Who’s Problem Is It Anyway?

This week, Adobe released a security patch for their CS5 product line. While Adobe releasing security patches isn’t really that surprising given their track record with vulnerable products, what is somewhat surprising are the circumstances surrounding the patch. Adobe released the patch somewhat reluctantly.

Sometime in May, possibly earlier, Adobe was made aware of a fairly severe security vulnerability in their CS5 product line. A specially crafted image file was enough to compromise the victim’s computer. Obviously this is a pretty severe flaw and should be fixed ASAP, right? Well, Adobe didn’t really see it that way. Their initial response to the problem was that users who wanted a fixed version would have to pay to upgrade to the CS6 product line, in which the flaw was patched. Eventually they decided to backport the patch to the CS5 version.

Adobe’s initial response and their eventual capitulation leads to a broader discussion. Given any security problem, or even any bug in general, who is responsible for fixing it? The vendor, of course, right? Well… Maybe?

In a perfect world, there would be no bugs, security or otherwise. In a slightly less perfect world, all bugs would be resolved before a product is retired. But neither world exists and bugs seem to prevail. So, given that, who’s problem is it anyway?

There are a lot of justifications vendors make as to when they’ll patch, how they’ll support something, and, of course, excuses. It’s not an easy problem for vendors, though, and some vendors put a lot of thought into their policies. They don’t always get them right, and there’s never a way to make everyone happy.

Patching generally follows a product lifecycle. While the product is supported, patching happens as a normal course of business. When a product is retired, some companies put together a support plan with For instance, when Cisco announces that a product has entered the End-of-Life cycle, they lay out a multi-year plan for support. Typically this involves regular software maintenance for a year, security releases for 2-3 years, and then hardware maintenance for the remainder. This gives businesses ample time to deal with finding a suitable replacement.

Unfortunately, not all vendors act responsibly and often customers are left high and dry when a product is suddenly obsoleted. Depending on the vendor, this sometimes leads to discussions about the possibility of legislation forcing vendors to support products, or to at least address security vulnerabilities. If something like this were to pass, where does it end? Are vendors forced to support products forever? Should they only have to fix severe security problems? And what constitutes a severe security problem?

There are a multitude of reasons that bugs, security or otherwise, are not dealt with. Some justifiable, others not. Working in networking, the primary excuse I’ve heard from hardware vendors over the year is that the management interface of their product is not intended to be on a public network where it can be attacked. Or that the management interfaces should be put behind a firewall where it can’t be attacked. These excuses are garbage, of course, but some vendors just continue to give them. And, unfortunately, you’re not always in a position to drop a vendor and move elsewhere. So, we do what we can to secure the systems and move on.

And sometimes the problem isn’t the vendor, but the customer. How long has it been since Microsoft phased out older versions of it’s Windows operating system? Windows XP is relatively recent, but it’s been a number of years since Windows 2000 was phased out. Or how about Windows 98, 95, and even Windows NT? And customers still have these deployed in their networks. Hell, I know of at least one OS/2 Warp system that’s still deployed in a Telco Central Office!

There is a basis for some regulation, however, and it may affect vendors. When the security of a particular product can significantly impact the public, it can be argued that regulation is necessary. The poster child for this argument are SCADA systems which seem to be perpetually riddled with security holes, mostly due to outdated operating systems.

SCADA systems are what typically control the electrical grid or nuclear power plants. For obvious reasons, security problems with these systems are a deadly serious problem. I often hear that these systems should be air gapped from the Internet, but the lure of easy access and control often pushes users to ignore this advice.

So should SCADA systems be regulated? It’s obvious that the regulations in place already for the industries they are used in aren’t working, so what makes us think that more regulation will help? And if we regulate and force vendors to provide patches for security problems, what makes us think that industries will install them?

This is a complex problem and there are no easy answers. The best we can hope for is a competent administrator who knows how to handle security and deal with threats properly. Until then, let’s hope for incompetent criminals.

Mega Fail

So this happened :

Popular file-sharing website Megaupload shut down
Megaupload shut down by feds, seven charged, four arrested
Megaupload assembles worldwide criminal defense
Department of Justice shutdown of rogue site MegaUpload shows SOPA is unnecessary
And then.. This happened :

Megaupload Anonymous hacker retaliation, nobody wins

And, of course, the day before all of this happened was the SOPA/PIPA protest.

