The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Your evening reading

Just a few:

And finally, atheist sci-fi author John Scalzi...bought a church?

Cassie is bored

The temperature bottomed out last night just under -10°C, colder than any night since I adopted Cassie. (We last got that cold on February 20th.) Even now the temperature has just gone above -6°C. Though she has two fur coats on all the time, I still think keeping her outside longer than about 20 minutes would cause her some discomfort.

Add that it's Messiah week and I barely have enough free time to give her a full hour of walks today.

Meanwhile, life goes on, even if I can only get the gist of it:

Finally, journalist Allison Robicelli missed a connection at O'Hare this past weekend, and spent the wee hours exploring the empty terminals. The last time I stared down a 12-hour stay at an airport, I hopped into the Tube and spent 8 of those hours exploring the city instead, but I'm not a professional journalist.

Nice fall you've got there

While running errands this morning I had the same thought I've had for the past three or so weeks: the trees look great this autumn. Whatever combination of heat, precipitation, and the gradual cooling we've had since the beginning of October, the trees refuse to give up their leaves yet, giving us cathedrals of yellow, orange, and red over our streets.

And then I come home to a bunch of news stories that also remind me everything changes:

  • Like most sentient humans, Adam Serwer feels no surprise (but plenty of disgust) that a Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse: "This is the legal regime that a powerful minority of gun-rights advocates have built—one in which Americans are encouraged to settle their differences with lethal force, preferably leaving as few witnesses capable of testimony as possible."
  • Charles Blow worries about the follow-on effectsi.e., vigilantism. Says Blow, "Right-wing gun culture is not unlike the wellness industry, in that it requires the cultivation of a sustained insecurity in its audience, in order to facilitate the endless purchase of its products."
  • Dan Friedman finds Rittenhouse's acquittal terrifying: "[M]ost reasonable people would agree that armed vigilantes facing off with armed protesters, or rioters—while police hide blocks away in armored vehicles—is, by and large, bad. But in Kenosha, and much the country, it is legal. And it is becoming normal. ... [T]he biggest failure was that the events of the trial, and the public perception of it, will not deter the kind of conduct that led to it. It seems sure to cause more right-wing vigilantism, more armed confrontations, and more political violence in the streets."

Outside of Kenosha:

Finally, Israel's government has loosened the certification process for Kashrut inspectors, to the outrage (do they express any other emotion?) of the Haredim. One possible factor? "The head of the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut division was indicted on bribery charges in 2020 after being videotaped allegedly accepting envelopes of cash from food importers." Oy gevalt!

Riches of embarrassment

Just a couple of eye-roll-worthy lunchtime links today:

What fun.

Stupid request limits

I had to pause the really tricky refactoring I worked on yesterday because we discovered a new performance issue that obscured an old throttling issue. It took me most of the morning to find the performance bottleneck, but after removing it a process went from 270 seconds to 80. Then I started looking into getting the 80 down to, say, 0.8, and discovered that because we're using an API limit with a request limit (180 requests in 15 minutes), I put in a 5-second delay between requests.

Sigh.

So now I've got all this to read...someday:

Finally, the economics of workers vs employers has taken an odd turn as job applicants have started simply ghosting interviewers. But, as Slate says, "employers have been doing this to workers for years, and their hand-wringing didn’t start until the tables were turned."

Another birthday, another long walk

Just as I did a year ago, I'm planning to walk up to Lake Bluff today, and once again the weather has cooperated. I'll take cloudy skies and 25°C for a 43-kilometer hike. (I would prefer 20°C and cloudy, but I'll take 25°C anyway.)

As I enjoy my breakfast in my sunny, airy office right now, mentally preparing for a (literal) marathon hike, life feels good. Well, until I read these things:

And hey, all you other Chicago athletes, good news! The City now has a website where you can find out the likelihood of the Chicago River giving you explosive diarrhea!

About that Russian document

The Guardian reported on Thursday that they had obtained, and validated, a document purporting to come from a January 2016 meeting of Russian president Vladimir Putin and his security team. The document has everything an opponent of the XPOTUS could want:

They agreed a Trump White House would help secure Moscow’s strategic objectives, among them “social turmoil” in the US and a weakening of the American president’s negotiating position.

Russia’s three spy agencies were ordered to find practical ways to support Trump, in a decree appearing to bear Putin’s signature.

There is a brief psychological assessment of Trump, who is described as an “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex”.

There is also apparent confirmation that the Kremlin possesses kompromat, or potentially compromising material, on the future president, collected – the document says – from Trump’s earlier “non-official visits to Russian Federation territory”.

Journalist Julia Ioffe, who has reported on Russia for years, and who has made no secret of her belief that the XPOTUS had no business visiting the White House, let alone living there, took all of this with an entire salt lick:

It sounds absolutely amazing and gratifying, but is it true? The short answer is: we don’t know, but there are...reasons to be skeptical.

As Marc Polymeropoulos, a retired C.I.A. officer who fought Russian active measures from 2017 to 2019 from inside Langley, put it, “this seems to be packaged too neatly. Kremlin documents like this don’t leak.” On this, I agree with Marc. It just seems too pat and fits the narrative we want to believe a little too neatly.

“This definitely looks like something the Kremlin could have written and ‘leaked’ for the purpose of making people look ridiculous when it’s published and everyone gets really excited about it,” said one former U.S. government official who worked on Russia. Look, for instance, at the response to the report: the American media is again talking about Trump and whether the election had been rigged by the Kremlin. (Let’s remember that undermining confidence in election security is not an exclusively Republican sport.)

Still, for all my skepticism and all my spidey senses (and sources) telling me this is probably bullshit, it’s important to allow some space for the possibility that this document is real. It might be! But it’s probably not. The real issue is, we just don’t know yet. So if you’re a journalist with good sources in the intelligence community or in the inner sanctum of the Kremlin, get on it. If you’re not, take a beat, and think about whether it’s worth sharing information we don’t yet know to be true. That’s always a good policy.

