HACKING, OPERATING SYSTEMS, AND THE END OF THE WORLD – TOM CURLEY

I watch a lot of television. Probably too much. I’m fond of action shows. I’m really fond of all the various comic book shows.

The single thing these shows have in common is they all have at least one computer genius. A girl or guy geek who’s the best hacker in the business. They always have at least a half-dozen computer monitors in front of them. Each one has 10 or more windows open with lines of data scrolling by at about a hundred miles an hour. They can do anything and everything. Instantly.

falcontradingsystems.com
falcontradingsystems.com

BOSS: I know this is illegal, but I need you to hack into the CIA, NSA and FBI servers. They have the most secure and impenetrable firewalls ever designed. Can you do it?

COMPUTER GENIUS: I was into all three 15 seconds ago, sir.

The ones that work for the FBI can find anything in 10 seconds or less.

FBI BOSS: Our serial killer is male, early thirties, white, and probably living in a two square mile region south of Albany, Georgia. He’s left-handed and likes string cheese. We need to narrow our search …

FBI COMPUTER GENIUS: Found him! His photo, home address and a copy of his permanent High School record have already been sent to your phone.

Not the real bad guy
Not the real bad guy

But this got me to thinking. What would these shows look like if they were happening in the real world?

BOSS OF SUPER SECRET GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATION TASKED WITH SAVING THE WORLD FROM SUPER BAD EVIL DOERS:  OK, listen up. You two are the world’s best black hat and white hat hackers. We’ve brought you here because a Super Bad Evil Doer has stolen software that will allow him to access all the world powers’ nuclear codes. He is demanding 1 trillion dollars in ransom or he will launch all the missiles at once and destroy the Earth. You each have a whole bunch of computer screens in front of you with dozens of boxes open scrolling lines and lines of stuff. You have less than 10 minutes to somehow find our Evil Doer and figure out a way to block him from launching those missiles. Can you do it?

HACKER #1: Yes, but we will need to write some specialized software, at least 10 to 20 thousand lines of code.

BOSS: My God!  Can you do it in time???

HACKER #2: Already done sir. Now, all we have to do is upload it to the Evil Doer’s computer. Ready to send in 3, 2 ….

HACKER #1: NO! NO! NO!

HACKER #2: What’s wrong? OH GOD NO! NO! NO!

BOSS: What’s happening?!

HACKER #1: My computer is shutting down!!

HACKER #2: MINE TOO!

BOSS: Are you being hacked? Have your computers been infiltrated by some kind of malicious software? Does the Evil Doer have a genius hacker of his own???

HACKER #1: WORSE! Windows just installed updates! It’s rebooting so the updates can take effect!

windows shut down

BOSS: Can you stop it!??

HACKER #2: It’s too late! Look! It’s already started rebooting and configuring the updates!

windowsupdateinstalling_40853_l

BOSS: There’s nothing you can do???!

HACKER #2: No sir. Look at the screen. It says “Please do not power off or unplug your machine while updates are in progress”!

windows updates 1

BOSS: How long will it take to reboot?

HACKER #1: God only knows! Look! It’s still installing update six of ten! This could take an hour! Even more.

BOSS: We have less than ten minutes before nuclear Armageddon! What are we going to?

HACKER #1: Wait! I’ve got it! I can use my smartphone!

HACKER #2: Yes! We will have to adapt about 15 thousand lines of code but …

HACKER #1: It’s done! OK now, all I have to do is input and send the kill command. “NEUTRALIZE ALL NUCLEAR LAUNCH CODES.” And … done!

BOSS: Thank God!

HACKER #2: Oh NO! You entered “NEUTRALIZE ALL NUCLEAR LUNCH CODES”!!

HACKER #1: What?! Damn you AUTOCORRECT!

autocorrect

BOSS: What do we do now!!

HACKER #2: You know what? Pay the ransom. I’ve had it with Windows. I mean look, it’s still on update 6 of 10! We’re going to be here all day!

HACKER #1: I agree. Pay the money. This is just too much trouble. I’m telling you, ever since my phone updated to iOS 9.0.1, nothing works right.

HACKER #2: Tell me about it.

ios-9-overnight-update

As the two hackers walk off into the sunset discussing whether or not upgrading to Windows 10 would make the situation better or worse, small mushroom clouds appear in the distance.

doodleordie.com
doodleordie.com

Yeah, that’s pretty much how it would happen.

ORDERING A NEW PHONE – REALLY! – Marilyn Armstrong

I gave in. The flip phone was not working for me. I needed a phone with something resembling a keypad. Using the multiple hits required on the flip phone keys plus my inability to find text markers in case I might WANT to text meant it wasn’t working. I also couldn’t find any way to save phone numbers although I’m pretty sure there IS a way to do it.

