August 8th, 2012
chasewhiteside
Right now, our system does not allow us to reset passwords. I don’t know why.

An Apple customer service representative • Speaking to Wired over the phone about the iCloud password-reset function, which appears to be down at least for a full day, in the wake of an epic article their writer Mat Honan wrote about his hacking incident. (Presumptively to close a certain security loophole, though Apple has not confirmed this.) The representative told the magazine to go to Apple’s iCloud Web site to reset the iCloud password. Amazon also tightened security as a result of Honan’s article, closing a loophole which allowed users to gain control of accounts with just a name, e-mail address and mailing address. It’s good to see the loophole closed after the fact, even if it did cost Honan much of his digital identity. (via shortformblog)

Longform journalism at work!
(See Honan’s excellent article that we shared earlier today.)

Reblogged from ShortFormBlog
August 7th, 2012
chasewhiteside

How Apple’s Lax Security Allowed One Man’s Digital Life To Be Erased

Mat Honan writes for Wired about the pitfalls of having interconnected online accounts, and the ease with which 19-year-old hackers were able to erase his digital life (and takeover Gizmodo’s Twitter) via security oversights in Amazon and Apple’s systems.

 At 5:02 p.m., they reset my Twitter password. At 5:00 they used iCloud’s “Find My” tool to remotely wipe my iPhone. At 5:01 they remotely wiped my iPad. At 5:05 they remotely wiped my MacBook. Around this same time, they deleted my Google account. At 5:10, I placed the call to AppleCare. At 5:12 the attackers posted a message to my account on Twitter taking credit for the hack….

On Monday, Wired tried to verify the hackers’ access technique by performing it on a different account. We were successful. This means, ultimately, all you need in addition to someone’s e-mail address are those two easily acquired pieces of information: a billing address and the last four digits of a credit card on file. Here’s the story of how the hackers got them….

As of Monday, both of these exploits used by the hackers were still functioning. Wired was able to duplicate them. Apple says its internal tech support processes weren’t followed, and this is how my account was compromised. However, this contradicts what AppleCare told me twice that weekend. If that is, in fact, the case — that I was the victim of Apple not following its own internal processes — then the problem is widespread….

I bought into the Apple account system originally to buy songs at 99 cents a pop, and over the years that same ID has evolved into a single point of entry that controls my phones, tablets, computers and data-driven life. With this AppleID, someone can make thousands of dollars of purchases in an instant, or do damage at a cost that you can’t put a price on. 

Read the full article here.

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July 12th, 2012
arvindsuguness
The Infiltration of Anonymous
Writing for Wired Magazine, Quinn Norton brings us the story of how Anonymous was born, developed into a hacking force, and was subsequently infiltrated by the FBI:

Sabu’s arrest cut to the heart of what Anonymous claimed to be, of how it claimed to organize itself. Or, more accurately: its claim that it did not organize itself, that it had no leaders and yet boasted participants so innumerable (“We are Legion,” as one of its popular slogans blares) that no ten or hundred or thousand arrests could ever stop it. But in Sabu the FBI had nabbed an anon who was not easy to replace. No one could deny he had served as a crucial force in many of 2011′s most spectacular hacking campaigns. Presumably the anons arrested on the evidence he helped gather were talented hackers, too. For years, when anyone tried to claim they had uncovered the leader, or leaders, of Anonymous, the group’s members would belittle them online and then sometimes hack them for good measure. Now, with these arrests, Anonymous’ whole self-conception was being put to the test.
The possibility that Anonymous might be telling the truth—that it couldn’t be shut down by jailing or flipping or bribing key participants—was why it became such a terrifying force to powerful institutions worldwide, from governments to corporations to nonprofits. Its wild string of brilliant hacks and protests seemed impossible in the absence of some kind of defined organization. To hear the group and its defenders talk, the leaderless nature of Anonymous makes it a mystical, almost supernatural force, impossible not just to stop but to even comprehend. Anons were, they liked to claim, united as one and divided by zero—undefined and indefinable.

Read the full article here.

