Category - Technology

FBI and Homeland Security Respond to Shocking Goatse Bomb in Atlanta

Gawker, By Sam Biddle, May 15

The affluent denizens of Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood received a fun treat this week when they looked up at the corner of Peachtree and East Paces Ferry: a famous internet man’s giant, ruddy, gaping spread asshole, displayed on an enormous digital billboard.

The billboard above is one of the thousands of YESCO digital billboards installed across the country. Naturally, it comes with an internet connection. The setup is exactly as insecure as you’d imagine: many of these electronic billboards are completely unprotected, dangling on the public internet without a password or any kind of firewall. This means it’s pretty simple to change the image displayed from a new AT&T offer to, say, Goatse.

The appearance of this unexpected mammoth human asshole alarmed Buckhead residents so much that at least one called 911, WSB-TV reports:

“There’s an electronic billboard that is flashing a naked man,” one woman said in the 911 call. “It’s not actually an emergency; it’s just totally disgusting.” Police say the billboard’s owner temporarily cut power to the billboard.

[…]

But what is there to really investigate? The billboard was easy to mess with; the owners basically left the door unlocked and wide open. Not only was this a case of incompetence, but gross negligence: security researcher Dan Tentler tweeted yesterday that he’d tried to warn this very same sign company that their software is easily penetrable by anyone with a computer and net connection and was told they were “not interested.”

Related, Gawker: Finding Goatse: The Mystery Man Behind the Most Disturbing Internet Meme in History, April 10, 2012

‘Cicadas': US military’s new swarm of mini-drones

AFP, By Don De Luce, May 16

Washington – US military scientists have invented a miniature drone that fits in the palm of a hand, ready to be dropped from the sky like a mobile phone with wings.

The “micro air vehicle” is named after the insect that inspired its invention, the Cicada, which spends years underground before appearing in great swarms, reproducing and then dropping to the ground dead.

“The idea was why can’t we make UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that have the same sort of profile,” Aaron Kahn of the Naval Research Laboratory told AFP.

“We will put so many out there, it will be impossible for the enemy to pick them all up.”

So, the NSA Has an Actual Skynet Program

Wired, By Kim Zetter, May 8

We’ve suspected it all along—that Skynet, the massive program that brings about world destruction in the Terminator movies, was just a fictionalization of a real program in the hands of the US government. And now it’s confirmed—at least in name.

As The Intercept reports today, the NSA does have a program called Skynet. But unlike the autonomous, self-aware computerized defense system in Terminator that goes rogue and launches a nuclear attack that destroys most of humanity, this one is a surveillance program that uses phone metadata to track the location and call activities of suspected terrorists. A journalist for Al Jazeera reportedly became one of its targets after he was placed on a terrorist watch list.

Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan, bureau chief for Al Jazeera’s Islamabad office, got tracked by Skynet after he was identified by US intelligence as a possible Al Qaeda member and assigned a watch list number. A Syrian national, Zaidan has scored a number of exclusive interviews with senior Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden himself.

Skynet uses phone location and call metadata from bulk phone call records to detect suspicious patterns in the physical movements of suspects and their communication habits, according to a 2012 government presentation The Intercept obtained from Edward Snowden.

[…]

We should note that the NSA has a second program that more closely resembles the Terminator‘s Skynet. This one is called MonsterMind, as revealed by Edward Snowden last year in an interview with WIRED and James Bamford. MonsterMind, like the film version of Skynet, is a defense surveillance system that would instantly and autonomously neutralize foreign cyberattacks against the US, and could be used to launch retaliatory strikes as well. Under this program algorithms would scour massive repositories of metadata and analyze it to differentiate normal network traffic from anomalous or malicious traffic. Armed with this knowledge, the NSA could instantly and autonomously identify, and block, a foreign threat.

Snowden also suggested, however, that MonsterMind could one day be designed to return fire—automatically, without human intervention—against an attacker. Because an attacker could tweak malicious code to avoid detection, a counterstrike would be more effective in neutralizing future attacks. Sounds a lot like Skynet. No word from the NSA on why they didn’t use that iconic film name for its real-world Skynet.

The Intercept: U.S. Government Designated Prominent Al Jazeera Journalist as “Member of Al Qaeda”
Wired: Meet MonsterMind, the NSA Bot That Could Wage Cyberwar Autonomously

N.S.A. Collection of Bulk Call Data Is Ruled Illegal

New York Times, By Charlie Savage & Jonathan Weisman, May 7

Washington – A federal appeals court in New York ruled on Thursday that the once-secret National Security Agency program that is systematically collecting Americans’ phone records in bulk is illegal. The decision comes as a fight in Congress is intensifying over whether to end and replace the program, or to extend it without changes.

