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Archive for June, 2011

Cyberterrorism and cyberstatecraft

June 14, 2011 3 comments

Let’s start with a review: StuxNet was a virus created to specifically infiltrate Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities and physically and irreparably damage the centrifuges used to weaponize nuclear material. It was transmitted over USB flash drives to be able to get in to computer networks that weren’t connected to the internet. It was extremely specifically targeted to only activate when it detected the exact type of industrial machinery used to run the centrifuges, and stealthily attack those. Otherwise, it sat dormant and simply spread.

Once the payload was activated, it would cause the centrifuge to subtly run outside parameters in order to permanently damage it. To do this, the people who created the virus (an estimated 8 to 10 people over a period of six months) had to have access to the exact centrifuges in use by the Iranians, which points very heavily to the assistance of a national government.

Given the target, reasoning backwards points to either Israel or the United States (or both). This is very likely a piece of electronic statecraft, an attack to limit the Iranian nuclear capability in the same way that the Israelis bombed a nuclear reactor under construction in Iraq in 1981.

Why is this important? The United States is saying that a “cyber attack” (nee hacking) can constitute an act of war and be grounds for retaliation.

LulzSec, a hacking group that has just recently started popping up in the news, has taken issue with that. They have hacked a website associated with the FBI for a few reasons. One, they believe the good guys are just as bad as the bad guys. That link talks about one of the supposed “white hats” offering to pay LulzSec to hack his competitors. Two, to expose what they consider to be hipocrisy: the US is engaging in cyberattacks while saying that it is an act of war. Three, to prove that dismantling a decentralized organization is even harder on the internet than it is in the Middle East.

They close by saying “Now we are all sons of bitches”, a famous quote after the Trinity nuclear test pointing out that nukes (like cyberwarfare) are a terrible weapon with incredible power, but they can never be un-discovered. In short, they are saying “This is how the game is played. Still want to play?”

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Stone Mountain Travelogue, Part 1

June 2, 2011 1 comment

Driving in to Stone Mountain State Park, you see a high mountain ridge ahead of you, between two pillarboxes of trees, with two tiny houses nestled on top. That’s the first warning: this isn’t really a vacation, a rarefied constructed reality you find at resorts or cruise ships. This is a place where people live, and staying here is the art of staying alive.

Now, admittedly, the deck was stacked in my favor as far as staying alive. I was coming in with a backpack full of equipment, including a tent, sleeping bag, isobutane stove, and a small crate with a good amount of food. Surviving wouldn’t be the challenge, but it would take me five days to really learn what life was like out there.

That first day, Monday, I passed through Elkin, the last town along Highway 21 on the way to Stone Mountain. I should have stopped for supplies, since I didn’t nearly have all the things I would need for the week, but I didn’t know that yet. And even if I did, I doubt they had jeans I would have bought, not knowing how much I would wish for them later.

An hour or so before I went through Elkin, I’d driven through a rain storm so heavy that it’d given me trouble staying straight on the road going even ten under the speed limit. But I passed through it, but not out from under the clouds. As I came in to the park around 6 PM, I found that I’d missed my chance to register at the Visitor Center and I’d have to make do with claiming a camping spot at the Contact Station, a little white hut where they take money and give out maps. They were open until 9.

Talking to the nice old couple there, they showed me a map of the campground and offered to let me pick a spot after driving around to scope them out. I’d later figure that this is very much the standard procedure, after learning to be forewarned of oncoming fellow campers by seeing a new car driving around in the middle of the afternoon.

“Nah,” I shrugged, not wanting to seem too much like a tourist. They asked me if I wanted to be near the bathhouse and in or out of the trees. Near the bathhouse, in the trees, I told them. Spot number 1, they told me. I skipped on firewood then. After all, I have my stove, right?

Driving to the spot, I was a little surprised, but only because I didn’t really know what to expect. What I found was a gravel pad about twenty feet square, with a spot to park my car next to it, and containing a picnic table and a metal ring to hold a fire. Just like the other 36 campsites on the circle, each with about twenty feet between them.

I was new to camping, but I knew that shelter was key, especially with the clouds overhead and the forecast taped to the contact station window saying that rain was coming that night. So I hauled my 25 pound backpack out of the back seat of my car, and took it the ten feet over to where I decided to put my all-important tent. I started thinking while I unpacked the bag and the tent, and set to erecting it, which I’d had demonstrated to me the day before in a sunny garage by the friend lending me the gear. I was reassured that if nothing else, I’d have somewhere dry when it rained.

Laying out the tent and staking it in to the ground, I found the latter was tricker than I would have guessed. I wasn’t able to get a single one of the six 6-inch stakes sunk all the way in to the gravel before each hit what seemed to be a different rock buried somewhere in the ground I was trying to stake through. I never did figure out whether that was just the way the gravel pads were, if the ground had just hardened, or if there really were just a ton of rocks everywhere I tried to stake.

