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The Week in Internet News: Hong Kong Residents Flock to VPNs

Surveillance is coming: Hong Kong residents are rushing to download virtual private network apps after the Chinese government announced it intends to pass a new national security law covering the region, the South China Morning Post reports. Residents are worried that the Chinese government will restrict Internet access and put new surveillance measures in place in the quasi-independent region.

Fastest Internet ever: A team of researchers in Australia has logged data speeds of a blazing 44.2 terabits per second, claiming the fastest Internet speeds ever, the BBC reports. Researchers set the new record speed by using a device that replaces around 80 lasers found in some existing telecom hardware with a single piece of equipment called a “micro-comb.”

AI vs. coronavirus: Chinese ride-hailing provider Didi Chuxing says it will start using artificial intelligence to verify if drivers in its Latin American markets wear masks and disinfect cars to keep riders safe during the coronavirus pandemic, Al Jazeera says. Beginning on May 22, Didi’s drivers in Latin America needed to take a selfie with mask on to pass the AI verification, and starring in June they will need to report their body temperature to the phone app and upload photos of daily vehicle disinfection procedures.

Tracking switcheroo: Germany’s government has decided to back a COVID-19 tracking app from Google and Apple, in place of a German-led alternative that’s come under fire for privacy concerns, The Local reports. The government had previously backed a European app called PEPP-PT being developed by some 130 European scientists, but the proposed app had faced growing criticism over its plan to store data on a central server.

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Member News: Internet Society Chapters Assist Communities with Telework, Remote Education

Keep working: In recent months, several Internet Society Chapters have focused on helping people to keep working during COVID-19 lockdowns. The Benin Chapter recently published a guide to remote work, with recommendations for videoconferencing apps, project management software, and file storage services. “We are facing a real health crisis, COVID-19, which is shaking up our habits and pushing companies to adapt to new working methods,” the Chapter’s post says. “Authorizing employees to telecommute is the ideal solution for the continuity of your activity and avoiding contagion within your teams.”

Building your brand: Meanwhile, the Israel Chapter hosted a webinar on employment and careers in the digital industry. Speaker Shani Haddad, CEO and founder of Brainnu, talked about the importance of people marketing themselves and telling their own stories.

Learning at a distance: It’s not just workers dealing with new situations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pacific Islands Chapter has posted about distance learning, noting that the Samoa Information Technology Association has developed an e-learning platform for students attending school from home. Education is “one of the key areas that is being heavily affected by the lockdown,” the post notes.

No censorship: The Chapter in Spain has raised concerns about a potential clampdown on free speech as the government there responds to information circulating about the coronavirus pandemic. “It is an essential task of the Internet Society to ensure an open Internet, based on the fullest freedom of expression and information, which therefore contributed to free communication between all its users, who in Spain are already today the vast majority of the population,” the Chapter writes. “Except for aberrant content that is openly contrary to public health, such measures are equivalent to prior censorship of information and opinion, and unlike other restrictions on freedoms, they are as unnecessary as they are ineffective in combating this disease.”

A partnership for the Internet: The Pacific Islands Chapter has recently signed a partnership agreement with the Asia Pacific Top Level Domain Association (APTLD), with the goal of building capacity in the TLD space in the region. The partnership will share expertise for training and seminars and will exchange information while “championing the Internet and Internet resources in the local community,” says Leonid Todorov, APTLD’s general manager.

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The Week in Internet News: COVID-19 Tracing Creates Opportunities, Raises Concerns

Electronic doorman: In many restaurants, offices, and other locations in China, visitors must now show their COVID-19 risk status through a phone app before they are allowed entry, reports Agence-France Presse on Yahoo News. “A green light lets you in anywhere. A yellow light could send you into home confinement. The dreaded red light throws a person into a strict two-week quarantine at a hotel.” This use of contact tracing is raising privacy alarms in other countries.

Conflicting apps: Meanwhile, the Australian government’s new COVID-19 tracing app may interfere with Bluetooth-connected medical devices, including those used by people with diabetes, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.  Diabetes Australia has warned users of continuous glucose monitoring apps that there may be connection problems.

Keeping track of yourself: In Japan, a 16-year-old student has designed an app that allows users to keep track of their whereabouts on their mobile phones, to help with contact tracing, The Associated Press reports on Japan Times. If a user is diagnosed with COVID-19, the Asiato app can tell them where they’ve been in recent weeks. This allows users to reach out to people they may have infected or to inform health authorities.