This is what I have. It was free. And worth every penny!

On the other hand, I don’t need the internet — just the ability to phone someone in case of an emergency (like — the phone is down at home or we are on the road and typically lost), so I had to carry a notepad with friends’ numbers and the phone number for the electric company who do not seem to “get” that when the electricity is “out,” so is your wi-fi as well as the TV and telephone cable, heat, and the well pump. And pretty much everything else, come to think of it.

In the mail! I even bought a case for it. Wow, eh?

I also wanted a phone that would link to my wi-fi at home because it makes life simpler. Right now, I have — for $14.50 — unlimited text and phone. That price won’t change, either. So it was $80 for an LG3 LTE phone – plus $2 shipping.  This time, they are supposedly sending a manual.

I’ll believe it when I see it.

I almost never use our cell phone. It’s the emergency phone for when we are on the road or the power at home is out … or Charter has gone down and taken the phone with it.

For someone who is pretty savvy around cameras and computers, I am a total dummy around telephones and printers. Not just cell phones. Regular phones, too. I have some kind of mental disconnect. I can’t change ink in my printer, haven’t figured out how to make copies or use the scanner. So for me to actually get a phone that might work is a giant step.

They have pretty good prices on “fancy” phones, too, but what do I need fancy for? I always have a camera with me and usually have a Kindle in case I have some dire need for the internet while away from home. If I’m on vacation, I have my Mac with me AND the Kindle. And I’m not 100% sure, but I think there’s a wi-fi link in my cameras, too. I have no idea how to use it, but it’s there.

I do not use a telephone for anything financial. I’ve been hacked once and that was enough. I canceled a credit card because it got hacked once and then someone tried to hack it a second time. I figured those people (Walmart) need a better security service before I’ll use their card. I don’t need it anyway.

So sometime this week, I’ll have to take a very deep breath and try to figure out how to use the phone. I’m already scared and I don’t even have the phone.

WORLD WITHOUT WI-FI? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Wi-Fi

Although we have managed to remove cable television from our lives, you just can’t do without wi-fi. As a result, Charter/Spectrum’s wi-fi now cost more than their entire cable package used to cost. $76 for a $10 telephone and the rest, wi-fi.

For the moment. I’m sure it will cost more soon enough.

Considering that wi-fi is no longer a luxury for most people, maybe it’s time to set some controls on how much it costs? It used to cost $30, then $40, $50 and now, $65. Next year, the sky is probably the limit. I bet before we hit 2020, I’ll be paying more for JUST the wi-fi than I was paying for the whole cable package. And we only have ONE source here. We can pick Spectrum (Charter) or nothing. When you live in a small town, you don’t get lots of choices.

There are at least some regulations on electricity and other basic utilities. How about some kind of regulation for wi-fi?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I’m going to be (again) at UMass today. Transthoracic Echocardiogram. I hope I’m in and out quickly, but you never know. It depends on what they see. I would much prefer they see everything ticking along like the proverbial clock.

It’s all “ultrasonic transducer.” At least something works without wi-fi! If they let me look at the pictures, I’ll be happy. I like it when I can see what they are seeing.

AND THEN, THERE’S AT&T – Marilyn Armstrong

I swear that I’m at that point with AT&T where I’d rather chip half an inch of ice off the car than talk to anyone at AT&T.

Yesterday, they delivered the telephone that goes with the plan. Whatever plan that turned out to be. I actually had no idea what the plan was. Each time I talked to someone, they had no idea what I was talking about. I kept getting computer-generated emails telling me I had to pay $80 or $90 next month and $50 or $60 thereafter. I signed up for their 300-minute plan that comes with a free flip phone.

Yes, they still make flip phones. They are just like the old ones. In fact, I these really might be the same flip phones we used 20 years ago. They sure look the same, although they have a calendar and a camera. I’m not expecting much of a camera and for reasons that are obscure to me, it didn’t import my Google contact, but apparently, it will accept the information if I can figure out how to enter my email address and password into the flip phone.

Right now, I can’t actually turn it on and off successfully. It’s one button that turns it on and turns it off, but you hold it longer to turn it off. If you hold it too long, it starts up again. Meanwhile, the on/off button on the side doesn’t do anything as far as I can tell. I wonder if this thing will ever work. I despair as I try to read what they humorously call “the user guide.”

I went to the site where they are supposed to tell me how to set up the phone and they never heard of it, but the setup site never heard of the phone. I was forced to (gods of olden days please protect me) call AT&T.

I couldn’t even figure out how to turn the phone on or move the cursor. She did turn the SIM on, but it didn’t have any information on it. But, it turns out, there IS a manual for the telephone. Not a good manual, but a “better than nothing” manual. I’m sure you know what I mean. Written by a software program, no humans involved.

