Supreme Court limits US hacking law in landmark CFAA ruling

The Supreme Court has ruled that a police officer who searched a license plate database for an acquaintance in exchange for cash did not violate U.S. hacking laws.

The landmark ruling concludes a long-running case that clarifies the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA, by putting limits on what kind of conduct can be prosecuted.

The court ruled 6-3 in favor of Nathan Van Buren, a former Georgia police sergeant who brought the case. Van Buren was prosecuted on two counts, one for accepting a kickback for accessing the database as a serving police officer, and another for violating the CFAA. His first conviction was overturned, but the CFAA conviction was upheld — until today.

Although Van Buren was allowed to access the license plate database, the legal question became whether or not he had exceeded his authorized access.

In the ruling, the Supreme Court said that the CFAA “covers those who obtain information from particular areas in the computer — such as files, folders, or databases — to which their computer access does not extend,” and that while Van Vuren “plainly flouted” the police department’s rules for law enforcement purposes, he did not violate the CFAA, wrote Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who wrote the majority opinion.

The CFAA was signed into law in 1986 to prosecute hackers who gain “unauthorized” access to a computer or network. But courts have been split on what “unauthorized” means. Legal experts have argued that a broad reading of the law could criminalize violating a site’s terms of service, such as lying on a dating profile or sharing a password to a streaming service. The court said that the government’s interpretation of the law “would attach criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity.”

Not all the justices agreed. “Without valid law enforcement purposes, he was forbidden to use the computer to obtain that information,” wrote Justice Thomas, who filed a dissenting opinion along with Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.

Civil liberties experts said Congress should act to amend the CFAA following the court’s ruling.

“This is an important and welcome decision that will help protect digital research and journalism that is urgently necessary. But more is needed,” said Alex Abdo, litigation director of the Knight First Amendment Institute. “Congress should amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to eliminate any remaining uncertainty about the scope of the statute. It should also create a safe harbor for researchers and journalists who are working to study disinformation and discrimination online. Major technology companies should not have a veto over research and journalism that are manifestly in the public interest.”

#california, #cfaa, #computer-fraud-and-abuse-act, #georgia, #hacking, #security, #supreme-court, #united-states, #university-of-california, #university-of-california-berkeley


Alibaba is making its cloud OS compatible with multiple chip architectures

Alibaba’s cloud computing unit is making its Apsara operating system compatible with processors based on Arm, x86, RISC-V, among other architectures, the company announced at a conference on Friday.

Alibaba Cloud is one of the fastest-growing businesses for the Chinese e-commerce giant and the world’s fourth-largest public cloud service in the second half of 2020, according to market research firm IDC.

The global chip market has mostly been dominated by Intel’s x86 in personal computing and Arm for mobile devices. But RISC-V, an open-source chip architecture competitive with Arm’s technologies, is gaining popularity around the world, especially with Chinese developers. Started by academics at the University of California, Berkeley, RISC-V is open to all to use without licensing or patent fees and is generally not subject to America’s export controls.

The Trump Administration’s bans on Huawei and its rival ZTE over national security concerns have effectively severed ties between the Chinese telecom titans and American tech companies, including major semiconductor suppliers.

Arm was forced to decide its relationships with Huawei and said it could continue licensing to the Chinese firm as it’s of U.K. origin. But Huawei still struggles to find fabs that are both capable and allowed to actually manufacture the chips designed using the architecture.

The U.S. sanctions led to a burst in activity around RISC-V in China’s tech industry as developers prepare for future tech restrictions by the U.S., with Alibaba at the forefront of the movement. Alibaba Cloud, Huawei and ZTE are among the 13 premier members of RISC-V International, which means they get a seat on its Board of Directors and Technical Steering Community.

In 2019, the e-commerce company’s semiconductor division T-Head launched its first core processor Xuantie 910, which is based on RISC-V and used for cloud edge and IoT applications. Having its operating system work with multiple chip systems instead of one mainstream architecture could prepare Alibaba Cloud well for a future of chip independence in China.

