Chrysler’s computer security disaster

Andy Greenberg and associates demonstrated that they can remotely hijack a Jeep Cherokee, making it do things that could kill everyone in it. Fiat Chrysler is recalling 1.4 million vehicles as a result of this revelation. Greenberg doesn’t fully explain how they did it, for obvious reasons, but he tells us this:

All of this is possible only because Chrysler, like practically all carmakers, is doing its best to turn the modern automobile into a smartphone. Uconnect, an Internet-connected computer feature in hundreds of thousands of Fiat Chrysler cars, SUVs, and trucks, controls the vehicle’s entertainment and navigation, enables phone calls, and even offers a Wi-Fi hot spot. And thanks to one vulnerable element, which Miller and Valasek won’t identify until their Black Hat talk, Uconnect’s cellular connection also lets anyone who knows the car’s IP address gain access from anywhere in the country.

Every computer on the Internet has an IP address, so the real issue is the “one vulnerable element.” We can only guess about it, but this seems like serious negligence on Chrysler’s part. When a computer system can put people’s lives at risk, you have to pay serious attention to security. According to a Computerworld article, it’s the entertainment system which is open to remote access, but it “is commonly connected to various electronic control units (ECUs) located throughout a modern vehicle. There can be as many as 200 ECUs in a vehicle.”

A basic principle of secure design is that you grant only as much access as is necessary. It’s hard to imagine why an entertainment system would need access to life-critical components. If it is necessary, perhaps so that a warning of a major malfunction can go to the speakers, the critical component needs a firewall that limits the access it allows. Did Chrysler allow the entertainment system free run of its ECUs, or was the firewall defective? We don’t know yet, and maybe it will never be made public.
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New article on the Olympics

My latest article for FEE is “Cities Can’t Win the Olympics — They Can Only Lose.” I don’t get to pick the titles for my articles, but this one isn’t bad. The piece is about how disastrous the Olympic Games are for the people they displace; public landmarks are shut away, the city is militarized, and the locals are left paying for the cost overruns. Most people in Boston don’t want the 2024 bid, and they’re fighting back and winning.

As with all my articles for FEE, I’m grateful if people share the link and get it more readers.

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Sneaky gas pricing from Shell

Sneaky pricing at a Shell station in Nashua, NH

A Shell station near Exit 4 in Nashua, NH. Largest price displayed is $2.45.9, but that’s the “price with wash.” The actual price for regular is $2.75.9.

Several Shell stations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts have adopted a sneaky way of displaying their prices. The largest displayed price looks amazingly low, but a closer look shows that that’s the price with a car wash, and that the actual price of regular gas bought by itself is considerably higher.

Shell stations in California have been caught doing the same stunt.

As long as they’re playing this “Shell game,” I’m avoiding all Shell stations.

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Boston’s anti-free speech mayors

It’s very rare for Donald Trump to be right, but he’s absolutely correct that Boston’s Mayor Walsh owes him an apology.

Walsh suggested that he’ll try to block Trump’s construction projects because of Trump’s views on immigration. Walsh said, “I just don’t agree with him at all. I think his comments are inappropriate. And if he wanted to build a hotel here, he’d have to make some apologies to people in this country.”

Certainly Trump is wrong on immigration. His painting of immigrants as especially prone to crime is factually inaccurate; see, for example, this Cato Institute article on immigration and crime. It’s an embarrassment that a crowd cheered him at the allegedly libertarian FreedomFest. But even jerks have the right of free speech, and mayors in the US can’t withhold construction permits because they “don’t agree” with the applicants.
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Miscellaneous musical notes

Some singers allegedly have four-octave vocal ranges. This is very doubtful. That would cover F below the bass clef to F above high C, allowing the same person to sing Sarastro and the Queen of the Night. (Update: I’ve found numerous claims that certain singers have ranges of five octaves and even more. My impression is that they’re counting the ability to produce sounds, not their usable singing range. I can produce three octaves myself when I have a cold, but you wouldn’t want me to.)

You don’t “rise to a crescendo.” A crescendo is a rise in volume, and if you want it to be effective you start softly.

If random notes scattered in an illustration represent music, then random letters likewise scattered ought to represent literature.Franz Schubert postage stamp

Alto is the shortened form of contralto. They mean the same thing.

There are two musical instruments whose name means “small”: the piccolo and the cello. The piccolo makes sense. The cello does too, if you know its name was originally violoncello, or “little big viol,” but I can’t think of any other case of a word being worn down to its suffix while retaining its specific meaning.

Until the twentieth century, no one set out to write “classical music.” Bach and Beethoven wrote for their audiences, employers, or students.

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Rage as a political philosophy

A lot of progressives uphold the following positions:

  • Doing business only with people whose views you approve is evil.
  • Refusing to do business with people who want to do business only with people whose views they approve is good.
  • Refusing to do business with people because of the state they live in is good.
  • Pushing out employees whom you disagree with is good, and it contributes to diversity in the workplace.
  • People accused of crimes should have the full benefit of the doubt.
  • People accused of rape on thin evidence should be presumed guilty.
  • Racial insults are among the most disgusting things people can do,
  • Calling a black person a “clown in blackface” is merely “not carefully considered.”

There’s no way to find any consistency in these claims, but if you look at the beneficiaries, there’s no problem detecting the pattern. People will pull out wildly inconsistent principles as long as they produce the immediate outcome they want. When the outcome is inconvenient — for instance, if someone sues a business for refusing to bake a cake with an anti-gay message — they just pretend it isn’t happening.

This would make a kind of sense if progressives had absolute control. Then they could decree any actions they wanted and not care whether they followed any coherent principle or not. But in practice, conservatives are often able to pass laws, not necessarily with any more consistency, which progressives don’t like. What objection can the progressives raise? That those laws benefit the wrong people? Then there’s no issue of right vs. wrong, just “us” winning vs. “them” winning.

Once you’ve decided to base your principles on which side you’re backing, all that’s left is a struggle for power. The moral high ground belongs to whoever can express the greatest rage. Debate is impossible; offering debate concedes that you aren’t enraged enough to talk to your opponents. A striking example was the boycott campaign by some gays against gay-friendly Fire Island Pines Establishments for engaging in dialogue with Ted Cruz.

Another example is the following tweet by someone I don’t know, saying, “my vote is that none of the GOP candidates are allowed to run and the election can just be between Hillary and Bernie.” You can call it an isolated nutcase, but it got five retweets and four favorites. When you can get points for sufficient rage, even advocacy of replacing free elections with one-party rule becomes acceptable.
Tweet calling for no GOP candidates to be allowed to run

When people adopt rage as their standard, they have no business talking about justice, with or without adjectives, and no reason to expect any if they win. Take Judge Lisa Gorcya, who sent a nine-year-old to jail, comparing him to Charles Manson’s followers, for refusing to talk with his abusive father. If being angry constitutes justification, her decision was totally sound.

Look at some history to see what happens to countries where rage, not reason, is the driving force behind change. It isn’t pretty. Don’t think you’ll win by out-snarling your opponents.

New article on FEE website

FEE is running my latest article, “The Ghosts of Spying Past,” at just the right moment. The FBI is demanding the sacrifice of computer security to “national security”; this would represent a return to the encryption restrictions of the Clinton years. We’re still feeling the consequences of those requirements, and the NSA and FBI are demanding that we give up strong security because ISIS will kill us all!

Please spread the word if you like the article. A good hit count makes me more attractive as a repeat contributor.

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