Why We Expect Nothing

Why We Expect Nothing

I took this photo of a sign at the Metro station to the Reagan National Airport by Washington, D.C.

“Expect The Unexpected” is the warning.

Don’t be complacent–anything can happen–be vigilant–is the message.

It reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where Jerry jokes about people going to the beach and hiding their wallets in their shoes.

Like, a criminal would never think to check your shoe!

Oh, push the wallet all the way down to the toes, under the tongue, that way the bad guys will never be able to get to it.

Here, it’s more a case of of why don’t we expect the darn expected.

Everybody knows that people “hide” their valuables at the beach in their shoes!

In modern times, we seem blind though to any expectations at all.

- Arab Spring and civil war spreading into Syria and Iraq–after Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, and more–who would’ve thought?

- Russia taking over Crimea and agitating in Eastern Ukraine–after their little excursions into Georgia and Chechnya–who would expect that?

- Financial meltdowns and major recession after the dot com and housing bubbles–even my barber was talking about retiring and buying a mansion in the Caribbean–where are these coming from?

The question then is are we really unable to see past our noses or do we just hold steadfast to principle that ignorance is bliss?

Well let’s just test the “expect nothing doctrine” that we seem to all be living by these days and see how you feel about these:

  • North Korea–they would never invade the South again.
  • Iran–sure, they are going to give up their nuclear weapons and their greater Middle Eastern Caliphate ambitions.
  • China–Yeah, we’ll just pin them in the South China Sea and they’ll never get out.
  • The national deficit–it’s not and will never be too big for us to handle because we’re rich.
  • Terrorism in a major American city–not after 9/11 and all that Homeland Security.
  • Environmental catastrophe–we will build a big bubble over ourselves, so no problem.
  • Economic inequity–the top 1% deserves to control 43% of the Nation’s wealth and everyone else just sit down and shut up.
  • The Singularity–how could a machine ever be smarter than us; we’ve got all the technology fully under our control.

Well, if you are blind or dumb enough to believe these, just keep putting your money in your shoes at the beach, because there is no reason to expect that anyone would ever think to look for it there. ;-)

The *S*p*y* Named Snowden

The *S*p*y* Named Snowden

So was Edward Snowden a whistleblower (some even call him a patriot) or one of the most ruthless spies this country has ever known?

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal by Edward Jay Epstein makes a strong case that Snowden was a spy galore, and the whistleblowing was his cover.
What he stole? – 1.7 million documents from the NSA with “only a minute fraction of them have anything to do with civil liberties or whistleblowing.” Instead, the vast majority “were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques, and procedures”–otherwise known as the “keys to the kingdom.” Moreover, it seems clear that a “top priority was lists of the computers of U.S. adversaries abroad that the NSA has succeeded in penetrating.”
When he stole them? – Snowden took the Booz Allen Hamilton job as a contractor for NSA in March 2013–this was at the “tail end of his operation.” Moreover, the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA) court order for Verizon to provide metadata on U.S. phone calls for 90 days had only been issued in April 2013. And Snowden told reporter James Rosen in October 2013, that his last job at NSA gave him access to every active operation against the Chinese and “that is why I accepted the position.”
Where did Snowden end up? – First in Hong Kong and then under the protection of the FSB (aka the old KGB) in Russia, which “effectively compromises all the sources and methods” and ties all too nicely with what he stole. A former cabinet official has indicated that the Snowden heist was either Russian espionage, Chinese espionage, or a joint operation.
If Snowden really was a spy as indicated, then the Whistleblowing of domestic surveillance in the U.S. was a most brilliant ploy by his operators to distract our nation from the true nature of the exfiltration and the harm done to our national security. In a way, it falls right in line with Russia’s creative storyline/coverup in taking Crimea in saying that they were only protecting ethnic Russians. Score 2 for Russia!

Are we so easily lied to and manipulated…is public opinion really just jello in the hands of the global spymasters.