“The IT ecosystem was traditionally defined by chips, but cloud computing fundamentally changed that,” Zhang Jianfeng, president of Alibaba Cloud’s Intelligence group, said at the event. “A cloud operating system can standardize the computing power of server chips, special-purpose chips and other hardware, so whether the chip is based on x86, Arm, RISC-V or a hardware accelerator, the cloud computing offerings for customers are standardized and of high-quality.”

Meanwhile, some argue that Chinese companies moving towards alternatives like RISC-V means more polarization of technology and standards, which is not ideal for global collaboration unless RISC-V becomes widely adopted in the rest of the world.

#alibaba, #alibaba-cloud, #asia, #china, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #computers, #computing, #huawei, #operating-system, #risc-v, #semiconductor, #university-of-california, #university-of-california-berkeley, #x86


You Can Bid on NFTs Tied to Nobel Prize-Winning Discoveries

Berkeley will auction NFTs of invention disclosure forms filed by the creators of CRISPR and cancer immunotherapy.

#allison-james-p, #art, #auctions, #crispr-dna, #cryptography-codes-and-ciphers, #doudna-jennifer-a, #ethereum-foundation, #immunotherapy, #inventions-and-patents, #nobel-prizes, #nonfungible-tokens-nfts, #research, #university-of-california-berkeley, #your-feed-science


David Wake, Expert on Salamanders and Evolution, Dies at 84

While on a college field trip to collect beetles, he found salamanders. He became an authority and later grew alarmed by the disappearance of many amphibians.

#amphibians, #deaths-obituaries, #evolution-biology, #global-warming, #salamanders, #university-of-california-berkeley, #wake-david-1936-2021, #wildlife-die-offs


Cal Survived Covid. Now, Back to Its Usual Problems

The school conducted tens of thousands of coronavirus tests, aborted the football season and lost $10 million. Is that light at the end of the tunnel another train?

#berkeley-calif, #colleges-and-universities, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-reopenings, #football-college, #national-collegiate-athletic-assn, #pacific-12-conference, #university-of-california-berkeley


The Robot Surgeon Will See You Now

Real scalpels, artificial intelligence — what could go wrong?

#artificial-intelligence, #computers-and-the-internet, #research, #robots-and-robotics, #surgery-and-surgeons, #university-of-california-berkeley, #your-feed-health, #your-feed-science


How to Be Social Again

After a year of virtual gathering, getting back to real-life relationships can be intimidating. These eight simple exercises can help.

#anxiety-and-stress, #content-type-service, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #loneliness, #mental-health-and-disorders, #optimism, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #university-of-california-berkeley


Financial Rewards for College Students Could Help Curb the Pandemic

A new study suggests ways of structuring payments to persuade even impulsive students to behave more cautiously.

#colleges-and-universities, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #massachusetts-institute-of-technology, #northwestern-university, #university-of-california-berkeley, #university-of-chicago


The Supreme Court will hear its first big CFAA case

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Monday in a case that could lead to sweeping changes to America’s controversial computer hacking laws — and affecting how millions use their computers and access online services.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was signed into federal law in 1986 and predates the modern internet as we know it, but governs to this day what constitutes hacking — or “unauthorized” access to a computer or network. The controversial law was designed to prosecute hackers, but has been dubbed as the “worst law” in the technology law books by critics who say it’s outdated and vague language fails to protect good-faith hackers from finding and disclosing security vulnerabilities.

At the center of the case is Nathan Van Buren, a former police sergeant in Georgia. Van Buren used his access to a police license plate database to search for an acquaintance in exchange for cash. Van Buren was caught, and prosecuted on two counts: accepting a kickback for accessing the police database, and violating the CFAA. The first conviction was overturned, but the CFAA conviction was upheld.

Van Buren may have been allowed to access the database by way of his police work, but whether he exceeded his access remains the key legal question.

Orin Kerr, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said Van Buren vs. United States was an “ideal case” for the Supreme Court to take up. “The question couldn’t be presented more cleanly,” he argued in a blog post in April.

The Supreme Court will try to clarify the decades-old law by deciding what the law means by “unauthorized” access. But that’s not a simple answer in itself.

