The PWNIE Awards

The annual Pwnie Awards for serious security screw-ups saw hardly anyone collecting their prize at this year’s ceremony in Las Vegas.

That’s not surprising: government officials, US spy agencies, and software makers aren’t usually in the mood to acknowledge their failures.

The Pwnies give spray-painted pony statues to those who have either pulled off a great hack or failed epically. This year it was nation states that got a significant proportion of the prizes. The gongs are divided into categories, and nominations in each section are voted on by the hacker community. The ponies are then dished out every year at the Black Hat USA security conference in Sin City.

The award for best server-side bug went to the NSA’s Equation Group, whose Windows SMB exploits were stolen and leaked online this year by the Shadow Brokers. The tools attack three stunning vulnerabilities (CVE-2017-0143, 0144, 0145), and were later used by malware including WannaCrypt to wreck systems across the globe, forcing Microsoft to issue patches for out-of-date operating systems to fight the outbreak

While Uncle Sam’s snoops didn’t pick up their award, neither did other governments. The epic 0wnage award was split between North Korea and Russia for launching the WannaCry ransomware contagion and masterminding the Shadow Brokers, respectively.

Meanwhile, Australian prime minister Malcom Turnbull earned an award for the most epic fail for insisting the laws of Australia trump the laws of mathematics. The Aussie leader was told it’s not possible to backdoor encryption for counterterrorism snoops without ruining the crypto for everyone else, and was having none of it.

…All of this year’s nominations are here, and the results will be published on the awards website a little later.

The PWNIE Awards

This Soil Breeds Monsters

You can no longer expect forty years of drudgery and then a spluttering death from good old-fashioned blue-collar pneumoconiosis. You can’t make it through life hating your boss instead of yourself, not when new forms of labour discipline demand that you be your own boss. Your flesh is already obsolete. But there’s an answer: to survive in the coming era of automation, you have to bring it in faster; announce its apocalypse, learn to code, add yourself to the army of programmers building an appier tomorrow…

Desperation is everywhere; exhibitors make lunging grabs for any passers-by wearing an “INVESTOR” lanyard, proffer stickers and goodies, scream for attention on their convention-standard signs. These do not, to put it kindly, make a lot of sense. “Giving you all the tools you need to activate and manage your influencer marketing relationships,” promises one. “Leverage what is known to find, manage, and understand your data,” entices another. The gleaming technological future looks a lot like a new golden age of hucksterism. It’s networking; the sordid, stupid business of business; pressing palms with arrogant pricks, genuflecting to idiots, entirely unchanged by the fact that this time it’s about apps and code rather than dog food or dishwashers.

None of these start-ups are doing anything new or interesting. Which shouldn’t be surprising: how often does anyone have a really good idea? What you actually get is just code, sloshing around, congealing into apps and firms that exist simply to exist. Uber for dogs, GrubHub for clothes, Patreon for sex, Slack for death, PayPal for God, WhatsApp for the spaceless non-void into which a blind universe expands…

Capitalism doesn’t know what to do with its surpluses any more; it ruthlessly drains them from the immiserated low-tech manufacturing bases of the Global South, snatches them away from a first-world population tapping at computer code on the edge of redundancy, but then has nowhere better to put them than in some executive’s gold-plated toilet. This soil breeds monsters; new, parasitic products scurry like the first worms over the world-order’s dying body.

The War on Drugs

Fix the World With Software

These three visions lead to radically different worlds.

If you think the Web is a way to CONNECT KNOWLEDGE, PEOPLE, AND CATS, then your job is to get the people and cats online, put a decent font on the knowledge, and then stand back and watch the magic happen.

If you think your job is to FIX THE WORLD WITH SOFTWARE, then the web is just the very beginning. There’s a lot of work left to do. Really you’re going to need sensors in every house, and it will help if everyone looks through special goggles, and if every refrigerator can talk to the Internet and confess its contents.

You promise to hook up all this stuff up for us, and in return, we give you the full details of our private lives. And we don’t need to worry about people doing bad things with it, because your policy is for that not to happen.

And if you think that the purpose of the Internet is to BECOME AS GODS, IMMORTAL CREATURES OF PURE ENERGY LIVING IN A CRYSTALLINE PARADISE OF OUR OWN INVENTION, then your goal is total and complete revolution. Everything must go.

I realize this all sounds a little grandiose. You came here to hear about media selectors, not aviation and eschatology. But you all need to pick a side.

Fix the World With Software

Vine Me, Bro

Vine me, bro.

The new words of the revolution. Gil Scott Heron, who could not have foreseen the social media development, was only partially correct: the revolution will not be televised. At least, not the salient facts the government and the corporations do not want you to know.

But it will be Vined. And YouTubed. Don’t forget Black Twitter.

Tellingly this material is not the racist hatred of anonymous commenters at a supposed last bastion of free speech blog, but the nearly real-time, live updates of an actual situation. You know, the exact sort of thing American news corporations used to cover?

It’s how we live now.

Unfortunately, these social media tactics will be no more effective long-term than the Arab Spring; whither those fledgling ‘democracies’ now? 1

No, what these new media tactics show us is that American citizenry has far more in common with the Iranian, Egyptian and Iraqi populaces than they ever imagined.

Wake up, people.

Vine me, bro

Show 1 footnote

  1. Tunisia does not count, as the outcome was not a Boolean either/or, but instead an secularists and Islamists admixture that came about with little interference from the West.