Monday, August 8, 2011

Hackers Catch a Break

When we think or hear of hackers we automatically run for the hills because all we can imagine is our precious personal information being stolen from us and used for evil. Hackers are not looked upon favorably, usually labeled as criminals. They have broken down security walls and created viruses that will drive an average person and the government crazy. There is so much of our personal information in cyberspace that is really just a click away to a professional hacker's fingertips.

Hackers, like any other group of people, have websites or chat forums online where they can speak to other hackers and learn new things as the world of technology advances. In addition there is an annual convention held called Defcon where hackers meet and greet other hackers. The nineteenth Defcon Convention was actually this past weekend in Las Vegas. Attendees pay a $150 cover fee at the door; this is a cash only payment in order to keep all attendees anonymous. The use of nicknames or pseduonyms are commonly used as well to protect a hacker's true identity.

At the convention hackers can meet other people that share their same interests, hear speeches from keynote speakers and participate in code breaking contests. Games where hackers attempt to "crack the code" are used as trial runs by big corporations, even federal agencies, to spot where the security flaws are in their system. There are also workshops that teach hackers how to protect themselves and avoid having their information stolen and to protect themselves from being detected by the government.

The convention is not only attended by hackers. Officers from government agencies have been known to come to these conventions to "recruit" hackers and place them in security positions. Attendance of agents has birthed a game in which hackers attempt to "spot the fed." Government agencies, like the National Security Agency (NSA), recruit hackers for the same purpose as Facebook which is to improve their current security system. Jeff Moss, who's previous hacker pseduonym was Dark Tangent, was the founder of the Defcon conventions. He was later picked up by the Department of Homeland Security's Advisory Council to assist in cyber security.

Facebook is another company recruiting hackers to seek out security flaws in their social networking site. Facebook launched a new "bug bounty program" at the beginning of August where hackers are paid at least $500 to hack into Facebook and then report where the security flaws are. Of course the hackers have to sign a disclosure agreement stating that they will not reveal the sites weak points until they are resolved. Google and Microsoft have also jumped on the banwagon and hired hackers to find flaws as well and for a much higher pay.

Now some may believe hiring a hacker is like putting the gun in the hand of a terrorist. How do we know that they will do the right thing once in the hot seat? Can we put that much trust in a person who has the ability to crash our country's mainframe? I believe with the right background checks, I mean extensive background checks, we can make hackers our ally. Extra precautions should be taken since these hackers were not intended to work in a high security field. Its exactly the opposite, they were trained to break them down. But this may be the help we need to avoid future internet corruption. It may be best to take advice from the eyes of the culprit than to try and figure out what they will do next. Having a hacker on our side is like having a spy, a very good spy. And not all hackers are bad, but just like anything else they do get a bad rap. Some people have the skill to hack but don't and these are the hackers that need recruiting.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Facebook Got Me Fired

How many times have we been warned to be extremely careful about what we write on the Internet, especially on social networking sites. Nowadays employers and college recruiters resort to sites like Facebook and Twitter to investigate someone's personal life, things that we wouldn't otherwise know, before deciding to make them a member of their professional community. There have been many instances in which a person lost an opportunity due to the content posted on their profile or even removed from the position they held.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is a federal agency who acts on behalf of union workers to ensure that their rights as an employee are not violated and that there are no unfair practices by the employer and company. Recently the NLRB began reviewing cases to verify that employees were fired on fair grounds where they were fired due to remarks posted on Facebook. The NLRB guidelines states that a comment would not be in violation if it is concerted activity, or something that would lead to "group action" which includes forming a union or discussing working conditions in hopes of a resolution. Some tend to make the comparison of discussions about work on Facebook to workers congregating at the water cooler discussing work. But if an employee posts a comment and those responding are not co-workers then this would be a violation because the discussion does not lead to possible improvements in the workplace.

In these instances employees are venting their frustrations but they can take it too far. One case involved a bartender who had a conversation with his sister via Facebook referring to his customers as "rednecks" and that he hoped they "choke on glass as they drove home drunk." Since his conversation was not with a co-worker the NLRB ruled it to be a violation and that his dismissal was valid. The memorandum drafted by the NLRB shows the owner of the bar sent his employee a message through Facebook saying "that his services were no longer required," ah what a twist!

It is understandable that an employer would fire a worker if what they say reflects negatively aganist the company thereby hurting its image. Even though you are speaking outside of the workplace it can still have an effect on your position. Comments made on the Internet are usually readily available to the public which can change their perception of a company once read. There are cases which I believe resulted in an unnecessary firing. If an employee continuously bashes a company saying the products sold are worthless crap or if the customer service is horrible then yes that would be grounds for dismissal because it can harm profits. But if the comments are in regard to a fellow co-worker who the employee cannot get along with that has no effect on the company's performance. It really is a personal matter that should be resolved between the two workers.

Here are a more examples of people that were fired because of what they posted on social networking sites.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Obama speaks after Senate passes the bill (Live Blog)

The President talks about equality and everyone giving in their fair share. He also mentions that he will try to maintain educational and health programs as well as increase the number of available jobs and raising the minimum wage. It all sounds good but how can you place more money in different places, especially for higher wages, when you don't have money to pay past due bills. It is inevitable that taxes will increase. But will the president and Congress use that money to let's say increase wages? If so then we are going around in a circle, ignoring the current debt we have by using the money for the "wrong" thing. I'm not saying that increasing wages is wrong and shouldn't be done. But take care of our first problem which is debt. This is not the circle of life we should be living, we should not be repeating the same mistakes over and over again. We need to learn from our mistakes and look for a solution. The President is doing a good job but it is not the best. Until then we are in a continuing circle of debt in which I don't see a clear way out anytime soon.

Senate Passes the Bill (Live Blog)

At the beginning of the speech there were a couple of tid-bits pointed out about previous presidential terms. Clinton has always been referred to as a great president, regardless of his misjudgement. There was a lot that he had done to help the people and the economy, such as, the millions of new jobs that were instated. Yet these jobs plus more were lost during the Bush administration. I was also amazed at the fact that at the start of Bush's term there was a surplus of $7 trillion dollars. What?! Where did all this money go over his eight years in office? Shouldn't this money have been used to pay our debts first then apply the remaining amount to future and new programs. It's obvious that the money was not used wisely. We should use people as an example and learn from them and their mistakes. If Clinton had such a successful run why not mimic some of his plans and branch off onto new and better ideas that would accommodate us at this time.

The speaker also mentions the need to have spending cuts in addition to an increase in revenue. And where will this additional revenue be coming from you ask? From an increase in taxes. Here we go again. If I receive X amount of money that does not cover the current taxes I must pay for then how is Congress to believe that I can pay for these additional tax hikes? Washington does realize that money does not grow on trees right, so how do they expect me to come up with this money?

The Democratic speaker next discusses a new joint committee that would be formed. Now will the members of this committee be composed of current representatives in the House and Senate? The same people who were putting up a fight to compromise? What makes things so different now that we are to believe this committee will have a 100% open mind?

In the end thankfully the Senate passed the bill with a total of 74 votes YEA and a total of 26 votes NAY. We are a step closer to implementing our "master plan." Now I can't wait to hear what the President has to say now that both houses and parties have reached an agreement.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Super Gabby

As all the representatives gathered in the chamber waiting to cast their vote, we in class mentioned that one person for certain would not be in attendance, Gabrielle Giffords. In early January Giffords was shot in the head in an assassination attempt but luckily she survived. Since then she has not appeared at any congressional meetings as she was recuperating. Tonight was a surprise not only for the passing of the bill but because Giffords made a special appearance in the chamber to cast her vote in the decision right before the allotted fifteen minutes were up. Giffords was welcomed cheers, hugs and a standing ovation. This joyous moment I initially thought were the Republicans celebrating their approaching victory of the bill being passed. As Senator Pelosi mentioned Giffords is an symbol of strength and courage. Her being there showed how important the passing of this bill was to her and to America. She made the effort to be there for the vote because she did not want to risk losing the vote and the bill not being passed. Though her vote in favor of the bill did not have much impact for her Republican party as they crushed the Democratic vote, it was more of a sign of her dedication to this country and how important this change is for our future.

Watching and Waiting (Live Blog)

The time is trickling down to the last second as we all wait anxiously for a decision to be made on the debt deficit. This is one of the latest news topics that I have followed closely over the last couple of weeks. Representatives of the House have fifteen minutes to cast their vote for the bill. As of 6:52 pm the YEA out beat the NAY by almost half. It may be too early to judge but it seems that the outcome may be a positive one. Just as in the presidential election there is a goal that needs to be reached for a decision, in this case a count of 216 is needed in order to pass the bill. It is amazing that the majority of Democrats are voting against the bill. Which in a way seems ridiculous because they rather have nothing than something. By accepting this bill it is an entry way to a better plan to move forward where improvements can be made.

As the last two minutes wind down cheering can be heard in the background as they see the YEA outweigh the NAYs. And at the end of time the YEAs win, the bill has been passed by the House of Representatives. YEAs total of 269 and NAYs total of 161.

In seeing the final result I let out a sigh of relief. It was my hope that a decision would be made to pass the bill. This decision has helped us as a country overcome a bump in the road. The passing of this bill is a step in the door. I consider myself a Democrat and if I had been in their shoes I would have voted in favor of the bill. At this point we are in such a dire state that something, anything needed to be done. Now what we need to do is hope that all goes well and that the outcome goes as planned. The passing of this bill is an assist in making the passing of future bills a bit easier. From here everyone as a group can build. There is not much that Americans can do. The weight is placed on Washington's shoulders to follow through, we as Americans can only lead by example.