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Anonymous Leaked a Bunch of Data From a Right-Wing Web Host

Anonymous Leaked a Bunch of Data From a Right-Wing Web Host

Hacktivist collective Anonymous claims to have obtained gigabytes of data from Epik, which provides domain name, hosting, and DNS services for a variety of clients. These include the Texas GOP, Gab, Parler, and 8chan, among other right-wing sites. The stolen data has been released as a torrent. The hacktivist collective says that the data set, which is over 180 GB in size, contains a “decade’s worth of data from the company.”

Anonymous says the data set is “all that’s needed to trace actual ownership and management of the fascist side of the Internet that has eluded researchers, activists, and, well, just about everybody.” If this information is correct, Epik’s customers’ data and identities could now fall into the hands of activists, researchers, and just about anyone curious enough to take a peek.

Decades of Epik Stuff, Now in a Torrent Near You

Epik is a domain registrar and web services provider known to serve right-wing clients, some of which have been turned down by more mainstream IT providers due to the objectionable and sometimes illicit content hosted by the clients.

Anonymous’ activities began with what the group calls “Operation Jane” after the Texas Heartbeat Act was signed into law this month. The restrictive abortion law allows private individuals, not necessarily government bodies or the police, to enforce the six-week abortion ban. According to the act, any Texas resident can bring a civil lawsuit against any person who performs or helps to facilitate an illegal abortion—and claim at least $10,000 in damages.

A note announcing the hack was spotted by journalist Steven Monacelli, who has since been doxxed by an Epik supporter.

Among the data set are various SQL databases containing what appear to be customer records associated with every domain name hosted by Epik. Ars analyzed a small subset of the leaked data set, including what a source calls an Epik employee’s mailbox, which contains correspondence from Epik CEO Rob Monster.

Members of the whistleblower site Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets) have also made the data set available via alternate means for those unable to use torrents.

“We are not aware of any breach. We take the security of our clients’ data extremely seriously, and we are investigating the allegation,” an Epik representative told Ars.

Hackers Alter Epik’s Knowledge Base to Mock Company’s Response

Anonymous also tampered with Epik’s knowledge base to mock the company’s denial of the breach.

“On September 13, 2021, a group of kids calling themselves ‘Anonymous’, whom we’ve never heard of, said they manage[d] to get a hold of, well, honestly, all our data, and then released it,” said the altered knowledge base, as seen in an archived copy. “They claim it included all the user data. All of it. All usernames, passwords, e-mails, support queries, breaching all anonymization service[s] we have. Of course it’s not true. We’re not so stupid we’d allow that to happen.”

The knowledge-base page ends by sarcastically saying, “We did write this ourselves, this is obviously not part of the hacked account.” Epik has since removed the page.

Prior to this incident, Anonymous defaced the Texas GOP website by replacing references to “Help Texas Stay Red” with “Texas: Taking Voices from Women to promote theocratic erosion of church/state barriers.” The group also added “donate” links to reproductive health care nonprofit Planned Parenthood.

This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.


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No, Lovecraft Country Didn’t Need a Second Season

No, Lovecraft Country Didn’t Need a Second Season

In the seventh episode of Lovecraft Country, a Black woman, surrounded by a sea of glowing equations, scribbles frantically as she works out the fix for a machine that will soon warp her across dimensions of space and time. Viewers watch as Hippolyta, a housewife played by Aunjanue Ellis, names herself a discoverer of new worlds—embracing an identity not usually afforded to Black Americans in sci-fi (and one that is more historically associated with white colonizers). It’s a potent example of the show’s biggest selling point: the transcendence of tropes that all too often plague Black characters in cinema.

