Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Man, today is nothing but sf novels come to life: DARPA Is About to Start Testing an Autonomous, Submarine-Hunting Ocean Drone

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In fact, I think I’ve read this one. Doesn’t it sound familiar?

And this is a vignette from a Philip K. Dick novel, a chapter called “Deputy Florida Man.”

And if you give the religions exotic names, this clear conflict is seen in many a novel placed in other worlds.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2015 at 10:58 am

Very cool: Glitch art. (Obligatory: But is it in fact art?)

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Take a look. Interesting. But art? But what about a photograph of a barn, tractor, and person: can that photograph ever be art?

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2015 at 10:26 am

Posted in Art, Technology

Cyberwars of the future, described in science-fiction, are here today

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Unfortunately, the science-fiction novel in question would be a dystopia, in which the government is so at war with its own citizens that it wants to have access to whatever they are doing in cyberspace: all emails, all phone calls, encryption discouraged and strong encryption targeted for destruction/undermining. That sort of dystopia.

This is the one where a secure private messaging service with good encryption is crippled by a DDoS attack of government-sized power.

UPDATE: Admit it: Doesn’t this incident read exactly as if it came from one of many sf dystopias (a strangely popular theme)? In fact, isn’t this quite reminiscent of scenes in the movie Brazil?

UPDATE again: US Supreme Court provides additional immunity to police who shoot people.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2015 at 10:19 am

Very slick design

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No moving parts, always a plus. Full story by Clinton Nguyen in Motherboard.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2015 at 4:00 pm

The ‘Dox’ of More than 2,300 Government Employees Might Be Worse Than We Thought—Much Worse

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Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reports at Motherboard:

On Thursday, the teenage hackers who broke into the CIA director’s personal AOL email account struck again, releasing a list of almost 2,400 names, emails and phone numbers that appear to belong to members of federal and local law enforcement, intelligence and even military agencies.

As it turns out, the data dump, as well as the hack that allowed them to obtain the data, might be far worse than initially thought. The list contains not only names of local police officers, but also names of FBI, Secret Service, CIA and other intelligence agents.

Some of these might even inadvertently have had their cover exposed, according to Michael Adams, an information security expert who served more than two decades in the US Special Operations Command, who reviewed the data for Motherboard.

Some police agents on the list, for example, are listed as having an FBI email address, which Adams believes could be FBI agents working at local police depts. And there are even what appear to be agents deployed abroad, such as a in the tiny Caribbean Nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

The list released by the hackers, according to Adams, would allow a foreign government to map out where agents work, and with whom, which makes it more serious than a random data dump. . .

Continue reading.

Snowden’s exposing of classified information was totally benign compared to this vandalism.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2015 at 5:24 pm

Technological advances in an authoritarian culture

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Sort of jaw-dropping, but makes sense, given the mindset. Jiayang Fan writes in the New Yorker:

For a time in my first-grade classroom at Xingqiao Elementary School, in Chongqing, in the late nineteen-eighties, there was an initiative called “the Stars of Xingqiao.” One of the school’s co-principals had come up with the idea to instill in our seven-year-old hearts the ambition to be “better students, citizens, and stars.” So on a large white chart pasted to the back of the classroom wall, the teacher had printed our names in rows and, in each column along the top, an attribute such as punctuality, classroom manner, and orderliness, the successful embodiment of which earned a red star. Whoever got the most red stars at the end of the week would be publicly pronounced the brightest star of Xingqiao; the student with the fewest stars was punished with Friday-afternoon janitorial duties.

The exercise had unravelled slowly—and then spectacularly—by the time we got midway through the semester. The students hotly debated who actually deserved stars and who most emphatically did not. Because the home room with the most aggregate stars would receive a special treat at the end of the semester—not to mention a bonus for the teacher—it seemed to some of us that certain teachers exercised mass star inflation. Worse, parents began arriving in droves, interrogating the unquantifiability of certain categories and perceived inequities in the award system. (Although my own star record seemed unjustly lacklustre, I prided myself on not asking my mother to lobby on my behalf.) Stars were peeled from one row and moved to another so often and so inexplicably that, in time, the red paint and glue began smearing together, leaving behind imprints on the poster board that resembled the bloody trails of an injured and ill-bandaged finger.

I was reminded of that grade-school experiment when, in recent weeks, I’ve read about China’s plans for a social-credit system, or S.C.S., that aims to compile a comprehensive national database out of citizens’ fiscal, government, and possibly personal information. First publicized, last year, in a planning document published by the State Council, S.C.S. was billed as “an important component part of the Socialist market-economy system,” underwriting a “harmonious Socialist society.” Its intended goals are “establishing the idea of a sincerity culture, and carrying forward sincerity and traditional virtues,” and its primary objectives are to raise “the honest mentality and credit levels of the entire society” as well as “the over-all competitiveness of the country,” and “stimulating the development of society and the progress of civilization.” Or, as it seemed to me, Stars of China, writ large.

In certain respects, a national credit system of some kind is long overdue in China. Unlike citizens of many developed countries, Chinese consumers have never had credit scores. According to the Ministry of Commerce, the annual financial loss caused by a lack of credit information is upwards of ninety-seven billion dollars. More troublingly, some have long suspected that the absence has contributed to the nation’s deficit of trust between individuals, prompting fraud and profiteering. (In a national poll conducted in 2013, less than half of Chinese citizens said that “most people can be trusted,” and only about thirty per cent said that they trust strangers.)

