Sabotaging The System: CBS News, Brazilian Blackouts, and The War for The Internet

November 12, 2009

Source: CBS News (60 Minutes)


Watch CBS News Videos Online

This past Sunday’s (8-Nov-2009) 60 Minutes broadcast included this piece about Brazil’s blackout and how hackers were involved. But were hackers really involved? Anyone up for a history lesson?

Stop me if you’ve heard this before… There has been a massive blackout in Brazil affecting Rio de Janeiro , Sao Paulo, and parts of Paraguay (BBC, Guardian.co.uk). The blackout is reportedly caused by problems at the Itaipu dam, some say by a storm in the area, others say corporate incompetence is to blame.

Don’t mention that to CBS News, though. They have already decided that “hackers” were the cause. The same “hackers” who caused Brazil to go dark in 2007:

“We know that cyber intruders have probed our electrical grid, and that in other countries cyber attacks have plunged entire cities into darkness,” the president said.

President Obama didn’t say which country had been plunged into darkness, but a half a dozen sources in the military, intelligence, and private security communities have told us the president was referring to Brazil.

Several prominent intelligence sources confirmed that there were a series of cyber attacks in Brazil: one north of Rio de Janeiro in January 2005 that affected three cities and tens of thousands of people, and another, much larger event beginning on Sept. 26, 2007.

That one in the state of Espirito Santo affected more than three million people in dozens of cities over a two-day period, causing major disruptions. In Vitoria, the world’s largest iron ore producer had seven plants knocked offline, costing the company $7 million. It is not clear who did it or what the motive was.

And to back up their claim, CBS News interviews some government-military-intelligence types who say “The US is not ready for a cyber-attack,” or some sound-alike crap, I really wasn’t paying too much attention.

 

Chicken Little. We’ve heard the stories about multi-million dollar thefts due to hacks, and we do tend to believe them. CBS tries to make the big leap to infrastructure attacks by adding how hackers have penetrated military and government systems by leaving USB thumbdrives lying around for sheeple to find and plug into their systems, infecting them and leaving backdoors open for further intrusions and attacks. It sounds like if such an attack is possible, it was made so by clueless soldiers and wage-slaves.

But are such attacks possible, even by “foreign” government agents? I wouldn’t put it pass them… but then again, I did read The Hacker Crackdown (I have to get a review up here!), and knowing that there’s a war for control of the Internet on, I would have to call shenanigans.

Someone beat me to the phone…

 

Wired Calls Shenanigans. (Wired) No sooner than CBS News puts the video and transcription up for public review, Wired’s Marcelo Soares knocks the foundation out from under:

Brazilian government officials disputed the report over the weekend, and Raphael Mandarino Jr., director of the Homeland Security Information and Communication Directorate, told the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo that he’s investigated the claims and found no evidence of hacker attacks, adding that Brazil’s electric control systems are not directly connected to the internet.

Uh oh. It looks like Brazil did something right (not connecting directly to the Internet), so CBS’s hacker claim is just some gov-mil-corp scare tactic. But if hackers didn’t cause those blackouts, what did?

The earliest explanation for the blackout came from Furnas (Centrais Elétricas) two days after the Sept. 26, 2007, incident began. The company announced that the outage was caused by deposits of dust and soot from burning fields in the Campos region of Espirito Santo. “The concentration of these residues would have been exacerbated by the lack of rain in the region for eight months,” the company said.

Brazil’s independent systems operator group later confirmed that the failure of a 345-kilovolt line “was provoked by pollution in the chain of insulators due to deposits of soot” (.pdf). And the National Agency for Electric Energy, Brazil’s energy regulatory agency, concluded its own investigation in January 2009 and fined Furnas $3.27 million (.pdf) for failing to maintain the high-voltage insulators on its transmission towers.

(Note: See the original article from Wired for links to the pdf files mentioned above)

Yep, corporate incompetence caused the blackouts. Don’t mention that to CBS News, though. It’ll ruin their image as a corporate propaganda machine.

