Fame, Infame, All the Same


Opinion A New York Times researcher -- that's what they're calling themselves these days -- contacted me a couple of weeks ago about a story the newspaper was considering, writes SecurityFocus columnist George Smith.

"The World's Most Famous Virus-writers and Hackers!" was the general idea. The researcher was preparing memos on the subject so higher-ups could decide what development path to take. Should it be a photo-essay or written exposition? The researcher wasn't even sure it would see the light of day.

The name of Jeffrey Lee Parson came up. You may recall him as the slug arrested for spreading a spin-off of the Blaster virus. Well, it just so happened Parson's contribution to net wildlife had snarled the New York Times.

Yep, he wanted his virus to be famous, and it was, with just the right people. Fifteen thousand citations in Google-- among them, my favorite, "Evil Fiend or Sad No-lifer?"

The dull and sweaty Parson whined he was being set up as a scapegoat -- a scapegoat [!] -- by the FBI because the original author of Blaster was
still running around loose. True, but tough beans.

If the New York Times took sufficient interest in him, perhaps Parson could get an agent and pitch a book proposal: "My Country Versus Me." Maybe Rick Bragg, the famous journalist given the job of ghost-writing the Jessica Lynch story, could be hired.

Also mentioned was Kevin Mitnick. Do you think the Times ought to do more high visibility stories on him?
But the unmentioned elephant standing in the room was Adrian Lamo.

As the very definition of an Exxon Valdez-sized cybersecurity oil slick, Lamo hardly needed me to point him out to the Times -- again. Google citations: 50,000 or so.

What I couldn't make sense of was why Lamo was allegedly so interested in using the paper's Lex-Nex subscription? If true, he couldn't be quite as brilliant as portrayed. Using the Google news tab or a variety of search engines to look himself up would have worked just as well, maybe better, and kept the ridiculous claims in dollar damages out of the FBI's indictment.

"Adrian speaks!" from Security Helpnet, Croatia, for example, is in Google -- but I bet not in Lex-Nex.


Anyway, crushing vanity comes before a fall. And at some point in the distant past, the story of the wandering good-hearted young bum drawing attention to the computer security lapses of bloated sitting-duck corporations went from being quaint to an exercise in psychosis. He couldn't fix the nation's corporate security troubles, and he won't fix himself, so the FBI will attempt to fix him and everyone remotely connected.

So more spreads in the New York Times would be just the thing. Agent, publishing deal, Hollywood options. Call it "The Trial of Billy Jack, strike that, Adrian Lamo" or "My Country Versus Me (and some reporters)."

A good sidebar to our famous criminal-computer-security-expert-or-hacker-something expo could be "How To Start a Computer Security Business."

The featured player would be Brett Edward O'Keefe of ForensicTec, San Diego.

A little over a year ago O'Keefe entered the Fool's Hall of Fame when he landed on the front page of the Washington Post. The story told how his company had done unauthorized entries into Department of Defense networks and -- out of the goodness of its heart -- decided to inform the nation through the pages of its capital's newspaper of record.

A very stupid person might have believed the altruistic computer security town-crier angle if O'Keefe hadn't been pitching to the San Diego Union-Tribune at the same time. With the interest of the bigger newspaper in the pocket, he unceremoniously jilted his homeys.

Google citations of ForensicTec after appearance in Washington Post: Over one thousand, all varying flavors of bad.

O'Keefe, like everyone else here, made the tyro's mistake of confusing fame with success. Now he is considering these issues under the gun of six felony counts, which is what the FBI hit him with after a year of investigation from the day the Post made him frontpage grist. Two co-workers, it seemed, had also been persuaded to impeach their boss after being roped into the prosecution.

Brett, start working on your entertainment pitch now: "My Country and My Co-workers versus Me and My Company."

Finally, time to spike the myth that the only way to fix the nation's computer security trouble is to give cold showers to easy designated victims in the nation's leading two newspapers. Call a spade a spade over eager computer security men and hackers: you want the infame!

If you don't want to be thought of this way, stop chasing the media giants.

Copyright © 2003,

George Smith is a Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. He also edits the Crypt Newsletter and has written extensively on viruses, the genesis of techno-legends and the impact of both on society.

Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022