Saturday, March 28, 2009


Lede of the Day: Three lawyers and a dominatrix

Three Long Island lawyers stand accused of teaming up with a Manhattan dominatrix and a Manhattan fetish club to run a $50 million mortgage scam. —Robert J. Ambrogi writing in "Lawyers, Dominatrix Whip Up Mortgage Scam"

If you don't click on the link, you're a better person than I am.

We learn some background to the scam from Eric German and Sandra Peddie—

Prosecutors said the fake borrowers, or straw buyers, were recruited by a Manhattan couple, Donald MacPherson, 65, and Carrie Coakley, 38, from among the clientele of their sexual fetish fantasy business, Arena Studios....

According to Arena Studios' Web site, the Broome Street company provides space for dominatrixes to meet clients, boasts a "beautifully decorated and fully equipped private dungeon," and, among other items, rents out "medieval torture" implements, bondage furniture and three kinds of whips.

Imagine that! People are paying good money when they can enjoy the same sort of thing from the government for free.

But the the Associated Press account almost brought tears to my eyes. It came so close to home—

"The damage these defendants single-handedly caused to our local economy is simply appalling," Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said....

Yet what did the community expect? A free ride? In a capitalist society we must all pay for the entertainment—and the less you have the more it costs.


Friday, March 27, 2009


How to stop worrying and trust your "secure delete" command

Computer users who store porn photos on the office computer or the details of their money-laundering escapades at home are frequently fired or hauled off to jail when the evidence is discovered on their hard drive either inadvertently by a computer technician or intentionally through a search warrant.

In many cases the miscreant may think he has erased the files when in fact they continue to reside on the hard disk. That's because most operating systems (OS) change only a few bytes of data when a file is deleted. Those bytes are there to remind the OS that the file has been officially deleted and that this area of the hard drive can be overwritten if the need arises.

But if the content of the file is not overwritten with new data, the old data can be easily recovered. So applications and operating systems nowadays feature some sort of "secure delete" command that not only changes the file header but overwrites the entire file.

But those users sophisticated enough to know the difference between "delete" and "secure delete" may still worry—and not just from a guilty conscience. A paper published in 1997 by Peter Guttmann described methods for recovering overwritten data from a hard drive. To defeat these methods up to 35 overwrites would be required. This came to be known as a "Guttman Wipe."

Now comes forensic computer examiner Craig Ball to assure the legal community that this is no longer true. He writes,

In the years since Gutmann's article, the amount of data that can be packed onto a hard drive (its "areal density") has increased 10,000 fold.

So, hoary notions of data remanence like "offtrack persistence" and "additive and subtractive voltage thresholds" hold no hope of resurrecting overwritten data.

... All the anecdotal wiped data recovery stuff we've heard about is completely bogus. So stop folks when they say, "I know a guy who has a cousin who recovered overwritten data using EnCase by tweaking the frazzle setting and putting the drive in the freezer." It just ain't so.

You only need one complete pass to eviscerate the data (unless your work requires slavish compliance with obsolete parts of Department of Defense Directive 5220.22-M and you make two more passes for good measure).

No tool and no technique extant today can recover overwritten data on 21st century hard drives. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

This should come as good news to former members of the Bush administration.

Ball does warn of two other security mistakes—

The most egregious is the assumption that formatting a hard drive is the same as wiping its contents. In fact, formatting obliterates almost none of a drive's contents. Any eBay purchaser of a formatted drive can easily restore its contents.

Second, and principally of interest to three-letter agency types and paranoiacs, user data resides in areas of a hard drive that no wiping tool can reach: the so-called G-List sectors.

But if you're worried about the G-spot on your disks, don't. The contents of it are supremely uninteresting.

Ball adds,

Remarkably, nearly all hard drives manufactured after 2001 incorporate the ability to rapidly and securely self-erase everything, including the G List; but, drive and computer manufacturers are so petrified you'll mess that up, they don't offer an easy way to initiate a self-destruct sequence.

I know these reassurances won't satisfy all paranoiacs everywhere. So if you're still worried about data security, take the advice of "raptor_pa" of the Tech Support Forum—

Open up your old drive, remove the platters, take some good course sandpaper or a grinder to all the platter surfaces, then place all platters into a taped-up stack in cloth bag, run a drill though the platters a couple of times, then take a large hammer and reduce the platters to as small pieces as possible. Alternatively soak platters overnight in some good strong acid.

That should do it.

Related post
Cracking your 256-bit encryption (3/28/05)


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Sweet home Alabama:
A Swedish highschooler studies in America, learns a lot

Academic exchange programs are so important. For American students they offer the hope of remedial language classes, and for foreigners they offer the opportunity to see America as it really is, without the negative images presented by the foreign press. We may hope that after a year's study the foreign student will have developed a lifelong affection for the U.S. and be available later in life for recruitment by the CIA.

