Steel city vs. China

The national media missed the point of the federal indictment against the Chinese hackers. This did not come out of Pittsburgh just because the companies were here. This came out of Pittsburgh because the guys behind the investigation and prosecution are Pittsburghers. The best line of my story on the FBI’s top investigator is that his father was a steelworker. This is personal. Those of us who grew up here get that.

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Hundreds of other U.S. companies have been hacked by the Chinese military officials accused in a federal indictment of breaching Pittsburgh-area companies, the FBI’s top cyber investigator told the Tribune-Review. Continue reading

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PNC Park too crowded for ballhawks

Maybe you’ve heard of ballhawks. These are guys (and they all seem to be guys, fully grown) who go to Major League Baseball games to collect as many baseballs as they can — home runs, fouls, tossups from friendly players.

Point Park student Alex Stumpf profiles ballhawks this week. And in the process, he uncovers a gripe from one who used to clean up at a nearly empty PNC Park. The Pirates have become too popular, he says. Check it out — along with the great photos by student Matt Nemeth — and see if you agree.

Either way, two weeks to Opening Day on the North Shore.

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Ballhawk Erik Jabs has a collection of nearly 3,000 baseballs. Photo: Matt Nemeth | Point Park News Service

By Alex Stumpf, Point Park News Service:

Ian Weir does not remember when he went to his first baseball game, but he remembers what he brought.

“I’ve taken my glove to every baseball game I’ve ever been to,” Weir, 20, of Oakmont, said.

Weir used his glove to snag nearly 200 balls last year and is a part of a distinct demographic of fans known as “ballhawks.”ballhawk3

A ballhawk refers to a fan that is able to collect multiple baseballs a game. They say they do this for a variety of reasons, from being able to tour stadiums around the country, to meeting fellow ballhawks nationwide and to boosting their memorabilia collections. The subject has spawned multiple blogs, a book and even a documentary narrated by Bill Murray.

Read the rest of the story here.

Cool but creepy future

Companies understand the delicate balance between collecting detailed information on shoppers — and revealing how much they know or what they do with it. Jon Iwata, an IBM vice president, talks about it as the continuum between privacy and convenience, similar to the government one between security and civil liberty. To understand companies’ reticence, note that few responded to my request for information…

The Trib's great Andy Russell took this photo of Erin Price. Funny back story: He set up the photo because it looks great -- and only realized after talking with Erin how steps play into her exercise routine. That coincidence makes for a great illustration.

The Trib’s great Andy Russell took this photo of Erin Price. Funny back story: He set up the photo because it looks great — and only realized after talking with Erin how steps play into her exercise routine. That coincidence makes for a great illustration.

Giant Eagle won’t say much about the information it collects on people who enroll in its rewards program to earn savings on food and fuel, but it knows who has a weakness for Goldfish crackers.

GNC can see when your New Year’s resolution ended. And Dick’s Sporting Goods has a pretty good idea who will return to its stores this spring to gear up for baseball or softball season.

Consumers willingly — if unwittingly — provide trillions of “data points” to companies about their purchases, intimate habits and even where a computer mouse hovers on a computer screen without clicking. Americans worried about government spying often have themselves to blame when it comes to private-sector monitoring, experts said.

Read more about this story. Check out our entire Cyber Rattling series here.

Reporter gets 15 minutes too

As a general rule, I teach students they should never insert themselves into a story. But when Abby Mathieu from my entrepreneurial journalism class turned in this story about The Warhol Museum using social media, it seemed too good to pass up. I encouraged her to have some fun with the situation — and she ended up getting her photo taken in the same place where Jay-Z sat for a photo that went viral. I hope you enjoy the juxtaposition.

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By Abby Mathieu, Point Park News Service:

When hip-hop artist Jay-Z came through Pittsburgh last month, he took the time to check out the North Side’s Andy Warhol Museum and kicked back on a red velvet couch similar to one the pop art creator once owned.

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Writer Abby Mathieu gets her 15 minutes of fame at the Warhol. Photo: Submitted

After being posted to Instagram, the photo went viral. More than 7,600 people “liked” it and Endia Howze, a singer in Minneapolis, chimed in with: “Get ur feet off the couch lol.”

