Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hacktivists

Since last few months there has been a flurry of attacks on prominent websites by 'Hacktivists'.  Calling the victims of these attacks 'websites' is an understatement, they are corporations, government agencies and even banks.  It roughly started after the sensational release of classified US cables by WikiLeaks. 
This was entailed by DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks against PayPal, Visa and MasterCard by a group to retaliate their blocking of payment service to WikiLeaks.  It was perhaps not taken seriously then, as the attacks entailed disabling the websites.  No data was lost or stolen.  The message was clear, though, anyone playing with freedom will have to play the price.  They called themselves 'The Anonymous'.  Their punchline is :  "We don't forgive, We don't forget, We are legion, Expect us".

'Anonymous' launched hack attacks against the agencies that did harm to freedom of speech or challenged them directly.  In one instance they hacked the website of Westbro Baptist Church during a live interview when they were instigated.  Here is the video.  It was pretty cool, the yapping Westbro representative was instantly silenced.  This showed how daring and capable these guys are. 

Later, Anonymous launched attacks against Koch industries, who had earlier sued an African activist when she tried to portray the abject destitution in Africa by an image of a lanky black kid with an ornamental purse in his hand.  Koch argued that the purse looked like their brand and it was harming them.  Anonymous hacked their websites.

Recently a group that calls itself 'LulzSec' (Lulz Security) was in news after they left this message condemning NATO (yes, the almighty US backed North Atlantic Treaty Organization) for taking action against Anonymous and LulzSec.  Perhaps the worst attack was the one on Sony corporation.  They have lost important customer information (including credit card numbers).  The info was posted online.  Lulz hacked them again and again.  The reason that Lulz gave for these attacks where the class action of Sony against a developer who hacked the PS3 that he owned and used it to play XBOX games. 
Sony has so far has had $117 million in losses due to the attack.  This became a serious threat.  But it also exposed the poor security infrastructure of Sony.  They were storing passwords as plain text as opposed to encrypted.  Not all data was on secure networks.  Lulz called it like putting your wallet in a corner of New York subway and then expecting no one to notice it.

Another serious attack was against RSA (secure token organization).  Their token algorithm was hacked and compromised.  This meant the hackers could generate the codes and login to otherwise secure networks.  RSA ordered to replace all hard tokens.  Later that week, the CIA website was taken down and a message was posted on Twitter, making fun of CIA and Anonymous.

A kind of civil war started between Anonymous and Lulz when Anonymous called Lulz an immoral organization.  In reality, Lulz is a group of hackers formerly in Anonymous.  Lulz claim that they are everything that Anonymous wanted to be, but could not.  They even hacked the 4chan website on which Anonymous posts its action

Having said all this, I feel it's unethical to hack websites and demand something at gunpoint.  True, the hacker groups are famous among nerds, but they serve little to society.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A stroll into the realms of atheism

Recently, I watched an episode of the animated series 'South Park' wherein one of the characters (Cartman) who is a selfish, foul-mouthed and a modern version of Satan inherits a million dollars from his deceased uncle.  He buys an entire amusement park and keeps it to himself.  He does not allow anyone, especially his friends Stan and Kyle, because he hates them.  He enjoys all the rides alone.


Kyle, who believes in God and is good at heart, angers at this.  To make the matter worse, he contracts  Hemorrhoid and is in immense pain.  He begins questioning his beliefs.  He is angry at God;  he curses Him for treating a bad person like Cartman with riches and him with a hemorrhoid.  He becomes hopeless which worsens his condition.  Doctors say he may not make it unless someone instills his lost faith.  He almost concludes that God does not exist.  His parents try to revive his belief by reading the Bible to him, but it only diminishes his hope.


The story goes on for a while through a series of twists and turns and ends with Cartman losing his million dollars (and ends up owing 16000 dollars to the IRS).  Seeing all this, Kyle's belief reignites as he thinks God punished Cartman.  The story ends with Kyle recovering and thanking God and Cartman cursing God.


That story suddenly made me wonder if this actually happens in real life; are bad people are actually punished by Him, and good people rewarded?  That, in essence, raises the age old question, 'Does God exist?' or 'Is there someone out there who is looking after me?'.  Frankly speaking, I don't know as I don't have proof from either side.  But having been raised in a religious family, deep within, I do believe in God strongly, but my rational mind questions it persistently.  All in all, I am not going to answer the question whether God exists.  


What I do intend to achieve with this post is try and figure out whether bad people are actually punished.  Let's take an example.  When I was in ninth grade, I was a believer head to toe (I still am, but perhaps from head to waist) and thought that a human should live by the word of God,  following the highest level of ethics.  I decided then that I will never ever cheat,  be it in exams or in everyday life.  I have never copied in any test since then, even in the most opportune circumstances.  But still, most of those who did cheat scored better than me.  I had similar experience in college.  But even then, I stood by my beliefs.  As time progressed I came across more and more instances when the bad people were rewarded while the good ones punished.  The good ones were called cowards.  They consoled themselves by thinking that God will avenge for their loss.  It did not happen.  They spent their entire lives thinking they will enter the kingdom of heaven after death for their good deeds and for what they suffered their entire life.  Almost all religions enshrine suffering.  It's a ticket to heaven.  Obviously no one knows for sure if they landed in heaven or just decomposed.  
To my utter disbelief, I saw good people suffering on the same scale as the bad ones.  Effectively, it was random, there was no pattern showing a deliberate crafting of lives of people.  Adolf Hitler lived an opulent life throughout the world war and committed suicide before he was caught.  The common German civilians suffered instead.


For a moment let's assume that there's no God.  An offshoot of this is a moral dilemma.  In absence of  the belief in a powerful entity that monitors our actions some would turn to anarchy and malevolence.   This proves that human beings can only be forced to be good under fear of punishment.


There's no logical conclusion to this discussion.  Scholars have argued for centuries, from Aristotle to Plato to Newton to Darwin to Dawkins.  There are more theists than atheists, and perhaps this will remain so forever. To give this discussion a deceptive conclusion, I only state that one's goodness should sprout from one's ego as opposed to one's fear of punishment.