“No wall can stand against the yearning of justice…”

Barack “I know what you did last Summer!” Obama held a speech in Berlin today. The Guardian has published the full text of it (and will probably be closed down and its staff will be sent to Guantánamo) on its web site. The speech contains a unique gem of sarcasm.

No wall can stand against the yearning of justice, the yearnings for freedom, the yearnings for peace that burns in the human heart.

I fully agree, but one of us is lying. NSA Director Keith “I owe him another friggin’ beer” Alexander has no interest in justice, freedom, and peace. Congratulations! You should have saved yourself the trouble of the American Revolution.

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PRISM, the „Cloud“ and Espionage

There should be no surprise about the PRISM initiative and NSA‘s activities. Some people became a member of the EFF on 12 September 2001. It is an illusion to believe that any collection of data is safe from access by third parties especially if it is stored in centralised locations. Sane critics have criticised the „Cloud“ since marketing departments discovered the brand name for centralised storage (the „Cloud“ may be dispersed, distributed, virtualised or whatever, but there are still „Cloud“ providers who hold the key access to the whole infrastructure). Right after 9/11 the term Total Information Awareness (TIA) was coined. Take a look at what TIA entails. This is what you see now, but don’t assume that only the USA do this.

Russia, China and the USA are the Axis of Surveillance. The differences are merely semantics. Some European states also pursue total information awareness. They just don’t talk about it, and there are no whistle-blowers – yet (hopefully). Once you rely on the infrastructure of other’s, be careful.

The next CryptoParty in Vienna will discuss countermeasures against surveillance by totalitarian regimes.

Communication by Whistle

I have seen a couple of CrypoParty events. People gather. Some people like their tools. Some people like to communicate. Some people like their personal agenda. If you are lucky, then the three biases match. More often than not you are not lucky. This is where the party gets interesting.

Since PRISM hit the news there’s been talk about the mechanics of whistle-blowing. You need a source, you need its content, you need someone willing to dig through this content, you need someone who is able to write about this discovery in the right manner, and — above all — you need to protect your source (i.e. the whistle-blower). That’s the theory. In practice this neat list of requirements usually breaks down at some point.

First of all there may be no source. Good journalists (very rare these days) might find out by themselves though. Getting sources means to be trustworthy, which is a problem on its own. You need to be reliable and you need to have a basic grasp of operations security to get this right — on both ends.

Then there is the content. Not everything is useful (see, this is where the agenda comes into play). Provided you want the content to be published, it should be something that matters. Leaking the user’s manual of the local latrine in Mazar-i-Sharif is of limited interest for the general public. Sad, but true.

Provided you have a source and the content. What do you do? Well, reading of taking a look at it would be terrific. Few people do. Why? Because you have to understand what the content means and what it is. If you can’t tell the design plans for a nuclear bomb from your shopping list, then you should ask someone for help. You need additional experts (who also know what operations security is). That’s the toughest task.

Let’s assume you were lucky and you actually made sense of the information you got. Great! All you have to do is to prepare your findings for publications. Regardless if you use pure text, audio recordings or video, you need to put the content into the right form. You will need to explain what it means, you have to talk about the implications, and you must find a language that can be understood by your audience. That’s even tougher than to understand what the content is about. You have to be the translator between different groups. You need to find the right metaphors and ways to emphasise the meaning of the leaked information.

The last part is the most important issue. You have to protect your source at all costs! That’s how it works. True, some have seen so much that they don’t care any more. Good for you, but even the most desperate source deserves protection from harm, be it physical injury, mental stress or regal repercussions. Can you do that?

And that’s why tools, agendas or (secure) communication are a good start — but you need a whole lot more.

Somebody is lying

Unless you have been living in a cave (or Abbottabad) for the past decade you have probably heard about NSA’s PRISM project. The security agencies have taken the „Cloud“ to the next level in order to access communication data and metadata. This is hardly a surprise for anyone keeping track of government activities. You don’t need strange conspiracy theories to stay sceptic. Provided someone wants to listen to the communication of non-US citizens and these non-US citizens use technology hosted in the US, then accessing the data gets a lot easier. The „Cloud“ is the best what could happen to agencies.

