Zero-day Hacked Bugs

Every once in awhile I read a non-fiction book that challenges my intellect. The most recent is called “This Is How They tell Me The World Ends,” by Nicole Perlroth. This account on cyber security scared me to death about the internet and computers in general. It is my conclusion that the only way one is safe from being hacked on the internet is to shut off the computer and pull the plug, and never plug it back in. If you are using a laptop the only way I can think of is to disconnect from the web, and pull the battery.

Cyber security is something that bugs the crap out of me. I have written just recently about my hatred for using passwords. Companies like Google, and Apple are password paranoid. I always tell people that the only one being protected from getting into my programs and sites is me. I don’t remember passwords at all, and these companies are forcing users to input passwords for every segment of their business. Take Google for instance, I am now familiar with Google, but I wasn’t really interested in Google Drive, Google Photos, or Google anything. They now require user names and passwords for each individual segment of their business. Apple has iPhone, Icloud, and Ipie all demanding user names and passwords. I confess that I don’t get into these segments very often so I don’t remember those details. I keep a 3 x 5 card file with the information as my password manager. The trouble with my system is that it is antiquated and cannot keep up with the digital world. In the case of Apple, I have a stack of 3×5’s stapled together that are 1/4 inch thick with information. Usually, by the time I need to use one of these passwords Apple has deemed it too old and requires a new one. That blows the hell out of my system to make all passwords the same. Recently, by the recommendation of my friends, I am searching for a digital password manager that will replace my card file. I am convinced that it might be easier to give in and use the suggested long complicated passwords generated for me and to forget about keeping track of anything. Except, now that I have read this book I cannot knowingly give in to the hacking world by allowing easy access into my world. It is bad enough that every professional program that I use is froth with hacker entry points that would easily circumvent my passwords.

Let me digress for a moment from the general theme of this post. I like to read news, that is genuine news, and not all the political clap-trap being put before us as news. Over the last few years there have been some notable stories I have followed and forgotten. One of them was a story about a mysterious bug that took over Iran’s computers and disabled (destroyed) several thousand computers they used to control their centrifuges to enrich Uranium. At the time, there was no proof, but the speculation was that the United States and Israel were responsible. Another story, more recent, involved a complete power blackout in Ukraine that crippled the country for days that was attributed to Russia.

As it turns out, both of these stories are accurate and both hacks caused extensive and expensive damage to the countries they were perpetrated on. STUXNET was the invention of the U.S. Our government genii invented this mechanism by sewing several known software-bugs together and also invented a way to sneak it onto an Iranian computer. It took a while for this new bug to work it’s way through the Iranian network, but eventually, it infected a lot of machines, which in turn infected the devices controlling the centrifuges. I give our government an “A” plus, plus, plus for committing an act of war upon Iran without hurting people.

According to author Perlroth, the United States unleashed a weapon that other countries either never thought of, or were afraid to undertake. The end result was a string of cyber attacks by Iran on the U.S. and also from other countries all using “zero-day” openings in software that allowed hacks to occur(a zero-day opening is a hole in software that allows another hacker to enter and infect the program). For years Hackers have been finding these openings in programs and a market for them has developed. At first they were being sold for a few dollars each. As brokers began to understand the value of the bugs the prices shot up. The hope was always that the company whose software the bug was found in would buy it and fix it. Instead, the bugs were sold to the highest bidders which were often countries that could benefit by using these bugs in cyber warfare. The STUXNET was developed using several zero-day bugs. The prices on the market shot up to $250,000 and higher. The U.S. with its deep pockets bought many at millions of dollars a bug. They didn’t use them but rather stored them for future use. After STUXNET, the cyber world got the idea to do the same and wage war the same way.

On the Ukrainian front a special task force of Russian hackers was assigned the task of developing cyber war. They began by developing small discreet components which caused trouble in the Ukraine but because of the size of each they were not considered dangerous. What the world cyber experts did not figure out was that Russia was testing the Ukrainian systems with their hacking bugs. Eventually, the world found out that Russia’s goal was to shut off the lights of a country, and this was probably a test to determine how to shut off the lights in America.

