Another Bang Up Job

Legacy cellular protocols contained numerous gaping security holes, which is why attention was paid to security when Long-Term Evolution (LTE) was being designed. Unfortunately, one can pay attention to something and still ignore it or fuck it up:

The attacks work because of weaknesses built into the LTE standard itself. The most crucial weakness is a form of encryption that doesn’t protect the integrity of the data. The lack of data authentication makes it possible for an attacker to surreptitiously manipulate the IP addresses within an encrypted packet. Dubbed aLTEr, the researchers’ attack causes mobile devices to use a malicious domain name system server that, in turn, redirects the user to a malicious server masquerading as Hotmail. The other two weaknesses involve the way LTE maps users across a cellular network and leaks sensitive information about the data passing between base stations and end users.

Encrypting data is only one part of the puzzle. Once data is encrypted the integrity of the data must be protected as well. This is because encrypted data looks like gibberish until it is decrypted. The only way to know whether the encrypted data you’ve received hasn’t been tampered with is if some kind of cryptographic integrity verification has been implemented and used.

How can you protect yourself form this kind of attack? Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) tunnel is probably your best bet. The OpenVPN protocol is used by numerous VPN providers that provide clients for both iOS and Android (as well as other major operating systems such as Windows, Linux, and macOS). OpenVPN, unlike LTE, verifies the integrity of encrypted data and rejects any data that appears to have been tampered with. While using a VPN tunnel may not prevent a malicious attacker from redirecting your LTE traffic, it will ensure that the attacker can’t see your data as a malicious VPN tunnel will fail to provide data that passes your client’s integrity checker and thus your client will cease receiving or transmitting data.

Welcome to Postliterate America

In my opinion the United States shows all the signs of a society beginning a descent into postliteracy. One of the biggest signs is the rapidly declining lack of interest in recreational reading:

The share of Americans who read for pleasure on a given day has fallen by more than 30 percent since 2004, according to the latest American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2004, roughly 28 percent of Americans age 15 and older read for pleasure on a given day. Last year, the figure was about 19 percent.

That steep drop means that aggregate reading time among Americans has fallen, from an average of 23 minutes per person per day in 2004 to 17 minutes per person per day in 2017.

I can’t say that I’m surprised by these results. The idea behind a postliterate society is that multimedia technology has advanced to the point where the ability to read and write is unnecessary. In our age of cheap data storage, data transmission, and devices capable of rendering high-definition sound and video, many of which fit in a pocket, we are less reliant on written information than we once were. Moreover, voice dictation is advancing rapidly. When I first tried voice dictation on a computer I wrote it off as useless because at the time it was. Today my phone’s voice dictation is actually pretty decent. What’s probably more amazing than the improvement of voice dictation software is the fact that it’s not nearly as important as it once was because I can just send the audio clip itself to somebody.

Will literacy go the way of shorthand and cursive? It very well could. The technology is already at a point where literacy isn’t as important as it once was. In a few more years it will probably advance to the point where literacy is almost an entirely unnecessary skill. Once that happens it may take only one or two generations until literacy is a skill held exclusive by a handful of individuals who have an interest in archaic knowledge.

Propaganda is Not Reality

A lot of people make the mistake of believing that the propaganda they’re being fed is truth. But propaganda is not reality. If one wants an example of this point, they need look no further than the propaganda being pumped out to support the drug war:

In the middle of May, a police officer in East Liverpool, Ohio, Chris Green, was responding to a traffic call when he realized that white powder had spilled inside the car he was investigating. He put on gloves to protect himself from what he would later learn was a formulation of fentanyl, a potent prescription opioid, as he handled the situation. Later, when he got back to the station, another officer pointed out some dust on the back of Green’s shirt. Green brushed it off, no gloves, without thinking. Soon after (some accounts state it was mere minutes, others clock it at an hour), he was unconscious.

“I was in total shock,” he told the local paper after the fact. “ ‘No way I’m overdosing,’ I thought.”

He would go on to receive four doses of naloxone, an emergency drug that counteracts an opioid overdose, before waking up.

An overdoes from merely touching fentanyl? That sounds like powerful and extremely dangerous stuff! Except for the fact that the story as told is bullshit:

Each of the medical and toxicology professionals I asked agreed that it’s implausible that one could overdose from brushing powder off a shirt. Skin cannot absorb even the strongest formulations of opioids efficiently or fast enough to exert such an effect. “Fentanyl, applied dry to the skin, will not be absorbed. There is a reason that the fentanyl patches took years [for pharmaceutical companies] to develop,” says my colleague Ed Boyer, M.D., Ph.D., a medical toxicologist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

While fentanyl is dangerous due to its concentrated nature, it’s not so dangerous that touching a little bit of it with your skin will cause you to overdoes. Unfortunately, while most publications were happy as can be to publish the officer’s account of the incident, they didn’t bother doing any investigation (thus why the field is seldom referred to as investigative journalism these days) into whether or not the officer’s story was even plausible. Even when journalists aren’t intentionally publish propaganda, they often unintentionally publish it by mindlessly accepting whatever a government official says as fact and publishing it without any investigatory work.