The Ashley Madison scandal, a violation and a reminder about security

Password cracking has become somewhat of a modern day past time, given the advancements that have been made in technology. Specifically, in the past five years there have been more privacy and password breaches than in the previous handful of decades combined. That is an exponential increase that makes us all exponentially at risk. Something that has paralleled this increase has been password reuse, which unfortunately correlates with network vulnerability.

Privacy and security on the internet have been two of the main themes passed around in discourse regarding the internet and personal identity for sometime now. This discussion has had a resurgence recently due to the Ashley Madison password crack, where a sophisticated group of hackers known as the Impact Team broke into the website that connects married individuals with others seeking extramarital sexual engagement and exposed all the user’s private information to the world. Now, this scenario obviously is a breeding ground for public shamming, as well as philosophical disputes regarding the principles of cause and effect. However, the focus of this article will not be on moral code, given the internet already consists of copious articles that ridicules and denigrates many of these innocent people who simply were engaging in their birth right – Freedom of Choice. Sure, if I wanted to I could bring out an alternative lens that would discuss a belief that takes into consideration an invisible specter world at work with the Ashly Madison scandal, a world riddled with unknowns and mystical oversight that provides an unspoken esoteric “checks and balance system”. However, these angles would position me on a pretty rocky soap box that I don’t feel at all privy to. Because at the end of the day, the truth of the matter is, when speaking in terms of legality and not subjective ethical positioning, all 37 million of these users who were exposed were indeed violated. Hands down. The bigger matter at hands here, which in fact more of the conversations on the internet should be tilted toward, is privacy and how to further protect our online identity.

The most important piece of information that has come out of this virtual scandal, which seems can’t be reiterated enough, is a problem that has already been discussed ad nauseam – password reuse. Really, perhaps we should all think about our passwords as condemns – use them once, never share with others, and when you do throw them out make sure they aren’t visible to the naked eye – bury or destroy them. Time and time again, albeit the millions of people being concerned about identity fraud, internet users still seem to be in constant denial that their accounts could be at risk. Using the same password over and over again for each and every online account is simply asking to be violated. Whether it be an Ashley Madison, Bank of America, or Facebook site, most people tend to believe themselves to be excluded from the rational of password variation, believing that, for some reason, they are immune to being hacked. The fact of the matter is, it’s simply not the case. Hackers do not discriminate, because if they can do it, they will. Point. Blank. So until everyone has thumb-print-protected passwords on their MAC and PC laptops, it would be a good idea to never use the same password for another site, in addition to constantly updating passwords on all accounts every 30 days.

Here are some tips for creating hard-to-crack passwords:

1) Never use your name or the word “password”. Basically, don’t be a nincompoop.

2) In fact, don’t use words at all. Words are universally ubiquitous, be more cryptic.

3) Always use at least eight characters or more. The longer, the more variations that need to be tried, meaning the more difficult to decode.

4) Contain characters that include numbers, capital letters, and multiple symbols from the top portion of the key board.

5) Completely go wild on your keyboard to come up with something entirely new and obscure. The only trick is, retaining it.

And remember, you don’t have to abide by the way of the technocrat. There is always the way of the luddite.

Privacy Concerns, The Increase in “Smart” Tech & The Irony

In one of our last posts ( written by the lovely Kayleigh Stack ) we talked about Samsung Smart TVs and the privacy they lack when speaking in front of them ( their voice command feature constantly listens whether the TV is on or not ). Having a company listening to what you say 24-7 is horrible, but this issue doesn’t end there. In fact, it’s much worse than what most people know, or at least are willing to know. No, I don’t wear a hat made out of foil paper and no, I’m not talking about crazy government conspiracies. I’m simply speaking of all the companies that constantly keep an eye on you, that you might not even notice anymore.

Sure, showing a picture of how awesome your meal is, while you are on vacation is of great importance. And I certainly appreciate all the check-ins to let me know where you are at all times. Let us not forget about all those lovely selfies, tweets and Facebook posts that keep me inform about your entire life, minute-by-minute. Unfortunately, like I already mentioned, it doesn’t end there. It seems that, knowing who the picture is, ( I’m talking about the very creepy and scary face recognition feature ) is not enough.

Smart Tech

Nowadays, you walk into your house and your very slick Nest thermostat knows you are there. Your TV listens to every word you say, and your “Smart” bed ( yes those actually exist, and I’m not sure why you need a bed to be “Smart” ) is informed of all your sleeping (and perhaps, none-sleeping) habits. Oh but please wait, because there is more…

For the very small price of $199, you can buy your  your own personal Big Brother show. And guess who’s the main star of the show? That is right- you! You can buy cameras to stream HD footage of everything happening in your house, to any computer, phone or tablet.

Have we lost a sense of privacy?

So where do we stop? Have we simply lost a sense of privacy? Think about this: If you have a kid today, by the time your kid is 20, Facebook will probably know more about your son, or daughter, than you. The problem is not in only what they know, but what they do with what they know. Once again, no crazy conspiracy theories here, seeing that all this information collection is currently used for the purpose of… wait for it… selling you stuff.

