Archive for August, 2011

Archive for August, 2011

Dystoparx — Part 13

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Acklas is at home. He should be at work, but he’s called in sick. Is he sick? He’s sick of work.

It’s not like they’ll notice that he’s gone. The amount he gets done in any given day is governed more by a lot of bureaucratic hoop-jumping than by anything he actually does. The meetings he would have sat in will still run. He just will not have sat in them. They don’t really need him sitting there in order to happen. He’ll get a summary by email later anyway. And it will contain different conclusions than will actually be reached in the meeting.

His parts of the Internet are buzzing with the waves of arrests that have been sweeping across the country. Kiddie porn related, all of it. The major news outlets are raving about the brilliant police work that has apparently been happening for quite some time to lead to this. If there has been so much brilliant police work happening, why hasn’t he heard about it? Just suddenly they find all of these people? The pundits and bloggers are opining about how scary it is that there are so many “freaks” out there. If this is how many they found… how many didn’t they find?

The coverage is all positive, which seems odd. Maybe the government is getting it right. Acklas leans back in his chair and yawns. The subsequent stretch is cut short by a very odd and unexpected sound: his ringing phone.

He slides the phone from its holster and looks at the screen. Incoming call from… and some numbers. Numbers? Does that mean the call is from someone he doesn’t know?

Whatever. He answers it.

“Oh thank goodness! I thought no one was going to answer.”

Huh. Acklas still has no idea who it is. Apparently they’re happy he’s around.

“They’ve got me down at the police station. They’re saying something about my computer, but I don’t know what’s going on.”

Drawing a blank. Woman voice. Older or younger? Gah. “I’m sorry… who is this?”

Oh. It’s the old woman from up the street. What? At the police station? Her son is not picking up. No one she knows is picking up. They’re all out of town or something. Acklas is unconvinced she even knows. Well, he’s not doing a lot else. He’ll head down and see what’s up.

05:01 <jjdavis> You’re where?

05:02 <nicnus> waitwait, is this the woman you talk to on your “runs” ?

05:05 <acklas> yesyes. She lives up the street from me.

05:05 <nicnus> And they’re accusing her of kiddie porn involvement?

05:07 <acklas> i htink they started out with that. this point I think they’re just trying to get information about who may have used her computer

05:08 <jjdavis> More like her Internet connection at all, they’re probably just tracing IPs.

05:08 <jjdavis> Does she lock her wifi?

05:09 <nicnus> Hmm, I hope they’re not bringing people in based on just IP traces. That’s terrible.

05:10 <acklas> WEP secured WiFi so basically open. not sure what it’s based on

05:11 <nicnus> I wonder if they’ll still count her in those numbers of how many “weirdos” they’ve brought in

05:12 <jjdavis> Oh, probably

05:12 <acklas> theyre coming out

Acklas is trying to talk to the officers. What’s up? On what basis was she brought in?

“I’m sorry, sir,” says one, “but we can’t discuss matters that have to do with this case. We’ll make formal statements to the media when we know more.”

Ridiculous! The media will be hearing about this!

“Now, now,” the old woman seems much less concerned than she had on the phone. “They just needed to ask a few questions about my Internet. Can’t be too careful you know.” She lowers her voice to a mock whisper, “There’s dirtbags out there as would do all kinds of things!”

Acklas is still shaking his head as they get on the bus. Of course. There’s nothing negative to report on. Just asking a few questions, that’s all. Need to know if your grandma is associated with any child pornographers, that’s all. He glances back at his phone once they’re moving.

05:13 <jjdavis> They?

05:13 <nicnus> The old woman?

05:14 <jjdavis> Oh.

05:14 <jjdavis> and the officers with her

05:14 <nicnus> Ask them what they’re going to do with the answers they got from her.

05:15 <jjdavis> if they’re smart, they won’t talk. Ask her what they wanted to know.

05:17 <acklas> She doesn’t seem that sure. She didn’t really understand their questions.

