Links for 2016-10-25

  • Founder of Google X has no concept of how machine learning as policing tool risks reinforcing implicit bias

    This is shocking:

    At the end of the panel on artificial intelligence, a young black woman asked [Sebastian Thrun, CEO of the education startup Udacity, who is best known for founding Google X] whether bias in machine learning “could perpetuate structural inequality at a velocity much greater than perhaps humans can.” She offered the example of criminal justice, where “you have a machine learning tool that can identify criminals, and criminals may disproportionately be black because of other issues that have nothing to do with the intrinsic nature of these people, so the machine learns that black people are criminals, and that’s not necessarily the outcome that I think we want.” In his reply, Thrun made it sound like her concern was one about political correctness, not unconscious bias. “Statistically what the machines do pick up are patterns and sometimes we don’t like these patterns. Sometimes they’re not politically correct,” Thrun said. “When we apply machine learning methods sometimes the truth we learn really surprises us, to be honest, and I think it’s good to have a dialogue about this.”
    “the truth”! Jesus. We are fucked

    (tags: google googlex bias racism implicit-bias machine-learning ml sebastian-thrun udacity inequality policing crime)

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Links for 2016-10-24

  • Paypal 2FA Bypass

    Holy shit.

    Using a proxy, remove “securityQuestion0” and “securityQuestion1” from the post data.
    Massive facepalm.

    (tags: paypal 2fa security fail web html)

  • ArquitecturB

    amazing architectural-oddities Tumblr (via Present and Correct)

    (tags: tumblr art photography architecture weird odd)

  • Management levels

    I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a few different management levels (responsibilities? jobs?) at Etsy since I’ve joined. At each stage, I felt like the job of being a manager totally changed. What I did day-to-day changed, what was hard about it changed, how I measured my own success changed, and though I feel like the experiences built on one another, it continues to be an enormous shift in brainpower each time the gig changes a bit. Given how intangible (and often hidden) management work can be, I’ve outlined some highlights of what my work has been like as a manager over the last four years. (Obvious, major caveat: this is just my experience, and there’s lots in here that is unique to this particular work environment, hierarchy, requirements, and challenges!)

    (tags: business engineering management career lara-hogan managing)

  • JG Ballard, on the “pram in the hall”

    Cyril Connolly, the 50s critic and writer, said that the greatest enemy of creativity is the pram in the hall, but I think that was completely wrong. It was the enemy of a certain kind of dilettante life that he aspired to, the man of letters, but for the real novelist the pram in the hall is the greatest ally – it brings you up sharp and you realise what reality is all about. My children were a huge inspiration for me. Watching three young minds creating their separate worlds was a very enriching experience.

    (tags: writing creativity jg-ballard quotes pram-in-the-hall children kids parenting biography)

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Links for 2016-10-21

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Links for 2016-10-19

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Links for 2016-10-18

  • _Airport Noise NIMBYism: An Empirical Investigation_

    ‘Generally, a very small number of people account for a disproportionately high share of the total number of noise complaints. In 2015, for example, 6,852 of the 8,760 complaints submitted to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport originated from one residence in the affluent Foxhall neighborhood of northwest Washington, DC. The residents of that particular house called Reagan National to express irritation about aircraft noise an average of almost 19 times per day during 2015.’ Somebody needs help.

    (tags: airports noise nimby nimbyism complaints dc)

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Links for 2016-10-17

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Links for 2016-10-10

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Links for 2016-10-07

  • How Fucked Up is Your Management?

    Oh dear.

    Score 1 “My management culture is fucked up” point for each of the following: We have an unlimited vacation policy; We don’t do regular 1:1s, but we have open office hours/are super available if anyone wants to chat; We don’t have a process for interviewing, we just hire awesome people when we meet them; We super care about diversity, but we don’t want to lower the bar so we just hire the best person for the job even if it means diversity suffers; We don’t have defined levels and career paths for our employees, we’re a really flat org; We don’t have formal managers for every staff member, everyone just gets their work done; We don’t have, like, HR HR, but our recruiter/office manager/only female employee is super good if you want someone to talk to; We don’t do performance improvement plans for employees that are struggling. We just have a super honest conversation about how they aren’t a good fit and fire them; We would have some hard explaining to do if our salary list accidentally became public.

