Category Archives: Science & technology

Sunday Devotional: ‘Who dwells in unapproachable light’

1 Timothy 6:11-16

But you, man of God, pursue righteousness,
devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.
Compete well for the faith.
Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called
when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.
I charge you before God, who gives life to all things,
and before Christ Jesus,
who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession,
to keep the commandment without stain or reproach
until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ
that the blessed and only ruler
will make manifest at the proper time,
the King of kings and Lord of lords,
who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light,
and whom no human being has seen or can see.
To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.

The Holy Trinity of three Persons in one God is an enduring mystery that, through the ages, the brilliant minds of the brightest theologians have not been able to plumb.

Since Jesus, the Second Person of the Triune Godhead, became incarnate, lived with, and was seen by countless percipient witnesses before He ascended and left our mortal coil, the “King of kings . . . who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see” referred to by St. Paul in the above passage can only be the First Person — the Father and Creator of the Universe.

As St. Paul said in Colossians 1:15:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.”

Indeed, Jesus Himself said (John 14:6):

“I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Here’s a little glimpse of the unimaginable awesomeness of the Creator, “whom no human being has seen or can see”:

And yet the Being “who dwells in unapproachable light” sent His only Son to suffer and die for us puny wretched humans. In the words of St. Paul in 1 Timothy 2:5-6:

“For there is one God.
There is also one mediator
between God and the human race,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself as ransom for all.”

How He must love us . . . .

Christ crucified

May the love and peace and joy of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you,

~Eowyn

Someone is learning & practicing how to take down the Internet

This is serious and genuinely alarming.

Bruce Schneier is the Chief Technology Officer of Resilient, an IBM Company, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, and a board member of Electronic Frontier Foundation — an organization defending our rights in the digital world.

In a blog post, Schneier sounds the alarm that in the past year, the websites of major companies that provide the Internet’s basic services repeatedly have been attacked, each time more sophisticated than the last, which suggests “someone” is practicing how to take down the Internet by learning from the companies’ defensive moves.

cyberwar

Below is Bruce Schneier’s blog post of Sept. 13, 2016, “Someone is Learning How to Take Down the Internet“:

Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down. We don’t know who is doing this, but it feels like a large nation state. China or Russia would be my first guesses.

First, a little background. If you want to take a network off the Internet, the easiest way to do it is with a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS). Like the name says, this is an attack designed to prevent legitimate users from getting to the site. There are subtleties, but basically it means blasting so much data at the site that it’s overwhelmed. These attacks are not new: hackers do this to sites they don’t like, and criminals have done it as a method of extortion. There is an entire industry, with an arsenal of technologies, devoted to DDoS defense. But largely it’s a matter of bandwidth. If the attacker has a bigger fire hose of data than the defender has, the attacker wins.

Recently, some of the major companies that provide the basic infrastructure that makes the Internet work have seen an increase in DDoS attacks against them. Moreover, they have seen a certain profile of attacks. These attacks are significantly larger than the ones they’re used to seeing. They last longer. They’re more sophisticated. And they look like probing. One week, the attack would start at a particular level of attack and slowly ramp up before stopping. The next week, it would start at that higher point and continue. And so on, along those lines, as if the attacker were looking for the exact point of failure.

The attacks are also configured in such a way as to see what the company’s total defenses are. There are many different ways to launch a DDoS attack. The more attack vectors you employ simultaneously, the more different defenses the defender has to counter with. These companies are seeing more attacks using three or four different vectors. This means that the companies have to use everything they’ve got to defend themselves. They can’t hold anything back. They’re forced to demonstrate their defense capabilities for the attacker.

I am unable to give details, because these companies spoke with me under condition of anonymity. But this all is consistent with what Verisign is reporting. Verisign is the registrar for many popular top-level Internet domains, like .com and .net. If it goes down, there’s a global blackout of all websites and e-mail addresses in the most common top-level domains. Every quarter, Verisign publishes a DDoS trends report. While its publication doesn’t have the level of detail I heard from the companies I spoke with, the trends are the same: “in Q2 2016, attacks continued to become more frequent, persistent, and complex.”

There’s more. One company told me about a variety of probing attacks in addition to the DDoS attacks: testing the ability to manipulate Internet addresses and routes, seeing how long it takes the defenders to respond, and so on. Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical Internet services.