A digital human touch: The South African reports on the Hey Bracelet, which allows people to stay in touch with their loved ones, even when separated during a coronavirus lockdown. “You can use the bracelet to send a pulse to someone.” We’re not sure that’s a good substitute for a hug.

Cables to Africa: Facebook is building a huge undersea cable around Africa in an effort to bring Internet service to more of the continent’s residents, CNBC reports. Facebook is working with several other companies to build the 37,000-kilometer ­– or about 22,991-mile – cable, which is only about 2,000 miles shorter than the circumference of the earth.

Don’t steal our stuff: The U.S. government has issued a warning saying that Chinese hackers are trying to steal COVID-19 research on vaccines and treatments, CNN reports. “Hospitals, research laboratories, health care providers and pharmaceutical companies have all been hit, officials say, and the Department of Health and Human Services – which oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – has been struck by a surge of daily strikes, an official with direct knowledge of the attacks previously told CNN.”

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The Week in Internet News: Hackers Revamp Malware With COVID-19 Messages

Taking advantage: Cyberattackers are reconfiguring the Remcos trojan, which allows them full access to victims’ computers, to include COVID-19 warnings in spam and phishing emails, Security Boulevard reports. “With the economy directly affected by the pandemic, people pay more attention to emails pretending to offer solutions, loans and other types of financial support. Another effective approach is to scare people with threats of account closures or company furloughs.”

The impact of a shutdown: An ongoing phone and Internet service shutdown in the Kashmir region is hurting the ability to distribute information and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, Greater Kashmir says. “People in need of essentials used to reach out to us on our helplines which have turned defunct,” said the chairman of an aid agency. “We used to make phone calls to our existing 750 beneficiaries for conveying them about timings to pick up their quota of essentials. But suspension of mobile networks has disturbed this entire process.”

Cooperative Internet service: The Christian Science Monitor has a story about small rural cooperatives building their own Internet services. Cooperatives, which are private businesses owned by customers, are common in parts of the U.S. Midwest, some providing electricity and telephone services, others helping farmers and ranchers sell their products. “Co-ops are an answer when traditional market forces don’t seem to work,” the story says.

Eyes on the content: Facebook has named a content moderation oversight board that will issue rulings on “what kind of posts will be allowed and what should be taken down,” NBC News reports. The 20-member board includes nine law professors, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Yemen, journalists, free speech advocates, and a writer from the libertarian Cato Institute.

More video encryption: Video-conferencing provider Zoom, criticized in recent months for its security practices, has acquired encryption startup Keybase, TechCrunch says. Keybase has been building encryption products for several years, including secure file sharing and collaboration tools.

How do we ensure confidentiality when working remotely? Encryption.

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The Week in Internet News: Classroom in a Car

Searching for a signal: CNN has a story about a teacher in rural Virginia who drives 20 minutes to find a good WiFi signal in order to work. The middle school history teacher is one of about 18 million U.S. residents who lack access to high-speed broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission. The teacher “lives in a valley between two mountains, where the only available home internet option is a satellite connection. Her emails can take 30 seconds to load, only to quit mid-message. She can’t even open files on Google Drive, let alone upload lesson modules or get on a Zoom call with colleagues.”

Demanding access: Meanwhile, in Oakland, California, hundreds of teachers and students are calling for free access to the Internet, demanding that the school district and mayor “take all necessary measures” to ensure that students have access, KTVU reports. “There is no equity in education for our most vulnerable students if all Oakland families do not have access to the internet,” said Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association, said.

Legislating access: In the U.S. Congress, Senate Democrats are introducing a bill that would create a new $4 billion fund for schools and libraries to buy WiFi hotspots, routers and Internet-connected devices, The Hill says. “The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated our existing ‘homework gap’ and spurred a growing ‘learning gap’ that will have a lasting impact on America’s children,” the senators said in a joint statement.

Beware pirates: As people shut in at home during the COVID-19 pandemic look for entertainment, Microsoft is warning that malware is being loaded into pirated films like “Contagion,” Dark Reading reports. The threat has affected thousands of people in Spain, Mexico, and South America. The malware observed injects a virtual currency-mining code into computers.

Fighting for freedom: A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has introduced legislation designed to combat global censorship and boost Internet freedom, The Hill reports. The bill would require the existing nonprofit Open Technology Fund to research, develop, and maintain technologies meant to promote Internet freedom by skirting government censorship efforts and create tools to allow people around the world to access government-censored websites.

