Reuters: 'Inside the UAE’s Secret Hacking Team of American Mercenaries'

Reuters: ‘Inside the UAE’s Secret Hacking Team of American Mercenaries’

Read this: Inside the UAE’s Secret Hacking Team of American Mercenaries.

[Lori Stroud] had joined Project Raven, a clandestine team that included more than a dozen former U.S. intelligence operatives recruited to help the United Arab Emirates engage in surveillance of other governments, militants and human rights activists critical of the monarchy.


This one’s a long read detailing how the United Arab Emirates launched a cyber intelligence team made up of American contractors. It’s a fascinating read.

5 Things To Read Today

5 Things to Read Today (12/6/18)

Good reading here today. In particular, “Blood Cries Out” was a fascinating and well-reported story, but it’s pretty long, just so you’re forewarned. The BuzzFeed article is pretty interesting, too.

Gutenberg Printing Press

I’m using WordPress’ new ‘Gutenberg’ post editor for the first time.

I logged into ye olde WordPress blog this morning and discovered a giant new splash box on my dashboard that proclaimed WordPress’ spiffy new Gutenberg editor ready for me to play with. And y’all, I think I’m in love. I want to cuddle this thing in my arms like a tiny kitten and sing it little songs while it purrs.

Recreated Gutenberg press at the International Printing Museum, Carson, California. (Source & licensing.)

I’ve been using WordPress almost since it debuted and it has been, hands down, my favorite way to build and use a website every day since I first flipped on the open sign on my first real website.

There’s almost nothing you can’t do with WordPress. You can make it look like anything you want with relative ease, providing you know just a smidge of code, and you can make it handle just about any kind of content you want. I don’t actually need a website to do much, but man, I love the freedom of knowing I could do anything if I wanted or needed to.

WordPress has been basically the same critter for fifteen years now. There’s been some surface changes. There’s been under-the-hood code changes. But for the user, firing up WordPress has been mostly the same the whole time. What change there’s been has been relatively minor and incremental.

Gutenberg is a whole new thing.

Gutenberg is a drag & drop editor.

Gutenberg brings drag and drop editing and page building to WordPress for the first time. There’ve been plugins that had added a similar functionality, but those have been less than stellar. Gutenberg is baked in and seems to work really, really well. It brings advanced editing and layout to even the non-codiest of non-coders, as easily as clicking a button.

All the fancy crap I might have wanted to do with a post or page that I would have had to spend two or three hours building in CSS by hand before I can now do in about five minutes.

And if I really need to get into the code, or customize something specifically, Gutenberg will let me do that, too.

I mean look at this. I can slap a pullquote in this easily, no coding required. I just clicked a button and started typing.

– Me.

I’ve already added two different photos here – a regular photo and the cover image with the text. I could customize both of those, too, if I wanted – different text colors and fonts on the image, resizing, all that, on the fly, hardly a bit of HTML or CSS needed.

I didn’t actually watch this video, so I have no idea what this guy has to say. Good luck.

I can slap in video, audio, or any type of embed, like the YouTube video above, with two clicks of a button. (Well, and some sorting through menus, because I don’t know where everything is yet.)

I can add separate columns of text, in case I ever wanted to do that. For reasons. Who knows? But I can!

Look, this is a column! Have some lorem ipsum:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Quisque non leo mauris. Quisque bibendum ac magna sed tristique. In vel justo interdum, molestie massa ac, ultricies magna. Maecenas eget dui nibh. Orci varius natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Sed ac vestibulum augue. Aenean sed consequat odio, a suscipit ante.

Here’s a second column! With more lorem ipsum!

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Quisque non leo mauris. Quisque bibendum ac magna sed tristique. In vel justo interdum, molestie massa ac, ultricies magna. Maecenas eget dui nibh. Orci varius natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Sed ac vestibulum augue. Aenean sed consequat odio, a suscipit ante.

