stevenmansour's blog

The slow, dumb rise of Facebook "Hackers" | Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Original article.

According to Trend Micro, an internet security firm, more than 40% of teens are "social hackers".

Sigh. I remember a day when being a hacker meant that you had to actually know how to do something.

The "social hackers" are still split by gender though. Boys are twice as likely to go for the profile assassination, while girls are three times more likely to go straight for the PayPal.

What can I say - boys want power, girls love the bling. It's the nature of things.

The "new" idea of "social hacking" is that many social details are on view via social networking sites such as Facebook. A competent social hacker can find information which tends to give away security question answers.

And an incompetent target will use public information in their own security questions and password. And deserve everything they've got coming.

Rik Ferguson of Trend Micro said, "It's the online version of kids breaking into school to change their reports, it's just so much easier now."

Breaking into school to change your report card took planning, skill and cojones.

Anything that can be done from behind the safety of a computer screen requires nothing more than an Internet connection, a decent mix of self-loathing and lack of self confidence, and maybe some Red Bull. Sure, maybe a "social hacker" (*cough* *hack* *cough*) can find out where you live and hang out by hacking into your Facebook profile, but then what? Years of sitting on a couch with his laptop drinking latte mochaccinos will have left his body too weak and atrophied to pose any real threat.

I, on the under hand, can find out where you live, chase you down because I can run faster than you, and then dead-lift you off a bridge.

See kids? It's about branching out.

Oh, and it's called social engineering, and it's not new at all.

World's best MP3 player | Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

This is my Samsung YP-2J. It has:

  • One gigabyte (1,073,741,824 bytes) of flash memory.
  • An FM Tuner.
  • A voice recorder.
  • The ability to play both mp3 and ogg files.
  • No interface or software to speak of - I plug it in, it's detected as a USB drive, and I drag and drop music to it like any other folder.
  • Linux support.
  • A bare-bones, no-frills interface.
  • Buttons you click, not a flimsy touch-screen.
  • A battery that lasts for days.
  • A tiny tiny footprint.

I've carried it with me across countless borders, states and provinces. It's been with me on my runs, hundreds of visits to the gym, cycling for hours, and lying in bed. I bought it refurbished at Tiger Direct for $19.95 plus shipping and handling several years ago.

It is, without a doubt, the best MP3 player in the world.

However, after one too many falls, drops, knocks, or accidental immersions into liquids of varying degrees of alcohol content, it is seemingly on its last legs. The "hold" switch which keeps you from accidentally pressing a button has broken off, the headphone jack is loose and so once in a while the left earpiece will fade in and out, and during especially severe activity like running away from chasing people down, it'll shut itself off. I really don't want to replace this player because it's ideal for me, but I think it's time I move on. Time will heal. Until then, though, I need to find a new player that matches my lifestyle - spastic and disheveled. I basically copy a bunch of songs to my player, set it to random, and go. No playlists, no albums, no sorting. Live fast.

Entre Disfrutar Y Compartir | Monday, February 23rd, 2009

(reposted from my Cuba blog).

Slightly over a year ago, I was sitting at a restaurant next to a busy, noisy intersection with David, near El Poblado Metro station in Medellín, Colombia. As we were ordering food, I was debating whether or not to get the Bandeja Paisa, a large, gluttonous dish that includes such light fare as grilled steak, chicharrón (fried pork rind), red beans, rice, chorizo, eggs, an arepa, sweet fried plantains and a slice of avocado. It had been a long day with lots of walking, so I felt like I could probably handle it. On the other hand, I had had a fairly large breakfast (I had made breakfast burritos), and started doubting whether I could finish it - I don't like leaving any food on my plate. In certain cultures, it is a sign of weakness / disrespect / not being hungry. Nevertheless, when the pleasant-but-slightly-neurotic waitress came along, I went ahead and ordered it.

- Her: "Listo?"
- David: "Si, el _______." (I forgot what he ordered, though in all likelihood it was probably something girlish and frilly).
- Her: "Y por usted?"
- Me: "Si, la bandeja paisa, por favor - qué incluye?"
- Her: "[Long list of food items]. Es muchissimo!"
- Me: "No hay problema - podemos disfrutarlo."

She makes a strange quizzical smile, and then her giggly persona becomes even gigglier, as she smiles even wider and goes to the kitchen.

Social Networks I do use indeed | Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Everyone and their cross-eyed cousin already knows that I don't use Facebook. But it's not not untrue that I don't use any social networking services while I am bodysurfing on the Internets. I happen to visit a quite a few on a day-to-day basis - but unlike most of the folk on Facebook and the like, little things like “privacy” and “usefulness” come into play when I'm making a decision about whether or not I should cuddle up to the newest, trendiest Totally Interesting Thought-provoking Social Network (hereafter referred to as “TITSnet”). booya bitches Not all social networks are created equal, and I don't treat them all the same either. There are networks where I'll use my full name as my username, and there are a couple very good reason for this - pseudonyms are for cowards, serial killers and fairies, and I want an easy way to keep track of all the stupid shit I say on the Internet. Fact: Over 100% of the corwardly / racist / ignorant comments that people see fit to post for the world to see are done behind the relative safety of anonymity. I think anonymity is a precious commodity not to be wasted on triflin' things like racism and such, so I save my pseudonyms for more important things like international espionage and / or dating websites. Sometimes I'll kill two birds with one stone and show off my multiple passports to my blind date and then we'll eat the birds. I get asked - yes, like, everyday - about which social networks I recommend / use. The short answer is none / lots. The long answer is "I'm about to tell you, so pipe down!". So, in the interest of pouring some much-needed chlorine into the e.coli infested swimming waters of the Internet, please enjoy this small collection of my S.N.O.T.S (Social Networks Of The Season):

Facebook, privacy, control, and creepiness | Friday, January 23rd, 2009

So, some anonymous dude (who is actually not quite as anonymous as he'd like to believe) left some comments on my nearly 2-year-old post about closing my Facebook account, then decided to try and prove a point about his views on privacy by cleverly looking up my cell number (which is public) and doing a Google search to find a photo of me (which is also public).

