A small victory

June 25, 2008 at 23:12 | Posted in Life, Privacy/Security | Comments Off on A small victory
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it seems that there has been a small victory on the Privacy front. the U.S. ISP “Charter Communications” has announced that they will end their plan to use NebuAD. For more info see this EFF Blog entry.

It is good to see that the attention of the blogosphere and media, and pressure from consumers was able to start this thing turning around.


Oh Yuck

June 25, 2008 at 19:16 | Posted in Life, Privacy/Security | Comments Off on Oh Yuck
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After listening to Steve Gibson on Security Now! this week (episode 149) I started doing some digging on some of the other companies that Steve mentioned that are trying to get ISPs to engage in DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) Tracking of their clients (you, me, almost everyone on the net).

The sudden and rapid proliferation of these companies (Phorm, Nebuad, Adzilla, Frontporch, etc) seems to indicate that there is some interest in this business model and that is frightening to a privacy advocate like myself.

Why you ask would I be concerned about “anonymous” tracking of “non-personally identifiable information”. Well, firstly the anonymous part is a blatant lie. The whole reason these companies are doing this is to be able to put better targeted advertisements in front of you. To do that. they MUST know who you are.. perhaps not you in the person of “Joe blow” but the definitely know you when you are surfing a site that their advertising partners use. This means it is completely trivial to strip away your supposed anonymity.

Only a few people worried about the anonymity of information collected by search engines until the United States government tried (and succeeded) in going on a fishing expedition in that data. What is to stop similar abuses of this technology.

Unless they are completely transparent on how they collect the data, what data they collect and how long they retain it we have to assume the worst. DPI lets these companies collect any data that is unencrypted from any online source, e-mail, chat, web browsing, unencrypted VNC sessions (well those are a terrible idea over the open net anyways, but people persist in using them), etc.

Add to this that ISPs are installing this without clear declaration of the fact to their users (no having it hidden in paragraph 39 of page 18 of the TOS (that you know 99% of users never read) does not constitute CLEAR disclosure. But really what ISP is going to say “oh, yes, before I give you this cable modem would you please sign this waver giving us total permission to monitor, scan, store, and sell (yes, they are selling your info and your privacy to these companies) everything you do.. unless you encrypt it.”

IMHO this is a privacy nightmare waiting to happen. Am I a bit alarmist? Perhaps. Were the people that were alarmist about search engines and privacy correct? yes.. 100% so.

The bottom line is that our privacy is our right and we all individually need to take steps to protect it. By writing the privacy commissioner about your concerns, by writing your ISP about your concerns, by doing everything possible on you home network and PC’s to ensure that these schemes fall flat on their collective faces.

(I hope to write a blog entry on hardening you computer and Internet activities against these threats soon. I wrote one related to Phorm earlier but as this threat is growing I think a more in-depth Blog entry is necessary)

Caps, About more then just “Downloads”

May 2, 2008 at 22:25 | Posted in Tech | Comments Off on Caps, About more then just “Downloads”
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The CBC had an interesting article about the move away from “unlimited” internet service. I actually applaud the ISP’s loosing the “Unlimited” terminology, because it never was. (just check your EUA and AUP (End User Agreement and Acceptable Use Policy for those not up on their TLA’s).

The article was fairly good but in talking about the caps, but they failed to mention one basic but hugely important fact. The caps ar not just on “Downloads” the caps apply to all traffic on your internet connection. Every webpage you view, every IM message you send, every bit of spam and e-mail, EVERYTHING and that can add up quickly for a highly connected user. I often do remote tech support which means Skype for voice while I have a VNC or RDP session running and that is a combination that can eat up bandwidth in a hurry.

All that said, I never did actually hit the 60GB limit. There were time I could have.. or if I were to do some thing I’d like to do.. such as run a TOR exit node I’d hit it pretty quickly. I guess I just wish the main stream media would report the whole story. instead of focusing on “Downloads” as though that was the only thing being counted.