We’ve got to be smart enough (i.e. critical thinkers) to interpret the noise in the intelligence signals, political speeches, and news stories to unveil the truth of what is really going on. In advertising, when exposing the truth of products and companies, this is sometimes referred to as culture jamming. Can we apply this to the complicated intrigue of global politics and get past the storyline that is fed to us to expose truth?

It’s high time to outmaneuver those that may seek to manipulate the public (whether from outside or even sometimes from within) with some brilliance of our own–in not believing every snippet that is fed to us and instead looking at the bigger picture of political theater, special interests, and national security to see who is now zinging whom and why. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

We’re Not Deadbeats

We're Not Deadbeats

Good book review in the Wall Street Journal on America’s Fiscal Constitution by Bill White.

The main idea is that we have gone from a nation where fiscal discipline and paying off ones debts was a valued tradition to one now where excess rules and profligate borrowing runs through our veins.

Both personal and national debt were viewed as a means of last resort and not something to be proud of, but rather as something done out of necessity to get through tough times.

On a personal level, we only borrowed what we needed and we payed it back on time or even early. Poverty was just one step away or even akin to servitude.

Similarly, on a national level, public debt was viewed as a safety net to preserve the union (i.e. war), territorial integrity (e.g. Louisiana Purchase), or in a severe recession (i.e. to maintain the government’s ability to spend in the short term).

The best option was seen as “pay as you go,” with the alternative, under limited circumstances, to “pay as soon as you can.”

However, the value placed on self and national discipline and sufficiency was replaced with elements of entitlement, greed, and waste.

The problem is once you have inequity in the system, then people feel the unfairness of it all, and give up caring about the system itself and just want to get what they see as their fair share.

Some politicians cater to these feelings of relative deprivation and are no longer viewed positively for fiscal constraint and ensuring our economic security, but rather “politicians gain favor by spending money without having to raise unpopular taxes.”

In essence, the government can give people more now, and they don’t have to pay for it until future generations–hence the ability to buy citizen’s political consent and even win elections by increasing the treasure chest even temporarily.

No, this is not China raising the fortunes of the middle class to keep the Communist Party in power, but rather this is us in the U.S. of A racking up tens of trillions of dollars in debt to keep people happy now (forget the future generations, let them fend for themselves).

Shake hands, kiss babies, and hand out dollar bills–give me, give me give me!

What has happened to us fighting hard and driving into the future on our own feet–together in strength and not as a debtor nation getting handouts from anyone that will lend us.

Soon, the Fed will be raising interest rates, and with a greater and greater national deficit to pay on, interest payments have the real potential to spiral out of control and leave our economy in shambles.

Like a credit card with interest payments that eclipse the principle borrowed, soon you are in over your head and there is nowhere to go but Chapter 11.

We’re not an inherently debtor nation, and we sure don’t want to be a deadbeat nation–isn’t it better to have what we really have financially and be who we really are and value?

Let’s leave our children and grandchildren economic and national security and not a towering pile of shameless debt, from mom and dad with love.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Bigger Smaller Navy

The Bigger Smaller Navy

So our Navy is shrinking for real, but growing on the books.

Steve Cohen writes in the Wall Street Journal how the “U.S. Navy is stretched too thin.”

And we are down to just 283 ships, but for reporting purposes it’s 293–that is–because we now include hospital ships, small coastal patrol vessels (“lightly armed [with machine guns]…and not true oceangoing”), and a high-speed transport in the calculus.

Moreover, “only 35% of the U.S. Navy’s entire fleet is deployed, fewer than 100 ships, including just 3 aircraft carriers.”

According to the Heritage Foundation, gone is the promise of a mighty U.S. with a formidable 600-ship navy, and instead “U.S. naval leaders are struggling to find ways to meet a new requirement of around 300 ships…with “predictions [that] show current funding levels would reduce the fleet to [just] 263 ships.”

Sure, today’s fleet is comprised of ships more capable than predecessors, but our enemies are also not resting on their laurels.

China is now building its 2nd aircraft carrier, and Russia has formally secured Crimea home to it’s Black Sea fleet.

