Monthly Archives: December 2013

Who Was Alan Turing? And Why Did Queen Elizabeth Grant Him a Pardon?

By Russell Goldman
@GoldmanRussel
Dec 24, 2013 10:47am

(In light of the Duck Dynasty ignorance, I thought this appropriate to post.)

Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped defeat the Nazis by cracking their secret codes and laid the groundwork for modern computer science, was posthumously pardoned by Queen Elizabeth on Monday for a 1952 conviction for being gay.

Here’s what you need to know about Turing.

Alan Turing

Born: June 23, 1912

Died: June 7, 1954, at age 41. Turning killed himself, likely by eating an apple poisoned with cyanide, following a criminal conviction for homosexuality.

Accomplishments: Turing is widely considered the father of computer science. His developments in cryptography were instrumental in cracking the Nazi’s Enigma code, a vital step in turning World War II in favor of the allies.

Turing predicted the rise of computers and essentially invented the idea of software. He was first to define artificial intelligence and design a test to determine whether computers could truly appear to be human.

Controversy: Despite his contributions to the war effort and to science, Turning was charged with “gross indecency” in 1954, under laws that at the time criminalized homosexuality. Rather than serve prison time, Turning agreed to a form of chemical castration, in which he was injected with female sex hormones. Later that year he killed himself.

Legacy: Every computer today, from cells phones to those aboard the International Space Station, owe their existence to the “Turing Machine,” the first modern computer to run interchangeable software.

As computers become smarter and seemingly more human, the “Turing Test,” an experiment in which human subjects must determine if they are interacting with another person or a computer, remains the standard by which artificial intelligence is measured.

Turing’s life has been commemorated in books, a monument, a play and an upcoming feature film.

“His action saved countless lives. He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the ‘father of modern computing,’” British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement.

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Crime pays very well

Cryptolocker grosses up
to $30 million in ransom

No wonder street crime is down. If you want to make a dishonest living, cyber-crime is the place to be. According to a Dell SecureWorks report by Keith Jarvis, the creators of the notorious CryptoLocker ransomware virus may have made as much as $30 million in a mere 100 days.That’s a lot more than you’d earn stealing people’s iPhones –and you’re far less likely to get caught. (It’s also a lot more than you’d get doing honest work.) The $30 million estimate comes from a Geek.com article by Lee Mathews, and is based on the SecureWorks report’s numbers. The original report includes a speculation that at least 0.4% of CryptoLocker victims end up paying the ransom, “and very likely many times that.” The report also admits that “These figures represent a conservative estimate of the number of ransoms collected by the CryptoLocker gang.”CryptoLocker first appeared in the wild in early September. Like most ransomware, it attempts to scare people into sending money by closing off access to their data or threatening to do so. But unlike previous such programs, CryptoLocker makes good on its threats. Whereas previous ransomware viruses might trick you into paying their blood money by hiding your documents and other data files where any competent techy could find them, CryptoLocker really encrypts the files. And it does a good job of it. Jarvis’ report states that “CryptoLocker uses strong third-party certified cryptography offered by Microsoft’s CryptoAPI. By using a sound implementation and following best practices, the malware authors have created a robust program that is difficult to circumvent.”

In other words, if CryptoLocker infects your computer, and you don’t have a recent and reliable backup, your choices are between paying the $300 ransom and kissing your documents, spreadsheets, and photographs goodbye. Surprisingly, if you do pay the ransom, you get your files back.Keeping promises — not a behavior usually associated with thieves — suggests that whoever is behind CryptoLocker is treating it like a real business. When people balked at using credit cards to send money to criminals, these particular criminals started accepting Bitcoins. They’ve even responded to the insane Bitcoin deflation of recent months. When they first started accepting the virtual currency, they priced your files at 2 BTC. But as the price of a Bitcoin skyrocketed against real currencies, that price dropped three times, and as of Wednesday was down to 0.3 BTC.That’s an awfully polite gesture for extortionists.Of course, the rising cost of Bitcoins may have helped the criminals considerably. Jarvis estimates that they received nearly $380,000 in Bitcoins (it appears that most people still pay with credit cards). “If they elected to hold these ransoms, they would be worth nearly $980,000 as of this publication.”

I don’t want to make the people running this racket sound like gentlemen thieves. They’re crooks who steal your vital information, then make you buy back what is rightfully yours. They deserve jail time, not $30 million.