Internet Insecurity Revisited


Your applications encrypt your data.  You’re protected, right?ben_franklin


There are three things you need to know about the latest round of papers made public by Wikileaks:

  • The CIA (in some cases in partnership with UK’s MI5) developed ways to hack device operating systems. The devices include all types of computers and cell phones, networked TVs, car onboard systems — basically everything anyone uses that’s connected to the Internet. The operating systems affected are Windows, Android and Apple.
  • The hack allows the user to read data as it is entered (typed or oral), before it is encrypted.  Everything.
  • The hack allows users to control devices and use them for spying on device owners.
  • The CIA may have LOST CONTROL of these hacks, meaning that they are out in the public domain where others can use them.

The CIA might not care about you, but are there others who might want your bank account?

The revelations have shocked experts.

Still, the amount of smartphone vulnerabilities and exploits detailed in these documents was shocking even to experts. “It certainly seems that in the CIA toolkit there were more zero-day exploits” – an exploitable vulnerability in software not known to the manufacturer – “than we’d estimated,” Jason Healey, a director at the Atlantic Council think tank, told Wired Magazine. He added: “If the CIA has this many, we would expect the NSA to have several times more.”(3)

Early reports are that the documents published by Wikileaks appear authentic.  None of the companies involved have commented on the situation. Nor do there appear to be any patches immediately in the offing.  After all, none of the players is yet admitting that they have something to patch.

Some writers see a bright side in these revelations: the decision to hack operating systems means that data encryption tools work.  That may or may not be true.  We don’t know what is still to be revealed.

Security problems aren’t under control or going away.

“Anybody who thinks that the Manning and Snowden problems were one-offs is just dead wrong,’’ said Joel Brenner, former head of U.S. counterintelligence at the office of the Director of National Intelligence. “Ben Franklin said three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead. If secrets are shared on systems in which thousands of people have access to them, that may really not be a secret anymore. This problem is not going away, and it’s a condition of our existence.’’(4)

I’ve said that nothing on the Internet is private, but this takes that statement to an entirely new level.  Nothing you type or speak into an Internet connected device is private. 

Ben Franklin was indeed a very wise man.


  1. Sharon Profis and Sean Hollister, “WikiLeaks and how the CIA sees your WhatsApp messages, explained,” CNet, 7 March 2017.
  2. Jose Pagliery, “Wikileaks claims to reveal how CIA hacks TVs and phones all over the world,” CNN Tech, 7 March 2017.
  3. Trevor Timm, “WikiLeaks says the CIA can use your TV to spy on you. But there’s good news,” The Guardian, 7 March 2017.
  4. Devlin Barrett, “FBI prepares for new hunt for WikiLeaks’ source,” The Washington Post, 7 March 2017.

Merchant of Death


f22raptorThe US spends more on weapons than do other developed countries that are not actually at war.

In the US, 3.3% of GDP (2015) goes to military spending. In Russia (still considered a “developing country” economically, it’s 5%; in China, it’s 2%. In the EU, it’s 2.8%.

The big spenders on weapons are the Arab states, led by the Saudis. The Saudis spend approximately 14% of annual GDP on weapons, the highest percentage in the world.

The US also sells more weapons to other countries than does anyone else.

Out of 197 countries, 12 of the largest 25 weapons manufacturers are based in the US. Here’s the top 10 (2015 data, as not all companies have closed their 2016 fiscal year):

  1. Lockheed Martin (US) $40 billion
  2. Boeing (US) $29 billion
  3. BAE Systems (UK) $25 billion
  4. Raytheon (US) $22 billion
  5. General Dynamics (US) $19 billion
  6. Northrop Grumman (US) $18 billion
  7. Airbus (The Netherlands) $15 billion
  8. United Technologies (US) $13 billion
  9. Finmeccanica (Italy) $11 billion
  10. L-3 Communications (US) $10 billion (1)

In addition to domestic purchases, the US is a major provider of weapons to other countries (2). The major buyers are

  1. Saudi Arabia, $1.9 billion from US out of $3 billion in total arms imports
  2. Iraq, $893 million in purchases from the US (51.5% of total arms imports)
  3. Australia, $869 million from US (82% of total arms imports)
  4. United Arab Emirates, $773 million from US (61%)
  5. Qatar, $595 million from US (66%)
  6. Israel, $526 million from US (87%)
  7. Italy, $511 million from US (59%)
  8. South Korea, $501 million (37%)
  9. Japan, $307 million (93%)
  10. Mexico, $280 million (72%)

Oddly, current foreign policy in the Middle East and towards Mexico could put much of this weapons revenue at risk. In World War II, the US was “the arsenal of democracy.” That’s no longer the case since most of the major buyers are monarchies.



