Month: February 2016

Questionable Intentions? Apple VS The Fed

Many Americans may sadly be desensitized to mass shootings in the United States. This can be corroborated by the lack of surprise when the news of an additional mass shooting occurred this past December in San Bernadino, California. Ironically, the largest backlash against the handling of this shooting stems not from gun control but instead the handling of personal storage and data on devices. Two months later the public interpretation of this tragedy is not focused on the weapons utilized or even the potential “religious” factors to the incident (it is worth stating this attack does not reflect the teachings of Islam in the slightest degree). This was a cruel attack potentially “justified” by extreme interpretations of Islamic scripture – i.e ISIS.

Instead, the majority of the public uproar is revolving around the handling of a single iPhone, in this case the personal cellular device of one of the attacks perpetrators, Syed Rizwan Farook. This began when a US federal magistrate ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock the now deceased Syed’s iPhone. This was ultimately the result of the FBI’s inability to unlock the phone. FBI director, James Comey pointed out that federal agents have been unable to unlock the phone which could potentially shed light on the extent of influence on the two perpetrators by radical Islamic terrorist groups. The difficulty to unlock Syed’s iPhone can be traced to the encryption software that Apple began to support on their phones back in 2014.

For those uninformed on encryption, it is “the conversion of electronic data into another form, called ciphertext, which cannot be easily understood by anyone except authorized parties.” Apple noted that they could not unlock the phone/software even when potentially faced with a court order. Apple had consumers’ privacy in consideration when this software was initiated. The FBI and the majority of Federal investigative agencies have been in disagreement with Apple ever since this software was implemented. The FBI argues that Apple is “obstructing justice” to a degree by not providing the Fed with a back door which would be used to bypass the encryption. This argument has been brought up multiple times which makes this specific request for access to the phone’s memory the most recent attempt by the Fed in their struggle to gain an advantage over consumers privacy. In other words, what is not only the rights of this single deceased individual but also the rights to privacy for the average American citizen are at stake.

Image: Apple Introduces Two New iPhone Models At Product Launch

This court order from the federal judge essentially was an order for Apple to provide access to the phone as stated earlier. The point of contention is the fact that Apple “declined to provide voluntary” help to the federal investigators. The 40-page filing stated, “Despite … a warrant authorizing the search, the government has been unable to complete the search because it cannot access the iPhone’s encrypted content. Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.” In my opinion, the fact that the FBI is incapable of decrypting the device is either a preposterous lie, or the FBI is far more incapable than many have perceived when it comes to cyber forensics and data surveillance. Both warrant a need for distress. On one hand, the FBI does have the potential to gain access to the phone but instead seeks to have legislation written that would allow them access to all Apple devices that have this encryption software through a “back door.” This could, in turn, lead to the beginning of a slippery slope form of legislation that would potentially allow the Fed to be given “back doors” to all encrypted devices regardless of manufacturer. In other words, it would be the first step towards greater restraints on the data privacy of American citizens.

Personally, the more frightening alternative is the idea that the FBI along with every other investigative agency (I.E. – NSA, CIA, DOD Cyber Warfare Teams) lack the ability to truly unlock this device. This, of course, would be embarrassing if proven true in my opinion. The Fed prides itself that these agencies have the best minds and equipment at their disposal when it comes to retrieving information. This is substantiated by the Edward Snowden leaks regarding the NSA and its questionable forms of action and surveillance. If the Fed is unable to crack the encryption on an iPhone 5C, which is what they are claiming, shouldn’t Americans be a little more worried about threats to national security via cyber attacks? I am not claiming that the process of bypassing this encryption is easy by any means, but the Fed wants me to believe that they are giving up after about 2 months of investigation? If that is indeed the truth and the Fed isn’t attempting to infringe on American’s rights then there is a larger issue at hand. Just last week the Director of National Intelligence delivered the yearly threat assessment. He stressed that “China continues to have success in cyber espionage against the U.S. government, our allies, and U.S. companies,” Clapper emphasized. “Beijing also selectively uses cyber attacks against targets [and] its beliefs threaten Chinese domestic stability or regime legitimacy.” Potentially this whole case is supplementing the idea that the United States is increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks. While at the same time the U.S. claimed it “planned the major cyber attack(s) on Iran if nuclear talks failed.” Yet, I continue to digress from the main point of debate, the fate of Sayed’s phones data and potential the right to American’s own personal data.

