Former Facebook exec says social media is ripping apart society

Another former Facebook executive has spoken out about the harm the social network is doing to civil society around the world. Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business, before recommending people take a “hard break” from social media.
Palihapitiya’s criticisms were aimed not only at Facebook, but the wider online ecosystem. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”
He went on to describe an incident in India where hoax messages about kidnappings shared on WhatsApp led to the lynching of seven innocent people. “That’s what we’re dealing with,” said Palihapitiya. “And imagine taking that to the extreme, where bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want. It’s just a really, really bad state of affairs.” He says he tries to use Facebook as little as possible, and that his children “aren’t allowed to use that shit.” He later adds, though, that he believes the company “overwhelmingly does good in the world.”

Palihapitiya’s remarks follow similar statements of contrition from others who helped build Facebook into the powerful corporation it is today. In November, early investor Sean Parker said he has become a “conscientious objector” to social media, and that Facebook and others had succeeded by “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” A former product manager at the company, Antonio Garcia-Martinez, has said Facebook lies about its ability to influence individuals based on the data it collects on them, and wrote a book, Chaos Monkeys, about his work at the firm.

These former employees have all spoken out at a time when worry about Facebook’s power is reaching fever pitch. In the past year, concerns about the company’s role in the US election and its capacity to amplify fake news have grown, while other reports have focused on how the social media site has been implicated in atrocities like the “ethnic cleansing” of Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic group.
In his talk, Palihapitiya criticized not only Facebook, but Silicon Valley’s entire system of venture capital funding. He said that investors pump money into “shitty, useless, idiotic companies,” rather than addressing real problems like climate change and disease. Palihapitiya currently runs his own VC firm, Social Capital, which focuses on funding companies in sectors like healthcare and education.
Palihapitiya also notes that although tech investors seem almighty, they’ve achieved their power more through luck than skill. “Everybody’s bullshitting,” he said. “If you’re in a seat, and you have good deal flow, and you have precious capital, and there’s a massive tailwind of technological change ... Over time you get one of the 20 [companies that become successful] and you look like a genius. And nobody wants to admit that but that’s the fucking truth.”

Great read on Security Annoyance

This World of Ours by James Mickens

Imperfect Forward Secrecy

How NSA Successfully Broke Trillions of Encrypted Connections - Imperfect Forward Secrecy: How Diffie-Hellman Fails in Practice

The complete write up


True Crypt

The researchers behind the security audit of the TrueCrypt disk-encryption software have completed their work and say they have found no evidence of any deliberate backdoors or serious design flaws in its code.

"Based on this audit, Truecrypt appears to be a relatively well-designed piece of crypto software," crypto boffin Matthew Green said in a blog post on Thursday.

The security community's attention became razor focused on the ongoing audit of TrueCrypt after the software's developers abandoned their work under mysterious circumstances last year. A message posted to TrueCrypt's official page urged users to uninstall it immediately "as it may contain unfixed security holes" and suggested Microsoft's BitLocker as an alternative.

This second phase of the audit examined TrueCrypt's random number generators and other cipher suites, following a first phase that reviewed the blueprints of the software. But although the auditors did find a few problems with TrueCrypt's code, they were minor and could only compromise security under very limited and specific circumstances.

For example, the Windows version of TrueCrypt relies on the Windows Crypto API, which can fail to initialize properly in some circumstances, allowing TrueCrypt to generate cryptographic keys based on predictable numbers, rather than random ones.

"This is not the end of the world, since the likelihood of such a failure is extremely low," Green observed. "But it's a bad design and should certainly be fixed in any TrueCrypt forks."

A number of such forks are already under development using the original TrueCrypt code as reference, among them CipherShed and VeraCrypt. The apparent lack of any serious security flaws in TrueCrypt, however, leaves open the question of why the TrueCrypt developers chose to close up shop to begin with.

One theory is that the cryptic message posted to the software's homepage was meant as a kind of "warrant canary" designed to warn users that pressure from one or more governments had made ongoing development of the software difficult or impossible. If true, that could have ominous implications for any future TrueCrypt derivatives.

"The loss of TrueCrypt's developers is keenly felt by a number of people who rely on full disk encryption to protect their data," Green wrote. "With luck, the code will be carried on by others. We're hopeful that this review will provide some additional confidence in the code they're starting with."

The full findings of the TrueCrypt security audit are available as a PDF, here. ®


Neil McAllister

Latest variants of "ransomware"

RANSOMWARE: A type of malware which restricts access to the computer system that it infects, and demands a ransom paid to the creator(s) of the malware in order for the restriction to be removed - Wikipedia

The tools and tactics being used to go after victims reveal growing sophistication, and gamers need to look out, security researchers say.

