Posts Tagged ‘smartphones’

Russia is hacking and harassing NATO soldiers, report says

October 6, 2017

The latest efforts by the Kremlin to disrupt NATO deployment include face-to-face harassment of soldiers using personal data. Some experts have said these tactics can easily turn deadly.

Soldiers of the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, prepare to drive Marder light tanks onto a train for transport to Lithuania

US and NATO alliance officials said they are concerned about reports that troops on NATO’s frontlines in the Baltic states and Poland have been personally confronted by strangers who possess personal details about them.

The Wall Street Journal reported Russia is using advanced surveillance techniques, including drones and covert antennas, to pull data from smartphones being used by soldiers deployed as part of the alliance’s “enhanced Forward Presence” (eFP) in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The WSJ story includes personal accounts of military personnel being approached in public by a person they believed was a Russian agent conveying personal details about them for purposes of intimidation.

Speaking at NATO headquarters, US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison said the matter is being looked into. “We will definitely be bringing it up,” Hutchison pledged. One of the Army officers who told the WSJ his phone had been hacked was an American lieutenant colonel who feared the Russians were tracking him with it.

Belgien US-Botschafter bei der NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison (T. Schultz)US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison says she’ll be raising the issue of Russian hacking of allied troops.

“We have seen attempts to undermine troops deployed in this part of our alliance, but our personnel are well-prepared to perform the mission at hand, despite these hybrid challenges,” a NATO military official explained. “The safety and security of our personnel is always a top priority for NATO, as well as for all contributing and host nations.”

The official, who was not authorized to give his name, emphasized that “all necessary measures” are being taken “protect the mission” and networks, and that personnel are being trained to be vigilant “as part of their daily routines, including online.”

From The Wall Street Journal:



Russia Targets NATO Soldier Smartphones, Western Officials Say

October 4, 2017

Moscow seeks information on operations and troop strength, according to officials with NATO countries

German soldiers at a NATO base in Lithuania in August.Photo: VALDA KALNINA/EPA/Shutterstock

Russia has opened a new battlefront with NATO, according to Western military officials, by exploiting a point of vulnerability for almost all allied soldiers: their personal smartphones.

Troops, officers and government officials of North Atlantic Treaty Organization member countries said Russia has carried out a campaign to compromise soldiers’ smartphones. The aim, they say, is to gain operational information, gauge troop strength and intimidate soldiers.

The Russian Defense Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment. Russian officials deny that Moscow stages such attacks.

U.S. and other Western officials said they have no doubt Russia is behind the campaign. They said its nature suggests state-level coordination, and added that the equipment used, such as sophisticated drones equipped with surveillance electronics, is beyond the reach of most civilians.

The campaign has targeted the contingent of 4,000 NATO troops deployed this year to Poland and the Baltic states to protect the alliance’s European border with Russia, as tensions with Moscow are on the rise, Western military officials said.

Targets are soldiers like U.S. Army Lt. Col. Christopher L’Heureux, who took over as commander of a NATO base in Poland in July. Soon after, he said he returned to his truck from shooting drills to find his personal iPhone had been hacked and reported lost. The hacker was attempting to breach a second layer of password protection through a Russian IP address, he said.

“It had a little Apple map, and in the center of the map was Moscow,” said Col. L’Heureux, stationed not far from a major Russian military base. “It said, ‘Somebody is trying to access your iPhone’.”

Col. L’Heureux, who prepares tactical troop positions to repel a potential Russian invasion, also found he was being physically tracked through his iPhone.

“They were geolocating me, whoever it was,” he said. “I was like, ‘What the heck is this?’”

A military exercise in Poland in September.Photo: muszyns/epa-efe/rex/shutterstock/EPA/Shutterstock

Col. L’Heureux said at least six soldiers he commands have had phones or Facebook accounts hacked. He said he suspects the incidents were meant as a message that Russian intelligence forces were tracking him, could crack his passwords and wanted to intimidate his soldiers.

Western officials declined to describe technical security precautions in detail, but note that allied soldiers are trained on a variety of risks including cyberattacks.

Military cyberespionage experts said the drone flights and cellphone data collection suggest Russia is trying to monitor troop levels at NATO’s new bases to see if there are more forces present there than the alliance has publicly disclosed.

Some Western defense officials played down the military significance of the campaign, saying it has caused little if any damage and often involves public information.

Still, other Western officials said that in a crisis, compromised cellphones could be used to slow NATO’s response to Russian military action if, for example, the personal cellphone of a commander was us ed to send out fake instructions. While such communications via private device ought to be disregarded, it could sow confusion, they said.

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And if a compromised phone were brought into a secure area such as a military command post, it could be used to collect sensitive information.

Near Estonia’s border with Russia, numerous soldiers in January complained of “strange things” happening to their phones on the Tapa military base shortly before French and British NATO soldiers were due to arrive, according to an officer on the base with knowledge of the incident.

A probe indicated Russia had used a portable telephone antenna to gain access to phones in the area, said the officer. The device apparently grabbed data sent from mobile phones and erased information on them.

“They were stripping everyone’s contacts,” the officer said.

In March, an Estonian conscript’s phone started playing hip-hop music he hadn’t downloaded while he was stationed on the Russian border, the soldier said. Contacts started disappearing from his phone around the same time, he said.

Since the Tapa incident in January, soldiers on the Estonian base remove SIM cards from their phones and are allowed to use the internet only at designated secure hot spots. Use of geolocation is forbidden.

Estonian conscripts said they are forced to jump into a lake during operations to ensure they are following a strict “no smartphones” policy. Some get around the practice by wrapping their phones in condoms.

The British contingent at the base said it has taken necessary measures to protect troops.

Information gleaned from personal communication, contact lists and social-networking sites has been used in encounters that indicate a goal of harassment or intimidation, according to Western officials.

In Latvia, a U.S. soldier standing in line for a sports event was approached by a person who casually dropped details of the soldier’s life, including information about family members, said a person close to NATO. A similar incident happened to a U.S. soldier on a train in Poland, that person said. Both encounters were believed to have been with Russian agents.

