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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A fun Hacktivity for everyone

If I were to ask you, bearing in mind the levels of publicity that the hacking scandal has had, what significant precautions were now put in place to stop people hacking into your mobile voicemail, most people wouldn't know.

You might ask how I could make such a bold statement. The answer is simple. There haven't been any new significant precautions on several major mobile networks, with at least two (they would be O2 and Tesco Mobile) still leaving customers just as vulnerable to "hack attacks" as they ever were.

You can test this yourself if you have an O2 or Tesco mobile Sim. Simply turn your phone off, take a friends phone and dial in your number then hold down the *key. You will now need to add in the default security pin (assuming, like most people, you have not had this changed it should be 8705) and tadaa you now have access to your voicemail... as does potentially everyone who knows your mobile number, which, if you have a facebook app, is more than likely all of your friends... and some acquaintances.

Now you might think that this is quite bad bearing in mind that O2 plus Tesco mobile account for about 30.5 million phone users. If they were all in the UK, that would account for nearly half of all 63,705,000 people living in the country.

You might be thinking that this is bad because, in fact, it is bad.

It is also about to get worse for you because this blog is very very public. By the simple act of reading it you may have, thanks to social blogging networks and certain blog readers that you maybe using, informed all your blog reading friends that you have read this. This may in turn lead them to reading this... and they likely know your mobile number.

Don't worry too much because if they have read it, by the same means you shoukd know that they have read it and you probably also have their mobile number as well. Thus either a hacking war will ensue, or a truce, or you will change your pin.

I would suggest that you do the very latter, at least thats what I would do if I were a spokesperson for either of these networks. Thankfully, I'm not and so can suggest to you an even better option. Simply follow along the above procedure until the point when you have to input 8705. Do not input 8705. Put something else in, anything else, random numbers, over and over again until it says that this function is blocked. Do not unblock it. Done.

If you are someone who uses this function for its intended purpose of accessing your own voicemail from another phone because your phone often runs out of charge... buy a spare charger and carry it with you, or get a battery extender (some cases can even do this), or use the power save settings... anything is better than the choice of either essentually posting your voicemail messages publicly on facebook or typing in a confidential pin into someone elses phone, no matter how well you know the owner of that phone as a person. What is to say that that phone hasn't got a virus? Or an anti-virus with a keylogger even the owner is unaware of?

This is a basic privacy issue. And it has little to do with Rebecca Brooks and the phones of the parents of Millie Dowler and Madeleine McCann. It has a huge amount to do with you and what people are telling you in a way that they feel is private and only between them and, you guessed it, you.

This should have been the first thing to be resolved, instead it appears to be the last thing, if in fact it does actually get resolved at all.

We may not be able to take away their guns, but we can lock the ammunition store.

Mr Magic

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The great Gay debate

I am sure that we are all aware of the current debates, and of their outcomes, in regards to homosexuality and legal union. This has been a very long time coming in both the united states and the united kingdom, whereby respectively the title marrage has now been legalised as opposed to "partner" (or "Civil partner,") a term just vague enough that children wouldn't immediately understand it and the radical religious could view it in the same way they would a financial partnership, a fiscal union without contemplation of anything "ungodly".

It is with regards to this second point that I take extreme contention. It is more often than not stated that the bible is opposed to homosexuality, with specific reference given to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. In fact these are the only two times that homosexuality is even considered in the whole of the old testament and neither of these verses are opposed to homosexuality as a whole.

Leviticus 18:22

"Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrance"

First, please understand that this is a comandment specified for men, unless you wish to conceed that the bible assumes lesbianism. We know this from the assumption within the commandment that "one lies with a woman", please also note that it says "as one lies with a woman,". As such the next step is to read what the bible means by "as ... with a woman," and indeed there are laws on how one should sleep with ones wives (this is the old testament, poligamy, that great moral evil, is absolutely fine here) which, as good Christians and Jews, I am sure you are all following to the letter, right? Its actually very simple, if you masturbate (or are "masturbated") you must wash and not touch anyone until the evening, if you discharge (yuk, yuk yuk yuk eew yuk) anything other than semen then you must wash for seven day then present a priest with two turtledoves (I would also advise going to see a doctor... ergh *shivers). Most things are in fact acceptable so long as, and heres the kicker, you finish by ejaculating into a vagina. If you pull out and ejaculate, well that is a mortal sin punishable by death (someone should tell the pope, might change his mind on condoms). Consentual anal sex is not considered anywhere in the bible, and certainly is not deemed as part of how one lies with a woman. In fact, the defining factor, as confirmed by the Talmud (you know, that Jewish book that directly explains every line and verse in the old testament, that is older than the new testament and is also completely ignored by most christian priests), is vaginal.