Wow.. The government, right? SOPA/PIPA isn’t even on the books, people are up in arms over it, and then they go and seize one of the largest file sharing websites on the planet! We should all band together and immediately protest this illegal seizure!

But wait.. hang on.. Since when does jumping to conclusions help? Let’s take a look and see what exactly is going on here.. According to the indictment, this case went before a grand jury before any takedown was performed. Additionally, this wasn’t an all-of-a-sudden thing. Megaupload had been contacted in the past about copyright violations and failed to deal with them as per established law.

There are a lot of people who are against this action. In fact, the hacktivist group, Anonymous, decided to display their dictate by performing DDoS attacks against high profile sites such as the US DoJ, MPAA, and RIAA. This doesn’t help things and may actually hurt the SOPA/PIPA protest in the long run.

Now I’m not going to say that the takedown was right and just, there’s just not enough information as of yet, and it may turn out that the government was dead wrong with this action. But at the moment, I have to disagree with those that point at this as an example of an illegal takedown. As a friend of mine put it, if the corner market is selling illegal bootleg videos, when they finally get raided, the store gets closed. Yes, there were legal uses of the services on the site, but the corner store sold milk too.

There are still many, many copyright and piracy issues to deal with. And it’s going to take a long time to deal with them. We need to be vigilant, and protesting when necessary does work. But jumping to conclusions like this, and then attacking sites such as the DoJ are not going to help the cause. There’s a time and a place for that, and I don’t believe we’re there yet.

Who turned the lights out?

You may have noticed that a number of websites across the Internet today have modified their look a bit. In many cases, the normal content of that site is unreachable. Why would they do such a thing, you may ask? Well, there are two proposed laws, SOPA and PIPA, that threaten what we, today, enjoy as the Internet. The short version of these laws is that, basically, if you’re found to have any material on your website that infringes copyright, you face having your website shut down, without due process, all of your advertising pulled, being stricken from search engines, and possible jail time. Pretty draconian. There are a number of places that can explain, in more detail, what the full text of the legislation says. If you’re interested, check out americancensorship.org or eff.org.

Or, you can check out this video, from ted.com, that explains the legislation and why it’s so bad.


If you’re coming here after the 18th of January, here are some images of the protesting.







Back in October of 2011, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives called HR.3261, or the “Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA).” Go take a look, I’ll wait. It’s a relatively straightforward bill, especially compared to others I’ve looked at. Hell, it’s only 15 pages long! And it’s going to kill the Internet.

Ok,ok.. It won’t *KILL* the Internet, but it has the potential to ruin what we consider to be the Internet. Personally, I believe that if this passes, it has the potential to turn the Internet into nothing more than a collection of business websites, at least in the US.

So how does this thing work? Well, it’s actually pretty straightforward. If your website is suspected of infringing on copyrighted material, your website is taken down, any advertising you have on your site is cut, and you are removed from search engines. But so what, you deserve it! You were breaking copyright law!

Not so fast. This applies to *any* content on your website. So if someone comments on a blog entry, or you innocently link to a website that infringes copyright, or other situations out of your control, you’re responsible. Basically, you have to police every single comment, link, etc. that appears on your website.

It’s even worse for service providers since they have to do the blocking. Every infringing site is blocked via DNS. And since the US doesn’t have control of all of DNS, and some infringing sites are not located in the US, this means we move into the realm of having DNS blacklist files. The ISP becomes the responsible party if they fail to block these sites, which in turn means more overhead for the ISP. Think you pay a lot for Internet access now?

So what can you do? Well, for one, you can contact your representative and tell them how insane this whole idea is. And you can protest SOPA itself by putting up a protest overlay on your site. There’s a github project with all of the source code you need to add an overlay to your website. Or, if you have a Serendipity web blog, you can download the Stop SOPA plugin I’ve written.

Get out there and protest!

