Category Archives: Techy Go Beep

Then One Day the U.S. Decides You Shouldn’t Have a Business

JotForm is a website that allows users to create surveys and forms to collect information. On the 16th of February, without explanation, the U.S. Secret Service decided this site should no longer exist.

JotForm is a website that allows users to create surveys and forms to collect information. On the 16th of February, without explanation, the U.S. Secret Service decided this site should no longer exist.

In the wake of the Megaupload take down, and the proposition for a myriad of new bills in Congress that would severely curtail freedom on the Internet, the spotlight of U.S. authorities actions on the Internet has perhaps never been as bright as it is today. Enter the story of JotForm.

JotForm is an online application that allows someone to create forms for surveys to collect information – polls or otherwise. It is free for anyone to create a form, though there are priced options available for professional organizations or anyone who winds up having an extremely popular form to fill out and bandwidth becomes a concern. When ruminations about regulating sites that allow for “user-generated content” are discussed, JotForm is one of the countless websites that falls under that banner – they provide the back end, users create the forms on their own.

JotForm has had a problem with nefarious users taking advantage of their form software to collect information from unknowing Internet users – a process commonly referred to as phishing. The company, using filtering, discovered and deleted over 65,000 such forms within the past year – but that was apparently not enough, or not the right ones for the U.S. Secret Service. Apparently a simple order from the Secret Service to the company that controlled JotForm’s domain name, GoDaddy, was enough to remove the business from the internet without so much as a notice to the actual site owner:

Popular site JotForm doesn’t host music or movies or child pornography, all of which have led US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to seize other Internet domain names without advance warning (sometimes making serious mistakes). JotForm also doesn’t create content itself. Instead, it helps customers create online forms that can then be embedded in their websites for easy data collection.

But that didn’t spare the site from having its entire business shuttered without warning yesterday as the site’s domain name was shut down at the request of the US Secret Service. JotForm’s domain name registrar, GoDaddy, redirected the site’s nameservers to NS1.SUSPENDED-FOR.SPAM-AND-ABUSE.COM—and with that, became unreachable and the site’s two million user-created forms all broke.

And it all may have been done without a court order.

When he saw his site was down, JotForm cofounder Aytekin Tank scrambled. He checked in with GoDaddy, which told him that the site had been suspended as part of an ongoing investigation.

“We’re very sorry, but your business can no longer exist.”

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Canada in on Online Censorship Party: Safety Minister Calls Opponents Child Pornographers, Drops Mic

Canadian public safety minister Vic Toews (Con-MB) has a message to all you supporters of your rights online: stop watching child porn.

Canadian public safety minister Vic Toews (Con-MB) has a message to all you supporters of your rights online: stop watching child porn.

The dizzying array of newly introduced and back from the dead Internet censorship legislation from western democracies continues to grow like weeds. Originally under the guise of protecting “content creators”, these bills have faced stiff and quickly assembled grassroots resistance from an online public that doesn’t want to see the last free place in our existence turn into a regulated, metered, and corporately controlled nightmare. Facing the defeat at the hands of logic, the proponents of online censorship have moved to plan B: you’re with us or you watch kiddie porn.

First shots across the bow were fired in the United States by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), with the loaded title of “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011“, or PCIP. Provisions of the bill would require ISPs to maintain upwards of eighteen months of all your online information just in case a judge somewhere in the country was called upon to grant a wide-ranging, ill-defined search for “something”. It makes the Stop Online Privacy Piracy Act seem downright benign by comparison. The implicit charge for standing against this bill would be, as the title goes, that you support child pornography.

Enter public safety minister Vic Toews (Con-MB) and a piece of legislation called the “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act“, or PCI… hey neat, this one is called PCIP too! With a name so similar, you have to wonder if the same clandestine interests are behind both pieces of legislation. Anyway.

Mr. Toews didn’t just stop at the suggestive name to define the opposition of the bill as Mr. Smith did. The implication that anyone standing against a piece of legislation would be in league with some of the most disgusting people that humankind has to offer is repugnant enough in its own right, but amid a debate that was already heating up in the House of Commons as to the full implications of this bill, Mr. Toews decided to go for the gold:

Critics of a bill that would give law enforcement new powers to access Canadians’ electronic communications are aligning themselves with child pornographers, Canada’s public safety minister says.

“He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers,” Vic Toews said of Liberal public safety critic Francis Scarpaleggia during question period on Monday, after Scarpaleggia asked about a bill expected to be tabled Tuesday.

