Thursday, June 13, 2013

When The Ship Lifts...

...all debts are paid.
-- Robert Heinlein
A few days ago I learned anecdotally from a friend of mine that some banks no longer sell or honor travelers cheques, which made me a little sad for no good reason.  Since I refused every offer to own a credit card (and a cell phone) until I was well into my 40s, and since back in the olden times -- several careers ago -- I was required to do a lot of jetting from here to there, stopping at the bank to pick up a fat stack of these --

-- was part of my ritual.

Now that they are fading from memory, what should an American traveler do for money when going abroad into strange lands?

US dollars work fine, but they can be stolen, hence the reason for travelers cheques in the first place.  Precious metals and gems are just as snatchable as cash, cause big problems for the barista at Starbucks when he tries to make correct change for your quarter carat ruby, and might buy you some unwanted attention from local law enforcement.  Other, less legally fungible commodities such as drugs or guns will almost certainly buy you a lot of attention from locals on both sides of the law, and are a huge (and sometimes literal) pain in the ass to transport: not worth the risk unless you're already in the business.  

"But what about less exotic methods?" you very reasonably ask.  Why bother with any of that when credit and debit cards work just fine and the world is festooned with Square Readers and ATM machines?  Ah, but those transactions are all digital.  Traceable.  And they draw from accounts that can be frozen.  What happens to all your digital wealth if the reason you are traveling in the first place is that you have hugely pissed off the sort of people who can make your pretty plastic cards as worthless as Confederate scrip with a couple of mouse clicks?

Well, it turns out there is another, time-honored commodity which has been treated as as-good-as-cash by almost all governments since the beginning of history. 

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has told a Hong Kong newspaper that the U.S. government has been hacking Hong Kong and Chinese networks for at least four years.  The comments were made as part of the South China Morning Post's exclusive interview with Snowden — his first since revealing himself on Sunday.

Snowden reportedly showed reporter Lana Lam documents that showed the NSA had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland since 2009. He estimated there were hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and mainland China, including the Chinese University of Hong Kong. None of the documents revealed any information about Chinese military systems, Snowden said.

“We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” Snowden told Lam.
As Heinlein said, when the ship lifts, all debts are paid.
And sometimes, all bets are off. 


pj said...

Can't say I blame him - if Our Guys ever get to him, he'll get what Bradley Manning got, at a minimum.

Overclock speedy said...

OK, IT guy hat on....

This means shit. You can't hack a computer this way, you can just get the traffic. Grabbing a major router even on a backbone network gives you no access to the actual fucking computer. At best you get an IP address it comes from (which is a logical item, easily spoofed, and not worth dick) or if you go deeper than that a MAC address (this is an actual physical item, though again can be spoofed!).

So.... you're grabbing all the traffic through a device and you have the IP to work with... that's, well not much.

IT fail. And yeah I used to work in DOD IT. Busting into a network device to get traffic does not get you access to the individual devices, that's a step farther.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, why waste your life raking in a 6 figure private sector salary in paradise, after a decade long, government sponsored tech education.....when you can go sell the fruits of that education to screw over the very same government?
No sucker he...

mahakal said...

Terribly disloyal to his (Bush-ladin-)Carlyle employers, I guess.