Produced by showrunner Misha Green, Lovecraft Country is a dark fantasy series that premiered on HBO in August of last year. It’s based on Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name, a book that reimagines the otherworldly horror of known racist H. P. Lovecraft through the eyes of Black folk in the Jim Crow ’50s. Jonathan Majors plays Atticus “Tic” Freeman, a Korean war vet who has returned home to search for his missing father, Montrose (the late Michael K. Williams), with help from love interest Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett). The trio is soon sucked into a tale driven by monsters, racialized horror, and the inherited magic that is Tic’s unexpected birthright.

In July, HBO announced abruptly—to the disillusionment of fans—that the series would not be returning for a second season. Not two weeks later, the Television Academy nominated Lovecraft Country for a whopping 18 Emmy Awards, news that made HBO’s decision look even more ill-advised. Outraged viewers took to social media to express their discontent. “Lovecraft Country got 18 Emmy nominations and HBO canceled it,” one Twitter user wrote. “Shit don’t make no sense.”

But maybe it does. Lovecraft Country made its point. It empowered a cast of Black heroes to take on the forces of magic, racism, and privilege wielded by evil white folks. Rather than the imminent death of Black characters we have come to expect at some point in horror flicks, it instead disposed of its white characters with Quentin Tarantino levels of pulp gore. And Lovecraft Country did it all with a stellar cast, beautiful cinematography, top-notch visual effects, and a genre-bending soundtrack spanning everything from Nina Simone to Cardi B. Perhaps it doesn’t need a Season 2; considering how much it fell apart at the end of its first run, a second might only besmirch its good name.

A gripping story has its twists and turns, but those winding roads have to be coherent enough to follow. Lovecraft Country is jam-packed with an abundance of storylines, many of which are haphazardly planted and never satisfyingly fleshed out because there’s just no room for actual depth. It made a mission of squeezing in every Black historical event and cultural reference that it could into its convoluted plot: the Tulsa race massacre, Chicago’s Trumbull Park riots, the lynching of Emmett Till, the existence of sundown towns, and the publishing of the Negro Motorist Green Book, to name a few. Sometimes it worked; other times it felt contrived. Always, it felt like too much.

This could just be an artifact of the source material—the book was, after all, an anthology of intertwined short stories. But it was as if the writers of Lovecraft Country couldn’t decide if the show should be serial or episodic, so it ended up being a weird mix of both. Or perhaps it’s a case of too many cooks in the kitchen: The plot starts to get unnecessarily thick around episode four, when Misha Green is no longer the sole name listed on the story credits. By the time we reach Hippolyta’s montage of exploration in episode seven—as stunning as it was to witness—the plot has really gone off the rails. It feels murky and disjointed; the pieces don’t come together until a repeat watchthrough, when viewers already have an idea of what’s to come.

How to Back Up Your iPhone

How to Back Up Your iPhone

Gone are the days of not needing a smartphone. Your iPhone is so much more than just a screen for texting. Today, smartphones are everything. They’re how we get work done, stay on top of the crazy news cycle, rock out, keep in touch with friends and family, and capture life’s most important moments. Carrying all of that information in our pockets is incredibly powerful, and it makes getting through our days a little easier. It also means that our most important data can easily be lost when you forget your phone on the train or have an unfortunate spat with the sidewalk.

If you want to avoid frantically trying to recover the best shots from a friend’s wedding, you must back up your iPhone. It’s an especially good idea if you plan on updating to a new iPhone. There are a few ways to do this, and which one you choose will depend on your needs and habits. After you’re all backed up, check out our guide to choosing the Best iPhone.

Updated September 2021: We updated the steps for backing up your iPhone to MacOS or Windows computers.

Backing Up to iCloud

Your easiest option, and Apple’s first recommendation, is to back up your iPhone to iCloud.

