The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'gibson's law'
What happens when computers get cheap enough to be effectively disposable? Well, criminals start embedding penetration servers into dumb electrical goods like irons and kettles. The low-powered machines (which could consist of an exotic embedded OS running on something tiny, though these days, it could just as easily be a Linux distribution running on an ARM or MIPS system-on-a-chip, kitted out with standard Linux hax0r tools) then attempt to connect to any machines within range by WiFi or Bluetooth, find security holes and take them over. Which is the sort of thing you'd expect first-tier intelligence agencies to attempt to try on high-value targets, but it now seems to be in the hands of ordinary criminals.
Apparently Thailand these days is full of homeless European/American blokes; mostly middle-aged, and often alcoholic, they spend their time drinking and sleeping rough on beaches, which is considerably less idyllic than the big-rock-candy-mountain image the description evokes:
Steve, who declined to give his surname over fears that his long-expired visa could land him in jail, said he has spent two years sleeping rough on Jomtien Beach, a 90-minute drive from Bangkok. “I’ve gone 14 days without food before. I lived off just tea and coffee,” he told The Independent. After his marriage of 33 years ended seven years ago, Steve began regular visits to Thailand before setting up permanently in Pattaya, a seaside resort with a sleazy reputation close to Jomtien. “I’m a bit of a sexaholic,” he says, also admitting a fondness for alcohol.
Paul Garrigan, a long-time Thai resident, isn’t surprised by the growing problem of homeless and stranded Westerners. The 44-year-old spent five years “drinking himself to death” in Thailand before giving up alcohol in 2006 and writing a book called Dead Drunk about his ordeal and the expats who have fallen on hard times in the country. He told The Independent: “I’d been living in Saudi Arabia where I worked a nurse but I’ve been an alcoholic since my teens and, after a holiday to Thailand in 2001, I decided I may as well drink myself to death on a beautiful island in Thailand. Like many people I taught English at a school but spent much of my time on islands such as Ko Samui where I could start drinking early in the morning at not be judged.Meanwhile in the US, some homeless people are apparently surviving on Bitcoin; spending their days in public libraries earning the coins by doing vaguely sketchy online work (watching videos to bump up YouTube counters is mentioned; perhaps armies of the destitute to solve CAPTCHAs, artisanally hand-spam blog comments or otherwise laboriously defeat anti-bot countermeasures could make economic sense in today's climate too) and then cashing out through gift card services. Meanwhile, homelessness charities are embracing Bitcoin:
Meanwhile, Sean’s Outpost has opened something it calls BitHOC, the Bitcoin Homeless Outreach Center, a 1200-square-foot facility that doubles as a storage space and homeless shelter. The lease – and some of the food it houses — is paid in bitcoins through a service called Coinbase. For gas and other supplies, Sean’s Outpost taps Gyft, the giftcard app Jesse Angle and his friends use to purchase pizza.(I suspect that the photo of the homeless man “mining Bitcoins” on the park bench on his laptop is mislabelled; wouldn't all the easily minable Bitcoins have been tapped out, with the computational power required to mine any further Bitcoins essentially amount to already having thousands of dollars of high-end graphics cards lying around and using them to heat your house, rather than something one could do with an old battery-operated laptop on a park bench?)
In Iceland almost everyone is, to some extent, related to everyone else. Iceland also shares with its neighbours in Scandinavia fairly liberated and casual attitudes to sex. The downside of this is the possibility of inadvertently going home from a Reykjavík bar with a cousin, not to mention the prospect of running into exes and former one-night stands at family gatherings in the future. But fear not, because now there's an app for that:
An online registry, Íslendingabók ('The Book of Icelanders') holds information about the families of about 720,000 individuals who were born in Iceland at some point in time. Today, the population in Iceland is just about 320,000. The database can be found on islendingabok.is and everyone registered in the database has free access to it.
Three engineers made an app for the 'Íslendingabók' database. People can now easily, and on the go, look up how they are related to other Icelanders. And a precious feature, using the bump technology, allows people that meet to just bump their phones together, to instantly see if they are too related to take things any further. The engineers' slogan for this feature was: "Bump the app before you bump in bed".The app is Android-only, and only works if you're an Icelandic citizen or registered resident with access to the database.
The street finds its own uses for things: Burglars are now starting to use cheap, concealable surveillance cameras for staking out properties.
"This one has already been camouflaged," said detective Ben Singleton, holding what looks like a piece of bark that would go unnoticed in most yards. It's actually a video camera not much bigger than a matchbox, and it's activated by a motion detector. Such cameras turned up in March planted outside several upscale homes in Dalworthington Gardens.
The detective said it turned out to be surveillance for a long-running, sophisticated burglary scheme. But at first, police feared it might even be a kidnapping plot to take a wealthy person captive.
The street finds its own uses for things: Russian crime organisations have online marketplaces offering the services of willing underworld accomplices in various cities, administered through a cutting-edge web-based control panel:
The service, advertised on exclusive, Russian-language forums that cater to cybercrooks, claims to have willing and ready foot soldiers for hire in California, Florida, Illinois and New York. These associates are not mere “money mules,” unwitting and inexperienced Americans tricked and cajoled into laundering money after being hired for bogus work-at-home jobs. Rather, as the title of the ad for this service makes clear, the “foreign agents” available through this network are aware that they will be assisting in illegal activity (the ad refers to them as неразводные “nerazvodni” or “not deceived”). Put simply: These are mules that can be counted on not to freak out or disappear with the cash.
According to the advertisement, customers of this service get their very own login to a remote panel, where they can interact with the cashout service and monitor the progress of their thievery operations. The service also can be hired to drain bank accounts using counterfeit debit cards obtained through ATM skimmers or hacked point-of-sale devices. The complicit mules will even help cash out refunds from phony state and federal income tax filings — a lucrative form of fraud that, according to the Internal Revenue Service, cost taxpayers $5.2 billion last year.The contractors are available for other services, such as pickup and forward shipping of sketchy merchandise and “other interesting transactions”.
