Even the world’s richest person couldn’t stop a nude selfie leak.
When Jeff Bezos alleged in a blog post Thursday that he was the victim of blackmail attempts by the publisher of the National Enquirer, he underscored risks particular to billionaires in the digital age.
“The perception among very affluent people is often ‘I have this level of wealth, I’m untouchable,’” said Mark Johnson, chief executive officer of Sovereign Intelligence, a McLean, Virgina-based risk analytics firm. “But the systems they have in place for protecting their personal identifiable information are very weak.”
Ask any family office about its biggest fears and cybersecurity is near the top. Personal protection no longer involves just bodyguards and a top-notch alarm system. The internet age has seen a massive shift in people storing their most sensitive and personal data online, where it’s vulnerable to hacking and intrusion.
Ultra-wealthy individuals are particularly susceptible because so much of their data are often centralized through family offices, which typically lack the robust firewalls and encryption capabilities of banks and large corporations.
Johnson, a former case officer with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said he’s worked with clients with more than $40 billion in assets who had a “Secret Service-type physical security — probably even better — and yet there was an absolute disconnect between that physical security and the digital protection.”
It’s unclear how the tabloid obtained Bezos’s texts. The Amazon.com Inc. founder, who has a net worth of $133.9 billion, said in his blog post that he’d authorized security chief Gavin de Becker “to proceed with whatever budget he needed” to get to the bottom of the leak.
Security experts say potential entry points for a digital invasion are numerous.
“We all have devices we carry and they each have their own point of vulnerability,” said Kris Coleman, founder of intelligence-services firm Red Five Security.
Banking information, identity data, even health information and travel schedules can expose someone to a breach. Those in billionaires’ inner circles are a particular risk for the information they have access to and could share, either maliciously or inadvertently.
“Private, affluent families need to consider themselves targets that are on par with nation states,” Coleman said.
Coleman and Johnson are both members of RANE, a network of risk-management professionals from banks, law firms, family offices and corporation.
The wealthy aren’t just at risk of losing money through hacks. Their brands, reputations — or, in family office parlance, “legacy” — also can be damaged. On Tuesday, news website Splinter published a trove of racist emails sent and received by TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. founder Joe Ricketts that included anti-Muslim slurs and conspiracy theories. Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs, issued a statement on his personal website, apologizing for remarks “that don’t reflect my value system.”
Providing security services to the growing ranks of the super-rich is an expanding field. Federal agents and military personnel, including former Navy Seals, Secret Service and Mossad agents, SWAT team operators and Scotland Yard detectives, have found second careers protecting billionaires, where they can earn double what they did working for the government.
Facebook Inc. spent $7.3 million in 2017 on personal security for CEO Mark Zuckerberg, an expense the company defended as necessary considering his “position and importance.” Last year, the firm said it would give him an additional $10 million annually to beef up his security. Its executive protection program is run by an ex-Secret Service agent, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Amazon spent $1.6 million last year on security for Bezos, according to regulatory filings. His Bezos Family Foundation also has taken physical precautions. For example, the foundation’s mailing address is a post office box in a nondescript strip mall in the Seattle area.
De Becker, a best-selling author, made his name as a security consultant to Hollywood celebrities and co-created MOSAIC, an assessment tool that was originally used to analyze threats against Supreme Court justices and members of Congress. He describes himself on the firm’s website as “the nation’s leading expert on the protection of public figures.”
Red Five’s Coleman didn’t express shock that Bezos’s racy text messages were vulnerable.
“My message to affluent families: don’t assume you’re OK,” Coleman said. “Because most of them aren’t.”
WORD PROCESSOR PIONEER EVELYN BEREZIN DIES AGED 93
The woman who created and sold what many recognise as the world’s first word processor has died aged 93.
Evelyn Berezin called the device the Data Secretary when, in 1971, her company Redactron launched the product.
She grew Redactron from nine employees to close to 500 and was named one of the US’s top leaders by BusinessWeek magazine in the year she sold it, 1976.
She had earlier built one of the original computerised airline reservation systems.
The innovation – which matched customers and available seats – was tested by United Airlines in 1962.
According to the Computer History Museum, it had a one-second response time and worked for 11 years without any central system failures.
The technology vied with the rival Sabre system, developed by American Airlines, for being the first of its kind.
In addition, Ms Berezin helped pioneer other types of special-purpose computing including:
- an automated banking system
- a weapons-targeting calculator for the US Defense Department
- terminals for a horse-racing track that monitored how much money was being bet on each animal
In an interview in 2015, Ms Berezin explained that she had decided to set up her own business in the mid-60s after coming to the conclusion that her prospects were limited so long as she was employed by someone else.
She said that she had initially considered developing an electronic cash register but ultimately opted to create what would become known as a word processor instead.
She said: “6% of all the people in the United States who worked were secretaries.
“At the time we started, which was in 1968 to 1969, nobody really had any desk-type computers on which you could write a word-processing program that a secretary would use.
“I know that desktop computers seem obvious now but it wasn’t so then.”
At the time, the nearest equivalent was a machine by IBM called the MT/ST – a typewriter with magnetic tape recording and playback facilities.
IBM’s marketing referred to a “word processor”, but the machine relied on relay switches rather than computer chips, had been targeted at military equipment makers rather than the wider business market, and in Ms Berezin’s mind was “klutzy”.
