The Syrian Electronic Army is at it again. The group just hacked Skype’s blog and twitter accounts, spreading an anti-NSA, anti-Microsoft message in the process. “Don’t use Microsoft emails (hotmail,outlook), They are monitoring your accounts and selling the data to the governments”, says one posting. “Hacked by Syrian Electronic Army.. Stop Spying!”, says another.
Skype, the service itself, does not appear to be affected.
The group also gained control of Skype’s Facebook although that message has since been deleted. However, the postings were up for nearly 40 minutes.
As of publication, the activist group still seemingly has control of Skype’s blog and Twitter.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that the NSA could eavesdrop on Skype video calls, completely invalidating Microsoft’s previous claims that the service was secure. However, following that logic, the SEA is likely targeting nearly every technology company after last week’s revelations regarding the scope of the NSA’s access.
Microsoft and Skype have yet to comment on the hacking.
Meatspace, an addictive new web service and mobile app is part Snapchat, part Twitter and part animated gifs. It works like this: You write an update in 250 characters or less and then pose for the camera on your computer or phone. The service then records and makes a two-second animated loop.
Meatspace shifts the conversation into a different space than a conventional chat service, news feed or shared video stream. Instead, it’s an ephemeral app, similar to Snapchat or Blink. There is no archiving as with Twitter or an enterprise platform like Yammer. Updates disappear after ten minutes. There is no unique URL — the updates just go away like most conversations do when people talk over a beer or cup of coffee. Like the conversation you might have with a friend over dinner, the memories are of the highlights you recall and person’s expressions.
But more so, Meatspace is a reflection of a time that has changed our perceptions about who we are and how we interact. It’s a concept that dates back to the 1990s and put in context by William Gibson with Neuromancer, his famous science fiction novel that often used the term “meat” as a way to describe the physical world as in this excerpt that a commenter on MetaFilter posted in 2005:
Strapped to a bed in a Memphis hotel, his talent burning out micron by micron, he hallucinated for thirty hours. The damage was minute, subtle, and utterly effective. For Case, who’d lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace,
it was the Fall. In the bars he’d frequented as a cowboy hotshot, the elite stance involved a certain relaxed contempt for the flesh. The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh.
It’s arguable that Meatspace is about human robots and the ephemeral world we live in. It serves as a one-channel community. People can create their own Meatspace apps if they wish as the code is all available on GitHub. One of the “bros” showed one today that plays off The Brady Bunch, the 1970s TV series. Regulars are given names by the community that all end in “bro,” for whoever they are — man, woman or whatever. For example, I have been named “tcbro.”
Meatspace has an API that people can use to create bots that post animated gifs. I’ve seen Godzilla doing a body slam and scenes from Star Trek. These are people sending likenesses of themselves through automatic calls to the service. It is their identity personified in Godzilla. That is definitely a signal of a new “meatspace,” world. The persona is represented in the gif. With the text, it creates an identity for the individual with the help of machines that deliver this character.
But perhaps most of all, there’s something about animated gifs and realtime that is also just fun, says Jen Fong-Adwent, a senior application engineer for Mozilla, who developed Meatspace. You can make a funny face, roll your chair back and just generally be goofy when making the gifs. The gifs also serve a purpose. They help establish a certain level of accountability and create a sense of community. The regulars get to know each other in a different way than a text-only chat. A Twitter feed is different, too, as the updates stream by with only the person’s image, which only changes if they update their profile.
Meatspace also has a mute button which allows people to ignore the trolls or those they just don’t want to get updates from. When someone gets muted they also don’t get any attention and eventually go away.
But inversely, there is also the lack of programmed identity that comes with Meatspace. There are no user names or passwords. People can join in or just hang out and watch the interactions. It’s not like Yammer or an enterprise social network that has all varieties of ways to archive the data. User names are needed for archives so the system can associate the information with the individual.
The quality of the conversation and the fear of missing out makes Meatspace what it is, says John Edgar, chief technology evangelist for Digital Ocean, which hosts Meatspace.
“it’s like an IRC 2.0,” Edgar said in an email, referring to Internet Relay Chat. “As there are no nick names and the messages are ephemeral, you’re forced to be fully bought in during your session.”