The Next Great BitTorrent

March 27, 2008 at 12:25 | Posted in Life, New Media, Tech | Comments Off on The Next Great BitTorrent
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CBC has taken a huge step into the reality of the 21st century by releasing their show “Canada’s Next Great Prim Minister” as a BitTorrent. This move has been greeted with great applause (from me also, Way to go CBC!!) in the blogisphere.

It also looks like this move on the part of the CBC will have the unintended effect of shining a huge, glaring, spotlight on the traffic shaping practises of many ISP’s. In the past the ISP’s have been able to hide behind in-accurate beliefs when challenged on this practise. Espousing such things as “there is only a niche market for legal BitTorrent downloads” (I always loved hearing that Linux and other F.O.S.S. used by millions was a niche.)

The painful fact of the matter is that years ago they tied themselves to an asymmetric bandwidth model, (again based on inaccurate beliefs/information), because they believed that the Internet was primarily a 1 way street Server->client. They failed to grasp that any computer connected to the Internet has the ability, and IMHO, the right to act as a server. Now by “Server” I don’t mean trying to serve a “YouTube” or “Facebook” from a residential account, but certainly people have the right to use Voip, Use BitTorrent, use Peercast, set up a small webserver to host their own content, set up a VPN server for secure remote access, etc.

The problem is all this “server” stuff flies in the face of the asymmetrical model they chose and now they are caught with their pants down not having the ability to meet their obligations unless they limit something. BitTorrent was an easy target as, sadly, it is often used for questionable file sharing, and those that, in the past, used it for Legal stuff either suffered in silence or had the technical savvy to get around the cap either by choosing a different method of receiving it or getting a better ISP. (Yes, screwing with peoples LEGAL data make you an evil and undesirable ISP)

If the ISP’s choose to continue down this road they will just push more and more people to the emergent “DarkNets” which may be much harder for them to throttle. People might also just move their “Questionable” activities to places like surfthechannel.com. What will the ISP’s do then? Throttle HTTP? Start designating evil or banned sites based on bandwidth usage?

What this comes down to, is that the first ISP to come to the residential market with an unthrottled, symmetric connection will blow the competition out of the water, hands down. Gone are the days where ISP’s can view the Internet as a “content delivery platform”, in truth those days never existed, except in the eyes of someone with too many dollar signs in their eyes to see that the “Net” has always been about the FREE flow of information. The Internet is designed to see censorship (yes that is what throttling is guys) as damage and find ways around it. Perhaps most importantly, the Internet is not just the hardware. It is the synergistic interaction of the the people that use the net, the data that they share, and their ability to “make the net their own” by creating new technologies (like bittorrent, Video chats, P2P software, Private networks, The next new thing, etc) to use and share that information freely.

The Next Great ISP (to continue the CBC’s theme) will be the one that offers symmetric, unthrottled connections first. They will be the ISP seen as the peoples champion. They will be the ISP that is most in place to embrace the coming era of cloud computing. Why on earth would I stay with an ISP that made it difficult for me to backup to my on-line storage. Why would I stay with an ISP that was clearly not ready for the future of the Internet, computers, technology, society, because they are clinging desperately to an outdated concept of “Media”. The truth is Major corporations have lost their strangle hold on “Media”. Not in the fact that it can be so easily traded (although there is that too.) But because they have lost control of the “means of production“.

The major ISP’s have a choice before them, step gracefully out of the way and use their vast resources to facilitate the free and unfettered flow of ideas, or continue in their Jurassic practises and go the way of the dinosaurs. Think it can’t happen? Watch what happens with ad-hoc wireless mesh networks in the next 5-10 year. When those come of age The ISP’s will not only have lost control of the “means of production” but they will have lost control of the “means of distribution”, and 5-10 years, that’s a blink, that’s tomorrow, If they don’t move now they will be standing on the sidelines watching as the world passes them by.

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