On Tuesday July 8th 2014 I was once more a guest on Max Keiser's programme 'The Keiser Report'. Max is a former Wall Street trader who foresaw the current economic crisis a decade ago. On his show he lets rip on the insane financial system and allows his guests to do the same.
Max asked me about the handbook 'Information Security for Journalists' I co-authored with journalist Silkie Carlo. The tools and methods it describes can help is slowing down the NSA by increasing the cost of surveiling individuals by a factor of about 1 million. We also discussed the latest US-inspired attempt-at-corporate-takeover-disquised-as-trade-agreement known as TTIP. I think this wil be defeated in the same way as its smaller precursors ACTA and SOPA before it because it is not in Europe's interest. This will require some serious action on behalf of Europeans since our politicians seem a tad slow in recognising the patterns here.
With journalist Silkie Carlo I have co-authored a 'handbook' on practical information security for journalists commissioned by the UK Centre for Investigative Journalism. The CIJ handbook 'Information Security for Journalists' was launched at the CIJ Summer School 2014 last weekend in London. The book will be freely available in electronic format and in print after the summer. Just like last year I gave lectures (slides) and ran a hands-on workshop to get journalists 'tooled-up' so they can better protect their sources, themselves and their stories in a post-Snowden world.
From the 'backflap' of the book:
This handbook is a very important practical tool for journalists. And it is of particular importance to investigative reporters. For the first time journalists are now aware that virtually every electronic communication we make or receive is being recorded, stored and subject to analysis and action. As this surveillance is being conducted in secret, without scrutiny, transparency or any realistic form of accountability, our sources, our stories and our professional work itself is under threat.
After Snowden’s disclosures we know that there are real safeguards and real counter measures available. The CIJ’s latest handbook, Information Security for Journalists, lays out the most effective means of keeping your work private and safe from spying. It explains how to write safely, how to think about security and how to safely receive, store and send information that a government or powerful corporation may be keen for you not to know, to have or to share. To ensure your privacy and the safety of your sources, Information Security for Journalists will help you to make your communications indecipherable, untraceable and anonymous.
Although this handbook is largely about how to use your computer, you don’t need to have a computer science degree to use it. Its authors, and the experts advising the project are ensuring its practical accuracy and usability, and work with the latest technology.
Director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism
This handbook is being translated into Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Portugese, Spanish, and other languages
Over the last 10-15 years public IT in Europe has not developed in line with public interests, nor does it guarantee the fundamental rights of citizens such as privacy and freedom of expression. Tremendous opportunities in the field of economic development and employment have also been missed. Europe effectively outsources much of its information processing (software & services) to foreign parties at the direct cost of hundreds of billions of Euros (typically around 1% of GNP). The opportunity-cost to local economic growth and employment opportunities are much greater than that. Even more costly than either of these is the de-facto handing over of control of data of governments, businesses and individual citizens to foreign spies who use it for political manipulation, repression of citizens' freedoms and industrial espionage. Although the warnings about the negative consequences of current policies date back at least 15 years, these aspects have been documented in irrefutable detail over the last year by the revelations of Edward Snowden. 12 months later there has not even been the beginning of a policy response.
It could all have been so different ...
In the first 21 months of the 21st century, the dot-com bubble burst and then three skyscrapers in New York collapsed. Between these two events a largely forgotten report to the European Parliament appeared in the summer of 2001. This report described the scale and impact of electronic espionage in Europe by the U.S. and its 'Echelon' partners (Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand). Besides a detailed problem analysis, the report also gave concrete examples of IT policies that governments could take to significantly limit foreign intelligence spying on Europe.
In the same period was U.S. government won one of the largest anti-trust cases its history, against Microsoft, and the EU followed this victory by launching a similar case that would also be won leading to the highest fine to a company for economic crimes in the history of the EU.
It was against this background that thinking about strategic versus operational aspects of IT in the public sector changed. The report on Echelon made it clear that reducing IT into a merely operational exercise had disastrous consequences on the sovereignty of European states with respect to, in particular, the United States (and perhaps in the near future, China, other technically capable countries or non-state organizations). The economic consequences of industrial espionage against many high-tech and R&D-intensive companies became a major concern for the government.
At 12:30 on Friday 13th of June 2014 I will give the Kerckhoff Lecture at the Radboud Universities Kerckhoffs Institute for information security in Nijmegen in room HG00.068. For an audience of students and faculty who probably know more about the maths of cryptography than myself I will talk about the tech-policy implications of the Snowden revelations and why Europe has been doing so very, very little.
Imagine a whistleblower releasing detailed documentary proof of a group of organisations that dump large volumes of toxic mixed chemical waste in European rivers and lakes. The documents describe in detail how often (daily) and how toxic (very). Now imagine journalists, civic organisations and elected representatives all starting furious discussions about how bad this is and what the possible horrible consequences theoretically could be for european citizens.
Now imagine that this debate goes on and on for months as slowly more documentation is published showing ever more detailed descriptions of the various compounds in the toxic chemicals and what rivers and lakes precisely they are being dumped into.
Now imagine that no journalist, civic organisation or elected representative comes up with a single concrete and actionable proposal to stop the actual and ongoing toxic dumping or to prevent future organisations getting into the habit of illegal dumping.
Imagine also that both governments and public-sector organisations, including the ones responsable for health- and environmental matters continue not only to procure products and services from above organisations but also continue to give them the licences they need to operate.
Imagine that this goes on for month after month after month for a full year.
Now Imagine it turns out that the Government not only already knew about this 13 years before but also had a detailed report on practical solutions to clean up the mess and prevent future poisoning.
Sounds incredible does it not?
Except this is precisely how Europe has been not-dealing with the revelations by Edward Snowden on industrialised mass-surveillance of our government & civic institutions, companies and citizens.
The EU has spent most of a year holding meetings and hearings to 'understand' the problem but has not produced a single word on what concrete actions could regain the right to privacy for its citizens now. This while a July 2001 report on Echelon, the NSA/GCHQ precursor program to the current alphabet soup, explained the scope of the problem of electronic dragnet surveillance and made practical and detailed recomendations that would have protected Europeans and their institutions had they been implemented. Currently only Germany has seen the beginnings of policies that will offer some protection for its citizens.
On Friday the 13th of June I will discuss the full scope of the NSA surveillance problem, the available technological and policy solutions and some suggestions about why they have not and are not being implemented (or even discussed).
I will be speaking and workshopping at the 2014 Dataharvest+ conference in Brussels. This conference brings together investigative journalists, (big)data wranglers, coders & hackers to kick journalism into the 21st century.
My contribution will be a series of presentations about applied information security for investigative journalists and hands-on workshops to get security tools working on laptops. So bring yours! Slides I used are here: PPT, PDF. Some tips and links to tools. A video from a comparable worshop last year, since then the situation has turned out to be much more dire.
Dear Members of the Committee on ICT ,
On June 1st, 2012 I was invited by your predecessors to contribute to the expert meeting of the Parliamentary Working Group on ICT projects in government. The written submission that I made at that time is here, including a video of those hearings (in Dutch).
As an IT architect but also as a concerned citizen, I have been actively involved with the IT policy of the government since 2002, focusing on the areas of electronic health records, security and open standards / open source software. On the latter issue I was the initiator of the 2002 Parliamentary 'Motion Vendrik' that advocated greater independence from dominant software suppliers. Last year I also served as a technical expert on the Committee of Minister Plasterk who advised on the (im)possibilities of electronic support for the electoral process.
Although this motion Vendrik from 2002 was translated into the Heemskerk Action Plan in 2007, this policy was quietly killed in 2010/11 by the lobbying power of large software vendors and the U.S. government. Even the Court-of-Audit was pressured to *not* ask certain questions in its 2011 report on the policy. Since 2002, the Netherlands has spent about 60-90 billion on foreign software, for which in many cases free, equally good or better alternatives are available. Their use is, however, actively hindered by both the Ministries of Education and Interior, as well as the VNG supported by the lobbying apparatus of major suppliers and the U.S. government.
This despite Justice Minister Donner's 2004 letter to Parliament in response to the Motion Vendrik where he admitted that:
This dependence has since become much greater and more than one billion Euro was spent on Microsoft licenses over the last decade. That money would have paid for 10,000 man-years of expertise to migrate away from Microsoft products. A large part of the money spent would have remained in the Dutch economy and returned to the state through tax and VAT. Not that 10,000 man-years would have been needed. The Municipality of Ede did it against the odds for a fraction of the cost and now saves 92 % on software expenses (and 25% on overall budget). The rest of the government has yet to take steps. Why is an important question.
Today is the 11th of Februrari 2014,"The Day We Fight Back". We fight against out-of-control spying on our privacy as free citizens. We fight against Orwellian espionage because we know where it leads to in the end.
The text below is inspired by the speeches of Winston Churchill in during may and june 1940. While the nature of the opponents of democracy and freedom is different today the consequences of losing the fight are just as dire. Our society and the planetary eco-system is a great trouble. We need our democracies to function and our internet to be free so we can adress the great challenges of out time.
"What Cory Doctorow and Aaron Schwartz called the fight against SOPA & ACTA is over. The battle against TTP and global surveillance continues to rage on. Upon this battle depends the survival of the internet and our democracies. Upon it depends our own way of life and the long continuity of our institutions and our culture. Once again the whole fury and might of the enemies of freedom will very soon be turned on us now.
Those working towards a police state know that they will have to break us or lose this conflict. If we can stand up to them, all of the Internet may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States and Europe, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new corporatist Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted technologies.
You ask, what is our policy? We can say: It is to hack, by server, laptop and phone, with all our might and with all the strength that Turing can give us; to wage lulz against a monstrous tyranny, rarely surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory, victory at all cost, victory in spite of all the terror, corruption and lies.
I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once more able to defend our networked homes. To ride out the storm of surveilance, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of the hacktivists - every one of them. That is the will of free citizens, the technologists and the creatives, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend their native internet, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there will be no free culture and no culture of freedom.
Therefore we shall go on to the end:
we shall fight in Europe,
we shall fight on our browsers and our operating systems,
we shall fight with stronger encryption, and secure hardware,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength
we shall defend our networks, whatever the cost may be,
We shall never surrender.
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the Internet and its hacker community last for a thousand years, they will still say, "This was their finest hour”."
No go participate or organise a cryptoparty, support people developing better tools (mail, web, secure systems and all this Free-as-in-freedom Software) or ask other people if they value being able to read without being read at the same time. Privacy is a human right according to the UN Declaration of human rights and yes, you to have something to hide as well.
Originally for Consortium News - Warning! this article violates 'Godwin's Law ' in almost every paragraph. Regrettably all these violations are all based on historic facts and documented current events.
When the famous skyline landmark building in the world’s economic center was attacked in fire and flames on that fateful, horrible day, and our elected leaders decided to go to war against terrorism under the banner of “you’re with us or against us”.
When the blame for all evil was unanimously put on people from the Middle East with their foreign religion, and all of those were made suspicious.
When patriotic new laws were passed almost immediately in the emotions from the attack, and those laws suspended most civil rights. When the word “Homeland” suddenly started being used again, after having been practically extinct.
When the country went to war, one after another, in the wake of that attack. When internment and torture camps for those middle-easterners and other unwanteds were created – outside the country borders, in order to hide what was going on from the public.
Indeed, the 1930s were a very dark time in Germany, and the Reichstag fire in Berlin set off a chain of events that might – theoretically – repeat itself.
I was a guest on Max Keiser's programme 'The Keiser Report' last Thursday jan. 16th for the second time. Max is a former Wall Street trader who foresaw the current economic crisis a decade ago.
Max caught me be susprise by asking about the NSA TURMOIL and TURBINE programs. I confused them with other programs (there are many). The TURMOIL and TURBINE programs are part of the 'Targeted Acces Operations' family (see this Spiegel article). These are programs for gaining acces to systems by other means than abusing their built-in weaknesses over internet connections (the NSA's favourite method because it can be automated to spy on everyone at very low cost). Targeted Accces Operations (TAO) deals with everything from intercepting & modifying electronic devices that people order online to the use of microwave beam weapons to identify, hack, break and manipulate computer systems from great distance. The latter method has also been used for targeting drone strikes. The talk by Jacob Appelbaum I mention in the beginning of the interview is here. Many more talks from the 2013 CCC conference in Hamburg can be found here.
