Mashup Idea of the Day

With yesterday’s unsalted password dump at LinkedIn (seriously LinkedIn, wtf are you doing not salting your passwords?), the password dump of eHarmony and today’s suspected compromise at last.fm, this would be an ideal time to provide a service that tells the truth behind an eHarmony profile simply by matching email addresses and passwords.

For example you could enter an eHarmony profile ID in, and it would check the user’s LinkedIn and last.fm profiles. A sample output could be:

“Sorry love, you know that 28-year-old, dashing, handsome, eco-friendly power company executive who loves 80s and 90s ballads whilst sunset walks on the beach, kittens and surprise weekends away? He’s actually a married 45-year-old IT Support Executive who’s favourite hobby is being Waldorf on World of Warcraft (as per the Twitter feed connected to his LinkedIn account). His favourite bands are Slayer and Megadeath, but recently has been listening to the Eurovision Song Contest Dusseldorf 2011 CD … a lot.”

Not a bad idea, hey? Please send all revenues from this service, if you implement it, to one of my nominated charities. Or buy me a book from my Kindle Wish List.

Australian Banks’ Special Offer for their Loyal Customers

Shafted!Australian Banks are offering a free pencil sharpener in gratitude for the $36bn profit they got out of us last year. It’s designed to remind us of the friendly and even intimate relationship the banks have built up with the Australian public.

Just call into any branch. There’s a small collection fee of $54.70 (to cover admin and international market fluctuations) plus a hand delivery charge of $47.35. What great value!!!!

Lots of love, Barbara

Censorship, Facebook and the Australian Government

Now as you probably know I’m not one that usually subscribes to conspiracy theories, (for example, I don’t believe that the British Royal Family had anything to do with the tragic death of Princess Diana, apart of course from ordering it, using their loyal subjects) but there has been a recent pattern of events here in Australia that have been far too conincidental.

Australia, of course, is one of the world’s most beautiful and unspoilt countries to visit. A large proportion of its economy relies on the Mining and Tourism sectors. However, due to its amazing natural history and evolutionary process (until, of course, the British invaded in 1779), the land down under has been home to many wild and wonderful creatures that simply don’t exist anywhere in the world. Everyone knows about our ‘roos, wallabies, wallaroos and koalas, but Tourism Australia, in partnership with the Federal Government, supress all information about the Dropbear, for fear of crippling our vital tourism industry. They even regularly force changes to websites, under national security laws, to websites such as the Wikipedia.

For fear of censorship, this article will not talk about the dropbear. However we suspect that the Government have been putting commercial and economic pressure on Facebook to remove content such as this fan page, where young Aussies celebrate our wonderful killer koala-like meat-eating marsupials (whilst also trying to subtley warn tourists who come to our shores to watch out for them, and not to disappear in our CBD parks due to the increasing silent ambush tactics used by hordes of dropbears).

As is commonly known, and opposed by the majority of its citizens (a.k.a. voters), the Australian Government are attempting to censor the internet, lead by the poltiical ambitions of idiots such as Chief Censor Conroy and a few minority independent senators going for the Christian or “Family Friendly” vote. An excellent test of the Government’s powers came to the fore when Facebook decided to ban all Pages that wern’t related to a product or service. Consequently, the administrators of the Drop Bear fan page, which was set up to warn visitors to Australia given censorship by official channels, had to prove Dropbears existed with “official” confirmation otherwise the Page would be permanently closed and deleted.

It doesn’t take a genius to put 2+2 together doesn’t it?

Well apparently it does … Australia today announced that their Internet Filtering “Live” Pilot (a.k.a. censorship) was a complete success – even though less than a third of the “blacklist” contains illegal material – was a complete success and it will push ahead with mandatory internet filtering. As I’ve said before, anything to do with “child sex abuse content, bestiality, sexual violence and the detailed instruction of crime or drug use” should quite rightly be monitored, and people who access such information should be caught, prosecuted and punished with the full force of the law. However, all that will happen is these b@stards will use widely-available technologies to bypass the filter … which makes it more difficult (not impossible, just difficult) for them to be caught by the miniscule 91 extra AFP officers that wil be funded to try and catch them.

Moreover, due to the sensitive nature of the blacklist, access to it is restricted with no oversight to prevent governmental censorship of legal material … for example, what next? Anti-abortion websites? Pro-abortion websites? Aethiest websites? Dropbear warnings? Facebook? Whistleblower websites like Wikileaks (currently tried to be censored by the Australian and British governments, among others)?

