Thursday, September 11, 2008

Countrywide Sends Fraud Alert Letters: 'Your Info May Have Been Sold'

A Countrywide customer emailed to tell us he received an unpleasant surprise in the mail today: a former Countrwide employee may have sold his loan info.

I received a letter from Countrywide today that says:

"We are writing to inform you that we recently became aware that a Countrywide employee (now former) may have sold unauthorized personal information about you to a third party...

Based on a joint investigation conducted by Countrywide and law enforcement authorities, it was determined that the customer information involved in this incident included your name, address, Social Security number, mortgage loan number, and various other loan and application information."

It goes on to say they will give you 2 years of Triple Advantage credit report monitoring for free and they include a website address and activation code to start the credit monitoring service.

Just great. Luckily the only thing Russian hackers could buy with my credit is a bottle of cheap vodka.

We don't understand why temporary free credit monitoring is always the go-to remedy every time a company "loses" your personal data. The security breach could have huge and long-term financial consequences for you, and the company that enabled that breach should take responsibility for it.

Every company that deals in sensitive data should have identity theft counselors on staff—people who will walk you through a formalized plan for changing account numbers where possible, getting new account numbers if necessary, and setting up a systemized way to monitor financial activity on a weekly or monthly basis. (And they should pay for any fees you're charged in the process.)

Just saying "sorry, here's some free online monitoring" is inadequate—it's like a doctor leaving a clamp inside you after surgery, then giving you coupons for free checkups for a couple of years.

Original here

Six-Year-Old News Story Causes United Airlines Stock to Plummet -- UPDATE Google Placed Wrong Date on Story

By Kim Zetter

I'm surprised this hasn't happened before now.

This isn't a story about security (although it is about securities), but it's so remarkable I thought I'd include it here anyway.

A worker at a Miami investment advisory firm called Income Securities Advisors, which publishes news alerts that get distributed through the Bloomberg News Service, did a Google search on bankruptcies this morning and got back search results that included a six-year-old story published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel about the 2002 bankruptcy filing by United Airlines.

The employee mistook the news for a current story -- despite the date clearly marked on it (see update below) and other information in the article "that would clearly lead a reader to the conclusion that it was related to events in 2002" -- and included it in a subscription newsletter that was distributed through Bloomberg.

Panic ensued, as they say, and United Airlines stock price plummeted 75 percent (down from $12.30 to $3 a share) before someone realized it was an old news story and things righted themselves. The stock rebounded to $10.92 a share by Monday's closing. But not before United Airlines contacted the Sun Sentinel and demanded the newspaper retract its (6-year-old) story.

UPDATE 1: The head of Income Securities Advisors is now saying that the article had a current date on it. Or maybe the article had no date on it. His account to various news outlets is inconsistent.

Either way, what seems to be clear is that the archived article appeared within a frame of current headlines -- which is how many web sites display archived material, to draw readers to current stories. What could have happened, was that the person who read it didn't see a date on it but saw current headlines around it and jumped to the conclusion that the United Airlines piece was current.

UPDATE 2: The story gets more convoluted and more interesting. According to a follow-up investigation, the article in the Sun Sentinel's archive had no date on it. But when Google's spider grabbed it, it assigned a current date to the piece, which then resulted in the article being placed in the top results of Google News. When the employee from Income Securities Advisors ran a Google search on "2008 bankruptcies," the old United Airlines story appeared as the top link in the results, with a September 6, 2008 date on it. (Google has now released a screenshot that shows the UAL story as it appeared on the Sun Sentinel web site. The only date in the screenshot is September 7, 2008, the date Google accessed the page. There is no date under the story's headline to indicate when it was published.)

At 11 am Monday, the employee added the story to a feed that is included in a Bloomberg subscription service and within minutes, 15 million shares of United Airlines stock had been sold before trading on the stock was halted.

As I wrote at the top of this post, it's surprising something like this hasn't happened before.

But, unfortunately, it looks like the wrong lessons are being learned from this. Richard Lehmann, president of Income Securities Advisors, told the Washington Post that the incident "shows (that) the market apparently reacts to a headline as much as anything else."

