Technologizer posts about Barack Obama

Obama Taps Former Bush Adviser to Fill Cybersecurity Post

By  |  Posted at 10:30 am on Tuesday, December 22, 2009

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The White House said Tuesday that it had appointed former Bush cybersecurity adviser Howard Schmidt as Obama’s new Chief of Cybersecurity. Schmidt would serve on the National Security staff, and would work closely with the President’s economic advisers to ensure efforts do not hinder economic progress.

“Howard is one of the world’s leading authorities on computer security, with some 40 years of experience in government, business and law enforcement,” Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Assistant to the President John Brennan said.

Obama is acting on a promise made in May when he announced the creation of the post. The Adminstration sees cybersecurity as vital to national security, and it makes sense: increasingly the country’s enemies are turning to digital means to launch their attacks.

The recent example of Iraqi insurgents hacking into our Predator drones is certainly a good example of why we need to get more serious with the threats we face in cyberspace.

With the appointment, the White House is also making an effort to get the citizenry to become proactive in keeping themselves secure. A few boilerplate suggestions have been posted to the White House blog.

“Cybersecurity matters to all of us – and it’s our shared responsibility to mitigate the threats in this space,” spokesperson Macon Phillips wrote.

Schmidt’s appointment is also seen as a compromise between factions who have debated the course the Administration should take. Some are worried that extra regulation could harm innovation, while others are looking for swift action to prevent future attacks.

Putting someone in with business and government experience makes sense. Schmidt had served in executive positions involving security at both eBay and Microsoft prior to his involvement with the Bush Administration. Thus, he will have experience with both sides of the argument and may be able to bring everyone together easier than a political hack or some business leader with no government experience could.



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Secret Service Investigates Facebook App

By  |  Posted at 7:02 pm on Monday, September 28, 2009

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Facebook LogoFacebook polls typically ask questions as mundane as “what’s your favorite breakfast cereal?” But over the weekend, a poll asking whether U.S. President Barack Obama should “be killed” was anything but mundane, and drew the attention of the Secret Service.

The poll gave respondents four options: Yes, Yes if he cuts my health care, Maybe, and No. It was created by an unknown user of a third party polling application that runs on Facebook. The Secret Service became aware of the application, and is investigating.

For its part, Facebook suspended the offending application after the incident was brought to its attention this morning, said director of policy communications Barry Schnitt. He added that it has asked the developer to institute better control procedures to monitor user-generated content.

This poll would be less worrisome if it did not happen amid a climate of threats against the President. Last month, the Secret Service acknowledged that threats had increased by 400 percent since Mr. Obama’s inauguration. There have also been incidents of conservative religious figures in the United States openly wishing for his death.

The United States has a history of political violence, and even a casual suggestion might be enough to set off an unstable individual. The poll was wildly irresponsible. I would only hope that those responsible will be held accountable.



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Obama Praises Tech Giants

By  |  Posted at 9:50 pm on Tuesday, September 8, 2009

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U.S. President Barack Obama heralded the technology industry in a speech today about the importance of education. The speech, which was given to school children across the country, emphasized personal responsibility, hard work, and perseverance.

In his remarks, Obama told school children that students sitting in classrooms a generation beforehand had grown up to produce Facebook, Google and Twitter –changing the way Americans communicate with one another. Those successes would have been hard to come by without an education, the President noted.

Obama successfully leveraged social networking in his campaign to become President, building a large grassroots following on the Web. His campaign leveraged Web services to rapidly convey his message and to respond to political attacks.

Despite the President’s praise, technology didn’t get a free pass in his speech. He cautioned against too much of a good thing, and asked parents to manage how much time their children spend watching TV and playing Xbox. (Obama singled out Microsoft’s game console rather than mentioning the PlayStation and Wii as well, a fact some folks noticed).  He also told children to be careful about what they post online (which was a world away from President Eisenhower’s generic appeal for students to study math and science).

Here’s the speech in its entirety, in two chunks–thank you, YouTube:

Controversy aside, the President gave common sense advise that it would behoove every child to follow. Maybe the inventor of the next big thing was listening in, and became inspired by the President’s words.



