Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Computer Security Made Simple for Not-So-Dummies

Ars Technica reports that the NSA can uncloak practically all VPN traffic. What they don't mention is that it ain't just the NSA. There's very little that can keep a determined cracker out of an accessible computer system.

OK, here's the skinny on network security, and it's no joke.

If it's really, really important that you keep something secret, do not put it anywhere near the Internet. It can be on a COMPUTER if the computer is not connected to the Internet. Encryption will not make anything secure: it will only make it harder to read. This is not new with the advent of computing. If it's vitally important that no one else shares something, then don't you share it in the first place, and don't you leave it lying around unsecured (which is what putting it in an internet-connected location amounts to).

This is a principle of security that has been known for thousands of years. In prior times it was stated in a number of ways:
  • "Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead." -- Benjamin Franklin
  • "Dead men tell no tales." -- Hundreds of pirates
  • "Cash transactions ONLY" -- Every drug dealer who's never been caught

If it's necessary that your work be shared among a team, then your data can be on a NETWORK. It can even be in a WORKGROUP, but that network and that workgroup must be self contained and not connected to the outside world. That means no Internet. No wireless routers and hubs. No computers whatsoever in unsecured locations (as in, not behind a locked door).

Simple, right?

In every other case you must assume that a dedicated, knowledgeable computer expert can access your data. That's honestly not a new question for you, either. You make the same kinds of decisions when you choose what types of locks to buy (if any), or whether you're going to put bars on your windows or an alarm in a house or business. We all know we're not fundamentally secure against any sort of intruder. We temper our decisions with common sense and expectations. The big questions for you are simply these: Is what you have worth stealing? Does the value outweigh the bother that they'd have to go through? Use the appropriate level of security, and don't get too discouraged by the realization that it really isn't enough to prevent a breach, nor can it be.

Finally, what's its value to you? In computing, this is your measure of the value of a backup.

You can get mired down in details of what kind of firewall to implement, what kind of antivirus software, should you encrypt your drives, etc. Know that these are the same decisions you make when buying fences and locks. You can get information on all of that from anywhere. But what you're less likely to hear is that, as with physical alarms and locks, there is no system that will prevent a determined thief from gaining access if he wants it. Locks don't exist to prevent theft: they exist to discourage thieves. That is the very best they can do, be they physical or digital.

And that's the single most important thing you need to know about security.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dealing with Cuba isn't a great deal for Cubans (and it's terrible for us)

This from Breitbart:

Before someone reflexively shouts "Breitbart", yes, the story appears to be accurate as reported by the Cuban government in Of course, the Cuban government describe it thusly:
"Everything is convenient as the worker will receive his salary doubled in national currency, with 9.09% deducted for holiday pay." 
(My translation. Somebody please check me.) 
By simply doubling the number without regard to the actual exchange rate they are attempting to spin 90% confiscation as a good thing. And of course, along with this draconian confiscation is the realization that workers have to pay for their vacation time out of what remains.

Raul Castro
The only winner
In the comments on there is some mention of the exchange rate. Originally the workers expected to receive 10 Cuban pesos, and someone complains that at two they're losing 8 pesos; with the government responding that this is fair because the exchange rate is actually two pesos (which it's not... the rest of the world knows the exchange rate to be 1:26.5). The government's answering comment is tricky, so again another translator would be welcome, but it appears to me that they're concerned with inflation: if they don't artificially hold down the wages, then higher prices will result in the future.

So instead they choose to withhold that money from the people so it may not be injected into the economy and may not raise the standard of living for all Cubans.

Of course, they could have simply capped salaries, but why do that when you can suck currency for free out of American companies who are willing to pay competitive wages to the workers? Again, this leaves out an important "exchange rate". While American companies are willing to pay fair wages to the workers, I hope that they're far less willing (read "not at all") to pay those same wages to the Cuban government for the privilege of oppressing workers. If Cuba wants to keep their workers down, I don't think they need our help.

Zamira Marín Triana
Cuba has responded in advance to these criticisms. Granma reports that Vice-minister of Labor and Social Security, Zamira Marín Triana claims that the 1:2 exchange rate they're enforcing represents a "significant increase". This in itself is not particularly impressive. As the Havana Times reports, "It is the custom in Cuba that if a foreign firm wants its employees to be productive they must pay them an additional amount of hard currency under the table, since the amount they officially receive after the government takes the lion’s share is not a living wage."

In addition to the lion's share of the workers wages, the Castro government will receive a 20% "negotiator's fee". for providing the labor.

