a week in wireless

A Week In Wireless – A hacking affair

“Ottawa’s the city that fun forgot,” said a likely nervous native of the Canadian city during an interview with the Guardian, read by a mildly entertained Informer while following the fallout from yet another corporate hacking saga this week.

While scoffing his face with a foot-long sandwich, conveniently paid for using Apple’s new payment system, the Informer stumbled upon a trending news article about the apparent network insecurities of the controversial website Ashley Madison, infamous for facilitating extra-marital… activities, so to speak.

Hacktivists calling themselves “the Impact Team” ripped the dating site’s network apart and helped itself to a shedload of confidential information – credit cards, personal information, photographs and a variety of secret desires – threatening to release it all to the world if the site, and others, didn’t shut down immediately. 33 million people around the world apparently frequent the site and as one columnist fabulously depicted, in all likelihood formed a cloud of nervous sweat, particularly over Ottawa.

The reason why the Informer opened this week’s column with a potentially antagonistic statement about the Canadian capital is because, of all the Ashley Madison customers, Ottawa apparently has the highest proportion of registered users to any one city’s population. According to a Reuters article, approximately 189,000 of Ottawa’s 883,000 population frequent the website, that works out to around about one in five.

The Informer then entertained himself by musing over the awkward scene possibly taking place over the dinner table in 20% of households in Ottawa at some point this week:

Betrothed Grown-up 1: “So, darling, did you hear the news of that affairs website getting hacked and losing all of its customers’ data?”

Betrothed Grown-up 2: [Stare. Gulp. Consume forkful of dinner. Chew. Keep chewing… hope said forkful never ends]… “Oh yeah, terrible isn’t it, eh?” [Eyes down].

Morality aside, what the actions of the Impact Team remind us all of is in today’s digital age those with sufficient conviction in their intent will find a way of getting what they want, be that the personal records from a dating website, voicemails from a celebrity’s phone, or how many miles your connected car has got under the hood.

Apparently, so the Beeb tells us, cars are basically turning into computers on wheels, and that basic off the shelf radio equipment can be used to hack into the infotainment systems within connected cars. “An attacker would probably choose a common radio station to broadcast over the top of to make sure they reached the maximum number of target vehicles,” said expert Andy Davis.

The Informer is going to glibly miss the point made by Davis, and instead pray his own in-car entertainment system isn’t rapidly switched between the prime minister’s questions and hardcore drum and bass next time he’s on the drive home. That’s literally a car-crash waiting to happen… I’ll be here all week, tip your waitresses.

Other hacking attempts meanwhile can hilariously backfire, as one schemer found out when he attempted to hack the Iowa State Lottery’s super-duper random number generator computer. In this instance, his attempts to alter the lottery’s outcome in his favour did him no favours, when he was nicked then charged with fraud. The best bit? The day job of the defendant in this case was, get this, the head of information security for the Iowa State Lottery.

Apparently, the would-be millionaire drove out to a random gas (petrol) station, covered his face with a hoodie and bought the ticket, then tried to get his mate to arrange for collection of the $14.3m winnings in cash… in Canada. Because nothing screams ‘suspicious’ like cashing a cheque for a cool fourteen mil up front, in a different country and, most importantly, under someone else’s name.

So while various hacking attempts may have left many red-faced – be it civilians confiding in a website, celebrities storing naughty photos in the cloud, or potential evil-geniuses trying to cheat the system – there are always some innovative approaches worthy of making the digital age’s equivalent of the Darwin Awards.

Others, it would appear, are simply genius:

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