“Why,” I asked, “Didn’t they include the manual with the phone? Is there some law against giving basic instructions to users?”

“This is the packaging for this phone, and it doesn’t include the manual,” she explained.

“Lady, I used to write manuals. You ALWAYS include the manual with the device. That’s the point of having the manual. When you get the device, you can make it work and you don’t have to spend three days on the telephone with AT&T.”

She said she was sorry, but she could give me a link to the manual online. I said “FINE. Let’s do that.”

But it wouldn’t come up so we had to clear my browser data and NOT sign me into AT&T and then figure out what phone it was because the only thing it said was AT&T. My home phones are also AT&T, but they don’t actually make them. I think they might be Unidyne ripoffs, but I’m not sure. They work and that’s all that matters.

In this case, she had no idea who made the phone, so I pried open the back and said: “The battery is an Alcatel, so I’m betting that’s who actually made the phone.”

And sure enough, Alcatel made the phone. Got the manual. Downloaded it. Saved it in two places — desktop and on Google — and then she asked me if I need any more help. I said: “No, I’ve had enough of AT&T to last me the rest of my life. I’m going to eat dinner, watch some television and try to never think about AT&T again as long as I live.”

Long pause.

“Thank you for your patience in letting me assist you.”

“If you’d included the manual, you wouldn’t have had to assist me.”

“Well, thank you for being a loyal customer.”

“You’re welcome. Now I’m going to eat my dinner.” And I hung up before she could say anything more. I couldn’t cope with another thank you for being a loyal customer because being a loyal AT&T customer doesn’t feel like a great thing at the moment.

Oh, and by the way, after a lot of conversation yesterday on the phone — I’ve had three days of dealing with AT&T, not to mention half a dozen computer-generated NOT the real bill — I am paying $29.99 a month plus local taxes. The phone cost $3.78 for shipping. That’s it. I am saving about $20 a month … and I nearly lost my mind in the process.

The phone still doesn’t really work, but I can turn it on, turn it off, and enter a phone number and probably, it will call the number. Pretty sure.

I did eventually get it to accept my wi-fi, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, right?

EVEN TERRORISTS NEED TECH SUPPORT AND OTHER THINGS – BY TOM CURLEY

Whenever I get a goofy idea for a post, I try to write it down as quick as I can because if I don’t, I forget it. After about, oh, 10 or 15 seconds. As usual most of my ideas fall under roughly three categories.

1 – What was I thinking?
2 – Good God, what was I thinking?
 3  – Wow, I was really stoned.

With that in mind, I took a look at some of my recent “Notes.”

Here’s one.

“The ISIS IT tech support hotline.”

My first thought was “What the hell is that about?” Then Ellin reminded me we saw a news report about how ISIS has a very extensive and modern computer network. I realized if that’s true, they must have an IT department. If they have an IT department, they must have a tech support hotline.


What must an average day be like for the guy who manages
t
he ISIS tech support hotline?

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hello, you have reached the ISIS tech support line. How can I help you?

ISIS GUY: Hello, I’m having trouble with my suicide vest. It won’t explode.

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: OK, I am opening up a ticket. Have you tried taking it off and putting it back on?

ISIS GUY: No, let me try that. Hang on. (pause)


BOOM!!!


ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hello? Hello? OK, I am closing this ticket. This is the ISIS Tech support line. How can I help you?

ANOTHER ISIS GUY: My suicide vest isn’t working.

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hold on, I am opening a ticket. Have you tried taking it off and putting it back on?

ANOTHER ISIS GUY: Yes. It still doesn’t work.

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hmmm, that usually works. Have you tried jiggling it?

ANOTHER ISIS GUY: No, hang on, let me take it off. OK, I’m jiggling it.


BOOM!!!!!


I think that’s pretty much how his average day goes.

Here’s another note. This one was an interesting question.

“How do you go on vacation when you’re retired?”

Good question. It reminded me of an old joke by George Carlin. He asked, “What does a dog do on his day off? He can’t just lay around on the couch. That’s his job.”

That got me thinking.

Do I get days off? Well, yes. All my days are off. Not doing anything is my job. I’m always on vacation. So, being on vacation is my full-time job. That sort of depressed me because I’m always working!

I can never take time off!

So, to take my mind off this existential Catch-22, I spent a week doing nothing but play a video game. Red Dead Redemption 2.

The video quality of the game is breathtaking. It’s the most realistic game on the market. In it, you are a cowboy. Sort of a bad guy who is running with a gang. You get various missions. Most entail going somewhere and shooting somebody. Or shooting a lot of some-bodies.

