Malware Software Attacks Sarkozy Admnistration, U.S. to Blame

Even though France has François Hollande as its president his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, is still making headlines. This time, a magazine has reported that Sarkozy’s administration was hacked by the United States during his final days as president. If the accusations are true, the incident could hurt relations between the two nations.

The story was first reported on the French magazine, l’Express. According to The Atlantic the compromise began with the hackers sending friend requests to staff members at the Palais de l’Élysée, the official residence of the French president. After accepting the request, the staff member was sent an email for a fake login page of the administration’s network, which allowed hackers to get a hold of an actual username and password to access the network.

Once the hackers have infiltrated the network they place the malware software, also called intrusive software, so that it can spread to other computers that are using the same network. According to Wired, the specific malware that used is called Flame. The same article also reported that Flame is used “to spy on the users of infected computers and steal data from them, including documents, recorded conversations and keystrokes.” The same software is also being used to spy on systems in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and Sudan.

It is unclear yet as to real reason of the hacks and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano could not confirm or deny the U.S. involvement in the hack. President Sarkozy’s computer was not affected because his computer was not connected to the network. There are many speculations, but the biggest issue on the French side is the lack of security in their networks. The fact that they gained access by sending a friend request on Facebook shows that the French government is not well equipped to prevent malware to infect their networks. I’m not sure if other systems in the government are more or less protected than the presidential network. Either way they need to run tests to ensure that their security is up to date and impenetrable because the damage might be worse the next time.

France and Google at Odds Over Paid Media Links

The logo for Google.

When most people need to do research or look up an interesting subject that they don’t know about, their first stop would probably be Google. I believe everyone in this class uses the search engine as well to find ideas for their next posts. However, the site might not be able to show every resource, specifically French news sites due to the ongoing conflict between the French government and the popular search engine.

According to France24, Google threatened to remove French media sites from its search results following the proposal of a law that would make search engines pay for content from the country’s news sites. In addition, the site said in a letter that the proposal would “threaten (Google’s) very existence.”

The origin of the issue lies in the recent decline of newspaper publications and subscriptons. With many groups launching online versions of their newspaper, readers have been canceling their hard-copy editions because of the vast amount of free news content online. The new French government, according to the same article, is open to aiding struggling media companies, and this proposal would seem like the government’s first step towards helping publications.

It would seem logical that their first area to seek revenue from would be search engines. MSNNews reported that Google’s earned profits of $2.18 billion during its third quarter, according to the site’s earning statement. Additionally it earned $11.53 bilion from ad revenues, which is a 19 percent increase from last year.

With that kind of money even I would want to get a slice of the action, but I think that the methods of the French government are off-target and I’m not alone. Twitter users Lawrence McDonald and Derek Russell are only two of the many people who disagree with the government’s actions. Fortunately, there is a better way to get online sites to gain revenue and for search engines to not pay to provide links to publications.

Digital subscriptions are beginning to merge and it seems that people are willing to pay for them, according to Phys.orgThe New York Times began their online subscriptions last year, and even those who don’t pay for subscription fees can still view about 20 pages a month. For publications who need to find a better way to gain more revenue, this method is definitely better than charging search engines that always provide users with free links to resources from around the world. In a time where we rely so much on the Internet for free news, the idea of taxing search engines to help publications is absurd. Instead, leave the revenue issues with the newspaper groups.

French Facebook Bug Causes Panic

The logo for Facebook

On Sept. 24, French Facebook users caught word of a bug in the social media that displayed their private messages from 2007, 2008, or 2009 on their public wall. However, an investigation from the French government showed that the “bug” did not exist at all. Through several sources, I was able to trace the story all the way to the original article, and follow the news as it unfolded over the next few days.

According to TechCrunch the first reports of the bug came from the French publication MetroThey discovered that old private messages started to appear on users’ Timelines. TechCrunch also reported that the well-known newspaper Le Monde saw the story and informed readers about the bug, especially those who had the newspaper’s app on their phones.

It was at this point that the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) began their investigation. Led by 17 government officials, CNIL ensure that “information technology remains at the service of citizens, and does not jeopardize human identity or breach human rights, privacy or individual or public liberties.”

After the group’s inspection of the site, The Connexion reported that CNIL’s analysis of the problem found that the private messages were actually public messages. However, the group still had some criticisms about the website.

“The private character of the content of these messages seems indisputable,” they said. “In other words, users had the impression they were sending private messages when they were, in fact, using the wall-to-wall message system.” The same publication also quoted CNIL stating that Facebook needs to have “greater transparency” in regards to the private information of its many users.

While the scare may have been the fault of some users, I can’t help but point my finger at Facebook as well as the cause of this incident. The social media site has cosmetically and internally evolved over the years. Examples would be the integration of apps or its new Timeline look, which does not sit well with some users who complain about the site’s constant template changes.

