Ransomware, WhatsApp Spyware – CS50 Podcast, Ep. 5


DAVID MALAN: This is CS50. Hello, world. This is the CS50 podcast,
episode 5, 0 indexed. My name is David Malan, and I’m
here with CS50’s own Colton Ogden. COLTON OGDEN: Glad to be here– interesting thing to start us off–
so, we’ve talked about robocalls a lot in the recent past, multiple episodes. And I think we touched
briefly upon the prospect of finding a solution to this problem. You know, people are getting
robocalls all the time, even though, in the
last couple of weeks, I have noticed the numbers sort of
dropping, at least for me, personally. I still get the occasional call
from a presumed spoofed caller. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, sorry about that. COLTON OGDEN: But, apparently, the FCC– Ajit Pai has proposed a
ruling that would actually allow phone companies to block these
unwanted calls, these spoofed calls, before they even get
to potential customers. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, no,
this is a nice initiative. It’s perhaps a little belated
at this point, certainly. Because, as we’ve discussed, these
robocalls, these automated calls, have really been
proliferating, in large part because of the software
via what you can do this, and the API access
which you can do this. But I think the fundamental
problem, frankly, is that the phone system
that we have today really is not all that fundamentally
different from what we’ve had for decades now, which
is to say that there’s no authentication of these
calls in the first place. The systems generally just trust that
the number being presented in caller ID is, in fact, the number
from which a call came. And that’s, of course,
not always the case. COLTON OGDEN: Right, and the– I guess the proposed sort of
authentication system that they’re going to roll out is called Shaken Stir,
which is very akin to what James Bond’s says when he orders a martini. But the acronym is a– basically, the shaken
part of it is signature based handling of asserted
information using tokens. And then the stir part would be
secure telephone identity revisited. DAVID MALAN: Indeed,
it’s a wonderful acronym if you allow yourself to use arbitrary
letters from some of the words. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, and
it’s a bit of a mouthful. But this is cool, because this
suggests that we’ll actually get what you just alluded to, a way of
actually signing calls and making sure that people who present themselves
as xyz are in fact xyz and not, you know, sort of proxying
themselves or presenting themselves as some other entity. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, I mean,
much like the web– thankfully we got that right, presumably because
of lessons learned from things like telephony over the years. Of course, the phone system
has been around for so long now that it’s certainly hard,
I imagine, to shoehorn in some of these more
technological features without breaking some of
the intermediate points or some of the last
miles, some of the folks who are on the other end of the line
that might not necessarily have access, in their municipality,
to the latest hardware. So, I’ll be curious to
see how this evolves. I mean, to be honest, this
might all become moot over time if phones themselves, or
phone numbers, are perhaps replaced by more data based services. I mean, right now, we’re
very much in the phase of commercial services like
WhatsApp, and iMessage, and so forth. I mean, but those have started to
supplant already things like SMS, so, frankly, maybe the
solution is ultimately just going to be too late in coming
if the world moves to something else, anyway. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, I imagine, when
folks were developing the phone system we have in place, they weren’t
expecting the ability for somebody to arbitrarily code and script,
en masse, the sort of behavior that we’re experiencing now. DAVID MALAN: Yeah– hey, back in
the day, it used to be based– at least pay phones–
on actual sounds, right? There are so many
documented cases, and I think Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak
were among the folks involved in this back in the day, where you could
have a little box that would generate the appropriate sounds that
mimicked what the sound was if you put a quarter or a dime into a phone. So, you could effectively make
free long distance phone calls by spoofing those sounds. So there, too– there was a
sort of an assumption of trust that was quickly broken. COLTON OGDEN: I think the theme is
always that, if there is a system, humans will find a way
to abuse and break it. DAVID MALAN: Indeed, but there are some
really real world implications of this. In fact, just the other
day did I see an article online about what have been called
virtual kidnappings which, frankly, is literally ripped out of
a “Law and Order” episode that I’m pretty sure I’ve
seen, which is ironic, because usually it’s
“Law and Order” ripping things out of the actual headlines. But this, I think,
predates this, whereby folks have started to
get, terrifyingly, what appear to be actual phone
calls from their child’s phone number, or relative’s phone number,
or a co-worker’s phone number, and on the other end of the line
