What is Net Neutrality and How Could It's Loss Rock Your World?

By Carl Weiss

Soup Nazi at Dewey Square - Boston
Soup Nazi at Dewey Square - Boston (Photo credit: jeffcutler)
No soup for you!

We all remember the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld, the restaurant owner who would summarily refuse to serve a customer over even the smallest of perceived slights.  Well that’s what is in store for nearly everyone who connects to the Internet if some big players in the cable and telecom industries have their way.

Way back in 1995 when the Internet was young, the rules were established that guaranteed that nobody could have undue influence over the speed at which information was disseminated online.  What this meant to anyone surfing the web was that the big conglomerates that already had a stranglehold on the airwaves wouldn’t be allowed to monopolize cyberspace.  So from the mid 90’s to the present the Internet has had one speed limit for all.  Online businesses large and small were able to prosper.  However, recent events proposed by a small number of cable and telecom conglomerates are threatening the way we will all be able to access the Internet—and not for the better.

AT&T Claims Net Neutrality Would Ruin the Internet

 In a June 18 article by the Washington Post, AT&T upped the ante by claiming that strong net neutrality rules such as those in Europe would actually hurt the Internet.

“AT&T is among the most vocal critics of reclassification. In a recent blog post, company exec Jim 
AT&T Logo Parody (white background)
AT&T Logo Parody (white background) (Photo credit: ElectronicFrontierFoundation)
Cicconi argued that reclassifying Internet providers — placing them under Title II of the Communications Act instead of the more lenient Title I — wouldn't do anything to prevent the rise of Internet fast lanes, because embedded in Title II is a loophole that lets ISPs manipulate some traffic so long as it's not "unjust" or "unreasonable." If the ISPs can successfully claim that Internet fast lanes are necessary for, say, managing the load on their networks, they might be able to wriggle out of a ban on fast lanes altogether, defeating the whole point of reclassification, according to AT&T.”

AT&T is not the only company that proposes eliminating net neutrality.  The Post article goes onto explore the differences between Title I and Title II rules.  But the most telling argument is actually contained in the video at the end of the article which states: “If ISP’s like Verizon get their way, they’ll sell a fast lane on the information superhighway to companies willing to pay for it.  That two-sided market could leave companies who don’t pay with slower speeds.  And if things get ugly, ISP’s would be able to block their sites entirely.”

Clearly this would have the power to affect the success or failure of every business online.  This pay-to
T-Mobile, Sign. 6/2014
T-Mobile, Sign. 6/2014 (Photo credit: JeepersMedia)
-play scenario would hold every Internet user hostage to their ISP’s.  Think that can’t happen?  Well it already has happened on a small scale for every T-Mobile user who streams music.  Here is a quote from a recent quote from Time.com.
“Instead of treating all music services equally, T-Mobile has decided that the most popular streaming music services should get better treatment. If you have a limited data plan on T-Mobile, you won’t come any closer to your monthly cap when using Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, iTunes Radio, iHeartRadio, Slacker Radio and Samsung Milk Music.  This is the most insidious type of net neutrality violation, because it’s being pitched as a benefit. Most users stand to gain from the free data, so they may not even care about the slippery slope they’re on.” http://time.com/2901142/t-mobile-unlimited-music-net-neutrality/
While not technically a net neutrality violation, by playing favorites, T-Mobile is sliding down a very slippery slope which if backed by the power of law could mean a very different Internet in the not so distant future.  The problem is that the law itself has lost much of its power to protect the consumer’s rights after an appellate court threw out the original version of the regulations back in January.
A June 20 article by pcworld.com stated that, “Congressional Republicans are intent on derailing the FCC’s efforts to reinstate net neutrality rules.   Conservative economists and telecom experts have 
US Congress
US Congress (Photo credit: jessie owen)
been pushing antitrust law as an alternative to new rules on which the FCC is currently seeking public comment. Some Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee said that the FCC should abandon its efforts to reinstate its net neutrality rules and instead rely on the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice to police net neutrality.

