A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Technology’ tag

From Their Beloved to Their Bitter Enemy

without comments

Remember just a few weeks ago when the European Union passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and became the beloved of Internet activists across the globe? In the wake of GDPR’s passage I saw a ton of European peasants claim that the passage of the law demonstrated that the European Union, unlike the United States government, actually represents and watches out for its people.

A rule I live by is if you see a government do something you like, stick around for a short while longer because it’ll soon do something you really don’t like. The European Union just proved this rule. Within a few short weeks it went from the beloved of Internet activists to their bitter enemy:

The EU has voted on copyright reform (again), with members of European Parliament this time voting in favor of the extremely controversial Articles 11 and 13. The 438 to 226 vote, described as “the worst possible outcome” by some quarters, could have significant repercussions on the way we use the internet.

The Copyright Directive, first proposed in 2016, is intended to bring the issue of copyright in line with the digital age. Articles 11 and 13 have caused particular controversy, with many heralding their adoption as the death of the internet. Article 11, also known as the “link tax”, would require online platforms such as Google and Facebook to pay media companies to link to their content, while Article 13, the “upload filter”, would force them to check all content uploaded to their sites and remove any copyrighted material. How this will affect regular internet users is still subject to debate, but it could seriously limit the variety of content available online — and it could pretty much spell the end of memes.

Excuse me for a minute while I laugh at all of the suckers who claimed that the European Union represents and watches out for its people.

The Internet started off as a strongly decentralized network. Eventually it turned into the highly centralized mess that we’re dealing with now. Soon it may return to its decentralized nature as international companies find themselves having to abandon regions because they cannot comply with all of the different legal frameworks. Google and Facebook make a lot of money off of Europe but do they make enough money to justify paying link taxes? Do small content hosting sites have the spare resources to scan every file that has been uploaded for copyrighted material?

Moreover, legislation like this will push more Internet traffic “underground.” As long ago as the Napster lawsuit it became obvious that people on the Internet weren’t going to comply with copyright laws. Instead when one system of bypassing copyright laws is destroyed by the State, another is created in its place. So sharing memes online, at least for European peasants, might require the Tor Browser in order to access hidden image sharing sites but they will continue to share memes.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 14th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Uncontrolled Release of Energy

with one comment

Your smartphone has a rather sizable appetite for energy. To keep it running just for one day it needs a battery that is capable of storing a rather notable amount of energy. The same is true for your laptop, tablet, smartwatch, and any other sophisticated portable electronic device. For the most part we never think about the batteries that power our portable electronics until they degrade to such a point that we find ourselves recharging them more often than we’re comfortable with. But what happens when something besides the usual wear and tear goes wrong with our batteries? What happens if a battery decides to release its stored energy all at once? This is a problem plaguing companies that specialize in recycling electronics:

MADISON, Wis. — What happens to gadgets when you’re done with them? Too often, they explode.

As we enter new-gadget buying season, spare a moment to meet the people who end up handling your old stuff. Isauro Flores-Hernandez, who takes apart used smartphones and tablets for a living, keeps thick gloves, metal tongs and a red fireproof bin by his desk here at Cascade Asset Management, an electronics scrap processor. He uses them to whisk away devices with batteries that burst into flames when he opens them for recycling.

One corner of his desk is charred from an Apple iPhone that began smoking and then exploded after he opened it in 2016. Last year, his co-worker had to slide away an exploding iPad battery and evacuate the area while it burned out.

Due to their popularity, lithium-ion batteries are receiving a lot of attention at the moment but the problem of uncontrolled energy release isn’t unique to them. Anything capable of storing energy so that it can be released in a controlled manner can suffer a failure that causes the energy to be released in an uncontrolled manner. Consider the gas tank in your vehicle. Under normal operating conditions the energy stored in your gas tank is released in a controlled manner by your engine. But a crash can cause the energy to be released in an uncontrolled manner, which results in a fire or explosion.

Anything that can store a large quantity of energy should be treated with respect. If you’re repairing your smartphone or laptop, be careful around the battery. If you smell something odd coming from one of your battery-powered devices, put some distance between it and yourself (and anything that can catch fire and burn).

Written by Christopher Burg

September 14th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Posted in Technology

Tagged with ,

Don’t Trust Snoops

without comments

Software that allows family members to spy on one another is big business. But how far can you trust a company that specializes in enabling abusers to keep a constant eye on their victims? Not surprisingly, such companies can’t be trusted very much:

mSpy, the makers of a software-as-a-service product that claims to help more than a million paying customers spy on the mobile devices of their kids and partners, has leaked millions of sensitive records online, including passwords, call logs, text messages, contacts, notes and location data secretly collected from phones running the stealthy spyware.

Less than a week ago, security researcher Nitish Shah directed KrebsOnSecurity to an open database on the Web that allowed anyone to query up-to-the-minute mSpy records for both customer transactions at mSpy’s site and for mobile phone data collected by mSpy’s software. The database required no authentication.

Oops.

I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised by this. Companies that make software aimed at allowing family members to spy on one another already have, at least in my opinion, a pretty flexible moral framework. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of the data collected by mSpy was stored in plaintext in order to make it easily accessible to other buyers.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 11th, 2018 at 11:00 am

You Are Responsible for Your Own Security

without comments

One of the advertised advantages of Apple’s iOS platform is that all software loaded onto iOS devices has to be verified by Apple. This so-called walled garden is meant to keep the bad guys out. However, anybody who studies military history quickly learns that sitting behind a wall is usually a death sentence. Eventually the enemy breaches the wall. Enemies have breached Apple’s walls before and they continue to do so:

In a blog post entitled “Location Monetization in iOS Apps,” the Guardian team detailed 24 applications from the Apple iOS App Store that pushed data to 12 different “location-data monetization firms”—companies that collect precise location data from application users for profit. The 24 identified applications were found in a random sampling of the App Store’s top free applications, so there are likely many more apps for iOS surreptitiously selling user location data. Additionally, the Guardian team confirmed that one data-mining service was connected with apps from over 100 local broadcasters owned by companies such as Sinclair, Tribune Broadcasting, Fox, and Nexstar Media.

iOS has a good permission system and users can prevent apps from accessing location information but far too many people are willing to grant access to their location information to any application that asks. If a walled garden were perfectly secure, users wouldn’t have to worry about granting unnecessary permissions because the wall guards wouldn’t allow anything malicious inside. Unfortunately, the wall guards aren’t perfect and malicious stuff does get through, which brings me to my second point.

What happens when a malicious app manages to breach Apple’s walled garden? Ideally it should be immediately removed but the universe isn’t ideal:

Adware Doctor is a top app in Apple’s Mac App Store, sitting at number five in the list of top paid apps and leading the list of top utilities apps, as of writing. It says it’s meant to prevent “malware and malicious files from infecting your Mac” and claims to be one of the best apps to do so, but unbeknownst to its users, it’s also stealing their browser history and downloading it to servers in China.

In fairness to Apple, the company did eventually remove Adware Doctor from its app store. Eventually is the keyword though. How many other malicious apps have breached Apple’s walled garden? How long do they manage to hide inside of the garden until they are discovered and how quickly do the guards remove them once they are discovered? Apparently Apple’s guards can be a bit slow to react.

Even in a walled garden you are responsible for your own security. You need to know how to defend yourself in case a bad guy manages to get inside of the defensive walls.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 11th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Posted in Technology

Tagged with , ,

The People Who Decide Legality

without comments

Anybody who has looked into the history of the politics and legalities of firearms knows that the people who write and interpret laws regarding firearms are generally clueless about the subject matter. The same is true for technology (and possibly more so). The people who write and interpret laws regarding technology are almost always completely clueless about the subject matter. But what happens when you combine firearms and technology? An entirely new level of ignorance is unlocked:

On Monday, a federal court in Washington state blocked Cody Wilson and his company Defense Distributed from putting his 3D-printed gun schematic online. The court’s order—the latest in a years-long legal tussle that has picked up this summer—largely focuses on government rulemaking procedures, but a number of times it has to consider how technology works. When it does, it manages to get the technology remarkably wrong.

Perhaps the most comical of these is when the decision considers whether letting the schematic go online will cause “irreparable harm.” Most of the files are already online, Wilson’s attorneys argued, so what’s the harm in putting them up yet again? Yet the court disagreed, saying those online copies might be hard to find—only “a cybernaut with a BitTorrent protocol” could locate them “in the dark or remote recesses of the internet.”

If you think downloading a schematic for a firearm is insane, just want until you see what else I can do with a BitTorrent protocol! You’ll have to wait though since I’m short on BitTorrent protocols at the moment (please donate).

