The Copyright Cops Go Too Far
7/24/2001; 11:40:29 PM 'It's also difficult to understand how the prosecution of Skylarov will help Adobe -- not to mention the rest of us -- which is supposed to be the justification for criminal laws. So far, the arrest has done little more than galvanize anti-DMCA activists and create a barrage of negative publicity for Adobe, which I'm willing to bet has not translated into an increase in the already pathetic sales of eBooks. As for the underlying problem of copyright protection on the Internet, it's still an open issue, but bringing out the police is not the solution to our problems. If nothing else, the arrest underscores the fact that the DMCA is a law that needs rethinking, and soon.'
Linux: The electoral test that pencil and paper meet
Misc.7/24/2001; 12:28:18 PM 'When Carol Boughton's Canberra consultancy, Software Improvements, won a $200,000 contract to provide an electronic voting system for the ACT's October election, it was critically important her team got the technology right.'"ACT" stands for "Australian Capital Territory". This is still a poll-based scheme... you have to come in and vote, it's not a remote thing. (This is good.)What's interesting about this is the system is all open source: 'The only platform that provided robustness and voter confidence was GNU Debian Linux, with all source code released under the General Public License (GPL).''Douglas Jones, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Iowa, in testimony in January on voting technology before the US Civil Rights Commission, adopted the axiom, "trust no one"...."Truly open source systems are valuable, but they pose threats, too, because anyone can get and modify the code."...'I chopped out quite a bit there; please read the article for full context. I wanted to point out that the phrase "anyone can get and modify the code" is deceptive, and probably doesn't accurately convey what the professor actually said. It may be true that I can download this voting software, make some changes, and compile it, but the effect that would have on the ACT voting results would be precisely bupkis. I would still need to get those changes into the real voting system, which should be virtually impossible, regardless of the details of the actual vote counting software.The machines will be physically secured at the polling location and the counting location (I hope!), and as long as all communications between those two locations are adequately and competently secured (which should be easy to do with something like ssh & certificate authentication), it will be very difficult to affect the system remotely, almost regardless of any weaknesses in the system. That leaves only local exploits... and there are other things that could be done to detect the effects of that. If I were designing this system, I'd put some paranoia checks into the counting system. Is one of the polling computers changing its tune? Is it suddenly registering too many votes too quickly?So, while in a vague theoretical sense, open source voting software might allow someone to discover holes in the system and exploit them, there are still huge (theoretically insurmountable) practical difficulties in exploiting these bugs, and even bigger ones associated with not being detected, assuming competent system design and administration. When considered against the very practical and real problems proprietary voting systems have, with their opaqueness and the power being handed over to the vendors of the system as a result (who could know if they were fudging the vote by a percent or two?), open source is the clear winner for voting software. It may not be perfect, but if you insist on using software, there's no reason to go with closed source.
Sad and lonely in cyberspace? No, not really.
Technology & Sociology7/23/2001; 3:22:23 PM 'A new, longer follow-up from a study that linked Web use to poor mental health heavily publicized three years ago shows that most bad effects have disappeared.'"Either the Internet has changed, or people have learned to use it more constructively, or both," says the study leader, psychologist Robert Kraut of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.'And now we see that the Internet benefits psychology as much as other sciences... thanks to the "Internet Time" phenomenon, faulty studies from 1998, corrected by follow-up studies in 2001, can dodge the (*cough cough*) psychologically challenging issues of admitting the original study may have been flawed. (Surely that's at least a possibility, nyet?)The previous study is discussed in this this Salon article from 1998:'"Sad, Lonely World Discovered in Cyberspace": The front-page headline in Sunday's New York Times conjured an image of intrepid explorers trekking to the edge of a precipice to win a precious glimpse of some remote tribe. It's a romantic, attention-getting picture, which is no doubt what attracted Times editors to the wording. But -- as so often is the case with media portraits of Net culture -- the truth is far more mundane.'
Go Ahead, Make Ashcroft's Day
Misc.7/23/2001; 2:08:20 PM 'So on Friday afternoon, when Ashcroft announced a tough-on-hacking initiative to combat the people of "poor and evil motivations" who seek to bring down the world's precious computers, did cyber-punks flinch and ask themselves if they felt lucky?'Not likely.... The new program will create a cadre of specialized cybercrime attorneys -- called "computer hacking and intellectual property" units, or, stupidly, CHIPs. They'll be based at 10 field offices around the country, from which, Ashcroft promised, they'll be able to respond like lightning to any digital threats....'But that's all the program consists of -- lawyers. Though he cited several statistics to prove to the assembled media how big a problem computer crime is, Ashcroft's was a gospel of prosecution, not of cyber security. His message, peppered as it was with such misnomers as "hacker" to mean "cyber-criminal," indicated a fundamental ignorance of the computer security community and their ethic.'The article has a couple of good examples of why this is not a good thing. If they were half serious, couldn't they afford maybe one technical person on staff?
Digital signature becomes law
Misc.7/21/2001; 8:32:43 PM 'Electronic signatures are now as legally binding as hand-written ones.'A European Commission directive came into force on Thursday, legally recognising the digital signature for the first time. 'These signatures can be used for signing contracts on e-mail and will make business much more efficient, speeding up transactions around the world.'If I recall correctly, these are electronic signitures, not digital signitures.
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