Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Anatomy Of A Hoax

Oh those nutty kids and their wacky capacity for technology. The other night I was peering at the screen of my smart phone, looking for some random bit of information, when my son reached over and slid his finger across a line just below where I was reading and suddenly the light coming from my palm decreased by a third. "Save your eyes," he told me.
This was the younger generation using their powers for good, and not evil. Not all these young turks are as benevolent in their use of tubes and wires and transistors. Like twenty-one year old Vincent Canfield, who was running a server through which a flurry of threatening e-mails were sent. A boatload of messages that suggested that schools in a number of very large school districts across the United States were in danger of "a massacre of epic proportions." Bombs that would be detonated by jihadists via cell phone. Maximum carnage. Turns out that none of them were based on anything but tweaking the fears of the people receiving those emails. What did the district officials do when they got those emails? Did they have time to figure out what was real and what was made up. The emails were real.
So was the fear.
It was that fear that closed the schools in Los Angeles. It was the hoax that kept schools in New York City open. When somebody sent similar threats to Miami-Dade county and Houston school officials, they decided to go ahead and have classes as scheduled. Even though there was no way to be sure, at the time, from where those messages originated they went ahead and opened the schools anyway. The young pranksters who figured out how to route those communications through all those various components were some of the same kids who grew up with cheat codes and easter eggs. Shortcuts that were built in to constructs to make it easier to get from A to Z allow us to bypass the "flyover letters" that don't get us any bonus points or extra lives. If you wanted to be a real terrorist, you would have to gather together an arsenal of automatic weapons and explosives that would back up your jihad. Access to a keyboard and some IP addresses allows the clever nerd the opportunity to generate terror without all that overhead.
My son is a very clever boy. I'm glad he's using his powers for saving his father's eyes.

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