The process is pretty simple:

  1. Connect to Wi-Fi.
  2. Go into Settings, tap on your name, then iCloud.
  3. On the iCloud page, scroll down and tap on iCloud Backup. Make sure the switch is toggled on so you’ll get automatic backups when your iPhone is charging, locked, and connected to Wi-Fi. Then tap Backup Now to force a backup.
  4. Check or uncheck things such as your Photos that you want iCloud to back up.
icloud backup on mobile phone screen
Photograph: Apple

Apple gives you 5 GB of iCloud storage for free, but that’s probably not enough to cover all of your data. Going forward in iOS 15, there’s a temporary way to back up your data to iCloud even if you are out of storage, but that doesn’t help you right now. You can buy more storage, but it adds up pretty fast. For data-heavy users, there’s a better way to do it for free.

Backing Up to Your Mac

If your phone is loaded with pictures, songs, apps, and years worth of text messages, a basic iCloud backup isn’t going to cut it. If you have a computer with some gigs to spare, you can plug in your iPhone and click a few buttons to make sure all your phone’s data is tucked away, safe and sound. But the correct method depends on your version of MacOS.

If you’re not sure which Apple operating system you have, just click the little Apple icon in the top left corner of your Mac desktop and select About This Mac. Another window will pop up, telling you in big bold letters what you’re running.

Backing Up to MacOS Catalina 10.15 or later

The upgrade to MacOS Catalina (2019) did away with iTunes, replacing it with three separate apps for music, podcasts, and TV. The backup option is now located in Finder, where you can search folders and other drives. The steps to back up your iPhone are almost the same as with iTunes:

  1. Connect your iPhone to your computer with a cable.
  2. Open Finder and select your iPhone in the sidebar.
  3. Click on General and choose Back up all of the data on your iPhone to this Mac.
  4. If you want to encrypt your data and password protect it, select Encrypt local backup.
  5. Click Back Up Now.
Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years

Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years

Even though I was raised Catholic, for most of my adult life, I didn’t pay religion much heed. Like many scientists, I assumed it was built on opinion, conjecture, or even hope, and therefore irrelevant to my work. That work is running a psychology lab focused on finding ways to improve the human condition, using the tools of science to develop techniques that can help people meet the challenges life throws at them. But in the 20 years since I began this work, I’ve realized that much of what psychologists and neuroscientists are finding about how to change people’s beliefs, feelings, and behaviors—how to support them when they grieve, how to help them be more ethical, how to let them find connection and happiness—echoes ideas and techniques that religions have been using for thousands of years.

Science and religion have often been at odds. But if we remove the theology—views about the nature of God, the creation of the universe, and the like—from the day-to-day practice of religious faith, the animosity in the debate evaporates. What we’re left with is a series of rituals, customs, and sentiments that are themselves the results of experiments of sorts. Over thousands of years, these experiments, carried out in the messy thick of life as opposed to sterile labs, have led to the design of what we might call spiritual technologies—tools and processes meant to sooth, move, convince, or otherwise tweak the mind. And studying these technologies has revealed that certain parts of religious practices, even when removed from a spiritual context, are able to influence people’s minds in the measurable ways psychologists often seek.

My lab has found, for example, that having people practice Buddhist meditation for a short time makes them kinder. After only eight weeks of study with a Buddhist lama, 50 percent of those who we randomly assigned to meditate daily spontaneously helped a stranger in pain. Only 16 percent of those who didn’t meditate did the same. (In reality, the stranger was an actor we hired to use crutches and wear a removable foot cast while trying to find a seat in a crowded room.) Compassion wasn’t limited to strangers, though; it also applied to enemies. Another study showed that after three weeks of meditation, most people refrained from seeking revenge on someone who insulted them, unlike most of those who did not meditate. Once my team observed these profound impacts, we began looking for other linkages between our previous research and existing religious rituals.

Gratitude, for instance, is something we had studied closely, and a key element of many religious practices. Christians often say grace before a meal; Jews give thanks to God with the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon awakening. When we studied the act of giving thanks, even in a secular context, we found it made people more virtuous. In a study where people could get more money by lying about the results of a coin flip, the majority (53 percent) cheated. But that figure dropped dramatically for people who we first asked to count their blessings. Of these, only 27 percent chose to lie. We’ve also found that when feeling gratitude to a person, to fate, or to God, people become more helpful, more generous, and even more patient.

Even very subtle actions—like moving together in time—can exert a significant effect on the mind. We see synchrony in almost every religion the world over: Buddhists and Hindus often chant together in prayer; Christians and Muslims regularly kneel and stand in unison during worship; Jews often sway, or shuckle, when reciting prayers together. These actions belie a deep purpose: creating connection. To see how it works, we asked pairs of strangers to sit across a table from one another, put on headphones, and then tap a sensor on the table in front of them each time they heard a tone. For some of these pairs, the sequence of tones matched, meaning they’d be tapping their hands in unison. For others, they were random, meaning hand movements wouldn’t be synchronized. Afterward, we created a situation where one member of each pair got stuck doing a long and difficult task. Not only did those who had been moving their hands in unison report feeling more connection with and compassion for their partner who was now toiling away, 50 percent of them decided to lend the partner a hand—a big increase over the 18 percent who decided to help without having just moved in sync.

The combined effects of simple elements like these—ones that change how we feel, what we believe, and who we can depend on—accumulate over time. And when they’re embedded in religious practices, research has shown they can have protective properties of sorts. Regularly taking part in religious practices lessens anxiety and depression, increases physical health, and even reduces the risk of early death. These benefits don’t come simply from general social contact. There’s something specific to spiritual practices themselves.

A Stanford Proposal Over AI’s ‘Foundations’ Ignites Debate

A Stanford Proposal Over AI’s ‘Foundations’ Ignites Debate

Last month, Stanford researchers declared that a new era of artificial intelligence had arrived, one built atop colossal neural networks and oceans of data. They said a new research center at Stanford would build—and study—these “foundational models” of AI.

Critics of the idea surfaced quickly—including at the workshop organized to mark the launch of the new center. Some object to the limited capabilities and sometimes freakish behavior of these models; others warn of focusing too heavily on one way of making machines smarter.

“I think the term ‘foundation’ is horribly wrong,” Jitendra Malik, a professor at UC Berkeley who studies AI, told workshop attendees in a video discussion.

Malik acknowledged that one type of model identified by the Stanford researchers—large language models that can answer questions or generate text from a prompt—has great practical use. But he said evolutionary biology suggests that language builds on other aspects of intelligence like interaction with the physical world.

“These models are really castles in the air; they have no foundation whatsoever,” Malik said. “The language we have in these models is not grounded, there is this fakeness, there is no real understanding.” He declined an interview request.

A research paper coauthored by dozens of Stanford researchers describes “an emerging paradigm for building artificial intelligence systems” that it labeled “foundational models.” Ever-larger AI models have produced some impressive advances in AI in recent years, in areas such as perception and robotics as well as language.

Large language models are also foundational to big tech companies like Google and Facebook, which use them in areas like search, advertising, and content moderation. Building and training large language models can require millions of dollars worth of cloud computing power; so far, that’s limited their development and use to a handful of well-heeled tech companies.

But big models are problematic, too. Language models inherit bias and offensive text from the data they are trained on, and they have zero grasp of common sense or what is true or false. Given a prompt, a large language model may spit out unpleasant language or misinformation. There is also no guarantee that these large models will continue to produce advances in machine intelligence.

The Stanford proposal has divided the research community. “Calling them ‘foundation models’ completely messes up the discourse,” says Subbarao Kambhampati, a professor at Arizona State University. There is no clear path from these models to more general forms of AI, Kambhampati says.

Thomas Dietterich, a professor at Oregon State University and former president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, says he has “huge respect” for the researchers behind the new Stanford center, and he believes they are genuinely concerned about the problems these models raise.

But Dietterich wonders if the idea of foundational models isn’t partly about getting funding for the resources needed to build and work on them. “I was surprised that they gave these models a fancy name and created a center,” he says. “That does smack of flag planting, which could have several benefits on the fundraising side.”