    (tags: startups management culture work vacation hiring office-hours managers diversity careers hr)

  • Google and Monotype launch Noto, an open-source typeface family for all the world’s languages

    Great font factoid: ‘The name “Noto” comes from the little squares that show when a font is not supported by a computer. This are often referred to as “tofu”, because of their shape, therefore the font is short for No Tofu.’

    (tags: tofu fonts i18n google design typography unicode)

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Links for 2016-10-06

  • Simple testing can prevent most critical failures

    Specifically, the following 3 classes of errors were implicated in 92% of the major production outages in this study and could have been caught with simple code review:

    Error handlers that ignore errors (or just contain a log statement); error handlers with “TODO” or “FIXME” in the comment; and error handlers that catch an abstract exception type (e.g. Exception or Throwable in Java) and then take drastic action such as aborting the system.
    (Interestingly, the latter was a particular favourite approach of some misplaced “fail fast”/”crash-only software design” dogma in Amazon. I wasn’t a fan)

    (tags: fail-fast crash-only-software coding design bugs code-review review outages papers logging errors exceptions)

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Links for 2016-10-05

  • We are witnessing nothing less than a Tory reformation | Rafael Behr | Opinion | The Guardian

    An excellent explanation of what is going on in the UK right now. What a nightmare:

    Finally there are the self-styled buccaneers of the free-trade seas. Boris Johnson would probably cast himself as Sir Walter Raleigh – polymath, wordsmith, adventurer. That leaves Liam Fox to play Sir Francis Drake, looking for domestic glory in global circumnavigation but seen from abroad as a pirate. This is all myth and fantasy, of course. But parties have always been sustained by internal mythologies, and the task of exiting the EU is so complicated and fraught with danger that fantasy becomes a necessary comfort. As one former minister says of the puritan choristers: “They have spent their lives working towards this dream. Of course they don’t want to accept that it’s a nightmare.” Tory pro-Europeans are in the impossible position of using rational argument against faith. If they counsel compromise on migration or the single market, they are accused of talking Britain down or trying to refight the referendum. They have few reinforcements across the political water. Labour is a shambles. The Lib Dems are puny in parliament. Scotland has its own distinct politics, and in Nicola Sturgeon its own remainian queen with her own independence agenda. The Tories do not speak for all of England, but in the absence of credible opposition they feel as if they do, and will act accordingly. To those millions who did not vote to leave the EU, the message is clear: you are free to pray for whatever you like. Your antique rites will be tolerated. But do not expect your concerns to be represented in the court of Queen Theresa. Be humble instead. Swallow your doubts and take a pew in the reformed national church of Brexit.

    (tags: reformation uk politics brexit eu puritanism fanaticism)

  • The Technical Debt Quadrant

    Martin Fowler’s take on the 4 kinds of tech debt

    (tags: programming design tech-debt technical-debt deadlines product ship)

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Links for 2016-10-04

  • Charity Majors responds to the CleverTap Mongo outage war story

    This is a great blog post, spot on:

    You can’t just go “dudes it’s faster” and jump off a cliff.  This shit is basic.  Test real production workloads. Have a rollback plan.  (Not for *10 days* … try a month or two.)
    The only thing I’d nitpick on is that it’s all very well to say “buy my book” or “come see me talk at Blahcon”, but a good blog post or webpage would be thousands of times more useful.

    (tags: databases stateful-services services ops mongodb charity-majors rollback state storage testing dba)

  • Remarks at the SASE Panel On The Moral Economy of Tech

    Excellent talk. I love this analogy for ML applied to real-world data which affects people:

    Treating the world as software promotes fantasies of control. And the best kind of control is control without responsibility. Our unique position as authors of software used by millions gives us power, but we don’t accept that this should make us accountable. We’re programmers—who else is going to write the software that runs the world? To put it plainly, we are surprised that people seem to get mad at us for trying to help. Fortunately we are smart people and have found a way out of this predicament. Instead of relying on algorithms, which we can be accused of manipulating for our benefit, we have turned to machine learning, an ingenious way of disclaiming responsibility for anything. Machine learning is like money laundering for bias. It’s a clean, mathematical apparatus that gives the status quo the aura of logical inevitability. The numbers don’t lie.
    Particularly apposite today given Y Combinator’s revelation that they use an AI bot to help ‘sift admission applications’, and don’t know what criteria it’s using:

    (tags: culture ethics privacy technology surveillance ml machine-learning bias algorithms software control)

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Links for 2016-10-02

  • The ultimate off-site backup

    So assuming the mission continues well, in 2014 the Rosetta Probe will land on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, where it will measure the comet’s molecular composition. Then it will remain at rest as the comet orbits the sun for hundreds of millions of years. So somewhere in the solar system, where it is safe but hard to reach, a backup sample of human languages is stored, in case we need one.
    As jwz says: ‘The Rosetta Disc is now safely installed on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.’

    (tags: rosetta long-now history language comets solar-system space)

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Links for 2016-09-30

  • Airflow/AMI/ASG nightly-packaging workflow

    Some tantalising discussion on twitter of an Airflow + AMI + ASG workflow for ML packaging: ‘We build models using Airflow. We deploy new models as AMIs where each AMI is model + scoring code. The AMI is hence a version of code + model at a point in time : #immutable_infrastructure. It’s natural for Airflow to build & deploy the model+code with each Airflow DAG Run corresponding to a versioned AMI. if there’s a problem, we can simply roll back to the previous AMI & identify the problematic model building Dag run. Since we use ASGs, Airflow can execute a rolling deploy of new AMIs. We could also have it do a validation & ASG rollback of the AMI if validation fails. Airflow is being used for reliable Model build+validation+deployment.’

    (tags: ml packaging airflow asg ami deployment ops infrastructure rollback)

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Links for 2016-09-29

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Links for 2016-09-28

  • Snooping powers saw 13 people wrongly held on child sex charges in the UK

    Sorry, Daily Mail article —

    Blunders in the use of controversial snooping powers meant 13 people were wrongly arrested last year on suspicion of being paedophiles. Another four individuals had their homes searched by detectives following errors in attempts to access communications data, a watchdog revealed yesterday. Other mistakes also included people unconnected to an investigation being visited by police and delayed welfare checks on vulnerable people including children whose lives were at risk, said the Interception of Communications Commissioner. [….] A large proportion of the errors involved an internet address which was wrongly linked to an individual. Of the 23 serious mistakes, 14 were human errors and the other nine ‘technical system errors’.

    (tags: surveillance ip-addresses privacy uk daily-mail snooping interception errors)

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Links for 2016-09-27

  • The best thing to mark National Stalking Awareness Week would be to scrap the law on stalking

    “The Secret Barrister” explains a classic case of empty-gesture lawmaking in the UK:

    in 2012, the coalition government, in a fit of virtue signalling, announced a bold plan to offer extra protection to victims of stalking, following a rash of reported cases where obsessive nutjobs had slipped through the net. Hence, via the 2012 Act, section 2A was shoved into the Protection from Harassment Act, creating a shiny new offence of stalking. What is stalking, you ask? Well here’s the clever bit. Stalking is…”a course of conduct which amounts to harassment…and [where] the acts or omissions involved are ones associated with stalking“. To inject some colour into the dull circularity of the definition, section 2A(3) provides “examples of acts or omissions associated with stalking”. In other words, you need to prove that the defendant is guilty of both harassment and stalking, in order to convict them of stalking. Therefore, proving stalking is by definition harder for the prosecution than simply proving harassment. And what do you get if you opt for the harder road? What prize awaits the victorious prosecutor who has slogged her way through the additional evidential burden thrust upon her by section 2A? The answer is….nothing. Or at least, nothing more than if you successfully prosecuted for harassment. The maximum sentence in each case is 6 months’ imprisonment. It is the very definition of empty gesture legislating. Section 2A is so very pointlessly pointless that I want urgently to go back in time to the day when then-crime prevention minister Jeremy Browne was hubristically prattling on about what a difference this law is going to make and shove a whoopee pie right up his schnoz. Section 2A does nothing other than create a new offence that is harder to prove than an existing offence that prohibits the same conduct, solely, it seems, to allow for the drawing of an entirely semantic distinction between “harassment” and “stalking”.

