Selfie 'Magic' Catching On
Selfies are something you can put in a time capsule to represent this period.
Once relegated to the shadows of the digital underground, hacking has gone mainstream. Hardly a day goes by without the announcement of a major cybersecurity breach, sometimes conducted by groups, such as Anonymous and LulzSec, that are virtually becoming household names. Hacking has become so prevalent that it has even been allegedly used by major news organizations in the United Kingdom for news gathering. This year alone, there have been a number of high-profile attacks on major companies, such as Sony; international organizations, such as NATO; and even entire governments, as was the case most recently with Syria. Although the major players are becoming more familiar, to many, their methods are as opaque as they've always been. In this slideshow, explore some of the techniques used by hackers to exploit and overcome cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
Eavesdropping and Other Passive Attacks With a passive attack, computer systems and networks are monitored in order for a hacker to gain some information. One technique involves eavesdropping, where a hacker listens in on a network. The point isn't to cause damage to the computer system itself, but to harvest information as it's transmitted. This technique is also known as sniffing or snooping. Eavesdropping is not only a concern for computers, but also mobile devices as they become ubiquitous.
Viruses, Worms and Other Active Attacks Active attacks, such as viruses and trojans, are techniques where a hacker manipulates or deletes data to create the desired result. Computer viruses were first seen in the late 1980s just as home computers were growing more popular. As its name suggests, a virus is a piece of code attached to a seemingly innocuous program and passed between computers. Once inside a system, the virus spreads and can bring down a computer. Like a virus, a Trojan horse is simply a computer program. As the name implies, a Trojan horse fools the user into thinking it's another kind of program, and once installed, releases a malicious code. Another cousin of the virus is the computer worm. Worms burrow into network security holes to pass and install malicious code from user to user. One of the most severe cyber-attacks of all time was through the accidental use of a worm by a graduate student in 1988, who was looking to determine the size of the Internet. Software used for a variety of functions from disrupting a system to gaining access to a network is often called malware. Spyware serves to collect information on users and may or may not be malicious. Not all spyware is malware and vice versa. There are also more niche subcategories of malware, such as ransomware, a term used for an attack meant to scare the user into paying what is essentially a form of blackmail, or scareware, a product falsely sold under the premise that it will protect your computer from outside threats.
Denial of Service A denial of service attack is a technique intended to impede normal operations of a website or network. The basic idea is to overrun a computer or server with requests from outside a network to overwhelm the system's available resources. By flooding the intended target with requests, hackers incapacitate the site. These attacks often employ botnets, also known as zombie computers, which are systems that are taken over, sometimes unknowingly though occasionally voluntarily, by a hacker. This technique was most notably employed by the hacking group known as Anonymous against various websites, including Mastercard, Visa, Paypal and others, in the wake of the controversy surrounding the online whistleblower Wikileaks.
Going In The Back Door Earlier this year, hackers shut down Sony's PlayStation Network and stole the personal information, including some credit card data, from nearly 100 millions users. According to a letter by Sony following a Congressional inquiry into the matter, the company asserted that the heist was the result of two groups of hackers: the first launched a denial of service attack while the second stole the data. Before this series of attacks took place, however, Sony itself was accused of slipping malicious code -- a rootkit -- into one of its firmware updates for the PlayStation 3. A rootkit, also known as a back door, is software that gives a hacker access to a computer or network, often without an administrator's knowledge. Gaming security experts, however, dismissed the rumors as false.
Phishing and Sidejacking Behind almost all secure data both online and off is a username and password. If a hacker can gain user information and crack a password, that attacker can access a network and create, modify or delete data maliciously. Different techniques, however, are used to steal a user's password. One of the most popular methods is known as phishing. It starts when a hacker sends an electronic communication to an unsuspecting user under the illusion that the message is from a trusted institution. The user is duped into supplying his information, which may not only include a username and password but also a social security number and bank account information. Another method, known as sidejacking, session IDs, which can be unencrypted data in a URL or cookie, to gain access to an account. Other automated attacks simply guess passwords using predetermined dictionaries and often exploits systems without lockout policies for successive login failures.
Keylogging Keylogging is a technique that could be used for password cracking, but goes a step further. It allows hackers to monitor every stroke of the key entered by a user, which could include other information besides passwords, such as social security numbers, credit card data and much more.
Spoofing With spoofing attacks, hackers pretend to be a user designated to access a particular system or network by mimicking that person's IP address. Once a hacker is inside the system, that attacker can steal or delete data, or access other resources within a particular network.