If that were to happen then the only way that violations could be addressed would be via the country’s antitrust laws.  This would open the floodgates to ISP-designed online toll-roads.  If you think your cable bills are high now, if the current FCC rules concerning net neutrality fall by the wayside, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Not only would your access to the Internet be impinged upon by a few well-heeled companies, but fees for a number of services that you subscribe to online would also rise in order to offset their cost of doing business online.  Gone would be the days of free online phone services like Skype.  Streaming video services like Netflix would cost much more than it does now and even YouTube might be forced to charge to view videos on their service.

If you still believe the cable companies’ pap that they are the ones being wronged, check out this post on boingboing.net:

Cable lobbyist-turned-FCC-Chairman Tom Wheeler can promise to override state laws prohibiting publicly owned ISPs, but it doesn't matter if all the big cities are locked into ten-year franchise agreements with cable and phone companies. As an Electronic “Frontier Foundation editorial points out, US mayors can and should take steps to make municipal broadband a reality, putting competitive pressure on America's foot-dragging, worst-of-breed ISPs. Many cities are sitting on a gold-mine of "dark fiber" that can be lit up to provide blazing-fast connections, and even in places where state law prohibits municipal Internet service, there are loopholes, like the one that Chattanooga, TN used to light up a gigabit network that's 100 times faster than most Americans can get. Unfortunately, many cities have faced serious barriers to their efforts to light up dark fiber or extend existing networks. Take Washington D.C., where the city’s fiber is bound up in a non-compete contract with Comcast, keeping the network from serving businesses and residents.”
English: Wall-mounted emergency switch to swit...That’s right sports fans, not only are the cable companies trying to take away your access to low-cost, high-speed Internet access, but they are doing everything in their power to make sure that cities across the country can’t provide municipally owned and operated fiber-optic access with superior speeds to businesses and citizens alike.
So, it seems that when it comes to giving the consumers a fair deal on Internet access, the cable conglomerates are trying to make the Soup Nazi seem like a Good Samaritan.  If this prospect bothers you then I strongly suggest you write your congressman and the FCC.
When he isn’t railing against online injustice, Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, a digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.   You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4pm Central on BlogTalkRadio

Who Wears the Black Hat on the World Wide Web?

By Carl Weiss

If you have been working the web for any length of time, then you know that the search engines frown on what is known as “Black Hat” techniques.   This technology has been used to exploit search engine algorithms since the first search engines appeared.  The reason black hatting used to be so popular was because it could move your website onto page 1 in a hurry. 

Before the turn of the century, black hatting was practically a requirement since the practice was so prevalent.  However, during the past few years, search engine operators have designed their spiders to search and destroy anyone employing black hat techniques.  In fact, the past half dozen updates on Google have been designed specifically to crack down on sites that are still employing black hat SEO.  While tricking the search engines into giving your site a higher ranking than it deserves may work in the short term, once the other shoe drops and the search engine spiders catch onto such tactics there most definitely will be repercussions.  Many times it results in a site being either downgraded or even delisted. 

The problem today is that most people still don’t know where the line in the sand has been drawn when it comes to black hatting.  And the line keeps moving all the time.  So to make it easy to understand what is considered black hat SEO I have compiled the list below. 

Keyword Stuffing relies on inserting repeated keywords within the text, hidden text, title or meta tags in order to generate increased relevance of a page.

Spamdexing doesn't involve men in tights.  Like keyword stuffing the technique involves repeating unrelated phrases, to manipulate the relevance or prominence of resources indexed in a manner inconsistent with the purpose of the indexing system.

Doorway Pages are web pages created specifically for spamdexing.  Also known as bridge pages or jump pages, their purpose is to redirect those who click on the page onto another website.  If you have ever clicked on a search engine listing only to be redirected to a porn site or a spam site then you have hit a doorway page.  Doorway pages are relatively easy to identify since they are designed for search engines and not for people.  They redirect the reader so quickly that it is virtually impossible for a human being to even see the original page.