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Health Care Reform becomes Comedic Gold on Twitter

By  |  Posted at 3:53 pm on Wednesday, August 19, 2009

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Twitter logoThe U.S. debate over President Obama’s health care reform proposals has taken a humorous turn on Twitter today.

Tweets making light of some of the more outlandish claims that are being made by the President’s political opponents have become trending topics: Under Obamacare and #Obamacarefacts. Here’s a sampling of some of the wittier remarks.

@WinstonUK

Under Obamacare two grandmas enter… one grandma leaves. http://tinyurl.com/m67qt9

@anish7

Under ObamaCare, Soylent Green will be people. #obamacarefacts (via @Southworth)

@mootinator

#obamacarefacts Under Obamacare only Chuck Norris will be allowed to practice medicine. Administered via roundhouse kick

@RadHamster

Under ObamaCare, keyboard cat will play YOU out. #obamacarefacts

@emilaragundi

#obamacarefacts Under ObamaCare, organ donates you!

@aspleenic

Under ObamaCare, ADHD drugs for children will be replaced with swift punches to the offending child’s arms http://tinyurl.com/ngsqgm



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Obama’s Cybersecurity Initivate a Step in the Right Direction

By  |  Posted at 5:39 pm on Friday, May 29, 2009

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Today, U.S. President Barack Obama took the wraps off of a 60-day review of the nation’s electronic infrastructure. The report outlined concrete steps towards achieving better security, called for the creation of a cyber security czar in the White House staff, and emphasized the importance of respecting people’s privacy.

In April, I wrote “Obama gets it,” in an article about how critical U.S.infrastructure was vulnerable to damage and disruption. While some of the details haven’t been shared yet, the initiative that the President announced today does chart the right course.

The report concludes that the federal government needs to its increase investment in achieving security and resiliency in information and communications infrastructures, and calls for a public-private partnership to coordinate responses to cyber attacks in addition to rallying  international cooperation to mitigate security risks.

Another goal is to educate the public about the importance of cyber security, but with incidents such as the U.S Army being hacked in news headlines, reality has already helped there.

Obama’s plan mirrors a bipartisan effort that was championed by U.S. Senators John Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The bill that they proposed also called for a White House position to coordinate all Federal security efforts.

Rex Black, a well known security expert and president of Rex Black Consulting Services, told me that it was understandable that Obama would want someone to fill that role. The position should be staffed by the White House rather than the Commerce Department or Military due to the turf wars that would inevitably happen, he added.

The report strikes a political balance: New laws and mandates could come as a consequence, but the White House said that it would avoid imposing new requirements on the private sector if it could be avoided. Privacy was also mentioned more than 60 times in the report, and the President said unequivocally, “Our pursuit of cyber security will not–I repeat, will not include–monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic.”

Overall, I am heartened by the high priority that Obama has placed this very serious problem so early on during his Presidency. He is giving credibility to the people that are trying to solve it, and that will only help drive towards a solution–even if we have to walk before we can run.



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Digg This: The White House’s Social Media Experiment

By  |  Posted at 10:44 am on Wednesday, March 25, 2009

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Reviving an experiment it conducted during the transition, the Obama administration is using a Digg-style collaborative system called Open for Questions to collect questions for the president to answer. Here’s why it’s doi–oh, heck, wouldn’t you prefer to hear it from the horse’s mouth?

Open for Questions lets registered users submit questions and vote on questions submitted by others. I can’t understand why the interface is trapped inside a tiny window that involves lots of scrolling, but the questions that are rising to the top are no worse than those that citizens tend to ask when presented with the opportunity at town-hall style meetings with elected officials. Here are the ones at the top of the rankings when I checked:

Open for Change

I’m not sure what anti-tampering measures are in place at Open for Questions–you gotta think that even now, someone’s plotting a prank like the one that resulted in Hank the Angry, Drunken Dwarf being voted People’s Most Beautiful Person of the Year in 1998. And I found that it’s more fun to read the unfiltered questions that the service shows you for voting–they’re wackier and crankier. A high percentage are from folks who are fretting about immigration (illegal and otherwise), and some are from conspiracy theorists, obsessives, and people with unique ideas for fixing the economy:

whitehouse4

whitehouse3

whitehouse2

whitehouse1.