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Iran Cuts Access to Popular E-mail, Social Networking Sites

Iran is currently seeing some of its heaviest Internet restrictions since the aftermath of the disputed 2009 Presidential elections.

Iran is currently seeing some of its heaviest Internet restrictions since the aftermath of the disputed 2009 Presidential elections.

As parliamentary elections slated for the 2nd of March draw closer, Iran continues to tighten its grasp on the ability for information to flow freely from the Internet to its citizens. Not yet launching a rumored “country intranet” which would effectively sever connections between the Iran citizenry and the outside world, the Islamic Republic has shuttered access to popular e-mail services GMail, Yahoo Mail, and Microsoft’s Hotmail, as well to preeminent social networks Facebook and Twitter. Thus far no explanation has been offered to citizens as to why the sites are inaccessible or when they might become view-able again – if ever.

At present, more technically savvy Iranians are able to circumvent the restrictions by using VPN servers hosted elsewhere in the world, or proxy connections – indicating that the websites are being filtered at the Internet Service Provider level. As soon as Iran completes its alleged new Intranet infrastructure, evading the Iranian censors will become significantly more difficult:

Last month the country’s information minister told the Islamic Republic News Agency that a firewalled national Internet would soon become operational. There was no word on when the government might plan to throw the switch on what essentially would be a vast “intranet,” but it could happen any day. And that prospect has cyber activists in Iran concerned. It would give the government a hand up in its cyber cat-and-mouse battle with opponents.

Right now, if Iran now blocks proxy servers and VPN connections for more than a few days, companies with branches or headquarters in the country are cut off from communicating with fellow employees around the world other than by telephone. That forces the government to open the spigot for everyone. Once the new network goes into effect, ordinary Iranians would wake up to a more censored Internet.

“I don’t know the the infrastructure that they will use but I don’t think we have a way out of that one,” said the Iranian person. “We are getting closer and closer to North Korea.”

Unplugging the country from the Internet became a key weapon in trying to fight protesters from getting the word out about the goings on inside the country after the highly controversial 2009 Presidential election that saw a new term awarded to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even though a large percentage of the citizenry believed Mir Hossein Mousavi was the actual victor. Violent Iranian repression of its people in the weeks and months after were broadcast to the world via YouTube – and when simple blocks were not working well enough for the country, Iran shuttered all access to the Internet for days at a time. Business interests in the country were severely harmed by the lack of communication with the outside world, and could be hurt yet again if Iran moves forward with the nationwide “intranet” scheme.

The moves thus far are drawing the ire of politicians within the country, though:

But the Mehr news agency said the restrictions were not related only to email.

“It has been a while that Internet users have had difficulty accessing domestic and news websites as well as foreign search engines and email services,” it said on its website.

These difficulties include “low speed, outage and blocking” of websites, Mehr said.

A top conservative lawmaker, Ahmad Tavakoli, criticised the new “annoying” filtering and said it should be explained.

“The new filtering measure and cutting of access to the services used by most people without prior notice… will raise the ire of educated” people, he told Mehr.

“Such annoying filtering will cost the regime dearly.”

It remains to be seen if the government will speak out publicly about this issue at all before the legislative elections, or if the Internet restrictions will have any real impact on those elections.

From The Sponsor of SOPA: PCIP – Hand Over Your Privacy, Today!

PCIP is making its way to the House of Representatives, where it will present the biggest challenge to the privacy of individual citizens since the Patriot Act.

PCIP is making its way to the House of Representatives, where it will present the biggest challenge to the privacy of individual citizens since the Patriot Act.

Texas Representative Lamar Smith (R) is on something of a hot streak lately when it comes to sponsoring legislation that can potentially wreck large portions of the Internet. His earlier work has been heavily publicized as of late – the Stop Online Privacy Act, or SOPA. SOPA, a bill that would attempt to thwart piracy by turning over control of the Internet, effectively, to judges and lawyers acting at the behest of Hollywood “content creators” was named insidiously enough – who would want to support piracy, after all? Calling the bill the “Wreck The DNS System Act of 2012″ wouldn’t quite have the same ring to it, nor would the “Shutdown All The Sites” bill.

The next act for Mr. Smith is far, far more impressive for what it could potentially do to the Internet. The “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011“, or PCIP, would require every ISP in the United States to keep extremely detailed logs on all online activities of all users for a period of 18 months. This includes what you type, usernames, passwords, credit card information you enter when shopping, chat logs, every interaction you have with a networked computer. Or tablet. Or cell phone. All of it. This information would be tied to an individual’s account with their ISP – whether that be a traditional high speed carrier, phone company, or mobile provider.

