Sunday, December 25, 2011

Those crazy lulzsec kids are up to it again

In another major piece of mischief, this one just in time for the holidays, the New York Times reports those irascible kids at lulzsec have unleashed their mad haxor skillz by overwhelming the website of another major US security firm. This one is called Stratfor Global Intelligence Service (the little creeps stole the "d" from the end of the company's name, for crying out loud), which publishes a daily(!)  newsletter with thousands of subscribers, and counts among its customers Bank of America, Doctors Without Borders, the UN, and the Defense Department. These are heavyweight tech security guys for hire. Only they gave up their email system, their customer list, their system passwords, and the credit card information of 90,000 accounts to hackers. The security people are the same people who are advising the Department of Defense and Lockheed-Martin on keeping their systems secure-- and were pwned by pimply and very angry teens from the boondocks of Scotland or Ohio.

Lulzsec (or Anonymous, or whatever they're calling themselves nowadays) are now going radical Robin Hood and using stolen credit card numbers to wire money to some specially selected-- they held an online vote-- charities like cancer research and Wikileaks. Also named as a recipient of their largesse is the Tor project, which is an open source "anonymizer" system, that allows internet connections that can't be traced. This is also apparently a protest in support of Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of leaking lots of sensitive, though not top-secret, state department cables to Wikileaks nearly two years ago. It's unclear how this can help Manning except perhaps by publicizing his predicament.

I'm too cynical to think anything will come of this beyond my (dare I say our?) complete delight in seeing those security tech bozos have their noses rubbed in the terrible stink of their epic fail in their own area of expertise! These guys think computer threats will likely come from North Korea, who I believe still use hand-cranked computers. These guys are play soldiers, and have never outgrown their GI Joes. When asked to comment on the situation at Stratfor, the spokesperson at another security organization kind of back-pedaled on their usually macho stance. 
“The scary thing is that no matter what you do, every system has some level of vulnerability,” says Jerry Irvine, a member of the National Cyber Security Task Force. “The more you do from an advanced technical standpoint, the more common things go unnoticed. Getting into a system is really not that difficult.” (from the NY Times article cited above)
So what Mr. Irvine is saying is "we can't really protect computer systems," but that is a professional opinion, and hence is billable.

This is the military industrial complex thrashing around, trying to swallow up all the cash that's been thrown to them in these, our incredibly insecure times, when the NSA is competing with Google to gather more information about Americans, because we're at war with anyone who's poorer than we are (and to whom we don't already owe a lot of money). The LulzSec attacks are about the only thing remotely funny about the whole situation.

[Ed. Some followup:]
The WSJ is reporting people who posted supportive statements on Stratfor's Facebook page (which they set up since their email system was so mercilessly pwned... snort) are being attacked by Anonymous, though the attacks seem to be confined to posting hostile FB messages. Twitter also seems to be a site of running skirmishes. We'll stay tuned for more.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Toxic Waste Dumping Rascals!

Following up a story I published in this blog quite awhile ago, this story in the New York Times tells how a court in the Netherlands has upheld a million dollar fine for Trafigura's dumping a boatload of highly toxic petroleum waste-- sulfur and naphtha, mixed with caustic soda which was used to scrub out an oil tanker full of high sulfur oil from Mexico. They dumped ridiculously toxic sludge into sewers in Ivory Coast, killing as many as a dozen Ivorians outright, and making thousands ill.

Trafigura, one of the worlds largest trading firms, paid a local Ivory Coast waste hauler to dispose of the embarrassing cargo, which they felt was too expensive to dispose of in the Netherlands. The stuff was so poisonous, under EU law, it was illegal to remove it from the country (in this case the Netherlands), and that's what this, previously contested, fine was for. The Ivorian waste hauler was tried, convicted, and executed in his country. Trafigura is reported to have paid $200 million in fines in Ivory Coast.

The deeply disturbing moral of this story is no matter what a large corporation with global reach does, there's no government large or powerful enough to punish them. Trafigura has even been accused of manipulating the press to minimize the damage from airing the story. A small group of men, in the name of greed, commits criminally negligent toxic dumping, multiple deaths resulting, and manages to wriggle out of the predicament with nary a logo change. The fine in Africa most likely lined the pockets of strong men, who are eager to do business with them again. The EU fine will be used to further insulate the global business community from the reach of national law enforcement entities.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why I don't trust Fidelity

This afternoon I logged into Fidelity to look at my 401K. I was slightly bummed out when I read the headline on my year to date "Summary," which indicated: {paste}"Personal Rate of Return from 01/01/2011 to 12/19/2011 is -3.6%"

So then, I thought I'd look at what other investment options they had, and into which I could move my money. I clicked the link to the listing of all funds, which showed me this:

(my fund) Inception Date 10/17/1996 3.31 13.99 1.25 4.24 6.32 11/30/2011

This says I've made a little over 3% (first number column above) on my fund. But my summary says I've lost almost 4%, and the difference is significant. Hello? Is anyone in the financial sector even pretending to be transparent or honest? It's like if I have to ask I can't afford it or something. These are called temporary losses, a setback, a downturn. It's more dollar loss than my father ever earned in a year in his life.

I don't even know what to do about my 401K. My plan was to research another fund into which I could move my current funds. But if there's such a big gap in what they say about my own fund, how will I know which of the other funds I should trust? Should I assume they have their signs reversed in the fund list? Should I invest in the fund with -10.0% gains for the year? How can I possibly plan when the data on which to base any decision are wrong? I'm almost certain I've had to click agree to never hold Fidelity responsible for anything they say or publish, nor to use it to make decisions. They're "held harmless."

I shall endeavor to follow up on this post when I've made a decision; though I may not make a decision.

And elsewhere in financial news-- there is a new advertising battle going on among credit card issuers, which argue over whether they give back more money than the competing credit card. Credit cards give money now-- double and triple points. If you buy a mattress, or a vacation, you'll make money! Happy holidays.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Do Mainers care what Forbes thinks about their business climate?

I heard the stunning news today that Forbes Magazine rated Maine's business climate the worst in the country. Yup, we're number 50. The bottom. And how can this happen when Maine has a vocally and actively pro-business governor? They were looking for hotels, cheap heating oil (does this exist?), transportation, sports arenas, and low taxes. That kind of thing.

Maine isn't huge in any of these amenities, and hence we just didn't get checked off on a lot of items on the Forbes list. We kind of flunked it. Well, not flunked actually. We got the lowest score, but I know for a fact we have all of the things Forbes wanted, we just don't have as much as elsewhere. We may be a little short of chain restaurants and strip malls too, but we're catching up.

But here's my question. I'm serious here. My question is, who gives a rat's ass what Forbes magazine thinks of the business climate in Maine? They're shilling a magazine. The "contest" is an advertisement. Forbes is also competing with some businesses in Maine (and many elsewhere), and has a vested interest in the scores. It's safe and effective to just not listen to them. It's dumb misguided to take them seriously-- it's like betting on the Coke vs. Pepsi taste-off. Or caring.

I'd be interested to hear your view-- leave a comment if you feel so moved.