remember bird flu?

We're coming for you, humans....

A couple of years back, before the H1N1 swine flu was all the rage, all of us disaster obsessed types were focused on H5N1 bird flu, which in addition to being 4Hs worse than swine flu, had a human death rate of 60%.  Then swine flu came along (underwhelming us as far as global pandemics are concerned) and we all went back to worrying about people with explosives in their underwear.  Well, it seems that the birds and pigs have been plotting behind our backs, coming up with a new hybrid bird-pig flu, which in one case described in New Scientist magazine, developed a mutation which gives it the ability to bind to receptors found in the noses of pigs… and humans (cue ominous music, please).  Just a reminder that virii (like the rest of nature as far as I can tell) is out to destroy the human race.  And that we need to keep an eye on the flu.

remember bird flu?

look deep into my eyes… and hand over your cash

Now cluck like a chicken and tell me your ATM PIN...

According to a story from the Jakarta Post, “As reports abound of people being lulled, allegedly through a mass-hypnosis technique, to hand valuables or cash to strangers, police arrested suspects after they viewed CCTV footage from a supermarket in Lampung, which caught robbers in the act… Earlier in January, the Jakarta Police also arrested three suspects, who allegedly hypnotized their victims to withdraw  cash at ATMs after undercover detectives trapped them in the act.” 

When I first saw this article, I thought that this was one of those one off news stories which end up in the “odd news” section of the newspaper along with stories like this.  However, consulting The Google yielded other news reports of criminals using mesmerism to compel their victims to hand over their valuables in the US, in Italy, in Russia, and the Phillipines.  There are even some videos purporting to show hypno robbers in action:

Hypno-robbers supposedly use the technique of “fascination,” the process of inducing a hypnotic state by focusing the subject’s attention on a small or shiny object.  According to the 1901 tome Practical Lessons in Hypnotism, the process of fascination is as follows:  “Stand directly in front of the subject, about five feet from him; have him stare at you blankly while you assume a fierce expression of determination; raise your hands and separate the fingers; gradually move your hands toward him, and then suddenly seize him by the shoulders and give him a slight but quick shove backward; rivet your eyes upon his in the greatest earnestness and intensity. If this method succeeds the subject will assume a peculiar and unmistakable expression of submission.  This same method may be carried out with the operator and subject in the sitting posture, as mentioned in method one, your hands resting upon his instead of being uplifted. This is the old Puyse-gurian method, and is still employed by many expert hypnotists.”

Here’s a not very convincing report on hypno-robbery, along with a  very questionable looking “demonstration” of the technique:

Not everyone buys into the hypno-robbery idea, including some hypnotists, such as this one interviewed on CBS news in 2008, who points out that hypnosis cannot be used to make people perform actions which are against their will and that the process of inducing a hypnotic state takes much longer than described in these robbery reports.  He (like I) feels that it is much more likely that the hyno-robber and the “victim” were working together in these cases. I, for one, don’t think we need to be worried about a new breed of robbers relieving us of our valuables via mesmerism, but just in case… LOOK DEEPLY INTO YOUR SCREEN AND TAKE OUT YOUR CHECKBOOK…

look deep into my eyes… and hand over your cash

testing, 1, 2, 3, oopsie!

Last week, an experiment conducted by Duke University and the European RIPE Network Control Center got a little bit out of hand, interrupting Internet traffic in 60 countries worldwide.  In all, about one percent of Internet traffic was affected by the test gone awry.  One percent of Internet traffic does not sound like a lot – most of that traffic was probably illegal file sharing, lolcats and porn, but what if your Internet based business was affected?  My employer (who shall remain nameless and whose opinions this post does not reflect) is an Internet based business in which the value of each (time sensitive) transaction is probably thousands of times the average for the rest of the net.  We were not affected by the testers’ little oopsie, but had we been, the potential losses would have been significant.  I am sure my company is not the only one in such a situation.

Yes, Cisco did fix the bug which caused this particular outage, but I think that this incident points out some questions that really need to be answered:

Should researchers be conducting experiments on the Internet with potential for widespread negative impact on a shared business resource? If someone ran this type of potentially disruptive testing on my company’s network during business hours, I’d be looking for them to be fired, sued, arrested and forced to listen to this album for the rest of their lives.  Researchers need to realize that the Internet is the planet’s “production network” with no “maintenance window” and that the same best practices we follow in the enterprise (separate test environment, for example) need to be followed when tinkering with its innards.

Had someone experienced significant financial losses due to this experiment, what would its recourse be? No one expects the Internet to be free of glitches and outages, but in this case, a conscious decision was made to do something which could reasonably be expected to cause problems.  Could there be lawsuits here?  Are the researchers exposing their organizations to potentially ginormous liability?  If the damaged party was in, say, Asia, who would have jurisdiction over the case and where would it be tried?

In an era where cyberspace is increasingly recognized as a “battlespace,” could an experiment such as this (on a larger scale) be mistaken for a cyber attack and possibly lead to real world hostilities?

Researchers and governments should take this opportunity to stop and think about the “rules of the road” for the global Internet.  Long ago, we all recognized that the oceans are a common resource and that we need a Law of the Sea to allow us to agree on what is and is not acceptable on the bounding main.  It seems to me that the Internet is the sea of the 21st century and needs a similar set of supranational rules to ensure that it accessible to all.  Are you listening, UN?

testing, 1, 2, 3, oopsie!