IP Legal Blog Learn how technology and law interesect!

Cyber Crime Grows at Astronomical Rate

Cyber crime has been around for a while now. A lot of us have been affected by it, whether someone stole our credit card information, hacked into our computer, or surreptitiously installed malware on a network. With the constant use of smart-electronic devices in today's world, it is uprising that cyber crime is not more common. Well, according to recent reports, cyber crime is becoming more a of an everyday occurrence. The latest numbers show that cyber crime is on a steep rise on a global basis.

How Much is Too Much

Several reports suggest that cyber crime is now starting to get out of hand. As many of us turn to using cloud storage for business and personal data, we are seeing a whopping 152% increase in security breaches for cloud systems. These breaches are not just affecting online storage systems like Dropbox or Onedrive, they are actually gaining access to devices connected to these systems as well. This means that your cell phone or PC could be accessed remotely and data could be downloaded without your knowledge by a cyber-criminal.

Use of cloud connected devices is set to grow substantially, meaning that cyber thieves will have a pretty big playground in the next few years. For example, it is expected that the number of users of wearable devices and smart-home devices will climb to 30 million in the next half decade. Cyber criminals must be salivating at the mouths when they learn how many devices will be at their disposal.

The Geographical Hot Spots for Cyber Crime

The cradle of technology is also ground zero for cyber crime attacks. The Golden State of California consistently ranks as the highest U.S. attraction for cyber criminals. California's technological, financial, and educational hubs are the most targeted institutions around. State Attorney General Kamala Harris recently reported that the "size and strength" of the economy is what makes the state so attractive. In the state's capitol, a Sacramento criminal lawyer mentioned that many gangs and criminal organizations seem to be relying more on cyber crime to fund their unlawful enterprises. Prosecutors and defense lawyers alike think the transition to cyber crime is promoted by a desire to avoid committing "street offenses" which are much easier detected and often carry harsher sentences. All in all, the combination of foreign and local criminals abusing cyber crime in California has resulted in a massive money laundering scheme which amounts to around $40 billion per year. The main solution for the California Legislature is to create stricter laws that allow law enforcement agencies to freeze banking transactions and assets. Such laws would make it more difficult for criminals to do hit and run style attacks on California institutions and corporations.

Our Cars Are Getting Hacked Now

Last year, hacking arrived onto a new frontier. Jeep owners were surprised to find out that hackers had gained access to the on-board computer system for the Cherokee models. This meant that hackers could control almost every aspect of the vehicle from braking, steering and transmission control. This is example where cyber crime has gone beyond just monetary damage and is quickly becoming a life and death matter.

Realistically, these types of hacks should be expected as we allow electronics to control more and more of our daily lives. Smart cars seem to especially susceptible to attack because they use relatively new technology, and are often connected with outside devices such as the driver's cell phone, tablet and laptop. With so many different electronic devices connecting to the same hub, it can be difficult to ensure that each one meets the correct security protocol. Any weak leak in the chain could mean that a cyber attack is imminent.

Hacking Your House

If cyber attacks on cars wasn't enough, hackers are now also focusing their efforts on smart appliances inside the home. Things like smart t.v.'s, smart appliances, and smart watches are susceptible to intrusion by cyber hackers. The big problem here is that most consumers aren't even aware that these devices pose a risk. Most people know that PC computing carries a risk and they do what they can to install anti-virus and anti-malware programs. But when it comes to some of the newer devices on the market they are not even aware of the extent such devices are connected to the internet or a local network. Therefore, consumers are less likely to pay attention when it comes to maintaining secrecy or monitoring suspicious activity.

Schools Are Becoming Cyber Targets

Schools are also becoming more and more technologically advanced. Use of tablets and smart TVs in schools is the wave of the future. As such, these devices in the hands of children are subject to all of the risks described above. However, there is a new threat facing schools that is rather unique. Criminals and pranksters are using technology to issue threats against schools prompting the mass evacuation of students and the cancellation of school days.

We saw this happen on a large scale with the recent cyber threat made against the L.A. County School District. Since the threat was made from a fake email account, school officials had no way to verify the threat or determine its source. After an extensive investigation by the FBI, it was found that a man in New York was responsible. It's amazing that this man was able to shut down an entire school system just by using a free email account. It goes to show how easily cyber crime can cost individuals and the government millions of dollars just by a single touch of the mouse.