All of this information would be stored in a single database. Information from the database could be accessed by law enforcement on mere suspicion of wrongful activity. No probable cause needs to be established, just a judge somewhere in the country who is willing to give law enforcement a warrant. The opportunity for abuse of such a system is almost impossible to put into words. Law enforcement has had a long history in modern times of perverting many good intentions of many laws passed. The Patriot Act, for example, has been used to investigate drug users, gather comprehensive information on visitors to Las Vegas, and force journalists to give up their notes on interviews & sources. In what ways could a law like this be abused?

Then of course there is the security aspect. No longer would credit card companies or online storefronts need to be hacked to gain access to some of the valuable credit card information of an American. A single breech of this database could leak enough information about any given individual to create, for all intents and purposes, a clone of you – your social security number, name, driver’s license, credit card information, e-mail account password, website visitation history, social networking data, download logs – everything that defines you as who you are. Just what is the remediation for someone who falls victim to that?

Mr. Smith, to his credit, went there when it came to naming this bill and how to frame its use:

“Child pornography may be the fastest growing crime in America, increasing an average 150 percent per year,” stated Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) in a news release. “These disturbing images litter the Internet, and pedophiles can purchase, view or exchange this material with virtual anonymity. Investigators need the assistance of ISPs to identify users and distributors of online child pornography.”

This is all very true, but much like where SOPA would be tantamount to ripping up the interstate highway system to stop drug trafficking, PCIP would be tantamount to forcing every American user of the Internet to wear a monitoring ankle bracelet on the off chance they do something wrong. Also, in the venerable world of thirty second talking points, opposing this bill is opposing the opposition to child pornography, and who wants to be caught doing that?

Legit Megaupload Data Teeters on Brink of Death at Hands of U.S.

Visitors trying to view are now greeted with this take down notice.

Visitors trying to view are now greeted with this take down notice.

The fallout from the Megaupload take down continues. Earlier today there were reports spreading like wildfire that all data that was uploaded by Megaupload users, legitimate or not, could be deleted forever starting as early as Tuesday. This was because Megaupload did not directly own each and every last server that was involved in the case. Instead, Megaupload employed cloud computing companies that stored the data on hundreds of servers around the planet. The This is an infrastructure that can be managed when you are able to pay your bills, but with all of Megaupload’s assets still frozen by the U.S. government – which they likely will remain for the foreseeable future – it is highly unlikely that the inevitable mass deletion can be avoided.

Such a twist is quite convenient for the U.S. as investigators have claimed they were able to copy all of the data that they needed to. Data that might help in defense of the site would likely be lost in the mass deletion. For the time being though, Megaupload’s data has been given an eleventh hour reprieve:

Data belonging to Megaupload users will be safe for at least another two weeks.

Two third party hosting companies today agreed to preserve the data so Megaupload can work with US prosecutors.

The site’s data has been held by storage companies Carpathia Hosting and Cogent Communications Group since the site was shut down.

What has not been discussed at length yet is what this means for the world of cloud computing. While the U.S. thought it was acting on a criminal enterprise (which to some extent, they were), they may have also delivered a serious to near catastrophic blow to cloud computing and – especially cloud storage. With hard drives capping off around the 3 to 4 terabyte range due to current limitations of the technology used, and with high speed internet connections continuing to reach more and more people, online storage services have continued to explode in popularity. While any IT expert worth his title will tell you that you should not use cloud computing or online storage as a primary home for your data, I can almost guarantee that some companies out there have, did, and continue to do. What the Megaupload take down shows you is that your data, if not held on your own hardware, can be captured and destroyed by the U.S. government just about whenever they feel like it.

This is up there with closing down a bank and seizing all deposits because some drug money may have been stored there. This is up there with ripping up the interstate highway system because criminals may use highways to get from point a to the crime scene. This is the willful destruction of an infrastructure at the behest of rather wealthy and well off interests, who don’t care for any new advance in technology they can’t monetize their increasingly outdated economic models with. Make no mistake that this is hurting the internet, and hurting the standing of the United States as a place to do business in the digital world.

PCMag dives into the backup issue further:

I wonder how many priceless family digital photos are going to end up as lost forever—the picture of grandma holding her newborn grandson for the first time; the joyful photos from Bill’s wedding highlighting true love months before he was lost in Iraq; and other heartbreaking moments. Gone. What about the notarized scans of important contracts? Sites like Megaupload had a lot of uses.

