Friday, January 15, 2010

Notes From All Over

Georgia Family Gets Facebook Glitch Surprise

A Georgia mother and her two daughters logged onto Facebook from mobile phones last weekend and wound up in a startling place: strangers' accounts with full access to troves of private information. The glitch - the result of a routing problem at the family's wireless carrier, AT&T - revealed a little known security flaw with far reaching implications for everyone on the Internet, not just Facebook users.

In each case, the Internet lost track of who was who, putting the women into the wrong accounts. It doesn't appear the users could have done anything to stop it. The problem adds a dimension to researchers' warnings that there are many ways online information - from mundane data to dark secrets - can go awry.

Several security experts said they had not heard of a case like this, in which the wrong person was shown a Web page whose user name and password had been entered by someone else. It's not clear whether such episodes are rare or simply not reported. But experts said such flaws could occur on e-mail services, for instance, and that something similar could happen on a PC, not just a phone.

"The fact that it did happen is proof that it could potentially happen again and with something a lot more important than Facebook," said Nathan Hamiel, founder of the Hexagon Security Group, a research organization.

AT&T spokesman Michael Coe said its wireless customers have landed in the wrong Facebook pages in "a limited number of instances" and that a network problem behind those episodes is being fixed.

8-Year-Old Cub Scout On Terror Watch List

Travel is a hassle for an 8-year-old Cub Scout from New Jersey. That's because Mikey Hicks shares the same name of a person who has drawn the suspicion of the Homeland Security Department.

His mother told The New York Times she sensed trouble when her son was a baby and she couldn't get a seat for him at a Florida airport. She says airline officials explained his name "was on the list." He was patted down as a 2-year-old at Newark Liberty International Airport.

The newspaper says the boy's name appears to be among 13,500 on the "selectee" list, which sets off a high level of security screening. Transportation Security Administration spokesman James Fotenos says the agency will cross-check names with birth dates and gender in the coming months.

Haiti: Where Will All The Money Go?

How difficult will it be for the United States and other donors to track the millions of dollars in earthquake aid headed to Haiti? U.S. government auditors pulled out of the country years ago after concerns over kidnappings and other crimes scuttled their efforts to monitor Haiti's spending of $45 million in U.S. aid after storms there killed thousands.

Corruption, theft, violence and other security problems and Haiti's sheer shortage of fundamentals - reliable roads, telephone and power lines and a sound financial system - will add to the challenges of making sure aid is spent properly as foreign governments and charities try not only to help Haiti recover from this week's devastating earthquake but to pull itself out of abject poverty.

Past efforts haven't been easy. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, faced problems on a smaller scale in 2005 and 2006 as auditors tried to review the use of roughly $45 million in aid the U.S. provided after Tropical Storm Jeanne struck Haiti in September 2004, killing more than 2,000 people, injuring more than 2,600 and affecting an estimated 300,000 others.

The inspectors wanted to visit projects funded with the money to measure progress. But after an initial fact-finding trip to Haiti, it was considered too dangerous for them to go back. They could visit only projects deemed safe as destinations. In summer 2005, many employees of the Agency for International Development - which is coordinating the current U.S. response to the earthquake - were temporarily pulled out of Haiti, according to government reports.

Haiti is one of the poorest places on Earth. Most basic public services are lacking, people typically live on less than $2 a day, nearly half the population is illiterate and the government has a history of instability. The public has little opportunity to be sure that aid to the government is used honestly and well. Nor is following the money easy for donors, including the United States, 700 miles away and one of the country's biggest helpers.

Just last month, a private group, the Heritage Foundation for Haiti, urged Haiti's government to complete an audit of a $197 million emergency disaster program to respond to corruption allegations over how the money was handled. Haiti's senate cited the allegations when it removed Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis in November and replaced her with Jean-Max Bellerive.

The U.S. has promised at least $100 million in earthquake aid. That comes on top of substantial spending by the United States in Haiti in recent years for economic development such as the country's textile industry, humanitarian assistance, environmental programs, and law enforcement, including trying to stop the use of Haiti as a pass-through point for narcotics en route to the United States.

Apart from earthquake relief, senators working on the next annual foreign assistance budget have proposed at least $282 million for Haiti; the House proposal would provide at least $165 million. Much of the U.S. government's aid to Haiti comes through the Agency for International Development, which has provided at least $800 million from budget years 2004 through 2008, agency figures show.

At least $700 million more was pledged to Haiti by governments, international givers and charities at an April 2009 donors conference. Former President Bill Clinton, a United Nations special envoy to the country, told the U.N. Security Council in September that he was "100 percent committed to delivering tangible results to the U.N. and most importantly the people of Haiti."

The Haitian government relies on foreign aid to keep itself and its economy operating. In a December 2008 Gallup survey, 60 percent of Haitians interviewed said there had been times that year when they didn't have enough money to buy food, and 51 percent said there were times when they couldn't afford shelter.

Statistics about Haiti, as gathered by the U.S. government, chronicle a grim standard of living. According to the CIA and State Department, 1 in 8 children in Haiti dies before age 5. The life expectancy is 59 to 62 years. Malaria, typhoid and dengue fevers and other life-threatening illnesses long ago wiped out in the industrialized world still plague Haiti.

Thousands View Solar Eclipse In Africa And Asia

Thousands of people in Africa and Asia viewed an eclipse Friday as the moon crossed the sun's path blocking everything but a narrow, blazing rim of light. The path of the eclipse began in Africa - passing through Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Somalia before crossing the Indian Ocean, where it reached its peak, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Web site.

The path then continued into Asia where the eclipse could be seen in Maldives, southern India, parts of Sri Lanka, Myanmar and China. Clouds obscured the partial solar eclipse in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, disappointing residents who were up early to catch a glimpse.

The eclipse is known as an annular eclipse because the moon doesn't block the sun completely. Annular eclipses, which are considered far less important to astronomers than total eclipses of the sun, occur about 66 times a century and can only be viewed by people in the narrow band along its path.

In Uganda, locals refer to an eclipse as a war between the sun and moon.

Friday's eclipse was visible from a 190-mile-wide path that passes through half the globe, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Web site.

Hundreds gathered to view the phenomenon in southern India's Dhanushkodi, a tiny town at the tip of a rocky strip of land jutting out into the ocean, where the eclipse could be seen for about 10 minutes. In the southern Indian city of Bangalore, hundreds went to a planetarium to see it. But others in India were gripped by fear and refused to come outdoors. Hindu mythology states an eclipse is caused when a dragon-demon swallows the sun, while another myth says the sun's rays during an eclipse can harm unborn children.

In northern India's Haridwar town, hosting the Kumbh Mela - touted as the world's largest religious gathering - thousands of devout Hindus were expected to mark the eclipse by taking a dip in the frigid waters of the sacred Ganges river. The eclipse could also be viewed in Indian capital New Delhi and Mumbai, the financial hub.

In Male, capital of Maldives, hundreds of people watched the eclipse with special glasses in an open field as it reached its peak.

The last total eclipse of the sun was on July 22, 2009, when it was visible in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, China and some Japanese islands.

Associated Press writers Sinan Hussain in Male, Maldives; Aijaz Rahi in Bangalore, India; Godfrey Olukya in Kampala, Uganda and Ronald Bera in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.

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