Equifax – Time to Rethink Data Security

In light of the recent Equifax data breach, we must take a step back to address and understand how these leaks arise, what we can do to prevent them and hold company’s accountable when things go wrong.
By: Akshay Pardiwala

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Personal data has fueled marketing efforts enabling businesses to target certain customer bases by performing market segmentation. The use of data for this purpose is controversial, we never know who exactly is looking at our information or how it is being used and the last thing we want is our information to fall into the wrong hands.

In July of this year, Equifax Inc. (EFX), a consumer credit reporting agency, experienced a massive data breach compromising sensitive information such as social security numbers for over 143 million Americans. This information can be really useful for banks and other institutions to check the credibility of individuals, however; the same information can be misused to fraudulently open new accounts, collect government benefits or obtain medical services and ruin the financial credibility of identity theft victims. How do we ensure that our data doesn’t get into the wrong hands?

Under our current laws, Equifax doesn’t have to follow strict regulations when it comes to reporting breaches such as this. As a result, Equifax kept the breach a secret for over six weeks. Furthermore, their actions after the breach lacks professionalism. Although Equifax denies insider trading allegation, two high level executives liquidated $1.8 million worth of Equifax stock before the breach was made public – just a little suspect. Along with potential insider trading, Equifax was notified in March by Cisco Systems that there was a flaw in a piece of their software called “Apache Struts”. Equifax then “took steps” to correct this flaw but they clearly failed in their “efforts” because the hackers entered the system two days after Equifax was notified and they remained undetected in the system for four whole months. When dealing with sensitive private information, extra precaution should be used to ensure security. The alleged scandals just keep adding up for Equifax, the worst part about it is, 48 states have passed breach disclosure laws but none of those laws have kept agencies like Equifax in line.

It seems as if everyday a new piece of information about this massive data breach gets released. Will there be an end to this? Unfortunately, in this year alone, there have been a countless number of data breaches, this will either mean security has to tighten up or legislation will force agencies to not tread in risky waters. For example, effective next year, the European Union, by law, will require companies to notify customers within 72 hours after discovering a hack. How should we reform our laws to protect sensitive information?

Talking Points:

  • Do you believe that agencies have a duty to report breaches?
  • How do we amend our laws to force not only Equifax, but also any other agency dealing with any sort of sensitive information to report breaches and other hacks which could compromise personal data?
  • Why did the corporate governance structure fail to ensure that Equifax did its duty to report the breach in a timely matter?
  • Do you think it was alright for Equifax to first try to find a solution before announcing the breach?
  • Even more importantly, how do we create systems which prevent breaches in the first place?

These are just a few questions which come to light when looking at cyber security. Answering these questions will help us formulate strategies to help fight cybercrimes in the future.​

Work Cited

Andriotis, AnnaMaria, et al. “’We’ve Been Breached’: Inside the Equifax Hack.” The Wall Street
Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 18 Sept. 2017, www.wsj.com/articles/weve-been-breached-inside-the-equifax-hack-1505693318.
Mims, Christopher. “After Equifax, Should the Government Force Companies to Report Hacks?”
The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 24 Sept. 2017, www.wsj.com/articles/should-the-u-s-require-companies-to-report-breaches-1506254402.

Soli – What is Climate Change and What Can You do to Help?

Soli a start up in the BUzzLab at BU is the first collaboration for Tech Talk. This article dives into climate change and touches on how technologies from the industrial revolution have expedited global warming.
By: Jessica Cameron  

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“Climate Change” is a buzzword nowadays. You might have heard the term mentioned at your family’s dinner table last Thanksgiving, or shouted during rallies around the world in the past year. You’ve probably heard statements about it like “it’s a hoax” and “China caused it” or maybe you’ve heard “It’s definitely happening, but it’s a natural process. Nothing to concern ourselves with.” But here’s the truth: Climate Change is happening, and it’s extremely likely that it is our fault.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that, “scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” In fact, according to NASA, 97% of climate scientists are in agreement with that position, as well as most leading scientific organizations worldwide. Michael E. Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, has explained that human-caused Climate Change has about the same level of scientific consensus as the Theory of Gravity.

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The Earth’s climate has constantly been changing, and this is completely natural. The majority of the changes are due to extremely small variations in Earth’s orbit that affect how much solar energy Earth receives. (NASA) However, the reason why the current warming trend is concerning is that the warming is happening at an unprecedented rate. It is also a bigger issue because of the fact that it is extremely likely that the warming is a result of human activity. The reason why there is such a huge scientific consensus is because the evidence of a rapid climate change, despite myths circling around, is overwhelming. There is global temperature rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, decreasing snow cover, seal level rise, decreasing Arctic sea ice, ocean acidification, and more. (NASA) According to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2016 marks the hottest year ever on record. Not only that, but 2013, 2014, and 2015 all set new records for global average surface temperatures. The National Snow and Ice Data Center say that, over the past century, the majority of the glaciers around the world have retreated at “unprecedented rates”. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show that Greenland has lost 36-60 cubic miles of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, and Antarctica has lost 36 cubic miles of ice between 2002 and 2005. Also according to NOAA, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30%. The effects seem never ending.mout

The disappearing snowcap of Mount Kilimanjaro, from space (NASA).

The reason for all of these events are due to the unexpected effects of the Industrial Revolution and extreme energy use. For the past few hundred years, we have been burning fossil fuels, like coal, oil, and natural gas, for energy. However, when we burn fossil fuels, greenhouse gases get emitted. A well-known greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, and some others are methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor. When we emit greenhouse gases, they accumulate in the atmosphere and trap the sun’s heat, which warms the planet. Warming the planet is definitely a positive, it makes the planet habitable for life, but the increasing levels of greenhouse gases are what is dangerous. Carbon dioxide and other gases’ ability to trap heat was realized back in the 19th century, including a seminal paper by Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist. He predicted that changes in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere had the potential to significantly alter the surface temperature of Earth through the greenhouse effect. According to NASA, there is no doubt that increased level of greenhouse gases cause the Earth to warm.

Although all of this information makes the prospect of our planet seem pretty bleak, this is where you come in. There are many ways to help fight climate change. One of the main things to do is to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Seth Wynes, a researcher in the Geography Department at the University of British Columbia, and co-author of a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the most significant ways to help reduce emissions are: having less children, not having a car, avoiding transatlantic flights, and eating a mostly vegetarian diets. Although less impactful, well-known solutions like switching to efficient light bulbs and using reusable bags, all add up. However, Wynes recognizes that these changes might be hard. He says “We talk about structural barriers that get in the way of being able to adopt some of these changes… For some people, those lifestyle changes aren’t going to be possible without relocating, and so there are other options that could be chosen.” At this point, we won’t be able to completely stop climate change, but we still have time to avoid the worst effects. However, we need to act now. Try to use renewable energy, like solar powered energy, if possible, or try to be mindful of the food you’re eating and its respective impact on the environment. Speak to policy makers about implementing policies relating to renewable energy and other relevant solutions. Another great way to significantly impact and help fight climate change is by leveraging our collective consumer spending power.

soli.pngHere’s where Soli Comes in

What is Soli? Soli is a loyalty app that saves the planet while saving you money. Sounds pretty good, right? And guess what, it’s completely free. By using Soli, for every dollar you spend, you earn 1-5% cash back, while also preventing 2 pounds of carbon dioxide from being sent up into the atmosphere, which would trap the sun’s heat and warm the planet. Not only do you get to help save the planet and earn cash back, the app also offers all kinds of exciting promotions and discounts. You have to shop at participating merchants but no worries. Soli has 4000+ merchants, which makes you almost guaranteed to find a solution in the Soli app for anything you need to purchase. You simply type in the information of your existing debit or credit card into the app one time, and start earning cash back and helping to save the planet!

The way that Soli reduces toxic emissions is that for every purchase you make, the company will pay Soli a commission, which we then use to purchase and retire carbon credits. Carbon credits are permits that allow an organization to emit a certain amount of carbon, and can be traded if not used. So, Soli buys these credits to prevent organizations from using them to produce carbon emissions. Essentially, Soli is helping to limit these harmful emissions into the atmosphere, which warms the planet. According to the World Bank, the average American emits 16.1 tons of carbon per year, much higher than the Paris Climate Accords goal of 2.1 tons. Also, in 2015, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, carbon dioxide accounted for 82% of greenhouse gas emissions. So, considering this, reducing 2 pounds of carbon dioxide every time you spent only $1 will lead to a big impact.

The app is currently in beta, so if it sounds appealing to you, go to solipoints.com and request an invite to download and test the app for yourself!

​Also, keep your eye out for a Soli charity movie screening coming soon to BU campus!

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Bitcoin and the Rise of Cryptocurrency

What is cryptocurrency, and why it is the future.
By: Ryan Mook

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Bitcoin, probably the most well-known cryptocurrency, has seen considerable progress since its inception in 2009 – currently trading at upwards of $3,000 per coin. But will Bitcoin, or any other of the 900 cryptocurrencies be enough to mount a future takeover of our current banking system? For those of you who do not know what cryptocurrency is, it is a digital currency that uses encryption techniques, such as algorithms, to secure the transfer of digital money via the blockchain, which I will touch upon a little later in this piece. People can receive Bitcoins in a number of ways like exchanging paper currency at a Bitcoin ATM or exchange, selling products, providing services or mining Bitcoins. Bitcoin mining is a method of certifying that transactions are legal and fair for both buyer and seller. But we will dive deeper into this topic another time!

Bitcoin was designed to benefit both buyers and sellers in a couple key areas. First, it eliminates the middleman, aka banks, through the use of the internet, which means that those using Bitcoin will not be subjected to any extra financial fees. Second, all transactions are made public via a digital ledger or blockchain for anyone to see and verify online. This means that a Bitcoin cannot be owned by more than one person at a time, unlike counterfeit money. The blockchain is a growing database distributed over the internet to computers all over the world, and it consists of blocks or recorded timestamps of each transaction which are all connected to one another. Each time a transaction is made that transaction is recorded in a block which cannot be altered unless validated by all the other blocks in the chain. In other words, your transaction is checked and validated by non-bias third party users (bitcoin miners). This leads to our third benefit which is that because the blockchain is distributed all over the internet to computers worldwide, it cannot be hacked at a single point. If someone attempts to hack one block, the other blocks will signal a disruption in the blockchain and will not process the illegal transaction. Lastly, because the blockchain extends worldwide, users of Bitcoin can make transactions with other users from all over the world without having to exchange money or get permission from banks.

​Although Bitcoin has received a bad reputation because of its association with the dark web and more specifically the former infamous online black market known as the Silk Road, it should not be viewed as a means of performing illegal activity online. Buying illegal drugs online can just as easily be done on the street with paper currency.

Given this brief background on what Bitcoin is and cryptocurrency, what are your thoughts on what might become of this relatively young form of financial technology and how it will impact world banking institutions in the future?​

Harvard Business School – Tech Conference Edition [9/16/17]

A look back at Biztech’s experience at the 2017 Harvard Business School Tech Conference.
By: Jeff Chen

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Last weekend Harvard Business School held their 23rd annual Tech Conference at the HBS campus. A party of 12 Biztech members and I were extremely lucky to be a part of the tech conference – it opened our eyes to new ways in which technology is enabling businesses to help better humanity. Many well distinguished and famous technology leaders were a part of this conference as keynote speakers and panelists. Their area of expertise ranged from FinTech, SpaceTech, FoodTech, Healthcare, and much more.