The enormous success which attackers have had extracting millions of dollars from individuals and businesses using ransomware appears to be driving more sophisticated tools and tactics from them.

This week researchers sounded the alert on two recent ransomware families that break ground in different ways.

One of them dubbed Virlock is noteworthy because it not only locks the screen of compromised systems like other ransomware, but also infects files on the device. First noticed by security firm ESET in December, Virlock is also polymorphic, meaning the code changes every time it runs making it hard to detect using standard malware detection tools.

In an alert on Friday, security firm Trend Micro described Virlock as the first ransomware that includes file infection in its routine. Unlike most ransomware, which are distributed via botnets and phishing emails, Virlock spreads via infected files, the security firm said.

“Virlock variants may arrive bundled with other malware in infected computers,” Trend Micro security researchers Jaaziel Carlos, Jonh Chua, and Rodwin Fuentes said in their blog.

Once on a system, the malware creates and modifies registry entries to obfuscate itself and then locks the screen and disables several critical functions on the compromised system. Virlock checks for specific file types on the infected system, including executable files and document types such as “.doc”, “.xls” and “.pdf”. It also looks for archive files like “.zip” audio and video files with extensions like “.mp3” and image files such as “.jpg” and “.gif.”

After Virlock locates such files it encrypt them and then embeds them in the body of the malware itself, the researchers said. Infected systems can be hard to clean and even a single infected file that remains undetected in a system can cause the malware to respawn the infection all over again.

“Once Virlock gets into a system network, it will be all over the place; it can infect a whole network system without notice,” the researchers said.

The other ransomware family that has attracted the attention of security researchers because it is different is, TeslaCrypt, a tool that is, for the first time, being used to go after video gamers, specifically. Operationally, the malware is similar to other ransomware, in that it encrypts data on the victim’s computer and then demands a ransom to unlock it.

But by targeting gamers, attckers are increasing what is already a huge target base for ransomware campaigns, Vadim Kotov, a security researcher at Bromium said in a blog post Thursday.

Bromium’s research has shown that data files for more than 20 games are affected by the threat, including Call of Duty, Star Craft 2, Diablo, Minecraft, and online games like World of Warcraft.

“Encrypting all these games demonstrates the evolution of crypto-ransomware as cybercriminals target new niches,” Kotov wrote.

Richard Blech, CEO of Secure Channels, says threats like these showcase the growing sophistication of the ransomware tools and tactics used by attckers to go after potential targets.

“What’s going on is that this is the new mainstream,” Blech says. “This isn’t some script kiddie in the basement,” targeting people with malware tools.  Increasingly, it is the highly sophisticated criminal groups using sophisticated tools that are behind major ransomware campaigns.

Perimeter defense tools like antivirus and anti spam products can help alleviate the threat somewhat by detecting and blocking ransomware where possible. But ultimately a lot of onus for dealing with the threat falls on the user. In most cases, ransomware tools end up getting installed on a system as the direct result of a user action, like clicking on a link in a phishing email.

“Someone has to do something,” to trigger ransomware in most cases. “There is a human factor,” Blech said.

Keeping files backed up is the best way to mitigate the threat posed by ransomware, Blech said. That way, even if data gets locked up or encrypted, it is easy to retrieve a backup copy.

“Be also careful with your DropBox (or other cloud services). If you have folders synchronized with an online storage – malware will get to them too.” Kotov said in his blog post.

Andrew Brandt, senior threat researcher at Blue Coat Systems said ransomware has become a growing threat not just because of how it is distributed but also because it’s ability to destroy data has evolved dramatically.

Small businesses and governments in particular have reason to be concerned about the trend, Brandt said in emailed comments to Dark Reading. “Small business and local government agencies are most likely, out of the panoply of potential commercial or enterprise victims, to lack any kind of integrated IT security infrastructure,” he said.

However HDT managed business clients have multiple layers of security that does help protect against these threats.

Dealing with ransomware requires the same kind of rigor as dealing with any malware he said. Machines or instance, need to be kept up to date, and software needs to be properly patched and updated.

“Networks on which these computers operate can be proxied through devices that prohibit communications with known-bad network addresses,” he said. “And the end users themselves need to be a little less credulous and treat email with greater care and a degree of mistrust".

Links Found between NSA, Regin Spy tool and QWERTY Keylogger


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