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Five Things – 2 August 2020

Twitter Hackers Caught

There’s a scene at the beginning of “Ocean’s Eleven,” where Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan are trying to talk Ruben Tishkoff into joining them in their planned casino robbery caper. Ruben is hesitant at first, but is happy to join in once Danny and Rusty explain that they’re planning to rob the casinos of Ruben’s nemesis, Terry Benedict, who had recently bought Ruben’s hotels from under him and was planning to demolish them “to make way for some gaudy monstrosity.”

Despite the good feelings engendered by Ruben’s joining the plan, he makes an important warning. Stealing from Terry Benedict like this is especially dangerous. “At the end of this, he better not know you’re involved, not know your names, or think you’re dead, because he’ll kill you, then he’ll go to work on you.”

Since the movie is older than at least one of them, almost as old as the other two involved, I guess the young men who pulled off the Twitter hack had never seen it, or at least that scene. And perhaps nobody told them leave their names fully out of online activities like that. And that means anywhere along the lines.

What’s the point of using a “hacker alias,” a VPN, TOR, an airgapped machine, Kali Linux, or any of that other stuff, if you’re going to use your real name on your bitcoin account that you use to receive stolen Bitcoin?

I only ask because that’s apparently how guys in the caper got caught. They’re described as the middlemen, but, if you’re the kind of person who involves themselves in such activities, you’ve probably taken a lot of other precautions, such as the ones listed above, to protect your identity, as much as possible. They might even use burners phones and such. But if you’re going to be receiving stolen bitcoin, why on Earth would you receive it in such a way that can be tied back to you? There are ways to transact with Bitcoin anonymously and I was surprised to hear that this is how law enforcement was lead to the two.

In Ocean’s Thirteen, when discussing that film’s caper, the specialist Roman Nagel asks Danny and Rusty possibly the most important question of any caper, “what’s your exit strategy?”

These guys must not have given much thought to theirs. Now, they’re facing multiple felonies.

President bans TikTok

The other night, Twitter was ablaze with the news that the President of the United States planned to ban the short-form video content creation app, TikTok. If you’ve been living under a rock or perhaps spend the majority of your social media time on Facebook and therefore don’t know what’s going on, TikTok has been controversial because it is owned by a Chinese company with ties to its government and the app has come to be considered to be spyware. India’s government has banned TikTok, but they’ve also been having other issues with China this year.

This, and perhaps other issues (like, really, who even knows?) have prompted the President to make the move to ban the app in the United States. But, if the comments on Twitter are any indication, there might be some trouble enforcing that.

As a baseline, the government would need Google and Apple to remove the app from their app stores “in the U.S.” Even so, the moment the app is removed from those locations, what’s stopping someone from hopping on a VPN and changing their location to another country, like say, Canada, which has not banned the app, and getting the app?

It’s possible on both Android and iOS without rooting, and it’s super easy on Android.

But even so, for those who might be unable or unwilling to do that much, there are alternative app stores out there. And even if one does not trust those, what’s stopping people from going to other websites and getting the app(s)? It’s pretty easy to sideload an Android app. And while it doesn’t seem as easy to me to do the same on iOS, it’s possible. A quick web search will reveal a bunch of possible ways to do so.

As this tweet says, pretty much nothing sort of the government building a “Great Firewall” is going to stop the app from coming into the country. They’d have to enlist every ISP, including cell phone companies and home Internet providers. Would they do it by blocking the DNS of known places where the app might be? Still, people can use DNS in other countries and even Cloudflare, whose DNS service is encrypted. VPN providers have their own DNS servers, so if someone connected to a VPN, if that VPN provider were outside of the country, then they’ve already circumvented things. They’d have to ban VPN services.

Then, what’s stopping someone two people, one inside the US and one outside, away from known VPN services, from setting up their own site-to-site VPN and just sharing the app between themselves?

All of that aside, it’s being reported that Microsoft could buy the American arm of TikTok and I guess that, along with making sure the apps aren’t like … spying on people, will could make this issue go away? Hopefully, the kids will take their lessons on Internet privacy seriously, regardless of what happens.

MLB Still Going

Pleasantly surprised is a good way to describe how I feel about this MLB season, so far. Despite coronavirus diagnoses on several teams, MLB is pushing through. Now, Rob Manfred has told the union that too may more players testing positive would mean he’ll have to shut it down, and has told their television partners to get ready for that possible eventuality, but so far, they’re pressing on. And the O’s are near the top of the AL East. I do want baseball, not because I have this sense that it’ll be providing “normalcy.” Normalcy would be the season starting early spring when it’s cooler and fans would be in the stands and no fan noise would be piped in. But, baseball does bring me joy like few other things in my life, so I’m happy to have it. But, if the health situation becomes unmanageable, then it’s time to shut it down.