But not knowing if this was normal or not, I forged ahead and did my best with what seemed weakly-planted stakes, and put the tent up. Shelter secured, I moved on to food. I was only slightly hungry, but I knew that my first camp meal wouldn’t be easy or quick, so I set to figuring it out. It was about then that I realized I didn’t have the necessary implement for eating even the most well-prepared camp meal: an eating utensil. Of course, I didn’t have anything to eat out of either, no mess tin or camp bowl or makeshift plate.

So with some misgivings, I set off for the country store I’d stumbled on earlier after overshooting the park and missing my turn off of Highway 21. I wasn’t keen on leaving my tent just sitting there all alone, but I couldn’t really afford to pack it up and take it with me, just to set it back up in twenty minutes, could I? Sure enough, the store had what would do the job: a pack of 50 styrofoam bowls and a 24-piece set of plastic forks, knives, and spoons. Eight bucks and change all together for the only supplies I’d end up being able to get for the week.

The store also had one of those ATM kiosks, where I pulled $80, enough for three more nights in the campground at twenty bucks a piece and four nights of firewood at five each. Couldn’t hurt, right? And on my way back in to the park, I stopped at the contact station, and handed over five dollars for a bundle of nice, dry firewood. While the man went to grab the bundle, the woman asked me if I’d reconsidered how cold it looked to be tonight. Looking up, and still feeling pretty pleasant in my jean shorts, I blithely commented that it actually didn’t look that bad, but it couldn’t hurt to have the wood, right?

In fact, that whole evening, I stayed pretty warm. After cooking a store-bought “boil for seven minutes” packet of oriental pasta, I set to work trying to light a fire, more for the sport of it than the need for warmth. Not really understanding the dynamics of fire, I first tried using just five or so of the two-inch-square cross-sectioned pieces. The fire finally took, but only after I scrambled around in my car for kindling to get it going and keep it going, and realized I would have to add more wood for it to last longer than a few minutes.

After the sun went down, I kept the fire lightly fed, trying to conserve the wood for a non-specific purpose while not letting the fire wholly die. I sat on the picnic table and, by my headlamp — it turns out that firelight is actually really difficult to work by — began recording the hectic week and weekend previous (four exams, two weddings, and a graduation). A few times, the sky threatened rain with a few flecked droplets landing on my arm or the page of my journal, which I was very protective of since this particular volume stretched back over a year. I would later learn that this was just another game the rain would play, being coy and never really warning when it would really rain or just lead you on for hours.

Around 11 PM, I got tired of it, and crawled in to my tent and sleeping bag. I sat up reading my current book of choice, a wildly impractical novel by Peter Hamilton that Amazon lists as being 9.2 by 6.5 inches and just under three inches thick. But for camping out of my car, it was fine, since I had all the space I could need in there. However, by midnight, I was tired of reading, and tired of waiting for the threatened but still unapparent rain, so I decided to try sliding down in my sleeping bag, laying back on my three-quarters length sleeping pad and resting my head on my inflatable pillow.

The whole assembly was a poor simulacrum of a bed, but provided just enough comfort to allow me to drift off after I let some of the air out of the sleeping pad to make it a little more giving and the bag warmed my body to the point where I was able to sleep. It didn’t last, though, and I woke up every ninety minutes or so through the night, which I would learn was pretty much the norm for this trip. Maybe it’s the way I sleep or maybe it’s the gear I was sleeping on; I don’t know, but I’ll have to find out the next time I go camping.

That night, I also learned that the glow-in-the-dark treatment on my $20 Timex watch did, in fact, glow in the dark, and for the whole night, too. I’d been disappointed to find that it didn’t seem to work when I’d tried to read it at night before, amidst civilization. Turns out it’s not so much that the glow of the watch isn’t good enough, it’s that the dark of civilaztion wasn’t dark enough for the glow to be of any use. I guess civilization wins on that one.

That first morning, Tuesday, I woke as the sun came in to my tent around 6:30 AM, as it would every morning I was at Stone Mountain. What was different about this morning, was that I actually rose then. What I didn’t realize at the time, but is obvious in retrospect, is that the sun is correlated with warmth, but on a four hour lag. The sun goes down around 8:30, but it doesn’t get cold until past midnight; it rises at 6:30, but it doesn’t get warm until 10.

At this point, I was wearing just jean shorts, a polo shirt, and an undershirt, and the temperature was around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It had rained during the night, and the morning was wet, and I was shivering. I was miserable. My crisis of faith had arrived.

To attempt to assuage my distress, I decided to eat, digging in to a pack of Quaker oatmeal I’d picked up, on the recommendation that it makes a quick and easy breakfast. Boil some water, pour it in, and eat right out of the packet. No messing with dishes, no cleanup. Unfortunately, these days, oatmeal packets come with all the flavoring sugar and cinnamon on the bottom, so pouring in water meant that I ate a packet of half un-seasoned and half over-seasoned oatmeal. The taste lingered for a while. Needless to say, this didn’t help my mood. The thought that kept bouncing around my head was simple: “I’m cold and the food sucks.”

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