“Russia has always sought to target NATO servicemen for intelligence exploitation,” said Keir Giles, an associate fellow at Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia Program. “But such a campaign of harassment and intimidation is unprecedented in recent times.”

Mr. Giles has given briefings on information warfare to some NATO countries’ troops ahead of their deployment to the Baltics and Poland, where they are within reach of Russian antennae and drones that can suck up data from mobile devices lacking advanced military encryption.

The Baltics—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—have previously faced cyber assaults on their national internet networks and other connected systems, which they blamed on Russia.

“We are already in an unconventional cyberwar,” said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė. “We know what neighborhood we live in.”

Former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said a number of suspicious drones were spotted during his decade in office that ended last year.

U.S. military officials say the campaign remains more harassment than a security risk.

Col. L’Heureux, who served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, says the hacking of his smartphone was a wake-up call.

“I thought this would be easy…nobody’s shooting at me,” he said of his Poland posting. “But this is different.”

Write to Thomas Grove at, Julian E. Barnes at and Drew Hinshaw at

Bain-Apple Group Sign Letter of Intent to Buy Toshiba’s Chip Business

September 13, 2017

Deal would be valued at more than $18 billion

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A group including private-equity firm Bain Capital and technology giant Apple Inc. signed a letter of intent to buy Toshiba Corp.’s chip business for more than $18 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.

An agreement with the group, which also includes Seagate Technology PLC and Dell Inc., could be announced later Wednesday in Japan, the people said. It is unclear who else may be in the group and its membership could still change.

The agreement would be the latest twist in a contentious sale process that is likely far from over.

Toshiba is seeking to unload the chip unit as part of a survival plan in the wake of huge losses at its U.S. nuclear unit Westinghouse Electric Co., which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. The Tokyo company has said its plan centers around selling the profitable semiconductor unit, which makes NAND flash-memory chips used for data storage in smartphones, computers and other electronics products.

Write to Dana Mattioli at

How the iPhone Built a City in China

July 3, 2017

Zhengzhou, once dominated by farmland, now has 250,000 people working to assemble Apple’s smartphone

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July 3, 2017 5:30 a.m. ET


ZHENGZHOU, China–Farmer Zhang Hailin remembers the day in 2010 when he watched as helicopters flew in over fields of corn and wheat here, hovering in spots to drop balloon-shaped markers.

“Three days later, a hundred bulldozers were here,” Mr. Zhang said.

The iPhone was coming, and it wouldn’t be long before a new industrial town on the edge of Zhengzhou would be known as iPhone City.

Within months, boxy beige factory buildings appeared, power lines were connected and buses packed with workers began rolling up to Foxconn Technology Group, which assembles most of Apple Inc.’s smartphones.

A year later, Foxconn’s billionaire chairman Terry Gou said the iPhone factory complex had 100,000 workers. Today, Foxconn says it employs about 250,000, roughly the population of Madison, Wis.

Analysts estimate that Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., makes 150 million iPhones each year, along with 20 million iPads and other electronics. Foxconn said it employs 1 million people across China and elsewhere, including southern Shenzhen, where it began manufacturing the first iPhone amid great secrecy.

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With Apple embracing outsourced manufacturing in Chinese cities, the iPhone’s success in the decade since it launched has fueled China’s rise at the center of the global electronics supply chain.

The explosion of higher-tech manufacturing was encouraged by Beijing as leaders sought to move factories up the value chain from making plastic toys and clothes. That shift transformed the lives of millions of Chinese, bringing welcome jobs but also leading to complaints from some workers of repetitive labor, restrictive work rules and crowded living conditions in company housing.

The iPhone’s global success has increased scrutiny of Apple and its suppliers. The Cupertino, Calif., company said it holds Foxconn and others “to the strictest standards in the industry.” It said it has educated 12 million workers on their rights, ensured workweeks don’t exceed 48 hours, and offered career- and personal-development courses. “We hold our suppliers to the standard we hold ourselves: They must treat everyone with dignity and respect,” a spokesman said in a statement. Apple said wages and working conditions at its suppliers have improved significantly in the past five years.

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Downtown Zhengzhou, China

The move to Zhengzhou followed a spate of suicides in 2010 at Foxconn’s other primary iPhone production facility in Shenzhen, along the coast where wages were higher. Foxconn said in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal that many factors were behind choosing Zhengzhou, including the proximity to workers’ hometowns, and suitable infrastructure and transportation.

“Zhengzhou’s pro-business policies and the investment the government continues to make to build strong infrastructure to support manufacturing make the province an attractive location for our operations,” Foxconn said in a statement.

Like American company towns a century ago–Pullman, Ill., Hershey, Pa., and Henry Ford’s Detroit–iPhone City revolves mainly around a single product, and it largely depends on that product for its wealth.

In iPhone City, shopping malls, restaurants and karaoke parlors, some started by former Foxconn workers, sprouted to cater to the Foxconn workforce. Government statistics indicate that exports of electronics have skyrocketed from Henan, a poor province of 94 million people with Zhengzhou at its heart.

Officials had welcomed the iPhone: China’s top leaders greenlighted a national-level special trade zone, and the province threw its resources into constructing and populating what would become iPhone City.

During last fall’s rush to make the iPhone 7, when Foxconn was short-handed, state-owned coal companies lent workers to Foxconn. In past years, according to government notices online, the province issued quotas to local authorities stating how many workers they needed to produce for Foxconn.

Readying for a production surge to make the next iPhone model, due this fall, recruiters recently visited villages to put up posters and find workers.

“While the government has provided assistance in helping us with our recruitment requirements, the costs associated with hiring and training new workers are all covered by Foxconn,” the company said.

On a recent June day, a speaker blared outside the factory gate: “We’re recruiting the cream of society. Your personality must be optimistic, your work diligent.”

Foxconn workers earn some 1,900 yuan ($278) in quiet months to more than 4,000 yuan with overtime when production ramps up. Their income isn’t high, but many are better off than they were as rural villagers. For the workers, the iPhone is an expensive choice, and many say they buy cheaper, Chinese-branded smartphones instead.

