If you were on the internet on Friday morning, congrats! You were one of a lucky few who maintained their connectivity in the face of a massive, nationwide DDoS attack against part of the Domain Name System (DNS), a crucial piece of digital infrastructure which, when offline, cripples our ability to access the internet. But despite its importance, the DNS is often overlooked — much like the rest of the behind the scene mechanisms that make the internet work. So before you go resetting your router to see if that clears things up (hint: it won’t), let’s take a quick look at what the DNS does and how it managed to break so spectacularly earlier today.
In the early days of the networking, routing data between two computers might require that you know the target machine’s IP address, a 12-digit string of numbers like 192.168.1.1. Even in the early 1980’s when the “internet” was still the DoD’s ARPANET project and consisted of just 320 interconnected computers, trying remembering all 320 IP addresses would be like trying to memorize the address and occupant of every house in your neighborhood.
So, the internet’s architects developed the DNS, a giant, decentralized database that translates domain names to IP addresses much in the same way that telephone operators used to manually route calls through their switchboards. So when you type “Engadget.com” (aka the top-level domain or TLD) into your browser, the DNS company that hosts that domain converts “Engadget.com” into the 12-digit IP address and routes your request accordingly, starting with the TLD, so that your computer knows where to look for the website data it’s trying to load. What’s more, the DNS automatically updates these registries so if Engadget ever switches hosting companies and its IP address changes, typing “Engadget.com” into a browser will still work.
The DNS is a hierarchical system. At the very highest level, you’ve got the “root servers”. There are 13 of them in all and they handle requests for information about TLDs. So if you type “www.Engadget.com,” it won’t be able to find the exact listing in its zone files — simple text documents that map domain names to their respective IP addresses — but it will return a record of the “.com” TLD and shunt the request to the next server down, the TLD server.
TLD server then looks for “www.Engadget.com” in in its zone file. As before, the TLD server won’t find the full “www.Engadget.com” listing but it will find record of “Engadget.com”. With that information in hand, the request is kicked down to the domain-level servers.
By the time that a request reaches a Domain-level server, it’s only one step away from being fully routed to its destination website. These servers are essentially “the guy who knows the guy” you’re looking for. Domain servers look at the record for Engadget.com, determine that the domain should be www — as opposed to ftp, for example — and then looks up the site’s IP address in their zone files before completing the routing operation.
Normally this all happens on the backend and the process is completely seamless from the user’s perspective. However, hackers can (and just did) attack the companies that run these DNS services. When a service is knocked offline, every site hosted on that DNS goes down as well, unless you know that site’s specific IP address of course.
This is is what US authorities believe happened Friday morning. A group of unknown cyber-attackers launched a huge Dedicated Denial of Service (DDoS) attack — in which small streams of data are funneled to create an unrelenting tide of traffic that overwhelms a site’s servers — against Dyn, a major DNS service. They shut Dyn down for hours. This, in turn, caused a swath of sites that Dyn works for — including Twitter, Spotify, the New York Times, Reddit, Yelp, Box, Pinterest and Paypal — to go dark on Friday morning until the company was able to recover.
Unfortunately, defending against DDoS attacks and the botnets that are used to launch them, is not a particularly easy task. The most common solution, according to CISCO, are firewalls, which act as the network’s watchdog, inspecting data packets and determining their source. If a firewall detects suspicious network activity it will alert the rest of the system. Networks may also incorporate load balancers — systems that spread network traffic out over multiple servers so that no one unit is overwhelmed. Remotely triggered blackholes (RTBH), instead, reroute and drop malicious traffic before it can even enter the network in the first place. Or, if you’re savvy like Pornhub, you’ll simply host your network on multiple registered DNS servers so that even if one goes down, traffic will simply be rerouted to a different service.
That said, there’s no such thing as a perfectly secure network. DDoS attacks like these will continue to occasionally occur for the foreseeable future. But with proper network design and implementation, we’ll be able to mitigate their debilitating effects.
“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” — United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart
In 1964, the Supreme Court overturned an obscenity conviction against Nico Jacobellis, a Cleveland theater manager accused of distributing obscene material. The film in question was Louis Malle’s “The Lovers,” starring Jeanne Moreau as a French housewife who, bored with her media-mogul husband and her polo-playing sidepiece, packs up and leaves after a hot night with a younger man. And by “hot,” I mean a lot of artful blocking, heavy breathing and one fleeting nipple — basically, nothing you can’t see on cable TV.
In six simple words, Justice Stewart encapsulated the near-impossible act of creating a single definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it”.
Attitudes toward sex have changed significantly since 1964. Soon after Jacobellis faced the Supreme Court, the United States experienced a sexual revolution followed by the porn boom of the 1970s and, more recently, the advent of the internet. Today, anyone with an internet connection can be knee-deep in creampies and pearl necklaces in a matter of seconds. We’ve come a long way, but one thing remains the same: We’re still nowhere close to a universal definition of pornography or obscenity.
