A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for July, 2013

The Feds Want Everything

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The federal government sure is a grabby little bastard. First it taps all of our phones and Internet connections and now it’s demanding passwords and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates. Let’s start with their demands that online service providers hand over their customers’ passwords:

The U.S. government has demanded that major Internet companies divulge users’ stored passwords, according to two industry sources familiar with these orders, which represent an escalation in surveillance techniques that has not previously been disclosed.

If the government is able to determine a person’s password, which is typically stored in encrypted form, the credential could be used to log in to an account to peruse confidential correspondence or even impersonate the user. Obtaining it also would aid in deciphering encrypted devices in situations where passwords are reused.

“I’ve certainly seen them ask for passwords,” said one Internet industry source who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We push back.”

A second person who has worked at a large Silicon Valley company confirmed that it received legal requests from the federal government for stored passwords. Companies “really heavily scrutinize” these requests, the person said. “There’s a lot of ‘over my dead body.'”

Some of the government orders demand not only a user’s password but also the encryption algorithm and the so-called salt, according to a person familiar with the requests. A salt is a random string of letters or numbers used to make it more difficult to reverse the encryption process and determine the original password. Other orders demand the secret question codes often associated with user accounts.

The difficulty of handing over user passwords is that any system administrator worth his salt (pun intended, deal with it) only stores a hash of the password. For those of you who don’t know, a hash is the result of a one-way algorithm. You put some text in and the hashing algorithm gives you some output. Ideally, the input cannot be recovered from the output and the algorithm gives a different output for each unique input. Salts are often added to the hashing algorithm to trip up word list attacks, as the added information to the input creates a different output than sending the clear text password alone.

Assuming the system administrator or software developer properly implemented this system (which is difficult to do), receiving the password hashes would do the federal government very little good. They may be able to reverse individual passwords given enough time and computing power but it’s almost certainly outside their capabilities to revere every user’s password. I would be less concerned about the federal government receiving and reversing my password than I would be of it performing rubber-hose cryptanalysis on it.

The other thing the federal government has apparently been demanding from only service providers are their SSL private keys:

The U.S. government has attempted to obtain the master encryption keys that Internet companies use to shield millions of users’ private Web communications from eavesdropping.

These demands for master encryption keys, which have not been disclosed previously, represent a technological escalation in the clandestine methods that the FBI and the National Security Agency employ when conducting electronic surveillance against Internet users.

If the government obtains a company’s master encryption key, agents could decrypt the contents of communications intercepted through a wiretap or by invoking the potent surveillance authorities of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Web encryption — which often appears in a browser with a HTTPS lock icon when enabled — uses a technique called SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer.

“The government is definitely demanding SSL keys from providers,” said one person who has responded to government attempts to obtain encryption keys. The source spoke with CNET on condition of anonymity.

Having a service provider’s SSL private keys would allow a malicious individual to intercept and decrypt any SSL secured traffic going to or coming from a service provider’s network. This concern can be put to rest if service providers began implementing forward secrecy (which I enabled on this site beginning last month). Forward secrecy negotiates temporary session keys for SSL connections. The temporary keys are used to encrypt and decrypt data going between a service provider and a customer. After the session concludes the keys, at least ideally, are to be disposed of. Implementing forward secrecy means that an attacker is unable to decrypt SSL secured traffic even if they are in possession of the correct private key. Unfortunately, as a recent study by Netcraft noted, very few service providers currently implement forward security (leading one to wonder why a guy operating a free blog is able to implement security technologies before multi-billion dollar corporations). It would be wise, especially in light of recent developments, to put pressure on service providers to implement forward secrecy.

While it’s annoying that the federal government has become a surveillance state, there are technologies that allow us to mitigate many of their demands. We live in a world where the spying powers of the state are incredible but the power to avoid surveillance is also very powerful. The state is a collection of a handful of individuals fighting the rest of the world. With such high odds against it, the state will be unable to win in the long run.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 26th, 2013 at 11:00 am

The State Fails to Protect the Environment Again

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Stories like this really demonstrate how ineffective the state is as protecting the environment:

BP had accused Houston-based Halliburton, its contractor, of destroying evidence and asked it to pay for all damages.

The major oil spill three years ago followed a blast at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers.