This post has been filed under War for the Nets, HackZ AttackZ!, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

Brazil’s Piping Has Taken Over the Restaurants!

June 9, 2006

Brazil in Real Life

 

Zephyrin_xirdal has a terrific cyberpunked living post on Xirdalium where he highlights the similiarities of every day building interiors with Brazil – specifically our restaurants. In Gilliam’s Brazil, ventilation pipes are the symbol for technology run rampant. There’s something disturbing about noticing how omnipresent these things are in our restaurants. So, um, next time you check out your favorite restaurant, don’t look up!!!

This post has been filed under Cyberpunked living by SFAM.

Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero

July 1, 2012

Book Review By: Mr. Roboto

Year: 2012

Author: The Very Us Artists

Category: Cyberpunk Books, Cyberpunk Music

Website: Foreshadows.net

Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero

Story/Track Listing:
  • Forward by C.S. Friedman (No audio track)
  • The Ghosts of Zero by “The Digital Alchemist” (No audio track)
  • 1. Geist Anthropic 1:4
  • 2. Too Much Is Never Enough
  • 3. Cenotaph, or We’ve Been Reduced To Lo-Fi
  • 4. Graveduggery
  • 5. Love Simulacra
  • 6. Cold As The Gun
  • 7. …And Weave The Spider’s Web
  • 8. Geist Threnodic 2:4
  • 9. Best Served Flash-Frozen
  • 10. Geist Eidetic 3:4
  • 11. All The Good Things You Are
  • 12. Twenty-One-Oh
  • 13. Made In Brazil | Living In Japan
  • 14. Crossed Swords
  • 15. Geist Intrinsic 4:4
  • 16. Anodyne Fading: The Wolf Without
  • 17. Lament
  • 18. Deep In The Deep: Reaction-Diffusion Dies Tonight
  • 19. Unto The Interface

  • Overview: Cyberpunk continues to inspire writers and readers some 35 years after William Gibson wrote his first short story. Now a new group of writers, artists, and musicians have come together as the Very Us Artists to create the latest cyber-anthology complete with its own soundtrack. It’s not so much a book and CD, but a multimedia package. But does it work as a whole, or should certain parts be omitted?

     

    The (Back) Story: The prologue (The Ghosts of Zero) gives us the basic back story of the rest of the book:

    Corporations became bigger than “too big to fail;” they became governments and nations unto themselves and the established powers were unable to stop them, especially when the corporations began absorbing military forces or creating their own as “security.” That’s when the Multinationals Wars(TM) started as the corporations screwed the law over and courts became battlefields. World economies virtually died out as currency was replaced by World Bank Currency, a.k.a. WBC, the W, or simply “dub.”

    Technology advanced as the corps wanted the best weapons for “hostile takeovers.” Robots and nanotechnology soon appeared, but without Skynet or SHODAN (which was good news or bad news depending on how you wanted to see it). The Internet slowly died out as privacy and freedom was overrun by surveillance and censorship, but was replaced by Worldnet, though nobody knows how it came to be.

     

    The (Front) Stories: At first, this anthology may seem like 19 separate stories set against the backdrop of the above scenario. But once you start reading the eighth story, you suddenly realize that there are more common threads running through the book than just the back story. In particular, the four “Geist” stories about a former pyra-play addict who risks everything to hunt down a creature called the “Geist” (as in zeitgeist, the spirit of the times). The Geist attacks systems like a mosquito feeding on blood, but in doing so causes major disruptions. The other stories gives background on the technologies, people, events, and the Geist itself.

    Not all the stories as connected. Some are simply stand-alone, side stories. Even so, they further enhance the dystopic scene of the (post)Multinational Wars(TM) as couriers, Stomp Brawl (a future MMA) fighters, librarians, and even children fight for personal and human survival in dark and dangerous times. My personal favorite is the librarians who are trying to save the data from an ice-based computer that’s shutdown and melting.

