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I Am Sick of Hearing About Cybersecurity, Too

By Alexander Kennedy,
SMCC Cyber Security graduate

As the year comes to a close, it’s a time for many to look back and reminisce about good times gone by. Some people may consider large news headlines of 2017 — we have a new president, hurricane season was worse than usual, and the United Kingdom started its transition out of the EU, to name a few. But for the first year in a long time, it’s safe to say many people probably recall one or two headlines relating to security breaches across the world.

So far, 2017 has seen at least one major security headline per month. In January, the U.S. Department of Energy reported that the U.S. electrical grid was in “imminent danger” of a cyberattack similar to ones seen in Ukraine a month prior.

February saw the breach of the internet company Cloudflare. The bug, known as CloudBleed, revealed sensitive information of users from companies such as OKCupid, Uber, and Fitbit.

In March, WikiLeaks unveiled Vault 7, a major compilation of data revealing CIA hacking tools that gave the agency the ability to listen to us via our smart TVs, as well as many other methods of turning our own computers against us.

Cybersecurity made it to the world stage in April when a phishing email scam was found to have successfully hacked the campaign of French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron.

May and June were dominated by ransomware attacks like WannaCry and NotPetya, which cost the global economy an estimated 4.2 billion dollars was well as compromising nearly half a million computers.
In July, security researchers proved voting machines were easily hackable. HBO was hacked in August, leading to the leak of “Game of Thrones” and “Silicon Valley” episodes.
September had the most notable hack of the year. Equifax reported that the Social Security numbers, names, addresses and other personal information of 145.5 million Americans had been compromised by hackers. For those who are counting, that is half of the U.S. population.

The past few months have seen breaches in Yahoo and Uber. Uber took it a step further and actually paid the attackers $100,000 in hush money.

Whether you’re in the technology field or not, 2017 has made it impossible to escape the news of cybersecurity. And most people couldn’t care less. It’s all too easy to become disillusioned with cybersecurity, with the sheer amount of articles saturating your news feed. But it is vital for us to care if we wish to keep building upon the connected world we live in.

For years, professionals in the cybersecurity industry have been trying to get people to understand the importance of security. The major cyber-events of 2017 have certainly kick-started the conversation on best practices for cybersafety and what you can do, as a consumer, to protect yourself from big-company data breaches. Hopefully, this trend will continue.

Hopefully, this year’s major security events do not scare us away from the awesome power and potential of the internet, but rather propel us into a new age of security-conscious communication and help us to discover what we can do, as consumers, to protect ourselves from big data breaches. Securing the internet is critical in keeping us safe as we interact together and grow our society in cyberspace.

Happy Holidays, or Whatever

By Troy Hudson

The holidays are about nothing if not tradition. The anticipation that builds as the season draws near is a direct function of the cyclical nature of our shared cultural experience. Every year, we look forward (whether with joy or dread) to the return of the red and green, the gingerbread houses, the twinkling lights and wreaths adorning nearly every home and storefront. If you’re like most Americans, you probably rewatch the same holiday movies you did when you were little, and possibly the same ones your parents watched when they were little. December is the only time of year you’re as likely to hear a 75-year-old Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole recording on the radio as any Top 40 hit.

It’s probably safe to say there’s no more universal tradition in Western culture than celebrating Christmas. In 1914, it even inspired a temporary ceasefire between German and British soldiers on the Western Front in the First World War.

In America today, however, uttering the word “Christmas” has come to be viewed as a microaggression and is avoided at all costs by most major businesses and people wary of causing offense. In theory, I can support this polite consideration of other cultures and not assuming one’s own traditions are shared by others. I myself am not religious, so many Christmas traditions, like singing carols that celebrate “Christ the newborn king,” do feel inappropriate to me and I typically do not participate in them.

