Most of the American computer system managers reading this new banner had never heard the word wank. And who exactly were the Worms Against Nuclear Killers? Were they some loony fringe group? Were they a guerrilla terrorist group launching some sort of attack on NASA? A worm was a strange choice of animal mascot for a revolutionary group. Worms were the bottom of the rung.
Who would chose a worm as a symbol of power? As for the nuclear killers, well, that was even stranger. So the question remained: why NASA? It did not make sense. It meant NASA had lost control over its computer systems. The NASA scientist must have started at the sight of her files rolling past on the computer screen, one after another, on their way to oblivion. Something was definitely wrong.
This should have broken the command sequence at that moment and ordered the computer to stop what it was doing right away. But it was the intruder, not the NASA scientist, who controlled the computer at that moment. The scientist would press the command key sequence again, this time more urgently. And again, over and over. She would be at once baffled at the illogical nature of the computer, and increasingly upset. Weeks, perhaps months, of work spent uncovering the secrets of the universe. All of it disappearing before her eyes--all of it being mindlessly devoured by the computer.
The whole thing beyond her control. People tend not to react well when they lose control over their computers. Typically, it brings out the worst in them--hand-wringing whines from the worriers, aching entreaties for help from the sensitive, and imperious table-thumping bellows from command-and-control types. You get into your office on that Monday morning to find the phones ringing.
Every caller is a distraught, confused NASA worker. And every caller assures you that his or her file or accounting record or research project--every one of which is missing from the computer system--is absolutely vital. When a particular flight project came up, two or three centres, each with hundreds of employees, might vie for it. Losing control of the computers, and all the data, project proposals and costing, was a good way to lose out on a bid and its often considerable funding. This was not going to be a good day for John McMahon.
McMahon worked for Code Goddard scientists would call him up for help with their computers. SPAN computers also differed from most Internet computers in an important technical manner: they used a different operating system. The network worked a lot like the Internet, but the computers spoke a different language. DEC built powerful computers. Some SPAN computers had many more. It was not unusual for one DEC computer to service people. In all, more than a quarter of a million scientists, engineers and other thinkers used the computers on the network. The project team was attempting to map the universe.
And they were trying to do it in wavelengths invisible to the human eye. It looked like a computer worm. A computer worm is a little like a computer virus. It invades computer systems, interfering with their normal functions. It travels along any available compatible computer network and stops to knock at the door of systems attached to that network. If there is a hole in the security of the computer system, it will crawl through and enter the system. When it does this, it might have instructions to do any number of things, from sending computer users a message to trying to take over the system.
What makes a worm different from other computer programs, such as viruses, is that it is self-propagating. It propels itself forward, wiggles into a new system and propagates itself at the new site. It is autonomous. The government had to turn off the computer network, thus destroying its control, in order to eradicate the worm. Until the late s, worms were obscure things, more associated with research in a computer laboratory.
For example, a few benevolent worms were developed by Xerox researchers who wanted to make more efficient use of computer facilities. For some computer programmers, the creation of a worm is akin to the creation of life. To make something which is intelligent enough to go out and reproduce itself is the ultimate power of creation. Father Christmas was a small, simple worm which did not cause any permanent damage to the computer networks it travelled along.
Released just before Christmas in , it tried to sneak into hundreds of VMS machines and wait for the big day. On Christmas morning, it woke up and set to work with great enthusiasm. Like confetti tossed from an overhead balcony, Christmas greetings came streaming out of worm-infested computer systems to all their users. No-one within its reach went without a Christmas card. Its job done, the worm evaporated. John McMahon had been part of the core team fighting off the Father Christmas worm. At about 4 p. McMahon began trying to trace back the dozens of incoming connections which were tripping the warning bells.
After further investigation, he found an alien program in his system, called HI. As he read the pages of HI. COM code spilling from his line printer, his eyes went wide. He thought, This is a worm! He had never seen a worm before. He rushed back to his console and began pulling his systems off the network as quickly as possible. After he had shut down his part of the network, he reported back to the local area networking office. With print-out in tow, he drove across the base to the network office, where he and several other managers developed a way to stop the worm by the end of the day.
Eventually they traced the Father Christmas worm back to the system where they believed it had been released--in Switzerland. But they never discovered who created it. It was a worm with a use-by date. But they had a copy of the program. Could McMahon have a look at it? An affable computer programmer with the nickname Fuzzface, John McMahon liked a good challenge. Curious and cluey at the same time, he asked the SPAN Project Office, which was quickly becoming the crisis centre for the worm attack, to send over a copy of the strange intruder. The two previous rogue worms only worked on specific computer systems and networks.
The source code, however, was unlike anything McMahon had ever seen. It was all over the place. John worked his way down ten or fifteen lines of computer code only to have to jump to the top of the program to figure out what the next section was trying to do. On 16 October the news came. Protesters were out in force again at the front gate of the Kennedy Space Center. At least eight of them were arrested. The St Louis Post-Dispatch carried an Agence France-Presse picture of an year-old woman being taken into custody by police for trespassing.
Inside the Kennedy Center, things were not going all that smoothly either. The countdown would continue uninterrupted. NASA had everything under control. Everything except the weather. Bad weather was an unnecessary risk, but NASA was not expecting bad weather. Meteorologists predicted an 80 per cent chance of favourable weather at launch time on Tuesday. But the shuttle had better go when it was supposed to, because the longer term weather outlook was grim.
The countdown for the shuttle launch was ticking toward The anti-nuclear protesters seemed to have gone quiet. Things looked hopeful. Galileo might finally go. Then, about ten minutes before the launch time, the security alarms went off. Someone had broken into the compound. The security teams swung into action, quickly locating the guilty intruder With the pig safely removed, the countdown rolled on.
Atlantis had a minute window of opportunity. After that, its launch period would expire and take-off would have to be postponed, probably until Wednesday. The worm was spreading through more and more systems and the phones were beginning to ring every few minutes. NASA computers were getting hit all over the place. The SPAN project staff needed more arms.
They were simultaneously trying to calm callers and concentrate on developing an analysis of the alien program. Who was behind this? It seemed a reasonable likelihood, but there were still plenty of unanswered questions. Callers coming into the SPAN office were worried. People at the other end of the phone were scared. Some were panicking; others spoke in a sort of monotone, flattened by a morning of calls from 25 different hysterical system administrators.
A manager could lose his job over something like this. Most of the callers to the SPAN head office were starved for information. How did this rogue worm get into their computers? Was it malicious? Would it destroy all the scientific data it came into contact with? What could be done to kill it? None of it was supposed to be classified, but the data on those computers is extremely valuable. Millions of man-hours go into gathering and analysing it.
People were phoning to say that the worm was erasing files. Yet the worm was behaving inconsistently. On some computers it would only send anonymous messages, some of them funny, some bizarre and a few quite rude or obscene. Or perhaps they were graced with some bad humour: Nothing is faster than the speed of light To prove this to yourself, try opening the refrigerator door before the light comes on. But the worm did not appear to be erasing files on these systems. Perhaps an unusual keystroke by an unwitting computer user on those systems which seemed only mildly affected could trigger something in the worm.
One keystroke might begin an irreversible chain of commands to erase everything on that system. Every hour NASA spent developing a cure, the worm spent searching, probing, breaking and entering. The SPAN team had to dissect this thing completely, and they had to do it fast. Some computer network managers were badly shaken. JPL was pulling itself off the network. This worm was too much of a risk. The only safe option was to isolate their computers. Everything had to be done over the phone. It was like the centre of a wheel, with a dozen spokes branching off--each leading to another SPAN site.
All these places, known as tailsites, depended on the lab site for their connections into SPAN. When JPL pulled itself off the network, the tailsites went down too. But his hands were tied. The SPAN team could only give them advice and rush to develop a way to poison the worm. Would he come over to help handle the crisis? McMahon would be on loan until the crisis was under control. But as the day wore on, new people from other parts of the US government would join the team.
The worm had spread outside NASA. For convenience, the lab might just connect the two networks. The Department of Energy keeps classified information on its computers. Very classified information. There are two groups in DOE: the people who do research on civilian energy projects and the people who make atomic bombs. They grabbed the one guy who knew a lot about computer security on VMS systems and put him on the case: Kevin Oberman.
He had simply become interested in computer security and was known in-house as someone who knew about VMS systems and security. It had broken into a number of computer systems there and the Fermilab people were not happy. They wanted him to analyse the WANK worm. They wanted to know how dangerous it was. Most of all, they wanted to know what to do about it. The DOE people traced their first contact with the worm back to 14 October. Further, they hypothesised, the worm had actually been launched the day before, on Friday the 13th. Oberman began his own analysis of the worm, oblivious to the fact that kilometres away, on the other side of the continent, his colleague and acquaintance John McMahon was doing exactly the same thing.
Every time McMahon answered a phone call from an irate NASA system or network manager, he tried to get a copy of the worm from the infected machine. He also asked for the logs from their computer systems. Which computer had the worm come from? Which systems was it attacking from the infected site? It could also alert the people who ran recently infected systems which had become launchpads for new worm attacks. If the worm had taken over a computer and was still running on it, then the manager would only be able to trace the worm backward, not forward.
McMahon had always felt it was important to gather lots of information about who was connecting to a computer. In his previous job, he had modified his machines so they collected as much security information as possible about their connections to other computers. You just got a network connection from here. Many did not keep extensive records of who had been accessing their machines and when, which made the job of chasing the worm much tougher.
Every time a NASA manager called to report a worm disturbance, one of the team members wrote down the details with paper and pen. The list, outlining the addresses of the affected computers and detailed notations of the degree of infection, would also be recorded on a computer.
But handwritten lists were a good safeguard. When McMahon learned DOE was also under attack, he began checking in with them every three hours or so. The two groups swapped lists of infected computers by telephone because voice, like the handwritten word, was a worm-free medium. These contacts were to prove very helpful. Such a crisis was, well, undesirable.
It might look like the company was in some way at fault. Things were different, however, if someone already had a relationship with a technical expert inside the company. It was a colleague the NASA manager chatted with now and again. These versions, isolated from worm samples collected from the network, were very similar, but each contained a few subtle differences.
But why would the creator of the worm release different versions? Why not just write one version properly and fire it off? Maybe the creator released the worm, and then discovered a bug. He fiddled with the worm a bit to correct the problem and then released it again. In northern California, Kevin Oberman came to a different conclusion. DEC was also examining the worm, and with good reason.
It had a strange line of code in it, a line missing from any other versions. The worm was under instructions to invade as many sites as it could, with one exception. The NASA team mulled over this information. One of them looked up area It was New Zealand. New Zealand? The NASA team were left scratching their heads. This attack was getting stranger by the minute. Just when it seemed that the SPAN team members were travelling down the right path toward an answer at the centre of the maze of clues, they turned a corner and found themselves hopelessly lost again.
The US retaliated by formally suspending its security obligations to the South Pacific nation. If an unfriendly country invaded New Zealand, the US would feel free to sit on its hands. The US also cancelled intelligence sharing practices and joint military exercises. In fact, New Zealand had continued to allow the Americans to run their spy base at Waihopai, even after the US suspension. And New Zealand had very good reason to be anti-nuclear. For years, it had put up with France testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific. Then in July the French blew up the Greenpeace anti-nuclear protest ship as it sat in Auckland harbour.
The Rainbow Warrior was due to sail for Mururoa Atoll, the test site, when French secret agents bombed the ship, killing Greenpeace activist Fernando Pereira. For weeks, France denied everything. When the truth came out--that President Mitterand himself had known about the bombing plan--the French were red-faced. Heads rolled. French Defence Minister Charles Hernu was forced to resign. Both agents walked free by May after serving less than two years. After her return to France, one of the agents, Captain Dominique Prieur, was promoted to the rank of commandant.
Finally, McMahon thought. Something that made sense. When the WANK worm invaded a computer system, it had instructions to copy itself and send that copy out to other machines. It would slip through the network and when it came upon a computer attached to the network, it would poke around looking for a way in. What it really wanted was to score a computer account with privileges, but it would settle for a basic-level, user-level account.
VMS systems have accounts with varying levels of privilege. He or she might also be allowed to create new computer accounts on the system, or reactivate disabled accounts. The people who ran computer systems or networks needed accounts with the highest level of privilege in order to keep the system running smoothly. The worm specifically sought out these sorts of accounts because its creator knew that was where the power lay. The worm was smart, and it learned as it went along. As it traversed the network, it created a masterlist of commonly used account names. The worm then compared that list to the list of users on its current host.
When it found a match--an account name common to both lists--the worm added that name to the masterlist it carried around inside it, making a note to try that account when breaking into a new system in future. By endowing the worm with an ability to learn, he gave it far more power.
As the worm spread, it became more and more intelligent. As it reproduced, its offspring evolved into ever more advanced creatures, increasingly successful at breaking into new systems. Slicing the worm open and inspecting its entrails, he discovered an extensive collection of generic privileged accounts across the SPAN network. Even if it only managed to break into an unprivileged account, the worm would use the account as an incubator.
The worm replicated and then attacked other computers in the network. It was the best way to help computer managers, isolated in their offices around the country, to regain a sense of control over the crisis. First, he asked them what symptoms their systems were showing. McMahon wanted to make sure that the problems on the system were in fact caused by the worm and not something else entirely.
If the only problem seemed to be mysterious comments flashing across the screen, McMahon concluded that the worm was probably harassing the staff on that computer from a neighbouring system which it had successfully invaded. The VMS Phone facility enabled the worm to send messages to users. It would simply call them using the phone protocol. But instead of starting a chat session, it sent them statements from what was later determined to be the aptly named Fortune Cookie file--a collection of 60 or so pre-programmed comments.
A few managers complained and McMahon gave them the obvious ultimatum: choose Phone or peace. Most chose peace. When McMahon finished his preliminary analysis, he had good news and bad news. The good news was that, contrary to what the worm was telling computer users all over NASA, it was not actually deleting their files. It was just pretending to delete their data. One big practical joke. To the creator of the worm anyway.
To the NASA scientists, just a headache and heartache. And occasionally a heart attack. The bad news was that, when the worm got control over a privileged account, it would help someone--presumably its creator--perpetrate an even more serious break-in at NASA. The worm was also programmed to change the password for the standard account named DECNET to a random string of at least twelve characters.
In short, the worm tried to pry open a backdoor to the system. A computer hacker created a whole new set of problems. Although the worm was able to break into new accounts with greater speed and reach than a single hacker, it was more predictable. However, a hacker was utterly unpredictable. McMahon realised that killing off the worm was not going to solve the problem. They would also have to check every system the worm had invaded to see if it had built a backdoor for the hacker.
The system admin had to shut and lock all the backdoors, no small feat. What really scared the SPAN team about the worm, however, was that it was rampaging through NASA simply by using the simplest of attack strategies: username equals password. It was a gloomy call. He hung up. Up it came. The head-slapping stupidity of the situation could only be viewed as black comedy.
It was so unforgivable. NASA, potentially the greatest single collection of technical minds on Earth, had such lax computer security that a computer-literate teenager could have cracked it wide open. The tall poppy was being cut down to size by a computer program resembling a bowl of spaghetti. The first thing any computer system manager learns in Computer Security is never to use the same password as the username.
It was bad enough that naive users might fall into this trap Was the hacker behind the worm malevolent? Probably not. It could have razed everything in sight. In fact, the worm was less infectious than its author appeared to desire. McMahon believed this failure to be accidental. For example, his analysis showed the worm was programmed to break into accounts by trying no password, if the account holder had left the password blank.
Nonetheless, the fragmented and partly dysfunctional WANK worm was causing a major crisis inside several US government agencies. The thing which really worried John was thinking about what a seasoned DCL programmer with years of VMS experience could do with such a worm. Someone like that could do a lot of malicious damage. And what if the WANK worm was just a dry run for something more serious down the track?
It was scary to contemplate. The SPAN office would not be able to send electronic warnings or advice on how to deal with the worm to systems which had already been seized. This problem was exacerbated by the lack of good information available to the project office on which systems were connected to SPAN. The SPAN team could only hope that those administrators who had the phone number of SPAN headquarters pinned up near their computers would call when their computers came under attack.