Stanford has also proposed the creation of a National AI Cloud to make industry-scale computing resources available to academics working on AI research projects.

Emily M. Bender, a professor in the linguistics department at the University of Washington, says she worries that the idea of foundational models reflects a bias toward investing in the data-centric approach to AI favored by industry.

Bender says it is especially important to study the risks posed by big AI models. She coauthored a paper, published in March, that drew attention to problems with large language models and contributed to the departure of two Google researchers. But she says scrutiny should come from multiple disciplines.

“There are all of these other adjacent, really important fields that are just starved for funding,” she says. “Before we throw money into the cloud, I would like to see money going into other disciplines.”

When You’re Living in an Immaterial World, What’s for Sale?

When You’re Living in an Immaterial World, What’s for Sale?

I like a get-rich-quick scheme—what American doesn’t?—and not too long ago I alighted on drop-shipping. The idea came up like this: Plastic straws were in the moral firing line, and if they were banned, I figured Americans would soon need another way to slurp our iced coffees.

Twenty metal straws could be found on Amazon for $10, and I calculated I could sell them to cafés for $1.50 each, and they could charge $2 each, and we’d all do well by doing good. But then, as all who chase accelerated prosperity do, I got greedy. Surely I could find a cheaper wholesaler, an obscure Chinese clearinghouse where metal straws went for pennies. Realizing, too, that my modest floor space couldn’t hold much inventory, I was delighted to learn that manufacturers in China ship, then drop—drop-ship—straight to customers.

I was in. If I offshored not just the manufacturing but the warehousing and packaging and shipping of the straws, I’d just need to design some kind of advertising come-on; set up an online shop where every purchase would trigger the wholesaler to release straws to the paying customer; allow the wholesaler to dock my merchant’s account for the low price; and the markup would go to me me me. I’d never even have to see the straws, let alone store them or (God forbid) make them, like some hard-hearted, tireless American industrialist of the 1890s or 1920s. I said get rich quick.

Finding a wholesaler was easy. You can use Oberlo for that. I chose something called Dunhuangwang (or DHgate) in Beijing for its 30-cent metal straws, and I ordered 100 myself to prime the pump. I had goods! I had a shipper! Set­ting up my site for “The Last Straw” on Shopify was also a breeze. Ablaze with ambition, I engineered the site to take bitcoin, eyes on the horizon, high on my private prosperity gospel. Then I headed over to Instagram to make ads …

And there was the catch-22. Of course I can design a picturesque hero shot of a stainless-­steel straw aimed at seducing clients inspired by fine design and an organic-­modern lifestyle, if not by the taste of metal in their mouth. But how to get the posts seen? Even when I paid to promote them, they attracted few likes, and I couldn’t make a sale to save my life. To win customers I’d need to become an influencer, it seemed. And if I had a formula for becoming an influencer, I’d already be rich—and being rich already is as quick as getting rich gets.

The lesson was demoralizing. Not only is building influence via clever posts what must be done to make a fortune in the US, it’s one of the only things we Americans can do, whether well (like Kylie Jenner) or poorly (like me). Drop-shipping leaves the college grad with Andrew Carnegie dreams only one task, the kind formerly assigned to unpaid youths with trust funds: Turn some darling digital pictures viral.

There’s some real economics to this. Most Americans stopped learning farming or trades a century ago, and then a vast swath also stopped learning factory work, blue- or white-collar. The manipulation of undigitized, offline objects, stuff with mass like wheat or stainless steel, was no longer a promising field of endeavor.

The traditional professions like law and medicine hung steady, but as everything offered less security, even professors, doctors, lawyers, and accountants found they had to market themselves. Meanwhile, people in retail, advertising, and every kind of customer service did sales, sales, and nothing but sales, and most of us in journalism also ended up shilling for ourselves online.