It is, therefore, nearly impossible to lie with a man as one does with a woman because most men don't have vaginas. Trans-sexuality, i.e those men who do have vaginas (in reference to Female to Male transitioners not Male to Female, unless you wish to accept that vaginoplasty produces a biblically recognised vagina and because Male to Female transexuals define themselves as women, not men) and are gay, are the only people that this law applies to in practice aand they can take some comfort in that this law applies to them under the accepted male gender. In other words, to apply it you must recognise this person as a male. This is something which very very few radically religious people are willing to do.

Leviticus 20:13

"If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their bloodguilt shall be upon them."

I do not wish to cover old ground other than to say that this is essentually a repetition of the above with a death sentence on the end. If you think this is a moral sentence in modern day society then by all means please do be the first to inform the mother of a gay teen that has committed suicide that he/she was carrying out gods commandment, that its a good thing... or perhaps inform some gay Aids victims that this is a manifestation of their Bloodguilt and god has sentenced them to death.

I am continually impressed by the hypocritical position the fundamentalist Christion movement fills, simultaneously proclaiming moral authority whilst at the same time doing and saying the most evil of things.

If you are extremely religious and want to know where to turn to get a perspective on homosexuality, perhaps we would be better off looking to the book of Samuel:

Samuel 1:26

"I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
    you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
    more wonderful than that of women"

These are the words of king David, a prophet, proclaiming that he preferred the love of Jonathan, a man, than that of women. He is also very much seen as a good guy, by most, in religious terms.

I know its not much, and I know its pretty brief, but its there, and moreover it pre-dates the book of Leviticus by about 400 years. If god (and here im talking about the clearly fictional character in the books) truely was as opposed to homosexuality as is often made out... well why did he choose to speak through one as a prophet? Why not speak through an advisor or another piece of burning foliage?  and why not condemn David instead of glorifying him? It doesn't fit to then, 400 years later, suddenly realised the evils of male with male relationships and forbid them with the penalty of death.

I shall end with the story of Soddem and Gomorrah:

Genesis 19:4-9 "Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. {5} And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally.”

{6} So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, {7} and said, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! {8} See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof.”

{9} And they said, “Stand back!” Then they said, “This one came in to stay here, and he keeps acting as a judge; now we will deal worse with you than with them.” So they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near to break down the door. "

It is from this story that the word "sodomy" comes. Let me be clear that everyone, save the most depraved,  is opposed to sodomy. It is evil, sadistic and very much illegal in all countries in the world. For those who have not figured out yet, sodomy is male on male rape. It is un-consensual rape and like all rape, it is a mortal sin in the bible. As this is a comdemnation of rape, and not consentual anal sex, it really serves no purpose in the Gay debate, as everyone is in agreement that rape is bad.

There is one other instance where homosexuality is apparently mentioned and this is in Romans... however the passage is so vague that I cannot decipher where it relates to homosexuality and it is not deemed godly scripture as it was, supposedly, written by Saint Peter. As such its lack of inclusion is two fold, one is that I have limited this post to Jewish scripture, I.e The old testament or Torah, and two is that it is very very long and exceptionally ambiguous. Aside from this, there is no mention of homosexuality at all in the new testament.

Thus I think the point has been shown that homosexuality is not as opposed in the bible as many would make out in terms of both lesbianism, which is completely absent from mention, and gaydom, which is only forbidden if you have a vagina.

Here endeth the lesson.

Mr Magic

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Curious Incident of the Man on the Run.

Let us be under no false delusions regarding the importance of raw data. It is, by far, the most important asset for any human being, anywhere, ever. and I do not say that lightly. If you do not know how to drink, water becomes useless, if you do not understand the most basic elements of commerce it is very possible that you could starve within a grocery shop.

The attainment of knowledge such as this, and much much more, is the reason that we educate children for so long, so that they not only know things that they need to, but also know where to obtain more information as and when they require it, as well as how to understand the information that they receive.

This contextual starting point, the narrative thoughts regarding the importance of information, information attainment and information understanding/de-coding, is imperative to being able to understand the controversy regarding the release of classified cables, documents and files.