This book is loaded with story after story of hacks that were publicized, but the public didn’t think much of them or was too dense to accept the fact that these wars were taking place on a regular basis. When we think of countries going to war against one another we think of planes bombing sites, tanks shooting buildings to pieces and soldiers shooting each other in the field. We don’t think of war being computers in banks and hospitals being crippled with millions of dollars of damage, or you and me having a bank account hacked and drained of our savings. Luckily, so far that is because the damage is restricted to the computers whose programs had the zero-day bug in them.

Another example is Russia’s attempt to influence the election in this country. I truly believed the crap that Hillary was the one trying to cause our problem, but she was accurate in blaming the Russians. Trump (my hero) on the other hand sided with the Russians to aid him in his quest for the presidency. All I can think of in his defense is the story about Senator Harry Reid from Nevada claiming that Mitt Romney didn’t pay his taxes. After Romney lost to Obama and everyone was asking Harry how he could tell such a blatant lie is “that Obama won the election didn’t he?” This has truly soured me on the election process and politics in general. All of the lies that were told about Russia trying to affect the election were not lies, they were true, but Trump took advantage to use the Russian influence against Biden.

I wrote several times advising not to trust any election in any state that uses computers in the process. there is only one thing worse than using a computer and that is using a computer that is connected to the internet. Author Perlroth used several more examples in her book like the Russian hacking of the DNC. She also explained that hacking into a state’s voter database invites the opportunity to change a voter’s party or to change his vote, and a number of other egregious offenses.

Finally, I am getting back to the point where I broke off above. What can be done about all this shit happening worldwide against us? First, we can regulate the entire software industry and require that they have controls in place to monitor their products. Except, regulation stifles corporations from creativity in favor of safety. Congress won’t buy it. Why don’t we require software companies to ask the public to find these zero-day bugs and pay for them, so they can fix their products? Again, it requires a Congress that is not in the pocket of lobbyists. Why don’t we offer tax incentives for companies who will comply with hack free software? Again, the answer is lobbyists.

There is no easy fix for this problem, but I would certainly be in favor of government regulation of the software industry to produce programs that would offer us some degree of protection from cyber warfare. Our Constitution dictates that the government protect the people. Just as banks are regulated to protect us why not software? Especially software that can be used to harm both the people and the country.

There is a lot more in this book that I have not tried to cover such as China’s role in the world. It is a huge subject, and Nicole Perlroth spent many years researching for her book. Once you read the story, the title will make perfect sense.

A Strange Day In Paradise

The opportunity clock woke me up at 7:30 this morning to a gloriously sunny day. Just seeing the brightness of a morning sun makes me jubilant. Temperature wise it was at freezing. Not bad as temperature goes because the wind was gentle. I had planned to accomplish two things: One was to buy a new Christmas tree and the second to do some Christmas shopping with my house mate. Of course the house mate was first in line. We toured Bed Bath and Beyond for bed sheets. I thought that the BBB would be the mecca of bed sheets, and to a degree it was. But their on shelf inventory is paltry compared to that of the internet. After wandering around feeling materials, reading labels, and rejecting colors we opted for the online option as a more favorable experience.

From the BBB I turned the Death Star toward the American Sales show room. Ever since I sold my old Christmas trees during the garage sales I have been thinking that someday I will be buying another tree. Even though I have brainwashed myself into believing that downsizing is the right thing to do. The urge to celebrate Christmas with festive colorful lights and poinsettias continues to grow within me.

American Sales specializes in selling decorative artificial Christmas trees. This year is no different except for one thing, they must have at least two hundred pre-lit artificial trees on display. As with all things product development over the years has improved the designs with myriads of new features to make the trees more desirable. Walking through the showroom was like walking through a forest where every tree is filled with tiny specs of light, white or multi colored, a veritable fairy land. I walked quickly through the tall trees since my goal was to find short small stature trees. At the very end of the showroom was a string of short trees sitting on a high shelf to make them appear taller and to better compete with their taller cousins around them. Seven of them stretched the length of this one aisle, and in the center was the one we chose. It was four and a half feet tall, forty-two inches in diameter, with LED lights that change colors ever so gently and discreetly. In years past the changing lights feature was a rather abrupt and sharp blink on and off, and somewhat aggravating to the viewer. This new feature had mesmerized me within a few seconds and I said yes, this is the one I want. To hell with down sizing, I’ll take this tree to the nursing home with me.

