I’m being targeted with phishing attacks — from my employer!

Screen Shot 2019-03-20 at 5.26.27 PM

Today, I received this suspicious message on my university email account about a purchase, made on my “Smartpone,” and related to a game I don’t play. I promptly reported it as spam to Stanford IT. Within seconds, I was “rewarded” with the following message:

Thank you for reporting this suspicious message.  This was a simulated phishing email sent as part of Stanford’s Phishing Awareness Program.  Congratulations on successfully identifying and reporting it to us!  No further action is necessary.

Yay! I guess…

Yeah, well, I think it’s kind of weird to get phishing messages from your employer, and I am getting this gamified spam on a regular basis — several “simulated” phishing messages a week.

But what is the status of a “simulated” phishing attack anyway? In this connection, I am reminded of Baudrillard on the impossibility of “simulating” a bank robbery:

Organize a fake holdup. Verify that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no human life will be in danger (or one lapses into the criminal.) Demand a ransom, and make it so that the operation creates as much commotion as possible — in short, remain close to the “truth,” in order to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulacrum. You won’t be able to do it: the network of artificial signs will become inextricably mixed up with real elements (a policeman really will fire on sight; a client of the bank will faint and die of a heart attack; one will actually pay you the phony ransom).

This sounds exactly like what my employer — a major research university situated in the midst of Silicon Valley, the simulacral heart of the control society — is doing. And in their attempt to remain close to the “truth” to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulacrum, the network of artificial signs is bound to get mixed up with real elements, perhaps by design: these simulated attacks pretend towards an attempt to inoculate us against the danger, but they are also tools of control: of surveillance and, if need be, shaming (I am told by colleagues who have clicked on the links that a finger-wagging message appears and tells the user to be more careful…).

Having recently parried one of these attacks to the satisfaction of my employer, I received the usual message of congratulations. Being knee-deep in a major writing project, I may have been feeling a little humorless that day. I wrote back:

Thanks, but I am not sure that this really adds to my productivity.

I got a message back, within minutes, from someone claiming to be a human (but it seems I should have required they fill out a Captcha or click on all the stoplights in a picture or something). Anyway, this “human” wrote back a message so chilling that it sent shivers down my spine the likes of which I have rarely experienced outside of Poe or Kafka:

Hi Prof. Denson, we give up a little bit of our productivity for an increased amount of security. Thank you for the feedback and for reporting the email.

 

Advertisements

Michael Richards: Winged

IMG_0635

The other day I promised (or threatened) to reactivate this blog for things other than announcing talks, publications, etc. It remains to be seen how much time I will actually devote to this, but my thought was anyway that I should reclaim the time I waste on social media (especially Facebook). Accordingly, why not post just the pictures I would otherwise be sharing there here instead? Of course, these are not just any pictures…

These are from the moving show Michael Richards: Winged, which is currently up at the Stanford Art Gallery (but ending this week, so hurry if you plan to see it!).

Michael Richards, whose work powerfully probes race in American culture, tragically died in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, where he was working in his studio on the 92nd floor of Tower One.

IMG_2327

The show was recently an Artforum Critics’ Pick.

Check it out if you can!

 

Can Computers Create Meaning? — N. Katherine Hayles at Digital Aesthetics Workshop

hayles-daw

Coming up in a few weeks: N. Katherine Hayles will be joining the Digital Aesthetics Workshop to present some of her latest research. This session will take place in the Humanities Center Board Room, on Tues. Feb 12, from 5-7 PM. Her event is entitled Can Computers Create Meaning? A Cyber-Bio-Semiotic Perspective.

We anticipate a full event, so you must RSVP to this google form link. We will circulate Hayles’s paper, which she will briefly introduce and then invite conversation around it. Here is her abstract:

Can Computers Create Meaning? A Cyber-Bio-Semiotic Perspective

N. Katherine Hayles

One of the promising areas to understand how computers cognize is biosemiotics, a field that draws on C. S. Peirce’s semiotics to argue that all living organisms generate and understand meanings appropriate to their contexts, even plants and unicellular organisms.  Although these approaches by such theorists as Jesper Hoffmeyer, Wendy Wheeler, and Terrence Deacon have considerable explanatory power, they share a common blind spot in arguing that such signifying capabilities apply only to living organisms, not computers.  However, many of their objections to networked and programmed machines creating, disseminating and understanding meanings become moot if the relevant unit is considered to be human plus computer rather than either alone.  The human species, this paper will argue, is in the midst of entering into a deep symbiosis with computational media. Still incomplete, this symbiosis is akin to endosymbiosis, where previously independently living organisms unite into a single entity, as happened for example with the absorption of mitochondria by eukaryotic cells.  The paper will conclude by exploring the implications of this symbiosis-in-progress.