America, just because something is profitable it doesn't follow that we must do it. Communists have learned to bait a hook in such a way that idiot Americans fall for it repeatedly. We have been presented with the illusion that we are benefitting oppressed Communist workers before, in China. The billions that we pour into our economy has made little difference because it's diverted into a foreign regime where it simply stops. Yes, the labor is cheaper, even though they get about 10% of the lower wage you pay them. So companies export the jobs, and with it the tech and the equipment. Then we wind up depending on relatively cheap foreign labor to the point where many U.S. companies could not be self-reliant if they had to. They become American in name only. I live in what was a textile mill town. I've seen it happen. We don't have to do that again.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

One more reason to stay out of jail.

From the Boston Globe:

Reverses ruling in 2012 Kosilek case; Sex-change surgery funding is at issue

Robert Kosilek murdered his wife and is serving a life sentence. Now 65 years old and known as "Michelle", she wants the millions of citizens who did NOT murder their spouses to foot the bill for sex-change surgery.
“It’s a tragic decision on a personal level for Michelle Kosilek,” her lawyer said. “But on a more global level, it’s a horrendous decision for many reasons. . . . It invites the Department of Correction to hire outside experts [to testify against an inmate] whenever they want to deny a prisoner medical treatment.”
If only she were half as uncomfy in prison as she is in her skin. There is an assumption that it is the body and not the mind of the murderer that needs to be changed. Either might be the case. Or in the interests of "fairness" should we extend this principle to other inmates who are uncomfortable with their appearance? Tax-funded surgery for those who are born in bodies shorter or taller than appropriate for "who they really are"; or those in need of nose jobs, liposuction, and tummy-tucks to match their self-image; or facelifts for those who are distressed by their striking resemblance to their own photos on a post-office wall; or skin-bleaching for Blacks who wish they were born Caucasian? Should we blame "the State" (which is in reality the aggregate of citizens like you and me) for the chromosomes a person carries, foisting upon the citizenry some hitherto unrecognized "responsibility" for natural genetic recombination?

If Michelle Kosilek experiences "cruel and unusual punishment" due to gender dysphoria, it is not at the hands of the State; rather, it is at the hands of Providence, which has seen fit to equip her with exactly the body dictated by the genetic blueprint she carries in her DNA. And it is at the hands of herself. Since the question proposed by her legal team is one of "who she is", the answer is "a convicted killer", who could readily have financed this surgery herself had she not committed the murder that landed her in jail. Being in prison is no one's fault but Kosilek's alone. There are a great many goals in life that a conviction for murder will prevent you from realizing; this is just one.

No matter how earnestly you WISH you were born white, or black, or male, or female, or Koozebainian, there is nothing medically wrong with being what you are. The court, I think, made the right call.


I have some experience now with those who read what they want to instead of what's written, so for them, here's what I'm not saying: I'm not saying that people with gender dysphoria are predisposed to be killers. I'm not saying that it's not okay for them to seek gender reassignment surgery should they care to. I'm not saying that all gender dysphoria should be treated with psychiatry, though in some cases this is probably true. I'm not making any judgement call whatsoever as to the morality of gender dysphoria. I'm not even sure that "morality" applies: morality is not about what a person is. It deals with behavior, and I have no interest or business in how others behave toward toward themselves or other consenting adults.

  • I am making a judgement call on the morality of murder. It is wrong, and you give up a ton of rights when you commit it.
  • I am saying that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with being who you are, as you are. I learned this from Mr. Rogers.
  • I am saying that I am not morally, ethically, or financially liable for your dissatisfaction with who you are. That's your problem to deal with. I have my own, as does everyone else.
  • I am saying that if you want the freedom to go where you want, be who you want, or become who you want, then you need to keep your ass out of prison. Once you've put yourself there you will be denied a great many opportunities for self-actualization. Poor you.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Meandertory Fun

When I was a kid, here's how we took a family vacation:  we'd pile into my stepfather's station wagon, pick a direction, and start driving. We'd stay off the Interstate highways, would eat at locally owned restaurants, talk to people, and go pretty much any place they told us was interesting. The "plan" was simply to see what we could see until the money ran out save for enough to see us home.

One such vacation landed us at Disneyworld in Florida; but also took us to Silver Springs and to numerous roadside museums and attractions... the kind of "see the two-headed snake" tourist draws that haven't survived the decades. Another such vacation ultimately took us to Mammoth Cave. Along the way we lingered in the Blue Ridge mountains and Gatlinburg Tennessee; we visited the Oak Ridge facility where the atomic bomb was conceived; and made our way through the bluegrass hills of Kentucky.

