Fake Boarding Passes: The Hacker Defense

I’m woefully behind on my blog reading these days, but apparently one topic the blogorati are up in arms about (judging from BoingBoing) is the fate of Chris Soghoian, a PhD student who put up a website that generates fake boarding passes and was later visited by the FBI.  Soghoian’s defense is that he’s doing it to publicize a security loophole: "TSA/DHS cannot be expected to fix anything
unless they are publicly shamed into doing so," he wrote.

BoingBoingers and others seem to agree with the cocky Mr. Soghoian.  Avi Rubin (a computer science prof in Soghoian’s department and electronic voting debunker) says: "Even if he has a legitimate point, it shows a real lapse in judgement."

You’re not allowed to break the law to prove a point.  Counterfeiters can’t excuse themselves by saying they were only trying to help the government design less easily counterfeited money.  Hackers can’t excuse themselves by saying they were only trying to expose vulnerabilities (well, maybe that worked in the early days, but no longer).

We all know that the TSA could do a better job with security, and that the FBI has better things to do than track down some geek who made a dumb mistake.  So call your congressman or something.

Soghoian may be right that he’ll cause the government to finally do something about the boarding pass loophole.  If this gets enough airplay, and you can count on the bloggers for that, Homeland Security will apply the same methodology that got us taking off our shoes and throwing out bottled water.  They’ll come up with some ridiculously expensive anti-counterfeit RFID-chipped boarding passes and totally ignore the other holes in the system or more preventative law enforcement work.

BoingBoing has continuing, breathless coverage of all this: Boing Boing: Congressman on Boarding Pass Generator guy: Uh… oops? (includes links to previous stories).

You can also read Soghoian’s own play-by-play on his blog, slightparanoia.blogspot.com, where he’s asking for donations for his legal defense.  In a recent post he writes "The legal advice I’ve gotten thus far has been to not talk to the press for now."  Dude, I think that means don’t blog either.

The Internet Sucks

Steve Maich has an excellent, provocative article on the Internet in Macleans magazine.  Excerpt:

After 15 years and a trillion dollars of investment, just about everything we’ve been told about the Internet and what the information age would mean has come up short.

The idealists who conceived and pioneered
the Web described a kind of enlightened utopia built on mutual
understanding, a world in which knowledge is limited only by one’s
curiosity. Instead, we have constructed a virtual Wild West, where the
masses indulge their darkest vices, pirates of all kinds troll for
victims, and the rest of us have come to accept that cyberspace isn’t
the kind of place you’d want to raise your kids. The great
multinational exchange of ideas and goodwill has devolved into a food
fight. And the virtual marketplace is a great place to get robbed. The
answers to the great questions of our world may be out there somewhere,
but finding them will require you to first wade through an ocean of
misinformation, trivia and sludge. We have been sold a bill of goods.
We’re paying for it through automatic monthly withdrawals from our
PayPal accounts.

Let’s put this in terms crude enough for all cyber-dwellers to grasp. The Internet sucks.

Link: Macleans.ca | Top Stories | Life | Pornography, gambling, lies, theft and terrorism: The Internet sucks,

via Valleywag.

Monitor Kids’ TV Time with BOB

BOB is a new gadget that you hook up to electronic devices to monitor and control the amount of time kids watch TV, play videogames, or whatever.  Of course, if you need a gadget to accomplish this, your parenting problems may not stop here.

I assume the marketing wizards who named this device never watched Twin Peaks.

Link: Bob, Media Time Management Device,
via Wired: Gear Factor.

(Profit) Red

Richard Kim at The Nation has an excellent post about the absurdity of the Product Red campaign.  As always with this sort of campaign, you’ll do more if you donate directly instead of boosting the profits and images of the corporations involved.  Excerpts:

Launched this week in North America, Bono’s campaign re-brands Motorola Rzr phones, Gap t-shirts, Armani sunglasses and Converse sneakers with the Product Red logo. Up to half of all profits will go to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS; a $199 Red Ipod Nano will, for example, lead to a $10 donation by Apple. Oprah, Steven Spielberg, Penelope Cruz, Christy Turlington, Chris Rock, Mary J. Blige and other celebrities have all endorsed the campaign. "Can a tank top change the world?" asks one Gap ad. In the UK, where AmEx Red donates 1% of all purchases to The Global Fund, the question was simply "Has there ever been a better reason to shop?"

