Monthly Archives: May 2013

Why the Communications Data Bill is STILL wrong even after Woolwich

As you know there has been various different opinions that have been vividly expressed since the Woolwich attack this week in the UK. It appears that every home secretary, be it current or past, are in agreement and are calling for the snoopers charter, sorry the Communications Data Bill, to be reintroduced and passed in Parliament.

The bill

The bill would allow for police and the security services access to all online communication details including the time, duration, originator, recipient and the location of the device from where it was sent without the need for a warrant. It would also include browsing history and details of messages sent on social media. I should emphasize that the police or security services would need a warrant from the home secretary in order to access the actual content of the conversations or messages.

Preventing the attack?

The argument for such legislation is that this could have possibly prevented the attack and so for that reason alone it is worth it. I don’t agree. There is a chance that it might have prevented it but there is also a possibility that it wouldn’t have made any difference at all. So are we fine with the government intruding in our lives even further just in case it might prevent an attack? I’m not! I have not seen any evidence so far that shows it would have been worthwhile to have such a regressive bill on our statute books. It seems to be just scare tactics whilst taking away our privacy rights in one fell swoop.

Lack of oversight

I notice that there doesn’t appear to be oversight by the judiciary but by the home secretary? If the legislative are confident with their bill then why not allow the judiciary at least provide the oversight? There seems to be far too much power being given to the executive for my liking. Whilst I am not suggesting that these powers would be misused by the government there is certainly a suggestion that it could be, much like RIPA was with local councils.

No content

Those who argue that it’s not content that’s being monitored so if you have nothing to hide what’s the issue? The issue is there is still something called innocent until proven guilty – a foundation that our society and country was built on.  Why should the police have the right to know exactly who I am communicating with and when, and if it’s on my phone then where?! If you suspect me then go through the proper channels.

Secure Storage

All of this data would have to be stored somewhere which would be no easy task. Even if it is held by each of the ISP’s who is going to fund this? Will it be forced on the ISP’s in which case there will obviously be an increase in costs for us all or will it be funded centrally by government which we will still end up paying for in the form of taxes. Time and time again we have seen breaches of data security from many different groups with reasons ranging from sociopolitical to criminal intensions. Such private information would have to be held in an extremely secure manner which would take time to set up.

IP address matching

What was in the Queen’s speech was the ability to improve IP address matching between people. This is an idea that has some merit but in reality is a lot harder to implement. Whilst users are assigned an IP address from the ISP and they will have a record there are ways around that. Using a proxy address to go through which disguises your real IP address. Bouncing your IP address from one server to another so that it can’t be tracked is another option. Going through certain networks such as Tor which is basically untraceable would prevent tracking as well. How do you ascertain who the USER is at the time? Whilst you can say which house it might be, there is no way that you can detect which person actually went ahead and used the computer at the time.

Driving criminals underground

Another issue, amongst the many others already covered, is that those who will want to cause harm and suffering to citizens may just find ways to better cover their tracks. If they are that determined then they will find a way around it. It will then cause criminal activity to be driven further underground that would thus lose the meaning and purpose of the bill in the first place. I admit however that there may well be those who don’t do their research and are careless which results in the security services and police to apprehend them.

My thoughts…

Whilst I am not against giving the police and security services the tools that they need to keep us safe I think any solution has to be proportionate, fair, have safeguards in place, balance the needs of the security services with the people of the country and have legitimate oversight. Currently I don’t think any of those points have been met with the proposed legislation. I do hope that the politicians don’t assume they know best. I hope they will bring in various different advocacy groups to discuss it to try and come to some compromise. Right now I think the Liberal Democrats are correct in blocking the legislation from passing and I agree with the Home Affairs Select Committee. Lets hope that the Conservatives and Labour don’t ride roughshod over the concerns and push it through. If they did it would be a sad day for all concerned.

Year 1 review of Mastering Digital Forensics & Cyber Security at John Jay College

So let me set the scene. It was August 2012, people were rushing past and then the tannoy came on and stated “flight to New York City now boarding”. At that moment with only two suitcases in hand it suddenly made me question “what the hell am I doing?!”. Well now after 9 grueling months I can give you the answer – I was making one of the toughest, hardest but most worthwhile and correct decisions of my life.

Year one in the MSc Digital Forensics and Cyber Security program (D4CS) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice is now finished and I look back with a warm sense of satisfaction at my achievements so far. It looks like I will have completed year one with a perfect 4.0 which is amazing.