Summarizing the Increase in Cyber Crime

Cyber crime is now becoming the preferred method for criminal activity. Society's continued reliance on smart devices is one of the main driving factors. As we open ourselves up more to technology, and integrate more into our daily lives, we provide more opportunities for criminals to act. Businesses and governments are already spending billions per year to try and combat this problem. However, the constant production of new devices make it difficult to keep up with the times. Perhaps the best solution is for us, the consumers, to use the devices and not let the devices use us. We need to be more conscious of what we store in our personal electronics and remain on alert for anything out of the ordinary.



Cell Phones Searches and Warrants

The legal issue regarding the searchability of cell phones under the 4th Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures has recently been at the forefront of criminal law. With the increased use of these devices, especially by criminals, police are consistently confiscating cell phones from suspects and searching them for evidence of criminal activity. The authority of law enforcement to carry out these searches has been under some judicial scrutiny. With the advent of cellbrite devices (to download cell phone information), our judicial system has come up with some rules regarding when police can go through your private cell phone info.

Cell Phones and the Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

The legal standard determining when a search requires a warrant is whether the person involved has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the object of the search. The target of the search could be a home, car, or in this case a cell phone. A reasonable expectation of privacy exists when the person has a subjective belief that the object is private, and the matter is also private when looked at objectively. Under this standard, most people would agree that the average cell phone falls into the purview of something requring a warrant. Well, in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court also agreed.

The USSC came to unanimous ruling that a warrant is needed whenever police search as suspect's cell phone. Two appeals from the states of California and Massachusetts lead to this ruling. According to the Court's decision, cell phones present a far different case from purses or other personal items. The amount of personal info that can be found on a cell phone is way higher than any other type of object. The large storage capacity of these devices, and the ability to save things on the fly means that they are more likely to store private data than other types of objects.

What the Massachusetts Court Added to Warrant Based Searches

A recent case heard by the MA Supreme Court refined the USSC's decision by defining what police can look at when they have a warrant. In the Commonwealth v. Dorelas case, the MA court dealt with the defendant's argument that a warrant authorizing a cell phone search was limited to numbers called and text messages. He argued that photos were excluded because they were beyond the scope of the warrant. The court decided that as long as there was probable cause that the photo files contained incriminating info, and the photo files were reasonably accessible, police could search those as well under the warrant's authority.

Cell Phone Searches Make Us All Nervous

Most people are likely to agree with the Supreme Court's ruling. Just think of all the private things you have on your phone right now. You might have personal family photos, private conversations with a spouse, emails concerning confidential work issues, and tons of social networking data that was intended for certain eyes only. Most of use don't even know what is actually stored on our phones. Apps and call logs tend to store things in hidden places that we don't even know exist. Even when we delete things on a phone, traces of the information remain in remote areas of the memory. I, for one, know that I don't want anyone going through my cell phone!

Criminal defense attorneys suggest that you use your phone wisely, especially if you are probation or parole. In some states, a parolee may have his or her cell phone searched without a warrant based on the conditions of their parole. Under this situation, what the Supreme Court says doesn't matter since the person involved is already a convicted criminal who has agreed to certain conditions by the court. Therefore, If you find yourself on parole, make sure to use a brand new phone and to never discuss criminal activity through the device. You will also want to take care to avoid taking pictures of yourself using drugs or drinking or doing anything else that violates the conditions.

The Last Piece of Advice

We have all put stuff on our phones that is embarrassing. However, some of the things we do might also be illegal. In this age of technology where everything is recorded, we have to remember that we are always under a watchful eye. Sometimes "big brother" is right there in our pocket in the form of our favorite mobile device. As such, it is important to moderate what we put into our phones so that if it falls into the wrong hands we won't implicate our self in any way. The requirement of a warrant for cell phone searches provides some relief as police can't just go through our phones without a reason. But in the end, a warrant is just a court visit away. If police really want to go through your phone, it is likely they will get the required permission. Make sure you protect yourself from the start by carefully deciding what gets stored on your smartphone!


Apple Gets What It Wants, Just Too Late to Matter!

In a few weeks the mobile phone company, Samsung, will no longer be able to sell specified phones in the jurisdiction of the United States. The reason emanates from an old lawsuit by Apple that sought an injunction against Samsung's use of features claimed to have originated with Apple. The real kicker here is that most of the smartphones affected are no longer circulating on the market, therefore the real world effect on Samsung is expected to be very little to nil.

