Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Notable consumer data breaches:

Oct. 2013: A Vietnam-based identity theft ring allegedly stole data for 500,000 Americans, then posted the information for sale on websites, including superget.info and findget.me.

June 2013: Hackers targeted 15 financial institutions, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and E-Trade, as part of a nearly two-year-long scheme that involved hacking into customer accounts to steal at least $15 million.
Oct. 2012: Barnes & Noble said data thieves hacked into payment devices and may have stolen customer credit and debit card information at 63 of its stores, including 20 in California.

Jan. 2012: Zappos.com was the victim of a cyber attack by a hacker who accessed customer information on the company's internal network and systems. The company said the potentially exposed information included names, email addresses, billing and shipping addresses, phone numbers and the last four digits of credit card numbers.
Oct. 2011: Groups of identity thieves took $13 million from consumers, banks and businesses through a worldwide credit card fraud operation that involved shopping sprees at local malls, officials said.
June 2011: Hackers broke into Citi's online account site and stole names, account numbers and email addresses of about 200,000 Citibank credit card customers in North America.
August 2008: The Bank of New York Mellon reported that a security breach involving the loss of backup data storage tapes affected about 8 million more individuals than originally thought.
August 2008: The FBI arrested a former Countrywide Financial Corp. employee and another man in an alleged scheme to steal and sell sensitive personal information, including Social Security numbers, of as many as 2 million mortgage applicants.

August 2008: Federal authorities said they had cracked the largest case of identity theft in U.S. history, charging 11 people in the theft of more than 40 million credit and debit card account numbers from computer systems at such major retailers as TJ Maxx and Barnes & Noble.
July 2008: Hackers broke into Citibank's network of ATMs inside 7-Eleven stores and stole customers' PIN codes, according to recent court filings that revealed a disturbing security hole in the most sensitive part of a banking record.


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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Book review: "Roll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry"

"Roll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry" is a fine book for teenagers, or anyone who wants a good story and is willing to learn a bit about growing up black in the American South.

Mildred B. Taylor's story about an African-American family living in rural Mississippi in the 1930s takes a look at race relations on a personal, intimate
level. Told from the perspective of 9-year-old Cassie Logan, the story shows how Cassie, her brothers and her African-American friends begin to learn that life will be different, and difficult, for them simply because they are black.

The dawning is slow at first. Sure, the whites and blacks go to different schools, but that alone doesn't stir any anger for the children. In fact, the African-American children feel they might even have it a bit better, since they get to start school later in the year and finish earlier.

But the white kids get to ride to school in a bus, while the black children have to walk. And the white bus driver likes to spray mud-puddle water at the black children every chance he can. The unfairness begins to seep in to Cassie and her friends.

That is just the start. Piece by piece, Cassie and her siblings learn that life will never be equitable. They fear that white "night riders" might appear out of nowhere to attack their home.

Cassie's parents are caught in a dilemma, trying to teach their children about what is right and fair, while also preparing them to be treated badly.

The dialog for the most part rings true, but a few spots don't. Cassie's mother delivers something of an historical monologue on slavery and race relations that seems forced. Same thing for a section where Cassie's grandmother tells the family history to Cassie.

Still, it's a very readable book, with a nicely calibrated build-up to a dramatic finish.  You'll find yourself turning pages rapidly to see how it turns out.


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Monday, May 2, 2016

"Purple Rain": A downpour of dreck

It's considered bad form to speak ill of the dead. That may be why, in the aftermath of Prince's death, so many writers and pundits chose their words carefully when describing the singer's 1984 movie "Purple Rain."

Some articles simply noted that "Purple Rain" won an Academy Award for best original score. Others described the film as "iconic" or a "hit" -- pointedly avoiding any assessment of the actual quality of the movie.
Prince in "Purple Rain"

After seeing the movie last night, I can see why.

What all these writers are apparently too polite to say is that "Purple Rain" is a truly awful movie. "Movie" may not even be the right word. "Purple Rain" is nothing more than a string of music videos linked together by the flimsiest of plots, featuring acting so wooden you wonder if the performers are reading their lines off cue cards.

The storyline, seemingly dreamed up about 10 minutes before filming began, gives us an assortment of self-centered characters and little reason to care about them.

Yes, there is the music. But if you like Prince's music, simply buy his albums or download his songs. There' s no reason to give up two hours of your life to endure this movie.

On top of everything, "Purple Rain" is shockingly misogynistic. Women are beaten, demeaned, and treated as sexual playthings. Like a wife-beater's fantasy, they keep coming back for more. When a woman challenges one male character, he picks her up, tosses her into a dumpster and walks away with a smirk.


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