     

    The Soundtrack: Have you ever tried reading a book while music was playing in the background? Sometimes it helps to read with music from a radio, CD, iPod, or pirated MP3s playing as a “soundtrack” for your book. If only all books had its own soundtrack…

    Foreshadows does.

    A CD with the book (or MP3s with the ebook) has 19 tracks that correspond with all the stories (except the prologue) ranging from ambient synth-instrumentals to outright rock songs. I listened to the disk after reading the book and the tunes brought back some memories of the stories. It would have been better if I was listening while reading to get the full effect. But with or without the book, they still make good ear-candy.

    An example of the music from the Foreshadows CD: Bilian’s “Love Simulacra”

     

    Conclusion: The Very Us Artists have made their case for the next generation of cyberpunk, and it’s a pretty bold statement. A broad collaboration that shows what multimedia should have been in the 90s. Even now there’s word of more than could be published in a book. Webshadows continues where the book leaves off.

    Some might balk at the $36 US price tag for the book/disk combo, but given the amount of work that went into this project, the whole being more than just the parts, and current prices of books and CDs, the price is well worth it.

     

    Update: Just got word from John LaSala, one of the masterminds behind the Foreshadows project, that he is willing to cut 10% of the price for the physical package. Just go to their website, purchase, and when asked for a coupon tell them ROBOTO10 sent you.

    An Interview With Bruce Sterling (By Gunhead)

    March 3, 2011

    Source: Gunhead

    Bruce Sterling

    After getting home from work on 02-Mar-11, I logged into CPR to find this PM from member Gunhead…

    About a week ago I had an email interview with Bruce Sterling, presented below unabridged.

    Gunhead: Hey there. I don’t know if you still check this email account (considering it was probably made before I was). I’m a high school senior, and I consider myself a second-generation cyberpunk.
    I was working on an online English assignment when they gave me an assignment to interview someone from a subculture I’m interested in. I considered a few others, but I noticed that you were consistently the most involved in the actual Cyberpunk community. Now of course I’m not going to ask for an interview and just keep it to myself- If I could publish it on Cyberpunk Review or even via bittorrent that would be great. Information wants to be free, after all.
    Let me know if you’re considering it but want to change anything. I’m open to ideas.

     

    Bruce: What seems to be on your mind, person born after I had an email address?

     

    Gunhead: One of the biggest things the community has been talking about is the possibility that modern life resembles cyberpunk fiction closely enough for the literary genre to become obsolete. What’s your take on this, and how do you think it’s affecting/will affect cyberpunk literature?

     

    Bruce: Well, there’s really no way that modern life is ever going to much resemble, say, Rudy Rucker’s mathematical visionary cyberpunk fiction. Nobody says the the world is getting more like a Pat Cadigan novel. I don’t see this as a serious problem. No literary movement ever became obsolete because their novels were too realistic.

    The world looks a lot like cyberpunk fiction in modern Russia, and they never cared much for cyberpunk. I’d say that the people most interested in cyberpunk right now are probably Brazilian and South African. And I suspect that’s because their societies have hit a level of technical transition where people are surprised and excited to see a lot of “cyber” things going on.

    People in other countries who might have been cyberpunk writers no longer care much about anything “cyber.” They likely don’t have a lot of time on their hands to write novels. It takes a particular set of historical circumstances to nurture a movement like that. When so many magazines, newspapers and bookstore chains are “obsolete,” and when manual typewriters are unheard of, you can see that the culture that created cyberpunk in the early 1980s is itself obsolete. It’s not that the books were somehow too prophetic, it’s that the circumstances of making books have changed.

     

    Gunhead: So in that case, do you see the rest of the subculture such as the fashion, movies, and music surviving without it’s traditional literary component, or do you think it will have to create something new?

     

    Bruce: Well, clearly the literary component is in somewhat less trouble than movies and music. All of these enterprises which had roots in analog means of production and distribution have similar troubles.

