Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A "cyberterrorist lite" attacks a Latvian news agency

A person with sophisticated knowledge of data security matters became a self-appointed censor and avenger in an act of  "cyberterrorism -lite" against the Latvian news agency LETA.  Delivery of news to LETA's customers was impeded for several hours while LETA's home page was replaced with a message from the hacker, who seemed aggrieved by a routine news story about the defacing of small business home pages that were hosted by low-cost hosting services.
The message from the hacker (in translation from Latvian) read:

Dear colleagues, before publishing the views of doubtful experts about small server hosting companies and discussing (their)competence, I suggest you review the content of this defamatory news story and stop publishing these offensive advertorials. As you can see, nothing is safe and unbreakable – if needed, therefore, don't try to leap higher than your own a(rse). Thanks for your attention.

The message included a link to the defacement story from LETA as published by the news website (I will admit here that this story was written by your blogger). The story quoted by name two persons associated with data security companies -- one from Panda Software (the Latvian representative of a Spanish security) and the other from a local company with past ties to Russia's Kaspersky Lab.

The latter source pointed out the latest round of defacements, providing a list of URLs and had, in earlier cases, spoken of the vulnerability of low-cost hosting companies. The other source said that Panda and others (meaning the security business in general) had solutions that could prevent such defacements, which can be assumed (with a grain of salt, there is no absolute security, only a raising of the barriers to hackers) to be true.

The news story was originally filed under the business news portal of LETA, As a business news story, it unavoidably involves quoting people with some degree of commercial bias (tempered by the fact that one cannot stray radically from the truth even when self-promoting in front of a reasonably intelligent audience). To freak out over a small amount of self-promotion and label the whole story an "advertorial" is, to say the least, an overreaction from some strange mixture of ignorance (of journalism) and paranoia.

Taking it to next step and using specialized skills to take down a news agency (whatever one may think of its content) is, to my mind, an act of cyberterrorism-lite. If we envision real cyberterrorism as attacks on the IT infrastructure of utilities such as water, electricity, gas or telecommunications that prevent delivery of these services, then why not consider information/news as a utility that has been attacked in Latvia by an electronic terrorist?

OK, to be fair, and as a journalist, I try to be fair, LETA's IT infrastructure leaves much to be desired. It is not exactly a digital fortress. For that matter, most housing in Riga doesn't have steel doors, state-of-the-art locks and alarms. That explains, but does not excuse the successful activities of burglars. Except in this case, nothing was "stolen", but the homeowner was locked in and prevented from doing his business.

Also to be fair, there are hacking activities and "thefts" of information from those in power and with power over the population that should be hacked -- like Wikileaks or the activities of Neo (exposed as Ilmars Poikāns), who obtained government and municipal salary data from the Latvian State Revenue Service. However, a privately-owned news agency (clinging to its old label of "national news agency", whatever that means...) is not an agent of state power.

It should be mentioned that the censorious cyberterrorist was cheered on by a number of commentators on the usual Latvian news portals (what the British Bethlehem Asylum for the Insane -- hence bedlam -- was for part of the 19th century as a place to be "entertained" by the antics of the mad, has been replaced by the commentators on portals such as - a place to read the howlings and ravings of the deranged).

In any case, one can only hope that this does not herald the start of more of what I can only call mad-dog (it takes little to trigger the rabid) cyberattacks on the media. But all it takes is one skilled wacko, and in Latvia, we have found him. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

A request for leads, tips and job offers :)

It is pretty clear to me that Latvia is going to be in economic stagnation and suffering political disability of one kind or another for the foreseeable future. While this may make for some interesting news stories for the next five or seven years, it is not a place to stay with a family and a teenager who needs some kind of future. I'm afraid I don't see one  in Latvia - not for someone who needs an education, nor for someone who may choose (strange as it seems) to retire at some point.
With some reluctance I am posting my attempt at a video CV to explore, very seriously, a "plan B" outside of Latvia. This is nothing against my present employer LETA, but to be frank and objective, I don't see any growth or development for the media in Latvia for several years, and the adaptation that media companies must make, economically, in terms of their employees, may work for the young, but it is distressing for me, even if, day to day, things are still tolerable. In short, I have served my nearly 16 years here, given it a good try, but conditions are not going to improve and will probably deteriorate in my remaining working life. Time to move on...

So, here is my video CV to any and all who are interested:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Michael Curry talks about the Websphere Application Accellerator at Impact 2011

Here is my video interview with Michael Curry of IBM about the new Websphere Application Accellerator for Hybrid Networks during Impact 2011 in Las Vegas. The video was originally edited for a Latvian speaking audience, hence some of the opening and closing titles.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

An adventure in electronic uselessness on the way to IBM Impact 2011

I am on my way to one of the world's high-techiest conferences, IBM Impact 2011 in Las Vegas. However, I was sent a travel plan that a) keeps me in the air as long as I think, it took me to get to Australia in 2003. b) I was unable to check in online due to the travel having been ordered by IBM's travel agent. Fortunately, Riga Airport this morning was not as much of a zoo as I expected.
Then here at Schipol in Amsterdam, I was also unable to check in on one of the automated machines because I had checked baggage in Riga (the Riga check in machine didn't let me check in either). So I am finally checked in and typing this in one of the two 30 minute free WiFi sessions you get from KPN. Otherwise, it is starting at EUR 3 for 15 minutes. Insane. At least Las Vegas airport has/had free WiFi. I will see what Minneapolis offers, must spend a couple of hours there, too. All together, I am 24 hours, almost, from door to door. And then, with a 10 hour time shift, IBM expects European journalists not to write gibberish about their event :).
Anyway, will try to post both text and video from the event, with my Latvian day job taking precedence. Watch this space...