The program is intense and it pushes you really hard but it also offers you amazing support and wonderful professors. The amount of time and effort these guys put in to ensure you have the best education possible is to be praised but that is only the half of it. This degree will not work for you if you cannot dedicate the time and effort that’s required and that alone is too much for some. Many times over the year had the clock gone past midnight and I was cradling a coffee in one hand while typing or looking through code with the other.

The wide range of topics covered cannot be underestimated. So far I have been taught about the programming language of the operating systems i.e. C and successfully managed to design and code a chessboard. If anybody had told me a year ago that not only would I be attempting such a project but I’d be successful with it I would have laughed and dismissed it. It also gave me a greater understanding of the level of math involved in computing. I’m not going to lie, at times trying to understand the logic of the math equations and theory then putting that into practice with coding examples was not easy but it was rewarding and helps you in the long run so thank you Hunter!

I have been taught about Federal and NY State computing law and how that impacts us on a daily basis without us even realizing it. A special shout out to Professor Adam Wandt who made the class a very engaging and enjoyable subject to learn. PAD 750 was split in two halves: legal and technology. As I learn by hands on experience it was great to see so many experiments in class and it allowed you to see first hand what is going on. It was bloody difficult revising for those exams and I’m glad its over but it’s a highly recommended class to take.

Moving on to another subject was the intense reading of hundreds of pages every week on the more sociological point of view. Trying to understand the mindset of hackers and where computing originated from and what that type of world was. You have to be prepared to engage in classes for two reasons; the first is you won’t get much out of it if you don’t and the second is you don’t get a choice because the professors rightly make sure you help contribute to the debate. There was open and honest discussions held with varying views expressed but welcomed. There was no wrong answer, as long as you could justify it. It’s what academia is all about.

I also learnt about computer security and encryption, learning about different techniques and algorithms that are used today. It is such a wide scope and topic but it was enjoyable and broadens your mind. It also shows you the amazing opportunities that are out there in the field and with different talks and guest lectures coming in courtesy of the Cybercrime Center you get different perspectives and an even greater enhanced learning.

There is so much to say but I thought I would highlight some of the many different things that have gone on this year. It really is a case of you get out what you put in, but if you put in the effort then you’ll be rewarded and there is a great setup here to help you along the way. I am ready for the summer break, it will be nice to not have the intensity levels that there was for a while but I know come the Fall of 2013 I will be ready, willing and excited for year two and what the opportunities and challenges that will bring.

Have a great summer folks!

Why This Generation is All About Me

Or more accurately my response to Time Magazines May cover story: The Me Me Me Generation by Joel Stein, who claims that although millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents…they’ll save us all. And since I am a millennial and I have a blog I had to respond, duh! The story covers why we as the generation born between 1980 and 2000 are so obsessed with posting photos of ourselves on Instagram, send over 88 texts per day because god forbid something happens without us knowing, or why we can’t for the life of us  move the hell out of our parents basement. First off I haven’t lived with either of my biological parents since I was fifteen and I haven’t lived at “home” for a year. I turned 23 in April. I was born slam in the middle of generation Me, in 1990. And I have few things to say because like duh I’m a millennial!

g9510.20_Millennials.Cover

For those of you who don’t watch Lena Duhnman’s show Girls the pilot episode opens with 20 something Hannah eating dinner at a fancy restaurant with her parents who sort of gently inform her they will no longer be supporting her life in Brooklyn. Hannah objects by basically saying she needs more time. Apparently this is the plight of every twenty something, although not many I know, but maybe her parents shouldn’t have supported her to begin with? Stein in his article brings up that new studies in the seventies claimed children with higher self-esteem succeeded more often. So our parents started feeding us lines like “you’re special”, “you can do anything”, and giving every kid a trophy just for playing the game. I’m not saying that’s bad, but I am saying maybe we’re not the ones to blame for our self obsession?

