News Briefs: Reddit, Wifi, Comey’s Conflating, Combat troops vs. ISIS, more

Surprising news that Reddit nearly decentralized last year. Guessing after last week we’re about to see a reconcentration of authority.

Rob Graham on Google’s ‘Project Fi’ virtual mobile phone.

Motherboard on a fantastic long-range wifi proxy.

Milton Security: Harvard University breached.

Susan Landau at Lawfare with a great post on FBI Director Comey conflating the lone wolf threat and the encryption issue.

Brookings debate on whether to put boots on the ground to fight ISIS. Incredibly important conversation to engage in, and on an intelligent, mutually respecting basis. Need more conversations like these across our society.

Piketty on Germany and Greece. And an amazing project trying to crowdfund Greece’s 1.6B Euro payment.

Slate on Greece’s rejection of austerity through its referendum.

On a similar point, here’s the Guardian on where Greek bailout money went.

And from the FT via Tyler Cowen,

The Shanghai Composite has now fallen 12.1 per cent since Monday, its third consecutive week of double-digit losses since hitting a seven-year high on June 12.

The Shanghai index is firmly in bear market territory, down 28.6 per cent since the June peak, while the tech-heavy Shenzhen Composite has fallen 33.2 per cent.

There were also signs on Friday that the stock market turmoil is beginning to reverberate beyond China. The Australian dollar, often traded as a proxy for China growth, is down 1.2 per cent to a six-year low of US$0.7539.

The 21st Century Business Herald, a Chinese daily newspaper, on Friday quoted multiple futures traders as saying they had received phone calls from the China Financial Futures Exchange instructing them not to short the market.

Independence Day

Independence Day swings back around and I find myself, perhaps more intensely than ever before, a troubled patriot. Still in love with my country, still believing in its greatness and that it can be even greater, still wracked with doubt over some of its actions.

Last week brought me unmitigated pride: first the Supreme Court upheld Affordable Care Act subsidies. Then the court declared marriage equality nationwide. Not sure I can find a time in recent years I felt so proud of the progress my country made, no less that it happened in forty-eight hours. Two of my biggest issues, health care and equality – in the bag. My feelings almost extended into euphoria.

Other issues intervened. Especially that as we celebrated Supreme Court rulings people were burning black southern churches. There is little more horrifying to me, and not only had the fires become a trend but that they received so little coverage in the media. The progress, the amazing progress, gained against the Confederate flag in recent weeks heartened me but the battles left to fight will be long and dangerous – not the least because certain points will lend to despair.

The wider arc of politics concerns me just as much. A legislature behold to whichever private interests provide the most money and heavily populated with people interested in little more than obstructing the other side. A justice system gripped by an internal culture frightened of justice and change. A news media dedicated to views and clicks rather than investigation and truth.

An executive that seems utterly divorced from all but the few issues it chooses to engage with. That refuses to confront extremism except through the one tactic guaranteed to increase extremist recruitment. That justifies activity abroad and at home with classified courts, laws and legal interpretations. The top office of the land operating with flagrant disregard for freedom of information. Even its landmark trade deal is secret.

A government overall that appears to have accepted that we can no longer do big things. Infrastructure decays and mass transit across the country is constantly in budget crisis. Our astronauts catch rides to the space station with Russia. Gotcha politics and psychotically-strong fear of vulnerability turned greatness into a thing we can only feel nostalgia for. Somewhere along the line we began to perceive failure as an end-state rather than an indicator toward the right answers. We forgot the lessons of Edison and Curie and NASA. We forgot the way we learned to ride a damn bicycle, or walk, or love.

There is so much reason to hope. The acts I see every day – the individual kindnesses and courageous and innovative nature of so many – but we forgot somewhere these and more apply on the national level too, and the global.

At the end of the Revolutionary War George Washington delayed his triumphant re-entry into New York while soldiers stripped a single remaining British flag from a pole in Battery Park. Last week Bree Newsome scaled a pole herself to bring down an even more toxic flag. She didn’t have the Continental Army at her back and those hostile to her were surely not in retreat. She could’ve failed in dozens of ways. She did it anyway.

We are all capable of amazing things. History only tells us how amazing we’ve been so far, though. The present provides an opportunity to show how amazing we can be. As individuals and a country.