But along with that, you have to do other things. Like, find food, cook food. Eat food.

Feed your horse. Brush your horse. Go fishing. Clean the fish. Go hunting. Bring what you catch back home and skin it. (Sorry, I drew the line on that one). (Note to self: Does that mean I’d starve?)

And to get anywhere you have to ride your horse. And all the towns are a long way from each other. After a week of this, it hit me.

This isn’t a game. This is work!

A lot of work. I didn’t do this much work when I was working! So, I’m giving up on this game. Well, after I collect the money the O’Driscoll gang owes me, and I finish cooking the stew.

After that, I need some time off.

NEW DRIVER? YES/NO/LET ME THINK ABOUT IT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Driver

I just got a new download for Windows 10 — which was a followup to the new download I got for my Mac laptop and the one I got for my Kindle and whatever happened to make my mini iPod completely unusable. I didn’t use it anyhow, but having paid for it, it irks me that they’ve downloaded a “new version” of whatever was supposed to make it useful and now, NOTHING works. Among other things, they wiped out my password.

The iPad mini 4

I am too incurious to ask someone how to fix it, even though it’s insured and I could probably just get a new one … which will also sit unused. I must remind myself that unless I actually have a valid use for a gadget, DON’T BUY IT. Even if it is on sale.

Now, about drivers.

There are, unlike you and me behind the wheel of a vehicle, programs that tell other things how to do whatever they do. They link an application to the operating system and if it doesn’t work, nothing works. A driver is often linked to more than one thing on your computer. Many drivers are part of your operating system. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Apple, PC, or Android. Everything needs a driver.

I have a lot of high-end stuff on this monster and every time I see the question “Would you like to download the new driver for … (fill in the blank) …?” I go into a panic. The most panic-producing issue is the driver that links my graphics super NVIDIA stuff which handles both what I see and what I hear to everything else on the unit. NVIDIA is not part of Microsoft, but Microsoft — and every other computer company — use their products. They constantly introduce new drivers, many of which are designed for whatever the latest video game is. Because this is a gaming computer, even though I don’t game. I would, but I don’t have time.

Douglas Adams inspired “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” AND he shares my birthday, so I feel bonded

I have this machine so I can process pictures. Still photographs. Also, it has — if you can figure out how to tune it properly — a really good set of speakers in it. But it has two full sets of graphics in the machine. A generic set from that another company (a Microsoft product?) plus the NVIDIA set up.

I feel like the robot in Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

“DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT DRIVERS.”

I managed to get through the last collections of updates apparently undamaged. So far. I haven’t, I admit, gone in to check the setting, so the next time I try to listen to an audiobook, I’m sure it’ll sound all weird and I’ll have to reconfigure the entire thing. Again.

Drivers. Don’t talk to ME about drivers!

HOW PUBLIC? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Public

Having been hacked and fortunately gotten off relatively lightly, I’m wary about information being given away online. You can’t protect yourself entirely, especially as a blogger. No matter what you do, anyone with the will and interest can find out whatever they want about it … but within the limits of our abilities, I try to make sure I don’t leave the barn door open.

The lock might not be the best in town, but considering that the U.S. Government has been hacked and my bank has been hacked twice, as well as Adobe, Lands’ End, Equifax, Facebook … and who knows how many more have been taken down by hackers, I’m pretty sure I don’t have anything in my arsenal that would stop a determined hacker.

The requirements of writing mean that you are going to get at least a little bit personal. The question always remains, “HOW personal?” At what point does “personal” mean too much?

It doesn’t help that the stores, banks, and agencies we work with online appear to be easily hacked. In my case, material that got hacked on Facebook was sold or given (I suspect sold) to Cambridge Analytica who then sold my personal material to any hacker with the money to pay for their list. Of course, there was the recent international round of router hackers. I got a new router, but who knows if the new one has any more stopping power than the original? As far as protecting ourselves from people who hack people and steal their money for a living, we are relatively helpless.

All of this hacking stuff is some version of identity theft and short of not using any online stuff, which these days is nigh unto impossible, there’s no way we can prevent identity theft.

You do your best, but compared to the pros in the field, we don’t have a lot of power to protect ourselves. As soon as they invent a new “protection,” hackers figure out a way to tear it down.

So how public do we dare be? Most of us are already public, there’s not much to hide.

Whether you are a blogger or merely connect to accomplish normal business with banks and other organizations — like, say, the Motor Vehicles Department — we will always be a few steps behind the people who do it because that’s how they make a living.

I always wonder if the damage they do bothers them … or are they simply without any kind of conscience? I’m betting the latter.

In a more perfect world, we would have made sure everyone was well protected before we offered online service, but this is far from a perfect world. And apparently, getting less perfect minute-by-minute.