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The Week in Internet News: Schools Still Face Equipment Challenges for Virtual Learning

Equipment shortages: As schools in the U.S. and other countries attempt to switch over to virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, some are still trying to get students Internet access or devices to use to access the Internet. In Chicago, only about half of the 115,000 public school students who need a computer have received one, WBEZ reports. Another 43,000 computers will be handed out, and 10,000 have been ordered and will be coming “over the next few weeks.”

Equipment shortages, part 2: In California, the state is planning to distribute laptops, Chromebooks, or tablets to more than 70,000 students so they can participate in distance learning, MercuryNews.com reports. The state has requested funding and devices from companies, business leaders and philanthropists around the state.

Getting creative: Some schools are exploring alternatives when students don’t have Internet access or devices, NBC News says. A teacher in Tennessee turned to using a copy machine to print out packets and mail them to students. In Arkansas, where 23 percent of households lack Internet service, a local PBS affiliate is providing daily television programming tied to the state’s distance learning curriculum.

Pumping up encryption: Popular video conferencing app Zoom will improve encryption in a new release after being criticized for lax security that allowed uninvited guests to “Zoom-bomb” conferences with pornography or racist content. The new version of Zoom will make it harder for meetings to be Zoom bombed by adding, as a default, passwords and waiting rooms, which require passwords and a host to admit an attendee. For educational users, screen sharing will default to the host only, USA Today reports.

Deadly shutdowns: Internet restrictions and shutdowns can be deadly during a pandemic, journalist and author Puja Changoiwala writes on CNN.com. Internet restrictions are currently in place in several countries. “Through an information blackout, Internet restrictions threaten public health by impeding access to timely and accurate information about the Covid-19 global pandemic, and best practice guidelines like shelter-in-place, social distancing and washing hands to tackle it. These limitations also mitigate people’s ability to evaluate the risk, and better prepare,” Changoiwala writes.

Access to the Internet has never been more important. Learn about the work of communities around the world to keep the Internet open and globally connected.

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The Week in Internet News: The Digital Divide During a Pandemic

The great divide: The continuing digital divide in the U.S. is hurting people as they try to shop, attend school, and work during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, The Guardian says. Broadband Now estimates that 42 million U.S. residents don’t have Internet access, and M-Lab says that the majority of residents in 62 percent of the counties across the U.S. don’t have adequate broadband speeds.

The struggle is real: Meanwhile, students in rural Alabama are struggling to complete their schoolwork because a lack of Internet access, according to an Associated Press story at Enewscourier.com. In nine Alabama counties, less than 30 percent of the population has access. “We don’t want to leave 20 to 30 percent of our population behind just because of where they live,” said John Heard, school superintendent in Perry County.

The good news: Even with many people across the world working from home or attending school from home, the Internet is holding up, ZDNet reports. Fastly, an edge cloud computing provider, found that in the hard-hit New York and New Jersey area, Internet traffic jumped by nearly 45 percent in March, but download speeds decreased by less than 6 percent. In California, traffic jumped by nearly 47 percent, but the download speed actually increased by about 1 percent.

You might have been misinformed: Facebook will begin notifying millions of users that they’ve been fed fake news about the coronavirus on the site, Politico reports. Campaign group Avaaz has found that over 40 percent of already debunked coronavirus misinformation it found on Facebook remained on the platform even after fact-checking organizations had notified the social media giant.

Rolling their own: A group of northwestern Colorado cities has launched their own broadband network in an effort to provide better access, lower prices, and higher reliability, the Colorado Sun says. The 481-mile Project Thor network covers 14 rural communities. In 2005, state lawmakers passed a law preventing municipalities from becoming Internet providers. But beginning in 2008 with the city of Glenwood Springs, communities began voting to opt out of the state rules, and more than 100 Colorado communities are either offering their own broadband service or are exploring the possibility.

Falling behind: The United Nations has set a couple of goals for improving access to the Internet, but it appears those targets won’t be met, CNet reports. With about 46 percent of the world’s population still lacking Internet service, it appears the U.N. won’t meet its 2020 goal of achieving “universal access” in the least-developed countries by the end of this year. It also appears the U.N. goal of giving broadband access to 75 percent of the global population and 35 percent of people by 2025 won’t be met, the Web Foundation says.

Access to the Internet has never been more important. Learn about the work of communities around the world to keep the Internet open and globally connected.

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Member News: Internet Society Chapters Focus on Connecting People During Pandemic

Staying connected: Several Internet Society Chapters are focusing on ways to help people stay connected while living under stay-at-home orders or following social-distancing guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Netherlands Chapter has released a toolbox of open source tools to help people work from home.

