Mr Robot? Comes Home

The hit TV show “Mr. Robot” is an engrossing look into the world of advanced computer hacking.  It’s something that everyone can sink their teeth into, although “real” hackers might take issue with some of the plotlines.  I have been emailed several times by people to ask if certain things are possible that are depicted in the show.  And by and large, yes, most things are possible.  They aren’t as commonplace as they are depicted however they do ring true.

It’s interesting to look back on the history of hacking.  It was there right at the advent of computers; people trying to disassemble them, take them apart to see the pieces for what they were, and put them back together in a way that benefited them.



Another Macintosh user who participated in the Harper’s Magazine conference is John Perry Barlow, songwriter, cattle rancher, and author of a forthcoming article in The Whole Earth Review entitled, “Desperados of the DataSphere.” In the conference he recounts his experiences with phone phreaks and crackers who sparred with him in ASCII and finally posted his credit records they had downloaded from TRW that has data on you, me, and probably everyone reading this column (except perhaps those staff people in Havana who constantly write ONLINE authors for reprints of articles).

Barlow was able to penetrate the online personae of these young wizards and writes a convincing account of how some crackers and electronic publishers’ rights are being violated by Secret Service agents who have conducted late night raids, seized computer equipment, and caused severe financial hardship for a computer game company named Steve Jackson Games in Austin, Texas. From his perspective these abuses are not being taken seriously by groups such as the ACLU. Mitch Kapor of ON Technology agrees and together they have formed the Electronic Frontier Foundation that will be a small organization dedicated to funding education projects as well as litigation to support those parties who have suffered at the hands of overly ambitious law enforcement personnel and district attorneys. They realize how unpopular this sort of support will be (Computer World already printed an article criticizing Kapor for showing sympathy for the accused) given the negative publicity that surrounds most people accused of computer crimes. Barlow and Kapor believe that such support is necessary to protect electronic speech and the electronic press in the same way that traditional forms have been covered by the Bill of Rights. Defending hackers will not be their sole activity.

In a press conference on July 10, 1990, they outlined some of their missions and goals:

* Engage in and support educational activities that increase popular understanding of the opportunities and challenge posed by developments in computing and telecommunications.

* Develop among policy-makers a better understanding of the issues underlying free and open telecommunications, and support the creation of legal and structural approaches that will ease the assimilation of these new technologies by society.

* Raise public awareness about civil liberties issues arising from the rapid advancement in the area of new computer-based communications media. Support litigation in the public interest to preserve, protect, and extend First Amendment rights within the realm of computing and telecommunications technology.

* Encourage and support the development of new tools that will endow non-technical users with full and easy access to computer-based telecommunications.

As I write this column, the foundation is but a few hours old. For more information contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation, One Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142; 617/577-1385; Internet – As an important footnote, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer Inc. has offered to match Kapor’s financial support of the foundation. As you may recall, Wozniak and Jobs had a history of hacking before they made their name with Apple.

Cisler, Steve. “An essay on the openness of networks, electronic free speech, and the security of computers.” Online Nov. 1990

This article talks about how computer crimes and hacking were intertwined.  It’s still regarded as the “wild west” and lawmakers and congress are still trying to catch up.  However rest assured that the government always has a few of the best hackers in the world on hand.  White hat hackers.


If you want to protect yourself from the black hat variety, then you might do well to ensure that your comptuer is protected.  A decent antivirus and antimalware program should help a lot.  We recommend Norton as well as Enigma software’s Spyhunter 4.  Ensuring that all your passwords are different and complex is another good start.  We highly recommend the service Lastpass.

There’s a lot to do in order to keep your computer’s data secure, but thankfully if you stay on top of things it’s usually not that hard.  Just don’t be lazy and you’ll stay ahead of the pack.

80’s Inspired Synth

Here’s a music video I found while browsing the internet.  This has some definite 80’s influence – think Stranger Things.  And to be fair, I was hype about 80’s inspired things ages ago….so there 😛

Anyway check this out – the cinematography is quite exhilarating.

I like the aspect that early computers were a big influence in 80’s culture and music.  Think synth.


The Trends Of Supercomputing

quantum_computerComputers have come a long way even in just the last 5 years.  But when you expand your reach and look at the trend of computer speeds over the last 20 years it’s quite mind boggling.  Expand that to 30 years and…well, you get the picture.

This article is a great example of how it can be really fun to look back on how far we have come.  It points out how they saw supercomputing back in the 1980’s, and their interesting predictions for the future.

Trends in Supercomputer Performance and Architecture

Improvement in the performance of supercomputers in the 1950’s and the 1960’s was rapid. First came the switch from cumbersome and capricious vacuum tubes to small and reliable semiconductor transistors. Then in 1958 a method was invented for fabricating many transistors on a single silicon chip a fraction of an inch on a side, the so-called integrated circuit. In the early 1960’s computer switching circuits were made of chips each containing about a dozen transistors. This number increased to several thousand (medium-scale integration) in the early 1970’s and to several hundred thousand (very large scale integration, or VLSI) in the early 1980’s. Furthermore, since 1960 the cost of transistor circuits has decreased by a factor of about 10,000.

The increased circuit density and decreased cost has had two major impacts on computer power. First, it became possible to build very large, very fast memories at a tolerable cost. Large memories are essential for complex problems and for problems involving a large data base. Second, increased circuit density reduced the time needed for each cycle of logical operations in the computer.

Until recently a major limiting factor on computer cycle time has been the gate, or switch, delays. For vacuum tubes these delays are 10(-5) second, for single transistors 10(-7) second, and for integrated circuits 10(-9) second. With gate delays reduced to a nanosecond, cycle times are now limited by the time required for signals to propagate from one part of the machine to another. The cycle times of today’s supercomputers are between 9 and 20 nanoseconds and are roughly proportional to the linear dimensions of the computer, that is, to the length of the longest wire in the machine.

Figure 2 summarizes the history of computer performance, and the data have been extrapolated into the future by approximation with a modified Gompertz curve. The asymptote to the curve, which represents an upper limit on the speed of a single-processor machine, is about 3 billion operations per second. Is this an accurate forecast in view of developments in integrated circuit technology? Estimates (9, 10) are that a supercomputer built with Josephson-junction technology would have a speed of at most 1 billion operations per second, which is greater than the speed of the Cray-1 or the CYBER 205 by only a factor of 10.

Thus, supercomputers appear to be close to the performance maximum based on our experience with single-processor machines. However, most scientists engaged in solving complex problems of the kind outlined above feel that an increase in speed of at least two orders of magnitude is required. If we are to achieve an increase in speed of this size, we must look to machines with multiple processors arranged in parallel architectures, that is, to machines that perform many operations concurrently. Three types of parallel architecture hold promise of providing the needed hundredfold increase in performance: lockstep vector processors, tightly coupled parallel processors, and massively parallel machines.

Vector processors may be the least promising. It has been shown that to achieve maximum performance from a vector processor requires vectorizing at least 90 percent of the operations involved, but a decade of experience with vector processors has revealed that only about 50 percent of the average problem can be vectorized. However, vector processing may be ideal for those special cases that are amenable to high vectorization.

The second type of architecture employs tightly coupled systems of a few high-performance processors. The so-called asynchronous systems that use a few tightly coupled high-speed processors are a natural evolution from high-speed single-processor systems. Indeed, systems with two to four processors are becoming available (for example, the Cray X-MP, the Cray-2, the Denelcor HEP, and the Control Data Cyber 2XX). Systems with 8 to 16 processors are likely to be available by the end of this decade.

What are the prospects for using the parallelism in such systems to achieve high speed in the execution of a single application? Experience with vector processing has shown that plunging forward without a precise understanding of the factors involved can lead to disastrous results. Such understanding will be even more critical for systems now contemplated that may use up to 1000 processors.

A key issue in the parallel processing of a single application is the speedup achieved, especially its dependence on the number of processors used. We define speedup (S) as the factor by which the execution time for the application changes, that is,”

Buzbee, B.L., and D.H. Sharp. “Perspectives on supercomputing.” Science 227 (1985): 591+.