But it was impossible to measure how much damage human managers would do to their own systems because of the worm. He claimed that the worm had not only attacked his system, it had destroyed it. He actually did what the worm only pretended to do. They were never able to confirm that his machine had even been infected. He had posted a cryptic electronic message about the attack across the network, and Kevin Oberman had read it. The message had to be circumspect since no-one knew if the creator of the WANK worm was in fact on the network, watching, waiting.
A short time later, McMahon and Oberman were on the phone together--voice--sharing their ideas and cross-checking their analysis. The situation was discouraging. Getting the worm-killer out to all the NASA sites was going to be much harder than expected because there was no clear, updated map of the SPAN network. His efforts had accidentally tripped so many system alarms that he was quietly taken aside and told not to do it again.
::vtol:: is back with his latest human-computer interface.
The result was that in instances where the team had phone contact details for managers, the information was often outdated. There are a whole bunch of people in different places here who handle the computers. The network had grown into a rambling hodgepodge for which there was little central coordination. Or tell them how to protect themselves. Or give them a worm-killing program once it was developed. Or help them seal up breached accounts which the worm was feeding back to its creator. It was such a mess. At times, McMahon sat back and considered who might have created this worm.
The thing almost looked as though it had been released before it was finished. Its author or authors seemed to have a good collection of interesting ideas about how to solve problems, but they were never properly completed. The worm included a routine for modifying its attack strategy, but the thing was never fully developed. That was really weird. What use was a password and account name without knowing what computer system to use it on?
On the other hand, maybe the creator had done this deliberately. Maybe he had wanted to show the world just how many computers the worm could successfully penetrate. The possible theories were endless. There were some points of brilliance in the worm, some things that McMahon had never considered, which was impressive since he knew a lot about how to break into VMS computers. After the worm incident, various computer security experts would hypothesise that the WANK worm had in fact been written by more than one person.
But McMahon maintained his view that it was the work of a single hacker. It was as if the creator of the worm started to pursue an idea and then got sidetracked or interrupted. Suddenly he just stopped writing code to implement that idea and started down another path, never again to reach the end.
The thing had a schizophrenic structure. McMahon wondered if the author had done this on purpose, to make it harder to figure out exactly what the worm was capable of doing. Maybe the hacker who wrote the worm was in fact a very elegant DCL programmer who wanted the worm to be chaotic in order to protect it. Security through obscurity. Oberman maintained a different view. He believed the programming style varied so much in different parts that it had to be the product of a number of people.
Kevin Oberman and John McMahon bounced ideas off one another.
Both had developed their own analyses. The worm had a number of serious vulnerabilities, but the problem was finding one, and quickly, which could be used to wipe it out with minimum impact on the besieged computers. Whenever a VMS machine starts up an activity, the computer gives it a unique process name. When the worm burrowed into a computer site, one of the first things it did was check that another copy of itself was not already running on that computer.
It did this by checking for its own process names. If the incoming worm found this process name, it assumed another copy of itself was already running on the computer, so it destroyed itself. The answer seemed to be a decoy duck. The first anti-WANK program did just that. It worked well, but McMahon noticed one large flaw. Since it notifies by mail someone of each successful penetration and leaves a trapdoor the FIELD account , just killing the bug is not adequate. You must go in and make sure all accounts have passwords and that the passwords are not the same as the account name.
It is unclear if the spread of the worm has been checked. VMS system managers should prepare now. It has several other features including a brute force attack. Once the worm has successfully penetrated your system it will infect. COM files and create new security vulnerabilities. It then seems to broadcast these vulnerabilities to the outside world. It may also damage files as well, either unintentionally or otherwise.
An analysis of the worm appears below and is provided by R. Included with the analysis is a DCL program that will block the current version of the worm. At least two versions of this worm exist and more may be created. This program should give you enough time to close up obvious security holes. A more thorough DCL program is being written. If your site could be affected please call CIAC for more details Report on the W. COM worm. COM worm currently based on the examination of the first two incarnations. The replication technique causes the code to be modified slightly which indicates the source of the attack and learned information.
All analysis was done with more haste than I care for, but I believe I have all of the basic facts correct. The program assures that it is working in a directory to which the owner itself has full access Read, Write, Execute, and Delete. The program checks to see if another copy is still running. If such is found, it deletes itself the file and stops its process. Some versions may have a different address. It really does nothing. This is a primitive virus, but very effective IF it should get into a privileged account.
It proceeds to attempt to access other systems by picking node numbers at random. It looks for passwords which are the same as that of the account or are blank. It records all such accounts. If a priv. If no priv. As soon as it finishes with a system, it picks another random system and repeats forever. Response: 1. The following program will block the worm. Extract the following code and execute it. It will use minimal resources. Editors note: This fix will work only with this version of the worm. Mutated worms will require modification of this code; however, this program should prevent the worm from running long enough to secure your system from the worms attacks.
Pacific Coast Time on 17 October, as Oberman put the final touches on the last paragraph of his final report on the worm, the floor beneath his feet began to shake. The building was trembling. Kevin Oberman was in the middle of the San Francisco earthquake. Measuring 7. Inside the computer lab, Oberman braced himself for the worst. Once the shaking stopped and he ascertained the computer centre was still standing, he sat back down at his terminal. With the PA blaring warnings for all non-essential personnel to leave the building immediately, Oberman rushed off the last sentence of the report.
He pressed the key, sent out his final anti-WANK report and fled the building. The list of sites which had reported worm-related problems grew steadily during the week. Official estimates on the scope of the WANK worm attack were vague, but trade journals such as Network World and Computerworld quoted the space agency as suffering only a small number of successful worm invasions, perhaps 60 VMS-based computers. Each of those computers might have had or more users. Figures were sketchy, but virtually everyone on the network--all computer accounts--had been affected by the worm, either because their part of the network had been pulled off-line or because their machines had been harassed by the WANK worm as it tried again and again to login from an infected machine.
By the end of the worm attack, the SPAN office had accumulated a list of affected sites which ran over two columns on several computer screens.
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Each of them had lodged some form of complaint about the worm. TEXT, which provided a list of worm-infestation symptoms. COM, checked for all the security flaws used by the worm to sneak into a computer system. Whatever the real number of infected machines, the worm had certainly circumnavigated the globe.
The weather forecasters gave the launch site a 40 per cent chance of launch guideline-violating rain and cloud. And then there was the earthquake in California. The launch depended on many sites far away from Florida. They also included other sites, often military bases, which were essential for shuttle tracking and other mission support. The earthquake which ripped through the Bay area had damaged the tracking station and senior NASA decision-makers planned to meet on Wednesday morning to consider the Sunnyvale situation. Still, the space agency maintained a calm, cool exterior. Regardless of the technical problems, the court challenges and the protesters, the whimsical weather, the natural disasters, and the WANK worm, NASA was still in control of the situation.
The technicians had filled the shuttle up with rocket fuel and it looked as if the weather might hold. It was partly cloudy, but conditions at Kennedy passed muster.
Sharon Snider (Author of Mind Hackers)
The astronauts boarded the shuttle. Everything was in place. But while the weather was acceptable in Florida, it was causing some problems in Africa, the site of an emergency landing location. NASA ordered a four-minute delay. Finally at Rising up from the Kennedy Center, streaking a trail of twin flames from its huge solid-fuel boosters, the shuttle reached above the atmosphere and into space. And at 8. They were keeping twelve-hour days and dealing with hysterical people all day long. By Friday, 20 October, there were no new reports of worm attacks.
It looked as though the crisis had passed. A week passed. All the while, though, McMahon was on edge. He doubted that someone who had gone to all that trouble of creating the WANK worm would let his baby be exterminated so quickly. The decoy-duck strategy only worked as long as the worm kept the same process name, and as long as it was programmed not to activate itself on systems which were already infected. Change the process name, or teach the worm to not to suicide, and the SPAN team would face another, larger problem.
John McMahon had an instinct about the worm; it might just be back. His instinct was right. This version of the worm was far more virulent. It copied itself more effectively and therefore moved through the network much faster. The phone was ringing off the hook again. John took a call from one irate manager who launched into a tirade. It was also designed to hunt down and kill the decoy-duck program.