Resources for the people: Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic Chapter has released a list of COVID-related resources for residents. The list includes information on virtual private networks, on teleworking, and on the country’s cybersecurity resources. The Chapter also released a set of recommendations for the government, for Internet service providers, and for other companies. For example, the Chapter recommends that ISPs offer flexible or low-cost service plans to customers during the pandemic.

Pandemic privacy: One of the many concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic is a loss of privacy as governments and private organizations track mobile phones as a way to monitor the spread of the virus and the effectiveness of social-distancing programs. The Canada Chapter notes that the pandemic has raised fears about the surveillance state. In Canada, the prime minister has ruled against cell phone surveillance for tracking the spread of the virus, but “if the virus rapidly spreads further, no doubt device tracking will be contemplated and possibly enacted in Canada,” the Chapter writes. “This involves a decision most governments are loath to take: trading privacy interests against public health.”

An issue of access: The Slovenia Chapter looks at bandwidth, congestion, and access issues as millions of people worldwide are now working from home. Internet traffic is up significantly in several countries, and while the Internet has held up, about 17 percent of the homes in the country don’t have Internet access, making distance learning nearly impossible, writes Professor Jerman Blažič.

Shutdowns in the time of COVID: The India Chennai Chapter recently hosted a discussion on the impact of Internet shutdowns during a pandemic. A transcript of the discussion is available. “In the current crisis, it appears important that we have to have better connectivity,” moderator Sivasubramanian Muthusamy said.

Life (and art) go on: There’s still room to create art, even during a pandemic, the Netherlands Chapter notes. Member Karina Palosi promotes the Social Distancing Festival, a worldwide online arts festival that includes music, dance, painting, and other arts mediums.

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The Week in Internet News: Pandemic Puts Spotlight on Access Problems

No working from home: Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic is tougher in some places than in others. Business Insider finds 17 U.S. cities where Internet access is lower than in much of the rest of the country. Many of the cities listed are across the South and in New Mexico.

Students need access: Alabama’s state schools superintendent is worried about a lack of access for some students while schools are shut down during the pandemic, AL.com reports. There are several “gaps” in access for students, but some school districts are using buses to deliver WiFi.

100,000 laptops: Meanwhile, in Arizona, more than 100,000 students need laptops in order to do school work from home, AZcentral.com reports. The Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation has been running a laptop drive to reduce that number. Access is also a problem in some rural areas, with some areas having only 25 percent of households with Internet access.

Fundraising for access: In Maine, the Bangor School Department has turned to fundraising to provide 350 families with Internet access so students can participate in distance learning, the Bangor Daily News reports. The school department raised about $28,000 in a week on the way to a $60,000 goal.

Leaving town: Signal, an encrypted messaging app, has threatened to leave the U.S. if a controversial bill that would remove legal protections from websites for user-posted content passes Congress, Gizmodo reports. The EARN IT Act, introduced recently in the Senate, is focused on fighting online child pornography, but critics worry that it will lead to rules creating backdoors in encryption in the name of fighting child exploitation.

Targeting virtual meetings: Cybercriminals are now using malware and adware to target online meeting apps such as Skype, TechRepublic says. These criminals are embedding malware in downloadable files with names similar to popular online meeting apps. Security vendor Kaspersky found 200 threats in these apps, including a lot of adware.

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The Week in Internet News: Stay-at-Home Orders Highlight Need for Internet Access

More important than ever: With most people in the U.S. and many other countries ordered to stay at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, a lack of Internet access in rural and poor areas is making people feel more disconnected than ever, according to an Associated Press story at NWAonline.com. Stella Ashcraft “lives from check to check and can’t afford internet. Her senior-citizen center, where she plays bingo, does puzzles and gets lunch five days a week, is closed. So is her church and the library where she checks email. ‘I feel very withdrawn, isolated, alone,’ she said.

Spotlight on Zoom’s privacy: With many people working from home, web-conferencing app Zoom has become a crucial service for many. However, with the increased use of Zoom is also coming increasing scrutiny. While the company has marketed its service as offering end-to-end encryption, that’s not really the case, The Intercept reports. Zoom Video Communications, the company behind Zoom, has been hit with a class-action lawsuit for allegedly sharing user data with Facebook, CBS News adds. Finally, Zoom has pledged to focus on privacy and security issues, TechXplore reports.

Homework hotspots: As most students in the U.S. and other countries are trying to manage remote learning, many schools are coming up with innovative ways to help students with poor Internet service or no service at all. In Colquitt County, Georgia, the school district is helping students find “hotspots for homework,” open WiFi networks that allow them to connect to the Internet, WALB.com reports.

