A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for January, 2016

The Black Market Prevails

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Anybody familiar with the Soviet Union probably knows black market trading was pervasive even though the communist government tried tirelessly to ruthlessly crush it. Black markets spring up anywhere a government is trying to restrict trade. Even the totalitarian government of North Korea can’t shutdown black market trading:

Although short, this video echoes a lot of ideas expressed by agorists. Namely that market forces are capable of undermining government regimes. The new generation in North Korea doesn’t remember the founding of the current regime. As is common in such situations they a proving to be less loyal than the previous generations.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 26th, 2016 at 10:30 am

The Risks Of Backing Up To The Cloud

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Online backup services are convenient and offer resilience. Instead of managing your own backup drives a cloud backup service can upload your data to the Internet automatically whenever you’re connected. If your house burns down you don’t lose your data either. But, as with most things in the universe, there are trade offs. By placing your data on somebody else’s server you lose control over it. This can be mitigated by encrypting your files locally before uploading them but sometimes that’s not an option as with Apple’s iCloud Backup for iOS:

“If the government laid a subpoena to get iMessages, we can’t provide it,” CEO Tim Cook told Charlie Rose back in 2014. “It’s encrypted and we don’t have a key.”

But there’s always been a large and often-overlooked asterisk in that statement, and its name is iCloud.

It turns out the privacy benefits Apple likes to talk about (and the FBI likes to complain about) basically disappear when iCloud Backup is enabled. Your messages, photos and whatnot are still protected while on your device and encrypted end-to-end while in transit. But you’re also telling your device to CC Apple on everything. Those copies are encrypted on iCloud using a key controlled by Apple, not you, allowing the company (and thus anyone who gets access to your account) to see their contents.

I don’t use iCloud Backup for precisely this reason. My backups are done locally on my computer. This brings me to my point: you need to fully understand the tools you use to hope to have any semblance of security. One weakness in your armor can compromise everything.

iMessage may be end-to-end encrypted but that doesn’t do you any good if you’re backing up your data in cleartext to somebody else’s server.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 26th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Your Device Is A Snitch

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In addition to pervasive government surveillance there is also pervasive corporate surveillance. Corporate surveillance isn’t as concerning since corporations rarely murder the people they’re surveilling but it’s also more sinister because most of the people being surveilled unwittingly agreed to be. Mobile phones are a great example of this. A lot of people, including myself, find mobile phones incredibly useful. They allow you to communicate with friends and family in almost any location, provide remote Internet connectivity, can navigate you to your destination, etc. But the side effect of the technology allows your cellular provider to know your location. In addition to that many apps use location services provide by your phone’s operating system and hardware to pinpoint your location and report it to the developers.

Another reason corporate surveillance is sinister is because the State usually has access to the collected data either through secret agreements or warrants. Your devices may report to the developer on what you’re doing and the State may then gain access to the data to prosecute you. An example of this is a recent story of a woman who filed a rape claim that was proven to be false by data collected from her Fitbit:

In March, a Florida woman traveled to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where she stayed at her boss’s home, reports ABC 27. On a Tuesday, police were called to the home where they found overturned furniture, a knife and a bottle of vodka, according to Lancaster Online. Jeannine Risley told police she’d been sleeping and that she was woken up around midnight and sexually assaulted by a “man in his 30s, wearing boots.” However, Risley was wearing her Fitbit band at the time. She initially said that the Fitbit had been lost in the struggle, but police found it in a hallway and when they downloaded its activity, the device became a witness against her.

According to ABC 27, Risley handed the username and password for her Fitbit account over to police. What they found contradicted her account of what happened that night. Via Lancaster Online:

[A] Fitbit device Risley was wearing told a different story, the affidavit shows.

The device, which monitors a person’s activity and sleep, showed Risley was awake and walking around at the time she claimed she was sleeping.

In this case one could argue that the surveillance lead to a good outcome since it busted the wearer for making a false rape accusation. But surveillance has no morality. This could very well be used to prosecute somebody who was arrested of a drug crime. For example, heart rate data from a Fitbit could be used as evidence that somebody had taken a particular drug at a certain time. It could also be used, as it was in this case, to prove the person wasn’t asleep at the time they were accused to taking drugs.

I’m not going to tell you not to use these devices. They do provide a lot of desirable functionality for many people. However, they also provide some potentially negative side effects that users should be aware of. If you use these devices just make sure you understand the ramifications.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 25th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Monday Metal: It Snows In Hell By Lordi

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This week’s Monday Metal is in commemoration of the snowstorm of Washington DC.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 25th, 2016 at 10:00 am

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The Inevitable Outcome

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Here we are in election season. As with the last election and the election before that one this election is most notable for having the worst candidates imaginable. Cock us, err, caucus season is upon us. Right now the headliners of this political mascaraed are a fascist and a socialist:

Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald J. Trump have opened up solid leads in Iowa less than two weeks before the state’s caucuses kick off the 2016 presidential nominating contests, according to a poll released Thursday.

The survey from CNN/ORC shows Mr. Sanders, who was trailing Mrs. Clinton significantly in early December, erasing her lead and overtaking her. Likely Democratic caucusgoers now back the Vermont senator over Mrs. Clinton by eight percentage points, 51 percent to 43 percent. Last month she was ahead of him by 18 percentage points.

Because I know I have intelligent readers I’m sure many of you are wanting to point out that fascism is a form of socialism so the competition is really between two socialists and you would be right. And that brings us to the point of this post (yes, there is a point, I wasn’t going to waste your time with meaningless politicking): the United States has reached its inevitable outcome.

When the Revolutionary War was over and the colonists decided to replace one king with another they put the people of the United States on a collision course with collectivism. Statism in any form is collectivist in nature. It deemphasizes the individual in favor of an abstraction we often use for convenience: the people. The State, we’re told, reflects the will of the people. But the people don’t have a will, only individuals do, and each individual has a unique will. There is no way to reflect the will of the people by the simple fact that every individual living in a country doesn’t share a common will. To get around this inconvenience the very human desire to fit in is exploited by means of statistics.

Voting, like the people, is an abstraction. When you go to your polling place you’re not voicing your opinion, you’re participating in a statistical survey. One, I might add, that reinforces the State by providing you a curated list of candidates. In this statistical survey the decision is based on the majority. Whichever name on the curated list gets the most responses from the sample gets to be in office. Everybody who either wanted somebody else in the office, to abolish the office, or something else entirely different is ignored. Their wills are set aside.

The problem with collectivism is that it’s self-reinforcing. It tricks individuals into thinking about the good of the people (i.e. the State) through propaganda. We’re told to think of the greater good and that acting on our personal wants is selfish. Voting is used to reinforce the propaganda. The statistics show that the people wants X so anybody demanding Y is selfish. Since a great many humans desire to fit in they would rather be with the majority (a statistical majority in this case) than be selfish.

It’s no surprise that the greater good is whatever is best for the State. And nothing is better for the State than socialism. Under the ultimate ends of socialism everything is collectivized under the State. There is no need to steal through taxation, citations, civil forfeiture, etc. The State declares ownership over everything and doles out what rations is believes necessary to individuals.

So here we are. Through more than two centuries of collectivism reinforced by statistics individuals have played their part in their own executions. Individuals have been conned into considering the greater good, which is whatever is good for the State, over their own. In so doing they’ve handed the State increasingly more power. Now the United States is at a point where the State is so powerful the biggest election in the country is between two socialists. Even if one or both of the two candidates don’t receive their party’s nomination the other eligible nominees are all socialists as well. No matter who wins individualism loses and with it goes freedom.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 22nd, 2016 at 11:00 am

Democracy Has No Place In The Crypto Wars

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AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson, had some choice words for Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook. Namely, Stephenson doesn’t appreciate Cook’s stance on effective encryption:

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson doesn’t think Apple CEO Tim Cook should be making long-term decisions around encryption that could ripple across the technology industry. “I don’t think it is Silicon Valley’s decision to make about whether encryption is the right thing to do,” he told The Wall Street Journal in an interview on Wednesday. “I understand Tim Cook’s decision, but I don’t think it’s his decision to make,” said Stephenson. “I personally think that this is an issue that should be decided by the American people and Congress, not by companies.”

I’m sure this has everything to do with Stephenson’s strong belief in democracy and nothing at all to do with his company’s surveillance partnership with the National Security Agency (NSA). But let’s address the issue of democracy.