Who would do this? It doesn’t seem like something an activist, criminal, or researcher would do. Profiling core infrastructure is common practice in espionage and intelligence gathering. It’s not normal for companies to do that. Furthermore, the size and scale of these probes — and especially their persistence — points to state actors. It feels like a nation’s military cybercommand trying to calibrate its weaponry in the case of cyberwar. It reminds me of the US’s Cold War program of flying high-altitude planes over the Soviet Union to force their air-defense systems to turn on, to map their capabilities.

What can we do about this? Nothing, really. We don’t know where the attacks come from. The data I see suggests China, an assessment shared by the people I spoke with. On the other hand, it’s possible to disguise the country of origin for these sorts of attacks. The NSA, which has more surveillance in the Internet backbone than everyone else combined, probably has a better idea, but unless the US decides to make an international incident over this, we won’t see any attribution.

But this is happening. And people should know.

A reader of Schneier’s blog-post, Random Guy 17, wrote this interesting comment:

“An attack on a service is best done by an attacker that doesn’t need that service. You don’t pull the plug on the power company that supplies your own home/business.

With that in mind, a closed, not highly Internet enabled country makes the most sense- like China.”

Other commenters warn that it may be the U.S. government, e.g., the NSA, doing the attacks — to find the Internet’s weaknesses (in order to better defend it), or more malevolently, as bargaining chip for more money allocated to cyber-security.

It doesn’t help that in two weeks, on October 1, control of the Internet — specifically, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — will pass from U.S. administration to a multilateral body, most likely the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU). (Breitbart)

H/t ZeroHedge and FOTM’s Will Shanley

UPDATE (Sept. 20, 2016):

Rhett Jones reports for Gizmodo, Sept. 11, 2016, that two 18-year-old Israelis — Itay Huri and Yarden Bidani —  have been arrested “in connection with an FBI investigation into vDOS, a cyberattack service that has been credited with perpetrating ‘a majority’ of the DDoS attacks over the last few years.

The following evidence pointed to the Huri and Bidani as the perpetrators:

  1.  Their vDOS service refused to attack Israeli sites in their “home country”.
  2. vDOS was hosted on a server that was traced back to Huri.
  3. SMS notifications pointed to both men.
  4. Huri and Bidani had co-authored a technical paper about DDoS attacks that was published in Israeli security magazine Digitals Whispers.

According to security blogger Brian Krebs, the vDOS site has reportedly raked in $618,000 (£465,835) for its services in two years.

According to Israeli news site The Marker, both men were arrested, then released on $10,000 bonds and placed under house arrest. Their passports have been taken away and they are forbidden from accessing the internet or any other telecommunications equipment for 30 days. It’s unclear if the two men will be extradited to the U.S and formally charged.

It is also unclear if Huri and Bidani are the perpetrators of the increasingly sophisticated DDoS attacks addressed in this post.

H/t FOTM‘s TPR.

~Eowyn

Obama administration granted immunity to a SECOND Clinton computer guru

Of course he did.

Hillary Clinton what difference does it make

From Daily Mail: The computer technician who deleted Hillary Clinton’s emails after she was ordered by Congress to preserve the records was reportedly offered immunity by federal officials.

The New York Times has identified the whiz as Paul Combetta, an employee of Platte River Networks, the firm Clinton hired to maintain her server. It was also the first outlet to report the immunity deal.

He is the second, known IT specialist who handled Clinton’s emails to have been granted legal protection by the Justice Department in exchange for his testimony.  The former campaign staffer and State Department employee who set up Clinton’s server, Bryan Pagliano, was the first.

Pagliano on the right/Facebook photo

Pagliano on the right/Facebook photo

House Republicans want the Obama administration to launch an obstruction of justice investigation over the matter, but the legal agreement protecting the computer guru presents an obstacle.  The Justice Department did not respond to the Times’ request for comment on its report naming Combetta.

Combetta was not named in the FBI report detailing the incident with Clinton’s emails last Friday, described as an ‘oh s***’ moment in the redacted text. The Times says that multiple sources confirmed that Combetta was the employee who made the error, however.

After the news outlet reported in 2012 that Clinton had a secret server in the basement of her New York home that contained work-related emails from the time she served as secretary of state, the House’s Benghazi committee subpoenaed the pertinent messages.

Around the same time, a redacted individual realized that he had not, as he was instructed several months before, deleted an archive of Clinton’s emails.

