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0834 Breaching Computer Security

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Complete Transcript
Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 834: Breaching Computer Security.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 834. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. Go there today and take a look at the Learning Guide for this episode that will help you improve your English faster than ever.

This dialogue is between Jim and Dina. It’s all about computer security – making sure that your computer does not get information stolen from it. Let’s get started!

[start of dialogue]

Jin: Did you hear what happened to McQ Corp?

Dina: No, what?

Jin: Hackers were able to get unauthorized access to its computer systems and cause a lot of problems over the weekend. They destroyed data and rendered the system unusable. In fact, the entire system crashed.

Dina: I hadn’t heard that. Why McQ Corp?

Jin: Well, the company announced last week that it had implemented new security measures, which made their systems impenetrable.

Dina: Ah, that explains it. Making an announcement like that is like issuing a challenge.

Jin: Yeah, it was definitely a challenge. I bet a lot hackers were trying to breach those security measures, just to show that it could be done. One of them certainly found the system’s vulnerabilities and exploited them.

Dina: What was McQ Corp thinking? They’ve had problems in the past with hackers and then they issue this challenge. I say that it serves them right!

Jin: They shouldn’t have bragged about their new security measures, but those hackers caused a lot of damage.

Dina: I bet McQ Corp learned its lesson: Don’t wave a red flag in front of a bull!

[end of dialogue]

Our topic on this episode is computer security. We begin with Jin saying, “Did you hear what happened to McQ Corp?” “McQ Corp” is a company – a fictional company, not a real company. Dina says, “No, what?” Jin says, “Hackers were able to get unauthorized access to its computer systems.” A “hacker” (hacker) is a person who uses their computer skills to illegally go into another website or to go into some computer software, often to steal some secret or confidential information. The verb is “to hack” (hack). A “hacker” is someone who hacks into a computer system. In this case, the computer system was at McQ Corp. And the hackers were able to get “unauthorized access.” “Unauthorized” means not authorized. “Authorized” means you have permission – someone said, “Yes, that’s okay.” “Access” is the ability to reach something, to see something.

So, “unauthorized access” would be going into somewhere where you don’t have permission to go. And the hackers did this with the McQ Corp computer system and caused a lot of problems “over the weekend.” “Over the weekend” means during this past Saturday and Sunday.

Jin says they “destroyed data and rendered the system unusable.” “Data” (data) means information, especially when we’re talking about computers or in scientific research, it’s the evidence that we use to examine our hypotheses or ideas. “Data” is technically a plural noun but it is often used in the singular in more modern English. Jin says the hackers destroyed – they got rid of, they damaged – data, “rendered the system unusable.” “To render” (render) means to put something in a particular position or to make something present in a certain way. Basically, in this sentence it just means “make.” So, they made – past tense – the system unusable. Once again, we see the prefix “un” (un) – which means “not.” So, “unusable” means not usable, not able to be used.

Jin says, “In fact, the entire system crashed.” “To crash” (crash) – for a computer system or a network – means to suddenly stop working. If a computer crashes, it turns off, it stops working. You can’t do anything with it. This is a common problem for all computers at some time or another. Dina says, “I hadn’t heard that. Why McQ Corp?” Jin says, “Well, the company announced last week, that it had implemented new security measures which made their systems impenetrable.” So, McQ Corp announced or told everyone last week that it had implemented new security measures. “To implement” (implement) means to begin, to officially launch or to formally start something. They started a new or put into place a new security system – new security measures, our dialogue says. A “measure” (measure) is just a procedure or a process or an action. “Security” refers to keeping the computer system safe so people don’t go in and steal things from it.

McQ Corp. implemented new security measures which made their systems “impenetrable.” We’re getting a lot of prefixes in this dialogue. One of them is “impenetrable.” The (im) is the same as (in) as a prefix and that once again, means not – just like (un). Sometimes we say (un), sometimes we say (in) – if it’s before a “p” the “n” becomes an “m” so it’s “impenetrable” – not able to be penetrated is what that means. “To penetrate” means to go into something. So, something is “impenetrable” – you’re not able to go into it. Obviously, the hackers were able to penetrate the system and of course, that caused all the problems.

Dina says, “Ah, that explains it. Making an announcement like that is like issuing a challenge.” “To issue” (issue) here means to announce. It can also mean to give something to someone. You could say it also means that here too. A “challenge” is when you say to someone, “I want you to do this,” or “I don’t think you could do this. This is a very difficult task. This is a very difficult thing to do. I challenge you to do this!”

