is telling a story onstage, I’ll be like, “That sounds familiar, but I know the real story.” The story I hear isn’t that funny, but onstage it’s pretty funny. I’m like, “Okay, they’ve managed to turn this into something positive and good.” Has anyone ever talked about their therapist onstage, and you knew that the therapist in question was you? Oh yeah, they’ve pointed me out before. At first I was like, “I don’t want anyone to know me,” but they all talk among themselves. I had one comedian tell me, “You’re the only person who thinks that you’re being all secretive and private with all your patients here.” There’s a perception out there that most comedians suffer from mental health issues. How true do you think that is? “When a comedian is telling a story onstage, I’ll be like, ‘That sounds familiar, but I know the real story’” I don’t necessarily think that they’re more plagued. But they are much more open, and they can use [standup] as a platform to talk about their stuff. We’re all a little bit crazy. They’re just owning it, where a lot of the population doesn’t want to own it. Everyone that exists in the world today has experienced depression, anxiety, sadness, or anger. But for them, it’s projected on a grander scale because they have that outlet. You mentioned addiction and suicide earlier in this conversation. You’ve been a part of the comedy family for a long time, have you been personally affected by any of those tragedies in the comedy community? On a personal level, yes. A former patient of mine, a comedian, committed suicide about a year ago. Never in my career have I had somebody that I was aware of killing themselves. This one I knew, and I hadn’t seen him in therapy. I’d seen him around, but I hadn’t seen him in therapy for years. It was a hard thing to process. It was devastating to the community, because he was a very local, LA, well-liked guy. It must’ve been weird to be grieving, but also to be put in a position to professionally address other people’s grief around the same person. Right. I’ve lost friends and family members. I’ve had patients who’ve talked about losing a parent or friend or something. I’ve drawn on my own experiences, as therapists often do. But this one was a new one for me, because I was grieving the same grief. I had to put my professional hat on and grieve in my own personal time. When you consider your role as a therapist who’s carved out a niche for standup comedians, do you think that the mental health field should get more specialized? Should there be more niches that focus on smaller professional communities? Oh absolutely. We have that trend in mental health. My primary speciality is in neuropsychology. That was a lot of my training in school. But you gain specialties and subspecialties in your practice. But you don’t think, “Oh wait, comedians!” I’ve gotten asked over the years if I specialized in comedians in school, and obviously that’s not the case. We definitely need more resources dedicated toward mental health in all different programs and all different communities. Sign up for The Goods’ newsletter. Twice a week, we’ll send you the best Goods stories exploring what we buy, why we buy it, and why it matters.
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What Happened in Delhi Was a Pogrom
The violence unleashed against Muslims in Delhi by armed Hindu mobs during President Donald Trump’s visit to India is a portent and a lesson. As Trump sat down to dine with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, on Tuesday, Hindus in the same city were beating and shooting Muslims, and Muslims were fighting back, trying to defend their homes and businesses from looters and arsonists. More than 30 people were killed—including an 85-year-old woman too frail to flee her burning home—and more than 200 people, mostly Muslims were injured.The Delhi police, who report directly to Home Minister Amit Shah, either stood idly by or escorted the mobs. Videos of police breaking CCTV cameras and taunting prone and bleeding Muslim men while filming them with their smart phones circulated on social media. The violence echoed 2002, when Modi was chief minister of Gujarat and authorities there did nothing to stem carnage that killed some 1,000 people, the majority Muslims. It also brought back memories of the revenge killings of at least 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi after the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.In all these cases, mobs targeting a single religious group were allowed to run riot unchecked by police. This is the definition of a pogrom.More than an echo of the past, the recent violence in Delhi is a lesson aimed at Indian citizens who, since December, have dared to resist the transformation of the secular Republic of India into a Hindu state, a transformation accelerated by Modi’s reelection last May.In August, Modi’s government revoked the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir that allowed the state to make its own laws, rounded up elected leaders and thousands of citizens and put them in detention, where they languish still. Kashmir was put under an internet lockdown that was only partially lifted five months later to allow access to a carefully curated set of sites handpicked by the government. Also in August, the conclusion of a National Citizens Registry (NRC) in the northeastern state of Assam resulted in some 2 million people, mostly Muslims, being stripped of Indian citizenship after failing to produce sufficient documents to prove their nationality. What brought these geographically distant developments home to Indians in Delhi was Shah’s promise, in November, to implement the NRC nationwide, followed by the ratification, in December, by