Stephenson says that effective cryptography should be decided by the American people. Unless I’m missing something Tim Cook is an American citizen. His stance on effective cryptography is his decision. Therefore is position is decided by an American person. Furthermore, why should anybody outside of Apple have a voice in the company’s stance? Stephenson is an employee of AT&T so his opinion shouldn’t be relevant to Apple. Congress, likewise, isn’t employed by Apple so their opinions shouldn’t be relevant to Apple either. Democracy, outside of groups voluntarily decided to vote on matters involving only themselves, is bullshit. It’s a tool for people to inflict their will on others. In fact it may very well be the grossest form of might makes right our species has developed.

I understand Stephenson’s decision, part of his business relies on surveillance, but it’s not his decision to make. This is an issue that should be decided by those creating the tools. If Stephenson wants to insert backdoors into his company’s products that’s fine, I’ll simply avoid using his products. But his has no right to demand other companies follow suit.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 22nd, 2016 at 10:30 am

They’re All In It Together

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The primary duty of law enforcers is to expropriate wealth from the general populace. Few law enforcement agencies are as glib about this as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). From Medical records to identities the DEA has a long history of theft. But cash is king. The DEA was recently caught recruiting an agent of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to steal cash for them:

A Department of Justice watchdog officially condemned the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration this month, following a report that the agency had recruited a Transportation Security Administration security screener to search bags for cash that the DEA could confiscate.

[…]

In a summary of its investigation, the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General concluded that the agreement “violated DEA policy” on a number of levels. While the OIG determined that the TSA informant never provided any actionable information to the DEA, it concluded that the plans to pay the agent out of the cash he or she helped seize “could have violated individuals’ protection against unreasonable searches and seizures if it led to a subsequent DEA enforcement action.”

In effect, the OIG was questioning the propriety of an arrangement in which a TSA agent would use his or her power to tip off the DEA to the presence of cash in travelers’ luggage, and then receive compensation based on how profitable that information was to the agency.

Mind you, partnerships between the DEA and other government agencies isn’t unusual. However, such a blatant partnership aimed expressly at stealing cash from air travelers is pretty brazen even for the DEA.

The important question is what will happen now? If history is any indicator nothing will happen, which is why corrupt shit like this never ends. So long as nobody in the DEA is punished for trying to pull shit like this the agency is going to continue doing what is has been doing all along. And since the DEA is a money maker for the State it’s unlikely any other government agency is going to actually issue punishments where they are due.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 22nd, 2016 at 10:00 am

You Can’t Change The System From Within

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Gods help me, we’re in an election year. That means every uneducated wanker in the country is spewing endless streams of bullshit and calling them facts. Worse yet, they want to use their bullshit to inflict their will upon everybody else through the political process. Even libertarians get caught up in this frenzy. And to make matters even worse (and it’s rather impressive that we can make it worse) libertarians involving themselves in the political process have a delusion even greater than most politicos because they believe they can actually destroy the State by becoming the State. The problem with that idea is that the State has contingencies built in to guard against such lofty people of principle:

Getting yourself into one of the branches of government is a process that you don’t just wake up one day and decide to do. Actually, you could wake up one day and decide to do it, but it has the same effect as deciding to be a banana. The process that you go through to get elected will destroy your anarchist/libertarian credibility (*cough*Rand*cough*). Even more if you are going to get appointed to your position. You will have to make promises (lie), fight politically (cheat) and get funded (steal) to get into that that office.

And once there?

Now you have promises to fulfill.

Now you have enemies to ward off.

Now you have debts to repay.

“But wait!” you say. “I am a principled anarchist/libertarian! I won’t play those political games! I won’t fulfill those promises (that would make government bigger). I won’t repay those debts (with government contracts) Now I’ve achieved my goal of bringing down the state from within! Now I’m going to launch my state-ending policy agenda! Muahahahaha!”

At least I have no cape1Good for you, Super Anarchist Politician (SAP). How are you planning to get your government limiting bills to the Floor for a vote? Might be that you need a co-sponsor or some other champion to help you out. Who have you got? The senior members from your State want nothing to do with you. In fact, nobody does after they found out you lied, cheated and stole your way to get in. And you didn’t even have the common courtesy to pay back your campaign contributors (tsk! tsk!). Do you really think anyone is going to jump on your bandwagon?