Apple is fighting back against this call for “back doors” on their user’s devices. Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote and published an open letter late this past Tuesday (2/16) “pledging to fight a judge;s ruling that it should give FBI investigators access to encrypted data on the device.” He stated, “The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals.”

This addresses the idea that by unlocking this one device Apple would then be held responsible for unlocking additional phones if asked. Cook added “Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government. We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.”


Sundar Pichai

Some have criticized Apple for taking this approach to handling the investigation including Donald Trump who said he “would ‘force’ Apple to hack” the iPhone. From an outside and ill-informed perspective, this may seem as if Apple is working against the Fed. Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai stated that Apple by “helping the FBI try to get into the phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook would sabotage the security of tens of millions of American citizens.” Opinions echoing this view towards the case and investigation were also expressed by executive members of Twitter and Facebook. The tech and online information community as a whole have somewhat agreed that unwanted consequences would result if Apple provided this “back door.”

Cook pointed directly at the same point I made earlier about additional legislation regarding surveillance. He “suggested that the government could use the same legislation cited in Tuesday’s ruling to demand that tech companies build surveillance software to intercept customers’ messages. ”  This potential domino effect of evasive legislation against Americans could entail lasting negative aspects on the average innocent American’s everyday life. Simply put “the implications of the government’s demands are chilling.” Cook like every other individual that sees the negative potential of these “back doors” is somewhat afraid of the results. Lastly, Tim Cook attempted to explain the overall idea of the situation in more simple terms. “Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices,” Cook said. “In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.” 

I personally am not afraid of any of my personal data or private communications going public or be monitored by the Fed. I express my opinions and will gladly answer or be the victim of the repercussions that mindset may entail. In other words, I have nothing to hide. Essentially, I am not ashamed of anything I have said in the past. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything I discuss online is without a bias or negative tone/implication, but I am not one to hide behind a screen or anonymously harass people or deal with illegal actions/situations.

Simply put I couldn’t care less if the Fed had access to my phone. They would have access to the conversations I partake in my average, uneventful life. This, however, is my prerogative and my opinion does not reflect society as a whole, nor do I expect people to feel the same way about this topic. Americans have a right to the protection and privacy of their data. Whether they utilize this right is completely up to them. I personally derive this thought process to the right to bear arms in the second amendment: you have the right to have a gun but you by no means have to have one. This opinion regarding privacy in my OWN OPINION reflects how privacy is handled by the Fed. If an American does not wish to have their data monitored or tagged then they have the right to that. In my case it doesn’t matter, I am very transparent and blatant with my actions and doings.

If the FBI is given the opportunity to create or be allowed to have these “back doors,” as referenced in this case, Americans would be one step closer to losing their privacy rights. A right that each individual has to a degree. We as a society cannot allow for this man’s rights, regardless of what awful crime he committed, to be set aside because in the end all Americans will be affected. Is additional surveillance needed to make you feel safe? I would argue not, I feel safe as is. In the end, the ends simply are not justified. So what if the Fed gains some more intelligence regarding an attack that already occurred? This probably won’t be the last radicalized terrorist attack to hit the United States, so are losing your privacy rights really worth it when it will have little effect on the grand scale of terrorism? My answer no. Americans have the right to freedom of information and privacy. I applaud Apple’s display of conviction against the Fed which is kind of ironic considering I am a Microsoft/PC guy myself. Needless to say, I am against the “back door” method proposed by the FBI.


Fallout 4 DLC Details Revealed

Bethesda revealed the details to its first three add-ons that will supplement Fallout 4‘s vanilla content. These three add-ons are titled as follows: Automatron, Wasteland Workshop, and Far Harbor. The last of the three interests me the most personally (more on that later).

The first DLC, Automatron, that will be released drops in March. The description attempts to relay shallow details regarding its content – “The mysterious Mechanist has unleashed a horde of evil robots into the Commonwealth, including the devious Robobrain.Hunt them down and harvest their parts to build and mod your own custom robot companions.”  The press release also notes that the player will be able to “choose from hundreds of mods; mixing limbs, armor, abilities, and weapons like the all-new lightning chain gun.”

I personally have high hopes for this DLC pack because I have spent a ludicrous amount of time crafting various items, armors, etc, in Fallout 4. The lightning chain gun sounds amusing as well.

