Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Technology in Soviet Estonia


It always feels a bit corny when media brings it up, but now the "cyber war" again for some reason has been mentioned both by SVT Dokument Utifrån (translated here) and PRI's The World Technology Podcast. Comments on the cyber war are usually distinctively low on substance for anyone with any significant knowledge in computer security, which is interesting - I have heard it rumored that there were significant tougher-than-scriptkiddie-activity during the attacks, others stress the lack of any proof of organized crime or Russian-funded involvement. Regardless of whether anyone knew the facts, any old-media reporting about hacking activity and cyber-crime is still stuck somewhere in the 90's, and no-one seems to have read Daemon.

Anyway, regarding SVT I just wish that Hasse Svens (baltic correspondent) would quit his blatant twisting of the situation in the baltics - most recently he thought it relevent when reporting from the financial crisis in Riga to mention that there was a bum outside the Swedbank office and that the ATM was out of order (?!). Seriously Hasse, can we try to sustain some height in the reporting please?

photo by Mark McLaughlin, CC-licensed from flickr The WTP also had BBC's Frank Gardner (I would love to get in touch with him by the way!... or wait, he's not exactly an Estonia correspondent) speak a bit about great Estonian technology such as Skype, and how we use our cellphones to pay for parking. I should probably be happy that I'm getting blasé about such reports, but here in Eastern Europe former Soviet countries we've really had all of that for years. Maybe it's because I'm in the startup business, but you swedes should try to imagine your office letting you be efficient and save money by using Skype (including group chat, SkypeOut and conference calls), Google Apps, Dropbox, digital signatures and S/MIME encryption as well as various open source technologies. Geesh...

Final curious thing WTP mentioned was privacy concerns related to the recently released Google Latitude. Here they were so clearly representing the old thinking (the one which includes trying to hide your email address from being found on the web), whereas what I see more and more is that regular people (I.e. not the nerds) mostly want to have fun and use services without any hassle. When was the last time you heard a normal person being concerned about GMail filtering your emails for suitable adwords, Facebook 3rd party application developers data mining your contacts data or even making sure their email passwords aren't picked up by WiFi sniffers? Pretty much never.

My suggestion for a fresh attitude towards privacy issues is one of awareness, but also realizing what the general public can willingly accept. Take some care to protect your very private things, but unless you have very serious reasons, you are probably better off participating in the world where all the others go and if that turns out to be a privacy problem, just cross that creek when we get there. Anything else is simply futile and alienating yourself from the general public you are so concerned for. Also, stop worrying so much about "big brother" and open your eyes to what corporations and people around you can do with the information they have about you. Data mining and direct marketing (preferably of the type which you don't even notice and certainly isn't annoyed by) is becoming great business, mark my words.

(Update: Now that I have seen the SVT Dokument Utifrån "Nätkriget" documentary, I must say as much as I'm not surprised about the oldfashioned hacker romanticizing and complete lack of redeeming qualities in the first half of the program, I'm somewhat surprised that the second half was somewhat accurate and interesting, including an interview with an actual russian hacker-for-hire.

Still, it was obviously a reactive and post-the-fact documentary, including the inaccurate animations dumbing-down ("snuttifiera") the topic to a childish and inaccurate level. It tries to give the impression that it is a proactive and warning-about-the-future documentary, while it is actually repeating the same things said since mid 90's and barely begins to grasp the state of computer security today.

If professionals really have not learnt the lesson since Mitnick that hackers do not primarily hack where it is the hardest - finding security holes in the programs, but where it is easiest, around the people and protocols in which the programs exist, we really are done for, and they can play their silly catch-the-flag wargames best they want. Instead of spending our tax money on constructing truly agile and robust systems... )

(Update 2: Regarding Swedish media and to dumb-down ("snuttifiera") I read an excellent post by Josefin Deiving (translated here). She is a social democrat quoting a simplifying and generalizing Chomsky, but despite that I don't agree with either, this was pretty interesting )


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