The president will answer questions from this round of voting tomorrow (on the Web, naturally). I’m not sure if he’ll simply respond to the most popular ones, no matter what they may be–or if he’ll be more selective. Betcha that none of the four above will make the cut, though..



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Obama Administration Appoints Top CIO

By  |  Posted at 5:32 pm on Thursday, March 5, 2009

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The White House press office announced today that Vivek Kundra, the current chief technology officer of Washington DC, will be assuming the position of Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the White House.

U.S. President Barack Obama rode into office backed by an unprecedentedly sophisticated grassroots campaign that leveraged Web 2.0 technologies to rally and organize his supporters. Kundra’s appointment fulfills a campaign promise to appoint a so-called technology czar to make the federal government operate more effectively.

The appointment of a top CIO is another first: the position did not exist in any previous administrations. Kundra will also have final say on government technology purchases , and will have the authority to overrule his peers at subordinate agencies.

He will likewise have responsibilities for making government information systems more interoperable to share information, while preserving (and in many cases establishing) security and privacy standards. The Washington Post has reported that Mundra will have a CTO to assist his efforts.

The impact all of this has on government contractors–as well as commercial software vendors–could be huge. Imagine if Kundra decides that the federal government should embrace open source software, for instance.

All I can say is “wow.” Government agencies have enjoyed incredible autonomy; getting CIOs to fall in line is an immense task and will require skillful political maneuvering. But it is an undertaking that may be long overdue.

Salon.com founder Scott Rosenberg’s book Dreaming in Code (a great read, btw) details how the Internal Revenue Service’s tax system modernization cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and ultimately failed.

The notion that someone could pull the plug on such bloated efforts offers taxpayers a measure of accountability, and in my opinion, that’s a very positive happening.

When President Obama took office, his staffers entered a White House that was years behind the technology curve –old, outdated equipment stymied staffers that were accustomed to the bleeding edge. Reports about security breaches persist to this day.

Kundra’s job will be a great experiment in streamlining bureaucracy, and is perhaps the most difficult a CIO has ever taken. Is a Federal CIO is a good idea, or will the position be relegated to failure?



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White House No Longer Using YouTube

By  |  Posted at 8:56 am on Monday, March 2, 2009

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It appears as if the Obama Administration has decided to stop using YouTube as a method to embed its videos into websites for the Government. Starting with this weeks address, videos are now served in Flash through technology provided by Akamai.

While most seem to be labeling it as a way to answer privacy concerns, I always thought it kind of weird for a government entity to be using a branded solution for streaming media.

Our government (in theory at least) is supposed to not show any favoritism towards any one company. Seeing that big ol’ YouTube logo everytime I watched the President’s address always seemed slightly odd.

If it did have to do with privacy concerns, YouTube had actually made some effort to strengthen its privacy policy for those watching videos on government websites. Apparently the Administration didn’t get the message there.

Videos would still be pushed to YouTube as they have been before. However it now appears that Akamai’s technology will serve them on the actual government site.



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My.BarackObama.com’s Porn-and-Malware Problem

By  |  Posted at 3:18 pm on Monday, January 26, 2009

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An online community burgeoned out of Barack Obama’s use of Web 2.0 technologies during his campaign for the U.S. presidency. Supporters flocked to My.BarackObama.com to share blogs, videos and organized events. In the wake of that success, malicious hackers are leveraging the site in a socially engineered scheme to infect PCs with a trojan.

The hackers are embedding their My.BarackObama.com Web pages (content on the site is user generated) with links to Web sites that masquerade as YouTube, according to a report by Websense Security Labs ThreatSeeker Network. The fraudulent YouTube sites are filled with pornography, and prompt visitors to install a codec for video playback, which is really the trojan.

The good news is that today’s Web browsers don’t just automatically install software: end user interaction is required. While some people may be fooled into installing the trojan because the domain is legitimate, many will not simply because they did not recognize the My.BarackObama.com user’s Web page that directed them to it.

My.BarackObama.com is a community where people have reputations and interact with one another. I participated in the “blog wars” during the Democratic primary, and know whose URLs I would trust to click on. The trojan’s creators are plastering links to the malicious pages around the Web without regard for that community dynamic. My bet: Virus definitions will be updated to foil these scams, and they won’t spread far.