A summary of the FBI’s findings says he the individual, whom the Times says is Combetta, ‘indicated he believed he had an “oh s***’ moment and sometime between March 25-31, 2015 deleted the Clinton archive mailbox from the PRN server and used BleachBit to delete the exported .PST files he had created on the server system containing Clinton’s e-mails.’ PRN stands for Platte River Networks, Comebetta’s employer.

Combetta first told the Justice Department that he didn’t remember deleting the emails but changed his story several months later. He also said, ‘he was aware of the existence of the preservation request and the fact that it meant he should not disturb Clinton’s email data.’

The Republican-run House Oversight and Government reform committee is moving forward with its own investigation into the ‘circumstances leading to the failure to preserve federal records during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State,’ it said said Friday.

It has requested the presence of Pagliano, Combetta, longtime Clinton hand Justin Cooper, Platte River’s Bill Thornton, and Datto, Inc. founder and CEO Austin McChord at a hearing next Tuesday. Cooper monitored the server. Datto provided back-ups to Clinton’s emails.

Clinton’s presidential campaign says additional investigations into the way Clinton’s records were preserved are unnecessary. The matter was ‘thoroughly examined by the FBI prior to its decision to close out this case.’

‘As the FBI report notes, neither Hillary Clinton nor her attorneys had knowledge of the Platte River Network employee’s actions. It appears he acted on his own and against guidance given by both Clinton’s and Platte River’s attorneys to retain all data in compliance with a congressional preservation request,’ Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon told the Times.

The Oversight committee will also hold a hearing next week on the FBI report. An advisory said the committee is seeking answers on classified sections and redactions within the material, as well as pages it says were omitted entirely.

Benghazi committee chairman Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor, told Fox News it was ‘stunning’ that DOJ would have given Combetta a get-out-of-jail free card.

‘This is prosecutor 101. You don’t give immunity to the person who actually robbed the bank,’ he exclaimed. ‘You may want to give it to the getaway driver. You may want to give it to the person who helped count the money afterwards, but you don’t give immunity to the person who walked in and robbed the bank.’

Gowdy said the FBI ‘blew it.’

you don't say

‘They gave immunity to the very person you would most want to prosecute, which is the person who destroyed official public records after there was a subpoena and after there was a prosecution order,’ the Republican congressman stated.

DCG

Facebook co-founder pledges $20M to defeat Donald Trump

I quit Facebook in 2014 and I don’t miss it AT ALL.

Dustin Moskovitz

Dustin Moskovitz

From NY Post: Billionaire Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz has pledged to spend $20 million to defeat Donald Trump — whom he accused of carrying out “a deliberate con” to promote “his personal brand.”

In a blog post on Medium, Moskovitz said the election is a “referendum on who we want to be” and — apparently referring to Trump — said: “Will we be driven by fear, towards tribalism, emphasizing the things that divide us?”

Moskovitz claimed that “the Republican Party, and Donald Trump in particular, is running on a zero-sum vision, stressing a false contest between their constituency and the rest of the world.”

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, he claimed, “is running on a vision of optimism, pragmatism, inclusiveness and mutual benefit,” thus earning the endorsement of him and his wife, Cara Tuna.

These four Americans didn't benefit from Hillary's tenure...

These four Americans didn’t benefit from Hillary’s tenure…

“As a nation, we need to figure out how to bring everyone with us, and we believe the Democratic platform currently is more aligned with ensuring that happens,” he wrote.

“In comparison, Donald Trump’s promises to this group are quite possibly a deliberate con, an attempt to rally energy and support without the ability or intention to deliver. His proposals are so implausible that the nation is forced to worry that his interest in the presidency might not even extend beyond winning a contest and promoting his personal brand.”

The tech mogul warned: “If Donald Trump wins, the country will fall backward, and become more isolated from the global community.”

Moskovitz said the cash — from him and his wife —will go to support Democrat-aligned groups.

DCG

New species of parasite named after Obama

THIS IS NOT A JOKE.

A newly discovered species of parasitic flatworm has been named Baracktrema obamai, in honor of Barack Obama — the resident of the White House for four more months, who is said to be the 5th cousin twice removed of one of the discovering scientists.

The parasite, a new species of blood fluke, was found infecting the lungs of turtles in Malaysia — a country in S.E. Asia, as is Indonesia where Obama spent part of his childhood.

The scientists found clusters of tens to hundreds of the Baracktrema obamai eggs in the turtles’ lung alveoli — the tiny sacs where blood receives oxygen and gets rid of carbon dioxide. How these eggs get outside to hatch and infect new hosts isn’t clear, although making the turtles cough is probably involved.