Link Farming doesn’t involve the swine industry, although the search engines tend to treat perpetrators of the technique as swine.  What link farming does is create numerous backlinks for a site by generating an increasing number of fake sites that link to your own.  Back in the late 90’s paid link farms were prolific.  Since links indicate popularity, these businesses did quite well until the search engine spiders became savvy enough to determine real links from the farmed kind.  Today, relying on fake links is one of the quickest ways to get delisted.

Cloaking does not have anything to do with the series Star Trek, although it works for web sites much the same way that it worked for the Klingons.  Cloaking involves hiding the presence of Flash animations, by displaying a text-only version for the express purpose of getting the search engine spiders to ignore the fact that you are employing Flash (which Google hates). 

Duplicate Content on Multiple Sites is an SEO no-no.  Many people try to game the system by creating clones of sites with different urls in order to generate top ranking.  The problem is that once the search engines catch onto to this tactic (and they always do), all of these sites will wind up delisted.  Better to create unique content for each landing page (which is not a carbon copy) in order to go after the SEO high ground.  They can have a similar skin, provided that the guts are different.  (This is called a landing page and is a legitimate way to work the web.)

Automated Content Generation is becoming ever more popular with website owners.  Everything from page generation to autoblogging has become all the rage.  The problem is the fact that automated systems are still not sophisticated enough to take the place of a human being and the spiders can tell the difference.  In fact, they regard the use of automated content generation for the most part as cheating.  So if you ever hope to win the war for keyword dominance, this is not a technique I would recommend.

What happens if you get caught black hatting?

If you or anyone in your employ is caught using black hat SEO the penalties can be severe.  Not only will your websites start disappearing from page one, depending upon the infraction, you may never be able to get back on top of the heap again.  Google has an especially long memory. 

Case in point: We were hired by a client with two physical locations and corresponding websites to help them conquer the search engines.  What the client failed to mention was the fact that they had previously hired an SEO pro to promote one of their two sites.  This pro had then used black hat technology to get them onto page one of Google.  This worked for about a month, then they disappeared from the world’s most popular search engine altogether. 

They hired us a few months later and failed to disclose this fact.  After about four months we had worked their sister site onto page one of Yahoo, Bing and Google.  However, the sister site appeared only on Bing and Yahoo.  After questioning the partners they admitted that they had indeed hired someone whom they knew used black hat SEO on this site.  So poisoned had the well become that not only did it affect their main website, but it also put the brakes on any other landing page attached to their physical address.  This is due to the fact that Google Maps and Google Local link every landing page connected to their address with their previous black hat infraction.  As a result, the only ways for them to generate page one results were either to move their office, or resort to pay-per-click ads on Google. (Guess which of the two they chose to pursue?)

The bottom line is that you don’t need to cheat them to beat them.
English: White hat seo symbolizes good ethic t...
English: White hat seo symbolizes good ethic techniques in search engine marketing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The reason that I point out the previous case is to remind all of you that if you really want to start working the web to win then you have to stop looking for the easy out.  Instead of trying to cheat your way to the top, simply make a long term commitment to produce quality content on a regular basis.  Sure, it can take a few months to see the results, but it is worth it.  As an added inducement when the search engines alter their algorithms you won’t be whipped around and forced to start from scratch.  Plus, you will never run the risk of being either delisted or blackballed by the search engines.  Remember, the good guys always wear the white hats.

If you want to learn even more SEO tactics, Carl Weiss and Hector Cisneros have just published their Working the Web to Win book on Amazon.com.  Along with detailed online marketing tactics the book covers everything you need to know in order to start generating online success.  The e-book version is just $4.95.  If you want to learn how to start working the web to win, this is a sure bet.  

Going Global for Fun & Profit

By Carl Weiss

The economy is still kind of soft and you are looking for a way to augment the bottom line.  The problem is that you have tried everything that you can think of to maximize your visibility in your market.  You have even created an e-tail version of your brick and mortar operation that gives you nationwide reach.  But you still haven't been able to take your business to the level that you know it can achieve.  Is that what's bothering you, Bunky?  Then why not try going global?