While Facebook does show users the new features of Timeline when they switch to the new look, I don’t think it does enough to help users navigate the site. The “Help” button is not even visible on a user’s home page, which makes it hard to find for those who are not familiar with the site. I think that it should be visible in a place where old and new users can clearly see it. In addition, there should also be a video component so that users can see exactly how to perform certain actions so not to send messages publicly when they were intended to be private.

What do you think? Should Facebook toughen its approach on helping new users? Or do you think that the fault lies with those who mistakenly wrote their private messages on the public wall?

New French Anti-Piracy Initiative Takes Some Heat

Last week the infamous French anti-piracy law known as Hadopi (short for Haute Autorité pour la diffusion des œuvres et la protection des droits sur internet) caught its first victim. However, the alleged offender was not at fault for downloading two Rihanna songs.

According to Ars Technica, Alain Prevost was charged €150 ($194) for failing to secure his Internet connection, even though it was his ex-wife who admitted to downloading the two songs. The law works by sending a warning to file-sharing users. If they don’t stop after three warnings, then there is a possibility  of being prosecuted. Prevost negotiated his fine to its current price, but the actual penalty would be €1500 ($1,940) and the Internet connection would be cut off for a month.

At the moment, there are 14 cases in court. It is worth noting that Hadopi targets the owners of the Internet connection, and Buzz Patrol gives a warning to parents of teenagers who might be at risk for illegal downloading. Unfortunately, Prevost fell prey to this part even though his wife was the offender.

A French graffiti about Hadopi translates to “Hadopi: The French Internet is under control!”

Photo by mathias.

TechMySoul said that Hadopi has done nothing but “punish the technologically ignorant” due to the fact that Prevost did not secure his Wi-Fi. According to the same Ars Technica article Prevost said that police told him to hire a IT group to clean his computer. Prevost thought that the problem would be over after the cleanup, but he was eventually dragged to court.

Hadopi has had critics since its creation, including from government officials. In a January 2012 interview with Le nouvel ObservateurFrench culture minister Aurélie Filippetti said “Hadopi has not fulfilled its mission of developing legal offers. In financial terms, 12 million euros per year and 60 agents, it is expensive to send a million e-mails.” However, Buzz Patrol reports that Hadopi has contacted 1.15 million users with a first warning and 102,854 were given a secondary caution. Only 340 were given the third and final warning.

While it may seem that Hadopi is working well against the flow of file-sharing copyright content, it could be targeting the wrong people. Owners of the connection might not be the ones at fault. Instead it could be friends, family or even strangers that could be using your Internet connection to download material. Securing your connection is a good way to prevent strangers from utilizing your Wi-Fi but you might need to be wary of friends and family who could be exploiting it by downloading pirated content.

While Hadopi has reduced the number of Internet pirates in France, there are still some flaws with the system as evidenced in by Prevost. The only way for Hadopi to fully function is to prosecute those who own the connection even though that person might not have downloaded any illegal content. Their only “crime” was paying a monthly fee for Internet service. There has to be a better way to track down the pirates in a manner that catches the actual offender instead of the connection owner. Do you think that other countries should follow in the footsteps of Hadopi, or is there a better solution to combat internet piracy?

Babble Planet Offers English Lessons Through Gamification

While some students at Mizzou are learning to speak French, countless children in France have the opportunity to begin their studies of the English language through an iPad app called Babble Planet. The app is targeted towards children and teaches the fundamentals of speaking English through an interactive experience.

While two French tech blogs, Presse-Citron and El Gamificator, arrive at the same conclusion about the game, their stories differ in terms of tone. Presse-Citron is straight to the point and gives readers a glimpse of what they might encounter in the game, by stating that “the iPad app offers a colorful journey around the world. Each country visited is a pretext for a series of mini-games that will test your listening comprehension and your expression.”

Unlike Press-Citron’s short and direct approach to reviewing the app, El Gamificator incorporated their article into a feature piece by including quotes from the app’s co-founder, Eugene Ernoult. In the article Ernoult says that the goal of Babble Planet is to “learn English without realizing it.” The review is based on the criteria of the app’s response to a voice, aesthetics, and storytelling. An interesting element that was added in the piece was some background information about the app’s development. According to the article, it was tested in the 13th arrondisment of Paris to perfect its performance and response to the user.

Both sites were great in reviewing the app, especially El Gamificator, which provided more background information than Presse-Citron. However, an even better addition to both reviews could be the use of video  to show the interaction between app and user. While the images show a fun, kid-friendly app, showing some gameplay as well as interaction with a child could be the selling point for anyone. Even though it is targeted for children, there are young adults that could benefit from the game. There are French exchange students at Mizzou, and Babble Planet is something that will help them in their English language skills as they continue their education in the United States.