Monday, October 16, 2017

So Long Stabranja

Maybe it's all this Equifax bonanza stuff going down, but I thought a post about identity and security and automated account attacks would be appropriate.

I was very excited to be able to see my facebook account hacked in a (perhaps) methodical, slow attack that has left me unable to verify my own identity, i.e., access the account. I say perhaps because, perhaps, there is no method-making person behind this; maybe it's just a program following instructions. Regardless, I got to watch it happen, and I'd like to share.

In preface, it should be noted that here at Network Address, we certainly don't present ourselves as digital liberators, that is, computer hackers. However, the world that surrounds the activities of such folk are very interesting to us. Listening to Off the Hook on 99.5 WBAI and attending the HOPE conference at the Hotel Pennsylvania are a great source of the material seen on this site. If interested yourself, please look into these, they're very much worth it (The next HOPE is summer 2018, check it out...

Back to the matter. I wonder how common this is. I like to do research in less likely places, like dating sites, for example. For some of them, you need to use your facebook account to get in. For this reason, among many others, I have many facebook accounts, and many from back in the day before you had to use real names. This one is Stabranja Bones, part of a pretty extensive project carried out almost 10 years ago, about hick-hop (it's not real, we made it up) and bronix (the bro-language that had since become pretty popular, who knew). So I access this dating site using on of my facebook accounts, unfortunately, a favorite that I'm sad to see taken away from me (although I'm glad I got to see it happen firsthand).

I'm on the dating site for a couple days, that's all I need. You know how these sites work, btw - if you leave your account vacant it will be used as a bot. There's no such thing as deactivating or deleting an account. Content has value and will not go to waste, no matter what you think or want. (Remember, when things are free, you're the one giving the value, not taking it.) We used to call this a zombie I guess, like you killed the account but someone else uses the empty shell, the carcass, to impersonate a real person. This makes the site look like they have more people than they really do, which makes the prospects of finding a date better, which makes the site more attractive, which makes it more likely that you'll pay for a subscription after your free trial. (If you're new to all this, just look into the Ashley Madison scandal, "angels" and "engagers" and etc.) So, I get into the habit of at least deleting all the uploaded pictures on the dating site account, posting new picutres of people that are certainly not me, and then "deactivating" it. I did this.

About a week later, I get a message from a friend of mine, one of the few people I have connected to the hacked fb account, and a person who, unlike myself, is active on facebook and notices these things - he asks me, in real life via text message, if I changed the profile picture on the facebook page. I did not. I assume that my tooling around with the dating site via the fb site had caused some inadvertent change. In the back of my mind, because I don't trust anything, I thought there was a possiblity that everything was already compromised.

About a week or two later I check back into the dating site, just to check up on things, since I was suspicious. I see a chubby Middle Eastern man has taken the place of my profile picture (which until then was a photo of a college friend of mine in drag), and yes, the dating site is still using my profile/account, but with this new chubby Middle Eastern guy as the primary avatar. I log back into fb and delete this guy's pic, and reinstate my old profile pic.

A month goes by. I then get an email stating that my password has been changed, if I didn't do that, I should check into it. I do. They're asking me to confirm my identity. They show me some pictures of "friends" to test whether I know them or not. Hmmm. Some of these people I don't recgnize (I only had 3 friends, this was a bogus account we did for fun, after all.) I fail the test. I try again. I fail again. I don't know these people. I'm locked out of the account forever.

I go back to my email account (a second account that I use for bogus accounts etc.). Gmail separates "social" emails to another page, so I haven't been seeing the updates from fb etc. I go into this "social" page of emails and see that my fb avatar has been accumulating friends for the past month. I imagine that friend requests are sent out by the hundreds, and someone, be they either real or not, is accepting. Now I have a whole bunch of "friends" who I don't know. And if this is going on for a month, and I'm not doing anything about it, then whoever is doing this (see me giving agency to an algorithm here?) is like "great, nobody's at the wheel, let's take control." My password gets changed.

I recall some time ago, my credit card company called me about potential fraud. Have you been to Florida recently, they asked. No. That's what we thought, you have some fraudulent charges, we're going to take them off and give you a new card number. How did you know, I asked. They bought hard hats from a Home Depot in Florida, and we thought that was strange. ... I thought it was strange that they thought that was strange. Anyway, they know this stuff better than I do, because once someone has stolen your credit card number, the first thing they do is to test it; they buy some stuff and see if they get flagged. They see if there's anyone behind the wheel. If not, it's all their's.