Happy Independence Day.

Security & Tech Briefs: Routers, Dockets, Pita Pockets and more

Brian Krebs on appearances of hacked routers in the delivery of malware as well as a roundup of recent cases involving cybercriminals.

Delightfully pun-filled piece on a new, smaller and non-contact way to use radio emissions from a CPU to capture and derive cryptographic keys. Amused at the “can fit in a pita bread” metric.

Motherboard on a researcher working to identify malicious exit nodes in the Tor network by determining which ones are harvesting and using juicy-looking login credentials.

Hacker News on an unknown vulnerability being used to steal credit card information from sites using the e-commerce solution Magento.

Expert Rob Graham on why the new “Government Cyber Underwriter Lab” is a bad idea. I pretty thoroughly disagree but that’s no reason to not ponder some of the truths Graham laid out.

Great news, everyone: the ridiculously expensive, over-budget, behind-schedule, plagued-with-problems F35 just got bested in a dogfight with an F16 designed over 40 years ago.

Guns, Rocket Science and the Daily Show – Lessons in Vulnerability

(Note: leaving this post unpolished for the principle of it.)

I’ve felt myself contracting lately, pulling back inward and operating more out of the body of fear. That’s neither who I am nor who I want to be anymore and so I need to stop it – and in realizing this received three good messages about vulnerability and remaining open this morning.

I tuned into NASA’s livestream of the unmanned SpaceX launch ten seconds before the vehicle exploded. There were ten seconds of awe and appreciation and pride as the rocket hurtled skywards on my part and then, two minutes after liftoff, it was obscured by an odd cloud. A second later the camera showed debris separating catastrophically, lighting up here and there and falling to the ground. A failure, sure – but a failure in the midst of exploration and greatness. Something made possible by remaining open despite how it exposes plans to millions of variables, millions of fail-states. The pride returned – overwhelming pride in SpaceX for what they’ve worked to achieve and that they’re still working damned hard to do amazing things.

William Gibson began tweeting about guns this morning. In particular the physical agency that such an inexpensive device provides and how hard it is to convince someone to give that up. Immediately I reflected on my own experience as a gun-owner and someone who carried a concealed weapon (licensed) everywhere for years. Gibson was most assuredly right, especially about the perception of increased agency – something I dealt with myself after I stopped carrying and later sold my guns. As I considered it the loss of such a potent force multiplier in hypothetical situations weighed heavily. Once I actually stopped carrying it weighed even further. I found myself out in the world and much more vulnerable without the reassuring weight on my belt behind my right hip.

But the mindset that encourages me to contract is the same one that caused me to carry a gun, and without it I found myself much more open to the world, more vulnerable but also more engaging. Every outing was no longer a series of locations in need of threat assessment before all else. Physical agency perhaps lessened, but social agency and confidence grew.

The last lesson this morning (they all occurred within an hour of each other – this day, it pulled no punches) had me crying. A good friend linked Jon Stewart’s first post 9/11 Daily Show broadcast in which Stewart spoke with such grief and hope that it affected me physically. He presented the place he was at with heartfelt humanity and total vulnerability and it drove home the day’s point.

I’m no longer the type to pull back into myself and armor up. It didn’t serve me well in the past. What serves me more than anything now are sociability, credibility, openness and curiosity. I’m not great at the first three but I am damn sure trying harder.

Microsoft’s Nadella Picking Up the Magical Thread?

In a recent company-wide email, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella used the word “magical” twice, perhaps trying to pick up the “magic” narrative I believe worked well for Steve Jobs:

Team,

I believe that we can do magical things when we come together with a shared mission, clear strategy, and a culture that brings out the best in us individually and collectively.

and closing with:

I really do believe that we can achieve magical things when we come together as one team and focus. I’m looking forward to what we can achieve together in FY16.

Satya

Worth noting the difference here: Nadella thinks Microsoft can do magical things together, whereas Jobs gave us things that can do magic. Microsoft may be trying to pick up that thread but their focus is off. They’re not quite there yet.

Security and Technology Briefs: Flash, Machine Learning, Navy Sticks With XP, More

Busy morning of writing and reading.

