Archive for the '“War” on “Terror”' Category

False positives nix face scanners

The Daily Telegraph reports that airport face scanners have to be tuned to a ridiculous level of inaccuracy to prevent massive levels of false positives.

Of course if the airport authorities had read my blog or, alternatively, applied the same level of critical thinking to security technology purchases that they applied to, say, purchasing socks, they’d have known this years ago.

Remixes of the new Met campaign

You may have seen some of the new posters the police are putting up, which has generated some pretty good remixes at Boing Boing.

Well here are my own slightly lazy contributions:

Using something from George Orwells 1984

Using something from George Orwell's 1984

And then a Godwin:

A Godwin

A Godwin

So, now I’ve Godwinned it, can we stop?

How is all this Stasi stuff supposed to work anyhow?

After the ringing endorsement for more “talking rubbish” from Tom in the comments to my last post, I feel newly inspired to spout off.

So, a couple of news items in recent weeks about our government’s incompetent attempts to turn our generally-mostly-well-behaved-as-long-as-you-are-white police force into some kind of robo-stasi.  The ethics of these things are pretty obvious, but what perplexes me is how some of these powers are supposed to be used.

First, the Computer Misuse Act (1995) allows the police to hack into “compromised” systems without a warrant.  Who knew?  Not me. Anyway, apparently they plan to “step up this activity”.

Now as it happens I have briefly met some of the chaps from SOCA, who presumably would be executing this brief.  I am sure they are fine upstanding members of the constabulary, but leet haxors they are not.  Frankly I think it’s unlikely they could drive a pivot table in Excel, let alone devise a 0-day.  The drafters of this act perhaps envisaged the police employing uber hackers from the underground, which superficially sounds quite exciting, but it’s an ITV plot I’m afraid.  If the Old Bill know of uber hackers in the UK they’re most likely to feel their collars.

Alternatively of course they could employ russian hackers, but the amazingly bad idea of involving anyone associated with the FSB with sensitive police business may be apparent even to the clouded minds of our senior officers.

Security firms, on the whole, will also try their best to keep the police off your network, since they won’t be able to tell if it’s the police or not.  For all the fretting about these powers, in practice it’s only those who take no care at all who need to worry, and their machines are probably infested with viruses already.

Second is the rather more disturbing intention of the Government’s to require ISPs to log every email sent. Again, the ethical problems with this are pretty obvious but the practical implications are bizarre.

When you send an email from your workplace to someone else, it’s very likely that your emails never directly touch one of your ISPs mail servers – your mail goes to your corporate mailserver, then over the internet to your receipient’s mailserver.  That mail does traverse your ISPs network, but not their mailservers.

So to log this activity, your ISP would need to run a filter on all TCP traffic for port 25, decode this traffic and extract the headers.  Although this is onerous for ISPs, it’s possible.  It will inevitably make email less reliable, and slower, but hey who cares, right.

But, and this is a but you could drive a truck through, a whole load of people use opportunistic strong encryption for email. It’s enabled out of the box on all decent mail systems these days, and from watching our own logs I guess well more than half of email is encrypted for transport now.

Cracking this is not only difficult-to-impossible, but illegal in many cases. It certainly is more than onerous.

So, may  I just ask, WTF?  Are they really proposing on making laws to legislate for the impossible just to irritate everyone?



Two mentally disabled women have bombs strapped to them in Iraq. My arse.

Remember this story that ran about six weeks ago? The News intro says:

More than 70 people have been killed by two bombs in Baghdad, attached to two mentally disabled women and detonated remotely, says a security official.

I was very suspicious of this at the time, since none of the press printed their source, except for a “security official”.

There is a very long and distinguished history for lying about your enemy. In the middle ages in Europe mostly armies were demonised by “security officials” claiming the armies had raped nuns, and sometimes even eaten babies. The same sort of demonisation is common today, from all sides in any conflict.

You would hope that the press’ first act here should have been maybe to investigate this story before reporting it as fact.

Depressingly none of our much vaunted press (including the BBC and the Guardian) bothered to check anything at all, nor have I seen any follow up. Right now most people probably believe this story.

So is it true? The reason why the women were reported as being mentally disabled appears to be because their heads were deformed after the blast:

It turns out on the following day, that the evidence for the mentally disabled part was that one of the alleged bombers’ head recovered after the blast was deformed, suggesting Down’s syndrome. Now the AP and The New York Times point out that the severed head may have merely been deformed by the blast.

I was pretty sceptical about this too, since it seemed unlikely anyone could be this dumb. However, it’s been six weeks now and the press haven’t turned up any relatives of these women – which they must have tried. “My disabled daughter blown up by evil muslims” has such a lovely ring to it.

I think we can reasonably conclude the disabled part of this story was complete, and transparent, fiction. Which doesn’t speak too well of our press.

Why terrorism fails

Another great article from MindHacks: Terrorism fails because we don’t see its purpose. This seems particularly plausible, and reminds of the way Hitler is generally described, as an example.  It seems impossible to believe he was rational, since his actions were so horrendous and extreme.  That of course, doesn’t make him irrational – it just makes him morally questionable.

Seeing yellow

Seeing yellow: When you print on a color laser printer, it’s likely that you are also printing a pattern of invisible yellow dots. These marks exist to allow the printer companies and governments to track and identify you — presumably as a way to combat money counterfeiting. When one person asked his printer manufacturer about turning off the tracking dots, Secret Service agents showed up at his door several days later.

Glorifying Terrorism

The UK has a law banning people from “glorifying terrorism”. Whatever “glorifying” means. And whatever “terrorism” means.

[Rackstraw Press](http://rackstrawpress.nfshost.com/) was created in response to this, and they’ve produced their first book, an anthology of sf short stories written in protest at the Terrorism Act.

The book is called, appropriately, ["Glorifying Terrorism"](http://rackstrawpress.nfshost.com/).

Typhoid, you are America’s only remaining friend.

So, the French think that the Saudi’s think that Osama bin is [dead](http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=1407712006).

Not that this will really please the Americans, since they wanted his head on a spike.

It’s probably not true anyway.