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Olympic Destroyer: The Cyberattack on the 2018 Winter Games

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As the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics began, a cyberattack crippled the games’ digital infrastructure, jeopardizing WIFI connections, event tickets, and even the Olympics app, packed full of information on event schedules, maps, and hotel reservations. At Wired, in this excerpt from his book, Sandworm, Andy Greenberg unravels this digital whodunnit. Who was bent on creating chaos at the Olympics to publicly embarrass South Korea? Was it China? North Korea? Or was it Russia?

Over the next two hours, as they attempted to rebuild the domain controllers to re-create a more long-term, secure network, the engineers would find again and again that the servers had been crippled. Some malicious presence in their systems remained, disrupting the machines faster than they could be rebuilt.

A few minutes before midnight, Oh and his administrators reluctantly decided on a desperate measure: They would cut off their entire network from the internet in an attempt to isolate it from the saboteurs who they figured must still have maintained a presence inside. That meant taking down every service—even the Olympics’ public website—while they worked to root out whatever malware infection was tearing apart their machines from within.

For the rest of the night, Oh and his staff worked frantically to rebuild the Olympics’ digital nervous system. By 5 am, a Korean security contractor, AhnLab, had managed to create an antivirus signature that could help Oh’s staff vaccinate the network’s thousands of PCs and servers against the mysterious malware that had infected them, a malicious file that Oh says was named simply winlogon.exe.

At 6:30 am, the Olympics’ administrators reset staffers’ passwords in hopes of locking out whatever means of access the hackers might have stolen. Just before 8 that morning, almost exactly 12 hours after the cyberattack on the Olympics had begun, Oh and his sleepless staffers finished reconstructing their servers from backups and began restarting every service.

Amazingly, it worked. The day’s skating and ski jumping events went off with little more than a few Wi-Fi hiccups. R2-D2-style robots puttered around Olympic venues, vacuuming floors, delivering water bottles, and projecting weather reports. A Boston Globe reporter later called the games “impeccably organized.” One USA Today columnist wrote that “it’s possible no Olympic Games have ever had so many moving pieces all run on time.” Thousands of athletes and millions of spectators remained blissfully unaware that the Olympics’ staff had spent its first night fighting off an invisible enemy that threatened to throw the entire event into chaos.

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The Great Fiber-Optic Fraudster of Alaska

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Why secure actual signatures from partners on multi-million dollar contracts to install fiber-optic cable at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean when you can just forge them? At Bloomberg Businessweek, Austin Carr reports on scam-artist extraordinaire Elizabeth Pierce, the former CEO of Quintillion Subsea Holdings LLC. Pierce created fictitious contracts to fund an Anchorage telecom startup, fleecing investors for a billion dollars before getting caught.

Arctic fiber has been an entrepreneurial fantasy for decades. Soaring demand for broadband helped drive companies, including Google, Facebook, and Amazon.com, to spend tons on high-speed underwater cables that keep customers watching Netflix and YouTube with minimal delay. But many of those lines run in parallel in the Atlantic and Pacific along well-established ocean routes, leaving the world’s internet vulnerable to earthquakes, sabotage, and other disasters both natural and human-made. A trans-Arctic route would help protect against that while offering a more direct path, potentially making internet speeds much faster.

Pierce scribbled her first forged signatures on contracts with the Matanuska Telephone Association, which services south-central Alaskan towns such as Wasilla, in May and June 2015. Although Matanuska CEO Greg Berberich had been reluctant to strike a deal, Pierce assured her investors in New York in an email that Berberich was “nervous but very committed.” The next day she uploaded a contract, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, with what looked like Berberich’s signature to a personal Google Drive account she shared with Murphy, the CIP managing director. Pierce also said she was close to locking in another gigantic sale with the nonprofit Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative, whose customers include residents of remote Inupiat communities and the city of Utqiagvik. Soon she sent Murphy a contract with a phony version of the Arctic Slope CEO’s signature, too.

Pierce executed similar deceptions at least eight times, and the fraudulent contracts totaled more than $1 billion, according to court filings. Sometimes she completely fabricated deals; other times she negotiated real contracts, then changed key pages with more favorable terms.

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Why did the FBI Betray Billy Reilly?

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Billy Reilly was a confidential source who worked part-time for the FBI’s counterterrorism unit, paid to use his language and computer skills to infiltrate terror and criminal networks. When Billy went missing during an operation in Russia, the FBI feigned ignorance about his activities and whereabouts. Billy’s parents, William and Theresa Reilly, were undaunted by the agency’s stonewalling and silence. As Brett Forrest reports at The Wall Street Journal, they traveled to Russia themselves to unravel the mystery and bring their son’s remains home.