The Infiltration of Anonymous

Writing for Wired Magazine, Quinn Norton brings us the story of how Anonymous was born, developed into a hacking force, and was subsequently infiltrated by the FBI:

Sabu’s arrest cut to the heart of what Anonymous claimed to be, of how it claimed to organize itself. Or, more accurately: its claim that it did not organize itself, that it had no leaders and yet boasted participants so innumerable (“We are Legion,” as one of its popular slogans blares) that no ten or hundred or thousand arrests could ever stop it. But in Sabu the FBI had nabbed an anon who was not easy to replace. No one could deny he had served as a crucial force in many of 2011′s most spectacular hacking campaigns. Presumably the anons arrested on the evidence he helped gather were talented hackers, too. For years, when anyone tried to claim they had uncovered the leader, or leaders, of Anonymous, the group’s members would belittle them online and then sometimes hack them for good measure. Now, with these arrests, Anonymous’ whole self-conception was being put to the test.

The possibility that Anonymous might be telling the truth—that it couldn’t be shut down by jailing or flipping or bribing key participants—was why it became such a terrifying force to powerful institutions worldwide, from governments to corporations to nonprofits. Its wild string of brilliant hacks and protests seemed impossible in the absence of some kind of defined organization. To hear the group and its defenders talk, the leaderless nature of Anonymous makes it a mystical, almost supernatural force, impossible not just to stop but to even comprehend. Anons were, they liked to claim, united as one and divided by zero—undefined and indefinable.

Read the full article here.

May 31st, 2012
arvindsuguness
Science Journalism is Hard
As the RTNT contributor with the greatest focus on science, I have read far too many articles that opt for sensationalism over trying to inform. Of course, as Chase would tell you, this is true of the news media in general.
For our six month anniversary, I’ve put together some of my favorite science writing. Here are pieces that grapple with the immensity of the scientific endeavour: the ethical quandaries, the difficulty of progress, and the basic questions of well-being that lie at the root of our desire for knowledge.
1. The Limits of KnowledgeWhy knowing does not always lead to understanding.Jonah Lehrer, Wired Magazine, December 2011 
2. The Torture of Solitary ConfinementTens of thousands of inmates in the United States are subjected to long-term solitary confinement. Research into the lasting psychological effects of this treatment makes a good case that it amounts to torture.Atul Gawande, The New Yorker, March 2009 
3. Are We Biological Machines?The problem with the mechanistic understanding of biology familiar to students everywhere.Stephen L. Talbott, The New Atlantis, Fall 2010 
4. A Life Worth EndingIn an age where it seems as though medicine can prolong life indefinitely, a son grapples with letting his mother go.Michael Wolff, New York Magazine, May 2012 
5. Curing The Common ColdIn the near future anti-viral drugs could cure everyday illnesses. But should we use them?Carl Zimmer, Wired Magazine, March 2012
Have you read any great science writing lately? We’d love to hear from you.
-Arvind Suguness, Contributor
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Science Journalism is Hard

As the RTNT contributor with the greatest focus on science, I have read far too many articles that opt for sensationalism over trying to inform. Of course, as Chase would tell you, this is true of the news media in general.

For our six month anniversary, I’ve put together some of my favorite science writing. Here are pieces that grapple with the immensity of the scientific endeavour: the ethical quandaries, the difficulty of progress, and the basic questions of well-being that lie at the root of our desire for knowledge.

1. The Limits of Knowledge
Why knowing does not always lead to understanding.
Jonah Lehrer, Wired Magazine, December 2011 

2. The Torture of Solitary Confinement
Tens of thousands of inmates in the United States are subjected to long-term solitary confinement. Research into the lasting psychological effects of this treatment makes a good case that it amounts to torture.
Atul Gawande, The New Yorker, March 2009 

3. Are We Biological Machines?
The problem with the mechanistic understanding of biology familiar to students everywhere.
Stephen L. Talbott, The New Atlantis, Fall 2010 

4. A Life Worth Ending
In an age where it seems as though medicine can prolong life indefinitely, a son grapples with letting his mother go.
Michael Wolff, New York Magazine, May 2012 

5. Curing The Common Cold
In the near future anti-viral drugs could cure everyday illnesses. But should we use them?
Carl Zimmer, Wired Magazine, March 2012

Have you read any great science writing lately? We’d love to hear from you.

-Arvind Suguness, Contributor

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

May 30th, 2012
atomvincent

Nothing So Beautiful

For most of my life, I have found whales to be utterly fascinating. Their size, grace, and intelligence ignite in me a child-like curiosity and enchantment. I have thus far not indulged this interest on RTNT, but in celebration of our six months in existence, I want to share this small part of myself with you.