“The Supreme Court’s opinion in this case could decide whether millions of ordinary Americans are committing a federal crime whenever they engage in computer activities that, while common, don’t comport with an online service or employer’s terms of use,” said Riana Pfefferkorn, associate director of surveillance and cybersecurity at Stanford University’s law school. (Pfefferkorn’s colleague Jeff Fisher is representing Van Buren at the Supreme Court.)

How the Supreme Court will determine what “unauthorized” means is anybody’s guess. The court could define unauthorized access anywhere from violating a site’s terms of service to logging into a system that a person has no user account for.

Pfefferkorn said a broad reading of the CFAA could criminalize anything from lying on a dating profile, sharing the password to a streaming service, or using a work computer for personal use in violation of an employer’s policies.

But the Supreme Court’s eventual ruling could also have broad ramifications on good-faith hackers and security researchers, who purposefully break systems in order to make them more secure. Hackers and security researchers have for decades operated in a legal grey area because the law as written exposes their work to prosecution, even if the goal is to improve cybersecurity.

Tech companies have for years encouraged hackers to privately reach out with security bugs. In return, the companies fix their systems and pay the hackers for their work. Mozilla, Dropbox, and Tesla are among the few companies that have gone a step further by promising not to sue good-faith hackers under the CFAA. Not all companies welcome the scrutiny and bucked the trend by threatening to sue researchers over their findings, and in some cases actively launching legal action to prevent unflattering headlines.

Security researchers are no stranger to legal threats, but a decision by the Supreme Court that rules against Van Buren could have a chilling effect on their work, and drive vulnerability disclosure underground.

“If there are potential criminal (and civil) consequences for violating a computerized system’s usage policy, that would empower the owners of such systems to prohibit bona fide security research and to silence researchers from disclosing any vulnerabilities they find in those systems,” said Pfefferkorn. “Even inadvertently coloring outside the lines of a set of bug bounty rules could expose a researcher to liability.”

“The Court now has the chance to resolve the ambiguity over the law’s scope and make it safer for security researchers to do their badly-needed work by narrowly construing the CFAA,” said Pfefferkorn. “We can ill afford to scare off people who want to improve cybersecurity.”

The Supreme Court will likely rule on the case later this year, or early next.

Read more:

#america, #articles, #california, #computer-fraud-and-abuse-act, #computer-security, #computing, #georgia, #government, #hacker, #hacking, #information-technology, #internet-security, #lawsuit, #security, #supreme-court, #united-states, #university-of-california, #university-of-california-berkeley


Days From Its Delayed Football Opener, Cal Is Stalled Again by the Virus

As the Pac-12 Conference prepared to begin its football season this weekend, later than any other major league, Cal had to cancel its game against Washington because a player’s positive test for coronavirus left the team without enough eligible athletes.

#coronavirus-reopenings, #football-college, #pacific-12-conference, #university-of-california, #university-of-california-berkeley


At Cal, a Covid Survivor Keeps Watch Over Football’s Return

Every college team in America is trying to keep the coronavirus away. But not all of them are being guided by a staff member who has lived through it.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #football-college, #mcgraw-andrew, #university-of-california-berkeley


Stuart Bowyer, Astronomer Who Lent His Ear to the Cosmos, Dies at 86

He was a scientist who succeeded in seeing the unseeable and hoped to tune in to extraterrestrial life.

#bowyer-stuart-1934-2020, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #deaths-obituaries, #extraterrestrial-life, #soyuz-project, #space-and-astronomy, #stars-and-galaxies, #telescopes-and-observatories, #ultraviolet-light, #university-of-california-berkeley


Genemod raises cash for its lab inventory management service used by research institutions around the US

Genemod, a software for laboratory inventory management used by institutions like the University of Washington School of Medicine; the University of California, Berkeley, and the National Institutes of Health; has raised $1.7 million from a clutch of top venture investors.

The small seed round came from, with additional commitments from Omicron, Unpopular Ventures, Underdog Labs and Canaan Partners.

With the capital, the company said it would develop a product management software to compliment its existing inventory management service.

These are small stepping stones on the way to paving a new road to pharmaceutical development based on collaborative data sharing technology, the company said.

It’s a road that companies like Owkin and Within3 have raised big dollars to pave already. They’re just two companies in the market that are building collaborative software for the pharmaceutical industries.

Genemod’s pitch is that it can increase productivity by giving researchers a better window into the tools they have and the tools they need to accelerate the process of experimentation without downtimes while waiting for supplies.

“While the life sciences industry is known for developing inventive solutions to some of the world’s biggest health problems, many scientists are working with manual, siloed and inefficient processes,” said Jacob Lee, the company’s chief executive.

Alongside the funding, will serve as a growth partner for Genemod, supporting the company as it works to roll out its product roadmap for the latter half of the year. Neil Sequeira, co-founder and managing director of, will join Genemod’s Board of Directors.

Founded in 2018, Genemod was part of the first cohort of Venture Out Startups, a pre-seed investment program designed to encourage entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.

#california, #canaan-partners, #defy, #neil-sequeira, #owkin, #partner, #tc, #university-of-california, #university-of-california-berkeley, #unpopular-ventures, #within3


Huge Study of Coronavirus Cases in India Offers Some Surprises to Scientists

The rate of death went down in patients over 65. Researchers also found that children of all ages became infected and spread the virus to others.

#andhra-pradesh-india, #contact-tracing-public-health, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #deaths-fatalities, #disease-rates, #india, #lewnard-joseph, #research, #science-journal, #tamil-nadu-india, #third-world-and-developing-countries, #university-of-california-berkeley, #your-feed-science


Cal Athletic Director Says Football Will Help School Balance Sports Budget

California has been considering how to adjust with a $55 million budget shortfall. An influx of TV money by staging a football season will help.

#athletics-and-sports, #budgets-and-budgeting, #college-athletics, #colleges-and-universities, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #football-college, #pacific-12-conference, #university-of-california-berkeley


Oregon’s President Says Money Wasn’t Discussed in Pac-12 Return. It Didn’t Need to Be.

Universities in the Pac-12 were clearly struggling financially even before the pandemic, which magnified the importance of football once it hit.

#athletics-and-sports, #college-athletics, #colleges-and-universities, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #football-college, #pacific-12-conference, #stanford-university, #university-of-california-berkeley, #university-of-california-los-angeles, #university-of-oregon


At Cal, Every Sport but Football Feels Like Second String

As the Pac-12 tries to formulate a plan for its most prominent sport, dozens of other sports are awaiting news on their seasons. But how do you prepare for a schedule that doesn’t exist?

#athletics-and-sports, #coronavirus-reopenings, #football-college, #pacific-12-conference, #track-and-field, #university-of-california-berkeley, #volleyball


‘Is It Even Possible to Play 30 Sports Simultaneously?’

Thursday: A reporter tries to answer that, and other questions about how things will play out for college athletics.

#california, #university-of-california-berkeley


How a Power 5 Conference University Is Struggling to Have Sports in a Pandemic

At the University of California, Berkeley, athletes, coaches and administrators face the most complicated puzzle in sports: the return of college athletics. They are allowing The Times an inside look at their journey’s ups and downs.

#athletics-and-sports, #colleges-and-universities, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-reopenings, #football-college, #pacific-12-conference, #university-of-california-berkeley


Attending a remote startup accelerator is absolutely worth it

We are members of the UC Berkeley SkyDeck startup accelerator spring 2020 cohort — the first to attend remotely.

Many of us were looking forward to visiting Berkeley because one aspect of SkyDeck is a focus on helping teams with international founders connect to the Bay Area and crack the U.S. market.

So, we planned to fly in from not only other parts of the U.S., but places like Taiwan, Russia, Turkey, Chile, India, Israel and even Canada to enjoy the California sunshine and do California stuff, like drink wine in Napa, eat saltwater taffy in Santa Cruz, see some redwoods and maybe go to Yosemite or whatever? Yeah okay, maybe we wouldn’t have time for all that. We are startup founders after all. But it’s always nice to be given a chance to say no to something.