Brian Krebs on an emergency software patch for Adobe Flash – this is a must read.

Neat, short video from SethBling explaining how he taught an AI, or rather it taught itself, how to play a video game. (YouTube)

IT World: The US Navy’s warfare systems command just paid millions to stay on Windows XP. Sigh. I feel like when AI turns sentient the thing it will judge us for first is staying on Win XP and Server 2k3.

EFF’s “Who Has Your Back” chart on how companies protect your data (or don’t).

RubyGems exploit looks like it makes vulnerable a million-plus Ruby installs.

NextGov reports that the OPM hack showed up at the National Archives.

*GREAT* Washington Post article on L0pht and the warnings they issued about the internet quite a while ago.

Good Reddit thread on a user’s concern about Bitcoin (I’ve got piece-in-production about bitcoin at the moment but needed to sit on it a few days thanks to events that happened yesterday).

TNW reporting that music app Tidal just fired their second CEO in two months. Not looking good for them.

A Different Kind of Techno-Fetishim

I’ve said, again and again, that Steve Jobs’ constant reiteration that the iPad was “magical” was deliberate and done with specific intent. And we listened. We knew it was good technology because it had the language of magic in it. We made it do things by pointing at it. The screen was full of sigils. It was a 21st Century spellbook, and, brilliantly, we didn’t have to charge it up by murdering a chicken or wanking on it. – Warren Ellis

Thinking about CUNNING PLANS again. Specifically the points at which Ellis affirms the magical nature of our devices, usually along with references to Steve Jobs’ iPad fetish.

Fetish in the old sense, mind you. Not Jobs having a bit too keen an eye for flashy hardware but the old post-colonial anthropology term for a craft created by the natives and believed by them to have supernatural powers. Sticks bound by sinew, supposed crude representations of ever-present entities or embodiments of power.

August Comte, French philosopher and one of the founders of sociology, portrayed fetishism as the most primitive of religions wherein religions “naturally” evolved from there to polytheism and then monotheism. Hegel proposed fetishes as a reification of abstract thought that Africans were “largely incapable of” (what utter bullshit). Predictably, fetishes were lost penises to Freud. Even more predictably no one stopped to actually ask the people making them much at all.

Jobs, Ellis and some others stumbled upon and picked up the thread we’ve lost or ignored or suppressed for centuries. Far from primitivism physical fetishes represent an advanced relationship with nature, a more involved role in existence. What ethnobotanist and madman Terence McKenna called “partnering with deity in the co-creation of reality.”

In adopting mobile devices as fetishes we’ve begun to evolve back into that co-creating mindset. What better replacement for a local embodiment of a global presence than a platform that instantly connects me with friends in Japan or news from Russia? (Also thinking about the lightning-fast adoption of mobile finance in Africa as well as Michael Saylor’s Mobile Wave). The device is transcended by its own platform and yet I interact with it, talk to it and through it in order to try and shape life in the way I’d like. I draw sigils with my finger in invisible electromagnetic ink thanks to electroconductivity.

Comte condemned ‘fetishism’ as primitive thanks to, of course, unbridled racism but also a complete disconnection from interaction. We had lost the idea of helping make the Real and were relegated to observation and limited social negotiation.

A world without magic and ghosts is a world where we believe we can put the last ten thousand years in a box and consider it a done deal, just as scientists a hundred and twenty years ago considered science a completed enterprise aside from the nagging mystery of the luminiferous aether. – Warren Ellis

My phone brings me messages from Brazil. Shows me minutes-old solar flares and new planets in the ether. Encourages me to reply, engage, make and remake on scales that to Comte would’ve been deific (a bold statement considering Comte felt he had discovered the science to end all sciences).

The whole point was underscored this week when I went to change the passcodes on my mobile devices (which I do regularly). Creating new passcodes for my near-fetishes always carries a special quality to it. I feel as if I’m reinscribing the magic runes on my spellwear. Renewing the arcane protection of crucial ritual gear that allows me to participate in the co-creation of the now.

Which isn’t to say it’s all wonderfully holy – invariably I terrify myself by momentarily forgetting new passcodes. For a moment I’m cut off from that role and thanks to auto-deletion schemes also close to wiping my tools, reducing them to crude shiny bricks. Every time. Which only serves to reiterate the magic nature of all this stuff. The magic nature of us.

