Monday, April 6, 2009

Episode 15 - The GhostNet (and the virus) in the machines

This episode, we congregated beyond the confines of Dave's and Isabelle's comfy basement and returned to stately Hernden manor, which was last heard of in Episode 7 - Olymtech for those of you keeping score at home.

Without Battlestar Galactica to keep our motley crew talking, we turned this week to two separate yet tangentially related occurrences: the release of the report documenting the discovery of GhostNet by researchers at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto and the InfoWar Monitor as well as the imminent activation of the Conficker.c virus on April 1st. Heady times indeed!

We also took time out at the beginning of episode to read listener email from Joshua in Israel (hi Josh!) and raise him to the pantheon of minor Internet celebrity-hood (the fame clock is now ticking...).

GhostNet reads like it is right out of a fictional TV show like 24 (hat-tip to Christine): a suspected cyber espionage network of over 1,295 infected computers in 103 countries, 30% of which are high-value targets, including ministries of foreign affairs, embassies, international organizations, news media, and NGOs. Conficker.c is yet another of these pesky viruses that make IT types sweat and talking heads on TV lick their lips in anticipation of reading news that hopefully will be sexy and apocalyptic.

This led us to talk about cool hacking topics like social engineering which interestingly enough has less to do with modern, l33t code than it has to do with good 'ole fashioned confidence schemes. Conficker.c reminded us of very ancient biological viruses and what these have meant in human history and medicine. Along the way Ken plugged cyber-punk author Richard K. Morgan whose superlative creation, ex-UN Envoy Takeshi Kovacs, watched his comrades tear themselves apart after being infected by a Rawlings Virus strike at the Innenin beachhead.

We wrapped with the lovely Isabelle playing word association with us in the segment we like to call "Them Guys is Smart".

As a bonus, Dave interviewed guests at Alanna's house the next night, asking them about computer viruses.

So, a big shout again to Josh and we hope you enjoy Episode 15.

9 comments:

Ken Hernden said...

Hey! I just noticed -- we have seven episodes so far this year, which is more then we did in 2008 or 2007. We must be on some sorta role! ;)

Dave Brodbeck said...

Oh and, the last ep we did at your place was Between Democracy and Dystopia....

Ken Hernden said...

Bah... fine, have it your way and ruin the dramatic effect. Scientists - are they really alive?

dbrodbeck said...

That is an empirical question if I ever heard one....

videostudentguy said...

Ken, thanks for mentioning the Takeshi Kovacs series. Grim storyline but great fodder for discussing the practical aspects of immortality. Who would have ever considered a cancer of the soul.

I also wanted to add a link to a review about BSG's series finale from a special effects perspective. Show #73 of The VFX Show (http://www.pixelcorps.tv/node/736) reviews the plot but more importantly puts in perspective the impact that this show has on series TV Science Fiction, or film for that matter.

I'm thinking I should get the first season DVDs and try it out.

Thanks for putting out the shows guys.

Dave Brodbeck said...

@videostudentguy, if you have not watched the show you ought to, it is really incredible. The character development, the directing, the acting, the writing and the effects are amazing. I imagine we will stray away from BSG some now that the show is over. Caprica just came out so we may touch on that. Frankly, wherever the liquor takes us.....

Rachel said...

Not to forget ST-TNG's Contagion (the episode where the Iconian computer started to overwrite the Enterprise's system--what NO computer firewalls in the 24th century? NONE?), and ST-Voyager's phage, which of course was an actual, flesh- and guts- and genetic-material-eating virus.

Rachel said...

Oh, and I almost forgot--the idea of infecting the Borg collective with a virus via nanites! Would that be the moral equivalent of biological warfare?

Tangential said...

@Rachel yeah the nanite thing is interesting. I imagine that yes indeed it is bio warfare, and if you want to look at it that way, genocide. I believe Dr. Crusher did not like it. If memory serves.

THe lack of firewalls in the 24th c is hilarious.