Archive for January, 2011

Archive for January, 2011

Dystoparx — Part 9

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Acklas is out running. This may seem strange to you, but it’s a habit he’s been trying to form recently. He’s realized that being in mildly good physical condition could be useful if he were ever forced to leave his cave for an extended period.

Though, that doesn’t make him good at it.

He stops for breath a few short blocks from his house. He always runs out of breath after about this far. There’s an old woman who lives here, and she always seems to be out on her porch.

“Having a nice run again, eh?” She peers down at him.

Acklas shakes his head, “I’m not sure ‘nice’ is the word I would use to describe it.”

She chuckles. “So how come I never see you running past here with a pretty girl?”

She’s starting to sound like his mother, but he has a better quip here, “Do you really think I’d want a pretty girl laughing at me every time I run out of breath?”

That seems to have satisfied her. He doesn’t mind this old woman. He likes that someone nice lives on his street. It’s very strange of her to just talk to some random guy who runs past her house. Probably not safe. He likes it, though.

Soon he’s off again, but quickly decides to head for home. Enough beating up the body for one day. He stumbles in through his door and makes it to his room. New messages. From Nicnus. The encryption device is ready for outside beta testing, it seems. Acklas will get in contact with him about helping out with that later. Right now he needs to head into work.

Acklas mutters something under his breath about how lucky Nicnus is to work for a small company that lets him work from home. His office is much less… nice. Still, it’s a living, and it’s not boring.

Bill is on the phone, but he does not like what he’s hearing, “What do you mean, your consultants are telling you most of the data gathering is only theoretical? Either it’s possible or it’s not. Either way, we’re talking about lobbying for legislation. If the implementation is possible, we need to be allowed to implement it.”

Someone walks in and hands Bill a printed email. He scans it quickly and then swears into the phone. “I have to deal with something. We’ll talk later, OK?”

He hangs up and calls his FBI contact. Apparently the FBI man thinks that Bill has leaked the information about what they’re doing. Bill denies it.

“Look, you,” The FBI man says slowly, “You didn’t think we who are running the world’s most sophisticated wiretap system would fail to notice you communicating with a political lobby group.”

Bill is at a loss for words. “You’ve been spying on me?”

“No, Bill. We have been spying on the whole world.”

Bill’s face flushes in momentary anger, “To catch rapists, not to follow my personal dealings.”

The FBI man does not seem phased, “I’m going to quote from one of your recent emails. You said, ‘Privacy is dead. Law enforcement needs access to information in order to get the job done. If the government will let us cull the data available on the Internet, then we can stop all kinds of problems before they even start.'”

Now Bill knows they’ve been spying on him, “So?”

“So, that email was not to one of us. You’ve been talking about data harvesting with a major political group, and don’t even pretend you haven’t been because I have the emails and phone transcripts right here.”

“How did you get phone—” Bill’s bewilderment is cut short by the FBI man’s derisive laughter.

“Does it even matter? The point is, I have it. If the wrong people find out about our network, we could be shut down. What are you thinking?”

Bill’s bewilderment quickly turns defencive, “Well excuse me. I’m trying to work on making what we do more legal so that more people can benefit from it.”

“Do we even need that? We can just feed as much information as we want into any agency we want. They don’t have to care where it comes from. Why endanger the project?”

“Because,” Bill’s voice has a sense of finality to it, “this is bigger than us. This is about stopping criminals. We can’t just run it as a secret project forever because we can’t do anything forever. These guys are the best. They know their facts, and the politicians do not. They can make anything seem like a good idea, and no one is going to stand up against us. The populace want to be safe and they will beg us to read their emails if it means one less weirdo on the streets. Trust me; this will work out fine.”

17:01 <nicnus> You ready?

17:01 <acklas> Sure.

Acklas unplugs his Internet and hooks it up through the demo unit that Nicnus had shipped to his office. He waits a few moments as his computer tries to get back on the Internet. Soon it says it is on and he returns to the chat.

17:05 <acklas> So, this is encrypted now?

17:06 <nicnus> Well… No. You still have a normal connection to the Internet, no getting around that. The device will let us set up a very simple encrypted connection between just us. Then we could chat across that.

17:08 <acklas> … sounds complicated.

17:08 <nicnus> Not if we ship the devices with file sharing and IM clients and whatnot that automatically use this.

17:09 <acklas> I guess.

17:10 <nicnus> You’re sure it’s OK for you to be testing this at work?

17:11 <acklas> No one pays any attention to what I do here. Besides, it’s lunch.

An email arrives in Acklas’ inbox.

17:11 <acklas> Isn’t this a very insecure way to send me the key? You just email it?

17:12 <nicnus> Sure. For real security you’d want to set up the key in a secure manner.

17:12 <acklas> Ok, I guess this is fine for a test.

Acklas opens the file with a bit of software Nicnus had sent him earlier. The software starts talking to the device on the back of his system and soon reports success. Acklas looks at his networks and sees a connection that he assumes goes to Nicnus.

17:13 <acklas> Ok. Got it.

17:13 <nicnus> Now just connect to the chat server on my system.

Acklas does this and opens up a new chat using that server.

17:15 <acklas> HAI THAR

17:16 <nicnus> WE R SO ENCRYPTED


17:17 <nicnus> READ THIZ, H4CK3RS!

17:17 <acklas> Is mixing LOLspeak and 1337 really kosher?

I would record for the reader what comes next, but while it would show some of the geekiest text I could place in this account, it would also have almost no meaning to the reader. In short, their dialogue does not need to be encrypted: no one can understand it anyway. Of course, the existence of the technology they are testing is really the only thing that is a secret. Unfortunately, that is the only thing they are not trying to keep a secret.

Case to Criminalize Infringement Continues

The EFF has been closely watching a court case that is developing in Canada. If this case goes badly, it could set a precedent that would leak down into the United States. How? The lobby group responsible is a US-based group that has significant holdings north of the border as well. Rest assured that a victory there will mean they bring their power to bear down here as well.

The case hinges on the fact that the accused infringer, Doug Bradley, is in possession of unlocked versions of content that is only distributed on digitally locked medium (like DVDs). The argument is that by possessing these copies, Bradley is actively circumventing the digital locks, which is a criminal offence in many countries, including the United States. If convicted, this could be broadly applied to any infringement of content that is distributed in locked format.

Luckily, it seems that if any distribution of the content has been without DRM, then the infringement cannot fall under this concept. No matter where this case goes, it is for exactly these reasons that consumers need to actively fight against digital locks (or DRM or TPMs, whatever you call it) on their content.

Dystoparx — Part 8

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Nicnus is alone with his brother’s girlfriend. Actually, wait, she may not be his girlfriend anymore. It’s all so complicated. Nicnus doesn’t really care, but that doesn’t keep his curious mind from wondering.

How did he get here? He’s here on behalf of his brother. If his brother had to send him, then she can’t be his significant other, can she? Or perhaps they’re just having a protracted fight but still consider the relationship active? Nicnus’ head is spinning. He decides to focus on the reason he is here. The reason… There is a reason. Oh, yes! His brother—

“Are you just going to stand there?” She seems impatient.

He is standing on her porch. Or her parents’ porch? How old would she be? Does she live on her own? When do people tend to move out on their own these days?

“Are you staring at my breasts!” Now she seems horrified.

Nicnus forces his eyes to refocus. Crap. What’s the culturally accepted out in this circumstance? Can he explain that his eyes were not even aware of what was before them? That seems likely to be awkward. Awkward is the opposite of socially acceptable. On the other hand, it seems socially acceptable for men to joke about women’s breasts. Perhaps pretending that he was distracted by them is a good strategy for this situation? No. His best bet is to just ignore everything and move forward.

“My brother sent me.” That statement falls sort of flat. It seemed like a good way to begin the conversation, but now he’s not so sure.

“Obviously.” She’s tapping her foot. That’s impatience, right?

How long has he been standing here? Too long. Not as long as it may seem to the reader, but longer than is good. This is officially awkward now. Why couldn’t his brother just talk to his own girlfriend? Or write her a letter. Or something.

His brother wanted him to convey apologies, or something of that like. Nicnus is a tad fuzzy on the details. They didn’t really make sense to him. He doesn’t have time to run simulations in his head, but nor should he just blurt the first thing that comes to mind. He never should have agreed to this assignment.

“I assume he sent you to grovel.” Nicnus does not like her tone. She does not seem nice.

Finally, Nicnus decides that this is just silly. He’s frustrated with the whole situation, and lets that manifest as anger. Or passion. One of those.

“Yes, yes he did. But I’m not going to convey that. You and my brother have a strong chemical bond — that much is obvious by the fact that you continue to repair your relationship after this long together. Based on your expectation that he will come to repair the relationship, it seems to me that you’ve started to take him for granted.” Yes. This seems like a good tactic, she is noticeably shocked. “If you want to have a lasting or meaningful relationship with anyone, you’re going to need to move past riding the crest of some chemical wave and start really working together.”

She has opened her mouth to say something. Nicnus is used to geek fights. If you want to get into this conversation, you had better think that what you have to say is more useful than what is currently being said. You had better believe it enough to force your way in. He can tell by the look in her eye that her resolve is not that strong, so he continues.

“If you want a relationship with my brother, you know where to find him. I don’t care what he did or what childishness is going on here, all I know is that if you can’t get over yourself and work on a solution — a solution that you obviously know he is amenable to — then you don’t deserve to be with anyone.”

He sizes her up with his eye. She’s no pushover. She has her rebuttal ready. She’s visibly upset, and that’s good. That means he’s right about this. If she stews on this for awhile her mind will finally give in to her brain. Good.

He draws himself and utters one last word. “Goodbye.”

He leaves abruptly.

Now Nicnus is sitting just out of sight of the house at a bus stop. Good thing she had not thought to follow him; he doesn’t really have a better escape route planned.

“Last time I get involved in relationships,” he mutters to himself.

His phone vibrates in his pockets. Inbound microblog posts.

piratepartyca: Canadian court case to decide if infringement should become criminal:

jjdavis: Early estimates on the spread of the MusicBox antivirus:

m0rty: Oh, man! Hundreds of emails! #

He taps out a post of his own:

Do not get involved in other people’s relationships, no matter how much they beg.