No news here: An Internet shutdown in a region of Pakistan is keeping residents there from learning about the coronavirus, Slate.com reports. Internet service in the former Federally Administered Tribal Area has been suspended since June 2016. “In mid-March, a journalist from the Khyber region … told me that most of the people in tribal regions have not heard of the term coronavirus, let alone know what it is about.”

A new type of PC virus: A new type of PC malware malware “borrows the coronavirus name, and the filename COVID-19.exe, to scare victims, to amuse its creators and possibly to get publicity,” Tom’s Guide says. The digital coronavirus can infect a PC through a download, an email attachment, or a fake application update. “If you get hit by it, your Windows PC will go through a few steps and pop up an image of an actual coronavirus before it reboots into a gray screen displaying the words, ‘Your computer has been trashed.’”

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The Week in Internet News: U.S. Senator Fears Attacks on Connectivity

Networked virus: U.S. Senator Mark Warner has raised concerns about cyberattacks targeting Internet connectivity while many people are working from home due to the COVID-19 outbreak, The Hill reports. Warner, vice chairman on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote letters to network device vendors asking that they pump up the security of their products.

Sharing the WiFi: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will allow schools and libraries to share their WiFi connections with the surrounding communities during the coronavirus pandemic, a change in the normal FCC policy about their WiFi networks, KRCRTV.com reports. Schools and libraries can set their own WiFi-sharing policies, the FCC said. Meanwhile, some libraries want to extend their WiFi networks using bookmobiles, Vice.com says. It’s unclear if FCC rules allow this expansion of service, however.

Tracking you and the virus: Some countries are tracking the coronavirus outbreak by tracking residents’ mobile phones, Science Magazine says. However, tracking phones also raises privacy concerns. “We don’t live in a culture of public trust when it comes to data,” says David Leslie, an ethicist at the Alan Turing Institute. “We live in this age that has been called the age of surveillance capitalism, where … our data is abused and exploited.”

Apps attack: A new Android banking trojan is tricking users into handing over their credit card details in return for information on who’s infected with COVID-19 in their local area, Infosecurity Magazine reports. The Ginp Trojan isn’t new, but hackers are repurposing it to take advantage of the current pandemic.

Botnet made in Russia: Russia’s Federal Security Service has worked on an Internet of Things botnet, according to leaked documents, Naked Security says. It’s unclear how far the FSB got, but the security service issued procurement orders.

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Member News: Ethiopia Launches Internet Society Chapter

Ready, set, launch: An Internet Society Chapter launched recently in Ethiopia, with a goal of advocating for the development and expansion of open, secure, trustworthy, and affordable Internet access to everyone in the country. The idea of starting an Internet Society Chapter came from a workshop, “where we became conscious of the fact that more than 85% of the Ethiopia population is losing countless opportunities every day because they don’t have access to the Internet,” wrote Adugna Necho, a networking professor at Bahir Dar University. “We believe the Internet is for everyone and we are here to work with all people – from communities to businesses to governments and ordinary people to connect the unconnected and create a bigger and stronger Internet in Ethiopia.”

More Internet, please: The Internet will keep people connected while the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic, the India Chennai Chapter notes. Governments should resist urges to shut down service, the Chapter says. “With factories, offices, public places, transportation, schools are colleges shut down, and no clear picture of whether normal life would resume in 4 weeks or 4 months, it is the Internet that could make life go on,” the Chapter writes. “While it is necessary to keep an eye on fake news and the dangers of fake news causing panic, it is equally important to keep the Internet globally connected, perhaps even with directives to access providers NOT to disrupt connectivity to any user under any pretext together with a heightened awareness among Governments that everyone needs Internet …”

Internet values: The Switzerland Chapter, with support from other organizations, has launched a new project, called VIT Labs, an urban laboratory for collective learning and outreach on the “Values of Internet Technologies.” A long-term goal is to encourage people to use more secure and privacy-respecting digital platforms and tools.

Education is key: The Benin Chapter recently hosted a training session on free software, computer hygiene, and cybersecurity. Trainer Oliver Kwami talked about free software as a tool for the benefit of Africa’s development, and he emphasized Internet education about cybersecurity and cybercrime.

In it for the long term: The Israel Chapter has revised the registration rules for domain names, expending the renewal period from two years to five years. The .il registry manages close to 250,000 domain names. “The clear advantage of long-term registration or renewal of a domain name is mitigating the risk of losing control of this asset when users forget to extend it,” the Israel chapter wrote. “That way, owners can guarantee their domain name continues to point to their online content, establishing an online reputation that improves the website’s search ranking.

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