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Lou Lesko

I blame my friends who work at three-letter agencies for the United States government. They are the ones who invited me to the Black Hat Technical Security Conference in Las Vegas to drink, have a good time, and learn how completely ignorant I was about online security.

Today, I am a changed person. What I previously deemed to be adequate, if not savvy, security precautions for my quotidian web use, I learned was the same as leaving a full camera bag with the top flipped open on the front seat of my parked car. Sure, the doors are locked, but it would take only the slightest initiative and about six seconds for someone to break the window and walk away with tens of thousands of dollars in gear. I know what you’re thinking. You would never do that. Okay, then take the quiz below. If you answer yes to any of these questions, I’ve got news for you: You’re way more vulnerable than you think.

  • Do any of your passwords contain a word that can be found in an English language dictionary or in a dictionary covering pop-culture references from the last 100 years?
  • Do you ever close a web window that is signed into an account of some kind without logging out of the account first?
  • Ever log in to your bank or credit card account without first checking if the lock symbol is active on your browser window?
  • Ever log in to your bank account or 401(k) from a free WiFi access point?
  • Ever open an email when you’re unsure where it came from?
  • Ever log in to a secure site from a borrowed computer?

Why we are the way we are
In spite of the news stories that circulate daily about online security breaches, we are surprisingly apathetic about the threats they pose to us personally. It’s like backing up your computer — it’s a secondary concern until you’re hit with disaster. Then, suddenly, you’re a convert to the church of redundancy.

Unfortunately recovering from a security breach is nowhere near as easy as recovering from a lost hard drive. With the latter you at least have an idea of what you’ve lost. You can lament it over a glass of wine and move on with your life. A security breach places the control of your social, financial, and photographic life in the hands of someone else. And the ramifications will potentially haunt you long after the initial breach.

Consider the following. A friend of mine had a huge falling out with a close friend, who guessed her email password and sent an inflammatory email to her entire address book. Most of the recipients realized her email address book had been compromised, but those who didn’t know her well were shocked. Ultimately she was able to contact everyone and inform them what happened — but you can imagine how things could have gone worse.

My friend, like many of us, never thought twice about the weak password on her email account. The convenience of an easy-to-type, easy-to-remember password took priority over other considerations. She could not fathom anyone using her email account maliciously.

This is what gets us into trouble. We’re good people and have an inherent problem thinking like criminals. It’s hard for us to see our online assets through criminal eyes and predict how to protect ourselves.

A while back I was uploading images to the FTP directory of my web site when I was hit with a disk space error. An examination of my FTP server revealed dozens of unidentified folders, most filled with illicit pornography. My head spun. Given the nature of the material, I contacted my internet service provider, filed an official support ticket, and had them remove the files in case there were any legal protocols involved. A hacker had broken my FTP directory password and was serving up an entire website from my FTP directories for months without my knowledge. Oh man, I was pissed.

Unfortunately there was no way to trace the hacker. Moreover, and frightening to consider, if the authorities had found the illegal site before I did, I could have been arrested. An investigation would have revealed I had been hacked, but who needs that kind of grief?

If you’re utilizing a portfolio service like liveBooks that is monitored by a professional IT staff, you’re safer, but only if your password is strong. Weak passwords are the easiest way for a hacker to access to your account. If you do get hacked, liveBooks keeps a backup of your online portfolio going back a week onsite, and going back a month at a secure offsite facility. Recovery usually takes an hour. But don’t depend on those protocols unless you absolutely have to. Adopting safe practices is a lot easier and less expensive.

Good habits
So here we are at the basic security primer for photographers, or anyone else who spends most of their time online. This is by no means a definitive list, but it will help you think more carefully about your online habits. The information here was gathered from Black Hat, Craig Butterworth at the National White Collar Crime Center, and Carl Slawinski from Agile Web Solutions.

NEW HABIT 1 — Free WiFi: Never, ever, ever log in to your bank account or credit card account when you’re on a free WiFi access point. The reason you have to use a password to access most WiFi networks, especially your own, is because that password encrypts the information floating through the air between your computer and the WiFi hub. If the network is open, so is the information your sending over it.

NEW HABIT 2 — Passwords: The days of passwords drawn from kid’s birthdays, dog names, and Star Wars characters are over. I have seen a brute-force attack crack a weak password in minutes. With today’s powerful computers and free cracking dictionaries and rainbow tables available online, hackers can let computers run for days while they sort out passwords.

One of the most effective ways to keep your passwords strong, like ox, is to invest in a product like the highly regraded 1Password from Agile Web Solutions. I have been using the product for years, but only after my discussion with folks who make 1Password did I take my security to the next level.

1Password generates strong passwords, which it stores for you. When you need the password, the application will enter it for you with an easy key stroke. The generated passwords are so convoluted that you’d never be able to remember them, but that’s the point. 1Password is also on the iPhone so you can take your passwords with you. The file that they use to store your passwords is heavily encrypted and would take a supercomputer 128 years to crack it. More »

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A shocking revelation has just come to light in the ongoing battle between Sheppard Fairey and the Associated Press. The Associated Press released a statement last night claiming that Mr. Fairey knowingly submitted false images to the legal proceeding between Mr. Fairey and the Associated Press. Furthermore the statement reveals “that Fairey tried to destroy documents that would have revealed which image he actually used” and that “he created fake documents as part of his effort to conceal which photo was the source image, including hard copy printouts of an altered version of the Clooney Photo and fake stencil patterns of the Hope and Progress posters.”