Here, I offer a few pieces that illuminate the foundations of my interest in our brothers of the deep, whose minds and lives are at once unknowable and familiar. 

1. Watching Whales Watching Us
A fascinating look at the evolving relationship between man and whale in Baja California Sur, and research into the highly evolved brains of whales.
Charles Siebert, The New York Times, July 2009

2. On the Minds of the Whales
A history of the hunting and scientific investigation of whales across the twentieth century.
Tim Flannery, New York Review of Books, February 2012 

3. The Fall and Rise of the Right Whale
On the (very slowly) increasing population of right whales in the Atlantic and the efforts put forth to protect and study them.
Cornelia Dean, The New York Times, March 2009 

4. Of Man and Whales and Apes
Cetaceans can recognize themselves, use tools, and communicate in structurally complex ways - are they more like us than we have ever considered?
Brandon Keim, Wired, June 2009 

5. The Auditory Life of Sperm Whales
One of Arvind’s early posts from the RTNT vaults, this piece looks at how acoustic imaging is used to investigate the relationship between sperm whales and that other, mythical giant of the deep, the giant squid.
Eric Wagner, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2011 

6. Seeing Whales
A beautiful poem that invokes (among other things) the breathtaking sight of a whale.
Michael Dickman, The New Yorker, January 2008 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on whales (politically, scientifically, spiritually, or otherwise), if you have any to share. At the very least, I hope you enjoy learning a bit more about the largest creatures in our world, and perhaps you’ll find yourself as enchanted by those kings of the sea as I find myself.
- Atom Vincent, Managing Editor 

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May 3rd, 2012
arvindsuguness
Design Without Deliberation
A/B testing is a method used by entities as diverse as political campaigns and online retailers that allows them to route users to different versions of a website in order to track the performance of alternate designs. Writing for Wired Magazine, Brian Christian examines the increasingly widespread use of A/B testing, and what it means for the future of web design:

One Kings Lane has a business model that involves swapping out inventory every day, and Optimizely’s A/B tool plays a big role in the on-the-fly improvement that happens within each of these “flash sales.” Why do people like the ottoman better if it appears to the left of the throw rug than if it appears to the right? There’s no time to ask the question, and no reason to answer it. After all, what does it matter if you can get the right result? Keep testing, keep reacting, and save your philosophizing for the off-hours.
If you find that last implication to be somewhat troubling, you’re not alone. Even if we accept that testing is useful in learning how to run a business, it’s hard to take the next step and accept that we won’t learn how to run our businesses at all. Indeed, as A/B becomes more widespread, we might not even know what choices the tests are making: One of the burgeoning trends in A/B is to automate the whole process of adjudicating the test, so that the software, when it finds statistical significance, simply diverts all traffic to the better-performing option—no human oversight necessary.

Read the full article here.
// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

Design Without Deliberation

A/B testing is a method used by entities as diverse as political campaigns and online retailers that allows them to route users to different versions of a website in order to track the performance of alternate designs. Writing for Wired Magazine, Brian Christian examines the increasingly widespread use of A/B testing, and what it means for the future of web design:

One Kings Lane has a business model that involves swapping out inventory every day, and Optimizely’s A/B tool plays a big role in the on-the-fly improvement that happens within each of these “flash sales.” Why do people like the ottoman better if it appears to the left of the throw rug than if it appears to the right? There’s no time to ask the question, and no reason to answer it. After all, what does it matter if you can get the right result? Keep testing, keep reacting, and save your philosophizing for the off-hours.

If you find that last implication to be somewhat troubling, you’re not alone. Even if we accept that testing is useful in learning how to run a business, it’s hard to take the next step and accept that we won’t learn how to run our businesses at all. Indeed, as A/B becomes more widespread, we might not even know what choices the tests are making: One of the burgeoning trends in A/B is to automate the whole process of adjudicating the test, so that the software, when it finds statistical significance, simply diverts all traffic to the better-performing option—no human oversight necessary.

