Some random tech news:
Brattleboro users of LinkedIn can now choose to be from Brattleboro in addition to the “Springfield, MA area” by changing their profile settings. An option to choose Brattleboro has been added, but you must make the change manually. Look for the place to edit your zip code...
Robot update - you can no longer defend against a robot invasion with your pile of big sticks. CHARLI-2 is a new robot with built-in stabilization to prevent your big sticks from having any effect. Move on to Plan B.
Ever want to make your Tinker Toys connect to your Legos to your Lincoln Logs to... well, you can. A group called the Free Arts and Technology Lab has released a Universal Construction Kit of free adapters to connect 10 toy building systems.
Hacking vs. Headaches
I recently got a question from a reader who wondered about all the claims of computer hacking going on, and asked if everyone was really being hacked or if it might be something else.
In the news there are stories of groups of dangerous hackers out to shut down life as we know it. Most of the people being discussed in these stories are of the activist nature and tend to be going after big conglomerations, government agencies, and corporations, not you or me. Wikileaks and Anonymous are not interested in bugging your computer - unless you are perceived to be a big evil organization that needs a spanking.
Another form of hacker that is more common but less discussed in the news is the programmer, often in Russia for some reason, who writes malicious code and sets off little hacking “robots” onto the internet. Once released they go out, follow their rules, and do their own damage o web sites as they go. They often target commonly-used software or services with known exploits and holes.
They might, for example, be looking for a site sloppily set-up using simple default passwords, then login in and change files around if they find one. An example of this is when you visit a site and there is a scary looking skull and crossbones with a warning that the site has been hacked. It’s an annoyance, and must be fixed if it happens, but it usually isn’t a person breaking in. It’s code.
Sometimes there are denial of service attacks, where a site gets flooded with hits in an attempt to shut it down. There’s no person out there clicking a gazillion times a second, but that’s the effect on the server. The person who wrote the code could be out eating lunch, but the robot they set loose shuts down the web site temporarily.
Lise fends theses sorts off for us on a daily basis, as do countless other web professionals out there protecting servers and sites.
Sometimes a similar “attack” occurs through someone’s email, most commonly by clicking on an attachment to an email. Windows users, especially, seem to be continually fighting of viruses, but are continually targeted, and often in offers of getting rid of viruses. It isn’t hacking, but it can feel like your machine has been hacked, and people sometimes describe the symptoms this way.
Your computer might suddenly warn you that your machine has been infected, but provide a link to a malicious site that further damages your machine.
It can seem as if someone is out to get you, but the truth is that in most cases it is a computer virus acting up and impersonating a living being by taunting you with instructions or odd behavior. A trip to a good computer repair person can usually get you on track.
To review, how you are hacked depends a bit on who you are and what you have:
High-level targets = actual people logging in and making trouble = goal is to steal embarrassing info or shut down site
Most of us and our websites = coded, robotic scripts that cause trouble = goal to expose hole and damage site
Home users email = coded, robotic viruses infecting computers through insecure attachments and downloads = goal to infect home computers to send out more viruses
These are simplifications and generalities, of course. There are also mobsters and criminals trying to scam people out of money and property. If it can be imagined, it is being tried.
Most people should feel fairly safe that they aren’t being targeted by a specific individual when their site or email goes kablooey. It could be possible, but there are a series of more-likely scenarios to explore first.