This fiasco will become the biggest fail in the history of cloud computing to date.

To me, and I’ve said this before, using a site in the cloud for backup is folly unless it just happens to be a third method of reinforcement. You have your primary data intact. You have a backup of it and a second backup on premises—some sort of recovery backup that can replace the whole computer. Then, you have an off-site backup in case, as you rightly worried, your entire office burns to the ground, taking the computers and all the backups down in flames with it.

That’s fine. The cloud does work for that. When these folks go to perform their routine upload of new data to the off-site and it turns out to be Megaupload, they’ll hopefully find out that something is wrong and adjust their strategy.

Megaupload Fallout: Filesonic Kills Sharing Service

Under the potential threats from U.S. law enforcement, FileSonic has ended its sharing abilities effective immediately. Users will be able to download content they uploaded but nothing more.

Under the potential threats from U.S. law enforcement, FileSonic has ended its sharing abilities effective immediately. Users will be able to download content they uploaded but nothing more.

The online world and digital file locker services in particular are still reeling from the Thursday takedown of Megaupload and the arrest of the site’s staff. Acting at the behest of U.S. requests/orders, servers around the world were taken offline and those who ran the site were arrested in a case U.S. authorities have deemed the “Mega Conspiracy”.

This afternoon, went all but dark:

Filesonic, one of the Internet’s leading cyberlocker services, has taken some drastic measures following the Megaupload shutdown and arrests last week. In addition to discontinuing its affiliates rewards program and not yet paying accrued money to members, the site has disabled all sharing functionality, leaving users only with access to their own files.

Filesonic taking this step on its own at least spares users what would could have been the Megaupload-esque eventuality: loss of all their data, even if it was personal and perfectly legal. Megaupload users with legitimate data have been left out in the cold by the U.S. government and look to remain there for the foreseeable future.

Even though Megaupload was a Hong Kong-based site, that was not enough to spare it the long arm of the law – lobbied and paid for by large “content creators” back stateside. While fear of repercussions has not been listed as the official reasoning for neutering the site – there has as of yet been no official announcement – that seems to be the best theory working at the moment:

While there has been no official explanation from the site as to why the above actions were taken, all eyes are turned towards events of the last week – the closure of Megaupload and the arrest of its founder and management team.

Like Megaupload, Filesonic appears to based in Hong Kong and it’s clear that the authorities there already worked with the US government to shut down Kim Dotcom’s operations and seize his assets there. Filesonic is also believed to have some US-based servers.

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U.S. Government Cares Not For Your SOPA Protest: Megaupload Shut Down Today, Workers Arrested

The day after protests for Internet freedom: The U.S. Justice Department nukes popular site "Megaupload" from orbit, arrests employees, disrupts file sharing in corporate environments around the country.

The day after protests for Internet freedom: The U.S. Justice Department nukes popular site "Megaupload" from orbit, arrests employees, disrupts file sharing in corporate environments around the country.

The optics are incredible.

Mere hours after the conclusion of a day of Internet protest that saw many of the web’s biggest sites formally protest or shut down outright for the upcoming Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), file sharing site was shut down and removed from the Internet. Four people working for the site were arrested in New Zealand by local authorities. All of this was done at the behest of the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The January 5th indictment, unsealed today, charges that the website earned $175 million from “distributing illegal content”. The U.S. made use of local law enforcement in New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, the UK and the Phillipines to take this site down. To make up for the lack of a $175 million pile of cash laying around, the indictment went on to also include allegations of money laundering for selling premium accounts to people in exchange for faster downloads and uploads.

No fancy redirect page was put up, no warning was given to legitimate users of the site. One minute here, the next minute gone. This sort of action under the current system. The system that proponents for SOPA believe is not efficient enough. All that legal legwork used to get this far? That’s too difficult and too much trouble for “content owners”. SOPA seeks to streamline this process so websites can be taken down and people arrested even faster than before.

Speaking of legitimate users, by the by, Megaupload was definitely more than just a sea of pop songs and Hollywood blockbusters. The site was also a key destination for many corporate users who were looking for an inexpensive way to distribute large files to clients, coworkers, and customers – getting around the limitations imposed by e-mail systems and the security holes inherent in using FTP sites. A newly released study details just how useful Megaupload was to corporate users:

Before being shut down by the feds today, the file-sharing site Megaupload was extraordinarily popular with home Internet users—so much so that the file downloading habit was spilling over into the workplace in a significant way.

