The Geeks on the Front Lines

The U.S. government is increasingly facing cyber threats that could affect our national security and economy. As a result, the government is courting hackers for cyber security jobs, but needs to overhaul its image to lure young talent, who can easily find well paid jobs in Silicon Valley and private security firms:

“To get a sense of just how weak our cyberdefenses are, I take a trip with Jayson Street, Chief Chaos Coordinator for another firm, Krypton Security, into the basement of a hotel in South Beach. We breeze past an open door with a taped sign that reads, ‘Doors must be closed at all times!!!’ This is where the brains of the building live – the computer network, the alarm system, the hard drives of credit-card numbers – but, as Street tells a brawny security guard, he’s here on the job, ‘doing a Wi-Fi assessment.’ Street, a paunchy, 45-year-old Oklahoman in a black T-shirt and jeans, flashes the hulk some indecipherable graphs on his tablet and says, ‘We’re good,’ as he continues into another restricted room.

“The doors aren’t locked. No one seems to be monitoring the security cameras. The wires for the burglar-alarm system are exposed, ready for an intruder to snip. We make our way to the unmanned computer room, where, in seconds, Street could install malware to swipe every credit-card number coming through the system if he wanted to. ‘They’re like every other hotel I’ve tried to go into,’ he tells me. ‘They fail.'”

Source: Rolling Stone
Published: Sep 10, 2013
Length: 19 minutes (4,808 words)

The Blind Man Making the World’s Best Glacial Vodka

A profile of Scott Lindquist, a blind Alaskan who harvests icebergs for a living:

“Quickly, Lindquist grabs his most important tool: his son Hank’s old hockey stick, which he uses partly for good luck and partly because it works well for hooking ice. ‘Ease it back,’ he shouts at the captain, who idles the boat. Lindquist lies on his belly at the bow, extending his torso over the water, and starts pulling on the berg. The wind has just picked up, and Lindquist’s target is bobbing around like a giant candy apple dusted with powdered sugar. The boat rises and falls on the waves, the water slapping Lindquist. When he finally pulls the berg within arm’s reach, one of the crew scurries up and tries to steady the ice with the pike pole as Lindquist attempts to twist in the ice screws. But with each motion, the berg bobs away stubbornly. After more than an hour of failed attempts, Lindquist says it’s time to move to calmer waters. ‘I like hanging out in front of a glacier,’ he tells me, wiping the water from his face, ‘but sometimes you gotta go where the getting is good.'”

Source: Outside
Published: Mar 8, 2013
Length: 15 minutes (3,940 words)

Longreads Member Exclusive: ‘Cormac McCarthy’s Apocalypse’

This week, we're excited to feature a Longreads Exclusive from David Kushner (@DavidKushner), a contributing editor to Rolling Stone whose work has also appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ and Wired. He's been featured many times on Longreads, and he's the author of Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto

“Cormac McCarthy’s Apocalypse” is Kushner's 2007 Rolling Stone profile of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Road, No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses. Kushner explains how he first met the reclusive writer:

"I owe my Cormac McCarthy story to two people: Harvard physicist Lisa Randall, and my dad. My dad urged me to read Cormac's books when I began writing for my college newspaper. The sentences are amazing, he said. He was right, and I read every one of them. Years later, I was interviewing Randall for Rolling Stone when she told me that Cormac had done an edit of her most recent book on theoretical physics. Come again? I said. Cormac hangs out at the Sante Fe Institute, she explained, a science research center in the foothills of New Mexico. After meeting him there, he offered to read her book—and surprised her by sending back an edited copy of the manuscript. Hmm, I said. Can I interview him about you for the story?

"Randall laughed, and I knew why. Cormac had a reputation for being reclusive, and had only done a couple interviews over his career. It's a long shot, she said, but she'd give it a try. A few minutes later my phone rang. You're not going to believe this, she said, but he'll talk with you.”

Source: Rolling Stone
Published: Dec 1, 2007
Length: 16 minutes (4,196 words)

A Home at the End of Google Earth

An illiterate child from a small town in India falls asleep on a train and ends up lost in Calcutta, unable to find his way back home. Twenty-five years later, while living with his adoptive family in Australia, he locates his lost hometown using memories and Google Earth:

“This was it, the name of the station where he was separated from his brother that day, a couple hours from his home. Saroo scrolled up the train track looking for the next station. He flew over trees and rooftops, buildings and fields, until he came to the next depot, and his eyes fell on a river beside it—a river that flowed over a dam like a waterfall.

“Saroo felt dizzy, but he wasn’t finished yet. He needed to prove to himself that this was really it, that he had found his home. So, he put himself back into the body of the barefoot five-year-old boy under the waterfall: ‘I said to myself, Well, if you think this is the place, then I want you to prove to yourself that you can make your way back from where the dam is to the city center.’

“Saroo moved his cursor over the streets on-screen: a left here, a right there, until he arrived at the heart of the town—and the satellite image of a fountain, the same fountain where he had scarred his leg climbing over the fence 25 years before.”