Once again, Russian biznesmeni are at the forefront of bringing free-market efficiency and the disintermediating, just-in-time power of the internet to the underworld (for long dominated by the almost Leninist command economies of hierarchical Mafia organisations and insular cells of bandits), or, if you will, liberating open-slather capitalism from pretences of legal propriety. Or, as has been said before, “Lenin failed to teach the Russians socialism, but he succeeded in teaching them capitalism”.
The latest in extreme burrito delivery systems: the Burrito Bomber, an Arduino-powered drone which will drop a burrito on a parachute to your GPS coordinates:
It works like this:A bit like the Alameda-Weehawken Burrito Tunnel, only the authors have actually built it. The only reason for it not being operational (other than questions of whether it'd be economical compared to traditional burrito delivery methods) is because it's not yet legal to commercially operate drone aircraft in the United States.
- You connect to the Burrito Bomber web-app and order a burrito. Your smartphone sends your current location to our server, which generates a waypoint file compatible with the drone's autopilot.
- We upload the waypoint file to the drone and load your burrito in to our custom made Burrito Delivery Tube.
- The drone flies to your location and releases the Burrito Delivery Tube. The burrito parachutes down to you, the drone flies itself home, and you enjoy your carne asada.
street financial sector finds its own uses for things psychopath profiling tests:
My companion, a senior UK investment banker and I, are discussing the most successful banking types we know and what makes them tick. I argue that they often conform to the characteristics displayed by social psychopaths. To my surprise, my friend agrees.
He then makes an astonishing confession: "At one major investment bank for which I worked, we used psychometric testing to recruit social psychopaths because their characteristics exactly suited them to senior corporate finance roles."
Here was one of the biggest investment banks in the world seeking psychopaths as recruits.
The street finds its own uses for crowdsourcing:
One of the more interesting developments in crowdsourced offenses has been the birth of the crime “flash mob.” The practice of crime flash mobs has become so common that the media have now coined a term “flash robs” to describe the ensuing theft and violence. In these cases groups of individual criminals, who may or may not even know each other, are organizing themselves online and suddenly descending into unsuspecting stores to steal all that they can in a flash. The unsuspecting merchant has little he can do when 40 unruly strangers suddenly run into his shop and run off with all his merchandise. Dozens of these cases have occurred, including one in which co-conspirators planned an attack via Facebook and Twitter that lead to the pillaging of a Victoria’s Secret store in London.The article also mentions fraud gangs using pornographic web sites to get rubes to solve CAPTCHAs, helping them setup bogus email accounts, and the ingenious bank robber who used a fake Craigslist ad, recruiting workers ostensibly for a road maintenance project, to serve as decoys:
The robber instructed all those showing up for the promise of work to wear their own yellow vest, safety goggles, respirator mask and blue shirt — the criminal’s exact outfit the day of the robbery. After overpowering the armored car driver with pepper spray, the suspect grabbed a duffel bag filled with cash, ran past a dozen or so similarly dressed innocents and made his escape 100 yards away to a local creek where he floated away in a pre-positioned inner tube. 911 calls reporting the robbery described the suspect as being a construction worker in a yellow vest. When police arrived on seen, they had numerous robbery suspects from which to choose.
Craig Venter (of Human Genome Project fame) has succeeded in creating synthetic life; i.e., of creating a living cell whose genome was entirely written from scratch in the laboratory. Venter's first commercialisation of the discovery will be a deal with ExxonMobil to create algae which absorb carbon dioxide and create hydrocarbon fuel. Beyond that, the possibilities are vast; from the mundane (cancer cures, new terrorist bioweapons, weird new designer drugs for mutant freak subcultures out of a Warren Ellis or John Shirley story) on to the horizon of the unimaginable.
And Quinn Norton says that we've just lost the War On Drugs, but not as badly as the drug lords, whose business model looks as doomed as the RIAA's:
You know what’s a lot easier than all the high minded business about environment, or life extension, or even the scary doomsday 12 Monkeys scenarios? Growing simpler molecule drugs. I don’t mean like aspirin, I mean like heroin and cocaine, THC and hallucinogens. They already grow in plants thoroughly studied, and people are motivated and not at all risk averse about getting those sequences somewhere they can use them. Cooking meth is hard and dangerous science compared to the ability to get a starter of a minimal cell that poops heroin and feeding it growth medium in your closet. We may have lost the drug war, but not as badly as the drug lords have.
It’s still hard to grow drugs in medium. But the whole point of this project is to make it easier. Who will be motivated to put in the work to make it happen? Especially if it’s so bad for organized crime? Drug addicts, frankly. You think they look like street junkies with DTs, but a fair number look like scientists, because they are. Drugs will finally be p2p, and governments and drug lords alike will find out what it’s like to be media companies and counterfeiters in a world of lossless copying and 100Mb pipes. Junkies will be victims of their success, and if we don’t get serious about treating addiction instead of trying to fight chemicals, it’s going to look a lot more bloody and horrid than the RIAA’s lawsuit factory. This is just one vision of what this kind of disruption looks like when people get a hold of it.
The street finds its own uses for things: entrepreneurs in China are selling WiFi adapters with network key-cracking tools for breaking into secure WiFi networks. Currently, the key-cracking tools consist of a bootable Linux CD-ROM, but give it a few months and they'll integrate the cracking tools into silicon on the USB stick itself.
The existence of such tools promises to make a mockery of laws like the UK's Digital Economy Act, which are predicated on the assumption that it is possible to securely lock down a network well enough for the owner to bear legal liability for any offenses committed by anyone using the network. Of course, such tools will probably be illegal to possess or import into the UK, but then again, so are the Baikal starter pistols used by gangbangers.
In other news, an Israeli company is selling a portable device for intercepting GSM phone communications. The euphoniously titled Dominator I consists of several boxes containing custom hardware (presumably cipher-cracking FPGAs or similar), is controlled from a laptop, and can transparently impersonate a mobile base station, crack the cryptography used and record all communications from up to four phones. The makers, Meganet, say that it is undetectable.
