A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘News You Need to Know’ Category

It’s a Cyberpocalypse

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Have you ever had a sneaking suspicion that an author of an article was given a keyword and paid based on the number of times they managed to insert that keyword into their article? I’m fairly certain that’s what precipitated this article. Doing a page search for “cyber” resulted in 29 hits.

If you can overcome the tedium of reading the word “cyber” every other sentence, you’ll find an article discussing the difficult the United States is having with fighting the Islamic State. It turns out that treating a decentralized organization like a centralized organization results in bad tactics. Who could have guessed that?

What’s even funnier though is the little tidbit the author snuck in that is supposed to justify the United State’s prohibition on carry-on electronics on flights originating from certain airports:

Even one of the rare successes against the Islamic State belongs at least in part to Israel, which was America’s partner in the attacks against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Top Israeli cyberoperators penetrated a small cell of extremist bombmakers in Syria months ago, the officials said. That was how the United States learned that the terrorist group was working to make explosives that fooled airport X-ray machines and other screening by looking exactly like batteries for laptop computers.

Those must be some fantastically shitty x-ray scanners if they can’t actually tell the difference between legitimate laptop parts and bombs.

That tidbit might justify the carry-on electronics ban if it was in any way uniform. But the ban targeted specific airports, which means any terrorist with one of these highly advanced laptop bombs could get around the prohibition by flying to another airport, perhaps one in Europe, first and then flying to the United States from there. In other words, the “solution” to this threat wouldn’t have protected anybody and was therefore implemented for other reasons or was nothing more than security theater.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 13th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Police Body Camera Footage Being Placed Under Lock and Key

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Equipping police with body cameras was supposed to help the public hold law enforcers accountable but like any solution the State agrees to, body cameras turned out to be yet another weapon in the State’s arsenal to expropriate wealth from its subjects. State governments are placing body camera footage under lock and key so it can’t be used by the public:

North Carolina, for example, passed legislation last year excluding body camera video from the public record, so footage is not available through North Carolina’s Public Records Act. That means civilians have no right to view police recordings in the Tar Heel state unless their voice or image was captured in the video.

Louisiana also exempts body camera video from public records laws.

South Carolina will only release body camera footage to criminal defendants and the subjects of recordings.

Kansas classifies body camera video as “criminal investigation documents” available only when investigations are closed. The Topeka Police Department may have wanted positive public relations with the release of its pond rescue video, but if a news outlet had requested that video through Kansas’ Open Records Act, that request would’ve likely been denied.

I stated pretty early on in the body camera debate that the footage would be useless, at least as far as holding the police accountable goes, unless the video was streamed directly to a third-party server that wasn’t under the control of any government entity. However, most body cameras upload their data to services, such as Axon’s evidence.com, that are controlled by parties with a vested interest in pleasing police departments. Combine that setup with the state laws that put the footage outside of the public’s reach and you have another tool that was sold as being good for the people that was actually very bad for them.

It’s Not Your Data When It’s in The Cloud

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I’ve annoyed a great many electrons writing about the dangers of using other people’s computer (i.e. “the cloud”) to store personal information. Most of the time I’ve focused on the threat of government surveillance. If your data is stored on somebody else’s computer, a subpoena is all that is needed for law enforcers to obtain your data. However, law enforcers aren’t the only threat when it comes to “the cloud.” Whoever is storing your data, unless you’ve encrypted it in a way that make it inaccessible to others before you uploaded it, has access to it, which means that their employees could steal it:

Chinese authorities say they have uncovered a massive underground operation involving the sale of Apple users’ personal data.

Twenty-two people have been detained on suspicion of infringing individuals’ privacy and illegally obtaining their digital personal information, according to a statement Wednesday from police in southern Zhejiang province.

Of the 22 suspects, 20 were employees of an Apple “domestic direct sales company and outsourcing company”.