If, for example, we are unaware that governments communicate with their embassy's overseas via cables, then finding out that secret cables have been released really means nothing to us. We wouldn't know what they were, as many of us didn't until quite recently. Before Wikileaks and Bradley Manning, communications between Embassy and State was not even considered by the public. In the same way as before Edward Snowdon, policies of GCHQ and the extent of their filtering algorithms to penetrate web-user generated content was so far out of the public focus that even when we were in up-roar regarding SOPA and ACTA, at no point did we drift to even being curious about data capturing.

Data capturing, which is to say the collection and storage of our created information, of information we have made such as telephone conversations, emails we have written, facebook chat conversations and online profiles. Why, you may ask, would anyone be interested in the often banal and mundane conversations that we have day to day on the telephone or via the internet? Most of it is complete drivel spewed by teens to attempt to fragment the boredom of their everyday existance. Imagine, if you can, having the inordinately monotonous task having to cypher through endless teenage messages regarding everything from adolescent arguements regarding what x said about y to z... all the way to an almost infinite pile of internet pictures affectionately called memes. 

Under the circumstances of such a vast and boring collection of data, I personaly do not think it that surprising that GCHQ and the NSA wrote an algorithm to filter the information instead of subjecting some poor soul to this wretched form of mental torture. I would also be very surprised if the filter was as limited as has been expressed by several military figures. Bere in mind that available to the general public are computer memory components capable of storing several hundred terabytes of information and some of these components are smaller than a box of cigarettes, I cannot see the worlds largest intelligence agencies having too much trouble storing a few billion messages.

So should we be worried? In short, no. We have known for a long time that internet surveillance was taking place, this is why people started posting anonymously, why browsers such as TOR and other proxy bouncers were created and when sites such as megashare and Silk Road get taken down and their owners "traced" we see more evidwnce still. I hold reservations as to whether this is a good thing or not however I am accutely aware of the high unlikelyhood of uncovering anything relevant to stopping crimes or terrorism using the methods revealed by Mr Snowdon, or in fact of getting any information at all save for an intolerable amount of raw, uselessly innocent data.

Obtaining the data is merely half of the process, as I mentioned at the beginning, the other half being de-coding/deconstructing/understanding of the data. It is here where the problem truely lay for our intelligence communities in that the larger the intial data set, the harder/longer such de-coding becomes. A few hundred messages can, in fact, become very difficult if we take into account the traits of human fragmented discourse such as in jokes, multi-platform communication streams (conversations that start off in person (talking) then evolve onto facebook and then ends with an email, for example) and mis-communications. There are so many variables that the task of content deconstruction becomes more and more unlikely to yeild accurate results and so deconstruction based upon content is probably not the most likely method used. Indeed Mr Snowdon points towards Meta-data being the primary deconstructed element (not what the person is saying but who they are saying it too).

However, this is not entirely true. The arguement posed, not just by Mr Snowdon but also by many military officials is that the only information available to the agents of the NSA or GCHQ is the communication webs, I.e who is talking to who, but they are not allowed access to content (unless they get a warrant issued by the courts). However they do know at least one element of the content, which is the word or words that the algorithm is filtering for. They know that at least that one word/words is present in the text and so the arguement (which still needs to be resolved) is how much partial content can you filter/fish for before it is deemed that content is being actively accessed? I will not focus too much on this as it is an active conversation, however my own answer would be that it very much depends upon the size of the initial data set so I would have to put it at a percentage of accessed content, and I wouldn't want that to be much more than 25% else I would consider it the beginning of the deconstruction of content and content analysis.

The final point that I shall consider is the difference between Mr Manning (or is it Miss Manning? Tough to know what is true or not in that case) and Mr Snowdon. The biggest difference is the type of data revealed. Manning revealed diplomatic cables, what the USA was thinking and feeling about other countries and what it was doing to them in terms of military actions, infiltrations and negotiaions. In other words, (s)he revealed truths, truths which america itself viewed as truths. In many cases (s)he revealed information regarding the US breaking international law, in others just it breaking decorum. Either way, it was actual information, not information generated by manning but distributed by him(/her).

This is in stark contrast to Mr Snowdon who has not revealed direct information but methods of information obtainment and partially revealed the NSA and GCHQ's methods for de-coding gained information. What makes this really interesting is that Snowdon was also partially responsible for the development of these methodologies. He was a systems administrator and developer. In other words, instead of revealing direct data, he revealed systemic methods he helped develop for use by the NSA. Moreover, he has evaded capture (for the time being) and so once more has defied the US.

Their similarities should also be considered. That they both feel they acted from conscience, that they both still stand by their decisions and that since their actions the world has not come to an end are all points in their favour. Add to this that they made some very nasty people panic and worry makes them, perhaps not heros, but on the right side.

Mr Magic