He acknowledges that it would have been nice if his employee "had been more grounded in what's going on out there in the world." Presumably he means that if his employee had read the article carefully, he or she would have noticed information in the piece that made it obvious it was referring to a 2002 bankruptcy and therefore didn't jibe with the 2008 publication date on the piece. But Lehmann nonetheless attributes the whole problem to how the stock market reacted to his employee's action, not to the action itself.

"The fact that this happened with a major corporation like United based on one headline coming across Bloomberg, that you'd get this kind of knee-jerk reaction, there's something wrong with the trading mechanism," Lehmann said.

Actually, the market reacted exactly the way someone would expect it to react to a headline like this.

The problem wasn't the market, it was the newspaper's archive, which stored the story without a publication date attached to it -- not a completely uncommon occurrence.

The problem was also a by-product of how information is published instantly these days, and passed around the internet, without any independent vetting. The fact that Bloomberg's news service publishes content provided by non-journalist sources -- such as Income Securities Advisors -- without having an editor vet the material first, puts the news service at risk of being caught up in a mistake like this again.

But the problem isn't just Bloomberg. We're all at risk of doing this today when all it takes to publish something is to click "send," and when blogs and mailing lists propagate information that's published elsewhere without independently verifying it. Let's say the information in the United Airlines article wasn't obviously about a 2002 bankruptcy filing. There wouldn't have been any obvious red flags to make someone question the publication date on the piece. Someone would have caught the mistake only if Bloomberg had a regular policy of independently verifying information before sending it to subscribers.

Prior to the internet, if a news outlet like Bloomberg picked up information that another news publication broke, Bloomberg would have made phone calls to vet the information -- as much as that was possible -- before publishing its own story about the subject. That still happens in the case of articles that are published in the print versions of newspapers. But that happens much less with information that's picked up on blogs, and it almost never happens with information that's picked up by online mailing lists and newsletters.

Original here

Thai Court Forces Premier From Office Over TV Cooking Show

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej visiting a market in Udon Thani province on Tuesday. A court ordered him to resign for violating the Constitution.


BANGKOK — Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was forced from office on Tuesday when a court ruled that he had violated the Constitution by accepting payments to appear on cooking shows while in office.

His party said it would nominate Mr. Samak to succeed himself, an outcome that would seem to defy the spirit of the court ruling and to ensure that Thailand’s political crisis would continue.

Anti-government protesters cheered and wept when the verdict was read over radio and television, but there was no sign that they would end a two-week standoff in which they have blockaded the prime minister’s office.

The confrontation has hobbled the government, hit financial markets, damaged the country’s vital tourist trade and raised fears of violence or a possible military coup.

“P.P.P. will propose Samak as prime minister on the grounds that he’s the party leader, and the wrongdoing was petty and not triggered by mismanagement,” said Witthaya Buranasiri, an official of Mr. Samak’s People Power Party.

Mr. Samak made no immediate comment, but he has said he would abide by the court’s ruling. Parliament is scheduled to choose a new prime minister on Friday, with all parties eligible to put forward candidates.

“Samak was ousted by the court, but there is no guarantee he will not return in the next few days,” said Surhyiyasai Katsila, a spokesman for the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which is leading the protests.

The protesters accuse Mr. Samak of corruption and incompetence and say he is a stand-in for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup two years ago.

Mr. Thaksin is in London, where he is seeking political asylum in an attempt to evade corruption charges. He says the charges are politically motivated.

Mr. Samak’s government is made up primarily of supporters of Mr. Thaksin, and Mr. Samak has advertised himself publicly as a stand-in for Mr. Thaksin, who remains hugely popular among Thailand’s majority of poor and rural voters.

Until a new prime minister is seated, an interim government will be led by a brother-in-law of Mr. Thaksin, Deputy Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who is also minister of education.

The head of the nine-judge Constitutional Court panel, Chat Chonlaworn, read out the unanimous verdict on Tuesday, saying Mr. Samak had violated a constitutional ban on private employment while in office. “His position as prime minister has ended,” he said.

Judge Chat said that Mr. Samak had given conflicting testimony on Monday as to whether he had been paid a salary or expenses and that there had been an attempt to fabricate evidence and “to hide his actions.”

Mr. Samak had defended himself in court, saying he had not been an employee of the television station and had not earned a salary. “I did it because I liked doing it,” he said.

He was paid $2,350 for four shows on a program called “Tasting and Complaining,” according to testimony by the managing director of the company producing the show. Mr. Samak had been host of the show for seven years but gave it up in April, more than two months after being sworn in as prime minister.

