A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for June, 2015

OpenVPN

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After getting my business Internet account the first thing I did was setup a virtual private network (VPN) server. VPN servers have a million and one uses but the most important feature they offer me is the ability to have a secure tunnel when connected to networks that aren’t mine. I settled on L2TP/IPSec since that was the more secure of the two options offered by OS X Server (as you can tell the running theme with my network has been migrating away from OS X Server).

L2TP/IPSec served its purpose, it gave me a secure tunnel to my home network, but there were several notable downsides. The biggest of which was the way it was handled by iOS. iOS disconnects from an L2TP/IPSec VPN server when the device is turned off and doesn’t automatically reconnect when it is turned on again. That means I had to go into the settings and manually turn it on whenever I wanted to use it (which is often). I know, first world problems.

Last week I began setting up a replacement VPN server, this one using OpenVPN. This ended up being a phenomenal leap forward. OpenVPN uses OpenSSL for encryption and authentication. That gives you a lot of options. For my purposes I restricted my OpenVPN server to only use TLSv1.2 (the latest), forward secrecy, and known strong encryption and authentication algorithms. Instead of using a pre-shared key, which is an option, I’m using certificates. Using certificates offers several advantages but the most important one to me is that iOS will automatically reconnect to a VPN server if authentication is performed with certificates. OpenVPN has a great, albeit ugly as sin, client for iOS that can import OpenVPN profiles. Best of all the app doesn’t need to be running for the VPN connection to remain connected (so you don’t have to worry about the tunnel closing after 10 minutes since that’s the longest amount of time an app can run in the background on iOS). Now when I turn my phone on it automatically connects to my VPN server.

Since OpenVPN utilizes TLS it’s supposedly difficult to distinguish from HTTPS traffic, which means it’s less likely a network filter will block you from connecting to your VPN server. I don’t have access to a network that hostile so I can speak to the effectiveness of this but it’s something to keep in mind if you regularly find yourself connecting devices to a heavily filtered network.

If you’re interested in setting up a VPN server I highly recommend OpenVPN. It’s fairly simple to setup and clients are available for most operating systems.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 30th, 2015 at 11:00 am

Show Some Home Team Love

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Not only does the Brady Center have to pay Lucky Gunner’s legal fees but Lucky Gunner is going to donate that money to gun rights groups:

The Brady Center predictably appealed the judge’s ruling and we are prepared to continue defending your rights and ours. While it is not yet clear when the $111,971.10 fee reimbursement will be paid, we are going to donate 100% of what is recovered to groups that support and defend the 2nd Amendment. We will fight to recover these funds from the Brady Center and to hold the Brady Center responsible for yet another frivolous lawsuit.

Please tell us where you want the recovered fees to go by voting in the form below. A number of organizations were added per shooter requests on June 23. We will end the voting on August 1, 2015. Once we have recovered the fees, we’ll cut checks to each organization receiving votes on a percentage basis. In other words, if “Organization A” gets 5% of the vote, it will receive 5% of whatever is recovered.

The Minnesota Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance (GOCRA) is one of the organizations on the ballot. I’m sure our home team guys would appreciate you casting a vote for them. It would be nice to know that the Brady Center helped contribute something to whatever gun rights battle appears in this state’s future.

Contacting Lucky Gunner and expressing thanks for doing this probably wouldn’t hurt either.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 30th, 2015 at 10:30 am

Brady Center Ordered to Pay Legal Fees to Ammunition Seller it Brought a Frivolous Lawsuit Against

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The Brady Center hasn’t been faring well these last several years. As money quickly dries up it has resorted to the tactic used by so many failed organizations, extracting money from those who have it through frivolous lawsuits. After the shooting in Aurora, Colorado the Brady Center brought a lawsuit against the online ammunition seller Lucky Gunner claiming it was somehow responsible for the shooter’s actions (I don’t get it either but bear with me). Not only was the lawsuit thrown out but a judge ordered the Brady Center to pay Lucky Gunner’s legal fees:

A federal judge has ordered that the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence pay the legal fees of an online ammunition dealer it sued for the Aurora movie theater shooting.