Stuck on a ledge halfway up a 3,000-foot (1,000-meter) cliff in Oman, his climbing rope sliced in two by sharp rocks, Jimmy Chin did what anyone else would have done in his predicament. He took a selfie. "I had some time to figure out what I was going to do," said Chin, a National Geographic photographer whose images of extreme climbing by the Straits of Hormuz appear in the magazine's January issue.
"That's when I took the selfie," he told AFP. "It was one of those moments when, 'Well, I'm a Nat Geo photographer'. I had to document (the moment). It was pretty classic."
Self-portraiture has been around for centuries, but the global proliferation of smartphones with built-in digital cameras -- plus the ability to share photos instantly on social media -- has taken the genre to a new level.
With 2013 coming to a close, the publishers of the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary, arguably the final authority in anglophone lexicography, declared selfie to be their word of the year. "Selfie: noun, informal. A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website," according to Oxford. "Also: selfy. Plural: selfies."
Internet search provider Yahoo meanwhile estimates that in 2014, about 880 billion photographs will be taken. That's 123 photos for every man, woman and child on Earth. Many will be selfies. In Britain, a survey for Samsung found that 17% of men, and 10% of women, take selfies because "they enjoy taking good-looking photos of themselves."
"I think 'selfie' is a term of endearment for the self, in a way," said Sarah Kennel, curator of photography at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, who admits to taking the odd selfie herself. "It does reflect a kind of narcissism in our culture," she told AFP. US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron got tongues wagging when they took a selfie with Danish leader Helle Thorning Schmidt at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa.
"What an incredible sign of the times," children's photographer Sarah Sloboda, author of the e-book "How to Take the Best Selfies," told AFP. "That's the kind of thing you can put in a time capsule to represent this period."
No one knows if Obama and friends had even heard of Selfies at Funerals, an equally controversial Tumblr compilation of, well, selfies taken at funerals, mainly by young people.
"When a teen tweets out a funeral selfie, their friends don't castigate them," its founder Jason Feifer explained in Britain's Guardian newspaper. "They understand that their friend, in their own way, is expressing an emotion they may not have words for. It's a visual language that older people -- even those like me, in their 30s -- simply don't speak."
Selfies are something you can put in a time capsule to represent this period.MICHAEL DALDER/Reuters/Corbis
The year also saw Pope Francis in a selfie with teenagers at the Vatican, as well as pop diva Beyonce turning up in a smiling fan's selfie in Australia, to cite a couple of Time magazine's "11 most memorable selfies of 2013."
From Los Angeles, gossip blogger Perez Hilton declared a pink-haired Miley Cyrus posing for herself in a skimpy Lil' Kim Halloween costume his favorite among countless celebrity selfies over the past 12 months. But there's no need to be famous to become famous for a selfie. Thanks to Reddit and other social media websites, goofy selfies of a proud twenty-something dad in the Pacific Northwest state of Oregon mimicking the faces of his newborn baby daughter went viral overnight.
"We just watched the camera screen and copied whatever face she was making," explained Eddie Wheeler to his fellow Reddit users.
In Norway, popular fitness blogger Caroline Berg Eriksen snapped herself in a mirror, wearing bra and panties, showing off a firm flat tummy just four days after she gave birth. Critics branded her selfie a "disservice" to women, but Eriksen struck back, saying she took it -- and shared it -- "because I'm proud of myself and my body for something as tough as a pregnancy/birth."
And then there was the young woman in New York who snapped a selfie with the Brooklyn Bridge -- and an attempted suicide leap -- in the background. That image caused a stir when it made page one of the New York Post.
"A selfie is a sort of perversion (and) a conquest of social virtual terrain," said Paris-based travel photographer Jean-Francois Vibert, who blogs at www.macandphoto.com. "Happily, perversion is not prohibited," added Vibert, who name-checks the flamboyant pop star Nicki Minaj for selfies "so 'trash,' it's self-mockery. On that level, the selfie is decadence for a totally decadent era."
Kennel said self-portraits are as old as photography itself. The National Gallery's current exhibition of the work of Charles Marville features selfies of the 19th century French photographer in which he styles himself as a suave Parisian boulevardier -- the hipster of his day.
Meanwhile, in London, the National Portrait Gallery has just put out a call for selfies to be included in a panel discussion on January 16 entitled "The Curated Ego: What Makes a Good Selfie?"
In announcing the event, organizers identified Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia as "one of the first teenagers to take a selfie." That was in 1914, when she was 13. Alas, she had no Facebook or Twitter account to share it on.