Boing Boing has a post on innovative ways of gaming airlines' pricing and air-miles schemes:
I love hanging out in airmile hacker forums -- these folks are insane. My favorite is the British Airways "Lisbon Loop." BA wants to court continental passengers, so trips overseas that originate from continental Europe are much cheaper. BA flight hackers claim that they buy a BA ticket that goes Lisbon-London-NYC-London-Lisbon, and a one-way cheap EasyJet ticket to Lisbon so they can board it. On the way home, they just get off in London, saving a bundle (you can't skip the Lisbon-London leg, or BA will cancel your tickets).The ostensible topic of the post is, alas, somewhat more prosaic: a way of getting free air miles by buying US dollar coins and using them to pay off the credit card bills (through a loophole which has now apparently been closed).
The street finds its own uses for things yet again: a hacktivist group calling itself the Electronic Disturbance Theater has hacked a cheap GPS-enabled mobile phone into a device for helping Mexican immigrants across the US border:
We looked at the Motorola i455 cell phone, which is under $30, available even cheaper on eBay, and includes a free GPS applet. We were able to crack it and create a simple compasslike navigation system. We were also able to add other information, like where to find water left by the Border Angels, where to find Quaker help centers that will wrap your feet, how far you are from the highway—things to make the application really benefit individuals who are crossing the border.
We’re at the end of the alpha stage, in terms of the technology, so the next level, which will be the most difficult, is interfacing with communities south of the border: NGOs, churches, and other communities that deal with people preparing to cross the border. How can we train them to use this? What is the proper methodology? Those are really going to be the most nuanced and difficult elements with, let’s call it, the sociological aspect of the project.Of course, once the militias capture one of these (and presumably they'll start searching captured immigrants for them), they will know where the water is stashed. I wonder whether the Electronic Disturbance Theater has put in any sort of self-destruct mechanism.
(via Boing Boing)
A man arrested as a suspect in a mugging case has had charges dropped against the court found an update posted to his page at the time the crime was committed; Facebook verified that the post (which read merely "where's my pancakes?") was made from an address far from where the crime was committed.
The moral of this story is: if you must commit a crime, learn some UNIX skillz beforehand and rig up a cron job to post to Facebook (or Twitter or your blog) in your absence.
In the UK, they have the Shipping Forecast; in Israel, they have text message alerts of incoming missiles:
"The rocket sensor will create a virtual ellipse (of the predicted impact zone) and all phones in that area will receive a warning," the Jerusalem Post quoted Chilik Soffer, a senior official at the Israeli Home Front Command, as saying.
A number of social software systems give their users reputation/trust scores, which can be voted on by other users. This, however, is not without problems: when carelessly designed, the ability of users to vote down other users' reputations can lead to extortion rackets:
It didn't take long for a group calling itself the Sims Mafia to figure out how to use this mechanic to shake down new users when they arrived in the game. The dialog would go something like this:
"Hi! I see from your hub that you're new to the area. Give me all your Simoleans or my friends and I will make it impossible to rent a house.”
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm a member of the Sims Mafia, and we will all mark you as untrustworthy, turning your hub solid red (with no more room for green), and no one will play with you. You have five minutes to comply. If you think I'm kidding, look at your hub-three of us have already marked you red. Don't worry, we'll turn it green when you pay…"The solution to this is to keep positive and negative feedback separate, and have the latter go through moderators (who, presumably, will spot any shenanigans) before making it public.
(via Boing Boing)
In the US, there is a section of the population on the right who just can't stand Barack Obama or anything he supposedly stands for. The very thought of that.. man -- golDANGit! -- makes them so pig-biting mad that it cuts off the flow of oxygen to their brain cells, shutting down whatever capacities they had for critical thinking. We've already seen the results of this in things like right-wing Twitterers uncritically passing on increasingly absurd rumours about Obama's policies, and the entire "birther" movement, in which the desperate need to prove an article of faith (
"Ain't no negro my President!" "Obama is ineligible to be President") leads them to build elaborate and bizarre conspiracy theories ("Obama's parents secretly went to Kenya before he was born, and paid someone to post a birth announcement in a Hawaiian newspaper just in case he ever ran for President"), buttressed by increasingly baroque structures of evasion and supposition, whilst remaining oblivious to how ridiculously implausible the whole thing looks from outside their belief system.
Of course, wherever self-induced stupidity becomes the norm, someone will be making a profit. The US health-insurance lobby, for example, are making hay out of the fact that enough people are whipped into an apoplectic rage by the fact that there's a black man in the Whitehouse that they're willing to believe anything, such as, say, that providing government-subsidised healthcare is equivalent to Nazism and that British Nobel laureate Stephen Hawking would be dead had he been British, and be motivated by it to go out and fight for their right to be bankrupted by illness. And so, once again, the turkeys march out and loudly demand their Thanksgiving.
The latest attempt at milking the enraged mob for all its worth, though, is a bit more direct: some entrepreneurs of above-average moral flexibility are offering the pig-biting mad free software that launches denial-of-service attacks against the Whitehouse web site. The software, of course, is your common-or-garden Windows malware.
The terse spam message links to a website where prospective marks are offered money for installing the dodgy "packet flinging" tool. The attackers missed a chance to make reference to a recent mass marketing campaign from the White House justifying recent healthcare reforms that some have described as spam as supposedly justifying an "aggressive response", for example.
The "DDoS Obama" spam was one theme of a larger spam run, reports email security firm Proofpoint. Other spam messages in the series offered more typical lures, such as pornography, while again pointing to the same malware download.The spam even helpfully advised the marks that their anti-virus software might identify the downloaded software as harmful.
When US filmmaker Andrea Wachner was invited to attend her 10-year high-school reunion in the affluent Los Angeles suburb of Palos Verdes, she didn't want to go; so she recruited an exotic dancer to pretend to be her, fitting her with an earpiece and coaching her interactively on the people she was meeting. Tattooed, scantily-clad "Cricket" claimed that she was Andrea, had had reconstructive surgery and suffered amnesia after a car accident, and that she was working as a stripper to pay for her graduate school tuition. She was followed by a camera crew, ostensibly making a documentary about the daily lives of artists. Cricket finished off her performance by doing a striptease to a Lisa Loeb song.
Most of the people were taken in by this, or at least sufficiently uncertain to not raise a fuss in case they ended up making fools of themselves, and found out only later, when Wachner posted video to YouTube, as a teaser for a 40-minute documentary titled "I Remember Andrea Better" she was making on the incident.
