April 07, 2020

Yet Another Data Breach

Long time readers of The Kuper Report know that I have been writing about data security, or the lack thereof, for many, many years. One would think that by the year 2020 organizations had gotten their acts together and addressed such matters -- and made sure the private personal data of their customers were protected. Sadly, this has not been the case.

On March 31, 2020, Marriott International, who I have written about in the past regarding privacy and security issues, announced that the following customer information was likely compromised:
  • Contact Details (e.g., name, mailing address, email address, and phone number)
  • Loyalty Account Information (e.g., account number and points balance, but not passwords)
  • Additional Personal Details (e.g., company, gender, and birthday day and month)
  • Partnerships and Affiliations (e.g., linked airline loyalty programs and numbers)
  • Preferences (e.g., stay/room preferences and language preference)
They also indicated that the security breach affected approximately 5.2 million guests.

For more information about the latest Marriott breach, see Marriott's support site.

As I have written many times before about privacy and security breaches, it is way past time that these issues were addressed and resolved. These breaches keep happening, frequently at the same companies. As I've also previously reported, breaches have occurred (and likely will continue) with voting machines. These serious privacy and security data breaches affect peoples lives.

When will privacy and security be taken seriously and dealt with properly by individuals, corporations, and the government? To purposely be redundant: It is way past time.

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Links to some previous articles regarding data privacy and security issues are below. Read them to understand that these problems have been going on for many, many years and should have been resolved a long, long time ago.

May 2006: Data Security: An Oxymoron

August 2006: Data Security: An Oxymoron - continued

January 2007: So how secure is your PC?

March 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: Stolen Data from TJX (T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods stores) since 2003 Used in $8M Scheme Before Breach Discovery

April 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: More Security/Identity Breaches and Issues 

May 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: University of Missouri Hacked For Second Time This Year

May 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: IBM loses tapes with personal information on current and former employees

September 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: Are you giving away your personal or corporate data to thieves?

May 2008: Updated: Privacy & Security Watch: Beware of fake emails appearing to be from the IRS

June  2008: Privacy & Security Watch: TJX Fires Employee for Disclosing Security Problems

June 2008: Privacy & Security Watch: Diebold Summer Sale Offers Used Voting Machines 


December 2014: Data Security - Still an Oxymoron these many years later

November 2018: Another Major Data Breach


December 2018: 100 Million Quora Users Affected by Data Breach

June 1019: Commentary: "Data Security" is Still an Oxymoron and An Ongoing Threat 


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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

March 28, 2020

As we all deal with the CoronaVirus


As we all deal with the CoronaVirus in one way or another, technology has helped in a variety of ways. For example, this newsletter is available (and has been for the longest time) without having to leave home or go to a mailbox, because it is available via the internet. Keeping up with the latest news about the virus and how to deal with it is available 24/7 via the internet and some cable TV stations. Just about everyone has a phone which enables the ability to be in touch with others, even when in isolation --be it a home phone that can only make and receive voice calls, or a cell phone that also has the ability to see the person at the other end of the conversation with the right tools. There are even free apps to have video gatherings.

Technology is also being used to speed up testing so that folks don’t have to wait a week or more to find out if their test came back positive or negative.

Those are some of the good things about technology in these trying times. There is another side, though. TMI (too much information) can also be a debilitating thing for those who are already anxious or depressed, or it can create such conditions in those who previously were not or were only slightly debilitated in that way. Those folks should try to find a way to disconnect from the 24/7 barrage and instead use technology to find calming messages and music and entertainment. There are free apps for meditation and such as well.

Technology is a powerful tool. Use it wisely.

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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

January 18, 2020

Review: Amazon Echo Auto



I recently received an email from my auto insurance company offering to provide me with a free Amazon Echo Auto for my car. I decided to take advantage of the offer.

In the box was the Echo Auto, an air vent mount, an auxiliary cable (to plug directly into the car), a micro-USB to USB-A cable (as power cord), and an in-car power adapter that plugs into the car’s 12-volt outlet (formerly known as the cigarette-lighter outlet).

Initially, after reviewing the connection instructions, I decided to first try and see if it would work just with my cell phone, since it requires that I have a cell phone with a data plan in order to work in the car.

Like any other Amazon device, I first needed to power it up and install it with the Alexa app. I did that at home, using my phone’s Bluetooth connection to communicate with the Echo Auto. I then proceeded to talk to it just like any other device and it worked using my phone’s speaker. It occurred to me that it probably would have been much easier, from a user perspective, if somehow Amazon could add to the Alexa app the ability to use Alexa on my cell phone, rather than having to buy another device.

Eventually, I got around to setting this up in my car. An audiophile friend of mine joined me.

The first thing that we both found annoying was the air vent mount, which is required in order to hold the Echo Auto. It blocks up most of the vent.

The Echo Auto needs to be able to connect to your cell phone via Bluetooth, and your car needs to have Bluetooth connectivity.  My car has both a USB power outlet and also an audio input, so I was able to directly connect the Amazon Echo Auto to both, skipping one Bluetooth connection option. This left the car’s 12-volt outlet free for other devices I may wish to plug in. This also meant I had two (2) cables hanging from the device that was mounted on and blocking my vent. Not a pretty site.

In order to actually use the device in the car, my cell phone had to be on and Bluetooth needed to be enabled. I also needed to select the Bluetooth source on the car’s console. I spoke to Alexa. We (my friend and I) immediately noticed how low the volume was. We quickly discovered that the Echo Auto maxes out at level 6 (on a scale of 1 to 10) and will not get any louder. This required turning up the volume on the car audio. That is a serious safety problem, because if I (or someone) switch the audio source (say, to radio or SiriusXM), those sources will be at very high volumes and scare the driver and potentially cause an accident.

As I mentioned, it requires that you have a cell phone and a data plan in order to work. I was not impressed. Perhaps it is intended for listening to Amazon music, but if you can listen to it on your cell phone and your car has Bluetooth, you can accomplish this with your cell phone. Otherwise, you can ask your cell phone anything with your voice and get the information you need either from the phone’s speaker or, if you wish, by connecting to the Bluetooth audio in your car to hear the answers or the music or whatever from your car’s speakers.

Although it is shaped differently, it appears to essentially be an Amazon Echo Input (reviewed in The Kuper Report (https://www.thekuperreport.com/2020/01/review-amazon-echo-auto.html) back in August 2019) modified to work with a cell phone. This got my (and my friend’s) curiosity peaked. So after packing the Echo Auto back up (I saw no need to have it in my car), we went back to my home and decided to do one more experiment.

I previously connected an Echo Input to my stereo. We were curious if we could simply replace it with the Echo Auto and get the same results. I needed a USB power connector to plug it into an electric outlet, since the Echo Auto only came with a power connector for the car. I have several, so that was not a problem. I connected the Echo Auto to the stereo and proceeded to ask it questions and to play music. It worked just like the Echo Input, but with one glaring exception: It still would not get louder than volume level 6, and so I had to crank up the volume of the stereo to hear it. This, of course, meant that if I did not first lower the volume before switching to a different input on the stereo, it would be way too loud.

In the end, I cannot recommend this product. I have no idea why it was created. The Amazon Echo Auto seems to be a solution in search of a problem.


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In the event you missed previous articles about Google and Amazon devices, you can find them here:

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/11/review-google-home-mini-vs-amazon-echo.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/12/part-2-review-google-home-mini-vs.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2019/01/google-home-adds-feels-like-temperature.html


https://www.thekuperreport.com/2019/04/alexa-why-arent-you-doing-what-i-ask.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2019/07/real-youtube-app-added-to-amazon-fire-tv.html



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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

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