In a 97-page ruling, a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a provision of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, known as Section 215, cannot be legitimately interpreted to allow the bulk collection of domestic calling records.

The provision of the act used to justify the bulk data program is to expire June 1, and the ruling is certain to increase tension that has been building in Congress.

Surveillance planes spotted in the sky for days after West Baltimore rioting

Washington Post, By Craig Timberg, May 5

As Benjamin Shayne settled into his back yard to listen to the Orioles game on the radio Saturday night, he noticed a small plane looping low and tight over West Baltimore — almost exactly above where rioting had erupted several days earlier, in the aftermath of the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, in police custody.

The plane appeared to be a small Cessna, but little else was clear. The sun had already set, making traditional visual surveillance difficult. So, perplexed, Shayne tweeted: “Anyone know who has been flying the light plane in circles above the city for the last few nights?”

That was 9:14 p.m. Seven minutes later came a startling reply. One of Shayne’s nearly 600 followers tweeted back a screen shot of the Cessna 182T’s exact flight path and also the registered owner of the plane: NG Research, based in Bristow, Va.

“The Internet,” Shayne, 39, told his wife, “is an amazing thing.”

What Shayne’s online rumination helped unveil was a previously secret, multi-day campaign of overhead surveillance by city and federal authorities during a period of historic political protest and unrest.

China rates its own citizens – including online behaviour

The Chinese government is currently implementing a nationwide electronic system, called the Social Credit System, attributing to each of its 1,3 billion citizens a score for his or her behavior. The system will be based on various criteria, ranging from financial credibility and criminal record to social media behavior. From 2020 onwards each adult citizen should, besides his identity card, have such a credit code.

Volkskrant.nl, By Fokke Obbema, Marije Vlaskamp, Michael Persson, April 25

The regulations were announced last year, but have attracted almost no attention thus far in China and abroad. This week Rogier Creemers, a Belgian China-specialist at Oxford University, published a comprehensive translation of the regulations regarding the Social Credit System, which clarifies the scope of the system. In an interview with Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant he says: ‘With the help of the latest internet technologies the government wants to exercise individual surveillance’.

In his view this surveillance will have a wider scope than was the case under the former East German system: ‘The German aim was limited to avoiding a revolt against the regime. The Chinese aim is far more ambitious: it is clearly an attempt to create a new citizen.’

The intentions of the new system are not only economical, fighting fraudulent practices, but also moral. ‘This is a deliberate effort by the Chinese government to promote among its citizens “socialist core values” such as patriotism, respecting the elderly, working hard and avoiding extravagant consumption’, says Creemers. A bad ‘credit code’ can result in being not eligible for certain jobs, housing or credit to start a company. ‘On the labour market you might need a certain score to get a specific job.’

Via MathBabe: China announces it is scoring its citizens using big data

Is the online surveillance of black teenagers the new stop-and-frisk?

Critics say the NYPD’s trawling of social media for gang activity – affecting children as young as 10 – is disproportionate and may amount to racial profiling

The Guardian, By Rose Hackman, April 23

Taylonn Murphy is sitting in a Harlem beauty salon after hours. Leaning back in his chair and with a calm demeanor, he is talking about keeping young local people out of harm’s way.

Every now and then though, as he speaks, his voice breaks.

In September 2011, his daughter Tayshana, 18, a local basketball superstar and resident of West Harlem’s Grant Houses, was shot dead by two residents of Manhattanville Houses. The killing was described as the result of a rivalry between the two housing projects that dates back decades.

Almost three years after his daughter’s death, on 4 June 2014, helicopters hovered overhead as the first rays of sunlight hit the concrete. At least 400 New York police officers in military gear raided both housing projects, with indictments for the arrest of 103 people.

Starting in January 2010, the community’s children and young adults had been closely watched by police officers – both online and off. The investigation had involved listening in to 40,000 calls from correctional facilities, watching hours of surveillance video, and reviewing over 1m online social media pages.

For Murphy, the revelation of these details was choking: the NYPD had been attentively surveilling both communities for over one and a half years before his daughter was murdered, patiently waiting and observing as the rivalry between crew members escalated.

Far from tolls, New York gathers location data through E-ZPass

AutoBlog, By Pete Bigelow, April 22

E-ZPass readers are used for more than collecting tolls in New York.

Documents published Wednesday shed new light on how city and state transportation officials have been using the E-ZPass tags for at least four years to collect location information from unsuspecting drivers as part of ongoing studies on traffic congestion.

A lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union said there are few provisions in place that govern how this information is used, and that the studies could amount to a surveillance network.

“Most people probably didn’t know their E-ZPass reader is being read away from toll plazas, which is why they enrolled in the service,” said Mariko Hirose, a staff attorney at the NYCLU, who uncovered the scope of the programs through public-records requests and mapped the location of E-ZPass readers. “If the government is going to set up something like this, they should make sure people know it’s happening and give them a choice to opt out.”

Drivers don’t have that choice. In most cases, they’re unaware information on their whereabouts is even being collected beyond toll booths, and neither state nor city departments have opt-out procedures in place.

Meanwhile, the number of E-ZPass readers installed away from toll booths has proliferated. In August 2013, 43 of these electronic machines generated an average of 250,000 records on completed travel times every day in New York City alone. By July 2014, there were 149 E-ZPass readers positioned around the city.

We Can’t Let John Deere Destroy the Very Idea of Ownership

Wired, By Kyle Wiens, April 21

It’s official: John Deere and General Motors want to eviscerate the notion of ownership. Sure, we pay for their vehicles. But we don’t own them. Not according to their corporate lawyers, anyway.

In a particularly spectacular display of corporate delusion, John Deere—the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker —told the Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of modern tractors, farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it.

Several manufacturers recently submitted similar comments to the Copyright Office under an inquiry into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. DMCA is a vast 1998 copyright law that (among other things) governs the blurry line between software and hardware. The Copyright Office, after reading the comments and holding a hearing, will decide in July which high-tech devices we can modify, hack, and repair—and decide whether John Deere’s twisted vision of ownership will become a reality.

[…]

General Motors told the Copyright Office that proponents of copyright reform mistakenly “conflate ownership of a vehicle with ownership of the underlying computer software in a vehicle.” But I’d bet most Americans make the same conflation—and Joe Sixpack might be surprised to learn GM owns a giant chunk of the Chevy sitting in his driveway.

New Pentagon cyber strategy to discuss nation’s offensive capabilities

The Baltimore Sun, By Ian Duncan, April 23

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter will lay out the military’s new strategy for fighting battles over computer networks Thursday, today, officials said, revealing what analysts say appears be a tougher, more offensive approach to cyber warfare.

It’s the first major update to the Pentagon’s cyber strategy in four years, a period during which American businesses have suffered major attacks, including the assault late last year on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The document, to be unveiled as Carter delivers a speech at Stanford University, includes descriptions of ways the military can use computers in all stages of a conflict, according to a summary provided by defense officials Wednesday — a sign that the department is opening up about its offensive capabilities.
Read More

Why confidential tips to the government may not be confidential after all

Washington Post, By Craig Timberg & Lisa Rein, April 16

Got a hot tip about federal waste, fraud or corruption? You should think twice about using the government’s own online systems for collecting such complaints.

Many of them promise confidentiality but for years have sent sensitive data – including names, addresses and phone numbers of whistleblowers, as well as the details of their allegations – across the Internet in a way that could be intercepted by hackers or snoops. Or, perhaps worse still, by the agencies named in the complaints.

Twenty-nine of these sites, set up by inspectors generals who in many cases are required by federal law to protect the identities of whistleblowers, do not use encryption technology that has become a standard privacy protection across much of the Internet, according to a review by the ACLU. A State Department site offering up to $10 million rewards for terrorism tips has the same weakness, exposing the identities of tipsters to a range of potentially interested parties, including operators of cyber cafes or government spies in the countries where the tipsters live.

Now, drones to be used to disperse mobs in Lucknow

PTI, April 3

LUCKNOW – Drones will soon perform a special task in the state capital apart from functioning as eyes in the sky with the Lucknow Police planning to use them for dispersing mobs.

These little unmanned mini-choppers are already in use in various sensitive parts of Uttar Pradesh for taking aerial snaps, but for the first time the hi-tech gadget will be used to control unruly crowds.

“We have purchased five drone cameras with capacity of lifting two kg weight. They can be used to shower pepper powder on an unruly mob in case of any trouble,” Senior Superintendent of Police Yashasvi Yadav told PTI here today. […]

Lucknow Police will probably be the first in the country to have such hi-tech surveillance gadget, he said, adding drones will assist not only in checking crimes but also in keeping a track of criminals.
Read More

NSA dreams of smartphones with “split” crypto keys protecting user data

Proposal is part of a tense stand-off between US government and tech industry.

