DEFCON 17 talks and presentations released online


I don’t know how long this has been up – I only just noticed it – but audio and video files of talks and presentations at this year’s DEFCON are now available for free download.  For those who don’t know: DEFCON is the USA’s premier hacker’s conference, held every year in Las Vegas.  Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to attend – the Atlantic Ocean is very wide and deep and I’m allergic to water – but I’ve been able to enjoy the talks and presentations via audio or video thanks to the fact that the DEFCON organizers create each year an archive of presentation media.

DEFCON 17 took place at 30 July-2 August, but they’ve only just got round to posting links to the archive.  But that’s okay: I get to enjoy the con without having to travel to the USA (wide and deep, remember?); and, most importantly, without having to fork out any money.  Free downloads, y’know?

Various well-known security and internet characters take part every year.  Famous names in 2009 include Bruce Schneier, Dan Kaminsky and Jason Scott.  I particularly enjoyed Jason Scott’s talk, “That awesome time I was sued for two billion dollars“.  There are fun talks, heavily technical demonstrations… the whole kaboodle.  I strongly recommend checking it out if you’re in any way interested in computer security and the hacker culture.  It is free after all!

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UK govt to press ahead with plan to cut off file-sharers’ internet access


Well it’s official: yesterday (Wednesday) the UK government announced its intention to pass a law that will sever the internet connections of anyone suspected of illegally sharing files.

Through the medium of the “Queen’s Speech” (an archaic tradition by which the Queen announces the government’s legislative plans for the coming year) it was revealed that file-sharers’ broadband links will be disconnected without trial.

As the current government’s term is nearing its end, there’s a chance that they may run out of time before the “Digital Economy” bill is passed. But it doesn’t really matter: the opposition Conservative party supports this proposal too. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise: both the Tories and Labour have long been in love with big business. This proposed law is a sop to the music and film industries, who claim that “copyright theft” costs them hundreds of millions of pounds a year – they claim that they lost £486 million in 2007, and that an estimated 6.5 million Brits illegally downloaded music and films last year. Of course that’s nonsense: their calculations are based on the lie that every album or movie illegally downloaded represents a direct loss of revenue, completely ignoring the fact that most file-sharers would not have bought the records or videos they downloaded. But the industry can’t let the truth get in the way.

The government refuses to admit that innocent people may fall foul of the new law, despite the fact that wireless networks can be used by unauthorized downloaders and that multi-occupancy residences can contain more than one computer using the same IP address. I’m interested to see how the rights-owners or ISPs will be able to identify which downloads are illegal. Peer-to-peer protocols like bittorrent are used extensively for perfectly above-board downloads too. There’s been mention of using “phishing” techniques and “honeypot sites” to detect illegal transactions; hopefully this will all become clearer soon.

Many commentators believe that the film and music industries are just using file-sharers as scapegoats for their falling profits. Content providers need to come up with new business models that accommodate consumers’ changing habits.

Mark Schmid, from TalkTalk, said: “There’s been a real split among content owners when it comes to readjusting to the new digital landscape. Some – such as computer games companies – have been clever and come up with innovative ways to discourage piracy and maintain customer loyalty, for instance through adding extra levels to computer games that you only get if you’ve bought the product. But other content sectors – most notably the music industry – have failed to innovate and have blamed the internet for spoiling their old ways of doing business. We think this is extremely complacent. The internet is now a fact of life and we believe new business models need to be introduced if they want to survive and thrive in the digital world.”

Illegal downloading is not responsible for the film industry’s woes. Today’s widely-available fast broadband connections have made online streaming much more popular. There are legal free services, like BBC iPlayer, Channel 4’s 4OD service, and the US-based Hulu (set to come to Britain in 2010). And there are a great many ad-supported streaming sites like Youku and Megavideo. The film and TV content providers need to change their business model. But why should they, when governments are willing to make us reward their ineptitude?

Watch out, world: it’s happening in the UK now, and in France; but soon it’ll be in the USA, Australia, the rest of Europe… hell, everywhere. No one’s safe from the internet police.

If you don’t want this crazy plan to become law, you need to act!!  Visit the Open Rights Group web site to learn how you can help campaign against the internet disconnection bill!

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UK government drug policy in disarray as more scientific advisors quit


Three advisors to the UK government on drugs policy resigned yesterday in protest at the sacking of Professor David Nutt as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). This means a total of 6 out of 31 advisors have now quit after home secretary Alan Johnson sacked Prof Nutt for claiming that cannabis is less harmful than tobacco and alcohol.

Prof Nutt said that the government had made a mistake when it decided to reclassify cannabis from Class C to the more allegedly-harmful Class B. He questioned the evidence that cannabis causes mental illness in a large number of users, and disagreed with the hypocrisy of sanctioning prosecution for the possession of a substance that he considers less harmful than the legal, government-approved drugs tobacco and alcohol.

The advisors who resigned yesterday are: Ian Ragan, director of a consultancy for the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, CIR Consultancy Ltd; John Marsden, a research psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry; and Simon Campbell, a synthetic organic chemist and former head of Worldwide Discovery and Medicinals R&D Europe at Pfizer. All three argued for the reinstatement of Prof Nutt before resigning, claiming that government belittled and interfered with their advice. The scientists in particular wanted assurances their reports and recommendations would in future be taken seriously, and sought an agreement over how their advice was handled by ministers.

Dr Les King, the former head of the drugs intelligence unit of the Forensic Science Service, and Marion Walker, the clinical director of Berkshire Healthcare NHS foundation trust’s substance misuse service, resigned in the immediate aftermath of Nutt’s sacking.

Prof Nutt’s dismissal shows that the government doesn’t really care how its policies reflect on objective reality. The reclassification of cannabis was a political act, based on questionable scientific evidence. And the resignations further demonstrate the government’s lonely position relative to truth and honesty.

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HAR2009 presentation videos available online


If, like me, you were caught out by the sudden rush on tickets for HAR2009 and so couldn’t attend the Dutch hackerfest this summer, you may be sighing and distraught that you couldn’t participate in this coming together of Europe’s finest hackerish minds.

Well, nothing can change that. But you can still enjoy many of the talks and presentations through the medium of video. There’s a whole bunch of videos of talks and the like available for download here. Check ’em out, peeps! You might be in danger of actually learning something!!!

There’s also a movie of the event: HAR2009 Impressions by Rick Deckardt. You can download it here. I haven’t watched it yet – I only found out about it a few minutes ago, while checking out the HAR2009 wiki prior to writing this post – but believe me, I shall watch it very soon. These Dutch hacker camps happen just once every 4 years, like leap years or Olympics, so I want to wring every last drop of enjoyment out of this last one. I couldn’t go – boo hoo! – but at least I can pretend!! 😉

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