Yuan Yanling, 28 years old, said she has worked three stints on iPhone assembly lines, quitting each time better-paid or more fun jobs appeared. Last November she traded in her Foxconn uniform for heels and began selling cosmetics in a nearby mall.

“Our customers are virtually all Foxconn workers,” said Ms. Yuan, who lives with her husband, a Foxconn employee, and two children in a rented one-room apartment.

Some of Ms. Yuan’s neighbors in the apartment complex are less content than she, with some who relocated during development complaining about inadequate land compensation. Zhengzhou authorities said their land compensation was based on national standards.

In 2013, one farmer, Xiao Malai, rankled local government officials by protesting his home’s demolition for a development inside the industrial park anchored by Foxconn’s factories, according to court documents from the trial of an official who allegedly paid an industrial park employee and other villagers to beat the farmer. Mr. Xiao died as a result of the beating, and the official, the industrial park employee and others were jailed over his death.

“We were not aware of the tragic death of Xiao Malai or the circumstances of his death,” an Apple spokesman said.

Other local farmers say the compensation paid for their land was more than they could ever earn in a lifetime cultivating wheat and corn. Mr. Zhang, who saw the markers drop from the helicopters in 2010, used part of his payout to buy two apartments. He said he earned more as a street sweeper than he did on the farm. His wife works at Foxconn, and their son also has.

Yet unease abounds in Zhengzhou over how long Foxconn–or Apple–will need iPhone City. Sales of the iPhone declined last year for the first time since its debut in 2007. During last year’s production downturn, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang asked Mr. Gou whether iPhone production would rise or fall this year, according to people present at the meeting.

Foxconn said it has acquired 80% of the buildings it uses in Zhengzhou, leasing the remainder, and will continue to invest there.

Regardless, Chinese officials see the iPhone factory as a worthwhile investment, said Shi Pu, an economics professor in Henan. “Foxconn has helped train hundreds of thousands of Henan’s people,” he said. “They can use those skills to go on to other jobs.”

Kersten Zhang and Yang Jie in Beijing and Tripp Mickle in San Francisco contributed to this article.

Write to Eva Dou at



How the iPhone built a city of 6 million people in China

It’s hard to overstate the iPhone’s impact on the world, both from a consumer technology perspective as well as manufacturing. Foxconn, Apple’s trusted manufacturing partner, has come under fire several times over the years for its treatment of workers and other controversies, but as the New York Timesreports, the company’s job of building millions upon millions of iPhones helps to fuel an entire city.


Located in the central province of Henan, the Chinese city of Zhengzhou is home to a Foxconn plant that can churn out a mind boggling half million iPhones every day. That kind of a production rate means a huge demand for factory workers, and labor is easy to come by in the city of six million residents.

Between the constantly expanding factory, over $1.5 billion in support for Foxconn’s infrastructure from the Chinese government, and a newly built customs facility to expedite the flow of iPhones out of the country, Apple’s smartphone rules the region. In fact, the iPhone is so crucial to the local economy that Zhengzhou’s residents allegedly call it “iPhone City.”

Foxconn’s presence in Zhengzhou means that roads get paved and the infrastructure is maintained and strengthened, but it’s Apple’s iPhone that is the real driving force. China benefits from the arrangement, and so does Apple, even though two aren’t direct partners. Foxconn, of course, gets the best of both worlds: Apple’s contract to build the iPhone and seemingly endless perks from the government to keep doing what it’s doing and keeping people employed.

How the iPhone built a city of 6 million people in China

Vietnam GDP growth surges in second quarter

June 29, 2017


© AFP | Communist Vietnam, of which Ho Chi Minh was a pivotal figure, has enjoyed a reputation as one of the best performing economies in Southeast Asia in recent years, with growth hitting more than six percent over the past two years, though the 2016 figures were down from the previous year.

HANOI (AFP) – Vietnam’s economy bounced back in the second quarter posting a 6.17 percent growth rate, according to official figures Thursday, a boost driven by gains in the industrial and services sectors.The export-driven economy saw growth slow last year as the country struggled to recover from a major drought and mass fish kill along its central coast.

Growth in the first three months of this year hit a three-year low of 5.15 percent thanks to a slump in exports from Samsung, the country’s leading investor.

But GDP growth rates from April to June jumped to 6.17 percent, according to the General Statistics Office (GSO).

The surge was driven by growth in the industrial and services sectors, though the mining sector dragged growth slightly, the office said.

GSO general director Nguyen Bich Lam said the surge between quarter one and two was the biggest jump since 2011, according to state-controlled Vietnamnet news site.

Analysts were buoyed by the bounceback and predicted strong growth ahead — even if the official growth target of 6.7 percent is not met.

“The latest numbers are very positive… I think Vietnam can manage about 6.5 percent growth this year,” said Luong Hoang from Viet Capital Securities.

Communist Vietnam has enjoyed a reputation as one of the best performing economies in Southeast Asia in recent years, with growth hitting more than six percent over the past two years, though the 2016 figures were down from the previous year.

Overall growth for the first half of 2017 is at 5.73 percent, up from the same period last year as exports surged 18.9 percent compared to the first half of 2016.

Growth has been mostly driven by exports of cheaply made goods, from Nike shoes to smartphones.

Is Trump wise to take on China over trade? — Brookings Institution — “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the US in totally one-sided trade.”

April 5, 2017

BBC News

US President Donald Trump has said that trade negotiations with China will be “very difficult” when he meets President Xi Jinping in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, on Thursday.

Trade will be one of two key issues on the agenda, along with North Korea. But what’s the problem – and what can Trump do about it?

Buying Chinese

The problem with the US-China trade relationship is that it is highly unequal and has been for a long time.

In 2016 alone, the US imported $480bn (£385bn) of goods and services from China – mostly consumer items like clothing, shoes, televisions, smartphones, laptops and tablets.

Those imports keep prices low for American consumers.

