This pilot fish is working as a printer repair tech when he’s called to a job at a small manufacturing plant.
“I was greeted at the front door by a supervisor who said he would show me where the printer was,” says fish.
“On the way to the printer, he told me to not be alarmed by Barney. My confused look prompted him to add that Barney was an extremely large man who used the printer. ‘But he sometimes needs things explained to him more than once,’ he added with a wink.”
The supervisor goes on to tell fish that Barney is the guy that people call on when they need heavy things lifted. Fish isn’t sure he believes it when he’s told Barney will sometimes do things like lift the front of a forklift for money so he can buy a soft drink.
Then he gets to the area where the printer is and meets Barney — a cheerful fellow only slightly smaller than a mountain, who extends a hand the size of a baseball glove and enthusiastically says, “I’m glad to meet you!”
Supervisor leaves, and Barney explains that his printer worked fine for years until it suddenly stopped.
Fish checks the PC that the printer is attached to. It won’t print. He checks the cable. It’s attached, but it looks a little odd, so he decides to try another cable.
Fish tries to detach the parallel cable. It doesn’t move. He tugs harder. It won’t budge.
“Oh yeah,” says Barney. “That cable fell off two days ago and I had a really hard time putting it back on.”
“Can you get the cable off?” fish asks.
“Sure!” Barney says. He grasps the connector with one big mitt and it slides right off.
Fish looks at the inside of the connector and sees the problem immediately: Barney had managed to jam the connector on upside-down when he put it back on.
“I told Barney that the cable must have broken when it fell off the printer,” fish says. “I retrieved a spare from my toolbox, and once I connected the printer to a new cable, it all worked fine.
“When the supervisor came to escort me back up front, I told him that the cable was defective. I didn’t think it was necessary to blame the gentle giant for anything — and the cable was defective, after all.”
Suburban high school wants to set up a tip line that students can text to if they are depressed or stressed out, or if they are concerned about another student who might be. So this pilot fish is asked to find an app that will connect the students with professionals who can help them, while keeping the students’ identities completely anonymous.
She narrows the choice to several apps and runs them by the assistant principal for his OK.
His problem with the options: None gives him the phone number of the person initiating the contact. Fish tells him that providing that information isn’t consistent with saying that submissions are anonymous. But he insists: He wants to follow up with each student.
Fish notes that word will quickly spread that the tip line isn’t really anonymous, rendering it pretty useless.
Now the choice seems to be between useless tip line and no tip line at all. No tip line wins the day.
I don’t know if you’ve read much news this week, but it seems the sky is falling and we’re all terribly doomed.
No, I’m not talking about that news — as usual, that’s another column for another publication — but rather the news that a security flaw in some Android camera apps could turn our phones into privacy-plundering spy portals and bring an end to human life as we know it.
I mean, have you seen some of these headlines?!
“Hundreds of millions of Android phone cameras can be hijacked by spyware”
“Android flaw lets rogue apps take photos, record video even if your phone is locked”
“An Android flaw lets apps secretly access people’s cameras and upload the videos to an external server”
Holy hibiscus, Henry! Even I’m trembling from all of that, and I know it’s a bunch of misguided, sensationalized hooey.
Let’s back up for a sec and provide some context to all of this: A company called Checkmarx (one guess how it makes its money) released a report this week detailing a vulnerability it found in certain Android device-makers’ camera applications. That weakness allowed the firm’s researchers to create an app that could capture and collect photos from a phone without its owner’s consent. And, yes, that vulnerability could have affected hundreds of millions of people.
As usual with these sorts of stories, though, there are some big, juicy buts involved. And those ample, glistening buts are key to understanding what this story really tells us, what we should take away from it, and — critically — why we shouldn’t be cowering in carefully covered bunkers until further notice.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
1. The app at the center of all this was a proof-of-concept creation, with no known real-world implementation.
Before you soil those beautiful britches of yours, remember first and foremost that this whole thing was a security company’s demonstration — an act of researchers actively seeking out a vulnerability to exploit and, y’know, also then use to promote their own product (funny how that always works out, isn’t it?).