Embrace it. In pursuit of replicating the condition of magic, we are attempting to create our own new spirit world. We build magic doors that open upon the speaking of magic words, and we want our mystic artifacts to whisper to each other across the aether, and we use magic mirrors to enact remote viewing across the limb of the planet, and we arrange for Plato’s daemons to mutter at our shoulders. – Warren Ellis

Security and Technology Briefs: Romanian Hackers, Bitcoin, NSA vs. AV, Hackback

Interesting if somewhat odd short documentary produced by Norton antivirus on Romania’s plethora of hackers. (YouTube)

The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Vigna and Michael Casey talking about bitcoin at Google. (YouTube)

Expert J.M. Berger’s definition of terrorism – worth reflecting on at the moment.

The Intercept on NSA and GCHQ targeting anti-virus products. While I don’t necessarily dig the Intercept’s politics all the time their technical analysis is often razor sharp, as it is here.

The Norse Security blog Dark Matters posted an interesting take on ‘hackback doctrine’ or the idea that if you’ve been hacked you should, as a private individual or corporation, have the right to hack back to stop the attack and retrieve your data.

Review: CUNNING PLANS by Warren Ellis

Just finished CUNNING PLANS by Warren Ellis, the $0.99 ebook formatting of several talks he’s given recently. Ellis is a comics and prose writer as well as a much-sought public commentator at this point, especially on matters of technology and culture. He’s of the storyteller vintage old enough to be labeled ‘olde’ and viewed out of the corner of one’s eye at all times to avoid losing sight or looking directly at him. The talks interweave the long and weird history of Britain with how we all approach technology today and often end up a call to action for listeners to go beyond anything he’s done. An avatar of the mechanism that Terence McKenna used to talk about of the universe seeking to transcend itself.

A few highlights for me:

A world without magic and ghosts is a world where we believe we can put the last ten thousand years in a box and consider it a done deal, just as scientists a hundred and twenty years ago considered science a completed enterprise aside from the nagging mystery of the luminiferous aether.

And:

Now imagine a world where space travel to other worlds is an antique curiosity. Imagine reading the words “vintage space.” Can you even consider being part of a culture that could go to space and then stopped? If the future is dead, then today we must summon it and learn how to see it properly.

Security and Technology Briefs: Spamtraps, OPM, Apple Password Flaw, more

Farsight Security’s Senior Program Manager Kelly Molloy provided a so-far three part series on creating “spamtrap” email addresses that has proved fascinating: Part 1: Demistifying Spamtraps, Part 2: Keeping It Confidential, Part 3: Creating and Seeding.

Ars Technica provided a great, damning article on the sad state of affairs at the Office of Personnel Management that led to it being hacked. Twenty year old COBOL-coded apps running on Oracle frameworks and IT outsourcing to a systems administrator in China who was given root access. Unreal.

9-to-5 Mac among others published about a major security flaw in iOS and OS X which Apple sat on for six months that exposed two different password applications (Apple’s Keychain and 1Password) to exploits. Here’s Brian Krebs on the iOS/OS X vulnerability as well as one affecting Samsung devices.

Lots of talk on an FBI investigation into the St. Louis Cardinals “hacking” the Houston Astros; it appears they just used a password list from a previous employee at this point, leading Motherboard to criticize the terminology employed by the NYT and others.

The Sunday Times put out an article this weekend suggesting that Russia had decrypted all of the Snowden documents and Britain subsequently had to burn quite a bit of its foreign intelligence structure. The story seemed pretty weak at the outset and was made all the weaker by this interview with the author on CNN who seems to literally know nothing about his own story.

The Hill reports that the head of the US Marshals is resigning rather than dealing with increased scrutiny about their surveillance techniques, which is a bit of a tell.

Norse had several posts of note this week; the US Navy’s bold announcement (now retracted) seeking zero-day exploit contractors, an uptick in Cryptowall infections and some numbers showing a 1400% return on investment in malware.

Panel from last year with writer Warren Ellis, technologist Ben Hammersley and journalist and political analyst Edie Lush talking about whether IT has changed how we think at the Institute of Art and Ideas. (YouTube)