The second DLC, Wasteland Workshop, appears to lean a little bit more on the sporadic side of the crazy spectrum. The description alone hints to what I mean. “With the Wasteland Workshop, design and set cages to capture live creatures – from raiders to Deathclaws! Tame them or have them face off in battle, even against your fellow settlers. The Wasteland Workshop also includes a suite of new design options for your settlements like nixie tube lighting, letter kits, taxidermy and more!”

The mere thought of capturing something as powerful and fierce as a Deathclaw and having it fight against other opponents not only excites me but also seems a little off the rails when it comes to logic. Hey, this is Fallout though so nearly anything goes. New design options for my already complex settlements will provide me with plenty more to do when this DLC drops in April.


Far Harbor, the final DLC as previously stated interests me the most. It also has the highest price tag ($24.99) out of the three DLCs which can be purchased as a whole through a convenient season pass.

This DLC will take the player to an entirely new region that is currently not on the map. Description as follows – “A new case from Valentine’s Detective Agency leads you on a search for a young woman and a secret colony of synths. Travel off the coast of Maine to the mysterious island of Far Harbor, where higher levels of radiation have created a more feral world. Navigate through the growing conflict between the synths, the Children of Atom, and the local townspeople. Will you work towards bringing peace to Far Harbor, and at what cost? Far Harbor features the largest landmass for an add-on that we’ve ever created, filled with new faction quests, settlements, lethal creatures and dungeons. Become more powerful with new, higher-level armor and weapons. The choices are all yours. ”

Far Harbor DLC

This description alone, along with the higher price hints that this will certainly be a larger scale DLC. Large scale story based DLC such as this one excite me the most. Honestly this is reminiscent of the Dawnguard or Dragonborn DLCs for Elder Scrolls V. I personally have a theory regarding the release of future unannounced DLCs. Since this can all be purchased under a single season pass I am proposing the idea that this will be the first of several “seasons” of content. The end of each “season” will have a larger scale DLC such as Far Harbor that will add additional land areas to Fallout 4. This is all speculation but I have a feeling gamers can expect more hints at future DLC at Bethesda’s E3 event this summer. In other words this will not be the last pack of DLC for Fallout 4.

On a final note, Bethesda announced it will continue to cater to its loyal fan base through several free minor updates for the game. It is also worthy noting that both the survival mode and the Creation Kit are currently in testing at Bethesda. So basically more free content will be coming to all you wastelanders.

Review: XCOM 2

Statistically, a 95% chance to hit a target seems like superb opportunity to take a shot on a target. XCOM 2 has reinforced the opposite mentality. This turn based strategy game developed by Firaxis Games  forces the player to make risky decisions on and off the battlefield. This sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown (of 2012) proves to be even more difficult than the reboot for several reasons. For those still unaware about the premise of the game (did the thumbnail not give any clues?), the XCOM series involves aliens, mainly killing them for the betterment of humanity. I personally have enjoyed my time spent with the game thus far. XCOM 2 rewards players that take their time in between turns to craft a formulaic plan for battle.

The premise for XCOM 2 takes place 20 years after the events of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Basically, humanity was invaded and overwhelmed by a coalition of extraterrestrial beings. At first, during the events of the first game, the world banded together to form the XCOM Project. The XCOM Project was a multi national reaction force designed to combat the aliens. Although the player could actually win and beat the aliens in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the canon ending is that the XCOM project failed. In between the previous game what is left of XCOM has been forced to fight as a guerrilla unit that lacks the support from multiple nations. Instead the player leads the remnant of XCOM from region to region across the world in their own commandeered alien supply-ship. In a sense, the player and therefore the story is basically that you are the last hope for humanity waging a hit and run war against the aliens. Yet it isn’t that simple, a lot of society has changed since the aliens essentially became humanities overlords.

Through propaganda and the use of superior technology, the majority of humanity has been convinced that the aliens are in fact here to help humanity become a more intellectually enlightened race (hence the statue of the alien symbolically helping the fallen human above). In other words, at times you will be fighting soldiers that somewhat resemble humans but without going into spoilers it really isn’t the case. Major cities have been constructed by ADVENT, the organisation that governs humanity, and humans are flocking to these cities in order to obtain remedies and a life style previously thought as impossible by standard means. The player over the course of the game begins to realize that through this indoctrination, almost brainwashing, the majority of humanity has lost the ability to be free. It is up to the player to uncover the aliens true intentions and to ultimately free humanity. This will be accomplished by raiding ADVENT coalition compounds, researching better technology and liberating various populaces from the aliens spheres of influence.