And now Stabranja is all theirs, whoever they are.


The next time you hear something like "Facebook has reached x million users," be aware that these are not real people. They're empty shells. Their "likes" are empty as well. Also, the next time you are deciding whether it's worth it to pay for a subscription to that dating site, many of those people are not real. That is to say, they may have been real at one time, but they are no longer; they are also empty shells. 

Post Script

etymology of Stabranja Bones:
Stabroned (brain + stoned) + ganja. Yup. Producer of Brody Lambone, hick-hop sensation.

The Semibots Are Coming
Network Address, 2015

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Physiodata at Large

Drone detects heartbeat and breathing rates
Sep 2017, BBC

The system detects movements in human faces and necks in order to accurately source heart and breathing rates.

In other words, facial recognition algorithms have now gone totally apeshit.

I guess they're just looking at your neck, and reading your pulse that way. Do our faces (our heads really) move in the rhythm of our breathing, so slight that we might not see it, but a robotic eye-brain?

Now that we can get live physiological data from large groups of people, simultaneously, and in realtime, just by looking at them, it's no time to forget that we can read the date on a dime on the sidewalk from a satellite in orbit.

In extrapolation, all I can think about is Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora (2015), where the multi-generational starship, equipped with a quantum computing AI instead of a captain, and after a civil war on the ship, finally "decides" that in some cases, it's better to let the air out of a biome than to let the people in it do harm to the ship, because, you know, for the greater good. The people don't die, at least most of them; instead they just get really, really tired and docile.

Narrative snippets have the ship dictating the "average pulse rate of the ship," meaning the average of every inhabitant of the ship,  data that an AI-equipped starship of the 22nd century can very capably know.

Who's about to riot? Those people with the quickening pulse, that's who. Face-recognition used to yield data on the outside, like your face. Now they can data from the inside. Maybe "angry faces" is easy to identify, and might be more predictive than pulse. Maybe it's the same things. But something about a drone I can't even see, knowing what's going on inside my body, makes me think we're already living in these science fiction novels.

image: Woody Allen on the couch in his 1977 film Annie Hall, BBC

Monday, September 25, 2017

Jellyfish Dreams

Signs of sleep seen in jellyfish
Sep 2017,

"It's the first example of sleep in animals without a brain."
-coauthor Paul Sternberg,  Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator at the California Institute of Technology,

image source

Bots Made Me Do It

Twitter bots for good: Study reveals how information spreads on social media
Sep 2017,

Emilio Ferrara, a USC Information Sciences Institute computer scientist and research assistant professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering's Department of Computer Science, and a team from the Technical University of Denmark.

39 bots deploy "positive-themed" hashtags to 25,000 Twitter users for four-months.

Information is much more likely to become viral when people are exposed to the same piece of information multiple times through multiple sources. "This milestone shatters a long-held belief that ideas spread like an infectious disease, or contagion, with each exposure resulting in the same probability of infection," says Ferrara.

Bjarke M√łnsted et al. Evidence of complex contagion of information in social media: An experiment using Twitter bots, PLOS ONE (2017). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184148

image source
image credit

Post Script:

Post from 5 years ago about this topic, check out Tim Hwang at the HOPE#9 conference talking about his ethically and legally dubious twitter-bot experiments on an unsuspecting cluster of 500 users:
Social Bots, Network Address, 2012

In case you were wondering the difference between robo- and -bot
Robo vs Bot, Network Address, 2013

Aaaaaand, why are we still not using the word "semibots?"
The Semibots Are Coming, Network Address, 2015

Friday, September 15, 2017

Man of the Year 2017

Look at him. He is the Pee-Wee Herman that you thought Pee-Wee Herman looked like after you found out he was a child molester (is that even true? No, I think he just got caught jerking off in public.)

Shkreli ordered jailed after online bounty on Hillary Clinton's hair
Reuters, Sep 2017

For sheer entertainment value alone this guy should get person of the year. He has added more priceless content to the interwebs than any other person (I guess this has been going on for more than a year, but we have to draw the line somewhere).

He raises drug prices so high that he basically kills dozens of people, and has absolutely no remorse. He goes to trial for securities fraud and tweets about how all the people involved are dumbasses, to the chastisement of his lawyer. He goes on trial and they can't even find a jury for him because he is so infamous for being a dirty asshole. His face is that of a sneaky shitbag (just look at him). His name, for christ's sake, is that of the sleeziest scumbag you ever heard of (Shkreli? Just say it out loud). He buys the secret and almost priceless Wu-Tang album for millions of dollars and then threatens to upload it to a torrent site so everyone can have it for free. I think he tried to pick a fight with Raekwon (am I making that up?). He uses twitter better than Donald Trump. (what does that even mean?)

I am definitely missing some things here, but we pause right after this - he puts a bounty on Hillary Clinton's hair, just one strand. You have got to be kidding me. He's serious, he's hilarious, he's preposterous, his moral compass is actually a piece of spin-art made on the boardwalk at the Jersey shore, his conscience is the evil, zero-fucks-epitome of all of us, manifest. He is the perfect child of corrupt capitalism, born fully formed from the head of the Merrill Lynch Bull.

In my series of coward-heroes, he is just the one I've been waiting for. First Jared Loughner, then Julian Assange, now this guy, Martin Shkreli. Man of the year, 2017.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Milk Does a Body

Evolution of Adult Lactose Absorption

Farming, cheese, chewing changed human skull shape
Aug 2017,

The agricultural revolution put the human genome in the spin cycle of a washing machine. Plants, though fibrous, are easier to chew than animals. So during the thousands of years while we were discovering the magic of seed-sowing, and eating the results of our pre-science experimentation, our bodies (our jaws especially) were changing in response.

At this time in our development, the rate of change for a genome was equal to the rate of change of our culture, and our diet, and so the two were able to influence each other. Nowadays, those rates have changed so that our culture moves faster than the genome - i.e., just this week we saw the first 'living drug' that changes the patient's genome so that it attacks cancer.

Anyway, this is our history:

The largest changes in skull morphology were observed in groups consuming dairy products, suggesting that the effect of agriculture on skull morphology was greatest in populations consuming the softest food (cheese!).

I just have to rant for a moment about arguments for an extreme vegetarian diet. I'm all for being healthy and eating more vegetables and less animals, but to say that it is not natural for us to eat meat or dairy products is preposterous, and this is one of those reasons why. Furthermore, to conjure support for the rational adoption of a 'paleo' diet that mimcs the caveman's diet, because 'that is the diet that we evolved to eat', is also preposterous. A lot has happened since caveman days. Sure, the homo sapien is (?) years old (let's just say on the order of 100,000 years). But since that time, our genome has continued to change. Dairying practices are not 100,000 years old, but more like 10,000. And the impact this had on the homo sapien genome was tremendous.

We are the only mammal that maintains lactase into adulthood - that is a genetic modification that we did to ourselves. Nature did not do that to us; we did it. According to this article above, we also changed the shape of our skulls because of eating cheese.

So, in short, we are  complex creatures. We are more complex than any new diet can encapsulate. I'm not trying to tell anyone what to eat up in here. But I am saying that instead of asserting that there is something wrong with the way we are, and that we should try to be more like the way we were, the "natural way", is to ignore the unfathomably complex and epic journey we have made as a species, and that we should continue to make, as long as we don't all kill each other, and as long as the planet that gave us life doesn't go and kill us all.

Post Script
Here's a paper on lactase persistence, perhaps the greatest story in human culture ever, because it was the inflection point beyond which our culture moves faster than our genes can keep up with.
Evolution of lactase persistence: an example of human niche construction, 2011

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Natural Way

Robots eating robots.

'Cyborg' bacteria deliver green fuel source from sunlight
Aug 2017, BBC news

Scientists have created bacteria covered in tiny semiconductors [solar panels] that generate a potential fuel source from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water.

The so-called "cyborg" bugs produce acetic acid [vinegar], a chemical that can then be turned into fuel and plastic.

After combing through old microbiology literature, researchers realised that some bugs have a natural defence to cadmium, mercury or lead that lets them turn the heavy metal into a sulphide which the bacteria express as a tiny, crystal semiconductor on their surfaces.

Dr Kelsey Sakimoto from Harvard University in Massachusetts, US:
"We grow them and we introduce a small amount of cadmium, and naturally they produce cadmium sulphide crystals which then agglomerate on the outsides of their bodies."

They have an efficiency of around 80%, which is four times the level of commercial solar panels, and more than six times the level of chlorophyll.

The Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR) was a project by Robotic Technology Inc. (RTI) and Cyclone Power Technologies Inc. to develop a robotic vehicle that could forage for plant biomass to fuel itself, theoretically operating indefinitely. It was being developed as a concept as part of the DARPA military projects for the United States military. [And so it eats dead bodies too]