#AxisOfEasy 196: Doc Searls: How The Cookie Poisoned The Web

Weekly Axis Of Easy #196

Last Week’s Quote was   “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth.  They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power.  Because they control the minds of the masses.” was Malcolm X, nobody got it.

This Week’s Quote:  “Until you realize how easy it is for your mind to be manipulated, you remain the puppet of someone else’s game.”… by???

THE RULES: No searching up the answer, must be posted to the blog – the place to post the answer is at the bottom of the post, in the comments section.

The Prize: First person to post the correct answer gets their next domain or hosting renewal is on us.


In this issue:
  • DarkSide Ransomware group shuts down after cyber counter-attack
  • Amazon devices will form mesh networks in your neighbourhood
  • 25% of Tor exit relays spying on users
  • Researchers can use AirTags to send unsanctioned messages
  • Insurer who drops coverage for ransomware, hit by ransomware
  • Elon Musk, who is long Bitcoin, tanks Bitcoin
  • Taibbi: Reporters used to challenge the surveillance state, now they’re part of it
  • The evolution of the COVID-19 lab origin narrative via the New York Times
  • Doc Searls: How the cookie poisoned the web
DarkSide Ransomware group shuts down after cyber counter-attack

The ransomware gang behind the catastrophic attack on a segment of the Colonial Pipeline has shut down. The ransomware attack cut off deliveries of refined fuel to the Eastern side of the United States, leading to a regional declaration of emergency, panic buying and gas line-ups not seen since the 70’s era oil embargo.

After an initial announcement that they would henceforth “vet” future targets in order to maximize profits with a minimum of societal carnage, the Darkside’s infrastructure was itself the victim of a cyberwar counter-attack and lost control of their own network.

They have announced an end to their activities, at least in this incarnation.

Colonial Pipelines for their part, admitted that they had paid out a $5 Million ransom to the group in order to re-establish control over their network.

Read: https://www.axios.com/hackers-darkside-shutting-down-colonial-pipeline-6e11766f-3d41-438a-9e21-dc06d1c3816f.html

And: https://therecord.media/darkside-ransomware-gang-says-it-lost-control-of-its-servers-money-a-day-after-biden-threat/

Amazon devices will form mesh networks in your neighbourhood

Amazon’s been working on their Sidewalk concept for awhile now, having started to announce it over the course of 2020. It appears as though they are ready to deploy it at scale by adding Sidewalk support to their Ring video doorbells and Amazon Echo devices.

Sidewalk is a mesh network built by stringing together all of the Amazon devices in the neighbourhood. It means you can stay connected to your Amazon devices when you’re up the street or a block over, because all of the Amazon devices in between will string together into an extended network coverage area. Isn’t that wonderful?

It looks like Amazon devices even ship with Sidewalk defaulting to on.

Read: https://www.pocnetwork.net/technology-news/amazon-is-finally-prepping-to-roll-out-amazon-sidewalk-for-ring-doorbells/

25% of Tor exit relays spying on users

Back in August of last year, in AoE 159, we reported on how an unknown actor was setting up malicious Tor exit nodes.

The attacker is perfuming SSL stripping attacks, downgrading https connections to http:// so that they can be eavesdropped upon. Last year the attack peaked with 25% of all exit nodes before the Tor network admins started culling nodes, pushing them down to 10%.

Now a study has come out showing that the attacker is still active and began deploying even more nodes since early May. While last year’s peak had 300 nodes doing this, the mystery actor has tried to add over 1000 new Tor exits since the first week of May.

Read: https://thehackernews.com/2021/05/over-25-of-tor-exit-relays-are-spying.html

Researchers can use AirTags to send unsanctioned messages

Apple’s AirTags are now hitting the market after long anticipation. Those are portable tags that emit signals to nearby bluetooth devices that allow them to be tracked via “Find My iPhone.” The idea is you can attach them to your wallet or keys and find them. (This isn’t new, I was experimenting with a set of those from a few years back although I can’t remember what they were called.)

The official launch date for Apple’s version was in April, and now security researchers have released a paper finding that one can use AirTags to send short messages that can’t be tracked by Apple:

“It is reportedly possible for the Find My network to be subverted to send encoded messages between devices, albeit very short messages.”

This issue discovered by Berlin based security researchers Positive Security states:

“It’s possible to upload arbitrary data from non-internet-connected devices by sending Find My BLE broadcasts to nearby Apple devices that then upload the data for you…We released an ESP32 firmware that turns the microcontroller into an (upload only) modem, and a macOS application to retrieve, decode and display the uploaded data.”

They’ve released proof-of-concept code via their GitHub.