is some adversary, some human who is pretending to have actually
kidnapped the person whose phone they’re purporting to be calling from when,
in reality, they’re just spoofing that number and tricking someone
into thinking that they’ve actually physically hijacked their phone
number and kidnapped that person. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, presumably, I
mean, with this new ruling, hopefully, you know, this sort of
horrendous situation doesn’t end up becoming
common at all, or at least it gets completely remediated. DAVID MALAN: Yeah. COLTON OGDEN: Because this is one of
the more terrifying examples of how to abuse spoofing. DAVID MALAN: No, absolutely. And it’s horrifying that
it’s gotten to this point but, you know, what you might
think is kind of a cool hack, the ability to spoof
your phone number, really does have some non-trivial implications. And especially, for most folks
out there, you know– myself, before I even thought about this the
other day after reading the article– you might not even realize
that this is possible and what the implications, therefore,
are of these sort of bugs at best or– bugs at worst, or
missing features at best. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, I mean I
think if this even happened to me, I think my initial inclination
would be to believe it. I mean, certainly it
would be terrifying, and you wouldn’t want to
take any risks and assume that whoever’s on the
other end of the line is actually bluffing you
or telling the truth. Now, speaking of
ransoms, unfortunately, I think these have cropped up in
other contexts in the news of late and for the past couple
of years, in fact. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, no. I mean, there have been multiple cases,
WannaCry being very prominent in 2017, of these sort of worms that
infect people’s systems and, you know, potentially encrypt
the hard drive, or do other things, and request that, in
order to have this fixed, the end user end up paying
some amount of money, either bitcoin or actual money,
to decrypt their hard drive or do whatever needs to be
done to unlock their system. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, no, and that’s
the problem with worms, and viruses, and just malware, malicious
software in general, is that, if it has the same privileges
that you, the user, who accidentally installed it, somehow do– or worse, it has
administrative or root access to the computer– it can do anything
with your system and the data. You know, it almost makes exploits
like sending spam automatically, unbeknownst to you, from your computer
seem like completely delightful in comparison because, now, these
most recent forms of ransomware are indeed doing exactly that. They’re actually running
algorithms to encrypt the files on your own hard drive
and then not telling you, the owner of those files, what
the key is, the sort of secret with which they were encrypted. And, so, in this way can
the bad guys literally say, hey, pay us some number of dollars or,
in practice, some number of bitcoins in order to get access to the key
via which you can unlock your data. Who knows if you’re even
going to get the key. I mean, frankly, an even
more compelling ransomware would be to just encrypt the
data and throw the key away. Then you don’t even have to
communicate further with the person once you get that fund. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, and, in light
of this sort of horrible new trend of ransomware that we’ve
observed over the last few years, there are companies that do try and
take advantage of this and will say, you know, we will help
you decrypt your system. We will use high tech, quote unquote,
solutions to reverse this ransomware. But it turns out that
some companies, instead of actually having the algorithms
and the technology to do this, are paying the actual people
responsible for the ransomware directly and then
charging you a premium. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, no, this is
really kind of a tricky thing, and I’m reminded of most any Hollywood
movie, where someone is taken hostage. And, at least the US, in
these movies, is always– takes the position officially– the
US does not negotiate with terrorists. Well, that may very
well or not very well be the case, because the
closer you get to home, and the closer you get to it involving
people you know, or files you own, or information you need, do these
decisions become a little less obvious. And it’s a little harder to take that
sort of moral stance, if you will. And, in fact, in one of the articles
on ProPublica was this wonderful quote. It is easy to take the
position that no one should pay a ransom in a ransomware
attack, because such payments encourage future ransomware attacks. It is much harder, however,
to take that position when it is your data
that has been encrypted and the future of your company and
all of the jobs of your employees are in peril. It’s a classic moral dilemma. And that really does put
it into perspective, right? It’s one thing to sort of argue–
no, we should not pay this ransom, because it’s only going to happen
to us or perhaps other people with greater frequency. But, if you really need the data on that
