Ferguson, Missouri has been dominating the news this week. Front and center in the photos and footage of the protests there are SWAT teams. Police officers who have been trained to use "special weapons and tactics." Turns out, it's a kind of policing that's caught on across the country. And it used to be that frequent flier miles were mostly used to buy airline miles. But these days, people are using their frequent flier stash to buy everything from cosmetics to back-to-school supplies. And the airlines are loving that. Plus, when the San Francisco 49ers take the field on Sunday for a pre-season game against Denver, it will be in their brand new stadium in Santa Clara in the heart of Silicon Valley. Considering that the 49ers were named in honor of San Francisco's first big economic boom, it's perhaps fitting that the team's new home is in the heart of tech-land.
SWAT teams are comprised of police officers trained to use “special weapons and tactics,” and they have been front and center in photos and footage of protests in Ferguson, Mo.
According to Jack Greene, who teaches criminology at Northeastern University, these tactical teams were created in the 1960s with a simple objective: “They are there to deal with high violence, high profile situations.”
It used to be only big departments in big cities had SWAT teams, says David Harris, a policing expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. “Now, most departments of any size, except for the very smallest ones, have a SWAT team.”
These departments are worried about terrorism and other threats.
But, Harris says, there are departments that just want to keep up with other departments: “You have situations where we wouldn’t have thought in the past you needed a SWAT team, and the SWAT team is there, shows up, and it’s ready to go.”
Many departments, Harris argues, could spend more time thinking about equipment and training, “using it in a way and only in situations where it makes sense,” and recognizing that the weapons, the uniforms, and the armored vehicles all send a very powerful message.
At Defcon, a hacker conference recently held in Las Vegas, the big theme was the "Internet of Things."
Etemadieh reaches into the bag and pulls out the Wink Hub. It's a device that allows you to connect all kinds of smart devices to the hub, and control them from your phone.
“You can have light bulbs, thermostats, motion sensors,” Etemadieh says.
Pretty cool, right? Except Etemadieh isn’t showing me how it works, he’s showing me how to hack into it. He places a smart lock on the table; it's the kind you might find on a front door. He says if he can hop onto your WiFi, he can break into the hub.
“If I tell it true,” he says as he's typing in the command on his computer, “it’ll lock the door.”
Tell the computer “false,” and it unlocks.
The hacker community is shining a spotlight on the Internet of Things because they say a lot of manufacturers aren’t taking really basic steps to secure their smart devices from other hackers.
Mark Stanislav is with Duo Security. He says if hackers can break into one smart thing in your home, they can potentially go after every other smart device. He also says many companies are ignoring that risk.
“The type of company we see in the 'Internet of Things' right now is a company that’s crowdfunded or maybe one that’s Kickstarter-ing,” Stanislav said. “So, [they] really don’t have any money for security testing.”
Big manufacturers that can afford to take cybersecurity measures are often lax, too, says Cameron Camp, a security researcher at ESET. He says cybersecurity can add an extra layer of work that risks turning off consumers.
“It’s in the middle of the night, and you get up to get a snack, now you have to type in a password,” says Camp.
There’s also the fact that in consumer electronics, it’s all about getting your TV or refrigerator to market first. Cybersecurity adds time.
The hackers at Defcon say manufacturers are going to have to take that time once consumers find out just how vulnerable they are.
If you’ve flown lately, you know there aren’t many empty seats for frequent fliers. In fact, airlines don’t actually have enough seats to redeem all the frequent flier miles they’ve awarded.
So, they have to convince us to use them for other things; like school supplies, hotels, or magazines.
“The cost of giving away a free seat is higher than ever. And so airlines would love to get us to use our miles in some other way,” says Seth Kaplan, an analyst at Airline Weekly.
But that may not be the best use of your miles.
Think about it: “Would you rather have a $70 calculator or fly first class to the Bahamas?” asks Brian Kelly, founder and editor-in-chief of thepointsguy.com. “There’s an opportunity cost to every redemption.”
Kelly says it may be easier to just redeem your points for that calculator rather than trying to negotiate a free flight. But he says the best use for miles is, well, on planes. That’s where you get the most value per mile.
Still Kelly says, if your miles are about to expire, yeah, go ahead and get that calculator.