Monthly Archives: December 2010

27c3 highlights: We came in peace

27c3 lands in BerlinThe 27th Chaos Computer Congress, which wound up yesterday in Berlin, was predictably fantastic. It’s the second time I’ve elected to flee the bosom of my family the day after Christmas to spend a few days in a basement with the world’s nicest hackers, and I have no regrets. This year’s congress not only had more snow (contributing to a not unpleasant feeling that I might be stranded in Chaos forever) but also, thanks to Wikileaks, better journalists AND better spies. Here are my highlights:

Rop Gonggrijp’s keynote speech

The big one. Rop opened the congress with an epic and thoughtful keynote that revisited his “We lost the war” speech at 22c3 five years ago, and plotted a courageous and critical path forward for the community in a post-Wikileaks age. By all means watch the video once, but you’ll also want to read the transcript Rop has posted to his blog. This speech will be a set text for students of the movement in years to come.

Jeremie Zimmerman demystifies ACTA

With the text of the dread anti-counterfeiting trade agreement (ACTA) finalised, La Quadrature du Net’s Jeremie Zimmerman set out what’s at stake if it gets adopted by the European Parliament in a vote scheduled for the first half of next year. Clear, precise and accessible, this is the video you should be sending your friends and relatives to in order to explain the issues and convince them to lobby their elected representatives. Speaking straight after Rop, Jeremie had a tough act to follow, but he brilliantly turned the mood from introspection to action.


Veteran hackers may have found this one a bit slow, but for me it perfectly demonstrates what CCC is here for. After detailing their experiments sending semi-random payloads via SMS to “feature phones” (those cheap, durable handsets beloved of Mums everywhere that sit in the middle of the spectrum between smart and dumb), Collin Mulliner and Nico Golde revealed the fatal and often incurable vulnerabilities they had found, and the almost universally mute response they had had from handset manufacturers in response. Having learnt about the work of OpenBTS and other grassroots GSM networking projects at the last CCC, it was gratifying to see that work applied. The talk was also a good reminder of how seriously the security community takes its responsibility as the public’s eyes and ears against vendors selling damaged goods.

Video available here.

Is the SSLiverse a safe place?

The talk I wish I hadn’t missed. My travelling tech support went to this, and reported it excellent. Using recently reported man-in-the-middle attack vulnerabilities in SSL based on corrupt SSL certification as a jumping off point, the EFF set out to survey the SSL certification landscape. Their diagnosis is frightening.

Video available here.

“The Concert”: A disconcerting moment for free culture

On top of the real spies and real journalists, 27c3 also had real musicians. “The concert” was my ultimate congress high point, and I’m sorry to say that the video is unlikely to communicate the magic that happened in Saal 1 on the evening of Day 2. But I predict that this isn’t the last time you’ll see Alex Antener, Corey Cerovsek and Julien Quentin put on this piece they premiered at 27c3. I wouldn’t be surprised if they hadn’t done TED by the end of next year.

Video available here.

Disco ball at CCC

Image credits: anders_hh@Flickr

Links for week ending 17 December 2010

Venezuela: Last minute law proposes tight internet controls
The Venezuelan government has introduced a bill to reform existing telecommunications law in order to give authorities greater power to regulate and control the internet. Proposals include the creation of a national Network Access Point to give the government the ability to “manage” all Venezuelan internet traffic, as well as measures to prevent anonymity online. “Watershed” proposals, regulating different types of content at different times of day in order to protect minors, are also said to be included in the bill, which will come before the outgoing National Assembly just weeks before it is replaced in 5th January by newly elected members. Critics have called the proposals arbitrary and unworkable.

Trouble brewing at the UN over internet governance
The United Nations is preparing to renew the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) for a further five years. IP Watch report that civil society and industry groups are jointly preparing a letter of protest against the UN’s decision to exclude them from processes intended to improve the IGF. Meanwhile, Brazil has called on the UN to establish an international body that would allow governments “to multilaterally address efforts by some to control the internet”, in reaction to recent unilateral action taken by the United States to suppress WikiLeaks.
IGF | Brazil

Hungarian Government ready to give access to communist-era files report that the Hungarian government is likely to give the go-ahead to publish classified data on communist-era informers. The data was originally stored on magnetic tapes and has been digitised with the oversight of a committee of experts headed by historian Janos Kenedi. Kenedi has previously argued that the files should be made public long before their official declassification date of 2060.

Berkman Center announces digital public library initiative
The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School have announced a new initiative, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, to plan a “Digital Public Library of America”. The planning program aims to define the scope, architecture, costs and administration of the library, and will be guided by a steering committee that includes Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, historian Robert Darnton, and freedom of information activist Carl Malamud.

