A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Monday Metal: Blind and Frozen by Beast in Black

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted on a Monday but Monday Metal is back. I decided to mark the return with some cheesy power metal. This week’s entry is Blind and Frozen by Beast in Black, which is pretty damned cheesy and pretty damned good:

Written by Christopher Burg

September 18th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Posted in Media

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iOS 11 Makes It More Difficult for Police to Access Your Device

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One reason I prefer iOS over Android is because Apple has invested more heavily in security than Google has. Part of this comes from the fact Apple controls both the hardware and software so it can implement hardware security features such as its Secure Enclave chip whereas the hardware security features available on an Android device are largely dependent on the manufacturer. However, even the best security models have holes in them.

Some of those holes are due to improperly implemented features while others are due to legalities. For example, here in the United States law enforcers have a lot of leeway in what they can do. One thing that has become more popular, especially at the border, are devices that copy data from smartphones. This has been relatively easy to do on Apple devices if the user unlocks the screen because trusting a knew connection has only required the tapping of a button. That will change in iOS 11:

For the mobile forensic specialist, one of the most compelling changes in iOS 11 is the new way to establish trust relationship between the iOS device and the computer. In previous versions of the system (which includes iOS 8.x through iOS 10.x), establishing trusted relationship only required confirming the “Trust this computer?” prompt on the device screen. Notably, one still had to unlock the device in order to access the prompt; however, fingerprint unlock would work perfectly for this purpose. iOS 11 modifies this behaviour by requiring an additional second step after the initial “Trust this computer?” prompt has been confirmed. During the second step, the device will ask to enter the passcode in order to complete pairing. This in turn requires forensic experts to know the passcode; Touch ID alone can no longer be used to unlock the device and perform logical acquisition.

Moreover, Apple has also included a way for users to quickly disable the fingerprint sensor:

In iOS 11, Apple has added an new emergency feature designed to give users an intuitive way to call emergency by simply pressing the Power button five times in rapid succession. As it turns out, this SOS mode not only allows quickly calling an emergency number, but also disables Touch ID.

These two features appear to be aimed at keeping law enforcers accountable. Under the legal framework of the United States, a police officer can compel you to provide your fingerprint to unlock your device but compelling you to provide a password is still murky territory. Some courts have ruled that law enforcers can compel you to provide your password while others have not. This murky legal territory offers far better protection than the universal ruling that you can be compelled to provide your fingerprint.

Even if you are unable to disable the fingerprint sensor on your phone, law enforcers will still be unable to copy the data on your phone without your password.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 15th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Let Them Eat Rabbit

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Socialism has brought equality to Venezuelans! Everybody is equally hungry (except for members of the Party but they’re more important than the lowly proles) and it’s not sitting well. Probably hoping to keep his head firmly attached to his neck, President Maduro has offered a plan to deal with the country’s hunger. His plan? Let them eat rabbit:

That was basically the message from President Nicolas Maduro to Venezuelans starving and struggling through severe food shortages brought on by a spiraling economic crisis.

Maduro unveiled “Plan Rabbit” on Wednesday with his agriculture minister, Freddy Bernal, at a meeting that was broadcast on Periscope. (In the video, the announcement comes after the two-hour mark).

Unfortunately for the people of Venezuela, rabbit meat alone doesn’t fend off starvation:

Protein poisoning was first noted as a consequence of eating rabbit meat exclusively, hence the term, “rabbit starvation”. Rabbit meat is very lean; commercial rabbit meat has 50–100 g dissectable fat per 2 kg (live weight). Based on a carcass yield of 60%, rabbit meat is around 8.3% fat while beef and pork are 32% fat and lamb 28%.

Unless Venezuelans can find a source of fat to go with their rabbit meat, they’ll be in the same position they currently are.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 15th, 2017 at 10:30 am

New Levels of Incompetence

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Equifax, one of the largest consumer credit report agencies, recently suffered a major database breech. Of course, you wouldn’t know it if the media wasn’t giving it heavy coverage because Equifax seems to want to keep things hush hush and I understand why. After reading this it would appear that Equifax implemented worse security than most college students in an introductory web development class:

It took almost no time for them to discover that an online portal designed to let Equifax employees in Argentina manage credit report disputes from consumers in that country was wide open, protected by perhaps the most easy-to-guess password combination ever: “admin/admin.”