Years later, when I lived in England, my parents came to visit. As was our habit, we piled into the car (in this case my Ford Grenada) and drove in a generally northwest direction from my home in Oxfordshire. Our path wound through the Rollright StonesBanbury Cross; Stratford-upon-Avon; Ironbridge Gorge;  Kenilworth and Warwick castles; and the Roman city Viroconium Cornoviorum (now known as Wroxeter). As usual we made no reservations. We never had a schedule. If something struck our fancy we went there. If, when talking to a barman in a pub we heard of something interesting, we went there. I had a membership in English Heritage, so a lot of it was free or reduced entry. (English Heritage was fairly new at the time, so I'm pleased to see the improvements made at many of these sites in the intervening years.)

A Serendipitous Event

We took it into our heads on this trip that since we were so close to Wales anyway, we should go and visit Offa's Dyke. But it was late in the day, and the hills of Wales to the west brought the sunset a little sooner than we'd anticipated. Also, we weren't prepared for how utterly bereft was this portion of England of amenities like pubs, petrol stations, and restaurants. We found ourselves on a long section of the A4110 with nothing on it but hedgerows and silence. And overcast night gave us pitch blackness save for the twin pools of light cast by the headlamps of the Grenada. Grateful for a small sign that read "Farmhouse B&B", we coasted to a stop, hoping we'd have enough fuel to get us to a town the next day.

The B&B was run by a former London clockmaker and his wife who had retired to the country. The farmhouse was huge, with a fireplace in which you could easily roast a pig. Upstairs were overstuffed feather beds, of which we thankfully availed ourselves after a quick bite graciously prepared on short notice by the lady of the house.

Wigmore Castle
Stronghold of the Mortimers, now a romantic ruin. 
A truly inspired restoration a few years ago 
left the site looking exactly as it did before the work began.
  © Copyright Philip Pankhurst and licensed for reuse 
The next morning when my wife and I awoke, the fog was just beginning to lift; another 10 feet and you could begin to call it clouds. As it was, it actually formed a perfectly flat misty ceiling just even with the top of our bedroom's southern-facing window. Below that ceiling the air was perfectly clear and evenly lit by the diffuse morning light. And below that window was a gorgeous garden of roses. To our left this gave way to truck garden that provided the vegetables for our evening and morning meal. As we were admiring this view, the clouds continued to ascend, and we could see the Welsh hills rising to our right; and as the clouds cleared them, they unveiled the ruins of a castle atop the hill.

You could not have planned this. You could not have properly appreciated it if you had planned it. It's the kind of delightful surprise that you can only achieve through sheer dumb luck. The castle, we learned, was Wigmore Castle, once besieged by Henry II. At the time of our visit it was for sale and unimproved. All that remained a few free-standing wall fragments among debris and sediment and a bit of dungeon. From the English Heritage site I see that it's much the same today as it was then. We clambered up the hill and took some photos, one of which framed the B&B through one of the few remaining windows. When it was developed, my stepfather sent it to the owner of the place in the form of a postcard. I'd post a copy of it here for you if I had it.

A Contrast of Style

That's what I grew up appreciating: unplanned, spontaneous fun. And once you have had a taste of real freedom, there's really no suitable substitute.

I've been on other vacations of the sort that I'm told that normal people take. The kind where plans are made, reservations are booked, and schedules are kept. The kind where a checklist of events is kept and meticulously attended; where a time-boxed quota of fun is allotted for each event, and if you miss a checkbox you are not only off-schedule, but you've lost fun. The kind where you can measure and precisely describe the amount of fun you will have missed out on should you not keep to the schedule. The kind where you can't just go where whim and curiosity would take you. The kind where the allotment of fun must be adjusted by a factor representing the stress induced by keeping to that damnable schedule. The kind with no genuine wonder and no genuine surprises.

The kind that feels a lot like a job.

It's not just holidays and vacations that can be like that, you know. It's parties, too. My idea of an ideal gathering is one where there might be a purpose and some general idea of getting together, and maybe even a few planned events; but the bulk of which is largely unstructured so as to allow people to mingle and converse and do and go where they will. The kind with a buffet and few rules.

I'm not nearly so fond of those where there is a schedule that says you must arrive at such-and-such a time sharp and finish your meal, ordered well in advance, mind you, at just this time so that you can take part in this specific set of activities with this particular group so that we will all have carefully constructed and managed fun. "Mandatory fun" (a phrase we first used in the military, but which has since spilled into business). I know that a lot of people like it, and that I am probably quite atypical and anti-social. I'm sure I must have some deep-seated psychological disorder that gets me focused on my dislike of the format and keeps me disengaged. Basically, it's a lot like work to me. As you might surmise, when it comes to my entertainment I'm more into meandering than traveling with purpose... "Meandertory fun", if you will.

And that's why I'm writing this instead of attending the company Christmas party.