NFL Better Pay Attention to MLB

The NFL needs to be paying as much attention to how things go with MLB. In fact, while I’m pretty sure they’d never do this, were I in control of the NFL, I’d have done my best to have health and operations officials from my league working closely with some counterpart in MLB to monitor the situations and the decisions being made, to relay that information and to help us make better decisions moving forward.

The two leagues are in similar situations, in that they both decided to contest games in each team’s home stadium. However, while no fans are present in MLB games, the NFL has decided to leave the question of fan capacity, ultimately up to teams and local governments. The Ravens announced several weeks ago that M&T Bank Stadium would have a capacity of no more than 14,000 fans (PSL holders were given priority ticket purchase rights since they wouldn’t all be technically able to use their PSLs this season), but ultimately, the decision is up to the City of Baltimore to decide whether that number of fans will be allowed into the ballpark, or fewer, or none at all.

The challenge of preventing a breakout in any team’s locker room is magnified for the NFL, as NFL rosters are basically double the size of MLB rosters this season. NFL teams pretty much always have more coaches than the typical MLB team. More players play in closer quarters on every single play in any game, than in MLB. The NBA and WNBA have distanced players sitting on the bench, so it’ll be interesting to see how the NFL deals with that particular issue because there are a lot more players along the sidelines at any time during an NFL game than there are in any basketball game.

It’s a logistical challenge and I think the NFL should have decided upon sequestering players, officials, and such in one or more places across the country and I’m surprised they did not. The NFL had lots of time to think about it. They planned and executed a physically distanced, and quite fun, in my opinion, draft in a relatively brief time.

Now, on the chance that both the MLB and NFL seasons successfully complete, I do hope the O’s and Ravens do end up on top. I usually do, obviously, being from Baltimore and having been a fan for such a long time, but want to see the win for Mo. Baltimore superfan and child cancer patient, Mo Gaba, passed away this past week. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an outpouring of love or care or concern for anybody in the Baltimore sports community. Tweets came from current and former Baltimore players. Even whole sportscasts have been dedicated to him and his memory. Understandably so. He didn’t just love Baltimore sports, but that was part of his love of life. In spite of all of the challenges he faced. I never met him, but like so many of us, was touched by him and his story. The Orioles put him into their Hall of Fame hours before he passed and I hope that gave him peace and joy in his final hours. I’m glad the O’s and Ravens, and others, did so much for him, rallied around him. These are my home town teams, but we’re also part of a community that I’m grateful to be part of. At least one championship would be a great tribute to a life lived briefly but bravely.


Tropical Storm Warnings have gone up in this area, and we’re hours from the forecast arrival of Isaias. Hopefully it will be just a Tropical Storm when it arrives in this area. From the looks of it, the storm will be here with us from sometime late Monday night through Tuesday afternoon/evening. It’s done quite a bit of damage down in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, but thankfully lost some intensity last night and was downgraded. But tropical cyclones are anything but fully predictable, so we’ll have to wait and see how things turn out.

Baltimore City is offering free sandbags for local residents on a first-come, first-served basis.

Providing these bags is a great service, but I think in future storms, this needs to be done on the basis of living near one of the City’s waterways. The City has neighborhoods that flood almost regularly, like Canton and Fells Point and ones right next to the Patapsco like Cherry Hill and Westport. Those neighborhoods, and ones like Clipper Mill, which sits in the Jones Falls valley, and Mount Washington, are the most at risk when a storm threatens to rain hard and consistently for hours. There are also other smaller waterways, which can become hazardous during a huge rain event. These are the places the city needs to focus on, as well as areas with poor drainage. The City knows about these issues and can focus resources better itself than relying on citizens, who might come from neighborhoods at less risk, and come more out of fear than out of a sense preparedness. With the pandemic going on, city agencies like schools (yeah, yeah, I know how it runs and how its funded, but it serves Baltimore children and it’s located in Baltimore) have faced logistical issues in serving people. The last thing we need is people unnecessarily showing up places for something they probably don’t need. Hopefully, the City will correct this and do a better job in the future. This isn’t a condemnation, but advice, as I know that Baltimore, like pretty much everywhere else, is under unprecedented pressures at this time. Whatever happens in the next couple of days, I hope that we make it through, as unscathed as possible because the logistics around sheltering people during the pandemic would be a major challenge. I know the City has many good people working for it, but again, there’s a big strain going on.