Tag Archives: Hacking

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Russian Hacking: Where’s the Evidence?

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At the smallest, crappiest newspaper in the world – even at a high school paper – no sane editor would publish a story that wasn’t backed by solid evidence. As the 20th century print journalism cliché goes, if your mother says she loves you check it out. So why are the nation’s most prestigious multi-Pulitzer-winning newsgathering organizations repeatedly claiming that hackers working for the Russian government stole emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, and gave them to WikiLeaks?

Because the CIA says so.

Well, not the actual CIA. Some unidentified people who claim to have seen some report say so.

The charge against Russia is explosive. “In a ‘closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week,’ intelligence officials told senators that it was now “quite clear’ that electing Trump was Russia’s goal,” according to Vox. Hothead Sarah Palin enabler and senior Arizona Senator John McCain called it “an act of war.”

Even Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman — historically a voice of reason and prescience — dove into the neo-Red-baiting morass of this weird month, writing that “bad guys hacked the election” thanks to “useful idiots” (a Cold War slur used against lefties like, um, Krugman, pinned here to Trump and his advisors).

(Hypocrisy alert! I’ll save my catalog of covert U.S. attacks against other nations’ democratic elections — Obama’s role in the recent coup in Honduras comes to mind — for some future book, a format where word counts aren’t as constricting.)

explainersmallAnyway, newspapers and magazines and radio and television and Internet news sites say that Russia was behind the hacks. So, as my editor at the Columbia Daily Spectator would surely have asked, what is the basis of this contention?

“The CIA.’s conclusion does not appear to be the product of specific new intelligence obtained since the election, several American officials, including some who had read the agency’s briefing, said on Sunday,” wrote the Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lichtblau. “Rather, it was an analysis of what many believe is overwhelming circumstantial evidence — evidence that others feel does not support firm judgments — that the Russians put a thumb on the scale for Mr. Trump, and got their desired outcome.”

The primary basis of this “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” appears to be that whoever hacked the DNC also hacked the RNC but only released the DNC stuff to WikiLeaks. “If the Russians were going to interfere, why on earth would they do it to the detriment of the candidate that was pro-Russian?” asked Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

My editor at the Spec would not have been impressed.

As Sam Biddle writes at The Intercept, “you can’t help but notice all of the qualifying words: Possibly, appears, connects, indicates.”

This is one of those awkward times when you have to admit that Donald Trump has a point: why should we take the CIA, whose BS Iraqi WMD intel led to the deaths of over a million people, at its word?

Why would the very same journalists who let themselves get duped 13 years ago dutifully transcribe what amounts to nothing more than unsubstantiated allegations?

I don’t know if Russia is innocent of hacking those emails — any more than the New York Times and the Washington Post and CBS News and so on know that they’re guilty.

No one knows.

Well, the CIA (and the hackers, if there indeed were hacks) might know. But if the spooks have any evidence, much less proof, they aren’t showing it to us or those idiotic media outlets. Which makes this an unsourced story — and one whose geopolitical implications, involving the world’s most heavily-armed nuclear states makes it incomprehensibly, irredeemably irresponsible to spread around.

If the government wants to warn us that a Russian puppet is about to move into the White House, they ought to take a cue from JFK, who went on television to show secret US spy photos of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

Show us the evidence or shut up.

As if this “Russia hacked the election” episode wasn’t enough to showcase the intellectual bankruptcy of America’s state-controlled news media, the stenographers are ignoring a far more credible explanation for how WikiLeaks got the Podesta/DNC emails: they were leaked, not hacked.

Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and WikiLeaks associate, told The Daily Mail that a DNC insider motivated by “disgust at the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and the tilting of the primary election playing field against Bernie Sanders” personally gave it to him in Washington. “Neither of [the leaks] came from the Russians,” Murray says. “The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.”

Murray is a paragon of integrity, having sacrificed his diplomatic career in order to call out Islam Karimov, the sadistic tyrant of Uzbekistan known for boiling political dissidents to death and his cozy ties to the U.S. (His account “Murder in Samarkand” is highly recommended for its brutal honesty.)

Regardless of your politics, Murray is infinitely more believable than the CIA.

WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange confirms that “the Russian government is not the source.” Assange too has an impeccable reputation.

