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Interview John Myles White , Machine Learning for Hackers

Here is an interview with one of the younger researchers  and rock stars of the R Project, John Myles White,  co-author of Machine Learning for Hackers.

Ajay- What inspired you guys to write Machine Learning for Hackers. What has been the public response to the book. Are you planning to write a second edition or a next book?

John-We decided to write Machine Learning for Hackers because there were so many people interested in learning more about Machine Learning who found the standard textbooks a little difficult to understand, either because they lacked the mathematical background expected of readers or because it wasn’t clear how to translate the mathematical definitions in those books into usable programs. Most Machine Learning books are written for audiences who will not only be using Machine Learning techniques in their applied work, but also actively inventing new Machine Learning algorithms. The amount of information needed to do both can be daunting, because, as one friend pointed out, it’s similar to insisting that everyone learn how to build a compiler before they can start to program. For most people, it’s better to let them try out programming and get a taste for it before you teach them about the nuts and bolts of compiler design. If they like programming, they can delve into the details later.

We once said that Machine Learning for Hackers  is supposed to be a chemistry set for Machine Learning and I still think that’s the right description: it’s meant to get readers excited about Machine Learning and hopefully expose them to enough ideas and tools that they can start to explore on their own more effectively. It’s like a warmup for standard academic books like Bishop’s.
The public response to the book has been phenomenal. It’s been amazing to see how many people have bought the book and how many people have told us they found it helpful. Even friends with substantial expertise in statistics have said they’ve found a few nuggets of new information in the book, especially regarding text analysis and social network analysis — topics that Drew and I spend a lot of time thinking about, but are not thoroughly covered in standard statistics and Machine Learning  undergraduate curricula.
I hope we write a second edition. It was our first book and we learned a ton about how to write at length from the experience. I’m about to announce later this week that I’m writing a second book, which will be a very short eBook for O’Reilly. Stay tuned for details.

Ajay-  What are the key things that a potential reader can learn from this book?

John- We cover most of the nuts and bolts of introductory statistics in our book: summary statistics, regression and classification using linear and logistic regression, PCA and k-Nearest Neighbors. We also cover topics that are less well known, but are as important: density plots vs. histograms, regularization, cross-validation, MDS, social network analysis and SVM’s. I hope a reader walks away from the book having a feel for what different basic algorithms do and why they work for some problems and not others. I also hope we do just a little to shift a future generation of modeling culture towards regularization and cross-validation.

Ajay- Describe your journey as a science student up till your Phd. What are you current research interests and what initiatives have you done with them?

John-As an undergraduate I studied math and neuroscience. I then took some time off and came back to do a Ph.D. in psychology, focusing on mathematical modeling of both the brain and behavior. There’s a rich tradition of machine learning and statistics in psychology, so I got increasingly interested in ML methods during my years as a grad student. I’m about to finish my Ph.D. this year. My research interests all fall under one heading: decision theory. I want to understand both how people make decisions (which is what psychology teaches us) and how they should make decisions (which is what statistics and ML teach us). My thesis is focused on how people make decisions when there are both short-term and long-term consequences to be considered. For non-psychologists, the classic example is probably the explore-exploit dilemma. I’ve been working to import more of the main ideas from stats and ML into psychology for modeling how real people handle that trade-off. For psychologists, the classic example is the Marshmallow experiment. Most of my research work has focused on the latter: what makes us patient and how can we measure patience?

Ajay- How can academia and private sector solve the shortage of trained data scientists (assuming there is one)?

John- There’s definitely a shortage of trained data scientists: most companies are finding it difficult to hire someone with the real chops needed to do useful work with Big Data. The skill set required to be useful at a company like Facebook or Twitter is much more advanced than many people realize, so I think it will be some time until there are undergraduates coming out with the right stuff. But there’s huge demand, so I’m sure the market will clear sooner or later.

The changes that are required in academia to prepare students for this kind of work are pretty numerous, but the most obvious required change is that quantitative people need to be learning how to program properly, which is rare in academia, even in many CS departments. Writing one-off programs that no one will ever have to reuse and that only work on toy data sets doesn’t prepare you for working with huge amounts of messy data that exhibit shifting patterns. If you need to learn how to program seriously before you can do useful work, you’re not very valuable to companies who need employees that can hit the ground running. The companies that have done best in building up data teams, like LinkedIn, have learned to train people as they come in since the proper training isn’t typically available outside those companies.
Of course, on the flipside, the people who do know how to program well need to start learning more about theory and need to start to have a better grasp of basic mathematical models like linear and logistic regressions. Lots of CS students seem not to enjoy their theory classes, but theory really does prepare you for thinking about what you can learn from data. You may not use automata theory if you work at Foursquare, but you will need to be able to reason carefully and analytically. Doing math is just like lifting weights: if you’re not good at it right now, you just need to dig in and get yourself in shape.
About-
John Myles White is a Phd Student in  Ph.D. student in the Princeton Psychology Department, where he studies human decision-making both theoretically and experimentally. Along with the political scientist Drew Conway, he is  the author of a book published by O’Reilly Media entitled “Machine Learning for Hackers”, which is meant to introduce experienced programmers to the machine learning toolkit. He is also working with Mark Hansenon a book for laypeople about exploratory data analysis.John is the lead maintainer for several R packages, including ProjectTemplate and log4r.

