Tag: internet


Worth Reading

In a tweet early this morning, cybersecurity researcher Christopher Soghoian pointed to an internal memo of India’s Military Intelligence that has been liberated by hackers and posted on the Net. The memo suggests that, “in exchange for the Indian market presence” mobile device manufacturers, including RIM, Nokia, and Apple (collectively defined in the document as “RINOA”) have agreed to provide backdoor access on their devices. The Indian government then “utilized backdoors provided by RINOA” to intercept internal emails of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a U.S. government body with a mandate to monitor, investigate and report to Congress on ‘the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship’ between the U.S. and China. … If Apple is providing governments with a backdoor to iOS, can we assume that they have also done so with Mac OS X? –Slashdot

Today there are more than 2 billion Internet users—that’s nearly 30 percent of the world’s entire population connected to each other. No other human endeavor has ever been this big.

And those users are busy. Every single minute of every day, they conduct 700,000 Google searches and 11 million IM (instant message) conversations and post 1 million Facebook status updates. Every single minute, they create more than 1,800 terabytes of new information and data. How big is a terabyte? Well, according to the Library of Congress, the approximate amount of its collections that are digitized and freely and publicly available on the Internet is about 74 terabytes—so every minute of every day, we add 24 new digital Libraries of Congress to the world’s storehouse of information (granted, some of it isn’t worth adding, but that’s another story). In other words, more content is posted to YouTube every month than the combined output of all U.S. television networks since their inception in the 1940s.

And with the growth of information also comes a growing threat to our security. Every minute, more than 168 million email messages are sent. That’s 88 quadrillion messages every year—and each and every one of them is a potential threat vector and source of a malware intrusion. The scale of the vulnerability is exactly as great as the scale of the Internet.


If you think solar cells are going to solve all of our energy problems, you need to read this last one.

The tests showed that charging a mobile phone by simply using a solar charging panel on the back cover is possible but challenging. When carefully positioned, the prototype phones were able, at best, to harvest enough energy to keep the phone on standby mode but with a very restricted amount of talk time. This means there’s still some way to go before a workable and care-free solution is achieved. The most substantial challenge is the limited size of a phone’s back cover, which restricts the extent to which the battery can be charged. What’s more, to ensure mobility, it is essential that the phone’s weather protection doesn’t cover the solar charging panel. –Nokia


Notable: The Fight Over Internet Governance

The global fight between governments over control of the Internet is heating up amid a flurry of documents, the opening of the United Nations’ General Assembly (GA) and next week’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

On the eve of the opening day of the annual forum of world governments, the Chinese and Russian governments jointly submitted a letter to the General Assembly outlining a “code of conduct for information security” that called for “establishing a multilateral, transparent and democratic international Internet governance mechanism”.

These documents add to others produced by the European Commission in August that argue for greater government control over the Internet (albeit through the existing, non-UN systems). And then two more from May and June, driven by the United States: formal declarations of meetings of the OECD and G8, both stressing the need for “multi-stakeholder” systems to decide the Internet’s future.

Nothing less than the fate of the future evolution of the Internet is at stake, and three camps have now staked out their positions and strategy.

China and Russia represent a very pro-government view of how the Internet should be governed, reflecting the realities of their societies where government power dominates over business, civil society, academia or the technical community.

Their approach – the “code of conduct” – represents a savvy use of the United Nations to influence global decision-making. The code is not represented as requiring resolution and, it contains many aspects that most governments would be willing to sign up to.

China has significant sway within the United Nations due to its financial arrangements with a large number of smaller countries. Combined with Russia, which also dominates its region and has a wealth of important agreements with many countries globally, the two will find it comparatively easy to pass a motion at the United Nations thanks to the body’s one-member, one-vote rule.

Rather than force a confrontation at the UN, however, both countries hope that the code will have the effect of pulling discussion of Internet governance into the UN arena and away from the various Internet organizations – including the IGF – that currently dominate its evolution.



Video: What Google and Facebook Are Hiding

I doubt I would agree with much of what this man believes, but I agree with his assessment of the “personalization” of the ‘web.

[iframe_loader width=’640′ height=’390′  frameborder = ‘0’  longdesc=’ ‘ marginheight=’0′  marginwidth=’0′ name=’ ‘ click_words=’ ‘ click_url=’ ‘  scrolling=’auto’   src=’http://www.youtube.com/embed/hOTPz7KnwIA’]

Notable: Astroturf

Every month more evidence piles up, suggesting that online comment threads and forums are being hijacked by people who aren’t what they seem.

