~ Archive for Gadgets & Services ~

Cyber Terror, maybe from North Korea, Scares South Koreans


The current state of the internet is bleak here in Korea, what with the recent ddos attacks and anticipation of a third “wave” coming soon. Amid speculation that North Korea is behind the attacks, a North Korean specialist said that the cyber attacks were conducted by a posse of North Korean cyber specialists who went to China to plant the evil seeds in June and return in time for the 15th anniversary ceremonies of Kim Il Sung’s death.

Munhwa Ilbo,  one of the six big daily newspapers in Korea, has a scoop quoting Ha Tae-kyong, head of North Korean Radio, which is a South Korean-based short-wave radio service for people in North Korea. [In North Korea, broadcasting is controlled by the government, so one can imagine the lack of diversity in programming] According to the article, Ha says that a high-ranking North Korean government official told him that Kim Jung-woon, the alleged heir of the current leader Kim Jong Il, initiated a posse of up to 10 North Korean cyber specialists to carry out this cyber attack operation. The North  had to send its agents to China because it doesn’t have a good enough infrastructure to do it on homeground. From big areas like Beijing, Shanghai, and Dalian,the cyber attackers routed their viruses through servers in other countries such as Singapore and Indonesia.

Ha said that the cyber terrorism was in line with the North’s nuclear experiments and missile shootings, and part of a strategy to solidify Jung-woon as the heir. It was not a coincidence that this year is the 15th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s death. (Il-sung is father of Jong-Il, grandfather of Jung-woon)

The funny (or perhaps sad) thing about this is that South Koreans didn’t even bat an eye when N. Korea fired those missiles or detonated what could have been a nuclear bomb, but this cyber attack has people terrified. Of course, the government is afraid that their “special technologies” and “secret information” will be leaked, but normal people (kind of including me) are concerned because the bank sites were down. All of Korea’s banks are wired and Internet/mobile banking is quite the norm. It kind of gets me worried sometimes because my assets are not physical, and I wonder what would happen if all electronic records were to be erased completely.

I know Americans don’t really care about what happens in other parts of the world, but because the attacks included several U.S. sites (including the White House and the Washington Post) some sites like Nasdaq.com have blocked access from Korea and are still inaccessible. I reported this inaccessibility on Herdict, which is a Berkman-developed site where people can self-report sites that are blocked.

Why is Internet so slow when it rains?


Why is the Internet so ***ing slow when it rains?

When it’s raining, I like staying indoors (gee, wonder why) eating some hot and crispy and watching TV. I watch my TV through the Internet (of course) I was terribly annoyed today because Lie to Me on Hulu was stopping to buffer every 15 seconds, and I’m not exaggerating.

At least regular web-surfing is okay, but as more of our content because reliable on Internet connection that is time-sensitive (think of streaming, online gaming, distance learning) what are we going to do about these weather problems? Will people living in tropical areas have slower Internet connection? In a future age where Internet is essential to all aspects of society-economy, politics, religion, education, etc.- is it fair that people in geographic locations with more precipitation be automatically at a disadvantage?

And it’s not just Comcast, and it’s not because high-speed internet connection in the US is not exactly high. Even in Korea, where I had 100mbps coming through on cable, there would be rainy days when the Internet just didn’t live up to expectations. The odd thing, however, is that I don’t understand why it is so. Physics is the last thing I’m good at, so forgive me if my theories are wrong, but it doesn’t make sense, because even when Internet connection would be screwy at home, PC rooms would have great connection. And when you’re in a country where Starcraft is a national pastime, that’s extremely important.

So what is it? Were the PC rooms paying for more bandwidth? And even if they were, what is it about rain that clogs up the Internet arteries? Is water the cholesterol of the Internet?

To some extent, I am sympathetic about wireless and satellite Internet because perhaps the precipitation affects the airwaves. I know light is affected by water; don’t know about how sound works, but since water is a dense physical component, I wouldn’t be surprised if precipitation warped air transmission. But I don’t understand how water would affect fiber optic cables and copper pipes. Does it affect the conductivity?Electricity travels faster when it’s wet, but what about bits?

Everything would make so much more sense if the Internet were run by hamsters. If it rains, their fur gets soggy and heavy, so they have no choice but to run slower.

