Monthly Archives: December 2005

Opinion: Biggest Losers of 2005

Sony
2005 was not exactly a banner year for Sony. First there was the Rootkit Fiasco. Apparently trying to play certain Sony Audio CDs on Windows PCs resulted in anti-piracy software being surreptitiously installed on the PC. This software hid itself from Windows and allowed other nasties to do the same. It resisted removal, and attempts to manually remove it could damage your OS.

But that, as bad as it is, is not the end of the story. Also in 2005 a judge finally ruled on a Class-action Lawsuit in which Sony staff created a fake critic that posted fake movie reviews.

As salesmen everywhere like to say, “But wait! There’s more!” In the dying months of 2005, the Marketing Mavens at Sony came up with a slick idea. To improve sales of their PSP with the hip-hop crowd, Sony paid graffiti artists in several major cities to paint pictures of kids with PSPs.

Sounds like a good idea… except that it is illegal. This, too backfired in Sony’s face. Many graffiti artists took umbrage at their art, altering “Sony” to “Fony” and annotating the ads – for ads they were – with a selection of choice comments.

Concerned Women of America
CWA successfully fought the creation of a “.XXX” Top-Level Domain (like .COM, .ORG etc.) They claimed that it would result in the proliferation of Porn sites, while John Dvorak (along with myself and most people who understand what the Internet is and how it works) contend that this would make it easier to filter out porn sites. I suppose that this is an example of the law of unintended consequences.

Wal-Mart
2005 was the year I quit going to Wal-Mart. Well, not really quit – Wally-world is like an addiction – you try to give up but keep coming back for one more hit. I have cut back my visits to once a week or less. Years ago Wal-Mart employees were so enthusiastic that jokes about the “Wal-Mart Cult” were not uncommon. Now they could not care less.

Happy New Year!

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Terrorists Don’t Do Movie Plots

Bruce Schneier is one of my favorite tech writers. Not only does he understand technology (he wrote the Blowfish and Twofish encryptions algorithms, as well as the original version of the highly recommended passwordsafe program that I use), but he is not afraid of pointing out what he calls “security theater”, where officials scramble do something visible, even if it is totally ineffective. Here’s the story.

An example: “The 9/11 terrorists used small pointy things to take over airplanes and fly them into buildings, so we ban small pointy things from airplanes“. Fair enough, but there are side-effects:

  • You cannot park in front of the airport (why? Has anyone even threatened to blow up an airport?)
  • Taking knitting needles away from grandmothers?
  • Thousands more low-paid Federally-employed “screeners”, who have acquired a reputation for letting weapons slip through their fingers because they are asleep on the job.
  • Non-passengers can no longer go to the departure gate to meet or farewell passengers, but security now takes twice as long, even though less than half as many people go through security compared to pre-911.
  • New governmental agencies with enhanced powers than make them effectively accountable to no-one.
  • Perhaps most important of all, flying is no longer fun.

Let’s look at El-Al, the Israeli National airline. They have a different approach: They have a steel bulkhead between the cockpit and the passenger compartment. The flight crew boards via a ladder in the front wheel well. This conversion costs only a few thousand dollars per plane and is a one-shot expense. They also have one or more sky marshals on every plane. Security is more HUMINT (human intelligence ) than ELINT (Electronic Intelligence), because finding bad guys is easier if you use trained professionals than low-paid government jobsworths.

My point – and Bruce’s – is simple. Solve problems. Don’t try to solve maybe-one-day-problems by throwing money and manpower at them.

Opinion: Is this the world we created?

Check out the following list and decide whether you agree with any of these ideas…

  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
  2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
  3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
  4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
  5. Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.
  6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.
  7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
  8. Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
  9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
  10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc.

Several of these have already happened in America today, others are in the process of happening.

If you think that this stuff is a good idea, I feel it my duty to point out that the above ten points are taken from the Communist Manifesto. Have a nice day.

Tinkering is now a felony

This just in. Three guys hack Xboxes and upgrade the hard drives, then sell the Xboxes filled up with games (up to 80) at a premium, which they presumably pocketed.

One of the charges – copyright infringement -the placing of pirated games on the HD. This is as it should be, and if they have deprived game publishers of a sale by copying games, they should make restitution.

The other charge – violation of the DMCA – is the one I take exception to. They are facing a felony charge for hacking Xboxes.

Apparently one of the provisions of this odious law is an attempt to make reverse-engineering illegal.

I have a problem with this.

  • Reverse-engineering is a legitimate activity, without which technological progress is almost impossible.
  • One of the reasons that the IBM PC standard became so popular was that a court ruled it legal to reverse-engineer the BIOS as part of creating legal alternatives, thus opening the way for “clones”.
  • It is perfectly reasonable for me to reverse-engineer the chips in the engine-management system of my car in order to produce an improved version. However, if the manufacturer decides that the contents of that chip are copyright, that same act of reverse-engineering becomes a felony under the DMCA.
  • Given that corporations don’t like competition, the choice is an easy one – declare anything and everything to be copyrighted.

This is not a good thing.

Sony: The aftermath

The Sony story went public, Naturally, they ran the standard corporate playbook:

  1. Deny that the problem exists.
  2. Cast aspersions on those who raised the problem.
  3. Minimize the problem.
  4. Release a “fix” that does not actually fix the problem.
  5. Spin like crazy.

It did not work. The story went cosmic, and the press crucified Sony.

Real Story of the Rogue Rootkit
DRM This, Sony!
Sony’s DRM: It Just Keeps Getting Worse

When the dust had settled, the following was known:

  • Viruses had been found in the wild that used the “cloaking” functionality that was part of the original Sony DRM.
  • Sony released a patch that removed the cloaking functionality.
  • Then they released another patch that replaced the DRM with a different type of DRM.
  • In order to remove the DRM software, you have to beg Sony… then you have to install an ActiveX control (security experts agree that ActiveX is a bad thing).
  • Sony’s DRM could be neutralized by turning off the “autoplay” function… or by the judicious use of a piece of tape.
  • The DRM software itself is in breach of copyright. (more)
  • The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) says “Never Install Audio-CD DRM Software

Finally, under a firestorm of public pressure, Sony recalled the “faulty” CDs.

Here’s my favorite quote from this whole mess.

“DRM rootkit to stop piracy: $50,000,000
Patch to water-down DRM rootkit: $5,000,000
Top notch lawyers to sue pirates: $100,000,000
Being sued by the only legitimate users you have: Priceless.
There are some thought processes money can’t buy. For everything else there’s MasterTard ™

How to Spot a Con Artist

All together now… “If it sounds to good to be true…

Fake or Foto?

Think that you can tell a real photo from a computer-generated image? Take this quiz.

Here’s another one.

Peaceful Protestors or Terrorists?

You decide

How to stop filesharers from stealing hotel bandwidth

Here's the scoop

  • A network geek in a hotel finds that he cannot get onto the wireless network.
  • After some sleuthing he finds that is it is because someone is hogging all the bandwidth with P2P File-sharing software.
  • So… he phones the guy claiming to be an RIAA lawyer.
  • Problem solved.

Morals:

  1. Don't use P2P software
  2. Don't mess with geeks.

Film fans can expect more advertising on big screen…

…and theater owners can expect less bums on seats.

When are they going to get it? Paying customers don't like advertising!