The anonymity of the web gives companies and governments golden opportunities to run astroturf operations: fake grassroots campaigns that create the impression that large numbers of people are demanding or opposing particular policies. This deception is most likely to occur where the interests of companies or governments come into conflict with the interests of the public. For example, there’s a long history of tobacco companies creating astroturf groups to fight attempts to regulate them.

After I wrote about online astroturfing in December, I was contacted by a whistleblower. He was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them.

Like the other members of the team, he posed as a disinterested member of the public. Or, to be more accurate, as a crowd of disinterested members of the public: he used 70 personas, both to avoid detection and to create the impression there was widespread support for his pro-corporate arguments. I’ll reveal more about what he told me when I’ve finished the investigation I’m working on.

It now seems that these operations are more widespread, more sophisticated and more automated than most of us had guessed. Emails obtained by political hackers from a US cyber-security firm called HBGary Federal suggest that a remarkable technological armoury is being deployed to drown out the voices of real people.

Perhaps the most disturbing revelation is this. The US Air Force has been tendering for companies to supply it with persona management software, which will perform the following tasks:

a. Create “10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent … Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms.”

b. Automatically provide its astroturfers with “randomly selected IP addresses through which they can access the internet” (an IP address is the number which identifies someone’s computer), and these are to be changed every day, “hiding the existence of the operation”. The software should also mix up the astroturfers’ web traffic with “traffic from multitudes of users from outside the organisation. This traffic blending provides excellent cover and powerful deniability.”

c. Create “static IP addresses” for each persona, enabling different astroturfers “to look like the same person over time”. It should also allow “organisations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organisation.”

Guardian UK


Redistributing Clicks

At least 191 countries are gearing up for the next round of talks at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, in the fall. The ITU is a treaty-based organization under the auspices of the United Nations that regulates international telecom services by, for instance, administering international telephone numbers. To date, the ITU has had no jurisdiction over the Internet. But the U.S.’s own telecom regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), may spark a possible cascade of international regulation of the Web, led by the ITU. The timing couldn’t be worse.

The FCC proposed in June to regulate broadband Internet access services using laws written for monopoly phone companies. Despite a four-decade bipartisan and international consensus to insulate computer-oriented communications from phone regulation, the FCC is headed toward classifying these complex 21st century technologies as “telecommunications services.” This could inadvertently trigger ITU and, ultimately, U.N. jurisdiction over parts of the Internet. Unlike at the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. has no veto power at the ITU and may not be able to stop it.


Not many people understand the standards world, including those who are deeply involved in it. There appear to be a dizzying array of standards organizations covering a even more dizzying array or areas; many standards organizations overlap in their domains. The ITU, for instance, overlaps a great deal with the IEEE and the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force). The IEEE mostly deals with the physical details of data transmission in the space of computer networks, standardizing things such as the wireless links you use in your home and how Ethernet works. The IETF standardizes the control systems (control plane) for the Internet at large; for instance, BGP, OSPF, and IS-IS, the protocols that “put road signs on the Internet,” are all three standardized by the IETF. The way IP phones talk to one another is also standardized by the IETF.

There is another type of standards organization, one that doesn’t set technical standards, but rather controls “name spaces.” The IP address space and domain name space are maintained by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, or IANA, and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Both of these receive funding from the US Government, and this is what world leaders object to. There is a perception that since the US funds the maintenance of the domain name space, the US controls the domain name space.

But US control over the domain and address spaces is rather loose, if you could describe it as control at all. The US places no restrictions on the naming policies within the Internet; people register all sorts of sites all over the place. For instance, “.com,” is supposed to be for companies, and ‘.net” for service providers. Juniper, a router maker, and hence technically a corporation, is registered under the “.net” domain space; Google, technically considered a provider, is registered under the “.com” name space. This isn’t “bad” or “good,” it’s jut the way things are run right now.

Within the Internet today, then, numbers are managed by a generally management oriented set of organizations that are loosely funded by grants, while technical standards are set by a membership organization (companies and individuals pay to maintain membership in the IEEE), and a volunteer organization (the IETF is technically staffed by volunteers, whose way is paid by their employers in order to advance the general state of Internet level standards at large).