The Privacy Problem

Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.
General John Stark

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
Patrick Henry

Privacy, n.
1. The state or condition of being alone, undisturbed, or free from public attention, as a matter of choice or right; seclusion; freedom from interference or intrusion.
2. The state of being privy to some act
3. a. Absence or avoidance of publicity or display; secrecy, concealment, discretion; protection from public knowledge or availability.
3. b. The keeping of a secret; reticence.
Oxford English Dictionary

Privacy is often taken for granted. When the US Constitution was drafted, the founding fathers made sure to put in provisions to guarantee the privacy of the citizens they would govern. Most scholars agree that their intention was to prevent government intrusion in private lives and activities. They were very forward thinking, trying to ensure this protection would continue indefinitely into the future. Unfortunately, even the most forward thinking, well intentioned individual won’t be able to cover all of the possible scenarios that will occur in the future.

Since that fateful day in 1787, a war has raged between those advocating absolute privacy and those advocating reasonable intrusion for the sake of security. At the extreme edge of the argument are the non-consequentialists who believe that privacy should be absolute. They believe that privacy is non-negotiable and that the loss of privacy is akin to slavery. A common argument is that giving up privacy merely encourages additional loss. In other words, if you allow your privacy to be compromised once, then those that violate it will expect to be able to violate it again.

At the other edge are those that believe that privacy is irrelevant in the face of potential evil. This is also a non-consequentialist view. Individuals with this view tend to argue that if you have something to hide, then you are obviously guilty of something.

Somewhere in the middle are the consequentialists who believe that privacy is essential to a point. Violation of privacy should be allowed when the benefit of doing so outweighs the benefit of keeping something private. In other words, if disclosing a secret may save a life, or prevent an innocent person from going to jail, then a violation of privacy should be allowed.

The right to privacy has been fought over for years. In more recent years, technological advances have brought to light many of the problems with absolute privacy, and at the same time, have highlighted the need for some transparency. Technology has benefits for both the innocent and the criminal. It makes no delineation between the two, offering the same access to information for both.

New technologies have allowed communication over long distances, allowing criminals to coordinate criminal activities without the need to gather. Technology has brought devastating weaponry to the average citizen. Terrorists can use an Internet search engine to learn how to build bombs, plan attacks, and communicate with relative privacy. Common tools can be used to replicate identification papers, allowing criminals access to secure areas. The Internet can be used to obtain access to remote systems without permission.

Technology can also be used in positive ways. Mapping data can be used to optimize travel, find new places, and get you home when you’re lost. Online stores can be used to conveniently shop from your home, or find products you normally wouldn’t have access to. Social networking can be used to keep in touch with friends and relatives, and to form new friendships with strangers you may never have come in contact with otherwise. Wikipedia can be used for research and updated by complete strangers to spread knowledge. Companies can stay in contact with customers, alerting them of new products, updates to existing ones, or even alert them to potential problems with something they previously purchased.

In the last ten or so years, privacy in the US has been “under attack.” These so-called attacks come from many different sources. Governmental agencies seek access to more and more private information in order to combat terrorism and other criminal activities. Private organizations seek to obtain private information to identify new customers, customize advertisements, prevent fraud, etc. Technology has enabled these organizations to obtain this data in a variety of ways, often unbeknownst to the average user.

When was the last time you went to the airport and waited for someone to arrive at the gate? How about escorting someone to the gate before their flight? As recently as 20 years ago, it was possible to do both. However, since that time, security measures have been put in place to prevent non-ticketed individuals access beyond security checkpoints. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, security has been enhanced to include random searches, bomb sniffing, pat downs, full-body scanners, and more. In fact, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) started random screening at the gate in 2008. Even more recently, the TSA has authorized random swabbing of passenger hands to detect explosive residue. While these measures arguably enhance security, it does so at the expense of the private individual. Many travelers feel violated by the process, even arguing that they are assumed to be guilty, having to prove their innocence every time they fly.

Traditionally, any criminal proceeding is conducted with the assumption of innocence. A criminal is considered innocent of a crime unless and until they are proven guilty. In the airport example above, the passengers are being screened with what can be considered an assumption of guilt. If you refuse to be screened, you are barred from flying, if lucky, or taken in for additional questioning and potentially jailed for the offense. Of course, individuals are not granted the right to fly, but rather offered the opportunity at the expense of giving up some privacy. It’s when these restrictions are applied to daily life, without the consent of the individual, that more serious problems arise.

Each and every day, the government gathers information about its citizens. This information is generally available to the public, although access is not necessarily easy. How this information is used, however, is often a source of criticism by privacy advocates. Massive databases of information have been built with algorithms digging through the data looking for patterns. If these patterns match, the individuals to whom the data belongs can be subject to additional scrutiny. This “fishing” for wrongdoing is often at the crux of the privacy argument. Generally speaking, if you look hard enough, and you gather enough data, you can find wrongdoing. More often, however, false positives pop up and individuals are subjected to additional scrutiny without warrant. In some cases, individuals can be wrongly detained.

Many privacy opposers argue that an innocent person has nothing to hide. However, this argument can be considered a fallacy. Professor Daniel Solove wrote an essay explaining why this argument is faulty. He argues that the “nothing to hide argument” is essentially hollow. Privacy is an inherently individualistic preference. Without knowing the full extent of how information will be used, it is impossible to say that revealing everything will have no ill effects, assuming the individual is innocent of wrongdoing. For instance, data collected by the government may not be used to identify you as a criminal, but it may result in embarrassment or feelings of exposure. What one person may consider a non-issue, others may see as evil or wrong.

These arguments extend beyond government surveillance and into the private sector as well. Companies collect information about consumers at an alarming rate. Information entered into surveys, statistics collected from websites, travel information collected from toll booths, and more can be used to profile individuals. This information is made available, usually at a cost, to other companies or even individuals. This information isn’t always kept secure, either. Criminals often access remote systems, obtaining credit card and social security numbers. Stalkers and pedophiles use social networking sites to follow their victims. Personal information posted on public sites can find its way into credit reports and is even used by some businesses to justify firing employees.

Privacy laws have been put in place to prevent such abuses, but information is already out there. Have you taken the time to put your name into a search engine lately? Give it a try, you may be surprised by the information you can find out about yourself. These are public records that can be accessed by anyone. Financial and real estate information is commonly available to the public, accessible to those knowing how to look for it. Criminal records and court proceedings are published on the web now, allowing anyone a chance to access it.

Whenever you access a website, check out a book from the library, or chat with a friend in email, you run the risk of making that information available to people you don’t want to have it. In recent years, it has been common for potential employers to use the Internet to obtain background information on a potential employee. In some cases, embarrassing information can be uncovered, casting a negative light on an individual. Teachers have been fired because of pictures they posted, innocently, on their profile pages. Are you aware of how the information you publish on the Internet can be used against you?

There is no clear answer on what should and should not be kept private. Likewise, there is no clear answer on what private data the government and private companies should have access to. It is up to you, as an individual, to make a conscious choice as to what you make public. In an ever evolving world, the decisions you make today can and will have an impact on what may happen in the future. What you may think of as an innocent act today can potentially be used against you in the future. It’s up to you to fight for your privacy, both from the government, and from the companies you interact with. Be sure you’re aware of how your data can be used before you provide it. Privacy and private data is being used in new, interesting, and potentially harmful ways every day. Be sure you’re aware of how your data can be used before you provide it.


“Educate to Innovate”

About 2 weeks ago, the President gave a speech about a new program called “Educate to Innovate.” The program aims to improve education in the categories of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM. At the end of his speech, students from Oakton High School demonstrate their “Cougar Cannon,” a robot designed to scoop up and throw “moon rocks.” A video of the speech, and the demonstration, is below.

“As President, I believe that robotics can inspire young people to pursue science and engineering. And I also want to keep an eye on those robots in case they try anything.”

As a lover of technology, I find it wonderful that the president is moving in this direction. I wrote, not too long ago, about my disappointment with our current educational system. When I was in school, there were always extra subjects we could engage in to expand our knowledge. In fact, the high school I attended was set up similar to that of a college, requiring that a number of extra credits, beyond the core classes, be taken. Often these were foreign languages or some form of a shop class. Fortunately, for me, the school also offered classes in programming and electronics.