Read: https://appleinsider.com/articles/21/05/12/researchers-successfully-use-airtag-network-to-send-messages

And: https://positive.security/blog/send-my

Insurer who drops coverage for ransomware, hit by ransomware

France’s Axa recently announced that they were dropping reimbursement for ransomware payments from their cyber-insurance coverage. Now they’ve been hit with a ransomware attack themselves, impacting their subsidiaries in Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and The Philippines. It looks to be the work of Avaddon ransomware gang, who’s modus operandi is to exfiltrate data from the victim company, and then launching DDoS attacks against their websites until they pay a ransom.

Avaddon claims to have obtained 3 TB of Axa data including

“Includes customer medical reports (exposing their sexual health diagnosis), copies of ID cards, bank account statements, claim forms, payment records, contracts, and more.”

Avadoon also began leaking the stolen data from their website, another tactic used to bring additional pressure against the victims.

Read: https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/insurer-axa-hit-by-ransomware-after-dropping-support-for-ransom-payments/

Elon Musk, who is long Bitcoin, tanks Bitcoin

The price of Bitcoin, which has been pretty soft since its last all-time-high (63K USD ahead of the Coinbase IPO on April 14) took an additional drubbing over the weekend on the heels of comments from Elon Musk that Tesla had suspended accepting Bitcoin payments owing to concerns around energy usage in Bitcoin mining.

The turnabout occurred approximately three months after Elon Musk loudly announced Tesla had purchased $1.5B worth of Bitcoin and extolled the virtues of Bitcoin mining, saying it incentivized the development of renewable energy.

The price of Bitcoin tanked over the weekend, prompting yours truly to wonder out loud if Musk had painted himself into a corner and was now a forced seller of the remaining stash of Tesla’s BTC after tweets seem to indicate he had liquidated the companies stash. He then tweeted overnight Sunday that he had not, in fact, sold down the Tesla Bitcoin.

I wrote up an article about what I thought might be going on over on Bombthrower (sorry if any of it is old news by the time you read it on Tuesday.)

Read: https://bombthrower.com/articles/did-musk-inadvertently-make-himself-a-forced-seller-of-bitcoin/

Taibbi: Reporters used to challenge the surveillance state, now they’re part of it

What’s been the most disappointing about the past two decades of what was supposed to be a New Renaissance of individual freedom (and responsibility) unleashed by the power of the Internet, and watching it descend into an  Orwellian totalitarian dystopia, is the collaboration by the major media and the co-option of Big Tech. The media clearly acted in a propagandist capacity for most of the last century as anybody who has followed the work of people like Noam Chomsky already knew, but there was at least a kind of counterweight there. The media at least served in a check-and-balance capacity that defined the edges of how far government overreach could go, or signalled turning points.

This Matt Taibbi piece, which I encourage everyone to read in its entirety, mourns the death of journalism that challenged and opposed the surveillance state, and is now a part of it. It looks at what happened to The Intercept, the media outlet built around Glenn Greenwald, the one who worked with Edward Snowden to reveal the true extent of domestic surveillance and its metamorphosis into a de facto state sponsored mouthpiece. Greenwald, of course, having left over moral objections to The Intercept’s new direction:

That a media outlet founded in order to battle mass surveillance of ordinary citizens and to safeguard privacy rights is now trolling through stolen digital data of private citizens in order to expose and punish them for thought crimes and ideological dissent is as grotesque as it is ironic.”

The media now, is no longer about holding the government or its intelligence agencies accountable or shedding light on wrongdoing. Now they’re undertaking “vigilante intelligence operations,” even partnering with domestic intelligence agencies to help them skirt the law and provide intelligence on citizens that would be illegal for such agencies to collect directly.

Taibbi warns us all that “Slew of War on Terror” intelligence programs are being retooled for domestic use, and the mainstream media is helping them.

“In the domestic sequel, the aim will be getting Americans to lose attachment to concepts like legal guilt or innocence. It won’t matter if you’ve actually committed or planned to commit a crime: if you check enough boxes, you may not be able to post on Internet platforms, fly a plane, use credit services, buy advertising, go on dating apps, work in your chosen profession (or at all), or do any of a dozen other things. A person’s quality of life might hang on whether or not someone — perhaps in the press — decides to publicly attach a name to a term like “white supremacist” or “domestic terrorist.” This is Hayden’s wet dream: “We ruin based on metadata.” There are dangerous racially-motivated extremists in America to be sure, but all of them combined don’t approach the threat of making the entire population subject to the logic of the Watch List.”

Against this backdrop, the mainstream media continually gaslights us all, bombarding us with messaging that conditions us to believe it’s ok to witch hunt people based on “thought crimes” and one of the thought crimes is to deviate from the media reported narratives in any manner at all.

I’ll reiterate that you should read and share this piece widely:

Read: https://taibbi.substack.com/p/reporters-once-challenged-the-spy

The evolution of the COVID-19 lab origin narrative via the New York Times

Galileo guilty of heresy for promoting false theory of heliocentrism – NY Times, 1633

Building on the above theme, it’s been fascinating to me to watch how the narrative around the possible origins of COVID-19 continue to evolve in the MSM.

