Chaos Communication Congress 2009: media files of presentations available for download

December 31, 2009

No one can say the Chaos Computer Club is slow off the mark. The 26th Chaos Communication Congress, the CCC’s annual tech conference ended just the other day, and the German hackers have already posted on the internet audio and video files of the various talks and presentations. You can download video (.mp4 and iPhone-friendly .mp4) and audio files (.mp3 and .ogg) here.

I haven’t had a chance yet to view any of the files, but I will as soon as I can. The CCC made big news by announcing they’d successfully cracked GSM cellphone encryption – you can read reactions in the tech press here and here. This isn’t just big news – it’s massive (though GSM spokespeople have been dismissing its importance) – as soon as I’ve checked out the presentation and looked at any accompanying documentation I’ll post my badly informed opinion. But right now I can’t see how cracking GSM could be dismissed as unimportant; it has up to an estimated 3 billion users worldwide, which surely makes it very important to a lot of people. I think the GSM Association is blowing smoke out of its ass trying to minimize the bad press. But will my opinion change once I’ve studied the materials? Watch this space!

I doubt the GSM crack will be the only thing at 26C3 to grab my attention. I recommend anyone with an interest in IT (in)security to go look at the media files of presentations that always become available after a hacker conference. For instance, you can get video/audio of DEFCON17 talks here, and recordings from the Dutch hacker camp HAR2009 here. I find this stuff so interesting… and seriously educational too. So check it out, peeps!

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Ixquick.com: the internet search engine that respects your privacy

December 30, 2009

Most search engines, like Google and Yahoo, earn their keep by selling targeted advertising. The way in which they decide what adverts should be targeted at you varies from search engine to search engine. Some simply display adverts that seem appropriate to the search items you just used. But there are other, possibly more sinister methods. Google, for instance, uses cookies and browser interaction to build up a detailed record of the websites you’ve been to. Although Google say they store this info just for ad targeting and related uses, there’s always the possibility that these incredibly detailed logs could be used for evil. Let’s say that Barack Obama suddenly became a Fascist dictator and ordered Google to hand over all its records so he could use them to help choose victims to persecute. Google is a law-abiding corporation, so they’d give up the info in a heartbeat (and don’t try to kid yourself otherwise – they don’t mind helping out the Chinese government, so what makes you think they wouldn’t obey US authorities?).

Unsurprisingly, some people don’t like the idea of their info being collated. And there are various ways to avoid Google’s lists. For instance there’s Scroogle.org – an independent search site that actually uses Google to locate pages for you but removes all identifying data from the search so Google doesn’t know who initiated the search. If you use Firefox, there’s an add-on called CustomizeGoogle that can anonymize your Google userid as well as tweaking your search preferences in various ways.

But both of those solutions involve using Google. Many people are happy with that as they think Google’s the best search engine out there. But if you object to the way Google collects personal data on its users, perhaps you should boycott Google altogether. So is it possible to reject Google completely and still use a search engine that is good but doesn’t compile lists on you?

Well I think that’s perfectly possible – by using Ixquick.com. Ixquick says it’s the only search engine that does not collect users’ IP addresses. And it isn’t all just hype – On July 14th, 2008 Ixquick was awarded the first European Privacy Seal.
This means that Ixquick is the only EU-approved search engine. Pretty damn impressive.

But all of that means nothing if Ixquick searches are crap. So how does Ixquick measure up to Google? Not too shabby, I think. I’ve been comparing the two search engines side by side for a couple of weeks, and on the whole Ixquick has performed very well. But don’t take my word for it – check it out for yourself. Believe me, if you are at all concerned about your privacy, it’s definitely worthwhile for you to at least take a look at Ixquick. Maybe you’ll decide that Google is just too good to abandon. But at least take a look at Ixquick. Your privacy is valuable, so don’t give it up too cheaply.

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Colorado resort legalises pot

December 28, 2009

Well ain’t that a surprise – the ski resort of Breckenridge, Colorado has passed a law that will see the possession and use of cannabis legalised from 1 January 2010. Some folk are already calling Breckenridge “the Amsterdam of the Rockies”, but that isn’t a completely accurate comparison: sale of cannabis remains illegal, so there won’t be any Dutch-style coffee shops opening. But this is still a big deal. “We’re the second town in America after Denver to remove all penalties for marijuana possession and the first in history to remove all penalties for paraphernalia, and that’s cutting-edge on a global basis,” said Brian Vicente. Brian heads the pressure group Sensible Colorado which is pushing for cannabis to be legalised state-wide. Cannabis possession will stay illegal under state and federal law, but there’s no indication that state police or the feds will pursue cannabis convictions in the town. Dope will be banned on the ski slopes, and the Breckenridge police will take stern action against anyone who drives under the influence (though how they’ll be able to determine if someone’s high on pot is anyone’s guess).

