Take the DoD Cyber Awareness Challenge!

2020-12-03 - Reading time: 6 minutes

I was doing a bit of OSINT-ish poking around on this character, Mellissa Carone.

She's a supposed voter fraud "whistleblower" for Rudy Giuliani. His star witness claims to have essentially seen all the voter fraud ever in her seemingly-drunken, insane testimony at a hearing in Michigan. You really have to see it to believe it. She made a complete ass out of herself trying to bullshit everyone in the room. Even Rudy, at one point, had to be like "whoa, down girl".

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Ordinarily I wouldn't be dwelling on a private individual in a blog post, but Mellissa chose to step into the public arena.

So I figured I'd see what I could dig up on the web, in relation to a couple of her claims. Just practicing some OSINT on a public figure.

Anyway, in her testimony she claimed to be an IT contractor hired by the current conspiracy scapegoat "Dominion". Now she says she can't get work anymore because "the Democrats destroyed her life", and so on.

As far as jobs go, her LinkedIn says she's been an intern at a place called Ciber Global but with the title "Cyber Security Analyst". She mentions Ford Motor in a subheading on this one.

Next one down, same timeframe as the Ciber job, again, "Cyber Security Analyst" for Ford Motor Company. Maybe lent out as a temp?

Further back, an internship as an IT Technician at a local painting company.

And even further back, an IT Specialist/Help Deak [sic] person for Millennium Servica [sic]. This might be a Remodelling and Repair Contractor, or this unknown, defunct company.

Whichever. Doesn't matter.

Along side all this, she's also listed as being a graduate of ITT Technical Instutute and the University of Michigan, working on an associates degree in Computer/Information Technology Administration and Management.

UPDATE: Apparently she's been up to some other stuff, too. Whoops...

In addition to her work experience, her profile features a set of certificates and awards:

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Nothing really of interest. I can't even verify her Ciber employment, never mind this certificate. But that's fine. I don't really care. Any discrepancies are probably easily explained with a little more detail. (Benefit of the doubt, and all that.)

But then I scroll over to the third cert; the "Cyber Awareness Challenge" completion certificate:

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What's that logo? Department of... hmm.  I can guess, but let's ZOOM AND ENHANCE:

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The Department of Defense?!

Woo! Impressive, right?

So I looked around for that, and found... THE 2021 CYBER AWARENESS CHALLENGE!

You too -- yes, YOU -- can take the unclassified training course, just like she did, and get your very own DoD Certificate of Completion for you to type "FART BUTT" on and save to a PDF and put on your own profile.

And best of all, it's in COLOR and updated for 2021!

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But in all seriousness, I encourage you to take a look at this small, free course they're offering.

It's actually well put together and rather creative for a multiple-choice quiz that marks you correct even when you're wrong. You can't lose!

The real meat of it, though, are the details it provides. There's a lot of "duh" basic security things (don't bring in external devices, don't hold security doors open for anyone, etc), but it actually gives some interesting insights into how they handle working with classified security information, among other things.

Quite a bit of video, too. Here's my favorite:

 


The Unification III Rap Battle

2020-11-27 - Reading time: 3 minutes

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First name: Michael. Surname: Burnham.
When I rock the mic, you KNOW that I'll burn 'em.

It's a hell of a shock: I'm the sista of Spock;
Now that's a pedigree that yer pointy ears can’t block.

I’m from a distant time; I’m told that’s a crime;
Thousand-year start; yet you can’t hold these rhymes.

Now this trio of elves wants to challenge me?
Their Kal-toh's collapsed, while my Chess game's six-D!

Yap yap, your logic lacks validity;
More like Infinite Stupidity in Infinite Vapidity.

Now run along and go slap your gong;
When you return, you’ll admit you’re wrong.

I was lost before, but now I’m in my Prime;
Don’t look now, but it’s "Amok Time"!

Your blood is green, but I’m the reason queen;
Now shut the fuck up and and give up SB-19!

I was supposed to be working on the Terebikko research over Thanksgiving weekend here in the US, but instead we got treated to a pair of wonderful episodes of The Mandalorian and Star Trek: Discovery.

The latter of which featured Burnham forcing the Vulcan/Romulan leadership to respond by challenging them in a formal logic debate. And, well, I joked on Reddit that it was a "logic rap battle"... and many hours later... well... that happened.

It's something pretty far out of my wheelhouse, but I actually put effort into it and did some research and stuff. And I've always enjoyed Epic Rap Battles of History, so maybe it's been brewing in the back of my mind for a while. 😉


Ring, ring... Terebikko calling!

2020-11-22 - Reading time: 4 minutes

So, a couple weeks ago I was watching this video tribute to Super Mario World's 30th anniversary.

At around the 17:20 mark, in the middle of talking about various tie-in products to promote the game, it brings up Mario & Yoshi's Adventure Land. A one-episode animated movie that follows Mario and Luigi through, essentially, the events of Super Mario World.

temp2.jpgWhat makes it unique is that it this is a "VCR game" of sorts that uses the Terebikko: an interactive 'quiz' device that mimics a telephone. Mario calls you. The phone rings. You pick it up. He asks you a question that needs a 1, 2, 3, or 4 response. (Or red, green, yellow, blue.)

You press the answer within the allotted time, and you get a response. (Near I can tell, it mutes the phone for the inappropriate response, but that's something we're going to find out definitively.)

And it's more than just Mario. There's a whole catalog of videos made for it in Japan, including Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon.

I found it all oddly fascinating. And my curiosity started to kick in. It seemed so simple, but it was a clever idea. I loaded the audio into Audacity and realized I could make out binary... uh oh.

See, one of the things I've always had an interest in, but never got a chance to try was demodulation of a digital signal from an audio file. Like the screeching of a modem, or a game loaded off an audio tape into a ZX Spectrum. That kind of thing. This seemed like the perfect on-ramp for it.

With very little actual information online, this also seemed like a perfect reverse engineering project in general.

I found out they released a version of this in the United States in 1989 under the Mattel label, a year after it's debut in Japan from Bandai, and... I found one on eBay for under $20 shipped. 😎

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So now I'm, seemingly, irrevocably committed to this project, now that money is involved. 😏

Here's what I'm planning. I've already spent a couple days dicking around and have a stack of notes. I'm hoping to get at least several decent blog posts out of this adventure:

My Goals for this Project!

Primary

  • Reverse engineer the digital protocol used, as much as possible
  • Create a real time decoder for it
  • Create a tool to generate the codes, so people can create their own, new videos

Secondary

  • Do a complete tear-down of the actual device with high res screencaps of the internals (I believe both US and JP versions are identical -- the case and operation certainly is, and the videos are all compatible with each other's versions). Just totally document the hell out of it. Get it all onto Github and Archive.org for safe keeping.

Nice to Have

  • Possibly integrate the decoder into a software emulator/video player as an all-in-one playback app. (How hard are VLC plugins to write...? 🤔)

That last one is unlikely, but hey, if I haven't burned myself out on the entire thing by that point, who knows?


Archer Season 11 Thoughts

2020-11-21 - Reading time: 9 minutes

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Lots of spoilers here.

Season 11 of Archer has been over for a while now, but a recent video from Wisecrack discussing the downside of the "coma seasons" got me thinking about it again. (For the record, I thought the coma seasons were generally fun, interesting "what if" anthologies that I understood helped break up creator Adam Reed's creative block. But I was happy to see them in the rear view mirror.)

This latest season? Fun in the moment-to-moment. But on the whole? I was left feeling apathetic.

I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the team becoming better without him, while he was in a coma. I mean, I loved the better people they became. Especially Cyril. It was like they all evolved in their ultimate forms.

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And I know, deep down, that "backsliding" is where the plot of the show HAS to go. Their transformation is the setup, and Archer being the reason they were held back is the punchline.

I understand that. But it also brings a great deal of personal frustration.

I found myself thoroughly enjoying the new, improved ISIS. And I kind of hoped the show was going to subvert my expectations. Instead of resetting everyone to their pre-coma semi-incompetency (they weren't technically shitty agents before; just... distracted... and held back), let's explore the a new normal. One where Archer turns his back on his friends, because he feels betrayed. And they no longer need him to be the agent of chaos 'glue' to keep them successful.

