‘Shut up and dance’

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ABET DELA CRUZ

IF you remember the old ‘Twilight Zone’ TV series, welcome home fellow Gen-X! Grew up with it and up till now I still watch it and still never fails to amaze me. Makes you think how do the writers get or invent those stories. Really deep imagination, dreams, reality perhaps? Over the years, I never thought that there can be another show that can top it. From a bungling kid to an almost senior guy that grew up in technology, my taste for TV shows and movies have become wide and varied. Sci-fi and fantasy will always be on top of the list but a little mystery and horror is always a welcome addition as well. Lately, a mix of all of those has come up and boy, do they really rock.

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Not surprisingly, since computer security/hacking is having a resurgence as once again the new ‘sexy’ (it has been already so at some different points in my lifetime e.g. Sneakers, Hackers, The Net, Swordfish, Enemy of the State, etc.), it has again gone mainstream and this time with much better accuracy and realism that’s almost true to life. I remember jumping out of my seat when I instantly recognized NMAP (Network Mapper – a standard tool any self-respecting hacker should have) being used by Trinity in the “Matrix Reloaded” movie. Previous incarnations of ‘hacking’ used fancy graphics to successfully capture the audience but is actually the exact opposite of what hackers see or use IRL (In Real Life). Jump to the present – Mr. Robot, Utopia, Sens8, Rubicon, Halt & Catch Fire are some of the shows from the lists of hacking/computing/conspiracy themed stories that you need to check out. For me, of late, one specific show that has piqued my interest is that from Netflix (disclaimer: not an official endorser nor being paid to do so) called Black Mirror. Believe me, it’s like the Twilight Zone of technology.

So why is the security guy talking about the boob tube (slang circa 1980 for TV)?

For one, Black Mirror is not only a good show but I swear, if you can later view these episodes in the future and look back you would claim that they were accurate predictions of what was to come. As a matter of fact, even today, you can tell that these will eventually happen in the imminent future, sooner than most people would expect.

Indulge me as I focus on one of the episodes in Season 3 entitled “Shut-Up and Dance” (This is the part that people who review TV Shows and movies would say… Warning! Spoilers ahead!). It starts off with an innocent male teenager working at a fast food chain coming home to find his laptop being used by his sister. It hung because the latter was trying to download an application so she could watch movies for free. An obvious malware (malicious software) has taken over the device as it spawns loads and loads of advertisements and pop-ups (sound familiar yet?). He fires up the browser and downloads what seems to be an anti-virus app that seems to clean up the mess – until a few seconds later when the laptop’s on-board camera lights up and from a first-person angle shows the entire room and the kid popping open a soda and talking to his sister. The seemingly harmless app which was supposed to protect from malware is now tracking and recording his every move. Then the unthinkable happens. As every testosterone-fueled kid in puberty would most likely do – he opens a website, takes out a box of Kleenex, unzips his pants and does the ‘deed’.

Next scene – anonymous email saying “We Saw What You Did” with a video attachment of what has just transpired. “Reply with your mobile number or we distribute it to ALL of the contacts in your address book”. Hesitant, angry, scared and desperate, he eventually obliges. He gets a text message which says “Keep your location on, we will tell you when you will be activated – we are watching.” Confronted with the compromising video and the threat of being exposed, he gets tangled in a messy web of lies, deceit, robbery, and murder. Himself and a whole lot of other victims who also had their privacy broken into and are coerced into submission using the threat of exposing their own kind of sensitive and damning information have become puppets to a play that none of them can get out of. Not like the usual ransomware, where files or hard disks are encrypted until you pay, this one is on an entirely higher level where your very life and those around you are held hostage. It doesn’t end well and my realization after watching this was that, it’s not even a glimpse of the future! This can be now, and chances are if it has not happened already, it will.

A month ago, to deliver an internal awareness campaign, the team dismantled the #wannacry ransomware and used its exploit codes. Taking out the ransomware ‘payload’ we replaced it with a small image capture program that uses the built-in camera of laptops to take a snapshot of the user and their current desktop screen to prove the susceptibility of unpatched systems. Proof of concept. Yes, it’s scary and we should all raise our paranoia level for our own sakes.

Cover those cameras and patch those operating systems and applications now. Because you shouldn’t be dancing to music that you don’t like.

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