The FBI’s counterterrorism work grew to preventing attacks. To help, the agency recruited workers like Billy Reilly, part-timers with the right skills to infiltrate terror or criminal networks, either in person or through online chat rooms and social media.

These sources work in a dangerous world, with little training and fewer of the institutional protections afforded full-time FBI agents. They draw no government benefits beyond an occasional paycheck and a pat on the back. Yet they are critical to the FBI’s work to see plots in the fog of international jihad.

But over the course of four years, the Reillys would learn that no one in government wanted to take responsibility for their son’s work or for his safety, and that the families of confidential sources have little recourse when the FBI severs ties with their loved ones.

The Journal posed more than 100 questions to the FBI. Brian P. Hale, a spokesman, responded in an email: “The FBI never directed William Reilly to travel overseas to perform any work for the FBI.”

The Reillys spied the framed photos of FBI agents in jackets and ties as they passed into the waiting room. The woman behind the bulletproof glass asked why they wanted to see Agent Tim Reintjes. It had been a year since they had spoken with him.

“He knows us,” Mrs. Reilly said.

The woman left and in a few moments returned. “He has nothing to say to you,” she said.

“We have things to say to him,” Mrs. Reilly said.

The receptionist waved them off. “He doesn’t want to hear what you have to say,” she said.

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Korean Director Bong Joon-ho on How to Laugh in the Face of Horror

TORONTO, ONTARIO - SEPTEMBER 07: Director Bong Joon-Ho of 'Parasite' attends The IMDb Studio Presented By Intuit QuickBooks at Toronto 2019 at Bisha Hotel & Residences on September 07, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb)

In this Vulture profile ahead of the release of the his new film Parasite, Korean director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer, The Host) talks to E. Alex Jung about the menace of Harvey Weinstein, having full creative control over his films, and how laughter helps release the anxiety of living in a modern dystopia.

Bong’s work reflects anxieties he feels every day — about the climate crisis, the widening income gap. “My films generally seem to have three components: fear, anxiety, and a kekeke sense of humor,” he says, using the Korean equivalent of “ha-ha.” “Humor comes from anxiety, too,” he adds. “At least when we laugh, there’s a feeling that we’re overcoming some kind of horror.” In his view, our world is already a dystopia, and all tragedy and comedy flows from this fact.

Parasite, in particular, hits a nerve, tapping into the persistent feeling that we are on the brink of social collapse. “The true horror and fear of Parasite isn’t just about how the present-day situation is bad but that it will only continue to get worse,” he says. “That’s my own fear in my life. I’m 50 now, so I’m going to die in about 30 years. My son is 23 now. When he reaches middle age, after I die, will it get better? I don’t know. I’m not so hopeful. Still, we have to try to live happily. We can’t cry every day.” (He’s surprisingly sanguine about all of this.)

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Greenland’s Deepening Ecological Grief

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With glacial ice retreating and formerly reliable sea ice becoming more and more treacherous for winter hunting and social trips, the people of Greenland understand climate change first hand. As Dan McDougall reports for The Guardian, a study of 2% of Greenland’s population by the University of Copenhagen and the Kraks Fond Institute for Urban Economic Research reveals that Greenlanders are experiencing greater anxiety and a special sort of ecological grief as direct results of climate change eroding their traditional ways of life.

“There is no question Arctic people are now showing symptoms of anxiety, ‘ecological grief’ and even post-traumatic stress related to the effects of climate change. The impact of climate change on mental health is a looming public health crisis. So if a Greenland-wide survey points to anxieties around food security and way of life it’s another red line between climate change and mental health,” says Howard. “We are searching for terms to capture this deep feeling of pain in Arctic nations – words like eco-anxiety or ecological grief – but for me, something called ‘solastalgia’ perfectly sums up how people living on the frontline of climate change feel. It was coined by the Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht. It is also related to an Inuit word that refers to a friend behaving in an unfamiliar way. It means feeling homesick when you are home. Many of these islanders are in mourning for a disappearing way of life.”

In Ilulissat, Claus Rassmussen is stirring a foul brew of oily blood and fish. “Seal stew,” the sled-dog hunter says. Strung out in a row, his family carry buckets of the murky soup to feed to the dogs – a nightly ritual for Rassmussen and his five daughters.

Over the past two decades, Greenland’s sled dog population has halved to around 15,000 with the numbers still falling. Greenland’s unique sled dog culture and the specialised training technology and knowledge is in danger of disappearing.