hard drive, the financial information, the medical information, anything,
the business information, you’re only recourse might
actually be to pay the ransom and then hopefully lock
your systems down much more effectively the next time around. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, it’s
difficult when you’re so– when you’re far removed
from the problem, it’s easy to say, oh,
just don’t negotiate. But, when you’re
actually there, when it’s your data, your information, your loved
ones, it gets a little bit trickier. It’s a little bit greyer. COLTON OGDEN: And, if you do pay
that one time to get your data back, man, you’ve just presented yourself
to the bad guys as being someone they can clearly fleece again. So, it really boils down to– try to avoid putting yourself
in that situation at all, and have all of the
defenses you can think of in place in terms of your
systems, in terms of your personnel. I mean, frankly, too
often are these exploits the result of social engineering,
actually tricking people into revealing their passwords
by typing it into a website, or tricking them into opening a link, or
click on some attachment, or the like. And then the whole setup– your whole system can
perhaps be compromised. So, getting ahead of that and
instituting better principles, some of which we’ve discussed on the
podcast, password length and so forth– password managers can be just a step
toward avoiding the problem altogether. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, it’s so tricky. I mean, we have– like we’ve talked about
before multiple times, the good guys have it the hardest. The bad guys just need
to find one way in. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah,
they just need to find one employee who accidentally clicks on
that link or discloses that password. DAVID MALAN: One open
window, so to speak– [SIGH] It’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate, because
there are vulnerabilities that ship, not only just– there are vulnerabilities
that don’t arise just out of the negligence of individuals but
the negligence of companies themselves. COLTON OGDEN: Speaking of– DAVID MALAN: And, in the news recently,
some folks might know already– WhatsApp actually had a
vulnerability that was revealed. There was a company that
was releasing spyware. It was actually shipping
spyware through calls made through the WhatsApp
application, which is a incredibly commonly used
application in the United States and abroad. COLTON OGDEN: Absolutely. I mean, it is, ironically, an
alternative to SMS or texting that I alluded to earlier. It’s data based, in which–
a case that uses TCP/IP and network protocols to
actually transmit the messages. And, as best I could tell from actually
reading Facebook’s own disclosure– Facebook, of course, being
the owners of WhatsApp– it seemed to be some low level
code that actually rendered the application vulnerable to
a so-called buffer overflow exploit, whereby they must be
allocating some amount of memory inside of the source code for WhatsApp. And, unfortunately, at
some point in their code, they weren’t checking to make sure that
they were confining their use of memory to that footprint. So, if they allocated 100 bytes,
they weren’t actually checking to make sure that they didn’t
accidentally write more than 100 bytes to that location in memory. And, if you’re using a language like
Objective C, or other lower level code that’s involved with networking,
you might very well not have the language to
protect you from yourself. And, in this case, it seemed to allow
an adversary to actually install malicious software on your own phone. And, in this case, it seems to have
been spyware of some form, which is to say that you might
have some software running on your phone unbeknownst to you,
somehow listening to you or your data. DAVID MALAN: It’s
interesting, because CS50– in your lectures, you even talk
about buffer overflow attacks and how to mitigate them. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, I mean that
depends on how complex your code is. It can be easy still using languages–
perhaps Objective C, in this case. Although, they weren’t very
forthcoming with the particular implementation details of the hack. It’s certainly still possible. There are good tools out there that
can help you detect these things. Whether or not those tools were in
use in this context is also not clear, but it’s sort of a fundamental
flaw, at worst, or missing feature, at best, to borrow our
terminology earlier, that this is even possible
in these languages. So, this is why there’s been trends
toward languages like Java, and Python, and the like that actually don’t
even let you do this in this case. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, with great
power comes great responsibility and a lot of weight on your shoulders
if you’re a low level developer. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, no. And just think, to your
point earlier, all it takes is for one adversary out there
with a little too much free time to find the one bug that’s in
WhatsApp, though surely there’s many more than that. And then he or she can have access,
potentially, to a whole system if the bug is bad enough. DAVID MALAN: Yeah and,