The order, which was issued last week, comes after Judge Richard P. Matsch dismissed the gun control group’s suit that sought to hold Lucky Gunner legally responsible for the 2012 shooting. The Brady Center had argued in their suit that the way Lucky Gunner sells ammunition is “unreasonably dangerous and create a public nuisance.”

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Judge Matsch disagreed with the Brady Center’s argument. He said the suit was filed for propaganda purposes. “It is apparent that this case was filed to pursue the political purposes of the Brady Center and, given the failure to present any cognizable legal claim, bringing these defendants into the Colorado court where the prosecution of James Holmes was proceeding appears to be more of an opportunity to propagandize the public and stigmatize the defendants than to obtain a court order,” he said in his order.

It seems Judge Matsch didn’t appreciate being used as the Brady Center’s political pawn. He was spot on when he said the lawsuit was filed purely as a propaganda (and desperate fundraising) stunt. Lucky Gunner, as with anybody who sells goods or services, cannot know what customers are going to do with their purchases. Holding Lucky Gunner culpable for the events in Aurora would be no different than holding Apple responsible for a hacker using a MacBook Pro to break into a company network and stealing customer credit card data.

Now the Brady Center faces a tough question, does it have enough loose change under its sofa cushions to pay Lucky Gunner’s legal fees? Wouldn’t be amusing if this propaganda stunt ends up forcing the Brady Center into insolvency?

Monday Metal: Shehrazad by Almora

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This week we’re going to be listening to a Turkish band that fits into several metal genres. The person who introduced this band to me described them as folk metal but they also fall into symphonic and power metal.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 29th, 2015 at 10:00 am

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Why Everybody Should Use Encryption

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Using encryption requires individuals to put forth the effort to learn. Because people tend to be lazy they usually spend more time coming up with excuses for not learning encryption than they do learning how to use it. Ultimately the excuse they end up settling on is that they have nothing to hide. This is bullshit, of course. If they truly didn’t have anything to hide they would put Internet accessible cameras and microphones in every room of their house and allow anybody to check in on what they’re doing at any time. But they don’t.

Besides the fact that we all have something to hide there is another reason why the “nothing to hide” excuse doesn’t work. To quote Bruce Schneier:

Encryption should be enabled for everything by default, not a feature you turn on only if you’re doing something you consider worth protecting.

This is important. If we only use encryption when we’re working with important data, then encryption signals that data’s importance. If only dissidents use encryption in a country, that country’s authorities have an easy way of identifying them. But if everyone uses it all of the time, encryption ceases to be a signal. No one can distinguish simple chatting from deeply private conversation. The government can’t tell the dissidents from the rest of the population. Every time you use encryption, you’re protecting someone who needs to use it to stay alive.

By not using encryption you are putting lives in danger. Specifically the lives of people who need encryption to stay alive. So long as a majority of people utilize unencrypted forms of communication the presence of encryption becomes a signal that indicates to a snoop that the captured data is important. If all data, from e-mails wishing grandma a happy birthday to plans for protesting the latest act of police brutality, is encrypted then the spies can’t use it to indicate what is and isn’t important. At that point their costs skyrocket because the only way for them to learn what is and isn’t important is to decrypt everything, which isn’t feasible for any organization.

So stop making excuses and learn how to encrypt your data. There are plenty of people out there, including myself, willing to help you. If you don’t then you’re contributing to a problem that puts real lives in danger.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 26th, 2015 at 11:30 am

Open Carry is Different than Threatening People With a Gun

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It’s time once again for some open carry drama. This time it’s being brought to use by the police of Gulfport, Mississippi. An individual of that town went into the local Wal-Mart with a shotgun and was racking shells into the chamber to intimidate shoppers. The local Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team arrived on the scene but opted not to arrest the individual. Their reason? Open carry laws:

The police chief of Gulfport, Mississippi, expressed his frustration with his state’s open carry laws after a man strolling through a Walmart Sunday night menaced shoppers by loading and racking shells into his shotgun, causing police to dispatch a SWAT team and evacuate the store.

According to Police Chief Leonard Papania, he would have arrested the unidentified man and his companion if he could for stretching the city’s police forces thin while panicked Walmart employees huddled in a safe room, WMC reported.

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Using surveillance video police were able to track the men down and speak with them, but due to Mississippi’s open carry laws, the chief said his hands were tied after conferring with city attorneys.

“In our nation there continues to be violent events. Many of these tragic events start to unfold with very similar circumstances where individuals exhibit peculiar actions with firearms around large crowds,” he explained. “The actions of these two men could have inadvertently led to a very violent misunderstanding.”

Bullshit. His hands were not tied. There are numerous laws on the books that would have allowed him to arrest the individual. Terroristic threats and brandishing being two of them that come to mind immediately. Walking around a store racking shells into the chamber of a shotgun qualifies as threatening behavior and threatening behavior is illegal under many statutes.

A very obvious line exists between openly carrying a firearm and threatening people with it. Walking around with a holstered handgun or a slug long arm is nothing more than openly carrying a firearm and isn’t threatening in any way. Unholstering a handgun or unslinging a long arm and manipulating the controls in public without a present threat is an act reasonable people can assume to be threatening. I certainly would. And that’s what brandishing is, waving a weapon around in a threatening manner.

What this looks like to me is the police or city attorneys (or both) purposely making a bad situation because they are unhappy that open carry is legal. It wouldn’t be the first time law enforcement or government attorneys purposely made a bad situation by refusing to do their supposed jobs just to create public support for passing a new restriction.

The Hardships Involved with Supporting Both Gun Rights and Gay Rights

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Readers of my blog and people who know me in meatspace are aware of my absolutist positions on both gun and gay rights. I’m one of those people who believes you should be allowed to marry whoever you want and defend yourself against those who would attack you for living a life they find unacceptable. Unfortunately gun and gay rights activists often clash. Many people on the gun rights side, being devout Christians and social conservatives, strongly oppose legalizing same-sex marriage. Meanwhile many gay rights activists, being devout neoliberals, strongly oppose repealing gun restrictions. Both sides believe their respective gods, those being the Christian God and the state, have handed them a divine mission to force the world into submitting to their central plan. Being stuck in the middle can I often find myself unwelcome in both groups. And it seems I’m not alone:

The right to marry clashed with the right to carry over the weekend in Olympia, Washington, when members of the state’s Libertarian Party were barred from a gay pride event because of their support for the Second Amendment.

Last weekend marked the 25th anniversary of the Capital City Pride festival in the Evergreen State, and the Libertarian Party of Washington planned to attend the festival and man a booth — just like in the years past. However, when an attendee called the event’s organizers to ask if open carry would be allowed throughout the festival, the libertarians suddenly found themselves barred from the festivities.

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Other than the voicemail Holcomb received the day before the festival, allegedly no other members of the LPWA — including those who registered for the booth — were informed that the entire party was no longer welcome at the inclusive event. It wasn’t until a LPWA booth organizer, Edwin Pole, showed up at 8 a.m. on Saturday that he was told he could no longer attend.

“She was absolutely, really overacting,” Pole told TheBlaze in an interview. “We were complying.”

Pole told TheBlaze that both he and Holcomb showed up to the event unarmed, and that while the LPWA had discussed whether or not they wanted to promote gun rights in the booth this year, they ultimately decided against it long before the confrontation with Schlecht. Pole said LPWA members had been asked to show up to the festival unarmed.