Scholars Select

scholars-select

There is a short article in today’s Stanford News about the Scholars Select exhibition that’s on right now until until April 14 at Green Library. The centerpiece of the article is this set of pictures by University Photographer Linda A. Cicero, who shot a selection of scholars and their objects. Each image links to the short statement that the faculty member prepared about their object. Take a look!

Super Star Trek — Scholars Select Exhibit at Stanford’s Green Library

scholarsselect_poster_square_notiny_1200

For the Scholars Select Exhibit at Stanford’s Green Library — in commemoration of the library’s 100th anniversary — I was asked to choose an object from Special Collections and write something about its significance for my work. I chose a letter to Bob Leedom contained in the September 1974 issue of the People’s Computer Company newsletter, published around the corner in Menlo Park:

pcc-cover-sm

The letter discusses Super Star Trek, a game I have written about in “Digital Seriality: On the Serial Aesthetics and Practice of Digital Games” (co-authored with Andreas Sudmann). Here, in much more condensed form, is what I wrote about it for the exhibition:

denson-statement

And here’s the letter itself:

bob-leedom-letter

You can find the full issue of the People’s Computer Company online, through the Stanford Libraries website: here.

Check out the full exhibition, which will be on display January 24 – April 19, 2019. More info here.

Skin in the Game: Greymarket Gambling in the Virtual Economies of Counter-Strike — Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux at Digital Aesthetics Workshop

boluk-lemieux-skin-in-the-game

Next Monday (January 14, 2018), we will be joined at the Digital Aesthetics Workshop by Stephanie Boluk & Patrick LeMieux. They are coming to us from UC-Davis, where Stephanie is Associate Professor of English and of Cinema and Digital Media, and where Patrick is Assistant Professor of Cinema and Digital Media. Boluk & LeMieux are scholars, critics, and artists who work largely around videogames and digital art. Their book Metagaming (Minnesota, 2017) wrenches open the ‘texts’ of videogames to consider them as tools, materials, platforms, and stages for all sorts of new social practices – it is easily one of the best works in game studies yet published. They have also co-created several critical games of their own that you can easily run on your laptop.

On Monday, they will be sharing in-progress material from their next book project, Money Games. Join us on Monday, January 14, 2018 (5-7pm in the Roble Arts Gym Lounge), and RSVP if you can! There will not be pre-circulated reading, though their games are recommended.

Here is the blurb for the event:

In 1987, a pyramid scheme called the “Plane Game” funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the pockets of “passengers,” landing at least six of the game’s “pilots” in jail. In 2018, more ubiquitous moneygames are played with smaller stakes across far wider fields. From the Valve Corporation’s Flatland to grey market gambling with Counter-Strike gun skins, this talk will move from from the Steam Workshop to the Steam Marketplace to series of third-party websites that explore the way in which money operates as a game mechanics and how game mechanics have come to operate as money. Although strict distinctions are made between gambling and gaming in both US law as well as 20th century philosophies of games and play, these terms’ etymological roots are tightly wound. In a post-2008 age of precarity, the wage has once again become a wager. In 2012, Alex Galloway proclaimed “we are all goldfarmers,” but gun skins and skin gambling represent an even more complex and complete financialization in that players have moved from one mode in which labour time is exchanged for a clear wage (even if it’s grinding in World of Warcraft) to one in which labour time itself becomes a wager. Ultimately skins are not simply texture files that wrap around the polygonal geometry of virtual weapons. Instead, they are objects of affinity and status, digital cash and casino chips, and a gun skins’ procedurally generated pattern, determined by a 9-digit floating point number selected upon unboxing, is more cryptocurrency than art asset. In this talk we follow the money, the skin, the flow, and the flight of new “plane games” as metagames become moneygames.