Monday, June 27, 2011

Hacker Group Calls It Quits After 50 Day Spree

In sports teams and individual athletes often find it is hard to top a great season. Computer hacking group LulzSec has enjoyed something of a banner season this spring and summer, having successfully hacked into the CIA, the US Senate, Nintendo, Sony and Disney Corp.

However rather than try to outdo itself, the loosely-knit group, which is thought to have been formed as a spinoff of Anonymous, has decided to disband itself. LulzSec issued a statement late last week indicating that the group had only ever intended to operate for 50 days. It's mission apparently was to bring new life to something called the AntiSec movement. AntiSec is a movement that stands in opposition to the computer security industry.

According to LulzSec's statement the hacktivist group was successful in this end and therefore no longer feels the need to continue its activity (Not sure how that excuse will go over with federal authorities, the group did succeed in bringing down the CIA's website after all).

The disbanding of LulzSec is unlikely to cause much of a dip in the amount of cybercrime and computer hacking that takes place anyway. There has been something of an epidemic of self-styled "hacktivism" following in the wake of the Julian Assange arrest. Anonymous are by far the most active of these groups. While LulzSec's run was star-spangled, it was relatively short compared to Anonymous who've been around for years.

LulzSec, who never perpetrated any kind of for-profit cyber-security breaches, issued a typically irreverent statement upon announcing their discontinuation of activity, saying, "For the past 50 days we've been disrupting and exposing corporations, governments, often the general population itself, and quite possibly everything in between, just because we could. All to selflessly entertain others - vanity, fame, recognition, all of these things are shadowed by our desire for that which we love."

Don't hold you breath however if you think the brains behind LulzSec are going to quietly return to their jobs in the stockroom of your local Apple Store. Hacker groups break up like rock bands do, often reforming in a few years time or teaming up with former members of other groups to form "Supergroups."

'70s rock had its Emerson, Lake and Palmer and computer security networks may soon be faced with its hacker group equivalent; Anonymous, Lulz and Passcodes or something to that effect.

So keep your firewalls up and be ready to hold those lighters aloft!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Internet Gets a New Address

They say the original .com era ended back in 2000. That's true when speaking in reference to the tech boom that created the thriving Internet industry of the late 1990s. However on Monday legislation was approved that could truly put an end to the .com era by allowing companies and organizations to list their Web addresses as .justaboutanything.

Peter Dengate Thrush who is chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit organization responsible for Internet addresses called the decision, "the start of a whole new phase for the Internet."

Indeed in the future Web addresses will be able to be named after anything from product names, to government agencies to political causes.

However it won't be cheap. So before you go rushing out to secure the rights to www.whatever.yournameis, you'd better have something to the tune of $185 grand plus another $25 grand in annual dues in your back pocket. That's a substantial fee hike from the ten bucks or so it generally takes to maintain a traditional .com address.

So with all the big money required to secure and maintain one, will personalized Web addresses become the next big status symbol? The digital equivalent of driving a fully-loaded Cadillac Escalade? After all, who but athletes and hip-hop stars will be able to afford shelling out 200 grand for a Web address?

Computers As Humans for one is looking forward to visiting Web addresses like; snoop.dogg, jay.z and lebron.james.

But in truth high profile entertainment, consumer goods and financial service providers are expected to be the first to snap up their domain names. According to an AP report put out on Monday, the Canon camera company already plans to secure .canon.

ICANN isn't taking applications for Web address names just yet. The organization plans to start accepting them in January of 2012. So the good news is that gives me almost six months to come up with the 200 grand needed to secure .computersashumans.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The 100 Year Old Tech Firm

Wait, but tech firms all started in the 1990s you're saying. And most of them folded by 2000 for that matter and none of them go back much further than the 1970s. Ah, but there is one that does.

Originally founded on June 16, 1911, the Computing Tabulating Recording Co. turned 100 on Thursday. You probably know them better by the name they re-branded themselves with in 1924, International Business Machines or IBM.

IBM became the first computer company to turn centurion this week and an industry whose history seems fleeting and instantaneous, suddenly seems slightly more rooted and historical. It's similar to those European soccer teams like Barcelona and Manchester United that go back 100 years or more and still compete today.

Through its ups and downs, IBM has remained a cornerstone of the global computer industry. The company started by manufacturing scales, punch clocks and cheese slicers. In the 1920s the Computing Tabulating Recording Co changed their name and soon, rather fortuitously, began making machines that read data on punch cards. Those machines were eventually used to track data related to 26 million people when Social Security was inaugurated in the 1930s.

Like those storied European soccer sides, IBM's list of achievements is long and startlingly impressive. In 1956 the company introduced the magnetic hard drive. In 1960, the bar code and in 1971, the floppy disk.

But even like the best of soccer sides, IBM has occasionally been outplayed. Like in 1981 when they introduced their innovative personal computer but declined to acquire the rights to the software that was used to operate it. That software was made by a then start-up called Microsoft.

Like the athletic shoe giants Puma and Adidas, IBM was outplayed throughout the 80s and 90s. But while Puma and Adidas were losing out to Nike, IBM was getting dusted by Microsoft, Apple and a host of others. When innovative new companies began manufacturing smaller computers that could perform the same functions as the hulking mainframes that were the cornerstone of IBM's business, the company's survival became threatened.

However like Puma and Adidas, IBM was able to adapt and survive. Puma and Adidas did so in part by going back to their celebrated past and introducing lines of "originals" and "classics" that were reissued models of retro styles from the 60s and 70s. IBM revived its fortunes by going forward.

