Archive Monthly Archives: December 2015

Baby, Can You See Me Now?

December 17, 2015

I’ve been researching baby monitors for a little while now.

Like most (if not all) products to do with babies, there is no shortage of them; mostly to do with different levels of technology. The ones that really surprised me are the ones put out by companies like Foscam and Nest. These are video baby monitors with WiFi built into them, so if the parent is away from the house where baby is, you can still see him through the WiFi connection hooked up to the video monitor. I first read about the issues resulting from these devices being hacked in Mark Goodman's book Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable And What We Can Do About It.

I totally see how this is cool, and how so many people are intoxicated by the new technology. I read some reviews on this product from people who were just learning that this even existed and the response echoes repeatedly, oh that’s so cool. It’s always the “cool factor.” I don’t see it having much to do with safety factors. After all, baby monitors, as electronic devices, haven’t existed for most of civilization, and when they did come around, they just monitored audio. Not anymore. Now, for parents that are sensitive to the latest and "greatest" gadgets, we have video monitoring devices that can be employed wherever in the world you may be, as long as you have an internet connection.

I can’t help but wonder, if I can tap into this video feed wherever I am, what’s to stop someone else from doing the same thing? The answer? Not much. It’s just a wifi connection. While it certainly has it's security measures in place, if someone wants to hack it, they’ll find a way.

I think we’ll be opting for the old-fashioned radio frequency-based monitor. How easy are those to hack? Some crazy bastard would have to be standing out in the front yard. They don’t have the wifi capabilities that the new fancy ones do. They work right within the confines of your house/property.

While baby monitors are not completely up the road of “clearing your tracks,” it’s important to note that this is Big Brother’s twin sibling. There is tremendous vulnerability on the internet, but similar vulnerabilities are also creeping into our regular day-to-day household items at an alarming rate. The internet and the "internet of things," (IoT). They're really two heads of the same monster.

Be aware of the big picture. The old world is gone. If we want to be safe, we need to take calculated, conscious steps to ensure our security. It’s simple and relatively easy.

We just have to do it.

Do You Want To Know A Secret?

December 12, 2015

Do you want to know a secret?

Creativity is the name of this game. And it doesn’t just flow. Not just under any circumstances.

When The Beatles were preparing to record their next album in late 1968, the idea came up to film the whole process of album creation. That would include them working out all the songs from their roughest form, and the audience would follow them through their evolution. They actually set up in Twickenham Film Studios. This was not a place where music was recorded. It's a place where movies are made. A very different atmosphere than what they were used to at Abbey Road.

What started out as a unique and fun idea quickly turned sour. First of all, they were used to starting work in the studio later in the day and going to the wee hours of the morning, sometimes pushing dawn. Now, they working on working class schedules. As John said, “you can’t make music at 8 o’clock in the morning!”

Second, with the tensions growing among the band members at this time, being filmed was the last thing they needed as they worked on these new songs. During the early stages of one song, Paul and George are shown having a bit of a fight about something. The camera’s off to the side, and we are watching the four of them sit there. George is trying to get Paul off his back about playing something incorrectly, and when the camera cuts to Ringo, we get a clear sense that this is uncomfortable even for him. A few days later, John and George get into a massive fight, presumably off camera. George quit the band that day after lunch only to return a few days later after they agreed to move the band back to a more comfortable setting and just finish the album. The concept of filming the creation of this album had taken over, and it had become too much.

Obviously, they eventually finished the album, which was Let It Be. And while all the other Beatles films have long been officially released on DVD and Blu-Ray, Let It Be remains an unreleased soar spot. Rather than document the creation of their album it recorded the dissolution of the band.

I’ve always liked that album and the bootlegged DVD copy of the film I found years ago, but it can’t help but be noticed that the filming of their private, creative process had an impact on their behavior. And this was just filming they were in total control of. Closed-circuit. Nothing externally imposed. They could have burned all the reels if they wanted to and ever showed anyone. But even still, knowing they were being filmed in privacy, it had an impact on their behavior- in a less creative, free way.

It’s one thing to make a recording of audio or film that is intentional. When the recording is being made for the sake of recording. Like when The Beatles sang into a microphone. This kind of intentional and conscious recording is one thing. It’s another whole thing when the recording instrument is off to the side, as a witness.

I argue that such acts of creativity are more fruitfully done in “secret.” And how far does that line reach? Writing a book? Singing to my infant son? A family making dinner? We have technology all around us now that lets anyone tap into our business as long as they have the simple know-how and a lack of morality. Microphones on cell phones can be remotely turned on by hackers or NSA, even with the phone off. There’s also no shortage of the woes surrounding desktop computer cameras and microphones. Same thing with devices like the Amazon Echo.

The Beatles had no “secrets” when they were making Let It Be. But, with the cameras off, they were probably better off keeping it a “secret”.

Private Parts And Shopping Carts

Many people are concerned about staying safe and anonymous while shopping offline. Major brands like Target, Neiman Marcus, Michaels, Home Depot, etc... With all the stores that have had their point of sale system hacked over the last few years, this has been an issue that needs remedies. One such remedy is quite simple.

Cash.

Now, it's not as easy as just paying with cash. Not these days. There are a few things you want to consider during the transaction. Some of these stores want your email address or if you special order something they may want to put your personal information into a computer. Especially if they store it all in a register that doubles as a computer.

For example, I like to shop at my local bookstore. They have a great mix of new and used books. They can also order pretty much any new book you want if you can give them the ISBN number. He jots your name and phone number down on a post-it note and calls you when it’s in! And the he has a very cheap register that has no computer/wifi connected to it. Just a plain, old cash register. Now this is in far contrast to Amazon.com which stores all your search and purchase history in unencrypted text. So, as former NSA-whistleblower Edward Snowden said, “If you look for the book 1984 on Amazon, NSA knows about it.”

So if you want total privacy, we have that option. The idea is- brick and mortar stores. With cash. And low-tech.

You can do it at big-box stores too. Sticking with the previous example of a bookstore, it works totally fine at Barnes and Noble. Though if you wanted to special order something, they’d probably have to put your name and contact info into a computer, which will be attached to what you are buying. You could, however, ask if they might just order the book for the store’s general stock. Keep tabs on the website or call them a week or so later and head over once it’s in stock.

You can take this idea and apply it to any business. It’s simple too. You’re not going out of your way at all, or at least to a minimal degree. Let’s say you’re 17 years old and exploring your sexuality. You live with your parents, and they’ve given you a credit card. You might not want to use that credit card to purchase a book on homosexuality. What you want is a simple and private transaction. Cash at a local merchant. You certainly have the right. When you get off the internet and go to a store up the street you give yourself the option. 

Since cash is still anonymous, we better take advantage of it. There’s been talk for a while now about putting RFID-style technology in dollar bills. While some high tech engineering does going into dollar bills, we’ve at least managed to keep it anonymous. For now.

These days with so much shopping being done online, and most of the money being transferred electronically, it’s a good reminder that old-fashioned cash is still anonymous and secure. Quite easily, you can avoid hackers and trackers by just supporting your local business with a few folded bills in your wallet.

No one needs to know what book you’re buying. Just like closing the bathroom door at home is completely reasonable, so is buying a book with cash.

Your private parts and shopping carts are your business!