“A Halliburton subsidiary has agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanour violation associated with the deletion of records created after the Macondo well incident, to pay the statutory maximum fine of $200,000 and to accept a term of three years probation,” the company said in a statement.

I’m fairly certain that any expenditure under $1 million is taken out of Halliburton’s petty cash account so this fine isn’t even a consequence, it’s pocket change given to a beggar. Also, I’m not sure how a corporation can be put on probation. Is the federal government going to strap an ankle bracelet to Halliburton’s headquarters?

The federal government, along with statist environmentalists, continue to claim that the state is the only effective steward of the environment. Time and time again we see this “steward” enabling more and more destruction by protecting wrongdoers from consequences. By all rights the companies invested int he Deepwater Horizon should have been made to pay every dime of the cleanup and restoration processes. But we know that few companies would be willing to take major environmental risks if they were forced to suffer the consequences if something were to go wrong. Because of this they beg the state for protection and the state, seeing the amount of money they can expropriate from these organizations through regulatory fines and taxes, complies.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 26th, 2013 at 10:30 am

I’d Give Them a Medal

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Last week a group of Satanists did the entire world a giant favor by trolling the shit out of the Westboro Baptist Church. The group held a “pink mass” on the grave of Catherine Idalette Johnston, the mother of the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, which they claimed would turn her gay in the afterlife. Finally, to add insult to injury, the man who officiated the ceremony, Lucien Greaves, placed his penis on the tombstone. While I don’t support defacing graves, I also don’t support the douchebaggery performed by the Westboro Baptist Church. In the end I have to deal with the latter so I’m willing to overlook the former in this case.

I was about to nominate this group of Satanists for a medal of awesomeness but, as is often the case, the state took a slightly different view of the event:

The officiant of a ritual in which gay couples kissed at the gravestone of the mother of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps Jr., has been charged with desecration of a grave in Lauderdale County, Miss.

In a phone interview with The Huffington Post July 24, Meridian Police Capt. Dean Harper confirmed that the spokesman for New York’s Satanic Temple, who goes by the name Lucien Greaves, faces a misdemeanor charge stemming from the July 14 incident.

Fortunately, they’re only being charged with a misdemeanor. Still, I’d strongly consider giving the group the keys to the city for proving themselves to be excellent trolls trolling for a good cause.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 26th, 2013 at 10:00 am

Being a Member of the Protected Class

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There are numerous protected classes in the United States. Police officers have a great deal of protection from the consequences of their wrongdoings, politicians have almost complete immunity from prosecution, and large corporations are generally protected from bankruptcy. Once protected class managed to fly under the radar in most cases, bankers. Bankers have an insurmountable number of legal immunities, include an immunity from laws against counterfeiting. But this story really takes the cake:

An Vinton County woman is looking to get her belongings back after a bank incorrectly broke into her house and took them.

Katie Barnett says that the First National Bank in Wellston foreclosed on her house, even though it was not her bank.

“They repossessed my house on accident, thinking it was the house across the street,” Barnett said.

Barnett, who had been away from the house for about two weeks, said she had to crawl through the window of her own house in order to get in after she used her own key that did not work.

Some of the items in her house had been hauled away, others were sold, given away and trashed.

It turns out the bank sent someone to repossess the house located across the street from Barnett’s house, but by mistake broke into hers instead.

“They told me that the GPS led them to my house,” Barnett said. “My grass hadn’t been mowed and they just assumed.”

She called the McArthur Police about the incident, but weeks later, the chief announced the case was closed.

By failing to make a serious investigation, the McArthur Police Department demonstrated that bankers can break into a home, steal and sell the possessions within, and not suffer any consequences so long as they claim that they had the wrong address. Meanwhile, a woman’s life is in ruin and she is unlikely to get justice because her aggressor is legally protected.

Shit like this, along with the fact much of what the bankers have done recently was only made possible by their special privileges granted by the state, is why I have no sympathy for bankers trying to repossess homes with underwater mortgages.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 25th, 2013 at 11:00 am

Nothing Changes Through Politics

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A lot of anger was created when Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) was actively spying on every American. If one believed in the political system they would likely be lead to believe that a majority of senators would move to shutdown the NSA’s Stasi-esque activities. Once again those individuals have been proven wrong:

In a 205-217 vote, lawmakers rejected an effort to restrict the National Security Agency’s (NSA) ability to collect electronic information.

