Archive of "Writing"

Archive for the "Writing" Category

Dystoparx — Part 8

Posted on

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.”

Dystoparx — Part 7

Posted on

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.

Dystoparx — Part 6

Posted on

Bill is at a meeting. The meeting. Japan and the United States are both very on board with doing whatever it takes to catch major producers of child pornography. There are plenty of issues with sharing the kind of data that they’re talking about, but people at all levels are involved. Both countries have formed small task forces similar to Bill’s, somehow without alerting the media to what they are doing.

Bill takes the heads of these task forces aside into a separate room. He opens up his laptop and shows them the data his team has been pulling together for the last week.

“None of that is admissible in court,” the FBI guy has had the book thrown at him too many times.

Bill is unfazed, “I’m not proposing court measures.”

“You’re aware, I’m sure, of how grossly unethical this sort of data collection is?”

Bill just shakes his head, “Come on, man, I’m talking about taking down child pornography. All the way down. You guys can shoot running criminals, why shouldn’t you be able to comb technically public data to eliminate child abuse?”

The Japanese representative breaks in, “Our people have been thinking along similar lines.”

Bill smiles as the FBI man also nods in agreement. Let the politicians worry about should and ought, these guys worked all the time to protect their citizens from actual evil. The FBI man may talk by-the-book, but every crime fighter feels the need to do what it takes to stop injustices.

Bill, at the very least, is willing.

fakepm: Normal people can’t handle political stress. That’s why I’m so abnormal.
acklas: Someone needs to create a vacation spot where it’s easy to get away from those who are opposed to healthy discussion.
m0rty: I love cookies! Free cookies downtown!
jjdavis: @acklas just stay at home and only visit geeky parts of the Internet
nicnus: @acklas geek monastery?

Jack is back in his apartment in Atlanta. He stares blankly out the window. Without even engaging his brain, his left hand flicks a couple keys and soon some chiptunes are playing quietly from his cheap computer speakers.

He can hear his girlfriend rummaging around in the other room. Staying at home and visiting only the geeky Internet can’t work for him. Some geeks fall in with geek girls, but not Jack. His girlfriend isn’t unreasonable, he wouldn’t be able to deal with that, but sometimes she fails to care about issues he thinks are of vital importance. That may be a part of most relationships, it’s rather hard for him to tell for sure. Probably no matter how bad the political situation in the United States got she would want to stay. Of course, she’s never been outside the country, so it makes sense that she’s not interested in leaving. Still, if he ever has to jump she—

“Hey, babe, have you seen my slippers?” her voice enters the room and disturbs his thoughts.

He thinks for a minute before replying, “You have slippers?”

“Found them!”

Acklas is sitting in the dark. It’s daytime, but that doesn’t keep it from being dark. Curtains were invented for a reason. Acklas is actually between jobs right now. Normally, he works as a consultant, but he doesn’t have any contracts just now. That’s not normally a problem, since he can find an infinite number of things to occupy his time with. Right now, however, he has chosen to occupy his time by sitting in the dark and thinking of nothing.

This is even better sometimes than geeky parts of the Internet. The only person here is himself, and he isn’t really engaging his brain. No one, not even Acklas, can annoy Acklas with a lack of understanding.

Eventually he stirs long enough to notice the LEDs from his computer are putting light out into his space. He grabs a blanket and drapes it over the system. There. Dark.

Bill is much more productively engaged. Now that three teams from three countries are working full-time to gather information from not only legal spyware, but from any source they can find, there is just too much data to go through by hand. That sort of model never made sense in the first place, but now it really doesn’t. Thankfully, their teams are over half made up of IT professionals. These guys are writing lots of little programs they call “scripts” to process the data looking for patterns.

In the process, they are pulling up all kinds of data about people engaged in money laundering, identity theft, and all kinds of suspicious activity. They throw all this data into storage for later. The stuff they’re really interested in is there too. Images and references to child pornography in all its forms showing up in forums, on websites, and in emails. They need to figure out where most of the content is coming from, or where it is being stored. With the amount of data they’re now collecting, privacy laws or no privacy laws, it is only a matter of time before someone finds out a large enough amount of it is correlated in some way.

Of course, as far as the team is concerned, this is all on the up-and-up. Bill and the other two team leaders have seen to it that all the data from every source they could think of to monitor is coming in looking the same as data from MusicBox. It was actually the FBI guy who got all the technical bits going. Bill isn’t sure if the guy is actually technically savvy, or if he let one of his more trustworthy engineers in on it, but either way the data is flowing and the analysis is happening. It’s exactly what has always been needed to solve the problem of the Internet, and maybe, eventually, they can use it to solve other problems as well.

20:03 <nicnus>
20:06 <jjdavis> What? What!
20:07 <nicnus> I know.
20:08 <nicnus> I think acklas may have seen this earlier.
20:09 <jjdavis> No wonder he wanted to be alone. This is depressing.
** nicnus le sigh
20:09 <jjdavis> There can’t be many people thinking this way. Can’t be.
20:09 <nicnus> My brother’s girlfriend probably agrees with it.
20:10 <jjdavis> The existence of two crazy people does not prove that we’re screwed.
20:10 <nicnus> Well… someone let him publish it.
20:10 <jjdavis> Man…
** acklas has joined your chat
20:13 <jjdavis> You saw it?
** acklas nods
20:14 <jjdavis> Just wait and see, we’ll have forgotten all about it soon. Luddites are nothing new.
20:15 <nicnus> Militant ones are, at least recently
20:15 <acklas> Well, recently real ones…

Jack sends the link to his girlfriend. Unbelievable.

20:20 <nicnus> Some of the comments are suggesting we take a similar line in reverse.
20:21 <acklas> I’d like that idea if it didn’t make us evil in the process.
20:21 <jjdavis> Peoplereally need to calm down. If this escalates…

Bill is very pleased. The first phase of their media blitz is a complete success. The anarchy of anonymous hackers has taken such offence to their story that they have spread it all over social media. In their efforts to fight the idea, they have spread it to the world. Mainstream media will pick it up tomorrow, and then sympathizers, of which there will be many, will get access to it.

Politicians will get access to it.

Just as the idea is leaving the public consciousness, they will have enough data to make a huge media splash. They won’t have to make the connection themselves, eventually someone else will do it for them. Maybe even one of those hackers they want to take down.

Dystoparx ­— Part 5

Posted on

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.

Dystoparx — Part 4

Posted on

Our protagonist is skimming headlines. Most news these days makes it to him by way of messages from individuals, but he still follows a handful of sites just in case there’s something he misses. There is a story about the kiddie porn issue.

Privacy Commissioner’s Report on Spyware

The Privacy Commissioner released a report today on the proposed use of personal information gathering software, such as MusicBox, in the fight against child pornography. The report makes several good arguments in favour of giving the information to police, citing similarities to existing police information sources, such as access to security camera footage.

The report, however, stood strongly against giving private investigation firms access to this information, saying, “Private investigators are really just private citizens. They should not get access to such potentially personal information.”

UPDATE: the RCMP have begun collecting <link> information from MusicBox and others. The Commissioner has issued a statement, saying, “We are not going to wait for a decision on this. It seems legal. Let anyone in favour of child abuse sue us.”

Bill is leaving private investigation. He used to be a cop, long ago, and he switched for one reason: to get things done. He had been sick of having his hands tied as a cop, and wanted the freedom to bend the rules that came from acting as a private citizen. Now, however, the situation has changed. The information that will be instrumental in helping him eradicate child abuse is only available to the RCMP, so to the RCMP he applies. He has no fears that this new information source will be cut off from him. The Privacy Commissioner seems mostly in favour of letting the RCMP use the data, the RCMP themselves are using the data, and who is going to sue the RCMP for trying to stop child abuse? He knows some hackers are upset, but in his mind that’s only because hackers are criminals, they have something to hide. Only criminals have anything to hide.

Now, you must understand, it is not a lack of intelligence that leads Bill to think this way, but it is only ignorance. He has been misinformed as to the nature of hacking and the motives of most hackers. In his mind, hackers and crackers and the Russian mob are all one and the same. The differences between tinkering and experimenting, breaking for personal gain, and controlling botnets have not been explained to him, at least not in a way that he can relate to. Privacy, similarly, is not something he has ever been taught to value for its own sake. Since this data is being used be an organisation he trusts, he cannot fathom its abuse.

The phone is ringing. It is the call. He’s in. Really, it is no surprise. He found the data: it was his idea. They’re putting him in charge. Good.

Jack (jjdavis) is in town for the week. He and some others have been organising a keysigning. Our protagonist is perfectly happy to go along with this plan. It should be some geeky fun, at the very least. Jack seems convinced that the hammer is going to fall on crypto pretty soon, but even if his motives are paranoid he hasn’t gone crazy yet.

As Nicnus arrives he sees the following written on a whiteboard:

UserIDs, Fingerprints: ssh://
SSH Fingerprint: rodeo window crater. precise mailbox benny. apple brazil angel. decade danube cake
SHA256: split wisdom vortex. water mile love. castle cafe magenta. cola quick critic. norway victor ivory. symbol charter apollo. ozone basic option. animal reunion africa

Nicnus pulls out his laptop and taps a key to bring it out of suspend mode. He opens a terminal and soon has verified that the he is connecting to is the real one, pulled down the file, and verified that said file has not been tampered with since the message went up on the whiteboard.

Jack waves at him, and he smiles back. He opens the text file and makes sure that his information is correct. Everything seems to be in order.

The room is quickly filling up. Many of the geeks are coming in with laptops, a few with only their smartphones, and some old-school paranoids with moleskin notebooks and fountain pens. There are also a few obvious non-geeks with lined or even regular printer paper and dollar-store pens.

One of the paranoids is complaining to Jack that the fingerprints and other security information being written down as a string of words instead of in hexadecimal makes it impossible to do the signing without a computer. Jack is pointing out that the file has been up for two whole days and the paranoid could have checked his information at home. He’ll need a computer for some parts of the process anyway.

Nicnus steps in to the conversation, interrupting, “How were you planning to verify your information in a text file without a computer?”

The paranoid waves a printout under our protagonist’s nose. “I shouldn’t need to carry around my secure information on portable hardware as part of the system whereby I protect my privacy.”

“Of course,” Jack rushes, “but the words are much easier for normals—”

“Do you have evidence of that? Pictures, I could see, but words?”

“Well, maybe. I certainly find them easier to rememb—”

“You can remember it either way. It’s not like you attracted a large number of mortals this way.”

Nicnus tries to shoulder back into the conversation, “You could just write down—”

“I could just do a lot of things. The organiser should have been more organised.”

“Pointing this out ahead of time—”

“That may be my fault,” Jack is trying to stop a full-fledged geekfight now, “This whole thing was put together quickly.”

Someone else has come into the discussion, “Just write down the information, and verify it later at home.”

Nicnus is happy. That’s exactly what he had been trying to suggest.

The paranoid is not happy, but this solution will have to do.

At this point, some readers may want to know what this event is all about. It seems like a number of geeks of varying levels of paranoia are getting together and… verifying things? What things? What is a keysigning?

It’s like this: some people (especially paranoid geeks) want to know who they’re talking to when they send someone a message. Especially if they are going to encrypt the message. It’s no good encrypting a message (which keeps anyone but the recipient from reading it) if you’re not sure the recipient is even the right person! There is encryption-related technology, called cryptographic signatures, that allows one to be certain that a message was signed by (and therefore from, or at least approved of by) a certain cryptographic key. Unfortunately, cryptographic keys are just really big random numbers. There is no way to tell, just by looking at a key, whose key it is. Enter keysigning. If you know who someone is, and you know which key is theirs, you can sign their key (along with a statement about whose it is) with your key. Then, anyone who knows which key is yours will see that you claim that key is theirs. Eventually, if enough people do this to enough keys, network effects make it so that everyone can know who owns every key. This is called the web of trust.

So, as this meeting progresses, Nicnus and everyone else in attendance stands up to verify that the keys noted in keysign23.txt are indeed correct. Then, photo identification, handwritten signatures, and other means of verifying identity are exchanged. Finally, everyone in the room knows who everyone else really is (to the extend that you trust their ID), and which key they own. Afterwards, people sign the keys that belong to the other attendees, encrypt the signature, and email this encrypted signature to the key owner. That way, only the key owner can publish the signature to the world, and they only receive it if they did not lie about their email address (which is usually included with the key).

During the meeting, our protagonist and Acklas hang out with Jack. He’s a friend, but he’s been living in Atlanta lately. Acklas is the first to bring up the incongruity of their friend being so security conscious as to run this event, yet choosing to live south of the border.

“It’s like this,” Jack says, “It’s more dangerous, privacy wise, right now, but that could change.”

“So go somewhere safer if you don’t like Canada either. Hole up in Switzerland, or the third world.” Acklas points out.

“Maybe. But situations anywhere can change. Better to know how to protect yourself.”

“Agreed, yes,” Nicnus breaks in, “but also a good part of protecting yourself is not living in the most dangerous of places.”

“To be fair, there are more dangerous places. China, for example.” Jack is trying to get around the issue, but they are not going to let him.

“Just because there are places that respect your rights less than the USA, that doesn’t—”

“Sure, fine, yes.” Jack is a bit agitated, “I like my job, and I’m close to friends. It works well, and the government only occasionally causes me problems. I keep a low profile, and anything that needs to be private is invisible.”

“What about going across the border?” Acklas.

“Or walking down the street looking as Middle Eastern as you do?” Nicnus.

Jack makes a face, “Racism is a big problem everywhere. The police have surprisingly not been a big bother. They hate black citizens more than me still. Border crossings are a pain, but my papers are in order and I don’t keep anything encrypted on the laptop when I take it with me. Everything goes up to the cloud,” by which he means, the Internet, “and I shred those portions of the drive. It looks to most anyone like there was never any private or encrypted data there.”

“Well…” Acklas is not convinced, but he can’t win this one.

“Do you have a plan to get out?” Nicnus has given in on the “staying there for now” argument.

“Yes. I live close to the airport, and I have a geek friend with a minivan. I keep Canadian, US, and Euro cash on me at all times. In the event that I need to jump, I order a plane ticket or ride out with my friend. My data syncs to the cloud constantly. Destroy the hard drive contents and run. Pretty simple.”