No matter what, we were sure we were going to get a chance to meet a lot of really smart and cool people, brainstorm together and make a lot of friends. All while putting in a lot of hard but rewarding work to achieve product-market fit, learn how to pitch and then raise some fat rounds from world famous venture capital firms after Demo Day. Bling bling bling!

But then this spring, just before our cohort was set to start the program, the pandemic got serious. No flights, no desks, all virtual meetups, and soon (September 15, mark your calendars people) a virtual Demo Day. Most of the international founders couldn’t even come to the United States.

No matter where we are in the world, we all ended up working from home just like the rest of the planet. No Napa wine, no salt water taffy, no redwoods or Yosemite. Some of us even still have imperfect weather to contend with. Sigh.

But despite missing out on what would have been an amazing experience, we want to leave no doubt in the minds of your readers that the program has been fantastic. The SkyDeck team has provided us with:

  • VIP access to an extraordinary network of contacts that has gone beyond what we could have imagined: Picture this network in your mind right now … it is even better than that.
  • A network of quality advisors: SkyDeck does an amazing job of getting Berkeley alumni with extraordinary professional profiles to function as 1:1 advisors. This high-touch approach to mentoring has worked out smoothly during COVID-19 times because everyone is at home and eager to jump on a call. They have been there to provide advice, make connections, help us recruit, you name it.
  • Info sessions that are fun and informative: Bad internet access was sometimes annoying, but on the bright side, nobody had to fight traffic to get there. These sessions included everything from nuts and bolts organizational advice and war stories with Q&As from founders of famous companies to important new perspectives for building 21st-century companies such as DEI training. The speakers are also willing to have a call or hold office hours to discuss specific topics in-depth. It never stops.
  • Support from other cohort founders and alums: There is an incredible sense of family in the program. Tough times foster deep experiences and meaningful connections. The SkyDeck team did a great job setting up virtual events so we could all get to know each other, and alums are very active on Slack, responsive to requests for 1:1 mentorship, helping with recruiting and giving other free advice. We have all made new friends that can provide us with social and professional support for many years ahead.
  • Full access to UC Berkeley’s diverse ecosystem including brilliant interns, faculty and industry connections. This has really helped us to boost productivity while pushing for product-market fit. Unfortunately, laboratories have been closed during the pandemic so some biotech and hardware founders, in particular, missed out on a perk they were really looking forward to. However, with everyone available online, bioinformatics, machine learning and other computational-focused collaborations have worked out great. Go Bears!
  • And of course, a $100,000 investment that was highly appreciated during a pandemic when everyone needs cash to adapt to a completely transformed environment.

While flight restrictions did cause some international founders to pull crazy hours from our home countries to participate in the sessions, virtual sessions allowed additional members of our teams to participate that would otherwise not have been able to do so. We are also hearing chatter that Demo Day will be larger than ever before because virtual events are much more scalable. But you didn’t hear that from us.

We are just starting investor month, and the meetings SkyDeck has been arranging leading up to Demo Day also feel more engaging and efficient. Investors do not have alternative options to communicate with founders, and it’s so much easier to jump from call-to-call than to physically jump around the Valley. Even super rich and famous investors seem to think it is fun to be in Zoom calls with us since, just like everyone else, they are probably kind of bored being at home all the time and just want somebody to talk to.

So yes, we did miss out on a lot we were hoping for when we joined SkyDeck, but even with virtual desks and virtual Demo Day, SkyDeck is absolutely worth it.


SkyDeck Cohort 2020 founders:

#berkeley-skydeck, #column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #entrepreneurship, #opinion, #skydeck-accelerator, #startup-accelerator, #startups, #tc, #uc-berkeley, #university-of-california-berkeley, #venture-capital


The United States Is Reopening Many of the Wrong Schools

When it is safe enough to return to school, young children would benefit the most. Yet financial pressures are pushing colleges to reopen most rapidly, an economist says.