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The ObamaBerry: It’s Real!

By  |  Posted at 10:37 pm on Wednesday, January 21, 2009

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ObamaberryYes, you can be the President of the United States and a denizen of the 21st century, apparently–at least when it comes to cell phones. The U.S. government has figured out how to mod a BlackBerry for super-secure communications, giving President Obama the ability to use the gizmo he feared losing for routing and personal communications. He’s relieved, I’m sure. And I’m relieved–the position is enough of a guy in a plastic bubble already, and there’s something basically unhealthy about the notion that the job is incompatible with modern means of communications. (Let’s hope we never have another leader of the free world who thinks it’s called “the Google.”)

All of which leaves one burning question: Just which BlackBerry model does the president tote? I suspect he’s an 8800 man, although I wouldn’t rule out the idea that he’s upgraded to a Bold.

In a semi-related story, the Washington Post has a good (if alarming) story on the very low-tech White House that the Obama administration is inheriting, with a great quote from spokesman Bull Burton: ” “It is kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari.”



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Whitehouse.gov Gets a Makeover

By  |  Posted at 9:53 am on Tuesday, January 20, 2009

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At 12:01pm, the official website of the White House changed hands, and with it came quite a sea change as far as the openness of the executive branch. The website has a definite Web 2.0 feel to it — from the blogs, to the dynamic headers and whatnot.

But what’s really exciting to me is the transparency. All of Obama’s executive orders and proclamations will be posted on the site for all to see. The president’s agenda is also laid out on the website, and the Administration is soliciting readers to join the mailing list to stay abreast of current government happenings.

This is really smart. Keeping the citizenry up-to-date on your actions, as well as inviting them in, will go a long way in getting what you want done. Too often lately in politics, things are done in the so-called “smoke-filled room,” with little input from the people they are supposed to represent.

Ever wanted to have the President’s ear on a specific bill? You will. Non-emergency legislation will have a seven-day comment period before Obama decides to sign it: those will also be posted on whitehouse.gov.

The Adminstration says it has more in the works, but I’m certainly excited about what I’ve seen so far.



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Ladies and Gentlemen, the Presidents of the United States

Forty-four presidents (including a new one on Tuesday), forty-four presidential portraits, and forty-four sites about their lives and times.

By  |  Posted at 8:04 am on Monday, January 19, 2009

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Presidential SealOn Tuesday, Barack Obama will make history when he’s sworn in as the forty-fourth president of the United States of America. Let’s pause to reflect on how how we got here: Here are the president-elect and his forty-three predecessors (counting Grover Cleveland as two presidents, of course). Click on any or all of ‘em, and you’ll go to relevant sites around the Web. (I tried to be nonpartisan; many of them are the appropriate presidential libraries.)

And if you’re less interested in presidencies past and more interested in the one that’s about to start, check out my friend and former colleague Mark Sullivan’s guide to following the inauguration on the Web over at PCWorld.com.

George Washington (1789-1797) John Adams (1797-1801) Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) James Madison (1809-1817) James Monroe (1817-1825) John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) John Tyler (1841-1845) William Henry Harrison (1841) James K. Polk (1845-1849) Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) James Buchanan (1857-1861) Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) James A. Garfield (1881) Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) Grover Cleveland (1885-1889) Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) Grover Cleveland (1893-1897) William McKinley (1897-1901) Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) William Howard Taft (1909-1913) Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) Warren G. Harding (1921-1923) Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) Harry S Truman (1945-1953) Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974) Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977) Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) Bill Clinton (1993-2001) George W. Bush (2001-2009) Barack Obama (inaugural day January 20th, 2009)


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Julius Genachowski to Chair FCC

By  |  Posted at 7:23 am on Tuesday, January 13, 2009

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Reports indicate President-elect Obama is set to tap Juilus Genachowski to head the Federal Communications Commision. Genachowski has experience with the agency: he served as general counsel to former chair Reed Hunt, who served during the Clinton Administration.

Obama and Genachowski are close associates. He was the President-elect’s chief technology counsel and they were classmates at Harvard Law School. Obama likely picked him due to his previous experience in technology, as he has served in an executive capacity at IAC.