In return, the US sold just $170bn (£137bn) worth of exports to China – including sophisticated machinery like aircraft and agricultural products like soybeans.

It also makes money from services, like the education of an estimated 350,000 Chinese students in the US.

Overall, China is the largest source of the US trade deficit – the amount by which the value of its imports exceeds the value of its exports. In 2016 it accounted for about 60% of its overall deficit of $500bn (402bn).Grey line

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The meeting takes place at Mar-a-Lago in Florida – a private members club as well as the Trump family’s winter getaway
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The loss of American jobs

President Trump is unhappy with this state of affairs, tweeting in January: “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the US in totally one-sided trade.”

He sees a link with the loss of manufacturing jobs – and he has a point, because a large trade deficit generally goes hand-in-hand with a smaller manufacturing sector.

This is a problem, because for people without college degrees these jobs tend to be well-paying ones.


.Shoppers on escalatorsUS shoppers have enjoyed years of cheap imports. Reuters photo

During his campaign, Mr Trump spoke often of wanting to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US and, in the first presidential debate, said: “They’re using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China.

After China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 there was a surge of Chinese imports into the US, something economists called the “China shock”.

Between 2000 and 2007, US manufacturing jobs fell sharply, from 16.9 million to 13.6 million. The 2008 financial crisis pushed the number lower, to 11.2 million, although the number has since been fairly stable.

Workers making clothing and electronic goods were among the worst affected.

It is difficult to settle upon an exact figure, but some economists think that 40% of these job losses can be linked to Chinese imports.

However, the influx of cheap goods also created non-manufacturing jobs in the US, because consumers had more money to spend on other things.

That boosted healthcare, entertainment, travel, and leisure. So, think of the trade deficit destroying some jobs and creating others.

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Open the gates

So, what can President Trump do about the trade deficit?

Candidate Trump threatened harsh protectionist measures, such as a 45% tariff on Chinese imports, but history shows that protectionism does not reduce trade deficits.

He also threatened to name China a “currency manipulator” and at one point during his campaign went so far as to accuse it of “raping” the US with its trade policy.

For years China intervened to keep its exchange rate low, which kept the price of its goods down and helped increase the US deficit. But more recently its central bank has kept the currency high – making its exports more expensive – and it is in the US’s interest to encourage more of this.


.Port of Los AngelesThe US has long been spending more on goods from other countries than it sells. GETTY IMAGES

The most promising route for President Trump is to negotiate better access to Chinese consumers.

China has many restrictions on imports, for example a 25% tariff on cars. And while the US sells a lot of agricultural products to China, notably soy beans, key markets like beef and pork are highly restricted.

Probably most important for the US is that modern service sectors like finance, social media, telecommunications, health care and transportation are largely closed to imports and foreign investment.

So far there has been little progress, but opening China’s markets would offer more choice to its own consumers and would help maintain a stable relationship with the US.

China’s economy depends on keeping the trade flowing with its biggest customer.

Low expectations

Will there be a trade war?

Probably not, because protectionist measures would hurt the US economy and the Chinese are counting on it to be practical.

The Chinese Communist Party has an important congress at the end of the year and it will be difficult for Xi to do anything bold before then.

Even afterwards, China is likely to move very gradually on market opening.

Trump was smart to set low expectations for the summit.

David Dollar is a senior fellow in the John L Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution, a public policy organisation based in Washington DC.

Twitter: @davidrdollar and @BrookingsInst



Chris Christie takes on role in Trump’s fight against opioids — “I am pro-life and that means we believe in the sanctity of human life.” — “Everyone has a right to the help that they need.”

March 29, 2017


The Hill

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Chris Christie. Getty Images

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will take on a role in President Trump’s White House to combat the country’s opioid epidemic, ABC News reported, citing White House officials.

A draft order, obtained by Politico, talks about forming a commission to make recommendations related to treatment and law connected to opioid addiction.

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The president often talked about tackling the country’s opioid epidemic during his campaign.

Christie was a strong supporter of Trump after dropping his own presidential bid last year. He headed Trump’s transition team for some time before being ousted from that role shortly after Trump’s victory and replaced with Vice President Mike Pence.


“My brother Fred was a great guy. He had everything. I mean, the most handsome guy, and then he got hooked — and there was nothing, there was nothing we could do about it.”

— Donald Trump


He has been long rumored for a job in the Trump administration and said last year that he turned down several offers to serve in the White House.

During an interview earlier this year, the New Jersey governor said he doesn’t expect to be asked to serve in the Trump administration.

“I have absolutely no intention, nor any understanding, that I will be asked to be in the administration in the years to come,” Christie said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“My view is, I have got a job to do as governor, and then my intention is to go off to the private sector and to help support my family.”

The president told The Wall Street Journal during a past interview that “at some point, we’re going to do something with Chris.”

Last month, the New Jersey governor dined with the president at the White House, where they discussed the country’s opioid epidemic.

Christie last month signed a series of bills related to the crisis, including one requiring state-regulated insurance plans to cover treatment for opioid addiction.



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Chris Christie. AP Photo

Chris Christie appeared Wednesday morning, March 29, 2017, to talk about his new role working for President Trump in the effort to find solutions for America’s opioid epidemic. Christie said he believes in the worth of every human being and the sanctity of human life — that every human being has some spark of God within. He said this means he is pro-life and we, as a people, should not turn our backs on the addicted, the aged or anyone else.


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“We cannot leave the elderly behind.”




Unusually high amount of suspicious cellphone activity in DC has caught the attention of Homeland Security

March 17, 2017

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  • Unusual activity was spotted by security company ESD America
  • It has prompted fears that diplomats and US officials could be targeted
  • A source told CBS it could signal attempts by a foreign power to spy on the US
  • The activity indicates that devices could be cloned and users tracked 

A spike in suspicious cell phone activity close to the White House and the Pentagon has raised fresh fears that the US government is being spied on by a foreign power.

The Department for Homeland Security has been alerted to unusual activity around cellphone towers in Washington DC.

A source at security company ESD America has told CBS it could reveal espionage attempts from outside governments.