in this case, I mean, they were even able to transmit the
data if they didn’t answer the call. So they could get a call, not
answer it, still get infected. And it was the case
that some of the calls actually could be removed
from folks’ logs, too. So, they wouldn’t even be all the more
privy to the fact that they got a call and were potentially
infected in the first place. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, you know, it reminds
me of an incident a few years ago now when Sony had some software– DRM software– for
digital rights management whereby, if you put, I think,
a CD into your computer, it would actually install
what was effectively a route exploit, somehow taking
advantage of the ability to install software, run it behind
the scenes, but then cover its tracks, and not even show up in the Windows
Task Manager, for instance, as I recall. So these are particularly malicious,
and that was done by a company, not even just by an
adversary on the internet. It’s scary that this is
still possible in systems. DAVID MALAN: I remember
hearing about that. I’m not sure if it was
us that talked about it, but I remember thinking, wow, I
can’t believe a company that big is doing something like that. And who else might be
doing something like that, unbeknownst to the rest of us? COLTON OGDEN: Yes, that
did not end well for Sony, if you take a look at the articles
online or the Wikipedia article. DAVID MALAN: I vaguely
do remember people being a little bit upset about that. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, but
companies do make mistakes. I mean, also in the news this past week
was a zombie load exploits affecting some of Intel’s hardware. That I find particularly scary. And, in short, in this case,
with the zombie load attack, is it possible to essentially convince
the CPU, the brains of your computer, to leak information in ways
that you didn’t intend? And this is problematic
if one application is able to see information
from another application. And, in fact, in this
case here, thankfully, it seems to have been the good guys, the
security researchers, who uncovered this first and reported it to Intel. It’s not known if it
was actually exploited, but they actually had a
compelling proof of concept, for which there’s a nice video online. If you Google zombie
load Intel, you should find at any number of
articles which showed them visiting various websites in a browser. And then, in a little
command line interface, where they had written a program that
was just running behind the scenes, they were able to log
all of the host names that were being used by the
browser to access those web pages, effectively leaking information
across processes, which should not be possible on a system. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, it’s pretty chilling. I mean, in that same
article they talked about– this might be host names now,
but this could be your security– this could be your tokens. This could be your passwords. This could be any bit of– your card numbers, what have
you, any bit of information that is going to potentially lead to a
massive security vulnerability for you. And it’s scary when it’s hardware, too. I mean, hardware is supposed to be the
stuff that doesn’t need to be updated, but that’s just silly and naive. I mean, running on today’s hardware
is essentially embedded software or firmware, as it’s typically called. And most people,
frankly, probably aren’t really in the habits of updating their
bios in the PC world, or that low level software. Apple, thankfully, takes
care of this for users. And, so, who knows how often these
things are actually discovered? But, when it’s baked
into hardware, that even puts it a little more out
of most people’s reach. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, no, this is
pretty frightening, because, I mean, this transcends just what might
be one person’s physical machine. This could easily apply– and CS50’s own
infrastructure is a big part of this– to virtual machines hosted in the
Cloud, because these all eventually run on physical machines. But, you know, one physical machine
that might be running since CS50’s code with x other company’s code– x company might find a way to get
access to all of our credentials, or whoever other company, right? Because it’s all, you know,
at the hardware level. DAVID MALAN: Absolutely,
it’s frightening. COLTON OGDEN: There was something
interesting that I saw, which was– and this is one of the coolest,
cleverest ways I’ve seen of, again, abusing a system, finding a way into
a system that you shouldn’t have, and that’s with Google Drive. So, somebody released, on GitHub, a
program that actually allows folks– because here’s the
thing with Google Drive. You can store, in your Google
Drive, unlimited Google Docs. There’s no quota cap on Google Docs. But this is only for Google Docs format. But somebody found a way to
encode arbitrary information, arbitrary binaries, as Google Docs. And, well, that essentially
led to them having unlimited disk space in Google Drive. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, and
I would say this is more of a theoretical
convenience than a practical one, because there’s some overhead
in running the software. But, yeah, it’s kind of