It was in one such program that young Patrik Sundelin of Stockholm participated. He paid to attend a high school in Irvington, Alabama, just south of Mobile, where he hoped to play football.

The school

Alma Bryant High School appears to be a good school for football. The new coach earned a feather in his cap when 16 of this year's seniors signed on to play at the college level—"the most signees in school history." But it's a good school for sports in general. We note from their web page that Eddie's Pawn Shop, Uncle Louie and Jemison Marine have all contributed generously to the Archery Club.

And of course along with sports there's plenty of opportunity for prayer. The school handbook [pdf] is firm on this point—

School employees will not prevent, or otherwise deny student participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in our schools, consistent with the guidance issued by the U. S. Department of Education and applicable judicial decisions interpreting the U.S. Constitution.

The students wear uniforms. This year's freshmen will be sporting "a gray 'polo' style shirt with khaki pants," which should give them a vaguely Maoist look.

And no drugs! Again the handbook is plain—

5.24 Searches: School officials will cooperate with local law enforcement agencies by permitting periodic searches for illegal drugs on the approval of the superintendent and building principal.

5.27 Drug Free School Policy: The Mobile County Public School System requires that all students referenced in the System’s Drug Free Policy Procedures be subjected to drug testing as set forth in said procedures.

I especially appreciate that the writer selected the verb "subjected."

The home

Of course foreign exchange students aren't simply dropped off at the Alibi Motel to fend for themselves. They must live with a carefully selected host family. The handbook gives guidance on this—

Students who enter the United States under an approved exchange program must reside with an approved sponsor family residing in Mobile County. The guardian must obtain a permit from the Division of Student Support Services for the student’s admission to the Mobile County Public School System.

It's not clear which agency must approve the sponsoring family, so perhaps there's some confusion.

In any event, according to The Local, a Swedish news outlet, here's what young Patrik learned abroad—

Patrik Sundelin was looking forward to spending the 2006-2007 academic year in the United States on an EF Education-arranged programme.1

Seventeen at the time, the enthusiastic teen hoped to try out for the American football team at Alma Bryant High School, located in the small town south of Mobile, Alabama.

“I was going mostly because I wanted to do something new, to improve my English, and experience a new culture,” Patrik told The Local.

"I was expecting to have a really fun year.”

There's no better place than Mobile, Alabama, to improve your English and experience a new culture I always say. And if you don't have fun, it's your own damned fault.

But Patrik’s excitement quickly turned to despair when he discovered his host family already had two unpleasant houseguests living with them, both of whom had had brushes with the law.

This was a lesson in language and culture. In the South "a brush with the law" is what people are said to have when they're not currently in jail or prison.

“The first night they brought me into the kitchen to show me their knife collection. Then one started telling me the best ways to cut someone up with a knife,” said Patrik.

“It was a surreal experience.”

What's the problem? After all, don't the Swedes have compulsory military service?

The following day, Patrik found himself taken on an even more bizarre first “field trip”.

“They took me for a ride into town. We ended up at the courthouse so one of them could meet with her probation officer,” he said.

“On the way there, she pointed out all the places where I could buy drugs, if I was interested in doing so.”

Southerners are famous for their hospitality.

And the two dodgy sub-letters weren’t Patrik’s only concern. Not only was house itself also a mess, but the host father was gravely ill and the family’s own son had recently been taken by social services.

Patrik was undoubtedly surprised to find that Americans have their own social services network, though it currently doesn't extend to the heads of families.

"Patrik called us and said there was no way he could spend a year with this family,” said his mother, Lena Sundelin.

Clearly he was not prepared for the culture shock. A good foreign exchange program, aside from innoculations, should certainly try to give the student some idea of how the natives live.

Well, the sponsoring agency bounced Patrik around from home to home for a while until he finally settled in some two months later. And all's well that ends well—

“I really enjoyed the school and the friends I met there and I did end up getting to play American football,” he said.

A Swedish court even awarded his family a rebate.

Related posts
Encouraging wassatiya in the schools (6/10/04)
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to church... (8/18/04)
Dumb your child down the Republican way (8/18/04)
Bush's education legacy in Texas: More cheating and lying (12/21/04)
Addicting students to fascism (1/10/05)
More charter school failure—this time on Jeb's watch (3/10/05)
Scottish bishop, Australian school marm acting up (3/21/05)
Department of Defense teaches creationism in DoD highschools (4/15/05)
False Analogy of the Day (8/25/07)
Quote of the Day (2/18/08)
Obscenity of the Day: Jackboot High (8/08/08)



1EF is a Swedish "international education company." [back]

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