Ars Technica, by Dan Goodin, April 12

National Security Agency officials are considering a range of options to ensure their surveillance efforts aren’t stymied by the growing use of encryption, particularly in smartphones. Key among the solutions, according to The Washington Post, might be a requirement that technology companies create a digital key that can open any locked device to obtain text messages or other content, but divide the key into pieces so no one group could use it without the cooperation of other parties.

“I don’t want a back door,” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the NSA, recently said during a speech at Princeton University, at which he laid out the proposal. “I want a front door. And I want the front door to have multiple locks. Big locks.”

The proposal is part of a tense debate resulting from the growing number of companies that endow their hardware and software with strong encryption that when used properly makes it infeasible if not impossible for anyone other than the owner to access the contents. Chief among these companies is Apple, which has enabled such encryption by default in newer iPhones and iPads. On the one hand, national security and law enforcement officials say the trend could seriously hinder criminal and national security investigations. Tech industry representatives, meanwhile, chafe at the thought of backdoors, citing a raft of concerns, including abuse by hackers, government overreach, and harm to US competitiveness.

Doctorow/Boing Boing: NSA declares war on general purpose computers

There’s no way to stop Americans — particularly those engaged in criminal activity and at risk from law enforcement — from running crypto without locking all computers, Ipad-style, so that they only run software from a government-approved “app-store.” The world teems with high quality, free, open crypto tools. Simply banning their integration into US products will do precisely nothing to stop criminals from getting their code from outside non-US vendors or projects. Only by attacking the fundamental nature of computing itself can the NSA hope to limit its adversaries’ use of crypto.

Washington Post: As encryption spreads, U.S. grapples with clash between privacy, security
Doctorow: Lockdown, January 2012

Big Bang Beam: Large Hadron Collider Restarts After Two-Year Break

NBC News, By Alan Boyle, April 5

Researchers have begun circulating beams of protons in the Large Hadron Collider after a two-year shutdown for upgrades — and they expect to ramp up quickly to reach uncharted frontiers in particle physics.

“Beam went smoothly through the whole machine. It’s fantastic to see it going so well after two years and such a major overhaul of the LHC,” Rolf Heuer, the director general of Europe’s CERN particle physics center, said Sunday in a statement.

The LHC’s control team sent waves of protons in both directions around the 17-mile-round (27-kilometer-round) ring, situated 300 feet (100 meters) beneath the French-Swiss border near Geneva. In the days ahead, the team will increase the energy of the proton beams and smash them together in the LHC’s detectors.

[…]

During its first run, the LHC’s collisions hit a top energy of 8 trillion electron volts, or 8 TeV. This time around, they’re due to rise to 13 TeV, close to the machine’s maximum design level.


CERN: Proton beams are back in the LHC

The LHC is entering its second season of operation. Thanks to the work done in the last two years, it will operate at unprecedented energy – almost double that of season 1 – at 6.5 TeV per beam. With 13 TeV proton-proton collisions expected before summer, the LHC experiments will soon be exploring uncharted territory.


CERN, @CERN

The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust

Hidden in an unknown corner of Inner Mongolia is a toxic, nightmarish lake created by our thirst for smartphones, consumer gadgets and green tech, discovers Tim Maughan.

BBC, By Tim Maughan, April 2

From where I’m standing, the city-sized Baogang Steel and Rare Earth complex dominates the horizon, its endless cooling towers and chimneys reaching up into grey, washed-out sky. Between it and me, stretching into the distance, lies an artificial lake filled with a black, barely-liquid, toxic sludge.

Dozens of pipes line the shore, churning out a torrent of thick, black, chemical waste from the refineries that surround the lake. The smell of sulphur and the roar of the pipes invades my senses. It feels like hell on Earth.

Welcome to Baotou, the largest industrial city in Inner Mongolia. I’m here with a group of architects and designers called the Unknown Fields Division, and this is the final stop on a three-week-long journey up the global supply chain, tracing back the route consumer goods take from China to our shops and homes, via container ships and factories.

You may not have heard of Baotou, but the mines and factories here help to keep our modern lives ticking. It is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of “rare earth” minerals. These elements can be found in everything from magnets in wind turbines and electric car motors, to the electronic guts of smartphones and flatscreen TVs. In 2009 China produced 95% of the world’s supply of these elements, and it’s estimated that the Bayan Obo mines just north of Baotou contain 70% of the world’s reserves. But, as we would discover, at what cost?


Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (OVER) is an impressive piece of art crystallizing the ecological and social tragedies of humanity’s ballooning numbers and consumption in stunning photography.

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