(via Boing Boing)
Users of criminal hacking forums have apparently been offering ridiculous sums of money for one type of low-end mobile phone. Certain Nokia 1100 handsets, manufactured in Bochum, Germany, are said to have a firmware bug which allows them to be reprogrammed to use another user's phone number, and thus intercept text messages containing bank transaction authentication codes, which is why the going price for them has gone as high as €25,000. Nokia have denied knowing of either such a flaw or of the phones for going for more than €100.
Though if criminals want a handset that can bypass GSM network security and intercept other users' messages, surely there'd be cheaper ways to go about this. Given that criminal gangs somehow managed to compromise a Chinese factory that made point-of-sale terminals and "enhance" the terminals with GSM-based card skimmers, surely it wouldn't be so hard to get one of the numerous Chinese mobile phone manufacturers to intentionally weaken security in one of their units to allow it to be used to spoof numbers, and then buying up a few boxloads of them. Bonus points for getting one that looks almost like an iPhone.
In Brazil, the street finds its own uses for obsolescent US military satellites. For over a decade, Brazilians, from long-haul truck drivers and villagers out of the reach of the mobile phone networks of the cities to illegal loggers and organised crime factions, have been bouncing radio signals off a US Navy satellite system using jury-rigged off-the-shelf amateur radio equipment. The satellite system, known as FLTSATCOM to its owners, is colloquially referred to as "Bolinha", or "little ball".
To use the satellite, pirates typically take an ordinary ham radio transmitter, which operates in the 144- to 148-MHZ range, and add a frequency doubler cobbled from coils and a varactor diode. That lets the radio stretch into the lower end of FLTSATCOM's 292- to 317-MHz uplink range. All the gear can be bought near any truck stop for less than $500. Ads on specialized websites offer to perform the conversion for less than $100. Taught the ropes, even rough electricians can make Bolinha-ware.
Truck drivers love the birds because they provide better range and sound than ham radios. Rogue loggers in the Amazon use the satellites to transmit coded warnings when authorities threaten to close in. Drug dealers and organized criminal factions use them to coordinate operations.
When real criminals use these frequencies, it's easy to tell they're hiding something, but it's nearly impossible to know what it is. In one intercepted conversation posted to YouTube, a man alerts a friend that he should watch out, because things are getting "crispy" and "strong winds" are on their way. Sometimes loggers refer to the approach of authorities by saying, "Santa Claus is coming," says Brochi.One problem for the users is that the US military is still using the satellites (a replacement network isn't due online until later this year), and don't appreciate their communications being degraded by cheering football fans and random dodgy dealers. Bolinha activity is illegal, both in Brazil, and the US, and the authorities don't have too many problems triangulating the signals.
The crackdown, called "Operation Satellite," was Brazil's first large-scale enforcement against the problem. Police followed coordinates provided by the U.S. Department of Defense and confirmed by Anatel, Brazil's FCC. Among those charged were university professors, electricians, truckers and farmers, the police say. The suspects face up to four years and jail, but are more likely to be fined if convicted.("Operation Satellite?" Either something got lost in translation, or the people who name operations at the Brazilian federal police aren't the most imaginative bunch. Surely high-level operations should have cryptic, vaguely abstract names, redolent either of neo-Classical grandeur or square-jawed military machismo, like, say, "Operation Prometheus" or "Piranha December Blue" or something. But "Operation Satellite?")
In February of last year, FCC investigators used a mobile direction-finding vehicle to trace rogue transmissions to a Brazilian immigrant in New Jersey. When the investigators inspected his radio gear, they found a transceiver programmed to a FLTSAT frequency, connected to an antenna in the back of his house. Joaquim Barbosa was hit with a $20,000 fine.
(via Boing Boing)
The street finds its own uses for things; in this case, the things are iPhones (though the concept could easly be ported to other, less fashionable, smart phones; an Android version is in the works), and "the street" is FixMyStreet, a system that lets you notify the relevant public authorities of any local problems. At least it does if you live in Britain, where the system runs,.
Meanwhile, Namco have decided to milk the Katamari cash cow once more, with a version for the iPhone:
No new twists here; just an adaptation of the classic Katamari game. It uses the iPhone (and iPod Touch)'s tilt sensor as a control mechanism. Unfortunately, the hardware seems to be a bit too slow; when I tried it on my first-generation iPod Touch, it ran infuriatingly slowly. (Perhaps the second generation will work better with it?) The fact that the developers kept the screen-warping effects when you reach a size milestone probably doesn't help either. As such, I can't recommend buying this unless you're desperate for a Katamari fix.
On a tangent: I wonder how Keita Takahashi is getting on with Noby Noby Boy. I haven't heard much about it for a while.
(via Gulfstream, Boing Boing Gadgets)
At least eight men in Singapore sustained severe brain damage after taking an illegal sex-enhancement drug named "Power 1 Walnut", apparently containing diabetes medication. As Jim points out, the cyberpunk future's already here, only more ridiculous:
This is what I love about the real world. This sort of thing happens all the time in early cyberpunk scifi, but there the drug would have a painfully cool street name. Never Power 1 Walnut.
The latest novel application of technology from Japan: DVDs to help train socially-challenged otaku to make eye contact, predominantly with women:
His disc features 50 people standing in front of a blank white background. They're all women, which Ito swears is just a coincidence. They stare into the camera and occasionally say stuff like "I want to leave" or "That's enough."
Try to look this person in the eyes for a full minute. Tip: when interacting with a fellow human being in the real world, it is considered rude to break eye contact in order to look at other physical attributes.Perhaps that will be Nintendo's next big hit; we had Wii Sports, Wii Fit and Wii Music, now perhaps it's time for Wii Date. It'd come with a gaze-tracking camera, and would play a lot like the zazen meditation game in Wii Fit, only instead of sitting absolutely still staring at a candle, you'd have to gaze into the eyes of a pretty girl in a revealing top, and if the system noticed your gaze straying below her eyes, a buzzer would sound and the session would come to an end.
