Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

January 12, 2005

Reality, or The Onion? #2

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:22 pm

As we pointed out before, sometimes there is a story that would work equally well as a real news story, or as a spoof in The Onion.

Here, we have a case where a story that sounds like it came from The Onion is actually news, and a story that is in The Onion is — in it’s essentials anyway — 100% true.

Privacy, Yahoo, and War Correspondence

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:13 pm

An interesting debate about the fate of e-mail written by a soldier killed in Iraq is going on here and here.

Uninformed Journalists #2: Does Al-Qaeda Exist?

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:01 pm

From the Los Angeles Times, a column by Robert Scheer:

Is Al Qaeda Just a Bush Boogeyman?

Is it conceivable that Al Qaeda, as defined by President Bush as the center of a vast and well-organized international terrorist conspiracy, does not exist?

To even raise the question amid all the officially inspired hysteria is heretical, especially in the context of the U.S. media’s supine acceptance of administration claims [sic] relating to national security. Yet a brilliant new BBC film produced by one of Britain’s leading documentary filmmakers systematically challenges this and many other accepted articles of faith in the so-called [sic] war on terror.

“The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear,” a three-hour historical [sic] film by Adam Curtis recently aired by the British Broadcasting Corp., argues coherently that much of what we have been told about the threat of international terrorism “is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media.”

In an earlier phase of his career, Mr. Scheer was a Berkeley radical and editor of a magazine called Ramparts, which hatched the first conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination. He also ran for the Democratic nomination for Congress in 1966, campaining on the basis that the Democratic incumbent was not left-wing enough.

So I suppose it would be pointless to ask if Mr. Scheer forgot about two certain tall buildings that used to stand in New York City, a big hole in what used to be (and is again) the Pentagon, three thousand people who used to be alive, and some videotapes by a certain individual, head of a certain organization, claiming credit for it all. I could also ask about two embassies in Africa, an American ship that got a big hole in it while visiting Yemen, and several thousand people in Afghanistan who lost their lives (the “lucky” ones, just their limbs) at the hands (and guns, and axes) of the government installed by the same organization.

After all, those were all faked on the same Hollywood sounds stage as the moon landing, right? You know, the same place where they fake those satellite orbits to “prove” the earth isn’t flat?

Or, maybe Mr Scheer has been reading best-sellers like The Frightening Fraud, by Thierry Meyssan.

In any case, it’s nice to see he’s found a “mainstream” journalistic home, with a regular column in the Los Angeles Times.

UPDATE: No, the story that a plane hit the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, is not an urban legend.

Uninformed Journalists #1: Does Howard Dean exist?

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:18 pm

Here’s Jill Lawrence, writing in USA Today:

Imagine a Democratic presidential candidate and his allies assailing the character of the Republican nominee in ads and speeches every day for eight months.

Having trouble? That’s because Democrats generally don’t have the stomach or the discipline to do it. Often they don’t even effectively fight back when under attack themselves.

Does that mean she never heard of MoveOn.org, Howard Dean, or Michael Moore? Or as OpinionJournal puts it,

It seems Jill Lawrence was in Bhutan all last year when the Democrats were busy calling President Bush a liar, a moron, a coward, a military deserter, a puppet of Dick Cheney and the Jews, and another Hitler. What are they going to say if they “get the stomach” to wage character attacks–that he’s the original Hitler?

GMU Computers Cracked

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:27 pm

Gee, this is the day for security issues.

Someone broke into the administrative computers at George Mason University, and accessed personal information, including SSNs, of 30,000 students, faculty, and staff.

Before the hacking, the university was in the process of replacing students’ Social Security numbers with other internal numbers to protect against identity theft.

Looks like they just missed it.

UPDATE:

I posted this story to Slashdot and (my first story accepted on Slashdot — whoo hoo!) a reader there asked a great question — isn’t GMU known for having a great computer science program?

The answer is, not only that, they are known for having a great information security program!

They have a Master’s program in Information Security, an Information Security Institute, and a Lab for Information Security Technology.

I’m sure these folks have nothing to do with the adminstrative computers. It’s always amazed me how little university administrators make use of the expertise of their faculty, academic staff, and (esepcially graduate) students, and I have no basis for assuming it’s any different in this case.

For comments posted by numerous Slashdot readers, click here. Feel free to add comments here as well!

Computer Industry Not Dead

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:54 pm

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been noticing for years that people have been predicting the imminent end of the “computer industry.” They predictions tend to alternate in their specifics. In the early years, people said home computers were just “toys” or “a fad” and nobody really needs one. Now, they predict the end of computer sales or sales growth (because everyone has one of these things nobody needs). Or they point out that no one really needs a faster computer any more (I read one of these shortly after buying my Pentium II/350 in 1998, and it feels awfully slow now!) and as soon as people realize this, sales will collapse. Or they take a cynical approach to technology, predicting an imminent end to Moore’s Law (the observation that computer power per dollar doubles about every year or two). A simple Google search produces such predictions of the end of computer improvement going back to 1980.

So it is nice to see at least one economist who is predicting that the computer industry is not even mature yet.

T-Mobile Security Breach

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:37 pm

Security Focus is reporting that someone cracked the security system protecting T-Mobile wireless phone system. He had access to customers SSNs, voicemail PINs, pictures from camera phones, e-mails sent through their Sidekick device … basically, everything but their billing information, which I guess must be on a separate system from the one he cracked. He was caught by the Secret Service (so “secret” they have a web page!), which has jurisdiction over certain types of computer fraud.

The first interesting thing about this is that as they were monitoring this guy’s activities, they discovered he had a bunch of sensitive Secret Service documents. How did he get them? It took them a while to figure it out, but he had not broken into any Secret Service computer systems — instead, some Secret Service agent had been using his T-Mobile SideKick to e-mail this stuff! So, the sensitive documents were stored on T-Mobile’s server, and the guy had already broken into that. Now this was not just any Secret Service agent — this was an agent whose specialty was computer security investigations! You would think — well, I would have thought — that someone like that would have known not to store sensitive information on someone else’s server. This should be a reminder to the rest of us — don’t store store sensitive information on a computer not under your direct control. That includes your ISP’s server! If an expert in the field could make a mistake like that, so can you.

The second interesting thing it how the identified the cracker. They were monitoring his activities all sorts of ways, including having an informant communicate with him through ICQ, but they didn’t know who he was In Real Life. So, they did a web search on his ICQ number, and found he’d listed it on a resume he posted on Security Focus in 2001, looking for a job in computer security! Moral of the story: If you’re going to steal someone else’s identity, make up an new one for yourself first! ;-)

The third interesting thing is that there is a source that says (read: “rumor”) that they are going to offer a plea-bargain to this fellow if he agrees to turn around and work for them on computer security. This was pretty common in the early days of computer security issues, but it’s been a while since I’ve heard of a deal like that. So this guy must be pretty good at what he was doing … except for the part about using the same ICQ number for crime and for his resume….

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