a brilliant sort of hack, if you will, or exploit, or
work around, when really it’s just kind of taking advantage
of the design of the system. Like, normally, you’re supposed to use
Google Drive, and Dropbox, and iCloud, and those other kinds of file based
services by dragging and dropping your files, whether it’s a text file, or
binary file, or video file, or program, or whatever, into the drive or up
through the browser, and it gets saved. But, of course, it takes up some number
of bytes, or megabytes, or gigabytes, and that counts against
your finite quota. But, for reasons that
maybe the staff of Google who wrote Google Docs didn’t think
about this, or didn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to try
this, it’s really kind of cool. You can take any binary file,
convert it to text using something like Base64 encoding, which is
similar in spirit to Bas10, or Base2, or Base16, which are decimal, or
binary, or hexadecimal, respectively. But just turn it into text,
and then automatically paste it into one or more Google
documents, and then reconstitute it later when you
actually want to download the data. I mean, frankly, this is probably
more annoying than anything, and Google could clamp down
on this pretty quickly. They could probably say, you know,
if you have a million Google Docs, you’re probably not using
them for Google Docs purposes. So, they could put some
thresholds in there, but it would be fascinating to
be privy to the chats going on at Google, if someone was like,
oh, we knew this was possible, but we just didn’t worry about
it, because it’s not that useful, or if minds were blown and, wow,
that’s such a clever sort of exploit. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, no,
if folks are interested, they can go to
GitHub.com/StuartMcGowan/UDS and see exactly what’s going on. I imagine, probably very soon, it
will no longer be a relevant codebase. I have to imagine Google’s
going to find a way around it. DAVID MALAN: No, this is
one of those this is why we can’t have nice things situations. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, no, but it’s
a very fascinating experiment. Another company– another
big company is Microsoft. That’s a little bit of a segue there. They released a series of patches
recently for some vulnerabilities that apparently exist on
older versions of Windows, for operating systems such as XP
and Windows 2003, among many others. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, so,
for those of you still running Windows XP from like
20 years ago, this is for you. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, 16 updates
targeting at least 79 security holes in Windows and related software,
which is awesome that they’re actually being proactive about
doing this, and they’re not doing this on the heels
of an exploit that comes out from some nefarious actor– DAVID MALAN: Granted, but it’s also
terrifying that, since the last update, there have been 79 security
related bugs fixed. And those are the ones
that have been fixed. Let’s just imagine how many have not
yet been discovered, let alone fixed. COLTON OGDEN: Right, there was one
I remember reading that was a day 0 vulnerability that they had just fixed. And there was another fix for
remote desktop services, which is built into various versions of
Windows, including 7, Windows Server 2008, R2, and Windows Server 2008. So, pretty crazy that– and all of these computers
may have been compromised, may not have been compromised,
at least to folks’ knowledge. But, at the very least, now,
people are running this software. They can rest assured that a small
chunk of potential vulnerabilities are at least taken care of now. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, well,
and for those unfamiliar, worms are among the most
scary of malware attacks, whereas a virus, for
instance, is the kind of thing that you have to sort of
accidentally or foolishly click on a link that opens
some software and runs it, or you have to open an attachment that
actually is infected with software. A worm is, by definition,
self propagating. So, once that process or that program
is running, perhaps unbeknownst to you on your computer, it can spread,
via a network connection, to another computer, or another
computer, or another computer, if all of those computers
are themselves vulnerable. And, in this case, too, if your
system’s not already patched, you are in fact vulnerable. And, so, this frankly
really got me thinking about a trend, which is a
good thing in recent years, especially in the Apple ecosystem,
which is essentially compelling people to automatically update. Auto update, dare say, used to be more
of an opt in thing, not on by default. And, to be fair, you do in
some contexts still have to opt into it on Apple’s platforms. But it’s getting more and
more in companies’ interest to sort of compel users
to update, and this is helping to narrow the number of
systems that are actually vulnerable. Because, if you’re auto
updating on a schedule, at least you’re with a lower
probability of running the older, more vulnerable stuff. So, it’s a good thing, generally
speaking, to have auto updates on. COLTON OGDEN: I know Windows 10 is
the particular offender in this realm, because they are hyper-aggressive
