Ransomware Creator: Sorry About That

By now you’ve probably heard of ransomware. It’s a form of malware that encrypts your files and demands a payment for the decryption keys. The whole concept of ransomware says a lot about humans, huh? It says we’re quite clever but we’re also basically dicks.

Last week a new strain of human dickishness was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Locker is a form of ransomware known as a sleeper. That’s a variant that lies dormant until the administrator wakes it up. Last week the alarm rang. The program rolled out of bed and encrypted files on thousands of PCs.

Now this week an internet user who claims to be the author apologized for that whole making-your-life-suck thing. To prove his sincerity, he released this statement on PasteBin:

I am the author of the Locker ransomware and I’m very sorry about that has happened. It was never my intention to release this.

I uploaded the database to mega.co.nz containing ‘bitcoin address, public key, private key’ as CSV. This is a dump of the complete database and most of the keys weren’t even used. All distribution of new keys has been stopped.

He went on to say that automatic decryption will begin today. If your files are already borked by this program, then I suppose you don’t have much choice but to trust the author. Try to decrypt the files with the keys he provided. If that fails, make sure your computer is connected to the internet so you can receive the task signal.

The USA Patriot Act

safe, secure and contentedSee that little Frenchie on the right hand side of this here blog post? That was Your JoeDog under the Patriot Act. He slept the sleep of the contented then.

While the USA Patriot Act was in effect he didn’t worry about terrorists coming to chop off his head. He did lose sleep over bad guys with suicide bombs. He didn’t worry his pretty little head about creeping sharia law. But that was then.

Early this morning — at midnight to be exact — the United States Congress allowed the USA Patriot Act to expire. All those terror fighting tools are out the window now. With no eavesdropping, no metadata, no records seizures. and no extended Secret Service jurisdictions, how’s Your JoeDog supposed to sleep at night?

See that little Frenchie on the right hand side of this here blog post? That’s how.  Good riddance, USA Patriot Act.

Google Cars Drive Like Your Nana

Here’s a nice first hand account of Google cars from Emerging Technologies:

Google cars seem to be a little overly-cautious at intersections where visibility is limited: Think a T-intersection where a big truck or a bush blocks visibility for the road that needs to turn either left or right. The Google car I saw inched forward very slowly with a lot of pauses, as if it was stopping to get its bearings even though it obviously hadn’t pulled forward enough to “see” anything. It appeared very safe, but if I had been behind it I probably would have been annoyed at how long it took to actually commit to pull out and turn.

Google cars are very polite to pedestrians. They leave plenty of space. A Google car would never do that rude thing where a driver inches impatiently into a crosswalk while people are crossing because he/she wants to make a right turn. However, this can also lead to some annoyance to drivers behind, as the Google car seems to wait for the pedestrian to be completely clear. On one occasion, I saw a pedestrian cross into a row of human-thickness trees and this seemed to throw the car for a loop for a few seconds. The person was a good 10 feet out of the crosswalk before the car made the turn.

This is all well and good but will they drive your drunk ass home from the brew pub?

[Emerging Technologies: Californians are OK with Google self-driving cars]

Al Qaeda’s Porn

al qaeda steganographyIn 2011, an al Qaeda operative named Maksud Lodin was arrested in Berlin. Among his possessions was a memory card that contained, among other things, a porn video called KickAss. While that may have raised eyebrows — “a religious holy warrior is carrying beat-off material?” — it wasn’t what authorities were after. To them the “good stuff” is actionable intelligence. According to die Zeit, they found it. Federal police recovered al Qaeda documents that were hidden on the card. Where? The were embedded in the film.

In total, the Germans recovered 141 separate text documents hidden within a .mov file. The discovery confirmed a long-standing hunch that al Qaeda used steganography to hide its information in plain sight. The public was outraged and horrified. “OMG! Al Qaeda is embedding shit inside our porn!!11!1!!”

Your JoeDog was reminded of al Qaeda’s porn when he stumbled across timeshifter. It’s a small utility that lets you to embed messages in regular network traffic. How does it work? By modifying the time intervals between packets, @anfractuosus is able to hide messages in plain site. The system relies on binary encoding. A short delay means 0 and a long delay means 1. By sending messages in this manner, the transmission is unlikely to arouse suspicion.

To implement this system, you’ll need the libnetfilter_queue library and the ability to set iptables rules. All the code is available along with detailed instructions. Check it out.