(TIL he has played in several rock bands!)

—–
You can read more in his own words at his blog at http://www.johnmyleswhite.com/about/
He can be contacted via social media at Google Plus at https://plus.google.com/109658960610931658914 or twitter at twitter.com/johnmyleswhite/

Decisionstats.com is back from a dDOS

  1. Servers were okay, it was the DNS server that got swamped.
  2. I am sorry for the downtime- hopefully you didnt even notice
  3. I have faced challenges like domain name hijacking, sql injection , malicious WP plugins and thats why shifted to a professional hosting. I stand by my vendors and their professional judgement, moving away would mean the hackers won.
  4. This was very clever to swamp the DNS provider- my compliments to the tech talent behind this.
  5. You would think that every webmaster would have a back up plan in case his site went dDOS, but surprisingly even corporate websites dont have a back up (under attack) plan

 

SAS and Hadoop

Awesomely informative post on sascom magazine (whose editor I have I interviewed before here at http://www.decisionstats.com/interview-alison-bolen-sas-com/ – )

Great piece by Michael Ames ,SAS Data Integration Product Manager.

http://www.sas.com/news/sascom/hadoop-tips.html

 

Also see SAS’s big data thingys here at

http://www.sas.com/software/high-performance-analytics/in-memory-analytics/index.html

Solutions and Capabilities Using SAS® In-Memory Analytics

  • High-Performance Analytics – Get near-real-time insights with appliance-ready analytics software designed to tackle big data and complex problems.
  • High-Performance Risk – Faster, better risk management decisions based on the most up-to-date views of your overall risk exposure.
  • High-Performance Liquidity Risk Management – Take quick, decisive actions to secure adequate funding, especially in times of volatility.
  • High-Performance Stress Testing – Make faster, more precise decisions to protect the health of the firm.
  • Visual Analytics – Explore big data using in-memory capabilities to better understand all of your data, discover new patterns and publish reports to the Web and iPad®.

(Ajay- I liked the Visual Analytics piece especially for Big Data )

Note-

 

Anonymous grows up and matures…Anonanalytics.com

I liked the design, user interfaces and the conceptual ideas behind the latest Anonymous hactivist websites (much better than the shabby graphic design of Wikileaks, or Friends of Wikileaks, though I guess they have been busy what with Julian’s escapades and Syrian emails)

 

I disagree  (and let us agree to disagree some of the time)

with the complete lack of respect for Graphical User Interfaces for tools. If dDOS really took off due to LOIC, why not build a GUI for SQL Injection (or atleats the top 25 vulnerability testing as by this list http://www.sans.org/top25-software-errors/

Shouldnt Tor be embedded within the next generation of Loic.

Automated testing tools are used by companies like Adobe (and others)… so why not create simple GUI for the existing tools.., I may be completely offtrack here.. but I think hacker education has been a critical misstep[ that has undermined Western Democracies preparedness for Cyber tactics by hostile regimes)…. how to create the next generation of hackers by easy tutorials (see codeacademy and build appropriate modules)

-A slick website to be funded by Bitcoins (Money can buy everything including Mastercard and Visa, but Bitcoins are an innovative step towards an internet economy  currency)

-A collobrative wiki

http://wiki.echelon2.org/wiki/Main_Page

Seriously dude, why not make this a part of Wikipedia- (i know Jimmy Wales got shifty eyes, but can you trust some1 )

-Analytics for Anonymous (sighs! I should have thought about this earlier)

http://anonanalytics.com/ (can be used to play and bill both sides of corporate espionage and be cyber private investigators)

What We Do

We provide the public with investigative reports exposing corrupt companies. Our team includes analysts, forensic accountants, statisticians, computer experts, and lawyers from various jurisdictions and backgrounds. All information presented in our reports is acquired through legal channels, fact-checked, and vetted thoroughly before release. This is both for the protection of our associates as well as groups/individuals who rely on our work.