about making you automatically update, and they make it really difficult
for you to actually get out of that behavior. DAVID MALAN: Yeah,
no, this is very true. And it backfires in terms
of UX or user experience. I remember years ago, when
the Xbox One first came out, we had one here in the
office for students to use. And the first thing we tried to do
was set it up around the holidays, and everyone was so excited that
we had the brand new Xbox One and wanted to play some game, maybe
a soccer game or something like that, on it. And, so, everyone plugged it in
and, just like Christmas morning, everyone’s ready to start, and then– downloading, downloading. And then, like, no joke,
an hour or more later, was the Xbox finally ready to let
us play a game, by which point Christmas was over, or
whatever the day was. And, so, it really kind of got in
the way of a good user experience. But, maybe that protected our
system from being compromised. So, it really is a trade-off,
which is thematic in computing. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah,
trust and trade-offs, if we had to boil down
CS into two words– DAVID MALAN: Yeah, I
think that’s pretty apt. COLTON OGDEN: Well,
somebody actually requested we talk about this, which
is kind of a cool thing. Careers and technology
would be the topic here. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, so we got this
question from one of our listeners. I like these. Can you talk about careers
in tech in a future podcast, maybe what areas have more job
openings in the next few years, what skills are in demand, and what
areas may decline in the future, also maybe the interview process? So, a bit of a loaded question– I think we can touch
on this a little bit here and certainly welcome
other such questions. I mean, it’s hard to go
wrong nowadays, certainly, in bolstering your technical comforts
and your technical skill expertise. It’s so much easier
these days to find access to high quality educational
content for free on the internet. You don’t need to necessarily
go through formal schooling or pay for these actual programs. With that said, it’s tough
to predict these trends. I mean, there’s certainly things
that are in vogue these days. Python, for instance,
is a language that’s very much in vogue these days for
web programming, for data science applications, for interactivity. JavaScript is another one
that’s perhaps even more popular and trending these days, both on
the client side and the server side. And then there’s the whole,
like, operations world, technologies like Docker,
and virtual machines, and so forth, that are really
transforming how systems are hosted in the Cloud and elsewhere. So, there’s a lot of exciting trends. But, frankly, I think, rather
than even chasing these trends, I think you can’t really go
wrong in studying, really first and foremost, the fundamentals and
focusing on having a strong software background with procedural
programming, with classes like CS50, functional programming,
object oriented programming, as by taking other classes,
and then keeping an eye– that really opens doors, I think, to all
sorts of entry level and higher level software jobs. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, problem
solving I think ultimately– DAVID MALAN: Absolutely. COLTON OGDEN: That’s probably
the number one skill that I would say people should focus on. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, and then certainly,
at a lot of the bigger tech companies, certainly in the software context, are– the interview process really
focused on problem solving. Generally the types of questions
you might have are generally language agnostic, or
the interviewers often don’t care what language it is
you’re using to solve a problem. Frankly, your syntax
doesn’t necessarily have to be 100% correct if it’s more of
a Whiteboard kind of conversation, or even just like a Google shared
document on a telephone call or video conference that you might have. The goal really is to get
a sense of how people think and how they approach programming. I mean, frankly, I, when
we’ve interviewed folks even for part time or full
time roles here on CS50’s team, for software oriented roles,
what I really want to do is get a sense of what it would be like
to work with that person in a room, in front of a whiteboard,
with his or her laptop off to the side, where we’re
just designing the solution to a problem, even independent of code. And, so, I think, being able to have
really robust design conversations, being able to understand, as you know,
the trade-offs between doing something or something else when it
comes to designing a system– that’s, I think, one of the best
ways to prepare yourself for this. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, I think,
given our experience here at CS50, and based on just what I’ve
read, it seems like the model that big companies have
taken in recent years, or maybe even not recent for a lot of
the larger ones, the whiteboard sort of model, and the problem
solving based model, I think even smaller companies are
probably adopting this a bit more than they used to now. Because people are getting a lot more
of an influx of software developers looking for work. And, so, I think we see