The company brought in Louis Gerstner as CEO in the mid-90s. Gerstner was ruthless in his reinvention of IBM as a leaner, more agile modern tech company. He cut jobs, slashed prices and presided over a period in which the company lost some $16 billion.

But Gerstner succeeded in shifting IBM's focus to data storage and technical support, which eventually became the foundations of the company's business. Today IBM is the biggest provider of technology services in the world.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hacking Goes "American Idol" as Group Targets CIA

In a reminder of how poorly protected against cyberthreats many of our nation's most critical components are, the CIA was successfully targeted by hackers and temporarily went offline on Wednesday.

The CIA is just the latest high profile entity to be hit by the wave of DoS attacks that has ensured in the wake of the Julian Assange arrest. Most attacks of this kind have emanated from a loose-knit group known as Anonymous. However this latest attack appears to be the work of another group called Lulz Security.

Lulz is actually believed to be a more devious offshoot of Anonymous. Like Anonymous, Lulz has attacked high profile government institutions and major corporations including Sony, Nintendo, the U.S. Senate and PBS. However unlike self-proclaimed "hacktivists" Anonymous, who have never launched a for-profit attack, Lulz appear to attack for money, glory, activism and just to spy.

Lulz also seem to attack in a more sophisticated way than the Anonymous hackers. Instead of the tried and true DoS attacks, Lulz prefer to crack defenses by overwhelming websites with page requests.

Lulz has taken interactivity to a new level as well by establishing a hotline for people to call in and suggest targets to attack. A message on the group's Twitter feed was quoted as saying, "Our number literally has anywhere between five and 20 people ringing it every single second."

This definitely represents the first time hackers have gone so "American Idol" by allowing the public to have a vote in shaping their decisions on what to do next.

It remains unclear rather Lulz will really pan out to be anything more than pranksters. After all their most celebrated previous accomplishments consisted of hacking into the PBS website and posting a story that claimed Tupac Shakur was alive and living in New Zealand.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Political Scandal Goes Digital

It's true that tech stories can sometimes be dry. But it's a sad state of affairs when the first time I see a picture of President Obama on the Yahoo tech news feed, it's because some congressman sent a picture of his junk out over Twitter.

In the latest chapter of the most tawdry tale to wash up on the shores of technology news, the President has joined the chorus of fellow Democrats calling for Andres Weiner to resign. Computers As Humans usually tries to steer around overt politics, but in this instance the events have crossed over into our territory to a certain degree.

Sex scandals are certainly nothing new in politics. Truman reportedly had his mistress, Kennedy his Marilyn and Bill Clinton his Monica Lewinsky. Even in the last 12 months we've seen Elliot Spitzer and his call girls, Arnold and the maid's son, and the John Edwards love child.

But Weinergate is the first political sex scandal to have taken place primarily online.

Computers have opened up avenues of communication that never would have been possible 20 or 30 years ago. Weiner was certainly only engaging in behavior engaged in by a lot of people. However for a high profile rising star in Democratic politics, he certainly did so in a reckless and careless manner. His indiscretions look likely to cost him his career and possibly his marriage.

The Internet has enabled access to just about anyone and anything that exists in the world. As the congressman has shown us, there is a potential learning curve that comes with such potentially unlimited access for some people.

Congressman Weiner's case can certainly be read as a cautionary tale. Computers, video games and the Internet can be compelling even if you're not doing anything tawdry on them. Married to a beautiful, sophisticated woman who heads up Secretary Clinton's staff, Andrew Weiner chose to carry on like a juvenile, sexting pictures of his junk to coeds and blackjack dealers.

Weiner now has earned the dubious honor of proving that compulsive, self-destructive behavior online can be just as damaging as that which takes place in the real world.

Hopefully the congressman will get some help for his problem. And who knows, with a little luck he may even wind up with his own cable news show just as Elliott Spitzer did.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Computer Zombie Attackers Busted in Spain

Three members of the loose-knit computer hacker organization "Anonymous" were arrested by the Spanish police on Friday. Anonymous is the group that recently hacked into the Sony Playstation Network and heisted personal information related to some 100,000 users.

The three men arrested on Friday were not linked to that particular attack however they were accused of organizing another attack that temporarily rendered some Sony websites inaccessible.

Anonymous have been busy of late, launching attacks on websites belonging to the Church of Scientology, MasterCard, The group are sympathetic to Julian Assange and have repeatedly hit targets they regard as hostile towards the Wikileaks founder. Members of the group are known to be fond of sporting the Guy Fawkes mask worn by the main character in "V For Vendetta."

Self-described "hacktivists" belonging to Anonymous have also been linked to attacks on government computer networks in countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Chile, Columbia and New Zealand. So far Anonymous hackers don't appear to have been involved in any attacks for financial profit.

Most of Anonymous' attacks come in the form of denial of service attacks in which thousands of infected "zombie" computers overwhelm the targeted website and cause it to virtually collapse.

Even though they've never launched any kind of profiteering hack, the group are regarded as being very dangerous by authorities. Spanish police, who made Friday's arrests in Barcelona, Almeria and Alicante, went as far as to say that "NATO considers them to be a threat to the military alliance," and being "capable of collapsing a country's administrative structure."

Anonymous have already indicated they plan on retaliating for the arrests. A message put out on the group's Twitter feed Friday said, "We are legion, so EXPECT US."