As stated above, this battle of the smartphones started over half a decade ago. Apple actually won the suit along with a generous award of $120 million. However, the judge that oversaw the case left out something. Specifically, she (Judge Koh of the District Court) chose not to place an injunction against Samsung which would prevent the company from continuing to make the products at the heart of the lawsuit. Judge Koh's decision went up the appeals process and was reversed. Thus, a few days ago, Judge Koh had to revisit the issue and impose the injunction as originally requested.

One of the 5 year old lawsuit's focuses concerned Samsung's use of the quick linking feature. However, the original patent for this concept actually expires on February 1st of this year. In this situation, Samsung will likely not have to change anything because the issuance of the injunction comes with a grace period that will cover the time period up until the termination of the patent.

Apple also had complained about Samsung's use of the automatic correction feature for typing on the smartphone. It is expected that Samsung can create some alternative method to achieve the same goal. Either way, it doesn't really matter much because it will only apply to smartphones that came out in the Galaxy S3 era. Samsung is currently promoting the S7 which comes out later this year.

Finally, Apple had sued Samsung over the feature that allows you to unlock your phone by sliding your finger across the screen. Yet, there are only a couple phones that the jury found to violate this Apple based feature. In this sense, Samsung won't have much to comply with, especially since the new phones use a totally different system.

Although some of these older phones are still on the market, Samsung is in no way focused on them. There have been several newer editions released since the lawsuit. Samsung is steadily looking into the future and probably views this injunction as a minor annoyance at best. Even with a bright future ahead of it, Samsung was not happy with the decision in this case and some executives expressed disappointment in Apple's patent witch hunt. At the end of the day, things like this are expected from the two giants in any industry.


Has the Axanar Movie Been Shot Down By a Copyright Infringement Suit?

undefinedA fan supported version of Star Trek, called "Axanar," is in legal turmoil since being sued by CBS and Paramount. The crowd-funded film project caught the attention of the copyright holders due to its unapologetic similarity to the original version of the film and series. In the lawsuit, each plaintiff is seeking 150k in damages for every item that constitutes a copyright violation. With such a high price to pay, it it easy to see how the fan backed film will simply vanish into space if the plaintiff's are successful.


The Film Concerns Star Trek’s Not Too Distant Universe

At first glance, Axanar doesn’t just bite off the same old Star Trek storyline as we know it. The film is actually centered around a character called Garth of Izar. Anyone true Trekkies out there probably know that Garth is a highly acclaimed officer who served the Federation Starfleet. The movie focuses on his life during the war with the Klingon race during the 4 Years War. Garth wins a decisive battle at Axanar, which is used for the movie's title. As an interesting tidbit, the traditional storyline holds that after serving as fleet captain, Garth is falls into a state of insanity and is committed to an insane asylum. Seems like a pretty interesting story right? It may not be something the studios want to produce, but nonetheless could provide an interesting adventure for Star Trek fans like myself.


Was This Fan Made Venture Too Realistic for CBS and Paramount Pictures?

This is not the first time fans have tried their hand at a Star Trek film. Historically, the two studio giants have been rather lax when it comes to enforcing rights on the popular franchise. However, it seems that the real kicker here is that this film promises to be too studio-like. The plaintiffs are actually alleging that it could confuse movie watchers into believing that it is a studio produced enterprise, no pun intended! Their reason for wanting to avoid this might include damaging the brand, or they might just want to eliminate the competition as some studio initiated Star Trek projects still remain on the horizon.

Adding to the realism and professional production of Axanar is the use of professional film crew and equipment. It is rumored that even some crew members actually worked on Star Trek projects before, and thus bring experience and an inside vision to the project.


Who’s Behind Axanar?

At the very root of the Axanar project are thousands of Kickstarter donors who have donated more than $1 million dollars to fund the film. Producers have also received donations through the Indiegogo website. The main producer of the project is a man (also a lawyer) named Alec Peters who desired to make the highest quality fan made film possible. Despite the lawsuits from some pretty big Hollywood, heavy-hitters, Peters has remained confident that his project will continue unscathed by the IP infringement accusations.


The Intellectual Property Claims

All in all, the plaintiffs' attorneys, Loeb and Loeb, have alleged that the defendants owe damages for vicarioius, direct and contributory infringement of copyright. Again, at the heart of the infringement claim is Axanar's use of the iconic Vulcan ears, the look and feel of the space craft, and character clothing. Early looks at the film prove this to be somewhat true, as you can see yourself here.


In the end I suppose the courts will have the job every Trekkie dreams of: to decide how true Axanar remains to the classic Star Trek storyline. The main part of Axanar was set to begin filming this month, in January of 2016. We'll continue to watch this story and update you on this rather interesting intellectual property case.