The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Month: November 2018 Page 1 of 5

Effective Podcasting

In the Darkode episode, the podcast producer structures the podcast as two narratives scattered with technical information to make the material more interesting. The first story told in the Darkode episode is about Alina Simone, who was extorted by a cybercriminal. The producer invited all the people involved in her story, including herself, her daughter and the Coin Cafe employee to join the podcast so, there were many different voices telling their side of the story. Additionally, the producer only introduced a new guest at the point in which they had entered Alina’s story. For example, when Alina was telling the listener she had called her daughter, Inna Simone, that was the point when Inna was introduced in the podcast. This technique contributed to creating a feeling as though the listener was in the moment with Alina, watching her disaster unfold. As the two narratives in the podcast unfold, there are technical explanations and terms thrown around such as botnet, script kitty and installs. The producer ensures there is an explanation of all the technical terms which might be unknown to the average listener. Furthermore, the podcast host makes metaphors to simplify more complex concepts. For example, to explain the function of the website Darkode, the narrator compares the Darkcode to a fair where people purchase goods. He simplifies the transaction between Darkcode users as, “I have a burglar’s tool. Do you have a door you want burgle?  I’ll give you my tool.”

Similarly, The Ceremony episode also uses sound to maintain the audience’s interest. For example, at one point when describing the creation of cryptocurrency, the narrator says “BOOM!” which is followed by the sound of waves crashing. These sounds are meant to illustrate how instantaneously cryptocurrency can be created.

An Unconventional Podcast

In Radiolab’s Darkode episode, the producers use a number of innovative storytelling methods to grasp the audience’s attention. Firstly, there was little to no conversation between the host and the listener. The atmosphere was that of a casual interview with first a victim of Darkode’s criminal activities and later its creators. The hosts never actually added a direct opinion but did ask questions which at face value seemed to add humor to the podcast but also inspired contemplation. Additionally, the interview with the victim had a blend of profundity and humor while bringing about a sense of paranoia since it alluded to something so ubiquitous. Just the thought of having to pay a ransom to get to your own information which is (apparently) safely stored on your laptop makes you reconsider the faith you have in privacy. Also, the structure of the podcast gives us a whole 360 degree viewpoint of the issue and gives us a vast amount of information in simple, casual conversation. Finally, I believe the music selection and the background effects intensified the ideas and emotions expressed in the show. Most of the jokes were made from a cynical perspective and the choice of music gave us a better idea at what the producers wanted us to make of a line. To conclude, I would call Darkode an engaging, informative podcast with a different but effective production style.

Blog Assignment #12

Okay, this is it: your final required blog post. For this assignment, write a 200 to 400 word post that responds to the question below that matches your role in Monday’s debate. Note that we’ll be debating this statement:

The US government should be given wide latitude to use electronic surveillance in the interests of national security, even if that means citizens’ privacy is not always respected.

Here are the questions:

  • Pro – You’ll argue in favor of this statement, so what are two or three reasons you find compelling to support the statement?
  • Con – You’ll argue against this statement, so what are two or three reasons you find compelling to counter the statement?
  • Jury – You’ll evaluate the arguments made by the Pro team and the Con team, so what criteria are you planning to use to evaluate those arguments?
  • Notetakers – You’ll take notes during the debate, so what are two or three aspects of this debate (issues, arguments, examples) that you feel are essential to the debate?

Please (1) give your post a descriptive title, (2) assign it to the “Student Posts” category, and (3) give it at least three useful tags. Your post is due by 9:00 a.m. on Monday, December 3rd.

Is cyber crime a worthwhile reason to keep the internet more secure?

One of the most surprising aspects of the radiolab episodes was the concept of the Botnet. Essentially these botnets are pieces of software that connect and can control groups of hacked or infected computers. Smaller botnets would control over 1000 computers, while larger ones could dominate over millions of computers. It’s hard to imagine that somewhere, somebody sitting in front of their computer has access to a whole city’s worth of computers. I started to wonder, is my computer in any way part of one of these botnets?