They’re using challenge as a verb. So, when McQ Corp announced that it had new security measures, this was like issuing a challenge to the hackers. It was saying to the hackers, “See if you can break into our system. See if you can penetrate our security measures.” Jin says, “Yeah, it was definitely a challenge.” “I bet” – meaning I’m guessing – “a lot of hackers were trying to breach those security measures.” “To breach” (breach) means to break a rule or to go past some limit that you’re not supposed to go past. In this case, it means to get into the computer, to get around the security measures so they can get into the computer.

Jin says, “They were trying to breach those security measures just to show that it could be done.” “Just to show” here means only to demonstrate, only to let everyone know that the security measures were not as good as the McQ Corp thought they were. One of them certainly found the system’s vulnerabilities and exploited them. “One of them,” meaning one of the hackers – found the system’s “vulnerabilities.” “Vulnerability” (vulnerability) is a weakness. If you are vulnerable, you are weak. There’s something about you that someone could beat you with or take advantage of you with. And the hacker found the system’s vulnerabilities and “exploited them.” “To exploit” (exploit) means to use something to your advantage, which causes problems for someone else. It’s good for you but it is hurting or harming someone else – that’s to exploit something or someone.

Dina says, “What was McQ Corp. thinking?” “What were they thinking?” means I can’t believe they were so stupid – that’s really what that question means. Dina says, “They’ve had problems in the past with hackers and then they issue this challenge. I say, that it serves them right.” That’s a common expression, “to serve (serve) someone right (right).” “To serve someone right” means that the person got what they deserved. It’s used in a negative way when talking about the bad or negative results or consequences of something that someone has done. So, if you are driving fast down the freeway, above the speed limit and the police catch you and give you a ticket – a fine – “It serves you right,” I could say. You were doing something bad and now you have to face or deal with the negative consequences.

Jin says, “They shouldn’t have bragged about their new security measures. But those hackers caused a lot of damage.” “To brag” (brag) – means to tell everyone how good you are. “Oh, I’m the best tennis player in Southern California.” “I’m the best singer in Hollywood.” Of course, when you brag it’s not always true. Well, Jin says that McQ Corp. should not have bragged. They shouldn’t have said that their system was impenetrable. Dina says, “I bet McQ Corp. learned its lesson.” “To learn its lesson” means they have learned from their mistake and they won’t do it again. Dina says, “The lesson is, don’t wave a red flag in front of a bull.” A “bull” (bull) is a large animal that traditionally, in countries like Spain and Mexico and a few other places, is used in bull fighting, which is you fight against the bull. Not sure if they still do this in Spain. I know they still do it in Mexico, I believe.

“Bull fighting” is when you have a huge animal – this huge bull – and a man gets in a circle with the bull, and basically tries to kill the bull. The tradition is that if you have a red flag – a small piece of cloth, a small piece of material – and you “wave it,” meaning you move it back and forth in front of the bull, that this will cause the bull to get angry and to try to run at you. Now, I believe it’s also the case that bulls are actually colorblind so the color red doesn’t really have any special effect. But that’s the expression – to wave a red flag in front of a bull. It means to make other people angry without any good reason. You’re trying to make them angry and that’s what Dina says the McQ Corp. did with its computer system.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Jin: Did you hear what happened to McQ Corp?

Dina: No, what?

Jin: Hackers were able to get unauthorized access to its computer systems and cause a lot of problems over the weekend. They destroyed data and rendered the system unusable. In fact, the entire system crashed.

Dina: I hadn’t heard that. Why McQ Corp?

Jin: Well, the company announced last week that it had implemented new security measures, which made their systems impenetrable.

Dina: Ah, that explains it. Making an announcement like that is like issuing a challenge.

Jin: Yeah, it was definitely a challenge. I bet a lot hackers were trying to breach those security measures, just to show that it could be done. One of them certainly found the system’s vulnerabilities and exploited them.

Dina: What was McQ Corp thinking? They’ve had problems in the past with hackers and then they issue this challenge. I say that it serves them right!

Jin: They shouldn’t have bragged about their new security measures, but those hackers caused a lot of damage.

Dina: I bet McQ Corp learned its lesson: Don’t wave a red flag in front of a bull!

[end of dialogue]

Our scriptwriter doesn’t like to brag, but I’ll brag for her. She’s the best scriptwriter on the Internet. From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listen. Come back and listen to us again, here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language podcast is written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
hacker – a person who has very good computer skills and uses them to break into other website, often to find or steal secret or confidential information

* Is it safe to make a payment on this website, or will hackers be able to see my credit card information?

unauthorized access – the ability to reach or have something, especially information, without permission from the owner

* Larry has had unauthorized access to this part of the lab and it’s against the rules. Only researchers are supposed to be back here.

data – information, especially when talking about scientific research and computers

* How long will it take you to input all this data collected on these forms?

to render – to make something present itself in a particular way; to put something in a particular position

* This encoding system should render the emails unreadable to anyone outside of our company.

