The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded the U.S.

Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger, and Scott Shane, writing for The New York Times:

The D.N.C. immediately hired CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm, to scan its computers, identify the intruders and build a new computer and telephone system from scratch. Within a day, CrowdStrike confirmed that the intrusion had originated in Russia, Mr. Sussmann said.

The work that such companies do is a computer version of old-fashioned crime scene investigation, with fingerprints, bullet casings and DNA swabs replaced by an electronic trail that can be just as incriminating. And just as police detectives learn to identify the telltale methods of a veteran burglar, so CrowdStrike investigators recognized the distinctive handiwork of Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear.

Those are CrowdStrike’s nicknames for the two Russian hacking groups that the firm found at work inside the D.N.C. network. Cozy Bear — the group also known as the Dukes or A.P.T. 29, for “advanced persistent threat” — may or may not be associated with the F.S.B., the main successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B., but it is widely believed to be a Russian government operation. It made its first appearance in 2014, said Dmitri Alperovitch, CrowdStrike’s co-founder and chief technology officer.

It was Cozy Bear, CrowdStrike concluded, that first penetrated the D.N.C. in the summer of 2015, by sending spear-phishing emails to a long list of American government agencies, Washington nonprofits and government contractors. Whenever someone clicked on a phishing message, the Russians would enter the network, “exfiltrate” documents of interest and stockpile them for intelligence purposes.

“Once they got into the D.N.C., they found the data valuable and decided to continue the operation,” said Mr. Alperovitch, who was born in Russia and moved to the United States as a teenager.

Only in March 2016 did Fancy Bear show up — first penetrating the computers of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and then jumping to the D.N.C., investigators believe. Fancy Bear, sometimes called A.P.T. 28 and believed to be directed by the G.R.U., Russia’s military intelligence agency, is an older outfit, tracked by Western investigators for nearly a decade. It was Fancy Bear that got hold of Mr. Podesta’s email.

Attribution, as the skill of identifying a cyberattacker is known, is more art than science. It is often impossible to name an attacker with absolute certainty. But over time, by accumulating a reference library of hacking techniques and targets, it is possible to spot repeat offenders. Fancy Bear, for instance, has gone after military and political targets in Ukraine and Georgia, and at NATO installations.

That largely rules out cybercriminals and most countries, Mr. Alperovitch said. “There’s no plausible actor that has an interest in all those victims other than Russia,” he said. Another clue: The Russian hacking groups tended to be active during working hours in the Moscow time zone.

To their astonishment, Mr. Alperovitch said, CrowdStrike experts found signs that the two Russian hacking groups had not coordinated their attacks. Fancy Bear, apparently not knowing that Cozy Bear had been rummaging in D.N.C. files for months, took many of the same documents.

I’ve had this piece sitting in my to-read pile for a couple of weeks and I’m actually glad I wound up reading it after (some) sanctions were finally put in place in response to the cyberattacks. It’s a terrifying chain of events, obviously, and I’m not sure how more people aren’t concerned by it. The group that should hopefully learn the biggest lesson here is the GOP. While they benefitted this time, the next time it will be their turn on the chopping block.


The Minecraft Generation

Clive Thompson, writing for The New York Times Magazine:

Since its release seven years ago, Minecraft has become a global sensation, captivating a generation of children. There are over 100 million registered players, and it’s now the third-best-­selling video game in history, after Tetris and Wii Sports. In 2014, Microsoft bought Minecraft — and Mojang, the Swedish game studio behind it — for $2.5 billion.

There have been blockbuster games before, of course. But as Jordan’s experience suggests — and as parents peering over their children’s shoulders sense — Minecraft is a different sort of phenomenon.

For one thing, it doesn’t really feel like a game. It’s more like a destination, a technical tool, a cultural scene, or all three put together: a place where kids engineer complex machines, shoot videos of their escapades that they post on YouTube, make art and set up servers, online versions of the game where they can hang out with friends. It’s a world of trial and error and constant discovery, stuffed with byzantine secrets, obscure text commands and hidden recipes. And it runs completely counter to most modern computing trends. Where companies like Apple and Microsoft and Google want our computers to be easy to manipulate — designing point-and-click interfaces under the assumption that it’s best to conceal from the average user how the computer works — Minecraft encourages kids to get under the hood, break things, fix them and turn mooshrooms into random-­number generators. It invites them to tinker.

In this way, Minecraft culture is a throwback to the heady early days of the digital age. In the late ’70s and ’80s, the arrival of personal computers like the Commodore 64 gave rise to the first generation of kids fluent in computation. They learned to program in Basic, to write software that they swapped excitedly with their peers. It was a playful renaissance that eerily parallels the embrace of Minecraft by today’s youth. As Ian Bogost, a game designer and professor of media studies at Georgia Tech, puts it, Minecraft may well be this generation’s personal computer.

I'm skeptical of anything that claims to summate an entire generation in one word, but the ubiquity of Minecraft is impossible to ignore. Then again, I taught digital natives introductory college writing in the past three years and I had to begin every semester with the same lesson—a tutorial on how to use Microsoft Word to do the very advanced things I'd be asking for, like including page numbers and double spacing. It's funny how digital natives never seem to be the ones using that moniker.


