Sunday, December 25, 2005

Monday, December 19, 2005

A certain irony

Some of the music CDs infected by Sony BMG's rootkit and spyware are quite ironic:

  • Suspicious Activity?
  • The Invisible Invasion
  • Healthy In Paranoid Times
  • Nothing Is Sound
And most ironically, the album that infected windows expert Mark Russinovich's computer and started the whole storm was:
  • Get Right With The Man
You couldn't make this stuff up!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Not-so-merry Christmas from Sony BMG

Your PC might just start to behave very strangely this Christmas, thanks to Sony BMG, one of the major (and, it seems, least ethical) record labels. They have released a large number of CDs which install hacker tools on your PC, in an attempt to stop their customers from copying the music. Unfortunately, preventing copying is not all these Sony "CD"s (sometimes labelled Epic or Colombia) do.

When you put an infected Sony CD into your Windows PC, it will sneakily install a range of hacking tools - even if you read the "licence", recoil in horror, and click "Cancel"!

The software will slow down your PC, periodically contact Sony to tell them about your listening habits, and use a "rootkit" to hide itself. And that's only the start. They can use the software later to come along and take over your machine. And if they can, other hackers may be able to as well. What's more, once you have installed this malware, viruses can use it to hide too. There is already one worm doing just that.

Sony BMG claim to have released a fix. To get it, you need to fill in a couple of forms on the web, and agree to receive spam from unspecified companies. Then they will mail you where to find it. Then you get to download it. Unfortunately this fix does not remove the problem - in fact it leaves software that Sony can use to download yet more evil onto your longsuffering PC, whenever they want!

Artists affected include Natasha Bedingfield, Neil Diamond, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, and many more - there are over 50 infected titles in Canada alone, according to Sony BMG. Since they own a number of CD label brands, the CD may not even say Sony on the cover - some Epic and Columbia CDs are affected too.

Be warned!

Sony BMG are supposed to be organising a recall of the spyware CDs, but for some of you it may already be too late.

What can you do? I'll add a few links later (you can Google for Sony rootkit). For now, be careful what you buy people for Christmas. And be careful what you listen to on your PC. And for goodness sake, disable autorun.

Check the Electronic Frontier Foundation's page here for more information.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

It has not been a good week in Europe

Big Brother - used under fair use/fair dealing provisions for purposes of commentary or satire First the EU passes a snoopers' charter, in the form of a directive to create the largest monitoring database in the world. All your phone calls, every email, each connection to the Internet, and more, are to be timed and noted. Details of who you talk to, when, and for how long, will be stored for who knows what organisations to access, on the flimsiest of excuses, and without even the basic safeguard of a warrant. It's not even going to be limited to terrorist crimes, or mafia investigations. There will be no scrutiny of how it's used. And the data may be stored almost indefinitely. The authorities will even be able to track your movements using your mobile phone - even if they just think you've been speeding, or possibly if you're a day late with your tax returns, or maybe if you've criticised their policies a bit too much.

Big Brother - used under fair use/fair dealing provisions for purposes of commentary or satire To anyone who remembers how David Blunkett tried to give the Food Standards Agency and your local Council (of all people) the power to seize your phone records the other year, it won't be a surprise that New Labour was in the forefront of the campaign for this directive. But it's the EU, and it sounds technical, so maybe they hope nobody will notice. But these people at the FFII worked out exactly why it's a bad idea. The BBC noticed. Even the European Data Protection Supervisor stated that the directive is not necessary and does not respect human rights.

Then there was a story that even the most inattentive journalist couldn't ignore: Tony Blair hands back a huge chunk of the British EU rebate in exchange for, er, nothing! The French have agreed to take a quick look (in a few years' time) at the billions they waste on the Common Agricultural Policy, before they refuse again to do anything about it. And we pay them an extra 10 billion Euros - every year. Stand by for the spin!

Not a good week in Europe. The worst of it is that when it starts to bite, our politicians will hold up their hands and blame the EU!

Friday, December 16, 2005

On the run?

Here in Northern Ireland we have had to make many compromises "for peace". This is absolutely necessary. If there is a conflict there are not many choices: one side completely defeats the other, or enough people reach an agreement they can live with, or the protagonists die out or become irrelevant - and the struggle here showed no signs of dying out.

The latest compromise has been over convicted terrorists who are "on the run", and those who would face prosecution on their return. It seems that the price of the IRA's "going away" is for this threat to be lifted, and for the "bhoys" to come home. The plot unravelled slightly when it seemed that those the IRA had exiled under threat of death were left in an uncertain limbo. It thickened again when members of the security forces who might also face prosecution were included in the arrangements.

But what arrangements? What to do with the guilty parties? An amnesty would be unacceptable to the victims. A trial and prison term (the default option) was unacceptable to the terrorists.

The unfortunate proposal was that the criminals would not have to face a court at all. There would be no charges - just a pat on the head from a secret tribunal.

This is simply wrong - and today the Human Rights Commission pointed this out! [BBC News] Those who are guilty must be charged, and if they are to escape punishment, they should at least receive a conviction and the censure of a court of law.

This would still be a denial of justice - though arguably a necessary compromise in this compromised peace process. But at least it would be slightly less of an insult to those who are left behind to deal with the pain, injury, bereavement and loss. We may remit the punishment, but we must acknowledge the guilt and the hurt before we can expect to move on.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I claim this land for... Microsoft

The quick summary

It used to be, in the bad old days, that "undiscovered" lands were sometimes "claimed" by the first western explorer. Queen Victoria was fortunate enough to have quite a bit of the world claimed on her behalf.

Today we don't call it Empire, but we do talk about invention, innovation, and defending intellectual property - and it has gone out of control, and threatens to become as oppressive as any empire of old.

Software patents are increasingly used to keep out the competition in the US and Japan, where patent law has been stretched almost to breaking point. Microsoft and a few other multinationals are lobbying to have the system extended to the EU. Then the predators who have been holding off to avoid frightening the legislators can really get stuck in. It will become part of the globalisation project, and nowhere will be safe for innovation.

As the developing world catches up in computing, they will find that all the best ideas have been "claimed" by western commercial empires.

They won't be allowed to use these ideas without paying tolls.

And we'll call it free trade!

Beware - I have a longer version of this lying around somewhere!