An interview with Rassmussen proves more emotional than anticipated. In his modest home, an old wooden cottage among social housing blocks, his face is contorted. Instead of the Greenlandic way – long silences and monosyllabic answers – there comes an outpouring.

There are six of us crouched in the room, including three of his daughters, as he talks about the decision to kill his beloved dogs because he could no longer afford to feed them. As he talks about shooting one, a dog given the name “my son” in the local language, the teenagers burst into tears – a shocking explosion of grief in a culture where emotion is rarely shown. In Inuit culture, strength, silence, and self-sufficiency are admired traits.

“I had a blood clot last year and couldn’t hunt,” says Rassmussen. “Here in Ilulissat we have the ice fjord and, for now, it’s strong enough to hold us, but I was unable to walk for nine months. The trouble was nobody wanted my dogs so I had to kill eight of 13.

“I killed my favourites. To spare them possible cruelty. That was my decision. The others were given away to people I knew. They weren’t dog people, but were interested in having animals – but perhaps they weren’t looked after in the way they should’ve been. I managed to take some back and since then I have been building up a new dog team.”

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The Symbiotics of Harvesting Eider Down

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In an adaptation from his forthcoming book, Harvest: The Hidden Histories of Seven Natural Objects at The Guardian, Edward Posnett reports on the give-and-take relationship eider ducks have with human harvesters in Iceland. When eider ducks nest, they line their homes with precious down to protect and warm their young. During nesting season, Harvesters keep watch against predators, collecting the down only after the ducks and their young have left.

In a cafe in Ísafjörður, the pastor explained how he harvests eiderdown. As part of his parish duties, he runs a small farm, a throwback to earlier times when pastors in remote areas would survive off the land. Every June, he said, about 500 ducks arrive from the sea and waddle to his farm. Eiders do not naturally nest in such large colonies, but will congregate close to human settlements to seek shelter and protection. The ducks nest anywhere: in tyres, doorways and even houses. “I always take a lot of flags with me and I put a flag beside each nest so I will be able to find it again. Because they are incredibly camouflaged, these ducks. You can almost step on them,” he said.

At night, the pastor guards the flock of eiders from their predators: seagulls, foxes and mink. “I was quite lucky in that I got interested in guns when I was just a little over 20,” he said. “It was before I started studying theology.” If he were to fall asleep, a fox would have a feast of sitting ducks. “It’s more than a financial loss, it’s also like they are depending on me. So I don’t want to let them down. I used to be a night watchman, so I have a little bit of experience staying awake.”

In the middle ages, pelicans were thought to pierce their own breast to draw blood to feed their young. The mythical act was known as vulning, a Christ-like act of self-sacrifice. On the pastor’s land, the eider, too, makes herself vulnerable for her offspring, although it is down, not blood, that she draws from her breast. From this down she builds a nest for her eggs; her own bare skin, freshly revealed, covers them with warmth. She sits on her eggs for some 28 days, during which she may lose a third of her body weight; some mothers starve to death.

Later, as we made our way back to the church, the pastor let out a cry and pointed to a nest that he had missed during the previous gathering. Covered in moss, grass and broken eggs, it looked like a furry grey omelette or pancake. He wedged his stick under the down, easing it gently from the grass, and picked it up. Laden with seaweed, twigs and dirt, it reminded me of the contents of a vacuum cleaner, half fluff, half debris. Unlike the clean down my wife had held, it had a pungent, mouldy aroma, suggestive of the sitting duck from which it came. Looking closely, I saw the remains of several eggs caught up in the down. Rendered rubbery by rainfall, their fragments were proof of what the pastor had said; he always allowed the ducklings to hatch before collecting their bedding. “Take it as a gift,” he said.

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Companion Fair?

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In 1987, Steven Rothstein bought a pass that allowed him to fly first class on American Airlines for life for $250,000. As his daughter Caroline Rothstein recounts at Narratively, until American unceremoniously cancelled it, the pass not only allowed Steven to see the world, it bought him a place to grieve the death of his only son Josh, protected by the vacant seat he’d buy with his companion fare that provided the space he needed to cry amid the anonymity of the first class cabin.

In September 1987, five months after my brother, Josh, was born, and three months after we moved from downtown Chicago into the north suburbs, Dad bought his unlimited lifetime AAirpass. The cost was $250,000, which the agreement stated was based on his age. My father was 37 years and four days old when he dated the check.

Two years later, which was one year before my younger sister, Natalie, was born, he added a companion feature to his AAirpass, allowing him to bring another person along on any flight. The cost was $150,000, based on his being 39 years old. This changed the game, not only for him, but our entire family.

