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Tag: cybersecurity


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Experience 2: (Insert Surprised iPhone Emoji Here)

// Posted by on 09/22/2014 (1:45 PM)

When our “Top Secret” group decided to develop a simulation for the class experience we were to lead last Wednesday, I was excited that we would be assigning characters to each individual student, and thrilled that we would be making… Read more

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When our “Top Secret” group decided to develop a simulation for the class experience we were to lead last Wednesday, I was excited that we would be assigning characters to each individual student, and thrilled that we would be making our experience into a kind of game for everyone in class to play.

We sat in the group meeting and I continued to internally brainstorm how we would have rounds for the experience, how we could potentially eliminate players and how we could have chosen a “winner” to be made out of one of the many players in our game of cyber security versus cyber freedom.

Obviously the initial ideas I had did not come to fruition; this was for various reasons and I don’t intent to suggest that there was conflict in our group. It just worked out that our experience remained more of a simulation within the framework of the eternal debate between cyber security and cyber freedom. Students still adopted the role of their character and were able to represent that character’s individual interests in the simulation, but it was more of a discussion focused on critical thinking and decision making than a lighthearted game between some very real players in the world of cyber security.

Of course, when the experience was over, I was very pleased with the results of our group’s idea and planning. I was particularly comforted because I entered the experience very nervous for how it might go, and concerned that this wasn’t something I could entirely predict. When you’re counting on others to come and be prepared for something you’ve planned, you’re relying a lot on their preparation for a successful execution, and that made me nervous. Fortunately, as I said, I left the classroom thinking that things went well and was happy that we designed the experience the way we did.

Then I ran into a fellow Digital America classmate, and everything changed. I joked lightheartedly, asking her how she thought the experience went and congratulating her on having done a good job and having a great costume. She said that she thought it went great and she was thankful I was there to add some “personality and charisma” to the experience.

I was pretty shocked when she said this. It wasn’t necessarily a negative or defensive reaction, but it did surprise me that this is how she described my role in the discussion. (No offense Emily!) Then I realized that she was right—I laughed a lot, and especially when I was speaking in character as Silicon Valley, I adopted a tone of silliness and exaggerated my voice. I used the example of an executive’s obsession with his BMW, which is probably a fairly accurate stereotype, but is more mocking of my character than it truly represents Silicon Valley executives’ priorities and business decisions.

Afterword, I was thankful that I had this encounter with my peer and had the opportunity to reflect further on my role in the experience. Again, I had never considered myself as having played the role she was describing, and yet at the same time I could see myself doing it. Was it in the name of avoiding awkwardness or conflict? Was I just trying to keep it light and fun? Was this a reflection of my initial idea to make the experience into a game? Truth be told, I’m not sure why I adopted a sort of “class clown” role, or why I felt the need to laugh at Damian (In the nicest and friendliest way possible, of course!) when he went on rants about the political interests of his character, the government of Hong Kong, and tried to sound entirely diplomatic in “negotiating” with whistleblowers like Snowden and other countries like the U.S. and Russia.

More questions remained in my head: What if it had been more serious, and we as a group (myself especially) had tried to make the tone more realistic? Would it have been even less awkward that way? How would it have worked if the experience was set up as more of a game? Would my jokes and lighthearted tone have been more or less appropriate?

Of course, I still can’t answer my nagging questions, and yet overall I’m happy with how the experience turned out and how the class was able to engage our discussion. I think one of the biggest takeaways from this that I have as one of the organizers, as I wrote in my evaluation email to Dr. Rosatelli, was that it’s difficult to control the outcome of an experience like this. And even though I wish I had spent less time stressing about the success of the project before it happened, it’s true that as the leader it’s hard to anticipate how the plan is going to play out. In this case, I failed to predict or control how seriously people (even myself!) were going to take the simulation. But truth be told, I see that as part of the beauty of the creative process and of dynamic class assignments like these experiences: it can seem that they’re very meticulously planned and detailed, but the actual results and situations can still surprise you.

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Flame On!