What should be taken away from this vote is that no meaningful change can be achieved through the political system. The United States like to sell itself as the land of the free and the home of the brave, but there is nothing less free than widespread surveillance and nothing more cowardly than hiding behind a bully, in this case the state, in the hopes he will beat up anybody who may pose a threat to you. This vote merely reinforced the fact that the United States is the land of the subservient and home of the fearful.

Fortunately, there are other options. Instead of relying on a bunch of politicians to grant you freedom from Big Brother you can make use of currently available technologies to make yourself free immediately.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 25th, 2013 at 10:30 am

Jeffery Tucker on Optimism

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Jeffery Tucker, for those who don’t know of him, is one of my favorite activists in the anarchist community. The man is well spoken, well dressed (I’m convinced that his bow tie is surgically attached), and ever optimistic. His optimism is probably my favorite trait because many anarchists seem to have a never ending feeling of hopelessness and it’s nice to see somebody who has an apparently never ending feeling of hope in the community. On his Facebook page, Tucker posted an explanation of his optimism that I thought was worth sharing:

The state in all times and all places wants a population of despairing, dreary, hopeless, and weighted-down people. Why? Because such people don’t do anything. They are predictable, categorizable, pliable, and essentially powerless. Such people offer no surprises, threaten no change, destabilize nothing. This is the ideal world that the bureaucrats, the plutocrats, and the technocrats desire. It makes their life easy and the path clear. Today is just yesterday and tomorrow – forever. This is the machine that the state wants to manage, a world of down-in-the-dumps and obedient citizens of the society they think they own.

In contrast, hope upsets the prevailing order. It sees things that don’t yet exist. It acts on a promise of a future different from today. It plays with the uncertainty of the future and dares imagine that ideals can become reality. Those who think this way are a threat to every regime. Why? Because people who think this way eventually come to act this way. They resist. They rebel. They overthrow.

And yet look around: we see progress everywhere. What does this imply? It implies that non-compliance is the human norm. People cannot be forever pressed into a mold of the state’s making. The future will happen and it will be shaped by those who dare to break bad, dare to disagree, and dare to take the risk to overthrow what is in favor of what can be.

I realized all this some years ago, and then when you begin to look around and see how the power elites do not and cannot rule, you discover the whole secret to social order. It turns out that they are not really in control, not finally. Then it all becomes fun. It is a blast to see the powerful topple from the thrones they want to sit in so badly. It is a thrill to use and hold technologies that no one among the elite ever gave permission to exist. It is a kick to see how the market — meaning human beings acting with vision toward the future — is so constantly outwitting the arrogant planners who want to freeze history, control our minds, and wreck our world.

To defy them is so simple: just imagine and future better than the present. You become a enemy of the state, and you begin to love every minute of it.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 25th, 2013 at 10:00 am

The Tyrant of New York City Continues His Power Trip

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Michael Bloomberg is famous in the gun rights community due to his zealous advocacy of gun control. As his reign in New York City continues Bloomberg’s insanity is becoming more obvious to people outside of the gun rights community. A bill was recently introduce in New York City that was supposed to curtail the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) practice of stopping people and frisking them (I’m sure it’s only coincidental that a vast majority of the individuals stopped by NYPD are people whose skin color is anything darker than off-white). Bloomberg didn’t like the idea because it got in the way of his power trip so he put the kibosh on it:

Two politically charged New York City bills to rein in the NYPD’s use of controversial stop-and-frisk tactics were vetoed Tuesday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He slammed both bills — one to create an NYPD inspector general and another to allow people to sue over racial profiling by cops — as a boon to criminals and terrorists.

The “dangerous and irresponsible” measures “would make New Yorkers less safe,” he wrote in his veto message.

There is some good news though:

The bills appear to have enough support in the City Council to override the mayor’s vetoes, but Bloomberg has mounted a blitz to block the racial-profiling bill, which passed with 34 votes — exactly the number needed to override a veto.

Although I wouldn’t put it past Bloomberg to arrange for one of his opponents in the City Council to have an “accident.” The man is obviously insane and as his reign comes to an end (he can’t run for mayor of New York City again unless the city’s term limit laws are changed) he’s becoming more and more unstable.