Source: Popular Science

In an article in the August 2016 issue of the Journal of Parasitology, the scientists who discovered B. obamaiJackson R. Roberts, Thomas R. Platt, Raphael Orélis-Ribeiro, and Stephen A. Bullard — described the parasite as having a long, thread-like body, like its namesake.

Plate 1_Final_JRR_Baracktrema_24 Feb 2016~Eowyn

Hillary Clinton reportedly used old BlackBerrys bought on eBay

smart-power-clinton

Via NY Post: While serving as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton bought her BlackBerrys off eBay — since she preferred older models that the smartphone company had long retired — a top Republican on Capitol Hill revealed.

“I don’t want to get into this too much, but part of what was happening with the secretary of state was, she was acquiring technology that wasn’t even supported by BlackBerry,” House Oversight Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz told a forum in DC on Wednesday, according to the Washington Examiner.

“You couldn’t buy it. She was actually buying this stuff off of eBay because somebody was selling their old machine. That’s what she liked, so she did. It creates this huge vulnerability. And it’s unnecessary,” Chaffetz added in an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute.

Chaffetz’s remarks come a week after the FBI released notes from its interview of Clinton, part of its investigation into her private email server.

The FBI notes revealed Clinton had 13 BlackBerry devices over the course of her four years as America’s top diplomat. Clinton frequently lost or misplaced her smartphone, the notes said. And Bill Clinton aide Justin Cooper destroyed two old devices with a hammer.

Despite the FBI’s decision not to recommend the Justice Department pursue Clinton on criminal charges, Chaffetz has pledged to continue using his House committee to investigate the Democratic presidential candidate.

DCG

Seattle’s new, overbudget computer system let utility customers see others’ bills

Back in April, I told you about the City of Seattle’s new utility billing system – the one that was a year or more behind schedule and cost at least $34 million more than initially projected.

Well, the system launched on Monday and went as well as you would expect!

Tax dollars at work...

Tax dollars at work…

From Seattle Times: Seattle’s new billing system for utilities, already afflicted by delays and cost overruns, launched Monday morning with a data flaw that sent 3,041 customers a link to other customers’ bills, including their names, addresses and energy or water use.

Along with the privacy breakdown, the city sent six to 12 redundant email notices to those same customers, marking new trouble for a computer update, nearly a year late, $34 million over budget, and expected to reach $100 million.

The problems showed up in about one-tenth of the initial batch of 30,000 utility bills compiled during the changeover Sunday night and sent Monday morning, City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen said Monday night.

It’s likely that far fewer than 3,000 people inadvertently saw other people’s bills, because the city disabled the online billing link at 10:30 a.m., after a customer called to report the mistake, he said.

The Monday morning batch of 30,000 bills includes thousands of postal mail bills that weren’t affected, as well as electronic bills that worked properly. Some were City Light bills, others Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) water, sewer and garbage bills.

If customers clicked an online link to the electronic-payment option, they may have seen images of other customers’ bills in .pdf form, Thomsen said. That would have displayed other people’s names, addresses, energy use and billing amounts, as well as any discounts they receive, or any solar-energy generation. At no time were bank-account numbers, credit-card numbers, Social Security numbers or similar financial data exposed, he said.

E-billing customers who didn’t click the online payment link, but whose payments are still deducted automatically, received redundant but accurate emails, Thomsen said.

Both the e-billing link and the automatic payments for the new bills were disabled, while technicians worked Monday night. They would continue as long as needed to fix the flaw, Thomsen said. Electronic payment has been restored for people who were billed before the weekend.

He said 735 customers who use automatic billing received 12 email notices, and 2,306 others who pay their bills online got six email notices.

An investigation continues, but Thomsen said “there was an error on what we sent to KUBRA,” the city’s third-party billing company. The new system worked properly during final validation tests, he said.

On the other hand, the city had to integrate some 40 information-technology applications, affecting 420,000 customers, most of whom are served by both City Light and SPU.

“This appears to be a data issue of some sort that we need to sort out,” Thomsen said. “We did anticipate with any new system, there’s the potential for problems like this to crop up, so this is the one that we have. We’re trying to address it as quickly as we can.

“We take anything that deals with a customer’s bill seriously and we’re working diligently to resolve this.”

Read the whole story here.

DCG