I was invited back to the school by my former electronics teacher a few years after I graduated. The electronics program had expanded somewhat and they were involved in a program called FIRST Robotics, developed by Dean Kamen. Unfortunately, I had moved out of the area, so my involvement was extremely limited, but I did enjoy working with the students. The FIRST program is an excellent way to engage competitiveness along with education. Adults get to assist the students with the building and programming of the robot, guiding them along the process. Some of the design work was simply outstanding, and solutions to problems were truly intuitive.

One of the first “Educate to Innovate” projects is called “National Lab Day.” National Lab Day is a program designed to bring students, educators, and volunteers together to learn and have fun. Local communities, called “hubs,” are encouraged to meet regularly throughout the year. Each year, communities will gather to show off what they have learned and created. Labs range from computer science to biology, geology to physics, and more. In short, this sounds like an exciting project, one that I have signed up for as a volunteer.

I’m excited to see education become a priority once again. Seeing what my children learn in school is very disappointing at times. Sure, they’re younger and I know that basic skills are necessary, but it seems they are learning at a much slower pace than when I was in school. I don’t want to see them struggle later in life because they didn’t get the education they need and deserve. I encourage you to help out where you can, volunteer for National Lab Day, or find another educational program you can participate in. Never stop learning!


Holy .. Green?

So yeah, the background of the site is green. Why? Simply put, it’s a show of support for those in Iran fighting for their freedom. Check out the main media outlets, CNN, BBC, etc. And you can follow more on my other blog if you are so inclined. I’m not going to update at all here about Iran related stuff, this is a tech blog. But I’ll show my support nonetheless.


Happy belated US Democracy Server Patch Day!

Stumbled across a site with these patch notes…  They’re funny enough that I’m reposting them below.

US Democracy Server: Patch Day

Version 44.0


  • Leadership: Will now scale properly to national crises. Intelligence was not being properly applied.
  • A bug has been fixed that allowed the President to ignore the effects of debuffs applied by the Legislative classes.
  • Drain Treasury: There appears to be a bug that allowed loot to be
    transferred from the treasury to anyone on the President’s friends
    list, or in the President’s party. We are investigating.
  • Messages to and from the President will now be correctly saved to the chat log.
  • Messages originating from the President were being misclassified as originating from The American People.
  • A rendering error that frequently caused the President to appear wrapped in the American Flag texture has been addressed.

Vice President

  • The Vice President has been correctly reclassified as a pet.
  • No longer immune to damage from the Legislative and Judicial classes.
  • The Vice President will no longer aggro on friendly targets. This
    bug was identified with Ranged Attacks and the Head Shot ability.
  • Reveal Identity: this debuff will no longer be able to target Covert Operatives.
  • Messages to and from the Vice President will now be correctly saved to the chat log.
  • A rendering bug was affecting the Vice President’s visibility,
    making him virtually invisible to the rest of the server. This has been


  • There was a bug in the last release that prevented the Cabinet from
    disagreeing with the President, which was the cause of a number of
    serious balance issues. This bug has been addressed, and we will
    continue to monitor the situation.


  • Many concerns have been raised regarding balance issues in the
    Supreme Court. This system is maintained on a different patch schedule,
    and will require longer to address.
  • A large number of NPCs in the Judiciary were incorrectly flagged
    “ideological.” We are trying to identify these cases and rectify this

Homeland Security

  • Homeland Security Advisory System: We have identified a bug in this
    system that prevents the threat level from dropping below Elevated
    (Yellow). The code for Guarded (Blue) and Low (Green) has been
    commented out. We are testing the fix and hope to have it in by the
    next patch.
  • Torture: This debuff is being removed after a record number of complaints.
  • Item: Large Bottle of Water is incorrectly generating threat with
    TSA Agents when held in inventory. We are looking into the issue.
  • Asking questions about Homeland Security was incorrectly triggering the Chain-Jingoism debuff.


  • Serious on-going issues with server economy are still being
    addressed. We expect further roll-backs, and appreciate your help
    identifying and fixing bugs. We can’t make these fixes without your


  • Reputation with various factions are being rebalanced. The gradated
    reputation scale was erroneously being overwritten by the binary For
    Us/ Against Us flag.