The US Declaration Of Independence is one of the greatest political writings in history and can be re-written for more contemporary political problems as I did here. Accoring to US academics the US declaration was inspired by the Dutch declaration that preceded it by almost two centuries.
Blogpost on a previous interview last year.
Last year during my December visit on London I gave a 1 hour interview to London Real. This is great new free-form 1+ hr completly unscripted interview program that is available on Youtube and as a podcast. Tired of the superficial 3-minute interviews that stop just when things get interesting? London Real is your channel. If you want to keep up to date on the London startup/tech scene then checkout Silicon Real.
Brian Rose and me spoke about NSA-spying, the nature of privacy, copyright, bitcoin and much more. The interview begins at 7:48. For more check out the London Real site. Compact mp3 for download here.
On December 25th 2013 Edward Snowden delivered an alternative Christmas message on the UK's channel 4 TV station. Before the broadcast a short version of the speech was leaked and immediatly uploaded to youtube. That upload was immediatly blocked but many re-uploads made the clip available everywhere. This is one of those places. If you want to thank Edward Snowden for giving up his relationship, familiy, job and any chance of a normal life to inform us all go here and donate. Or spread his message. And do something with it. Because if something is done all of Edward's sacrifices have meaning.
From April 26th until December 18th 2013 I was a member of the expert committee on voting computers. This committe was instituted to advise the Dutch Minister for the Interior on the feasability of re-introducing electronic voting methods.
In the past (2008, 2012) I have always been very critical about the way electronic voting was implemented in The Netherlands up to 2007. The lack of transparancy of this method and the impossibility of recounts made this fundamentally incompatible with real democracy and,
after some convincing by citizens, even the government agreed on this.
On Moday december 2nd 2013 I was a guest on Max Keiser's programme 'The Keiser Report'. Max is a former Wall Street trader who foresaw the current economic crisis a decade ago. On his show he lets rip on the insane financial system and allows his guests to do the same.
O, and a PetaFLOP is 1.000.000.000.000.000 computations per second. I should have known that ;-)
Update May 28th 2014: The Guardian just published a written summary of the talks below. For those with less time or a preference for text as opposed to video.
Over the last month Prof. Eben Moglen held a series of lectures on the implications of the documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden. More than any other article or interview these talks give a clear analysis of the meaning of this information and what it is we all need to do as citizens if we want a future where freedom and civil liberties still has some meaning. Original video's, audio recordings and transcriptions of the talks can be found at http://snowdenandthefuture.info/.
<on 26-09-2013 I gave the keynote at the Eurapco congres where top EU insurance firms share expertise>
We live in a world of rapid technological change. Keynote speaker and IT expert Arjen Kamphuis discusses the implications for the insurance industry and its customers, and what measures can be taken to ensure the best possible customer experience. The objective was to raise awareness of the rapid pace of socio-technical development today and what fundamental effects this will have on the insurance industry. Changes in customer behaviour and expectations will have an impact on customer satisfaction with our companies’ claims handling.
Future shock – are we prepared for change? Some of the topics discussed in the keynote
<also on HuffPo UK>
Shortly after the initial release of some documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden I wrote a little summary about the IT-policy implications for Europe based on earlier columns. A lot of additional documents have come out since then and we can basically conclude that almost every computer system on the planet is fully broken or at least very vulnerable to NSA interference or manipulation.
Nobody, including the NSA, Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald has a total oversight of all the in the tens of thousands of documents let alone the political or strategic implications of the info contained in them. Most of the news keeps focusing on the 'scandal' aspect and/or the person of Snowden. Being angry at the US government (practised by most opponents) and attacking the person of Snowden (a favorite of apologists of the US regime) distracts from defining adequate policy responses and so far there have been precisely none in Europe. This constitutes a massive failure of the various EU governments to protect their citizens' rights and the economic sovereignty of their nations. It is also strange in light of the fact that an adequate policy response had already been formulated in July 2001 and really just needs to be implemented.