Australian Internet Censorship In Practice

I have previously blogged about the The Great Australian Firewall, which is currently in its testing phase for manadatory internet filtering under the direction and control of the Australian Government (specifically ACMA). In the past few days, things have taken an alarming turn for the worse. I’m going to be slightly vague on some details for my own protection, as I don’t want to risk being the recepient a $11,000 fine and criminal record thanks to the AFP. So I’m only going to point towards public news sources that are reporting the details about this.

The Government, in its new initiative to become the world’s leading Nanny State, has decided that it is their right and duty to tell us what we can and cannot think, say and see on the Internet and other media. And remember kids, these people mostly live in Canberra, the most boring city in the world. Need I say more?

What has happened recently? (Historically? See here). Well ..

  • Bulletproof Networks hosts the very popular Internet forum, whirlpool.net.au. ACMA don’t like Whirlpool, particularly as a lot of discussion about Australian ISPs performance and their views on Internet Censorship, happens on there. A user posted a link to an anti-abortion website which apparently is on ACMAs blacklist. Bulletproof was immediately issued with a takedown notice and a threat of being fined $11,000 per day. Out of the blue of course, because ACMA’s blacklist is kept secret. More information reported in The Australian newspaper
  • Somewhere on the Internet, somebody has posted Denmark’s blacklist. Someone else submitted a link to ACMA aiming to highlight the futility of maintaining a secret blacklist. ACMA responded by blocking access to that website, and their press release about it. US Tech Blog Wired takes up the story.

“ACMA is investigating this matter and is considering a range of possible actions it may take including referral to the Australian Federal Police. Any Australian involved in making this content publicly available would be at serious risk of criminal prosecution.”

  • Coincedentally, whistleblower website, WikiLeaks, has been inaccessible from a number of Australian locations today. Not one to draw conclusions, but they are quoted in The Australian:

While Wikileaks is used to exposing secret government censorship in developing countries, we now find Australia acting like a democratic backwater. History shows that secret censorship systems, whatever their original intent, are invariably corrupted into anti-democratic behavior

Chief Censor Sentator Conroy has aleady admitted his fitering scheme will be used to block legal material as well as illegal material (you know, the kind of stuff you can buy on the top shelves of newsagents – except if you live near a mining site, then its right by the cash register instead). The initial law was strictly to block illegal material such as Child Pr0n* and material that incites terrorism and other evil stuff like that. However now the somebody-please-think-of-the-children thought police have got their way and this has been expanded to “inappropriate” sites … legal gambing sites for example, like BetFair.com, are apparently on the blacklist. Of course, it would not suprise me if the Aussie equivelent of the RIAA, the ARIA, and the MPAA are fevereshly lobbying their cause, persuading Conroy to block peer-to-peer technologies in this filter, fresh on their success in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, the fact that the Nanny State forgets is that as soon as you make something illegal, all that happens is its driven underground. Techologies already exist that will bypass such censorship. Look at drug smuggling which is rife thoughout the world and mostly illegal. Even worse, they also make it more difficult for the authorites to locate and capture the bastards involved in activities such as terrorism and child pr0nography.

My previous position, that this funding should be diverted to the AFP and international legal authorities to track down, capture and castrate (no anasthetic)  people involved in these dispicable acts and then lock them up for life, still stands.

Restricting debate and enforcing your views through legal means on others in a Nanny State solution only drives the problem further underground. More debate here, and here, and here … while we still can.

Issues with re-establishing Identity After Natural Disasters

As many of you will know, southern Australia is currently suffering the worst bushfires in peacetime history of Australia. Over 173 are confirmed as dead with many more injured, towns have been destroyed completely and people losing everything. The SBS and the ABC have particularly good online coverage of this ongoing disaster. What makes it worse is that police are investigating a number of sites where the fires were suspected to have been (re)started by firebugs (arsonists) and even by thrown cigarette butts. IMHO those responsible should be tried for murder with sentences served consecutively.

