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Updated: 31 min 57 sec ago

Secure phones (and apps) hit consumer market

Tue, 2015-01-06 02:00

The recent hack on Sony has been good news for at least one industry: cybersecurity. The sector gets a bump in attention whenever there is a leak of this magnitude. And right now, one of the hot markets in the business is mobile.

As more corporate information flows through employee smartphones, companies are paying for hardware and software to protect that data. To meet demand, security firms are developing increasingly secure phones and encryption software. Some of that new technology is now filtering down to the consumer market.

Vic Hyder is a former Navy SEAL, and he does not like the idea that his phone could leak his data — basically, that someone could be spying on him. So, Hyder is talking to me on his Blackphone, which encrypts his phone calls, emails, and texts.

Hyder is the chief strategist at Silent Circle. The software firm has partnered with a Spanish smartphone company to release the Blackphone. No, not a Blackberry, but a Blackphone, which is as secretive as it sounds.

In addition to encrypting communication, the Blackphone comes with a set of apps that do not send data to marketers. In the past, customers have mostly been CEOs, government officials, and celebrities. For instance, Hyder tells me that Shaq has just tweeted about getting a Blackphone. But Hyder says the device is starting to have a broader appeal.

More companies are buying Blackphones for employees, and now individuals can buy them online, too. Blackphone is currently developing an app store that it hopes will make the device more versatile and user-friendly. The company is not alone in the market for secure phones. Samsung has also started offering more security options for consumers.

With all the news of leaks and hacks, people are starting to pay more attention to mobile security, says Tyler Shields, an analyst at Forrester. But most regular people are not losing their sensitive data through hacks. They are losing it through their apps. 

Domingo Guerra, the president and founder of Appthority, which assess app security, says most apps make money by gathering and selling personal data.

“Because most apps are free or really cheap,” he says, “developers are almost encouraged to collect data.” To put it in perspective, Guerra says, “almost 99 percent of free apps collect some user data.”

On the whole, Guerra says apps are not getting better at protecting user information. He says some are so faulty that developers do not even know what information is being collected and transmitted to third parties. Of the three million apps his company has surveyed, Guerra says only a fraction are secure.

If that does not change, Guerra says we can expect to continue leaking data, regardless of what device we use.

Some new credit cards are more secure than others

Tue, 2015-01-06 02:00

Come October, stores and restaurants must install new credit card readers that accept secure credit cards with smart chips, or the store will be held responsible for any fraud that occurs. U.S. card issuers are scrambling to send members new chip-enabled cards, but not all of them will work the same way.

Some will require customers to sign a receipt like today. Others will use a more secure PIN code, like at an ATM, but most banks are choosing convenience and familiarity over security.

Click the media player above to hear more.

Schools go to court for more funding

Tue, 2015-01-06 02:00

Just before the new year, a three-judge panel in Kansas ruled that public schools are so under-funded as to violate the state’s constitution. Lawsuits like the one in Kansas have become a popular tactic to try to win more money for public schools. Thirteen states, from Texas to Pennsylvania, are facing active litigation.

In Hutchinson, Kansas, funding shortages have caused class sizes to increase, says Shelly Kiblinger, superintendent of public schools. Staff have also been let go. While the district once had three school resource officers, it now struggles to keep one. Five years ago, the district joined others in suing the state.

“Students were not receiving adequate funding,” Kiblinger says. “We were not able to provide them with a suitable public education, which is required under the constitution of the state of Kansas.”

The ruling in Kansas means the legislature could have to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars for public schools. More money isn’t on the way yet. The state is expected to appeal. An earlier case in Kansas led the state legislature to increase funding for schools, only to cut it back during the recent recession.

“Even when the rulings are in favor of the school districts, you don’t necessarily see the changes that most people would anticipate,” says Michael Griffith, a school finance consultant with the Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan policy group.

He points to Ohio, where he says a series of court victories hasn’t led to significant changes in funding. 

Often it comes down to a battle between the courts and state lawmakers. The Supreme Court in Washington state has threatened to shut down the public schools or fine legislators if they don’t come up with increased funding.

In Kansas, Griffith says, the state doesn’t have the money, and the only way to increase education spending would be to raise taxes.

“I think there would be a huge reluctance in the state of Kansas to do that,” he says.

Then there’s the question of whether more money leads to better schools. After its own court battles, Wyoming now spends more on education per student than any other state, but student achievement still lags. Money alone doesn’t fix schools, says Michael Rebell with the Campaign for Educational Equity.

“Money does matter if it’s used well,” he says. “Without it, you can’t make progress, especially when we’re talking about kids from low-income, high-poverty backgrounds.”

With schools enrolling more kids than ever with special needs, he says the cost of educating them is just getting higher.

A particularly fresh-faced Congress

Tue, 2015-01-06 01:30
13 senators

That's the number of new senators being sworn in on Tuesday. As the WSJ reports, they join 33 others who have served less than one six-year term, marking a change from what was once viewed as an institution governed by seniority.

$3.5 billion

AOL's approximate market value. Verizon has reportedly approached the company for a potential acquisition or joint venture, Bloomberg reports. People close to the talks said Verizon is seeking expertise in advertising, content and video.

13 states

That's how many states are currently facing active litigation concerning funding to the public school system. Kansas, the latest to join the ranks, saw a three-judge panel rule that public schools are so under-funded as to violate the state’s constitution.

1.5 meters

The maximum distance at which the new LG G Flex2 will recognize a special gesture to take timed selfies. That should come in handy coupled with your new five-foot selfie stick, but it's far from the only "bleeding-edge selfie tech" being shown off at the Consumer Electronics show this year. Quartz has a round-up.


That's the price oil traded below on Monday. With the Republican-controlled congress taking hold on Tuesday, approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is at the top of the agenda. But the pipeline was proposed back in 2008 under different conditions, which leads some to wonder what is the energy rationale for and against the project in a period of cheap oil.


The number of breweries operating in the U.S. as of this summer, the most since the 19th century. But the explosion of craft beer means brewers are starting to run out of names for themselves and their many varieties of pale ale, NPR reported, and it's leading to some legal battles.