New Internet is Not Solution


Other than to point out that the Internet is having security problems, John Markoff’s article in the NYT was extremely annoying. He says: The Internet is at risk ->We could build a new internet that requires identity verification -> It’s impossible to verify identity. This logic leaves the reader in a vulnerable state – at loss, with nothing to do. It’s like telling someone, “hey, you may catch a pandemic soon, a vaccine would cure it, but making a vaccine is impossible. Ha, guess what? You’re gonna die!”

Markoff could have at least gone into more detail about exactly what the Stanford Clean Slate project is up to, or talked to some of the government officials who are trying to make a tighter network. Or at least give more realistic examples on why virus-ridden computers affect us. Did the institutes affected by malware eventually recover or not? What are the pros and cons of a “new” Internet? (It was also interesting that the structure of his article so strongly resembled Zittrain’s Future of the Internet and How to Stop It but didn’t mention a peep of it. But then when it comes to JZ, I am subjective; perhaps Markoff didn’t read the book after all- in which case he should).

It’s true that the Internet has problems, but making a new one won’t solve the problem. The Internet is not a machine, it’s organic, built by people and run by people. Even the automated bots were made by people. I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, but as long as human beings are involved, there will always be problems, regardless of the architecture.

Also, it’s not just the Internet, but the digitalization of everything that poses problems. Now that everything is digitized, we see paradigm shifts in distribution, commerce, knowledge, arts… for instance, what happens if the Bank of America suddenly loses all of its computer records? Do I have a box in the bank that proves I have a certain amount of money? No. The same goes for everything else. Think of how lending a friend a CD is okay, but sharing an MP3 file isn’t. By digitizing everything, sometimes I think we are making ourselves more vulnerable to catastrophes. Yes, libraries can burn down and destroy millions of books, but it’s more difficult to burn down all the libraries in the world, whereas it is easier to do that with online libraries. Perhaps we should be thinking more about the problems our society face amidst complete digitization of content instead of blaming the carrier that delivers the content.

(cross-posted on Arctic Penguin)

Tethered Devices=Unfair


In his first post of the year, Jonathan Zittrain wrote today about Amazon taking on the role of being both hardware maker and ISP with its Kindle 2 and questioning whether or not that would affect generativity. Kindle isn’t providing the actual net access- that’s being done by Sprint- but it is still being an information gatekeeper in the sense that it will decide which websites are free to access and which are not. Should this type of ISP be different from the term we use to label Comcast or Verizon?

It is amazing that Amazon is putting so much effort into keeping all of its doors closed, especially at a time where web access for mobile phones is so ubiquitous. It is only a matter a time before web access becomes universal for all mobile devices (that’s actually happened already in Korea- requiring content vendors to drastically change their business models) and more Web-based book-reading models pop up. The next big thing may be a site where people self-publish their books (it’s already a huge business in Japan).

But to go back to generativity. The problem about generativity is you can’t really perceive it as a problem if you’re the one using the savvy devices. You have to be the one not using them- and that is an issue because a lot of technological development caters to early adapters.

Last week, I overheard the most interesting conversation in the ladies’ locker room. A bunch of teenage girls were chatting  about their iPods (a lot of  shouting and ‘uh huh, nuh-uh’s were involved). They were exchanging information about DRM-free music (though they didn’t use the term DRM), talked a boy who paid for his game (it’s way cooler than the other games, one girl said) and argued about features of the iPhone, which none of them owned. The most fascinating aspect of the conversation was about games, and how some were complaining that $5 for a game was too expensive, while others said that it was a fair price because games are more interactive than music.

One girl then pointed out that a lot of games are free for the iPhone. Although the girls didn’t quite understand the concept of iPhone apps accurately, their point was simple: why should people who pay big bucks for an iPhone get to download free games and those who own iPods don’t?

It was such a simple, yet mind-opening, shocking question, bringing me back to Jonathan’s argument about tethered devices. (Although in this case, Apple devices slightly evolved to allow more generativity making the iPhone less evil than the iPod.) The interesting aspect is that the girls didn’t have iPods because they opted for more simple interfaces and the security of the vendor. They chose the devices because they were cheaper, and this gave them less choices. “It’s sooo unfair,” one girl said.

(cross-posted on private blog)

Log in