Source: Vanity Fair
Published: Oct 8, 2012
Length: 20 minutes (5,109 words)

Sex, Drugs and Video Games

[Site not safe for work] A profile of Nolan Bushnell, the entrepreneur behind Atari and Chuck E. Cheese:

“With Atari on the brink, Bushnell had to dig himself out of his hole fast. He hatched a business philosophy that became his guiding principle: the meta-game. Knowing Atari’s hardware was being copied by competitors, Bushnell began to, as he says, ‘build in booby traps.’ It was the equivalent of printing a recipe with the wrong ingredients. Atari purposely mismarked chips so that when other companies tried to re-create the designs, their machines wouldn’t function. The ploy worked, and Bushnell soon regained market share. ‘The whole success of Atari was really because of creativity,’ he says.”

Source: Playboy
Published: Dec 4, 2012
Length: 17 minutes (4,264 words)

Machine Politics

How George Hotz, a teenager from New Jersey, kicked off a hacker war that pitted Sony against Anonymous and the group LulzSec:

“That year, someone mailed Hotz a PlayStation 3 video-game system, challenging him to be the first in the world to crack it. Hotz posted his announcement online and once again set about finding the part of the system that he could manipulate into doing what he wanted. Hotz focussed on the ‘hypervisor,’ powerful software that controls what programs run on the machine.

“To reach the hypervisor, he had to get past two chips called the Cell and the Cell Memory. He knew how he was going to scramble them: by connecting a wire to the memory and shooting it with pulses of voltage, just as he had when he hacked his iPhone.”

Source: The New Yorker
Published: Apr 30, 2012
Length: 23 minutes (5,890 words)

The Man Who Hacked Hollywood

Chris Chaney was a 33-year-old loner in Florida who decided to shake up his boredom by breaking into celebrities’ email accounts. Soon he discovered nude photos of Scarlett Johansson and other stars, and then the FBI came calling:

“While perusing the e-mail of celebrity stylist Simone Harouche in early November 2010, he stumbled across photos of her client Christina Aguilera trying on outfits in a dressing room, wearing little more than silver pasties. Chaney found a random guy on a celebrity message board and sent him an e-mail telling him he knew ‘someone’ who had hacked pictures of Aguilera. Did he want to check them out?

“Chaney freaked the moment he sent it. What the hell am I doing? he thought. He was using a phony e-mail address, but he didn’t know how to effectively cover his tracks. On December 8, a headline appeared on TMZ: ‘Christina Aguilera: My Private Sexy Pics Were Hacked.’ Aguilera’s rep told TMZ they were ‘attempting to determine the identity of the hackers and will pursue them aggressively.'”

Source: GQ
Published: Apr 25, 2012
Length: 16 minutes (4,017 words)

Excerpt: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto

David Kushner’s new book explores the origins of the infamous videogame, which began as a straitlaced driving simulation:

“By casting the player as the cop, they realized, they had cut out the fun. Some dismissed it as Sims Driving Instructor.

“When an unruly gamer tried to drive his police car on the sidewalk or through traffic lights, a persnickety programmer reminded him that the stop lights needed to be obeyed. Were they building a video game or a train set? Even worse, the pedestrians milling around the game created frustrating obstacles. It was almost impossible to drive fast without taking people down, and, because the player was a cop, he had to be punished for hit-and-runs.”

Source: Gamespot
Published: Mar 5, 2012
Length: 12 minutes (3,065 words)

The Hacker Is Watching

Thirty-two-year-old Luis Mijangos hacked into his victims’ computers, accessing their hard drives and turning on their webcams:

“Mijangos was an unlikely candidate for the world’s creepiest hacker. He lived at home with his mother, half brother, two sisters—one a schoolgirl, the other a housekeeper—and a perky gray poodle named Petra. It was a lively place, busy with family who gathered to watch soccer and to barbecue on the marigold-lined patio. Mijangos had a small bedroom in front, decorated in the red, white, and green of Mexican soccer souvenirs, along with a picture of Jesus. That’s where he spent most of his time, in front of his laptop—sitting in his wheelchair.”

Source: GQ
Published: Jan 15, 2012
Length: 18 minutes (4,729 words)

Murder by Text

When Kruse IM’d Kim to see if she was done babysitting, no response came. But he didn’t expect one. The instant message was a cover. Kruse knew Kim had never made it to her job. She was right there in his house with him and Cam. Bound. Beaten. Raped. And, by the next morning, stuffed in his freezer. Dead.

Everyone knows teens live with abandon online—exposing their secrets, likes, dislikes, sexual preferences, home addresses, phone numbers, and so on—in ways their parents can’t understand. But it’s not just this generation’s sense of privacy that’s eroding. It’s their sense of permanence. They act as though the words they write and pictures they post and texts they send vanish into the ether. But in fact they’re leaving a running transcript behind, a digital trail of their hopes, their anxieties, and, in the case of at least one small Canadian town, even their crimes.

Source: Vanity Fair
Published: Nov 27, 2011
Length: 18 minutes (4,543 words)