This series of articles allows me to play the part of a ‘Speaker for the Dead’ for technology that has or is becoming ‘end of life’ or legacy and/or irrelevant (or which should be). In this article, the subject isn’t a specific technology or protocol although technology has brought about it’s demise; it’s something far more fundamental to our lives, no matter where it is applied or relied upon… or not. This should transcend, come before and be integral to all business, government, politics (dare I say it) and every other facet of life.
For the story on how this series came about see the first article: Speaker for the Dead – Spanning Tree Protocol.
A Brief History
This section should probably be a brief history of the formation of the values most societies claim to hold dear and abide by. It should be unnecessary but unfortunately most could probably benefit from a refresher; I’ll leave this to your parents and blame them accordingly. I’ve struggled to avoid saying something along the lines of “My $familymember fought in the war for you…” to people for some time.
As I said in my Using Wireshark to Decode SSL/TLS Packets article, any false security I may have had around any large organisation (including government) being as fallible and poorly organised as the people (or managers) within it and unable to consume and process the necessary volume of information to be effective without genuinely prohibitive cost has vanished in recent years and certainly since PRISM and later revelations. It’s interesting that the NSA/US government recently used this meme in an attempt to downplay their power. The idea (or perhaps it was always a fantasy) of using more intelligent searches to gain better information from the bad guy’s own database or sources, put forward in the classic book Shibumi, is also dead.
Yes, I’m paranoid in a sense, I won’t apologies for that, I think it’s healthy; we live in a post-PRISM/Snowden world. Trust in our leaders, governments and businesses has literally and comprehensively been destroyed. Privacy fell to its knees a long time ago and I suspect will never stand again.
I was once an avid Stephen King reader and because of that I’ve always considered horror or evil (and they are not necessarily the same thing) not to be the sensational or bloody or shocking things that you might see in a film, or on the news. Those are the extremes. The sensitive child abandoned by a father he loves – never to see him again, the husband and family left behind by a wife that suffered ill-health for years prior, the abusive husband and father that never gets exposed, the one whose history is never forgiven, disease, poverty and death. Hell, just paying the rent and feeding the kids; these are the ‘ordinary’ horrors many of us face. Now we have another to deal with.
As with death and taxes there’s nothing we can do about it right? Not really no and that’s a serious issue. Companies we should be able to trust, we can’t. It seems they all continue to deny it with statements that beggar belief. “We never gave the NSA access to our servers…” is meaningless nonsense and an outrageous lie when it’s well understood entire applications were modified to give the NSA full access. Who knows what else has been done (although the wider uses of the program are now coming to light). I’ve just found out about Trusted Computing too, it just gets worse. Our leaders are yet worse; I wonder how many even have the power to rein things in if they somehow found the guts to try.
Animal Farm might offer some insight into all the false justifications we’ve had around this but really isn’t this just human nature run riot and extended by technology. A cache of Ak47s would have made Lord of the Flies a much shorter book I’m sure; and a rather less revealing one too. Really, is there much difference between “some are more equal than others” and “you may have no secrets but why and how is a secret”. The pigs have triumphed and the terrorists have certainly changed all our lives for the worse.
Your DNS queries are evidence. SSL/TLS is essentially broken (it’s an open secret as such). Most applications on your PC, your phone and even your TV are reporting your location, your preferences, your searches and more. Viruses, zero day exploits and similar are used against us all (even by phone carriers). Loyalty, store and credit and debit payment cards and networks tie all your financial transactions together with your other activities. Your wireless router sucks and reveals all to anyone with the slightest skill. Surely I don’t need to mention Google’s various services and activities (UK users note that Google claims to be above the law here). Worse yet, the US government (who I’m sure are not alone) seem happy to openly close down services that may help you avoid their monitoring and invasions. Unreported but well-known scandals in political circles, secret courts, laws and more, legally enforced denial, secrets and lies. No-one can be trusted.
Data you can’t correct? Check. Data without the correct context? Check. Unintended consequences? Check. Non-existent relationships? Check. Inaccuracies? Check. Travel Restrictions? Check. Possibility of personal loss of some kind? Check. Unlimited history and retention? Check. Familial suspicion? Check. Travesties and injustice? Check. And so it goes on, these terrible ‘use cases’ and outcomes.
All of the above are the possibilities we now face but don’t worry, it’s all to save us from the forces that challenge our freedom and liberty. Like I said, the terrorists won.
That Spanish train driver, whatever the ‘evidence’ and the revelations around his Facebook activity (from some time ago), should be a lesson to all. Not having power in law or a courtroom doesn’t make information useless and doesn’t mean it can’t be used against you, years (or even decades) later – just ask a journalist; not that you can trust them either. You’ve nothing to fear right now perhaps but for all time?
Never heard of Stalin? The Nazis? Religious war? Genocide? Zimbawai, North Korea or Iran? Trust that your government and leaders will forever be peaceful and deal with it’s enemies (you know, terrorists), a strong opposition and protesters (you know, terrorists) and photographers (surely terrorists) and journalists (yet more terrorists) fairly? Truly?
Is it really just me? Aren’t you uncomfortable posting on Facebook? Knowing every friend, every relationship is recorded and known? Every email read if someone wants to. Every comment everywhere recorded and noted and never, ever forgotten. You change, your views change, your life changes, your family and relationships change, your politics change and will continue to do so. Will those systems unknown to you acknowledge it? Are you expecting understanding after the fact. Do you think the establishment is always rational and sensible?
Seems almost everyone I know doesn’t care in the slightest; technically minded or not. That’s the one of the real yet subtle horrors for me; the disregard and blasé attitude of almost everyone I know. Sleepwalking into a surveillance society (a famous quote from a UK politician)? Not at all, it seems most have their eyes wide open (about what information they are providing and who’s looking at least) and couldn’t care less about the consequences. One or more of convenience, speed, simplicity, cost or value triumphs even your most basic and long-held rights it would seem.
No business, service, government, or country can be trusted. We’re all forced to operate in a similar way to criminals and/or roll back our use of important and useful technology in order to achieve privacy, if we care. A whole generation consider it of no value but I hope that will change when the next major injustice happens, if it becomes known. We’ve been desensitised by commerce, convenience and ‘killer’ apps from Google et al; free services that destroy the market for paid ones that might actually have a consumer’s needs in mind. Sorry for the obvious but free has a price; not that most Microsoft products are.
I thought losing your liberty and privacy was the price for breaking the law; it’s now obvious that most give up their privacy for simply ‘living’ on-line. The general public’s disinterest truly amazes me; does no-one consider an US citizen seeking asylum in Russia a worrying change? How many Americans know that these programs were re-funded recently through the last appropriations bill? Do they believe Obama’s ‘weasle’ words around terrorism prevention, reform and the effects of the revelations?
Add the physical world’s systems (CCTV, ANPR, tracking devices in recycling bins and more) into the mix and it’s clear there’s no hope for our privacy and there simply isn’t a place for trust; the fiction of the past is now real. Perhaps human nature ensures we’re optimistic; we’ll ignore a danger that’s remote and intangible, remember the highs of the past rather than the lows and simple get on with life ignoring its potential horrors and without losing our will to live. The warm and peaceful embrace of ignorance calls like a siren but for everyone’s sake lets not turn away from the obvious truth, just this once.
Other articles in this series;
- Speaker for the Dead – Spanning Tree Protocol
- Speaker for the Dead – Telnet
- Russ White has done something similar regarding the OSI model