If you are like me, dyslexic, sort of ADD, and with little interest for most material things, you probably never pay attention to web advertisement.  However, surprisingly, quite often, an ad will catch my attention. Needless to say, whatever it may be on the ad, it is always tailored to my interests. Witchcraft you say? Perhaps voodoo, or black magic? That’s what I used to think. Turns out, they are just using all that information they have about me, that supposedly I  “willingly” give up, to position ads ever-so-appropriately on the webpages I browse. Funny how we all keep a secondary email account to use when we don’t want to give our email out, yet we dump our entire life’s story into the hands of those evil genius advertisers. Oh the sweet taste of irony!

I can only help to think that maybe, and just maybe, it is time to become more conscious about this subject. Now if you excuse me, I need to go tell Facebook what’s in my mind…

Fede Pisani

Tech Blogger

A Future Where Reality Is Not So Real

Lately, or not so lately, there has been a great amount of buzz around Virtual Reality. However, I would rather not talk about the tech itself -since I’m sure there are plenty of articles out there about that- but rather, I would like to discuss the philosophical side that this form of tech may be bringing into question in decades to come.

In this post, I would like to introduce another buzzword that has been in the tech world for quite some time now. What that word is you may wonder? If you guessed Singularity, you were right. For the people out there reading and seeing this term for the first time, allow me to give you some quick background on this term.

Singularity

For a long time, this term has been used by mathematicians and physicists. However, more recently in history, Singularity made its way into the tech industry. It is often described as a point in time when technology will exceed human intellectual capacity and control, thus radically changing civilization. In a much simpler way to explain it, Singularity is the point in the future where human life as we know it will be changed beyond possible imagination.

If you have heard of this before, then you know that Singularity mostly revolves around A.I. (Artificial Intelligence). There are many predictions regarding when machines will take control over humanity. In fact, there is a great documentary from the 80’s on this subject. And to clarify, by documentary I mean movie, and by movie a mean Terminator .But let’s not get too distracted here because, if I remember correctly, this post is about V.R., not A.I.

As someone that works at Ruckbau, a company that specializes in Machine learning and path finding software, I’m pretty confident to say, although sorry to disappoint, that machines will not be taking over the world anytime soon. At least for the “first Singularity”. I see more chances of V.R. being the first tipping point in society. Oh, and what is the name of that other late 90’s documentary? You know, the one with Mr. Anderson? Oh yea! The Matrix. Possibly the worst human nightmare as far as technology goes -V.R and A.I combined together. But once again, lets not talk about A.I. and just focus on V.R.

A future where reality is not so real:

We are approaching the foreboding era of  having the possibility of implanting chips directly into our brains. Something close to giving your brain the right stimulus to trick you into feeling and seeing things that do not physically exist. With that being said, I don’t want to get into what may or may not be a possibility, but rather discuss what is already a “reality”.

The Oculus Rift headset

Last year I purchased an Oculus Rift headset (second generation), and I got to experience how V.R. really works. Even though the tech is “not there yet”, it is very obvious that it will become more and more refined in the years to come, eventually allowing a full submersive experience. This doesn’t mean you will be able to touch and feel things; however you will be able to stand and walk around a room that can be transformed into infinite possibilities.

Here is the part where the philosophical aspect of the post comes in. It order to describe it best,  I will refer to a very simple thought experiment, I like to call- “The Ocean experience”.

To  start the thought experiment, we first need to set up a “real” environment. So here we go:

It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon during the summertime. You are provided with a backyard,  a beach chair (think- the kind that fully reclines and allows you to even sleep on it if you want to), of course a bucket full of your favorite beer, and your V.R headset. You are also provided with NO time or money to travel to those amazing caribbean beaches that you want to explore so bad.

Now, lets turn your real setup into a “not ‘real’ but very real experience”. You place your bucket full of beer next to your beach chair and now all you have to do is sit, recline and put your V.R. headset on. A few seconds later you are transported to a beautiful, very relaxing caribbean beach.

Are you there? Well, the first answer that comes to mind when you think about it is, no. You are in the middle of your backyard. In spite of your first instincts, I would like you to put more thought into the question and reconsider. Think about this, you are now a few beers deep, and you can feel the heat of that summer sun on your skin. You look around and all you see is ocean, sand, some people nearby and maybe the occasionally seagull. So I ask you again, are you there? Once more, I’m sure you want to answer no. But isn’t it really, at least to some extent (here is where the real debate starts), nothing less than what your brain is able to perceive and process? So how can you tell, until the moment that nature calls and you are in need to take your V.R. set off your head and run to the bathroom, you weren’t “there”.

Chip Implant…Reality?

What’s going to happen when/if that chip implant becomes a “reality”? Then you could create the right stimulus to trick your body to feel the sand in between your toes. You could tell your brain that the smell of grass is actually the smell of ocean.

About a year ago, when I bought my V.R. set, I had an argument with my dad about reality. He kept saying that no matter how “real” it feels, it’s not “reality”. This is where I disagree.

So I would like to ask you this question: If you feel that sand between your toes, you smell the ocean  breeze, and you see the ocean -does it matter where you physically are?

 

Forget about machines taking over humanity. “Smart Machines” created by humans, at least at this point in time, are actually not so ‘Smart’. And it will take another 40 or 50 years before they are somewhat “Smart”. However, I do see a future where you’ll be choosing your own “reality”.


All I can do at this point is just sit here and ponder about the infinite possibilities…

Fede Pisani

Technical Blogger