The point he ended up proving, of course, is that he's a slightly creepy person who calls up random people about an old blog post they wrote when he disagrees with them. Also, he knows how to perform the shit out of a Google search.

I was driving Mir - much more stalker-worthy material than I, if you ask me - to pick up some food for her dog, when my cell rings:

  • Is this Steven Mansour, from, about the facebook post?
  • Yup, who's this?
  • Just wanted to tell you that nothing is private, case in point I found your phone number, I'm not trying to stalk you or anything but you know how easy it is to find information about people on the internet.
  • Ok...
  • Ok.
  • Goodnight!
  • *click*

Followed by Mir and I looking at each other with a quizzical "WTF?".

So yes - it's true! You can find lots of information about people on the Internet, off and on Facebook. Especially if that information is, you know, supposed to be public in the first place. I don't hide my contact information from the world, and even if I did, a simple whois lookup on anyone (including Mr. "Anonymous") would be more than enough to get any more information about anyone else. That's why closed networks like Facebook are so insidious - people put more information on there than they would on an obviously public page such as this one, with the misconception that only their friends and family can access it. They - especially young people - are duped into jumping into bed with Facebook with the idea that they can retain control over who gets to access what.

They can't.

So what can we keep private? Lots. I'm pretty open - I make a point to use my real, full name in online games or on the handful social networks left that are genuinely useful to me; it makes it easier for me to keep track of and aggregate everything I'm doing. On others - ones where I prefer remaining private - I always use a pseudonym, encryption and TOR. There is data (music, videos, games) on my home PC that you'd probably be able to access without much difficulty if you really wanted to get at my Lionel Ritchie Paris Hilton Audioslave high-fidelity OGG files. Then there is other data and information that anyone would have a bitch of a time trying to find, decipher, crack and decrypt.

So, what's the point? Well, that problems with privacy control and things like identity theft have been around long before the Internet ever came to be, and will stick around long after the Internet has withered to dust copper flakes. That it's about corporate responsibility, education, and governance - not paranoia. That anyone with a phone book and fingers can find whoever they're looking for. And finally, whether you live down the street or in Florida, that you shouldn't look up my number and call me unless you've got something to say.

Or unless you're a blond-haired blue-eyed college cheerleader from the south. Then, you can just ask.


New MSI Wind Netbook for sale | Friday, January 2nd, 2009


Put up my barely used netbook up for sale over on craiglist - pass it on! :)

I'm selling a pristine brand new MSI Wind netbook that I had bought as a temporary machine while waiting for my new laptop to arrive. It has barely 2 weeks of use on it, comes with everything brand new in its box. In addition, I installed Ubuntu Linux 8.10 on it with all the add-ons and extras (It still has Windows XP French installed as well).

  • 1.6 Ghz Intel Atom Processor
  • 1 GB DDR Ram (upgraded from 512 MB)
  • 80Gb Hard drive (unlike the tiny 4 - 8GB SSD drives in most of these things)
  • 10.2" Screen (the reason I chose this netbook - way easier to work on than a tiny 8" screen like the one on the eeePC).
  • 1 year manuf. warranty with receipt.
  • Running Windows XP french (original install), Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex 8.10 (with Compiz Fusion running smoothly - this thing's got a surprisingly good 3D chip). You can easily install Windows Vista as well, or - yes - Mac OS X.
  • As seen in the pictures, yes, the machine is totally new, with the plastic and stuff still on it.

msi wind for sale

msi wind for sale

msi wind for sale

msi wind for sale

Contact me if you're interested in picking this up, or if you know someone else who is.

CCA Science and Tech Mindmap | Friday, December 5th, 2008

This past Saturday, I have the opportunity to moderate a very useful discussion about community and online collaboration at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

This is a rough mind map of the questions and answers that we tossed around. Clicking the thumbnail will bring you to the large .png image, but editable / open ascii, html, latex and MS Office versions are attached, as well as the original kdissert mind map.


9 games for non-gamers | Monday, November 24th, 2008

Yesterday, I had the joys of getting one of my non-gamer friends hooked on a game. Getting to watch Mir laugh and stumble through building a lattice to make a bridge for a bunch of wobbly goo balls to cross over was totally worth the teensy $20 I paid for World of Goo.

People who were weaned mostly on games as children, rather than other forms of media - Saturday morning cartoons, sci-fi movies, dungeons and dragons - continue to approach problems from a different perspective as they move into adulthood. For example, we tend to interpret architecture and industrial design different, after subconsciously studying the worlds we previously walked through, built from the imagination of the game creator's mind. There are other nuances within gaming, of course, such as the type of games played (educational, sandbox, interactive storytelling, entertainment, etc), as well as within the different [constantly changing] genres of games - first person, strategic, puzzle, and others.

Whether I'm having a conversation about politics, technology or society with someone, the ideas that get thrown around between people who are (or were at some point) at least moderately invested in gaming tend to take on a distinctly more constructivist approach. This often leads to a more holistic understanding of not only the topic at hand but also the other person's stance on the issue. I take for granted that not everyone I deal with is/was a gamer, and so I often find myself expressing frustration at concepts and context that I assume are common knowledge, when in fact, they aren't. Of course, this reflects more on me being an occasional insensitive douchebag than on them lacking any knowledge. What follows is a list for these people (people who don't play video games, not people who think I'm a douchebag - their list is long enough as it is).