It has emerged that organised crime gangs modified hundreds of credit/debit card terminals at the Chinese factory they were made at, installing a GSM module and SIM card, which was then used to send stolen credit card data to a number in Pakistan, and also receive instructions on what to target. The terminals, which were distributed across Europe, remained undetected for a long time, stealing only small numbers of details, only arousing suspicion when a security guard noticed mobile phone interference near the checkout area.
The corrupted devices are an extra three to four ounces heavier because of the additional parts they contain, and the simplest way to identify them has been to weigh them. A MasterCard International investigator said: "As recently as a month ago, there were several teams of people roaming around Europe putting the machines on scales and weighing them. It sounds kind of old school, but the only other way would be to tear them apart."
The illicit transactions took place at least two months after the information had been stolen, making it difficult for investigators to work out what had happened.
But after six months of fruitless investigation, investigators spotted an attempt at a similar fraud on a card which had only been used in one location in Britain. The chip and pin machine from the particular store was passed to MasterCard's international fraud lab in Manchester for inspection.There has been no announcement of anybody having been arrested, and the criminals got away with a tidy profit, so one can probably chalk this down as a success for the criminals, and a serious failure of security (for one, the chip-and-pin protocols governing communication between the chip on the card, the reader and the network seems to be too weak by far if they allow a card to be cloned; shouldn't the system be using some form of challenge-response security rather than handing all the information over in one go)?
The latest technologically-enhanced form of mischief amongst Britain's teenagers: pool crashing; i.e., using Google Earth to find swimming pools, and then using social networks to organise unauthorised parties in those pools. (Then again, the story quotes the Daily Mail, the voice of the hang'-em-and-flog-'em contingent, so for all I know this may well be a beatup.)
Such as the following: 1) simulate how a crowd flees from a burning car toward a single evacuation point; 2) test out how a pathogen might be transmitted through a mobile pedestrian over a short period of time; 3) see how the existing urban grid facilitate or does not facilitate mass evacuation prior to a hurricane landfall or in the event of dirty bomb detonation; 4) design a mall which can compel customers to shop to the point of bankruptcy, to walk obliviously for miles and miles and miles, endlessly to the point of physical exhaustion and even death; 5) identify, if possible, the tell-tale signs of a peaceful crowd about to metamorphosize into a hellish mob; 6) determine how various urban typologies, such as plazas, parks, major arterial streets and banlieues, can be reconfigured in situ into a neutralizing force when crowds do become riotous; and 7) conversely, figure out how one could, through spatial manipulation, inflame a crowd, even a very small one, to set in motion a series of events that culminates into a full scale Revolution or just your average everyday Southeast Asian coup d'état -- regime change through landscape architecture.
Or you quadruple the population of Chicago. How about 200 million? And into its historic Emerald Necklace system of parks, you drop an al-Qaeda sleeper cell, a pedophile, an Ebola patient, an illegal migrant worker, a swarm of zombies, and Paris Hilton. Then grab a cold one, sit back and watch the landscape descend into chaos. It'll be better than any megablockbuster movie you'll see this summer.And here are emotional maps of various urban areas, including parts of London and San Francisco, created by having volunteers walk around them with GPS units and galvanic skin response meters.
(via schneier, mind hacks)
One useful feature which Facebook, the social network site of the moment, lacks is the ability to compartmentalise information. Whereas on LiveJournal you can define filters and make posts visible to only some of them, on Facebook, every piece of information you published is visible to all your contacts. (Except for those who can only see a limited profile, who are forever stuck in a purgatory of sort-of being "friends" with you whilst being left out of all the fun.)
Being able to compartmentalise your information is useful; there are undoubtedly things you want to tell some of your friends whilst not letting the rest know, other things you're happy sharing with a different (though possibly overlapping) subset, and others you're happy letting anyone know. Think, for example, of talking about work without pissing off coworkers, or confiding about your lovelife, or discussing health issues without overwhelming others with "too much information". As social software becomes an integral part of the social support networks of today's compulsively multitasking, digitally connected population, such controls become more a necessity than a luxury.
Fortunately, Facebook's users have come up with a workaround: creatign members-only groups in lieu of privileged posts. So next time you see a group with an otherwise uncompelling name like "Emma has a new phone number", you'll know what's going on.
(via confused in calcutta)
As the US braces itself for another bitterly contested Presidential election, computer-crime experts are warning that it's only a matter of time before botnets, phishing and DOS attacks are used to nobble campaigns or disenfranchise voters:
Dirty tricks are not new. On US election day in 2002, the lines of a "get-out-the-voters" phone campaign sponsored by the New Hampshire Democratic Party were clogged by prank calls. In the 2006 election, 14000 Latino voters in Orange County, California, received letters telling them it was illegal for immigrants to vote.
Calls could even be made using a botnet. This would make tracing the perpetrator even harder, because calls wouldn't come from a central location. What's more, the number of calls that can be made is practically limitless.
Internet calls might also be made to voters to sow misinformation, says Christopher Soghoian at Indiana University in Bloomington. "Anonymous voter suppression is going to become a reality."
Somebody has written a suicide note composing assistant for Microsoft Word, helping you to make sure that your last backhander against the cruel, uncaring world you're leaving is a well-drafted one. No idea whether it comes with a database of Nine Inch Nails/Dashboard Confessional/My Chemical Romance lyrics.
(Note that actually downloading or distributing this software may be a crime in Australia.)
(via Boing Boing)
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. And the latest invention is a voice changer for female video gamers, allowing them to contend in the macho culture of online games without fear of harrassment or inappropriate sexual attention from prehensile, undersocialised geeks.
According to research conducted by the company, "The number of female online game players is not small", would you believe. In fact, "Many of them have reached the highest level of some very difficult games such as World of Warcraft (60th level), which is considered the game for men only."
The software comes with presets which turn lady voices into big deep Blessed-esque ones. You can also create your own new voice by mucking about with pitch and timbre settings, and other features include advanced tune and noise reduction.Given that it is adjustable, I imagine it could also be useful in the other direction; from now on, a voice call is no longer a guarantee that your new online friend "HotBiBabe18F" is not a sweaty 41-year-old man.
