Is there a way to avoid the NSA Equation?

News from Kaspersky labs that the NSA has covertly infected the firmware of hard drive manufacturers such as Western Digital, Toshiba, IBM, Seagate, Maxtor, Micron, Maxtor and Samsung is a shock to the tech world.

During the early 1990’s Hard Disk Drives became staple storage mediums in personal computer systems, reflecting their use in the mainframe environment that dominated industrial use of computers prior to the explosion of the use of the Personal Computer in the working environment. Since then the use of computers has become omnipresent in both the work and home life of billions of people around the world reaching the farthest corners of the modern world.

According to the sources at Reuters who formerly worked in connection with the NSA, the NSA confirmed that they had infiltrated the above manufacturers and modified the drive firmware to run spyware for the NSA without indication to the companies or their knowledge. This situation has apparently been in place for at least the last fourteen years. A detailed account of the exact issues can be found here: http://arstechnica.com/security/2015/02/how-omnipotent-hackers-tied-to-the-nsa-hid-for-14-years-and-were-found-at-last/

When you read around the story you find that in fact twelve categories of hard drives are involved. A list of these categories isn’t reported at this time or at least I am unable to find a list. It is also unclear as to whether this is restricted to platter based drives or includes SSD drives, USB media and CDRom/DVD media. It would be very interesting to find this out.

When you look at the diagrams found at http://theregister.co.uk/2015/02/17/kaspersky_labs_equation_group/ it becomes evident that Windows operating systems are the primary target. Maybe they are the only target. This is the worlds favourite operating system so this makes sense.

In the context of privacy on your own computer, it occurred to me that ways around the NSA funded Equation Groups work with hard disk drive firmware might be:

  1. Continue to use your drives but boot from a Unix or Linux system and use VirtualBox to boot your Windows OS. Maybe this would avoid the Crayfish element of the system?
  2. Stop using your hard disk drives and take them out of your system. Instead use USB media to store your data and a Live CD to boot your operating system. This assumes that CD drive firmware is not modified.

Just thoughts. If you have a different angle on this topic I’d like to hear it.

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Generation Y

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There has been a lot of articles in the press recently about the latest generation who are coming of age and entering the workforce at this point in time.  Most of the comments being made are negative in nature and are composed of stereotyped statements such as:

They are entitled to it all
They expect to have their cake and eat it
They want less hours and more pay
Lots of leisure time (or at least a balance)
They reject overtime
They are clock watchers
Work is just a way to get money to pay the bills with
They believe high salary and status is important
They don’t wish to dress smartly
They lack discipline in all aspects of their life
The desire to do meaningful work is not important

These things I have picked out from an article from the UK’s notorious Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1257083/Hard-work-No-thanks-Meet-Generation-Y.html

It’s an interesting list to review.  As someone who works in education I am one of the many who have experienced the change in attitudes first hand.  When I started teaching I found that students would bring a folder, paper, pens and everything they might need.  Some still do.  But the majority do not.  Even in classes where most things are learnt digitally, expecting a student to bring their USB drive is a high expectation.  Expecting students to take handouts away with them or even take their own notes with them is a simple expectation that has fallen by the wayside.  Yet the students want the highest grades for the smallest amount of work done in the poorest quality.  Tardiness is standard too.  

My personal concern is that if you mix just a few of these suggested traits together and think about this generation financially then storm clouds appear on the horizon. What happens when someone who has a poor work ethic gets a job where they feel they can afford a mortgage – a house is a strong status symbol in many countries. They are likely to be high users of credit because they will feel entitled to use it because they have a job.  They are likely to rack up their debts quickly as they enjoy a comfortable lifestyle that they knew all along they should have.  Unfortunately their employer sees them as expendable Human Resources rather than people, isn’t this true of all generations now, and at some point they will lose their job.  They might be able to quickly gain new employment.  They may not.  But fret they won’t! Bankruptcy is there to save them.  Mum and Dad are there to save them.

I know that these are very sweeping statements that won’t apply to everyone, hopefully very few.  But isn’t this a time bomb waiting to go off?  The economy is already struggling under the weight of the mismanagement of debt by the banking system.  Maybe this generation has witnessed this and realised that integrity and personal responsibility mean nothing as there is always someone there to bail them out?

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Four years of credit card debt freedom

It’s been four years since I last carried a debt on my credit card.  I’ve lost my job, which used to be a large personal fear for me and I still haven’t used it due to good circumstances.  I’m pretty sure that I’ll be getting rid of it soon.

Decision Made (Part III)

OK, firstly I have got to now and still remain in the job that caused me so much stress last year.  However, there’s a twist to the story now.

Looking back at the stress situation it’s as if we were all lied to about the external quality auditor wanting to see all of the work our students did.  It wouldn’t surprise me if that was a management tactic to get staff to take it seriously.

I can apply for Voluntary Redundancy or wait until they decide to make me Compulsorily Redundant.