It was not, as far as anyone is aware, an actual act of data being stolen in the real world.
2. That aside, the setup would have required you to download and install a random (theoretical) app in order to operate.
This isn’t a situation where your phone would just suddenly start spewing out personal photos to some random server in the Caspian Sea. (Those sea-dwelling mermaid-servers are the worst, aren’t they?) The vulnerability in the camera apps was exploitable only through careful manipulation conducted by a secondary app — something explicitly created for that purpose and something you’d have to go out of your way to download and install before it could do any damage.
Such an app never actually existed, outside of this controlled experiment. And even if it did, again, you’d have to download it before it could do anything.
3. The vulnerability was reported to Google and Samsung, both of whom promptly patched the bug.
After discovering this prickly porcupine of a problem, the Checkmarx chums passed the heaping pot of goulash over to Google — and soon after also to Samsung, as it was discovered its camera app was also affected. Both companies worked to correct the code in question and have since reportedly rolled out patches to fix the flaw.
As for that bit about “hundreds of millions” of phones being affected? Yeah, that was referring to the Samsung phones — which, again, had been patched by the time this whole thing became public. Contrary to what some lazy, sensational headlines are suggesting, there’s nothing to indicate that hundreds of millions of people are actively at risk from this in any way.
4. This is exactly how security should force software to evolve.
Any software — desktop operating systems, mobile operating systems, apps on any platform, you name it — is inherently imperfect. That’s the nature of the beast; vulnerabilities are always gonna come up, whether the software is controlled by Google, Samsung, Apple, or anyone else imaginable.
That, in fact, is why so many companies actively seek out and sometimes even pay people to hunt for security flaws in their software — so they can find ’em, fix ’em, and continue to strengthen their programs. (Google is doing just that today, in fact, with its just-announced expansion of its Android Security Rewards program, now with a maximum prize of $1.5 million for anyone who uncovers a particularly problematic bug.) It’s a never-ending evolution, and it’s the same story for Google as it is for every major software company.
What ultimately matters is that the company in question responds to issues that are identified and then patches them promptly — ideally before any real damage is done. And that’s precisely what we’re seeing play out in this scenario.
5. This is a reminder of why timely updates matter — and why you shouldn’t use phones from companies that don’t provide ’em.
While Google and especially Samsung were called out as being the primary concerns from this problem, Checkmarx says the vulnerabilities it uncovered could potentially impact the camera apps on other phone-makers’ devices — and that “multiple vendors were contacted” with the same information more than a month ago.
Now, again, remember what we just talked about: There’s no reason to believe any phone is in any sort of imminent, realistic danger from this. But, clearly, this isn’t the sort of vulnerability — theoretical and download-requiring as it may be — that you’d want to leave present on your personal technology.
More than anything, then, this serves as a strong reminder of just how important it is to have a phone whose manufacturer actually takes security seriously and sends out timely updates, not only in app-specific situations like this but also when it comes to Android’s monthly patches — which address similar sorts of flaws on a system level — and Android OS updates, which include countless privacy and security improvements and are about much more than just fresh paint and features.
If you aren’t using a phone whose manufacturer consistently delivers on all those fronts (and, let’s be honest, there aren’t many device-makers that do), you’re opting yourself in to less-than-optimal security in exchange for, what? Some flashy hardware, maybe, or a brand name you’ve bought into before? And, as always, it’s hard to see how that’s in any way advisable, especially when excellent update-friendly options are readily available for as little as a few hundred bucks.
But still, all things in perspective: The sky isn’t falling, Chicken Little — and whatever fascinating sights might be seen through your phone’s camera lens are, in all likelihood, not being secretly recorded or shared with any would-be voyeurs pining for a peep.