(via Boing Boing)
The street finds its own uses for ultrasonic teenager repellants; now some enterprising hoodie-wearing troublemakers have apparently sampled them into mobile phone ringtones inaudible to teachers and authority figures, allowing them to text each other and organise happy-slapping parties and such in class with the teachers remaining none the wiser. Or so the Metro (a throwaway tabloid given out on public transport in the UK) says:
Schoolchildren have recorded the sound, which they named Teen Buzz, and spread it from phone to phone via text messages and Bluetooth technology.
A secondary school teacher in Cardiff said: 'All the kids were laughing about something, but I didn't know what. They know phones must be turned off during school. They could all hear somebody's phone ringing but I couldn't hear a thing.I'm somewhat skeptical about this. Wouldn't the MP3 format's psychoacoustic compression algorithms wreak havoc with subtleties such as ultrasonic tones?
Anyway, I wonder how long until the Teen Buzz sound is heard in grime records, making the first form of teenage music that's actually (partly) inaudible to elders.
(via Boing Boing)
The use of Bluetooth-equipped phones to arrange clandestine sexual trysts with strangers may have been a hoax in Britain, but it's alive and well in the United Arab Emirates, where economic liberalism and social conservatism meet head to head:
Many of the city's black-shrouded UAE girls say they cannot check out the latest fashions in Zara or sip a smoothie in a cafe without being bombarded with the phone numbers of hopeful admirers.
Mohammed, 24, does not know how many girlfriends he has had. He prefers expat girls because he can take them to the beach or to parties, but finds Bluetooth useful when pursuing locals.
His flirtations by phone and other means sometimes end in sex. Even with national girls, it is possible to keep it secret: "Hotels, flats, houses, anything - there's always a way," he says. But he wants to marry a virgin eventually: "The girls I have sex with are different from the girls I would marry - these girls want to play around," he says.
What do you know? "Toothing", the alleged British cultural phenomenon where commuters pair up for casual sex using their mobile phones, turned out to be a hoax; or, at least, started off as one; who knows, perhaps someone somewhere did actually get lucky (either that or some disease) by sending address-book entries from their phone on the Tube, as implausible as it may sound. The hoax did take in quite a few news organisations, including the BBC and WIRED.
An Australian company is trialling a testosterone spray to boost the female sex drive. The spray, designed for post-menopausal women, also works on young women wanting to get their bootywhang on; the only side-effect so far is abnormal hair growth.
Of course, the street finds its own uses for things. Viagra and its competitors have transitioned from prescription-only anti-impotence solution to nightclub party drug (in some places, drug dealers mix them with speed or the cocktail of dubious shit that goes into "ecstasy" tablets and call it "sex-tasy"), and young men with no medical problems can buy them online for recreational uses from dodgy pharmacies (sometimes with tragicomic effects, such as the teenaged schoolboys who thought it'd be cool to take Viagra before going to school one day, not thinking through the mortifying social consequences of spending a day in school with a conspicuous erection). And there's no reason why the same won't happen for the testosterone spray. One imagines rampaging hordes of young women huffing the stuff like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet and ravaging their way across the urban landscape like amazon Viking berzerkers, aggressively hitting on everyone in their path, their mustaches shining in the full moon, and occasionally getting into testosterone-fuelled "he's mine! no, mine!" fistfights.
The street finds its own uses for things. In England, where finding new ways to have anonymous sex with strangers seems to be somewhat of a national pastime, almost up there with trainspotting, football hooliganism and doing stuff in sheds, a new, tech-savvy, subculture of sex hounds is using Bluetooth phones to hook up.
A new application of wireless networking tailored for the bleeding-heart types of the world: WiFi-SM, which is woen by the user and delivers a painful though harmless electric shock every time a selected keyword (such as "death", "torture" or "war") appears in news sources. If you're afraid that your affluent Western lifestyle cuts you off from the true suffering of the world and diminishes your humanity, this could be for you. If it were real, that is. (Via Gizmodo)
Gibson's Law update: Imaginary Girlfriends, a website connecting gamma-and-below males desperate to prove that they're not losers with pretty girls (or perhaps sweaty middle-aged men pretending to be such) willing to play along, for a fee. The "girlfriends" on the site (all three of them) have that well-scrubbed, wholesomely all-American look reminiscent of teen-slasher movie characters. (via 1.0)
Two tidbits in the news: smugglers in Algeria are using donkeys fitted with tape recorders for smuggling goods to Morocco; the tape recorders instruct the unaccompanied donkeys to keep walking. Meanwhile, in a gaffe reminiscent of the Mitsubishi Pajero, British curry giant Sharwoods have discovered, much to their dismay, that the name of their new "deliciously rich" curry sauces, looks like the Punjabi word for "arse". The word is "bundh", which can be transliterated and pronounced in two ways, with comically divergent meanings.
It's easy enough to believe that there are communities of people who enjoy making and swapping computer-generated pr0n with rendered models in a variety of lascivious poses. What's a bit harder to believe is that there is an industry catering to this market segment, selling everything from realistic pubic hair textures, whipped skin textures and lewd facial expressions to an extensive range of 3D models of bondage restraints, and vast ranges of posable models, from the usual b4b3z, leathermen and Nazi dominatrices to mermaids, tentacled demons and deluxe models with features such as "optional third breast". (via bOING bOING)
If you can read this, then we're back. A routine machine relocation didn't go quite to plan, but it's all fixed now (hopefully).
And below is the backlog of blog items that didn't get posted to The Null Device over the past few days:
- Your tax dollars at work: A US spy agency as been monitoring webcams at an Islay distillery, just in case they were making chemical weapons instead of whisky. Defense Threat Reduction Agency officials stressed that monitoring Scottish distilleries was not a high priority, but stated that it would take just a "tweak" to modify the whisky-making process to produce chemical weapons. (Hmmm; that suggests some interesting near-future scenarios for potential flashpoints between the United States of America and Britain and a rogue People's Republic of Scotland.)
- An interesting paper on the design of the Google File System, a custom file system optimised for storing huge (multi-gigabyte) files on large farms of fault-prone hardware. (via bOING bOING)
- The latest fad in baby naming in the U.S. involved naming your children after your favourite brands of consumer goods. Looks like Max Barry wasn't all that far off: (via Techdirt)
"His daddy insisted on it because Timberlands were the pride of his wardrobe. The alternative was Reebok," said the 32-year-old nurse, who is now divorced. "I wanted Kevin."
This is only the latest chapter in the boom of giving children unique names.
According to the most recent census, at least 10,000 different names are now in use, two-thirds of which were largely unknown before World War II.
- "We're Gonna Get You After School!" Gibson's Law applies to playground mob psychology, with kids setting up websites and blogs to call their classmates names. This way, technology may be said to have democratised bullying, as it's no longer the musclebound alpha-jocks and the popular rich girls who have a monopoly on making others' lives miserable. (via TechDirt)
One 12-year-old blogger, writing on the popular Angelfire Web site, recently announced she would devote her page to "anyone and everyone i hate and why." She minced no words. "erin used to be aka miss perfect. too bad now u r a train face. hahaha. god did that to u since u r such a b -- . ashley stop acting like a slut wannabe. lauren u fat b -- can't even go out at night w/ ur friends. . . . and laurinda u suck u god damn flat, weird voice, skinny as a stick b -- ."
The author of the article calls for the use of "parental control devices" to stamp out "social cruelty", much in the way that filters have been used to stop pornography. Which sounds more like it would strip those kids put upon by the alpha-jocks/princesses of their online support networks of fellow outsiders.
- More on the internet's impact on human interaction: Internet chat addiction can stunt social skills in introverted adolescents, says a researcher in "social administration". Dr. Mubarak Rahamathulla says that research suggests that chat rooms have contributed to some teenagers fearing conventional social interaction, and becoming more dependent on anonymity or pseudonymity. However, he says, webcams may be a safe, healthy way for to explore their sexuality. Perhaps the future belongs to asocial chatroom onanists, who are into anything as long as it doesn't involve actual human contact?
- The AT&T text-to-speech demo site now has two British voices; the male one sounds somewhat deranged, as if having at some time in the past eaten some BSE-contaminated beef. (via kineticfactory)
- A company is now selling licensed arcade ROMs for MAME. StarROMs currently have a few dozen titles, all from Atari, but plan to have more; games cost between US$2 and US$6 per title, and all are unencrypted ROM images suitable for MAME, with no DRM chicanery to be seen. Let's hope this idea catches on.
- Transcosmopolitan, or Spider Jerusalem's stint as features writer for a women's lifestyle magazine. (via Warren Ellis' LiveJournal comments)
It's a given that any new technology that can be applied to either war or sex will be; so naturally it was only a matter of time before this happened with flash mobs. Hence, dogging, a new fad in Britain in which spontaneous sex orgies with strangers in public places are organised by SMS message or internet, and which health and law-enforcement authorities are at a loss to police.
He said that, in country parks at least, changes to the design of car parks might help curb their use as venues. However, he added: "You can't simply increase the amount of lighting - that just makes it easier to make videos or take pictures."
(Thought #1: What about the Criminal Justice Act, which gave authorities sweeping powers to crack down on raves and unlicensed gatherings in the early 90s? Doesn't that apply, or does it only come into force when the evil of Ecstasy is involved?)
And here is a page on dogging in Australia; it doesn't seem quite as saucy as the British variant. (via bOING bOING)
Gibson's law applied to blackmail: Dutch blackmailer uses steganography to cover tracks, instructing victim to post bank card info encoded in a photograph in a fake car ad on an auction site. He then accessed the site through a US-based anonymiser. Mind you, the fact that the FBI nailed him in 24 hours nonetheless is somewhat thought-provoking. (via Techdirt)
Gibson's Law meets the Jon Katz Hellmouth, as school bullies adopt new technologies, from SMS harrassment to "Nigelling" (i.e., ostracising their victims from online chatrooms). (Though is "Nigelling" really so unusual? The less-than-popular kids have always been left out of the quarterbacks'/prom-queens' reindeer games for as long as children have been herded into the social pressure-cookers known as schools. And in this day of the Internet, the misfits would be likely to find their own cliques, even if they consist of a cluster of pseudonymous DeadJournals scattered across the world.
A Canadian company has developed a pheromone spray which instills fear in rivals. The spray contains androstenone, a male hormone signalling dominance, and causes the wearer's opponents to "subconsciously feel fear, intimidation and submission". It is aimed at athletes seeking an advantage in sporting competitions; however, as the street finds its own uses for things*, one can imagine non-athletic applications for it. Riot police, ticket inspectors, skinheads and football hooligans could all find uses for it, for example; meanwhile, high-pressure businessmen could wear it to "psych out" their rivals. And perhaps some adherent of the "chicks dig jerks" school of sexual relations will even apply it to picking up women.
And speaking of women, I wonder whether androsterone would be as effective when worn by a woman. If the rumour about female MPs in Britain having testosterone implants to better compete in the territorial sparring ground of Parliament is true, that could be an entire market in itself.
* aside: perhaps this statement should be referred to as Gibson's Law or something?
The street finds its own uses for audio recording hardware, it seems. Miniaturised audio recorders and hidden microphones designed for naturalists and anthropologists are being adopted by music fans to surreptitiously record live gigs. (via TechDirt)
The equipment has legitimate purposes too, being used by naturalists to tape the sounds of tree frogs or researchers to record indigenous rituals without calling attention to themselves, but it has been embraced by tapers who see a band's "no taping" policy as a challenge.
"The fan community sees no-taping policies as damage and routes around it", to paraphrase a Grateful Dead lyricist. Meanwhile, some tapers are devising their own tricks of the trade.
Some who secretly tape frequently have special "taping clothes." One taper in the upholstery business "made himself a fancy-looking vest," said Oade. He sewed the cables and the microphone into it, and put the DAT recorder in a fanny pack.
Surreptitiously taping a gig isn't hard; doing so and getting decent sound is the tricky thing. (I've got a rather dodgy-sounding minidisc of last year's Morrissey gig to vouch for that.)
Xeni Jardin writes in WIRED about the emerging social applications of camera-equipped mobile phones.
Whipping out a cheap phonecam at the height of a late-night bash, a Michigan frat boy snaps his own Girls Gone Wild shots and instantly uploads them to an online gallery accessible by anyone in the world. At a Los Angeles convenience store, a woman witnesses a holdup - and with the press of a button, she captures the thief's image and zaps it to 911. In Hong Kong, a mobile phone user photographs the apartment complex of a neighbor suspected of carrying SARS. He posts the pictures, details, and GPS coordinates to an unofficial database designed to do what the government won't: collect and provide data about the spread of the virus.
As William Gibson said, the street finds its own uses for things. Most of the uses, unsurprisingly, are of a prurient nature:
"Upskirt" phonecam voyeurism in Japan is already a growing challenge for law enforcement. The device's low profile makes snapshot-sneaking easier and detection harder. (The devices are already banned in some Hong Kong changing rooms.) Portals like Cam7.com or uboot.com's SMS network - which allows users to view webcam images on their smartphones or share phone-captured pics and video - seem destined for pornographic deployment. And fans of photo showcases like PhoneBin are already competing in hot-or-not picture wars. Inevitably, the image with the most skin wins.
The street finds its own uses for social technologies, it seems: tourists in Brazil are targeted by swarm crime, where, upon emerging from their hotels, they are stripped of valuables by hordes of young children who suddenly appear and disappear just as suddenly. The children operate in fluid teams, coordinated with stolen (and thus untraceable) mobile phones by a teenaged recruiter/intermediary working for the organiser, who provides the phones and takes most of the proceeds.
If a law enforcement officer sees the crime and catches a child, the child can only talk about Neil. The mobile phone is not traceable. If the police catch Neil, he can only provide a mobile phone number. The adult allows Neill to collect the money ad jewelry, pay the kids, and then meet to pass over the loot to the adult. The adult is effectively "cut out" of the actual crime. Although some of the intermediaries like Neil or the children performing the crime may keep the money and jewelry for themselves, the adult repeats the process.
New problems for law enforcement officers to address: [a] fluidity of the crime and perpetrators, [b] spontaneous nature of the crimes, and [c] dealing with the children who commit the crime in the criminal justice system.
(via Die Puny Humans)
The street finds its own uses for things; those camera-equipped mobile phones, for example, are ideal for vote-rigging, as the Italian Mafia have discovered:
Here's the idea: you promise a voter 50 euros (31 pounds) to cast their ballot for your candidate, send them into the booth with a 3G phone, they send a picture via the phone proving that they have voted as instructed and then they get the cash.
(via bOING bOING)
Don't like surveillance cameras? A concerned New Yorker has discovered that you can temporarily blind them with a cheap laser pointer. Coupled with a telescopic sight, cameras can be jammed from well out of range. The implications are far-reaching; other than putting laser pointers onto the wallet chains of homeboy trainslashers, and adding them to the already extensive Al Qaeda doomsday arsenal, it looks like they could join aluminium-lined headgear as must-have accessories for the modern paranoid
(Though I'd be surprised if spy agencies, terrorists, professional burglars, &c, hadn't known about this for years.)
The Narcolombians aren't the only ones at the cutting edge of infotech: Hell's Angels in Canada are also relying on information technology and high-tech intelligence gathering to wage gang wars. (via bOING bOING)
A drug that eliminates sleep, without the side-effects of stimulants such as caffeine, Marketed as Provigil, it is currently prescribed only to patients with certain medical disorders; but we all know that the street finds its own uses for things, right?
But would executives pressure their employees to take a pill for the team? Possibly, says Serwer, if they heard that workers at other firms were pulling Provigil-fueled all-nighters. "You would be at a competitive disadvantage if you didn't," he says.
The street finds its own uses for things: A German company has released a CD-ROM "sickness simulator", with profiles of 15 medical complaints, and instructions on how to fake them to get time off work. Doctors are not amused.
The street finds its own uses for things: Only in Japan would you find a concept like virtual girlfriend subscriptions. If you live there and have an I-mode phone, you can have an online romance with a (realistically fussy) chat script for ¥300 (about A$4) a month. Use it to hone your bootywhangmojo or as a substitute for the real thing:
"You have the happiness of a secret woman, a hidden relationship, with none of the fear that your wife will find out and be angry. My grandfather had the geisha, my father had the bar hostesses and I have Love By Mail. It is maybe hard for others to understand, but these substitutes, or additions, for the everyday relationship between a husband and wife are well accepted in our culture."
"It's a safe way for men to try out their dating technique without having to worry about shaming themselves in front of a live girl,"
(Interestingly enough, the ads that popped up on the page included one for a mobile phone service (in the US), and one for what looked like a dating service.)
The technology for electronically faking video footage is coming to fruition. And we all know how the street finds its own uses for new technologies...
A demo tape supplied by PVI bolsters the point in the prosaic setting of a suburban parking lot. The scene appears ordinary except for a disturbing feature: Amidst the SUVs and minivans are several parked tanks and one armored behemoth rolling incongruously along. Imagine a tape of virtual Pakistani tanks rolling over the border into India pitched to news outlets as authentic, and you get a feel for the kind of trouble that deceptive imagery could stir up.
Suddenly those large stretches of programming between commercials-the actual show, that is-become available for billions of dollars worth of primetime advertising. PVI's demo tape, for instance, includes a scene in which a Microsoft Windows box appears-virtually, of course-on the shelf of Frasier Crane's studio. This kind of product placement could become more and more important as new video recording technologies such as TiVo and RePlayTV give viewers more power to edit out commercials.
With just a few minutes of video of someone talking, their system captures and stores a set of video snapshots of the way that a person's mouth-area looks and moves when saying different sets of sounds. Drawing from the resulting library of "visemes" makes it possible to depict the person seeming to say anything the producers dream up-including utterances that the subject wouldn't be caught dead saying. In one test application, computer scientist Christoph Bregler, now of Stanford University, and colleagues digitized two minutes of public-domain footage of President John F. Kennedy speaking during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Using the resulting viseme library, the researchers created "animations" of Kennedy's mouth saying things he never said, among them, "I never met Forrest Gump."
In the Philippines, mobile phone text messaging has taken off in a big way. Now the government and phone companies are very worried about the system being used to spread false rumours and rude jokes about the president. So much so that the phone companies have taken out full-page ads urging restraint. (BBC News)