Here’s the thing, I grew up with my parents telling me I was great, I was so smart and pretty, too. And my teachers all throughout school, even college, told me I was so smart and creative and sweet, just a doll. (I grew up in the south and people still to this day say “you are just the sweetest thing, just a doll!”) Then I got to an unpaid internship for my bachelors program and my supervisors said you’re okay but you could probably work harder on this and this and this. Which in reality were great criticisms that I took to heart and have made me a better social worker. But for the first few months at my internship I felt like I was floundering, but I’M GREAT I said, I’M SWEET and CREATIVE these people are just blind, they can’t see how absolutely wonderful I am! (This post is painting me in a lovely light). I mean why had every one told me I was great if it wasn’t true? So it had to just be this one person right? Wrong. The truth is I am great at some things and I need to work on others like every human, but I didn’t know that because everyone had only told me I was great. Not just my parents everyone. That’s right, teachers you’re to blame, too. We have grown up with everyone inflating our self esteem, of course we all think we’re awesome! Of course 40 something employers hate us, because they were raised to work hard for what they wanted, and we were raised that we’re fantastic give us jobs!

2013-05-23 13.14.46Here’s a screenshot of my Instagram account

You can’t really fault our parents though because they thought they were helping us succeed. And, if my friend circle is an indication (I have over 1,000 friends on Facebook), we’re doing okay. Maybe we do spend our days photographing and posting our food, our faces, our fun, but we also do really amazing things. We’re more educated than the generation before us, we are also more mobile, I moved to New York City with $1,000 to my name and I’ve done okay (my parents don’t support me BTW), we wait longer to get married but when we do we have more equal partnerships, we are more globally aware and we are more invested in global occurrences. And as Stein concludes we’re nice, we don’t resent authority, and we’re extremely accepting. According to Stein we’ve lost the ennui and irony of those 20 somethings who were 20 something in the 90’s. And when I read that I realized he’s completely right. I watched Reality Bites, which according to its movie poster is “a comedy about love in the 90’s”. I came across the movie on Netflix, cuz I live on the internet duh!, and as I was watching the “comedy” I kept thinking why are all these characters so cranky? Maybe that sullen sadness worked in the 90’s but these days 20 somethings seem much more optimistic and excited, I personally like that attitude much better! We may be lazy but we’re happy about it!

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A “selfie” I took while writing this post, excuse the hair :)

Woolwich attack & Social media

Yesterday was a sad day for Britain but there was also clear signs of hope. The truly heinous and barbaric act that resulted in the loss of a serving soldiers life is incredibly shocking but I am confident that the perpetrators will be dealt with in the correct way, that is to be brought to justice by law enforcement. I felt that had to be said but it is not really the emphasis of the post.

Misinformation

Social media has a huge role to play in reporting the news. Often it is Twitter that breaks news stories before even the big news organisations themselves and that’s good but it also brings with it challenges. The problem is that on Twitter and other social media there is no overall control and verification. If you are not aware Nick Robinson of the BBC was lambasted for a comment that he made, he even blogged about that very issue today. People were, rightly or wrongly, questioning why he made those comments and how unhelpful it was. The comment in question was to describe the attackers as being of “muslim appearance”. The issue here for me is not so much the comment but the response. So many people were quick to judge without arming themselves with the facts. It turned out that it wasn’t Nick who had said that but he was directly quoting a source from Whitehall. I tried somewhat in the sea of tweets to inform people of the facts and in fairness many responded and thanked me for the clarification. Tweeting is great and I am a big fan of it but it has it’s limitations. It can be dangerous when such misinformation is allowed to go and be spread without correction. The news organisations do not have this problem as they check and have someone to authorize the story.

Desensitizing

The other main point that I would like to approach is video and photos of the attacks and the aftermath. With the world we live in now we want information now but that can come at a cost. As I was following the news yesterday I of course looked on the BBC and other reputable news outlets but I also followed Twitter. Unfortunately I saw photo’s that I don’t think I should have seen. Pictures of the poor soldier lying on the floor (deceased), photos of the attacker with bloodied hands…Has social media changed our way of thinking? Are we as a society getting desensitized to such atrocious photos? I question who thought it would be a good idea to share that? Imagine if the soldiers family were looking on Twitter and saw such pictures. Like I say Twitter and social media is brilliant but I think we need to step back a second and try and understand just what we are posting and the consequences of our actions before we click send.

Remembering

Finally I just want to point out a more warming side that I find heartwarming and encouraging. Within an hour of the page being created in memory of the soldier who lost their life, this Facebook page had over 1 million likes. I am glad that people can unite and I can only hope that as the family come to terms with their loss, they may take some comfort knowing they have people around the country and world (which is what makes social media so great) thinking of them and supporting them. RIP young soldier, you won’t be forgotten and Britain will stay strong.