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Original author: 
Nate Anderson


The ghost of Steve Jobs will not be pleased to see this.

Zack Henkel

Robert Silvie returned to his parents' home for a Mardi Gras visit this year and immediately noticed something strange: common websites like those belonging to Apple, Walmart, Target, Bing, and eBay were displaying unusual ads. Silvie knew that Bing, for instance, didn't run commodity banner ads along the bottom of its pristine home page—and yet, there they were. Somewhere between Silvie's computer and the Bing servers, something was injecting ads into the data passing through the tubes. Were his parents suffering from some kind of ad-serving malware infection? And if so, what else might the malware be watching—or stealing?

Around the same time, computer science PhD student Zack Henkel also returned to his parents' home for a spring break visit. After several hours of traveling, Henkel settled in with his computer to look up the specs for a Mac mini before bedtime. And then he saw the ads. On his personal blog, Henkel described the moment:

But as Apple.com rendered in my browser, I realized I was in for a long night. What I saw was something that would make both designers and computer programmers wince with great displeasure. At the bottom of the carefully designed white and grey webpage, appeared a bright neon green banner advertisement proclaiming: “File For Free Online, H&R Block.” I quickly deduced that either Apple had entered in to the worst cross-promotional deal ever, or my computer was infected with some type of malware. Unfortunately, I would soon discover there was a third possibility, something much worse.

The ads unnerved both Silvie and Henkel, though neither set of parents had really noticed the issue. Silvie's parents "mostly use Facebook and their employers' e-mail," Silvie told me, and both those services use encrypted HTTPS connections—which are much harder to interfere with in transit. His parents probably saw no ads, therefore, and Silvie didn't bring it up because "I didn't want [them] to worry about it or ask me a lot of questions."

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After disasters (or to minimize expensive data use generally, and take advantage of available Wi-Fi), bypassing the cell network is useful. But it's not something that handset makers bake into their phones. colinneagle writes with information on a project that tries to sidestep a dependence on the cellular carriers, if there is Wi-Fi near enough for at least some users: "The Smart Phone Ad-Hoc Networks (SPAN) project reconfigures the onboard Wi-Fi chip of a smartphone to act as a Wi-Fi router with other nearby similarly configured smartphones, creating an ad-hoc mesh network. These smartphones can then communicate with one another without an operational carrier network. SPAN intercepts all communications at the Global Handset Proxy so applications such as VoIP, Twitter, email etc., work normally."

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Click here to read GaymerCon Renamed 'GaymerX' in Response to Trademark Dispute [Update] No sooner than did GaymerCon gather enough financial backing to organize its first ever meeting in 2013 did a trademark issue—something that pisses off gamers of any orientation—arise with the name. "Gaymer" has been trademarked by the guy who owns gaymer.org, and he even sent a cease-and-desist letter over to Reddit for its r/gaymer subreddit. That didn't bode well for GaymerCon. More »

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Syria’s Internet infrastructure remains almost entirely dark today. Almost.

The folks at Renesys, who were the first to notice that something was amiss with the telecom infrastructure of the war-torn Middle Eastern nation, have been hard at work sifting through their data — and they’ve found something interesting.

At least five networks operating outside Syria, but still operating within Syrian-registered IP address spaces, are still working, and are apparently controlled by India’s Tata Communications.

These same networks, Renesys says, have some servers running on them that were implicated in an attempt to deliver Trojans and other malware to Syrian activists. The payload was a fake “Skype Encryption Tool” — which is, on its face, kind of silly, because Skype itself is already encrypted to some degree — that was actually a spying tool. The Electronic Frontier Foundation covered the attempted cyber attack at the time.

Cloudflare has also been monitoring the situation in Syria and has made a few interesting observations.

First, pretty much all Internet access in the country is funneled through one point: The state-run, state-controlled Syrian Telecommunications Establishment. The companies that provide this capacity running into the country are PCCW and Turk Telekom as the primary providers, with Telecom Italia and Tata providing additional capacity.

There are, Cloudflare notes, four physical cables that bring Internet connectivity into Syria. Three of them are undersea cables that land in the coastal city of Tartus. A fourth comes in from Turkey to the north. Cloudflare’s Matt Prince says it’s unlikely that the cables were physically cut.

Cloudflare put together a video of what it looked like watching the changes in the routing tables happen live. It’s less than two minutes long.

For what it’s worth, Syria’s information minister is being quoted in various reports as blaming the opposition for the shutdown.

So the question is: Why now? Clearly, the Syrian regime is under more pressure than ever before. Previously, it tended to view the country’s Internet as a tool to not only get its own word out to the wider world, but also to try and spy on and monitor the activities of the rebels and activists.

With fighting intensifying in and around the capital and the commercial city of Aleppo, the decision to throw the kill switch might indicate a decision to try to disrupt enemy communications. Or it might mask a seriously aggressive military action that it wants to keep as secret as possible. We don’t know yet.

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