This story is a valuable lesson and warning. Apple has spent a great deal of time developing a reputation for guarding the privacy of its users. But data uploaded to its iCloud service are normally stored unencrypted so while a third-party may not be able to intercept en route, at least some of Apple’s employees have access to it.

The only way you can guard your data from becoming public is to either keep it exclusively on your machines or encrypt it in such a way that third parties cannot access it before uploading it to “the cloud.”

Written by Christopher Burg

June 9th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Never Listen to the Government

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George Carling said, “I have certain rules I live by. My first rule: I don’t believe anything the government tells me.” That rule is perhaps one of the wisest one ever made.

Not too long ago the government was encouraging people to buy electric cars. Electric cars, according to the government, were more environmentally friendly than their fossil fuel powered counterparts. One of the incentives the government used to encourage electric card adoption was tax breaks. Electric car owners, for example, didn’t have to buy gasoline so they didn’t have to pay the taxes put on it.

But that was then, this is now. The government has now realized that electric cars are cutting into its profits so it has decided to renege on it’s position of encouraging electric car adoption:

Minnesota is joining a growing number of states to tack an extra registration charge on vehicles powered exclusively by electricity as a way to make up for lost gas tax revenue.

The new $75 surcharge approved by state lawmakers takes effect in January.

$75 may not seem like a lot but I guarantee that that fee will increase over time.

And this matter is made even worse because, unlike offers made by private entities, you have no recourse when the government decides to renege on one of its offers. Electric car owners must either pay the new registration tax or suffer the potential consequences of driving an unregistered vehicle.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 7th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Not All Heroes Wear Capes

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Municipal governments usually claim that the will help tenants when they find themselves being wronged by their landlord. Many tenants throughout the country try to take those governments up on their offer only to find out that what a government says is not necessary what a government does.

A man in Augusta, Maine found himself living in a property infested with bedbugs. The landlord was apparently unwilling to address the issue so the man went to the municipal government for help. Not surprisingly, the municipal government made no effort to help him so the man submitted an official protests:

Earlier that day the man had made a complaint at the office against his landlord, claiming a bed bug problem in his apartment building. He became angry after being told that he did not qualify for assistance.

“He whipped out a cup (full of live bedbugs) and slammed it on the counter, and bam, off they flew, maybe 100 of them,” said City Manager William Bridgeo.

The bedbugs landed on the counter and on an employee. The building closed until an exterminator could kill and dispose of the bugs.

With a cup full of bugs the man was able to shutdown an entire government building. That’s a cheap denial of service attack. Unfortunately, the man’s bedbug problem will likely remain unresolved but at least he didn’t roll over and take it when the municipal government weaseled out of one of the offers is made the denizens of Augusta.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 7th, 2017 at 10:00 am

What Happens When You Rely on a Third Party for Revenue

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Earlier this year many gun channels on YouTube reported that their videos were suddenly disqualified from receiving ad revenue. This change in policy happened without warning and the rules established by YouTube were vague to say the least. In the hopes of appeasing both advertisers and content creators, YouTube attempted to clarify its rules. But if you read YouTube’s guidelines you’ll notice that they remain incredibly vague.

A lot of people have been screaming about free speech but that’s irrelevant. YouTube is a private entity and therefore can make whatever rules it wants. The real issue here is relying on a third party for revenue.

There are two ways content creators can guard their income from arbitrary rule changes made by their hosts. The first is having a contractual agreement where the host can face penalties if they arbitrarily change the terms. The second, and this is the one I generally prefer, is to host their own material on their own systems. This is what I do with this blog (and every other service I rely on). If you own everything you get to make the rules. If, for example, I decided to monetize this site, there would be no way for a third party to cut of my revenue by changing the rules.