“We were committed to building a computer to run our system and we knew that we had to use integrated circuits because it was the only way we could make it small enough and cheap enough and reliable enough to sell,” Ms Berezin said.
Her machine – which stood about 1m (3ft 3in) tall – featured a keyboard, cassette drives, control electronics and a printer.
It could record and play back what the user had typed, allowing it to be edited or reprinted.
The original model lacked a monitor, and soon faced competition from a rival, the Lexitron, which did.
But later versions of the Data Secretary did include a screen.
Sparks and water
The project nearly ended in disaster.
Ms Berezin had intended to buy the processors required from Intel, which had gone into business in 1968. But it said it was too busy dealing with orders for its memory chips.
The solution was that Redactron had to design some of the chips required itself and provide the schematics to two manufacturers.
There were further problems with a prototype when it was put on display in a New York hotel for reporters to see.
The issue was that in dry weather, it was prone to a build-up of static electricity, which caused sparks to fly between its circuits, preventing it from working.
“To our horror it was a dry day and the engineers were setting this non-working machine up for our big story,” Ms Berezin said.
“Ed Wolf [our head of engineering brought] a full pail of water and without a word to anyone throws the pail of water over the whole thick carpet in the room.
“The water sank into the carpet, which stayed damp for three or four hours, and the machine worked perfectly.”
The first production machine was delivered to a customer in September 1971. And over the following year, Redactron sold or rented more than 770 others, excluding demo units.
Over the following years, demand grew but the company’s finances came under strain, in part because of high interest rates and a recession that meant clients wanted to rent rather than buy its products.
“We were told by the bank to sell the company and they had somebody they knew who was interested,” said Ms Berezin.
“At the time, I was distraught about it.”
She went to work for the purchaser, the business equipment-maker Burroughs Corporation. But it proved to be an ill match.
“I was not one of them – I told them what I thought – a loud woman they did not know how to deal with,” she said.
“So, they disconnected and so did I.”
Ms Berezin left the company around 1980, after which she became involved in venture capital and sat on other companies’ boards before becoming involved with Stony Brook University.
The New York Times reported that a nephew had confirmed she had died on 8 December in Manhattan after turning down treatment for cancer.
One of the remaining Data Secretary word processors can be seen on display at the Computer History Museum in California.
TIM COOK WARNS OF ‘DATA-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX’ IN CALL FOR COMPREHENSIVE US PRIVACY LAWS
Apple CEO Tim Cook has called for new digital privacy laws in the United States, warning that the collection of huge amounts of personal data by companies is harming society.
Speaking at a privacy conference in Brussels, Cook gave an impassioned and forceful speech. He reiterated familiar talking points like Apple’s commitment to privacy (and, by implication, its rivals lack of commitment) while spelling out public concerns in recent years regarding data collection, surveillance, and manipulation.
Cook said that modern technology has led to the creation of a “data-industrial complex” in which private and everyday information is “weaponized against us with military efficiency.” He added that this mechanism doesn’t just affect individuals, but whole societies.
“Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies,” said Cook. “Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence, and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false. This crisis is real. It is not imagined, or exaggerated, or crazy.” You can watch the full speech below:
Cook did not mention triggers for this crisis, but his comments clearly reference recent events like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the personal data of millions of Facebook users was harvested by a consulting firm with the aim of swaying users’ political views. Similarly, while Cook never mentioned by name tech companies like Facebook and Google, it’s clear that these were targets in his criticism of indiscriminate data collection.
Cook has long advocated for strong standards in data privacy, but is now calling for federal regulation too. Alastair MacTaggart, a US privacy campaigner who spearheaded a landmark data privacy law in California said this was a “180-degree turn” for tech companies. “A year ago, they were pushing for self-regulation. But now, they want federal rules, but ones that are as weak as possible,” MacTaggart told Politico.
In his speech in Brussels, attended by policy experts and European Union lawmakers, Cook praised the EU’s “successful implementation” of its new data privacy law, GDPR. This forces companies collecting user information to use the highest possible privacy safeguards by default. It also gives the EU the ability to fine companies up to 4 percent of their global revenue if they misuse user data.
Said Cook: “It is time for the rest of the world […] to follow your lead. We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States.” He then went on to outline four key rights that should be enshrined in such legislation: the right to have personal data minimized; the right for users to know what data is collected on them; the right to access that data; and the right for that data to be kept securely.
He also preempted a common criticism in the US that such regulation is a barrier to innovation. “This notion isn’t just wrong, it’s destructive,” said the Apple chief. “Technology’s potential is and always must be rooted in the faith people have in it.”
JEFF BEZOS UNSEATS BILL GATES ON FORBES LIST OF RICHEST AMERICANS
For the first time in 24 years, Bill Gates is no longer the richest American on the Forbes 400 list.
Gates lost his standing this year to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, whose net worth is $160 billion, compared with Gates’ $97 billion. That makes the Microsoft founder the second richest American.
The shakeup isn’t an overnight surprise. In July 2017, Bezos became the richest person in the world, briefly, when his net worth hit just north of $90 billion. It happened again inwhen his net worth clocked in at $93.8 billion compared with Gates’ $88.7 billion. In July 2018, Bloomberg reported that Bezos overtook Gates on its , which pinned his net worth at $150 billion.
Bezos didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Other tech figures on the list include Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg coming in at No. 4, Oracle’s Larry Ellison at No. 5, and Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin at No. 6 and No. 9, respectively.
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