Holy cow. I’d have had to fight with that for an hour before. I mean, it probably doesn’t look that great, because the WordPress theme I’m using doesn’t play well with Gutenberg’s capabilities, but that’s pretty easy to fix.

I think Gutenberg and I are going to be great friends.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go play with my new toys.

Twitter - Good Tweets

On the topic of Twitter likespam.

So, you may be aware, Twitter has a “like” thing, similar to Facebook. On a tweet, you’ll see a little heart you can click to “like” the tweet. Those hearts used to be stars, and they used to be called “favs,” and people used to use them basically like bookmarks. That changed a few years back, and no one was very fond of the change.

Twitter Likes

It wasn’t that big of a deal, but we’d all been using the feature one way and Twitter up and changed the whole thing, and it bunched up a lot of panties for awhile.

But, for the last couple of years, Twitter’s been doing this thing where if you “like” someone’s tweet, it’ll inject that tweet with a little note that you liked it into your followers’ Twitter stream.

Twitter Like Notes

Which is still… I mean, it’s annoying, but it’s not that big of a deal. “Likes” and “favs” were always public. You could always click through to someone’s Twitter profile and see their likes or favs if you wanted to. You just didn’t have to deal with them junking up your Twitter stream.

Here’s the thing though: If you follow a bunch of people on Twitter, it’s because you like or are interested in those people and/or what they have to say. And Twitter has a function called a “retweet,” where if you see a tweet that interests you for some reason, you can click “retweet,” and share that out to your followers. So if I’m following someone, and they retweet someone a few times and I like or am interested in what that new person says, I follow that new person, too. It doesn’t take very long for you to be following a lot of the same people as everyone else in your particular niche interests.

So, the retweet function tends to be pretty “in the moment” when folks on Twitter use it. You might see the same thing retweeted a few times, but it’s generally happening while that tweet is interesting or relevant, so it’s part of the topic of the moment. It helps you gauge interest.

“Likes,” however, get used differently. You “like” something because it’s funny or smart, or as a show of support, not because you necessarily want to show it to everyone else. Also, people like all kinds of random things, whereas they generally retweet on topic. So, you’re rolling through your Twitter timeline, and you generally tweet about politics or information security or fuzzy kittens or something. If you see something on your particular topic – politics or kittens or whatnot – you retweet it. Because it’s on topic for you. But as you’re scrolling, you may also like a bunch of things that have nothing to do with your usual topics.

And now suddenly your followers are being hassled with a bunch of off topic junk.

Worse, since your entire circle of followers are all pretty similar-minded, odds are good that they’re following a bunch of other similar-minded people who are all also going through their timelines, retweeting the relevant bits and liking random whatevers… but often all the same random whatevers. Because we’re all relatively similar, so we all think that little quip someone made was clever or funny.

The end result is that I spend the next three days with the same liked tweet showing up in my timeline over and over and over again as new people find it.

This doesn’t happen with retweets. It only happens with likes. It’s just a function of how people use the feature. And it is hella annoying.

There’s no real way to turn this off or stop it from happening. You can go through your timeline and use a dropdown menu on Twitter to tell Twitter that you don’t like a particular tweet. If you go through your timeline and do that for each of the liked tweets that have been injected into your timeline, Twitter will stop showing them to you for a few days. But they always, inevitably, like an outbreak of herpes, come back. I don’t know how it’s hitting everyone else, but I find it wildly frustrating.

There are a few workarounds to get rid of likespam (several methods listed here), but nothing that’s, y’know, user friendly for most folks.

The reason I’m telling you all this is that it points to an ongoing problem with Twitter management: The people who run Twitter have no goddamn idea how or why people use their service. They don’t listen to their users. They add features no one wants and refuse to add features everyone needs. They break functions everyone relies on, shift timelines to be algorithmic instead of chronological, and generally muck up everything related to how their users actually use Twitter.