This is the kind of inconsistent advocacy that really pisses me off. I make no apologies for being an absolutist when it comes to things I consider to be rights. Voluntary association, which is what I consider any form of voluntary marriage to be, and self-defense, which is what laws removing restrictions on carrying firearms enable, are two of those things. In fact I cannot take anybody seriously who calls themselves an advocate of rights and doesn’t entirely oppose any restriction against voluntary association or self-defense. That’s not to say I believe you are required to carry a gun or have to personally endorse same-sex marriages but if you support any state restriction against either I don’t believe you have any grounds to call yourself an advocate of rights.

So I get a little pissy when I see gun rights activists opposing legalizing same-sex marriages and gay rights activists opposing people’s ability to defend themselves. And I get especially pissy when I see either side justifying their opposition by tying the thing they hate to a horrible event or organization:

Pole said he personally paid the $100 for the booth himself and did not take a check Schlecht allegedly attempted to shove into his notebook Saturday morning. He said that while the check was to reimburse for the cost of the booth, it was “not sufficient” as it did not compensate LPWA for the additional money, time and resources the organization had used in an attempt to get ready for the festival.

Aside from the check, Schlecht provided the LPWA members with a handwritten note that explained Capital City Pride’s decision to take away their booth.

“You and your associates are completely free to exercise your 1st Amendment rights to free speech in & around our fair grounds,” the note signed by Schlecht said. “You and your associates are free to exercise your 2nd Amendment rights. And be advised that your supreme insensitivity to the recent church shooting in Charleston will be duly noted by festival participants.”

Self-defense and the shooting in Charleston are in no way related. Not one damn way. The comparable action from the other side would be if a gun rights activist told a gay person that they couldn’t attend a gun rights rally on account of a mentally deranged gay man killing several straight people in an entirely different city. By trying to demonize gun rights supporters by insinuating they are somehow related to the shooting in Charleston Schlecht is being so blatantly dishonest that she should be embarrassed to the point of resigning her position. In fact if I were in charge of the event I would fire her immediately for such dishonest behavior. She doesn’t give a shit about rights so I see no reason she should be involved with an event advocating rights.

Speaking of the event itself, I’ve always been of the opinion that gay pride festivals should have as many firearms present as rainbow flags. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community are frequent targets of violent attacks. The Stonewall riots, for example, were the result of one such attack by police officers. So if anybody should understand the need for having access to an immediate, effective means of self-defense it should be members of the LGBT community. It’s actually depressing to see so many gay rights activists also supporting the oppression of the LGBT community by opposing attempts to repeal restrictions on gun ownership and carrying.

Before I end this post I’d like to take a semi-related aside. Anybody who knows their history of esoteric politics may see a lot of similarities between this event and the idea behind the Guns and Dope Party. Back in the day a wise man realized that if you had all of the cannabis users and gun owners in the country united you’d have a majority of the voter base. The only problem was that the cannabis users and gun owners tended, and still tend, not to like one another. So he conceived of the Guns and Dope Party to unite the two factions and bring liberty to the land. Since you live in this tyrannical shit hole with me you know that the two groups’ hatred for one another won out. Sadly history appears to be repeating itself, which just further shows that divide and conquer is an effective strategy when you’re the ruler and want to prevent your power from being toppled.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 26th, 2015 at 10:30 am

This Flag Shit is Out of Hand

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I’ve tried to ignore the recent Internet controversy surrounding the Confederate flag. It’s the exact same argument as last time and my opinion on the matter hasn’t changed. Flying the Confederate flag is stupid for the exact same reasons flying the United States flag is. But this time the controversy has reached some stupendously stupid levels.

Remember the Dukes of Hazzard? Not the shitty remake but the original show. It started the General Lee and some humans nobody cared about. The General Lee was an orange Dodge Charger that had a Confederate flag pained on the roof (because the show took place in the rural South which is otherwise indistinguishable from the rural North). There was nothing racist about the show. But the powers that be at Warner Brothers has decided to cease production of all toy General Lees. I can’t wait for the next Dukes of Hazzard remake where the General Lee is replaced with the General Sherman, a car with a United States flag painted on the roof.

