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Ransom fees paid to hackers

I’ve recently noticed quite a few articles along the lines of the one I link to here, where organisations pay out ransom fees to hackers in order to recover their data.

Of course these are only the ones we hear about and I have no doubt many companies have paid off ransomware hackers in secret.

It is selfish to the extreme because you’re simply supplying funds that will help the hackers exploit other organisations.

I’d argue that the paying off of hackers ought to be illegal. In fact I thought it was already illegal to aid and abet a criminal.

It seems insurers are often at the root of these payouts:

The town's insurer was contacted by the hackers and negotiated ransom payment of 42 bitcoins, or roughly $500,000. Officials felt that paying the ransom was the most efficient way of regaining computer access.

This is very much a case of “I’m alright Jack” and they’re missing the bigger picture or, most likely, simply don’t care about it.

Kevin Beaumont, a cyber-security specialist, sums it up in the article:

Organisations are financing their attackers to be better than them - and sooner or later that situation may snowball for everybody else trying to defend their networks.

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Porn troll gets 14 years

I have been following the misfortunes of a US company called Prenda Law for some time now.

Basically, they were copyright trolls targeting people who downloaded porn. They’d send such people a demand for $3,000 in order to settle their copyright infringement case and avoid the embarrassment of having their porn proclivities exposed in court.

But Prenda Law thought they could maximise their profits if they uploaded the copyright infringing porn to pirate sites and file sharing networks in the first place, thus baiting people to download it.

Paul Hansmeier, the lawyer in charge of Prenda, was estimated to have made $3m from this scam in three years.

The courts however took a dim view of Prenda’s activities. The judge said:

It is almost incalculable how much your abuse of trust has harmed the administration of justice.

Whereupon she sentenced him to 14 years and told him to pay $1.5m back to the victims he’d scammed.

Hansmeier was rumbled many years ago but he has since been spouting all sorts of nonsense to various courts in order to try to evade justice, which didn’t help his case at all.

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Privacy policies are still far too long

Why are many sites' privacy policies so long? Laws have changed regarding online privacy recently (GDPR, for example) but I'm not sure your typical user is any better informed and I think complexity prevents many people from asserting their rights and options.

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Why do bats live so long?

No, that’s not the opening to a joke, bats really do live a long time.

Typically, a mammal’s longevity falls broadly in line with its mass. As mass increases, metabolism slows and lifespans get longer. We humans are a species that bucks the trend because we live considerably longer than mammals of similar or even greater mass than ourselves, but the formula holds in general.

There are 19 species of mammals that live longer than us relative to their body mass and 18 of those are bats.

So what gives? It turns out bats are very good at maintaining their chromosomes.

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Shuttlecocks, Hawking and what happened 'before' the universe.

Just yesterday I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about how the last two weeks seem to have flown by and my friend asked if there were ways we could slow time down a bit.

I suggested he could consider jumping into a black hole or accelerating himself to light speed and that the tools for these endeavours might be purchased cheaply via one of Amazon’s ‘Deals of the Day’.

Then an article pops up on Quanta Magazine that talks about the origins of time and the universe itself, particularly in relation to Hawking’s Shuttlecock Universe proposal.

When I look at what’s going on in the world I quite often have a downer on humanity in general and certain individuals specifically, but I think it’s astonishing that our thinking has advanced to the stage where we can consider the origins of an entire universe.

In their view, the only sensible contour is one that scans through real values (as opposed to imaginary values, which involve the square roots of negative numbers) for a variable called “lapse.” Lapse is essentially the height of each possible shuttlecock universe — the distance it takes to reach a certain diameter. Lacking a causal element, lapse is not quite our usual notion of time.

Get your head around that.

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OmniFocus 3 for macOS - tags make everything better

OmniFocus has been my task manager of choice for a number of years now and, with the release of OmniFocus 3 for macOS, I thought I'd jot down how I think things have improved.

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Galactic currency proposed

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have proposed a theoretical form of virtual money that, they claim, would be highly secure, fast to transfer, and could also enable financial transactions on galactic scale.

The article I link to is somewhat opaque but make of it what you will.

It’s proposing a new concept of money that …

… may also be thought of as something needed to get to a specific point in space-time, in response to data coming from multiple points (in space-time).

The interesting bit for me is that it uses a quantum encryption protocol (called BB84) to secure the transactions. What this basically means is that whilst it’s still possible to eavesdrop on the transaction, it’s impossible to do so and remain undetected. This is due to a property of quantum states called no-cloning and this cannot be cracked — ever — because it’s a physical law rather than an algorithm.