A little critical thinking and a few simple questions go a long way when it comes to getting past the melodramatic headline hype in situations like this. And, as this latest foofaraw reminds us, there’s rarely a cause for panic — no matter how sensational a scare may initially seem.
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Spooky season is upon us, which means it’s the perfect time to delve into scary stories that make your skin crawl. Add some excitement to your commute with these intriguing true-crime podcasts.
Jensen & Holes: The Murder Squad
If you don’t need a happily-ever-after to enjoy a story, you might enjoy this podcast. Every week, ex-cold case investigator Paul Holes and investigative journalist Billy Jensen discuss unsolved murders, unidentified remains, and missing persons cases.
What makes this podcast unique is listeners get to ride along with the two experts as they attempt to solve crimes. You can also help them by providing tips or new information. While they don’t always succeed, the storytelling is always engaging and easy to binge.
This brand-new podcast features April Balascio, a woman who, at the age of 40, realized her father, Edward Wayne Edwards, was a serial killer. With host, John Dean, she dives into her past and shares glimpses into the strange psyche of her father. She also recounts how her suspicions led her to contact the police, which resulted in his arrest and conviction. It’s a gripping and emotional journey that’s not to be missed.
Crime is not just about murder—it’s a function of our society, our homes, our system, and our history. Sometimes, there’s blood involved, or misinformation, or helplessness. With its hypnotic sound design and captivating words, criminals share stories far more complex than they might seem at first. In this award-winning podcast, the entrancing voice of host Phoebe Judge delves objectively into different crime tales that will satisfy the most analytical and curious minds.
When it comes to true-crime, long-format podcasts, Serial is the G.O.A.T. With Sarah Koeing’s impressive investigative skills as a journalist, the riveting story-telling, and the excellent production that goes into every episode, this podcast sets a new standard in the genre.
Season one focuses on the 1999 murder of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee, and the questionable conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. The team presents the facts of the case, uncovers new evidence, and even has a discussion with Syed.
The podcast went viral and has won several major broadcasting awards. Be sure to give it a listen.
While Serial played a big role in helping Adnan Syed’s case (see above), Undisclosed did more. Originally, this podcast was a sort of spin-off of Serial. It intended to dig deeper into the case and bring new info to light, regarding judicial misconduct, police corruption, and undeniable biases. The podcast continues to investigate wrongful convictions and the concerning flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system that often leave marginalized individuals to their own devices.
Through their stories, the producers have helped raise money for defense teams and—channeling the Innocence Project at its best—uncovered new evidence that has led to the exoneration of the wrongfully convicted.
Similar to Criminal, Crimetown goes beyond the serial-killer narrative. From Rhode Island to Detroit, this podcast examines the culture of crime in America through stories told by its citizens. From the war on drugs and political corruption, to racism and poverty, Crimetown digs deep into the critical issues that continue to affect major cities in the U.S.
What do a former FBI profiler, a former criminal behavioral analyst for New Scotland Yard, and the casting director of CBS’ Criminal Minds have in common? The Real Crime Profile podcast and love for Netflix. If binge-watching all the popular true-crime docuseries isn’t enough for you, this dynamic trio can supplement you with intriguing perspectives and professional insights you didn’t know you needed. This weekly podcast focuses on one element of each story per show.
If you enjoy true-crime stories but also like to sleep at night, this is the podcast for you. A group of comedians host The Last Podcast on the Left. They cover a new topic every week, whether it’s a product of the evil human mind or imagination. Featuring discussions about demons and serial killers with a side of jokes and giggles, this podcast is dark humor central.
This is another podcast for those who want to satisfy their lust for horror while also keeping it light. Comedian friends and true-crime fans, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, get together twice a week. They discuss odd murders and hometown crimes shared by their listeners and perfectly balance the grisly with a bit of healthy humor. From the moment they created this audio series, they took the world by storm with their friendly approach to crime examination and gave rise to a community of fans known as Murderinos.