More recently the senior management decided to transfer our department to a private company.  Initially this was presented to everyone in the department as we were all going to move to this company and that they were not going to give redundancy notices out at this time.  The college proceeded to write to all of the departments students to tell them that they were not going to be taught at the college from August but they would be taught at the private company instead.  After this communication was sent out the college and the private company had consultation meetings with all the staff involved to decide whether each member of staff was going to transfer to the private company or not.  Notice that the college has already told my students that they are going to the private company!  It transpired that I am not.  I have spoken to management about writing to my students and prospective students for September too about the fact that my course is running and silence or carry on as normal is the only response.  This means that I don’t have any students starting my course at the college next year because the college has told them that they are going to the private company instead despite me not going there.  I can apply for Voluntary Redundancy or wait until they decide to make me Compulsorily Redundant.  So having thought long and hard about this I am submitting my application for Voluntary Redundancy in next week.  At least if it’s accepted I will get more money when I finish.

I used to jump out of bed and actually enjoy going to work.

The thing that I find interesting on a personal level is that while I am worried about what I am going to do next and worried about selling my house and worried about where I will live!  I am happy to not be working there anymore in a few months.  When I started that job it was very exciting.  I used to jump out of bed and actually enjoy going to work.  This was nearly twenty years ago!  Over the years the level of administration has increased and meant that even the smallest amount of creativity has little time to be developed into something larger.  In retrospect I think a small part of my excitement has died each year I have worked in Education.  It’s very sad.  Courses need administrators to deal with the non academic parts of the job.  If management acted on this there would be time to write handouts, develop new courses, even mark student work!  All things that most educators do in the extra time that they work in addition to the hours of work that they are contracted to do.

So yes I am being guided out of this job either by stealth or by managerial incompetence but it’s time for a change anyway, last year was the shining beacon telling me this.

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I Love The Internet

This week many UK Internet Service Providers blocked access to a range of Torrent sites because a court order requesting that they block the sites finally came through.
I googled: “How to access Kick Ass Torrents through Virgin Media” and got to this article:

http://news.softpedia.com/news/How-to-Access-KickassTorrents-and-Other-Censored-Sites-in-the-UK-339313.shtml

Now, the “come.in” link is a bit touch and go as to whether it works on my first use, but it does load the site eventually making a complete mockery of the court system.  The secondary effect of this court order is that it pushes the users of these sites further underground, all be it slightly.  It means that there are many more access points to places like Kick Ass Torrents that will actually get traffic.  Rendering the court order totally ineffective other than blocking the main entrance URL.

Totally pointless!  I’m sure the judges think that they just need to be keeping everyone thinking that they are doing their job and upholding the law.  I’m glad that the way the internet works means that peoples freedoms will remain intact even if a piece of paper with someones forced wish upon you arrives in the mail.

I used to curse the Internet Service Providers, not anymore.

A lot of people still access all sorts of sites that someone else says they shouldn’t.  It’s the Nanny State!  Mr Judge – we are not your kids!

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Love

Love has entered my life.  After several years of wondering whether I was invisible to the rest of the world, dealing with the depression of the troubles of last year at last there is positivity flowing towards me.  It is truly wonderful.

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Three Years Credit Card Debt Free

This post is to acknowledge that I have managed to remain out of Credit Card debt for three years now.  More recently I have used the card that I have, but I have used it for it’s insurance features rather than the carrying a debt over several months feature.  I made sure that I had money in the bank prior to using it.  I remember paying it off about two days after I charged it to the account.  The online statement system couldn’t handle it.  It said I had to pay a minimum payment but I had no balance.  I have absolutely no intention of carrying a debt now – it becomes just another bill to pay!

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Vitamin B and 5-HTP Update

Well it’s been five days now.  The results have been great.  At first last Sunday night, when I first took the B complex and B6 and 5-HTP I slept really well.  I mean REALLY REALLY well.  Normally my sleep is fairly light I tend to wake easily.  I also tend to be able to get up in the morning almost as if I never went to sleep.  Unfortunately, by the time I get to work I would normally be yawning.  Last Sunday I went to bed tired and I dreamed a little.  I remember turning in the night and feeling like I was really sleepy as I turned, unlike normal where I would feel like I was virtually awake as I would turn over.

On Monday morning, I could feel how clear my mind was.  The vitamins have reduced the negative self voice in my mind.  I feel much freer to think with more independant control now.  I feel like there is space in my head now.  I don’t have a nagging conscience making me think about work all day every day.  I still think about work when I look at my to do list.  Importantly I still remember to look at my To Do list!

In comparison to using 200mg of Niacin, this is much better.  My driving is normal, I don’t feel strange at all now that I have been taking this little lot for a about a week.  I seem to care about things somewhat less than I used to.  But this is really because of the nagging conscience I think.

I feel that I am re-balancing or something.

Effervesent Vitamin C is great as a wake up drink in the morning.

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Vitamin B and 5-HTP

While sorting out whether Niacin (B3) was going to work for me I came across other things that are thought to be useful in the realm of mood improvement.  Particularly the B vitamins.  I also came across Tryptophan  in several forms and I have come to understand that it helps to increase the ability of the brain to function normally in terms of sending messages where they need to go.

In terms of regulating and improving mood B6 helps to increase the Serotonin levels in the body and 5HTP is especially good at increasing Serotonin levels.

