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Global Networks

Inanimate Objects on the Web

Lamp Meme

(Made on http://imgur.com/ with image from www.aliexpress.com)

The Internet of Things‘ refers to the connection of everyday objects, such as a car or even a chair, to the internet. These objects often will have the capacity to record data or broadcast information, leading to security and privacy concerns among others. Further implications for this could potentially be that a user will not be able to know if they’re communicating online with another user or, for example, someone’s bedside lamp – a very unusual situation indeed!

I decided to look at an example from the ‘Internet of Things’ which concerned me from the start when I very first heard about it, called ‘Google Glass‘ – and I think this technology in particular highlights some of the problems with an ‘Internet of Things’. These glasses come with the capacity to take photos and video and share this information online all from the headset – and this is why the glasses were banned in places (even before their release!) due to serious privacy and security concerns. Google Glasses don’t look exactly like prescription glasses yet so it’s possible to identify someone who has this capability, however some competitors are trying to make this concept work with glasses indistinguishable from regular ones. So if this technology became more widely available, would it make you more wary of people wearing glasses or sunglasses?

Personally, I think it’d make me very nervous and think twice about everything I said. I really don’t want to be recorded without knowing about it, and I want to be able to talk to people comfortably without wondering if this conversation is private. But what are your thoughts?

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Decoding Stuxnet and the Future of Computer Viruses

Norton internet security explains “Stuxnet” as a computer virus which attacks industrial control systems used to power large-scale facilities like power plants. I was very interested in this week’s reading about how digital detectives deciphered Stuxnet by Kim Zetter, but as I’m not greatly familiar with a lot of the jargon used in the article I found myself lost in places. I decided to try and simplify the story in my own terms and try and come to grips with the major events in the virus’ discovery and dismantlement.

Stuxnet was first discovered in June 2010 by the anti-virus company VirusBlockAda, who found a rare “zero-day” virus (one which exploits obscure and largely unknown weaknesses on a machine to infect it) on an Iranian computer which spread via infected USBs. They reported it to other anti-virus companies who started to dismantle it, and they found that it stole the “digital certificates” (proof of a digital program’s identity and trustworthiness, which has to be formally applied for) from trusted programs to trick computers into allowing the virus to infect them.

Most anti-virus companies blocked the false certificates and moved on, but Liam O’Murch from Symantec decided to keep pursuing the virus. He found that Stuxnet was affecting mostly computers in Iran, which usually doesn’t rank highly in computer virus infections by country. They also found that the virus didn’t actually do anything to most of the computers it affected and only targeted “Seimens” brand machines, so O’Murch figured it was out for a very specific target in Iran.

Later, Ralph Lagner and his team who were experts in “Seimens” machines got involved. He proposed that the virus had links to Iran’s nuclear program. It was later discovered that the virus had in fact been targeting Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant, as the machines that Stuxnet was programmed to attack fit Natanz’s set up exactly. The virus was discovered before doing major damage, and some believe it was incomplete at its release, but it did slow down the Natanz plant’s progress somewhat. As to who was behind the virus, many people believe it was a joint creation between the United States and Israel.

Norton states that Stuxnet was both the first computer virus to be able to affect physical, real-world systems and the first to target industrial control systems – painting a bit of a terrifying picture as to what viruses might be able to achieve in the future. But as viruses become more sophisticated, as the Stuxnet case shows, so do the anti-virus detectives who stop them.

Brace Yourself

(Made on http://imgur.com/)

Full article reference:

Zetter, K 2011, ‘How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware in History’, Wired, June 11, accessed 15/10/2015, http://www.wired.com/2011/07/how-digital-detectives-deciphered-stuxnet/

Good Hacker, Bad Hacker

Hacking comes in many forms, from thieves trying to steal personal information to online gamers using hacks to make their characters virtually invincible. But there’s a form of hacking which claims to have a moral basis called ‘Hacktivism‘, or using hacking for social activist causes.

Anonymous‘ is possibly the most well-known example of a hacktivist group. They have hacked several major-profile organisations such as Sony in 2011, after the group accused them of attacking freedom of information for trying to punish some users who obtained jailbreak software on their Playstation devices. Other reasons for hacking include disagreements with government policies, moral disagreements, and revenge attacks. It is clear that Anonymous sees itself as doing social good by tackling websites which they don’t believe are helping the general populace or projecting a fair message.