The shutdown of the site—and the arrests of four of Megaupload’s leaders today in New Zealand—are bound to have major consequences in the file sharing market. Although Megaupload’s presence in the corporate world may not have matched its overall share of Internet usage, its consumption of bandwidth was outpacing Dropbox and numerous other business-focused file-sharing services, according to a new study.

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Change Your Password To Something Good, and Remember It Too!

Sony's PS3 data breech in April of 2011 exposed some laughably simple passwords, and those users to worlds of headache.

Sony's PS3 data breech in April of 2011 exposed some laughably simple passwords, and those users to worlds of headache.

Starting on April 17th, 2011, and lasting for the next two days, the Sony PlayStation 3 network was hacked. The breach in security resulted in the exposure of personal information for as many as 77 million users of the service, and a stunned Sony was forced to shut down access to their online PS3 services from April 19th until May 14th. For at least 12.3 million of that larger figure, that meant an exposure of credit card information as well. Data dumps from the hackers began to crop up online, exposing the individual user names & account passwords from the network.  Those who had the unfortunate coincidence of using the same username & password for multiple online services (e-mail, banking, etc.) and were unfortunate enough to be picked at random among the 77 million targets would find their summer months made a bit more annoying with increased spam, account lockouts, or potentially even more malicious action. Lack of being able to track any individual online being what it is, internet users who were taken advantage of had little or no recourse, or even ability to prove any given online indiscretion was the fault of the PS3 attack.

There are ways to protect yourself from keeping your online life from being exploited, and they don’t involve becoming a Luddite living in a cave. They involve not using the same password for any given number of websites out there.

While you may feel a bit of trepidation at the threat of having to keep a spreadsheet of passwords at the ready – which is also a bad idea – there are ways to accomplish a more secure online experience without frying brain cells trying to remember passwords.

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Atlantis Lifts Off For The Final Time

The final shuttle flight lifted off earlier today.

The final shuttle flight lifted off earlier today. (AP Photo)

Despite threats of bad weather that would push the launching back, the Space Shuttle Atlantis has successfully lifted off for the last time from Cape Canaveral, FL – shortly before 12:30pm eastern time. The main mission is another resupply mission to the International Space Station. NASA’s future of manned spaceflight remains in doubt after the shuttle touches down, an issue that I went over in more length here.

As many as a million people turned out to watch the final launch:

The space shuttle Atlantis lifted off Friday morning on the final mission of America’s 30-year space-shuttle program, a thunderously poignant moment for fans and veterans of the space program.
Some of the thousands of people who gathered to watch the launch chanted “U.S.A.” Others shed tears as Atlantis roared aloft atop its powerful rockets on what a NASA commentator called a “sentimental journey into history.”

“Godspeed, Atlantis,” read a sign help up by a saluting member of the ground crew whose job it was to seal the shuttle’s doors for the last time.

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166 Times To The Stars, and That’s A Wrap

Shuttle Atlantis is rolled out for the 166th and final (for the forseeable future) manned mission into space by NASA.

Shuttle Atlantis is rolled out for the 166th and final (for the forseeable future) manned mission into space by NASA. (Photo: NASA)

Pending weather and other conditions that can delay such things, the Shuttle Atlantis is set to blast off from the Kennedy Space Center on Friday morning. The purpose of the 12 day flight will be a resupply mission to the International Space Station. If all goes well, the shuttle will touchdown on July 20th, at which point the United States’ history of manned spaceflight will come to an end. With no future planned manned missions on the books, and nearly all future manned spaceflight plans either in mothballs or held up by funding wrangling, it appears it will be some time before NASA sends astronauts beyond our atmosphere once again – if it ever does. The U.S. space program will have lasted just over fifty years and two months.

The co-world leader in manned spaceflight will hand the reigns over to the Russians, who will continue supply missions to the International Space Station. China has a fledgling space program, achieving its first manned space mission in 2003. Since then, however, there have only been a total of six Chinese sent into space. There are new missions planned, but not much in the arena of human spaceflight. India, Iran, the European Union, and Japan have announced plans of their own to get manned spaceflights going – but the optimistic dates for those launches are still 2016, 2017, 2020, and 2025. The American private sector plans to chip in a small amount too, mainly spearheaded by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic company – though it also seems content to stick to resupply missions (maybe) and short “space tourists” visits for the rather wealthy (more likely).

In the greatest opportunity for exploration since Europeans discovered the Western Hemisphere (and everyone else who lived there), this time the governments of Earth have decided to not cross frontiers, but to simply take a trip to the Azores Islands, sail around a few times, then come back home for good.

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