YouTube looks like a sweet deal because content creators can put their material online without facing the costs of hosting the material themselves. But there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. The price content creators pay for using YouTube is being entirely at the mercy of its one-sided user agreement, which can be changed at any moment without prior notice being given. Content creators can scream about free speech or censorship or whatever else makes them feel oppressed. But they only have themselves to blame because they put themselves into a position where their revenue source could be cut off by a third party at any moment.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 2nd, 2017 at 11:30 am

Never Forget

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Never forget… your password. Doing so could earn you some jail time:

US courts are still torn about how to handle defendants who refuse to give up passcodes for encrypted smartphones, judging by two recent court cases reported in the Miami Herald. In one, child abuse defendant Christopher Wheeler got six months in jail for failing to provide a correct code, despite pleas to the judge that he couldn’t remember it. In a different court, a judge let off Wesley Victor (accused of extortion), even though he also claimed to have forgotten his iPhone code.

The main difference in the cases is that ten months had passed after Victor’s initial arrest, and as his lawyer argued, “many people, including myself, can’t remember passwords from a year ago.” In the same case Victor’s girlfriend (and reality TV star) Hencha Voigt was ordered to divulge her code to police, but provided one that didn’t work. She’s also facing contempt of court charges, and is scheduled to appear next week. Both defendants are accused of threatening to release sex tapes stolen from social media celeb YesJulz unless she paid $18,000.

Holding somebody in contempt of court for claiming to forget their password is a fascinating concept to me. There is no way to prove whether or not somebody actually forgot something or lied about forgetting something. Under the concept of innocent until proven guilty a judge should have to refrain from punishing somebody for claiming to forget their password since it’s impossible to prove if they’re lying. But this country doesn’t operate under the principle of innocent until proven guilty, it operates under the principle of granting people in muumuus the power to arbitrarily decide whether somebody is telling the truth of lying.

Even the man who gave the police officer an incorrect password has a plausible excuse. He was in a stressful situation where an armed man was ordering him to do something against his will. It’s not unusual for people to forget or misremember basic information during stressful situations so it’s not implausible that the man simply misremembered his password at the time. But now he’s going to prison even though his guilt cannot be proven.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 2nd, 2017 at 11:00 am

Intellectual Property Dealt a Hard Blow

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I pull no punches when it comes to my views on intellectual property. While I want intellectual property abolished entirely, I do admit that some uses are more egregious than others. One of the most egregious uses is restricting what consumers can do with a product after they’ve purchased it. John Deere made headlines by using intellectual property laws to prevent farmers from repairing their own equipment. Printer manufacturers have also been using intellectual property laws to restrict consumer access to third-party ink. The Supreme Court’s most recent ruling dealt a hard blow to those printer manufacturers:

The US Supreme Court voted 7-1 to place more limits on the rights of patent-holders, striking down a decision by the nation’s top patent court for the second time in two weeks.

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Lexmark sued Impression, alleging two different kinds of violations of patent law. First, Impression was accused of buying Return Program cartridges, altering their chips, re-filling them, and re-selling them in the US. Second, Impression bought some Lexmark cartridges abroad and imported them into the US. Lexmark said all the cartridges in that second group infringed its patents, whether they were Return Program cartridges or Regular. The Federal Circuit held that in both cases, Lexmark could go ahead and sue, in part because Impression had full knowledge of exactly the restrictions that were placed on the cartridges.

The Supreme Court reversed on both counts. As to the US sales of Return Program cartridges, “Lexmark exhausted its patent rights in these cartridges the moment it sold them,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority. “A patentee is free to set the price and negotiate contracts with his purchasers, but may not, ‘by virtue of his patent, control the use or disposition’ of the product after ownership passes to the purchaser.” [Emphasis in original.]

Once I’ve purchased a product it should be mine to do with as I please. If I want to send my spent ink cartridge to a company that specializes in bypassing measures designed to prevent me from refilling the cartridge then I should have every right to do so. Being able to do whatever you want with your property (so long as it doesn’t harm another person or their property) is the very definition of ownership.