Last January Zerohedge was deplatformed for connecting the dots between the Wuhan Institute for Virology and their work being done on “gain of function” with Coronaviruses.

Two weeks ago I got a lot of pushback because I ran a piece on the Sheryl Atkkisson documentary examining the accidental lab release theory for COVID-19. Last week I ran a few more data points on this, which included a statement by WHO director Dr. Tedros Adhanom who said about his organization’s own investigation that they didn’t have enough access to be able to rule out lab release as a theory and that it had to remain a possibility.

Then I saw this New York Times article, the headline of which was

“Another Group of Scientists Calls for Further Inquiry Into Origins of the Coronavirus” with the subtitle: “Researchers urge an open mind, saying lack of evidence leaves theories of natural spillover and laboratory leak both viable.”

Wow. Just wow. The way this narrative has evolved really underscores the control the media exerts over the public discourse.

Let’s just look specifically at the New York Times coverage of this theory since the pandemic began:

Feb 17, 2020: Senator Tom Cotton Repeats Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins
Sub-heading: “Scientists have dismissed suggestions that the Chinese government was behind the outbreak, but it’s the kind of tale that gains traction among those who see China as a threat.”

April 30, 2020: Trump Officials Are Said to Press Spies to Link Virus and Wuhan Labs
Subtitle: “Some analysts are worried that the pressure from senior officials could distort assessments about the coronavirus and be used as a weapon in an escalating battle with China.”

October 16, 2020:  Former Fox News Host Spreads Virus Misinformation on His Sinclair Show
Subtitle: “He walked back his statements on masks but reaffirmed a false theory on the pandemic’s origins.” 

This one is a good example of what we see in mainstream journalism all the time: “Reaffirmed a false theory,” is said quite matter-of-factly. Kind of like settled science. Except settled science isn’t actually science, it’s religion. And as we can see, as the narrative unfolds below…. We’re a long way off from being able to call an accidental lab release of COVID-19 a “false theory.”

October 30, 2020:  Another ‘Unfounded’ Study on Origins of Virus Spreads Online
First sentence: “An overwhelming body of evidence continues to affirm that the coronavirus almost certainly made its hop into humans from an animal source — as many, many other deadly viruses are known to do.”

Nov 20, 2020: How Steve Bannon and a Chinese Billionaire Created a Right-Wing Coronavirus Media Sensation

March 4, 2021: Some Scientists Question W.H.O Inquiry Into the Coronavirus Pandemic’s Origins

March 26, 2021: The CDC’s Ex-Director offers no evidence in favouring speculation that coronavirus originated in a lab
 (missing from headline “Trump appointed”

April 7, 2021: Calls for further inquiries into Coronavirus origins

April 11, 2021:  U.S. secretary of state calls for more thorough investigation of Covid origins in China.

Again, the prose in this one is conspicuous in that anything a Trump-era official said about this was “unfounded,” “unproven” or “false theory.”

Until finally, we get to this week when the NY Times must finally concede that this theory isn’t just for nutters and Trumpists, it may actually be within the realm of possibility.

Read: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/13/science/virus-origins-lab-leak-scientists.html

My point about all of this really isn’t whether COVID came out of a lab or not. The reality is nobody, at least nobody here in the west, actually has enough information to say one way or the other. But the mainstream media has been saying one way, and not the other, without evidence, as if it were fact. They were doing so long before it was remotely possible to do so. That’s narrative, and that’s power of media. When you combine that with Big Tech lubricating the rails for pre-determined narratives and attenuating everything else, you have a near overwhelming combination for shaping beliefs on a mass scale. “Few understand this.”

Doc Searls: How the cookie poisoned the web

For those of us ruminating about how we got from there to here, Doc Searls recently put out an essay “How the cookie poisoned the web” via his ProjectVRM mailing list. Searls was a co-author of the original Cluetrain Manifesto and later wrote what became one of my favourite books of all time: The Intention Economy. That book lays out the vision I really hoped would catch on, and when crypto currencies and blockchain came along, I actually thought (still do) that a delivery system had emerged to supplant the intermediary all-pervasive platform of surveillance capitalism.

So how did surveillance capitalism become the model that took over the Internet? Blame the cookie. A harmless little plaintext beacon that was originally simply intended to help maintain state between a server and a client became much more: identity, tracking, security, authentication and finally, marketing, sales, surveillance, scoring. Cookies made it all possible. And as Searls notes, it didn’t have to be this way.

It still doesn’t have to be, if enough people start getting involved in doing things differently. Searls used the piece to garner awareness for his Customer Commons initiative (which I’ll call VRM 2.0)

Read: https://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/2021/05/14/poison/

Doc Searls was our guest on the AxisOfEAsy 
Salon #30: That Weird House of Card-sy Feeling Around Everything.

4 thoughts on “#AxisOfEasy 196: Doc Searls: How The Cookie Poisoned The Web

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *