Category Archives: computer security

FOSE was gunning for business

FOSE is the largest computer conference and exhibition in the Washington, DC, metropolitan region. At one time, it had days of meetings, classes, speeches, and other educational events, plus miles and miles of aisles filled with the latest computer hardware and software. Every single hardware and software company of any note was there, either with their own branded booth or with a Beltway partner acting as a proxy.

This year, FOSE probably had more guns than computers. For a show that began life as the Federal Office System Expo, it was a bit alarming to see racks of shotguns, automatic pistols, machine guns, assault guns, silencers, ammunition clips, ammunition belts, special holsters, special transport containers for weapons and ammunition, body armor, and all manner of things not normally found at a computer show or an office. Unless you were planning on shooting a computer, it is unlikely this weaponry would make computers any more secure.

These assault rifles, manufactured by Heckler & Koch, a German arms manufacturer, were on display at FOSE, the largest computer show in the Washington, DC, region.

These assault rifles, manufactured by Heckler & Koch, a German arms manufacturer, were on display at FOSE, the largest computer show in the Washington, DC, region. The sales representative sported a US flag, with no sense of irony.

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When plumbing fails

What happens when a high-tech urinal crashes? It no longer flushes, but it does flash an indicator light and occasionally beeps. No, it was not made by Microsoft.

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The beep sound occurs only about once every ten seconds. This is a long enough interval that you aren’t really sure you heard a beep, but frequent enough that it will annoy you if you think to use the restroom as a place to take a nap away from coworkers. Curse you, beep!

Something else you can’t help but notice: nobody seems to know what to do with a crashed urinal. Should you call a plumber? Should you call the computer help desk? Should you bring in a systems analyst? An electrical engineer?

Nobody seems to know.

TSA and communications

As you strip down to pass through a security gate at an airport, keep in mind that the Transportation Security Administration has spared no expense to bring the highest level of technology to securing your journey. This technology is rigorously tested,

TSA test of an electronic sign

TSA test test test of a TSA sign sign sign.

to make sure that you, the flying public, can travel securely, if not necessarily while wearing a belt, shoes, jewelry, or anything except possibly underwear.

Oops. Maybe not everything has been tested:

TSA communications error

TSA communications error in the real time security screening system.

Apparently there will be some delays with the TSA’s real time security screening system.

Poor memory management

For most of human history, people had only their own memories for storing information. Most people who have lived did not know how to read or write, and if they wanted to remember something, they had to memorize it. Stories and poetry helped people to remember things.

With the advent of mass printing, and then typewriters, duplicators and photocopying machines, the printed word came into its own. Memory could be put to paper; the memories could be profound — the Iliad, the Bible, Shakespeare — or trivial: an order for a hamburger and fries.

One of the great advances of the latter part of the 20th Century was the mechanization, then automation, of memory. Originally, computers were designed to compute: they were custom-made for things that could be added, subtracted, multiplied and divided things. Today, by far the largest and most important use of computers is for memory: storing photos, songs, movies, bank records, electronic books, and anything else that can be described with ones and zeros.

Alas, automated memory is not perfect, as seen in this photo. A shopping mall placed a computer in the ceiling over a hallway in a shopping mall, with a projector pointing down onto the floor, advertising something. Exactly what was being advertised is not clear; the poor Windows XP computer had a memory management problem, and projected its problems onto the floor instead of the advertising.

Memory management and the blue screen of death.

Memory management caused this Windows XP machine to spill its guts all over the shopping mall floor.

Literate scam artist

Pretty much everyone on the planet that is both literate and has an Internet connection has purchased something from Amazon. And if you purchase something from Amazon, there is an excellent chance you have a valid, active credit card.

Having a credit card, in turn, makes you a valuable target of Internet scam artists. Internet scams now rake in more money than bank robberies, and they do so without the risk of being shot and killed committing the crime. The conviction rate for Internet scams is also lower. And if you are going to commit an Internet crime, you might as well pick a big, juicy target.

Like Amazon. But not Amazon the company, since Amazon itself plays no role in the scam. Instead, the scam victim receives a message that appears to be from Amazon, and in fact several of the links in the message point back to Amazon:

Your Amazon order that you never ordered comes to $82.99, and includes an $80 Kindle book.

Your Amazon order that you never ordered comes to $82.99, and includes an $80 Kindle book that normally sells for $12.99 and a $2.99 gift certificate, clearly for someone you don't care about.

The links that point to Amazon: Amazon.com at the top, Amazon.com in the Order Information section plus the Learn More link on the same line, Amazon.com in the Oder summary section, the book title, the advertisements across the bottom, and the bolded Amazon.com at the bottom.

The links that work and point to scum bag scammers: Your Account at the top, and Your Account at the bottom. Click on these, and you’ll be prompted with an Amazon-appearing page that requests your name and password.

And that’s it: you’ve now provided the scammers with a name and password tied to an active credit card. Using this information — and nothing more — the scammers can log into Amazon and spend your money buying gift certificates for themselves and others, or pots and pans, or almost anything else Amazon sells.

Isn’t technology wonderful?