this thing pretty commonly. DAVID MALAN: Absolutely. COLTON OGDEN: And it does
ultimately boil down to, not what language you
might be comfortable with, but, you know, the ultimate
the core problem at hand, which is what CS50 tries to teach. It’s not– we advertise
ourselves– you advertise the course as not a
course on programming, per se, but ultimately
on problem solving. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, absolutely. And, speaking a little
more practically here, at Harvard we have a tradition, thanks
to some former teaching fellows, of holding a prep and practice
for tech interviews every year. So, if you actually Google
or go on YouTube and search for CS50 prep and practice
for technical interviews, odds are one of the recent
years’ videos should pop up where CS50’s own Tommy MacWilliam,
a former head teaching fellow, actually leads folks
through a discussion of how to and not to format your resume,
how to prepare for an interview, how to conduct an interview. So, you might want to check that out. A very popular book
here on campus, too, is one called “Cracking
the Coding Interview,” or Cracking the PM, product
management, interview. Those, on Amazon or other websites,
might be of interest as well, just as a nice, thick reference
book as to where you could begin. Frankly, it could take you weeks,
months to go through everything in those texts, but
it’ll give you a sense of how you might go about preparing. But, in short, in terms of
the opportunities themselves, I would say hard to go
wrong in the DevOps world, knowing one or more
programming languages, knowing a little something about
how you can run an application using Cloud services of any sort, certainly
version control, and GitHub, and GitLab, and other such products. And then also security,
just being one who can help companies understand
and analyze threats to their system, who can
chase those things down, who can help secure systems– I mean, there’s no lack for need
in the security space as well. COLTON OGDEN: Yeah, having technical
literacy in this day and age– I think that is incredibly useful. We’re only getting more automated. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, absolutely–
so, a lot of exciting opportunities out there. And I think, if you just get to first
base with some of the fundamentals, and taking one or a few classes,
or experiences, or boot camps, or the like, can you
really then bootstrap yourself there onward until you really
feel like you’re hitting home runs. COLTON OGDEN: Awesome. I like how that ended,
some solid advice there. DAVID MALAN: Thanks, I don’t
know if that metaphor works. But it sounded kind of poetic. COLTON OGDEN: Well, thank you for
coming here to do this podcast with me. DAVID MALAN: Oh, well thanks
so much for having me. COLTON OGDEN: Episode 5, zero
index of the CS50 podcast– what are some takeaways that you
would recommend from the discussion here, since we like to
end with a few takeaways? DAVID MALAN: I know. I worry the theme too often
is be afraid, be very afraid. But I think, hopefully more
constructively this time, are there things you
can be mindful about. And, honestly, thinking about
technologies from first principles, even in the context of
virtual kidnappings, god forbid, understanding–
well, wait a minute. How is this happening to me? Don’t necessarily take things that
you see on a system at face value. Consider what sequence of steps might
have led you to see this symptom and then decide for yourself, in an
informed way, yes, this is a threat, or no it isn’t. And I think just knowing how to defend
yourself as well– don’t get yourself into the situation of things
like ransomware attacks or vulnerable WhatsApp
applications on your phone. Make sure your auto updates
are on, which is probably a net positive in general, even
though updates can be rolled out that are themselves buggy. That’s probably the lesser evil– so, staying on top of your system
and not just using things out of the box the way you receive them. In fact, a certain
someone comes to mind as to whose iOS is not always up to date. COLTON OGDEN: I was going
to make a comment about that when we got to auto updating. Yeah, I have a bad habit of not
updating my stuff as often as I should. DAVID MALAN: Yeah, so I’m going to send
you a link to episode 5 of the CS50 podcast and see what happens there. COLTON OGDEN: All the talks
that we’ve had in here have convinced me that
maybe it’s time to start taking that a little more seriously. DAVID MALAN: All right, well, thanks so
much for tuning into the CS50 podcast. Looking forward to chatting
with folks further. COLTON OGDEN: Likewise–
thanks for tuning in.

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10 thoughts on “Ransomware, WhatsApp Spyware – CS50 Podcast, Ep. 5

  1. Thanks for putting in the time for these. Its not easy to find quality techie podcasts and I enjoy listening on the way to work.

  2. Neat, I appreciate you guys reading my questions and talking about those topics. I think you discussed this area a bit already, but IoT devices would make for a good talk. I was reading about future plans for Smart Cities, which I thought was pretty cool.

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