Archive for August, 2010

Archive for August, 2010

Dystoparx ­— Part 5

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Our protagonist is at a company meeting in meatspace. The company he works for doesn’t have meetings like this often. While most of the employees are in the region, some are out-of-province or even out-of-country. The company chatroom is usually good enough. Every 180 days or so, however, they get together. The higher bandwidth available when conversing face-to-face allows them to work through many issues rapidly.

Since very little actual coding is done at these meetings, Nicnus gets bored easily. He can get interested in abstract design or discussion about features, but much of the time — too, much in his opinion — is spent discussing little details. He’d rather leave those up to whoever does the work, or at least leave the discussion to what is necessary at that time. Still, this meeting is going well. Patricia, who is the closest thing they have to a boss, is laying out her ideas on the direction they should take the product. A new direction.

Their product, in case you’re interested, is a kind of network hardware. That means it is used to get computers talking to each other. The important feature of their product is that it can use any existing means of connection and automatically configure itself for the situation. They have a component that plugs into phone lines, one that plugs into power lines, one that uses wireless, one for old serial connectors, one that transmits using sound, and really one for anything else you can think of. If a client comes up with a connector they want that the company doesn’t yet make, then usually the company will develop it. The software installed on the devices finds all other devices connected, and gets them all talking to each other. All of this could be done without the product, but it takes more effort.

Patricia wants to bake strong, general-purpose encryption into the product and capitalize on the privacy craze recent events have created with some groups. She also wants devices using the same encryption keys to be able to discover each other in a peer-to-peer way over the Internet. This would provide a push-button solution for worldwide secure communications between members of a small group, such as the company itself.

Of course, her description of this vision does not come out as smoothly as this description. Her coworkers are interrupting her constantly to make little points.

“If each network is locked with only one key, then all someone has to do is steal that one key to break an entire network.”

“How are the devices going to know which other devices on the Internet belong to their network? Won’t we need to manage some central server?”

“Can’t clients already do this by setting up VPNs on their routers?”

While the discussion around these and other questions may not be of interest to many readers, our protagonist is in many cases not without an opinion, and as soon as he is expressing an opinion, he is no longer bored.

Bill is quickly finding that being “in charge” of a small part of the RCMP’s operations actually gives him less freedom than working near the bottom of a private investigative firm. As a large public organisation, one the people ostensibly trust to keep them safe, they are bound by layers of accountability structure. He is in a meeting with his team and several of his superiors now.

“Why? Why can’t we go after this guy?” Bill is waving a paper file.

One of his superiors leans back. Bill has been out of law enforcement for a long time. Perhaps they brought him in a little bit quickly. “I thought you understood how things work. If we go after everyone we’re just wasting our resources. We run things down until we find something significant.”

Bill is furious, “You keep saying that! Every time I bring you a bigger fish you remind me that we only go after big fish.”

One of Bill’s team members pipes up, “Besides, while that policy makes sense for petty situations like drug users, how does it apply here? This is child pornography! There aren’t hordes of these guys, and they’re all very bad, in my opinion.”

Another one of the higher-ups raises his eyebrows, “I’m sorry, your opinion?”

The first higher-up who spoke breaks in before those two can start a serious conflict, “The point, Bill, is that you’ve still only got a man who is likely uploading pornographic images to public websites. You have no evidence that he is producing these images himself, or even that he derives financial gain from it.” Bill starts to reply but doesn’t get the chance, “I realise you’re going to second the argument that there just aren’t many child pornographers, but if the data coming out of your team is any indication, there are more people who could be classified that way by the law than we would like to consider.”

Bill is silent. It’s true. He’d expected that with this kind of data, they could shut down all child pornography in Canada. Unfortunately, a lot of the data was marked as outside of Canada, and it was difficult to tell sometimes if data was being posted by the same person or not. They could send notices to web hosts that their Terms of Service were likely being violated, but so far they hadn’t found a lot of single major sources of the pornography.

“Now, Bill, I realise that this sort of data mining is a bit new. The United States and Japan have both started it as well. Someone is working on setting up a meeting soon with all three countries to see if we can’t share resources a bit. Maybe something will come of that.”

03:00 <acklas> So, your company is building a privacy tool anyone can use?
03:02 <nicnus> … Well, these days there’s a lot of privacy concerns this won’t solve.
03:03 <acklas> Sure… the spyware and stuff. Is there a solution to that, really? Things like MusicBox people are installing on purpose.
03:07 <nicnus> True enough.
03:07 <acklas> It’s suprising to me that they’re catching anyone that way. Wouldn’t people who were breaking the law not leave something activated that they know will get them caught?
03:08 <nicnus> These aren’t the mafia, grifters, or crackers. They don’t have lots of avoiding-the-police experience.
03:10 <acklas> Fair. What about the kiddie porn stuff?
03:11 <nicnus> You’ll note nothing major has come of that yet.
03:20 <acklas> What are you working on?
03:25 <nicnus> I’m reading through the MusicBox spyware protocol “crack” again.
03:25 <acklas> What are you thinking?
03:26 <nicnus> Could maybe write something that blocks MusicBox outgoing data.
03:27 <acklas> Interesting… would many people use it, though?
03:38 <nicnus> Probably not. People just don’t care that much about their privacy 😛
03:55 <nicnus> So… it’s possible, but not easy. Maybe I can make our product automatically “fix” computers that connect to the network 🙂
04:00 <acklas> A “good” virus? Don’t those make zombies? 😉
04:00 <nicnus> heh. MusicBox will probably just update their tracking if too many people block it out.

Subject: Crackdown / Roundup

Listen all,

They won’t let us get anything done until we give them a substantial player. Pull the web browsing history of all identified offenders and search for a pattern. Maybe we can nail an imageboard or file host that these guys are using for their content. We don’t make policy, but we can make a media splash. The guys who **do** make policy are watching the media.

Next week they’re meeting with the FBI and someone from Japan. If they are willing to cooperate, we may be able to trace the international movement of this stuff. Too bad we can’t get the DHS to check internet packets at the border leaving the US, then we wouldn’t have this problem.

— Bill.

Maybe something will break soon. Bill is hoping it does. If the media makes a big deal out of this, maybe the public will be afraid enough that something can really get done. He is beginning to realise that data coming in from people who //know// they’re being spied on is only so useful. If only they weren’t so bound by policy and privacy concerns. After all, which is more important: privacy, or stopping criminals?

Our protagonist is winding down for the evening. Or midmorning. Whatever time it is now. He sets his IM to “away: sleeping” and turns off the monitor. Sometimes all this concern for the public’s interests gives him a headache. All Nicnus wants is to sleep, eat, debate, and hack. Or something like that. If people would care about their own rights, maybe he wouldn’t have to care so much.

That’s not going to happen. Nicnus is quite aware that the average human doesn’t give much thought to issues larger than the security of their homes.

All the lights are off in his house. He opens the fridge and stares into it.

“I’m tired, not hungry,” now he’s talking to himself. Sleep now. Tomorrow will be a work day. Maybe he can bury himself in code and forget for awhile about the outside world.