It was five minutes from the time of entry into the showroom to the point of deciding on a tree. I informed the sales agent of our decision and we waited, and waited, and waited for what seemed like an hour. The agent continued to call the stockroom and discuss progress. Evidently, this tree was a popular model and was selling off the floor quickly. The people in the stockroom were having trouble keeping up. After forty-five minutes the sales agent asked if we would like to go the warehouse in a an adjacent town to get it, it would be quicker. Since the warehouse was on the way home I agreed to do so. I paid for the tree before I left and off we drove to Tinley Park.

The building we arrived at was clearly three hundred feet long by three hundred feet wide, and filled to the ceiling with artificial trees all from China. Inside there was a window in a plain white wall behind which sat a young lady waiting for a customer to arrive. I showed her my ticket and she went off to have an assistant fetch the tree. When she returned she informed me to move my car up to the loading dock so the warehouseman could load the box into my car. I did. That is when time time stopped again, and we waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, I went back into the building and asked politely if they were ever going to bring me my tree. In the meantime dozens of other customers had been coming and going with their pickups.

Time marched on, and again I inquired. This time the chief warehouseman himself came to give me a progress report. He had looked at all the obvious places this number of product was normally stored but could not find any in stock, but he had three more locations to search. What else could I do but agree and sit down?

As I sat in the cubicle staring at the plain white wall my mind began to wander. I couldn’t believe so many people were out and about on a beautiful day like this and not be paying much attention to COVID-19, myself included. Of course everyone wore a mask and we distanced to the degree possible but it seemed like nobody really gave a crap about getting the virus. The day before when I checked the status of COVID in our county we had recorded over a thousand confirmed cases. Just a week earlier we were at under fifty cases. Boy it shot up fast. That is when the idea light went on above my brain and a new conspiracy theory came into mind. The entire country is suddenly finding itself peaking in cases after having dropped off to nearly nothing over the summer. Why would that happen? It didn’t take but a nano-second for me to conjure up a plausible theory.

China is still reeling from the Trump imposed tariffs on China made goods. What if in retaliation the Chinese decided to unleash another round of COVID within our country? What if the new strain was airborne and easily transported in the air? It could explain why the sudden surge of new cases has crippled our society and cause our governors to panic into a higher level of protection like closing restaurants, bars, non-essential businesses, and limiting the number of people in stores everywhere. If the new strain was airborne it could easily be spread using aircraft, and or people who opened canisters of virus in major population centers.

Thankfully, the warehouse man came to report that he could not locate a single box of the tree I bought. I had the sorry job to now report that the past hour we spent waiting for the tree was for naught. My partner was livid. The sweet thing that she is became a raging ogre of a Hulk like Darth Vader screaming and commanding justice. We drove back to the store. I for one just wanted to get a refund and go to lunch. She however wanted to come home with a trophy, the sample on display. She was ready to fight.

We took the elevator up to the artificial forest and as the door opened there stood our sales agent facing us waiting to get on. She never made it. I calmly explained the situation and asked for the display sample. She told me that while we were gone she had located some more inventory in the in-store stockroom. She walked us over to the display area where lo and behold there were six boxes all with the item number we were seeking. “I’ll have an agent bring this down and load it into your car,” she said. “Thank you” was my reply. Ten minutes later we were on our way to have lunch, but I’m sure China is still leaking virus into our air.

Kenneth Is A Man’s Name

TV IS No Longer Channels 2, 5, 7, 9, and 11 Anymore.

Finally, I got an answer from COMCAST about why my Amazon Prime Video service is not responding. After umpteen phone calls and chats with service advisors I was transferred to the Advanced Troubleshooting group. Within 48 hours they had an answer, a lame one, but at least it was an answer. It seems that Comcast has the same problem that I am experiencing across the country. Why in the hell didn’t they just alert their customers to the fact? Instead I have spent hundreds of hours over the past several months trying to get the stupid service to work. Of course COMCAST apologized and agreed to discount the months I had crappy service.