Jean Moreau and Jean-Marc Bory in the not-so-sexy scene from “The Lovers” at the heart of Jacobellis v. Ohio (Image Credit: Getty Images)
But unfettered access to all things smutty, dirty and questionably filthy has created a surge in censorship tools that, in theory, use algorithms and advanced artificial intelligence programs to identify porn and weed it out. Last year, Twitter acquired Madbits, a small AI startup that, according to a Wired report, created a program that accurately identifies NSFW content 99 percent of time and alerts users to its presence. Late last month, Yahoo open-sourced its own deep learning AI porn filter and there are no doubt similar projects underway at other internet companies.
Big players have been sinking big money into cleaning up the internet for decades. The trouble is, censorship is a slippery slope, and obscenity is inherently subjective. If we can’t agree on what constitutes pornography, we can’t effectively teach our computers to “know it when they see it.” No matter the sophistication of the technology or the apparent margin of error, porn filters still depend on humans to teach them what is and isn’t NSFW.
Sometimes a naked child is more than a naked child.
In the early days of the world wide web, US libraries and schools implemented filters based on rudimentary keyword searches in order to remain in compliance with the Child Internet Protection Act. The act attempts, as the name suggests, to protect children from the darker side of the internet, specifically “pictures that are: (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors).”
But that’s not exactly how it played out.
A 2006 report on internet filtering from NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice referred to early keyword filters and their AI successors as “powerful, often irrational, censorship tools.”
“Filters force the complex and infinitely variable phenomenon known as human expression into deceptively simple categories,” the report continued. “They reduce the value and meaning of expression to isolated words and phrases. An inevitable consequence is that they frustrate and restrict research into health, science, politics, the arts, and many other areas.”
The report found that popular filters inexplicably blocked sites belonging to Boing Boing, GLAAD, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and Super Bowl XXX, among others, and often reflected the political and social prejudices of their creators. While Yahoo and Google’s AI-powered filters have replaced keyword searches with sophisticated image recognition, they still rely on humans to teach them what is and isn’t safe for work. And as Facebook recently discovered, images are no less divisive than words.
(Image Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
The social network faced widespread backlash in early September when it took down the photo above for violating its community standards. The Pulitzer Prize-winning image from 1972 shows a naked 9-year-old girl running away from a napalm attack during the Vietnam War. Facebook originally took the photo down for violating its community standards, saying, “While we recognize that this photo is iconic, it’s difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others.”
But as the New York Times reported, Facebook reinstated the original post after thousands of users posted the photo to their timelines in protest.
“An image of a naked child would normally be presumed to violate our community standards, and in some countries might even qualify as child pornography. In this case, we recognize the history and global importance of this image in documenting a particular moment in time.”
It’s not clear how the image was flagged, but whether it was a human or AI, or some mix of the two, the bottom line is: Sometimes a naked child is more than a naked child.
Sometimes a man with a bullwhip hanging out of his ass is more than a man with a bullwhip hanging out of his ass.
This isn’t the first time Facebook has been criticized for censoring images that many deem to be “clean.” The social network has repeatedly come under fire for deleting posts containing exposed female breasts in the context of nursing photos and information about mammograms. More recently it learned a lesson about the fine line between pornography and art, when it deleted and later reinstated a video of a black woman who painted her naked body white on Facebook Live to draw attention to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The real world too, is rife with examples of the debate about what is art and what is porn. In 1990, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati and its director were accused and acquitted of obscenity charges for an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography.
It was the first time such charges were brought against a museum in the US, and the photos in questions — depictions of gay S&M — were at the center of a national debate headed by the Republican Party. The prosecution argued that the exhibition, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, constituted pornography while the defense defined it as art. That case proved that sometimes a man with a bullwhip hanging out of his ass is more than a man with a bullwhip hanging out of his ass. It also proved that our access to art, no matter how controversial, isn’t always guaranteed.
Our personal prejudices continue to undermine our access to information and freedom of expression, despite advances in internet filtering. We may never agree on what NSFW really means, but without a universal definition, our machines will simply act as conduits for our own opinions. Not one of us can claim to know it when we see it, and no amount of code can change that.
Happy Friday! If you’ve had trouble this morning accessing your favorite internet outlet, you’re not alone. Dyn, one of the internet’s biggest domain name servers (DNS) got hit with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack this morning, making it quite difficult to reach some of the biggest sites and services on the web. Twitter, Spotify, the New York Times, Reddit, Yelp, Box, Pinterest and Paypal are just a handful of the sites under siege this morning.