// Posted by on 02/24/2013 (10:14 PM)

After our discussion about Wired Magazine’s Stuxnet story, I became interested in the new piece of malware that was discovered in Stuxnet’s wake. It’s called Flame, and its size and complexity dwarfs its news-making predecessor. Read more

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After our discussion about Wired Magazine’s Stuxnet story, I became interested in the new piece of malware that was discovered in Stuxnet’s wake. It’s called Flame, and its size and complexity dwarfs its news-making predecessor. According to Wired, the program’s ”complexity, the geographic scope of its infections and its behavior indicate strongly that a nation-state is behind Flame, rather than common cyber-criminals.” For those who followed news about Stuxnet, this should come as no surprise since the United States is an alleged creator of that malware (among other suspects). Flame’s main mission is to infect targeted computers and to spy on them, extracting specific bits of data that is useful for the creators. Because of its incredible size and complexity, cracking the puzzle could take years. Among the many functions of flame, these are the ones that stand out:

“…one that turns on the internal microphone of an infected machine to secretly record conversations that occur either over Skype or in the computer’s near vicinity; a module that turns Bluetooth-enabled computers into a Bluetooth beacon, which scans for other Bluetooth-enabled devices in the vicinity to siphon names and phone numbers from their contacts folder; and a module that grabs and stores frequent screenshots of activity on the machine, such as instant-messaging and e-mail communications, and sends them via a covert SSL channel to the attackers’ command-and-control servers.”

There are a lot of lines in that quote. However, the main takeaway is that an incredibly skilled group of individuals has the ability to completely take over a computer from thousands of miles away, and the complexity of their code can take people wanting to fight it years to solve. This sort of espionage is taking place all around the world, and it represents a new type of war that is being fought: an invisible war that is not necessarily resulting in bloodshed, but rather the theft and capture of digital data. While there may not be any losses of life on either side of the conflict at the moment, the real danger lies in how the stolen data can, and will, be used.

According to Mashable, “Flame is a covert operation in cyber-space and without a doubt, it’s been commissioned by a nation-state or nation-states…global governments are investing more and more money in so-called offensive capabilities, and it’s a lot easier and cheaper than traditional espionage and warfare.” Is this the way that wars will be fought in years to come? Although regular computer users are not the intended targets by any means, should we as consumers and United States citizens choose to condemn or praise this kind of behavior? Even though we, personally, are not affected by Flame, it is possible that our permissiveness is what leads to governments (like our own) that support this kind of cyber espionage.

Here’s a video describing how malware, like Flame, spreads from user to user.

 


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How secure are we?

// Posted by on 03/12/2012 (8:58 PM)

After doing some research on Stuxnet, I have begun to wonder how secure we really are. Now, I’m not talking about physical security, like the possibility of a nuclear war or getting mugged on the street, I am talking about… Read more

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After doing some research on Stuxnet, I have begun to wonder how secure we really are. Now, I’m not talking about physical security, like the possibility of a nuclear war or getting mugged on the street, I am talking about security on cyberspace, cybersecurity. If hackers can spread a virus that can wreak havoc on nuclear reactors, they can also hack into thousands upon thousands of websites and steal information. As our world continues to increase in the amount of and dependence on technology, the amount of information about ourselves that is entrusted to corporations through the Internet or is stored in the cloud, is also increasing. And it all makes me wonder, how secure am I?

A recent opinion piece on Wired states that with the exponential increase in cyber attacks within the past few years, something must change. These attacks have grown to being much larger than simply stealing a person’s credit card number, but stealing the information of thousands of customers or hacking the power grid may be more realistic threats, depending on whom you ask.

In this video, there are clips of President Obama saying that these threats are serious and possible, yet Jim Harper from the CATO Institute, states that these are not serious threats because they are not probable and even if they did occur, they would not last too long.

Which leads me to the question, do you feel safe? When I think about cybersecurity, I am not too worried about my information. I try to be responsible about choosing which sites I give my information to and ensuring that they are reputable and secure. Some websites have my credit card number so that I can check out quicker and not have to put it down each time (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.), but am I naive to think that I am safe? Is there any way that we can truly be safe or are we all susceptible to an attack?


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