In recent decades companies have been abusing intellectual property laws to restrict what consumers can legally do with their property. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was one of the worst instances of consumer restriction because it actually made the act of bypassing any form of manufacturer restriction implemented to guard copyrighted material outright illegal. This combined with software copyright laws created an environment of consumer feudalism where consumers were effectively serfs who licensed products and could only use them in manners expressly permitted by the manufacturer lords. Fortunately, the current Supreme Court appears to be reversing this trend.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 31st, 2017 at 11:00 am

What Happens When You Look at Groups Instead of Individuals

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As humans we like to categorize things. Categorization is useful for many things. Categorizing books by subject and author makes them easier to find in a library or to search for online. Categorizing lumber by tree species makes it easier for consumers to find wood that fits their needs. But categorizing people presents some significant problems.

Each individual is unique. That uniqueness doesn’t stop when they become a member of a group. Two Democrats can have wildly different views about gun ownership, two Catholics can have wildly different views about same-sex marriage, and two Muslims can have wildly different views on women’s rights:

Akram’s work, al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam, stands as a riposte to the notion, peddled from Kabul to Mecca, that Islamic knowledge is men’s work and always has been. “I do not know of another religious tradition in which women were so central, so present, so active in its formative history,” Akram wrote.

Women scholars taught judges and imams, issued fatwas, and traveled to distant cities. Some made lecture tours across the Middle East.

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If there was ever proof that a pious Muslim woman need not be a submissive wife and mother, it is the life of Aisha, the third of the Prophet’s eleven wives. She has divided opinions ever since the seventh century, among both Muslims and non-Muslims.

A top Islamic scholar, an inspiration to champions of women’s rights, a military commander riding on camelback, and a fatwa-issuing jurist, Aisha’s intellectual standing and religious authority were astonishing, by the standards of both our own time and hers.

Aisha is not the only wife of Muhammad whose life explodes notions of what constitutes a “traditional” Muslim woman. Khadija ran a caravan business in Mecca. A wealthy and successful trader, she was also a twice-widowed single mother, fifteen years Muhammad’s senior, and his boss.

Her marriage proposal to the future Prophet was forthright: “I like you because of our relationship, your high reputation among your people, your trustworthiness, your good character and truthfulness.”

I’m not sharing this article to start an argument about how Islam views women, I’m sharing it to show that there is disagreement within Islam about the religion’s views on women.

I hear too many people say, “Muslims believe killing infidels is acceptable,” or “Muslims believe that women shouldn’t have any rights.” Truth be told, there are approximately 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. It’s difficult enough to get three coworkers to agree on where to go for lunch so getting 1.5 billion people to agree on what a holy book says about anything is impossible.

Treating groups of individuals as a single entity is foolish. Each member of that group is likely to be quite different from the other members. They might have a single idea that holds them together but even their views on that idea are likely to differ.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 26th, 2017 at 11:00 am

No Combatant is Innocent in War

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Expanding on my previous post, here is an example of what happens when people refuse to see evil when it’s perpetrated by people they view as human.

After every terrorist attack there is usually a great deal of outrage at the fact that the attacker(s) targeted and killed civilians and rightfully so. However, when terrorist attacks against civilians are perpetrated by “their” side they’re willing to either justify the action at necessary or unavoidable or they throw the entire incident down a memory hole:

Air strikes carried out by the US and its coalition partners in Syria have killed the highest number of civilians on record since the bombing campaign began, a war monitor has said.

A total of 225 civilians, including 36 women and 44 children, were killed in the period between 23 April to 23 May, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

No combatant is innocent in war.

Middle East attackers have killed a lot of civilians in the United States and Europe and the United States and its European allies have killed a lot of civilians in the the Middle East. Unfortunately, people living in the United States and Europe have a tendency to look the other way when their militaries kill civilians. I’m sure that a lot of people in the Middle East also have a tendency to look the other way when their militaries kill civilians. Justifying or ignoring the crimes of your tribe while condemning the same crimes of another tribe is common human behavior, which is also why we can’t have nice things.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 25th, 2017 at 11:00 am