When someone asks me what my favourite part of Boston is, I answer with three words: Tech, Harvard and MIT. Just across the river there are two of the world’s most prestigious and historical schools and aside from Silicon Valley, Boston is the largest tech hub in the US! Companies and institutions here frequently organize events allowing students like us to learn about the latest cutting edge technology and its impact on business.

I came in to the conference with the expectation of learning more about the Fintech industry but I actually walked away learning about industries I had never even stopped to think about. One of my favorite panels was on the Future of Food. The panel consisted of the co-Founder of Toast (a restaurant POS systems startup), a SVP of Business Development at Doordash, the principal of AmazonFresh, and the founder of a food odor technology company. One of the most thought provoking questions was asked by a member of the audience. They were concerned about the rise of food innovation, and how it could erode the social bonding and romanticism that surrounds shopping for food and cooking. The panelists response was interesting, they all agreed that technology should merely be an aid to the consumer and that it play a complementary role in the kitchen. With the trend of big data and the rise of the informed consumer, new business models have started to emerge addressing those specific needs. For example, AmazonFresh caters to the modern consumer who has little free time to go to multiple markets, but wants a wide variety of food items. It is a one stop shop for quality grocery, household items that offer a multitude of customizable options such as kosher, gluten-free, organic, same day delivery, and store pickup. With the data insights already collected from Amazon customers, Amazon is able to better tailor recommendations based on your lifestyle preferences and taste.

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Some other highlights of the day were keynote speeches from Carolyn Everson – the VP of global marketing solutions for Facebook, Deep Nishar – MD of Softbank, and Bozoma Saint John – Chief Brand Officer of Uber. One of the keynotes that stood out to me was a speech given by the founder of Levo (Caroline Ghosn), a career skills platform built specially for millennials and young professionals. Her empowering speech reminded me of an MIT commencement speech I heard this summer by the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook. His best word of advice for the young graduates was to think about the purpose of why you are developing technology. Chasing ulterior motives like money and fame will never get you recognition, but if you can develop a passion and have a solution that helps improve humanity, any amount of time spent on it will be worthwhile. This is precisely the same reason why I want to pursue a career in Fintech because it has the potential to create value for society by making our everyday lives much more efficient, and creating more trust in the financial system.I believe in making changes for the better and want to feel proud of my role in contributing to humanity at my job. hbsss
All in all this was a memorable and eye opening experience for our club members, we walked away from this event feeling inspired to pursue our dreams and to learn more about the world of technology. I am very grateful to be a part of tech conference and will definitely be attending the event next year. I look forward to going to more Biztech events like this with our members as well as more tech conferences and networking events in the future!

The Tech Titan AI Debate

As artificial intelligence grows to influence more and more of our lives, will it affect us for better or worse? A look into what leaders of industry and government think on the issue.
By: Jack Sawyer

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Artificial intelligence is becoming an increasingly hot topic as leaders of industry and governments proclaim the influence it will have on the world as we know it. On September 1st, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, came out saying “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere [AI] will become the ruler of the world.” He goes on to say that “it comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict” (Meyer). Putin’s message gives context to the time we are living in, we are on the brink of an AI driven world and how we handle the next steps will be vital in making sure we utilize the technology successfully. Scholars, Hollywood, and many others have envisioned what a world with AI would look like, but now we are potentially on the cusp of experiencing it for ourselves.

Two influential figures that have shared their views on what an AI driven world could look like are Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and Space X, and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. The two have opposing views on the potential direction of AI and as such, provide a fascinating look into two paths that could be.

Mark Zuckerberg has an optimistic view on artificial intelligence, embracing it both at work and at home. His company, Facebook, has utilized the technology and as a result, transformed the way Facebook functions. AI is responsible for auto-tagging friends in photos, making ads more relevant, and most recently figuring out how to stop the circulation of fake news. The head of the company’s machine learning division, Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, now believes that Facebook would cease to exist if there was no AI. Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram are all powered by artificial intelligence. Outside of his company, Zuckerberg spent 100 hours over the course of 2016 developing an AI assistant for his home in San Francisco. The assistant, aptly named Jarvis, can be activated through an app on his phone and can control the home’s lights, toaster, doors, thermostat, entrance gate, and even a t-shirt launcher!

Zuckerberg sees AI bringing many benefits to society and that belief is backed by his own use of the technology. He sees the technology improving our lives, not just at home and on social media, but on a larger scale with driverless cars and more advanced healthcare. In Zuckerberg’s eyes the future of AI bright.

In contrast, Elon Musk sees a future that is not so bright. He believes that AI could lead to a doomsday scenario and as such, wants to see AI regulated. Musk’s biggest concern here, is that the creators of a super intelligent AI would not be able to control their creation – it would be able teach itself, becoming exponentially smarter than humans and from there we would not be able to foresee its motives or actions. For the last four years Musk has been warning of the dangers AI could bring, whether that be through a tweet stating that AI is more risky than North Korea or reiterating his AI fear at this year’s summer conference of the National Governors Association.

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Elon Musk’s warning is not a loose hypothetical, he has been following the development of AI for many years. Before Google acquired Deepmind in 2014, a company focused on AI development, Elon had been an investor. This was an investment to see how quickly the technology was progressing, not one focused on an economic return. Musk’s continual warnings are evidence that he saw and continues to see the technology accelerating rapidly. With little discourse for regulating AI, Musk has created his own AI company called OpenAI, a nonprofit tasked with creating AI in a safe and secure way. He hopes that if Open AI can create a superintelligent AI first, then the company would be able to share the technology, instead of the alternative, in which a few elite use the technology to control the world.

As of recent, Zuckerberg and Musk have been heavily critiquing each other’s views, but there is one common thread between their messages and that of Putin’s, the effects of artificial intelligence will be felt soon. Whether we see artificial intelligence follow one of these distinct paths remains to be seen, but the way it plays out will be fascinating and sure to disrupt many areas of society.

When do you think AI will start to have a substantial impact on our daily lives and society as a whole? Do you agree with Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg? Perhaps we will more likely see a middle ground of the two’s views.

Work Cited

Clifford, Catherine. “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: Elon Musk’s Doomsday AI Predictions Are ‘Pretty Irresponsible’.” CNBC, CNBC, 24 July 2017, www.cnbc.com/2017/07/24/mark-zuckerberg-elon-musks-doomsday-ai-predictions-are-irresponsible.html.
​David, Javier E. “Be Very Afraid: Elon Musk Says People Should Fear A.I. More than North Korea.” CNBC, CNBC, 14 Aug. 2017, www.cnbc.com/2017/08/11/elon-musk-issues-a-stark-warning-about-a-i-calls-it-a-bigger-threat-than-north-korea.html.

Dowd, Maureen. “Elon Musk’s Billion-Dollar Crusade to Stop the A.I. Apocalypse.” The Hive, Vanity Fair, 25 May 2017, www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/03/elon-musk-billion-dollar-crusade-to-stop-ai-space-x.
Heath, Alex. “Mark Zuckerberg Built His Own Virtual Assistant – Here’s How It Works.”Business Insider, Business Insider, 19 Dec. 2016, www.businessinsider.com/how-mark-zuckerberg-personal-smart-home-assistant-jarvis-works-2016-12.
Meyer, David. “Whoever Leads in Artificial Intelligence Will Rule the World, Says Vladimir Putin.” AI Power Will Lead to World Domination, Says Vladimir Putin, Fortune, 4 Sept. 2017, fortune.com/2017/09/04/ai-artificial-intelligence-putin-rule-world/.
“’Whoever Leads in AI Will Rule the World’: Putin to Russian Children on Knowledge Day.” RT International, 1 Sept. 2017, www.rt.com/news/401731-ai-rule-world-putin/.