_and lastly creative content for Pinterest.com and Public Relations ( what next-? Tom Cruise to play  Julian Assange in the new Movie ?)

http://www.par-anoia.net/ />Potentially Alarming Research: Anonymous Intelligence AgencyInformation is and will be free. Expect it. ~ Anonymous

Links of interest

  • Latest Scientology Mails (Austria)
  • Full FBI call transcript
  • Arrest Tracker
  • HBGary Email Viewer
  • The Pirate Bay Proxy
  • We Are Anonymous – Book
  • To be announced…

 

Book Review- Machine Learning for Hackers

This is review of the fashionably named book Machine Learning for Hackers by Drew Conway and John Myles White (O’Reilly ). The book is about hacking code in R.

 

The preface introduces the reader to the authors conception of what machine learning and hacking is all about. If the name of the book was machine learning for business analytsts or data miners, I am sure the content would have been unchanged though the popularity (and ambiguity) of the word hacker can often substitute for its usefulness. Indeed the many wise and learned Professors of statistics departments through out the civilized world would be mildly surprised and bemused by their day to day activities as hacking or teaching hackers. The book follows a case study and example based approach and uses the GGPLOT2 package within R programming almost to the point of ignoring any other native graphics system based in R. It can be quite useful for the aspiring reader who wishes to understand and join the booming market for skilled talent in statistical computing.

Chapter 1 has a very useful set of functions for data cleansing and formatting. It walks you through the basics of formatting based on dates and conditions, missing value and outlier treatment and using ggplot package in R for graphical analysis. The case study used is an Infochimps dataset with 60,000 recordings of UFO sightings. The case study is lucid, and done at a extremely helpful pace illustrating the powerful and flexible nature of R functions that can be used for data cleansing.The chapter mentions text editors and IDEs but fails to list them in a tabular format, while listing several other tables like Packages used in the book. It also jumps straight from installation instructions to functions in R without getting into the various kinds of data types within R or specifying where these can be referenced from. It thus assumes a higher level of basic programming understanding for the reader than the average R book.

Chapter 2 discusses data exploration, and has a very clear set of diagrams that explain the various data summary operations that are performed routinely. This is an innovative approach and will help students or newcomers to the field of data analysis. It introduces the reader to type determination functions, as well different kinds of encoding. The introduction to creating functions is quite elegant and simple , and numerical summary methods are explained adequately. While the chapter explains data exploration with the help of various histogram options in ggplot2 , it fails to create a more generic framework for data exploration or rules to assist the reader in visual data exploration in non standard data situations. While the examples are very helpful for a reader , there needs to be slightly more depth to step out of the example and into a framework for visual data exploration (or references for the same). A couple of case studies however elaborately explained cannot do justice to the vast field of data exploration and especially visual data exploration.

Chapter 3 discussed binary classification for the specific purpose for spam filtering using a dataset from SpamAssassin. It introduces the reader to the naïve Bayes classifier and the principles of text mining suing the tm package in R. Some of the example codes could have been better commented for easier readability in the book. Overall it is quite a easy tutorial for creating a naïve Bayes classifier even for beginners.

Chapter 4 discusses the issues in importance ranking and creating recommendation systems specifically in the case of ordering email messages into important and not important. It introduces the useful grepl, gsub, strsplit, strptime ,difftime and strtrim functions for parsing data. The chapter further introduces the reader to the concept of log (and affine) transformations in a lucid and clear way that can help even beginners learn this powerful transformation concept. Again the coding within this chapter is sparsely commented which can cause difficulties to people not used to learn reams of code. ( it may have been part of the code attached with the book, but I am reading an electronic book and I did not find an easy way to go back and forth between the code and the book). The readability of the chapters would be further enhanced by the use of flow charts explaining the path and process followed than overtly verbose textual descriptions running into multiple pages. The chapters are quite clearly written, but a helpful visual summary can help in both revising the concepts and elucidate the approach taken further.A suggestion for the authors could be to compile the list of useful functions they introduce in this book as a sort of reference card (or Ref Card) for R Hackers or atleast have a chapter wise summary of functions, datasets and packages used.

Chapter 5 discusses linear regression , and it is a surprising and not very good explanation of regression theory in the introduction to regression. However the chapter makes up in practical example what it oversimplifies in theory. The chapter on regression is not the finest chapter written in this otherwise excellent book. Part of this is because of relative lack of organization- correlation is explained after linear regression is explained. Once again the lack of a function summary and a process flow diagram hinders readability and a separate section on regression metrics that help make a regression result good or not so good could be a welcome addition. Functions introduced include lm.

Chapter 6 showcases Generalized Additive Model (GAM) and Polynomial Regression, including an introduction to singularity and of over-fitting. Functions included in this chapter are transform, and poly while the package glmnet is also used here. The chapter also introduces the reader formally to the concept of cross validation (though examples of cross validation had been introduced in earlier chapters) and regularization. Logistic regression is also introduced at the end in this chapter.