So can hacking be used for good, as Anonymous claims? The debate is very heated on the matter, and my research came up with many people on either side arguing along the lines that this debate site brought up. There seems to be a lot of confusion about where to draw the line between ‘good’ hacking and ‘bad’ hacking and everything in between (also known as ‘white hat’, ‘black hat’ and ‘grey hat’), and I suspect the debate will continue for quite some time. I decided to try something new and outlined some of these debates in a Prezi presentation – unfortunately I couldn’t embed the presentation, so you have to click on the link below. If anyone knows how to embed Prezis in WordPress, please let me know!

Click here for Prezi

Some Perspectives on Social Media and Activism

At the end of Ted’s lecture, four perspectives on the role of social media in activism were given and briefly defined. I decided to try and elaborate on these for my blog and discuss where I think my viewpoint fits in.

The first was the ‘idealist’ or ‘cyber-utopian’ perspective, which believes that the web ushers in revolution when used for activism as it is the ultimate force of empowerment by individuals. A similar perspective is called ‘idealist 2.0.’, which elaborates a little more on ‘idealism’ and believes that the reason that the internet is revolutionary is because it’s a new medium and therefore can convey new types of messages to help revolutions – this terminology was harder to find a source for other than Ted’s lecture, but it seems to be used in conjunction with the idea of Web 2.0 which talks about the web’s facilitation of greater connectivity and collaboration.

The third is the ‘critical’ or ‘cyber-realist’ perspective, where the internet is viewed as a good organisational tool but should not be considered to be the major driving force behind a revolution. Perhaps the most vocal holder of this position is Malcolm Gladwell, who points out that many revolutions have taken place without the use of social media. The last is the ‘questioning’ or ‘conspiratorial’ perspective, which believes that there is some sort of conspiracy about social media and who runs it. For example, there are people who believe that Facebook was started by the CIA to gather everyone’s personal details.

I discuss where I think I fit in in my Soundcloud.

Is Everyone a Journalist?

Back in my day

(Made on http://imgur.com)

Now seems to be a very difficult time to get into professional journalism. I have several friends who have given up on the pursuit of studying it due to how few the job prospects seem to be – even more positive outlooks aren’t particularly inspiring. So what’s changed in the world of journalism?

There have been several factors cited for the change, and one of these is the rise of ‘citizen journalism‘. This refers to the ability of the general, untrained public to report news through the use of online media such as blogs or tweets. While it may seem like citizen journalism undermines professional journalism by doing their job for them, Dr. Axel Bruns points out that there are several protections that professional journalists have which citizens don’t in his text ‘News Blogs and Citizen Journalism: New Directions for e-Journalism‘. These include legal protection, funding, and access to key public figures through their association with big news organisations – for the general public, it’s near-impossible to get these things (2009, p. 12).

So citizen journalists cannot fully replace those of professional journalists, but they can definitely help them – for example much of the BBC‘s early coverage of the 2005 London subway bombings came solely from citizen journalists who happened to be on-scene at the time, leading to a quicker reporting time and a first-hand perspective (Bruns 2009, p. 14).

I agree that there’s a time and a place for both forms of journalism, and it seems like a waste to only allow professionals to report the news with the technology we have now. I just hope that it doesn’t lead to a loss of too many jobs, and leads to new professional opportunities for journalism students. I would love to hear what people studying journalism think!

Full article reference:

Bruns, A 2009, ‘News Blogs and Citizen Journalism: New Directions for e-Journalism’, in K Prasad (ed.), e-Journalism: New Media and News Media, BR Publishing, India, pp. 101-126

Android’s Bazaar

“Treating your users as co-developers is your least-hassle route to rapid code improvement and effective de-bugging.”

(Raymond 1997, p. 6)

The ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar’ by Eric Steven Raymond talks about two different ways of developing software. The first is the ‘cathedral’ model, where software is developed in a controlled environment and managed by a select group of developers; for example the technology company Apple which only relies on its employees for innovation and collaboration. The second is the ‘bazaar’ model, which relies on the collaboration of multiple parties – professional or not – to develop a technology. Google’s Android software, a major rival to Apple in the smartphone market, uses this approach.

Google gives Android’s source code to their users freely so they can alter and develop it as they like, meaning that Android’s software is updated a lot quicker than Apple’s causing a ‘release early, and release often’ scenario (Raymond 1997, pp. 7-8). This means that Android’s users are “produsers“, or users who also produce content. While users can also create content for Apple, it must always be approved unlike Android content. Creating content for Android’s bazaar gives the user a lot of creative freedom and also helps the software’s overall progression and improvement.