  3. “Military Expenditure,”


Diabetes and Domestic Violence


Diabetes is an ugly disease, affecting the physical health of those who have it.  It may also imagesaffect the mental health of victims.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that it may be the cause of some verbal and physical violence in the home.

What we know.

  • 29.1 million Americans have diabetes, according to a 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control.
  • Of these, 8.1 million are undiagnosed.
  • Another 86 million are pre-diabetic, meaning they are at risk for development of the disease.
  • Diabetes results from a hormone imbalance (insulin) that results in excessive glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream.
  • Diabetes places a person at risk for heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, risk of amputation, and death.  It was the seventh leading cause of death in 2010 in the US.
  • Diabetes may develop at birth or occur in adults.  Risk factors include poor diet and obesity. (1)

What we’re not sure about and need to know

Excess sugar in the blood is anecdotally associated with mood swings and “irrational” behavior.  Most researchers have focused on eating disorders and the willingness of those suffering from diabetes to make the necessary behavior changes to control the disease.  However, that may not be the whole story.

  • The American Diabetes Association apparently considers “diabetic rage” to be a reaction to the diagnosis.

Diabetes is the perfect breeding ground for anger. Anger can start at diagnosis with the question, “Why me?” You may dwell on how unfair diabetes is: “I’m so angry at this disease! I don’t want to treat it. I don’t want to control it. I hate it!” (2)

  • However, there is both research on children and anecdotal evidence among adults that mood swings and rage behavior  occur independent of diagnosis.
    • A mother talks about a child with Type 1 Diabetes and how poor behavior is linked to low or excessive blood sugar levels. (4)
    • Joslin researchers reported a link between high levels of glutamate (a neurotransmitter produced by glucose) to symptoms of depression in people with type 1 diabetes. (5)
    • “Behaviors such as aggression, delinquency, and hyperactivity In children with type 1 diabetes, are associated with high blood glucose (sugar) levels.” (6)
    • There is a blog thread on people who have direct experience with violent behavior associated with abnormal glucose levels. (7)

Gonder-Frederick and colleagues comment on the lack of research on the social and behavior impact of hypoglycenia (abnormal blood glucose levels).(8)  Balhara points to the existence of a relationship between diabetes and psychiatric disorders, and also to the lack of research focused on this link.(9)

Mary de Groot and her colleagues focus on the relationship between diabetes and depression, anxiety disorders and more severe forms of mental illness (e.g., bipolar disorder).(10)

In my own family, my grandmother was apparently prone to verbally abusive outbursts as a young woman.  These outbursts apparently stopped when she was diagnosed as diabetic and placed on an insulin regimen.

My wife’s first husband was verbally and physically abusive.  He was also diagnosed late in life (after their divorce) as diabetic, and was about to remarry when he died.  Could earlier diagnosis have put a stop to the abuse?  There’s just no way to know.  Hindsight only goes so far.

What you need to consider:

  • If you know someone who is abusive to family or  coworkers, does the person have characteristics that might suggest they are diabetic?  For example, are they overweight?  Does their demeanor change before and after meals? 
  • Have they been tested for diabetes?  Are they willing to be tested?
Caveat:  I am a researcher, not a doctor.  If you think there is an issue in your family, you need to consult with a medical professional and determine whether diabetes might be a factor in what you are seeing.  If it is, it needs to be managed.  It’s not something you can ignore and hope it goes away.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “National Diabetes Report 2014.”
  2. American Diabetes Association, “Anger”,
  3. Liberty Medical, “How does elevated blood sugar affect a person’s behavior and mood?”
  4. Insulin Nation, “Bad Behavior or Blood Sugar Swings?”
  5. Joslin Diabetes Center, “Emotions & Blood-Sugar Levels: How Diabetes Can Affect Your Mood,” 8 July 2014.
  6. “Sugar Levels Affects Behavior of Children With Diabetes,” 9 October 2007.
  7. “High Blood sugar and irrational behavior,” Blog discussion, 24 March 2006.
  8. Gonder-Frederick LA, Clarke WL, Cox DJ. “The Emotional, Social, and Behavioral Implications of Insulin-Induced Hypoglycemia,” Semin Clin Neuropsychiatry. 1997 Jan;2(1):57-65.
  9. Yatan Pal Singh Balhara, “Diabetes and psychiatric disorders,” Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Oct-Dec; 15(4): 274–283.
  10. Mary de Groot, Sherita Hill Golden, Julie Wagner, “Psychological Conditions in Adults With Diabetes,” American Psychologist, 2016, Vol. 71, No. 7, 552–562.