    *The trend is toward a culture which isn’t even aware that it’s a “cyberculture.” Once everything is “cyber,” nothing is “cyber,” and cyber gets commonplace and boring.

    *Science fiction writers have commonly had strong interests that aren’t “traditionally literary.” If you study what, say, Cory Doctorow is up to for even a week, it’s clear that he’s not a very author-like guy, even though he’s a best-selling author. Neal Stephenson likes to work with his hands in rocket labs and fabrication facilities. William Gibson designs and sells performance clothes. I hang out with industrial designers and Augmented Reality people. It’s very difficult to divide a functional cyberculture up into its previous components. Those components have been mashed-up.

    *Steampunk seems to manage rather well with quite a minor literary component. There are some steampunk novelists, but they’re not really considered the creative leading lights of that scene. It’s hobby technologists and social-networkers who set the pace for steampunk.

     

    Gunhead: If that’s the trend the general public is following, then wouldn’t the obvious counterculture reaction be gaining awareness of “cyber”? Obviously these days the more you know about networking the more power you can wield, and we’ve been seeing a few revolutions because of it- Do you think Cyberpunk will become more about the politics and the technical aspects, like in Little Brother by Doctorow?

    *No, not really. A counterculture is like the shadow of a culture, it’s not the polar opposite of a culture. It’s like imagining a counterculture without electricity. Once you’ve got reliable electrical power, it’s no longer a revolutionary intervention (like electricity was for Lenin). Even hippie communard dropouts had electric guitars.

    *Well, Little Brother is mostly about labor unions. Maybe old-fashioned industrial labor unions, which have been in decline for decades, will be re-framed as radical social networks. I wouldn’t claim that Cory is forecasting the inevitable, but it seems at least plausible.

    *Cyberpunks always had a soft-spot for 1980s-style Eastern European dissidents. It was a kind of hidden literary alliance of the period. The 89ers were great at revolution and samizdat networking, but never all that great at “wielding power.”

    *It’s pretty clear today that we have major disconnects between the old formal power structure — “the international community” — and the global Internet, which is more like a flash mob. There will be a lot more political and technical fireworks there, but it wouldn’t make much sense to call that modern situation “cyberpunk.” Libyan teens on Facebook who want to shoot Gadaffi, those guys are modern revolutionaries, but they’re not “cyberpunks.”

     

    Gunhead: Interesting thoughts on that. While the community has been constantly trying to define the term “cyberpunk” and learning to deal with the book drought, other aspects like fashion and movies keep evolving. More bands and musicians are describing themselves as Cyberpunk now than before- It seems we’re moving in the direction of a traditional subculture. Do you think it’s ever going to take off with the kids in the same way that say, the Goth subculture did?

     

    Bruce: I don ‘t think Goth ever did “take off.” Goth had elements of very old counterculture behaviors and it’s better to say that Goth persisted. There never were very many cyberpunk “kids.” The guys inventing cyberpunk in the 1980s were adults in their late 20s and even mid-30s. Teenagers read it, but it wasn’t pioneered by teenagers.

    Brian Eno says that popular culture evolves through one “scene” misunderstanding and adapting the goings on in some distant “scene.” There is a classic case of that with Lauren Beukes, who is a Cape Town music journalist who had a child and decided to try writing cyberpunk novels. Lauren really gets it about cyberpunk, and also about “township tech,” which is a kind of South African techno music. But for work invented in Vancouver and Austin and San Francisco, to find a strong echo in Cape Town or Sao Paulo or Belgrade — a thing like that is impossible to predict. It might happen, or it might not happen, or it might happen and have another name entirely. There are plenty of critics who see “cyberpunk” as a distant belated echo of London New Wave SF. Maybe it was ever thus.

     

    Gunhead: Maybe. Thanks for your time Bruce, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Anything to say for the folks at Cyberpunk Review?