#ann-arbor-mich, #berkeley-calif, #boston-mass, #budgets-and-budgeting, #california, #children-and-childhood, #colleges-and-universities, #community-colleges, #computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-reopenings, #davidson-college, #e-learning, #education-k-12, #education-week, #harvard-university, #house-of-representatives, #los-angeles-calif, #miami-fla, #michigan, #philadelphia-pa, #private-and-sectarian-schools, #quarantines, #san-diego-calif, #san-francisco-calif, #senate, #states-us, #tuition, #united-states-economy, #university-of-california, #university-of-california-berkeley, #university-of-massachusetts, #university-of-michigan


Berkeley’s Innovative Genomics Institute is rolling out a spit test for COVID-19 testing

Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, have begun trials of a new spit test for COVID-19 infections developed by the university’s Innovative Genomics Institute.

Since the disease was first identified on U.S. shores, the Berkeley research institute led by the trailblazing CRISPR researcher Jennifer Doudna has worked tirelessly to bring innovative methods to diagnose and process viral samples and develop potential treatments for the disease to production.

The new saliva-based samples that the university is trialing would obviate the need for trained medical staff wearing personal protective equipment to conduct tests to determine whether an individual is infected.

If the study proves that the new testing method can work as well as nasal swabs, then the Berkeley campus will be able to increase testing of students, faculty and staff ahead of the beginning of the school’s fall semester in late August, according to a statement from the University.

Jennifer Doudna, wearing mask, outside kiosk

Jennifer Doudna talks with Alex Ehrenberg, a graduate student in integrative biology who is helping organize the FAST trial of saliva tests for COVID-19. (UC Berkeley photo by Irene Yi)

“At Berkeley, we hope to bring at least some of our undergraduate students back to campus safely in the fall, and one way to do that is to provide them with asymptomatic regular testing, so that we can be monitoring their health and insuring that they are not transmitting the virus,” said Jennifer Doudna, who spearheaded the pop-up diagnostics lab and the saliva testing, in a statement.

Doudna thinks the tests could be conducted in as little as five or six minutes. The study is already open to faculty, staff and students who can sign up to participate in the Free Asymptomatic Saliva Testing study on the institute’s website.

“As opposed to swab testing, saliva testing is a lot simpler and allows people to literally spit into a tube,” Doudna said. “We think it will take about five or six minutes as they pass through our testing center here, so we hope to make this very painless, easy and simple for people to come by and get tested.”

Graduate students, faculty and staff who are authorized to work on campus can sign up to participate in the Free Asymptomatic Saliva Testing (FAST) study on the IGI website.

The tests rely on polymerase chain reactions which have already received Emergency Use Authorization for at-home testing from the Food and Drug Administration.

Using the CRISPR-Cas proteins, whose application for genetic engineering was pioneered by Doudna and her fellow researchers, the IGI is working on a less expensive, point-of-care home test that could give people results in minutes without the need for a laboratory analysis.

The Innovative Genomics Institute was founded by Doudna in 2014 and by Berkeley and the University of California San Francisco to advance CRISPR-based genome editing.

Earlier in June, the institute brought a new robotic handling system to accelerate testing capacity for the disease to 1,000 tests per day, according to a statement from the University. 

“When the pandemic hit, we asked ourselves, ‘What do we as scientists do to address the COVID-19 health emergency?’” Doudna said, in a statement. “That effort has focused on testing. We set up a clinical laboratory, we are now getting asymptomatic saliva testing going for the UC Berkeley campus. We hope that if it works well here, we can help disseminate this strategy elsewhere.”

#biotech, #crispr, #health, #jennifer-doudna, #tc, #university-of-california-berkeley


After the Coronavirus, Cities Should Embrace Density

Restrictive zoning blocks less-affluent families from the opportunities that cities offer.

#housing-and-urban-development-department, #income-inequality, #real-estate-and-housing-residential, #united-states-economy, #university-of-california-berkeley, #urban-areas, #zoning


Coronavirus Antibody Tests: Can You Trust the Results?

A team of scientists worked around the clock to evaluate 14 antibody tests. A few worked as advertised. Most did not.

#antibodies, #biotechnology-and-bioengineering, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #marson-alexander, #massachusetts-general-hospital, #san-francisco-bay-area-calif, #tests-medical, #university-of-california-berkeley, #university-of-california-san-francisco, #your-feed-science