Obesity and Coed Grades


Female students who are obese get lower grades than their peers in non-science subjects.(e.g., English).  That’s true even if standardized test scores for the obese and non-obese female are identical. Coeds who are overweight but not obese get grades that are comparable to their more svelte peers.

That’s the finding of research from the University of Illinois (Chicago).

“The study found obesity to be associated with a penalty on teacher evaluations of academic performance among white girls in English, but not in math. There was no penalty observed for white girls who were overweight but not obese.” (2)

The researcher goes on to hypothesize that teachers in subject associated with female gender stereotyping exhibit prejudice in grading obese female students.  Certainly, that’s a possible explanation.  Other studies have concluded that obesity can affect brain function including memory and concentration.

“Obesity subtly diminishes memory and other features of thinking and reasoning even among seemingly healthy people, an international team of scientists reports.” (3)

However, in Branigan’s defense, there is a substantial literature showing that teacher expectations of students affect the grades students receive. Stipek is but one of a large number of references discussing the impact of teacher bias on student achievement. (4)

Bias exists in both positive and negative forms.  If a teacher expects a student to do poorly, the student is likely to get a lower grade.  If the teacher expects a student to do well, the student is likely to get a better grade.

If I may hazard a guess, the same prejudices exist in the workplace with similar results.


  1. Amelia R. Branigan. (How) Does Obesity Harm Academic Performance? Stratification at the Intersection of Race, Sex, and Body Size in Elementary and High School. Sociology of Education, 2017; 90 (1): 25 DOI: 10.1177/0038040716680271
  2. University of Illinois at Chicago. “Teachers may be cause of ‘obesity penalty’ on girls’ grades.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 February 2017. <>.
  3. Janet Raloff, Obesity messes with the brain,” Science News, Vol. 179 #9, April 23, 2011, p. 8.
  4. D. Stipek, “How Do Teachers’ Expectations Affect Student Learning,”, 20 Juy 2010.
  5. Tim Lobstein et. al., “Child and adolescent obesity: part of a bigger picture,” Lancet. 2015 Jun 20; 385(9986): 2510–2520.

Checking out of the holidays


lights-1088141__340In listening to people this season, I’ve learned that there are good people who are no longer emotionally engaged in the winter holidays.  This is more than just not giving gifts.  Nor is it a function of religious affiliation.  However, this is real and each person has there own compelling reason for opting out.

Unless you listen, you may not know who these people are.  They may even put up decorations and wish others a “Happy Holiday” or “Merry Christmas.”  However, they aren’t having one themselves.

We know that (as of 2014) 9% of Americans were not giving gifts for the holidays.  That number may be understated.

  • Only 70.6% of Americans self-identify as Christian according to Pew.  Of course, Jews may give Hanukah gifts, but only 1.9% of Americans say they are Jewish.
  • Household finances are a major reason for abandoning gift-giving.

There are other reasons.  As on blogger notes

“If you’re anything like this writer, Christmas was just never a thing in your house.” Lieu

I don’t know about that blogger, but the people with whom I’ve spoken cite a number of specific reasons for loss of enthusiasm for the holiday.  This is a small sample, so I can’t quantify statistically how common these issues are, or which is more important.

  • The holiday is associated with loss of a loved one
  • Growing up in a dysfunctional home
    • An alcoholic parent who binges on the holidays
    • A workaholic or absentee parent
    • An abusive parent
  • Abuse by a minister or priest
  • Having a dysfunctional spouse (alcoholic, abusive or absentee)
  • Abusive relatives or in-laws

Any of these things can forever darken a holiday.  For the victim, the linkage is tattooed on the memory; he or she just wants to get past the day.

The best you can do as a third party is understand and show compassion.  You can’t make the person feel differently than they do.

Even compassion is hard when the victim won’t talk about what happened.  That’s where your listening skills have to be acute.  If you want to help, you need to hear “between the words.”

So the person who says “Bah Humbug” to the holiday may not be a Grinch or Scrooge, but may be someone in need of understanding. Or someone with whom to take in a movie.