Call me a curmudgeon but…Hello, hello? I’m at a place called vertigo. It’s not that I think Bono’s crusade has had a negative net impact on the fight against AIDS (though one could certainly make the case a la George Monbiot). And I’m not discouraging anyone who was already in the market for a $150 Gap denim jacket or Apple Ipod from buying Red. If you really need one, you might as well kick back a few bucks so that someone in Africa can live. But spare me the fantasy that shopping till you drop somehow affects radical change.


So what’s an MP3-stealing, cell phone-addicted fashion follower like
myself to do? Here’s my DIY solution that still involves shopping and
branding. A red Sharpie marker costs about a $1. Go get one and mark up
something you already own. A giant red A will suffice, I suppose, but
don’t be afraid to stretch your imagination. Then send $198 (or $149 or
whatever you can afford) to the Global Fund. Or if you prefer an
organization that does political advocacy instead of direct service,
try HealthGap at the Mobilization Against AIDS. You may not be wearing
the hottest shade of red, but your contribution will be significantly
larger and cleaner.

Link: Africa’s Poor Had The Best Week Ever (The Notion blog).

See also: Seeing Red in Product Red (NY Times).

FTC Hearings: Protecting Consumers In The Next Tech-ade

The FTC is holding hearings next month on "Protecting Consumers in the Next Tech-ade".  The event has an impressive line-up of speakers and a groovy logo.  From the web page:

On November 6-8, 2006, the FTC will bring together experts from the
business, government, and technology sectors, consumer advocates,
academicians, and law enforcement officials to explore the ways in
which convergence and the globalization of commerce impact consumer
protection. The hearings will provide an opportunity to examine changes
that have occurred in marketing and technology over the past decade,
and to garner experts’ views on coming challenges and opportunities for
consumers, businesses, and governmental bodies.

Link: Protecting Consumers In The Next Tech-ade | Federal Trade Commission.
(via Michael Zimmer)

Tech-Gen Youth Go Offline

At least one of them anyway.  From an AP story:

"The superficial emptiness clouded the excitement I had once felt,"
[26-year-old graduate student Gabe] Henderson wrote in a column in the student newspaper at Iowa State
University, where he studies history. "It seems we have lost, to some
degree, that special depth that true friendship entails."

Across campus, journalism professor Michael Bugeja — long an
advocate of face-to-face communication — read Henderson’s column and
saw it as a "ray of hope." It’s one of a few signs, he says, that some
members of the tech generation are starting to see the value of quality
face time. […]

"I think we’re at the very beginning of them reaching a saturation
point," says Bugeja, director of Iowa State’s journalism school and
author of Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age.

Though he’s not anti-technology, Bugeja often lectures students
about "interpersonal intelligence" — knowing when, where and for what
purpose technology is most appropriate.

He points out the students he’s seen walking across campus, holding
hands with significant others while talking on cell phones to someone
else. He’s also observed them in coffee shops, surrounded by people,
but staring instead at a computer screen.

"True friends," he tells them, "need to learn when to stop blogging and go across campus to help a friend."

Link: Some tech-gen youth go offline (Wired/AP).

Gabe Henderson’s article in the Iowa State Daily is here: Myspace ‘friendships’ lack time and energy.

Michael Bugeja has a website for his book here: Interpersonal Divide.


Computers are the New Authorities

Two recent examples:

If you search for "Martin Luther King" on Google, the first result you get is a white supremacist site.  You may find that offensive, but Google says intervening would harm the "integrity" of the system, and, what’s more, "the page is relevant to the query" because the PageRank algorithm says so.

Link: Elinor Mills: Most reliable search tool could be your librarian | CNET News.com,
see also Rough Type: Nicholas Carr’s Blog: Beyond question.

Scientists at Purdue are simulating a jet colliding with the World Trade Center to study what happened on 9/11.  Clive Thompson suggests that this will put to rest conspiracy theories that say a jet collision could not have caused the collapse of the towers.  Nevermind the countless experts who will tell you that of course it was possible; some people won’t believe it until it comes from a computer.

Links: Collision detection: Scientists building a simulation of the 9/11 airplane collisions,
Purdue: Scientists and engineers simulate jet colliding with World Trade Center.

Challenging the Chip Event

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is having a fundraiser and book launch next Saturday for the new book Challenging The Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry.  If you’re in the Bay Area you may want to check it out.

Link: Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

Previous post about the book here.