I understood the weight and privilege as a kid. I understood — we all did — that the AAirpass meant my father could travel and do business in unprecedented ways, and it allowed our entire family to travel in ways few people on earth could. We got the privileges, all of them, all of us.

As I get on the subway, he writes me an email detailing how when he purchased the companion feature “it was 100 percent contemplated that [he] would buy a seat for nobody to keep it empty.” They gave him examples of empty seats for legal documents, an extra carry-on, or even musical instruments.

“The example given to me was that Yo-Yo Ma, with whom I flew more than twice and whom I met in several hotel lobbies, flew with his [cello] in the next seat. Under those terms I bought the extra seat.” He thought it would be Mom, my siblings, me, Uncle Shelly, a business associate, or someone he “met at the airport. Anyone I wanted. Anyone. Documents.”

He goes on, “After they told me not to buy an empty seat they knew that I was in a huge depression in the actual MEDICAL SENSE. IT WAS A SERIOUS DEPRESSION. I was incoherent, crying several times daily, drinking liquor which I never did before and if I got in a seat I didn’t want to explain why I was crying to anyone.” So he wanted it empty. He wanted to be alone, just as had always been his booking practice on many airlines, even well before the AAirpass days. He liked his space. He liked access to bringing extra carry-on bags. He liked some privacy. The airplane was his home. It’s where he lived. It’s where he got to do work, or catch up on sleep, or regenerate. Then, once Josh died, it’s where he grieved. He was at home.

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‘Something’s Got to Give’: Redux

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For the “Journeys” issue of Topic, Anna Holmes shares a reprint of a 1996 New York Times Magazine piece by Darcy Frey originally titled, “Something’s Got to Give.” The piece is a frenetic, testosterone-and-adrenaline-fueled ride-along with a fragile fraternity of New York air traffic controllers minding the busiest airspace in the United States. They’re charged with ensuring the safety of 7,000 flights per day using outdated and failing equipment while attempting to maintain their own sanity. “Every hour around here is 59 minutes of boredom and 1 of sheer terror.”

ALL THE WAY DOWN the bank of radar scopes, the air traffic controllers have that savage, bug-eyed look, like men on the verge of drowning, as they watch the computer blips proliferate and speak in frantic bursts of techno-chatter to the pilots: “Continental 1528, turn right heading 280 immediately! Traffic at your 12 o’clock!” A tightly wound Tom Zaccheo, one of the control- room veterans, sinks his teeth into his cuticles and turns, glowering, to the controller by his side: “Hey, watch your goddamned planes—you’re in my airspace!” Two scopes away, the normally unflappable Jim Hunter, his right leg pumping like a pneumatic drill, sucks down coffee and squints as blips representing 747s with 200 passengers on board simply vanish from his radar screen. “If the FAA doesn’t fix this goddamned equipment,” he fumes, retrieving the blips with his key pad, “it’s only a matter of time before there’s a catastrophe.” And Joe Jorge, a new trainee, scrambling to keep his jets safely separated in the crowded sky, is actually panting down at the end as he orders pilots to turn, climb, descend, speed up, slow down and look out the cockpit window, captain!

From the passenger seat of a moving airplane, the sky over New York City seems empty, serene, a limitless ocean of blue. But on a controller’s radar scope, it looks more like a six-lane highway at rush hour with everyone pushing 80. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving—usually the busiest air-travel day of the year—jets are barrelling toward Newark just 1,000 feet above the propeller planes landing at Teterboro. Newark departures streak up the west side of the Hudson River just as LaGuardia arrivals race down the east. And in the darkened operations room of the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control—the vast air traffic facility in Westbury, Long Island, that handles the airspace over New York City—the controllers curse and twitch like a gathering of Tourette sufferers, as they try to keep themselves from going down the pipes.

Then, for an instant, his mind wanders—don’t forget to pick up milk on the way home—and suddenly he looks back at the scope and it’s gone: no picture, no pattern, just a mad spray of blips (and more blips now than there were five seconds ago) heading—where? North or south? Climbing or descending? He can’t remember, and though he tries to catch up, he’s already behind, conflicts arising faster than he can react—one here, one there—jets streaking across the sky at 300 miles an hour, the controller’s stomach in knots because he knows he’s going down, nothing to do but leap from his chair, rip off his headset, and yell to his supervisor, “Get me out of here—I’m losing it!”

