Weekend news round-up: A scary truth about IT security, Def Con Mad

26 May 2014

In our round-up of the weekend’s tech news, the sad truth about IT security is that problems only exist because of the lamentable state of software; Chinese nationals may be prevented from attending the Def Con hacker conference in the US; and the rise and rise of tech monopolies.

Yep, everything really is broken

“The NSA is doing so well because software is bullshit” – so writes Quinn Norton on Medium, in an article that sums up the whole tech security slow motion car crash of recent times and of course, Edward Snowden’s revelations.

“Once upon a time, a friend of mine accidentally took over thousands of computers. He had found a vulnerability in a piece of software and started playing with it. In the process, he figured out how to get total administration access over a network. He put it in a script, and ran it to see what would happen, then went to bed for about four hours. Next morning on the way to work he checked on it, and discovered he was now lord and master of about 50,000 computers.

“After nearly vomiting in fear he killed the whole thing and deleted all the files associated with it. In the end he said he threw the hard drive into a bonfire. I can’t tell you who he is because he doesn’t want to go to Federal prison, which is what could have happened if he’d told anyone that could do anything about the bug he’d found. Did that bug get fixed? Probably eventually, but not by my friend. This story isn’t extraordinary at all. Spend much time in the hacker and security scene, you’ll hear stories like this and worse.

“It’s hard to explain to regular people how much technology barely works, how much the infrastructure of our lives is held together by the IT equivalent of baling wire.

“Computers, and computing, are broken.”

Too much influence

The rise and rise of tech monopolies belonging to Amazon, Google and Facebook was taken to task by GigaOM in an article that provides a cautionary tale about the sci-fi future we now live in.

“Google, Facebook and Amazon have shown us again this week why the combination of a quasi-monopoly, vested interests and an inscrutable algorithm can be a dangerous thing for internet users, since it allows them to influence what we see, know and buy.”

Apple’s latest marketing ploy

TechCrunch reported that Apple is embarking on a new marketing campaign that attempts to demonstrate the ways that the iPad can be used as a creational tool.

“The campaign consists of two new ‘Your Verse’ TV spots. The first focuses on composer Essa-Pekka Salonen, the principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London and Conductor Laureate of the LA Philharmonic. The second features Chérie King, a travel writer who also happens to be deaf.

“Alongside those spots are sections dedicated to both Esa-Pekka (who has a new app out, go figure) and Chérie on Apple’s website and there will also be corresponding iTunes and App Store promotions that highlight the apps and other media featured in the spots.

“On a high level, the spots continue to be effective in presenting the iPad as a device that goes beyond passive activities like movies and browsing the web. Both segments highlight that real things can be accomplished on the tablet, in ways that contribute materially to the owner’s way of life.”

Twitter experiments with new video tool

Re/Code reported that Twitter is experimenting with a new video-sharing featurethat makes it easy to embed, display and play clips on phones.

“As you type in the hashtag, you’ll notice that some of the results that pop up in the automatic results field include a video ‘provided by’ ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West,’ Universal’s new Seth MacFarlane comedy.

“If you click on one of those, you’ll see a screenshot from a clip appear at the bottom of your message composition field. And if you click on the image, the clip will immediately start playing. This looks like the same one-click video playing capability that Twitter recently started using for its ‘Amplify’ ads, and which its ad team is very excited about.”

Def Con Mad

In the latest spate of paranoia surrounding alleged hacking of US trade secrets by Chinese hackers, Reuters has reported that the US government may impose visa restrictions to prevent Chinese nationals from attending the popular Def Con and Black Hat hacker conference in Las Vegas.

“Washington is considering using visa restrictions to prevent Chinese nationals from attending popular summer hacking conferences in Las Vegas as part of a broader effort to curb Chinese cyber espionage, a senior administration official said Saturday.

“The official said that Washington could use such visa restrictions and other measures to keep Chinese from attending the August Def Con and Black Hat events to maintain pressure on China after the United States this week charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into U.S. companies to steal trade secrets.”

Hacker image via Shutterstock

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years