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Data Sheet—Saturday, April 8, 2017

April 8, 2017, 3:53 PM UTC

The world feels like a more dangerous place after the events of the past week. The United States launched Tomahawk missiles to punish Syria’s dictator, who used sarin gas on children, and now Russia is warning the strike could have “extremely serious” consequences.

The prospect of a direct military clash between Russia and the U.S. is unsettling on all sorts of levels, including when it comes to cyber. While the phenomenon of Russian hacking the U.S. is by now familiar, that hacking has so far been used for espionage and propaganda—not active war.

The question of how cyber weapons would be used in an active conflict is one I’ll leave to military experts. That said, reports that Russia’s anti-missile defenses were turned off at the time of the Tomahawk strikes invites speculation as to whether a hacking tactic was used to disable them (it’s also possible, of course, Russia chose not to use the defenses or was simply unprepared).

The use of cyber weapons to gain an advantage in the skies or on the battlefield is nothing new. But far more troubling, in the event of open hostility between the U.S. and Russia, is the use of such weapons on civilian targets—power grids, traffic lights, hospitals, train stations, and so on. People have been discussing the security downsides of an Internet-connected world for years, but never has the prospect of computer-related destruction loomed so large as right now.

That’s why the recent call by Microsoft for a “cyber Geneva Convention” seems so prescient. Let’s hope the world takes heed of this idea lest further conflicts lead us to cyber-Armageddon.

We promise next week’s Cyber Saturday will be more upbeat. Thanks as always for reading. More news below.

Jeff John Roberts


Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.


When cyber glory is a bad thing: Cybersecurity firms like to strut their stuff by publishing research about the hacker activity they uncover. This can be a public service and good PR for the firm that spills the news—but it can also blow up investigations by law enforcement and other security firms, spooking the hackers and causing them to hide. (Cyberscoop)

The lawyers cometh: Computer security is broken from top to bottom and, as breaches multiply, the market for insurance will soar. This, in turn, will create new demand to put liability for defects directly on software makers. If this comes to pass, the tech industry could come to resemble the pharma industry (!!!) where every stage of development is fraught with expensive legal risk. (The Economist)

Nostalgia time. McAfee returned as an independent company this week, minus about $3.5 billion of its one-time $7.7 billion valuation—which is what Intel paid to acquire it back in 2011. New CEO Chris Young told Fortune about his ambitious to-do list, which includes acquisitions and rebranding the one-time antivirus king as an all-around security service. (Fortune)

Nostalgia time II. Remember when social media apps like Path and Foursquare were a hot thing? Now, those apps—along with Intstagram, Yelp and others—are back in the news for a privacy settlement tied to infractions from 2010. The violations, which relate to scraping user contact lists without permission, were not cool but also seem kind of quaint in the current era of facial recognition and newer forms of privacy intrusions. Consumers will get $5.3M. (Fortune)

And going back even further, the Atlantic has a nice look at encryption, Founding Fathers style. Oh, and Boston Marathon runners, keep an eye on those drones at the start line. (And Connecticut, do you really want deadly weapons on your police drones?)

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Who will build the world capital of cyber security—DC, Tel Aviv or another city? Fortune talked to VCs, entrepreneurs and others to make a top 7 list.

The film industry has Hollywood, the banks have Wall Street, and tech has Silicon Valley. But so far the fast-growing cybersecurity industry—slated to pull in more than $100 billion a year by 2020—has no obvious place to call home ...

If a dominant cyber hub does emerge, it will likely have most or all of the following attributes: proximity to a research university; a large population of hackers or military types; access to angel and venture capital; a culture of cooperation and entrepreneurship. Read more on


How Scammers Were Able to Game Google Maps by Jonathan Vanian

How to Keep Your Home Devices Out of the Botnet Army by Jeff John Roberts

How Online Privacy Protection Could Be a Campaign Issue in 2018 by Aaron Pressman

Trump Border Plan Calls for More Phone and Social Media Searches by Jeff John Roberts

Amazon's Alexa Gets Serious About Location, Location, Location by Jonathan Vanian


Signal, everyone's favorite encrypted messaging app, is still going gangbusters in the Trump era. Signal saw 1.4 million downloads on iOS and Google Play in the first quarter of 2017 — which is nearly double last year’s downloads for the same period, according to app data company App Annie. (Recode)