In fact, the SPAN network was going to turn into a rather bloody battlefield. Even if McMahon changed the process name used by his program, the decoy-duck strategy was not going to work any longer. There were other disturbing improvements to the new version of the WANK worm. Preliminary information suggested it changed the password on any account it got into. This was a problem. But not nearly as big a problem as if the passwords it changed were for the only privileged accounts on the system. The new worm was capable of locking a system manager out of his or her own system.
Prevented from getting into his own account, the computer manager might try borrowing the account of an average user, call him Edwin. At some point he would have to make the tough decision of last resort: turn the entire computer system off. The manager would have to conduct a forced reboot of the machine.
Take it down, then bring it back up on minimum configuration. Break back into it. Fix the password which the worm had changed. Reset some variables. Reboot the machine again. Close up any underlying security holes left behind by the worm. A cold start of a large VMS machine took time. At least the SPAN team was better prepared for the worm this time.
They had braced themselves psychologically for a possible return attack. Contact information for the network had been updated. What if someone moved the database by renaming it and put a dummy database in its place? When the worm sniffed out the dummy, and latched onto it, the creature would explode and die.
If it worked, the SPAN team would not have to depend on the worm killing itself, as they had during the first invasion. They would have the satisfaction of destroying the thing themselves. He cut the worm into pieces and extracted the relevant bits. This allowed him to test the French worm-killing program with little risk of the worm escaping and doing damage. The French program worked wonderfully. Out it went. The second version of the worm was so much more virulent, getting it out of SPAN was going to take considerably longer than the first time around.
Most of these were through people wasting time and resources chasing the worm instead of doing their normal jobs. The worm was, in his view, a crime of theft. This was someone who deliberately went out to make a mess. That is not true. People are dragged into the office at strange hours. Reports have to be written. A lot of yelling and screaming occurs. You have to deal with law enforcement. Someone has to pay the price.
Nor did he ever discover what he intended to prove by releasing it. Why had the creator recreated the worm and released it a second time? Why had no-one, no political or other group, claimed responsibility for the WANK worm? One of the many details which remained an enigma was contained in the version of the worm used in the second attack. No-one recognised it as an acronym for a saying or an organisation.
Even as investigators sniffed around electronic trails leading to France, it appears the perpetrator was hiding behind his computer and modem in Australia. Geographically, Australia is a long way from anywhere. To Americans, it conjures up images of fuzzy marsupials, not computer hackers. They function in a world of concretes, of appointments made and kept, of real names, business cards and official titles. The computer underground, by contrast, is a veiled world populated by characters slipping in and out of the half-darkness. It is not a place where people use their real names.
It is not a place where people give out real personal details. It is, in fact, not so much a place as a space. It is ephemeral, intangible--a foggy labyrinth of unmapped, winding streets through which one occasionally ascertains the contours of a fellow traveller. How many computers had been attacked? Where were they? Who was behind the attack? But the FBI knew enough to realise the worm attack was potentially very serious. The winding electronic trail pointed vaguely to a foreign computer system and, before long, the US Secret Service was involved.
A casual observer with the benefit of hindsight might see different motivations driving the two government agencies. The FBI wanted to catch the perpetrator. In the best tradition of cloak-and-dagger government agencies, the FBI and DST people established two communication channels--an official channel and an unofficial one. The unofficial channel involved a few phone calls and some fast answers. Chris was involved in more than just science computer networks.
He had certain contacts in the French government and seemed to be involved in their computer networks. So, when the FBI needed technical information for its investigation--the kind of information likely to be sanitised by some embassy bureaucrat--one of its agents rang up Ron Tencati. And Ron would. Then Chris would get the necessary information. And off Ron would go in search of information requested by the DST. The investigation proceeded in this way, with each helping the other through backdoor channels. The worm may have simply travelled through the French computer from yet another system, but the French machine appeared to be the sole point of infection for NASA.
The French did not like this outcome. Not one bit. There was no way that the worm had come from France. Word came back from the French that they were sure the worm had come from the US. Why else would it have been programmed to mail details of all computer accounts it penetrated around the world back to a US machine, the computer known as GEMPAK? Because the author of the worm was an American, of course!
Therefore it is not our problem, the French told the Americans. It is your problem. Most computer security experts know it is standard practice among hackers to create the most tangled trail possible between the hacker and the hacked. It makes it very difficult for people like the FBI to trace who did it. The logs were important because they were relatively clear.
As the worm had procreated during that day, it had forced computers all over the network to attack each other in ever greater numbers. By 11 a. Some time after the first attack, DST sent word that certain agents were going to be in Washington DC regarding other matters. They wanted a meeting with the FBI. But he also knew he had to document everything, to have exact answers to every question and counter-argument put forward by the French secret service agents at the FBI meeting.
He followed the scent and contacted the manager of that system. Would he help Tencati? Mais oui. The machine is at your disposal, Monsieur Tencati. Tencati had never used an X. He wanted to retrace the steps of the worm, but he needed help. What Tencati found startled him. There were traces of the worm on the machine all right, the familiar pattern of login failures as the worm attempted to break into different accounts.
In any other situation, this question would hold zero interest for you. But now it becomes a burning obsession. How do they make corn flakes? Then: no! We are sitting still, dog-mind! There's a rooster on the front of the corn flakes box! What's that about? That's when the dog takes off, with you running behind it on a leash. Before you realize what's happened, you've listed your top ten favorite breakfast cereals, created a new recipe for bacon muffins, and mentally replayed a grade school argument about Pop Tarts.
It's as if our minds have been misbehaving for so long that we've tuned out the incessant barking and are content to live with the craziness. In fact, we seem to relish the craziness, to take comfort in the stream of thoughts. I can't emphasize enough how seductive and irresistible our thoughts can be, especially when we're trying not to get lost in them. It is incredibly easy to get caught up in the movie -- and when we're caught up in it, we're not directing it. Now for the good news: like dogs, our minds can be trained. And like a well-trained dog, our minds can go from a holy terror to Man's Best Friend.
If you've ever owned a well-behaved dog, you know the pleasure of having a faithful companion, an obedient helper, and a loyal pal — and your mind can be the same way. Sorry, cat people. Find your own analogy. Truly, your mind can be both your worst enemy and your best friend.
The Attention Economy Imagine that you wake up tomorrow in a parallel universe. Everything in this universe is the same, except for one big difference: money has been replaced by attention. All citizens have little meters attached to their heads, right between the eyes, that show where they've been spending their limited daily supply of attention. Let's say, in this universe, a minute of your attention is worth a dollar. When you drive down the interstate, you're leaking pennies and nickels whenever a billboard catches your eye.
Over the course of a week, this adds up; you might spend a significant portion of your monthly attention on anxiety and guilt. In this universe, most citizens have no idea where all their attention goes; it just seems to get used up, and there's never enough to go around. Everyone, it seems, has attention deficit disorder. Your Mind Has a Mind of Its Own 33 Mind Hacking This is because there are hidden "attention taxes" everywhere you look: all kinds of messages, alerts, and interruptions that slowly drain your focus.
Someone sends you a text message, and you pay a quarter for the ensuing conversation. You spend hundreds of dollars a year sifting through unwanted email. You happily spend thousands of dollars watching advertisements on TV. Your attention is constantly being depleted, without your knowledge. In this universe, instead of hiring a financial advisor, you hire an attention advisor.
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Looking at your forehead meter, he shows you how to stop the attention leaks, and how to reduce your attention tax. Then he teaches you an incredibly valuable trick. When you focus your attention on attention itself, it's like putting money in a savings account with compounding interest.
He cites the old proverb "It takes attention to make attention," showing you how to invest attention to create even more of it. Now for the twist: except for the forehead meter, you're in that universe right now. The idea of an "attention economy," named by Babson professor and management consultant Thomas Davenport, states that human attention, not money, is the scarce and valuable commodity.
Times Square is such valuable real estate because it attracts so much attention. A tech company with millions of users can be worth billions of dollars, even if it doesn't make a dime in profit, because of its attention-generating power. Time is money. And your time — in the form of your attention — is your most valuable resource. The Myth of Multitasking I have a friend who multitasks during his one-hour commute to and from work each day. I don't mean he just sends text messages or checks his email.