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

March 20th, 2012
arvindsuguness
They Are Watching You
After 9/11 the National Security Agency’s warantless-wiretapping program placed wiretapping equipment at telecom switches throughout the country, collecting vast swathes of data on internet traffic. Writing for Wired, James Bradford investigates the immense complex being built in the Utah desert to hold all this data and the classified code-breaking program that will allow the government to decipher even encrypted communications:

Once the communications are intercepted and stored, the data-mining begins. “You can watch everybody all the time with data- mining,” Binney says. Everything a person does becomes charted on a graph, “financial transactions or travel or anything,” he says. Thus, as data like bookstore receipts, bank statements, and commuter toll records flow in, the NSA is able to paint a more and more detailed picture of someone’s life.
…
Meanwhile, over in Building 5300, the NSA succeeded in building an even faster supercomputer. “They made a big breakthrough,” says another former senior intelligence official, who helped oversee the program. The NSA’s machine was likely similar to the unclassified Jaguar, but it was much faster out of the gate, modified specifically for cryptanalysis and targeted against one or more specific algorithms, like the AES. In other words, they were moving from the research and development phase to actually attacking extremely difficult encryption systems. The code-breaking effort was up and running.
The breakthrough was enormous, says the former official, and soon afterward the agency pulled the shade down tight on the project, even within the intelligence community and Congress. “Only the chairman and vice chairman and the two staff directors of each intelligence committee were told about it,” he says. The reason? “They were thinking that this computing breakthrough was going to give them the ability to crack current public encryption.”

Read the full article here.
//  Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr  /  Facebook  /  Twitter  //

They Are Watching You

After 9/11 the National Security Agency’s warantless-wiretapping program placed wiretapping equipment at telecom switches throughout the country, collecting vast swathes of data on internet traffic. Writing for Wired, James Bradford investigates the immense complex being built in the Utah desert to hold all this data and the classified code-breaking program that will allow the government to decipher even encrypted communications:

Once the communications are intercepted and stored, the data-mining begins. “You can watch everybody all the time with data- mining,” Binney says. Everything a person does becomes charted on a graph, “financial transactions or travel or anything,” he says. Thus, as data like bookstore receipts, bank statements, and commuter toll records flow in, the NSA is able to paint a more and more detailed picture of someone’s life.

Meanwhile, over in Building 5300, the NSA succeeded in building an even faster supercomputer. “They made a big breakthrough,” says another former senior intelligence official, who helped oversee the program. The NSA’s machine was likely similar to the unclassified Jaguar, but it was much faster out of the gate, modified specifically for cryptanalysis and targeted against one or more specific algorithms, like the AES. In other words, they were moving from the research and development phase to actually attacking extremely difficult encryption systems. The code-breaking effort was up and running.

The breakthrough was enormous, says the former official, and soon afterward the agency pulled the shade down tight on the project, even within the intelligence community and Congress. “Only the chairman and vice chairman and the two staff directors of each intelligence committee were told about it,” he says. The reason? “They were thinking that this computing breakthrough was going to give them the ability to crack current public encryption.”

Read the full article here.

//  Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr  /  Facebook  /  Twitter  //

February 23rd, 2012
arvindsuguness
The Mathematics of Risk
In this February 2009 article for Wired Magazine, Felix Salmon explains how the development of a single formula led directly to the great recession:

The damage was foreseeable and, in fact, foreseen. In 1998, before Li had even invented his copula function, Paul Wilmott wrote that “the correlations between financial quantities are notoriously unstable.” Wilmott, a quantitative-finance consultant and lecturer, argued that no theory should be built on such unpredictable parameters. And he wasn’t alone. During the boom years, everybody could reel off reasons why the Gaussian copula function wasn’t perfect. Li’s approach made no allowance for unpredictability: It assumed that correlation was a constant rather than something mercurial. Investment banks would regularly phone Stanford’s Duffie and ask him to come in and talk to them about exactly what Li’s copula was. Every time, he would warn them that it was not suitable for use in risk management or valuation.
In hindsight, ignoring those warnings looks foolhardy. But at the time, it was easy. Banks dismissed them, partly because the managers empowered to apply the brakes didn’t understand the arguments between various arms of the quant universe. Besides, they were making too much money to stop.

Read the full article here.

