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This was something I wanted to do last year but didn’t have the time to do it right.  I think I have a good batch that will hopefully by challenging and enlightening.  Answers are presented below the questions in white text – to see the answer, highlight the block of text.

This post is mostly link-free to avoid hints/spoilers.

Geography: Russian cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab were, themselves, breached. Despite clear references to active Chinese and Russian hacking groups in the malware code, researchers concluded that the malware instead originated from what Middle Eastern Nation?

Answer (Highlight to view): [Unlike other malware known to have been used by Chinese and Russian hacking groups, the malware that infected Kaspersky Lab was chock full of perfect English text. In addition, time stamps and other assorted metadata that was left behind suggested working hours that correspond to the GMT+2 or GMT+3 time zone. Combined with numerous similarities to malware known as Duqu, widely believed to have been developed by the NSA, Kaspersky Lab researchers believe the most likely origin is Israel, the only country in the suspected time zones that is likely to have access to the NSA’s technology.]

Entertainment: In 2006, a security researcher developed a proof-of-concept malware that purported to be completely undetectable once installed. The project’s name and concept was inspired by what 20th century science fiction film?

Answer (Highlight to view): [A textbook example of security problems created through the unintended consequences of technological advance, Joanna Rutkowska exploited features that were meant to speed up the performance of virtual servers in order to create an undetectable malware that could take over an entire computer but continue to boot the operating system as if nothing was wrong. She called her creation Blue Pill because her malware could literally put your computer in The Matrix.]

History: This year, Apple announced that many iOS programs in their App Store was compromised by an attack against the developers of the software called XCodeGhost. This type of attack was once predicted over three decades ago by what pioneering computer scientist?

Answer (Highlight to view): [It was in a speech titled “Reflections on Trusting Trust”, given upon accepting the prestigious Turning Award in 1983, that the idea of a persistent computer backdoor was first popularized. At the time, software was typically delivered as source code that needed to be “compiled” in order to run on a computer. If you were able to replace the code compiler with a version that always implanted a back door, you could in theory compromise a machine in a persistent and undetectable way. The speech was delivered by Ken Thompson whose credits include work on the UNIX operating system. More recently, he co-invented the Go programming language at Google.]

Art & Literature: This short story about a communications network that develops intelligence and turns on humanity, an early work by an author who would go on to bigger and better things, was first published in Playboy. Among others, one of the fans would cite it as an inspiration in the development of a major communications technology.

Answer (Highlight to view): [Published in Playboy in 1964, this short story by Arthur C. Clarke was about a hypothetical 1975 where the telephone network became complex enough that it suddenly became self-aware. Tim Berners-Lee read the story when he was nine and has cited it as one of the inspirations for his creation, the World Wide Web. And perhaps more on the nose, the NSA’s “Monstermind” autonomous cyber weapons platform may also draw inspiration from Dial F for Frankenstein. There’s a lesson to be learned here, and not just about what happens when nine-year old boys get hold of issues of Playboy.]

Science & Nature: What is the significance of this number:

 25,195,908,475,657,893,494,027,183,240,048,398,571,429,282,126,204,032,027,777,137,
836,043,662,020,707,595,556,264,018,525,880,784,406,918,290,641,249,515,082,189,298,
559,149,176,184,502,808,489,120,072,844,992,687,392,807,287,776,735,971,418,347,270,
261,896,375,014,971,824,691,165,077,613,379,859,095,700,097,330,459,748,808,428,401,
797,429,100,642,458,691,817,195,118,746,121,515,172,654,632,282,216,869,987,549,182,
422,433,637,259,085,141,865,462,043,576,798,423,387,184,774,447,920,739,934,236,584,
823,824,281,198,163,815,010,674,810,451,660,377,306,056,201,619,676,256,133,844,143,
603,833,904,414,952,634,432,190,114,657,544,454,178,424,020,924,616,515,723,350,778,
707,749,817,125,772,467,962,926,386,356,373,289,912,154,831,438,167,899,885,040,445,
364,023,527,381,951,378,636,564,391,212,010,397,122,822,120,720,357

Answer (Highlight to read): [This number is a semi-prime – a number that is a product of two prime numbers. It is also large enough to require 2048 bits of data to store. Numbers of this type are used for an encryption algorithm called RSA and 2048-bit RSA is currently what is used the vast majority of the time you connect to a secure website in your browser. This particular number is called RSA-2048 and was the largest number in the RSA Factoring Challenge, a contest put on by the developers of RSA to encourage development in the fields of number theory and computation. In other words, the only way to prove that an algorithm like RSA is secure is for it to withstand attempts to defeat it and the RSA Factoring Challenge was set up to encourage people to try to defeat it. Finding the 2 primes that composed RSA-2048 was originally eligible for a $200,000 cash prize but the contest ended in 2007. To date, the largest RSA number that has been factored is RSA-768 in 2009.]

Sports & Leisure: This sport (be specific) switched to an electronic score keeping system in 1933 (yes, thirty-three) but controversies in two Summer Olympic games demonstrated that humans are always the weakest chain in the link.

Answer (Highlight to read): [At the 1976 Summer Olympic games in Quebec, Boris Onishchenko gamed the electronic score keeping system by modifying his equipment so that he could register a point just by pressing a hidden button. His shenanigans were uncovered after protests from the British team resulted in an inspection of his gear. The rules of the sport were altered to prohibit equipment that could be modified in such a way. In 2012, trouble would come not from the competitors but from the timekeeper who failed to stop the match clock. Britta Heidemann was thus given an additional second on the clock which she used to score a touch on Shin A-lam. A-lam and her coach protested the result but after waiting for 75 minutes on the floor, were ultimately turned down. Heidemann went on to win Silver while A-lam competed for Bronze and lost. Such is the life in épée fencing.]

Days Gone Bye:

Like I said, I wanted to do this last year. Credit goes to Ryan Brubacher for coming up with the idea, although it took me a year to get around to executing it. For those who enjoy trivia, check out the awesome Good Job Brain! podcast,

And Another Thing…

Did you all duck and cover?