It’s been a couple of weeks now, and the mainstream press has twisted this thing completely out of shape. They don’t have a clue what is really happening, but they’ll use anything as an excuse to stir up fear and push their perverted agenda.
Maybe you have heard this brouhaha about “the Russians” breaking into a computer network run by Equation Group and making off with some software tools used by the NSA to snoop on other computers. Equation Group is basically an arm of the NSA, rather like the way the CIA has hundreds of little front companies that are nothing but contract spies. So these supposed hackers are now offering the biggest and baddest tools for some outrageous price, but offered as proof the publication of some of the not so amazing sneaky dirty tricks for breaking into computers. In other words, they gave away some long secret vulnerabilities the NSA would use to break into computers and smartphones.
Right away the vendors went about patching those holes, and they were scary holes. These were vulnerabilities that the software makers didn’t already know about. The NSA, along with a lot of other agencies and criminal organizations, are known to seek and collect the knowledge of these holes in case they feel the need to use them for their own hacking. There is a thriving trade in these secret back doors. Face it: All software has holes and bugs that allow people to break into the computer running that software. The difference is that some of those holes aren’t that easy to exploit.
On the one hand, us nobody common folks aren’t likely targets for some of these elite hacking tools. On the other hand, criminals would love to use these tools to get their hands on things like your banking information. Failing that, they’ll gladly extort money directly by holding your system hostage. Someone who has amassed enough criminal funds can decide whether they want to pay the outrageous price this secretive “Russian” criminal group is asking for the really evil stuff. But notice something else here: Criminals don’t have much use for controlling the whole Internet. They are more interested in preying off some small portion without killing the whole herd of prey. Governments, on the other hand, are ambitious enough to try taking total control over however much of the Internet they can seize. Maybe they aren’t interested in letting us know they have that control, but that they want it is patently obvious. Governments bureaucracies are not nice and by no means the least bit reasonable about seizing control.
I’m not going to tell you what to think, but I’ll tell you what I think after reading lots of technology articles on this stuff.
1. It wasn’t the Russians; it’s almost surely an inside job. Someone with legitimate access has decided to keep their day job with the NSA and try to make some extra money on the side. This is not another Snowden, but something far more sinister. There is no pretense of public interest here. And you should start to realize that the NSA is full of people like that, but that this particular effort marks the forward edge of those willing to take risks. Please notice that the tools released were from three years ago, so you can bet the current tools are even nastier.
2. There is no such thing as “herd immunity” in computers. It’s just the opposite — the majority target gets the majority of hackers’ attention. Whatever most folks are using is what they’ll spend the most time trying to crack. If the vendor of that software happens to bungle a lot, it simply makes it easier to find the holes that affect the majority of computer users. Hint: Microsoft recently fired the majority of their quality control and testing staff and decided to let their users become their testbed for Win10. But switching to something else is a lot of work, so be aware of what’s involved.
3. We are over a barrel in one sense: We all have become utterly dependent on the Internet, even for folks who don’t actually use it directly. The world itself — commerce and government — is wholly dependent on the Net. At the same time, it is the single most insecure part of our existence. Some of you need to think more about self-reliance when the system breaks down (unlikely to be permanent), and some of you need to become more self-reliant about facing the cyber threat head-on. Maybe some of both. If you are going to use it, make sure you have at least one trustworthy expert on hand in your household or business. Cultivate friendship with expertise.
4. Reevaluate what you are using a computer for in the first place. While the levels of competence vary radically, the whole system of modern life rests on it now. Yet, everything you do with a computer is a form of exposure, and some risks are far higher than others. Contemplate why you do some of the things you do on a computer and be sure it really is necessary for your divine calling. Your heart will know.
5. In the background of this, the world is going crazy like never before. We are already seeing the most bizarre stuff happening around us, stuff none of us could guess or predict, stuff we likely won’t believe when we see it. Keep your eye on one factor: trust. This is where I stand in the pulpit and warn you that cynicism is a blessing from God. If you can’t learn to evaluate the context with your heart-mind, you are doomed to suffer. By the same token, if you can’t switch over from the intellect to a heart-led awareness, you are probably carrying a lot of baggage you don’t need, so the wrath of God will set you free from it.
FYI: I’ve come to trust DD-WRT as the operating system for routers. I’ve been running it on a D-Link N-300 (DIR-615) for a couple of weeks and it’s faster and smarter than what the factory put on it. It’s not the simplest thing in the world to use, but there are videos on YouTube showing how to install it and set it up for most common types of home Internet routers. At the same time, it has already proved to be one of the best things you can do to improve security. It’s very strong firewall, including protecting itself from being hijacked. Did you know that routers were little computers in themselves, and that they could be hacked like any other computer?