Getting into office requires mortgaging your soul. Once your in office getting anything done requires refinancing your soul. Ron Paul is living proof of this. He held office for quite some time and during that time the State didn’t shrink one iota. That’s because he mostly kept to his principles, which meant he was unable to broker deals with his fellow politicians. They wanted more power so they weren’t going to cooperate with a man who wanted less.

The article goes on to make other important points. If you believe the system can be changed, or even slowed down, from within then I recommend you read the entire article. But the conclusion explains the actual root of the problem:

The State exists and has power because people believe it does. People believe that the government should rule over them and society. People believe we need a group of rulers to keep us safe. People believe that voting grants special rights, powers and privileges to the elected that don’t exist for everyone else. People believe lies.

Democracies favor the majority and the majority believe in the State. The people themselves will push back against your attempts to free them because they want to be serfs. They believe their lord is the only thing that protects them from the barbarian hordes. By extent they believe anybody attempting to slay their lord is a barbarian trying to kill them.

What you can do is get together with other anarchists and try to create a community of likeminded (but not too likeminded) individuals. Much like the Christians under Roman persecution, anarchists need to keep as much of their business amongst each other as possible. By bolstering one another we can at least create a community of people we can rely on when the State inevitably collapses under the weight of everybody’s good intentions.

Those wanting to change the world for the better should focus on education. If the people you’re talking to decided what you’re selling sounds pretty good they’ll come into the community and help it thrive. Everybody else can continue living as they have been. It’s about as close to a win-win situation as we’ll likely get.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 21st, 2016 at 11:00 am

Is Your Thermostat A Snitch

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As a general rule I’m a huge fan of technology. But even I have major reservations with the so-called Internet of things (really just adding a chip to devices that were previously analog). It’s not that the ideas themselves are bad but there isn’t enough attention being paid to the implementations, especially from a security and privacy standpoint.

The Nest thermostat is one of the more popular regular household devices with a chip added to it. What’s not to like about a thermostat that automatically adjusts the temperature in your home based on when you are and aren’t there? Besides that software bug that drained the battery and caused people’s furnaces to shutdown. And the fact the bloody thing snitches on where your house is:

Researchers at Princeton University have found that, until recently, Alphabet’s popular Nest thermostat was leaking the zip code and location of its users over the internet. This data was transmitted unencrypted, or in the clear, meaning that anyone sniffing traffic could have intercepted it, according to the researchers.

The researchers also studied several other smart devices, including the Sharx security camera, a PixStar smart photoframe, and Samsung’s SmartThings Hub. The goal of their research wasn’t to find specific bugs in these devices, but to determine what information was being leaked when the devices communicated with their servers in the cloud.

I have no idea what a thermostat would need to even know where your house is. It needs to know the temperature inside and what you want the temperature to be at so it can order your climate control system to make the two numbers be the same. But it apparently does have access to that information and the developers cared so little about the privacy of their customers that they not only failed to keep the data private but didn’t even bother encrypting it when it was sent. And this isn’t an isolated incident. The complete disregard for these kind of details is plaguing the Internet of things market.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 21st, 2016 at 10:30 am

The Black Market Has You Covered

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One of my favorite fairytales is the one about government regulations being able to restrict the proliferation of technology.

IMSI catchers are widely used by government law enforcers for surveillance. The devices, for those of you unfamiliar, act as cell towers and by so doing get local cell phones to connect to it instead of the legitimate cell towers. It’s a man in the middle attack that allows law enforcers to snoop any unencrypted data transmitted or received by a victim’s cell phone.

In the United States the use of such device by non-law enforcers is sternly frowned upon. With the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) restrictions on the civilian use of IMSI catchers you might be lead to think the devices are hard to acquire. Not so. There is one thing that always renders government restrictions on technology impotent: the black market:

Across a tinny Skype connection, a Hong Kong tech company is trying to sell us state surveillance equipment.

“I switched it on already,” says Edward Tian, holding up a backpack containing a box and wires. “This is the antenna. This is the battery […] Everything is this simple.”

It’s a $15,000 IMSI catcher operated via an Android app. Tian shows us the user interface in a grainy video. He hits a button on the app and information on a bunch of cellphones in the area trickles down the screen. He has their IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity, a unique identifier for their SIM card), IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity—the same for their device), and even full phone numbers.

Any perceived control over a technology is nothing more than an illusion.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 21st, 2016 at 10:00 am