    (tags: harrassment stalking law legislation uk police crime prosecution)

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Links for 2016-09-26

  • “Better truck design could save hundreds of pedestrian and cyclist lives”

    European transport group, Transport and Environment, said that the Loughborough study shows that better design “could save hundreds of pedestrian and cyclists’ lives”. It added that the study “finds huge differences in the direct vision – what drivers can see with their own eyes – of best and worst-in-class trucks in all categories, and that ‘low-entry cabs’ like the Mercedes Econic out perform all of today’s best performing vehicles.” A P-Series truck, from truck maker Scania, was rated at the best of its class with zero blind spots — this could go a long way to explaining why the makers of a Road Safety Authority video using another P-Series truck reportedly had to fake blind spots last year. Mandatory extra mirrors has been EU policy to try to reduce collisions with people cycling and walking but researchers point out that blind spots remain on many trucks and improving direct vision may be a better policy than improving indirect vision using mirrors. […] The EU currently has a deadline of 2028 for improved vision in trucks but Transport and Environment said: “Given that better vision cabs are already available on the market and in all market segments (best in class, smarter configurations, low entry vehicles) a 2028 deadline is not justifiable.”

    (tags: cycling safety trucks law scania roads pedestrians)

  • How to Quantify Scalability

    good page on the Universal Scalability Law and how to apply it

    (tags: usl performance scalability concurrency capacity measurement excel equations metrics)

  • Artist Tricks Tourists With Elaborate Monument To Staten Island Ferry Octopus Attack

    ‘You probably don’t know much about the Staten Island Ferry Disaster Memorial Museum, which honors the 400 victims who died when a giant octopus attacked the Cornelius G. Kolff, a Staten Island Ferry boat, on Nov. 22, 1963. That isn’t because the event was overshadowed by the assassination of JFK that same day—it’s because, as you may have guessed based on the word “tricks” in the headline, there was no such octopus-induced tragedy.’

    (tags: ferries staten-island octopi funny pranks tourism)

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Links for 2016-09-25

  • iPhones4Autism

    great idea — donate old, obsolete iPhone 4/4s phones to a charity which repurposes them for autistic/non-verbal kids

    (tags: autism communication health phones recycling charity iphones)

  • Brian Krebs – The Democratization of Censorship

    Events of the past week have convinced me that one of the fastest-growing censorship threats on the Internet today comes not from nation-states, but from super-empowered individuals who have been quietly building extremely potent cyber weapons with transnational reach. More than 20 years after Gilmore first coined [his] turn of phrase, his most notable quotable has effectively been inverted — “Censorship can in fact route around the Internet.” The Internet can’t route around censorship when the censorship is all-pervasive and armed with, for all practical purposes, near-infinite reach and capacity.

    (tags: brian-krebs censorship ddos internet web politics crime security iot)

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Links for 2016-09-23

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Links for 2016-09-21

  • “The couple, who had no experience of wine-making but much faith in professorial expertise…”

    I love this story — a wealthy couple buy a vineyard in the Languedoc for its theoretically-optimal microclimate for wine-making. Defying what one’s preconceptions would expect (mine included!), the results were fantastic.

    In the Languedoc there is a vineyard that teaches us an important lesson about textbook learning and its application to the world. In the early Seventies it was bought by a wealthy couple, who consulted professors Emile Peynaud and Henri Enjalbert, the world’s leading academic oenologist and oenological geologist respectively. Between them these men convinced the couple that their new vineyard had a theoretically ideal microclimate for wine-making. When planted with theoretically ideal vines whose fruits would be processed in the optimal way according to the up-to-date science of oenology, this vineyard had the potential to produce wine to match the great first growths of Bordeaux. The received wisdom that great wine was the product of an inscrutable (and untransferable) tradition was quite mistaken, the professors said: it could be done with hard work and a fanatical attention to detail. The couple, who had no experience of wine-making but much faith in professorial expertise, took a deep breath and went ahead. If life were reliably like novels, their experiment would have been a disaster. In fact Aimé and Véronique Guibert have met with a success so unsullied that it would make a stupefying novel (it has already been the subject of a comatogenic work of non-fiction). The first vintage they declared (in 1978) was described by Gault Millau as ‘Château Lafite du Languedoc’; others have been praised to the heights by the likes of Hugh Johnson and Robert Parker. The wine is now on the list at the Tour d’Argent and the 1986 vintage retails at the vineyard for £65 a bottle. The sole shadow on the lives of these millionaires is cast by the odd hailstorm. No one to whom I have begun recounting the story believes it will end well. Most people are extremely unwilling to grant that faith in textbook knowledge should ever be crowned with success. We have a very strong narrative bias against such stories. It is a bias we forget once our children fall sick or we have to travel in an aeroplane, but so long as we are in storytelling mode we simply deny that systematic textbook reasoning can make headway against whimsy and serendipity. Apart from anything else, it is deeply unfair that it should.

