Not On My Watch

Apart from the certainties of death and taxes, one other axiom we can rely on is that something good inevitably brings on something bad. Sometimes, not always, the opposite is also true.

As life becomes increasingly digital, more harm can be rendered in that guise.

All biological interactions are based on cues which do not transport to the digital world. The sound of a voice, the look on a face, a touch, a smell. My dog remains unmoved by any barking, no matter how loud or how menacing, if it appears on TV. She continues sleeping placidly. Digital dog duels just don’t do it for her. But she will erupt in fury and frantically dash for the garden on a cue beyond human understanding.

When the rabid hound pawing at the door is finally released, I fully expect to see an invincible feline armada, mainsails billowing on the horizon. Alas no, the shores are safe.

She is immune to thunder and lighting in a movie. The Perfect Storm leaves her becalmed. But the real thing is quite the contrary. In California, a woman told me her dog was in possession of a ‘Thunder Shirt’ for exactly those events. And doggy Prozac. Prescribed by her canine psychiatrist. By that I don’t mean the shrink was a dog, though for all I know, that might well have been the case—probably an overachiever who could bark in six different languages.

A lack of biological cues increasingly makes up our lives. Yes, we interact with a lot more people we hardly know, and are subject to email bombardment by strangers, the digital equivalent of the cold call. And twitter punditry delivered by fools. By providing everyone with a soapbox, which paradoxically is potentially a good thing.

There’s nothing wrong with giving people a voice, on the contrary.  But there’s lots wrong in representing information as bonafide, because there’s so much digital trust out there. And lots more wrong with using digital tools to destroy knowledge. This now includes toys such as a cheating watch ( excuse me for not hot-linking, but I find idiocy contagious) which kids can use to pass exams. The inoffensive looking digital device allows you to upload all manner of files and use buttons to retrieve what you need. The wily student passes the exam, and a lifetime of success is assured.

Taken one step further, brain implants for moronic students are definitely on the radar screen in the next decade. What the unfortunate humans don’t appreciate is that this is one more step toward machine replacement. With no contributing brain, the hapless human becomes a drone, or in digispeak, a bot.

Percentage of computers per country infected with some kind of virus. Data from Panda Security, an anti-virus corporation.

Bots are widely used already, and in fact a significant proportion of computers are zombies. After infection, they can be, and are, used for all sorts of illegal activities, without the owners’ knowledge. This includes distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks, when millions of zombies descend on an unsuspecting server and shut it down, or rerouting spam, or even storing illegal music and video for distribution.

About ten years ago, I ran a server on a highly insecure university network—one dark night, it was hacked by a Brazilian group. In the morning, it presented the Microsoft ‘blue screen of death’ and no more. We did a forensic analysis, and among other things discovered a folder, which no one could delete, that contained a whole pirate copy of the Windows operating system.

Credit cards have made it possible to increase computer fraud by orders of magnitude. Embedded phone payment methods, collectively termed as mCommerce, will only make matters worse. Go into Starbucks anywhere in the US, and people routinely charge a trivial expense of three dollars. The more this happens, the more I find myself devoted to cash. For most of the purchases I make, the cashiers are patently incapable of calculating change. These are the simplest of arithmetic (not math) skills, involving addition and subtraction. So ingrained in my thought process that when I finish counting the bills I already know my exact change.

The black market is full of credit card numbers for sale. Of course, rather than worry about buying goods, which typically requires the three-digit security code on the back of the card, the best hack is to convert the card into cash. That also saves you dealing with another set of problems, i.e. shipping addresses, and what you do about converting those goods to cash—after all, there’s only so many Gucci shoes you can wear. Er… two, in fact, unless you’re a canine psychiatrist.

To convert a credit card to cash you need an ATM. But you also need a PIN. A four digit number which we are supposed to commit to memory—at least those of us who do not own a timepiece from Cheating Watch and still have a memory.

For a scammer to sell a credit card with a pin number attached, he (and they are almost all male) needs to visualize that number.  One of the best ways to get it all is to use a skimmer. A quick Google search on ‘ATM skimmer’ yields three-quarters of a million hits, so this looks like a popular topic.

This high-end example skimmer replaces the whole face plate of the machine. Less sophisticated ones add a ‘pre’ card reader, Your PIN is harvested either via a pinhole camera, or at the top-end, a fake keypad placed above the real one.

The business model for ATM credit card fraud is getting increasingly sophisticated. It is now common for the information harvested by the skimmer to be encrypted. The (human) skimmer therefore passes it on to the source, who in turn then distributes card numbers on another circuit. The various nodes of the network get their cut of the action. Of course to put your fake card into a (hopefully unhacked) ATM, you need to make it first. So type in ‘Credit card making machine’ on Google. Only sixteen million hits.

So if you’re on vacation, keep your eyes open. Unusual places, unusual people. Pay cash. Read The India Road. And have a good one.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: