Internet data breaches, Google+ and more…

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Yesterday, the news broke that Google is to kill off its social media platform Google+ because of a massive unreported data breach.

The official line is reported to be:

“The company discovered a bug in one of Google+’s People APIs that allowed apps access to data from Google+ profiles that weren’t marked as public. It included static data fields such as name, email, occupation, gender and age. It did not include information from Google+ posts. The bug was patched in March 2018, but Google didn’t inform users at that point. “We made Google+ with privacy in mind and therefore keep this API’s log data for only two weeks,” the company said in a blog post. “That means we cannot confirm which users were impacted by this bug.”

However, Google+ will continue as a product for Enterprise users. It’s by far the most popular use of the social network. Therefore, the company has made the decision that Google+ is better suited as an internal social network for companies, rather than a consumer product. Google will announce new Enterprise-focused products for Google+ soon”.

(engadget.com)

A ‘leaked’ memo included:

‘Disclosure will likely result “in us coming into the spotlight alongside or even instead of Facebook despite having stayed under the radar throughout the Cambridge Analytica scandal”, Google policy and legal officials wrote in a memo obtained by the Journal. It “almost guarantees Sundar will testify before Congress”, the memo said, referring to the company’s CEO, Sundar Pichai. The disclosure would also invite “immediate regulatory interest”.

(theguardian.com) 

 

My own view is:

As Google is re-developing a form of G+ for inter-corporate communications, yesterdays confirmation of data loss is timed to coincide with their new platform’s progress. Large-scale commercial internal networks are major revenue earners. They require far less maintenance and development than massive public platforms.

My conclusion is, the move by Google, seen by many as ‘dumping’ their dedicated public users, is one of pure commercial practice. We must wait and see if G+ simply fade away as Google hope, or if this decision will alienate users to the point they ditch Googles other products.

I know there are many other companies, both large and small, waiting to grab a slice of Googles internet cake who are ready to provide alternatives.

We shall have to wait and see. But looking at Google’s history, G+ will simply become history and Google will have made another profitable corporate decision.

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Now, I use Google+ along with Facebook and other (social) media platforms. I shop, online and on the ‘high street’, at major retailers. I bank, have a passport and a driving license. I am registered with the National Health Service and the Inland Revenue. I do the thousand and one things most of us do in our everyday lives.

Which means I am on one million and one billion various computer databases, from Government statistical through to tax, health, police, social and political. I am sure, somewhere, I am in MI5 and MI6’s database, most probably the CIA, Mossad, SVR, GRU, and MSS because I have a military background and a connection with the British Royal Family.

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I know, without any doubts whatsoever my information is on and shared by/with, thousands of commercial enterprises around the world. I have junk mail, email and phone call logs as proof.

I know this, yet I do let it worry me because there is nothing I can do about it unless I escape to the lost world of Neverlandislandjungleretreat and never raise my head above the totally off-grid parapet. Which sounds pretty good in some ways but is impractical for most of us.

So, I accept my details are not private and live accordingly.

Data breaches and hacking are as much part of this world’s current situation and social culture as is terrorism, gender disruption and socio-economic inflation.

Personally, I cannot understand what satisfaction someone could get from creating and spreading a computer virus, although I can see the intent with ransom-wear and state-sponsored cyber-attacks. (Practice for the cyberwars to come?)

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Sadly, I can also see where the criminal element of data theft fits into the larger information technological world we all now, by default, live in.

Greed, avarice and power have always been the prime motives behind most illegalities. Nothing has changed except the methods and opportunities presented.

Governments and the less informed members of society will jump up and down and stomp their feet each time a major breach of information protocol is reported.

The government ministers will shout, saying it is their job to do so on behalf of the electorate, while most will be doing so simply to be seen, for self-promotion, regardless to what ‘spin’ or ‘party line’ mantra they mutter.

The less informed members of our society because, they are influenced, even controlled, by fickle, shallow, manipulative journalistic propaganda and bullshite.

So, Google has issues with G+ and what else are they not revealing?

Facebook still has ongoing issues.

But so, do:

Yahoo, Reddit, Instagram, FedEx, Ticketmaster, Adidas, U.S. Air Force, The FriendFinder Network, eBay, UnityPoint Health, St. Peter’s Surgery & Endoscopy Center, TaskRabbit, Equifax, Ticketfly, Heartland Payment Systems, Air Canada, University at Buffalo, Target Stores, Partners HealthCare, TJX Companies, Inc., Uber, Facebook, Aultman Health Foundation, Orbitz, Aetna, JP Morgan Chase, Inogen, US Office of Personnel Management (OPM), British Airways, Sony’s PlayStation Network, BJC Healthcare, Anthem, Dignity Health, RSA Security, CarePlus, Stuxnet, VeriSign, Home Depot, Jason’s Deli, Click2Gov – Midwest City, Under Armour, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bithumb, Med Associates, Chili’s, Nuance Communications, Lord & Taylor, SunTrust Banks, Panera Bread, City of Goodyear, Rail Europe, LifeBridge Health, MyHeritage, Coinrail, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Adobe?