[…]

Each employee record included a company username in plain text, and a corresponding password that was obfuscated by a series of dots.

However, all one needed to do in order to view said password was to right-click on the employee’s profile page and select “view source,” a function that displays the raw HTML code which makes up the Web site. Buried in that HTML code was the employee’s password in plain text.

This is an impressive level of incompetence and I mean that sincerely. Most amateur websites have better security than this. The fact that a company as large as Equifax could implement worse security practices than even the most amateur of amateur web developers is no small feat. Unfortunately, its piss poor security practices has put a lot of people’s sensitive information in the hands of unknown parties.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 15th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Subscriptions for Everything

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The Apple Watch Series 3 was announced. Its hot new feature is built-in LTE, which means uses no longer have to have it tethered to their phone for it to function. However, enabling LTE requires yet another subscription:

An Apple Watch Series 3 will cost you $10 per month on your cell plan, and it appears that all US carriers will offer three months of free service (a $30 credit). However, we’re still waiting for confirmation from Sprint.

AT&T and Verizon are also offering free activation (a $25 and $30 fee, respectively). T-Mobile will waive its $25 new SIM card kit fee. We’ve reached out to Sprint for their activation fee policies and will update when we have more. It’s interesting that the Apple Watch Series 3 is $10/month on Verizon, when other smartwatches cost $5 on their plan.

I’m starting to think that I’m the last person on Earth who doesn’t want a subscription plan tied to every damned thing I own.

This is a slight digression from yesterday’s post but it seems to be that more and more products are finding ways of tying subscriptions to them. Ulysses, a popular text editor, announced last month that it was changing to a subscription model. Several years before that Adobe announced that its products would change to a subscription model. We’re entering an era where ownership, even in a limited form, is being replaced by renting.

Don’t get me wrong, subscriptions make sense for some services. For example, cellular services rely on an infrastructure that needs constant maintenance. But we’re quickly approaching a point where every manufacturer is finding some way to attach a subscription plan to every product they sell. At this rate we’ll soon have to pay a subscription to keep our cars running.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 14th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Posted in Technology

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Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes

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On Tuesday night a security officer at St. Cathrine University was shot. The initial report said that an individual had shot the officer but it turns out that the officer shot himself and lied about it. Why did he do that? Because he played a stupid game:

Investigators continued working the case all day Wednesday. While interviewing Ahlers about 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, he told officers that he was in a wooded area of the campus about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. He had brought his personal handgun from home and was handling it when it accidentally discharged, hitting him in the shoulder.

He told police he’d lied and said he made up the story because he was afraid of losing his job because he’d brought a gun to work with him.

One of the rules of carrying a firearm is that you should leave it in the holster unless you absolutely need to use it. A holstered gun won’t hurt anybody but the second a gun leaves its holster the possibility of it being fired increases from zero.

As an additional note, if the officer wanted to carry a gun he should have sought out an armed job. Then he wouldn’t have had to worry about losing his job for being armed. Now he’ll probably lose his job and find a tough time getting a new job as a security officer since he’s proven himself to be untrustworthy.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 14th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Plan Ahead

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Planning ahead can save you a great deal of grief, frustration, and money:

Two things are true of all festivals: the security is super tight and the booze is very expensive.

[…]

One guy from New York named Alex found an ingenious way to get past these two road blocks. Three weeks before the Electric Zoo festival in New York City, Alex travelled to the Randall’s Island where the event is located with a bottle of Vodka in arm.

He filled a reusable bottle with the Vodka and using a small shovel that he brought with him, Alex and his friends buried the bottle of booze in the ground a long time before the festival crew arrived to construct the stages for the event.

Alex is a real American hero (I know this story could be fake but I want it to be true so I’m going to believe it is).

On a more serious note, this tactic could also work for smuggling weapons into outdoor festivals. I wonder how many security providers have considered such a threat model. It’s also a difficult threat model to defend against since a security team would have to run metal detectors across the entire grounds and that would only offer protection against metallic weapons.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 14th, 2017 at 10:00 am

What’s the Libertarian Position on…

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What’s the libertarian position on abortion? What’s the libertarian position on hate speech? What’s the libertarian position on corporate welfare? The question about the official libertarian position on various controversial topics is common, especially amongst anti-libertarians who are looking for something to crucify libertarians with and freshly converted libertarians. However, it’s not a good question because libertarianism doesn’t have many official positions.