[anfractuosity: Timeshifter]

Missed Connections

epa03758610 An original Apple computer, now known as the Apple-1, which was designed and hand-built in 1976 by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is shown at a press preview at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, USA, 24 June 2013. Christie's is auctioning the Apple-1 at its First Bytes: Iconic Technology From the Twentieth Century, an online-only auction featuring vintage tech products.  EPA/TONY AVELAR

An original Apple computer, now known as the Apple-1, which was designed and hand-built in 1976 by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is shown at a press preview at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, USA, 24 June 2013. Christie’s is auctioning the Apple-1 at its First Bytes: Iconic Technology From the Twentieth Century, an online-only auction featuring vintage tech products. EPA/TONY AVELAR

You were a lady of grace, about 60 years old. You had several boxes of old computer parts. You said you were cleaning out the garage after your husband died. You didn’t want a receipt nor did you leave any contact information.

I worked for a computer recycling shop and strolled past those boxes for days until I finally went through them. After discarding several old keyboards and other worthless items, my excitement started to build. “Holy cow!” I said. “This can’t be real … can it?”

Its body was made of wood and its motherboard was large and clunky, a monstrosity that many other people would also consider junk. But it wasn’t junk. No, far from it. You had discarded an original Apple I computer, hand-crafted by The Woz himself. We sold it at auction for two-hundred thousand dollars. Company policy holds that all proceeds from such sales must be split with the original owner.

Call me. We have a $100,000.00 check for you….

[Reuters: Money Awaits Recycler of a Rare Apple I]

How You’ll Die On Mars

Over at Popular Science they provide some insight into the technical hurdles which must be overcome in order to establish a colony on Mars. Here’s a small taste:

Growing crops on Mars isn’t just for feeding hungry astronauts; plants will serve as a vital source of renewable oxygen for the habitat. It’s a much better option than consistently sending heavy oxygen tanks to the red planet, which will take up too much precious space on resupply missions and cost a lot of money to transport.

Studies have shown plants may be able to grow in Martian soil, however crops have never been grown in the Mars gravity environment, so further testing is required to see if vegetation can survive at all. But if that works, the plants required to feed a multi-person crew will be producing a lot of oxygen. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.

According to Do’s report, too much oxygen in a closed environment can lead to an increased risk of oxygen toxicity for the crew, and even worse, spontaneous explosions. So O2 will have to be vented from the habitat. To do this, the astronauts would need a specialized method for separating oxygen from the gas stream. There are a number of methods for doing so here on Earth (cryogenic distillation and pressure swing adsorption) but none of these technologies have been tested for a Martian environment, and considerable research and development would be needed to make these techniques viable on another planet.

[Popular Science: How You’ll Die On Mars]

Sometimes It Feels Like Work….

Your JoeDog distributes this software and hosts this site mostly as a hobby. He loves to code and he likes sharing his thoughts with you. Still, some days it can be aggravating. Some days it can be drudgery. Some days it can be both. Today was one of those days.

Yesterday evening an automated Turdpress update exposed a problem in Your JoeDog’s theme. This site came to a screeching halt. dowload.joedog.org was zippy quick but www.joedog.org lumbered along like a drunken walrus. Those sites share the same infrastructure so for once we couldn’t blame Amazon. It wasn’t a hosting issue. Something else brought the site to its knees.

Then Your JoeDog found this in his error_log:

PHP Fatal error:  Allowed memory size of 134217728 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 
940175 bytes) in /content/joedog.org/wp-includes/functions.php on line 380

So Your JoeDog went to line 380 of the functions.php file in his theme directory.  Line 380 was the end of the file. At that location, he discovered were several functions no longer in use. He deleted those functions and — bam! — the site was zippy again. But here’s the thing: He misread that error message. The functions.php file wasn’t the one from his theme, it was a core Turdpress file.

So what happened? The current working theory is the one expressed at the start of this post. An upgrade exposed a flaw and Your JoeDog pulled a Homer. So we’re running again but this Saturday feels like just another day at work….

An apt-get Easter Egg

Do you run a Linux variation which uses APT for software distribution? You do? Good, let’s have a little fun. From the command line I want you to run this:

$ apt-get moo

Pretty cool, huh? Okay, let’s try another one. Do you have aptitude installed? If not you can get it like this:

$ apt-get install aptitude

Okay, now that you have that package run this command:

$ aptitude moo

It’s not serious, is it? Let’s add some verbosity:

$ aptitude moo -v

I still don’t believe it, do you? Let’s increase its verbosity with even more v’s:

$ aptitude moo -vv

You get the point now, don’t you? Keep adding v’s to that command until it finally grants your wish….