    (tags: books science languedoc wine academia microclimates preconceptions)

  • The Problem With Cul-de-Sac Design – CityLab

    “A lot of people feel that they want to live in a cul-de-sac, they feel like it’s a safer place to be,” Marshall says. “The reality is yes, you’re safer – if you never leave your cul-de-sac. But if you actually move around town like a normal person, your town as a whole is much more dangerous.” This is the opposite of what traffic engineers (and home buyers) have thought for decades. And it’s just the beginning of what we’re now starting to understand about the relative advantages of going back to the way we designed communities a century ago. Marshall and Garrick took the same group of California cities and also examined all their minutely classified street networks for the amount of driving associated with them. On average, they found, people who live in more sparse, tree-like communities drive about 18 percent more than people who live in dense grids. And that’s a conservative calculation.
    (via Tony Finch)

    (tags: cul-de-sacs cities city design layout simcity grids safety)

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Links for 2016-09-20

  • Osso

    “A modern standard for event-oriented data”. Avro schema, events have time and type, schema is external and not part of the Avro stream. ‘a modern standard for representing event-oriented data in high-throughput operational systems. It uses existing open standards for schema definition and serialization, but adds semantic meaning and definition to make integration between systems easy, while still being size- and processing-efficient. An Osso event is largely use case agnostic, and can represent a log message, stack trace, metric sample, user action taken, ad display or click, generic HTTP event, or otherwise. Every event has a set of common fields as well as optional key/value attributes that are typically event type-specific.’

    (tags: osso events schema data interchange formats cep event-processing architecture)

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Links for 2016-09-15

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Links for 2016-09-12

  • A Loud Sound Just Shut Down a Bank’s Data Center for 10 Hours | Motherboard

    The purpose of the drill was to see how the data center’s fire suppression system worked. Data centers typically rely on inert gas to protect the equipment in the event of a fire, as the substance does not chemically damage electronics, and the gas only slightly decreases the temperature within the data center. The gas is stored in cylinders, and is released at high velocity out of nozzles uniformly spread across the data center. According to people familiar with the system, the pressure at ING Bank’s data center was higher than expected, and produced a loud sound when rapidly expelled through tiny holes (think about the noise a steam engine releases). The bank monitored the sound and it was very loud, a source familiar with the system told us. “It was as high as their equipment could monitor, over 130dB”. Sound means vibration, and this is what damaged the hard drives. The HDD cases started to vibrate, and the vibration was transmitted to the read/write heads, causing them to go off the data tracks. “The inert gas deployment procedure has severely and surprisingly affected several servers and our storage equipment,” ING said in a press release.

    (tags: ing hardware outages hard-drives fire fire-suppression vibration data-centers storage)

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Links for 2016-09-09

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Links for 2016-09-08

  • Basetrip

    ‘All the information you need while traveling including visa requirements, currency, electricity, communication info and more.’

    (tags: travel reference visas holidays)

  • The Internet Thinks I’m Still Pregnant – The New York Times

    This is pretty awful — an accidental, careless and brutal side effect of marketers passing on sensitive info to one another, without respect for their users’ privacy: ‘I hadn’t realized, however, that when I had entered my information into the pregnancy app, the company would then share it with marketing groups targeting new mothers. Although I logged my miscarriage into the app and stopped using it, that change in status apparently wasn’t passed along. Seven months after my miscarriage, mere weeks before my due date, I came home from work to find a package on my welcome mat. It was a box of baby formula bearing the note: “We may all do it differently, but the joy of parenthood is something we all share.”’

