Tech at Night

Imagine a safe, one used to store important papers, extreme valuables, or even guns. When we put our things into a safe, to keep things secure against a determined thief. It’s very important they aren’t able to get in and take these things, so we ensure our safes are very difficult to open without authorization. The idea that we’d have a secret back door that could be exploited to gain unauthorized access, perhaps by the manufacturer, bypassing our control of the lock, would be unthinkable.

Yet, this is exactly what Obama’s FBI head, James Comey, is asking for when it comes to the safes protecting our online data. It’s madness.

I have long been a defender of NSA (one of our nation’s leading data intelligence and counterintelligence groups), of FISA (the spy courts), of ECPA as written (the law that allows ISPs to give access to their email servers), and of the overall role of government in monitoring online activities to further legitimate law enforcement and national security objectives. However, one big reason I’ve taken this position is that few of these surveillance techniques work against effective encryption techniques.

Basically, most of this “government spying” is rendered completely ineffective by the use of free, modern, commodity encryption tools and techniques widely available today. Anyone who wanted a great deal of privacy would be able to chose to take it, however, most Americans do not value their privacy, and are willing to sell it for cash and convenience.

However the fact that most Americans give away their data does not mean that we should all be mandated to do so. Even if we mistrust the crank Internet encryption communities out there, groups like Tor which are magnets for criminals and terrorists, the fact is we have a right to close the drapes, we have a right to lock our doors, and we have a right to encrypt our data.

Encryption is a lot like a gun. In fact, export law used to treat it as a munition. It’s a powerful tool that, put in the hands of honest people, is protective and good. In the hands of crooks and terrorists, it’s a tool for evil. The fact that the bad guys will encrypt their data is no more a reason for encryption restrictions, than the fact that bad guys get guns, is a reason for gun control.

The bad guys are going to grab GNU Privacy Guard or something, and encrypt their data, whether the good guys do so or not. FBI needs to lay off trying to intimidate private citizens from protecting themselves.


Yahoo joins Google and Facebook in kowtowing to the extreme fringe left against ALEC. That’s fine. Remember that, folks, the next time they push for Net Neutrality, or open borders, or any of the other astroturf campaigns the extremist left fringe of tech have been trying to foist upon us.

The Obama FCC is using prison phone bills as a pretext to fight federalism.

California already mandates kill switches in phones. What happens when cars are next?

Security is as much about people as it is about code. Note that FBI and DHS are warning the public about this, when government itself gets bitten in cases like Bradley Manning’s and Edward Snowden’s. Government is ing no position to regulate on cybersecurity. It’s not competent enough to do so.

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Tech at Night

Harry Reid is going to put a bait and switch on the agenda in the lame duck session. This is important to watch, because it’s a substantial power grab that appeals big government, tax-and-spend Democrats, as well as squishy, cronyist Republicans. That’s exactly the kind of sour grapes coalition that could pass a bad sales tax bill after the November elections.

Watch your wallet.

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Tech at Night

I do apologize for this post being late and shorter than usual but work was really rough this week and I’m kind of catching up with myself this weekend.

The biggest hidden part of your cable bill is the bill you pay for your local channels. So-called Retransmission Consent fees are huge, and growing every year, becoming an ever-more important part of the revenue for the major networks, and the local channels.

Free, over the air channels never got so expensive.

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Tech at Night: Why ISPs should be wary of Tor

On September 16, 2014, in General, by Neil Stevens
Tech at Night

The Onion Router, more commonly known as just Tor, is a cryptographic network of computers that seeks to provide anonymity to its users. Users connect to a Tor “entry node,” and tell it what Internet sites they want to access. That request is then passed through a series of encrypted links, bouncing around unpredictably, until it finds an “exit node,” and then that server (likely nowhere near the user) then makes the request, and the results are sent back through the network.

While Tor users are not as anonymous as they’d like, criminals use it to great effect, and that’s why Comcast would be reasonable to watch Tor use carefully.

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Tech at Night: This lie threatens to expand government greatly

On September 13, 2014, in General, by Neil Stevens
Tech at Night

Net Neutrality has failed in the courts over and over again. Some on the far left are talking about renaming the movement, others continue to hammer away at it as-is. Still more have given on on Net Neutrality as the means to get a government power grab on the Internet.

Title II Reclassification is the new gimmick. They’re willing to lie to get it and the power grab would disrupt the economy.

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Tech at Night

Right now there’s a huge astroturf campaign going on, spamblasting fake messages to the FCC, pretending that there’s this giant grassroots army of opposition to the idea that people or businesses should be able to pay ISPs for faster service. This is what they’re calling “fast lanes” and the progressives are having a fit.

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Tech at Night: This is why we need the NSA

On September 7, 2014, in General, by Neil Stevens
Tech at Night

We need the NSA. I know the new hotness is following after Rand Paul’s inane blathering, and finding reasons to complain about the NSA. But rather than old and busted, the NSA is actually an important thing to have and to defend.

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Tech at Night: Your phone calls and texts were never secure.

On September 4, 2014, in General, by Neil Stevens
Tech at Night

Sometimes, we forget just how little privacy we have against a determined attacker. So often we rely just on the fact that we believe our communications are of so little importance, that nobody will take the effort to try to snoop on us.

So once in a while we get concerned, when we hear about some sort of mass snooping, that means no extra effort has to be engaged to read our own individual, personal data. Then we want to assign blame, as though this mass snooping caused our lack of privacy.

We need to fix this muddled thinking and understand the limits of our privacy.

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Tech at Night: Don’t Break the Net

On August 31, 2014, in General, by Neil Stevens
Tech at Night

Don’t break the net by imposing a new, radical regulatory scheme. Internet access should not be a public utility. It has nothing to do with Net Neutrality. It would kill investment and expansion of high speed services to more people. More regulations hurt the little guy more than the big guy. Regulations hinder competition. Fast lanes become more likely. Netflix is just playing games to get a competitive advantage just like every other lobbying business. And once this gets in, FCC will go all out, the same way it always does.

This is a good site, covering a number of myths about the proposed Title II Reclassification, a dramatic step the radicals are pushing for the FCC to do, basically overturning a key concept of the bipartisan Telecommunications Act, and re-regulating the Internet as a phone service. It’s a terrible idea.

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Tech at Night: E-Cigarettes and the WHO Cargo Cult

On August 28, 2014, in General, by Neil Stevens
Tech at Night

Richard Feynman liked to tell the story of an island in Melanesia that had an allied airbase during World War II. Cargo planes would regularly land during the war, bringing supply that the locals were amazed at, and were appreciative to have. However when the war was over, the cargo planes stopped coming, and the troops left.

So what the locals did was to do their best to dress up like the allied soldiers, and go through the motions that they observed happening when a cargo plane would land. This became known as the cargo cult, as they believed that by taking these actions, they could summon a cargo plane bringing its bounty.

Feynman liked to compare bad science with the cargo cults: all dressed up, going through he motions, and missing the point entirely.

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