Most of the outages appear to have centered on the east coast, though a few other regions of the US also saw issues. Dyn says that services have been restored to normal, although you might see some lingering weirdness for a little bit. Here’s hoping Dyn truly has this DDoS under control so we can make it through the rest of the week without the internet collapsing on us again.
Yesterday, Twitter announced that they had hired the former CEO of AngelHack Gregory Gopman as a contracted VR program manager. TechCrunch wasted no time reminding the Internet about his 2013 rant against San Francisco’s homeless, and just like that, it seems the social media company sent him packing. At 11 AM ET this morning, Gopman allegedly posted on Facebook that he was fired thanks to that post.
As Techcrunch and SFist point out, Gopman fled the city for awhile afterward until public pressure died down, then had some dalliances with the idea of helping San Francisco’s homeless before leaving for another personal reinvention. For Twitter, that’s probably not the guy you want leading your cutting-edge VR content experience when your company’s persistent abuse problems just potentially cost you getting acquired by Disney.
But Twitter’s decision to give Gopman the boot a day after announcing his hiring doesn’t bode well for the company’s VR strategy, either. It’s not like the incident was buried or forgotten: Even coverage as positive as Backchannel’s redemption piece, which explains the controversy following his rant, shows up in an easy Google search of his name.
Not that Twitter’s VR program has anything public to tarnish. While Facebook has soldiered forth into the space by open sourcing its 360-degree video camera and showcased how users will digitally hang out using its platform, Twitter hasn’t demonstrated any virtual reality applications. As TechCrunch notes, all of its VR/AR efforts come from its Twitter Cortex engineering group, which hasn’t announced anything since hiring former Apple UI designer Alessandro Sabatelli to lead the team at the end of June.
Correction: this article previously stated that Gregory Gopman was the head of Twitter’s VR department; he was a contracted program manager. It also stated that he was hired and fired in a 24-hour period; he had been employed for several weeks, but after Twitter announced he was hired on October 18th, his employment was terminated on October 19th.
Via: Fast Company News
It’s been a long damn road, getting from there to here, but we’re finally at the third and final presidential debate. But for the good of democracy, and the country, we’re all going to tune in anyway to see what both candidates get up to. After all, the first debate was a good excuse for a stiff drink and the second gave us a 70-year-old man dry humping a chair, Ken Bone and so many karaoke tweets. Thankfully, no matter where you are and what device you’re rocking, there’s a way to watch the final showdown between Hillary and Donald. The show begins at 9pm ET / 6pm ET and will be broadcast live from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Same as the last two events, Facebook Live will leverage its deal with ABC News to broadcast the debate without commercials. As before, the social network will add in commentary from viewers as well as additional features not available to those watching on the TV. In addition, plenty of other outfits will use Facebook Live to stream their own versions of the debate, including Buzzfeed, CNBC and the New York Times.
As part of the company’s live video push, Twitter will, once again stream Bloomberg’s feed of the debate. You’ll also be able to enjoy the newswire’s on-air analysis paired with Twitter’s world-famous well-considered and thoughtful one-eyed invective.
When it comes to high profile events that need streaming video, YouTube’s uniquely-placed to throw its considerable weight around. The site will serve streams of the debate from NBC, CBS, Fox, PBS, C-Span, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Univision and Telemundo. In addition, YouTube creators The Young Turks and Complex News will be offering a different sort of commentary experience live from their smartphones.
If you’re not yet wedded to the notion of cord cutting, that’s okay, because you’re gonna be looked after with the traditional broadcasters. The debate will be shown on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, MSNBC, CNN, C-Span, PBS, Telemundo, Univision and Fox News.
Image Credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo (Facebook), Getty (Las Vegas), Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images (UNLV Sign) AP Photo/Julio Cortez (Candidates).
Tweets are usually forgotten quickly, replaced by the next thing-du-jour — and frankly, most of us like it that way. However, a startup called Onehundredforty thinks that your succinct observations (or someone else’s) can become permanent art posters for your home. “The average lifespan of a tweet is 18 minutes, then it’s gone,” the company says. “There’s way too much magic happening out there to just let them die out in an archive, or even worse, disappear in a feed.”
You may argue that very few of the 200 billion tweets sent per year are worth keeping on your wall. After trying it for a bit, though, some of us found it kind of amusing to memorialize some of the mind vomit from Kanye and other famous Twitter users. If you want to try it, just pick a tweet, either your own or from another user like @50cent (above), and the company will automatically lay it out into a grid on the background design of your choice.
You can preview it (above) then pay $69 ($59 during the launch month), to receive a numbered poster with your 140 character (max) tweet printed on fancy stock with UV resistant ink. There are certain limitations — it doesn’t appear to handle emoji characters, and tweets over a few years old don’t seem to show up.