Even if he is reinstated, Mr. Samak’s legal troubles will not be over. He faces three charges of corruption that have not yet reached the courts and he is appealing a two-year prison sentence for defamation for accusing Bangkok’s deputy governor of corruption. Conviction in any of these cases could also force him to step down.

The appeal in the defamation case is scheduled to be heard on Sept. 25, when Mr. Samak plans to address the United Nations in New York. The court said he would face an arrest warrant if he did not appear. Mr. Samak has said he is confident that he will not be ousted while he is away.

In addition to these court cases, the independent Election Commission ruled last week that Mr. Samak’s party had committed electoral fraud last December and should be dissolved. The Constitutional Court is set to decide that case soon.

Original here

State official beheaded in Thai Muslim south

YALA, Thailand (Reuters) - Separatist militants shot dead and beheaded a Buddhist state official in Thailand's Muslim south on Tuesday, police said, the latest death in 57 months of insurgency in which more than 3,100 people have died.

Police found 29 spent M-16 bullets around the pickup truck of the victim, identified as 26-year-old Attapong Gonlom, after at least two gunmen opened fire on him at a school in Pattani, one of four southern provinces hit by the violence.

"After the attack, the gunmen dragged his body out of the truck and chopped his head off, to the horror of students and teachers," a police incident report said.

The incident pushed the number of people decapitated in the Malay-speaking region to 34, a Reuters calculation based on police data and newspaper reports showed.

In the nearby province of Yala, rebels raided a seven-man army outpost late on Monday, killing one ranger and wounding another, police said.

The militants walked away with seven automatic rifles, a pistol, four flak jackets and 1,000 bullets, police said.

An army spokesman could not say what happened to the other five rangers.

"The attack happened when the rangers were about to have dinner and it is not clear if the rest were able to escape," Colonel Acra Tiproch told Reuters by telephone.

Since the latest violence erupted in 2004, the rebels have never revealed themselves publicly or claimed responsibility for the near daily gun and bomb attacks in the rubber-producing region bordering Malaysia.

(Reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Alan Raybould)

Original here

Secret killing program is key in Iraq, Woodward says

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The dramatic drop in violence in Iraq is due in large part to a secret program the U.S. military has used to kill terrorists, according to a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward.

Bob Woodward on Larry King Live

Bob Woodward's book, "The War Within: Secret White House History 2006-2008," came out Monday.

The program -- which Woodward compares to the World War II era Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb -- must remain secret for now or it would "get people killed," Woodward said Monday on CNN's Larry King Live.

"It is a wonderful example of American ingenuity solving a problem in war, as we often have," Woodward said.

In "The War Within: Secret White House History 2006-2008," Woodward disclosed the existence of secret operational capabilities developed by the military to locate, target and kill leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent leaders.

National security adviser Stephen Hadley, in a written statement reacting to Woodward's book, acknowledged the new strategy. Yet he disputed Woodward's conclusion that the "surge" of 30,000 U.S. troops into Iraq was not the primary reason for the decline in violent attacks.

"It was the surge that provided more resources and a security context to support newly developed techniques and operations," Hadley wrote.

Woodward, associate editor of the Washington Post, wrote that along with the surge and the new covert tactics, two other factors helped reduce the violence.

One was the decision of militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to order a cease-fire by his Mehdi Army. The other was the "Anbar Awakening" movement that saw Sunni tribes aligning with U.S. troops to battle al Qaeda in Iraq.

Woodward told Larry King that while there is a debate over how much credit the new secret operations should get for the drop in violence, he concluded it "accounts for a good portion."

"I would somewhat compare it to the Manhattan Project in World War II," he said "It's a ski slope right down in a matter of months, cutting the violence in half. This isn't going to happen with the bunch of joint security stations or the surge."

The top secret operations, he said, will "some day in history ... be described to people's amazement."

While he would not reveal the details, Woodward said the terrorists who have been targeted were already aware of the capabilities.

"The enemy has a heads up because they've been getting wiped out and a lot of them have been killed," he said. "It's not news to them.

"If you were a member of al Qaeda or the resistance or some extremist militia, you would be wise to get your rear end out of town," Woodward said. "It is very dangerous."

Original here