05:17 <acklas> and yeah, they weren’t big on talking about it

05:18 <nicus> I wonder if this is an isolated case

05:20 <jjdavis> There are no isolated cases. Ever.

Nicnus’ brother is sitting with his girlfriend. She is his girlfriend now, and quite solidly. They’re watching the police take a man from across the street. Middle-aged man. Single, as far as they know. He seems to be going fairly quietly.

“I always thought he was a creep,” his girlfriend is saying next to him.

“Really? I never really talked to him.”

She huffs some air derisively, “You don’t need to talk to someone to know they’re a creep.”


“He didn’t go out much. When he did he was watching everything, like he wasn’t sure what to do with it. And I’ve never seen kids at his place. No nieces or nephews, nothing.” She’s looking at him.

“You just described my brother perfectly.”

She pauses abruptly mid-thought and looks at him. She starts to speak, then stops. Looks away. “Your brother…”

“My brother is kind of a creep. Is that what you’re trying to say?”

She takes a deep breath. How can she word this delicately? His brother is… different. Certainly not normal. “I certainly don’t think your brother is a pervert.”

“Well,” he sounds sarcastic, “thanks for that vote of confidence.”

“You have to admit,” she’s still not looking at him, “he’s different.”

“And, what, that’s reason enough to get rid of someone? For the crime of keeping to himself?”

She scratches her neck and looks over at him. “Of course not. Forget it. Anyway, this guy obviously did something.”

“Did he?”

Now she’s a little annoyed. Not very annoyed. Just a little. “Well, they’re taking him away in a squad car, aren’t they?”

He snorts, “You don’t even know if he’s being accused of anything. Maybe he’s an important witness and they’re taking him into protective custody. You just see a man being led away and assume that he’s a creep that deserved it because he seems different.”

They’re both silent for awhile. Finally she speaks, “Look, I’m sorry, alright? I didn’t mean anything by it.” She’s eyeing him. He is related to his brother. Maybe he’s got that same compulsive debater streak. He seems to be done, though. The conversation is over for now. She sighs in relief, takes his hand, and closes her eyes.

Jack is up to his neck in work. On-site work. The worst kind. As the sysadmin in charge of security for this datacentre, he has to be on site during all major attacks. The current one has not let up for a full day now.

The policy doesn’t strictly make sense. He could do most of what he’s doing from home still. There are things he has to be here to do, however, and those do crop up more often during a major attack.

He stares, bleary-eyed, at his laptop screen. The attackers have access to a lot of different computers to route their attacks through. They don’t stay in any one long enough for him to get much information about them. Well, he can tell they have a lot of machines. So either they’re renting time from the mob, or they’ve got their own virus that’s out there on a lot of computers. With this much power at their command, he would have expected them to try just flooding the datacentre with requests in order to take it down. That doesn’t seem to be their goal, however. They seem much more interested in actually getting access to the machines. Not any of the machines in particular, mind you.

Jack feels like crap. His eyes won’t focus, his back aches, and he really just wants a nap. Bleh. He walks to the vending machines, grabs a bottle of water, and dumps the whole thing on his face. He lets it drip off of him for a moment before wiping his eyes and then going back to hunch over his laptop. There has to be some sort of pattern to the attacks. He has already determined that the attackers aren’t trying to get in through a particular kind of security hole. They seem to be trying every attack that could possibly work.

Maybe they’re trying to get access to particular type of service? He quickly writes a script to graph traffic to machines in the datacentre against what services are running on those machines. Instantly he sees a trend. Mailservers. They seem particularly interested in mail servers. Also chat server, but much less focused there.

He sets up some firewall rules to slow down any traffic going to machines running email servers. It won’t slow them down enough for any legitimate traffic to notice, but it should slow the attacks down a little bit. Then he sends the owners of all those boxes a notice about a “security maintenance window” for later that afternoon. He’ll turn off all traffic to those boxes at that point and then run some intrusion-detection software on all of them to make sure they’re all still secure. Reset any that have been compromised and turn the network back on at the end of the window. Wost-case scenario: some people’s email is a little bit late. If he’s lucky, the attackers will just give up while everything is down. He doesn’t feel hopeful about that, though.

Jack stretches out on some cushions he’s set up on the floor. Time to get some sleep. As sleep robs him of his carefully constructed defences, however, restricted thoughts come streaming in. Thoughts of her.


He thinks about the best way to reach out to her. In this scenario, he needs to reach her using what she prefers. That has always seemed to be the telephone. Fine. He slides his phone from his belt and stares at it. Ah, the green button. Now it is ringing. No one is picking up. Of course, she can see it’s him. She’s ignoring him. Voice mail.

“Uh… well, crap. I never know what to say to these things. I miss you. Serious.” He lets out a ragged breath. “We’re not a good fit, you and I. I know. I always appreciated that you put up with that. I guess… I guess you did most of the putting up. It always feels like I’m the one doing the putting up.” He thinks about that. Defending himself is not a good course of action. Too late, he’s being recorded. Crap. This is not a good way to compose a message. “Not— not with you specifically. Just in general, you know? Anyway. Call me.”

Phew. Blah. Uhh… What now? Sleep. Blah. Hmm. Yes. Yawn. Sigh. What’s that sound? Oh, an AC unit just came on. Ok. Phew. Hmm. Herm. Haw. OneTwoThree. Fzz. Fop. Flop. Hop. Stop. Hnmmnnm.


Our protagonist is also asleep. On his monitor his news reader is open to a list of headlines.

Local Police Round up 12 in Crack Down on Child Molestation

Sixteen Perverts Nabbed by RCMP

Cleaning up on Child Pornographers

Forty Arrested, Dozens Questioned, Large Law-Enforcement Op

Creeps and Freaks: Getting Tough on Weirdos

Where is Your Excuse Now? Why we need Tougher Cyberlaw

Cybercriminals Help Distribute Child Pornography

He’ll skim them tomorrow. Or not. He knows enough already. The cops are cracking down on anyone with suspicious Internet usage. They’re correlating that into other data they’ve got and turning it into arrests. Who knows how many of the arrests are legitimate. Maybe most of them. Probably.

Problem is, both false positives and false negatives are good for this new law. Either way the media can say the cops need more data. Who can blame them? Law enforcement should have more data about criminals. The question is: how do you keep them from snooping on normal people? Or accusing innocents on the basis of whatever they think they see in the information?


Web Actions or Browser Actions?

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Tantek Çelik recently blogged about the growing popularity of “Web Actions” or “Web Intents” or “social media action button logo things”, whatever you prefer to call it. His article is great summary of some history and the current landscape. What interested me most, however, was when he got to listing the common action types he’s discovered: later, save, props, share, follow.

I got to thinking about that last one because it’s been around for so long. Follow. How do we implement the follow button in an IndieWeb way? Well, we’ve been doing it for years. If you link to a feed, sane web browsers (or Chrome with an extension) will go “ooh, a feed! Do you want to follow this?” Better yet, with the right metadata you don’t even need a follow button in your web UI, the browser will make one for you. Awesome.

What about the other actions? What about save/readlater? Oh… that’s bookmarking. We’ve had that in our browsers even longer than feed buttons. Someone is going to argue that they want to save their stuff at some web service instead of in their browser, but integrating the browser’s bookmark function/UI with alternate services is a practice as old as Awesome.

Two left: props and share. If you want a pretty good argument on why these should always been the same action, talk to Ilya Grigorik. Browsers (at least Firefox) currently have a sort of old and weak share function: “Send Link”, which sends a page by email. Is there some sort of good solution for these actions that takes place in the UA (where it belongs, and has access to the user’s preferences for UI and service) instead of in-web-page hacks?

PS. you’ll note that this in-UA strategy saves us from the NASCAR problem of having a seperate button for every action on every service 🙂