Meatspace represents a new genre of ephemeral apps that are part of a rising cultural shift that is in response to theories Douglas Rushkoff proposes in “Present Shock,” said Chris Dancy, in an email interview. Dancy works in the office of the CTO at BMC Software. I’ve come to known Chris through stories I have written and have started co-hosting Mindful Cyborgs, a podcast he started with Wired writer and TechCrunch columnist Klint Finley.
Dancy, who speaks around the world about the rise of ephemeral knowledge and the concepts of data exhaust, is known for the full quantification of the data he creates. He has studied the topic and how it relates to ownership, identity and the shift away from sharing moments to what he calls “emphasizing escape velocity.” We are saturated in the media which creates a need for people to experience something that is unsharable. It’s an escape clearly evident of a shift away from ownership. Developers, for example, don’t own their servers. They use Amazon Web Services or a service like Digital Ocean, which Meatspace uses.
Services like Airbnb and Uber put people into a post-sharing kind of mind, Dancy said.
Media is not owned or created but fleeting and temporary like the services we consume.
We buy things literally a touch of a finger from iTunes, never hold our purchases and then share them with people we have never met.
While many speculate that security is a sound reason for the shift, ultimately, apps like snapchat with their recent release are building in versions that actually reverse the tide in the ability to save off the media.
The ephemeral age will be defined by what social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson calls the “Liquid Self”. Identity in 2014 will be the temporary state we take in our moment by moment temporary services and post identity narrative.
These kinds of conversations are popping up on Meatspace. it attracts the alpha-geeks which points to why this concept of sharing, escape and rejection of ownership is emitting powerful signals that will force any number of questions about how we exist in the meatspace this new year and beyond.
As 2013 came to an end, many reflected on last year’s biggest tech news — and Bitcoin was a serious contender. But the main question remains: why are people interested in Bitcoin?
This whole debate reappeared when Charlie Stross stated that “Bitcoin looks like it was designed as a weapon intended to damage central banking and money issuing banks, with a Libertarian political agenda in mind — to damage states ability to collect tax and monitor their citizens financial transactions.” Paul Krugman then quoted his post, neither denying nor approving this thought.
But Chris Dixon (and Fred Wilson in the comment section) reiterated their strong interest in Bitcoin while sharing that they are both Democrats.
If major Bitcoin enthusiasts don’t have any political agenda in mind, then what is the future of Bitcoin? At its heart, Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that doesn’t rely on any central bank. Bitcoins are just a chain of characters defined by algorithmic rules, and transactions are handled by the network of miners.
Yet, in a month’s time, the value of a bitcoin went from $200 to more than $1,000 on all the exchanges. In other words, it is as volatile as it can get. Right now, there are only around 12 million of bitcoins in circulation, and many Bitcoin holders are recent converts that buy and sell every day. So how could you think about using bitcoins to pay the rent? You could simply hold your bitcoins and expect to triple your wallet value in a couple of weeks instead.
That’s why I believe Bitcoin isn’t the next world currency. Bitcoin’s true purpose is not what everyone originally expected — you won’t buy a pizza in bitcoins anytime soon. Moreover, Bitcoin won’t be able to remain an unregulated currency for long.
So Bitcoin’s true purpose lies somewhere else. As Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer payment network, you don’t need any banking institution to make large transfers. Bitcoin could become the first meta-currency that sits on top of traditional currencies, the common language between USD and EUR. That’s what Dixon finds interesting, Bitcoin is as much a money transfer protocol as a currency. And it has the potential of disrupting the traditional banking system.
Replacing Forex Transactions With Bitcoin
As I live in France and work for an American company, I thought I would be the perfect candidate for this particular use case. I tried to use Bitcoin to transfer a small amount of money between the U.S. and France. At first, I purchased bitcoins using Coinbase and my U.S. bank account (a couple of dollars in fees). The process was very easy, but because I don’t meet the requirements to make instant purchases, I had to wait about a week before I could actually do anything with my bitcoins. Coinbase had to verify the transaction first.
While I take Coinbase as an example here, there aren’t many trustworthy and easy-to-use services to make Bitcoin transactions yet — and all services have flaws. People ask me all the time how they could buy bitcoins, and I don’t have a simple answer.
In that period of time, bitcoins went from about $850 a bitcoin to more than $1,000, then back to $700 — I only could sit back and enjoy the ride. Then, when I finally got my bitcoins, I transfered them to Bitstamp in a couple of hours (no fee) — it was flawless and a great example of the beauty of Bitcoin. Finally, I transfered my bitcoins to my French account ($1.24 fee to convert into EUR with a very good conversion rate). I had to wait a few days before getting my money because of the traditional banking system.