But what does it mean to develop a score chart that incorporates the social, moral, and financial history of an entire population? The Chinese government has already gestured toward such an effort; currently, it maintains a Web site that allows any citizen to check what serve as proxies for other people’s credit ratings, including court judgments and other interactions with the state. The site uses data from thirty-seven central government departments and is run with help from Baidu, China’s main search engine, which is privately owned but submits to the rules of the state.

Similarly, S.C.S. will likely elicit help from major private enterprises to manage various segments of its operation. Prior to its rollout, now planned for 2020, the government will observe how eight private companies come up with their own “social credit” scores under state-approved pilot projects. This watch-and-see approach has distinct advantages. Currently, two of the best-known pilot projects are Sesame Credit, which is run by Alipay, the financial arm of the commerce behemoth Alibaba, and China Rapid Finance, a part of the social-media giant Tencent.

Alibaba, the world’s biggest online shopping platform, creates an incentive for customers to use its own payment service (also part of Alipay) by raising the Sesame scores of those who do. The company makes no secret of its interest in accessing the payment history of its four hundred million users, to make judgments about their creditworthiness and character. “Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person, and someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility,” Li Yingyun, Sesame’s technology director, told Caixin, a Chinese magazine. In some ways, Tencent’s credit system goes further, tapping into users’ social networks and mining data about their contacts, for example, in order to determine their social-credit score.

The information-harvesting tactics of Alibaba and Tencent play to their advantages and exploit the companies’ unique points of access to their users. For the Chinese government, this is exactly the sort of competitive strategizing that might ultimately prove instructive to the construction of its own omniscient system. Indeed, part of what has kept the Party in command over the decades is its pairing of authoritarian imperative with adaptability—a willingness to evolve its mechanisms of control with the technology of the times. To maintain the regime’s political power, the state has already leveraged the market and, for example, erected the Great Firewall. Engineering the lives of its citizens by way of a comprehensive database seems almost like the logical next step.

According to the planning document, S.C.S. will be used “to encourage keeping trust and punish breaking trust.” Doctors, teachers, construction firms, scientists, sports figures, N.G.O.s, members of the judicial system, and government administrators will face special scrutiny. It is conceivable that the data generated through smartphones, apps, and online transactions will be marshalled in the service of this overarching and uncomfortably broad aim. More unsettlingly, the algorithm used to calculate the score of an individual or organization might be withheld by the government from the individual herself. (Already, Alibaba has refused to divulge how it calculates its credit scores, citing a “complex algorithm.”)

The opacity of its infrastructure is disquieting. What safeguards will be put in place to prevent the database from being rigged? Will the very corruption that the social-credit system is meant to counter infect the system itself? Who will oversee the overseers of the operation? How will privacy, long under siege in contemporary China, be protected? And will punishment for political discontent be delivered through dismal credit scores? If S.C.S. becomes a mechanism of financial and social integration, it is hard to imagine how it could avoid becoming an instrument of mass surveillance. . .

Continue reading.

I imagine NSA puts a high priority on hacking into this database. If nothing else, it would be a poke in the eye to the Chinese who hacked into all the many US systems, private, state, and federal—probably municipal, if they wanted.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 November 2015 at 4:15 pm

UK Government Works on Restricting Encryption, Urges Staff to Use It

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Obviously the UK government thinks encryption is important, but doesn’t want citizens able to use it. It’s just for government use. Joseph Cox reports at Motherboard:

Today, the UK government will announce details of the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, a piece of legislation that will propose sweeping surveillance powers for law enforcement. These are expected to include the retention of citizens’ internet browsing history, and restrictions on encryption.

The Telegraph reports the legislation will ban companies such as Apple from offering customers robust end-to-end encryption which results in communications not being accessible to law enforcement even when they have a warrant. Other reports suggest the idea of a ban will be walked back.

Meanwhile, a document published by a department of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the UK’s version of the National Security Agency (NSA), shows the government clearly recognises the benefit of strong encryption for its own purposes, even for everyday communications. Security researcher and developer of the Signal encrypted messaging app Frederic Jacobs pointed out the document on Twitter.

The National Technical Authority for Information Assurance (CESG), which acts as the information security arm of GCHQ and provides information security advice to the UK government, this month published “Secure Voice at OFFICIAL,” a document which “provides an overview of secure voice technology for protecting OFFICIAL and OFFICIAL SENSITIVE communications.”

“OFFICIAL” is the lowest security classification of government material, and refers to “the majority of information that is created or processed by the public sector,” according to a government paper from April 2014. “This includes routine business operations and services, some of which could have damaging consequences if lost, stolen or published in the media, but are not subject to a heightened threat profile,” it explains. One example given is “personal information that is required to be protected under the Data Protection Act (1998) or other legislation (e.g. health records),” and another is “the day to day business of government, service delivery and public finances.”

So hardly top secret stuff, but rather the sort of details that even ordinary citizens could put into voice calls every day. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 November 2015 at 11:48 am

Posted in Government, NSA, Technology


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