unusable – not useable; not able to be used; not functional or helpful

* The battery is dead, so without a charger, this phone is unusable.

to crash – for a computer, system, or network to suddenly stop working

* Whenever we have too many programs running at the same time, the computer crashes.

to implement – to officially launch and begin a new program or project

* They first implemented the program in 2003, and it has been growing ever since then.

security measures – precautions or actions taken to make something safer and less likely to be stolen or used in the wrong way

* As a security measure, we change the password every month.

impenetrable – impassable; not allowing anyone to enter or access something

* All the blackberry bushes, poison oak, and other plants make these woods impenetrable!



to issue a challenge – to make a statement that invites other people to try to do something that is very difficult

* The king issued a challenge to all the young men, saying that whoever killed the dragon would be given gold and jewels as a reward.

to breach – to break a rule; to violate some limit; to go past a barrier or limit without permission

* How did the soldiers breach those barricades?

vulnerability – a weakness; a weak point

* While expanding internationally, the company’s greatest vulnerability was its lack of experience operating in Asian countries.

to exploit – to use something to one’s advantage, especially when it creates problems for others; to use something to benefit oneself while harming others

* The politician exploited the fact that the other candidate had had an affair, creating ads that made people question her judgment.

to serve (someone) right – for someone to get what he or he deserves, used in a negative way when talking about the consequence of some bad or wrong action done in the past

* I’m sorry Hilda got in an accident, but it serves her right. She shouldn’t have been drinking and driving.

to brag – to talk about how well one does something or how good one is to try to make other people admire oneself

* Nobody likes to hear Katherine brag about how much money she makes.

to wave a red flag in front of a bull – to provoke or antagonize someone; to do something to make someone angry and respond in a certain way

* When Brandy started talking about politics in her grandparents’ home, it was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Comprehension Questions
1. What happened when the hackers breached the security measures?
a) They were able to identify and understand the security measures.
b) They broke through the security and accessed the data.
c) They found a way to enter the building without alerting the police.

2. According to Jin, what did the hackers do?
a) They found the system’s weaknesses.
b) They found the system’s most valuable pieces of information.
c) They found the system’s main components.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to render

The verb “to render,” in this podcast, means to make something present itself in a particular way or to put something in a particular position: “This medicine should render the virus harmless.” The phrase “to render aid/assistance” means to help someone in a formal way: “The army doctors are rendering aid to civilians who were wounded in the attacks.” The verb “to render” can also mean to present something in a particular way: “The artist rendered the ocean a deep purple color.” Or, “I love how the author rendered those emotions.” Finally, the phrase “for services rendered” is sometimes seen on bills and means for the service one has provided: “According to this bill, we owe the repair company more than $300 for services rendered!”

to serve (someone) right

In this podcast, the phrase “to serve (someone) right” means for someone to get what he or he deserves, used in a negative way when talking about the consequence of some bad or wrong action done in the past: “They say he stole thousands of dollars from the company, so it serves him right that he’s in jail.” The phrase “to treat (someone) right” means to act respectfully toward another person and do nice things for that person: “Nikkie deserves to find a man who will treat her right.” The phrase “to be right up there with (someone)” means to be as good as someone else: “With a little more practice, Sam could be right up there with the best pianists at his school.” Finally, the phrase “to be right behind (somebody)” means to support and help something: “It helps to know my family is right behind me.”

Culture Note
Types of Hackers

There are many types of hackers who use their “exceptional” (very strong; great) computer skills for many different purposes.

A “white hat hacker” is an information-security expert who breaks into computer systems to test them. White hat hackers sometimes work for companies that make computer security software. The white hat hackers refer to themselves as “ethical” (moral; following rules and doing the right thing) hackers, because they do not break the law or steal information.

In contrast, “black hat hackers” break into computer systems because they can benefit from it in some way, “perhaps” (maybe) by stealing credit card information. Other black hat hackers enjoy the “challenge” (something that is difficult to do) of breaking into a system and then “disabling it” (changing something so it no longer works) to “annoy” (bother) users.

Between the two categories are “grey hat hackers.” Like black hat hackers, they break into computer systems without permission, but then they “notify” (inform; tell) the “administrator” (the person responsible for the system) and they may offer to “repair” (fix) it in exchange for a payment.

The most “skilled” (best at doing something) hackers are called “elite hackers.” The least skilled hackers are “script kiddies” who break into computer systems by using programs that have been created by others, and they themselves don’t really understand how the programs work.

Finally, “hacktivists” (combination of the terms “hacker” and “activist”) use their computer skills to break into computer systems and/or change websites to express a political or “ideological” (related to one way of thinking about the world) “statement” (public opinion).

Comprehension Answers
1 - b

2 - a