In addition to the use of the word cybernaut, I find it comical that the Internet Archive is considered a dark and remote recess of the Internet by this judge.

What should really stand out about this story though is that court officials who are entirely ignorant about the subject matter that they’re ruling on are allowed to make official rulings. When this judge issued their spiel about cybernauts using BitTorrent protocols to obtain schematics from the dark and remote recesses of the Internet, it had the force of law. If Defense Distributed violated this ruling, armed thugs with badges could be sent out to kidnap Cody Wilson or even kill him if he resisted their kidnapping attempt because an idiot in a magic muumuu has the power to make whatever they say an enforceable law. If that isn’t a great case against statism, I don’t know what is.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 4th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Creating New Definitions

without comments

I’ve often heard people say “words have meanings” when they believe somebody is using a word incorrectly (especially in a debate). It’s true, words do have meanings. Unfortunately, many words have multiple meanings. What makes this matter even more complicated is that words often have different meanings when used in a legal context. For example, a monopoly is generally considered an entity that operates without competition. However, according to the Fascist Communications Club (FCC) and a court that backed it, an entity that operates without competition isn’t necessarily a monopoly:

An appeals court has upheld a Federal Communications Commission ruling that broadband markets can be competitive even when there is only one Internet provider.

The real tragedy here isn’t that the FCC and a court have decided that the absence of competition is a competitive market, it’s the fact that the ruling backs a regulatory environment that the government created.

The lack of competition in the Internet Service Provider (ISP) market isn’t due to market phenomenon, it’s due to regulations put in place by government officials to protect their favored ISPs from competition. But nobody (besides government officials and monopolists) likes monopolies so in order to appeal to the stupid sheep that continue to vote for them, government officials have had to create a new definition of monopoly that allows them to grant monopolies without actually calling the companies that receive their grants monopolists. It’s a complicated business. You should probably just pick up the newest version of the Newspeak dictionary and learn the new definitions and roll with them.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 4th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Why Connecting Things to the Internet Doesn’t Give Me Warm Fuzzies

without comments

The tend in seemingly every market is to take features that function perfectly well without an Internet connection and make them dependent on an Internet connection. Let’s consider two old automobile features: remote door unlocking and engine starting. Most modern vehicles have the former and many now come equipped with the latter. These features are usually activated by a remote control that is attached to your key chain and have a decent range (the remote for my very basic vehicle can reliably start the engine through several walls). Tesla decided that such a basic feature wasn’t good enough for its high-tech cars and instead tied those features to the Internet. Needless to say, the inevitable happened:

Tesla’s fleet network connection is currently down, which means that owners of the EV brand of cars aren’t able to sign into the mobile app. Unfortunately, this means that they can’t remote start or remote unlock their cars, and they’re also unable to monitor their car’s charging status.

In all fairness, this isn’t an issue unique to Tesla. Any product that makes features dependent on an Internet connection will run into a service outages at one point or another. Your “smart” coffee maker’s service will eventually go down, which will force you to walk over and press the brew button like a goddamn barbarian instead of kicking off the brew cycle from an app as you continue lying in bed.

When these Internet dependent features really bite you in the ass though is when the service provider goes out of business, especially if the product itself cannot operate without the Internet service. There are a lot of current “smart” devices that will soon end up in a landfill not because they mechanically failed but because their service provider went bankrupt. While the features that became unavailable when Tesla’s service went down weren’t critical for the functionality of the vehicle, no longer being able to remotely unlock doors, start the engine, or check the charging status would really degrade the overall user experience of the company’s vehicles.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 31st, 2018 at 10:30 am

Cody Wilson Is the Most Uppity Slave

without comments

A federal judge may have told Defense Distributed that it couldn’t provide its already widely available 3D printer files but the saga hasn’t ended. Since Defense Distributed can no longer provide its files for free, it will sell them on a USB drive:

AUSTIN, Texas—During what he called his first ever press conference, Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson announced Tuesday that he would continue to comply with a federal court order forbidding him from internationally publishing CAD files of firearms. Wilson said he would also begin selling copies of his 3D-printed gun files for a “suggested price” of $10 each.

The files, crucially, will be transmitted to customers “on a DD-branded flash drive” in the United States. Wilson also mentioned looking into customer email and secure download links.

Now that the files aren’t leaving the United States, the primary argument being used to censor Defense Distributed is no longer in play.