The threat of cyber crime is larger than that of an invasion of privacy by the government. While the government can create and monitor your metadata and keep track of some of your movements, cyber crime actually harms you either financially or through actual attack and destruction of your data. The thing is: that for either of these two situations, it is difficult to know that we are being watched and much less by whom. With it is so easy to become infected with a virus and even become a part of a Botnet, it makes sense to view the internet as a terrifying sea full of danger. With privacy and security in mind however, would a better crackdown on the internet actually inhibit these cyber crimes? In discussions about privacy and security, it might help to also talk about the benefits of creating a safer environment for the internet.

How to Stay Protected While Online

Some advice that I would give to a college student is to never assume that what information is stored is safe. I think that if someone doesn’t want their information being leaked online, they shouldn’t put it online in the first place. There is always a possibility that something bad may happen. It would always be safe to keep a physical copy of important information than a digital copy. I also believe that secure passwords are needed to keep online information secure. There are so many occurrences of people having passwords like “password” or “123456”. Both of these passwords are easy to guess, and it makes it easier for hackers to find and steal your information. I think that the passwords that I use for online websites are strong. I keep most of my passwords written down in a notebook, so I would not have to save them online. The reason why I write my important passwords down on a piece of paper is that it is safer to store it on paper than online. If I saved my information on public storages, such as google docs, my information would not be secure. I do not like saving my passwords online; however, there are many password managers that can keep passwords safe. LastPass is a password manager and generator that I believe many college students can benefit from since it can create a secure password and save it for them.

The Thoughtful Production of the RadioLab Podcast

The producers of the RadioLab podcast episodes, “Darkode” and “Ceremony,” implemented several elements in order to make the material more interesting and engaging.  First of all, the introductions did a good job grabbing the attention of the audience, with unique sound editing techniques.  Furthermore, the producers continued to add immersive sound effects throughout the duration of each podcast.  In the “Ceremony” episode, I really liked how they added amplified computer processor noises to imitate what it would be like to listen through the high-tech microphones that they were worried hackers might be using in the next room.  This made it clear just what these microphones were capable of and the extent that hackers sometimes go to.  I never knew such technology existed, and I would have thought it was ridiculous to worry about someone listening to the sounds your computer makes from another room.  Hearing how it is possible made me realize that sometimes being paranoid is justified.  There were also a variety of other sound effects that made the audience feel like they were part of the experience.

Another aspect that made the podcasts more interesting was that they told stories.  In the “Darkode” episode, they got a victim who was hacked using Cryptowall to give a firsthand account of what happened to her.  Her story helped make it easier to understand how Botnets work and how hackers can use them to infiltrate millions of people, encrypt their data, and make them pay ransom to get it back.  In the second half of the episode, they got one of the original creators of Darkode to explain its backstory and how it worked.  His account gave an interesting perspective on its original intended use, and how people twisted it to serve other purposes.  Personally, I found this content fascinating, and the way it was presented made it even more engaging.

Pretty Good Anonymity

In Darkode, the hosts tell the story of a ransomware victim who was forced to buy 500 dollars worth of Bitcoin to gain access back to her files that had been stolen and encrypted. In the process, she came in contact with TOR which has as its central mission to provide anonymous communication between people through computers. Because of the secrecy it provides, the dark web (which can be accessed through TOR) is home to a host of cyber-crime including selling stolen financial information and other illegal goods and services. Similarly, the purpose of ZCash was to take the ledger system implemented by Bitcoin but to improve the product by also ensuring  mathematically guaranteed anonymity in every transaction. Although this is a significant upside, it also opens the currency up to some potentially dark uses, since this anonymity is exactly what criminals are looking for to be able to buy and sell goods illegally without arousing suspicion.

Although the days of perfect security are gone, this level of anonymity is pretty good. It allows anybody who uses these services to be confident that their identity is almost certainly anonymous, and this poses a significant challenge to the privacy vs. security debate: how can we allow people to have access to pretty good anonymity without losing the ability to track down criminals? After all, if ZCash worked as intended, you could easily see a list of all transactions that had taken place, but you couldn’t figure out who was involved in them, creating the perfect smokescreen in which criminals can hide.