Going global is kind of like the weather.  Everyone talks about it, but almost nobody does anything 
Greater Middle East
about it.  When you think about this dilemma in the information age, it’s kind of strange.  After all, they call the Internet, the World Wide Web for a reason.  That’s because it is the one medium that can put any company’s products and services in front of a global audience.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that most small to mid-sized businesses with a web presence are still restricting sales to their nation of origin.  Due to language and cultural differences, shipping regulations, customs requirements, tariffs and other bureaucratic red tape, many US companies restrict the size of their potential market. 

Without a doubt the reason that many business owners shy away from doing business beyond their nation’s borders has  to do with the fact that the same medium that makes it possible to advertise their wares worldwide also broadcasts an astounding number of fledgling exporters who have found themselves caught in an Orwellian dilemma.

Lee Specialties, a Canadian manufacturer of oilfield equipment found itself in hot water when it shipped rubber O-rings to the Middle East in 2012.  Most of the order for $6,054.00 in O-rings were shipped to an address in Dubai.  But through a clerical error, $15 of O-rings were sent to Tehran, Iran.  This not only caused the Canadian Border Service Agency to seize the entire shipment, it also resulted in Lee Specialties being fined $90,000 for violating international trade sanctions. 

While it was clear that Lee Specialties made a mistake, that mix-up still cost the Alberta company $90,000, not to mention the legal fees they racked up during their two-year court battle.
“It seems like an innocent thing,” noted Judge Allan Fradsham, approving the settlement and adding that the fine was “perfectly appropriate” given the circumstances.”  

Of course, if you think that having to shell out ninety grand, plus court costs and legal fees for an innocent mistake is galling, wait until you hear about the Netherlands firm that was fined $10.5 million for violating US trade sanctions by exporting jetliner spare parts to the Sudan, Myanmar and Iran between 2005 and 2010. 

Fokker Fined for Aircraft Parts Sales to Iran and Others

Fokker Services VB, a Dutch company flagrantly violated U.S. sanctions laws and this illicit activity will not be tolerated," said Adam Szubin, director of the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).  http://www.cnbc.com/id/101735591

So it’s obviously dicey to ship goods to the Middle East.  Big surprise there.  But this isn’t the only way in which exporters have been caught in the crosshairs of international intrigue.  There are currently US export restrictions on a number of places around the globe, including Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Burma, among others.  And the list changes all the time. 

What this means to US e-tailers is that any time you export products you have to provide more 
English: www,domain,internet,web,net
information to government agencies than you do when you ship domestically.  Fortunately, there is a document prepared by the Commerce Department that is designed to walk you through the red tape.  Called “Preparing Your Business for Global E-Commerce,” the 66-page e-book is designed to walk you through everything from the paperwork involved in exporting goods and services to export controls, shipping & returns, insurance and avoiding fraud. 

While this is a good start at getting a handle on the ins and outs of international trade, it is by no means the only steps you will need to take if you intend selling your goods on foreign shores.  Not by a long shot.  Aside from red tape, one of the most daunting aspects of going global has to do with foreign languages and customs.  Even some multi-nationals have found out that what works in the US sometimes loses something in translation.

The Tale of the Chevy that Didn’t Go

You may have heard the story of how Chevrolet had a tough time selling their Nova sedan in Latin 
1974 Chevrolet Nova Hatchback Coupe & '62 Chev...
1974 Chevrolet Nova Hatchback Coupe & '62 Chevy II Nova Sedan (Photo credit: aldenjewell)
America back in the 1970’s.  While the word Nova means an exploding star to those of us north of the border, in Spanish speaking countries No va translates to “it doesn’t go.”  Purportedly Chevy was forced to pull the car from the market until a name change could be made to the model.  While a wonderful tale about the vagaries of language and customs, that’s all it is – a tall tale.  But it is one that every would be exporter should take to heart before trusting their future to translation software.