This award-winning podcast, hosted by reporter Madeline Bala, is a unique example of investigative journalism at its best. Through compelling storytelling that highlights wrongdoing, and a serious commitment to finding the missing piece of the puzzle, In the Dark brings attention to cases that never got enough of it.
In the first season, they recount the disappearance of young Jacob Wetterling, which remained unsolved for 27 years. In the current season, they’re discussing the case of Curtis Flowers, who was convicted six times for four murders he didn’t commit and is still on death row.
It all began in 1985 when two bodies were found in a wooden barrel in a New Hampshire state park. Investigations were carried out tirelessly for years until, in 2000, two more bodies were discovered in another barrel. For years, the case went unsolved until the team behind the Bear Brook podcast brought new revelations to light that changed the course of this famous case.
The team believes its style of cold-case analysis will forever change the way murders are investigated.
Following the success its first season (Who Killed Alberta Williams?), Missing & Murdered: Finding Cleo sets out to discover what happened to Cleo Nicotine Semaganis. This young girl from Saskatchewan was taken from her Cree family in the 1970s to take part in a horrifying program called the “Sixties Scoop.”
With a body of compelling work, and a dash of politics, the reporter behind the podcast, Connie Walker, sheds light on the systemic oppression indigenous people—particularly women—have endured for years in Canada. It’s an astonishing series of events that will have you engaged from minute one.
If season two of Mindhunter wasn’t enough, you should check out Atlanta Monster. This true-crime podcast dives deep into the controversial case of the Atlanta Child Murders, which took place and terrorized citizens nearly 40 years ago.
Despite the extensive investigation and the convicted murderer, there are still plenty of unanswered questions and missing African-American children and young adults who deserve our attention.
If, after season one, you crave even more, check out season two, Monster: The Zodiac Killer.
Particularly relevant in today’s Wi-Fi-driven culture, this indie podcast explores the dark side of the internet. Skillful hackers tell you just how vulnerable your digital identity is. From privacy hacks and cybercrimes, to ransomware and leaked nude selfies, Darknet Diaries covers real-life stories that will make you want to delete all your social media accounts and bury your electronic devices in the ground.
In 2005, Tara Grinstead, a high school teacher and former beauty queen in Georgia, disappeared, leaving the state with its largest case file in history. After learning about the case, filmmaker Payne Lindsey decided to take action and find out what happened to Grinstead. While professionals might disagree with his amateur methods, Lindsey managed to make quite an impact—he unintentionally compelled the then-alleged killer to confess. Since then, Payne has become a legend among investigative amateurs.
This investigative series from CBC Radio tells one crime story per episode and brings a new perspective to every case, with a respectful and honest touch. From the grisly 1999 murder of 15-year-old Sharmini Anandavel, to the serial killer who’s petrified Toronto’s LGBTQ community for the past 12 years, every case will hook you until the end.
This podcast takes you on a deep, obscure journey into the psyche of serial killers who’ve left a gruesome, painful mark on history. By exploring their backgrounds and upbringings from a psychological standpoint, the show thoroughly examines the criminal behavior of the perpetrators. It also goes into the graphic details of their crimes, revealing just how vicious and wicked their minds truly were. The stories are as enthralling as they are stomach-churning.
Succumb to the Halloween spirit by listening to the many dark stories about “the evil that men do.” Sure to have your heart thumping in no time, these podcasts give even the best true-crime docuseries on Netflix a run for its money.
It’s back in the day and pilot fish is working tech support when he gets a call that a dumb terminal used for data entry is acting up. After taking a look, fish decides it needs replacing, so he unplugs it and puts it on a nearby desk so he can set up a new one.
When he leaves, he forgets all about the dead terminal. A couple of weeks later, he gets a call that another terminal in the same area isn’t working. And sure enough, it’s that dead terminal, sitting on a desk, not plugged in to either power or network, that the user is complaining about.
Somehow fish manages not to do an eye roll when the user tells him, “I don’t know what happened. It was working fine yesterday.”