What if I told you

(Made on http://imgur.com)

Full article reference:

Raymond, E.S. 1997, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Unterstein, accessed 8/9/2015, http://www.unterstein.net/su/docs/CathBaz.pdf

Walled Gardens

A technological ‘Walled Garden’ is often used to limit a user’s access to certain content, which in this metaphor lies beyond the safety of the ‘garden’ – for example, Apple won’t allow its users to use or access 3rd party content on their devices. The reasons for this vary from trying to avoid compatibility issues to trying to achieve a monopoly in a market by cutting off access to competitor’s products; but whatever the reason it does control your usage of the device and your access to content.

Some devices that use the ‘Walled Garden’ principle include gaming consoles like Playstation and Wii. Console companies control which select games they will allow to be released for their consoles, limiting the consumer in choice in order to attempt to create a quality standard. This seriously limits indie game development on these platforms as these developers have to work with pre-determined standards in order to get released – limiting their creativity and causing many indie games to be released and developed on the computer instead, where they have the potential to release a game on a site which has no quality controls (O’Donnell 2014, pp. 223-224). This demonstrates that while a ‘walled garden’ may create safety, it also limits creativity and choice.

walled garden image

(Made on http://imgur.com)

Full article reference:

O’Donnell, C 2014, Developer’s Dilemma: The Secret World of Videogame Creators, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts

Gaming and the Attention Economy

The Attention Economy” refers to trying to get someone to pay attention to something, which is particularly relevant in a world where we have so much choice and our attention is frequently divided due to how much is going on around us; particularly with regards to the wealth of information available on the internet 24/7.

In online advertising, this often comes in the form of recommendations which look at the consumption habits of others who like the same things as you to make quantifiable data to make suggestions for your own consumption. For example, One of the ways Netflix recommends new TV shows for you is based on shows that you’ve watched, and what people who have watched those shows like to watch among other measures. This can often lead to recommendations not bound by mainstream interests, as a digital platforms have lower storage space costs and can therefore justify storing ‘niche’ media.

A program I use frequently which gives me recommendations is the game engine “Steam“. While often these recommendations are very far off what I would consider playing, sometimes they have led me to purchase new games I otherwise would not have known about if I’d gone shopping in a games store – usually indie games. There are other things Steam does to direct your attention which I will go into with my Soundcloud (I added screenshots of what I’m talking about to help people not familiar with the program).

Images:

STEAM images 1

STEAM images 2

STEAM4

Note: For those unfamiliar with it, this is the store page for the game I believed my RPG recommendations were on, “Skyrim” – just to show you how vastly different the recommendations I got were! ‘Skyrim’ is very popular and therefore can be purchased in stores, while those recommendations are digital-only indie games.

On Project Ideas

Last week we were told to blog and draw pictures about project ideas for Global Networks and what we learnt from talking to others in the class about their ideas. Since I learned that my assignment wasn’t submitted properly for that class, I didn’t get to talk to anyone in my panic to fix it. So, here are my terrible drawings and ramblings which I didn’t get to share.

I have no idea what I’m going to do, but I have two general topic areas. The first is finding something to do which would help International and Exchange Students at university somehow. As a former exchange student in Calgary, Canada and who volunteers time at the Office for Student Global Mobility, I’m really interested in making sure students make the most of their time in Wollongong as I made the most of my time in Calgary. I was unfortunately unable to attend the information evening for this semester so am unsure as to what the protocol is in Wollongong for incoming students. From what was in the invitation content, it seemed to comprise of some addresses by important people and entertainment.

Someone mentioned via this classes’ Reddit about making something to illustrate all the things to do in Wollongong on a weekly and monthly basis, such as specials, events, cheap eats and free stuff. This sounded like a really great idea, and so I did a mind map about that (I never do mind maps ever but I needed something visual so sorry for the messiness and bad quality):

BLOG2

Since I’m actually not from Wollongong and know very little about the city, I think it would be very helpful to be able to direct students to something more comprehensive on the subject made by students in the area. I almost always have to Google students’ questions and this usually brings up tourism results and not ones to help students. I really want to help, but I do struggle.

BLOG1

(Oh yes, a dodgy sketch is a perfect excuse to break out the Wacom tablet!)

The other area was looking at an area of entertainment, video games. I keep coming back to this as it is an area of interest to me and something I’d enjoy doing a project on. Honestly though, I think working with International and Exchange Students would be much more useful on the whole and something I’d also enjoy doing a project on; but I did a mind map for it anyway. This area is quite tricky as everything seems like it’s been done before.

BLOG3

So there we go. End of my rambling!

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