But every now and them the disinfo spread by some apologists for the behaviors of the NSA is useful for understanding how much worse the situation may just turn out to be. This article by a former NSA employee is a nice example of an attempt at smearing the whistleblower while actually digging the hole the NSA (and the US regime) is in much, much deeper. The piece claims Snowden secretly worked for Russian intelligence all along. While I do not share the authors views on Snowden's motivations or allegiances the suggestion that outside organisations could have agents inside the NSA has some interesting implications.
(this post text started as an email to a Dutch employee of the national broadcast service NOS - somewhat equivalent to the British BBC) - also on Sargasso.nl. See Dutch version of this blog for links to the complete follow-up (in Dutch). Overview of this on Sander Venema's blog in English.
Yesterday you felt it tweet-worthy that Russia Today TV had cut off a guest who used the platform he was given not to discuss the Bradley Manning trail but instead staged a protest against the horrible LGBT-rights situation in Russia. This incident was to you 'proof' that RT could not be trusted as a good information source in other things. As a reference you picked the Dutch newspaper 'De Telegraaf'. This, in my view, was a rather unfortunate choice since this newspaper has itself a long and sordid history of collaborating with the German occupation, misinforming of misrepresenting world events and generally being a publication that only cares about human rights when it suits their political agenda. All in the tradition of FOX-news and the Daily mail.
At OHM2013 I talked about implications of accelerating tech, some ways to understand the various crisis we're in right now and some questions we can ask about the strange things our governments seem to be up to these days.
I was critical of most western 'mainstream' media because they see quite incapable of asking basic questions such as: "why are we putting Bradley Manning on trial and not the helicopter-gunner who shot up over a dozen civilians including children?" Shooting at children with an anti-tank gun and then lying about it to the world is probably a war-crime, certainly something worth digging into in the context of a war that itself has been started based on lies.
Just did the latest version of my 'Futureshock' talk (update from 2005 / 2009) at OHM2013. The central new insight is that exponential change does not only work 'up' (Moore's law, Kurzweil's law of accelerating returns) but also the other way: exponential out of control financial systems and military-industrial-security-complexes causing exponential depletion of critical resources. All of this is very bad but the exponential climate disaster is now rapidly approaching a level that could end up killing more people that all the wars ever (and perhaps all of us). Welcome to the age of consequences where 'crisis' will be the new normal.
Just as in 2005/2009 I to give an overview of exponentially developing technologies and their implications (for details see the earlier versions of the talk linked above). But we really need to discuss some bad news about exponentially growing problems of resource scarcity, environmental degradation and the policy non-responses of our governments so far. A lot of activism against things like 'The War on Terror' or the various other ways our governments have lots their democratic ways seem to be working from the assumption that most of the problems are just a misunderstanding. And if we can just explain the facts to these, not so smart, but esssentially well meaning people in Brussels and Washington everything will be OK. This model of reality is good for getting funded as an NGO and getting invited to talk to aforementioned well-meaning people. It is not good for actually understanding and influencing what is going on (firstly because it ignores the fact that politicians in Brussels and Washington are really not in charge). Lets at least consider the idea that these 'crazy' policies are not crazy at all but are actually working perfectly. That is for the actual goals, just not the officially stated ones.
Let's talk. But let our talking be based on a harsh assesment of where we really are, not some politically convienent pretense of where we should be or would like to be.
When trying to understand current events in their context it's often more useful to look at the policies that are influencing these events than individual cases (although the individual cases often make up 'the news'). In many cases there is a gaping chasm between the formally stated goals of a policy and their actual effects ('wars' on various nouns such as 'terror' or 'drugs' come to mind).
Despite this, discussions about and opposition against are often argued from the rather fictional standpoint that the stated goals are the actual goals. Even if it is patently obvious that the policy in question does not further this goal, and that everybody smart enough to have some influence is aware of this. Opposition against misguided or destructive policies thus allows the parameters of the debate to be fenced-in by its proponents. It's pretty hard to win any debate if the other party can define (and re-define) the goal-posts without a need for any evidence that these goal-posts are reasonably placed.
The UK Centre for Investigative Journalism is a non-profit organisation dedicated to educating and training journalists to benefit the quality of journalism and thus public debates on important topics in society. Every year the CIJ holds a 3-day summer school where journalists can follow lectures, participate in workshops and meet with some of the foremost professionals in their field. Several months ago, when the CIJ asked me to help set up a workshop in information security, we had no idea then how hot the subject would become after the revelations by former NSA-contractor Edward Snowden. I was very happy to see the room at London City University was packed with journalists eager to learn both theory and practice of securing their communications and protecting their data. An overview of theory & tools for those who missed it, slides here, video below.
Being in London for a few days also allowed me to contribute to a cryptoparty (a workshop for teaching info security basics to anyone interested) that was kindly hosted and wonderfully supported by the London Hackerspace. Dozens of people from all walks of life showed up and we had a great time.
If you would like to attend such a workshop contact your local hackerspace and join or look at this list of upcoming cryptoparties. If nothing is planned in your area start a group yourself. The time for it has never been more propitious. The links above can get you started. If you get stuck mail me and I'll be happy to put you in contact with people near you.
Below a recording of the theory introduction part of the workshop at the 2013 summer school. After this intro the whole class worked together for several hours setting up software tools for email-encryption, anonymous browsing and testing these new capabilities with colleagues. By the end of the day over 30 journalists were tooled up to receive scoops from high-risk whistleblowers.
On July 11th 2001 the European Parliament published a report on the Echelon spy network and the implications for European citizens and businesses. Speculations about the existence of this network of Great Britain-and-her-former-colonies had been going on for years but it took until 1999 for a journalist to publish a report that moved the subject out of the tinfoil-hat- zone. The report of the EU Parliament contains very practical and sensible proposals, but because of events two months later across the Atlantic, they have never been implemented. Or even discussed further.
Under the heading "Measures to encourage self-protection by citizens and enterprises" lists several concrete proposals for improving data security and confidentiality of communications for EU citizens. The document calls on Parliament to inform citizens about the existence of Echelon and the implications for their privacy. This information must be "accompanied by practical assistance in designing and implementing comprehensive protection measures, including the security of information technology".
Other gems are the requests to "take appropriate measures to promote, develop and manufacture European encryption technology and software and, above all, to support projects aimed at developing user encryption technology, which are open-source" and "promote software projects whose source text is published, thereby guaranteeing that the software has no "back doors" built in (the so-called "open source software")”. The document also mentions explicitly the unreliability of security and encryption technologies whose source code is not published. This is an issue that is a strict taboo in Dutch and UK discussions on IT strategy for governments (probably because certain major NATO partners might be offended).
Also, governments must set a good example to each other and their citizens by "systematic use of encryption of e-mails, so that in the longer term this will be normal practice." This should in practice be realised by "ensuring the training and publication of their staff with new encryption technologies and techniques by means of the necessary practical training and courses." Even candidate countries of the EU should be helped "if they cannot provide the necessary protection by a lack of technological independence".
That one paragraph from the summer of 2001, when rational security policies had not yet been completely destroyed by 9/11, describes the basis for a solid IT policy that ensures security and privacy of citizens against threats from both foreign actors and the government itself (historically always the greatest threat to its citizens and the reason why we have constitutions).
Had these policies been implemented over the last decade then the PRISM revelations of the last week would have been met mostly with indifference. European citizens, governments and companies would be performing most of their computing and communications on systems controlled by European organisations, running software co-developed in Europe and physically located on European soil. An American problem with an overreaching spy apparatus would have been just that, an American problem - like teenagers with machine guns or lack of universal healthcare, just one more of those crazy things they do in the colonies to have 'freedom'.
“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” - Mahatma Gandhi
This summer the Dutch hacker community, with help from friends all over the world, will organise the seventh hacker festival in a series that started in 1989 with the Galactic Hacker Party. The world has changed massively since then (we'll get to that) but the goal of these gatherings remains the same: to share knowledge and ideas about technology and its implications for our world, have heated discussions on what we should do about the problems we see (sometimes well before many others see them), generally have fun in communicating without keyboards, and being excellent to each other.