But the ITU is a different sort of beast; it is a political organization that does technical standards and manages name spaces. The ITU, in fact, once competed with the IETF with a rival set of protocols (IS-IS, mentioned above, originated in the ITU, not the IETF). This mix of the technical and the political can makes it hard to judge just what an ITU takeover of the Internet would mean. The most obvious effect would be the end of the ICANN and IANA, with their roles being taken on as “working groups” within the ITU. I could see the ITU taking on more of the role the IETF plays, or at least setting up stronger “liaison” efforts that try and influence, or even control, the direction of technical standards, but this is an uncertain outcome.

What is “more certain” is that the ITU would quickly step in and interfere with the content of the Internet, probably in subtle ways. The ITU, as a political organization, generally attempts to equalize the representation of countries within the technical community. Iran gets an equal vote on standards as the US, China gets an equal vote with Taiwan. The UN shows just the sort of problem with this type of organizational structure; Israel is a case in point.

So what sort of damage could the ITU do? It could begin by enforcing a strict set of domain names for each type of web site. For instance, all porn could be relegated to xxx, all “hard news” to some new domain, and all “opinion and blogs” to another domain. While this might seem like a “good thing,” the problem is “hard news” simply doesn’t exist as a category; all news is opinion. So splitting things this way would simply mean some people receive the approval of the ITU for their opinions, while others do not.

The ITU could also place conditions on the ability of a web site to keep their domain name. For instance, they could possibly require a web site to link to opposing viewpoints, or force a web site to meet some form of “fairness test.” Or they might force a web site to insert specific keywords in their metadata to make filtering of content easier.

While I won’t go so far as to say the ITU would be “taking over the Internet,” I would go so far as to say this could easily result in a lot of regulation on the content of the Internet, and maybe even a choking off of first world access and opinion in order to make the Internet more “fair” to third world countries.

Overall, there’s a lot of downside here, and not a lot of upside. The end result would probably some form of “redistribution of clicks,” much like the UN acts as an uber socialist government, redistributing my tax dollars to people they think deserve them more than I do.


Is Internet Censorship Coming?

I remember a seeing  a film in school a long, long time ago about government regulation. In the film—obviously fictional—someone decides people are cutting down too many trees, so they decide there needs to be a regulation on how many trees any given forester can cut down in one day, in one month, and in one year. As soon as this regulation is in place, the department in charge of counting trees determines the best way to measure the number of trees taken from the forest is to monitor all the exits to the forest, and count the trees taken out by each person.

Soon enough, the inspectors complain about the quality of the roads they work on, so the department takes to setting regulations for the roads into and out of the forest. Since all the roads lead to the forest in one way or another, they eventually claim control of all the roads. And then, one year, the river is really low, making it hard to count the logs being floated out of the forest. Here again, the department starts setting regulations on how much water anyone can take out of the river, in order to make certain the river never gets too low in the future.

I don’t know if the film was designed to be serious, or a form of “look how these people make government look ridiculous” indoctrination, but either way it shows just how governments tend to work. A slowly increasing scope of power, each step apparently reasonable in its own time. The end result, however, is always far from reasonable.

It appears the US Government is going starting down the path of regulating the Internet at large, primarily the information being placed on the Internet. When the new rules on ‘net neutrality first came out, I didn’t think much of them. In general, these new rules simply say that the wires, the physical circuits, owned by any given service provider, would be regulated so that everyone, and every service, has equal access. Benign, right?

But then I read this little gem.

What we want to have in the U.S. and in every society is an Internet that is not private property, but a public utility. … At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies. We are not at that point yet. But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control. –Socialist Project

Okay, so the major media is leftist, so what’s wrong with “divesting” the major players in the Internet space, and forcing them to turn the network infrastructure over to a “public utility?” Well, let me ask this: Why isn’t the left concerned about the New York Times, for instance, or ABC? Maybe because the only place they want more control is where they can’t currently control the message.

Are U.S. citizens aware of the extent to which the U.S. state has always played a direct and indirect role in facilitating and legitimizing the corporate media system? … They certainly would be if they were forced to read everything I’ve written. –Socialist Project

Isn’t that sweet? But isn’t this just some left wing nut spouting off? Who in the government really wants to control what people read?

The “˜24/7 media environment,’ he told the students, “˜bombards us with all kinds of comments and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank all that high on the truth meter.’