The function for military readiness includes not only capability of each, but numbers available to fight.

There are times that less is more, but less can also be less. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Jon Olav)

U.S. To Give Up U.S.?

U.S. To GIVE UP U.S.

This is just ridiculous already…I mean why do we even bother to try, if as a nation we are just resigned to give up.

1. Russia takes Crimea and the U.S. has “no options,” instead of considering a variety of meaningful options–will Putin stop with Crimea, Georgia, Chechnya if there is virtually nothing standing in his way?

2. Syrian civil war goes on for almost 3 years and takes 150,000 lives and the U.S. has “few options,” while Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia seem to have and be exploiting lots of options.

3. “U.S. to give up Web oversight” since other governments have complained over our “unique influence”–well darn it, we invented the Internet, why shouldn’t we capitalize on it?

4. Serious “deficit reduction is dead” even though the national deficit continues to grow and threaten the national security of this country, but there are few acknowledged options for politicians that want to get re/elected, except to continue the runaway gravy train.

5. Space exploration to other planets–NASA shelves it–”Space, the final frontier…to boldly go where no man has gone before,” but we’re not really going!

6. Defense cuts threaten U.S. military as the “U.S. faces a more volatile, more unpredictable world,” and even as China ramps up its military budget by 12.2%.

7. Despite the potentially catastrophic impact that a serious cyber attack would have on the U.S. national security and economy, “the U.S. military is not prepared for cyber warfare“-why are we waiting for the proverbial lights to go out?

8. Outsourcing jobs outside the U.S. has already become cliche–with top U.S. Corporations sending more than 2.4 million American jobs overseas between 2002-2011–as our own labor force participation is now at a 30-year low!

I don’t understand what has happened to our national resolve to succeed, to lead, to be a good example in the world.

Why are we in global retreat–instead of steadfastly protecting and growing our national strategic interests in every domain?

We are innovators, entrepreneurs, skilled in every worldly affair, and lovers of freedom and human rights for all, yet we have become gun shy, afraid, and reticent to be ourselves and do what we do best–which is to do what’s right, what needs to be done, and to be global leaders in progress toward the future.

If we can’t do this, if we have just given up, if we have become ostriches with our heads in the sand–then we haven’t just given up on this or that or the other thing–but we have given up on being the U.S. of A.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Guns And Roses

Guns And Roses

This was an interesting student portrayal showing decision on whether someone is a friend or foe–I like it!

On the face of it, is a computer screen “head” with pictures of a drone for surveillance and a fighter jet for carrying out battle.

In the right hand is a rose for the friend, and in the left hand is a gun for the foe.

On the bottom, it says “You Decide” with little pieces of hanging paper marked “Friend”or “Foe” and you pick one.

To me, the kid that designed this is pretty smart–smarter than a lot of adults today,

Why?

To many people, everything is black or white–for example, liberals may default to everyone as good and trustworthy until shown otherwise, while conservatives may take the alternate track where they assume people are bad and we should be cautious with them and be prepared to defend ourselves.

Neither is simply right or wrong–it’s just how we approach things–although for me, it’s definitely you have to earn trust, and still it’s important to verify!

The kid that made the friend or foe robot apparently realizes that we have to discriminate between those people that are friends and those that are enemies–and act accordingly.

Surveillance is a good thing and being ready to defend ourselves is a very good thing.

Sometimes, those that masquerade as friends are really foes, and those that challenge us may really be our best friends.

We must be very discriminating in determining who is who–and be ready with both rose and gun. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Terrorism – Is it Going Away?

Terrorism - Is it Going Away?

Going on 13 years since 9/11…

- Ukraine invaded by Russia seeking to annex Crimea

- Malaysia Airline with 239 aboard missing and still a mystery

- Sochi, suspected hijacker tries to divert plane, F-16s scrambled

- Syria aided by Hezbollah fighters, estimates of more than 150,000 dead

- Iran ships medium range missiles to Hamas in the Gaza Strip

- Iraq Suicide bombing a somewhat regular occurrence

- Pakistan death toll in war on terror estimated at 49,000

- Saudi Arabia concerned about Muslim Brotherhood and
Hezbollah

- Lebanon, twin suicide car bombings in capital

- Egypt, terror attack on tourist bus in Red Sea resort

- Somalia, car bombing at national intelligence headquarters

- North Korea accused by South of “reign of terror”

Where are we in the war on terror–are we really any safer?