But Christmas, as we all know, is much more than a religious holiday. For better or worse, it has become a staple of American secular culture that is now as much about spending time with family and sharing our bounty with others as it is about the celebration of the Christian deity. It’s also, of course, the apex of consumer capitalism. It is a tradition that I grew up with, and it helps stoke my sense of community and family. I want to share this feeling with others, especially those who may not have experienced it in the past. I think this is natural, and I expect and hope to see members of other cultures openly celebrating their own traditions as well. This is why I object to the widespread cultural rejection of Christmas tropes during the holiday season.

In particular, the greeting “Merry Christmas” has become a cultural hot potato. Many people now believe the phrase is offensive and stick to “Happy Holidays.” Never mind the fact that for people who don’t celebrate anything during this season, even “Happy Holidays” is a misstep. The arguments for this are that not everyone celebrates Christmas, or that the holidays are a sad time for many people. These are both very true, and if you know for a fact that either applies to the person you’re talking to, then by all means offer something more appropriate. But if you want to wish a friend or stranger a Merry Christmas, you should go ahead without fear of causing offense.

Despite not being a Christian, if someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas,” (or a “Happy Hanukkah,” or anything else) with good will and a smile, I say “Thanks, you too.” I find this honest response very easy to muster and I have never had heartburn from the exchange. I believe the warmth and joy of the greeting is what comes through, not the particular words used to express it. If “Happy Holidays” is your thing, then go for it. It’s a fine greeting. But if “Merry Christmas” happens to roll off the tongue a little easier for you, don’t worry that you may have committed a microaggression. Have a little trust in the understanding and graciousness of other people and enjoy the holiday season in whatever way seems right to you.

From the Desk of the Managing Editor

By Ben Riggleman

You’ve probably heard something about a tax bill in recent weeks. Congressional Republicans narrowly succeeded in passing different versions of a wide-ranging tax-reform bill in the House of Representatives and the Senate this past month, and are now meeting in a conference committee to put together a unified bill. The two houses of Congress are expected to vote on the final version of the bill before Dec. 22, and if they approve it, the President’s signature is assured. Sound boring? It shouldn’t, because this will affect all of us.

If you have any exposure to the liberal media, you’ve heard that this tax-reform scheme is pretty awful. Economists have almost universally come out against it — it stands to increase the federal debt by up to $1.5 trillion — and the New York Times’ editorial board called it “terrible.” You may have heard that the bill would offer huge breaks to the very wealthiest Americans while hurting the middle class in the long run, and that it could undermine the Affordable Care Act, causing up to 13 million people to lose health insurance.

But maybe all this doesn’t mean that much to you; you’re skeptical of the media establishment and academic talking heads. But please consider what college students like us stand to lose here.

The House bill is downright hostile to students. Most of us have taken out student loans. You may have been able to write off payments on student-loan interest when filing your taxes, if you earn under a certain level. But this deduction would be eliminated under the House’s version of the bill, according to USA Today. The bill would also take away a tax incentive that encourages employers to fund their workers’ continuing education. Employers will still be able to pay up to $5,250 per year of employees’ school expenses, but this money will now be taxed. So if your employer is now funding your studies at SMCC, that might not last.

As Troy Hudson reports on the front page of this issue, about 58 percent of SMCC students take classes part-time. Because the House bill would scrap the Lifetime Learning Credit program, many part-time students would lose eligibility for a tax credit of up to $2,000.

Finally, if you’re in the minority of SMCC students who plan on getting a graduate degree, you might want to think again. Most graduate students depend on stipends and tuition waivers they receive for teaching or doing research. The stipends are currently considered taxable income, but under the House plan, the reduced tuition would be, too. One graduate student wrote in the New York Times that this change “would make meeting living expenses nearly impossible, barring all but the wealthiest students from pursuing a Ph.D.”

Republicans in the Senate seem to resent college students somewhat less than do their House colleagues. However, the final bill will be a compromise between the House and Senate versions; all the nasty stuff in the House bill still stands a good chance of making it into law.