The foundation of most branches of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle, which states that initiating aggression is undesirable. Other common principles include strong individualism and support for private property. The common principle of strong individualism butts heads with the question about the official libertarian position. While individual libertarians may hold a specific position on a controversial topic, there is seldom an official libertarian position because such an official position would go against individualism.

For example, there is no official libertarian position on abortion. Many libertarians see abortion as aggression against a fetus and therefore believe abortion is immoral. On the other hand, many other libertarians see forcing a mother to carry an unwanted fetus until birth as a violation of her self-ownership and therefore believe abortion is moral (or at least more moral than violating the mother’s self-ownership).

Oftentimes libertarians themselves fail to understand the strong individualism common in the philosophy they follow. When asked what the libertarian position on a topic is, they will give their position as the official libertarian position. But speaking authoritatively for others without having that authority delegated to you by the individuals you’re speaking for is collectivism, which is commonly accepted as anti-libertarian.

The question isn’t what the libertarian position is but what a libertarian’s position is. What is your position on abortion? What is your position on hate speech? What is your position on corporate welfare?

Written by Christopher Burg

September 13th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Digital Serfdom

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Do you own your phone? How about your thermostat or even your car? I would guess that most people would reflexively respond that they do own those things. However, due to intellectual property laws, you don’t:

One key reason we don’t control our devices is that the companies that make them seem to think – and definitely act like – they still own them, even after we’ve bought them. A person may purchase a nice-looking box full of electronics that can function as a smartphone, the corporate argument goes, but they buy a license only to use the software inside. The companies say they still own the software, and because they own it, they can control it. It’s as if a car dealer sold a car, but claimed ownership of the motor.

This sort of arrangement is destroying the concept of basic property ownership.

I’ve hit on this topic numerous times but it bears repeating. Copyright laws don’t apply to purely mechanical goods so when you buy an older car or a mechanical watch you actually own it. Copyright laws do apply to software so when you buy anything that runs software you are licensing it. The difference between ownership and licensing is significant.

If you own something, you have the right to do whatever you want with it. If a product that you own breaks, you can hire anybody you want to repair it. If you are unhappy with the performance of a product that you own, you can modify it to your heart’s content. If you license something, you have a limited set of privileges. If your licensed product breaks, you might be restricted on where you can take it for repairs. If your are unhappy with the performance of your licensed product, you might be restricted on what kind of modifications, if any, you are allowed to make.

As software becomes more pervasive, ownership will become more endangered. It doesn’t have to be this way though. If copyrights didn’t apply to software, manufacturers wouldn’t have a legal foundation to restrict buyers. If manufacturers used free (as in freedom) software, buyers would be able to own their products. Unfortunately, I don’t think manufacturers will make any major move to utilize free software since most of them probably enjoy the fact that the State is subsidizing them by enforcing their ability to license instead of sell their products to buyers. Until that changes, digital serfdom will remain the norm and buyers won’t be able to claim that they own the products that they spend money on.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 13th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Turning Bodies into Speed Bumps

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I try to avoid straight up politicking because it’s boring and unproductive. However, once in a while a politician hands the world something worth ruthlessly mocking discussing. Hillary Clinton apparently released a book titled What Happened. In it she throws a lot of people under the bus. According to the BBC article she names James Comey, Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, the media, Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, sexism, white resentment, and finally, in a rather surprising twist, herself. Granted, she only admits some fault and only after blaming everybody else but it’s a start.

I bring this up not because blaming other people is somehow unique but because it’s politics as usual. One of the key characteristics of most politicians is the inability to accept their own faults. When they screw up they tend to point the finger at everybody but themselves. If they’re feeling especially charitable, they might note that an insignificant amount of blame can be aimed at them.

This tendency to blame others isn’t unique to politician though. It has practically become an American pastime. Heads of companies will often blame their underlings with a product or service fails to attract property market attention. Employees will often pass the buck to a coworker when they were the ones who actually screwed up. Children love to blame the dog for failing to finish their homework. One of the defining characteristics of the United States is the remarkable ability many have to pass the buck.

I’m not sure if the politicians normalized their behavior or if they only started behaving this way because it became acceptable to do so in the eyes’ of the general public. What I do know is that personal responsibility is almost entirely absent in the political class and in very short supply among the general population.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 13th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Posted in Politics

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