Friday, March 29, 2013

And still more cyberwarfare attacks on the US banking system

The online attacks on US banks that I've discussed previously here appear to be escalating, which is worrisome. Recent innovations include infecting and hijacking data centers to launch denial of service attacks on commercial banking sites that are orders of magnitude larger than previous assaults. The New York Times piece cited above argues that opposition to regulations designed to help limit the effect of such attacks has begun to diminish in the private sector as the attacks have accelerated. I'm kind of iffy about that, or at least I haven't seen much evidence of that shift to date.

The real question for me is what is the threshold that would trigger retaliation by the US government against attackers. It doesn't sound like one exists in Washington yet, making that particular border between peace and war all the blurrier and more dangerous. It also begs the question of would a response be kinetic or network based?

The attacks on US banks are widely believed to be Iranian and carried by the same intelligence group that destroyed 30,000 computers belonging to the Saudi Arabian oil firm Aramco last year. Recent weeks have also seen a wave of effective attacks on South Korean banks and television stations, though these are believed to be the work of North Korea.

At this point I'm starting to wish that we would retaliate in some fashion. I'm not a big fan of outside interventions, and at this point the last thing we need here in the US is another war or major conflict. On the other hand, from what I've seen while traveling around this planet of ours, there are still many regions that operate on old-style schoolyard rules where bullies keep escalating as long as they meet with no effective responses from either the victims or authorities. It's sad, it's crappy, but also unfortunately true. That said, any response, physical or bit-based, should be proportional in the damage that it inflicts, and we should be prepared to wind things down quickly if the other side backs off.

My biggest fear is that the attacks will continue until someone inflicts major damage that either demands a massive physical response, and drags several states into a war that escalates out of control, along the lines of the tragic first few months of World War I.

Also in the news this week is an ongoing denial of service attack against the Dutch anti-spam group Spamhaus. The media coverage of this event has gotten seriously carried away, with news organizations like the BBC and New York Times claiming that the attacks are on a scale that threatens the operation of the Internet itself. As far as I can tell from looking at more technically oriented news sources that are knowledgeabl on Internet issues, this is largely bunk. While there have been some regional slowdowns linked to attack, there has been nothing global in scope, nor have any core functions been threatened.

Still it's a reminder that both state and private party cyberwarfare is an important issue that will only grow more important with time, and already posses the potential to have a noticeable economic impact on both banking and infrastructure. It's also becoming more widespread. This week, one of my favorite webcomics was subject to repeated DOS attacks, for reasons that are unclear at the moment.

A Logical language

Joshua Foer: John Quijada and Ithkuil, the Language He Invented : The New Yorker:

'via Blog this'

The New Yorker has a cool article on an artificial spoken language designed to eliminate many of the flaws common in the natural languages we've all grown up speaking -- shortcomings like ambiguity, multiple meanings for single words, exceptions to rules, and so on. The language, Ithkuil, is based on language theory and the understanding of grammatical universals that has been broadly accepted for the past fifty years.

A designed language is a very science fiction type concept. One that's been touched on in several novels, some of which have explored the potential for a highly ordered rather than loose syntactical language to have a significant impact on the efficiency of human thought.

That's something that appeals to me. I'm one of hose people who subscribe to the hypothesis that it was the neurologic organizing effects that accompanied the emergence of syntax structured language that lay behind an apparent burst in paleolithic technology and culture around 50,000 years ago. Structured language plays a measurable role in organizing our brains, and its absence in individuals raised in near complete isolation up to around age 16 leads to life-long deficits in abstract reasoning capabilities.

With that said, I have no idea if this Ithkuil language will be ever be adopted, or just how well it's put together. Developed here in the US, it's apparently gained a following in some Russian academic circles, but it's worth noting that previous attempts to create logical languages have not found widespread use. It's also unclear if a more orderly, less ambiguous  and more grammatically logical language would have any noticeable impact on thought.

But still, it's fun to speculate and read the speculation of others.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Feeling sound, hearing color

This was supposed to be a post on disruptive technologies: 3D printing, big data, augmented reality, and other on-the-horizon possibilities that could destroy millions of jobs, then create new industries over a period of several turbulent decades.

Or not.

One potential line of development is that unlike the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, these new technologies may replace human workers entirely, rather than generating new forms of employment. Either way, a discussion of their possible impact would make for a nice lead into the next articles in both the ongoing States and Nations and Dystopias series.

Instead, I kept getting distracted by more articles on human sensory augmentation.

Feeling Sound

Researcher develops Spidey-sense suit | Defense Tech:

'via Blog this'

Defense has an interesting piece on University of Chicago PhD student Victor Mateevitsi, who has developed a tactile sensor interface suit for the blind. The wearable system coverts ultrasonic reflections into skin sensations, which allows blindfolded test subjects to feel people approaching them.

While the technology is still low-resolution, there is lots of plausible room for improvement. In the not too far off future, wearers may be able to feel their surroundings at a distance in textured detail.

Hearing Color

Is It Time To Take Cyborg Rights Seriously? A Q&A With Neil Harbisson:

'via Blog this'

Slate Magazine has a question and answer session with colorblind artist Niel Harbisson, who uses an Eyeborg system to convert colors into sounds. The more saturated the hue, the more intense the sound.

While it's a remarkable way to experience the world, it imposes social limitations. Movie theaters are apparently reluctant to admit Mr. Harbission, fearing that his camera will allow him to record films. He's also been turned away from the famous Harrods department store in London, and thrown out of grocery stores.

Cyborg Hate Crimes

Harbission's difficulties carry shades of last year's incident in France, in which McDonald's employees, reportedly assaulted a professor with an augmented reality implant. Their motivation? He claims they were afraid that he was filming the store's menu..

Friday, March 01, 2013

Friday afternoon space imagery porn

51 months of the gamma ray emissions from the the Vela pulsar (a dead star), as captured by NASA's orbiting Large Area Telescope. Mesmerizing.