Overall, it was a painful experience, even more painful than using traditional foreign exchange services. But more importantly, I don’t see how I could trust Bitcoin as a money transfer protocol with such a high volatility. Fees were much lower, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t know how much money you will get on your bank account in the end.
A couple of weeks ago, Bitcoin’s value went from more than $1,100 to around $650 in a few hours, because of a new rule in China. You can’t use Bitcoin for serious amounts of money if there is a chance of losing 40 percent of your money overnight.
As long as Bitcoin remains a young and volatile currency, Bitcoin’s mechanisms will remain beautiful on paper. Using it for real world transactions would be crazy, and I think we are still a couple of years away from getting a stable Bitcoin that can be trusted. Until then, using Bitcoin will remain a wild ride — it’s definitely fun, but don’t take Bitcoin seriously just yet.
A site called SnapchatDB.info has saved usernames and phone numbers for 4.6 million accounts and made the information available for download. In a statement to us, SnapchatDB says that it got the information through a recently identified and patched Snapchat exploit and that it is making the data available in an effort to convince the messaging app to beef up its security. We’ve also reached out to Snapchat.
Our motivation behind the release was to raise the public awareness around the issue, and also put public pressure on Snapchat to get this exploit fixed. It is understandable that tech startups have limited resources but security and privacy should not be a secondary goal. Security matters as much as user experience does.
We used a modified version of gibsonsec’s exploit/method. Snapchat
could have easily avoided that disclosure by replying to Gibsonsec’s private communications, yet they didn’t. Even long after that disclosure, Snapchat was reluctant to taking the necessary steps to secure user data. Once we started scraping on a large scale, they decided to implement very minor obstacles, which were still far from enough. Even now the exploit persists. It is still possible to scrape this data on a large scale. Their latest changes are still not too hard to circumvent.
We wanted to minimize spam and abuse that may arise from this release. Our main goal is to raise public awareness on how reckless many internet companies are with user information. It is a secondary goal for them, and that should not be the case. You wouldn’t want to eat at a restaurant that spends millions on decoration, but barely anything on cleanliness.
Earlier we speculated that SnapchatDB might be a hoax meant to call attention to the app’s security issues but, as it turns out, it’s real–at least one member of our editorial team has been affected. A reader also told us he found his own number, that of several friends and Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel in the list. On Hacker News, several people have had trouble downloading the data files (I just got an error message for both of them, but that may be because of high traffic), but a Jailbreak subreddit user who saw the list said that only numbers in some parts of the U.S. have been published so far. If you have not been able to download the list, you can use this site created by developer Robbie Trencheny to see if your username was included.
SnapchatDB said it “censored the last two digits of the phone numbers” in order to “minimize spam and abuse,” but it might still release the unfiltered data, including millions of phone numbers.
The Next Web did a WHOIS lookup on SnapchatDB’s domain and found it was created just yesterday on December 31. The registrant’s name is protected, but its mailing address and contact number are both listed in Panama.
The site appears to have been created in response to recently identified flaws in Snapchat’s security. Last week, ZDNet published an article on how white-hat Gibson Security researchers had tried to alert Snapchat to ways that hackers would connect usernames to phone numbers for user in stalking, but were ignored. Gibson Security then published the exploit publicly on Christmas Eve.
The firm said that hackers could use two exploits to gain access to users’ personal data, including their real names, usernames and phone numbers, through Snapchat’s Android and iOS API. Snapchat did offer a public statement, but as TechCrunch’s Josh Constine wrote, it wasn’t very satisfactory because it did not offer details on how its countermeasures would work, such as rate limiting, bad IP blocking, or automated systems that scan suspicious activity. Snapchat said:
“Theoretically, if someone were able to upload a huge set of phone numbers, like every number in an area code, or every possible number in the U.S., they could create a database of the results and match usernames to phone numbers that way. Over the past year we’ve implemented various safeguards to make it more difficult to do.”
The Gibson Security report and SnapchatDB are both reminders that even in an ephemeral messaging service, it would be a mistake to be lulled into a sense of security about the information that you do have stored with the app. “People tend to use the same username around the web so you can use this information to find phone number information associated with Facebook and Twitter accounts, or simply to figure out the phone numbers of people you wish to get in touch with,” SnapchatDB stated on the site.