Subscribers may wonder why no blogs have arrived by email during the last two months. One reason: perhaps Russians hacked this site! Perhaps they hacked other sites, too.
Previously, to comment on a particular blog post, you could click on a form at the bottom of the post, which would then offer you a “Captcha.” That thing presented a minor arithmetic problem, the purpose being to require entry by humans, not machines. The perpetrators programmed a way around this Captcha. They then sold the malware to anyone who wanted either to sell something (usually drugs or sex), or to someone who wanted his URL (site address) posted many times on the internet, thereby hoping to raise his ranking in Google and other searches. My one web page would have a minuscule effect, but if the malware package included thousands of web pages, it offered the buyer opportunity to put his garbage into thousands of places, inserted again according to his payment. And so, the malware programmer had multiple customers, usually dumping into my blogs at intervals of a day to a week. The most frequent contributor was dumping about every four minutes. Many of these pseudo-comments were long lists of random words intended to trigger a search engine looking for any one of hundreds of words like baby or bee or Xanadu.
I approve any comment before it is published, so none of this garbage ever appeared to the public or to the search engines. It simply consumed my time as digital trash man. If my page is still a target, perhaps I’ll get a hundred new lists of drugs, sex, and random words by tomorrow.
And why do I think the perpetrators might be Russian? Well, half of the junk material was in Cyrillic text. This bit of malware apparently sold well in Russia.
So why is this story of any importance?
This provides an example of the vulnerabilities of social connections to manipulation.
A larger example was the TV announcement (1-13-2018) that the state of Hawaii had accidentally sent every cell phone a text announcing an incoming missile. Reportedly, this caused much immediate interruption and anxiety. With nuclear paranoia widespread in our society, people think of a nuclear blast as something that covers an entire state rather than one city, or a dirty bomb as something that poisons a city forever rather than a city block for a month.
I don’t mean to belittle the loss of a city from a nuclear detonation. However, I do note that people react to a threat according to their underlying prejudicial assumptions rather than thoughtful analysis, whether the threat is credible or a nonsensical alternative fact.
We are the actors in the complex system that is society, and this reaction leaves us vulnerable to social and political manipulation. Should I tweet that?
Epilog: Why not get a better Captcha?
Last time I tried a more complicated Captcha, readers complained. Different systems and devices, from PCs to Macs to iPhones or Android tablets, can all respond differently to a Captcha. Neither I nor my consultant have the time to continue adjusting the programming. Furthermore, if I want to buy drugs I know just where to go.