Archive for December, 2010

Archive for December, 2010

Lawrence Lessig – Code 2.0, HTML eBook

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It has been some time now since Lawrence Lessig released Code 2.0, the second edition to his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. I have not yet read the book, however. Why not? Because it was not available in a suitable format.

The books is available from its website as a free PDF download. Unfortunately, PDF is a format designed to do one thing: lay things out to print. I do not want to print the book (if I wanted that, I would just buy a hard copy!) No, I want to read it on my a screen. In this case, the screen on my phone (an n900 running fbreader). PDFs are laid out as a sequence of pages, sized for print. Any screen that is not at least the size of these pages ends up panning and scrolling in horrible ways. PDF readers also lack the sorts of features one wants out of an “ebook” (such as being able to automatically resume from where one left off).

Converting the PDF to a sensible format has proved to be very difficult, if not impossible, without a huge amount of manual work. Not worth it. Lessig, however, also hosts a copy of the book contents in a wiki. So, today I finally got around to writing a script to screen scrape the wiki for content, and then massaged it a bit for ideal eBook experience.

So, for anyone who wants it, I release here an eBook-friendly (X)HTML version of the book, licensed (as the source) under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license. Download the eBook

Dystoparx — Part 7

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Since the article there has been some activity. Basically, paranoid hackers have congregated in the # chatroom as the most popular location for discussing potential threats. Jack is in there, defending society.

21:58 <jjdavis> No. You guys are crazy. No one is taking this seriously. The media has all but forgotten about it.

21:59 <rjones> There’s no harm in thinking about it. If the populace ever rose up against hackers en masse, and we weren’t prepared…

21:59 <xrll> h4xtex: Why don’t you have a passport? Get one!

22:00 <xrll> rjones: Well, being prepared is good, but we need to think on our feed. Like always.

22:01 <xrll> On our feet. Though I kinda like “think on our feed”. 🙂

22:02 <jjdavis> Right. Even if people started driving us out with pitchforks we are resourceful.

22:02 <rjones> Look. I’m not saying people are going to go crazy over an article. I’m saying there is a growing distrust of technology and technologists and we shouldn’t just act like it’ll all be fine.

22:03 <h4xtex> xrll: Ok, sure. But where would I go? And would they let me leave?

22:04 <xrll> h4xtex: You have to leave early enough. Everyone has their own jump criteria. Early enough that you can still get out, not so early that you leave a good thing behind. Where you go depends a bit on the circumstance.

22:04 <jjdavis> We just need to not get all orked up about this.

Acklas is talking to Nicnus.

21:59 <acklas> How is product work coming along?

22:00 <nicnus> Pretty great. We have discovery working now. It’s mostly decentralized, just needs a list of servers to talk to.

22:01 <acklas> So, one can now plug in a box in two places and have secure communications over the Internet?

22:03 <nicnus> Pretty much. There are some bugs we’re working on, but launch might be as close as a week or two.

22:04 <acklas> Is anyone there worried about Hacker Hate?

22:05 <nicnus> Not really. We’re producing a communications technology to make people’s lives safer and easier. How can you attack that?

22:07 <acklas> People can attack whatever they want. Them Out There hate anything new or innovative.

22:10 <nicnus> That’s just unfair.

22:11 <acklas> Maybe.

Nicnus glances over at #. Jack is still arguing vehemently in there. No one is really sure how to feel about the Hacker Hate meme. It has all but died out now, but for a few weeks people all over the media were posting vitriol about hackers and technologists, and generally blaming the Internet for all manner of social ills.

A message comes in from one of his coworkers, wanting to test the latest software revisions for the product. He disconnects his computer from the Internet and plugs it back in through the box. The device scans for other nodes using the same encryption keys, and then a light on it turns green as the connection is established. He and his coworker are now sharing files and chatting over a point-to-point encrypted connection.

Nicnus feels excited. If encryption is this easy, maybe those who need it, that is, everyone, will be willing to use it. An idea comes into his head and he quickly fires an email off to his boss. The device should be able to set up as many connections as you want, all at the same time! That way, people can join multiple encrypted networks made up of different groups of their contacts and friends.

He now turns to scan news articles coming in from the Internet. One headline in particular catches his eye. The RCMP and FBI have made a number of simultaneous arrests as a result of their MusicBox data collection! Nicnus is not happy. He had hoped that their lack of arrests up until now meant that they were not getting any useful data. Apparently they had just been waiting until they could do a bunch of arrests at once. He looks though the code he has been working on to block MusicBox spying. It works, and even has an option to send benign data out periodically so the server won’t notice that it is not getting spyware data. He and a few others have been testing it out recently, and there haven’t been any problems so far. In a moment, he has decided it’s time to release the code. A few moments later he has made it available to the public, and begins writing the announcement post for his website.

It is now early the next morning. Well, early by the standards of our geek friends. Bill is at work, because he actually sleeps at night. One of the members of his team is knocking on his door. Bill grunts and his team member enters.

“We may have a problem.”

“Oh?” Bill asks, uninterested.

“Someone has posted an application enabling people to block the MusicBox software.”

“Is that all?” Bill yawns, “No one will bother to use it.”

“Actually, sir, people don’t have to use it. A number of technologists have been pretty on edge recently, and the news of our arrests has not put them in a better mood. Some of them have banded together to develop a number of different, well—”

“Does this story have a point?” Bill knows that over half of their data, in fact, all of their useful data, did not come from MusicBox anyway.

“Well, sir, they have basically written a series of computer viruses that infect systems running MusicBox, using a couple of security holes in MusicBox itself, which then set themselves up to block all of our data-gathering efforts.”

“What?!” Now, Bill is listening. “Have the MusicBox people closed the security holes?”

“They don’t even know about this yet. Even if they do, if they block out the viruses, even if they change the protocol, the code will just get updated and more will come out. We’ve seen exactly this sort of strategy before: it’s the sort of thing that made piracy so hard to track down in the first place.”

“Wait, so they can update the viruses on everyone’s computers?” Bill is actually worried now. If anyone suspects they are collecting other data… they may engineer these viruses to block out the real data sources.

“They don’t need to. They just release a new virus and it spreads to all the computers the same way the first one did.”

Bill thinks about it for a moment, then realises this is no problem at all. “Well, certainly the antivirus makers can stop these as they have stopped computer viruses in the past.”

“Maybe, but we’re not talking about a couple of people working on something, or even about the efforts of organised crime. We’re talking about a huge number of top technologists being interested in keeping this out there. Also, many of the antivirus companies may not consider these programs malicious.”

Bill is not happy, but he’s not going to get into a screaming match with his subordinate. Hopefully interest in this will die out. Hopefully the hackers will not find a way to block the actually useful sources of information.

Nicnus’ brother is downloading a television series. You probably think he is crazy. This is the same brother who is still paying half of his income every month to compensate the music industry for a handful of movies he obtained this way. Why would he risk losing even more of his mostly-nonexistent livelihood?

Well, it isn’t that simple. At least, not to him. It’s not that he thinks he won’t get caught this time. He hasn’t even thought that far. He wants the content, and this is the only real way to get it. He can’t wait for it to come on broadcast television, because the show has been off the air for a few years. He can’t buy it on DVD, because he can’t find anywhere selling it in that format. Basically, he wants to watch it now and this is the only way he can find right now to get it. It’s easy to get it this way, he just runs a Google search and downloads from the first result. There is no conscious decision to break the law.

The media industry is slowly realising that many of those they have recently sued are just like Nicnus’ brother. No matter how much they spy on these people, they cannot catch them all, and no matter how many of them they catch, the behaviour does not change. More radical action may be necessary.

DiSo Actionstream Plugin 1.0

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Version 1.0 of the DiSo Actionstream plugin for WordPress has finally been released! The upgrade for this version may be a little rough, because the entire data storage model has changed since the last release. Let me know if you have any trouble!

For Debian users, there is a wordpress-diso-actionstream package in my APT repository.