Hillary, hackers, threats, and national security

I got a point-blank question in the comments earlier this week: Did Hillary Clinton’s home-made mail server put national secrets at risk of being hacked by our enemies?

Depending on the enemies, maybe marginally. But not enough that any security professional that I know of is worried about it. Here’s why.

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The State Department is just one of many examples of IT gone rogue

Much has been made of Hillary Clinton’s use of her own mail server, running out of her home. It didn’t change my opinion of her, and I don’t think it changed anyone else’s either–it just reinforces what everyone has thought of her since the early 1990s. Then, Ars Technica came forward with the bizarre case of Scott Gration, an ambassador who ran his own shadow IT shop out of a bathroom stall in Nairobi.

The money quote from Ars: “In other words, Gration was the end user from hell for an understaffed IT team.” And it concluded with, “[A]s with Clinton, Gration was the boss—and the boss got what the boss wanted.”

Indeed. And it doesn’t just happen in the government.

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Wikipedia hits half a million entries

Wikipedia made it. Half a million articles. 1.25 gigabytes of raw text.

That’s a lot. I remember when I first read about CD-ROMs, one of the best examples they included to talk about its 600-megabyte capacity–which was unthinkable in the days when 40-gig hard drives were mainstream–was that it was enough to hold a whole encyclopedia with room to spare.

Not this encyclopedia, I guess.It used to bother me that sports figures and entertainers were more likely to have entries than important historical figures. Seeing as my last few entries have been about baseball players–and bench players at that–I guess I’ve mellowed. Academic-style articles will happen eventually. I think Wikipedia’s value is as the people’s encyclopedia, rather than academia’s encyclopedia.

The history that almost nobody will care about in 20 years is being recorded, and I think that’s cool. What bothers me more today is that the history is much richer from 2001 on than pre-2001 will be.

But it’s reached a point where it’s not bad on academic matters either. I remember my first research paper well. It was a horrid assignment. I, along with each of my 8th grade classmates, was given the name of an obscure third-world country. We had to write a minimum 10-page report on the history and politics of the country.

My assigned country was the Central African Republic. I struggled to find any sources that were five pages long. The school library had absolutely nothing. The State Department had some free information. The public library scored me some information too, including what became the backbone of the report–the exploits of dictator and self-styled Napoleon wannabe Jean-Bedel Bokassa.

I note that Wikipedia’s entries on the Central African Republic’s history, politics, and Bokassa are all reasonably long and detailed and very good.

No resource like Wikipedia existed in 1989. I still maintain that assignment was totally inappropriate for an 8th grader–I never had to do anything like it in high school, and while I did some papers that were comparable in length and difficulty when I was in college, I also had twice as long to complete them.

But if any of those teachers are still around and torturing 8th graders today, Wikipedia will make those poor students’ lives much easier.

And did I mention that anyone can freely copy it for their own use, whether personal or commercial? Yeah, that’s pretty cool too.

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