What I find just as funny as Wilson’s unwillingness to roll over like a good little slave is how he has also become the biggest thorn in the side of gun control advocates seemingly out of nowhere. For decades gun control advocates have focused all of their attention on the National Rifle Association (NRA). While the NRA has acted as the 800 pound gorilla in the room, it has also been an extremely moderate organization. The NRA never pushed anything truly radical. Then along came Cody Wilson. He advocated something truly radical, the complete abolish of the State and by extent gun control. He also showed the world the biggest weakness in the concept of gun control: that guns a mechanically simple devices that can be manufactured with relative ease. While gun control advocates are trying to censor him, he has already done is damage. The world knows that firearms can be easily manufactured. Moreover, the designs for some basic firearms that can be created with a 3D printer have been released to the Internet and are therefore impossible to censor.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 29th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Pointless Judicial Decrees

with 2 comments

A bunch of states decided to sue Cody Wilson’s company Defense Distributed after the Justice Department gave up its futile fight against the company. As part of this ongoing lawsuit a federal judge has extended the ban against Defense Distributed distributing its 3D printer designs for firearms:

A federal judge in Seattle issued an injunction today that blocks Defense Distributed from publishing its 3D-printed gun designs online. The move extends a temporary ban issued last month and the injunction will remain in place until a lawsuit brought forth by a number of state attorneys general is resolved. Washington, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Oregon, Maryland and Washington, DC signed onto the suit last month in an effort to reverse a US Department of State settlement that allowed the 3D gun designs to be published online. Eleven additional states joined the lawsuit earlier this month.

Gun control advocates, who have never been the sharpest tools in the shed, are celebrating this ruling. In their fantasy land where laws have power they view this judge’s ruling as a strike against 3D printed firearms. The problem is that this ruling, just like the previous ruling it extends, is meaningless because you can find the designs all over the Internet.

What gun control advocates and the states that are bringing this lawsuit against Defense Distributed fail to understand is that the gun control debate is over. Once guns became data that could be uploaded to the Internet the ability to control them ceased to exist. It doesn’t matter what the outcome of this lawsuit is, the files released by Defense Distributed will remain available.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 28th, 2018 at 10:00 am

How Quickly People Forget

without comments

There has always been a cat and mouse game between game developers and pirates. Over the years developers have tried various tricks to prevent people from pirating their games. My earliest experience with piracy prevention the original MechWarrior. When you first loaded the game it presented you with a prompt that required entering information based on what was prompted. That information was found in the game manual. Of course this method was a pain in the ass if you either lost the manual or bought the game used without the manual because you didn’t realize that you needed it in order to play the game. Therein lies the problem with piracy prevention mechanisms, they always inconvenience paying customers.

Piracy prevention mechanisms continued to evolved after MechWarrior. Not too long ago computer games started including what amounted to literal kill switches. These mechanisms were referred to as Digital Rights Management (DRM). The name was idiotic since rights should need to be managed but it sounded friendlier than Developer Kill Switch so the marketing teams went with it. As you might expect, these kill switches didn’t sit well with a lot of games. However, time heals all wounds and now many games are unaware that their games include a kill switch.

Enter GOG. GOG is my favorite game distributor because, unlike Steam, it provides titles without DRM. And it has decided to make modern gamers aware of the fact that they don’t own many of their games, they merely rent them:

The landscape has changed since 2008, and today many people don’t realize what DRM even means. And still the DRM issue in games remains – you’re never sure when and why you can be blocked from accessing them. And it’s not only games that are affected, but your favourite books, music, movies and apps as well.

To help understand what DRM means, how it influences your games and other digital media, and what benefits come with DRM-free approach, we’re launching the FCK DRM initiative. The goal is to educate people and ignite a discussion about DRM. To learn more visit https://fckdrm.com, and share your opinions and stories about DRM and how it affects you.

This is the kind of marketing I like. GOG is telling gamers why its service is superior by pointing out the very real flaws that exist in many of their competitors’ services. It’s also important for everybody to understand exactly what DRM is, especially since it can render a legitimate copy of a game unplayable. DRM mechanisms usually involve a phone home system where the game contacts a DRM server to get authorization to load. If that server cease to exist, say if the developer goes out of business or decides that maintaining the server is costlier than an old game warrants, then legitimate copies of the game can no longer be played.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 23rd, 2018 at 10:30 am