Thoughts at the library drop slot

A couple of days ago, I happened to walk over to the library in order to return some items.  When I got there, as all too often is the case, a parent was allowing two of his children to put their returns back into the (single) drop slot.  He noticed me, and offered to take my stuff and return it when they were done.  (Parenthetically [as it were], I should note that, in the five years since the new system was put in place, this is only the second time that a parent, in such a situation, has taken any notice of the fact that they were delaying matters.  The previous one, about a year ago, asked her children to stand aside and let me through.  I digress, but not completely.)

I immediately handed over my pile (which included a recent bestseller, and a recent movie).  (We are all creatures of social convention, and social engineering is a powerful force.)  But, being a professional paranoid, as soon as I walked away I started berating myself for being so trusting.

I was also thinking that his actions were pedagogically unsound.  While he was, at least, assisting me in avoiding delay, he was, just as much as the majority of the parents at that slot, teaching his children that they need have no regard for anyone else.

(And, yes, before I left the library, I checked my account, and determined that he had, in fact, returned my items.  Auditing, you know.)

A virus too big to fail?

Once upon a time, many years ago, a school refused to take my advice (mediated through my brother) as to what to do about a very simple computer virus infection.  The infection in question was Stoned, which was a boot sector infector.   BSIs generally do not affect data, and (and this is the important point) are not eliminated by deleting files on the computer, and often not even by reformatting the hard disk.  (At the time there were at least a dozen simple utilities for removing Stoned, most of them free.)

The school decided to cleanse it’s entire computer network by boxing it up, shipping it back to the store, and having the store reformat everything.  Which the store did.  The school lost it’s entire database of student records, and all databases for the library.  Everything had to be re-entered.  By hand.

I’ve always thought this was the height of computer virus stupidity, and that the days when anyone would be so foolish were long gone.

I was wrong.  On both counts.

“In December 2011 the Economic Development Administration (an agency under the US Department of Commerce) was notified by the Department of Homeland Security that it had a malware infection spreading around its network.

“They isolated their department’s hardware from other government networks, cut off employee email, hired an outside security contractor, and started systematically destroying $170,000 worth of computers, cameras, mice, etc.”

The only reason they *stopped* destroying computer equipment and devices was because they ran out of money.  For the destruction process.

Malware is my field, and so I often sound like a bit of a nut, pointing out issues that most people consider minor.  However, malware, while now recognized as a threat, is a field that extremely few people, even in the information security field, study in any depth.  Most general security texts (and, believe me, I know almost all of them) touch on it only tangentially, and often provide advice that is long out of date.

With that sort of background, I can, unfortunately, see this sort of thing happening again.


Lest you think I exaggerate any of this, you can read the actual report.

REVIEW: “Consent of the Networked”, Rebecca MacKinnon

BKCNSNTW.RVW   20121205

“Consent of the Networked”, Rebecca MacKinnon, 2012, 978-0-465-02442-1, U$26.99/C$30.00
%A   Rebecca MacKinnon
%C   387 Park Ave. South, New York, NY   10016-8810
%D   2012
%G   978-0-465-02442-1 0-465-02442-1
%I   Basic Books
%O   U$26.99/C$30.00
%O   Audience n Tech 1 Writing 1 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   294 p.
%T   “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom”

In neither the preface nor the introduction is there a clear statement of the intent of this work.  The closest comes buried towards the end of the introduction, in a sentence which states “This book is about the new realities of power, freedom, and control in the Internet Age.”  Alongside other assertions in the opening segments, one can surmise that MacKinnon is trying to point out the complexities of the use, by countries or corporations, of technologies which enhance either democracy or control, and the desirability of a vague concept which she refers to as “Internet Freedom.”

Readers may think I am opposed to the author’s ideas.  That is not the case.  However, it is very difficult to critique a text, and suggest whether it is good or bad, when there is no clear statement of intent, thesis, or terminology.

Part one is entitled “Disruptions.”  Chapter one outlines a number of stories dealing with nations or companies promising freedom, but actually censoring or taking data without informing citizens or users.  The “digital commons,” conceptually akin to open source but somewhat more nebulous (the author does, in fact, confuse open source and open systems), is promoted in chapter two.

Part two turns more directly to issues of control.  Chapter three concentrates on factors the Republic of China uses to strengthen state censorship.  Variations on this theme are mentioned in chapter four.

Part three examines challenges to democracy.  Chapter five lists recent US laws and decisions related to surveillance and repression of speech.  The tricky issue of making a distinction between repression of offensive speech on the one hand, and censorship on the other, is discussed in chapter six.  The argument made about strengthening censorship by taking actions against intellectual property infringement, in chapter seven, is weak, and particularly in light of more recent events.

Part four emphasizes the role that corporations play in aiding national censorship and surveillance activities.  Chapter eight starts with some instances of corporations aiding censorship, but devolves into a review of companies opposed to “network neutrality.”  Similarly, chapter nine notes corporations aiding surveillance.  Facebook and Google are big, states chapter ten, but the evil done in stories given does not inherently relate to size.

Part five asks what is to be done.  Trust but verify, says (ironically) chapter eleven: hold companies accountable.  MacKinnon mentions that this may be difficult.   Chapter twelve asks for an Internet Freedom Policy, but, since the author admits the term can have multiple meanings, the discussion is fuzzy.  Global Information Governance is a topic that makes chapter thirteen apposite in terms of the current ITU (International Telecommunications Union) summit, but the focus in the book is on the ICANN (Internet Committee on Assigned Names and Numbers) top level domain sale scandals.  The concluding chapter fourteen, on building a netizen-centric Internet is not just fuzzy, but full of warm fuzzies.

There are a great many interesting news reports, stories, and anecdotes in the book.  There is a great deal of passion, but not much structure.  This can make it difficult to follow topical threads.  This book really adds very little to the debates on these topics.

copyright, Robert M. Slade   2013   BKCNSNTW.RVW   20121205

Nopcon 2013 is here

Douglas Adams is still right: No language has the phrase “As pretty as an airport”. But in my humble opinion, airports have come a long way in the last 10 years. Or maybe my expectations have become so low, I can’t be disappointed. Either way, it seems to me going through an airport isn’t as bad or boring or inconvenient as it used to be.
I’m not just talking about the East-Asian airports (Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore) which have always been stellar. Even the infamous American airports are newer, and more convenient.

I’m giving you this airport cheer-leading chant because if you live in Europe, you should go and check out how much your airport has improved since you’ve last seen it. Then, take a flight to Istanbul. Not just because Istanbul is one of the nicest cities in Europe but also because Nopcon is taking place June 6, and has some very interesting and incredibly original speaker lineup: Moti Joseph, Nikita Tarakanov, Gökhan Alkan, Svetlana Gaivoronski, Canberk Bolat and Ahmet Cihan (aka Hurby). Nice!

More info here: