31 October 2017

You can’t ‘Skele-Run’ from the Halloween Hackers



If the scary monsters and evil witches knocking on your door shouting “trick or treat” wasn’t scary enough this Halloween, have a think about how terrifying technology has become. Sophisticated hackers, undead malware, botnets, the dark side of IoT and autonomous vehicles have all been taken over by the monsters behind the computer screen.

Both our privacy and security is threatened every day by ever-smarter devices and autonomous technologies. If you’re not easily scared by the kids in costumes, take a read of the ways in which hackers can truly terrify you.

Translating Ghoulish to English.

Something Google has recently become super proud of is its PixelBuds. They claimed it is even better than Apple’s AirPods because Google could do something that no-one else could, real-time language translation. In a design that parallels the fictional Babel fish in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, they let you listen to a person speak in a different language and have it instantly translated into your native tongue. Amazeballs.

Language translation has come leaps and bounds over the years and it automatically appears as an option on everything from Facebook to pretty much every website you click on. It’s great for when you’re making new penpals across the pond and you can discuss your favourite episode of Rick and Morty, without worrying about a language barrier.

Except, what if everything you’re translating was being recorded and logged? What if, for example, MI6 makes a deal with the devil Facebook to get a copy of the recording every time someone in the U.K. translates something from a foreign language to English? It might not seem so bad because you never Google / translate anything naughty. But that’s still your privacy that’s just disappeared as quickly as the Pokémon GO fad.

Let’s continue our trip down Paranoia Lane for a second and imagine a convergence with all the other anxiety-provoking technologies. What if Alexa, your beloved Amazon Echo, offers a translation service so you can talk to anyone from anywhere? How would you feel if the Government was listening in? Not so amazeballs.

Resting witch face.

When you walk into somewhere like a casino; whether you win money, commit a crime or you’re just sitting down and enjoying your free soft drink (thanks, Grovesnor!) they know who you are. As soon as you walk in, you’re being watched by a video monitoring system whilst your face is being run through facial recognition software. It makes sense. A lot of crime is committed in casino’s all over the world – money can drive people mad.

Facial recognition software is used anywhere where people congregate, especially in America. The Super Bowl, for example, has security teams that scan faces as people go through turnstiles, flagging known criminals. And banks do it for terrorists or robbers (hopefully before) they attack.

So what’s the problem? So far it sounds like we’re being kept safe. But the privacy problems here send shivers down our spines. Imagine the aggregate data that the M16, FBI, CIA, NSA… could have at their fingertips. Is everything we do tracked and analysed? What if you get flagged as a potentially dangerous criminal because you like to spend every Saturday night in the Purple Turtle? (One of Reading’s oldest / rowdiest bars).  You’re not a criminal, but now you’re watched. All. The. Time.

3D Printers, not so fang-tastic.

I will be the first to say, I love 3D printers. I think they’re amazing. If you can think of it, you can almost always make it. In fact, you can even make a 3D printer with a 3D printer. That’s how awesome they are. But, (and it’s a big but) if you can make pretty much anything with a 3D printer, what’s stopping more people from creating weapons?

In America especially, there is a massive struggle with mass shootings and gun control debates. We’re a little more anti-gun in the UK but we have to consider that soon, the idea of printing a 3D gun will get into the wrong hands.

The BBC has already reported that a working gun has been printed and demonstrated to work. It wasn’t particularly reliable, or accurate, but as with all technology, it constantly improving every day. There are rules and laws in place that stop you from being able to create weapons using 3D printers, but since when does any criminal ever abide by the law? All they need now is an internet connection and know how to google ‘How to make a gun using a 3D printer’…

"Hey, Boo! I hear you..."

Just going back to language translating devices for a second; what do they need to do to be able to translate what you’re saying? They need to be able to listen to what you’re saying. I know it’s nice to always have someone to talk to and even more comforting when you walk through the door to a dark empty house and instead of fumbling around trying to find the light switch, you just say “Alexa, turn on the lights”.