The minute to minute gameplay of XCOM 2 can be described at its core: a turn based tactical game. The player controls a squad of soldiers beginning with only 4. This can be increased by upgrades to a larger fighting force later in the game. The battlefield, or area of combat, is divided into tiles that represent places where your soldiers (or your enemies) can move. Depending on the class of your soldier, the amount of tiles you can move varies. In addition to movement, players need to keep in mind their surroundings. This of course is because there are several forms of cover your soldiers or foes can utilize as protection from attacks. The three forms of cover are no cover, partial cover, and full cover. It is up to the player as to where they want to move each turn. Some places may be safer locations though during battle. Another catch to this game is that turns basically revolve around two turn actions. Simply put, a soldier can run into cover or shoot. These turns continue for the player until all of their units have performed actions. Then, the enemy performs its own turn. There are a variety of actions or abilities that the player can use ranging from throwing a grenade to reloading your soldiers’ weapon. I will go into detail about the abilities in a little bit. Objectives for each mission (which the number of missions vary on each play through but the game takes around 30 hours to beat) range from destroying enemy monuments to extracting VIPs. This variety allows for diverse missions that differ in the time it takes to complete them. I have had missions that last 5 turns to missions that take over an hour to complete.

The meta game for XCOM 2 involves racing around the world gathering supplies, intelligence, and manpower in order to combat the alien threat. The events excluding specific missions are all procedurally generated in order to provide unique levels and objectives that will be the player’s own. In other words, your second play through may provide an entirely different start bias and equipment drops from enemies. The player will need to make contact with various other lesser resistance groups to gain supplies to research better guns, armor, equipment, etc. All of this while on the run from the ADVENT coalition may seem overwhelming, but I became some what desensitized to the idea of always being on the run. The raiding tactics the player utilizes almost made me feel like some sort of an insurgent or freedom fighter depending on your own point of view. The odds are nearly always stacked against the player, this made decisions like deciding to research an exo skeleton over new magnetic weapons a rough one to make. The game expects the player to adapt and over come these obstacles over time.

In order to combat this alien threat, you as the player must become well aware of the perks and proper uses for various kinds of weapons. Yet since you are a rebel faction, you and your soldiers cannot depend on abundant resources and new equipment. This idea leads into a new feature for the series: Weapon Modifications. Whenever one of your brave soldiers terminates an enemy there is a chance that modifications or rare resources will be dropped. These modifications like the auto-loader for the shotgun above can provide your XCOM operatives with an unconventional edge against the alien overlords. Some modifications work better with different operatives and armaments. I personally found that by adding an extended magazine modification to my main sharpshooter’s rifle proved to be the proper use. This allowed the rifle to take more shots without having to reload the weapon. Weapons and gear can however be lost forever if the operative using the gear is killed and their body is not recovered. My advice is that you never leave anyone behind, dead or alive everything and everyone is useful in this game.

Now let’s look at the variety of aliens your team will face off against. In the beginning of the game, the majority of your enemies will be humanoid troopers and somewhat lanky “sectoid” aliens that can attack your soldiers telepathically. As the game progresses, different enemy types will be revealed. Without going into spoilers you as the player will have to fight some seemingly unfair engagements. It is all achievable, I personally at the time of writing this have already beaten the game on the second hardest difficulty and am currently trudging through the most difficult setting. Ultimately, the enemies encountered will push the player to their limits and at times the game can be incredibly frustrating. Missing a shot with a 95% chance to hit it can be infuriating and is incredibly common. I cannot stress enough the importance of persevering through this lengthy campaign. Yes the game will be unfair at times, yes a single failed mission can scrap your entire play through but in the end every successful mission is truly earned. Whether it is earned through countless attempts or the loss of your soldiers that you customized after your friends, the game is worth it in the end.


Lastly, as I briefly touched on it in the title of this review, the player can choose to fully customize the various soldiers they recruit throughout the game. Like in my XCOM: Enemy Unknown play through I named the majority of my soldiers after people who I know or unique fictional individuals or celebrities. Since the game has a permadeath feature, if any of these soldiers die they will be gone forever. This makes loses in my squads seems even worse since, for example my friend Joe died while trying to disarm a bomb on the third mission. These creative customizable features allow for awesome squads such as the one above. Having Big Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3, Mr. Wester as a sniper, and Nick Cage in my A-Team squad with several of my friends and myself makes for some amusing missions and losses. I found myself at times losing track of how much time I was actually spending customizing my soldiers and their load-outs. This immersion however made the game all the better.

Verdict: 9/10