While technology is the hallmark of the Internet and there are a number of software packages that purport to translate any website into a number of foreign tongues, there are some things you need to consider.  In the first place languages differ by dialect.  This means that just because you have translated a webpage or document into say Spanish, that doesn’t mean that the Spanish used in Mexico is precisely the same as that is used in Barcelona or Puerto Rico.  (I found this out during a videotaping session when the woman who was hired to voiceover the video informed the Cuban-American who wrote the script that the word he wanted to use in the ad copy meant something completely different to anyone living in Puerto Rico where he was planning on airing his ads.)  So my advice is to have an expert look over your website before you wind up with huevos on your face.

An article in the Atlantic Monthly called “Lost in Translation” goes even further when it decries the difficulties inherent in relying exclusively on translation software upon which to hang your export hopes.

In one famous episode in the British comedy series Monty Python a foreign-looking tourist clad in an outmoded leather trench coat appears at the entrance to a London shop. He marches up to the man behind the counter, solemnly consults a phrase book, and in a thick Middle European accent declares, "My hovercraft... is full of eels!" 

Even though translation software has become much more sophisticated since the time the Atlantic Monthly article was written, the point taken should be one of caution.  Just as it takes time to master a foreign tongue, so too does it take time to master the ins and outs of exporting.  If you think that transshipping your goods to the far side of the planet is tough, just get a gander at the cautionary tale of a Washington State entrepreneur who tried to save a few bucks by driving his parcels into Canada instead of using FedEx.

Stuck in Customs – How NOT to Import Goods into a Neighboring Country.

5 minutes later I pull up to the US Customs and Border Protection booth.

CBP: "How long were you in Canada?" Me: "Actually, I've never made it into Canada. I have commercial goods and I didn't know you weren't' supposed to cross at Peace Arch…" CBP: (Eying all the Open Beam tubes in the back seat of my Accord) "What's in those tubes?" Me: "It's, uh, a construction toy" CBP: "Construction toy?" Me: "Yeah. Like Legos. For engineers" CBP guy starts scribbling something fast and furious onto a bright orange sheet of paper. I can't read it, but I doubt it's a drug prescription… CBP: "Okay, go talk to that officer over there - he'll tell you where to go" and slaps the said orange sheet of paper on my windshield.

I drive around to a very humorless and bored looking CBP officer.  CBP2: "Where do you think you're going?" Me: "They said I was supposed to talk to someone. I guess you're it". CBP2: "What you are *supposed* to do is to go inside that building over there. And take that orange slip with you". Me: "Ok".

Now, for those of you who's never had the pleasure of a CBP secondary inspection - these guys make post office workers look like type-A workaholics in a startup. For about 45 minutes, I watched as they typed away like trained chickens at a computer keyboard, ask a few questions, stamp the little orange sheet of paper - then walk away from the counter with said stamp, over to a row of desks, take a seat, and proceed to type away more like trained chickens at a computer keyboard.  Finally, after about 45 minutes (with just one party of three kids in front of me) it was my turn.  For the next 3 minutes or so, the CBP officer would stare blankly at his screen and click a few keys here, type a few sentences there. Suddenly, sirens sound. Over the intercom, I hear, "Lane 2! Lane 2!!!"

And, for how lethargic the CBP officer had been, he immediately bolted out of his chair, along with his coworker, and they rushed out of the side door. I look over at the next booth to the 19 year old visiting the US for the first time and he looked back at me with the same bewildered look on his face. I think we were both expecting to hear gunshots.  Minutes went by, then as suddenly as the alert had begun, it was over. My CBP officer calmly walked back over to the counter.  Me: "What was that about?" CBP3: "Don't worry about it" 

The story goes onto detail the entire harrowing ordeal, including having to wait while his vehicle was run through an x-ray machine.  Even worse still was the fact that after being made to feel like some kind of smuggler, the writer lamented the fact that he never made it through the Canadian border and wound up turning back to the US in defeat.  He ended the story with the following:

I'm happy to report that by the time you are reading this, all of my Canadian orders have now shipped out along with almost all of the European, Australian and Asian orders. In light of the experience with importing goods into Canada - the extra $15.00 per parcel doesn't seem like too bad of a hit.

