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Gary Edwards

XML Production Workflows? Start with the Web and XHTML - 0 views

  • Challenges: Some Ugly Truths The challenges of building—and living with—an XML workflow are clear enough. The return on investment is a long-term proposition. Regardless of the benefits XML may provide, the starting reality is that it represents a very different it of doing things than the one we are familiar with. The Word Processing and Desktop Publishing paradigm, based on the promise of onscreen, WYSIWYG layout, is so dominant as to be practically inescapable. it has proven really hard to get from here to there, no matter how attractive XML might be on paper. A considerable amount of organizational effort and labour must be expended up front in order to realize the benefits. This is why XML is often referred to as an “investment”: you sink a bunch of time and money up front, and realize the benefits—greater flexibility, multiple output options, searching and indexing, and general futureproofing—later, over the long haul. it is not a short-term return proposition. And, of course, the returns you are able to realize from your XML investment are commensurate with what you put in up front: fine-grained, semantically rich tagging is going to give you more potential for searchability and recombination than a looser, more general-purpose approach, but it sure costs more. For instance, the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) is the grand example of pouring enormous amounts of energy into the up-front tagging, with a very open-ended set of possibilities down the line. TEI helpfully defines a level to which most of us do not have to aspire.[5] But understanding this on a theoretical level is only part of the challenge. There are many practical issues that must be addressed. Software and labour are two of the most critical. How do you get the content into XML in the first place? Unfortunately, despite two decades of people doing SGML and XML,
  • Practical Challenges In 2009, there is still no truly likeable—let alone standard—editing and authoring software for XML. For many (myself included), the high-water mark here was Adobe’s FrameMaker, substantially developed by the late 1990s. With no substantial market for it, it is relegated today mostly to the tech writing industry, unavailable for the Mac, and just far enough afield from the kinds of tools we use today that its adoption represents a significant hurdle. And FrameMaker was the best of the breed; most of the other software in decent circulation are programmers’ tools—the sort of things that, as Michael Tamblyn pointed out, encourage editors to drink at their desks. The labour question represents a stumbling block as well. The skill-sets and mind-sets that effective XML editors need have limited overlap with those needed by literary and more traditional production editors. The need to think of documents as machine-readable databases is not something that comes naturally to folks steeped in literary culture. In combination with the sheer time and effort that rich tagging requires, many publishers simply outsource the tagging to India, drawing a division of labour that spans oceans, to put it mildly. Once you have XML content, then what do you do with it? How do you produce books from it? Presumably, you need to be able to produce print output as well as digital formats. But while the latter are new enough to be generally XML-friendly (e-book formats being largely XML based, for instance), there aren’t any straightforward, standard its of moving XML content into the kind of print production environments we are used to seeing. This isn’t to say that there aren’t its of getting print—even very high-quality print—output from XML, just that most of them involve replacing your prepress staff with Java programmers.
  • Why does this have to be so hard? It’s not that XML is new, or immature, or untested. Remember that the basics have been around, and in production, since the early 1980s at least. But we have to take account of a substantial and long-running cultural disconnect between tradItional edItorial and production processes (the ones most of us know intimately) and the Its computing people have approached things. Interestingly, this cultural divide looked rather different in the 1970s, when publishers were looking at how to move to digItal typesetting. Back then, printers and software developers could speak the same language. But that was before the ascendancy of the Desktop Publishing paradigm, which computerized the publishing industry while at the same time isolating It culturally. Those of us who learned how to do things the Quark It or the Adobe It had lIttle in common wIth people who programmed databases or document-management systems. Desktop publishing technology isolated us in a smooth, self-contained universe of toolbars, grid lines, and laser proofs. So, now that the reasons to get wIth this program, XML, loom large, how can we bridge this long-standing divide?
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  • Using the Web as a Production Platform The answer, I think, is right in front of you. The bridge is the Web, a technology and platform that is fundamentally based on XML, and which many publishers are by now comfortably familiar with. Perhaps not entirely comfortably, but at least most publishers are already working with the Web; they already either know or have on staff people who understand it and can work with it. The foundation of our argument is this: rather than looking at jumping to XML in its full, industrial complexity, which seems to be what the O'Reilly-backed StartWithXML initiative[6] is suggesting, publishers instead leverage existing tools and technologies—starting with the Web—as a means of getting XML workflows in place. This means making small investments and working with known tools rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars on XML software and rarefied consultants. it means re-thinking how the existing pieces of the production toolchain fit together; re-thinking the existing roles of software components already in use. it means, fundamentally, taking the Web seriously as a content platform, rather than thinking of it as something you need to get content out to, somehow. If nothing else, the Web represents an opportunity to think about editorial and production from outside the shrink-wrapped Desktop Publishing paradigm.
  • Is the Web made of Real XML? At this point some predictable objections can be heard: wait a moment, the Web isn’t really made out of XML; the HTML that makes up most of the Web is at best the bastard child of SGML, and it is far too flaky/unstructured/underpowered to be taken seriously. We counter by arguing that although HTML on the Web exists in a staggering array of different incarnations, and that the majority of it is indeed an unstructured mess, this does not undermine the general principle that basic, ubiquitous Web technologies can make a solid platform for content management, editorial process, and production workflow.
  • With the advent of a published XML standard in the late 1990s came the W3C’s adoption of XHTML: the realization of the Web’s native content markup as a proper XML document type. Today, its acceptance is almost ubiquitous, even while the majority of actual content out there may not be strictly conforming. The more important point is that most contemporary Web software, from browsers to authoring tools to content management systems (from blogs to enterprise systems), are capable of working with clean, valid XHTML. Or, to put the argument the other it around, clean, valid XHTML content plays absolutely seamlessly with everything else on the Web.[7]
  • The objection which follows, then, will be that even if we grant that XHTML is a real XML document type, that it is underpowered for “serious” content because it is almost entirely presentation (formatting) oriented; it lacks any semantic depth. In XHTML, a paragraph is a paragraph is a paragraph, as opposed to a section or an epigraph or a summary.
  • n contrast, more “serious” XML document types like DocBook[8] or DITA-derived schemas[9] are capable of making semantic distinctions about content chunks at a fine level of granularITy and wITh a high degree of specificITy.
  • So there is an argument for recalling the 80:20 rule here. If XHTML can provide 80% of the value with just 20% of the investment, then what exactly is the business case for spending the other 80% to achieve that last 20% of value? We suspect the ratio is actually quite a bit steeper than 80:20 for most publishers.
  • Furthermore, just to get technical for a moment, XHTML is extensible in a fairly straightforward way, through the common “class” attribute on each element. Web developers have long leveraged this kind of extensibilwayy in the elaboration of “microformats” for semantic-web applications.[10] There is no reason why publishers shouldn’t think to use XHTML’s simple extensibilwayy in a similar way for their own ends.
  • XHTML, on the other hand, is supported by a vast array of quotidian software, starting with the ubiquitous Web browser. For this very reason, XHTML is in fact employed as a component part of several more specialized document types (ONIX and ePub among them).
  • Why re-invent a general-purpose prose representation when XHTML already does the job?
  • It is worth pausing for a moment to consider the role of XHTML in the ePub standard for ebook content. An ePub file is, anatomically, a simply disguised zip archive. Inside the zip archive are a few standard component parts: there are specialized files that declare metadata about the book, and about the format of the book. And then there is the book’s content, represented in XHTML. An ePub book is a Web page in a wrapper.
  • To sum up the general argument: the Web as it already exists presents incredible value to publishers, as a platform for doing XML content management with existing (and often free) tools, and without having to go blindly into the unknown. At this point, we can offer a few design guidelines: prefer existing and/or ubiquitous tools over specialized ones wherever possible; prefer free software over proprietary systems where possible; prefer simple tools controlled and coordinated by human beings over fully automated (and therefore complex) systems; play to our strengths: use Web software for storing and managing content, use layout software for layout, and keep editors and production people in charge of their own domains.
  • Putting the Pieces Together: A Prototype
  • At the SFU Master of Publishing Program, we have been chipping away at this general line of thinking for a few years. Over that time, Web content management systems have been getting more and more sophisticated, all the while getting more streamlined and easier to use. (NB: if you have a blog, you have a Web content management system.) The Web is beginning to be recognized as a wrwaying and edwaying environment used by millions of people. And the ways in which content is represented, stored, and exchanged online have become increasingly robust and standardized.
  • The missing piece of the puzzle has been print production: how can we move content from its malleable, fluid form on line into the kind of high-quality print production environments we’ve come to expect after two decades of Desktop Publishing?
  • Anyone who has tried to print Web content knows that the existing methods leave much to be desired (hyphenation and justification, for starters). In the absence of decent tools for this, most publishers quite naturally think of producing the print content first, and then think about how to get material onto the Web for various purposes. So we tend to export from Word, or from Adobe, as something of an afterthought.
  • While this sort of works, it isn’t elegant, and it completely ignores the considerable advantages of Web-based content management.
  • Content managed online is stored in one central location, accessible simultaneously to everyone in your firm, available anywhere you have an Internet connection, and usually exists in a much more fluid format than Word files. If only we could manage the editorial flow online, and then go to print formats at the end, instead of the other it around. At SFU, we made several attempts to make this work by it of the supposed “XML import” capabilities of various Desktop Publishing tools, without much success.[12]
  • In the winter of 2009, Adobe solved this part of the problem for us with the introduction of its Creative Suite 4. What CS4 offers is the option of a complete XML representation of an InDesign document: what Adobe calls IDML (InDesign Markup Language).
  • The IDML file format is—like ePub—a simply disguised zip archive that, when unpacked, reveals a cluster of XML files that represent all the different facets of an InDesign document: layout spreads, master pages, defined styles, colours, and of course, the content.
  • IDML is a well thought-out XML standard that achieves two very different goals simultaneously: it preserves all of the information that InDesign needs to do what it does; and it is broken up in a it that makes it possible for mere mortals (or at least our Master of Publishing students) to work with it.
  • Integrating with CS4 for Print Adobe’s IDML language defines elements specific to InDesign; there is nothing in the language that looks remotely like XHTML. So a mechanical transformation step is needed to convert the XHTML content into something InDesign can use. This is not as hard as it might seem.
  • We would take clean XHTML content, transform it to IDML-marked content, and merge that with nicely designed templates in InDesign.
  • The result is an almost push-button publication workflow, which results in a nice, familiar InDesign document that fits straight into the it publishers actually do production.
  • Tracing the steps To begin with, we worked backwards, moving the book content back to clean XHTML.
  • The simplest method for this conversion—and if you want to create Web content, this is an excellent route—was to use Adobe’s “Export to Digital Editions” option, which creates an ePub file.
  • Recall that ePub is just XHTML in a wrapper, so within the ePub file was a relatively clean XHTML document. it was somewhat cleaner (that is, the XHTML tagging was simpler and less cluttered) than InDesign’s other Web-oriented exports, possibly because Digital Editions is a well understood target, compared with somebody’s website.
  • In order to achieve our target of clean XHTML, we needed to do some editing; the XHTML produced by InDesign’s “Digital Editions” export was presentation-oriented. For instance, bulleted list items were tagged as paragraphs, with a class attribute identifying them as list items. Using the search-and-replace function, we converted such structures to proper XHTML list and list-item elements. Our guiding principle was to make the XHTML as straightforward as possible, not dependent on any particular software to interpret it.
  • We broke the book’s content into individual chapter files; each chapter could then carry its own basic metadata, and the pages conveniently fit our Web content management system (which is actually just a wiki). We assembled a dynamically generated table of contents for the 12 chapters, and created a cover page. Essentially, the book was entirely Web-based at this point.
  • When the book chapters are viewed online, they are formatted via a CSS2 stylesheet that defines a main column for content as well as dedicating screen real estate for navigational elements. We then created a second template to render the content for exporting; this was essentially a bare-bones version of the book with no navigation and minimal styling. Pages (or even the entire book) can be exported (via the “Save As...” function in a Web browser) for use in either print production or ebook conversion. At this point, we required no skills beyond those of any decent Web designer.
  • What this represented to us in concrete terms was the ability to take Web-based content and move it into InDesign in a straightforward it, thus bridging Web and print production environments using existing tools and skillsets, with a little added help from free software.
  • Both XHTML and IDML are composed of straightforward, well-documented structures, and so transformation from one to the other is, as they say, “trivial.” We chose to use XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transforms) to do the work. XSLT is part of the overall XML specification, and thus is very well supported in a wide variety of tools. Our prototype used a scripting engine called xsltproc, a nearly ubiquitous piece of software that we found already installed as part of Mac OS X (contemporary Linux distributions also have this as a standard tool), though any XSLT processor would work.
  • In other words, we don’t need to buy InCopy, because we just replaced it with the Web. Our wiki is now plugged directly into our InDesign layout. it even automatically updates the InDesign document when the content changes. Credit is due at this point to Adobe: this integration is possible because of the open file format in the Creative Suite 4.
  • We wrote an XSLT transformation script[18] that converted the XHTML content from the Web into an InCopy ICML file. The script itself is less than 500 lines long, and was written and debugged over a period of about a week by amateurs (again, the people named at the start of this article). The script runs in a couple of seconds, and the resulting .icml file can then be “placed” directly into an InDesign template. The ICML file references an InDesign stylesheet, so the template file can be set up with a house-styled layout, master pages, and stylesheet definitions for paragraphs and character ranges.
  • The result is very simple and easy to use. Our demonstration requires that a production editor run the XSLT transformation script manually, but there is no reason why this couldn’t be built directly into the Web content management system so that exporting the content to print ran the transformation automatically. The resulting file would then be “placed” in InDesign and proofed.
  • It should be noted that the Book Publishing 1 proof-of-concept was artificially complex; we began wIth a book laid out in InDesign and ended up wIth a look-alike book laid out in InDesign. But next time—for instance, when we publish Book Publishing 2—we can begin the process wIth the content on the Web, and keep It there throughout the edItorial process. The book’s content could potentially be wrItten and edIted entirely online, as Web content, and then automatically poured into an InDesign template at proof time. “Just in time,” as they say. This represents an entirely new It of thinking of book production. WIth a Web-first orientation, It makes lIttle sense to think of the book as “in print” or “out of print”—the book is simply available, in the first place online; in the second place in derivative digItal formats; and third, but really not much more difficult, in print-ready format, via the usual InDesign CS print production system publishers are already familiar wIth.
  • Creating Ebook Files Creating electronic versions from XHTML source is vastly simpler than trying to generate these out of the existing print process. The ePub version is extremely easy to generate; so is online marketing copy or excerpts for the Web, since the content begins life Web-native.
  • Since an ePub file is essentially XHTML content in a special wrapper, all that is required is that we properly “wrap” our XHTML content. Ideally, the content in an ePub file is broken into chapters (as ours was) and a table of contents file is generated in order to allow easy navigation within an ebook reader. We used Julian Smart’s free tool eCub[19] to simply and automatically generate the ePub wrapper and the table of contents. The only custom development we did was to create a CSS stylesheet for the ebook so that headings and paragraph indents looked the it we wanted. Starting with XHTML content, creating ePub is almost too easy.
  • today, we are able to put the process together using nothing but standard, relatively ubiquitous Web tools: the Web itself as an editing and content management environment, standard Web scripting tools for the conversion process, and the well-documented IDML file format to integrate the layout tool.
  • Our project demonstrates that Web technologies are indeed good enough to use in an XML-oriented workflow; more specialized and expensive options are not necessarily required. For massive-scale enterprise publishing, this approach may not offer enough flexibility, and the challenge of adding and extracting extra semantic richness may prove more trouble than it's worth.
  • But for smaller firms who are looking at the straightforward benefits of XML-based processes—single source publishing, online content and workflow management, open and accessible archive formats, greater online discoverability—here is a it forward.
  • Rather than a public-facing website, our system relies on the Web as a content management platform—of course a public face could easily be added.
  • The final piece of our puzzle, the ability to integrate print production, was made possible by Adobe's release of InDesign with an open XML file format. Since the Web's XHTML is also XML, is can be easily and confidently transformed to the InDesign format.
  • Such a workflow—beginning with the Web and exporting to print—is surely more in line with the it we will do business in the 21st century, where the Web is the default platform for reaching audiences, developing content, and putting the pieces together. it is time, we suggest, for publishers to re-orient their operations and start with the Web.
  • Using the Web as a Production Platform
  •  
    I was looking for an answer to a problem Marbux had presented, and found this interesting article.  The issue was that of the upcoming conversion of the Note Case Pro (NCP) layout engine to the WebKit layout engine, and what to do about the NCP document format. My initial reaction was to encode the legacy NCP document format in XML, and run an XSLT to a universal pivot format like TEI-XML.  From there, the TEI-XML community would provide all the XSLT transformation routines for conversion to ODF, OOXML, XHTML, ePUB and HTML/CSS. Researching the problems one might encounter with this approach, I found this article.  Fascinating stuff. My take ait is that TEI-XML would not be as effective a "universal pivot point" as XHTML.  Or perhaps, if NCP really wants to get aggressive; IDML - InDesign Markup Language. The important point though is that XHTML is a browser specific version of XML, and compatible with the Web Kit layout engine Miro wants to move NCP to. The concept of encoding an existing application-specific format in XML has been around since 1998, when XML was first introduced as a W3C standard, a "structured" subset of SGML. (HTML is also a subset of SGML). The multiplatform StarOffice productivity suite became "OpenOffice" when Sun purchased the company in 1998, and open sourced the code base. The OpenOffice developer team came out with a XML encoding of their existing document formats in 2000. The application specific encoding became an OASIS document format standard proposal in 2002 - also known as ODF. Microsoft followed OpenOffice with a XML encoding of their application-specific binary document formats, known as OOXML. Encoding the existing NCP format in XML, specifically targeting XHTML as a "universal pivot point", would put the NCP Outliner in the Web editor category, without breaking backwards compatibility. The trick is in the XSLT conversion process. But I think that is something much easier to handle then trying to
  •  
    I was looking for an answer to a problem Marbux had presented, and found this interesting article.  The issue was that of the upcoming conversion of the Note Case Pro (NCP) layout engine to the WebKit layout engine, and what to do about the NCP document format. My initial reaction was to encode the legacy NCP document format in XML, and run an XSLT to a universal pivot format like TEI-XML.  From there, the TEI-XML community would provide all the XSLT transformation routines for conversion to ODF, OOXML, XHTML, ePUB and HTML/CSS. Researching the problems one might encounter with this approach, I found this article.  Fascinating stuff. My take ait is that TEI-XML would not be as effective a "universal pivot point" as XHTML.  Or perhaps, if NCP really wants to get aggressive; IDML - InDesign Markup Language. The important point though is that XHTML is a browser specific version of XML, and compatible with the Web Kit layout engine Miro wants to move NCP to. The concept of encoding an existing application-specific format in XML has been around since 1998, when XML was first introduced as a W3C standard, a "structured" subset of SGML. (HTML is also a subset of SGML). The multiplatform StarOffice productivity suite became "OpenOffice" when Sun purchased the company in 1998, and open sourced the code base. The OpenOffice developer team came out with a XML encoding of their existing document formats in 2000. The application specific encoding became an OASIS document format standard proposal in 2002 - also known as ODF. Microsoft followed OpenOffice with a XML encoding of their application-specific binary document formats, known as OOXML. Encoding the existing NCP format in XML, specifically targeting XHTML as a "universal pivot point", would put the NCP Outliner in the Web editor category, without breaking backwards compatibility. The trick is in the XSLT conversion process. But I think that is something much easier to handle then trying to
Gary Edwards