Identity

I’ve just watched Prime Minister Rudd address the Australian Parliment (ironically, via the BBC) where I was pleasently suprised to hear, quite early in his speech [Link Available Soon], that the Government will direct its departments to provide assistance to people re-establish their legal identity. Things like passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates and so on are difficult enough to get hold of, but even worse when all of your “identity sources” are destroyed in disasters such as these fires or the floods ravaging Northern Queensland. Being able to provide a positive and trusted identity “token” (drivers license, passport, etc) about yourself is nowadays a virtual prerequisite to living a normal life in todays society. If you have none – how do you identify yourself? PM Rudd paused from reading his speech to convey, in his personal tone, this difficulty to the rest of Parliament. This is the first time I have ever heard a senior politician even understand this difficulty, simplistic as it may sound. Maybe its because he saw The Chasers’ Julian Morrow demonstrate how easy it is at a recent Identity Fraud conference in Sydney.

However – this got me thinking, as of course I work in the Information Security and Identity spaces. What provisions will the Commonwealth put into place to stop those evil people take advatage of this tragedy to assume the identities of victims? How do you prove your identity when your primary sources have been destroyed? There is an excellent case study of an affluent lady in NSW [Citation Needed] who has lost her home (including title deeds), car, digital identities, bank accounts, and so forth after having her identity stolen by a criminal gang whilst she was abroad. (The suspected Russian-based gang proceeded to sell everything she owned, obtained passports and birth certificates in her name,  bankrupted her and racked up massive debts in her name, and she is still fighting to this day to clear her credit record years later – which nobody seems to know how to do, due to the lack of legaslative process in Australia).  And all from stealing mail from her mailbox. Australians – put an unbreakable lock on your mailbox or get a PO Box, is all I can say.

Although its not proof of identity, people born in England and Wales can order as many copies of their birth certificates as they like (well – to be accurate – certified copies of an entry in the register of births and deaths) over the internet. A very useful service. Indeed, I’ve ordered quite a few copies of my own, based on only knowing basic information about my parents and where I was born. What is a scary thought is that this can then be used to apply for an identity elsewhere, for example my Australian Citizenship, my passports in multiple countries and even my French Carte de Sejour (itself a de facto Identity card).  I don’t know what processes there are in place to stop you, or anyone else, doing that with such a copy. I bet you that the various governments around the world don’t check the validity of every birth certificate copy they are presented with.

Whilst digital identity is a complex area, we must also not forget the issues around dealing with the offline world. Identity theft and fraud is a growing crime, not just done by neer-do-wells, but also in a profitable manner by the organised gangs. And they’ve been doing it for years. All we can do as individuals is to protect our own identity as best we can. Something I will blog about in the near future.

Australian National Disaster Support

Many Australians, including myself, have dug deep and already donated well over $15m in less than 24 hours of the appeal fund being set up by the Red Cross and the Victorian Government. Fires also continue to burn in not only Victoria, but also South Australia and New South Wales. With over 173 confirmed dead in the fires, the toll continuing to rise and many more injured, losing loved ones, pets, their homes and/or their businesses. Once the immediate situation has passed it will take a long time for those affected to recover, both physically and psycologically. I urge anybody reading this blog to please donate to this very good cause. As always, Australians, all donations over $2 are tax deductable (they email you a tax receipt) and for those abroad, the relative weakness of the Aussie Dollar at the moment means your donation will go much futher. Thankyou for your support.

gov.au Enters The Digital Age – not!

Most of you know I work in the Information Security area. You probably also know I am passionate about Australia. However, this post is not about the technical ineffectiveness of the technologies that have been proposed (which I will write later). This is more about the method in which the Australian Government is pursuing the implementation of those ineffective technologies. Yet another example of Australia – The Nanny State (funnily enough, which is the complete opposite of the culture of the Australian People).

For those of you who don’t know (and, given the lack of reporting in the mainstream media about the subject, I wouldn’t be suprised), the Australian Government is currently undergoing trials to enforce filtering of “illegal and objectionable material” at the Australian ISP level. What does this mean in practice? They want to filter your internet access using methods that just don’t work, just like the governments of China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and many others do – but without the people to validate what is being filtered properly.

Remember, this is the same population of civil “servents” that has made it illegal for you, the Australian citizen, to purchase fireworks without having to physically travel to Canberra. Which, of course, is punishment in itself.

The policy will be enforced by two levels of blacklists – one of which is mandatory for all internet connections, the other is an “opt out” for those who need their fix of “restricted’ online porn, up to R18 level. However, even the Government’s own trials have shown a shockingly high false-positive rate, which means that the filters have incorrectly filtered innocent information even using the deep-packet-inspection technology that is quite advanced compared to the URL-and-IP-address-blocking that you are used to when trying to get to Facebook from your work desk (and you already know how to get around that, don’t you?)