“Cuba opens new online frontline in war of words”
The UK Guardian reports that Cuba has unveiled its own version of Wikipedia – “EcuRed” – this week. The site was developed by Cuba’s Youth Club of Computing and Electronics, an affiliate of the Communist Youth Union. Unlike Wikipedia, the site requires would-be editors to seek authorisation from administrators before they can make changes.

Global Voices: Around the world with WikiLeaks
Global Voices comes into its own with this collection of reactions from countries and regions around the world to the leaked US Embassy cables.
Africa | China | Ecuador | Latin America | Morocco | Singapore | Taiwan | Tunisia

In defence of DDoS
Evgeny Morozov uses the recent campaign of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, launched by internet collective Anonymous against corporations who have denied goods and services to WikiLeaks, to discuss if and when DDoS attacks should be viewed as a valid form of civil disobedience in this article for “While Anonymous’ attacks fall short of Rawls’ high standard for civil disobedience, we should not prejudge all DDoS attacks to be illegitimate.”

How data analysis helped secure conviction in historic human rights case
Benetech founder Jim Fruchterman provides a detailed account of how the work of the Benetech Human Rights Program helped lead to the conviction of two former police officers in Guatemala, for the forced disappearance of student and union leader Edgar Fernando García in 1984: “The García case is the first in Guatemala based primarily on archive documents and paves the way for judges to trust these records – and statistical findings – as evidence in future trials.”

@MedvedevRussia, are you listening?
A review of Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s first six months on Twitter, as seen through the Russian blogosphere: “Apple should almost be paying him for the publicity”.

Goodbye to the printed newspaper?
John Lanchester examines the state of the newspaper industry, and plots one path towards a viable future, in this long essay for the London Review of Books.

Leaving Facebook
A Diaspora beta tester details her experiences for Technology Review: “The goal isn’t to replace Facebook or any other service as a way to interact online but to eliminate the need to store private data on multiple websites, many of which seem geared to an all-or-nothing sharing of personal information.”

Podcast: Milton Mueller on internet governance
Milton Mueller, Professor and Director of the Telecommunications Network Management Program at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies, tries to bring back some cyber-libertarianism to the internet governance discussion for the podcast series “Surprisingly Free”.

Links for week ending 10 December

EFF takes stand against internet censorship
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) this week asked its supporters to join it in taking a stand against internet censorship, condemning the extra-judicial censorship of WikiLeaks in the United States: “Like it or not, WikiLeaks has become the emblem for one of the most important battles for our rights that is likely to come along in our lifetimes. We cannot sit this one out.”

Russia drops piracy case
Russian authorities have dropped charges of software piracy against Russian environmental NGO Baikal Environmental Wave after Microsoft indicated it would not support the case. Police raided the group’s offices in Irkutsk in January this year, confiscating 12 computers in what environmentalists say was a politically motivated operation.

Disruption to mobile services in Turkmenistan may be linked to licence negotiations
Reports are appearing on the Russian-language web that telecommunications company MTS is coming under pressure from authorities in Turkmenistan to share a greater proportion of its profits, ahead of negotiations for a new licence to operate in the country. MTS services went dark on 3 December in the capital Ashgabat due, according to a spokesperson, to an “accident…not caused by our company”. Via Google Translate: “Analysts do not rule out that the aspiration of the Turkmen authorities to take control of an extremely lucrative telecommunications business is related to a critical decrease in receipt of money in the coffers [from] the sharp drop in sales of Turkmen gas.”

Phone messages to boost African farmers
The International Finance Corporation and the Soros Economic Development Fund have invested $2.5 million in Esoko, a mobile-driven platform that delivers real-time market data to African farmers. The system is currently being piloted in northern Ghana. “The farmers seem to be getting between 20-40% revenue improvements,” Esoko founder Mark Davies told Reuters.

Venezuelan regulator proposes more controls on Internet content
A memo written by the national telecoms regulator of Venezuela to the country’s Vice President has been published by TV network Globovision. The memo recommends that the regulator, Conatel, be empowered to remove content from the internet and to apply sanctions where necessary, and includes outlandish proposals for “supervising” social networks at key times of day when they are used by minors.

WikiLeaks controversy shines a light on the limits of techno-politics
This blog post by writer Tom Slee outlines the challenge that the unfolding case of WikiLeaks presents to those who have previously eulogised the net for its disintermediating qualities and transformative potential: “The cables prompt some tough questions, but the fault lines those questions reveal run perpendicular to digital attitudes, not parallel…the Internet is a new terrain, but the battles being fought on it are old ones.”

Briefing: routing on the internet
This overview from Security Week provides a fairly accessible introduction to current issues in internet routing and their likely effects on the security of the net.