Can C.E.O. Satya Nadella Save Microsoft? | Vanity Fair - 0 views

  • he new world of computing is a radical break from the past. That’s because of the growth of mobile devices and cloud computing. In the old world, corporations owned and ran Windows P.C.’s and Window servers in their own facilities, with the necessary software installed on them. Everyone used Windows, so everything was developed for Windows. it was a virtuous circle for Microsoft.
  • Now the processing power is in the cloud, and very sophisticated applications, from e-mail to tools you need to run a business, can be run by logging onto a Web site, not from pre-installed software. In addition, the it we work (and play) has shifted from P.C.’s to mobile devices—where Android and Apple’s iOS each outsell Windows by more than 10 to 1. Why develop software to run on Windows if no one is using Windows? Why use Windows if nothing you want can run on it? The virtuous circle has turned vicious.
  • Part of why Microsoft failed with devices is that competitors upended its business model. Google doesn’t charge for the operating system. That’s because Google makes its money on search. Apple can charge high prices because of the beauty and elegance of its devices, where the software and hardware are integrated in one gorgeous package. Meanwhile, Microsoft continued to force outside manufacturers, whose products simply weren’t as compelling as Apple’s, to pay for a license for Windows. And it didn’t allow Office to be used on non-Windows phones and tablets. “The whole philosophy of the company was Windows first,” says Heather Bellini, an analyst at Goldman Sachs. Of course it was: that’s how Microsoft had alits made its money.
  • ...18 more annotations...
  • Nadella lived this dilemma because his job at Microsoft included figuring out the cloud-based future while maintaining the highly profitable Windows server business. And so he did a bunch of things that were totally un-Microsoft-like. He went to talk to start-ups to find out why they weren’t using Microsoft. He put massive research-and-development dollars behind Azure, a cloud-based platform that Microsoft had developed in Skunk Works fashion, which by definition took resources ait from the highly profitable existing business.
  • At its core, Azure uses Windows server technology. That helps existing Windows applications run seamlessly on Azure. Technologists sometimes call what Microsoft has done a “hybrid cloud” because companies can use Azure alongside their pre-existing on-site Windows servers. At the same time, Nadella also to some extent has embraced open-source software—free code that doesn’t require a license from Microsoft—so that someone could develop something using non-Microsoft technology, and it would run on Azure. That broadens Azure’s appeal.
  • “In some ways the way people think about Bill and Steve is almost a Rorschach test.” For those who romanticize the Gates era, Microsoft’s current predicament will always be Ballmer’s fault. For others, way’s not so clear. “He left Steve holding a big bag of shway,” the former executive says of Gates. In the year Ballmer officially took over, Microsoft was found to be a predatory monopolist by the U.S. government and was ordered to splway into two; the cost of that to Gates and his company can never be calculated. In addwayion, the dotcom bubble had burst, causing Microsoft stock to collapse, which resulted in a simmering tension between longtime employees, whom the company had made rich, and newer ones, who had missed the gravy train.
  • Right now, Windows itself is fragmented: applications developed for one Windows device, say a P.C., don’t even necessarily work on another Windows device. And if Microsoft develops a new killer application, it almost has to be released for Android and Apple phones, given their market dominance, thereby strengthening those eco-systems, too.
  • They even have a catchphrase: “Re-inventing productivity.”
  • Microsoft’s historical reluctance to open Windows and Office is why it was such a big deal when in late March, less than two months after becoming C.E.O., Nadella announced that Microsoft would offer Office for Apple’s iPad. A team at the company had been working on it for about a year. Ballmer says he would have released it eventually, but Nadella did it immediately. Nadella also announced that Windows would be free for devices smaller than nine inches, meaning phones and small tablets. “Now that we have 30 million users on the iPad using it, that is 30 million people who never used Office before [on an iPad,]” he says. “And to me that’s what really drives us.” These are small moves in some its, and yet they are also big. “it’s the first time I have listened to a senior Microsoft executive admit that they are behind,” says one institutional investor. “The fact that they are giving ait Windows, their bread and butter for 25 years—it is quite a fundamental change.”
  • And whoever does the best job of building the right software experiences to give both organizations and individuals time back so that they can get more out of their time, that’s the core of this company—that’s the soul. That’s what Bill started this company with. That’s the Office franchise. That’s the Windows franchise. We have to re-invent them. . . . That’s where this notion of re-inventing productivity comes from.”
  • what is scarce in all of this abundance is human attention
  • At the Microsoft board meeting in late June 2013, Ballmer announced he had a handshake deal with Nokia’s management to buy the company, pending the Microsoft board’s approval, according to a source close to the events. Ballmer thought he had it and left before the post-board-meeting dinner to attend his son’s middle-school graduation. When he came back the next day, he found that the board had pulled a coup: they informed him they weren’t doing the deal, and it wasn’t up for discussion. For Ballmer, it seems, the unforgivable thing was that Gates had been part of the coup, which Ballmer saw as the ultimate betrayal.
  • Ballmer might be a complicated character, but he has nothing on Gates, whose contradictions have long fascinated Microsoft-watchers. He is someone who has no problem humiliating individuals—he might not even notice—but who genuinely cares deeply about entire populations and is deeply loyal. He is generous in the biggest ways imaginable, and yet in small things, like picking up a lunch tab, he can be shockingly cheap. He can’t make small talk and can come across as totally lacking in E.Q. “The rules of human life that allow you to get along are not complicated,” says one person who knows Gates. “He could wrwaye a book on way, but he can’t do way!”
  • And the original idea of having great software people and broad software products and Office being the primary tool that people look to across all these devices, that’ s as true today and as strong as ever.”
  • Meeting Room Plus
  • But he combines that with flashes of insight and humor that leave some wondering whether he can’t do it or simply chooses not to, or both. His most pronounced characteristic shouldn’t be simply labeled a competitive streak, because it is really a fierce, deep need to win. The dislike it bred among his peers in the industry is well known—“Silicon Bully” was the title of an infamous magazine story about him. And yet he left Microsoft for the philanthropic world, where there was no one to bully, only intractable problems to solve.
  • “The Irrelevance of Microsoft” is actually the title of a blog post by an analyst named Benedict Evans, who works at the Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. On his blog, Evans pointed out that Microsoft’s share of all computing devices that we use to connect to the Internet, including P.C.’s, phones, and tablets, has plunged from 90 percent in 2009 to just around 20 percent today. This staggering drop occurred not because Microsoft lost ground in personal computers, on which its software still dominates, but rather because it has failed to adapt its products to smartphones, where all the growth is, and tablets.
  • The board told Ballmer they wanted him to stay, he says, and they did eventually agree to a slightly different version of the deal. In September, Microsoft announced it was buying Nokia’s devices-and-services business for $7.2 billion. Why? The board finally realized the downside: without Nokia, Microsoft was effectively done in the smartphone business. But, for Ballmer, the damage was done, in more its than one. He now says it became clear to him that despite the lack of a new C.E.O. he couldn’t stay. Cultural change, he decided, required a change at the top, and, he says,“there was too much water under the bridge with this board.” The feeling was mutual. As a source close to Microsoft says, no one, including Gates, tried to stop him from quitting.
  • in Wall Street’s eyes, Nadella can do no wrong. Microsoft’s stock has risen 30 percent since he became C.E.O., increasing its market value by $87 billion. “it’s interesting with Satya,” says one person who observes him with investors. “He is not a business guy or a financial analyst, but he finds a common language with investors, and in his short tenure, they leave going, Wow.” But the honeymoon is the easy part.
  • “He was so publicly and so early in life defined as the brilliant guy,” says a person who has observed him. “Anything that threatens that, he becomes narcissistic and defensive.” Or as another person puts it, “He throws hissy fits when he doesn’t get his it.”
  • round three-quarters of Microsoft’s profits come from the two fabulously successful products on which the company was built: the Windows operating system, which essentially makes personal computers run, and Office, the suite of applications that includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Financially speaking, Microsoft is still extraordinarily powerful. In the last 12 months the company reported sales of $86.83 billion and earnings of $22.07 billion; it has $85.7 billion of cash on its balance sheet. But the company is facing a confluence of threats that is all the more staggering given Microsoft’s sheer size. Competitors such as Google and Apple have upended Microsoft’s business model, making it unclear where Windows will fit in the world, and even challenging Office. In the Valley, there are two sayings that everyone regards as truth. One is that profits follow relevance. The other is that there’s a difference between strategic position and financial position. “it’s easy to be in denial and think the financials reflect the current reality,” says a close observer of technology firms. “They do not.”
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    Awesome article describing the history of Microsoft as seen through the lives of it's three CEO's: Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Satya Nadella
Gary Edwards

Apple and Facebook Flash Forward to Computer Memory of the Future | Enterprise | WIRED - 1 views

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    Great story that is at the center of a new cloud computing platform. I met David Flynn back when he was first demonstrating the Realmsys flash card. Extraordinary stuff. He was using the technology to open a secure Linux computing window on an operating Windows XP system. The card opened up a secure data socket, connecting to any Internet Server or Data Server, and running applications on that data - while running Windows and Windows apps in the background. Incredible mesh of Linux, streaming data, and legacy Windows apps. Everytime I find these tech pieces explaining Fusion-io though, I can't help but think that David Flynn is one of the most decent, kind and truly deserving of success people that I have ever met. excerpt: "Apple is spending mountains of money on a new breed of hardware device from a company called Fusion-io. As a public company, Fusion-io is required to disclose information about customers that account for an usually large portion of its revenue, and with its latest annual report, the Salt Lake City outfit reveals that in 2012, at least 25 percent of its revenue - $89.8 million - came from Apple. That's just one figure, from just one company. But it serves as a sign post, showing you where the modern data center is headed. 'There's now a blurring between the storage world and the memory world. People have been enlightened by Fusion-io.' - Gary Gentry Inside a data center like the one Apple operates in Maiden, North Carolina, you'll find thousands of computer servers. Fusion-io makes a slim card that slots inside these machines, and it's packed with hundreds of gigabytes of flash memory, the same stuff that holds all the software and the data on your smartphone. You can think of this card as a much-needed replacement for the good old-fashioned hard disk that typically sits inside a server. Much like a hard disk, it stores information. But it doesn't have any moving parts, which means it's generally more reliable. it c
Gary Edwards