The activity, the source claimed, could be evidence that specific individuals, or their devices, are being monitored.

The activity, a source claimed, could be evidence that specific individuals, or their devices, are being monitored

A report in the Washington Free Beacon says diplomats and US government officials would be the likely target.

Documents passed to the Free Beacon suggest devices could be cloned, and location data has been tracked by a third party.

A source told the publication: ‘The attack was first seen in D.C. but was later seen on other sensors across the USA. A sensor located close to the White House and another over near the Pentagon have been part of those that have seen this tracking.’

Documents  suggest devices could be cloned, and location data has been tracked by a third party

Documents suggest devices could be cloned, and location data has been tracked by a third party

Democratic lawmakers have written to Homeland Security Secretary John F Kelly (pictured, right, alongside President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence) raising concerns about hacking of cellphone networks

Democratic lawmakers have written to Homeland Security Secretary John F Kelly (pictured, right, alongside President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence) raising concerns about hacking of cellphone networks

Insiders believe that a large number of cell phones are being tracked, and rogue forces could introduce malware to spy on sensitive targets.

It comes amid widespread concerns over the potential to hack US cellular networks.

Democratic lawmakers Ron Wyden and Red Lieu wrote this week in a letter to the Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly: ‘For several years, cyber security experts have repeatedly warned that US cellular communications networks are vulnerable to surveillance by foreign governments, hackers, and criminals exploiting vulnerabilities in Signaling System 7 (a set of protocols used by cellphone and text messaging applications).

‘US cellular phones can be tracked, tapped, and hacked—by adversaries thousands of miles away—through SS7-enabled surveillance,’ the congressmen write.

‘We are deeply concerned that the security of America’s telecommunications infrastructure is not getting the attention it deserves.

‘We suspect that most Americans simply have no idea how easy it is for a relatively sophisticated adversary to track their movements, tap their calls, and hack their smartphones.’

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Privacy hawks in Congress call on Homeland Security to warn Americans of SS7 hacking threat

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and California Representative Ted Lieu are pressing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on a mobile network vulnerability that they consider to be a systemic digital threat. In a new joint letter, the two members of Congress questioned DHS Secretary John Kelly about flaws inherent in Signaling System 7 (SS7), a global telecommunications protocol that allows phone networks to route calls and texts between users.

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In a study publicized during a 2014 security conference in Hamburg, researchers demonstrated how hackers could insert themselves into a device’s call-forwarding function, redirecting calls, and any private information discussed therein, to themselves before bouncing them back to the receiver. In another SS7 technique, hackers could collect nearby texts and calls using a dedicated antenna, going so far as to obtain temporary encryption keys from a wireless carrier, which would later be used to decrypt the content of the correspondence. According to the researchers, end-to-end encryption — widely considered to be the most robust mobile precaution a user can take — could withstand such an attack, but the vast majority of users do not employ such measures.

Some digital privacy advocates suggest that there is little focus on the vulnerability of SS7 because governments are actively exploiting it in their own spying efforts. For example, SS7 tracking systems pair well with IMSI catchers (more commonly called “Stingrays“) used by some U.S. law enforcement agencies, zeroing in on a target’s general location in order to intercept their communications.

Another problem is that because so many wireless providers around the world use the protocol to connect devices on other mobile networks, the system is insecure by design. “SS7 is inherently insecure, and it was never designed to be secure,” GSMA security director James Moran told The Washington Post in a 2014 story about the threat posed by SS7. “It is possible, with access to SS7, to trigger a request for a record from a network.”

In Wednesday’s letter, Wyden and Lieu demanded to know what steps DHS had taken to inform the public about the threat, how the agency plans to protect the private sector, as well as U.S. government officials and the extent to which foreign adversaries may be leveraging SS7-enabled surveillance on U.S. citizens.

“We suspect that most Americans simply have no idea how easy it is for a relatively sophisticated adversary to track their movements, tap their calls, and hack their smartphones,” the letters reads. “We are also concerned that the government has not adequately considered the counterintelligence threat posed by SS7-enabled surveillance.”

Sen. Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been one of the government’s most vocal advocates in the digital privacy movement. Congressman Lieu, similarly a privacy hawk, appeared in a 60 Minutes segment on SS7’s flaws that aired last year. The FCC is expected to release its own report on an investigation into SS7 risks this month.


WikiLeaks Dump Adds to China’s Foreign-Tech Wariness

March 9, 2017

Revelation of purported CIA hacking methods hands ammunition to the country’s cyberspace hawks

While the purported CIA documents leaked this week by WikiLeaks focus on the likes of Apple and Samsung, Chinese companies like Huawei do get some coverage. 

While the purported CIA documents leaked this week by WikiLeaks focus on the likes of Apple and Samsung, Chinese companies like Huawei do get some coverage.  PHOTO: SADILEK JAN/ZUMA PRESS

BEIJING—The latest WikiLeaks trove hands fresh ammunition to China’s cyberspace hawks, already pushing to reduce dependence on foreign products that could be vulnerable to espionage, observers say.

“The level of alarm in China will certainly increase, and with it a renewed determination to clamp down still further on U.S. technology companies’ operations in China,” said Peter Fuhrman, chairman of Shenzhen-based advisory firm China First Capital, which follows China’s tech sector.

The documents released this week—more than 8,000 pages in all—purport to show how the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency breaks into computers, smartphones, TVs and other electronics for surveillance. Many documents deal with leading non-Chinese brands like Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., though there is some coverage of Chinese products, including routers from Huawei Technologies Inc. and Baidu Inc.’s search engine.

The Chinese-product references are relatively sparse—and, in some cases, obscure. An undated list of CIA internal hacking demonstrations, for example, includes the “Panda Poke-Huawei credless exploit”—which one cybersecurity specialist says may be a method for taking advantage of vulnerabilities without logins or other “credentials.” There is also the “Huawei VOIP Collection,” a reference to “voice over internet Protocol,” making phone calls over the internet.

The document doesn’t say whether these methods were used for intelligence gathering. Huawei declined to comment.