  • The” Desert Storm” quest chain was displaying an erroneous “Mission Accomplished” message near the beginning of the chain.
  • The quest chain that begins with “There’s no Cake like Yellow Cake”
    and terminates  with “W-M-Denied” has been identified as uncompletable,
    and has been removed.


  • Many recipes that currently call for Crude Oil can now be made with
    Wind, Solar, Geothermal and Ethanol reagents. We hope to roll out even
    more sweeping changes in the next patch.


  • The “Axis of Evil” event is drawing to a close. Look forward to the “Rebuilding Bridges” event starting in January.

I can’t wait to see what Obama has in store for the technical side of things.  Too bad he has to start out with technology in the White House that has been compared to the Dark Ages

if (blocked($content))

And the fight rages on… Net Neutrality, to block or not to block.

Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, is introducing new legislation to prevent service providers from blocking Internet content. Dorgan is not new to the arena, having put forth legislation in previous years dealing with the same thing. This time, however, he may be able to push it through.

So what’s different this time? Well, for one, we have a new president. And this new president has already stated that Net Neutrality is high on his list of technology related actions. So, at the very least, it appears that Dorgan has the president in his corner.

Of course, some service providers are not happy about this. Comcast has gone on record with the following:

“We don’t believe legislation is necessary in this area and could harm innovation and investments,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s senior director of government affairs and corporate communications, in a phone interview. “We have consistently said that all our customers have access to content available on the Internet.”

And she’s right! Well.. sort of. Comcast custmers do have access to content. Or, rather, they do now. I do recall a recent period of time where Comcast was “secretly” resetting bittorrent connections, and they have talked about both shaping and capping customers. So, in the end, you may get all of the content, just not all at the same level of service.

But I think, overall, Dorgan has an uphill battle. Net Neutrality is a concept not unlike free speech. It’s a great concept, but sometimes its implementation is questionable. For instance, If we look at pure Net Neutrality, then providers are required to allow all content without any shaping or blocking. Even bandwidth caps can be seen to fall under the umbrella of Net Neutrality. As a result, customers can theoretically use 100% of their alloted bandwidth at all times. This sounds great, until you realize that bandwidth, in some instances, and for perfectly legitimate reasons, is limited.

Take rural areas, for instance, especially in the midwest where homes can be miles away from each other. It can be cost-prohibitive for a service provider to run lines out to remote areas. And if they do, it’s generally done using line extender technology that can allow for decent voice signals over copper, but not high-speed bandwidth. One or two customer connections don’t justify the cost of the equipment. So, those customers are relegated to slower service, and may end up devices with high customer to bandwidth ratios. In those cases, a single customer can cause severe degradation of service for all the others, merely by using a lot of bandwidth.

On the flip side, however, allowing service providers to block and throttle according to their own whims can result in anti-competitive behavior. Take, for instance, IP Telephony. There are a number of IP Telephony providers out there that provide the technology to place calls over a local Internet connection. Skype and Vonage are two examples. Neither of these providers has any control over the local network, and thus their service is dependent on the local service provider. But let’s say the local provider wants to offer VoIP service. What’s to prevent that local provider from throttling or outright blocking Skype and Vonage? And thus we have a problem. Of course, you can fall back to the “let the market decide” argument. The problem with this is that, often, there is only one or two local providers, usually one Telco and one Cable. The Telco provider may throttle and block voice traffic, while the Cable provider does the same for video. Thus, the only choice is to determine which we would rather have blocked. Besides, changing local providers can be difficult as email addresses, phone numbers, etc. are usually tied to the existing provider. And on top of that, most people are just too lazy to change, they would rather complain.

My personal belief is that the content must be available and not throttled. However, I do believe the local provider should have some control over the network. So, for instance, if one type of traffic is eating up the majority of the bandwidth on the network, the provider should be able to throttle that traffic to some degree. However, they must make such throttling public, and they must throttle ALL of that type of traffic. Going back to the IP Telephony example, if they want to throttle Skype and Vonage, they need to throttle their own local VoIP too.

It’s a slippery slope and I’m not sure there is a perfect answer. Perhaps this new legislation will be a step in the right direction. Only time will tell.