About the only good news is that Maine’s senior senator, Susan Collins, has not promised her vote to the Republicans’ final product. (She did vote for the Senate tax bill, after receiving assurances that it would be changed.) Last week, she told a CNN affiliate, “I’m going to look at what comes out of the conference committee meeting to reconcile the differences between the Senate and House bill. So, I won’t make a final decision until I see what that package is.” It is not too late to call Senator Collins, who has voted her conscience over her party before, and tell her how we feel about this incredibly bad deal. You can call her Portland office Monday through Friday at 207-780-3575.

In other news, this is the last column I’ll write as managing editor of The Beacon. I am stepping down after this semester to focus on my classes. It has been an honor to participate in keeping an SMCC tradition strong and helping student writers find their voice.

Religion: The Good and the Bad

By Johnny Morton

At the age of 10, I remember being forced in my Sunday’s best clothes (which were too stiff and uncomfortable) and sitting with my grandmother in St. Dominic’s Roman Catholic Church. I would daydream, and couldn’t wait to get out of there. I was bored, fidgeting, and couldn’t stand the barely lit room, the odd half-spoken/half-sung passages and the eerie, earthy incense smell. I had to be quiet and pretend to pray.

A year later, I wasn’t forced to go anymore. In years to come, I remember some friends of mine couldn’t always play or hang out on the weekends because they were going with their church group on a grand camping trip or to Funtown. Sometimes my friends would be talking about a huge picnic fun day at their church or a potluck with all this great food! Wait… what? Where is this great place and how do I get in?? I never did end up getting in, though I spent a few jealous weekends wishing I had. I wanted to be part of something big, part of a group of people who did fun things. Their church seemed nothing like my nana’s stiff, dark, smelly church. Years later, come to find out, one of the church leaders, one of the fun, field-trip-organizing, pot-luck-supper-planning church leaders, was called out and accused of molesting some of those boys… a few of whom were my buddies. This is how religion went for me my entire life, and it still does today at age 40.

There are many practicing religions in America today. I don’t know the ins and outs of every denomination. In fact, I never truly belonged to a single one; however, I have witnessed and somewhat partaken in some religious endeavors trying to find myself through finding God or a higher power. Religion is like a swinging door in America: It opens up and exposes you to many great things, but it also can swing back hard, knocking you down.

Religion has had (and still does have) many positive influences on American society. Religion gives one hope. Religion gives one faith. When all seems lost in the world and one feels utterly alone, most religions will welcome one with open arms and give one a feeling of love, belonging, support and community. There are so many great religious groups and churches that bring communities together and help victims of all sorts through difficult times. Whether a family whose home has been blown away in a tornado, or a single mom who can’t afford Christmas gifts for her children, or orphaned children whose parents died in a plane crash, so on and so on, many religious factors have come to the aid of many Americans, and have worked “miracles.” Churches have gone above and beyond being ethical and have had so many wonderful and numerous positive influences on so many in this great nation — and still do, on a day-to-day basis!
Here is where the “religious door” swings full force and slams you from behind: Many religious factors leave no room for diversity. Certain religious groups have publicly called out, shamed and protested against anyone who does not follow that religion perfectly, or may be a little different, or have somewhat different views or ideas than said religion. There is no “wiggle room” in one’s moral beliefs if those beliefs waver even just a bit. Certain religious groups have even turned to violent protests or violent acts against those who do not conform or fit with that religion’s agenda. Not only do they shun outsiders and turn to violence, certain religious groups, particularly the Roman Catholic faction, have been known for sexual abuse against young ones for years. These acts are unethical and definitely have negative impacts in America.

I can personally say I have experienced both the positive and the negative when it comes to religion. I was welcomed with open arms when I was at a very low point in my life. I met a bunch of great people who helped me out immensely, and I felt part of something special. Another time, I was told I was going straight to Hell because of my sexuality and unless I changed who I was and asked God for forgiveness, there was no hope for me. When it comes to religion, I live my life singing REM’s song “Losing my Religion.” I don’t know if I will ever find the right fit for me when it comes to joining any religious denomination, but for now, I pray and talk to God on my own terms, and take and make positive influences and changes. That is my religion.