ACMA have not detailed the governence around this “solution”. And where does it stop? What will stop Big Media (the Music and Movie industries) from lobbying – hard – to block all technologies used to distribute files online, because they *might* be used to distribute Rhianna’s latest album? (Hint: get the videos instead, she is gorgeous).  What else will they add? Any websites or people critical of Government policies, similar to the Freedom Fries debacle of the US Government when France refused, correctly I might add, to support the invasion of Iraq based upon failed intelligence about WMDs? Given the Australian Government’s useless performance at yesterdays climate change talks, I wouldn’t be suprised that most environmental groups suddenly have their websites filtered due to lobbying by the Resources sector.

I tried to make an argument on the government’s consultation blog about this, but must admit I got into one of my infamous rants that also included Telstra’s ablility to slow down the information economy. But I was also happy to see that many other Australians have found the blog and submitted similar messages. Many more have also signed petitions and will be attending protests in each Australian Capital tomorrow (Saturday).

Prime Minister Rudd, I voted for you because I thought you would bring much-needed change to Australia. The Apology, and signing Kyoto were very good starts. But your Government’s recent actions – the lack of them in particular with regards to Climate Change, the lack of action against the Japanese slaughter of whales in Australian oceans, and of course the Great Australian Firewall – is starting to make me think that the other lot wern’t so bad after all. It is true that Australians do NOT have any freedom of speech protections – something I think you should fix and protect our freedoms just like every other democracy. As a fellow Queenslander I don’t want to stop supporting you, but you are making that a difficult position to maintain.

BTW – With regards to the Child Porn issue. I do not condone this. I would happily work with the Australian Government (contact me) on addressing this issue. My personal view is to set up a dedicated unit in the AFP (or similar) tackling this issue, to monitor, gather evidence, capture and prosecute each and every single cretin who is involved with this. I alledge (got that lawyers, I alledge – I don’t have proof!) you guys already have the technologies to do this, and in fact are already doing this, (example here), for National Security interests. Why not leverage the same technologies, resources and do something similar in the non-classified environment?

Back to the Child Pornogrophers … once these bastards are found guilty in a court of law, based upon the evidence collected asbove, I propose they are castrated – without anasthetic any medical support – using blunt, rusted, metal knives and left to rot in a cell. That is the minimum punishment that these sick bastards deserve. Lets stop this problem at the source.

US Elections: What if WE could vote?

Today Americans go to the polls to vote in a new president.

Now it is a completely fair call to hear comments from Americans such as Who cares? Its our president we’re voting for, not yours. However, for better or for worse, the United States pretty much the only superpower left since the end of the Cold War.

By basically ignoring the will of the United Nations (who unfortunately are good at talking, but not at action), the USA pretty much sets the agenda for the world. For whatever reason, we all suffer when the US decides to set that agenda -whether its illegal wars in the Middle East, or dodgy economic practices and fraudulent activites in the financial sector, or blatantly ignoring the issues of global warming and the destruction of the natural environment; we all collectively have to suffer for the actions of their elected government. America sneezes, the rest of the world catches the ‘flu.

So … three Icelandic guys came up with a thought experiement. Today anyone can vote at iftheworldcouldvote.com. And it is very interesting the results so far. Wether this is a result of media portrayal (unlikely – given most global media outlets are not biased like the US ones are) or by a global disenchantment with the US Administration (which reflects on peoples views about the US in general), i don’t know. But as of the time of writing, and evene acknowledging that the result isn’t totally scientific, 97% of the world wants Obama to be the next president. Time for change.

I believe the world should wake up. The past eight years of a single country’s administration ignoring world opinion on a variety of issues and taking unilateral action. The United Nations needs to get more teeth, or at least another superpower to provide a balance. China in particular could become that superpower, but I personally don’t agree with the communist ideals. Russia seems to be going backwards into the cold war scenario under its current leadership (even if he is no longer the president).

I believe that if Europe could get its act together, stop the internal bickering, put the past in the past (the UK and France are the guilty parties here – move on!) and speak with a common voice, it would be the ideal counterbalance to keep the US in check. And hopefully, we don’t have to suffer the past eight years of agony again.