All opinions my own.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

SCADA In Pictures

SCADA In Pictures

SCADA 3 SCADA 4 SCADA

So SCADA are Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems.

They are a form of Industrial Control Systems (ICS) that monitor and control major industrial processes from power generation, transmission, and distribution, to water treatment, chemical production, air traffic control, traffic lights, building controls, and more.

These are part of our nation’s critical infrastructure.

In the lab, we are able to use tools to capture and analyze communication packets and edit and re-use them to:

- Turn on and off lights

- Open/close perimeter gates

- Control water and gas pipelines

- And even open and close a bridge

This was very scary!

No one, unauthorized, should be able to do this in real life, in the physical world.

This is a major security vulnerability for our nation:

- SCADA systems should not be openly available online, and instead they should be able to be controlled only either locally or remotely through an encrypted virtual private network (VPN).

- SCADA systems should not be available without proper access controls–there must be credentials for user id and passwords, and even two-step authentication required.

No one but vetted, cleared, authorized, and trained personnel should be able to monitor and control our critical infrastructure–otherwise, we are giving them the keys to disrupt it, destroy it, and use it for terror.

We owe our nation and families better, much better.

(Source Photos from lab: Andy Blumenthal)

Security Is A Joke!

Fascinating video with Dan Tentler on the Shodan Search Engine…which CNN calls the “scariest search engine on the Internet.”

The search engine crawls the Internet for servers, webcams, printers, routers, and every type of vulnerable device you can imagine.

It collects information on more than 500 million devices per month and that was as of last year, so it’s already probably a lot more.

Tentler shows the unbelievable amounts and type of things you can access with this, including our critical infrastructure for the country –from utilities to traffic lights, and power plants:

- Private webcams
- Bridges
- Freeways
- Data Centers
- Polycoms
- Fuel cells
- Wind farms
- Building controls for lighting, HVAC, door locks, and alarms
- Floor plans
- Power meters
- Heat pump controllers
- Garage doors
- Traffic control systems
- Hydroelectric plants
- Nuclear power plant controls
- Particle accelerators
- MORE!!!!

Aside from getting information on the IP address, description of the devices, locations (just plug the longitude and latitude into Google for a street location), you can often actually control these devices right from YOUR computer!

The information is online, open to the public, and requires no credentials.

- “It’s a massive security failure!”

- “Why is this stuff even online?”

Where is our cyber leadership????

>>>Where is the regulation over critical infrastructure?

If there is a heaven for hackers, this is it–shame on us. :-(

Beware of Botnets

Interesting video demonstration of how botnets work and can literally take over your computer.

In essence, your computer becomes a zombie under the command and control of the botnet sender.

Computers get infected through a trojan or worm, and then the sender has you–they control your computer and information.

Generally, they do this to send spam, steal information, or send out other malware, all under anonymity.

Once infected, the sender has complete control over your computer and can exfiltrate, delete, or change your data, turn on the keyboard lights, add a tail to your mouse, and even format your hard drive.

The malware often can even disable your firewall.

The sender can turn on a keylogger and log your keystrokes, and capture your user ids and passwords to banking and financial institutions, and draw out your money.

The video demos an example of botnets with a variant of the Zeus trojan.

Worth a watch.

Makes me wonder whether our adversaries are infecting more and more computers, until they have almost everyone–eventually a virtual army.

Then at the time of their choosing, they can conduct one big massive attack, or incremental ones, logging into peoples accounts, stealing their identities and savings, sending out misinformation, destroying data and computers en masse.

We need to be aware of what’s possible, maybe even probable.

Is your computer infected and you don’t even know it yet?