Sometimes it is the Federal Aviation Administration’s ancient equipment that messes with a controller’s head—a radar scope from the 1960s going dark with a dozen planes in the sky, or a dilapidated radio blowing out. A few years ago, a controller guiding ten jets in a great curving arc toward Newark suddenly lost his frequency just as he had to turn the pilots onto the final approach to the runway. Watching in helpless horror as his planes careered farther and farther off course, the controller rose from his chair with an animal scream, burst into a sweat, and began tearing off his shirt. By the time radio contact was reestablished—and the errant planes were reined in—the controller was quivering on the floor half naked, and was discharged on a medical leave until he could regain his wits.

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Why “Florida Man” Really Isn’t All that Funny

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It all started in 2012 in Miami, Florida when Rudy Eugene, high on bath salts, was shot dead on sight by police while attempting to consume Ronald Poppo’s face. Poppo barely survived, losing his nose and his eyeballs. What was it precisely that had started? As Logan Hill reports at the Washington Post Magazine, it was the Florida Man meme — a sometimes humorous, mostly pitiful, ongoing series of events in which Florida men are discovered in bizarre, often criminal circumstances. What the media coverage and the internet fails to report, however are the addiction and mental health issues that spark the strange behavior in the first place.

Since Florida Man was first defined on Twitter in 2013 as the “world’s worst superhero,” many men (and it’s almost always men) have assumed the mantle. He is a man of a thousand tattooed faces, a slapstick outlaw, an Internet-traffic gold mine, a cruel punchline, a beloved prankster, a human tragedy and, like some other love-hate American mascots, the subject of burgeoning controversy.

At its most comical, the Florida Man phenomenon encapsulates the wildness of both America and the Internet. At its most salacious, it’s a social-media update on the true-crime TV of “America’s Dumbest Criminals” and the gallows humor of tabloid headlines. At its most insensitive, Florida Man profits by punching down at the homeless, drug-addicted or mentally ill.

For Florida Man to evolve from the primordial swamp-gas of the Internet, the environmental conditions had to be just right. Florida is the third-most populous state, so it naturally has a lot of everything — good, bad and weird. The state’s sunshine laws, passed in 1967, make public records — mug shots, arrest reports, video evidence and 911 calls — available to anyone, with the ease of one-click shopping. Then there’s the state’s strange geography: swampland infested with alligators and pythons, the most sinkholes in the nation. As for law and order, the state counts about 2 million concealed weapons permits, 1.4 million felons, and “stand your ground” laws. Thanks to the temperate climate, there’s no offseason for criminals or pranksters or nudists. And, as local writers from Carl Hiaasen to Dave Barry to Lauren Groff have noted, the water table of weirdness is just naturally high in Florida. Strangeness seems to bubble to the surface.

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Protecting the Unicorns Beneath the Sea: The Secret Seahorse Colony of Long Beach

A Pacific seahorse in a red gorgonian sea fan. Getty Images.

Every five days for the past three years, Rog Hanson has driven two hours in the middle of the night to visit his colony of four Pacific seahorses, dubbed Bathsheba, Deep Blue, Daphne, and CD Street. As Deborah Netburn reports at the Los Angeles Times, the colony’s location in the waters off Long Beach, California is a guarded secret. Together, he and fellow seahorse enthusiast Ashley Arnold have spent hours upon hours under the sea observing and documenting the colony’s behavior and sharing what they learn with scientists. For him, it’s a calling he was drawn to after a close, very personal encounter with a whale; for her, diving is a way to do good and help manage the PTSD she has as a result of her military service.

If you get Hanson talking about his seahorses, he’ll tell you exactly how many times he’s seen them (997), who is dating whom, and describe their personalities with intimate familiarity. Bathsheba is stoic, Daphne a runner. Deep Blue is chill.

Hanson makes careful notes after all his dives in a colorful handmade log book he stores in a three-ring binder. On this Wednesday he dutifully records the water temperature (62 degrees), the length of the dive (58 minutes), the greatest depth (15 feet) and visibility (3 feet), as well as the precise location of each seahorse. His notes also include phase of the moon, the tidal currents and the strength of the UV rays.

“Scientists will tell you that sunlight is an important statistic to keep down,” he says.

He has given each of his four seahorses a unique logo that he draws with markers in his log book. Bathsheba’s is a purple star outlined in red, Daphne’s is a brown striped star in a yellow circle.

Now, Arnold and her boyfriend, Jake Fitzgerald, check in on the seahorses about once a week and help Roger rebuild the city he created for them.

“We call them our kids because we love them so much,” Arnold says.

Hanson and Arnold are very protective of their seahorse family. They tell visitors to remove GPS tags from their photos. They swear them to secrecy.

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