both houses of India’s parliament of a Citizenship Amendment Act that fast-tracks Indian citizenship for non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. The new law opens the door to legal discrimination against Muslims.These existential threats to the constitutionally guaranteed equality of Indian citizens regardless of religion, and the specter of legions of newly stateless persons stripped of their citizenship prompted many Indians—Muslims, but also students and other alarmed citizens—to engage in peaceful protests. They waved the Indian tricolor flag, sang the national anthem, and recited the preamble to the country’s constitution.For a moment it seemed the Modi government had gone too far. On February 8, after waging a hateful campaign that included a rally where people chanted “Shoot the traitors,” referring to protesters, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, suffered defeat in Delhi’s Legislative Assembly election. Shah admitted that the hateful rhetoric had hurt, rather than helped. But the remedy, it appears, was to take hate to a new level.On Sunday, February 23, the BJP’s Kapil Mishra, who lost his seat in the recent Delhi election, focused his ire on a sit-in by Muslim women in the north of Delhi that was blocking a road. If authorities didn’t clear the road of demonstrators before Trump left India, Mishra warned, his supporters would clear it after the U.S. president’s departure. Loathe to wait, the mob set to work within minutes, quickly moving into the adjacent neighborhoods beating and killing Muslims and looting and burning their property. It little mattered that the American president was still in town: Trump conveyed in his praise of Modi’s defense of “religious freedom” that he either didn’t know or didn’t care what was happening in the country.Arvind Kejriwal, the newly reelected chief minister of Delhi, proved himself powerless to contain the violence in his city. Too weak to put himself physically on the line—as Mahatma Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru did not hesitate to do when Hindus and Muslims clashed during the fraught years before India’s independence—his appeal to bring in the army to ensure public safety was refused by Modi’s government. On Tuesday, February 25, Justice S. Muralidhar of Delhi’s High Court summoned police to berate them for failing to file a complaint against Kapil Mishra and two other BJP politicians whose hate speech had fired up the mob. The next day, he was transferred out of Delhi to a court in the Indian state of Punjab. That same day, India’s Supreme Court deferred hearing petitions on the violence that rocked India’s capital to the Delhi High Court, now bereft of Muralidhar.The message from the BJP is clear: Elect whomever you like. We are still in power. Call the police. They work for us. Appeal to the courts. We’ll neutralize any judges who don’t tow our line. Continue to dissent, and we will set the mob on you.Modi’s 2014 electoral victory was initially hailed as the triumph of a free-market reformist who may have erred during the riots of 2002 but who had made up for it since with a proven economic track record in Gujarat. That image of Modi remained largely intact during his first term in office despite ominous signs to the contrary, including multiple lynchings of Muslims by emboldened Hindus on the suspicion of eating beef and the hounding, even the assassination, of journalists and free-thinkers by Hindu extremists that went unpunished. Most ominous of all was the appointment by the BJP of the rabidly anti-Muslim Hindu cleric Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh after the party won legislative elections there in 2017. Dressed in saffron robes, Adityanath had peddled the notion that Muslim men were plotting to steal away Hindu women by means of “love jihad,” had mounted a private army of militants called the Hindu Yuva Vahini, and had threatened to drown in the sea anyone who refused to perform a yogic salutation of the sun. Since his appointment as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath has presided over a reign of terror against Muslims in his state. Ambitious BJP politicians such as Kapil Mishra are merely following Adityanath’s example of what it takes to rise within the ranks of their party.Modi’s image as a pragmatic, business-oriented leader who has eschewed Hindu extremism now lies in tatters. India’s economy is expected to grow at a rate of just 5 percent this year, its lowest rate in 11 years. The poverty rate in India is rising again. More than one-third of India’s more than 1.3 billion people are between the ages of 15 and 24. They have little hope of finding a job. The sex ratio in India remains skewed in favor of boys; girls are considered a drag on a family’s resources. A reservoir of frustrated young men in India yearns to feel empowered, to have purpose in their lives, to take revenge for their thwarted dreams. Many Hindu youth have been radicalized. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang—a paramilitary organization affiliated with the BJP that is explicitly modeled on the Nazis and of which Modi has been a member since the age of 8—has indoctrinated and trained thousands.All it takes in Modi’s India to marshal a mob, as Kapil Mishra demonstrated this week in Delhi, is a word. And all it takes to turn the mob’s rampage into a pogrom against a religious minority is the complicity of police and state authorities. Yet, across India, brave citizens continue to occupy public spaces in peaceful protest. They know that all they have left to save their democratic republic is one another. They know that, any day, the mob can come for them too.
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