Interest groups like Free Press seem to be happy with Obama’s selection.

“Under Julius Genachowski’s leadership, the FCC’s compass would point toward the public interest,” the organization’s executive director Josh Silver said. “The challenges facing the next FCC are enormous — a vast digital divide, an open Internet in jeopardy, consolidated media ownership, newsrooms in economic freefall and entrenched industries invested in maintaining the status quo.”



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Obama Fighting the Anti-BlackBerry Forces


President-elect Obama is still fighting to keep his BlackBerry, the addictive electronic device that has helped him keep in constant contact with friends and advisers from his Senatorial days right through the campaign, the New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny reports. Saying “they’re going to have to pry it out of my hands,” Obama is arguing that it would keep him up-to-date on what is going on outside of the presidential bubble. I’ve argued previously here that I think Mr. Obama should keep his BlackBerry, and its worth repeating. Here’s hoping that our 44th president wins this battle…

Posted by Ed Oswald at 11:59 am

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Sorry, Mr. President Elect: Twitter Gets Hacked

By  |  Posted at 5:13 pm on Monday, January 5, 2009

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Twitter logoMalicious users gained access to Twitter’s account support tools by exploiting an undisclosed security vulnerability and hacked into 33 high profile accounts, including those belonging to Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly, U.S. President Elect Barack Obama, and CNN anchor Rick Sanchez. The intrusions caused no real harm, but Twitter’s status as a soapbox for public figures obligates it to be more responsible going forward.

Twitter acknowledged the exploits on its blog, which it considered to have been a “very serious breach of security.” It took the tools offline and froze the affect accounts when it was alerted to the problem. The Twitter team speculated that the breach may have been prevented had it been using the open authentication protocol (OAuth), a protocol to allow secure API authorization from Web applications.

The hacker (or hackers) used the President Elect’s account (which had been inactive since election day) to plug a gas card offer, made O’Reilly a more interesting individual, and changed Sanchez’s status to, “high on crack and might not be coming into work today.” Screen grabs of the exploits have been posted by TechCrunch.

No real harm was done, but the hackers’ puerile statements could have caused a real kerfuffle. Had Barack Obama already been swore in as President, an inappropriate statement could have inflamed political tinderboxes around the world. Indeed, Officials of other governments have been using Twitter for official statements.

The Israeli Consulate has been using Twitter to explain its justification for its recent military action; the wrong statement could have made an already acute political and humanitarian situation worse. It may be time for public officials and governments to reconsider their participation in social media unless there has been some form of a security audit. Twitter should take the responsibilities that come with being an impactful channel for disseminating information seriously.

The TV station across the street from me has a security guard and uses access cards at the door for a reason. The same standard should apply to new media.

In an indication that Twitter has become hackers’ target de jour, the intrusions come on the heels of a major phishing campaign that took place over the weekend. An untold number of Twitter users were lured into giving up their passwords for the promise of an iPhone.



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Shocker: Obama May Cut NASA Shuttle Replacement

By  |  Posted at 9:48 am on Monday, December 22, 2008

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nasalogoI know this is a bit outside of Technologizer’s typical coverage area but it is interesting nonetheless. There has been some reports of bad feelings between the President-Elect and NASA, and we may be finding out why. Obama may be considering ending the Ares rocket program, intended to be the replacement for the space shuttle.

According to UK daily The Telegraph, Obama’s transition team has hammered the space agency on its budget issues. Over half of the 74 queries sent to NASA dealt with this topic, sources indicate.

This could mean potentially for the first time in over 40 years the agency may have no method to send astronauts into space. At the same time, the Ares program has been plagued by mismanagement and budget overruns, and in this time of cutbacks everywhere that certainly is not a good thing.

Obama has sent mixed messages on manned spaceflight. His earlier campaign comments seemed to suggest he was in favor of some type of delay in the program altogether, however this softened considerably as Florida became an important state.

NASA has  said that it wants to put humans back on the moon by 2020, which is preparation for a permanent lunar base and manned mission to Mars a decade or so later. However if Ares is scrapped, that could put that timeline in jeopardy.

In any case, it will not be more of the same at the agency. “There will be changes,” Obama NASA liason and former adminstrator Lori Garver has said.



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