Toys aren’t the only thing getting pulled. Do you like historical strategy games that strive for accuracy? Too bad! Apple has pulled Civil War strategy games on account of Confederate sides displaying, get this, Confederate flags. I bet people are really going to flip their shit when they find out that there are World War II strategy games that let you play as Germany.

Of course no controversy would be complete without somebody at Slate writing an absolutely idiotic piece. It’s titled The Confederate Flag Doesn’t Belong in a Museum and it’s stupid because the Confederate flag does belong in a museum because that’s exactly what museums exist for. The title is clickbait though because the author feels that the Confederate flag could be put in a museum but only if a mountain of conditions are met:

What might such an exhibit look like? It would need to tell the history behind the flag. It is a symbol of white supremacy, and museums should acknowledge it as such. The designer for the second national flag of the Confederacy described it as a representation of the fight to “maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.” The exhibit should also acknowledge the role the flag played in South Carolina’s past. The flag that’s captured national attention this week came to Columbia in 1962, as a reaction to black people fighting for and winning rights during the civil rights era.

Effective museum interpretation would not stop there. It would address the reoccurring questions surrounding this symbol. Why do people find the flag offensive? Why are other people so attached to the flag? Why do some people who embrace the fullness of Southern pride, including the Confederate flag, not see themselves as racists?

Furthermore, a complete interpretation of the Confederate flag would need to make clear that black people have always resisted white supremacy and fought for the demise of institutional racism.

Why the hell isn’t the United States flag subjected to these same conditions? That flag not only represents slavery, racism, and war but it also represents the almost complete extermination of this country’s indigenous people, dropping nuclear weapons on civilian populations, placing people in concentration camps because of their race, and a whole lot of other really shitty things.

It’s one thing to say the Confederate flag shouldn’t be flown in front of government buildings (but hypocritical if the advocate doesn’t believe the United States flag should also be taken down) but it’s an entirely different thing to attempt to erase it from history. To quote George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Written by Christopher Burg

June 26th, 2015 at 10:00 am

The Seedier Side of the Internet isn’t as Seedy as You Think

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Due to the popularity of Silk Road the mainstream media has been busily reporting about the “dark” web. If you take the news stories about the “dark” web literally it is a place where child pornography is readily available, hitmen can be hired for a handful of Bitcoin, and terrorists commonly hold secret meetings to discuss their plan blow up the next elementary school. Reality, as is often the case with mainstream media portrayals, is quite different:

Read nearly any article about the dark web, and you’ll get the sense that its name connotes not just its secrecy but also the low-down dirty content of its shadowy realms. You’ll be told that it is home to several nefarious things: stolen data, terrorist sites, and child porn. Now while those things may be among what’s available on the dark web, all also are available on the normal web, and are easily accessible to anyone, right now, without the need for any fancy encryption software.

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Despite reports, there are only shreds of evidence that the Islamic State is using the dark web. One apparent fund-raising site highlighted by the Washington Post had managed to garner exactly 0 bitcoins at the time of writing, and this was also the case with another I discovered recently. It’s worth pointing out that both of those sites simply claimed to be funneling the cash to the terrorist group, and could easily have been fakes. The one Islamic extremist dark web site to actually generate any revenue mustered only $1,200 earlier this year. Even it doesn’t explicitly mention the Islamic State.

And yes, child porn is accessible on the normal web. In fact, it is rampant when compared with what’s available from hidden sites. Last year, the Internet Watch Foundation, a charity that collates child sexual abuse websites and works with law enforcement and hosting providers to have the content removed, found 31,266 URLs that contained child porn images. Of those URLs, only 51 of them, or 0.2 percent, were hosted on the dark web.

In other words the big scary “dark” web is basically a smaller regular Internet. What you find on hidden sites, which is the correct term for the “dark” web, is also far more widely available on the regular Internet. Why do sites go through the hassle of requiring visitors to utilize something like the Tor browser then? Because maintaining anonymity for both themselves and their visitors is valuable.

