I miss the sound of a modem carrier

“I know this will sound crazy,” my boss said. “But I miss the sound of a modem connecting.”

I don’t think it’s crazy at all. That chirping was the sound of a hard-won victory, at least if you’re of a certain age.

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What it was like owning a Commodore in the 1980s

Since questions occasionally come up, and I remember well what it was like owning a Commodore in the 1980s in the United States, I’ll share my recollections of it.

It was very different from computing today. It was still interesting, but it was different.

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Data compression, 1980s-style–and why PKZIP won

My employer has me doing some very gray-hat work that I don’t want to describe in detail, because the information has a tremendous potential for misuse. But suffice it to say I’ve been trying to send data places the data shouldn’t go, and I tried to do it by going all 1987 on it by compressing the data with obsolete compression programs. Ever heard of security by obscurity? I was trying to bypass security by using obscurity. In the process, I learned why PKZIP won the compression wars.

This is a very good reason to deploy 64-bit Windows 7 in your enterprise, because these obsolete 16-bit compression programs won’t run under Windows 7. I found that out the hard way once I got the data through to the other side and tried to decompress it. Oops. But tell me, what’s the legitimate business need to run 16-bit DOS applications in 2014? Maybe in a sizable company, one or two people have that need. Find some other way to accommodate them, and make life difficult for attackers, OK?

I say this because I was able to get the data where I wanted it to go. What I found was that once I got the data where I wanted it, and moved to a machine that could run my 16-bit decompression program (back then the compressor and decompressor were often different programs), the data was corrupted more often than not.

Of course, in my BBSing days, it sure seemed like a lot of my downloads wouldn’t decompress correctly, or they’d decompress but the program wouldn’t run. I always blamed my modem and line noise, the bane of BBSing in days of yore. But, for some reason, after PKZIP came along and became popular, downloads worked a lot better. Then along came some other programs like LHARC and its cousins, and they were perfectly reliable too, and tended to compress better than PKZIP did. Naturally, I became a fan. If it’s better and doomed to fail, I always like it. PKZIP of course was the first one to be really reliable, so it quickly became entrenched, and its format won. You don’t see .LZH or .LHA files in the English-speaking world anymore.

So I guess I owe my modems an apology. In an environment free of line noise, those early, finicky, New Kids on the Block-loving compression programs still failed too often for me to do what I wanted to do.

Why the Target data breach news keeps getting worse, and what you need to do

As you probably know, last year some still-unknown criminals stole a whole bunch of credit and debit card data from Target. And the story keeps changing. First there weren’t any PINs. Then they got the PINs, but no personally identifiable data. Well, the latest news indicates they got credit card numbers, names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and for a whole lot more people, and probably from a longer length of time than just late November to mid-December.

There are a few things you ought to do if you shop at Target, which many people do. Read more

“They were bored and wished they had a job.”

I was catching up on security podcasts this week, and a brief statement in one of them really grabbed me. The panel was talking about people who steal online gaming accounts, I think. The exact content isn’t terribly important–what’s very important is what this person found in the forums where the people who perform this nefarious activity hang out. What she found was that there was one common sentiment that almost everyone there expressed, frequently.

They were bored, and they wished they had a job.

There was about a 30-second exchange after that, but I don’t think it’s enough. Read more

Rob O’Hara on phreaking

Rob O’Hara posted a podcast about phreaking today. He explains in layperson’s terms how the phone system was controlled by tones, cites it as an example of security through obscurity, and he talks about his own first-person experience subverting the phone system.

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New media in Cuba

I read an ingenious article this week on Slashdot, talking about how Cubans evade Internet censorship (not to mention lack of access) by passing contraband material around on flash drives. It’s so old school, but brilliant.

Sure, it’s less efficient and less elegant than using the Internet, but unlike the Internet, it’s nearly impossible to detect and even harder to stop. Read more

A contrarian (but defendable) view of e-books

Tech author Nicholas Carr has some interesting statistics that led him to state that perhaps e-books will complement printed books, rather than replace them.

It’s not hard to find history to support that hypothesis. Read more