In this Internet age of instant access and global reach, The Warhol Museum engages with, not only customers in its building, but also fans of the artist from around the world through social media, museum administrators said.

Andy Warhol is a figure known worldwide, so the museum’s social media accounts engage viewers living anywhere from New York City to Hong Kong, said Emily Meyer, the museum’s assistant communications manager. Because of this diverse audience, as well as the uniqueness of the brand itself, the museum chose to pave a new road for its own social media tactics. Read more.

This story appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review as well.

Hackers aimed at Target through Sharpsburg firm

When I first started covering cybersecurity, I talked with a lot of top computer experts, intelligence officials, lawmakers with high-level security clearances. The people who know about computers and security seemed genuinely freaked out. Their biggest concern: This whole thing is evolving faster than we can plan for it.

All of that research came back to me this week when we found out that criminals seem to have attacked Target by going through one of its contractors in the Pittsburgh suburb of Sharpsburg. Here’s our take on how it most likely went down…

 

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David Brumley, a computer security researcher at Carnegie Mellon University.

For computer hackers, it’s like playing the Powerball.

Criminals looking to steal credit card records from a major retailer such as Target will play as many angles as they can, blitzing the company’s contractors to find a way inside its systems, hacking experts told the Tribune-Review Friday.

“Really what attackers are doing is a game of numbers,” said David Brumley, a computer security researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. “If they compromise enough individual computers… one of those will have access to their target computer.” Read more.

 

My ongoing investigative series CyberRattling: The Next Threat has looked at the advantages that hackers have. They only have to find one way in, while companies trying to defend themselves must cover up every possible gap. A single coding mistake, in the wrong hands, can be an opening to be exploited. It’s easy to see why so many people are worried. 

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My friend Paul

A fountain featuring Andy Warhol holding an umbrella with water pouring from its spokes stands in Slovakia where statues of Soviet leaders Lenin and Stalin once stood in the town. By Andrew Conte

A fountain showing Andy Warhol holding an umbrella with water pouring from its spokes stands in Slovakia where statues of Soviet leaders Lenin and Stalin once ruled. By Andrew Conte

Lived right, a reporter’s life can be filled with many interesting characters. One of the favorites from my life has died. Paul Warhola had a fascinating perspective that pulled from the experiences of his more famous brother, Andy Warhol, but that had its own unique bent.

Visiting his farm house in Smock, an hour south of Pittsburgh, I would hear tales, like the one about how Andy tried giving Paul artwork — but he instead had taken his brother’s cases of Crown Royal whiskey. I once asked about a poster tacked to the bathroom door, showing one of Andy’s paintings from his flowers series. Paul had owned the original but sold it. Now he had the poster — and some untold sum of money. Paul still had a series of Andy’s early drawings. He had been using them to block the windows in his garage but now wanted to sell them too. Continue reading

Change creates opportunity

A change of administration creates many interesting moments. One happened Thursday when Mike Huss, Pittsburgh’s public safety director, wandered into the Tribune-Review’s newsroom. He wanted to talk about the last nine months of the Ravenstahl administration, his role during the transition and his future. In an often emotional session, he talked with reporters Margaret Harding, Carl Prine and me along with editors Sandy Tolliver and Jim Wilhelm. The Ravenstahl administration often was off-limits to reporters, so it was refreshing to have a frank discussion with one of the former mayor’s top lieutenants. The story appears in today’s Trib.

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Mike Huss talks to the Trib about his uncertain job security on Thursday January 9, 2014. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Mike Huss talks to the Trib about his uncertain job security. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

By Margaret Harding, Carl Prine and Andrew Conte

Facing an uncertain future, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Mike Huss said on Thursday he would like to stay on board with Mayor Bill Peduto to finish cleaning up the mess left by the ongoing corruption investigation of city government.

“There’s no one more disappointed about what happened,” Huss, 46, of Lincoln Place told the Tribune-Review in an exclusive interview. “I believe, had I been in a position where I was in (city police headquarters in the North Side), that never would have happened. I believe that. It did happen on my watch. There’s no one feels worse about it than me. Nobody.”

But Huss said the public has no idea how difficult it is to effect change in a city where unions and arbitrators’ decisions control the workings of police, fire and emergency services departments.

To read the entire story, click here.