ALL THE ABOVE SUFFERED MAJOR DATA AND SECURITY BREACHES IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS, MANY DURING 2018.

In 2017, the world saw more data breaches than any year prior. On December 20th, the downloadIdentity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reported that there were 1,293 total data breaches, compromising more than 174 million records. That’s 45% more breaches than 2016.

 

In truth, what can ‘Little ‘ol you and me’ do when major multi conglomerates and the world governments agencies cannot protect their own systems.

The answer is “Not a lot”.

Like any other crime, do what you can to stay safe, hope you are not a target and carry on with your regular, normal life.

Data breaches and information theft is, sadly and ashamedly, something we must learn to live with. Fretting and worrying about cyber attacks and data loss will not change a single thing, but it will give your face wrinkles and make you look older sooner.

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©PaulWhite2018

Personally, I have better things to do with my life than sit here worrying.

Which is why I am such a handsome, young looking lad!

 

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Write a brand-new story, combining genres…

Before you ask, yes, this is about sci-fi and Robots… but it also about crime fiction, fantasy, steampunk and many other genres. It’s about understanding, imagination and the muse… so read on…

Like all fiction genres, Sci-fi and its many sub-genres must evolve with the times, writers must look to the future. (pun intended)

Czech writer Karel Čapek introduced the word “robot”. It is said his brother suggested using a derivative of the word robata, which means literally “serf labour” and figuratively “drudgery” or “hard work.

No wonder the robots usually want to revolt, to take over our world. To turn the tables on us!

But, long before the word “robot” was invented, the ideas of mechanical or artificial men was in our ancestors’ consciousness. Early ideas of robots or automata drew inspirations from early writings and figures in mythology, who were described as anthropomorphic and crafted from stone or metal.

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TALOS The Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius, 3rd century BC. Photo credit: Sergio Santos, CG Society website

Described in the Argonautica as a giant man of bronze forged by the smith Hephaestus, Talos is tasked with patrolling the island of Crete and fending off pirates.

However, he is still partially organic, as is shown in the description of a single blood vessel that runs from his neck down to his ankle. Much like with Achilles and his heel, the vein of Talos is his weakness, and he dies in the story from exsanguination.

 

This developed into ‘other’ forms of automata,

OLYMPIA
The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffman, 1816. Photo credit: The Sandmen blog

In ETA Hoffman’s short story, The Sandman, the main character Nathaniel falls in love with the daughter of one of his university professors.

While she is beautiful and elegant, Olympia speaks very little, only responding to conversations with “Ah”.

She is also often motionless for long periods of time.

The people around her find this disconcerting, and it is eventually revealed that she is a lifelike doll.

 

 

Enter the early days of Sci-fi as we recognise it now,

STEAM MAN
The Huge Hunter/Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward Ellis, 1868. Photo credit: World of Sideshow wiki.

 

Edward Ellis’s Steam Man is an early example of the Edisonade genre of science fiction.

Derived from Thomas Edison’s name, the genre describes stories that feature an ingenious young American inventor, who uses his inventions to go on adventures, solve problems, and defend himself against his enemies. The invention often has many purposes, such as weaponry and transportation.

In this case, the teenage hero is Johnny Brainerd, who creates the steam man and uses it to pull wagons that can carry passengers. Despite its large size, the steam man can run quite fast, and Johnny uses this to his advantage (such as, for hunting buffalo).

An imitation of this story was written by Harry Enton in 1876, called Frank Reade and His Steam Man of the Plains, which also features a young inventor and his robots. Frank Reade’s steam man improves upon the first, with a much more efficient engine due to improvements in hydraulics and use of lighter-weight alloys. Thus, it is faster and stronger. Frank Reade’s son, Frank Jr., would eventually go on to create Steam Man Mark III, and replaced the use of steam with the use of electricity.

This and Steam Man of the Prairies were dime novels, popular fiction that is much like the comic books of today.

 

Tik-Tok
Tik-Tok, Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum, 1907 Photo credit: John K. Neill, Wikipedia.

Dorothy finds the mechanical man, Tik-Tok, with a printed card suspended from the back of its neck.

The card provides directions for ‘using’ Tik-Tok, such as how to make him speak, think, and move by winding the clockwork in his body. Tik-Tok needs to be periodically wound like a toy to function, as he cannot wind himself up.

Tik-Tok has been referenced in other fiction, and his benign nature subverted into something more sinister, such as in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and John Sladek’s Tik-Tok.

 

 

As I spoke of in the opening paragraphs of this post, the term Robot arose thus…

ROSSUM'S UNIVERSAL ROBOTS
Robots, by Karel Capek, 1920) Photo credit: Technet website.

 

This famous play, which was successful in its time, describes a factory that makes artificial people or roboti, from synthetic organic matter.

Less like robots and more like androids or cyborgs because of their biological nature, these synthetic people work for humans but eventually organize an uprising, causing the extinction of humans.