The moral of the story is that you want to proceed with care in your endeavor to begin selling your products on foreign shores.  Instead of running off half cocked, you would be well advised to seek the advice of experts in the field of exporting as well as those of a businessman or woman who is already exporting goods overseas. 

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers free resources and assistance for any business looking to start exporting.  Below is a link to Four Resources that Can Help: http://www.sba.gov/community/blogs/interested-exporting-these-four-resources-can-help

Global Edge, http://globaledge.msu.edu/reference-desk/export-tutorials offers a series of free online tutorials that cover such topics as:
1.      Is your company ready to export?
2.      Government Regulations
3.      Financial Considerations
4.      Sales and Marketing
5.      Logistics

Amazon.com offers a book entitled: Basic Guide to Exporting – The Official Government Resource for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses. http://www.amazon.com/Basic-Guide-Exporting-Government-Medium-Sized/dp/0160869536

As you can see, while the promise of profits is tantalizing enough to consider taking the time and trouble to learn the ins and outs of exporting, the moral of the story is, “In the exporting game a little knowledge and $15 can make you or break you.”

Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, a digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.   You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4pm Central on BlogTalkRadio
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How Close is the US to Experiencing a Digital Pearl Harbor?

By Carl Weiss
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933. Lietuvių: Fra... 
“December 7, 1941 – A date that will live in infamy.”

Who can ever forget President Roosevelt’s utterance of those fateful words that propelled the United States headlong into World War II?  The fact that the Japanese sneak attack spurred our reluctant country into joining the expanding European and Asian conflict seventy three years ago is not forgotten.  However, what has been lost during the intervening decades is the fact that the US had known through a series of intercepted and decoded diplomatic communiqués that a Japanese attack was imminent.  Yet the administration did little to take defensive action.

The reason that I bring up this fact is to remind us that unless we heed the lessons learned from history we are doomed to repeat them.   While there are a number of people who still view Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaction in the days leading to the December 7 attack as a conspiracy designed to force the US to become involved in WWII, an argument can be made that this was just another case of bureaucracy in action.  You will recall that prior to the attack the majority of the American public was against entering the war. Several outspoken celebrities including Charles Lindbergh were especially vocal in their opposition.  At the time nobody in the administration wanted to rock the boat and wind up losing the next election.

Seventy three years later, this country is faced with a similar threat.  Not one of imminent attack from the skies on an isolated military installation, but an attack that could affect every man, woman and child in our country.  Moreover, this attack could very well disrupt the infrastructure that we all depend upon to live and work.  I’m not talking about nuclear fire raining down from the sky.  While the Cold War nearly turned hot on several occasions, currently the threat of nuclear conflagration is not high.  What is highly likely is that the next Pearl Harbor will not come in the form of a missile’s contrail.  The biggest threat to national security today comes at the stroke of a computer keyboard. 

The Threat of Cyberwar Rears its Ugly Head

Just like the Japanese in 1940, there are forces at work who have been testing our defenses and with whom we are reluctant to deal with since they are also business partners.  While more than one nation has used computer hackers to steal industrial and military secrets, none has done so more brazenly than China.  For more than ten years that US government has been aware that Chinese hackers have broken into scads of corporate and government computers.

Timeline provided courtesy of USCyberLabs 

2003 – Titan Rain was the US designation given to a coordinated series of attacks on US computers that were labeled as Chinese in origin. Through the use of proxy servers and zombie computers, the identity and locations of the hackers were never identified, so it was not known for certain whether the attacks were perpetrated by state-sponsored hackers or whether they were carried out by corporate entities.  However, theses penetrations occurred in close proximity to other Chinese cyber attacks perpetrated against government and commercial interests in Taiwan.

2004 – The media report attacks against several US military installations.

2005 – In December 2005 the director of the SANS Institute said the 2004 attacks were “most likely the result of Chinese military hackers attempting to gather information on US systems.”

2006July: Media reported that the US State Department was recovering from a damaging cyber attack.
            August: Claims of Congressional computers being hacked are made.
            November: US Naval War College computer infrastructure reportedly attacked.