In the case of Silk Road, for example, it was much easier to build user trust by using a hidden site since there was a barrier between the service and the identity of its users. Not only did that barrier protect users from potentially being revealed to law enforcement agents by the site’s administrators but it also prevented buyers and sellers from being able to identify each other. Silk Road was an example of anonymity making things safer for everybody involved.

If you’re of the opinion that buying and selling drugs should result in men with guns kicking down doors at oh dark thirty and therefore what I said above is not a valid justification for hidden sites don’t worry, I have another. Journalists often find themselves in positions where sources demand anonymity before revealing important information. That is why services such as Onionshare, were created:

That’s exactly the sort of ordeal Micah Lee, the staff technologist and resident crypto expert at Greenwald’s investigative news site The Intercept, hopes to render obsolete. On Tuesday he released Onionshare—simple, free software designed to let anyone send files securely and anonymously. After reading about Greenwald’s file transfer problem in Greenwald’s new book, Lee created the program as a way of sharing big data dumps via a direct channel encrypted and protected by the anonymity software Tor, making it far more difficult for eavesdroppers to determine who is sending what to whom.

Whistle blowers are an example of individuals who are less likely to talk to journalists, and therefore blow the whistle, unless their identify can be protected. This is especially true when the whistle blower is revealing unlawful government activities. With access to legal coercive powers it is possible for the state to compel a journalist to reveal a source of information damning to it. If the journalist doesn’t know the identity of the whistle blower, as would be the case if the data was sent via a hidden service, they cannot reveal it to the state no matter what court orders it issues or torture it performs. That protection makes the likelihood of a whistle blower to come forward much higher.

The “dark” web is little more than a layer of anonymity bolted onto the existing Internet. Anything available on the former is available in far larger quantities on the latter. What the “dark” web offers is protection for people often needing it. Like any tool it can be used for both good and bad but that doesn’t justify attempting to wipe it out. And because much of the world is ruled by even more insane states than the ones that dominate the so-called first world I would argue the good of protecting people far outweighs the bad that was happening and still is happening on the regular Internet.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 24th, 2015 at 11:00 am

Supreme Court Rules Hotels Not Required to Surrender Registries to Law Enforcers Without a Warrant

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What happens when law enforcers enter a hotel and demand to see the registry? That question was, surprisingly, up in the air until now. Even though common sense would dictate that a hotel isn’t required to surrender such information without a warrant being issued the question had to go all the way to the Supreme Court for a definitive answer. Luckily the Nazgûl decided to rule in favor of privacy:

The Supreme Court gave a big boost to privacy Monday when it ruled that hotels and motels could refuse law enforcement demands to search their registries without a subpoena or warrant. The justices were reviewing a challenge to a Los Angeles ordinance requiring hotels to provide information to law enforcement—including guests’ credit card number, home address, driver’s license details, and vehicle license number—at a moment’s notice. Similar ordinances exist in about a hundred other cities stretching from Atlanta to Seattle.

Los Angeles claimed the ordinance (PDF) was needed to battle gambling, prostitution, and even terrorism, and that guests would be less likely to use hotels and motels for illegal purposes if they knew police could access their information at will.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the 5-4 majority, ruled (PDF) that the Los Angeles ordinance violated the Fourth Amendment and is an illegal “pretext to harass hotel operators and their guests.”

What should concern people is that this ruling was determined by only one vote. Had a single Nazgûl voted the other way it would have been legal for law enforcers to storm a hotel and confiscate the registry without even obtaining a warrant. This is why the whole concept of majority rules doesn’t sit well with me. Sometimes the majority make the right decision, such as in this case, and sometimes they make the wrong decision.

It should be noted that this ruling doesn’t require hotels to surrender their registries without a warrant but it doesn’t stop them from voluntarily surrendering them. You should still avoid shitty hotels like Motel 6 that make it company policy to violate their customers’ privacy.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 24th, 2015 at 10:30 am