The company points out that “Twitter is dying,” so the service could also become a “memorabilia creator.” However the service still has 300 million-plus users, and if you really want your posts to survive the Twitterpocalypse, you can save them to a permanent archive. Perhaps Twitter itself could use the service, though — it could turn its most hateful, bullying tweets into posters as a daily executive reminder of how bad the harassment problem still is.
The last few months have seen many reports about massive companies like Disney, Verizon, Google and Microsoft purchasing Twitter, which continues to struggle with questions about its value and utility. Disney ultimately pulled out, and a new report from Bloomberg claims its because of the company’s toxic image. That toxicity stems from ongoing concerns about online abuse taking place on Twitter, something the company has been working on but ultimately failed to change in any meaningful way thus far.
It sounds like Disney was pretty close to pulling the trigger on this deal, though. The media giant had hired two investment banks to evaluate potential deals and had meeting with Twitter, but ultimately the issues Twitter faces with online abuse as well as the cost put Disney off. Even though Twitter continues to lose money, it’s still valued at about $12 billion.
But the shadow of Twitter’s massive abuse problem appears to not have fit with Disney’s family-friendly image. High-profile and “regular” users alike can easily be targeted by swarms of anonymous trolls, and Twitter just hasn’t found the right features or policing methods to reduce that concern. A few months ago, it was reported that the company was working on a tool that lets users block certain keywords; it’s a feature that has been under construction for about a year, but it’s the kind of thing the company should have rolled out a long, long time ago. As long as the company continues dragging its feet on such obvious solutions, trolls will have a big voice on Twitter’s platform — something that’s a problem for both users and potential buyers.
What troll attacks would look like on a Disney-owned Twitter.https://t.co/8LtGpbz2KI pic.twitter.com/5Gd83pA5Uj
— Dana Wollman (@DanaWollman) September 26, 2016
It’s official. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff told Financial Times that it will not be bidding on Twitter. On news that the CRM company was pulling out of the running, the social network’s stocks tumbled six percent.
During an Interview with FT, Benioff said, “in this case we’ve walked away. It wasn’t the right fit for us.” Salesforce was the last big name in the running to bid on Twitter. Google and Disney had already removed themselves from potentially buying the company.
Earlier this month Reuters reported that Twitter was pushing to have a sale decision by October 27th. An incredibly aggressive plan for any company, especially one that’s seen user growth nearly flatline and struggles to make a profit. Meanwhile, not everyone inside the blue bird is happy about a potential sale.
Internally, there’s a split over staying independent versus seeking a new owner. According to Bloomberg, CEO Jack Dorsey prefers for Twitter to keep plugging along on its own. Meanwhile co-founder and board member Ev Williams believes an acquisition would be ideal.
We have reached out to Twitter for comment on Benioff’s statements. It had not replied to our query as of the publication of this article.
Source: Financial Times
Managing editor Dana Wollman and senior editor Chris Velazco join host Terrence O’Brien to debate Facebook’s trending new problem and the true purpose of Twitter. Then they’ll sift through the ashes of the Galaxy Note 7 for insight and discuss how something as simple as a hashtag can give survivors the courage to come forward.
The Flame Wars Leaderboard
- Amazon Echo Dot review (2016): Forget the Echo. Buy this instead.
- Jack Dorsey calls Twitter the ‘people’s news network’
- Facebook is still trending fake news stories
- Samsung ends production of the Galaxy Note 7 for good
- As the Note 7 dies will Google inherit the Android kingdom?
- Samsung’s Note 7 catches fire, but the damage isn’t done
- Samsung stops Galaxy Note 7 sales, owners should ‘power down’
- Samsung’s Note 7 crisis will cost at least $2.34 billion
- The Galaxy Note 7’s death creates an environmental mess
- Hashtags help survivors break their silence
- What you need to know about social media activism
You can check out every episode on The Engadget Podcast page in audio, video and text form for the hearing impaired.
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Vine is a six-second comedy echo chamber. As soon as someone creates a meme-worthy joke, the punch line phrase, sound effect or editing technique spreads like wildfire. Usually it’s mere imitation, but sometimes Viners will remix the snippet into new, equally creative loops. To support this trend, Vine has added a “soundboard” feature that makes it easy for iOS users to import popular and recognizable clips. “LeBron James,” “why you always lyin” and “freshavocado” — to add these and others, just hit the soundwave icon after recording a new video. You’ll then have access to the new library, which the company says will be updated over time.
The feature, while welcome, will do little to stop Vine’s troubled trajectory. Reports suggest that the app has stopped growing, and many executives are jumping ship. It’s still a hotbed of creative talent, but many of its most popular users have migrated to platforms such as YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram instead, where the audiences and advertising opportunities are larger. The company has tried to combat this problem with a “watch more” button that allows users to link longer videos to their Vines. A smart change, but one that’s done little to change the app’s overall perception — that Vine is now a quirky, but niche platform struggling to stay relevant.