So if I want to transmit a secure key to you, we’d use BB84 and we’d know for definite if someone had eavesdropped on the transaction. If that happened we’d discard the keys, invalidate the transaction and try again.

But what I’d like to know is the exchange rate this currency is going to have with the Altairian Dollar. I’m led to believe a competent hitchhiker should be able to see the galaxy on less than thirty Altairian dollars a day.

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Why would anyone post a good blog on Facebook?

Or at least if they do, they should give it Public visibility so it can be linked to from outside of Facebook.

What rattled my cage was a post by Dave Winer on his Scripting News site, which always worth a read, incidentally.

Dave Winer says:

You know what pisses me off. A guy writing the best political blog out there, on Facebook. So after I read his piece and think “everyone should see this” I can't send the link outside of Facebook.

We have this incredible thing called the web and we don't use it.

Quite so.

Yes, I admit I’m not the biggest fan of Zuckerberg and his privacy-busting, pseudo-narcotic corporate silo, but I don’t understand why anyone with anything interesting to say would run their blog on Facebook.

Newspapers don’t just post on Facebook. The BBC doesn’t. Shops don’t. Even Facebook doesn’t (see their Newsroom and Media Blog). Why then should an individual do themselves such a disservice?

Facebook is meant for people who don’t have anything interesting to say to the rest of the world. That’s why it’s shielded behind a virtual barbed-wire fence away from the real web, so that we can keep all those photographs of people’s lunches out of sight.

I could rant on for some considerable time about this subject, but I won’t, just this once.

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Bird Box (2018) film review - worth watching

Having watched a few underwhelming horror movies recently, I was pleasantly surprised by Bird Box. This sort of thing is more to my taste when it comes to horror. This review contains some minor spoilers but nothing that's likely to ruin your viewing.

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Have the fundamental physical constants changed?

There exist a bunch of fundamental physical constants that define (or at least describe) important characteristics of our universe. Traditionally these are dimensionless numbers, which means they have no units like kph or grams, although they often describe relationships between dimensioned constants.

Alpha (also know as the fine structure constant), for example, describes the strength of the attraction between the electron and proton. It combines the speed of light, the elementary charge, Planck’s constant and something called the ‘permittivity of free space’ to arrive at its value. The value itself is approximately 1/137.

I think these constants are extremely sexy.

If these constants were different, the universe could be a very different place. Your trousers might fall apart or maybe the universe would have blinked out of existence shortly after (or even before) the big bang.

Scientists have often wondered if these constants are, in fact, constant. Maybe they were different in the past. It has however been difficult to measure what these constants were in the distant past.

The article I link to on ArsTechnica describes a new approach to measuring what a couple of these constants were in the past.

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Anti-Pasti, but not the pizza

It’s strange how the memory works. I was in a pub on Monday evening, taking part in the weekly quiz they hold there (we won, by the way). I’m on a team that consists of three other regular members and we decided to eat whilst we were there.

So we ordered pizzas and one of the team ordered an ’antipasti’ pizza. This immediately brought to mind a band of that name who I used to listen to back in the early 80s, although the band hyphenated their name as Anti-Pasti.

I had quite forgotten about them and may never have remembered if it wasn’t for the pizza. I’m pretty sure I had their Four Sore Points EP but I can’t be certain now. If I didn’t have it then someone I knew did because I feel the name rings a louder bell than it would if I’d only heard of it via radio. It’s shameful that I can’t remember if I had a record or not, but such is my memory.

Once I’d remembered the band I remembered a song by them called No Government, which I’d most likely have originally heard on the John Peel show because that’s where I heard most things at the time. I used to like this song so I hunted it down on YouTube.

I present it for your delectation here but, be warned, it’s quite hardcore punk and probably not to the tastes of those of you who only like the namby-pamby softcore stuff.

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Serpent (2017) film review — I only liked the snake

As most of the TV channels had decided not to bother marking Easter Sunday with any special programmes I watched a film called Serpent, which I'd recorded from Sky about a week ago. This was something I soon regretted.

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The Girl in the Spider’s Web film (2018) review

I love the Stieg Larsson 'Millennium' books. Following Larsson's death, David Lagercrantz took over the storytelling and 'The Girl in the Spider's Web' is the first Millennium book of his to be made into a film. I review that film in this article.

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