A file titled “Small Routers Research-work in progress” lists router models from Huawei and ZTE Corp. It also mentions China’s three state-owned telecom companies and Baidu’s search engine, without further details.

The telecom companies and Baidu declined to comment.

The leak also offered what seem to be workaday notes among colleagues, including one CIA worker’s complaint about one piece of software’s default-language setting. “I don’t speak Chinese,” he griped.

WikiLeaks’ website is blocked in China, but Chinese state-run media reported the document leak, focusing on U.S. companies. Overall response has been muted, possibly because the official spotlight this week is on Beijing’s annual legislative gathering.

Cybersecurity experts say China maintains its own robust cyberhacking apparatus, though Beijing characterizes itself as purely a hacking victim, not a perpetrator.

“China is opposed to any form of cyberattack,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday. “We urge the U.S. side to stop its wiretapping, surveillance, espionage and cyberattacks on China and other countries. China will firmly safeguard its own cybersecurity.”

In recent years, China has seized on leaks about U.S. surveillance to fan public support for its domestic tech products. U.S. tech brands felt a chill after former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed NSA surveillance methods in 2013.

“It is like snow on more snow,” one China executive of a U.S. technology company said of the potential sales impact of the latest leaks.

These leaks could help countries counter CIA tapping and develop their own capabilities, said Nigel Inkster, former deputy chief of U.K. spy agency MI6.

“China, Russia et al will now both be better attuned to the risks posed by these capabilities,” he said, “and will no doubt seek to use them themselves.”

Why stars like David Bowie turn to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll: Music acts on the brain in the same way as addictive pleasures — Plus: why email, text messages, Facebook and Twitter are bad for your brain

February 8, 2017

 Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

David Bowie photographed by Chris Walter in 1974. © RTNWalter / MediaPunch/IPX

  • Researchers blocked pleasure-boosting opioids in test subjects’ brains 
  • With these blocked the researchers no longer enjoyed their favourite songs
  • The study suggests those who have a deep passion for music could be more likely to get a deeper pleasure from sex, recreational drugs or food
  • Multitasking is detrimental to cognitive performance

The sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle is a rock star cliche as old as music itself.

Stars like David Bowie, Keith Richards and Robbie Williams embody the myth of the hedonistic rock star.

Now, scientists have discovered where this historic link might come from.

Researchers have found that the part of our brains that enjoys music is intrinsically linked to the part that feels pleasure from sex, recreational drugs, and food.

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Scientists may have finally discovered the link between musical pleasure and the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Stars like David Bowie (pictured) embody the myth of the hedonistic rock star

Robbie Williams (pictured) is known for his sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle

Scientists may have finally discovered the link between musical pleasure and the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Stars like Robbie Williams (bottom) and David Bowie (top) embody the myth of the hedonistic rock star


Religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in the same way as hedonistic pursuits such as taking drugs, gambling and listening to music, according to research published last year.

Researchers from the University of Utah found that spiritual feelings stimulated the nucleus accumbens – a brain region associated with processing reward and which is known to play a role in addiction.

Based on fMRI scans of devout Mormons, the researchers found that powerful spiritual feelings were associated with activity in the area of the brain associated with processing reward.

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Researchers from McGill University in Montreal found a connection between pleasure-boosting opioids in the brain and enjoyment in music.

Those who have a deep passion for music could be more likely to get a deeper pleasure from sex, recreational drugs or food.

‘This is the first demonstration that the brain’s own opioids are directly involved in musical pleasure,’ says cognitive psychologist Dr Daniel Levitin, senior author of the paper.

Dr Levitin’s team sporadically blocked opioids in test subjects’ brains using naltrexone, a widely prescribed drug for treating addiction disorders.

The team then measured test subjects’ responses to music and found that even their favourite songs failed to trigger a positive response.

‘The impressions our participants shared with us after the experiment were fascinating,’ Dr Levitin said.

‘One said: “I know this is my favourite song but it doesn’t feel like it usually does.”

‘Another: “It sounds pretty, but it’s not doing anything for me.”‘

Activities that people enjoy, including having sex, taking drugs and eating fast food, can lead to addictive behaviours that harm lives and relationships.

Understanding the chemical roots of pleasure in the brain has therefore been a key goal for neuroscience research for decades.

Researchers found a connection between opioids in the brain and enjoyment in music. This image shows Keith Richards (left), Brian Jones (centre) and Mick Jagger (right) of the Rolling Stones after Jones narrowly avoided a jail sentence for possession of cannabis

Researchers found a connection between opioids in the brain and enjoyment in music. This image shows Keith Richards (left), Brian Jones (centre) and Mick Jagger (right) of the Rolling Stones after Jones narrowly avoided a jail sentence for possession of cannabis

But scientists have only recently developed the tools to explore the relationship between pleasure and addiction.

Still, this study proved to be ‘the most involved, difficult and Sisyphean task our lab has undertaken in 20 years of research, Dr Levitin says.

‘Anytime you give prescription drugs to college students who don’t need them for health reasons, you have to be very careful to ensure against any possible ill effects.’

For example, all 17 participants were required to have had a blood test within the year preceding the experiment, to ensure they didn’t have any conditions that would be made worse by the drug.

Music’s universality and its ability to deeply affect emotions suggest an evolutionary origin.

The new findings ‘add to the growing body of evidence for the evolutionary biological substrates of music,’ the researchers write.

The research was published today in the Nature journal ‘Scientific Reports’.

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Why the modern world is bad for your brain

In an era of email, text messages, Facebook and Twitter, we’re all required to do several things at once. But this constant multitasking is taking its toll. Here neuroscientist Daniel J Levitin explains how our addiction to technology is making us less efficient

By Daniel J Levitin Q&A

 The Guardian
Daniel J Levitan
Daniel J Levitan: ‘When trying to concentrate on a task, an unread email in your inbox can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points.’