Facebook May Host News Sites’ Content, Fit of Shit Ensues

Ravi Somaiya, Mike Isaac And Vindu Goel, writing for The New York Times:

With 1.4 billion users, the social media site has become a vital source of traffic for publishers looking to reach an increasingly fragmented audience glued to smartphones. In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.

I’m shocked/not shocked by the internet’s reaction to this news. On one hand, yes, it is a dumbing-down of sorts. And it will, by extension, put different hierarchies of news outlets all on the same level within the eyes of the FB masses. But at the end of the day, in 2015, you have to pick: do you want to be a fossil in a museum—or an attraction in a well-trafficked zoo?


Why the  in WATCH is More Important Than the Watch

With the announcement of the Apple Watch on 9/9/14, the discussions begun: beyond the beauty of the industrial design and the dual evil tickle-under-the-chin luster of Shiny and New, what will be the practicality (or lack thereof) that justifies the price of what appears to be an accessory? Since then, and because it’s an entirely new product category, all of the questions and conversations essentially boil down to:

1. What will the Apple Watch do that currently can’t be done with the iPhone?
2. How will the Apple Watch fit into my current technological landscape?

The answer to the first question came during the Apple event on 3/9/15. We got demos that showed off the watch’s mobile communication, payment, travel, and home automation capabilities. And Apple inferred that the apps that will almost certainly be developed for the watch in the future will provide even more value.

But the answer to the second question—that’s what interests me most.


Thousands Have Already Signed Up for Apple’s ResearchKit

Michelle Fay Cortez and Caroline Chen, writing for Bloomberg:

Stanford University researchers were stunned when they awoke Tuesday to find that 11,000 people had signed up for a cardiovascular study using Apple Inc.’s ResearchKit, less than 24 hours after the iPhone tool was introduced.

“To get 10,000 people enrolled in a medical study normally, it would take a year and 50 medical centers around the country,” said Alan Yeung, medical director of Stanford Cardiovascular Health. “That’s the power of the phone.”

I was going to post this and direct my commentary towards those who rag on Apple products, or modern mobile technology in general, but I decided on this instead—a hearty ‘shame on you’ to the Apple Fans who, while tuned into the event announcing ResearchKit on Monday, amped up the snark and the stupidity on Twitter re: how bored they were by this segment of the presentation. You all proved just how vapid and self-centered Apple Fans can be. This wasn’t The Bachelorette Idol’s Got Talent. It was an announcement that’s going to, literally, save lives.

/via 9to5Mac


Apple Watch and Watch Band Price/Availability Matrix

Graham Spencer, writing for MacStories:

Louie Mantia has put together a fantastic matrix that lists every Apple Watch case and every Apple Watch Band and highlights which combinations are available to purchase, including which ones you can technically achieve with an additional purchase.

Seeing it laid-out like this, while much more helpful, helps to understand, at least a little, why Apple went with the ridiculous layout that they went with. End of the day, it’s just not super easy to explain.


Some People Want You To Think Apple ‘Sold Its Soul’ Today

Robinson Meyer, writing for The Atlantic:

Today’s messaging was a little different.

The company announced new laptops: They will be available in gold. It showed us an example Apple Watch user: She was Christy Turlington Burns, a supermodel who Apple’s video shows taking time off from philanthropic work in Tanzania to run a half-marathon around Kilimanjaro.

And even the less-obviously luxe marketing seemed tailored to an aloof elite: You can call an Uber with your watch now! If you forget to stand up every so often (perhaps because your trans-Pacific first-class Emirates seat is just so comfortable), your watch will remind you to walk around a little!

But these are details. Most will correctly fixate on the price of the most-expensive watch, the 18-karat-gold Apple Watch Edition. Apple hasn’t released an upper price window for these watches, but Tim Cook mentioned on-stage Monday they started at $10,000.

Ignoring the stupid hyperbole of the second and third paragraphs (yeah, Apple should be ashamed for putting Every Mother Counts on the radar screen of millions of people), I’d just like to clear up two things for the author:

1. I’ve seen almost no one talking about the price of the most-expensive watch.
2. Apple has released the “upper price window” [sic]—$17,000.

I can go on right now and buy an almost $12,000 computer—and that’s only purchasing Apple products. Forget about the thousands of dollars of peripherals that someone who needs that computer would almost certainly buy. One of the most popular fallacies around is that because something doesn’t work for you, it must not work for anyone.

And that’s the funny thing about that word—need. Nobody needs anything. Nobody needs an Apple Watch. Nobody needs any luxury watch. Yet, somehow, people keep buying them. And the dream that Apple’s corporate charter is somehow a twenty year-old television advertisement? Some people need to believe in that too.


I Love the Internet Even Though It’s On the Internet

John DeVore, writing on Medium:

America was founded on clickbait. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is clickbait. We’ve got snake oil in our veins. Grousing about clickbait is like buying a lotto ticket and acting shocked that you lost. Clickbait works because after the commercial, a celebrity will say something outrageous.

Let’s not pretend that the internet invented bullshit.

Read this if you fall into either of these two categories:

1. You find yourself constantly defending what happens on the internet.
2. You find yourself constantly complaining about what happens on the internet.