Karel Capek’s play is influential for being the first to use the word “robot”, replacing “automaton” or “android”. It is also worth noting thatrobota in Czech means forced labour, of which the robots in the play were made to do.

Robot: We wanted to be like people. We wanted to become people.

Radius: We wanted to live. We are more capable. We have learned everything. We can do everything.

Robot: You gave us weapons. We had to become the masters.

Robot: We have seen the mistakes made by the people, sir.”

Which basically, and with a giant leap of literary faith, brings us to the time when robots were simply robots, like Robby from ‘Lost in Space’. A time when Isaac Asimov penned ‘I Robot’ and hope for humankind lingered.

'ROBBY' THE ROBOT
‘ROBBY’ THE ROBOT Photo credit: Fred Mcleod Wilcox

We all knew where we stood.

Then along came James Camron who introduced us to Skynet, and all hell broke loose.

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CYBERDYNE Image: Geek.com

So, where does that leave us, how can we tell new, inventive and genuinely futuristic tales of machines, androids and automaton now?

Maybe, a little closer inspection of where we stand now will help us, if we stand on tiptoes and look far over the rising horizon…

Robots are all around us, toiling away in factories and warehouses, busting a gut in landfills and working in hospitals. The NAO model introduces school kids and students to programming and robotics and it also teaches children with autism. Another model, Pepper, was created to work in the service sector; its tasks include attracting potential customers and consulting with buyers.

As the IOActive team discovered, to seize control of NAO you only need to be on the same network as the robot. Experts found vulnerabilities allowing commands to be remotely executed, effectively giving over full control of its actions.

To demonstrate how these vulnerabilities can be exploited, the team forced NAO to demand bitcoins from its human interlocutor.

But real criminals would be limited only by their imagination and programming skills. What’s more, it’s not just NAO that can be infected with ransomware; the more business-oriented Pepper is just as vulnerable, and other models probably are as well.

Just imagine if one fine day a robot teacher or store clerk, in full view of John Q. Public, started swearing and insulting people before going on strike or picking a fight.angry_robot_character

You never know.

 

 

 

But why would anyone hack a robot?

What do criminals have to gain here? Won’t it just spoil someone’s day or their life? That might be enough incentive for some hackers, who often do such things just for fun.

But there’s another reason: money.

The profit motive is simple. Buying a robot costs about $10,000; and if it breaks, it must be repaired or replaced.

Both of those require a fair bit of cash, but factor in the downtime cost and reputational loss of having a robot threaten customers and the sum rises considerably.

If an industrial robot is hacked, it can pose an immediate threat to employee safety or production quality.

An attacker compromising a robot in one of those ways might offer a quick solution to the problem, (which they caused), pay a ransom and everything will be just fine.

But, as you might guess, cybercriminals don’t always keep their word. Of course, the vulnerable robot might be hacked again, requiring another payout.

And then, another,and another…

What can be done?

Robots are here to stay (and multiply), so avoiding contact with them is not the way to go. For that, you’d need to invent a time-machine and go back a long, long way as mentioned above.

Instead, users and manufacturers need to be sensitive to robots’ weaknesses to ensure these devices do not go from cutting-edge to catastrophic in the blink of an eye.

Robot creators need to think through security issues in advance before production starts. Today. Better still, yesterday.

Then, after product release, all ears must be kept firmly to the ground to respond promptly to reported vulnerabilities and get them fixed.

…Or some sort of mayhem, a type of life-shattering, civilisation ending apocalypse may just leap from the pages of a book and into reality…

Or maybe that is just my way of stimulating your muse… think on, but carefully and you could join the ranks of Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Isaac Asimov.

You see not all sci-fi which includes rouge robots must be apocalyptic, that idea has been done, and done, and done to death. Now it is time for a differing approach.

Take your favourite crime-based books or film, or a combination of both media. Choose a story without any robots and select a character or two.

Now, think of your chosen characters as automaton, combine those two or three films/books plots. (If they are Hollywood or from mainstream publishing, it will not be a difficult task because they use a five, or seven-point, plotline… its what makes mainstream boring and predictable.) and start writing. Don’t copy… No plagiarism allowed; simply let your muse write the story guided by the basic (combination) of the plot(s) outlines.

You will have a brand-new crime story, but one which includes robots. It does not even have to be set in the future or on another planet, it can be urban fiction, steampunk, fantasy… you decide.

What you will have is a cross-genre fictional work which can be promoted to a wider, but targeted audience. That means greater sales opportunities and a much larger readership potential.

robber0441Why not make your robot a stooge, a fall guy? Have the reader fall in love with it, empathize with it.

Alternatively, have your robot(s) as the victim, the missing link to solving a situation… not all robots are bad, not all are good, some simply have frailties, others damaged personalities, why, some are even human… aren’t they?

 

Whatever you do, have fun and visit my website HERE I have a load of crime fiction and other ‘stuff’ you will just love. But don’t just take my word, go and have a look now.