2007June: The Chinese government hacked a noncritical Defense Department computer system.
            June: Office of the Secretary of Defense computers attacked via malicious email.
            June:  US Pentagon email servers compromised for an extended period.  (Cost to correct $100 million.)
             June: American Military warns that China is gearing up to launch a cyber war on the US targeting computer networks that specialize in trade and defense secrets.
              July: Oak Ridge National Laboratory targeted by Chinese hackers.

2008 May: US Commerce Secretary laptop investigated for data infiltration.
            November: Hacking of White House computers alleged.

2009March: China’s global cyber-espionage network GhostNet penetrates 103 countries and infects at least a dozen new computers every week.

2010January: Operation Aurora attacks against Marathon Oil, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.  Yahoo, Symantec, Northrop Grumman, Morgan Stanley and Dow Chemical were also targeted.
             November – A security report to the US Congress warns that hacking of 15 percent of the world’s Internet traffic by a Chinese telecom firm may have been malicious.

In 2011 and 2012 the Chinese hack attacks had ramped up to epic proportions, targeting everything in this country from information and military technology to satellites and telecom infrastructure to transportation, navigation and energy technology.  By 2013 the attacks had become so widespread that the joke in Washington was that, “If you aren’t being hacked by the Chinese, then you probably don’t matter.”

A February 25 article in the Washington Post stated, “Start asking security experts which powerful Washington institutions have been penetrated by Chinese cyberspies,” report my colleagues Craig Timberg and Ellen Nakashima, “and this is the usual answer: almost all of them.”

Even more shocking was the fact that at the time not only was it known which unit in the Chinese military was responsible for perpetrating many of the electronic break ins (Unit 61398), but it was also known where the unit was located. (The 12-story building at right located on the outskirts of Shanghai is the headquarters of Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army.) 

What’s more troubling still is the lack of response from the federal government to these overt attacks.  Other than toothless rhetoric, little was done to confront China regarding its policies of wanton state-sanctioned hacking.  It wasn’t even until 2012 that anyone from the US Government even presented the Chinese with proof that American companies were being hacked.  During the four-hour meeting attended by two members of the State Department and one from the Pentagon, Chinese diplomats were shown extensive case studies that proved conclusively that Chinese state-sponsored  hackers had penetrated US defense and corporate computer networks. 

The Chinese response as reported by the WashingtonPost: ‘This is outrageous!’ ” a second former official said. “ ‘You’re here and you accuse us of such a thing? We don’t do this.’ ”

And until May 19, 2014 other than saber rattling, that’s all that the US was prepared to do about it.  That’s the date when a US grand jury indicted five Chinese individuals for allegedly targeting six American companies for stealing trade secrets. 

According to Newsweek, “The move "indicates that DOJ has 'smoking keyboards' and (is) willing to bring the evidence to a court of law and be more transparent," said Frank Cilluffo, head of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at the George Washington University.  

What’s interesting about the indictments is the fact that it only concerns corporate espionage.  There is nothing in the charges relating to the Defense Department or US infrastructure breaches that could be far more devastating to this country than the theft of trade secrets.  While several people at the State Department thought that the indictment sent a strong message to the Chinese, others lamented the fact that the charges won’t slow China’s cyber attacks down one bit.

Indicting five Chinese is like bringing charges against a drop of water in the ocean.  Unit 613898 alone employs thousands of hackers and has been implicated in attacks on hundreds of American companies, including cyber security firms and government defense contractors.  They have also purportedly gained access to the networks of a company that helps in the operation of the US utility grid.

Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of Homeland Security summed it up best when he said, “We are in a race against time.” 

Speaking of time, just as in 1941 will the government continue to twiddle its thumbs until it is too late to prevent a disaster that will forevermore be burned into this country’s consciousness? Unlike the Japanese battle cry of  "Tora! Tora! Tora!" that rang out as their attack took place in Oahu on that fateful December day, with the Chinese it is more likely to be one of Data! Data! Data!

Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, a digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.   You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4pm Central on BlogTalkRadio.
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