Another Day, Another Dog Shot by Police

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The sun has risen again, which can only mean another dog has been shot by a police officer. This time the shooting appears to be part of a new police program to help families forget about the loss of a family member by killing one of their pets:

Hamiel’s nephew, Ricky Ellerbe, 33, turned up shot to death hours later, about eight blocks from his home and just yards from the all-night convenience store on Mechanicsville Turnpike that had been his destination.

[…]

Henrico investigators swarmed the area with forensics technicians and tracking dogs, but no arrest had been reported Wednesday night. Ellerbe was one of five children; a brother, Gary, died in 2010 from a heart attack, three years after he’d been repeatedly stabbed.

And in a horrific turn of events, a Henrico police officer shot and killed the Ellerbe family pitbull, Tiger, as it charged toward the officer off its leash.

This harkens back to yesterday’s post discussing the practice in our society, especially with police officers, to use violence as a default reaction. Many people have been quick to point out that the dog was a pitbull; which I’m told is a breed that hunts down and eats small, worships at the alter of Lucifer, and has a propensity to breath fire while spawning small demons around it; that wasn’t on a leash. Even if the dog was active aggressively, which running towards somebody isn’t generally a sign of aggression (dogs run towards people in a friendly manner all the time), police officers generally have a non-lethal, yet very effective (especially on animals of the four-legged variety), option of pepper spray. But when the words “officer safety” are spoken the police are able to get away with whatever form of violence gets their rocks off.

More and more it seems to be the case that death follows police wherever they go. Next time they want to report on a murder they can do the decent thing and just make a phone call.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 24th, 2013 at 10:30 am

Even Journalists Must Bow to the State

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How many times have you been told that the United States offers the most press freedom and journalist protections in the world? It’s bullshit, of course. If the press was really free journalists would be able to maintain the anonymity of their sources because the right of free speech should also include the right to keep quiet. Here in Soviet America a journalist only has the right to remain silent when the state says so:

WASHINGTON — In a major ruling about press freedoms, a divided federal appeals court on Friday ruled that James Risen, an author and reporter for The New York Times, must testify in the criminal trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency official charged with providing him with classified information.
National Twitter Logo.

In a 118-page set of opinions, two members of a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va. — the court whose decisions cover the Pentagon and the C.I.A. — ruled that the First Amendment provides no protection to reporters who receive unauthorized leaks from being forced to testify against the alleged sources who leaked to them.

If you’re a journalist who is pushing the state’s agenda you can be reasonably assured that your rights will be protected. If you’re a journalist who isn’t towing the company line you can be reasonably assured that your rights will be violated.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 24th, 2013 at 10:30 am

On Zimmerman and Society as a Whole

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The polarization that has developed in the wake of Zimmerman’s encounter with Martin is even more fervorous than it was when MSNBC and CNN doctored the 911 recording to create a narrative or racism. One side sees Zimmerman as a child murdering racist who went out of his way to kill a black child. The other side sees Zimmerman as a pillar that upholds civilization by patrolling his community and defending it against all manner of shady characters. One side views Martin has an innocent child who never harmed a fly, always did his homework, and showed constant respect to his elders. The other side views Martin has a thug who stalked the streets at night looking for victims to rob and homes to burgle. Needless to say, both sides have ignored the flaws of their chosen hero and the virtues of their chosen demon.

I firmly believe Zimmerman’s heart is in the right place. His history of helping people in need, specifically a homeless man who was beaten and left unassisted by police, and his recent act of helping individuals involved in a car accident shows that he has a desire to help people.

I also believe that Martin wasn’t planning to do wrong that night. There have been several uncited accusations made that Martin was planning to make Purple Drank with the iced tea and Skittles he had purchased. In my book making and using a drug isn’t a crime and is therefore irrelevant to the case at hand. Many people have also claimed that Martin was casing houses to burgle, which is just as speculative as the accusations of his intent to make Purple Drank.

In other words that night involved a well-meaning man encountering a man making his way home. The well-meaning man, seeing an unidentified individual cutting through yards in a downpour, believed he was witnessing something suspicious. As the captain of his neighborhood watch he did what he was told to do, he reported the incident to the police. As a person interested in the welfare of his fellow community members he decided to exit his vehicle and investigate the individual that he found suspicious. The man making his way home, seeing an unidentified individual pursuing him, first in a vehicle and then on foot, became fearful. He may have attempted to flee, which would have cause the well-meaning man to become more suspicious and therefore convince him to pursue his investigation more vigorously. The other man, seeing the unidentified individual continuing his pursuit, may have become irrational as fear began to set in. Events from there could easily escalate to the point of physical confrontation.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to place blame on either Zimmerman or Martin, nor am I trying to excuse either of them. My point is that the situation likely looked different to both individuals and that difference in viewpoint likely lead to their physical confrontation.