I mean he actually watches movies on his laptop while he's driving. Or he'll pull up the New York Times on his tablet and put it on the steering wheel, so he can read while he drives. Sometimes he'll play games. He gets in a lot of accidents. Go to any technology conference, and you'll notice that practically everyone is immersed in a screen - phone, tablet, laptop - paying little attention to what is actually going on. It's disconcerting to speak at these events, because no one is looking at you. Everyone is "listening with one ear," which seems worse than not listening at all.
These are conferences that cost thousands of dollars to attend, and people are barely paying attention! Your Mind Has a Mind of Its Own 34 Mind Hacking Or take a look in the conference rooms of companies across the world, where there are dozens of employees supposedly engaged in the meeting, but lost in their screens. If everyone is only giving the meeting one-tenth of their attention, it requires ten people to make up the attention of one person. This is why so many inessential people are invited to the meeting: hopefully someone is listening, someone who can make the critical decision!
We pay an awful lot of attention tax, through the digital distractions that tempt us every waking moment: email, web sites, instant messaging, social media, text messages, and funny photos of overweight babies. Who can resist all these things? And why would you want to, when clearly they are put there for our enjoyment? Those who multitask Are doing nothing fast. The torrent of information, as well as the technologies that feed it to us, are so new that we don't have rules for them yet. We indiscriminately install time-wasting apps, leave on concentration-interrupting alerts, and jump at text messages, emails, and friend requests.
If our minds are already misbehaving dogs, then these technology toys are like squirrels in the front yard. The problem is not the technology, but our Indiscriminate and undisciplined use of It. These attention-grabbing apps and alerts quickly become bad habits, making our minds even less disciplined.
Just as we must watch our diet to avoid getting fat, we must watch our attention- interrupting habits so that our mental powers do not become weak and flabby. Among the worst of these habits is "multitasking. Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell defines multitasking as a "mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one. We keep open a chat window, so we're always "available.
We keep a feed or news ticker running, so we're "plugged in" or "connected. They can't manage a working memory. They're chronically distracted. They're even terrible at multitasking. When we ask them to multitask, they're actually worse at it. So they're pretty much mental wrecks. Each distraction you allow yourself actually makes you less productive, less capable, and less Sorry, thought I saw a squirrel.
Because it is addictive. As you wait in line at a restaurant, do you pull out your phone? As you're getting ready for bed, do you check email one last time? As you're sitting at a table, with flesh and blood human beings, do you interact with humans somewhere else? For the rest of the day, try to become aware of whenever your attention is pulled away from the task at hand by either digital or human interruptions.
Try to become aware of the feeling of "broken flow" when you lose your concentration. Keep track of how many interruptions you notice. At the end of the day, write down the final number on your practice pad. Is it any wonder Attention Deficit Disorder is so prevalent? Although ADD was first described in , it has been steadily on the rise in recent years. Now, according to the U. You may find screen-checking has become an ingrained habit, a compulsion - and the only way to begin correcting this impulse, this addiction, is to first become aware of it. This need to constantly check a screen is a symptom of the misbehaving dog-mind, as is the need to have several browser tabs open, to do homework while watching TV, or to simultaneously play three hands of online poker while flying a plane.
Unfortunately, your mind has bulimia. A study from Kent State University surveyed students, and found that higher smartphone use was highly correlated with higher anxiety: stress and screens go hand in hand. Eventually he found the dogs would slobber uncontrollably as soon as he rang the bell, even before he had presented the food : their bodies had become "conditioned" to prepare for food when the bell was rung. Similarly, attention-interrupting "tools" like email alerts and instant messaging have conditioned our minds to expect a tiny burst of informational pleasure. Let's say you get a text message alert.
Maybe it even sounds like a bell! You know there is new information waiting for you — it might be someone saying hello, it might be a picture of your sister's kids, it might even be an exciting emergency. That bell has conditioned our dog- minds to slobber with anticipation, as we stop whatever we're doing and tend to the text message. We are all Pavlov's dogs. Try to become aware of the precise feeling, so you can recognize it when it happens. Try to capture that feeling of discontinuity, the "jerkiness" of being pulled out of concentration.
That drug-like cycle, the addictive temptation with its accompanying mini-burst of pleasure, is what we want to overcome. The disobedient dog thrives on this chaos; it is a picture of mental weakness. Now compare this with the feeling of "flow": being immersed in an activity, with unbroken concentration.
You might call this being "in the zone" or "losing yourself. Close your eyes and picture that flow of effortless concentration; try to get a sense of what it feels like. That's what the well-trained mind is all about. This is a picture of mental strength. We can learn how to develop this state at will. The key to this retraining is the lost art of concentration, the subject of our next chapter.
Concentration training brings clarity and focus to our mental efforts, and is a foundational skill of mind hacking. It's not just about turning off your instant messenger, but also learning specific exercises that actively increase your powers of concentration. This is how you discipline the dog. Concentrating, this time Luke blocks the lasers, relying entirely on his instincts. Solo never apologizes. Whether you are more like Obi-Wan or Han Solo when it comes to believing in the Force, you certainly know the power of concentration.
A moment's reflection will probably show you that your best work, strongest ideas, and deepest insights come from moments of concentration, when your mind is calm, clear, and focused. You may even long for these moments, and wish that you had more time for them. In the sequel The Empire Strikes Back, Luke goes off to train with Yoda, developing incredible powers of concentration.
Now he is able to stand on one hand upside down, while balancing Yoda and levitating rocks. Han Solo and his blaster, meanwhile, get frozen in carbonite. This chapter is your Jedi training. Reclaiming and Retraining The great psychologist William James once said that the skill of "voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will.
An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. First, you have what is called "voluntary" or "top down" attention, which is where you choose to direct your mind. We don't have a good vocabulary for attention, so the best analogy I can give you is the proton pack from Ghostbusters : the concentrated energy guns they use to capture ghosts.
That "stream" of positively-charged energy is like your voluntary attention: you can point it at this, and this, and this. Just please, don't cross the streams. You also have a "reflexive" or "bottom up" attention, which is when something "catches" your attention. Though sometimes this is exceedingly useful, such as when we hear someone call our name in the middle of a noisy public square, it is also what we might call "being distracted by shiny objects. The great challenge of our time is to strengthen our "top down" attention our ability to concentrate , while weakening our "reflexive" attention our tendency to become distracted.
Therefore, developing your powers of concentration involves two components: reclaiming attention through reducing distractions, and retraining your mind through concentration exercises. Reclaiming attention involves taking an inventory of all the avoidable distractions that surround you, then reducing or eliminating them.
These are lifestyle changes, usually small and incremental, that add up to a huge difference over time because they help keep you focused on a daily basis. Retraining your concentration involves a specific set of Mind Games that will help you not only calm the mind, but also harness its power. Your success with mind hacking will depend largely on how seriously you take these games, and how deeply you integrate them into your lifestyle. Everything else builds on these games: they're your mental fundamentals.
These are not just one-time lessons, but core life skills that will make you better at everything you do. If you're an entrepreneur or businessperson, these concentration games will give you an edge, a competitive advantage. If you're involved in a relationship or a parent of young children, they will bring you greater calm and mental clarity. They will bring you focus, poise, and confidence, and create a mental environment where you can train your mind to accomplish incredible achievements.
The exercises in this chapter are meant to become habits. If you're learning how to live a healthy lifestyle, you don't just do a month of ab crunches and then call it quits: you integrate exercise and movement into your everyday life. Similarly, the more you can work these skills into your daily routine, the more powerful you will become at mind hacking. You may not learn how to levitate objects with your mind like Luke Skywalker, but you could very well develop a levitation technology, then license out the patent. Anything is possible! These "memory athletes," as they are known, are here to compete in head-to-head "memory battles.
The athletes memorize these random lists with amazing speed, then recall them with pinpoint accuracy. My favorite competitor is Ola Kare Risa of Norway, who wears not only sound-canceling headphones that you might see on a flight runway, but a cap with a long visor and sideflaps. His sideflaps are hilarious, ensuring that no distractions enter his peripheral vision as he stares at the computer screen.
He looks like a horse that's wearing blinders while landing a plane. But there's science behind this approach. As Henry L. Roediger III, one of the psychologists studying these memory athletes, tells the New York Times, "We found that one of the biggest differences between memory athletes and the rest of us, is in a cognitive ability that's not a direct measure of memory at all, but of attention. We might also call this your ability to concentrate.
Sometimes you'll say, "My attention was wandering," which is an excellent phrase that shows that you have something called an "attention," which is sometimes under your control, but sometimes goes for a brief walk. This "attention," this focused point of consciousness, is under continual assault, much of it by the environment you create for yourself.
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Some distractions cannot be avoided. If you work in an office, for example, your co-workers may be motorized disturbance makers. Unenlightened bosses may expect you to be available via chat 24 hours a day. Parents, especially new parents, may find it especially challenging to focus, since young children are interruption machines. My wife gave a name to her bewildered, sleep-deprived mental state when our kids were small: "Mom brain. It can make you wonder, Just who is in charge here? Productivity guru David Allen, the bestselling author of Getting Things Done, warns of the "mental clutter" of unfinished tasks, and there's research to back up his claim.
In the 's, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik showed that starting any kind of task gives your mind a mild psychic anxiety, until that task is complete. Unfinished tasks nag at you. Unwanted digital distractions add to that "mental clutter": each one reminds you there's another task needing your attention. Get rid of the notifications, and you'll reduce your mental clutter, and your anxiety.
More important, you'll be able to focus on what's more important. Instant messaging. If you're in the habit of messaging frequently throughout the day, stop. Uninstall IM apps, or set them to "Away" by default. The problem with messaging is that distractions create more distractions: when you respond, another response comes back.
In between, you are trying to get fragments of work done. It's a high-interruption environment. Text messaging. Just like instant messaging, text messages distract our concentration over a longer period of time, because of the slow pace of a conversation carried out over text. Few of us are willing to turn off text messaging on our phones, but you can set aside times of the day to respond to messages, or wait until you're between tasks, rather than answering immediately.
Internet distractions. Whether it's checking your stock portfolio or updating your fantasy football team, we pay heavy attention tax on internet distractions. It's OK to allow yourself these distractions, but ideally as "rewards" for periods of focused concentration. By flipping the model on its head — using internet distractions as rewards for completing difficult work, rather than avoiding it — you can greatly improve your concentration, as well as your quality of work.
Audible and visual notifications. App developers and software companies have a vested interest in getting you to use their products. Therefore, they have developed a wide array of attention-getting devices to remind you to check in — icons, messages, notifications, beeps, boops, and ding-dong aroogahs.
Like Pavlov's dogs, these train us to expect a quick hit of satisfaction whenever the bell rings — so turn off the bell. Get the icons out of your system tray! Turn off notifications! Ruthlessly uninstall! Do you switch on the TV as soon as you enter the house? Do you turn on a podcast as soon as you get in the car?
We are voracious consumers of media, binge-viewing entire seasons of TV, watching sports games as we eat in restaurants, keeping "one eye on the TV" as we do our daily tasks. Instead of making media consumption your default activity, with brief periods of silence, try to make silence your default activity, with planned entertainment breaks of TV, radio, or movies. Silence is golden. Do you really need the daily Doctor Who Digest, or the impassioned pleas to save the chickens in El Salvador? It's true that individual emails are easy to delete, but each mailing list you get off eliminates dozens of micro-distractions and deletions in the future.
They add up. To begin, you're only investing an hour in cleaning up these distractions. Set a timer, and stop when the hour is up. Don't fall into the ironic trap of wasting the next week trying to reclaim your time. You're not after perfection, just simplification; you can always continue to simplify later. In other words, simplification is a process. It's much better to start with an hour, then set a recurring appointment in your calendar to review and eliminate further once a month.
Keep it Simple, Skywalker. MIND GAME: The One-Hour Investment Spend one hour cleaning out or turning off unnecessary digital distractions, including: - Instant messaging - Text messaging - Notifications and alerts - Time-wasting internet sites - Unnecessary emails Set a recurring appointment in your calendar for a monthly review to eliminate further. Count the number of digital distractions you turned off, and record that number in your practice pad.
If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there's room to hear more subtle things. You see so much more than you could see before. It's a discipline; you have to practice it. Some people call it "meditation" or "mindfulness," but I prefer to call it concentration training, since that's what it is. Your mind hacking success rests largely with the seriousness and tenacity with which you approach this basic game.
Like chess, it offers a lifelong challenge of mastery. If you find yourself getting drowsy, stand. This should take minutes. Keep track of your points on your fingers, or in your head. Make it your goal to practice faithfully, and you will see the benefits. How to Make This a Habit Practicing for twenty minutes a day is a terrific goal: just wake up half an hour earlier. If your schedule doesn't allow it, then do fifteen, ten, or even five minutes to start. The trick to succeeding over the long term is to make this concentration game a habit. As with getting Developing Jedi-Like Concentration 44 Mind Hacking your body in shape with regular physical exercise, getting your mind in shape requires developing a routine that integrates this exercise into your lifestyle.
In his book The Power of Habit, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg proposes that we can more easily create new habits by "bookending" them with a cue to start the habit, as well as a reward once we've completed the habit. In order to turn the concentration game into a positive habit, then, you need to consciously set up a cue to begin, as well as a reward when complete. First thing in the morning is best, before your to-do list kicks in. Make it a part of your day-starting routine, as I do, and be sure to practice at the same time.
Pick somewhere you will not be disturbed; this can be your bedroom or a spare room. I have been known to practice in my car before work often while parked. Keep this book by your bed, or set out your favorite chair. You can also set a digital reminder like a phone alert here's where alerts can be a useful thing.
The first reward is logging your score into your practice sheet, creating a positive feedback loop. Adding in a second healthy reward locks in that motivation: a shower, or breakfast, or music. As with training children or pets, continuing to enforce the same routine, day after day, will help the practice habit stick. Avoid "all or nothing" thinking, where you either stick to a perfect schedule, or you don't practice at all.
The important thing is to keep practicing: if you miss a few days, just pick it back up! The temptation will be to switch to a new variation mid-practice, which is a subtle trick your mind will play to amuse itself. Pick one and stick with it abbreviated as Pick It and Stick It. Focus on your breath while remaining vigilant for stray aliens breaking through your defense shield. Whenever you see a thought arising, mentally say, "Thought," which disintegrates the alien with a hydrogen- ion particle blaster.
Imagine that you are taking in pure oxygen, a delicious smell, or a healing elixir. There are also variations of this game that you can play during the day. In my experience, there's no substitute for dedicated concentration practice, but these are an excellent way to hone your concentration skills throughout the day. See how long you can observe the "flow" and not get lost in it.
Watch where you're aiming it, and see how long you can visualize that stream. Busting makes you feel good. As you play these concentration games, you may find that habitual thoughts, memories, or emotions keep popping up. You might even have deep insights or realizations about your life, your personality, or your childhood history. This is normal. What you are seeing is the areas that need to be reprogrammed. You're becoming aware of your own mental code. The trick is to mentally note these things, and tell your mind you will process them later.
Avoid the temptation to get lost in another "mind movie. You can always discuss them with your therapist later. You may get frustrated when you notice your mind wandering, but remember the act of noticing is the very sign of progress! Resist the urge to get angry or impatient with yourself; this is just more mind movie. Develop the habit of completely letting it go. The attitude is one of non-resistance: gently set the mind back on your object of concentration, and begin again.
This is why we call it "practice. We also develop the precision necessary to analyze the code that runs our mind. This is the aspect of mind hacking we'll talk about next. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That's the only thing you should be trying to control. Most of these computers came installed with BASIC, the language that allowed anyone to learn how to code. He knew how to write exactly one program.
David Dack had mastered the loop, which is one of the essential building blocks of computer programming. When we're writing software, loops are how we get stuff done. More than that, loops help us get stuff done efficiently. Loops are a shortcut. Debugging Your Mental Loops 48 Mind Hacking We have counting loops, which run through a set of instructions a defined number of times "for every row in this spreadsheet, apply this formatting".
We have conditional loops, which run through a set of instructions if certain criteria are true "each minute, check if the time is , and if it is, pop up an alert. We have infinite loops, which even David Dack understood. The complexity of modern software is mind-boggling: layers upon layers of loops. Say you're reading this on an electronic device. The highest level programming loops may tell your device what content to display, and how to display it. Underneath that are loops running the reader app itself. Go deeper and you'll find loops controlling the operating system that runs the apps.
Still lower are loops running the device itself: the battery, the clock, the screen. The layers build on top of each other, growing increasingly sophisticated, and increasingly amazing. When you're using a word processor, making a phone call, or playing a videogame, you don't notice the loops. The loops are forming a higher-level, abstract representation that seems utterly divorced from the programming going on behind the scenes.
All the richly complex software that we take for granted is run on top of simple building blocks like loops. It's one of the most amazing things about computers Our Minds Are Loopy Like software, our minds are also programmed with loops. Think back to how useless we were as babies. It's as if our parents got a new computer, except there was nothing installed on it, not even an operating system. Turn it on, and all they got was some low-level configuration menu that told the newborn how to suck, cry, and poop. Over the next six months, we learned some basic skills: sensory input, rudimentary cause and effect, the beginning of language, and some simple emotions.
Whether we discovered it through trial and error, parental guidance, or luck, this programming "stuck" through simple repetition, through practicing these fundamental skills over and over. By the age of three, we had grown incredibly complex: walking, running, speaking in complete sentences, and expertly manipulating our parents. We now had a sophisticated operating system, which was learning to program itself, through a continuous stream of questions. Who are trees? Where is muffins? First, we learned there were substances going in our mouth. Then we learned some of these substances tasted better than others.
Later, we learned these substances were called "food," and then we learned how to get more of the foods we liked. Along the way, we were continually developing mental models, thought habits or loops, that saved us time later on: "I only like white foods. Our code grew more elegant. In school, we learned through repetition. First we learned the concept of numbers, then we learned operations on those numbers, then we learned layers of abstraction like algebra and trigonometry.
And always the loops, in the form of practice, exercises, and tests. Later, these loops helped us with specific tasks like managing money, doing home renovation, or acquiring businesses. Our operating system was now fully formed, and specialized apps were beginning to appear. Society deeply embedded its values into us through continued repetition and reinforcement: Sunday school, teen magazines, pop music, Disney movies, TV shows. And always the advertisements, repeated over and over, expertly-crafted loops telling us what to buy.
Popup ads and spyware were getting installed on our operating system, slowing everything down.
Perhaps the most powerful loops were the ones making up our self-image and our view of the world. If we came from a safe, stable home, we probably grew up to see the world as a safe and welcoming place, thanks to the power of that repeated daily experience, that repeated loop. If we came from a chaotic, broken home, with repeated instances of lying or abuse, the world became a disturbing, dishonest place.
If we were always told that we were brilliant, we grew up believing it. Now, when we meet with difficulty or setbacks, our default response might be, "Hey, I'm smart and I'll figure this out. When we run into trouble, we think, "Just my luck. Another failed project. If our parents spent money frivolously or gambled it away, our mental loops might go like, It's only money and besides, I really need that rare albino giraffe. If our parents had a reasonably functional relationship, we may have internalized loops like, It's OK to compromise with your partner, or We are working together as a team.
Debugging Your Mental Loops 50 Mind Hacking As with the low-level loops of code running the clock on your computer, these loops can be so deeply embedded that they're difficult to detect. They run everything, yet they're invisible. That's because to a very great extent, these loops are self-fulfilling prophecies: if our loops tell us we're good with people, then we'll probably seek out opportunities to meet more people, and through simple practice we will be good with people. If our loops tell us we'll never amount to anything, we'll be nervous and afraid to jump on new opportunities, and we ultimately won't amount to much.
Addiction is a loop. We eat, or drink, or smoke, in order to feel better and better. We feel horrible the next morning, so we start the loop again, while our lives get worse and worse. Just about anything can be made into an obsessive loop: talking, pornography, flame wars, religion, worrying, shopping, sex. Just as it's hard to believe that loops of code can build an immersive videogame, it's hard to believe that our thoughts, our behavior, and even our lives could be built through loops.
Once you begin to observe your mind closely, however, you'll find these mental loops control just about everything you do. Your loops create your thoughts. Your thoughts create your actions. Your actions create your life. Therefore, the quality of our loops determine the quality of our lives. Fix your loops, Fix your life.
This is great news: it means that even though many of our loops may be invisible to us, there is one simple way to find them, and that is by looking at the quality of our lives. When you use a well-designed app, it just works. Think about your favorite search engine: how fast, powerful, and intuitive it is. Behind the scenes are millions of well-designed loops, all optimized to work together harmoniously.
Similarly, if our mental loops are reasonably well-designed, our life works. We are successful at work, play, relationships, money, and love. Successful does not mean perfect; it simply means that our lives have a minimum of friction, a minimum of pain. Where there's pain outward pain, such as a series of failed jobs or relationships, or inward pain, such as depression or anxiety , there's usually a faulty loop.
In fact, pain is an excellent indicator that we need to examine our loops. Debugging Your Mental Loops 51 Mind Hacking Thus, improving the quality of our mental loops involves tracking down the faulty thinking that is causing us pain. It's a process that is similar to tracking down faulty computer code, or debugging.
In , "Amazing" Grace Hopper was a year-old computer programmer at Harvard University, working on the Harvard Mark II, a huge electromechanical computer that used relays, switches, and vacuum tubes to perform amazing feats like calculating square roots in about five seconds. In those days, everything was hardware, so you would manually inspect the computer itself - like inspecting a car, or a washing machine - to see if a part had failed.
The engineers removed the panels on the enormous machine, one by one, until finally they found the problem: a small moth had made its way into one of the relays. For years, the word "bug" had been used informally by geeks to describe hardware malfunctions.
Even the grandfather of geeks, Thomas Edison, had referred to faults and difficulties in his systems as "bugs. This was like winning the comedy lottery! They reverently removed the moth from the relay, determined to enshrine this insect in the annals of computing history. They taped the moth into their daily logbook with the words "first actual case of a bug being found. She spent her later years on college lecture tours, telling that story, along with many others from her amazing career in technology. She frequently stressed to young people the necessity of personal change.
Decades after Hopper's death, bugs are a part of life for those of us who work with technology. We can all relate to a system crash, a computer freeze, or a life-sucking moment of doom where you lose the last four hours' worth of work: all thanks to bugs. A program almost never works properly the first time. You write some code, you run it, and it breaks. This is part of the job.
You track down the errors, or bugs, in your loops of code, then you rewrite the loops, and run it again. You do this again and again, hundreds or thousands of times, until you have a working prototype. Then you hand over your software to a team of beta testers. By using the software in different and unexpected ways, your testers find more buggy loops, which you track down and correct. Some bugs are small: a misspelled word or a missing semicolon.
Some bugs are huge: a gaping security hole, or a navigation system failure. Yes, accidentally writing a quotation mark Instead of an apostrophe would signal the end of our PRINT statement, causing the computer to choke on line This kind of bug is easy to track down, but many bugs are far more insidious and complex. Some can only be reproduced under specific circumstances or unusual situations -- so unusual that the developers have great difficulty ever finding them.
Walt, maybe It was this other menu Item. Well, It crashed this morning, so please fix It before lunchtime. Bugs Cause Pain Years ago, my company used a well-known video editing application to produce online videos. For the sake of not being sued, we'll call this program VideoBug. Being a high-end video editor, VideoBug required an enormous amount of memory and computing power. It would run on a slower computer, just not very well. There was no way to know whether your computer was optimized for VideoBug until you found yourself hitting your head with a hammer out of sheer frustration.
Using VideoBug was a great way of really coming to deeply understand and appreciate the pain of bugs. Sometimes the pain would be subtle, like a split-second audio glitch that sounded correct in the preview video, but only showed up in the final video. You'd render the video again and again, trying to get the audio right, missing deadlines, missing sleep, missing your child's Debugging Your Mental Loops 53 Mind Hacking first piano recital.
Eventually, you'd delete the entire video project, rebuild it from scratch, and twelve hours later, it would work. Sometimes the pain would be acute, like when the computer would hang after working on an all-night video project, taking all your effort with it. One day, one of our team members was in the other room, separated by a three-foot reinforced concrete wall, when I suddenly heard him explode with rage. It was terrifying and violent, with a torrent of screaming expletives, and the sound of a massive filing cabinet full of CDs being pulled to the ground.