Bill Gates and the 1918 Spanish Influenza

Bill Gates simpsons characterBill Gates seems to have everything: financial security, a lovely wife, a place in history and a parody on the Simpsons. Yet despite his basic level stability, Gates’s a bit of a worrywart. What’s he worried about, now? Well, according to Vox, his big concern is influenza. He’s worried about another global pandemic.

From the article we learn that in a good year, influenza kills 10,000 Americans. In a bad year the number is 5 times that many. Vox is an American publication and therefore Amero-centric. For our international readers here are the global numbers: between 250,000 and 500,000 people die annually from influenza.

The event that scares every epidemiologist with an interest in influenza is the 1918 pandemic. Spanish influenza killed around 50 million people. That was about three to six percent of the global population. Approximately one-fifth of the world contracted the disease.

Now that he’s retired from Microsoft, Bill Gates spends a great deal of time on disease eradication. His agency developed a computer model to help its quest to eliminate polio. Recently the team used that model to see how an infectious disease like Spanish influenza would work in the contemporary world.

The results were shocking, even to Gates. “Within 60 days it’s basically in all urban centers around the entire globe,” he says. “That didn’t happen with the Spanish flu.”

The basic reason the disease could spread so fast is that human beings now move around so fast. Gates’s modelers found that about 50 times more people cross borders today than did so in 1918. And any new disease will cross those borders with them — and will do it before we necessarily even know there is a new disease.

That seems scary but I think we need to tap the breaks. The 1918 pandemic occurred under extraordinary circumstances. We can’t assume its transmission and mortality rates would be the same in contemporary society. Had Spanish Influenza struck just three years later, would its mortality rate been nearly as high? Probably not. Same disease, different results.

Fifty times more people may cross borders now, but in 1918 larges sums of the right kinds of people traveled to the epicenter of the disease. The “right kinds of people” depends on your perspective. If you were an influenza virus, they were the right kinds. If you were one of its victims, then you probably had a different perspective.

The pandemic was unique in that it mostly killed young adults. In 1918, 99% of influenza deaths occurred in people who were under 65 years old and nearly half of the victims were between the ages of 20 and 40. Where were larges numbers of men from that age group in 1918? They were congregated on the battlefields of Europe which was the epicenter of the disease.

Imagine, if you will, that during the 2015 ebola outbreak a large majority of the earth’s young people packed their bags and moved to Sierra Leone. That unique travel pattern would have certainly pushed mortality rates considerably higher. If more people travel to the epicenter, then more people contract the disease.

The Spanish influenza struck the world in 1918 and any model which attempts to project its contemporary mortality rate must consider all the factors that made the 1918 incident so lethal. It’s not clear if the Gates team did that. Since that would be such a lengthy undertaking, it might be safe to assume they didn’t. So while a contemporary strain of Spanish influenza is a troublesome thing to consider, Your JoeDog will indulge the Gates claim with a grain of salt.

Food Pills and Flying Cars

The Jetson's robot, RosieThe future is now and it kind of sucks.

Paul Krugman reminds us of that in today’s column. He takes us back the 1979 cult classic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. In that book, Earth is dismissed as an archaic planet whose life forms “are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” Yeah, well that was before the technology revolution. Now we have iWatches that remind us to stand when we’ve been sitting too long …. ugh.

So what happened to the future? We were supposed to have flying cars and they gave us 140 characters. We were supposed to have witty housekeeping robots. Instead we’re watching rumbas terrorize the dogs. We were supposed to have food pills but we’re still feeding ourselves. What do you want to eat? I don’t know, what do you want? Why can’t I just take a pill? We have pills for everything else. Can’t get a boner? Here’s your pill. Can’t pay attention? Have a pill. And what is hunger but a medical condition? It’s 2015 and we still haven’t cured that chronic disease.

Well things are looking up, you guys. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are concocting food shakes to get you through the day. Hunger pangs? Drink this protein pancake batter. It’s not a food pill, but it’s a start. You still have to drink it but the only thing you dirty is a spoon and glass. If you use disposable plastic, clean up is a snap. Gulp, gulp, gulp, toss. Your JoeDog had a protein shake for lunch. Gulp, gulp, gulp, toss. Two hours later, he’s hungry as hell. Stupid science. Where’s my food pill?