Moments later, he has a few replies:

jjdavis: @nicnus speaking from exp?

acklas: @nicnus your brother again?

m0rty: @nicnus not if you care about your relationship with any party.

jjdavis: @m0rty not fair. You’re assuming @nicnus did harm.

The bus pulls up. Nicnus pockets the phone and boards the bus. Once seated, he taps out another post:

Don’t know if I did harm or good. Still not a fun time. People fight over the dumbest things.

An IM comes in:

16:00 <jjdavis> Your brother sent you out to his girlfriend on his behalf? Awkward.

16:02 <nicnus> Very.

More from the microblogs:

acklas: @nicnus Yeah, that sucks. People are dumb, unfortunately.

fakepm: If I had any real power I’d force this case. Of course they’re criminals!

acklas: RT @doctorow The MusicBox “anti-virus” spreads:

Nicnus remembers to look up. Where is he? Ok, not at his stop yet. Must remember to look so that he doesn’t miss it.

His phone is vibrating again. A different vibrate. SMS? Yes, it seems to be a text message, must be from his brother. He opens it and is surprised to find that it is not. It’s from his father.

Can u come by. Want ur opinion no this program.

Nicnus shakes his head and taps out a reply:

What program? For what?

Another IM:

16:06 <jjdavis> Sometimes I have a hard time dealing with my own significant other. Dealing with someone else’s.. not a good scene.

Nicnus is about to reply when another SMS comes in from his father:

Photo manager.

Nicnus replies to the IM first:

16:07 <nicnus> Yeah. Notice that I have no SO. Much easier.

Then the SMS:

I have no opinion about those. I don’t take or have or look at photos. How could I be useful?

Crap! Nicnus looks up just in time to see his stop just coming up. He pockets the phone and pulls the cord. The bus squeals to a stop, and he hurries off and back to his cave. His IM and microblog messages are just as accessible on his PC.

16:07 <jjdavis> Thought you might say that. There are advantages.

16:10 <nicnus> But do those advantages outweight the issues

16:10 <nicnus> obviously you think they do

He doesn’t have compatibility for SMS set up in a good way yet. That’s still coming in on his phone:

Well sorry for valuing your opinion.

Nicnus sighs.

16:11 <nicnus> today is not my day for relationships. now my dad is mad at me

16:12 <jjdavis> Oh?

16:12 <nicnus> He wants me to go physically to his house to help him evaluate a piece of software I have no knowledge about.

16:13 <jjdavis> You can’t just evaluate it on your own PC?

16:13 <nicnus> Well, not just that. It’s photo management software.

16:14 <jjdavis> Oh, I see. Yeah, you can’t really usefully evaluate that.

Nicnus posts to his microblog:

# Good photo management software? For my dad.

Soon he has replies. Picasa and Shotwell seem popular. Some people just use some online photo sharing sites as managers as well. That seems shifty. He sends his Dad another message.

Don’t know what you’re looking at, but the Internet says Picasa and Shotwell are good. Shotwell is free.

Soon he has a reply:

Picasa free too, looks like.

Nicnus groans:

Free as in freedom, Dad. Whatever. I guess either would work for you.

Bill is in a meeting with a copyright lobby group. The same one that is pushing to make all copyright infringement a criminal offence in court.

“I was pretty pleased with the way your litigators argued their case,” Bill smiles, “I never would have thought of claiming that all infringement is actually a circumvention of the protection measures.”

The primary lobby representative laughs, “That’s why we pay them so much money. They come up with stuff like that.”

An awkward pause, then the lobbyist continues, “So, I understand you have something you think would be beneficial to us both. Something which could benefit from the power our group wields?”

Bill nods slowly. “The MusicBox project has had a good run, but it may be closing in on the end of its usefulness.”

The flabbiest cocks his head, “Are you referring to the so-called anti-virus? We are not concerned about that.”

Bill chuckles, “Of course you’re not. You can only get certain kinds of data from certain kinds of people, though. Really you need to be going after the uploaders not the downloaders. The uploaders being far more cautious.”

Now the lobbyist is interested, “You have a proposal?”

Bill nods again, “It was brought to my attention some time ago that most Internet transactions are not secured at all.”

The lobbyist is still only intrigued, “Yes. Our technical consultants tell us that most emails and web transactions, among other things, can be intercepted or even read from where they are stored.”

“So,” Bill waves his hand in a do-you-get-it-now sort of gesture.

“Digital wiretaps?”

Good. This lobbyist has got it. “I said no such thing. I’m just saying, the data we need to trace almost all online activity is right out there. The ISPs have it, the web hosts have it, the email hosts have it. We can trace uploads to their source.”

“By using wiretaps.”

Bill shakes his head, “Wiretaps? No. We’re not spying on known criminals. We’re just going through information that might as well be considered public anyway. Doing a public service by stopping would-be criminals. Like preventative medicine.”

Now the lobbyist has really got it. “Of course. If you have anything to hide, then you’re suspicious.”