Freaking VideoBug, I thought to myself. Now multiply our frustration times hundreds, thousands, or millions of users of the VideoBug software, and you see how seemingly small bugs can cause tremendous difficulty and frustration. To this day, a simple Web search turns up thousands of user complaints about all the issues not listed on the official VideoBug website.
You may ask, "Why didn't you just get a video editor that works? But we had so much experience with using VideoBug, we were so trained to save our project every ten seconds and expect frequent crashes, that it was easier in the short term to live with terrible software, rather than learn a whole new system. It's an appropriate metaphor for our minds. Our mental programming — our loops — can cause us pain, but it's often easier to just live with the pain than invest in learning a new system.
The rewards of learning the new system, though, are potentially infinite. Not only do our negative loops cause us pain, they hold us back. They limit us. If we switch to a new video editor, we'll simply make it easier to create videos. In the world of the mind, though, getting rid of our limitations unlocks anything we can imagine, because imagination is at the core of mind hacking. How to Debug the Mind To recap: our minds are the product of thousands of repeated lessons, good and bad, true and false, accurate and inaccurate. These have been ingrained as mental "loops" that can be positive "I like to exercise" or negative "I will never find true love".
They can be constructive "I should spend money responsibly" or destructive "I would be happier if I had a drink". Debugging Your Mental Loops 54 Mind Hacking These habitual thoughts control our emotions, our behaviors, and ultimately our lives. Because they are deeply embedded, the product of years of experience and upbringing, these loops can be hard to track down. The best way of debugging these negative loops is to look at the quality of your life, more specifically for areas of pain.
But there were plenty of smaller pain points along the way, like getting caught sneaking vodka from the liquor cabinet by my father -- in my thirties. And of course, the everyday mental pain that was causing me to sneak from the liquor cabinet in the first place. The problem is that we can get so used to the pain that we become numb to it.
Like a person who's always worn a pair of ill-fitting shoes, we can convince ourselves that it's not worth the trouble to change. Fortunately, there are several methods we can use to uncover the loops that cause us this pain. The first is based on a Japanese management technique known as The Five Whys.
In the late s, many Japanese textile factories still used wooden hand looms to produce cloth. They were labor-intensive, slow, and expensive. After several years of experimentation, Toyoda invented a steam-fueled "Power Loom" that quadrupled textile production, cut costs in half, and produced better quality cloth to boot.
Automatic shuttle changers. Interchangeable parts. Eventually, a fully automatic loom. Toyoda's genius was not just around his inventions, but also around his innovations in the process of manufacturing. To Toyoda, it was processes that failed, not people. When troubleshooting problems in his factories, he invented a technique known as the "Five Whys," to track a problem down to its root cause.
The technique is simple: when you encounter a problem in your factory, instead of berating the employee who's responsible, you step back and answer the question "Why? Let's say you're an automobile manufacturer. One of your new car models has a problem: under certain conditions, the gas tank explodes. While the natural response is to figure out a short-term solution replace the gas tank, recall the cars, deny the story, etc. What's the source of our exploding gas tanks? We used a gas tank from a new supplier. Our old supplier could not deliver in time for production.
Production was rushed to meet an accelerated schedule. Management wanted to accelerate the production schedule to impact end-of-year sales. Management bonuses are tied to annual sales. By following this tree of "Why? Here, the result exploding gas tanks is just the surface of a much deeper problem management gaming annual sales bonuses at the expense of safety. Problems usually manifest themselves far down the chain from where they started.
Note the "five" in "Five Whys" is somewhat arbitrary — it may take six whys, or four, to find the root problem. Usually, in fact, there are multiple roots to the problem, so you need to ask "Why? The basic idea, however, is powerful: continue asking "Why? Toyoda's "Five Whys" technique was eventually embraced by the entire manufacturing industry as a best practice, and ultimately found its way to the modern corporate world as well.
The company he founded, Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, lives on as the Toyota Motor Corporation, which makes some of the highest-quality automobiles in the world. Debugging Your Mental Loops 56 Mind Hacking Now let's look at Charlie, a year-old programmer who has a pattern of not being able to hold a job: either he gets fired, or he quits.
Why can't you hold a job, Charlie? I can't get along with my bosses. Sometimes I'm insubordinate. Now that I think about it, it's more like I don't want to be forced to do something I don't believe in. Because I had to do that a lot growing up. I hated that my father was so dominating. Because it made me feel like I can't be trusted to make my own decisions. Let's take another example.
Darla is a year-old mother of three who is afraid of walking alone at night: 1. I'm afraid of walking alone. I'm afraid someone's going to attack me, and no one will be there to help. My older brother often scared and threatened me, which left me with a feeling of never being safe. Because no one was there to protect me.
My parents didn't take it seriously. They acted like I was overreacting, like I was the crazy one. And now I feel like the crazy one! Because I continually think that the world is not a safe place. We've debugged a negative thought loop "The world is not a safe place" that can be reprogrammed with a positive thought loop "I am safe in the world". More on reprogramming in Section 2. The goal of "Five Whys" is to keep the focus on you. Not on other people. Not on circumstances beyond your control. If you end up with an answer like, "Because my husband is a moron," or "Because I was born with bad luck," try again.
Train your microscope on your own emotions, thoughts, and actions, and be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Let's take one more example. Ed is a year-old project manager who suffers from depression. It's not serious enough to seek professional help, but enough to impact his daily life. Two or three times a year, he cycles through a depression that feels like he is "swimming against a powerful current.
I've had these depressive episodes since I was a teenager. It feels like all the happiness of life is gone. Life seems hopeless, out of control. Depression runs in my family. My aunt had it, my grandmother had it. I sound a lot like my aunt, actually. It shows you how it runs in the family.
Well, I guess it's just a part of me, who I am. We've uncovered a problem loop "I am a depressed person" that is also a self- fulfilling prophecy. Because Ed sees himself as someone who goes through periodic cycles of depression, he becomes less likely to help himself when he feels a new episode coming on say, by exercising or seeing a doctor. Thus, he is a periodically depressed person, caught in the buggy loop of bad thinking.
It's true there is probably a physiological component to his depression, but we're trying to get to the problem thinking that's contributing to the pain. Since thoughts create feelings, focusing on the feelings can be a useful way of getting to the thoughts. In fact, a great trigger for the "Five Whys" is when you notice a persistent thought. Instead of suffering through these anxious or depressing thoughts that won't seem to go away, see them as red warning lights flashing on Toyoda's assembly line.
A persistent thought usually indicates a problem loop, and asking "Why is this thought so persistent? By practicing the "Five Whys" on yourself, gently questioning each of your long-held beliefs, you can often find the root problem. If not, here's a second method. Method 2: Worst Case Scenario Much of our mental pain is based on fears of imaginary events that simply will never happen. This fear is often just beneath the surface, gnawing away at us. By exaggerating the fear, we can pull it out into the open. We do this by asking one question: What's the worst case scenario?
Let's take the case of Francine, a year-old receptionist.
She finds herself stewing over a parking attendant who overcharged her earlier in the day, who then refused to refund the money. She "catches" herself obsessing over this small event hours later, and determines to root out the problem thought. Francine is self-aware enough to know that she has problems spending money — she hadn't wanted to park in the garage in the first place. Spending money, especially unnecessary money, causes her anxiety. What's the worst case scenario? The worst case scenario is that I spend too much money, and can't make enough to cover my expenses.
That's bad, but we're going for the absolutely worst case, so we encourage her to continue. I lose my apartment. I can't afford food. I have to live in a shopping cart under a bridge. And then? I waste away and die a miserable death. Actually, this isn't the worst case scenario -- that would involve an alien apocalypse, where the invaders keep her alive in an eternal state of unrelenting agony.
But let's not get silly. The point, though, is that Francine will see her fear as a bit silly. Even if she went broke, she could file for bankruptcy, or turn to her parents or friends for support. She would be able to get government assistance long before she ended up under a bridge. Still, feelings are persistent, even when we logically understand they're silly. So we take our fears to their extreme conclusions to help us identify the limiting belief. With greater clarity, Francine can now synthesize her thought loop into something like this: It's dangerous to spend money, because I will die a miserable death.