This case started back in February when the Associated Press claimed that the source image Mr. Fairey used for his iconic “Hope” and “Progress” posters of then Senator Barack Obama did in fact belong to them. They also claimed that Fairey’s use of the image was a copyright infringement. Before The Associated Press could file a law suit against Mr. Fairey, Fairey’s legal team filed a suit against The Associated Press claiming fair use exception and that the image Fairey used as his source was completely different than the one The Associated Press declared was theirs.

At this juncture it’s worth mentioning that there is a valid dispute between the Associated Press and Mannie Garcia, the photographer who shot the image in question, as to who is the legal copyright holder of the photograph. Although that disagreement has little bearing on Mr. Fairey’s illegal actions announced today.

As I first wrote here at RESOLVE, Fairey’s use of the image without giving attribution to the photographer was detrimental to the entire creative community. It will be hard to predict the impact from this latest twist in an already bizarre story. Mr. Fairey’s legal counsel apparently jumped ship after submitting the admissions about his evidence tampering to the court.

Living in Hollywood, there is one particular phrase that I dread hearing more than drunk sorority girls at a karaoke bar: “I’m working on a screenplay.” For years — no, decades — I clucked around Los Angeles smug as hell that I could avoid that ultimate Hollywood cliché because nothing I did as a photographer had anything to do with screenwriting.

Even shooting stills on movie sets, I didn’t really need to know the story. I just had to take good pictures and stay out of the way. But with video squeezing it’s way into photography more and more, photographers no longer have the luxury of ignoring story structure.

For a while now, the novelty of photographers shooting video has allowed us to get by with beautifully shot vignettes like Vincent Laforet’s Reverie or Alexx Henry’s fabulous living one sheets. But as video evolves in the photography industry, more is going to be expected from us. I strongly suggest you educate yourself now so you’ll be ahead of the curve when your clients ask you for video later. (Mr. Laforet saw this coming and is now producing a motion picture shot with the Canon 5D Mark II.)

Furthermore, understanding narrative can be an important skill for any photographer, even those not rushing off to film their first 5D movie. There is a skewed presumption out there that screen writing is easy. It’s not. It just seems easy because the three-act structure of a film is easy to grasp. But as with everything that is magical to watch, the genius is in the subtleties. More »

One of Gustavo's photos from his Hogs for Kids tour. ©Gustavo Fernandez

One of Gustavo's photos from his Hogs for Kids tour. ©Gustavo Fernandez

No one has more power to change the world than photographers. Yes, yes, doctors are regarded as the human deities of the world, but with few exceptions photographers are embraced with open arms everywhere they go. Because whatever your photographic discipline, and no matter where you travel, you can barter your talent as a shooter for just about anything. Including the well being of children in a far away country.

A week and a half ago photographer Gustavo Fernandez packed up his Harley Davidson to be shipped back to California from New York. He had successfully concluded his second annual “Hog for Kids” motorcycle ride across the United States in a bid to raise money for impoverished children in the Dominican Republic, where Fernandez was born.

In his first career, as a pharmaceutical rep, Gustavo frequently contributed to Children International, a Kansas City-based organization that aids needy children around the world. When he left that steady paycheck last year and plunged into a new career as a photographer, Gustavo (like most making that transition) was watching his bank account with a frugal eye. His budget wouldn’t accommodate his annual donation to his favorite charity.

Gustavo Fernandez

Gustavo Fernandez ©Michele Celentano

Unwilling to abandon the kids of the Dominican Republic, Gustavo went on a motorcycle ride to conjure a creative solution. He was sitting on the answer. He loves riding his Harley and he loves making pictures. Thus emerged Hog for Kids.

As he rode east to New York, Gustavo shot portraits of the children along the way — in exchange, the families contributed his room, board, and a $264 annual ($22 monthly) sponsorship of a child through Children International. This year’s successful trip took 28 days and received international attention. Gustavo says he is looking forward to riding again next year — provided he gets the feeling back in ass by then.

There is no other art form that is so versatile in it’s adaptability and portability for aiding others than photography. As Gustavo demonstrated, all that’s required is the will and the application. Your efforts don’t need to be as grand as a motorcycle ride across the country, but I do urge you to try and find a charitable application of your talent at least once a year. Not only is it good for your soul, it’s good for your career.

As Gustavo discovered, any experience with a camera in your hand, paid or charitable, will always make you a better shooter than you were the day before. He returned from his first Hog for Kids ride a markedly better shooter than before he left. When you place yourself in photographic situations that are unfamiliar and require you to adapt quickly, you’ll be improving by a significant factor. If those situations are charitable in nature, you have more latitude for mistakes, which will ultimately prepare you for the times when mistakes are less tolerable.

Photography is a unique profession that is a golden key to the world. Don’t keep it all for yourself.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: There are so many great examples out there of photographers bartering their time and work for good causes. What projects like this have you participated in or heard about?


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