Generally the B vitamins are good for mental well-being and are apparently good for improving memory and cognitive processes.

The current regime that I’m going to try will be:

B1 Thiamin 10mg 
Helps the brain absorb the glucose it needs to function properly, lack of this can lead to depression, lack of interest, fatigue, poor memory and poor mental agility.

B2 Riboflavin 15mg
B2 is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. A deficiency can cause symptoms of depression.

B3 Niacin 30mg
A deficiency of this vitamin can cause depression.  Left untreated, it can apparently lead to psychosis and dementia.  Symptoms of a deficiency include agitation, anxiety, and mental lethargy.  Groups of people most at risk are the elderly, drug addicts, alcoholics, and people with liver disease.

B5 Pantothenic Acid 100mg
Vitamin B5 is needed for hormone formation and the uptake of amino acids and the brain chemical acetylcholine, which combine to prevent certain types of depression.

B6 65mg
Vitamin B6 can be used to help regulate your mood.  A B6 deficiency strongly links to depression.  Solving the deficiency can help improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.

B12 25µg
A deficiency in Vitamin B12 can cause problems ranging from problems concentrating or remembering things, mental fatigue and low mood, to severe depression.  Solving a deficiency in B12 can improve these symptoms.

Folic Acid 400µg
The human body needs Folic Acid to maintain our DNA.  A shortage in Folic Acid can cause confusion, forgetfulness or depression.

Biotin 100µg
A lack of Biotin can cause depression, fatigue and anxiety.  Biotin can help to fight these symptoms.

Choline Bitartrate 250mg
This is apparently used for depression, memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and schizophrenia.

Inositol 250mg
Contributes to “signaling and transmission” in the brain.  Studies have shown that the use of Inositol greatly reduces the symptoms of depression when compared to placebo.

PABA 50mg
PABA has also been found to play a major role in limiting depression and  reducing fatigue.

Magnesium 25mg
Anxiety, depression, forgetfulness and fatigue are symptoms of magnesium deficiency.

5-Hydroxytryptophan 50mg
5-HTP increases the production of Serotonin in the body, improves the quality of sleep and has been shown to be a good substitute for anti-depressants.  Interestingly it is better absorbed into the body if taken on an empty stomach.  Also, it’s better taken in the evening.  It will be interesting getting these two conditions to align.

C 1000mg
Between 500mg and 1000mg a day of Vitamin C helps to maintain the bodies ability to produce Serotonin.  Good levels of C reduce depression and anxiety.

This leaves room to increase my B6 intake and also my 5-HTP intake should I want to.  But I want to start on the lower/regular amounts as they are already hundreds sometimes thousands of percent above the RDA to start with.

Fourteen vitamins, all taken with mental wellness in mind.

It’s going to be an interesting next few weeks.

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Niacin update

I’m taking 1000mg Vitamin C in a glass of water very very first thing every morning (5:50am this morning, thanks to my faithful dog) and and hour or so later after food I’ve been taking 100mg of Niacin too.  Today I have just this evening pushed it up to 200mg.

The results have been quite odd.  The potential problem with Niacin is the flush that you get after you take it.  Its available in a no-flush variety but its Niacinomide which doesn’t promote the right kind of colesterol like Niacin does; it doesn’t do this function at all and is also bad for your liver eventually.  So its the flush variety I’ve chosen.  The flush comes on when your have enough Niacin in your body, so its a simple and effective way of telling when you have taken enough.  The flush makes your skin red in either a rash or patches, some say its itchy but its more of a pins and needles feeling on your skin without the numbness.

Heck, there isn’t a reason not to take this stuff.

The official drug literature says that the flush starts after 35mg of Niacin, but I didn’t get a flush at all this morning.  Maybe the vitamin C defused it ?  Does it work?  It works for destressing your mind yes.  Unlike Selective Seretonine Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) like the drugs the doctor wanted me to take the niacin helps to produce more seretonine rather than just keep it in the body and stop it being used up which is what anti-depressants do.  The more Niacin that I put in the less my body has to use protein up to make it.  This means that the protein is used to make seretonine instead.  Unlike SSRI’s which made me feel like my brain had been placed on standby and while I could process events that are happening and imagine things if I wanted, there was no motivation, no inherent “need” to do anything.  Zombie!  I struggle with the voice of my conscience telling me to worry about things at the wrong time, for example thinking about work while I am meant to be relaxing on the bank holiday weekend.  Niacin has switched this voice OFF!  I really mean OFF!  It’s great.  It’s like my mind is my own.  The last few days I have been ill (since Friday) and I stopped taking Niacin during getting better.  The voice of my hardworking perfectionist conscience came back.  So I know it’s not just my overactive imagination.  I’m not sure I’m going to need to use the megadoses of 3000 to 6000mg.  If 100 to 200mg is working whats the point?

It’s meant to be good as a preventative measure against all sorts of stuff, not least Schitzsophrenia, Alseimers, Bad Colesterol, Depression, Dysthymia, Anxiety.  Heck, there isn’t a reason not to take this stuff.

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