(In)security: ‘Bad’ Michael Jackson news from Sony; NASA hacks revealed; more

A roundup of security-related developments:

• Sony has confirmed yet another effect of its massive hacking nightmare last year: the theft of tracks recorded by the late Michael Jackson. The BBC reports that Sony has not identified which ones or disclosed the number stolen, but reports citing the Sunday Times say Jackson’s entire back catalog — more than 50,000 music files — including unreleased songs, was taken.

Last spring, Sony was forced to take down its PlayStation Network after attacks that, among other things, compromised the credit-card information of 100 million of the company’s customers. (See Sony said, Anonymous said: No real answers yet in outage and data breach.) The theft of Jackson’s songs apparently took place not too long after that.

Two U.K. men are scheduled to stand trial for the Sony hack next year, according to the Guardian.

• Elsewhere, NASA’s inspector general revealed late last week that hackers had managed to gain access to the agency’s computers last year. Paul Martin told the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology that the attacks discovered in November were perpetrated by hackers using Chinese IP addresses who gained “full functional control” of key NASA computers. There were 13 attacks on NASA last year, according to Reuters, and thousands of “incidents” between 2010 and 2011. Among the information reportedly compromised: codes for controlling the International Space Station and information related to the Constellation and Orion programs.

• These developments come on the heels of last week’s RSA security conference, where experts found a silver lining in ongoing attacks by hacktivists such as Anonymous. “Anonymous is a wake-up call,” said Roger Cressey, an executive with Booz Allen Hamilton, a defense contractor the hackers attacked last summer, according to the New York Times.

Anonymous has exposed vulnerabilities in the computer systems of many a private company and government agency. Last week, whistleblower website WikiLeaks began publishing emails of intelligence firm Stratfor, which was attacked last year, purportedly by Anonymous. That attack involved making Christmas donations online using credit-card numbers stolen from clients of Austin-based Stratfor. (See The year in hacktivism, plus Anonymous’ latest attack.)


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  • RedRat

    Until each and every Congressman’s paycheck is hacked, Congress is not going to take this security problem seriously. Most congressmen are still living back in the 60’s, when computers were rare. Most do not understand how dependent we are on computer, quite literally we are living the nightmare expressed in the joke about living in a wooden building and the woodpeckers have arrived. Congress over the years has just not appropriated monies for the various agencies to modernize their computer/network systems. Further, much of the agency bureaucrats are also products of the 60s and have a poor understanding of computers and networks, so even if the money were appropriated, how it would be squandered is the real question.

  • Patrick

    Nonsense, everyone knows congressman are handed cash in blank envelopes.

  • Bryan

    Every now and again (i.e., every moment of every day), we thumbéd monkeys decide to limit access to something. Mostly we do this because we’re primates, and like the seagulls in “Finding Nemo,” “mine!” is our favorite word. And being primates possessed of abstracted, symbolic thought processes as well as clever thumbs, we find infinite ways to define, extend, redefine, transmogrify, and declare “Mine!”, far beyond the limitations of mere actual, touchable stuff. In fact, groups of us regularly decide we own entire realms of existence and declare them off limits to others, regardless of whether or not we actually use or need them. (Indeed, regardless of whether they actually exist.) Historically, the dominant institutions of our time (e.g., church, state, corporation, in that order), have consisted of little more than endless, elaborate, and often viciously destructive games of “Mine!”

    Sadly, our notions about what we own are so intrinsic that we have a hard time acknowledging our motivation for owning, and are all but incapable of examining the consequences of ownership. But there are ways to do this, for those who care to. Teleology is in part a discipline which examines actions and events in terms of their final causes, rather than their alleged intent. It makes for a great new fun-for-all-ages spin on the old game of “Mine!”

    For example, the most significant outcome of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution (aka “Prohibition”) was the creation of what we now called organized crime. Teleologically speaking, we can say that the purpose of Prohibition was to increase crime and generate government corruption while maintaining the incidence of the consumption of alcohol and poisoning US citizens with inferior grades of sane.

    Never mind Carrie Nation screaming “Your sobriety [or lack thereof] is ‘Mine!'” while hitting bartenders with an axe, the above list was what was actually achieved, and it’s perfectly valid to argue that its function is its purpose, regardless of Carrie’s stated intent.

    This is of course great fun (e.g., “given that the most significant achievement of our predominant form of transportation is killing people, its purpose is clearly retroactive contraception”), but also marvelously useful. For example, had they acknowledged the purpose of Prohibition, Americans might not have been quite so avid to waste billions of dollars on a “war on drugs” which did terrible harm even as it failed to any of its stated goals. They might instead have asked, “Why are we trying to imprison enormously more of our populace than any other developed nation, collapse our judicial system, undermine other governments in violation of our own principles, and make prisons the single most politically desirable growth industry? (Note: In America, prisoners are counted during Congressional redistricting while being mostly prohibited from voting, thus making them the most desirable possible constituents in the whole collapsing empire. From a Congressman’s perspective, the purpose of prisons is to increase one’s personal power in a very real, immediate, and useful way.)

    But meanwhile, back at Neverland, it’s fast becoming apparent that the purpose of Michael Jackson’s music (and by extension, all music), is also to put people in jail. Before we let this go any further, we could do worse, wherever we live, and regardless of whether or not we get all bouncy hearing “Wanna Be Starting Something,” than to take a moment to contemplate America’s 18th Amendment. Much was demonstrated and nothing was learned, but it’s not too late.

    Sure, we’re monkeys, and that’s in part a raw deal: we live, we die, and we know it. One way or another, we’re mostly scared, most of the time. We need a little “Mine!” to feel safe, to help keep us from being entirely (instead of just mostly) crazy, and to allow us enough confidence that we can occasionally afford to be generous. But what happens when we allow ourselves too much “Mine?” What happens when we fail to recognize billionaires (and the corporations which represent their interests) for what they are: crazed neurotic hoarders who can’t sleep at night unless than have enough of anything and everything to supply an entire nation? What do we do to ourselves when we admire people for whom “Mine!” has become not just the fuzzy bear who helps them sleep at night, but their sole reason for existing?

    Let’s all pause to ask if want want making money to be the purpose of our lives, any more than poor, brilliant, strange, unhappy, wonderful, dead Michael Jackson wanted the purpose of his music to be to put people in jail. And if, just if, we’d like a life with some goal other than becoming as wealthy as possible and then dying anyway, we might go on to ask just what the point of locking so much tihs up in so many different kinds vaults really is.

    We can argue about what constitutes excess, but teleologically speaking, the purpose of excessive wealth is death, and not just for the 5% poor, crazed, evil skcuf who call 95% of everything and everyone “Mine!”

  • Don LIndsay

    What the heck do Sony mean when they say music was “stolen” ? If they mean, copied, then that’s about a $200 theft, since Sony is forking over a copy whenever a customer buys a CD. Yes, I suppose the perps could make lots of illegal copies, but they could just as easily make illegal copies of the bits on the CDs.