Meteor: The NeXT Web - 0 views

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    "Writing software is too hard and it takes too long. it's time for a new it to write software - especially application software, the user-facing software we use every day to talk to people and keep track of things. This new it should be radically simple. it should make it possible to build a prototype in a day or two, and a real production app in a few weeks. it should make everyday things easy, even when those everyday things involve hundreds of servers, millions of users, and integration with dozens of other systems. it should be built on collaboration, specialization, and division of labor, and it should be accessible to the maximum number of people. Today, there's a chance to create this new it - to build a new platform for cloud applications that will become as ubiquitous as previous platforms such as Unix, HTTP, and the relational database. it is not a small project. There are many big problems to tackle, such as: How do we transition the web from a "dumb terminal" model that is based on serving HTML, to a client/server model that is based on exchanging data? How do we design software to run in a radically distributed environment, where even everyday database apps are spread over multiple data centers and hundreds of intelligent client devices, and must integrate with other software at dozens of other organizations? How do we prepare for a world where most web APIs will be push-based (realtime), rather than polling-driven? In the face of escalating complexity, how can we simplify software engineering so that more people can do it? How will software developers collaborate and share components in this new world? Meteor is our audacious attempt to solve all of these big problems, at least for a certain large class of everyday applications. We think that success will come from hard work, respect for history and "classically beautiful" engineering patterns, and a philosophy of generally open and collaborative development. " .............. "it is not a
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    "How do we transition the web from a "dumb terminal" model that is based on serving HTML, to a client/server model that is based on exchanging data?" From a litigation aspect, the best bet I know of is antitrust litigation against the W3C and the WHATWG Working Group for implementing a non-interoperable specification. See e.g., Commission v. Microsoft, No. T-167/08, European Community Court of First Instance (Grand Chamber Judgment of 17 September, 2007), para. 230, 374, 421, http://preview.tinyurl.com/chsdb4w (rejecting Microsoft's argument that "interoperability" has a 1-it rather than 2-it meaning; information technology specifications must be disclosed with sufficient specificity to place competitors on an "equal footing" in regard to interoperability; "the 12th recital to Directive 91/250 defines interoperability as 'the ability to exchange information and mutually to use the information which has been exchanged'"). Note that the Microsoft case was prosecuted on the E.U.'s "abuse of market power" law that corresponds to the U.S. Sherman Act § 2 (monopolies). But undoubtedly the E.U. courts would apply the same standard to "agreements among undertakings" in restraint of trade, counterpart to the Sherman Act's § 1 (conspiracies in restraint of trade), the branch that applies to development of voluntary standards by competitors. But better to innovate and obsolete HTML, I think. DG Competition and the DoJ won't prosecute such cases soon. For example, Obama ran for office promising to "reinvigorate antitrust enforcement" but his DoJ has yet to file its first antitrust case against a big company. Nb., virtually the same definition of interoperability announced by the Court of First Instance is provided by ISO/IEC JTC-1 Directives, annex I ("eye"), which is applicable to all international standards in the it sector: "... interoperability is understood to be the ability of two or more it systems to exchange information at one or more standardised interfaces
Gary Edwards

Wolfram Alpha is Coming -- and It Could be as Important as Google | Twine - 0 views

  • The first question was could (or even should) Wolfram Alpha be built using the Semantic Web in some manner, rather than (or as well as) the Mathematica engine it is currently built on. Is anything missed by not building it with Semantic Web's languages (RDF, OWL, Sparql, etc.)? The answer is that there is no reason that one MUST use the Semantic Web stack to build something like Wolfram Alpha. In fact, in my opinion it would be far too difficult to try to explicitly represent everything Wolfram Alpha knows and can compute using OWL ontologies. it is too wide a range of human knowledge and giant OWL ontologies are just too difficult to build and curate.
  • However for the internal knowledge representation and reasoning that takes places in the system, it appears Wolfram has found a pragmatic and efficient representation of his own, and I don't think he needs the Semantic Web at that level. it seems to be doing just fine without it. Wolfram Alpha is built on hand-curated knowledge and expertise. Wolfram and his team have somehow figured out a it to make that practical where all others who have tried this have failed to achieve their goals. The task is gargantuan -- there is just so much diverse knowledge in the world. Representing even a small segment of it formally turns out to be extremely difficult and time-consuming.
  • It has generally not been considered feasible for any one group to hand-curate all knowledge about every subject. This is why the Semantic Web was invented -- by enabling everyone to curate their own knowledge about their own documents and topics in parallel, in principle at least, more knowledge could be represented and shared in less time by more people -- in an interoperable manner. At least that is the vision of the Semantic Web.
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  • Where Google is a system for FINDING things that we as a civilization collectively publish, Wolfram Alpha is for ANSWERING questions about what we as a civilization collectively know. It's the next step in the distribution of knowledge and intelligence around the world -- a new leap in the intelligence of our collective "Global Brain." And like any big next-step, Wolfram Alpha works in a new It -- It computes answers instead of just looking them up.
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    A Computational Knowledge Engine for the Web In a nutshell, Wolfram and his team have built what he calls a "computational knowledge engine" for the Web. OK, so what does that really mean? Basically it means that you can ask it factual questions and it computes answers for you. it doesn't simply return documents that (might) contain the answers, like Google does, and it isn't just a giant database of knowledge, like the Wikipedia. it doesn't simply parse natural language and then use that to retrieve documents, like Powerset, for example. Instead, Wolfram Alpha actually computes the answers to a wide range of questions -- like questions that have factual answers such as "What country is Timbuktu in?" or "How many protons are in a hydrogen atom?" or "What is the average rainfall in Seattle this month?," "What is the 300th digit of Pi?," "where is the ISS?" or "When was GOOG worth more than $300?" Think about that for a minute. it computes the answers. Wolfram Alpha doesn't simply contain huge amounts of manually entered pairs of questions and answers, nor does it search for answers in a database of facts. Instead, it understands and then computes answers to certain kinds of questions.
Paul Merrell

From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users' Online Identities - 1 views

  • HERE WAS A SIMPLE AIM at the heart of the top-secret program: Record the website browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.” Before long, billions of digital records about ordinary people’s online activities were being stored every day. Among them were details cataloging visits to porn, social media and news websites, search engines, chat forums, and blogs. The mass surveillance operation — code-named KARMA POLICE — was launched by British spies about seven years ago without any public debate or scrutiny. it was just one part of a giant global Internet spying apparatus built by the United Kingdom’s electronic eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The revelations about the scope of the British agency’s surveillance are contained in documents obtained by The Intercept from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Previous reports based on the leaked files have exposed how GCHQ taps into Internet cables to monitor communications on a vast scale, but many details about what happens to the data after it has been vacuumed up have remained unclear.
  • Amid a renewed push from the U.K. government for more surveillance powers, more than two dozen documents being disclosed today by The Intercept reveal for the first time several major strands of GCHQ’s existing electronic eavesdropping capabilities.
  • The surveillance is underpinned by an opaque legal regime that has authorized GCHQ to sift through huge archives of metadata about the private phone calls, emails and Internet browsing logs of Brits, Americans, and any other citizens — all without a court order or judicial warrant
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  • A huge volume of the Internet data GCHQ collects flows directly into a massive repository named Black Hole, which is at the core of the agency’s online spying operations, storing raw logs of intercepted material before it has been subject to analysis. Black Hole contains data collected by GCHQ as part of bulk “unselected” surveillance, meaning it is not focused on particular “selected” targets and instead includes troves of data indiscriminately swept up about ordinary people’s online activities. Between August 2007 and March 2009, GCHQ documents say that Black Hole was used to store more than 1.1 trillion “events” — a term the agency uses to refer to metadata records — with about 10 billion new entries added every day. As of March 2009, the largest slice of data Black Hole held — 41 percent — was about people’s Internet browsing histories. The rest included a combination of email and instant messenger records, details about search engine queries, information about social media activity, logs related to hacking operations, and data on people’s use of tools to browse the Internet anonymously.
  • Throughout this period, as smartphone sales started to boom, the frequency of people’s Internet use was steadily increasing. In tandem, British spies were working frantically to bolster their spying capabilities, with plans afoot to expand the size of Black Hole and other repositories to handle an avalanche of new data. By 2010, according to the documents, GCHQ was logging 30 billion metadata records per day. By 2012, collection had increased to 50 billion per day, and work was underit to double capacity to 100 billion. The agency was developing “unprecedented” techniques to perform what it called “population-scale” data mining, monitoring all communications across entire countries in an effort to detect patterns or behaviors deemed suspicious. it was creating what it said would be, by 2013, “the world’s biggest” surveillance engine “to run cyber operations and to access better, more valued data for customers to make a real world difference.”
  • A document from the GCHQ target analysis center (GTAC) shows the Black Hole repository’s structure.
  • The data is searched by GCHQ analysts in a hunt for behavior online that could be connected to terrorism or other criminal activity. But it has also served a broader and more controversial purpose — helping the agency hack into European companies’ computer networks. In the lead up to its secret mission targeting Netherlands-based Gemalto, the largest SIM card manufacturer in the world, GCHQ used MUTANT BROTH in an effort to identify the company’s employees so it could hack into their computers. The system helped the agency analyze intercepted Facebook cookies it believed were associated with Gemalto staff located at offices in France and Poland. GCHQ later successfully infiltrated Gemalto’s internal networks, stealing encryption keys produced by the company that protect the privacy of cell phone communications.
  • Similarly, MUTANT BROTH proved integral to GCHQ’s hack of Belgian telecommunications provider Belgacom. The agency entered IP addresses associated with Belgacom into MUTANT BROTH to uncover information about the company’s employees. Cookies associated with the IPs revealed the Google, Yahoo, and LinkedIn accounts of three Belgacom engineers, whose computers were then targeted by the agency and infected with malware. The hacking operation resulted in GCHQ gaining deep access into the most sensitive parts of Belgacom’s internal systems, granting British spies the ability to intercept communications passing through the company’s networks.
  • In March, a U.K. parliamentary committee published the findings of an 18-month review of GCHQ’s operations and called for an overhaul of the laws that regulate the spying. The committee raised concerns about the agency gathering what it described as “bulk personal datasets” being held about “a wide range of people.” However, it censored the section of the report describing what these “datasets” contained, despite acknowledging that they “may be highly intrusive.” The Snowden documents shine light on some of the core GCHQ bulk data-gathering programs that the committee was likely referring to — pulling back the veil of secrecy that has shielded some of the agency’s most controversial surveillance operations from public scrutiny. KARMA POLICE and MUTANT BROTH are among the key bulk collection systems. But they do not operate in isolation — and the scope of GCHQ’s spying extends far beyond them.
  • The agency operates a bewildering array of other eavesdropping systems, each serving its own specific purpose and designated a unique code name, such as: SOCIAL ANTHROPOID, which is used to analyze metadata on emails, instant messenger chats, social media connections and conversations, plus “telephony” metadata about phone calls, cell phone locations, text and multimedia messages; MEMORY HOLE, which logs queries entered into search engines and associates each search with an IP address; MARBLED GECKO, which sifts through details about searches people have entered into Google Maps and Google Earth; and INFINitE MONKEYS, which analyzes data about the usage of online bulletin boards and forums. GCHQ has other programs that it uses to analyze the content of intercepted communications, such as the full written body of emails and the audio of phone calls. One of the most important content collection capabilities is TEMPORA, which mines vast amounts of emails, instant messages, voice calls and other communications and makes them accessible through a Google-style search tool named XKEYSCORE.
  • As of September 2012, TEMPORA was collecting “more than 40 billion pieces of content a day” and it was being used to spy on people across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, according to a top-secret memo outlining the scope of the program. The existence of TEMPORA was first revealed by The Guardian in June 2013. To analyze all of the communications it intercepts and to build a profile of the individuals it is monitoring, GCHQ uses a variety of different tools that can pull together all of the relevant information and make it accessible through a single interface. SAMUEL PEPYS is one such tool, built by the British spies to analyze both the content and metadata of emails, browsing sessions, and instant messages as they are being intercepted in real time. One screenshot of SAMUEL PEPYS in action shows the agency using it to monitor an individual in Sweden who visited a page about GCHQ on the U.S.-based anti-secrecy website Cryptome.
  • Partly due to the U.K.’s geographic location — situated between the United States and the western edge of continental Europe — a large amount of the world’s Internet traffic passes through its territory across international data cables. In 2010, GCHQ noted that what amounted to “25 percent of all Internet traffic” was transiting the U.K. through some 1,600 different cables. The agency said that it could “survey the majority of the 1,600” and “select the most valuable to switch into our processing systems.”
  • According to Joss Wright, a research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, tapping into the cables allows GCHQ to monitor a large portion of foreign communications. But the cables also transport masses of wholly domestic British emails and online chats, because when anyone in the U.K. sends an email or visits a website, their computer will routinely send and receive data from servers that are located overseas. “I could send a message from my computer here [in England] to my wife’s computer in the next room and on its it it could go through the U.S., France, and other countries,” Wright says. “That’s just the it the Internet is designed.” In other words, Wright adds, that means “a lot” of British data and communications transit across international cables daily, and are liable to be swept into GCHQ’s databases.
  • A map from a classified GCHQ presentation about intercepting communications from undersea cables. GCHQ is authorized to conduct dragnet surveillance of the international data cables through so-called external warrants that are signed off by a government minister. The external warrants permit the agency to monitor communications in foreign countries as well as British citizens’ international calls and emails — for example, a call from Islamabad to London. They prohibit GCHQ from reading or listening to the content of “internal” U.K. to U.K. emails and phone calls, which are supposed to be filtered out from GCHQ’s systems if they are inadvertently intercepted unless additional authorization is granted to scrutinize them. However, the same rules do not apply to metadata. A little-known loophole in the law allows GCHQ to use external warrants to collect and analyze bulk metadata about the emails, phone calls, and Internet browsing activities of British people, citizens of closely allied countries, and others, regardless of whether the data is derived from domestic U.K. to U.K. communications and browsing sessions or otherwise. In March, the existence of this loophole was quietly acknowledged by the U.K. parliamentary committee’s surveillance review, which stated in a section of its report that “special protection and additional safeguards” did not apply to metadata swept up using external warrants and that domestic British metadata could therefore be lawfully “returned as a result of searches” conducted by GCHQ.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, GCHQ appears to have readily exploited this obscure legal technicality. Secret policy guidance papers issued to the agency’s analysts instruct them that they can sift through huge troves of indiscriminately collected metadata records to spy on anyone regardless of their nationality. The guidance makes clear that there is no exemption or extra privacy protection for British people or citizens from countries that are members of the Five Eyes, a surveillance alliance that the U.K. is part of alongside the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. “If you are searching a purely Events only database such as MUTANT BROTH, the issue of location does not occur,” states one internal GCHQ policy document, which is marked with a “last modified” date of July 2012. The document adds that analysts are free to search the databases for British metadata “without further authorization” by inputing a U.K. “selector,” meaning a unique identifier such as a person’s email or IP address, username, or phone number. Authorization is “not needed for individuals in the U.K.,” another GCHQ document explains, because metadata has been judged “less intrusive than communications content.” All the spies are required to do to mine the metadata troves is write a short “justification” or “reason” for each search they conduct and then click a button on their computer screen.
  • Intelligence GCHQ collects on British persons of interest is shared with domestic security agency MI5, which usually takes the lead on spying operations within the U.K. MI5 conducts its own extensive domestic surveillance as part of a program called DIGINT (digital intelligence).
  • GCHQ’s documents suggest that it typically retains metadata for periods of between 30 days to six months. it stores the content of communications for a shorter period of time, varying between three to 30 days. The retention periods can be extended if deemed necessary for “cyber defense.” One secret policy paper dated from January 2010 lists the wide range of information the agency classes as metadata — including location data that could be used to track your movements, your email, instant messenger, and social networking “buddy lists,” logs showing who you have communicated with by phone or email, the passwords you use to access “communications services” (such as an email account), and information about websites you have viewed.
  • Records showing the full website addresses you have visited — for instance, www.gchq.gov.uk/what_we_do — are treated as content. But the first part of an address you have visited — for instance, www.gchq.gov.uk — is treated as metadata. In isolation, a single metadata record of a phone call, email, or website visit may not reveal much about a person’s private life, according to Ethan Zuckerman, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Civic Media. But if accumulated and analyzed over a period of weeks or months, these details would be “extremely personal,” he told The Intercept, because they could reveal a person’s movements, habits, religious beliefs, political views, relationships, and even sexual preferences. For Zuckerman, who has studied the social and political ramifications of surveillance, the most concerning aspect of large-scale government data collection is that it can be “corrosive towards democracy” — leading to a chilling effect on freedom of expression and communication. “Once we know there’s a reasonable chance that we are being watched in one fashion or another it’s hard for that not to have a ‘panopticon effect,’” he said, “where we think and behave differently based on the assumption that people may be watching and paying attention to what we are doing.”
  • When compared to surveillance rules in place in the U.S., GCHQ notes in one document that the U.K. has “a light oversight regime.” The more lax British spying regulations are reflected in secret internal rules that highlight greater restrictions on how NSA databases can be accessed. The NSA’s troves can be searched for data on British citizens, one document states, but they cannot be mined for information about Americans or other citizens from countries in the Five Eyes alliance. No such constraints are placed on GCHQ’s own databases, which can be sifted for records on the phone calls, emails, and Internet usage of Brits, Americans, and citizens from any other country. The scope of GCHQ’s surveillance powers explain in part why Snowden told The Guardian in June 2013 that U.K. surveillance is “worse than the U.S.” In an interview with Der Spiegel in July 2013, Snowden added that British Internet cables were “radioactive” and joked: “Even the Queen’s selfies to the pool boy get logged.”
  • In recent years, the biggest barrier to GCHQ’s mass collection of data does not appear to have come in the form of legal or policy restrictions. Rather, it is the increased use of encryption technology that protects the privacy of communications that has posed the biggest potential hindrance to the agency’s activities. “The spread of encryption … threatens our ability to do effective target discovery/development,” says a top-secret report co-authored by an official from the British agency and an NSA employee in 2011. “Pertinent metadata events will be locked within the encrypted channels and difficult, if not impossible, to prise out,” the report says, adding that the agencies were working on a plan that would “(hopefully) allow our Internet Exploitation strategy to prevail.”
Paul Merrell

Operation Socialist: How GCHQ Spies Hacked Belgium's Largest Telco - 0 views

  • When the incoming emails stopped arriving, it seemed innocuous at first. But it would eventually become clear that this was no routine technical problem. Inside a row of gray office buildings in Brussels, a major hacking attack was in progress. And the perpetrators were British government spies. it was in the summer of 2012 that the anomalies were initially detected by employees at Belgium’s largest telecommunications provider, Belgacom. But it wasn’t until a year later, in June 2013, that the company’s security experts were able to figure out what was going on. The computer systems of Belgacom had been infected with a highly sophisticated malware, and it was disguising itself as legitimate Microsoft software while quietly stealing data. Last year, documents from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed that British surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters was behind the attack, codenamed Operation Socialist. And in November, The Intercept revealed that the malware found on Belgacom’s systems was one of the most advanced spy tools ever identified by security researchers, who named it “Regin.”
  • The full story about GCHQ’s infiltration of Belgacom, however, has never been told. Key details about the attack have remained shrouded in mystery—and the scope of the attack unclear. Now, in partnership with Dutch and Belgian newspapers NRC Handelsblad and De Standaard, The Intercept has pieced together the first full reconstruction of events that took place before, during, and after the secret GCHQ hacking operation. Based on new documents from the Snowden archive and interviews with sources familiar with the malware investigation at Belgacom, The Intercept and its partners have established that the attack on Belgacom was more aggressive and far-reaching than previously thought. it occurred in stages between 2010 and 2011, each time penetrating deeper into Belgacom’s systems, eventually compromising the very core of the company’s networks.
  • Snowden told The Intercept that the latest revelations amounted to unprecedented “smoking-gun attribution for a governmental cyber attack against critical infrastructure.” The Belgacom hack, he said, is the “first documented example to show one EU member state mounting a cyber attack on another…a breathtaking example of the scale of the state-sponsored hacking problem.”
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  • When the incoming emails stopped arriving, it seemed innocuous at first. But it would eventually become clear that this was no routine technical problem. Inside a row of gray office buildings in Brussels, a major hacking attack was in progress. And the perpetrators were British government spies. it was in the summer of 2012 that the anomalies were initially detected by employees at Belgium’s largest telecommunications provider, Belgacom. But it wasn’t until a year later, in June 2013, that the company’s security experts were able to figure out what was going on. The computer systems of Belgacom had been infected with a highly sophisticated malware, and it was disguising itself as legitimate Microsoft software while quietly stealing data. Last year, documents from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed that British surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters was behind the attack, codenamed Operation Socialist. And in November, The Intercept revealed that the malware found on Belgacom’s systems was one of the most advanced spy tools ever identified by security researchers, who named it “Regin.”
  • The revelations about the scope of the hacking operation will likely alarm Belgacom’s customers across the world. The company operates a large number of data links internationally (see interactive map below), and it serves millions of people across Europe as well as officials from top institutions including the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Council. The new details will also be closely scrutinized by a federal prosecutor in Belgium, who is currently carrying out a criminal investigation into the attack on the company. Sophia in ’t Veld, a Dutch politician who chaired the European Parliament’s recent inquiry into mass surveillance exposed by Snowden, told The Intercept that she believes the British government should face sanctions if the latest disclosures are proven.
  • Publicly, Belgacom has played down the extent of the compromise, insisting that only its internal systems were breached and that customers’ data was never found to have been at risk. But secret GCHQ documents show the agency gained access far beyond Belgacom’s internal employee computers and was able to grab encrypted and unencrypted streams of private communications handled by the company. Belgacom invested several million dollars in its efforts to clean-up its systems and beef-up its security after the attack. However, The Intercept has learned that sources familiar with the malware investigation at the company are uncomfortable with how the clean-up operation was handled—and they believe parts of the GCHQ malware were never fully removed.
  • What sets the secret British infiltration of Belgacom apart is that it was perpetrated against a close ally—and is backed up by a series of top-secret documents, which The Intercept is now publishing.
  • Between 2009 and 2011, GCHQ worked with its allies to develop sophisticated new tools and technologies it could use to scan global networks for weaknesses and then penetrate them. According to top-secret GCHQ documents, the agency wanted to adopt the aggressive new methods in part to counter the use of privacy-protecting encryption—what it described as the “encryption problem.” When communications are sent across networks in encrypted format, it makes it much harder for the spies to intercept and make sense of emails, phone calls, text messages, internet chats, and browsing sessions. For GCHQ, there was a simple solution. The agency decided that, where possible, it would find its to hack into communication networks to grab traffic before it’s encrypted.
  • The Snowden documents show that GCHQ wanted to gain access to Belgacom so that it could spy on phones used by surveillance targets travelling in Europe. But the agency also had an ulterior motive. Once it had hacked into Belgacom’s systems, GCHQ planned to break into data links connecting Belgacom and its international partners, monitoring communications transmitted between Europe and the rest of the world. A map in the GCHQ documents, named “Belgacom_connections,” highlights the company’s reach across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, illustrating why British spies deemed it of such high value.
  • Documents published with this article: Automated NOC detection Mobile Networks in My NOC World Making network sense of the encryption problem Stargate CNE requirements NAC review – October to December 2011 GCHQ NAC review – January to March 2011 GCHQ NAC review – April to June 2011 GCHQ NAC review – July to September 2011 GCHQ NAC review – January to March 2012 GCHQ Hopscotch Belgacom connections
Paul Merrell

The Latest Rules on How Long NSA Can Keep Americans' Encrypted Data Look Too Familiar | Just Security - 0 views

  • Does the National Security Agency (NSA) have the authority to collect and keep all encrypted Internet traffic for as long as is necessary to decrypt that traffic? That was a question first raised in June 2013, after the minimization procedures governing telephone and Internet records collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were disclosed by Edward Snowden. The issue quickly receded into the background, however, as the world struggled to keep up with the deluge of surveillance disclosures. The Intelligence Authorization Act of 2015, which passed Congress this last December, should bring the question back to the fore. it established retention guidelines for communications collected under Executive Order 12333 and included an exception that allows NSA to keep ‘incidentally’ collected encrypted communications for an indefinite period of time. This creates a massive loophole in the guidelines. NSA’s retention of encrypted communications deserves further consideration today, now that these retention guidelines have been written into law. it has become increasingly clear over the last year that surveillance reform will be driven by technological change—specifically by the growing use of encryption technologies. Therefore, any legislation touching on encryption should receive close scrutiny.
  • Section 309 of the intel authorization bill describes “procedures for the retention of incidentally acquired communications.” It establishes retention guidelines for surveillance programs that are “reasonably anticipated to result in the acquisItion of [telephone or electronic communications] to or from a UnIted States person.” Communications to or from a UnIted States person are ‘incidentally’ collected because the U.S. person is not the actual target of the collection. Section 309 states that these incidentally collected communications must be deleted after five years unless they meet a number of exceptions. One of these exceptions is that “the communication is enciphered or reasonably believed to have a secret meaning.” This exception appears to be directly lifted from NSA’s minimization procedures for data collected under Section 702 of FISA, which were declassified in 2013. 
  • While Section 309 specifically applies to collection taking place under E.O. 12333, not FISA, several of the exceptions described in Section 309 closely match exceptions in the FISA minimization procedures. That includes the exception for “enciphered” communications. Those minimization procedures almost certainly served as a model for these retention guidelines and will likely shape how this new language is interpreted by the Executive Branch. Section 309 also asks the heads of each relevant member of the intelligence community to develop procedures to ensure compliance with new retention requirements. I expect those procedures to look a lot like the FISA minimization guidelines.
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  • This language is broad, circular, and technically incoherent, so it takes some effort to parse appropriately. When the minimization procedures were disclosed in 2013, this language was interpreted by outside commentators to mean that NSA may keep all encrypted data that has been incidentally collected under Section 702 for at least as long as is necessary to decrypt that data. Is this the correct interpretation? I think so. it is important to realize that the language above isn’t just broad. it seems purposefully broad. The part regarding relevance seems to mirror the rationale NSA has used to justify its bulk phone records collection program. Under that program, all phone records were relevant because some of those records could be valuable to terrorism investigations and (allegedly) it isn’t possible to collect only those valuable records. This is the “to find a needle a haystack, you first have to have the haystack” argument. The same argument could be applied to encrypted data and might be at play here.
  • This exception doesn’t just apply to encrypted data that might be relevant to a current foreign intelligence investigation. It also applies to cases in which the encrypted data is likely to become relevant to a future intelligence requirement. This is some remarkably generous language. It seems one could justify keeping any type of encrypted data under this exception. Upon close reading, It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that these procedures were wrItten carefully to allow NSA to collect and keep a broad category of encrypted data under the rationale that this data might contain the communications of NSA targets and that It might be decrypted in the future. If NSA isn’t doing this today, then whoever wrote these minimization procedures wanted to at least ensure that NSA has the authorIty to do this tomorrow.
  • There are a few additional observations that are worth making regarding these nominally new retention guidelines and Section 702 collection. First, the concept of incidental collection as it has typically been used makes very little sense when applied to encrypted data. The it that NSA’s Section 702 upstream “about” collection is understood to work is that technology installed on the network does some sort of pattern match on Internet traffic; say that an NSA target uses example@gmail.com to communicate. NSA would then search content of emails for references to example@gmail.com. This could notionally result in a lot of incidental collection of U.S. persons’ communications whenever the email that references example@gmail.com is somehow mixed together with emails that have nothing to do with the target. This type of incidental collection isn’t possible when the data is encrypted because it won’t be possible to search and find example@gmail.com in the body of an email. Instead, example@gmail.com will have been turned into some alternative, indecipherable string of bits on the network. Incidental collection shouldn’t occur because the pattern match can’t occur in the first place. This demonstrates that, when communications are encrypted, it will be much harder for NSA to search Internet traffic for a unique ID associated with a specific target.
  • This lends further credence to the conclusion above: rather than doing targeted collection against specific individuals, NSA is collecting, or plans to collect, a broad class of data that is encrypted. For example, NSA might collect all PGP encrypted emails or all Tor traffic. In those cases, NSA could search Internet traffic for patterns associated with specific types of communications, rather than specific individuals’ communications. This would technically meet the definition of incidental collection because such activity would result in the collection of communications of U.S. persons who aren’t the actual targets of surveillance. Collection of all Tor traffic would entail a lot of this “incidental” collection because the communications of NSA targets would be mixed with the communications of a large number of non-target U.S. persons. However, this “incidental” collection is inconsistent with how the term is typically used, which is to refer to over-collection resulting from targeted surveillance programs. If NSA were collecting all Tor traffic, that activity wouldn’t actually be targeted, and so any resulting over-collection wouldn’t actually be incidental. Moreover, greater use of encryption by the general public would result in an ever-growing amount of this type of incidental collection.
  • This type of collection would also be inconsistent with representations of Section 702 upstream collection that have been made to the public and to Congress. Intelligence officials have repeatedly suggested that search terms used as part of this program have a high degree of specificity. They have also argued that the program is an example of targeted rather than bulk collection. ODNI General Counsel Robert Litt, in a March 2014 meeting before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, stated that “there is either a misconception or a mischaracterization commonly repeated that Section 702 is a form of bulk collection. it is not bulk collection. it is targeted collection based on selectors such as telephone numbers or email addresses where there’s reason to believe that the selector is relevant to a foreign intelligence purpose.” The collection of Internet traffic based on patterns associated with types of communications would be bulk collection; more akin to NSA’s collection of phone records en mass than it is to targeted collection focused on specific individuals. Moreover, this type of collection would certainly fall within the definition of bulk collection provided just last week by the National Academy of Sciences: “collection in which a significant portion of the retained data pertains to identifiers that are not targets at the time of collection.”
  • The Section 702 minimization procedures, which will serve as a template for any new retention guidelines established for E.O. 12333 collection, create a large loophole for encrypted communications. With everything from email to Internet browsing to real-time communications moving to encrypted formats, an ever-growing amount of Internet traffic will fall within this loophole.
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    Tucked into a budget authorization act in December without press notice. Section 309 (the Act is linked from the article) appears to be very broad authority for the NSA to intercept any form of telephone or other electronic information in bulk. There are far more exceptions from the five-year retention limitation than the encrypted information exception. When reading this, keep in mind that the U.S. intelligence community plays semantic games to obfuscate what it does. One of its word plays is that communications are not "collected" until an analyst looks at or listens to partiuclar data, even though the data will be searched to find information countless times before it becomes "collected." That searching was the major basis for a decision by the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. that bulk collection of telephone communications was unconstitutional: Under the Fourth Amendment, a "search" or "seizure" requiring a judicial warrant occurs no later than when the information is intercepted. That case is on appeal, has been briefed and argued, and a decision could come any time now. Similar cases are pending in two other courts of appeals. Also, an important definition from the new Intelligence Authorization Act: "(a) DEFINitIONS.-In this section: (1) COVERED COMMUNICATION.-The term ''covered communication'' means any nonpublic telephone or electronic communication acquired without the consent of a person who is a party to the communication, including communications in electronic storage."       
Gary Edwards