I asked them when they will have this nationwide outage fixed, their best guess is September 23 at 2:47 pm. They haven’t been able to fix the damn problem for months but they can tell me to the minute when it will be corrected, B.S. I felt sorry for the lady who was speaking to me for having to bear the message. Her name is Kenneth and I appreciate her ability to speak flawless English with great diction. Kenneth spoke to me from an island in the South Pacific near Singapore. Hiring her is one good thing COMCAST was able to do.

In the meantime, what I have discovered on my own is that the problem is weird. I have three TV’s spread around my house. I watch two of them and the third sits in the guest room waiting the arrival of a guest. Of course the TV in the guest room works flawlessly and the one I watch (50 inch screen with LCD display and high definition) is the most troublesome. Last night I took to watching TV in the guest room. I signed the guest register and the land lord allowed me to do that. What I have been doing is sitting in the living room with a laptop computer balanced on my knees to watch my Prime Video program over the internet. The pc has a high def screen but the sound is crappy.

My latest find is a program called Tin Star. Filmed in Canada near the Rockies in a town called Little Big Bear. The premise of the story is that an English policeman and his family(wife, teen daughter and six year old son) emigrate to Canada to escape all the violence they have in their homeland. In the very first episode a strange man dressed in black and wearing a face mask stops them in the road as they are driving to their new home, he raises a gun and shoots at the policeman, he misses the cop but kills the cop’s son, and injures his wife. Welcome to North America. The rest of the story revolves around how the cop goes about seeking revenge for his son’s murder. To make the story more interesting the writers make the cop an alcoholic, and make the demon in town a huge oil company that is extracting oil from Canada’s oil-sand reserves. In subsequent episodes the cop’s alcoholism takes over, and he does stranger things than the villains who tried to kill him.

I like the program because it is loaded with beautiful scenes of Canada, lots of mystery, sex, crime, murder, and intrigue. I hate the program because glamorizes sex, crime, and murder.

And that is all I want to say about that.

Cold Callers

Is it just me, or is there an inordinate amount of people calling who are interested in wasting my time with their sales pitch? I try to be polite to these callers, but that is asking a lot when they insist on being aggressive in their approach. The latest barrage of callers is trying to make me switch out my insurances. I tell them I am very happy with a forty year relationship with my insurance company, and the caller has the audacity to ask why am I so happy? One reason is because I don’t get aggravating calls from my guys and gals, but they do listen when I call them. That is when they make me very happy.

Over the last four years I have been questioning myself over the sanity of keeping a telephone line. Ninety-nine percent of the calls I receive are from telemarketers, and or scams. Why do I continue to pay a high price to have a service at my disposal that is not being utilized? How stupid can one be? Two stupid is what I say. I have two phone systems at my hand and only one of them is mildly useful. I have to admit that I like my cell phone much better than the land line. At least with my smart phone I can get the caller streamed right into my ears through Bluetooth. That means I can hear the caller. On the land, line I rely on getting the noise transmitted to my hearing aid microphone which does a somewhat crappy job of interpreting the noise and translating it into intelligible speech. My calls kind of go like this:

“Please speak louder I can barely hear you.”

“IS THIS BETTER?”

“Yes, but only slightly”

The caller then realizes he has a crack-pot on the phone and tries to hurry the call. I say, “please slow down your speech, I am very hard of  hearing and it takes me more time to process what you are trying to say.”

“Ohh, I’mm soorrry, I’ll try to speaak morre cleaarly.”

“You still sound like you are calling from a sewer in China.”

Thus goes the conversation, but inevitably I’ll finally figure out what the person is selling and then end the call. My goal is to make certain the caller is as relieved as I am at ending.

Things might be better if the phone services would send all the sound over the lines. In their attempt to streamline and reduce costs they eliminate much of the digital signal. I now understand why there is a resurgence in sales of vinyl records. People seem to believe that the sound they get from an old fashioned vinyl disk is much more rich than that of the digital noise they get from Apple.

Add the complications of phone companies trying to conserve bandwidth to the sound interface between the caller’s microphone to my telephone receiver, to my hearing aid microphone, and then into my tired ear mechanism and multiply it by the caller’s national dialect, his inability to enunciate, and the speed with which he speaks, and I don’t care. I think the phone companies should pay me for the calls they put through because of the extra time it takes me to get rid of these callers.

