Author Archives: Jeremy

Protect Your Privacy When Using Peer 2 Peer Downloading From The Internet

There are some cases where you might want to download software, movies, etc and it would be morally correct, but perhaps not strictly legal to do so.

For example, your son plays with your only copy of a rare movie and scratches it beyond recognition. I doubt any reasonable person would disagree with you downloading and burning a replacement (if you hadn't made a backup copy already).

Anyway, I'm not going to argue the ethics of downloading here. It's up to you to decide whether what you do online is correct and that's why this article about protecting you downloading privacy is important. Use the tips provided to make sure that the only person making a judgement call about your online activity is you.

The Golden Rule of Cables: There’s No Difference So Buy Cheap

The Consumerist was taking heat recently for posting articles about how Monster brand cables are no better than any other even though they cost so much more. Now Popular Science is joining the action with their article explaining that all high end cables are a ripoff.

The electronics industry’s dirty little secret is that they have extremely thin margins on gear, so they make up the cost difference by up-selling you on extended warranties and incredibly marked-up cables.

This is completely true. When I worked at a big named retailer, I could buy a 30 dollar cable for about $6 with my employee discount. Things like extended warranties, add on-services, and accessories are all the same.

Justification at Last: Schneier Explains the Mind of Security Professionals

Maybe now I can stop referring to myself as "paranoid" and just use the term "Security Professional" instead.

In a Wired.com essay, Bruce Schneier writes how security professionals just think differently. While engineers try to figure out how to make things work, Security Professionals think about how to break them.

For example:

SmartWater is a liquid with a unique identifier linked to a particular owner. "The idea is for me to paint this stuff on my valuables as proof of ownership," I wrote when I first learned about the idea. "I think a better idea would be for me to paint it on your valuables, and then call the police."

And it's simply thinking in this way that would prevent a lot of bad products (like smart water) from ever being developed in the first place.

Watch For Cramming on Your Phone Bill

Josh discovered a mysterious $13 fee on his parents' phone bill, and as he tracked down the source of the bogus charge, he learned a lot about cramming. The FCC describes it as "the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading, or deceptive charges on your telephone bill" by third party companies, who bank on you being too confused/distracted/annoyed by your hard-to-read bill to notice.

Read his story here.

My main reason for digging this besides warning (or reminding) you about this practice was the first comment after the article:

Just another example of the disparity between corporations and people. Corporations freely get away doing things that people would go to jail for.

Amen.

Small Town Kicks Out Payday Lenders

Though the Virgina legislature examined payday lending, they only solution they brought forth was to limit them as far as interest rates and repayment periods. However, at least one small town has kicked out payday lenders via zoning laws. While this may not rate "big news" it is good news and caught my attention for this alone:

The sole proponent of amending the zoning was Randy Phelps, manager of the Advance America lending store in a nearby town. His company, whose Web site says it operates 2,800 stores nationwide, was seeking to open a cash advance store in a new strip shopping center, part of the town's new Wal-Mart complex.

"We're not evil people," Phelps protested to the council. "We provide a needed service."

"We're not evil people"…. Doesn't that give you chills? If pretending to hold a hand out in friendship while stabbing someone in the back with the other hand isn't evil I don't know what is. Of course, he could be oblivious to his own evil just like some other people.

More Evidence that the UK Has Lost Their Minds

Much love to my UK bretheren, but how the hell did you end up with such bad leadership?! (I know, pot, keddle and all that)…

Currently they're planning to add children to the DNA database:

Home Office officials said plans to include primary school children on the DNA record would be kept 'under review'. The DNA database includes 4.5 million samples of genetic material, many taken from people who have been arrested but never charged with a crime.

By next year, it is expected that 1.5 million of the samples will be from youngsters aged between ten and 18.

Bloody hell.

Detecting Fake Photos

MIT is working on software that analyzes the surfaces in photos to see if the light patterns all match in order to detect fakes.

Many fraudulent images are created by combining parts of two or more photographs into a single image. When the parts are combined, the combination can sometimes be spotted by variations in the lighting conditions within the image. An observant person might notice such variations, Johnson says; however, "people are pretty insensitive to lighting."

Another technique is to check the grain of the photo for irregularities. When an object is placed within a photo, the new object will have differing grain from the original (though there are ways to reduce and eliminate this).

If you're wondering why this matters, check out these examples of how fake photos can be drastically harmful:

And on and on.

Backscatter Alternative Tested

A British company has developed a camera that can see through clothes, but unlike Backscatter, it doesn't provide pornographic photos of the target.

Depending on the material, the signature of the wave is different, so that explosives can be distinguished from a block of clay and cocaine is different from a bag of flour.

It shoots some rays at the target and reads the response. It's more like a sonar device than a camera and it if works, this will be not only more effective at detecting threats, but also much better for personal privacy.

(H/T to Schneier's Blog for the link)

Scientology Fights Back, Plants Fake Evidence?

Digg users are reporting that the "Church of $cientology" has posted a response website to the continued on and offline harrassment by the group calling themselves "Anonymous". However, the poster of this article points out that the "death threat" video on the Scientology server is actually better quality that the one on Youtube.

If this is true, it means that Scientology has the original copy of the video and they either:

1) Recieved the video through some other means and posted it to Youtube themselves to publicize it.
2) They created the video and are trying dirty tactics to discredit Anonymous

I can believe both theories. I wouldn't put it past Scientology to do something like that, but I also wouldn't be surprised if someone sent them a real death threat. First, others have done far fewer terrible things to get death threats and also the "group" called Anonymous isn't really a group. It's anyone and everyone who feels that the Co$ is bad and wishes to join the movement against them.

That means any crackpot could call themselves Anonymous. Even someone willing to make death threats (which would be the exact worst thing to do by the way).