As far as I can tell, only one U.S. outlet, the right-wing Washington Times, has covered the Murray angle.

Everyone “knows” that Russia hacked the election. But it may or may not be true. To the contrary! The facts point to a leak.

There is “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” that the moral midgets of American corporate media don’t have the slightest interest in uncovering the truth. How perfect as we enter the Age of Trump.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. Please consider supporting Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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Never Satisfied: Why Russian Hackers Want to Steal Your Eye

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

Russian hackers, and also hackers from former Soviet republics that are not Russia whom we lump with their Russian counterparts partly for convenience and mostly out of geographic ignorance, are trying to hack into your stuff.

No one knows why. What’s in it for them? What are they going to do? Steal your negative bank balance? Bring it on, fuckers!

I mean, for some reason, we are supposed to be really upset and scared when Target, or Bank of America, or the U.S. government, or whatever gets hacked and our precious “data” gets taken. Even though, if someone uses your credit card, nothing happens. You call them. They take off the charges. (If they’re total jerks, they can charge you a whopping $50 per card. Whatevs.)

Yeah, you have to call them, but hey, while you’re on the phone with them anyway, maybe you can give them a hard time about the 25.24 percent “penalty charge” interest rate they’re charging you despite the fact that this ain’t Weimar Germany.

I say, screw it: Give your credit card number out to random bums! Tell them not to use it in any stores with cameras, though — which there aren’t any. Never mind.

russian-hackers-want-to-steal-your-eyeAnyway, the latest development/fad on the trying-to-keep-Russian-hackers-out-of-your-personal-crap front is biometric identification: using your fingerprints (like on the iPhone), iris scans (like in creepy dystopian movies and at passport control at American airports) and voice recognition in lieu of a password.

Pretty smart! Fingerprints are pretty much unique, except for evil identical twins. (Don’t bother, evil fraternal twins.) Ditto for iris scans — not the flower, stupid — and voice recognition. If it’s your face, or fingerprint, or eye, then that’s you and not some Russian hacker. Right?

Maybe not.

It’s not impossible to imagine some mash-up of the 1997 movie “Face/Off,” in which John Travolta and some other guy who looks like Nick Cage get their faces switched and stuff happens, and the even older TV show “Mission Impossible,” which constantly deployed form-fitting face masks, as a way to foil biometric face ID technology. Take that, NSA with your real-time tracking of our heads via ubiquitous street surveillance cameras!

On the eye front, what if the Russians take a cue from the 1980s street gang the Westies, who controlled the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in Manhattan? Guys kept getting killed, and the prints on the murder weapons always suggested the same suspect — biggest gangster serial killer ever! Turned out the fingerprints belonged to a dude who’d been killed himself.

A clever boss kept the dead guy’s arm in the freezer and used it to apply his fingerprints to any gun used by his crew.

What if a Russian hacker stole your eye? Or hacked into your computer camera —yes,  they can do that — and created a 3-D scan of your orb on a 3-D printer?

Fingerprints, it turns out, are actually an incredibly shitty form of security. “Hackers have already made dummy fingerprints — using pictures of people’s hands available online — to swipe into the iPhone 6 scanner,” reports NPR.

Tech investor David Cowan says: “Either a password or a biometric can be stolen. But only the password can be changed. Once your fingerprint is stolen, it’s stolen forever, and you’re stuck.”

Well, not exactly. You could cancel that fingerprint, and use one of your other nine. But we take Cowan’s point: Best to stick with the classic “123456″ and “PASSWORD” passwords.

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Bluster Bomb

We Why We're Not Hypocrites

The United States government claims that there’s a distinction between the NSA’s wholesale collection of information by and about individuals and governments overseas, versus the Chinese army unit charged with industrial espionage against American companies. The rest of the world, however, isn’t buying it.

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: RoboSheriff

Minority Report

 

Computer algorithms drive online dating sites that promise to hook you up with a compatible mate. They help retailers suggest that, because you liked this book or that movie, you’ll probably be into this music. So it was probably inevitable that programs based on predictive algorithms would be sold to law enforcement agencies on the pitch that they’ll make society safe.

The LAPD feeds crime data into PredPol, which then spits out a report predicting — reportedly with impressive accuracy — where “property crimes specifically, burglaries and car break-ins and thefts are statistically more likely to happen.” The idea is, if cops spend more time in these high-crime spots, they can stop crime before it happens.

Chicago police used predictive algorithms designed by an Illinois Institute of Technology engineer to create a 400-suspect “heat list” of “people in the city of Chicago supposedly most likely to be involved in violent crime.” Surprisingly, of these Chicagoans — who receive personal visits from high-ranking cops telling them that they’re being watched — have never committed a violent crime themselves. But their friends have, and that can be enough.

In other words, today’s not-so-bad guys may be tomorrow’s worst guys ever.

But math can also be used to guess which among yesterday’s bad guys are least likely to reoffend. Never mind what they did in the past. What will they do from now on? California prison officials, under constant pressure to reduce overcrowding, want to limit early releases to the inmates most likely to walk the straight and narrow.

Toward that end, Times’ Abby Sewell and Jack Leonard report that the L.A. Sheriff’s Department is considering changing its current evaluation system for early releases of inmates to one based on algorithms:

Supporters argue the change would help select inmates for early release who are less likely to commit new crimes. But it might also raise some eyebrows. An older offender convicted of a single serious crime, such as child molestation, might be labeled lower-risk than a younger inmate with numerous property and drug convictions.

The Sheriff’s Department is planning to present a proposal for a “risk-based” release system to the Board of Supervisors.

“That’s the smart way to do it,” interim Sheriff John L. Scott said. “I think the percentage [system, which currently determines when inmates get released by looking at the seriousness of their most recent offense and the percentage of their sentence they have already served] leaves a lot to be desired.”

Washington state uses a similar system, which has a 70% accuracy rate. “A follow-up study…found that about 47% of inmates in the highest-risk group returned to prison within three years, while 10% of those labeled low-risk did.”
No one knows which ex-cons will reoffend — sometimes not even the recidivist himself or herself. No matter how we decide which prisoners walk free before their end of their sentences, whether it’s a judgment call rendered by corrections officials generated by algorithms, it comes down to human beings guessing what other human beings do. Behind every high-tech solution, after all, are programmers and analysts who are all too human. Even if that 70% accuracy rate improves, some prisoners who have been rehabilitated and ought to have been released will languish behind bars while others, dangerous despite best guesses, will go out to kill, maim and rob.

If the Sheriff’s Department moves forward with predictive algorithmic analysis, they’ll be exchanging one set of problems for another.

Technology is morally neutral. It’s what we do with it that makes a difference.

That, and how many Russian hackers manage to game the system.

(Ted Rall, cartoonist for The Times, is also a nationally syndicated opinion columnist and author. His new book is Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the New Middle East.)

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This Amount of Computer Code

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The president’s lawyers say he has broad powers to launch preemptive cyberattacks against other nations. The problem, as a White House official says, is selling the American people on the threat from “deadly dangerous computer code.”

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Murder by Prosecutor

Time to Roll Back Excessive Prison Sentences

If you’re looking for sympathy, it helps to be white, male and media-savvy. Throw in charm and brains—especially if your smarts tend toward the tech geek variety—and your online petitions will soon collect more petitions than campaigns against kitten cancer.

These advantages weren’t enough to save Aaron Swartz, a 26-year-old “technology wunderkind” who hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment on January 11. But they did elevate his suicide from that of a mere “data crusader,” as The New York Times put it, to “a cause” driven by millennial “information wants to be free” bloggers and sympathetic writers (whose corporate media overlords would go broke if people like Swartz got their way).

Swartz, who helped invent RSS feeds as a teenager and cofounded the link-posting social networking site Reddit, was a militant believer in online libertarianism, the idea that everything—data, cultural products like books and movies, news—ought to be available online for free. Sometimes he hacked into databases of copyrighted material—to make a point, not a profit. Though Swartz reportedly battled depression, the trigger that pushed him to string himself up was apparently his 2011 arrest for breaking into M.I.T.’s computer system.

Swartz set up a laptop in a utility closet and downloaded 4.8 million scholarly papers from a database called JSTOR. He intended to post them online to protest the service’s 10 cent per page fee because he felt knowledge should be available to everyone. For free.