The Mathematics of Risk

In this February 2009 article for Wired Magazine, Felix Salmon explains how the development of a single formula led directly to the great recession:

The damage was foreseeable and, in fact, foreseen. In 1998, before Li had even invented his copula function, Paul Wilmott wrote that “the correlations between financial quantities are notoriously unstable.” Wilmott, a quantitative-finance consultant and lecturer, argued that no theory should be built on such unpredictable parameters. And he wasn’t alone. During the boom years, everybody could reel off reasons why the Gaussian copula function wasn’t perfect. Li’s approach made no allowance for unpredictability: It assumed that correlation was a constant rather than something mercurial. Investment banks would regularly phone Stanford’s Duffie and ask him to come in and talk to them about exactly what Li’s copula was. Every time, he would warn them that it was not suitable for use in risk management or valuation.

In hindsight, ignoring those warnings looks foolhardy. But at the time, it was easy. Banks dismissed them, partly because the managers empowered to apply the brakes didn’t understand the arguments between various arms of the quant universe. Besides, they were making too much money to stop.

Read the full article here.

February 21st, 2012
arvindsuguness
The Myth Of Memory
Writing for Wired Magazine, Jonah Lehrer explores the emerging science of forgetting:

In the past decade, scientists have come to realize that our memories are not inert packets of data and they don’t remain constant. Even though every memory feels like an honest representation, that sense of authenticity is the biggest lie of all.
…
This new model of memory isn’t just a theory—neuroscientists actually have a molecular explanation of how and why memories change. In fact, their definition of memory has broadened to encompass not only the cliché cinematic scenes from childhood but also the persisting mental loops of illnesses like PTSD and addiction—and even pain disorders like neuropathy. Unlike most brain research, the field of memory has actually developed simpler explanations. Whenever the brain wants to retain something, it relies on just a handful of chemicals. Even more startling, an equally small family of compounds could turn out to be a universal eraser of history, a pill that we could take whenever we wanted to forget anything.
And researchers have found one of these compounds.
In the very near future, the act of remembering will become a choice.

 Read the full article here

The Myth Of Memory

Writing for Wired Magazine, Jonah Lehrer explores the emerging science of forgetting:

In the past decade, scientists have come to realize that our memories are not inert packets of data and they don’t remain constant. Even though every memory feels like an honest representation, that sense of authenticity is the biggest lie of all.

This new model of memory isn’t just a theory—neuroscientists actually have a molecular explanation of how and why memories change. In fact, their definition of memory has broadened to encompass not only the cliché cinematic scenes from childhood but also the persisting mental loops of illnesses like PTSD and addiction—and even pain disorders like neuropathy. Unlike most brain research, the field of memory has actually developed simpler explanations. Whenever the brain wants to retain something, it relies on just a handful of chemicals. Even more startling, an equally small family of compounds could turn out to be a universal eraser of history, a pill that we could take whenever we wanted to forget anything.

And researchers have found one of these compounds.

In the very near future, the act of remembering will become a choice.

Read the full article here

December 27th, 2011
arvindsuguness
The Limits Of Knowledge
For Wired Magazine, Jonah Lehrer explains why it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand more about our bodies and the world around us:

We assume that more information will make it easier to find the cause, that seeing the soft tissue of the back will reveal the source of the pain, or at least some useful correlations. Unfortunately, that often doesn’t happen. Our habits of visual conclusion-jumping take over. All those extra details end up confusing us; the more we know, the less we seem to understand.
…
The larger point is that we’ve constructed our $2.5 trillion health care system around the belief that we can find the underlying causes of illness, the invisible triggers of pain and disease. That’s why we herald the arrival of new biomarkers and get so excited by the latest imaging technologies. If only we knew more and could see further, the causes of our problems would reveal themselves. But what if they don’t?

Read the full article here.

The Limits Of Knowledge

For Wired Magazine, Jonah Lehrer explains why it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand more about our bodies and the world around us:

We assume that more information will make it easier to find the cause, that seeing the soft tissue of the back will reveal the source of the pain, or at least some useful correlations. Unfortunately, that often doesn’t happen. Our habits of visual conclusion-jumping take over. All those extra details end up confusing us; the more we know, the less we seem to understand.

The larger point is that we’ve constructed our $2.5 trillion health care system around the belief that we can find the underlying causes of illness, the invisible triggers of pain and disease. That’s why we herald the arrival of new biomarkers and get so excited by the latest imaging technologies. If only we knew more and could see further, the causes of our problems would reveal themselves. But what if they don’t?

Read the full article here.

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