Twitter is about news and conversations that are happening right now, in the moment, about a given topic. And every new feature, or removal of an old feature, that Twitter has instituted in the last few years, has been about breaking the thread of that conversation. It boggles the mind that Twitter CEOs can be so blatantly ignorant of what their service does and how it’s used.

And all of that is entirely aside from the fact that Twitter is doing nearly nothing to remove abusive users, allows their platform to boost nazis, and sundry other little issues that all lead directly to making Twitter the hellhole cesspool that it is.

Michael Cohen

5TtRT: Election hacking, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Robert Mueller & more

Whew. Busy news day yesterday, eh? Let’s get into it.

First thing’s first: the Paul Manafort verdicts. Paul Manafort was facing 18 charges, all financial stuff like tax fraud and such. The jury came back with a “guilty” verdict on 8 of the charges and hung up on 10 of them. The eight guilty charges carry a penalty of 80+ years in prison, plus a metric crap-ton worth of fines. The 10 hung charges get called a “mistrial,” and Mueller has until next week to decide if he wants to retry those charges or not.

Manafort’s already facing a second trial, starting in September, for a whole ‘nother pile of financial crimes. Also, the judge he’s facing there isn’t near so friendly to Manafort as the judge in this first case. So pretty much anyway you cut it, Manafort’s screwed.

Second, and possibly the bigger news: Cohen’s plea agreement and court statements directly implicating Trump in felony crimes. You guys. If we didn’t live in the Mirror Universe, Trump’s presidency would probably be over today.

Cohen arranged a plea deal and had to make a statement under oath in court, in which he said that he paid off the porn stars Trump had affairs with, on Trump’s orders, to influence the outcome of the 2016 elections. That’s a big deal, folks. In fact, it’s a federal-sized big deal, which means in theory we’re into an area where Trump could pardon Cohen. For what it’s worth, Cohen says he won’t take a pardon from Trump.

Meanwhile, Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, was all over the news last night and this morning, telling anyone who would listen that Cohen’s ready to talk. Cohen wants to talk to Mueller, Cohen wants to talk to Congress, Cohen wants to tell everything he knows to anyone who’ll listen, apparently.

And not to give anyone ideas, but what do you think the over-under is on Cohen staying alive long enough to tell anyone anything? I mean, I don’t know as anyone in the Trump gang would do something, but Putin loves killing dudes who run their mouths, and Trump used to be in with the mafia back in the day, too. All I’m saying is that if I were Michael Cohen, I’d be hiring a bunch of security.

Next up: Democrats are getting ready to break glass in case of emergency. IE, if Trump tries to fire Robert Mueller. Since the Trump administration is reeling from yesterday’s revelations and verdicts, and Trump is a volatile crank, the Democrats are brushing off their “Mueller just got fired” disaster plans. Which is reassuring. If you’d asked me yesterday, I’d have doubted the Dems had plans for that.

In other news: Someone’s trying to hack the DNC again, and Facebook just rounded up a bunch of “election influencer” accounts. The security company that the DNC uses warned them that they’d discovered a webpage that had been set up to use for phishing for passwords and usernames for the DNC’s voter database. That page has been shut down. Meanwhile, Facebook found and closed 652 Iranian and Russian accounts that had been set up to run election influencing ops.

Stay on your toes, people. The election is right around the corner, and things are getting wild out there.

And finally, just to wrap things up: Google, Apple and IBM are ditching their college degree hiring requirements. Which means you won’t necessarily need a degree to get hired by those companies anymore. I approve. When it comes to tech-related fields, I’m not sure how useful a college degree is, other to have it to list on your resume. Odds are pretty good that in a lot of those fields the information you’re learning in college is obsolete almost before you finish a class, so the college degree may not prove that you know anything useful.

All right, that’s what I’ve got for today. Buckle up, kids. You know Trump’s gotta be sweating bullets right now, so things might get fun as the day progresses.

Featured photo: Michael Cohen. (Source and licensing.)