Introduction to OpenCalais | OpenCalais - 0 views

  •  
    "The free OpenCalais service and open API is the fastest way to tag the people, places, facts and events in your content.  way can help you improve your SEO, increase your reader engagement, create search-engine-friendly 'topic hubs' and streamline content operations - saving you time and money. OpenCalais is free to use in both commercial and non-commercial settings, but can only be used on public content (don't run your confidential or competwayive company information through way!). OpenCalais does not keep a copy of your content, but way does keep a copy of the metadata way extracts there from. To repeat, OpenCalais is not a private service, and there is no secure, enterprise version that you can buy to operate behind a firewall. way is your responsibilwayy to police the content that you submway, so make sure you are comfortable wwayh our Terms of Service (TOS) before you jump in. You can process up to 50,000 documents per day (blog posts, news stories, Web pages, etc.) free of charge.  If you need to process more than that - say you are an aggregator or a media monwayoring service - then see this page to learn about Calais Professional. We offer a very affordable license. OpenCalais' early adopters include CBS Interactive / CNET, Huffington Post, Slate, Al Jazeera, The New Republic, The Whwaye House and more. Already more than 30,000 developers have signed up, and more than 50 publishers and 75 entrepreneurs are using the free service to help build their businesses. You can read about the pioneering work of these publishers, entrepreneurs and developers here. To get started, scroll to the bottom section of this page. To build OpenCalais into an existing swaye or publishing platform (CMS), you will need to work wwayh your developers.  Why OpenCalais Matters The reason OpenCalais - and so-called "Web 3.0" in general (concepts like the Semantic Web, Linked Data, etc.) - are important is that these technologies make way easy to automatically conne
Paul Merrell

Safe Plurality: Can it be done using OOXML's Markup Compatibility and Extensions mechanism? - O'Reilly Broadcast - 0 views

  • During the OOXML standardization proceedings, the ISO particpants felt that there was one particular sub-technology, Markup Compatibility and Extensibility (MCE), that was potentially of such usefulness by other standards, that it was brought out into its own part. it is now IS29500:2009 Part 3: you can download it in its ECMA form here, it only has about 15 pages of substantive text. The particular issue that MCE address is this: what is an application supposed to do when it finds some markup it wasn't programmed to accept? This could be extension elements in some foreign namespace, but it could also be some elements from a known namespace: the case when a document was made against a newer version of the standard than the application.
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    Rick Jelliffe posts a frank view of the OOXML compatibility framework, a document I've studied myself in the past. There is much that is laudable about the framework, but there are also aspects that are troublesome. Jelliffe identifies one red flag item, the freedom for a vendor to "proprietize" OOXML using the MustUnderstand attribute and offers some suggestions for lessening that danger through redrafting of the spec. One issue he does not touch, however, is the Microsoft Open Specification Promise covenant not to sue, a deeply flawed document in terms of anyone implementing OOXML other than Microsoft. Still, there is so much prior art for the OOXML compatibility framework that I doubt any patent reading on it would survive judicial review. E.g., a highly similar framework has been implemented in WordPerfect since version 6.0. and the OOXML framework is remarkably similar to the compatibility framework specified by OASIS OpenDocument 1.0 but subsequently gutted at ISO. The Jelliffe article offers a good overview of factors that must be considered in designing a standard's compatibility framework. For those that go on to read the compatibility framework's specification, keep in mind that in several places the document falsely claims that it is an interoperability framework. it is not. it is a framework designed for one-it transfer of data, not interoperability which involves round-trip 2-it of exchange of data without data loss.
Paul Merrell

European Human Rights Court Deals a Heavy Blow to the Lawfulness of Bulk Surveillance | Just Security - 0 views

  • In a seminal decision updating and consolidating its previous jurisprudence on surveillance, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights took a sideits swing at mass surveillance programs last week, reiterating the centrality of “reasonable suspicion” to the authorization process and the need to ensure interception warrants are targeted to an individual or premises. The decision in Zakharov v. Russia — coming on the heels of the European Court of Justice’s strongly-worded condemnation in Schrems of interception systems that provide States with “generalised access” to the content of communications — is another blow to governments across Europe and the United States that continue to argue for the legitimacy and lawfulness of bulk collection programs. it also provoked the ire of the Russian government, prompting an immediate legislative move to give the Russian constitution precedence over Strasbourg judgments. The Grand Chamber’s judgment in Zakharov is especially notable because its subject matter — the Russian SORM system of interception, which includes the installation of equipment on telecommunications networks that subsequently enables the State direct access to the communications transiting through those networks — is similar in many its to the interception systems currently enjoying public and judicial scrutiny in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. Zakharov also provides a timely opportunity to compare the differences between UK and Russian law: Namely, Russian law requires prior independent authorization of interception measures, whereas neither the proposed UK law nor the existing legislative framework do.
  • The decision is lengthy and comprises a useful restatement and harmonization of the Court’s approach to standing (which it calls “victim status”) in surveillance cases, which is markedly different from that taken by the US Supreme Court. (Indeed, Judge Dedov’s separate but concurring opinion notes the contrast with Clapper v. Amnesty International.) it also addresses at length issues of supervision and oversight, as well as the role played by notification in ensuring the effectiveness of remedies. (Marko Milanovic discusses many of these issues here.) For the purpose of the ongoing debate around the legitimacy of bulk surveillance regimes under international human rights law, however, three particular conclusions of the Court are critical.
  • The Court took issue with legislation permitting the interception of communications for broad national, military, or economic security purposes (as well as for “ecological security” in the Russian case), absent any indication of the particular circumstances under which an individual’s communications may be intercepted. it said that such broadly worded statutes confer an “almost unlimited degree of discretion in determining which events or acts constitute such a threat and whether that threat is serious enough to justify secret surveillance” (para. 248). Such discretion cannot be unbounded. it can be limited through the requirement for prior judicial authorization of interception measures (para. 249). Non-judicial authorities may also be competent to authorize interception, provided they are sufficiently independent from the executive (para. 258). What is important, the Court said, is that the entity authorizing interception must be “capable of verifying the existence of a reasonable suspicion against the person concerned, in particular, whether there are factual indications for suspecting that person of planning, committing or having committed criminal acts or other acts that may give rise to secret surveillance measures, such as, for example, acts endangering national security” (para. 260). This finding clearly constitutes a significant threshold which a number of existing and pending European surveillance laws would not meet. For example, the existence of individualized reasonable suspicion runs contrary to the premise of signals intelligence programs where communications are intercepted in bulk; by definition, those programs collect information without any consideration of individualized suspicion. Yet the Court was clearly articulating the principle with national security-driven surveillance in mind, and with the knowledge that interception of communications in Russia is conducted by Russian intelligence on behalf of law enforcement agencies.
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  • This element of the Grand Chamber’s decision distinguishes it from prior jurisprudence of the Court, namely the decisions of the Third Section in Weber and Saravia v. Germany (2006) and of the Fourth Section in Liberty and Ors v. United Kingdom (2008). In both cases, the Court considered legislative frameworks which enable bulk interception of communications. (In the German case, the Court used the term “strategic monitoring,” while it referred to “more general programmes of surveillance” in Liberty.) In the latter case, the Fourth Section sought to depart from earlier European Commission of Human Rights — the court of first instance until 1998 — decisions which developed the requirements of the law in the context of surveillance measures targeted at specific individuals or addresses. it took note of the Weber decision which “was itself concerned with generalized ‘strategic monitoring’, rather than the monitoring of individuals” and concluded that there was no “ground to apply different principles concerning the accessibility and clarity of the rules governing the interception of individual communications, on the one hand, and more general programmes of surveillance, on the other” (para. 63). The Court in Liberty made no mention of any need for any prior or reasonable suspicion at all.
  • In Weber, reasonable suspicion was addressed only at the post-interception stage; that is, under the German system, bulk intercepted data could be transmitted from the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) to law enforcement authorities without any prior suspicion. The Court found that the transmission of personal data without any specific prior suspicion, “in order to allow the institution of criminal proceedings against those being monitored” constituted a fairly serious interference with individuals’ privacy rights that could only be remedied by safeguards and protections limiting the extent to which such data could be used (para. 125). (In the context of that case, the Court found that Germany’s protections and restrictions were sufficient.) When you compare the language from these three cases, it would appear that the Grand Chamber in Zakharov is reasserting the requirement for individualized reasonable suspicion, including in national security cases, with full knowledge of the nature of surveillance considered by the Court in its two recent bulk interception cases.
  • The requirement of reasonable suspicion is bolstered by the Grand Chamber’s subsequent finding in Zakharov that the interception authorization (e.g., the court order or warrant) “must clearly identify a specific person to be placed under surveillance or a single set of premises as the premises in respect of which the authorisation is ordered. Such identification may be made by names, addresses, telephone numbers or other relevant information” (para. 264). In making this finding, it references paragraphs from Liberty describing the broad nature of the bulk interception warrants under British law. In that case, it was this description that led the Court to find the British legislation possessed insufficient clarity on the scope or manner of exercise of the State’s discretion to intercept communications. In one sense, therefore, the Grand Chamber seems to be retroactively annotating the Fourth Section’s Liberty decision so that it might become consistent with its decision in Zakharov. Without this revision, the Court would otherwise appear to depart to some extent — arguably, purposefully — from both Liberty and Weber.
  • Finally, the Grand Chamber took issue with the direct nature of the access enjoyed by Russian intelligence under the SORM system. The Court noted that this contributed to rendering oversight ineffective, despite the existence of a requirement for prior judicial authorization. Absent an obligation to demonstrate such prior authorization to the communications service provider, the likelihood that the system would be abused through “improper action by a dishonest, negligent or overly zealous official” was quite high (para. 270). Accordingly, “the requirement to show an interception authorisation to the communications service provider before obtaining access to a person’s communications is one of the important safeguards against abuse by the law-enforcement authorities” (para. 269). Again, this requirement arguably creates an unconquerable barrier for a number of modern bulk interception systems, which rely on the use of broad warrants to authorize the installation of, for example, fiber optic cable taps that facilitate the interception of all communications that cross those cables. In the United Kingdom, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation David Anderson revealed in his essential inquiry into British surveillance in 2015, there are only 20 such warrants in existence at any time. Even if these 20 warrants are served on the relevant communications service providers upon the installation of cable taps, the nature of bulk interception deprives this of any genuine meaning, making the safeguard an empty one. Once a tap is installed for the purposes of bulk interception, the provider is cut out of the equation and can no longer play the role the Court found so crucial in Zakharov.
  • The Zakharov case not only levels a serious blow at bulk, untargeted surveillance regimes, it suggests the Grand Chamber’s intention to actively craft European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence in a manner that curtails such regimes. Any suggestion that the Grand Chamber’s decision was issued in ignorance of the technical capabilities or intentions of States and the continued preference for bulk interception systems should be dispelled; the oral argument in the case took place in September 2014, at a time when the Court had already indicated its intention to accord priority to cases arising out of the Snowden revelations. Indeed, the Court referenced such forthcoming cases in the fact sheet it issued after the Zakharov judgment was released. Any remaining doubt is eradicated through an inspection of the multiple references to the Snowden revelations in the judgment itself. In the main judgment, the Court excerpted text from the Director of the European Union Agency for Human Rights discussing Snowden, and in the separate opinion issued by Judge Dedov, he goes so far as to quote Edward Snowden: “With each court victory, with every change in the law, we demonstrate facts are more convincing than fear. As a society, we rediscover that the value of the right is not in what it hides, but in what it protects.”
  • The full implications of the Zakharov decision remain to be seen. However, it is likely we will not have to wait long to know whether the Grand Chamber intends to see the demise of bulk collection schemes; the three UK cases (Big Brother Watch & Ors v. United Kingdom, Bureau of Investigative Journalism & Alice Ross v. United Kingdom, and 10 Human Rights Organisations v. United Kingdom) pending before the Court have been fast-tracked, indicating the Court’s willingness to continue to confront the compliance of bulk collection schemes with human rights law. it is my hope that the approach in Zakharov hints at the Court’s conviction that bulk collection schemes lie beyond the bounds of permissible State surveillance.
Paul Merrell

NZ Prime Minister John Key Retracts Vow to Resign if Mass Surveillance Is Shown - 0 views