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For a while, I seriously believed they were going to do this.The various clues I picked up on almost seemed to suggest Sterling might basically say "fuck it" and start recruiting for his own, competing spy agency. And maybe we'd see future seasons dip into that awkward, jealous rivalry. It certainly looked like Sterling was beginning to accumulate a series of friends who actually LIKED him, for a while there. Aleister, Barry, Hands. Hell, maybe even steal Pam. A competing agency of people who actually appreciate him, and maybe work better with him around? Now that's an interesting premise to explore for a while.

But... it didn't go there.

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Instead it was, apparently, just business as usual? Instead, Lana's marriage begins to fall apart. Cyril relapses into his "beta" position. And the rest follow suit, with the whole show reset back to Archer being the cause of, and solution to all of their problems.

And that's a letdown. The season felt like it was building this arc in the background... but it wasn't. It was just my imagination. The show was just backsliding. Like the characters themselves.

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And now with Sterling seeing coma illusions in the finale, I don't know if this is a fake-out and he's still in the coma. Or is this some new psychosis?

I... just don't care...🤔

As a massive fan of the show for a very long time, that genuinely hurts to admit.

Don't get me wrong, the show is still fun, if a bit tired. But it just feels completely aimless in the larger view. And that's on them: they introduced the season-long arc concept back when the show took a hard turn into  Archer:Vice. And now, many seasons later, a viewer can't be blamed for looking for that to continue... trying to find a thread interlinking the episodes... and feeling kind of empty when nothing of consequence is there.

Though, the coma illusion stuff in the finale feels like wanting your cake and eating it. But I guess we'll see what happens next season for that thread. If there WAS anything anything TO it.

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So yeah. I really don't know what the hell they're doing at this point.

There was a predictable vibe to the show that was it's meat and potatoes in prior years that is hard to accept returning to. Those jokes and tropes made the show what we love. But increasingly Archer feels like a show that knows that it has to change, tries for a bit, but then gets cold feet about commitment and swings the steering wheel back onto the main road. Sterling's daughter was the last straw of my patience for that kind of thing: it felt like we could finally see even a sliver of permanent character development for him, but instead AJ just becomes another delivery system for TWO finger-raised-while-drinking jokes, and, this season, a kidnapping plot point.

Maybe it was better to just leave Sterling in the coma and leave the future to our imagination. 🤔


The Power of the Legion

2020-11-16 - Reading time: 11 minutes

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As a long time fan of Watch Dogs 2, I observed the initial concept and trailer for Watch Dogs: Legion roll out with a feeling of trepidation.

They'd dropped the number '3' from the title, first off. Perhaps a trivial change, but for the paranoid, this was an ominous sign that things were changing.

And indeed they were.

Gone was a specific lead character. There was a big push towards the idea that you could "take control of anyone". And it seemed like there was an overall less 'realistic' feel: digital-cyber-anarchists in pig masks, skull masks. Lots of masks. And it looked like it took place in a less relatable, less contemporary world, instead set further into the dystopian future.

While I welcomed the change of venue to the UK, everything else I was seeing just wasn't clicking with me.

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I felt like this would likely be where me and the Watch_Dogs™ franchise would part ways... I was all about WD2's wonderful alternate-yet-familiar world of late 2010s San Francisco, with it's terrific energy thanks to the rebel/ASCII pop art designs, and surprisingly compelling personalities. Not to mention it felt very relatable to today's world. Slightly more advanced than today, but not unrecognizably so. Just twenty minutes into the future, you could say. 😏

And it strongly looked as if Legion was poised to throw away most of what appealed to me. So I stopped following the news about it, and decided all the indicators suggested this wasn't going to be for me.

Then it launched...

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Between the gameplay footage coming out, the absolutely brutal 2020 US election, and the frustrating additional delay of the much awaited Cyberpunk 2077 until mid-December, I found myself weak and incapable of holding onto the money in my virtual wallet.

So... how'd it go? Well, I just finished it last night. The "Ubisoft Connect" launcher informs me I've put in 49 hours so far. (For comparison, I've put a mere 60 hours into Watch Dogs 2. Or so it says. Feels like more.)

But did I like it?

Well, if the nearly 50 hours didn't suggest it, I'll spell it out: YES. Watch Dogs: Legion was definitely worth it.