Many people in the Martin camp have asked what would have happened had Zimmerman been unarmed or what would have happened if Zimmerman stayed in his vehicle. That night’s outcome may not have been any different. Zimmerman, doing his expected duty as a member of the neighborhood watch, called 911. As the people in the Martin camp continuously point out, the police disproportionately target black individuals, not just for arrest but also for brutality. What if Zimmerman hadn’t pursued Martin? What if the police were allowed to investigate the entire situation? Can anybody in the Martin camp honestly say that the possibility of the police encountering and killing him was nonexistent? Can they say that the police wouldn’t have gone to his home, kicked in his door, shot any pets or family members in the dwelling, and kidnapped or murdered him? The night may not have played out any differently for Martin had Zimmerman stayed in his vehicle because he already involved the police and involving the police has a tendency of making a bad situation worse.

The crux of this article is that violence is the default tool used in our society to deal with suspicion and wrongdoing. Whenever we see somebody suspicious we’re told the call the police. Police officers, at least here in the United States, are like carpenters that only have hammers; they see every problem as a nail. They are given the privilege of enacting violence on others so long as they can justify their act in some way. Killing a dog for no apparent reason can easily be justified by two words that have become a carte blanche for police officers: officer safety. Transgressions are responded to by police officers through fear, intimidation, kidnapping, and physical force. Violence isn’t the last resort for most police officers, it’s the first resort. Involving the police will almost certainly bring violence into an equation.

In fact, it’s very difficult in our society to lawfully keep an eye on your community without bringing some manner of violence into the equation. The state has declared a monopoly on law enforcement. What private law enforcement options exist either do so with the state’s blessing or are declared illegal operations by the state. If my neighbors and me form a community watch and decide to investigate issues without involving the police we would be seen a reckless vigilantes and would open ourselves up to a great deal of liability.

Much of our childhood is spent being programmed to see violence as the default solution to every problem. How many people reading this article remember the numerous times they were told that the police were their friends and that you could trust the police? That was complete bullshit. The job of a police officer is to use anything you tell them against you:

But we’re programmed from a young age to see the police as the solution to everything we find even remotely suspicious. In essence, we’re programming to see violence by proxy as the only viable solution.

Zimmerman, who is a product of this society as much as anybody else in it, is a well-meaning individual. Just like the rest of us, he was programmed at a young age to see violence as the default solution to suspicious events. When he saw Martin he first called the state’s great violence proxy. Martin, seeing that somebody was pursing him, decided to forgo the proxy and used violence himself.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned from this event is that our children shouldn’t be programmed to see violence as the default solution for everything. Alternatives to the violence of police forces have been used in many societies throughout history. Medieval Iceland, for example, put a great deal of emphasis on arbitration. Until statism began rearing its ugly head on the island, violence was mostly ritualized and Iceland never knew the sheer violence of all out warfare that its European neighbors knew. Medieval Ireland, likewise, used arbitration as the default solution for problems [PDF]. Again, violence was rare as alternatives such as social ostracization and outlawry were used to successfully deal with most severe cases.

Another lesson that could be taken away from this event is that monopolizing violence greatly reduces its cost. Were the state’s monopoly on violence abolished individuals would be made more responsible for their security. More people would likely be armed and that would increase the risk to anybody wanting to commit a violent act. Would-be burglars would probably consider less risky ventures than breaking into a home if the risk of encountering an armed dweller was above 50%. Neighborhoods such as the one Zimmernman lives in may not have suffered the string of burglaries that lead to the community’s decision to form a neighborhood watch if the cost of violence was high enough to dissuade those burglars. In essence, increasing the cost of violence could actually reduce the amount of violence in a society because, as Robert Heinlein wrote in Beyond This Horizon, “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”

We can bicker over issues of racism and community vigilance, and I believe that is what the state wants us to do, or we could ask ourselves if there were societal reasons that caused that event to take place and if there are changes that could prevent such events from happening in the future. I believe there are and I believe those changes involve decentralizing power, which involves abolishing the state.