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Stealing the waves

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This is ridiculous:

Police officers arrested a man on suspicion of stealing a wireless broadband connection after spotting him using his laptop in the street.

The move is the latest example of police cracking down on a crime that did not exist several years ago when wireless internet access was relatively rare.

Using an open wifi is insecure and potentially dangerous enough without the police getting involved. This is user beware kind of thing and it really doesn’t help to have governments creating laws to that effect. They are notoriously clueless when it comes to the internet (or indeed anything).

Techdirt points out:

If the guy isn’t physically trespassing and the owner of the WiFi has it open, then what’s the problem? You can’t assume that the owner wanted it closed. If they did, they would have closed it. It’s the access point owner’s own fault if they’re not securing the WiFi. Since all it is is radio waves, we’re again left wondering if police will start arresting people who use the light shining from inside a house to read something out on the street. After all, that’s basically the same thing: making use of either light or radio waves that were emitted from within the house, but are reaching public areas.

So what about companies like Fon? Or about all the wifi enabled phones and handhelds?

Major vulnerability in FireFox on Windows

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A public service warning! You surf the internet at random using FireFox (which generally you should), you may stumble across a website, which could infest your machine with a virus. But this is nothing new, I have heard about these evil websites full of Trojans and other nasty viruses and I know better…  I hear you cry. Apparently, this particular attack does not require a download. Which means that is unlikely to be trapped by your anti-virus software, certainly in the short-term.

Protecting yourself for now is fairly simple. You will need to make a trivial modification to your FireFox settings.

To do this, start FireFox, enter the URL “about:config”, scroll down, and for each of the following entries make sure it is set to “true”.

If it isn’t, right-click the line and choose “Toggle”, which will set the value to “true”


This will at least give you a warning that Firefox is being asked to do something suspicious; you will have to judge for yourself whether it is nasty.

Thanks to Alec Muffett and Geoff Arnold for the heads up and advice.

Security theatre

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Boing Boing has a great post about how to smuggle liquids onto an airplane.

All you need to do is surrender the bottle at the screening station, wait for the the TSA to throw it
away in an unguarded trash-barrel on the "secure" side, and then retrieve it from the trash.

The reason this "smuggling" technique works, of course, is that liquids aren’t dangerous.
Everyone knows this — even the TSA. That’s why they don’t guard the
barrel after they confiscate your wine, water, and salad-dressing. The
point of taking away your liquid isn’t to make airplanes safe, it’s to
simultaneously make you afraid (of terrorists with magic water-bombs)
and then make you feel safe (because the government is fighting off the
magic water-bombs). It’s what Bruce Schneier calls "security theater."

I fly to US every month and have become an expert on and a victim of all sorts of security theatre routines. One of the things that gives them away as theatre (apart from their obvious lack of common sense) is that they are inconsistent and vary from airport to airport and even from airline to airline – at one point Virgin suddenly introduced another security check at the gates. More delays and annoyance.

The only time I was ever impressed by a security check was when flying to Tel Aviv by El Al. They were polite but firm, questioning and a bit obstreperous. I had no problems as it was a straightforward business  trip and all was in order. I still remember how after the interview the security guy recommended that we see a Chagal exhibition in Jerusalem and reminded us that our client has an amazing modern art collection. Not a conversation you are likely to strike with Heathrow security people. Not saying it’s impossible but highly unlikely. :)

The difference is that El Al invests in security people and they are looking not for a terrorist, but for a weapon for a terrorist not for a weapon. Only if you turn this upside down, you can treat water as a deadly liquid that turns into explosives when it reaches an arbitrary size…

Note: last para corrected – that’ll teach me post late at night. Thanks for pointing out.

Privacy matters

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A Carnegie Mellon study suggests that shoppers are willing to pay more if they are re-assured about privacy. The premium mentioned is about $0.60 (30p) on goods worth $15 (£7). This is good news. Privacy is one of the ‘goods’ with benefit distributed over time and like security you wish you had it most only when you discover you have none. Usually not in circumstances of your choosing.

The heartening point about the report is that before many studies were showing that despite peoples fears about what happens to their data, they continued to surrender it in exchange for low prices.

Lorrie Cranor, director of the Usable Privacy and Security Lab at Carnegie Mellon and lead author on the study:

Our suspicion was that people care about their privacy,
but that it’s often difficult for them to get information about a
website’s privacy policies.

So if users are happy to pay a bit extra for re-assurances that privacy of their information is respected, perhaps they would be equally willing to use tools that give them control and ownership over that data. Of course, there are issues with that, especially with the current state of online security and lack of more flexible and selective privacy. However, there are people already looking into this so I might start holding my breath. :)

09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0

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Some hexadecimal art…

Digg this.

A flash of abomination

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Our eyeballs are under attack again. This time from Adobe’s Flash video control.

…the big seller for Adobe is the ability to include in Flash movies so-called digital rights management (DRM) – allowing copyright holders to require the viewing of adverts, or restrict copying.

Adobe has created the first way for media companies to release video content, secure in the knowledge that advertising goes with it," James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research said.

Content publishers are promised "better ways to deliver, monetize, brand, track and protect video content".

As Andrew puts it, this is Attention Rights Management:

The version after next will use the viewer’s webcam (which will be ubiquitous then) and eye-tracking software to make sure that sneaky ad-dodging freeloaders aren’t looking away when an ad’s playing.

Well, I knew the eyeball peddlers won’t give up without a fight…

via Alec and /. (a bonus link to a rather interesting comment on the thread)

Gentle Big Brother?

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Steven Baker of Blogspotting writes about his experience of casino backstage:

They have banks and banks of TV screens looking at the tables and the
traffic of people. They have fixed cameras over every table, and
tracking cameras operating within what look like black cantaloupe-sized
half domes on the ceilings.

They zoom on one woman’s behaviour:

Then he saw it. She had her cards, a black jack, and with one quick
movement she upped her bet by adding another $5 chip. We watched again
and again in slow motion.

This is still fine by me. The casino is private property, in a business where some people are highly motivated to cheat. It is what happened afterwards that I find interesting.

They decided she was no pro. Still, they sent a security person to talk
to her as she was leaving the table. We watched. She was surprised,
confused, then grave. Then he said something that put her at ease. She
relaxed, smiled, joked, and then went along her tipsy way.

I share Steven’s unease and his realisation that these casinos are giving us a preview of life in the coming age of surveillance.

Increasingly our movements and gestures, online and off, will be open
to scrutiny by companies and governments alike. It will be up to them
to decide what to crack down on, what to let pass. In making these
decisions, they’ll be weighing not only our innocence or guilt, but
also our happiness as customers, our ability to stir up a fuss, the
cost of the public perception that they’re snoops. The upshot: We won’t
have much privacy, but crafty governments and companies will give us
the illusion we do.

In other words, technology in an environment that has not evolved to match it, i.e. has respect for the individual as a fundamental principle, eventually leads to a dystopia. In a society without openness and individual autonomy,
technology amplifies and entrenches the power of the centralised
system, however benign the
original intention. I am reminded of The Difference Engine, a novel by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. The story is set in Victorian times, in a society with all the pathologies of an authoritarian system, i.e. one lacking proper checks and balances. It is taken to the point of grotesqueness and shown as ultimately fragile – its strength rests on the technology to the exclusion of individual freedom. Innovation is institutionalised, variety killed, leading to vulnerability to outside innovation and to inherent flaws within the system.

The difference between the impact of technology online and offline couldn’t be more stark. Offline we have the modern Panopticon, surveillance cameras of increasing sophistication and intrusiveness. Online we still have the ability to protect ourselves or can find those who can help us do so rather than have our ‘protection’ imposed by a centralised institution. Yes, the internet is an anarchy and a sewer – as Ben Laurie who ought to know describes it :) . But it is also a space where new ways of doing things can emerge and more importantly where individuals can flourish without depending on organisational resources. Offline we are defenceless against somebody building the aforementioned Panopticon, online there are ways to design against it.

So simply put, I’d rather have the anarchy and the sewer with individual sovereignty than a Big Brother in whatever disguise.

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