Our brains are busier than ever before. We’re assaulted with facts, pseudo facts, jibber-jabber, and rumour, all posing as information. Trying to figure out what you need to know and what you can ignore is exhausting. At the same time, we are all doing more. Thirty years ago, travel agents made our airline and rail reservations, salespeople helped us find what we were looking for in shops, and professional typists or secretaries helped busy people with their correspondence. Now we do most of those things ourselves. We are doing the jobs of 10 different people while still trying to keep up with our lives, our children and parents, our friends, our careers, our hobbies, and our favourite TV shows.

Our smartphones have become Swiss army knife–like appliances that include a dictionary, calculator, web browser, email, Game Boy, appointment calendar, voice recorder, guitar tuner, weather forecaster, GPS, texter, tweeter, Facebook updater, and flashlight. They’re more powerful and do more things than the most advanced computer at IBM corporate headquarters 30 years ago. And we use them all the time, part of a 21st-century mania for cramming everything we do into every single spare moment of downtime. We text while we’re walking across the street, catch up on email while standing in a queue – and while having lunch with friends, we surreptitiously check to see what our other friends are doing. At the kitchen counter, cosy and secure in our domicile, we write our shopping lists on smartphones while we are listening to that wonderfully informative podcast on urban beekeeping.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. Although we think we’re doing several things at once, multitasking, this is a powerful and diabolical illusion. Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT and one of the world experts on divided attention, says that our brains are “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.” So we’re not actually keeping a lot of balls in the air like an expert juggler; we’re more like a bad amateur plate spinner, frantically switching from one task to another, ignoring the one that is not right in front of us but worried it will come crashing down any minute. Even though we think we’re getting a lot done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient.

Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation. To make matters worse, the prefrontal cortex has a novelty bias, meaning that its attention can be easily hijacked by something new – the proverbial shiny objects we use to entice infants, puppies, and kittens. The irony here for those of us who are trying to focus amid competing activities is clear: the very brain region we need to rely on for staying on task is easily distracted. We answer the phone, look up something on the internet, check our email, send an SMS, and each of these things tweaks the novelty- seeking, reward-seeking centres of the brain, causing a burst of endogenous opioids (no wonder it feels so good!), all to the detriment of our staying on task. It is the ultimate empty-caloried brain candy. Instead of reaping the big rewards that come from sustained, focused effort, we instead reap empty rewards from completing a thousand little sugar-coated tasks.

In the old days, if the phone rang and we were busy, we either didn’t answer or we turned the ringer off. When all phones were wired to a wall, there was no expectation of being able to reach us at all times – one might have gone out for a walk or been between places – and so if someone couldn’t reach you (or you didn’t feel like being reached), it was considered normal. Now more people have mobile phones than have toilets. This has created an implicit expectation that you should be able to reach someone when it is convenient for you, regardless of whether it is convenient for them. This expectation is so ingrained that people in meetings routinely answer their mobile phones to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk now, I’m in a meeting.” Just a decade or two ago, those same people would have let a landline on their desk go unanswered during a meeting, so different were the expectations for reachability.

Just having the opportunity to multitask is detrimental to cognitive performance. Glenn Wilson, former visiting professor of psychology at Gresham College, London, calls it info-mania. His research found that being in a situation where you are trying to concentrate on a task, and an email is sitting unread in your inbox, can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points. And although people ascribe many benefits to marijuana, including enhanced creativity and reduced pain and stress, it is well documented that its chief ingredient, cannabinol, activates dedicated cannabinol receptors in the brain and interferes profoundly with memory and with our ability to concentrate on several things at once. Wilson showed that the cognitive losses from multitasking are even greater than the cognitive losses from pot‑smoking.

Russ Poldrack, a neuroscientist at Stanford, found that learning information while multitasking causes the new information to go to the wrong part of the brain. If students study and watch TV at the same time, for example, the information from their schoolwork goes into the striatum, a region specialised for storing new procedures and skills, not facts and ideas. Without the distraction of TV, the information goes into the hippocampus, where it is organised and categorised in a variety of ways, making it easier to retrieve. MIT’s Earl Miller adds, “People can’t do [multitasking] very well, and when they say they can, they’re deluding themselves.” And it turns out the brain is very good at this deluding business.

‘Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task.’ Photograph: Alamy

Then there are the metabolic costs that I wrote about earlier. Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task. And the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain. This leads to compromises in both cognitive and physical performance. Among other things, repeated task switching leads to anxiety, which raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, which in turn can lead to aggressive and impulsive behaviour. By contrast, staying on task is controlled by the anterior cingulate and the striatum, and once we engage the central executive mode, staying in that state uses less energy than multitasking and actually reduces the brain’s need for glucose.

To make matters worse, lots of multitasking requires decision-making: Do I answer this text message or ignore it? How do I respond to this? How do I file this email? Do I continue what I’m working on now or take a break? It turns out that decision-making is also very hard on your neural resources and that little decisions appear to take up as much energy as big ones. One of the first things we lose is impulse control. This rapidly spirals into a depleted state in which, after making lots of insignificant decisions, we can end up making truly bad decisions about something important. Why would anyone want to add to their daily weight of information processing by trying to multitask?

In discussing information overload with Fortune 500 leaders, top scientists, writers, students, and small business owners, email comes up again and again as a problem. It’s not a philosophical objection to email itself, it’s the mind-numbing number of emails that come in. When the 10-year-old son of my neuroscience colleague Jeff Mogil (head of the Pain Genetics lab at McGill University) was asked what his father does for a living, he responded, “He answers emails.” Jeff admitted after some thought that it’s not so far from the truth. Workers in government, the arts, and industry report that the sheer volume of email they receive is overwhelming, taking a huge bite out of their day. We feel obliged to answer our emails, but it seems impossible to do so and get anything else done.

Before email, if you wanted to write to someone, you had to invest some effort in it. You’d sit down with pen and paper, or at a typewriter, and carefully compose a message. There wasn’t anything about the medium that lent itself to dashing off quick notes without giving them much thought, partly because of the ritual involved, and the time it took to write a note, find and address an envelope, add postage, and take the letter to a mailbox. Because the very act of writing a note or letter to someone took this many steps, and was spread out over time, we didn’t go to the trouble unless we had something important to say. Because of email’s immediacy, most of us give little thought to typing up any little thing that pops in our heads and hitting the send button. And email doesn’t cost anything.

Sure, there’s the money you paid for your computer and your internet connection, but there is no incremental cost to sending one more email. Compare this with paper letters. Each one incurred the price of the envelope and the postage stamp, and although this doesn’t represent a lot of money, these were in limited supply – if you ran out of them, you’d have to make a special trip to the stationery store and the post office to buy more, so you didn’t use them frivolously. The sheer ease of sending emails has led to a change in manners, a tendency to be less polite about what we ask of others. Many professionals tell a similar story. One said, “A large proportion of emails I receive are from people I barely know asking me to do something for them that is outside what would normally be considered the scope of my work or my relationship with them. Email somehow apparently makes it OK to ask for things they would never ask by phone, in person, or in snail mail.”

There are also important differences between snail mail and email on the receiving end. In the old days, the only mail we got came once a day, which effectively created a cordoned-off section of your day to collect it from the mailbox and sort it. Most importantly, because it took a few days to arrive, there was no expectation that you would act on it immediately. If you were engaged in another activity, you’d simply let the mail sit in the box outside or on your desk until you were ready to deal with it. Now email arrives continuously, and most emails demand some sort of action: Click on this link to see a video of a baby panda, or answer this query from a co-worker, or make plans for lunch with a friend, or delete this email as spam. All this activity gives us a sense that we’re getting things done – and in some cases we are. But we are sacrificing efficiency and deep concentration when we interrupt our priority activities with email.

Until recently, each of the many different modes of communication we used signalled its relevance, importance, and intent. If a loved one communicated with you via a poem or a song, even before the message was apparent, you had a reason to assume something about the nature of the content and its emotional value. If that same loved one communicated instead via a summons, delivered by an officer of the court, you would have expected a different message before even reading the document. Similarly, phone calls were typically used to transact different business from that of telegrams or business letters. The medium was a clue to the message. All of that has changed with email, and this is one of its overlooked disadvantages – because it is used for everything. In the old days, you might sort all of your postal mail into two piles, roughly corresponding to personal letters and bills. If you were a corporate manager with a busy schedule, you might similarly sort your telephone messages for callbacks. But emails are used for all of life’s messages. We compulsively check our email in part because we don’t know whether the next message will be for leisure/amusement, an overdue bill, a “to do”, a query… something you can do now, later, something life-changing, something irrelevant.

This uncertainty wreaks havoc with our rapid perceptual categorisation system, causes stress, and leads to decision overload. Every email requires a decision! Do I respond to it? If so, now or later? How important is it? What will be the social, economic, or job-related consequences if I don’t answer, or if I don’t answer right now?

'Because it is limited in characters, texting discourages thoughtful discussion or any level of detail, and its addictive problems are compounded by its hyper-immediacy.'
‘Because it is limited in characters, texting discourages thoughtful discussion or any level of detail, and its addictive problems are compounded by its hyper-immediacy.’ Photograph: Alamy

Now of course email is approaching obsolescence as a communicative medium. Most people under the age of 30 think of email as an outdated mode of communication used only by “old people”. In its place they text, and some still post to Facebook. They attach documents, photos, videos, and links to their text messages and Facebook posts the way people over 30 do with email. Many people under 20 now see Facebook as a medium for the older generation.

For them, texting has become the primary mode of communication. It offers privacy that you don’t get with phone calls, and immediacy you don’t get with email. Crisis hotlines have begun accepting calls from at-risk youth via texting and it allows them two big advantages: they can deal with more than one person at a time, and they can pass the conversation on to an expert, if needed, without interrupting the conversation.

But texting suffers from most of the problems of email and then some. Because it is limited in characters, it discourages thoughtful discussion or any level of detail. And the addictive problems are compounded by texting’s hyperimmediacy. Emails take some time to work their way through the internet and they require that you take the step of explicitly opening them. Text messages magically appear on the screen of your phone and demand immediate attention from you. Add to that the social expectation that an unanswered text feels insulting to the sender, and you’ve got a recipe for addiction: you receive a text, and that activates your novelty centres. You respond and feel rewarded for having completed a task (even though that task was entirely unknown to you 15 seconds earlier). Each of those delivers a shot of dopamine as your limbic system cries out “More! More! Give me more!”

In a famous experiment, my McGill colleagues Peter Milner and James Olds, both neuroscientists, placed a small electrode in the brains of rats, in a small structure of the limbic system called the nucleus accumbens. This structure regulates dopamine production and is the region that “lights up” when gamblers win a bet, drug addicts take cocaine, or people have orgasms – Olds and Milner called it the pleasure centre. A lever in the cage allowed the rats to send a small electrical signal directly to their nucleus accumbens. Do you think they liked it? Boy how they did! They liked it so much that they did nothing else. They forgot all about eating and sleeping. Long after they were hungry, they ignored tasty food if they had a chance to press that little chrome bar; they even ignored the opportunity for sex. The rats just pressed the lever over and over again, until they died of starvation and exhaustion. Does that remind you of anything? A 30-year-old man died in Guangzhou (China) after playing video games continuously for three days. Another man died in Daegu (Korea) after playing video games almost continuously for 50 hours, stopped only by his going into cardiac arrest.

Each time we dispatch an email in one way or another, we feel a sense of accomplishment, and our brain gets a dollop of reward hormones telling us we accomplished something. Each time we check a Twitter feed or Facebook update, we encounter something novel and feel more connected socially (in a kind of weird, impersonal cyber way) and get another dollop of reward hormones. But remember, it is the dumb, novelty-seeking portion of the brain driving the limbic system that induces this feeling of pleasure, not the planning, scheduling, higher-level thought centres in the prefrontal cortex. Make no mistake: email-, Facebook- and Twitter-checking constitute a neural addiction.

© Daniel J. Levitin. Extracted from The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, published by Viking (£20). Click here to buy it for £16.


 (Those words, spoken to an advocate of sex, drugs and rock and roll, changed everything)