The mismeasurement of science
Michael Nielsen discusses the difficulties of measuring scientific contributions: “heavy reliance on a small number of metrics is bad for science”.

Russia: Competing models of internet politics
This Global Voices feature characterises the many sides of public debate currently taking place in Russia about the role of the internet in politics: “Despite the government ideologists’ efforts to sell the idea of preserving the hybrid regime by introducing superficial – though hi-tech – innovations, the internet provides a new environment that no one, not even the government, can fully control”.

Video: Tom Steinberg on Open Government Data
Presenting at the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Government Data Camp last month, mySociety’s Tom Steinberg attempts to chart a smooth course for the open data movement now it has the attentions of government. You can watch the talk on video, where Tom is joined by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt, or read a transcript of the talk on Tom’s blog.
Video | Transcript

Links for week ending 3 December 2010

US shutters 82 sites in crackdown on downloads and counterfeit goods
Following investigations by federal agents, 82 websites accused of supplying counterfeit goods or facilitating music piracy had their domain names “seized” on Monday this week by ICE, the United States’ Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Warrants for the seizures were issued by a District court.

Free media under siege in Egyptian elections
Foreign Policy reports details of a concerted media crackdown in Egypt ahead of last Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Mass text messaging and live television coverage of election-day events are also reported to have been restricted.

Internet blocking: key decisions in the pipeline for Europe
European Digital Rights (EDRI) report that a legislative process to implement internet blocking of images of child sex abuse is about to accelerate. Campaigners fear that the proposals will establish a Europe-wide online censorship infrastructure ready to be extended to more controversial blocking requests, while at the same time doing little to combat the sexual abuse of children. EDRI have prepared a booklet aimed at informing EU officials about the complex issues surrounding the issue, which is available in several European languages.
Report |Booklet

European Commission launches investigation into Google
The European Commission has launched an anti-trust investigation into Google’s business practices, following complaints from three companies, including Microsoft, that the online giant is abusing its dominant position in the web search market to promote its other services. The investigation will be the first of its kind directed at Google and is likely to last several years.

India district bans cell phones for unmarried women
A local council in Uttar Pradesh state, India, has banned unmarried women from carrying mobile phones, following concerns phones were being used by young couples who planned to marry against their parents’ wishes.

Shunned profiling technology on the verge of a comeback
The Wall Street Journal reports that deep packet inspection, “one of the most potentially intrusive technologies for profiling and targeting Internet users with ads”, is about to make a comeback in the United States, thanks to deals being struck by two ad-targeting companies, Phorm Inc and Kindsight Inc. The news comes two years after an outcry by privacy advocates in the US and Britain appeared to kill the technology.

If Amazon has silenced Wikileaks…
Ethan Zuckerman reacts to reports that Amazon has responded to political pressure from the US Senate and booted whistle-blowing website Wikileaks from their cloud-hosted web server service: “If Amazon did respond to pressure… it should open a conversation about the responsibilities of cloud providers towards clients who host political content. If Amazon’s policy is ‘we can terminate you if we’re uncomfortable with what you say’, that cannot be acceptable to anyone who is concerned with freedom of speech online.”

Uganda: ICT boom for economy is a bust for some women
Anecdotal evidence that the rise of mobile phone ownership in Uganda has also seen a rise in “SMS stalking, monitoring and control of partners’ whereabouts”, is backed up by a new study showing that nearly half of mobile phone owners had problems with spouses in relation to their use: “The research shows that communities are having difficulties coming to terms with the power of technology to bring about freedom for women.”

What to watch out for in Free Trade Agreements with the United States
This detailed factsheet, produced by Médecins Sans Frontiers, is aimed at civil society groups operating in countries with whom the United States is negotiating Free Trade Agreements. It explains some of the technical terms associated with new patent and enforcement provisions, and these provisions’ implications for access to medicines.

Africa Portal
The Africa Portal aims to equip users with research and information on Africa’s current policy issues. It includes an open access repository of over 2,500 books journals and digital documents. “A portion of the digital documents housed in the library have been digitized for the first time as an undertaking of the Africa Portal project. Facilitating new digitization projects is a core feature of the Africa Portal, which aims to improve access and visibility for African research.”

Podcast: Radio Berkman
In the latest edition of the excellent Radio Berkman podcast series, David Weinberger interviews Joseph Reagle about his new book, “Good Faith Collaboration”, which examines the evolution of cultures of collaboration in the Wikipedia community.

Data visualisation: Mapping a day in the life of Twitter
This 3-minute video plots 530,000 tweets (the sum of all geo-coded tweets posted to Twitter on one day in November) on a map showing, in accelerated form, a day in the life of Twitter across the world.