Four years ago a somewhat unknown Australian hacker with some new ideas about the future of journalism gave the opening keynote at HAR2009. His site was called Wikileaks and some of us had a hunch that this concept might be going places. We had no idea just how far that would be...
Not long after the first gathering in the Netherlands in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. While we can claim no connection, the interminable Cold War had finally ended and many of us felt, with the optimism so typical of youth, that world peace might just be possible in our lifetimes. We would go back to making rockets that went up instead of straight-and-level and other great things would follow.
<Originally a Webwereld column - in Dutch>
In the middle of election season in Iceland a debate is raging about the need to protect young children from violent pornographic imagery that can be found on the Internet. Although it is unclear what the scale of this problem is, there is concern about the methods used by some in the porn industry to market their wares. There is an idea that some firms use the old tobacco industry method of 'get them while they're young'.
As I was in Iceland recently I was fortunate enough to be asked my opinions on these matters by government officials. The entire debate is being conducted during election season, so the local media are on top of every word uttered by anyone from either government or the local digital civil liberties organisations. What causes most of the (international) attention is the specific plan to put a national filter on all Icelandic internet connections. This would be a first for a western democracy (although such filters have been tried in various Asian countries from Iran to China). Proposing a method that could very well be called censorship is incongruous in a modern and progressive society such as Iceland (the only country to have convicted its bankers over their part in the current global financial crisis).
During an informal dinner a few days later with officials it became clear that no decision on a filter, or any other policy, had been made. The government was looking into the problem and discussing possible solutions. The emotive nature of the debate causes the problems and solutions to get mixed up. I therefore attempted to structure the discussion over dinner:
On February 26th 2013 I gave a talk at Reykjavik University in Iceland on Privacy & Online freedoms. The whole thing played out in during and Icelandic election season were a proposal to put a national filter on Iceland's internet connection to block violent pornography caused quite an uproar in Iceland and abroad. Slides of this presentation here.
A few years ago, Israeli and American intelligence developed a computer virus with a specific military objective: damaging Iranian nuclear facilities. Stuxnet was spread via USB sticks and settled silently on Windows PCs. From there it looked into networks for specific industrial centrifuges using Siemens SCADA control devices spinning at highspeed to seperate Uranium-235 (the bomb stuff) from Uranium-238 (the non-bomb stuff).
Iran, like many other countries, has a nuclear program for power generation and the production of isotopes for medical applications. Most countries buy the latter from specialists like the Netherlands that produces medical isotopes in a special reactor at ECN. The western boycott of Iran makes it impossible to purchase isotopes on the open market. Making them yourself is far from ideal, but the only option that remains as import blocked.
Why the boycott? Officially, according to the U.S. because Iran does not want to give sufficient openness about its weapons programs. In particular, military applications of nuclear program is an official source of concern. This concern is a fairly recent and for some reason has only been reactivated after the US attack on Iraq (a lot of the original nuclear equipment in Iran was supplied by American and German companies with funding from the World Bank before the 1979 revolution). The most curious of all allegations of Western governments about Iran is that they are never more than vague insinuations. When all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies in 2007 produced a joint study there was a clear conclusion: Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon (recent speech by the leader of this study here).
At their yearly conference the Dutch The National Cyber Security Center stated this week they want to listen more to the hacker community. It is fine that the government will at last listen to the people who have been ahead of the curve for decades, although the question remains - why it has waited to do this until 2013? Even if this had been done as recently as 5 or 10 years ago it would have saved an incredible amount of trouble and public money. I sincerely hope that the consultations with the hack(tivist) community are about more than just technical tricks, because most benefits to society are derived from discussing policy. For purely technical issues the usual consulting companies can always be hired and then simply pay hackers for their knowledge and advice, just like any other experts.
Meanwhile a big group of hackers were unhappy about the fact they were not welcome and organized an alternative meeting. If the NCSC's intentions for the coming year work out in practice, next time this might not be necessary. On the community side, these invitations to the table should be dicussed openly and in detail (who sits at the table and wearing what hat). Because when community contributions and possible commercial interests get mixed up, things quickly degenerate into bickering and arguing. I speak from experience ;-). Nobody is "representative" of the entire hacker community. The NCSC will have to adjust to the idea that we have no centralised organisation with a head office where you can meet up with the CEO/director/top-dog.
Not sure what to say about the sudden death of Aaron Schwarz, idealist, freedom-fighter-extraordinaire and friend of open access to information for all of humanity. Aaron spend his life fighting for humanity's highest ideals, contributing to technologies most of us use every day (even if we don't know it). It just feels like something is very, very wrong is the so-called 'free world' is killing its best and brightest for living up to its highest ideals. We've got big problems and cannot afford to lose people like Aaron.
Cory Doctorow has written a eulogy here, Prof Lawrence Lessig had an overview of the case the US Department of Justice (ha!) saw fit to launch against Aaron. Glen Greenwald wrote about his heroic work in helping to defeat SOPA over the last years. A digital memorial to Aaron will be here for as long as there is an Internet. The files that started the case can be found here. Spread them around as wisely as possible.
But mostly just watch Aaron's speeches and interviews, as many times as needed before you understand his ideas and ideals fully.
On July 11th 2001 the European Parliament published a report on the Echelon spy network and the implications for European citizens and businesses. Speculations about the existence of this network of Great Britain-and-her-former-colonies had been going on for years but it took until 1999 for a journalist to publish a report that moved the subject out of the tinfoil-hat- zone. The report of the EU Parliament contains very practical and sensible proposals, but because of events two months after publication, they have never been implemented. Or even discussed further.
Under the heading "Measures to encourage self-protection by citizens and enterprises" lists several concrete proposals for inproving data security and confidentiality of communications for EU citizens. The document calls on Parliament to inform citizens about the existence of Echelon and the implications for their privacy. This information must be "accompanied by practical assistance in designing and implementing comprehensive protection measures, including the security of information technology". So not just some abstract government infomercial on TV/radio but hands-on tips to get some actual work done please!
<originally a Webwereld column>
Last month the VVD and D66 political parties (the Dutch equivalent of the Conservatives and LibDems in the UK) again proposed that the Netherlands should re-adopt electronic voting. Earlier this year the Dutch Association of Mayors also called for their reintroduction (don't you just love it when non-elected officials comment on and interfere with the electoral process :-). While the use of voting computers in the Netherlands has been banned for over four years, even for water board elections, there remains a fundamental misunderstanding of the basic problem with electronic voting.
While the many clumsy security problems (video) or the absence of the source code of the software (in the case of Nedap and SDU voting computers), are excellent talking points for the media and political agenda, these issues are not the core of the problem. And although the voting computer dossier at the Ministry of Home Affairs is now labelled with a bright fluorescent sticker: 'radioactive, do not touch!", there is still a risk that local authorities or suppliers will continue to feel that voting by computer is best "if we can just iron out a few little bugs”.
The real objections are more fundamental and have little to do with security bugs or open source code. They are the fundamental principles underpinning our democracy, and are threatened by the use of voting computers. In the many discussions on mailing lists and web forums it seems that people have lost sight of these principles.
Gartner, IT-journalists and even former employees of Microsoft agree: Windows 8 will be a disaster. The Metro interface designed for tablets (a market that virtually does not exist in relation to MS-Windows) is unworkable on a desktop with a vertical non-touch screen, keyboard and mouse. Most office spaces still have this and most run legacy applications with interfaces that rely on a Windows PC using a keyboard and mouse. It is precisely the ongoing purchase of desktop PCs with the combination of MS-Windows and MS Office that has kept Microsoft financially afloat over the last 15 years
The combination of legacy applications (mostly proprietary) and familiarity with MS Office, led many IT organisations to automatically buy the new Windows platform, despite the high cost of licences and support. The inevitable result is a world of pain, with new interfaces, a lack of compatibility and the sudden cessation of support for critical components. IT policy is organised around coping with these problems instead of focusing on sustainable alternative solutions. And solving or mitigating these problems requires so much time and money that there is often little left over to plan further ahead. Thus, in many organisations the perfect vicious circle has existed for so long that many IT people can not even see it.