This is all good. Legalisation starts with small moves in small towns; then, as politicians in other places see how the experiment works out, they may decide to give it a go too. Eventually it will become apparent to all that cannabis is not the ogre its enemies make it out to be, and then change will come on a national and internaional stage. For now it’s just Breckenridge. But tomorrow it may be your town!

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No wvdial in Ubuntu!

December 23, 2009

If you are an Ubuntero and use dial-up to connect to the internet or use a cellphone as a modem, you may have noticed that the “intelligent dialer” utility wvdial is no longer included on the Ubuntu live CD. This has been the case since 9.04 (Jaunty) and is still true with Karmic (9.10) – and I’ve been told it won’t be on the 10.04 (Lucid) CD either!

Well, us wvdial-using Ubunteros need to stick together! It can be very difficult to configure ppp; in comparison wvdial is a cake-walk. Lots of dial-up users like to use Gnome-PPP to manage their internet connection, but the absence of wvdial just makes it hellish to get hold of any such tools. We need wvdial! Right?

Well there is something we can do about it. There is a bug report on Launchpad which asks the developers to include wvdial in future versions of Ubuntu. I am asking everyone to create an account on Launchpad then go add their name to that bug report – ie click on this link and add a comment echoing the request for wvdial. I’m not sure, but I think the developers must have decided that dial-up doesn’t exist anymore… or that dial-up users don’t matter. We need to tell them they’re wrong. Really I can’t see any good reason for excluding wvdial: it’s a pretty small binary, so I don’t think the devs needed the disk space for something else! And the fact it’s such a small program means there is no reason not to put it back in. The devs just need to be told there is a demand for it. That’s where you come in.

Please please add your name to the Launchpad bug report. Even if you don’t use wvdial yourself, please help the rest of us. A lot of us can connect to the internet only by using dial-up; I’ve seen posts on Ubuntuforums.org where users have said they will actually have to switch to another Linux distro if this isn’t put right! So please… tell the Ubuntu developers to give us wvdial!!

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UK bans legal highs

December 23, 2009

Well, they haven’t banned all legal highs, that’d be just stupid. Yes, I know “they” (the government, I guess) are stupid; but that’s not really relevant. Anyway, doesn’t that tile seem a bit paradoxical? If they’ve banned legal highs, then the highs aren’t legal, are they? So they’re not legal highs. So I guess they haven’t banned legal highs…

Okay, allow me to stop being a jerk. What I’m actually trying to tell you is: from today (23 Dec 2009) a ban comes into effect on the previously legal highs GBL, BZP, and various chemical products that users spray onto cigarettes (such as “Spice”).

According to the Guardian, “The crackdown comes after the high-profile case of medical student Hester Stewart, 21, who died in Brighton in April after taking GBL.” Which is a pretty crap reason to ban these substances. One death?! Thousands of people die each year from the effects of alcohol, which remains legal. Yet they ban GBL because one person died after taking it… and that was probably an allergic reaction or something similar…

Yeah I know what some of you are thinking: “Just because alcohol remains legal, that’s no reason to allow the sale of other harmful drugs.” But that’s a load of crap. Governments should ban drugs only if it is demonstrated that the substance in question is truly dangerous. And one single death does not demonstrate that GBL is dangerous. More people die from eating peanuts – shall we ban nuts too?

Of course, Hester Stewart’s mother Maryon thinks the ban doesn’t go far enough. GBL has been classified a class C drug in the UK, whereas “In America, it is schedule A, which is the equivalent of a class A drug here.” A fatuous argument – we should copy the insane Americans with their prohibitionist drug laws and warehouse prison system? I thought we were better than that.

Actually, that’s a lie: I’ve never thought that we in the UK were better than the dumb Americans. I’m aware that, generally speaking, the UK is a little brother to Big USA. And this new drug law just reinforces the fact: the prohibitionists and the moral police are still in power on both sides of the pond. The election of Obama has changed nothing over there, and when we vote Gordon Brown out of office it won’t change a thing over here. All the available politicians are the same: a bunch of control-freak, moral nazi thought police. Screw ’em all.

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How to download & save Youtube videos with PWNYoutube – UPDATE

December 21, 2009

I told you about PWNYoutube here. Well, they’ve changed their interface, so I’ve updated my post on them – check out the update at the same old link.

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