Chapter 7 is about optimization. It describes error metric in a very easy to understand way. It creates a grid by using nested loops for various values of intercept and slope of a regression equation and computing the sum of square of errors. It then describes the optim function in detail including how it works and it’s various parameters. It introduces the curve function. The chapter then describes ridge regression including definition and hyperparameter lamda. The use of optim function to optimize the error in regression is useful learning for the aspiring hacker. Lastly it describes a case study of breaking codes using the simplistic Caesar cipher, a lexical database and the Metropolis method. Functions introduced in this chapter include .Machine$double.eps .

Chapter 8 deals with Principal Component Analysis and unsupervised learning. It uses the ymd function from lubridate package to convert string to date objects, and the cast function from reshape package to further manipulate the structure of data. Using the princomp functions enables PCA in R.The case study creates a stock market index and compares the results with the Dow Jones index.

Chapter 9 deals with Multidimensional Scaling as well as clustering US senators on the basis of similarity in voting records on legislation .It showcases matrix multiplication using %*% and also the dist function to compute distance matrix.

Chapter 10 has the subject of K Nearest Neighbors for recommendation systems. Packages used include class ,reshape and and functions used include cor, function and log. It also demonstrates creating a custom kNN function for calculating Euclidean distance between center of centroids and data. The case study used is the R package recommendation contest on Kaggle. Overall a simplistic introduction to creating a recommendation system using K nearest neighbors, without getting into any of the prepackaged packages within R that deal with association analysis , clustering or recommendation systems.

Chapter 11 introduces the reader to social network analysis (and elements of graph theory) using the example of Erdos Number as an interesting example of social networks of mathematicians. The example of Social Graph API by Google for hacking are quite new and intriguing (though a bit obsolete by changes, and should be rectified in either the errata or next edition) . However there exists packages within R that should be atleast referenced or used within this chapter (like TwitteR package that use the Twitter API and ROauth package for other social networks). Packages used within this chapter include Rcurl, RJSONIO, and igraph packages of R and functions used include rbind and ifelse. It also introduces the reader to the advanced software Gephi. The last example is to build a recommendation engine for whom to follow in Twitter using R.

Chapter 12 is about model comparison and introduces the concept of Support Vector Machines. It uses the package e1071 and shows the svm function. It also introduces the concept of tuning hyper parameters within default algorithms . A small problem in understanding the concepts is the misalignment of diagram pages with the relevant code. It lastly concludes with using mean square error as a method for comparing models built with different algorithms.

 

Overall the book is a welcome addition in the library of books based on R programming language, and the refreshing nature of the flow of material and the practicality of it’s case studies make this a recommended addition to both academic and corporate business analysts trying to derive insights by hacking lots of heterogeneous data.

Have a look for yourself at-
http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920018483.do

Using Cloud Computing for Hacking

This is not about hacking the cloud. Instead this is about using the cloud to hack

 

Some articles last year wrote on how hackers used Amazon Ec2 for hacking/ddos attacks.

http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/216434/cloud_computing_used_to_hack_wireless_passwords.html

Roth claims that a typical wireless password can be guessed by EC2 and his software in about six minutes. He proved this by hacking networks in the area where he lives. The type of EC2 computers used in the attack costs 28 cents per minute, so $1.68 is all it could take to lay open a wireless network.

and

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-15/sony-attack-shows-amazon-s-cloud-service-lures-hackers-at-pennies-an-hour.html

Cloud services are also attractive for hackers because the use of multiple servers can facilitate tasks such as cracking passwords, said Ray Valdes, an analyst at Gartner Inc. Amazon could improve measures to weed out bogus accounts, he said.

 

and this article by Anti-Sec pointed out how one can obtain a debit card anonymously

https://www.facebook.com/notes/lulzsec/want-to-be-a-ghost-on-the-internet/230293097062823

VPN Account without paper trail

  • Purchase prepaid visa card with cash
  • Purchase Bitcoins with Money Order
  • Donate Bitcoins to different account

 

Masking your IP address to log on is done by TOR

https://www.torproject.org/download/download.html.en

and the actual flooding is done by tools like LOIC or HOIC

http://sourceforge.net/projects/loic/

and

http://www.4shared.com/rar/UmCu0ds1/hoic.html

 

So what safeguards can be expected from the next wave of Teenage Mutant Ninjas..?

 

Machine Learning for Hackers – #rstats

I got the incredible and intriguing Machine Learning for Hackers for just $15.99 for an electronic copy from O Reilly Media. (Deal of the Day!)

It has just been launched this month!!

It is an incredible book- and I really  like the way O Reilly has made it so easy to download E Books

I am trying to read it while trying to a write a whole lot of other stuff— and it seems easy to read and understand even for non-hackers like me. Esp with Stanford delaying its online machine learning course- this is one handy e-book to have  to get you started in ML and data science!!

Click the image to see the real deal.

http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920018483.do

 

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