     

    Bruce: *Well, it’s always better to understand the tools and approaches — what creative people are doing, how they did it — than it is to put together a canon of cool stuff you like and say, “I’m gonna do it that way.”

     

    *That’s why I like to talk directly to writers instead of just reading novels, and hey, in about eight days we’re having yet another writers’ workshop here in Austin, cradle of cyberpunk.

    ((Edited for readability))

    This post has been filed under Uncategorized by Mr. Roboto.

    US Army ‘threatened’ by WikiLeaks

    March 17, 2010

    Source: Wired from WikiLeaks

    US Pentagon

    “The pen is mightier than the sword” – Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1839).

    The military needs targets.

    (From Wired “Cyberwar Hype Intended to Destroy the Open Internet”)Make no mistake, the military industrial complex now has its eye on the internet. Generals want to train crack squads of hackers and have wet dreams of cyberwarfare. Never shy of extending its power, the military industrial complex wants to turn the internet into yet another venue for an arms race.

    And it’s waging a psychological warfare campaign on the American people to make that so. The military industrial complex is backed by sensationalism, and a gullible and pageview-hungry media. Notable examples include the New York Times’s John “We Need a New Internet” Markoff, 60 Minutes’ “Hackers Took Down Brazilian Power Grid,” and the WSJ’s Siobhan Gorman, who ominously warned in an a piece lacking any verifiable evidence, that Chinese and Russian hackers are already hiding inside the U.S. electrical grid.

    Now the question is: Which of these events can be turned into a Gulf of Tonkin-like fakery that can create enough fear to let the military and the government turn the open internet into a controlled, surveillance-friendly net.

    It was only last week when I blogged about Wired calling the “cyberwar” a hoax. The military needs targets, was the line that stood out to me the most. Now it seems the worlds most powerful army has found a “target;” The whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

    A “secret” report from the Army Counterintelligence Center called Wikileaks.org – An Online Reference to Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups? (click to read/download PDF) said of WikiLeaks.org:

    “could be of value to foreign intelligence and security services (FISS), foreign military forces, foreign insurgents, and foreign terrorist groups for collecting information or for planning attacks against U.S. forces, both within the United State and abroad.”

    The report also said that WikiLeaks can also be used for anit-US propaganda and disinformation campaigns. The Army is looking to stop the leaks from within:

    Wikileaks.org uses trust as a center of gravity by assuring insiders, leakers, and whistleblowers who pass information to Wikileaks.org personnel or who post information to the Web site that they will remain anonymous. The identification, exposure, or termination of employment of or legal actions against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others from using Wikileaks.org to make such information public.

     

    Knowing is half the battle. Among other action being considered to counter the WikiLeaks leaks, possibly hacking the site to ID leakers (or for other purposes):

    The obscurification technology[9] used by Wikileaks.org has exploitable vulnerabilities. Organizations with properly trained cyber technicians, the proper equipment, and the proper technical software could most likely conduct computer network exploitation (CNE) operations or use cyber tradecraft to obtain access to Wikileaks.org‘s Web site, information systems, or networks that may assist in identifying those persons supplying the data and the means by which they transmitted the data to Wikileaks.org. Forensic analysis of DoD unclassified and classified networks may reveal the location of the information systems used to download the leaked documents. The metadata, MD5 hash marks, and other unique identifying information within digital documents may assist in identifying the parties responsible for leaking the information. In addition, patterns involving the types of leaked information, classification levels of the leaked information, development of psychological profiles, and inadvertent attribution of an insider through poor OPSEC could also assist in the identification of insiders.

    One other possible action to take: Fight the net. This old article from BBC News (circa 2006) has another leaked document called Information Operations Roadmap (PDF, click to read/download) where the term “fight the net” is repeated. How do they want to fight the net? They want the ability to “disrupt or destroy the full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum”. In other words, mag-pulse the whole wold back to the dark ages.

    Better download and read… or better yet, print… these documents while we still have a net to do so.

    This post has been filed under War for the Nets, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.