    (tags: privacy pregnancy miscarriage data-protection apps babies parenthood)

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Links for 2016-09-07

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Links for 2016-09-05

  • Auto Scaling for EC2 Spot Fleets

    ‘we are enhancing the Spot Fleet model with the addition of Auto Scaling. You can now arrange to scale your fleet up and down based on a Amazon CloudWatch metric. The metric can originate from an AWS service such as EC2, Amazon EC2 Container Service, or Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS). Alternatively, your application can publish a custom metric and you can use it to drive the automated scaling.’

    (tags: asg auto-scaling ec2 spot-fleets ops scaling)

  • How a Japanese cucumber farmer is using deep learning and TensorFlow

    Unfortunately the usual ML problem arises at the end:

    One of the current challenges with deep learning is that you need to have a large number of training datasets. To train the model, Makoto spent about three months taking 7,000 pictures of cucumbers sorted by his mother, but it’s probably not enough. “When I did a validation with the test images, the recognition accuracy exceeded 95%. But if you apply the system with real use cases, the accuracy drops down to about 70%. I suspect the neural network model has the issue of “overfitting” (the phenomenon in neural network where the model is trained to fit only to the small training dataset) because of the insufficient number of training images.”
    In other words, as with ML since we were using it in SpamAssassin, maintaining the training corpus becomes a really big problem. :(

    (tags: google machine-learning tensorflow cucumbers deep-learning ml)

  • Northland man denies burning down house but insurer refuses to pay out

    This is a mad story. The insurance company is accusing a guy in NZ of using remote-login software from 400km away to trigger a “print” command to a complicated Heath Robinson setup in order to light a fire to burn down his house

    (tags: fraud insurance weird nz crime printers remote-login)

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Links for 2016-08-19

  • How the NSA snooped on encrypted Internet traffic for a decade | Ars Technica

    In a revelation that shows how the National Security Agency was able to systematically spy on many Cisco Systems customers for the better part of a decade, researchers have uncovered an attack that remotely extracts decryption keys from the company’s now-decommissioned line of PIX firewalls. The discovery is significant because the attack code, dubbed BenignCertain, worked on PIX versions Cisco released in 2002 and supported through 2009. Even after Cisco stopped providing PIX bug fixes in July 2009, the company continued offering limited service and support for the product for an additional four years. Unless PIX customers took special precautions, virtually all of them were vulnerable to attacks that surreptitiously eavesdropped on their VPN traffic.

    (tags: nsa hacks exploits pix cisco security)

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Links for 2016-08-18

  • NPR Website To Get Rid Of Comments

    Sadly, this makes sense and I’d have to agree.

    Mike Durio, of Phoenix, seemed to sum it up in an email to my office back in April. “Have you considered doing away with the comments sections, or tighter moderation?” he wrote. “The comments have devolved into the Punch-and-Judy-Fest of moronic, un-illuminating observations and petty insults I’ve seen on other pretty much every other Internet site that allows comments.” He added, “This is not in keeping with NPR’s take-a-step-back, take-a-deep-breath reporting,” and noted, “Now, thread hijacking and personal insults are becoming the stock in trade. Frequent posters use the forums to duke it out with one another.” A user named Mary, from Raleigh, N.C., wrote to implore: “Remove the comments section from your articles. The rude, hateful, racist, judgmental comments far outweigh those who may want to engage in some intelligent sideline conversation about the actual subject of the article. I am appalled at the amount of ‘free hate’ that is found on a website that represents honest and unbiased reporting such as NPR. What are you really gaining from all of these rabid comments other than proof that a sad slice of humanity that preys on the weak while spreading their hate?”

    (tags: abuse comments npr racism web discussion)

  • Meeting the Free Speech Crusaders Who Want to End Political Correctness | VICE | United Kingdom

    The ‘Young British Heritage Society’, aka gam*rgate as a college society

    (tags: gamergate funny sad trolls ybhs reactionaries uk politics)

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