I'm with Ioffe. If something seems to good to be true, and all that. Plus, as Ioffe also says, it doesn't matter. The XPOTUS is out of office, and with all the state investigations for prosaic things like massive tax fraud coming at him, I don't think we have to worry too much about what Russia may or may not have done to him.

Relaxing weekend

Cassie and I headed up to Tyranena Brewing in Lake Mills, Wis., yesterday to hang out with family. Today, other than a trip to the grocery and adjacent pet store where Cassie picked out an "indestructible" toy that now lies in tatters on the couch, we've had a pretty relaxing Sunday. I thought I'd take a break from Hard Times to queue up some stuff to read tomorrow at lunch:

I will now return to Dickens, because it's funny and sad.

So, nu, how's by you?

After taking Cassie on a 45-minute walk before the heat hits us, I've spent the morning debugging, watching these news stories pile up for lunchtime reading:

Finally, Chicago architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill has revealed conceptual drawings for a moon base.

Ransomware in the news

I've just received my third nearly-identical fake DMCA takedown notice, which I may decide to turn over to the FBI if I can muster the shits to give. I find it funny how each one of them has a few differences that make them look like something other than lazy script-kiddie stuff. This one again misstated the statutory damage limits for willful copyright infringement, and the randomly-generated name of the "claimant" was no less bizarre than the other two. And yet I wonder why they bothered altering the bits they altered. Maybe there are multiple entities involved, with each email coming from a different person or group? Maybe they have some low-paid flunky typing in the note each time, so I'm watching its slow drift from a semi-competent DMCA notice into the digital equivalent of "hodor?"

This one bounced through an IP address in New York State, which means my previous guess that this was a domestic script-kiddie operation might be wrong. For one thing, the threatening language has a few tells that its author doesn't speak English natively. I had originally thought the author merely wanted to sound more convincing by using stock phrases and "magic" legal words, but now that I've seen three examples of the same basic text, it looks more like Russian-inflected English. In any event, I wave my private parts at their aunties.

Both the New Yorker and New York Times published reports over the weekend about crap like this. In the first, Rachel Monroe talked with ransomware negotiator Kurt Minder about negotiating with criminals:

For the past year, Minder, who is forty-four years old, has been managing the fraught discussions between companies and hackers as a ransomware negotiator, a role that didn’t exist only a few years ago. The half-dozen ransomware-negotiation specialists, and the insurance companies they regularly partner with, help people navigate the world of cyber extortion. But they’ve also been accused of abetting crime by facilitating payments to hackers. Still, with ransomware on the rise, they have no lack of clients. Minder, who is mild and unpretentious, and whose conversation is punctuated by self-deprecating laughter, has become an accidental expert.

Hackers use various techniques to gain access to a company’s computers, from embedding malware in an e-mail attachment to using stolen passwords to log in to the remote desktops that workers use to connect to company networks. Many of the syndicates are based in Russia or former Soviet republics; sometimes their malware includes code that stops an attack on a computer if its language is set to Russian, Belarusian, or Ukrainian.

When Minder founded GroupSense, in Arlington, Virginia, in 2014, the cybersecurity threat on everyone’s mind was data breaches—the theft of consumer data, like bank-account information or Social Security numbers. Minder hired analysts who spoke Russian and Ukrainian and Urdu. Posing as cybercriminals, they lurked on dark-Web marketplaces, seeing who was selling information stolen from corporate networks. But, as upgrades to security systems made data breaches more challenging, cybercriminals increasingly turned to ransomware.

Early last year, GroupSense found evidence that a hacker had broken into a large company. Minder reached out to warn it, but a server had already been compromised. The hacker sent a ransom note to the company, threatening to release its files. The company asked Minder if he would handle the ransom negotiations. Initially, he demurred—“It never occurred to me as a skill set I had,” he said—but eventually he was persuaded.

The profile on Minder dovetailed with the Times' collaboration with a criminal named Woris who gave the paper access to the tools gangs use to launch ransomware attacks:

The Times gained access to the internal “dashboard” that DarkSide customers used to organize and carry out ransom attacks. The login information was provided to The Times by a cybercriminal through an intermediary. The Times is withholding the name of the company involved in the attack to avoid additional reprisals from the hackers.

Access to the DarkSide dashboard offered an extraordinary glimpse into the internal workings of a Russian-speaking gang that has become the face of global cybercrime. Cast in stark black and white, the dashboard gave users access to DarkSide’s list of targets as well as a running ticker of profits and a connection to the group’s customer support staff, with whom affiliates could craft strategies for squeezing their victims.

In the chat log viewed by The Times, a DarkSide customer support employee boasted to Woris that he had been involved in more than 300 ransom attacks and tried to put him at ease.

“We’re just as interested in the proceeds as you are,” the employee said.

Together, they hatched the plan to put the squeeze on the publishing company, a nearly century-old, family-owned business with only a few hundred employees.

In addition to shutting down the company’s computer systems and issuing the pedophile threat, Woris and DarkSide’s technical support drafted a blackmail letter to be sent to school officials and parents who were the company’s clients.

The Russian government allows this to happen because (a) Russian President Vladimir Putin loves annoying the West, and (b) it seems obvious after two seconds of thought that Russian government officials are probably on the take.

All of this gets so exhausting, doesn't it? Simple economics demonstrates the inevitability of theft. It imposes a tax on everyone else, both financially (it costs money to set up good security) and mentally (I will never get back the hour I spent investigating the bogus DMCA notices). At some point, though, it just becomes easier to tolerate a certain level of theft than to build a squirrel-proof bird feeder.