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The procedural/every-man rallied citizen gimmick that I was so skeptical about was actually a rather bold creative decision with a wonderful message about the power of the people. I don't really want to see it return in future entries, but it worked here way better than I'd have ever expected. I didn't notice similar voices. I'm sure the dupes were there but it was varied enough where it didn't stand out. The variation and people, backstories, and relationships (!) it generates is rather impressive. (Though sometimes procedural generation can get you into trouble. 😏)

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But it also held it back the narrative back in some ways: everyone calls you "DedSec" -- a weak, but workable solution to recording lines without the near impossible task of referring to your procedurally generated name personally. Most of the time it sounded like it was referring to you as a representative of the group, but once or twice it just felt awkward. Not a game breaker, though. Not by a long shot. 

The cinematics felt like a bit of a downgrade from Watch Dogs 2. Possibly this was due to the procedural nature of your current player character. The nuance of performance previously infused into Marcus and his San Fran DedSec friends is reduced a bit here. Again, forgivable considering the technological circumstances. They're still generally quite good.

Even if the cinematics don't always measure up, don't even get me started on the absolute beauty and insane level of detail of London captured here. This might be the biggest advancement over WD2, and even that game still looks fantastic.

Quite often, especially with raytracing enabled, Watch Dogs: Legion is capable of looking almost photorealistic.

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Another... well... I'm hesitant to call it a down side, as it's merely the side effect of the gimmick.

But I'm kind of bummed that MY Legion experience isn't everyone elses. It was just for me. Everyone playing this game is (with some exceptions) going to have a different vision of which DedSec member was there in the final act.

For instance, my main DedSec crew was composed of:

  • Wanda Baker: a 60+ assassin who's looking for one last great thrill before hanging up her guns,
  • Theresa Green: a tough as nails, mid-40s punk rock MILF hacker with mohawk,
  • and Saeed Rahmanzai: a dreadlocked AR-glasses clad young drone expert (who got less play as the team got better with drone control)

There were a dozen others on the team, but once things really got rolling, they were pretty much just not much more than background noise...

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For me, Wanda, Theresa, and Saeed ARE the saviors of London.

Yet... they're not. They're just folks I recruited along the way, and I got attached to them. My imagination filled in the blanks and made them more interesting.

The game is structured in such a way that I can do that, and the story won't step on my imagination's toes.

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One other major difference from Watch Dogs 2: there's a lot of streamlining of the gameplay present.

Many hacks from prior entries are gone. The character skill upgrades are greatly reduced. But you also get certain skills out of the box (like remote controlling vehicles, for example).

Where Watch Dogs 2 had a wealth of various, interesting upgrades, Legion's options are much more... shall we say, focused... to a handful of weapon, accessory, and drone hack upgrades. Many of the more interesting skills are locked behind specific recruit classes with unique abilities. This is likely why the skill tree was minimized. It gives more value to recruiting the individuals. All the really cool tricks went to them. The "beekeeper" comes to mind, with a cloud of robotic attack bees... the "living statue" guy... the hypnotic "magician"... and so on.

I never got around to checking them out, unfortunately. I locked in my core team pretty fast.

This will likely be something I'll be willing to explore on subsequent playthroughs. (There's a perma-death mode, too!)

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As for the core skills shared by the team, once you realize the spider-bot lets you take down unaware people from a distance, safely, and with ease, it's really the only accessory you'll care about. It kind of makes the game too easy. Nobody is forcing you to use it, of course: most missions have multiple open ended ways to accomplish tasks.

But blimey, it feels silly to NOT use it.

Also important: the drone/turret hijack and betrayal hack skills. Get a drone specialist early on to get access to these quickly, but with enough points in your skills and everyone can do them. (Sorry, Saeed. Thanks for your service.)

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Overall, Watch Dogs: Legion is a pretty damned cool experiment. Despite all odds, it largely succeeds in pulling off the trick of it's central gimmick while still delivering an engrossing (yet ultimately predictable -- spoiler!) story.

While it hasn't dethroned Watch Dogs 2 as my favorite in the series (it's going to take a LOT to do that, admittedly) it certainly holds it's own as a solid, enjoyable entry in the series.

4/5


Elsewhere...