JSTOR declined to prosecute, but M.I.T. was weasely, so a federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz of Boston, filed charges. “Stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars. It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away,” she told the media at the time.

Basically, I agree. As someone who earns a living by selling rights to reprint copyrighted intellectual property, I’ve seen the move from print to digital slash my income while disseminating my work more widely than ever. Info wants to be free is fine in theory, but then who pays writers, cartoonists, authors and musicians?

I also have a problem with the selective sympathy at play here. Where are the outraged blog posts and front-page New York Times pieces personalizing the deaths of Pakistanis murdered by U.S. drone strikes? Where’s the soul-searching and calls for payback against the officials who keep 166 innocent men locked up in Guantánamo? What if Swartz were black and rude and stealing digitized movies?

But what matters is the big picture. There is no doubt that, in the broader sense, Swartz’s suicide was, in his family’s words, “the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach”—a system that ought to be changed for everyone, not just loveable Ivy League nerds.

Swartz faced up to 35 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines. The charges were wire fraud, computer fraud and unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer.

Thirty-five years! For stealing data!

The average rapist serves between five and six years.

The average first-degree murderer does 16.

And no one seriously thinks Swartz was trying to make money—as in, you know, commit fraud.

No wonder people are comparing DA Ortiz to Javert, the heartless and relentless prosecutor in Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables.”

As Swartz’s lawyer no doubt told him, larding on charges is standard prosecutorial practice in everything from traffic stops to genocide. The idea is to give the DA some items to give away during plea negotiations. For defendants, however, this practice amounts to legal state terrorism. It can push psychologically delicate souls like Swartz over the edge. It should stop.

It also undermines respect for the law. As a young man I got arrested (and, thanks to a canny street lawyer, off the hook) for, essentially, riding in the same car as a pothead. Among the charges: “Not driving with a valid Massachusetts drivers license.” (Mine was from New York.) “Don’t worry,” the cop helpfully informed me, “they’ll drop that.” So why put it on? Neither the legalistic BS nor the missing cash from my wallet when I got out of jail increased my admiration for this morally bankrupt system.

The really big issue, however, is sentencing. The Times’ Noam Cohen says “perhaps a punishment for trespassing would have been warranted.” Whatever the charge, no one should go to prison for any crime that causes no physical harm to a human being or animal.

Something about computer hackers makes courts go nuts. The U.S. leader of the LulzSec hacking group was threatened with a 124-year sentence. No doubt, “Hollywood Hacker” Christopher Chaney, who hacked into the email accounts of Scarlett Johansson and Christina Aguilera and stole nude photos of the stars so he could post them online, is a creep. Big time. But 10 years in prison, as a federal judge in Los Angeles sentenced him? Insanely excessive. Community service, sure. A fine, no problem. Parole restrictions, on his Internet use for example, make sense.

Sentences issued by American courts are wayyyy too long, which is why the U.S. has more people behind bars in toto and per capita than any other country. Even the toughest tough-on-crime SOB would shake his head at the 45-year sentence handed to a purse snatcher in Texas last year. But even “typical” sentences are excessive.

I won’t deny feeling relieved when the burglar who broke into my Manhattan apartment went away for eight years—it wasn’t his first time at the rodeo—but if you think about it objectively, it’s a ridiculous sentence. A month or two is plenty long. (Ask anyone who has done time.)

You know what would make me feel safe? A rehabilitation program that educated and provided jobs for guys like my burglar. Whether his term was too long or just right, those eight years came to an end—and he wound up back on the street, less employable and more corrupted than before. And don’t get me started about prison conditions.

A serious national discussion about out-of-control prosecutors and crazy long sentences is long overdue. I hope Aaron Swartz’s death marks a turning point.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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Fun with Fascism

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Thanks to the Supreme Court, the cops can now strip-search your daughter, son, husband, wife, mom, and dad—for any offense, even an unpaid parking ticket. They can also search their anuses and vaginas. If we have to live in a police state, let’s make it a fun one.

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America’s Spy Non-Scandal

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The News of the World and other British tabloids owned by Rupert Murdoch are accused of hacking into voicemail and emails. Here in the US, we’re shocked and bemused. What about the NSA domestic surveillance program?

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