Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Forensic science in the news: October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month

Do hackers have it in for Sony, or have they just found an easy--and very large--target? Back in April, hackers broke into Sony's PlayStation Network and walked away with personal, and possibly credit card, information of 100 million customers. The company had to shut down several online services and rework its security system. 

Intruders once again hacked into Sony's network this month, stealing tens of thousands of IDs and passwords. Sony quickly locked the accounts emails users on how they could reset their passwords; the company said that credit card numbers were not at risk. 

Still it's a reminder of just how important it is to protect yourself online. One quick tip: don't use the same password  for online gaming that you use for your bank account, for example. 

Visit for the latest cybersecurity tips. Or you can check out my book Cybercrime: Data Trails DO Tell Tales, especially Chapter 3, "Viruses, Bots, and Zombies--Oh My!" and Chapter 4, "You've Got Spam!"

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Forensic Science in the News: RIP, Steve Jobs

I came on board pretty early with Apple. It must have been 1984 or 1985 when my research advisor at the University of Chicago bought a few computers for the lab. I hadn't had a lot of experience with computers at the time--well, who had?--but this one seemed different from the other clumsy personal computers that were available at the time. I loved it. I wrote much of my thesis on it. When it came time to buy a computer of my own, I didn't think about anything other than a Mac.

Fast forward. I'm writing this on my new 27-inch (the better to accomodate my aging eyes) iMac. I've worked, reluctantly, on PCs at other jobs, but at home I've always had Macs, iPhones, and now an iPad. I'm not an acolyte, exactly, but I know what works for me, and Apple has always worked for me.

So Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple and the genius behind the modern brand, has always been a special figure in my life. Something you might not know is that Jobs and Steve Wozniak, co-creators of the original Apple computer, had been inspired by a 1971 article in Esquire magazine (reprinted here) about "phone phreaks," a group of people who realized that they could manipulate the computerized phone network to place free calls anywhere in the world.

You can learn more about Jobs' involvement with phone phreaks* and the history of computer hacking in my book, Cybercrime: Data Trails DO Tell Tales (Enslow Publishers, 2011). Jobs, like the other early computer hackers, weren't interested in stealing data--they simply wanted to understand the ways in which computers  and computer networks worked.

*"Phreaking" is a portmanteau word made by combining "freak" an "phone" (and, in some definitions, "free"). Lewis Carroll, the author of Through the Looking Glass, adopted the word "portmanteau"--the French word fo suitcase--to describe combining the sound and meaning of two words to create a new one. (Cybercrime: Data Trails DO Tell Tales, Enslow Publishers, 2011, p. 26)

A Love Story for Dog Lovers

“A hundred and two days.” So begins Paul Griffin’s young adult novel, “Stay With Me” (Dial Books, 2011). That’s probably about the length of the average teenage romance, Griffin writes, but the relationship between Mack Morse and Céce Vaccuccia is anything but average.
            Mack is a shy fifteen year-old high school dropout with a learning disability and a criminal record. His mother has been AWOL since he was eight, driven away by his brutal, alcoholic father. But he has gift: he has a way with dogs. He rescues, rehabilitates, and trains abused and abandoned fighting dogs.
            Fifteen year-old Céce is no child of privilege, either; she lives with her loopy mother and brother, just barely making ends meet. But their goodbyes always end with, “Love you like a crazy person,” and Céce is a straight-A student hoping to be able to transfer to a school for the gifted and talented.
            Written in chapters that alternate between Mack’s and Céce’s points of view, “Stay With Me” is the story of the star-crossed teens’ 102-day romance. Mack is strong-armed into looking out for Céce by her brother (who also happens to be Mack’s friend) when he enlists in the Army. Despite a rocky start, the two are soon a couple, and they begin to dream of a future together. Mack is training a rescued pit bull that he calls Boo. He hopes to gives it to Céce, who has grown to love the dog. And then Mack makes a terrible mistake, and suddenly their future together is impossible.
            Griffin has such a way with characters. Mack is deeply conflicted and struggles with his anger, yet he has a huge heart. His tenderness and love for Céce and his dogs is touching. Céce is funny, insecure about her weight (one of the things I love about Mack is that he doesn’t seem to notice that she’s a little overweight), and cares deeply about her family.
Even the supporting characters are complex and memorable. Anthony, Céce’s older brother, and Vic, the kind-hearted owner of the café where they work, are steady moral compasses throughout the story. Céce’s mother dyes her hair crazy colors, drinks too much, and bakes inedible holiday-themed cornbread to cope with the anxiety of her son’s impending deployment.
            “Stay With Me” contains sexual themes and some violent scenes that make it appropriate for older teens. The book does not have a “happily-ever-after” ending, but it is full of heart, redemption, and hope for a better future. It may just make you want to take in a rescue dog. 

Advance review copy provided by the publisher. This review originally published in The News-Gazette, Sunday, October 9, 2011.