Entries Tagged "hoaxes"

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Hacking Elections in Latin America

Long and interesting article about a fixer who hacked multiple elections in Latin America. This isn’t election hacking as in manipulate the voting machines or the vote counting, but hacking and social-media dirty tricks leading up to the election.

EDITED TO ADD: April Fool’s joke, it seems. Fooled me, probably because I read too fast. The ending is definitely suspicious.

EDITED TO ADD: Not an April Fool’s joke. I have gotten this from Bloomberg News itself. They spent a lot of time on this story — it’s 100% real. And this follow-on story is also worth reading.

This is definitely an April Fool’s joke.

Posted on April 1, 2016 at 9:50 AMView Comments

The Mathematics of Conspiracy

This interesting study tries to build a mathematical model for the continued secrecy of conspiracies, and tries to predict how long before they will be revealed to the general public, either wittingly or unwittingly.

The equation developed by Dr Grimes, a post-doctoral physicist at Oxford, relied upon three factors: the number of conspirators involved, the amount of time that has passed, and the intrinsic probability of a conspiracy failing.

He then applied his equation to four famous conspiracy theories: The belief that the Moon landing was faked, the belief that climate change is a fraud, the belief that vaccines cause autism, and the belief that pharmaceutical companies have suppressed a cure for cancer.

Dr Grimes’s analysis suggests that if these four conspiracies were real, most are very likely to have been revealed as such by now.

Specifically, the Moon landing “hoax” would have been revealed in 3.7 years, the climate change “fraud” in 3.7 to 26.8 years, the vaccine-autism “conspiracy” in 3.2 to 34.8 years, and the cancer “conspiracy” in 3.2 years.

He also ran the model against two actual conspiracies: the NSA’s PRISM program and the Tuskegee syphilis experiment.

From the paper:

Abstract: Conspiratorial ideation is the tendency of individuals to believe that events and power relations are secretly manipulated by certain clandestine groups and organisations. Many of these ostensibly explanatory conjectures are non-falsifiable, lacking in evidence or demonstrably false, yet public acceptance remains high. Efforts to convince the general public of the validity of medical and scientific findings can be hampered by such narratives, which can create the impression of doubt or disagreement in areas where the science is well established. Conversely, historical examples of exposed conspiracies do exist and it may be difficult for people to differentiate between reasonable and dubious assertions. In this work, we establish a simple mathematical model for conspiracies involving multiple actors with time, which yields failure probability for any given conspiracy. Parameters for the model are estimated from literature examples of known scandals, and the factors influencing conspiracy success and failure are explored. The model is also used to estimate the likelihood of claims from some commonly-held conspiratorial beliefs; these are namely that the moon-landings were faked, climate-change is a hoax, vaccination is dangerous and that a cure for cancer is being suppressed by vested interests. Simulations of these claims predict that intrinsic failure would be imminent even with the most generous estimates for the secret-keeping ability of active participants­ — the results of this model suggest that large conspiracies (≥1000 agents) quickly become untenable and prone to failure. The theory presented here might be useful in counteracting the potentially deleterious consequences of bogus and anti-science narratives, and examining the hypothetical conditions under which sustainable conspiracy might be possible.

Lots on the psychology of conspiracy theories here.

EDITED TO ADD (3/12): This essay debunks the above research.

Posted on March 2, 2016 at 12:39 PMView Comments

DOS Attack Against Los Angeles Schools

Yesterday, the city of Los Angeles closed all of its schools — over 1,000 schools — because of a bomb threat. It was a hoax.

LA officials defended the move, with that city’s police chief dismissing the criticism as “irresponsible.”

“It is very easy in hindsight to criticize a decision based on results the decider could never have known,” Chief Charlie Beck said at a news conference.

I wrote about this back in 2007, where I called it CYA security: given the choice between overreacting to a threat and wasting everyone’s time, and underreacting and potentially losing your job, it’s easy to overreact.

What’s interesting is that New York received the same threat, and treated it as the hoax it was. Why the difference?

EDITED TO ADD (12/17): Best part of the story: the e-mailer’s address was madbomber@cock.li.

EDITED TO ADD (1/13): There have been copycats.

Posted on December 16, 2015 at 6:28 AMView Comments

Tor User Identified by FBI

Eldo Kim sent an e-mail bomb threat to Harvard so he could skip a final exam. (It’s just a coincidence that I was on the Harvard campus that day.) Even though he used an anonymous account and Tor, the FBI identified him. Reading the criminal complaint, it seems that the FBI got itself a list of Harvard users that accessed the Tor network, and went through them one by one to find the one who sent the threat.

This is one of the problems of using a rare security tool. The very thing that gives you plausible deniability also makes you the most likely suspect. The FBI didn’t have to break Tor; they just used conventional police mechanisms to get Kim to confess.

Tor didn’t break; Kim did.

Posted on December 18, 2013 at 9:59 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.