Whether you’re using Alexa, Google Home or Siri, if they’re listening, it begs the obvious question: who else is listening? There is already a court case where Amazon released an Echo’s Audio so the court could use it as evidence in a murder trial. It solved the murder. And that’s great. But it’s still a slippery slope towards George Orwell’s ‘Dark World’ in 1984 where ‘The State’ is always listening. And even privacy-conscious Google has slip-ups sometimes. It recently had to disable a feature on the brand new Google Home Mini after early users realised it was surreptitiously recording conversations. Eek.

And you thought 'dead' zombies were your biggest concern...

Your real concern should be hacker zombies. The kind that can still get in even if you diligently run your security software, keep it up to date and configure the router for maximum security. Security firms such as Kaspersky (a big firm in America) has been accused of being a spy for the Russian Government. Gulp.

And your Router? Well, if you haven’t upgraded in the last few days, it might have the latest WPA2 Security Vulnerability, which can inject ransomware and steal data from your network. Oh no.

To make matters worse, imagine this: you’re a business owner and you have a couple of employees who very naughtily, downloaded an illegal movie. They’re not allowed to (obviously!) and you might even try to block their access. But you employed clever little beans and they use a VPN to sneak through. Now, your computers are part of a botnet being used to mine for bitcoins. Your system suddenly starts to run as slowly as a snail, but other than that, there isn’t any other evidence that anything else has happened. So what do you do? You do nothing. And your computer becomes basically useless, all your information is stolen and the hacker becomes a bitcoin millionaire.

In this day and age, a ‘dead’ Zombie might be preferable to a Hacker Zombie, at least with a ‘dead’ zombie your computer might still be intact.

Trump and his Ghouls.

We’ve all heard about it. In fact, it was on the radio this morning, Donald Trump and Russia are besties and they helped him win the Presidential Elections by having Russia interfere with the election campaign. The interference included a campaign of hacking, the release of embarrassing emails and the publication on social media of propaganda to discredit Hilary Clinton’s campaign. Very gentlemanly.

How is it possible that with a quick Google you can find online tutorials on how to cheat online voting and can change the electronic polling for schools/work etc, and yet we’re quite happy to rely on it for presidential / Prime Minister elections? I mean, it’s c’mon, it’s common sense…

The back door to doom.

From secret Hieroglyphics to secret languages, Game of Thrones-style notes to the Enigma Machine. Over the course of history, we’ve devised ways to keep our secrets, well, secrets. These days, encryption systems are so critical they’re categorised as a munition and regulated as national security secrets.

That’s why it’s terrifying to learn that the encryption algorithms aren’t as secure as we first thought. Google reported earlier this year that SHA-1 encryption wasn’t secure. That’s one of the reasons why the latest version of Google Chrome and other web browsers now flag sites that aren’t using a secure socket layer (SSL) protocol that’s more sophisticated than SHA-1. SSL alone will not keep your web communication safe. Duhn duhn duuuuuhn

And just like the film ‘The Adjustment Bureau’, backdoors are popping up everywhere. Many Governments keep demanding that backdoors be installed intentionally into user encryption software, so they can gain access to your device. And while the FBI is complaining in America about their lack of access to your smartphone, they still manage to bypass security and biometric lock systems when they really want to. But obviously, having access would make for an easier job and fewer arguments.

Public transport is not the place to hide in a zombie attack!

When faced with a Zombie attack or a supervillain, where does everyone hide? It’s always a bus. You can literally guarantee that some kids will be trapped/hiding on one when the reign of terror is bestowed on whichever city is being attacked in the film. But public transport is not the place to hide.

Think about it this way, if a hacker can already change traffic signals or hack into a fridge then what’s stopping them from hacking into public transport when it all becomes self-driving? The General Accounting Office of the U.S. Government released a report back in 2015 warning that airline computer systems are vulnerable, both when a plane is on the ground and – worryingly – even during a flight (as if I wasn’t scared of flying enough…).

And trains aren’t much better! The San Francisco Muni system and German train stations have BOTH been hacked. Plus, Melbourne’s train system had a glitch – possibly caused by a cheeky hacker – that shut down every line in the system.

So imagine if, that bus that you had to run to for cover against the evil supervillain, was suddenly taken over by an even more evil hacker… Even Superman couldn’t save you.

I know this is all really scary stuff. Sounds like it a good time to watch something a little less terrifying like the new adaptation of It.

Or should that be IT?

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