Archives August 28, 2018

Bitcoin Mining Now Accounts For Almost One Percent of the World’s Energy Consumption

It is well-established established that Bitcoin mining — aka, donating one’s computing power to keep a cryptocurrency network up and running in exchange for a chance to win some free crypto — uses a lot of electricity. Companies involved in large-scale mining operations know that this is a problem, and they’ve tried to employ various solutions for making the process more energy efficient.

But, according to testimony provided by Princeton computer scientist Arvind Narayanan to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, no matter what you do to make cryptocurrency mining harware greener, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the overall network’s flabbergasting energy consumption. Instead, Narayanan told the committee, the only thing that really determines how much energy Bitcoin uses is its price. “If the price of a cryptocurrency goes up, more energy will be used in mining it; if it goes down, less energy will be used,” he told the committee. “Little else matters. In particular, the increasing energy efficiency of mining hardware has essentially no impact on energy consumption.”

In his testimony, Narayanan estimates that Bitcoin mining now uses about five gigawatts of electricity per day (in May, estimates of Bitcoin power consumption were about half of that). He adds that when you’ve got a computer racing with all its might to earn a free Bitcoin, it’s going to be running hot as hell, which means you’re probably using even more electricity to keep the computer cool so it doesn’t die and/or burn down your entire mining center, which probably makes the overall cost associated with mining even higher.

India’s Biometric Database Is Creating A Perfect Surveillance State — And U.S. Tech Companies Are On Board

Big U.S. technology companies are involved in the construction of one of the most intrusive citizen surveillance programs in history. For the past nine years, India has been building the world’s biggest biometric database by collecting the fingerprints, iris scans and photos of nearly 1.3 billion people. For U.S. tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, the project, called Aadhaar (which means “proof” or “basis” in Hindi), could be a gold mine. The CEO of Microsoft has repeatedly praised the project, and local media have carried frequent reports on consultations between the Indian government and senior executives from companies like Apple and Google (in addition to South Korean-based Samsung) on how to make tech products Aadhaar-enabled. But when reporters of HuffPost and HuffPost India asked these companies in the past weeks to confirm they were integrating Aadhaar into their products, only one company — Google — gave a definitive response.

That’s because Aadhaar has become deeply controversial, and the subject of a major Supreme Court of India case that will decide the future of the program as early as this month. Launched nine years ago as a simple and revolutionary way to streamline access to welfare programs for India’s poor, the database has become Indians’ gateway to nearly any type of service — from food stamps to a passport or a cell phone connection. Practical errors in the system have caused millions of poor Indians to lose out on aid. And the exponential growth of the project has sparked concerns among security researchers and academics that India is the first step toward setting up a surveillance society to rival China.

Phone Numbers Were Never Meant as ID

One key lesson from the recent T-Mobile and several other breaches: our phone numbers, that serve as a means to identity and verify ourselves, are increasingly getting targeted, and the companies are neither showing an appetite to work on an alternative identity management system, nor are they introducing more safeguards to how phone numbers are handled and exchanged. From a report:
Identity management experts have warned for years about over-reliance on phone numbers. But the United States doesn’t offer any type of universal ID, which means private institutions and even the federal government itself have had to improvise. As cell phones proliferated, and phone numbers became more reliably attached to individuals long term, it was an obvious choice to start collecting those numbers even more consistently as a type of ID. But over time, SMS messages, biometric scanners, encrypted apps, and other special functions of smartphones have evolved into forms of authentication as well.

“The bottom line is society needs identifiers,” says Jeremy Grant, coordinator of the Better Identity Coalition, an industry collaboration that includes Visa, Bank of America, Aetna, and Symantec. “We just have to make sure that knowledge of an identifier can’t be used to somehow take over the authenticator. And a phone number is only an identifier; in most cases, it’s public.” Think of your usernames and passwords. The former are generally public knowledge; it’s how people know who you are. But you keep the latter guarded, because it’s how you prove who you are.

The use of phone numbers as both lock and key has led to the rise, in recent years, of so-called SIM swapping attacks, in which an attacker steals your phone number. When you add two-factor authentication to an account and receive your codes through SMS texts, they go to the attacker instead, along with any calls and texts intended for the victim. Sometimes attackers even use inside sources at carriers who will transfer numbers for them.