A comparison could be made to the selling of ski masks, gloves, and guns; all three can be used to do evil things, but all of them are still legal products that have legitimate uses. But the level of anonymity afforded by ZCash and other similar privacy-focused technologies goes far beyond what you could attain with a pair of gloves and a ski mask. Perhaps this nearly perfect anonymity has gone to far, enabling criminal activity without any significant benefits for legitimate uses. This is one of the most difficult questions to answer in the security vs. privacy debate, and one that could cast the deciding vote in which direction we as a society choose to go.

How to Combat the Perils of an Online Identity

As we all know, in modern society we are being watched and surveilled by companies, individuals, and governments that want our data. Through the course of these podcasts, I think there are some key takeaways that we as students can implement to make our selves more secure and immune to major breaches to our online identity. It is very hard to stop everyone from seeing anything you post on the internet, but it is easy enough to put in a few safeguards so that major harm is mitigated. One thing that you can do is use secure passwords that vary from site to site. Password security is a big thing that students should be aware of, and using tools like apple keychain or another password creator/sorter is an effective way to combat against people trying to steal your identity. We saw earlier in the year that when a website’s database is breached, it is only the 90% of the least secure passwords that are compromised because it is not worth trying to hack extremely secure passwords since they take to much time and computing power to crack.   Also, I know that certain products like iPhones are better about security than androids because of some of the safeguards that they put in place to make their phones and devices more secure. These are a few ways to keep yourself more immune to attacks on the internet, although, in matters like these, nothing is certain, so you also have to be careful what you put online as a student.

Another smart thing to do as a student is to have external backups to important files on your computer in the event that you are hacked. As shown in the first podcast, if a device is compromised it can be very hard (and expensive) to recover your data. Having an external backup will make you have a failsafe in place.


An Engaging Podcast Format

In the first Radiolab episode, “Darkode”, hosts Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad tell entertaining stories that are based on hacking, from a remote hacking of Inna Simone, to a highly optimized and well funded organization of hackers in Europe called Darkode (stylized as dark0de), where the episode gets its name from.

Right off the bat, the hosts pose a rhetorical question that grabs the listener’s attention, which gives the audience something to think about while the guests tell their story. The producers waste no time in putting in distinct soundbites that keep the listener on their feet. Throughout the episode, sound effects are used even more effectively to mirror and augment the natural emotional reactions to fluctuations and climaxes within the story, for example intense music when the story comes to a particularly exciting moment or silly music when someone says something funny.

In addition, the way that the episode was edited made the conversation flow better, but I’m not sure if it seemed more natural. Different parts of the conversation were spliced together so that there were almost no pauses between when people spoke, and although this started to stray away from the cadence of natural conversation, it somehow made the episode flow better. This made the episode both more interesting and more accessible, because the conversation was more engaging and never got boring.

Also, the format of the episode in which several “sub-episodes” were put into one big episode was interesting. It certainly didn’t drag on in the same way that shorter episodes dedicated solely to one topic tend to be, and even though the episode was very long, it didn’t get boring to listen to.

A Surveillance Story That Hits at Home

In Radiolab’s podcast, Darknode, the story of the “suburban Boy Scout turned black hat hacker” resonated with me the most in terms of the security vs. privacy debate. For starters, the story truly represented how “you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain” (The Dark Knight Rises). In today’s society, we are surveilled – plain and simple. So, what I found so compelling, was how Radiolab was able to portray that no one is immune to this new era of life and anyone can become part of it. Specifically, in this case, the person being surveilled eventually became the one executing the surveillance; I personally took it as his form of “rebellion” even though he was not necessarily as drastic as the friend that initially introduced him to the concept.

The second reason that this story resonated and made such a strong case with me is because I have actually lived the story being told. When I used to be much more active in my internet explorations, I actually encountered, and was friends with, many “script kitties” (as described in the podcast these are scripters who are able to take advantage of just enough of the tools available to scrape the surface of hacking). What I found fascinating, is the story and development of how botnets came into existence and how they initially had a more innocent origin. I was also able to piece together that his reference to “hitting people off the internet over video games” was a reference to a term I became very familiar with called DDoSing. It was truly amazing hearing an experience so similar to my own that was able to shape the course of someone’s life.

Overall, this section of the podcast furthered my opinion of how the issues of privacy vs. security are changing the way humans interact in today’s society.


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