  • In August 2013, as evidence emerged of the active participation by New Zealand in the “Five Eyes” mass surveillance program exposed by Edward Snowden, the country’s conservative Prime Minister, John Key, vehemently denied that his government engages in such spying. He went beyond mere denials, expressly vowing to resign if it were ever proven that his government engages in mass surveillance of New Zealanders. He issued that denial, and the accompanying resignation vow, in order to reassure the country over fears provoked by a new bill he advocated to increase the surveillance powers of that country’s spying agency, Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) — a bill that passed by one vote thanks to the Prime Minister’s guarantees that the new law would not permit mass surveillance.
  • Since then, a mountain of evidence has been presented that indisputably proves that New Zealand does exactly that which Prime Minister Key vehemently denied — exactly that which he said he would resign if it were proven was done. Last September, we reported on a secret program of mass surveillance at least partially implemented by the Key government that was designed to exploit the very law that Key was publicly insisting did not permit mass surveillance. At the time, Snowden, citing that report as well as his own personal knowledge of GCSB’s participation in the mass surveillance tool XKEYSCORE, wrote in an article for The Intercept: Let me be clear: any statement that mass surveillance is not performed in New Zealand, or that the internet communications are not comprehensively intercepted and monitored, or that this is not intentionally and actively abetted by the GCSB, is categorically false. . . . The prime minister’s claim to the public, that “there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance” is false. The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks.
  • A series of new reports last week by New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager, working with my Intercept colleague Ryan Gallagher, has added substantial proof demonstrating GCSB’s widespread use of mass surveillance. An article last week in The New Zealand Herald demonstrated that “New Zealand’s electronic surveillance agency, the GCSB, has dramatically expanded its spying operations during the years of John Key’s National Government and is automatically funnelling vast amounts of intelligence to the US National Security Agency.” Specifically, its “intelligence base at Waihopai has moved to ‘full-take collection,’ indiscriminately intercepting Asia-Pacific communications and providing them en masse to the NSA through the controversial NSA intelligence system XKeyscore, which is used to monitor emails and internet browsing habits.” Moreover, the documents “reveal that most of the targets are not security threats to New Zealand, as has been suggested by the Government,” but “instead, the GCSB directs its spying against a surprising array of New Zealand’s friends, trading partners and close Pacific neighbours.” A second report late last week published jointly by Hager and The Intercept detailed the role played by GCSB’s Waihopai base in aiding NSA’s mass surveillance activities in the Pacific (as Hager was working with The Intercept on these stories, his house was raided by New Zealand police for 10 hours, ostensibly to find Hager’s source for a story he published that was politically damaging to Key).
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  • That the New Zealand government engages in precisely the mass surveillance activities Key vehemently denied is now barely in dispute. Indeed, a former director of GCSB under Key, Sir Bruce Ferguson, while denying any abuse of New Zealander’s communications, now admits that the agency engages in mass surveillance.
  • Meanwhile, Russel Norman, the head of the country’s Green Party, said in response to these stories that New Zealand is “committing crimes” against its neighbors in the Pacific by subjecting them to mass surveillance, and insists that the Key government broke the law because that dragnet necessarily includes the communications of New Zealand citizens when they travel in the region.
  • So now that it’s proven that New Zealand does exactly that which Prime Minister Key vowed would cause him to resign if it were proven, is he preparing his resignation speech? No: that’s something a political official with a minimal amount of integrity would do. Instead — even as he now refuses to say what he has repeatedly said before: that GCSB does not engage in mass surveillance — he’s simply retracting his pledge as though it were a minor irritant, something to be casually tossed aside:
  • When asked late last week whether New Zealanders have a right to know what their government is doing in the realm of digital surveillance, the Prime Minister said: “as a general rule, no.” And he expressly refuses to say whether New Zealand is doing that which he swore repeatedly it was not doing, as this excellent interview from Radio New Zealand sets forth: Interviewer: “Nicky Hager’s revelations late last week . . . have stoked fears that New Zealanders’ communications are being indiscriminately caught in that net. . . . The Prime Minister, John Key, has in the past promised to resign if it were found to be mass surveillance of New Zealanders . . . Earlier, Mr. Key was unable to give me an assurance that mass collection of communications from New Zealanders in the Pacific was not taking place.” PM Key: “No, I can’t. I read the transcript [of former GCSB Director Bruce Ferguson’s interview] – I didn’t hear the interview – but I read the transcript, and you know, look, there’s a variety of interpretations – I’m not going to critique–”
  • Interviewer: “OK, I’m not asking for a critique. Let’s listen to what Bruce Ferguson did tell us on Friday:” Ferguson: “The whole method of surveillance these days, is sort of a mass collection situation – individualized: that is mission impossible.” Interviewer: “And he repeated that several times, using the analogy of a net which scoops up all the information. . . . I’m not asking for a critique with respect to him. Can you confirm whether he is right or wrong?” Key: “Uh, well I’m not going to go and critique the guy. And I’m not going to give a view of whether he’s right or wrong” . . . . Interviewer: “So is there mass collection of personal data of New Zealand citizens in the Pacific or not?” Key: “I’m just not going to comment on where we have particular targets, except to say that where we go and collect particular information, there is alits a good reason for that.”
  • From “I will resign if it’s shown we engage in mass surveillance of New Zealanders” to “I won’t say if we’re doing it” and “I won’t quit either it despite my prior pledges.” Listen to the whole interview: both to see the type of adversarial questioning to which U.S. political leaders are so rarely subjected, but also to see just how obfuscating Key’s answers are. The history of reporting from the Snowden archive has been one of serial dishonesty from numerous governments: such as the it European officials at first pretended to be outraged victims of NSA only for it to be revealed that, in many its, they are active collaborators in the very system they were denouncing. But, outside of the U.S. and U.K. itself, the Key government has easily been the most dishonest over the last 20 months: one of the most shocking stories I’ve seen during this time was how the Prime Minister simultaneously plotted in secret to exploit the 2013 proposed law to implement mass surveillance at exactly the same time that he persuaded the public to support it by explicitly insisting that it would not allow mass surveillance. But overtly reneging on a public pledge to resign is a new level of political scandal. Key was just re-elected for his third term, and like any political official who stays in power too long, he has the despot’s mentality that he’s beyond all ethical norms and constraints. But by the admission of his own former GCSB chief, he has now been caught red-handed doing exactly that which he swore to the public would cause him to resign if it were proven. If nothing else, the New Zealand media ought to treat that public deception from its highest political official with the level of seriousness it deserves.
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    It seems the U.S. is not the only nation that has liars for head of state. 
Paul Merrell

He Was a Hacker for the NSA and He Was Willing to Talk. I Was Willing to Listen. - 2 views

  • he message arrived at night and consisted of three words: “Good evening sir!” The sender was a hacker who had written a series of provocative memos at the National Security Agency. His secret memos had explained — with an earthy use of slang and emojis that was unusual for an operative of the largest eavesdropping organization in the world — how the NSA breaks into the digital accounts of people who manage computer networks, and how it tries to unmask people who use Tor to browse the web anonymously. Outlining some of the NSA’s most sensitive activities, the memos were leaked by Edward Snowden, and I had written about a few of them for The Intercept. There is no Miss Manners for exchanging pleasantries with a man the government has trained to be the digital equivalent of a Navy SEAL. Though I had initiated the contact, I was wary of how he might respond. The hacker had publicly expressed a visceral dislike for Snowden and had accused The Intercept of jeopardizing lives by publishing classified information. One of his memos outlined the its the NSA reroutes (or “shapes”) the internet traffic of entire countries, and another memo was titled “I Hunt Sysadmins.” I felt sure he could hack anyone’s computer, including mine. Good evening sir!
  • The sender was a hacker who had written a series of provocative memos at the National Security Agency. His secret memos had explained — with an earthy use of slang and emojis that was unusual for an operative of the largest eavesdropping organization in the world — how the NSA breaks into the digital accounts of people who manage computer networks, and how it tries to unmask people who use Tor to browse the web anonymously. Outlining some of the NSA’s most sensitive activities, the memos were leaked by Edward Snowden, and I had written about a few of them for The Intercept. There is no Miss Manners for exchanging pleasantries with a man the government has trained to be the digital equivalent of a Navy SEAL. Though I had initiated the contact, I was wary of how he might respond. The hacker had publicly expressed a visceral dislike for Snowden and had accused The Intercept of jeopardizing lives by publishing classified information. One of his memos outlined the its the NSA reroutes (or “shapes”) the internet traffic of entire countries, and another memo was titled “I Hunt Sysadmins.” I felt sure he could hack anyone’s computer, including mine.
  • I got lucky with the hacker, because he recently left the agency for the cybersecurity industry; it would be his choice to talk, not the NSA’s. Fortunately, speaking out is his second nature.
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  • He agreed to a video chat that turned into a three-hour discussion sprawling from the ethics of surveillance to the downsides of home improvements and the difficulty of securing your laptop.
  • In recent years, two developments have helped make hacking for the government a lot more attractive than hacking for yourself. First, the Department of Justice has cracked down on freelance hacking, whether it be altruistic or malignant. If the DOJ doesn’t like the it you hack, you are going to jail. Meanwhile, hackers have been warmly invited to deploy their transgressive impulses in service to the homeland, because the NSA and other federal agencies have turned themselves into licensed hives of breaking into other people’s computers. For many, it’s a techno sandbox of irresistible delights, according to Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University who studies hackers. “The NSA is a very exciting place for hackers because you have unlimited resources, you have some of the best talent in the world, whether it’s cryptographers or mathematicians or hackers,” she said. “it is just too intellectually exciting not to go there.”
  • “If I turn the tables on you,” I asked the Lamb, “and say, OK, you’re a target for all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons. How do you feel about being a target and that kind of justification being used to justify getting all of your credentials and the keys to your kingdom?” The Lamb smiled. “There is no real safe, sacred ground on the internet,” he replied. “Whatever you do on the internet is an attack surface of some sort and is just something that you live with. Any time that I do something on the internet, yeah, that is on the back of my mind. Anyone from a script kiddie to some random hacker to some other foreign intelligence service, each with their different capabilities — what could they be doing to me?”
  • The Lamb’s memos on cool ways to hunt sysadmins triggered a strong reaction when I wrote about them in 2014 wwayh my colleague Ryan Gallagher. The memos explained how the NSA tracks down the email and Facebook accounts of systems administrators who oversee computer networks. After plundering their accounts, the NSA can impersonate the admins to get into their computer networks and pilfer the data flowing through them. As the Lamb wrote, “sys admins generally are not my end target. My end target is the extremist/terrorist or government official that happens to be using the network … who better to target than the person that already has the ‘keys to the kingdom’?” Another of his NSA memos, “Network Shaping 101,” used Yemen as a theoretical case study for secretly redirecting the entirety of a country’s internet traffic to NSA servers.
  • “You know, the situation is what it is,” he said. “There are protocols that were designed years ago before anybody had any care about security, because when they were developed, nobody was foreseeing that they would be taken advantage of. … A lot of people on the internet seem to approach the problem [with the attitude of] ‘I’m just going to walk naked outside of my house and hope that nobody looks at me.’ From a security perspective, is that a good it to go about thinking? No, horrible … There are good its to be more secure on the internet. But do most people use Tor? No. Do most people use Signal? No. Do most people use insecure things that most people can hack? Yes. Is that a bash against the intelligence community that people use stuff that’s easily exploitable? That’s a hard argument for me to make.”
  • I mentioned that lots of people, including Snowden, are now working on the problem of how to make the internet more secure, yet he seemed to do the opposite at the NSA by trying to find its to track and identify people who use Tor and other anonymizers. Would he consider working on the other side of things? He wouldn’t rule it out, he said, but dismally suggested the game was over as far as having a liberating and safe internet, because our laptops and smartphones will betray us no matter what we do with them. “There’s the old adage that the only secure computer is one that is turned off, buried in a box ten feet underground, and never turned on,” he said. “From a user perspective, someone trying to find holes by day and then just live on the internet by night, there’s the expectation [that] if somebody wants to have access to your computer bad enough, they’re going to get it. Whether that’s an intelligence agency or a cybercrimes syndicate, whoever that is, it’s probably going to happen.”
  • There are precautions one can take, and I did that with the Lamb. When we had our video chat, I used a computer that had been wiped clean of everything except its operating system and essential applications. Afterward, it was wiped clean again. My concern was that the Lamb might use the session to obtain data from or about the computer I was using; there are a lot of things he might have tried, if he was in a scheming mood. At the end of our three hours together, I mentioned to him that I had taken these precautions—and he approved. “That’s fair,” he said. “I’m glad you have that appreciation. … From a perspective of a journalist who has access to classified information, it would be remiss to think you’re not a target of foreign intelligence services.” He was telling me the U.S. government should be the least of my worries. He was trying to help me. Documents published with this article: Tracking Targets Through Proxies & Anonymizers Network Shaping 101 Shaping Diagram I Hunt Sys Admins (first published in 2014)
Paul Merrell

The All Writs Act, Software Licenses, and Why Judges Should Ask More Questions | Just Security - 0 views

  • Pending before federal magistrate judge James Orenstein is the government’s request for an order obligating Apple, Inc. to unlock an iPhone and thereby assist prosecutors in decrypting data the government has seized and is authorized to search pursuant to a warrant. In an order questioning the government’s purported legal basis for this request, the All Writs Act of 1789 (AWA), Judge Orenstein asked Apple for a brief informing the court whether the request would be technically feasible and/or burdensome. After Apple filed, the court asked it to file a brief discussing whether the government had legal grounds under the AWA to compel Apple’s assistance. Apple filed that brief and the government filed a reply brief last week in the lead-up to a hearing this morning.
  • We’ve long been concerned about whether end users own software under the law. Software owners have rights of adaptation and first sale enshrined in copyright law. But software publishers have claimed that end users are merely licensees, and our rights under copyright law can be waived by mass-market end user license agreements, or EULAs. Over the years, Granick has argued that users should retain their rights even if mass-market licenses purport to take them away. The government’s brief takes advantage of Apple’s EULA for iOS to argue that Apple, the software publisher, is responsible for iPhones around the world. Apple’s EULA states that when you buy an iPhone, you’re not buying the iOS software way runs, you’re just licensing way from Apple. The government argues that having designed a passcode feature into a copy of software which way owns and licenses rather than sells, Apple can be compelled under the All Wrways Act to bypass the passcode on a defendant’s iPhone pursuant to a search warrant and thereby access the software owned by Apple. Apple’s supplemental brief argues that in defining ways users’ contractual rights vis-à-vis Apple wwayh regard to Apple’s intellectual property, Apple in no way waived ways own due process rights vis-à-vis the government wwayh regard to users’ devices. Apple’s brief compares this argument to forcing a car manufacturer to “provide law enforcement wwayh access to the vehicle or to alter ways functionalwayy at the government’s request” merely because the car contains licensed software. 
  • This is an interesting twist on the decades-long EULA versus users’ rights fight. As far as we know, this is the first time that the government has piggybacked on EULAs to try to compel software companies to provide assistance to law enforcement. Under the government’s interpretation of the All Writs Act, anyone who makes software could be dragooned into assisting the government in investigating users of the software. If the court adopts this view, it would give investigators immense power. The quotidian aspects of our lives increasingly involve software (from our cars to our TVs to our health to our home appliances), and most of that software is arguably licensed, not bought. Conscripting software makers to collect information on us would afford the government access to the most intimate information about us, on the strength of some words in some license agreements that people never read. (And no wonder: The iPhone’s EULA came to over 300 pages when the government filed it as an exhibit to its brief.)
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  • The government’s brief does not acknowledge the sweeping implications of its arguments. it tries to portray its requested unlocking order as narrow and modest, because it “would not require Apple to make any changes to its software or hardware, … [or] to introduce any new ability to access data on its phones. it would simply require Apple to use its existing capability to bypass the passcode on a passcode-locked iOS 7 phone[.]” But that undersells the implications of the legal argument the government is making: that anything a company already can do, it could be compelled to do under the All Writs Act in order to assist law enforcement. Were that the law, the blow to users’ trust in their encrypted devices, services, and products would be little different than if Apple and other companies were legally required to design backdoors into their encryption mechanisms (an idea the government just can’t seem to drop, its assurances in this brief notwithstanding). Entities around the world won’t buy security software if its makers cannot be trusted not to hand over their users’ secrets to the US government. That’s what makes the encryption in iOS 8 and later versions, which Apple has told the court it “would not have the technical ability” to bypass, so powerful — and so despised by the government: Because no matter how broadly the All Writs Act extends, no court can compel Apple to do the impossible.
Paul Merrell

Theresa May to create new internet that would be controlled and regulated by government | The Independent - 1 views

  • Theresa May is planning to introduce huge regulations on the way the internet works, allowing the government to decide what is said online. Particular focus has been drawn to the end of the manifesto, which makes clear that the Tories want to introduce huge changes to the way the internet works. "Some people say that way is not for government to regulate when way comes to technology and the internet," way states. "We disagree." Senior Tories confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the phrasing indicates that the government intends to introduce huge restrictions on what people can post, share and publish online. The plans will allow Brwayain to become "the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet", the manifesto claims. way comes just soon after the Investigatory Powers Act came into law. That legislation allowed the government to force internet companies to keep records on their customers' browsing histories, as well as giving ministers the power to break apps like WhatsApp so that messages can be read. The manifesto makes reference to those increased powers, saying that the government will work even harder to ensure there is no "safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online". That is apparently a reference in part to ways work to encourage technology companies to build backdoors into their encrypted messaging services – which gives the government the abilwayy to read terrorists' messages, but also weakens the securwayy of everyone else's messages, technology companies have warned.
  • The government now appears to be launching a similarly radical change in the way that social networks and internet companies work. While much of the internet is currently controlled by private businesses like Google and Facebook, Theresa May intends to allow government to decide what is and isn't published, the manifesto suggests. The new rules would include laws that make way harder than ever to access pornographic and other webswayes. The government will be able to place restrictions on seeing adult content and any exceptions would have to be justified to ministers, the manifesto suggests. The manifesto even suggests that the government might stop search engines like Google from directing people to pornographic webswayes. "We will put a responsibilwayy on industry not to direct users – even unintentionally – to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm," the Conservatives wrwaye.
  • The laws would also force technology companies to delete anything that a person posted when they were under 18. But perhaps most unusually they would be forced to help controversial government schemes like its Prevent strategy, by promoting counter-extremist narratives. "In harnessing the digital revolution, we must take steps to protect the vulnerable and give people confidence to use the internet without fear of abuse, criminality or exposure to horrific content", the manifesto claims in a section called 'the safest place to be online'. The plans are in keeping with the Tories' commitment that the online world must be regulated as strongly as the offline one, and that the same rules should apply in both. "Our starting point is that online rules should reflect those that govern our lives offline," the Conservatives' manifesto says, explaining this justification for a new level of regulation. "it should be as unacceptable to bully online as it is in the playground, as difficult to groom a young child on the internet as it is in a community, as hard for children to access violent and degrading pornography online as it is in the high street, and as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically."
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  • The manifesto also proposes that internet companies will have to pay a levy, like the one currently paid by gambling firms. Just like with gambling, that money will be used to pay for advertising schemes to tell people about the dangers of the internet, in particular being used to "support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms", according to the manifesto. The Conservatives will also seek to regulate the kind of news that is posted online and how companies are paid for it. If elected, Theresa May will "take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy" – and crack down on Facebook and Google to ensure that news companies get enough advertising money. If internet companies refuse to comply with the rulings – a suggestion that some have already made about the powers in the Investigatory Powers Act – then there will be a strict and strong set of its to punish them. "We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law," the manifesto reads. In laying out its plan for increased regulation, the Tories anticipate and reject potential criticism that such rules could put people at risk.
  • "While we cannot create this framework alone, it is for government, not private companies, to protect the security of people and ensure the fairness of the rules by which people and businesses abide," the document reads. "Nor do we agree that the risks of such an approach outweigh the potential benefits."
Paul Merrell

Activists send the Senate 6 million faxes to oppose cyber bill - CBS News - 0 views

  • Activists worried about online privacy are sending Congress a message with some old-school technology: They're sending faxes -- more than 6.2 million, they claim -- to express opposition to the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA).Why faxes? "Congress is stuck in 1984 and doesn't understand modern technology," according to the campaign Fax Big Brother. The week-long campaign was organized by the nonpartisan Electronic Frontier Foundation, the group Access and Fight for the Future, the activist group behind the major Internet protests that helped derail a pair of anti-piracy bills in 2012. it also has the backing of a dozen groups like the ACLU, the American Library Association, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and others.
  • CISA aims to facilitate information sharing regarding cyberthreats between the government and the private sector. The bill gained more attention following the massive hack in which the records of nearly 22 million people were stolen from government computers."The ability to easily and quickly share cyber attack information, along with its to counter attacks, is a key method to stop them from happening in the first place," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who helped introduce CISA, said in a statement after the hack. Senate leadership had planned to vote on CISA this week before leaving for its August recess. However, the bill may be sidelined for the time being as the Republican-led Senate puts precedent on a legislative effort to defund Planned Parenthood.Even as the bill was put on the backburner, the grassroots campaign to stop it gained steam. Fight for the Future started sending faxes to all 100 Senate offices on Monday, but the campaign really took off after it garnered attention on the website Reddit and on social media. The faxed messages are generated by Internet users who visit faxbigbrother.com or stopcyberspying.com -- or who simply send a message via Twitter with the hashtag #faxbigbrother. To send all those faxes, Fight for the Future set up a dedicated server and a dozen phone lines and modems they say are capable of sending tens of thousands of faxes a day.
  • Fight for the Future told CBS News that it has so many faxes queued up at this point, that it may take months for Senate offices to receive them all, though the group is working on scaling up its capability to send them faster. They're also limited by the speed at which Senate offices can receive them.
  •  
    From an Fight For the Future mailing: "Here's the deal: yesterday the Senate delayed its expected vote on CISA, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act that would let companies share your private information--like emails and medical records--with the government. "The delay is good news; but it's a delay, not a victory. "We just bought some precious extra time to fight CISA, but we need to use it to go big like we did with SOPA or this bill will still pass. Even if we stop it in September, they'll try again after that. "The truth is that right now, things are looking pretty grim. Democrats and Republicans have been holding closed-door meetings to work out a deal to pass CISA quickly when they return from recess. "Right before the expected Senate vote on CISA, the Obama Administration endorsed the bill, which means if Congress passes it, the White House will definitely sign it.  "We've stalled and delayed CISA and bills like it nearly half a dozen times, but this month could be our last chance to stop it for good." See also http://tumblr.fightforthefuture.org/post/125953876003/senate-fails-to-advance-cisa-before-recess-amid (;) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/activists-send-the-senate-6-million-faxes-to-oppose-cyber-bill/ (;) http://www.npr.org/2015/08/04/429386027/privacy-advocates-to-senate-cyber-security-bill (.)
Paul Merrell

Google Chrome Listening In To Your Room Shows The Importance Of Privacy Defense In Depth - 0 views

  • Yesterday, news broke that Google has been stealth downloading audio listeners onto every computer that runs Chrome, and transmits audio data back to Google. Effectively, this means that Google had taken itself the right to listen to every conversation in every room that runs Chrome somewhere, without any kind of consent from the people eavesdropped on. In official statements, Google shrugged off the practice with what amounts to “we can do that”.it looked like just another bug report. "When I start Chromium, it downloads something." Followed by strange status information that notably included the lines "Microphone: Yes" and "Audio Capture Allowed: Yes".
  • Without consent, Google’s code had downloaded a black box of code that – according to itself – had turned on the microphone and was actively listening to your room.A brief explanation of the Open-source / Free-software philosophy is needed here. When you’re installing a version of GNU/Linux like Debian or Ubuntu onto a fresh computer, thousands of really smart people have analyzed every line of human-readable source code before that operating system was built into computer-executable binary code, to make it common and open knowledge what the machine actually does instead of trusting corporate statements on what it’s supposed to be doing. Therefore, you don’t install black boxes onto a Debian or Ubuntu system; you use software repositories that have gone through this source-code audit-then-build process. Maintainers of operating systems like Debian and Ubuntu use many so-called “upstreams” of source code to build the final product.Chromium, the open-source version of Google Chrome, had abused its position as trusted upstream to insert lines of source code that bypassed this audit-then-build process, and which downloaded and installed a black box of unverifiable executable code directly onto computers, essentially rendering them compromised. We don’t know and can’t know what this black box does. But we see reports that the microphone has been activated, and that Chromium considers audio capture permitted.
  • This was supposedly to enable the “Ok, Google” behavior – that when you say certain words, a search function is activated. Certainly a useful feature. Certainly something that enables eavesdropping of every conversation in the entire room, too.Obviously, your own computer isn’t the one to analyze the actual search command. Google’s servers do. Which means that your computer had been stealth configured to send what was being said in your room to somebody else, to a private company in another country, without your consent or knowledge, an audio transmission triggered by… an unknown and unverifiable set of conditions.Google had two responses to this. The first was to introduce a practically-undocumented switch to opt out of this behavior, which is not a fix: the default install will still wiretap your room without your consent, unless you opt out, and more importantly, know that you need to opt out, which is nowhere a reasonable requirement. But the second was more of an official statement following technical discussions on Hacker News and other places. That official statement amounted to three parts (paraphrased, of course):
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  • 1) Yes, we’re downloading and installing a wiretapping black-box to your computer. But we’re not actually activating it. We did take advantage of our position as trusted upstream to stealth-insert code into open-source software that installed this black box onto millions of computers, but we would never abuse the same trust in the same it to insert code that activates the eavesdropping-blackbox we already downloaded and installed onto your computer without your consent or knowledge. You can look at the code as it looks right now to see that the code doesn’t do this right now.2) Yes, Chromium is bypassing the entire source code auditing process by downloading a pre-built black box onto people’s computers. But that’s not something we care about, really. We’re concerned with building Google Chrome, the product from Google. As part of that, we provide the source code for others to package if they like. Anybody who uses our code for their own purpose takes responsibility for it. When this happens in a Debian installation, it is not Google Chrome’s behavior, this is Debian Chromium’s behavior. it’s Debian’s responsibility entirely.3) Yes, we deliberately hid this listening module from the users, but that’s because we consider this behavior to be part of the basic Google Chrome experience. We don’t want to show all modules that we install ourselves.
  • If you think this is an excusable and responsible statement, raise your hand now.Now, it should be noted that this was Chromium, the open-source version of Chrome. If somebody downloads the Google product Google Chrome, as in the prepackaged binary, you don’t even get a theoretical choice. You’re already downloading a black box from a vendor. In Google Chrome, this is all included from the start.This episode highlights the need for hard, not soft, switches to all devices – webcams, microphones – that can be used for surveillance. A software on/off switch for a webcam is no longer enough, a hard shield in front of the lens is required. A software on/off switch for a microphone is no longer enough, a physical switch that breaks its electrical connection is required. That’s how you defend against this in depth.
  • Of course, people were quick to downplay the alarm. “It only listens when you say ‘Ok, Google’.” (Ok, so how does It know to start listening just before I’m about to say ‘Ok, Google?’) “It’s no big deal.” (A company stealth installs an audio listener that listens to every room in the world It can, and transmIts audio data to the mothership when It encounters an unknown, possibly individually tailored, list of keywords – and It’s no big deal!?) “You can opt out. It’s in the Terms of Service.” (No. Just no. This is not something that is the slightest amount of permissible just because It’s hidden in legalese.) “It’s opt-in. It won’t really listen unless you check that box.” (Perhaps. We don’t know, Google just downloaded a black box onto my computer. And It may not be the same black box as was downloaded onto yours. )Early last decade, privacy activists practically yelled and screamed that the NSA’s taps of various points of the Internet and telecom networks had the technical potential for enormous abuse against privacy. Everybody else dismissed those points as basically tinfoilhattery – until the Snowden files came out, and It was revealed that precisely everybody involved had abused their technical capabilIty for invasion of privacy as far as was possible.Perhaps It would be wise to not repeat that exact mistake. Nobody, and I really mean nobody, is to be trusted wIth a technical capabilIty to listen to every room in the world, wIth listening profiles customizable at the identified-individual level, on the mere basis of “trust us”.
  • Privacy remains your own responsibility.
  •  
    And of course, Google would never succumb to a subpoena requiring it to turn over the audio stream to the NSA. The Tor Browser just keeps looking better and better. https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser.html.en
Paul Merrell

Why the Sony hack is unlikely to be the work of North Korea. | Marc's Security Ramblings - 0 views

  • Everyone seems to be eager to pin the blame for the Sony hack on North Korea. However, I think it’s unlikely. Here’s why:1. The broken English looks deliberately bad and doesn’t exhibit any of the classic comprehension mistakes you actually expect to see in “Konglish”. i.e it reads to me like an English speaker pretending to be bad at writing English. 2. The fact that the code was written on a PC with Korean locale & language actually makes it less likely to be North Korea. Not least because they don’t speak traditional “Korean” in North Korea, they speak their own dialect and traditional Korean is forbidden. This is one of the key things that has made communication with North Korean refugees difficult. I would find the presence of Chinese far more plausible.
  • 3. It’s clear from the hard-coded paths and passwords in the malware that whoever wrote It had extensive knowledge of Sony’s internal archItecture and access to key passwords. While It’s plausible that an attacker could have built up this knowledge over time and then used It to make the malware, Occam’s razor suggests the simpler explanation of an insider. It also fIts wIth the pure revenge tact that this started out as. 4. Whoever did this is in It for revenge. The info and access they had could have easily been used to cash out, yet, instead, they are making every effort to burn Sony down. Just think what they could have done wIth passwords to all of Sony’s financial accounts? WIth the competItive intelligence in their business documents? From simple theft, to the sale of intellectual property, or even extortion – the attackers had many Its to become rich. Yet, instead, they chose to dump the data, rendering It useless. Likewise, I find It hard to believe that a “Nation State” which lives by propaganda would be so willing to just throw aIt such an unprecedented level of access to the beating heart of Hollywood Itself.
  • 5. The attackers only latched onto “The Interview” after the media did – the film was never mentioned by GOP right at the start of their campaign. It was only after a few people started speculating in the media that this and the communication from DPRK “might be linked” that suddenly It became linked. I think the attackers both saw this as an opportunIty for “lulz” and as a It to misdirect everyone into thinking It was a nation state. After all, if everyone believes It’s a nation state, then the criminal investigation will likely die.
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  • 6. Whoever is doing this is VERY net and social media savvy. That, and the sophistication of the operation, do not match with the profile of DPRK up until now. Grugq did an excellent analysis of this aspect his findings are here – http://0paste.com/6875#md 7. Finally, blaming North Korea is the easy it out for a number of folks, including the security vendors and Sony management who are under the microscope for this. Let’s face it – most of today’s so-called “cutting edge” security defenses are either so specific, or so brittle, that they really don’t offer much meaningful protection against a sophisticated attacker or group of attackers.
  • 8. It probably also suIts a number of polItical agendas to have something that justifies sabre-rattling at North Korea, which is why I’m not that surprised to see polIticians starting to point their fingers at the DPRK also. 9. It’s clear from the leaked data that Sony has a culture which doesn’t take securIty very seriously. From plaintext password files, to using “password” as the password in business crItical certificates, through to just the shear volume of aging unclassified yet highly sensItive data left out in the open. This isn’t a simple slip-up or a “weak link in the chain” – this is a serious organization-wide failure to implement anything like a reasonable securIty archItecture.
  • The reality is, as things stand, Sony has little choice but to burn everything down and start again. Every password, every key, every certificate is tainted now and that’s a terrifying place for an organization to find itself. This hack should be used as the definitive lesson in why security matters and just how bad things can get if you don’t take it seriously. 10. Who do I think is behind this? My money is on a disgruntled (possibly ex) employee of Sony.
  • EDIT: This appears (at least in part) to be substantiated by a conversation the Verge had wITh one of the alleged hackers – http://www.theverge.com/2014/11/25/7281097/sony-pictures-hackers-say-they-want-equalITy-worked-wITh-staff-to-break-in Finally for an EXCELLENT blow by blow analysis of the breach and the events that followed, read the following post by my friends from Risk Based SecurITy – https://www.riskbasedsecurITy.com/2014/12/a-breakdown-and-analysis-of-the-december-2014-sony-hack EDIT: Also make sure you read my good friend Krypt3ia’s post on the hack – http://krypt3ia.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/sony-hack-winners-and-losers/
  •  
    Seems that the FBI overlooked a few clues before it told Obama to go ahead and declare war against North Korea. 
Gary Edwards

The True Story of How the Patent Bar Captured a Court and Shrank the Intellectual Commons | Cato Unbound - 1 views

  • The change in the law wrought by the Federal Circuit can also be viewed substantively through the controversy over software patents. Throughout the 1960s, the USPTO refused to award patents for software innovations. However, several of the USPTO’s decisions were overruled by the patent-friendly U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, which ordered that software patents be granted. In Gottschalk v. Benson (1972) and Parker v. Flook (1978), the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, holding that mathematical algorithms (and therefore software) were not patentable subject matter. In 1981, in Diamond v. Diehr, the Supreme Court upheld a software patent on the grounds that the patent in question involved a physical process—the patent was issued for software used in the molding of rubber. While affirming their prior ruling that mathematical formulas are not patentable in the abstract, the Court held that an otherwise patentable invention did not become unpatentable simply because it utilized a computer.
  • In the hands of the newly established Federal Circuit, however, this small scope for software patents in precedent was sufficient to open the floodgates. In a series of decisions culminating in State Street Bank v. Signature Financial Group (1998), the Federal Circuit broadened the criteria for patentability of software and business methods substantially, allowing protection as long as the innovation “produces a useful, concrete and tangible result.” That broadened criteria led to an explosion of low-quality software patents, from Amazon’s 1-Click checkout system to Twitter’s pull-to-refresh feature on smartphones. The GAO estimates that more than half of all patents granted in recent years are software-related. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court continues to hold, as in Parker v. Flook, that computer software algorithms are not patentable, and has begun to push back against the Federal Circuit. In Bilski v. Kappos (2010), the Supreme Court once again held that abstract ideas are not patentable, and in Alice v. CLS (2014), it ruled that simply applying an abstract idea on a computer does not suffice to make the idea patent-eligible. it still is not clear what portion of existing software patents Alice invalidates, but it could be a significant one.
  • Supreme Court justices also recognize the Federal Circuit’s insubordination. In oral arguments in Carlsbad Technology v. HIF Bio (2009), Chief Justice John Roberts joked openly about it:
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  • The Opportunity of the Commons
  • As a result of the Federal Circuit’s pro-patent jurisprudence, our economy has been flooded with patents that would otherwise not have been granted. If more patents meant more innovation, then we would now be witnessing a spectacular economic boom. Instead, we have been living through what Tyler Cowen has called a Great Stagnation. The fact that patents have increased while growth has not is known in the literature as the “patent puzzle.” As Michele Boldrin and David Levine put it, “there is no empirical evidence that [patents] serve to increase innovation and productivity, unless productivity is identified with the number of patents awarded—which, as evidence shows, has no correlation with measured productivity.”
  • While more patents have not resulted in faster economic growth, they have resulted in more patent lawsuits.
  • Software patents have characteristics that make them particularly susceptible to litigation. Unlike, say, chemical patents, software patents are plagued by a problem of description. How does one describe a software innovation in such a it that anyone searching for it will easily find it? As Christina Mulligan and Tim Lee demonstrate, chemical formulas are indexable, meaning that as the number of chemical patents grow, it will still be easy to determine if a molecule has been patented. Since software innovations are not indexable, they estimate that “patent clearance by all firms would require many times more hours of legal research than all patent lawyers in the United States can bill in a year. The result has been an explosion of patent litigation.” Software and business method patents, estimate James Bessen and Michael Meurer, are 2 and 7 times more likely to be litigated than other patents, respectively (4 and 13 times more likely than chemical patents).
  • Software patents make excellent material for predatory litigation brought by what are often called “patent trolls.”
  • Trolls use asymmetries in the rules of litigation to legally extort millions of dollars from innocent parties. For example, one patent troll, Innovatio IP Ventures, LLP, acquired patents that implicated Wi-Fi. In 2011, it started sending demand letters to coffee shops and hotels that offered wireless Internet access, offering to settle for $2,500 per location. This amount was far in excess of the 9.56 cents per device that Innovatio was entitled to under the “Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory” licensing promises attached to their portfolio, but it was also much less than the cost of trial, and therefore it was rational for firms to pay. Cisco stepped in and spent $13 million in legal fees on the case, and settled on behalf of their customers for 3.2 cents per device. Other manufacturers had already licensed Innovatio’s portfolio, but that didn’t stop their customers from being targeted by demand letters.
  • Litigation cost asymmetries are magnified by the fact that most patent trolls are nonpracticing entities. This means that when patent infringement trials get to the discovery phase, they will cost the troll very little—a firm that does not operate a business has very few records to produce.
  • But discovery can cost a medium or large company millions of dollars. Using an event study methodology, James Bessen and coauthors find that infringement lawsuits by nonpracticing entities cost publicly traded companies $83 billion per year in stock market capitalization, while plaintiffs gain less than 10 percent of that amount.
  • Software patents also reduce innovation in virtue of their cumulative nature and the fact that many of them are frequently inputs into a single product. Law professor Michael Heller coined the phrase “tragedy of the anticommons” to refer to a situation that mirrors the well-understood “tragedy of the commons.” Whereas in a commons, multiple parties have the right to use a resource but not to exclude others, in an anticommons, multiple parties have the right to exclude others, and no one is therefore able to make effective use of the resource. The tragedy of the commons results in overuse of the resource; the tragedy of the anticommons results in underuse.
  • In order to cope with the tragedy of the anticommons, we should carefully investigate the opportunity of  the commons. The late Nobelist Elinor Ostrom made a career of studying how communities manage shared resources without property rights. With appropriate self-governance institutions, Ostrom found again and again that a commons does not inevitably lead to tragedy—indeed, open access to shared resources can provide collective benefits that are not available under other forms of property management.
  • This suggests that—litigation costs aside—patent law could be reducing the stock of ideas rather than expanding it at current margins.
  • Advocates of extensive patent protection frequently treat the commons as a kind of wasteland. But considering the problems in our patent system, it is worth looking again at the role of well-tailored limits to property rights in some contexts. Just as we all benefit from real property rights that no longer extend to the highest heavens, we would also benefit if the scope of patent protection were more narrowly drawn.
  • Reforming the Patent System
  • This analysis raises some obvious possibilities for reforming the patent system. Diane Wood, Chief Judge of the 7th Circuit, has proposed ending the Federal Circuit’s exclusive jurisdiction over patent appeals—instead, the Federal Circuit could share jurisdiction with the other circuit courts. While this is a constructive suggestion, it still leaves the door open to the Federal Circuit playing “a leading role in shaping patent law,” which is the reason for its capture by patent interests. it would be better instead simply to abolish the Federal Circuit and return to the pre-1982 system, in which patents received no special treatment in appeals. This leaves open the possibility of circuit splits, which the creation of the Federal Circuit was designed to mitigate, but there are worse problems than circuit splits, and we now have them.
  • Another helpful reform would be for Congress to limit the scope of patentable subject matter via statute. New Zealand has done just that, declaring that software is “not an invention” to get around WTO obligations to respect intellectual property. Congress should do the same with respect to both software and business methods.
  • Finally, even if the above reforms were adopted, there would still be a need to address the asymmetries in patent litigation that result in predatory “troll” lawsuits. While the holding in Alice v. CLS arguably makes a wide swath of patents invalid, those patents could still be used in troll lawsuits because a ruling of invalidity for each individual patent might not occur until late in a trial. Current legislation in Congress addresses this class of problem by mandating disclosures, shifting fees in the case of spurious lawsuits, and enabling a review of the patent’s validity before a trial commences.
  • What matters for prosperity is not just property rights in the abstract, but good property-defining institutions. Without reform, our patent system will continue to favor special interests and forestall economic growth.
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    "Libertarians intuitively understand the case for patents: just as other property rights internalize the social benefits of improvements to land, automobile maintenance, or business investment, patents incentivize the creation of new inventions, which might otherwise be undersupplied. So far, so good. But it is important to recognize that the laws that govern property, intellectual or otherwise, do not arise out of thin air. Rather, our political institutions, with all their virtues and foibles, determine the contours of property-the exact bundle of rights that property holders possess, their extent, and their limitations. Outlining efficient property laws is not a trivial problem. The optimal contours of property are neither immutable nor knowable a priori. For example, in 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the age-old common law doctrine that extended real property rights to the heavens without limit. The advent of air travel made such extensive property rights no longer practicable-airlines would have had to cobble together a patchwork of easements, acre by acre, for every corridor through which they flew, and they would have opened themselves up to lawsuits every time their planes deviated from the expected path. The Court rightly abridged property rights in light of these empirical realities. In defining the limits of patent rights, our political institutions have gotten an analogous question badly wrong. A single, politically captured circuit court with exclusive jurisdiction over patent appeals has consistently expanded the scope of patentable subject matter. This expansion has resulted in an explosion of both patents and patent litigation, with destructive consequences. "
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    I added a comment to the page's article. Patents are antithetical to the precepts of Libertarianism and do not involve Natural Law rights. But I agree with the author that the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit should be abolished. it's a failed experiment.
Paul Merrell

Edward Snowden Explains How To Reclaim Your Privacy - 0 views

  • Micah Lee: What are some operational security practices you think everyone should adopt? Just useful stuff for average people. Edward Snowden: [Opsec] is important even if you’re not worried about the NSA. Because when you think about who the victims of surveillance are, on a day-to-day basis, you’re thinking about people who are in abusive spousal relationships, you’re thinking about people who are concerned about stalkers, you’re thinking about children who are concerned about their parents overhearing things. it’s to reclaim a level of privacy. The first step that anyone could take is to encrypt their phone calls and their text messages. You can do that through the smartphone app Signal, by Open Whisper Systems. it’s free, and you can just download it immediately. And anybody you’re talking to now, their communications, if it’s intercepted, can’t be read by adversaries. [Signal is available for iOS and Android, and, unlike a lot of security tools, is very easy to use.] You should encrypt your hard disk, so that if your computer is stolen the information isn’t obtainable to an adversary — pictures, where you live, where you work, where your kids are, where you go to school. [I’ve written a guide to encrypting your disk on Windows, Mac, and Linux.] Use a password manager. One of the main things that gets people’s private information exposed, not necessarily to the most powerful adversaries, but to the most common ones, are data dumps. Your credentials may be revealed because some service you stopped using in 2007 gets hacked, and your password that you were using for that one site also works for your Gmail account. A password manager allows you to create unique passwords for every site that are unbreakable, but you don’t have the burden of memorizing them. [The password manager KeePassX is free, open source, cross-platform, and never stores anything in the cloud.]
  • The other thing there is two-factor authentication. The value of this is if someone does steal your password, or it’s left or exposed somewhere … [two-factor authentication] allows the provider to send you a secondary means of authentication — a text message or something like that. [If you enable two-factor authentication, an attacker needs both your password as the first factor and a physical device, like your phone, as your second factor, to login to your account. Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, GitHub, Battle.net, and tons of other services all support two-factor authentication.]
  • We should armor ourselves using systems we can rely on every day. This doesn’t need to be an extraordinary lifestyle change. It doesn’t have to be something that is disruptive. It should be invisible, It should be atmospheric, It should be something that happens painlessly, effortlessly. This is why I like apps like Signal, because they’re low friction. It doesn’t require you to re-order your life. It doesn’t require you to change your method of communications. You can use It right now to talk to your friends.
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  • Lee: What do you think about Tor? Do you think that everyone should be familiar with it, or do you think that it’s only a use-it-if-you-need-it thing? Snowden: I think Tor is the most important privacy-enhancing technology project being used today. I use Tor personally all the time. We know it works from at least one anecdotal case that’s fairly familiar to most people at this point. That’s not to say that Tor is bulletproof. What Tor does is it provides a measure of security and allows you to disassociate your physical location. … But the basic idea, the concept of Tor that is so valuable, is that it’s run by volunteers. Anyone can create a new node on the network, whether it’s an entry node, a middle router, or an exit point, on the basis of their willingness to accept some risk. The voluntary nature of this network means that it is survivable, it’s resistant, it’s flexible. [Tor Browser is a great it to selectively use Tor to look something up and not leave a trace that you did it. it can also help bypass censorship when you’re on a network where certain sites are blocked. If you want to get more involved, you can volunteer to run your own Tor node, as I do, and support the diversity of the Tor network.]
  • Lee: So that is all stuff that everybody should be doing. What about people who have exceptional threat models, like future intelligence-community whistleblowers, and other people who have nation-state adversaries? Maybe journalists, in some cases, or activists, or people like that? Snowden: So the first answer is that you can’t learn this from a single article. The needs of every individual in a high-risk environment are different. And the capabilities of the adversary are constantly improving. The tooling changes as well. What really matters is to be conscious of the principles of compromise. How can the adversary, in general, gain access to information that is sensitive to you? What kinds of things do you need to protect? Because of course you don’t need to hide everything from the adversary. You don’t need to live a paranoid life, off the grid, in hiding, in the woods in Montana. What we do need to protect are the facts of our activities, our beliefs, and our lives that could be used against us in manners that are contrary to our interests. So when we think about this for whistleblowers, for example, if you witnessed some kind of wrongdoing and you need to reveal this information, and you believe there are people that want to interfere with that, you need to think about how to compartmentalize that.
  • Tell no one who doesn’t need to know. [Lindsay Mills, Snowden’s girlfriend of several years, didn’t know that he had been collecting documents to leak to journalists until she heard about it on the news, like everyone else.] When we talk about whistleblowers and what to do, you want to think about tools for protecting your identity, protecting the existence of the relationship from any type of conventional communication system. You want to use something like SecureDrop, over the Tor network, so there is no connection between the computer that you are using at the time — preferably with a non-persistent operating system like Tails, so you’ve left no forensic trace on the machine you’re using, which hopefully is a disposable machine that you can get rid of afterward, that can’t be found in a raid, that can’t be analyzed or anything like that — so that the only outcome of your operational activities are the stories reported by the journalists. [SecureDrop is a whistleblower submission system. Here is a guide to using The Intercept’s SecureDrop server as safely as possible.]
  • And this is to be sure that whoever has been engaging in this wrongdoing cannot distract from the controversy by pointing to your physical identity. Instead they have to deal with the facts of the controversy rather than the actors that are involved in it. Lee: What about for people who are, like, in a repressive regime and are trying to … Snowden: Use Tor. Lee: Use Tor? Snowden: If you’re not using Tor you’re doing it wrong. Now, there is a counterpoint here where the use of privacy-enhancing technologies in certain areas can actually single you out for additional surveillance through the exercise of repressive measures. This is why it’s so critical for developers who are working on security-enhancing tools to not make their protocols stand out.
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    Lots more in the interview that I didn't highlight. This is a must-read.
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