Some of the worst calls come from the Mid-eastern countries that learned to speak English from the British and have mixed it with their native language. To me they sound like they are speaking with a mouth full of marbles while under water.

Over the past many calls I have learned not to answer immediately. If I hesitate and stay quiet the call doesn’t connect me to the recording or an actual human. I wait for them to say hello and ask for me before I engage. When they do engage I wait long enough to learn what they are pitching and then hang up. I will often try searching for the number to determine where the call originated. Usually, I  learn that the company has a block of numbers from which they call. So If I place a block on a caller another caller from the same place will call a day later.

After insurance salesman, the next most aggravating caller is the professional fund raiser. My most polite answer is that “I can’t afford a thing at this time, thank you for calling” click. The worst experience is when I am too slow in responding and the guy takes off like a rocket with his spiel and I have to get a word in edgewise. Usually that occurs when he asks for an answer to a yes, I will donate question. I will tell him I can’t and he immediately goes into another endless rant about the importance of supporting his cause. When I finally get a moment to speak I say. “You didn’t hear me did you, I can’t” CLICK. The ugliest trick is when I put the receiver down and walk away. Eventually the phone gives me the disconnect signal.

None of these ploys is fun, nor is it exciting to me in any way. At times I empathize with the poor guy calling because it is his job and I begin to think about his situation  with a wife and ten kids at home all in college for a nano-second and then regain my sensibility. You have to love rejection to have a job like that, and I would have to be desperate hungry to become a telemarketer.

 

The Real Motive

A few days ago I posted a piece called A Racist Loves This Man. The racist is me, and the man is Col. Allen West  retired U.S. Army. In West’s rant about Kaepernick he basically told Colin Kaepernick to man up and live right.

Yesterday, I received several e-mails from friends on the same subject of Colin Kaepernick. It seems that Kaepernick has a different ulterior motive than the oppression of blacks in America.

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San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick, has a new ‘protest’…refusing to stand for America’s national anthem:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

The 49er’s, of course, came out with an incredibly PC response to this:

“The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

Now, the fact that ‘people of color’ have more rights under the law, more freedom and more economic opportunities in America than almost any other country on earth is something I suppose we can just ignore…Colin Kaepernick obviously has!

And I’m sure Colin Kaepernick’s adoptive family of Typical White People might not want to weigh in on this either.

colin-kaepernick.jpg

But there’s a little more to the story that the media and the NFL will avoid at all costs, because it explains the real reason Mr.Kaepernick has suddenly come out with the idea of inflicting his agenda publicly on the fans. And the media and the NFL have no intention of it coming out if they can help it.

As the French wisely say, Cherchez la femme, look for the woman.

In this case, the woman is hip-hop radio personality DJ Nessa Diab.She’s a Berkeley grad, a very dogmatic outspoken Black Lives Matter advocate and a Muslim. She and Colin Kaepernick are engaged, and Kaepernick converted to Islam during the off season.

The two are reportedly planning what Kaepernick calls ‘a traditional Muslim wedding.’

Pretty simple…boy meets radical girl, they find they have interests and ideology in common…except,it’s haram, forbidden for a Muslima (a Muslim girl) to marry a non-believer. This is not to say that Kaepernick wasn’t pretty far along the radical path anyway.

It’s a real love story…not only do they love the same things, but they can hate the same people too. There are certainly a fair amount of patriotic American Muslims, but many Muslims here follow the Qu’ran which says their first loyalty aside from Allah is to the umma, the worldwide Muslim polity. And no one with much common sense would call the folks at Black Lives Matter remotely patriotic. So it all fits together pretty well.

Another part of the back story is that both Kaepernick and Nessa Diab have been agitating the 49er’s to trade Kaepernick to New York, where Diab is based. Ideology aside, this might be Kaepernick’s way of adding some fuel to the fire.

nessa-girlcode-vma2.jpg

I wonder if Colin will like her in a burka . . .

The 49er’s have obviously made a business decision to keep Kaepernick on their roster and, with the collusion of the media, to keep this part of the story covered up. That’s fine, but it is a business decision. And although I have to admit that if I felt that way about America I’d vote with my principles and leave, Colin Kaepernick also certainly has the right not to honor the flag of the country that has treated him so well.

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