Obviously if the problem is too much media, and too much of it untruthful, the right solution is to get the government to control what’s said to ensure it’s “true.” And who was this? Only Mr. Obama. I’m certain you know who he is. Or what about this?

Oh, only one of Mr. Obama’s “Czars.” And then there’s Mr. Obama’s latest nominee for the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan has expended a great deal of intellectual energy searching for a rationalization that would preserve freedom of speech for viewpoints she likes while imposing government controls on speech she does not like. –Patriot Post

Be careful with “simple” government regulations. They can always grow into something else—and when those words, “this is the first step” are used, you can be assured they will grow into something else. In this case, a number of signs are all pointing in the same direction at the same time—I think this is something to be concerned about. Is censorship on the Internet coming in the name of “fairness?” It’s starting to look like it.


Internet Monitoring

Homeland Security and the National Security Agency may be taking a closer look at Internet communications in the future.The Department of Homeland Security’s top cybersecurity official told CNET on Wednesday that the department may eventually extend its Einstein technology, which is designed to detect and prevent electronic attacks, to networks operated by the private sector. The technology was created for federal networks.

Greg Schaffer, assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications, said in an interview that the department is evaluating whether Einstein “makes sense for expansion to critical infrastructure spaces” over time.



On Net Neutrality

you might not have heard of ‘net neturtality.’ The idea is to change the fundamental way the Internet works to ensure free and equal access. Let’s start with this: I don’t really think many people understand how the Internet really works (in fact, I doubt anyone really understands how the Internet really works, beyond a broad theoretical level, even the architects at large Internet Service Providers—there are too many details for one human mind to grasp). And when I see a complex system that no-one truly understands being pushed into trying to solve one problem, without any regard for the unintended consequences, I get worried. Technical elegance requires considering all the side effects, or ensuring there are none (within human reason). Good network engineers aren’t often caught with their pants down in regards to unintended consequences (in fact, you could define a good network designer in just those terms—someone who never gets caught by unintended consequences).

Net Neutrality doesn’t pass my technical elegance smell test (speaking as an engineer who works on large scale networks on a regular basis).

The FCC has a web site up people can use to give their comments on net neutrality. They are, apparently, in the process of making rules about it. You can go there and comment, if you like. This is what I posted:

Net neutrality appears to have started out as a good thing”“the ability for anyone to attach to the Internet at a reasonable cost. The general idea appeared to be to prevent Google or Yahoo, for instance, from making the Internet into a “walled garden,” by getting service providers to charge them less than they charge other people to transit traffic of certain types. It started as an effort to prevent the service providers from killing off services that compete with theirs through quality of service games (think of a local cable company killing all voice traffic on their network, for instance).

It has, however, morphed into yet another attempt by the Government to regulate speech. It has moved from regulating the actions of service providers vis-a-vis their customers, to regulating the content of speech on the Internet, in general. It has gone from preventing service providers from squelching the next big thing at the behest of their top 20% of customers to controlling the content of blogs, in the name of making the flow of information on the Internet “fair.”

I don’t suppose we should have expected anything different, once the large companies like Google jumped on board with net neutrality. They were bound to change the meaning behind the term so they get what they want out of it”“to stop the game of musical chairs now that they’re in the “top seats.” Accordingly, my support for net neutrality has gone from yes to no. I would support not allowing Google to control other’s access to my blog through preferential pricing. I do not support allowing Google to control the flow of information on the Internet at the behest of the government.

No to net neutrality. What we have is better than what’s being proposed, even if what we have isn’t perfect.

Here is a clip from the Glen Beck show about the subject.


Trust in the Community

Over at Technology Review there’s an article about another effort to build trust around information found on Internet Web Sites.

The official motto of the Internet could be “don’t believe everything you read,” but moves are afoot to help users know better what to be skeptical about and what to trust.

A tool called WikiTrust, which helps users evaluate information on Wikipedia by automatically assigning a reliability color-coding to text, came into the spotlight this week with news that it could be added as an option for general users of Wikipedia.

Where are they getting their trust levels from?

WikiTrust, developed by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, color-codes the information on a Wikipedia page using algorithms that evaluate the reliability of the author and the information itself. The algorithms do this by examining how well-received the author’s contributions have been within the community. It looks at how quickly a user’s edits are revised or reverted and considers the reputation of those people who interact with the author. If a disreputable editor changes something, the original author won’t necessarily lose many reputation points.

The community determines truth. When you abandon God, the community is really the only source of truth you have.

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