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June 25 2012

William Gibson got some of it right

"The sky above the port was the color of television tuned to a dead channel."

Thus begins "Neuromancer," one of the most influential works of science fiction ever written. William Gibson's vision of a dystopic future, where corporations have become the new governments and freelance hackers jack into the net with immersive computer systems, set the tone for the cyberpunk movement. Unfortunately, we still don't have our "deck" to jack into the net, we're still using the same (if highly upgraded) flat displays, keyboards and mice that we did in the '80s.

What we do have are the negative aspects of the novel. For a while, it looked like cyberwarfare was going to be mostly theoretical, and that the largest threats to network security were going to come from individual black-hat hackers. But then groups such as the Russian mafia got into the game, and then nation-states started using cyberwarfare as a tool of sabotage and espionage, and now corporations are resorting to reprisal attacks against entities that attack them. The net is now an active war zone, where hardware comes pre-installed with spook-authored malware designed to destroy centrifuges.

The other half of the Gibson dystopia, the rise of corporations as pseudo-governments, has occurred as well. SOPA, ACTA, PIPA, DMCA, and friends are all legislation directly authored or highly influenced by powerful industry lobbies, with the goal of making governments the enforcement arms of businesses. The FBI spends significant amounts of its time enforcing copyright and trademark violations. The recent Supreme Court ruling, that corporations are people too, could have come right out of the pages of "Neuromancer."

The fact that the technological future of "Neuromancer" has failed to come to pass speaks to the evolutionary nature of computer innovation. A direct brain interface is probably still decades (if not generations) away. But the fact that the societal and political future forecast in "Neuromancer" struck so close to home is a sad commentary on human nature. If you assume the worst, you stand a good chance of being right.

What's most interesting is that he totally blew the call on where the battle-lines would be drawn. In Gibson's universe, corporations are fighting each other for trade secrets, with highly skilled software assassins dancing elegant battles against elaborately constructed firewalls. In the real world, the defenders are hopelessly outgunned, fighting a battle standing on fragile software platforms while illiterate script-kiddies fire off salvo after salvo of brute-force attack. And rather than priceless technology blueprints, the booty that companies are trying to protect is the mundane: credit card numbers, music and movies.

Also, in "Neuromancer," the battle is largely invisible, with the average person on the street unaware of the carnage occurring electronically around them. By contrast, the general public is painfully aware of how vulnerable modern computer systems are to abuse, and pretty much anyone who uses the net regularly can tell you about DMCA takedowns and the perils of SOPA. In short, Gibson may have been right about the net becoming an online warzone, but he failed badly to identify the what and why of the war.

The real question is, where does our version of dystopic web-life go from here? There appear to be two diverging paths, neither one very palatable. At one extreme, groups such as Anonymous can make the web so unsafe to use that no one dares to use it for anything. On the other, governments and corporations make it safe for themselves, at the cost of our personal liberties and privacies. Or, we could continue to muddle along somewhere in the middle, which may be the best outcome we can hope for.

June 04 2012

Four short links: 4 June 2012

  1. How To Be An Explorer of the World (Amazon) -- I want to take this course on design anthropology but this book, the assigned text, looks like an excellent second best.
  2. StuxNet Was American-Made Cyberwarfare Tool (NY Times) -- not even the air gap worked for Iran, “It turns out there is always an idiot around who doesn’t think much about the thumb drive in their hand.”
  3. So Much For The Paperless Society (Beta Knowledge Tumblr) -- graph of the waxing and waning use of bond paper in North America. Spoiler: we're still using a lot.
  4. Magnifying Temporal Variation in Video -- Our goal is to reveal temporal variations in videos that are difficult or impossible to see with the naked eye and display them in an indicative manner. Our method, which we call Eulerian Video Magnification, takes a standard video sequence as input, and applies spatial decomposition, followed by temporal filtering to the frames. The resulting signal is then amplified to reveal hidden information. Using our method, we are able to visualize the flow of blood as it fills the face and also to amplify and reveal small motions. Our technique can run in real time to show phenomena occurring at temporal frequencies selected by the user. This is amazing: track the pulse in your face from a few frames. (via Hacker News)

December 11 2010

Sind DDoS-Attacken strafbar?

Eine neue Form des Payback-Systems haben Wikileaks-Unterstützer in den letzten Tagen praktiziert. Mittels sog. (Distributed) Denial Of Service Attacken hatte ein vermutlich loser und spontaner Verbund von Aktivisten, die sich “Anonymous” nennen, die Webserver von Unternehmen wie VISA, Mastercard, PayPal oder Moneybookers lahmgelegt bzw. dies versucht. Diese Unternehmen haben ihre Geschäftsbeziehung zu Wikileaks fristlos beendet, offenbar mit dem Ziel, die Zahlungsströme zu Wikileaks zu blockieren. Dass dies auf unmittelbaren oder mittelbaren Druck der US-Regierung geschehen ist, liegt nahe.

Ich bin in den letzten Tagen in diesem Zusammenhang immer wieder gefragt worden, ob solche DDoS-Attacken denn strafbar sind. Bis vor einigen Jahren war diese Frage äußerst umstritten. Das OLG Frankfurt hat dann im Jahre 2006 entschieden, dass der öffentliche Aufruf dazu, zu einem bestimmten Zeitpunkt auf die Website der Lufthansa zuzugreifen, mit dem Ziel den Server lahmzulegen, keine Straftat darstellt.

Ob das auch für DDoS-Angriffe gilt, die softwaregestützt ablaufen, hatte das OLG Frankfurt allerdings nicht zu entscheiden. Außerdem wurde kurze Zeit später das Computerstrafrecht verschärft. Die 2007 in Kraft getretene Vorschrift des § 303 b Abs. 1 Nr. 2 StGB stellt mittlerweile auch das bloße Eingeben oder Übermitteln von Daten in Nachteilszufügungsabsicht unter Strafe. Damit sollte nach der Gesetzesbegründung ganz ausdrücklich die Strafbarkeit von DDoS-Attacken begründet werden. Allerdings ist hier nach wie vor umstritten, ob davon auch die manuelle Dateneingabe erfasst wird, zumal sich in den Fällen des “Online-Protests” immer auch die Frage nach Art. 5 GG stellt. Die Vorschrift ist auch deshalb kritisiert worden, weil der Wortlaut eine enorme Ausdehnung der Strafbarkeit auf möglicherweise sozial-adäquate Verhaltensweisen ermöglicht. Da die Norm eine Umsetzung von Art. 5 der Cybercrime-Convention darstellt, existiert in anderen EU-Staaten eine vergleichbare gesetzliche Regelung.

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