Of course the companies listed in the PRISM slide deck know nothing about it. Firstly everything except denying will hurt your business. Secondly all you need to not know anything any more is to receive a national security letter (NSL). Once you get this letter, you cannot say what’s going on behind the scenes. Too bad. Hence I’d take everything the compromised companies claim publicly with a large grain of salt. Press releases and speeches by CEOs usually have an agenda which doesn’t necessarily has something to do with truth.

No Work in Progress!

Beim Vermeiden der gedruckten Tageszeitung zum Frühstück bin ich über einen Blogartikel gestoßen, der die Zeile „Dieser Artikel ist noch work in progress.“ gleich nach dem Titel enthielt. Der Hinweis ist zwar nett gemeint, aber leider hilft das dem Leser (in diesem Falle ich, also kein -in) nicht.

Ein Artikel ist zum Zeitpunkt des Lesens durch Dritte fertig. Die Idee mit den Versionierungen oder Datumsangeben helfen da nicht. Warum? Weil es sich nicht um Software-Entwicklung handelt. Ein Autor kann nicht davon ausgehen, dass alle Leserinnen in periodischen Abständen wiederkehren und die neue Fassung lesen. Niemand macht das, nicht in Blogs, nicht bei digitalen Zeitungen oder Magazinen, nirgendwo. Alles das, was sich ein Autor beim Schreiben denkt, muß zum Zeitpunkt des Publizierens im Text enthalten sein. Natürlich neigt man dazu gelegentlich Sektionen mit dem klangvollen Update: hinzuzufügen. Man sollte sicher aber im Klaren darüber sein, dass es Leser, die den Text schon gelesen haben, nicht mehr verfolgen und daher auch nie sehen werden.

Helft mit das Internet sauber zu halten! Publiziert keine Entwürfe! Danke.

Travel

Yours truly has been without Internet recently. It’s amazing what a period of having crappy Internet connections can do to a mind. While tweets even fit through the smallest pipe most other content wasn’t accessible. This is actually a good thing. It clears some of the thoughts that clog your brain throughout the busy days with lots of routine, interruptions and information.

There are three things I do when being away. I have a look around. When being in your day job or at home there’s not much time for simply looking at something. You always have to be somewhere on time. No glimpsing, no observing, lots and lots of getting from A to B and not wasting time. Shame. Then there is writing. Writing something for the sake of spilling words is great. Just putting words on a page. No goal, no agenda, no thoughts of your audience in mind. Fun. And then there is photography. Just take the camera, walk around, have a hard look at what you can see, find a good spot and take a picture. Go where few people would go. Use angles few people would use. Rediscover the world.

We all should do this more often.

How not to keep a secret #DCRI

If you have a secret, then you probably will not talk about it. That’s a very basic fact about secrets. By not talking to others about your secret, these others will not know. So far so good. If your secret consists of a tower, an area and fences around it, then you have a hard time hiding this information. Your only option is to hide in plain sight, find a plausible explanation for the things people see and – again – not to talk about it. The French Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur (DCRI) has provided a lesson to show how it doesn’t work.

The Station hertzienne militaire de Pierre-sur-Haute is a French military compound. It has a Wikipedia page describing the location and its purpose along with photographs. Thanks to the DCRI everyone knows now that the article contains classified information. The DCRI summoned a Wikipedia systems administrator to their office and threatened him in order to force the deletion of the article. Keeping secrets by blackmailing is not going to work. In the age of satellites, Internet maps and drones there is no way you can prevent someone from taking photographs. De-emphasize, don’t make sure everyone focuses on your little secret. Distractions work, too. Area 51 is known for its UFO sightings and conspiracy theories. No one talks about the military prototypes being tested there. It’s all about aliens.

Maybe the DCRI should watch a couple of X Files episodes to get a clue.

Podcasts? Danke nein, keine Zeit!

Podcasts sollen ja ganz toll sein. Habe ich gehört. Angeblich ist das wie Radio, nur mit sehr viel mehr Themen, die man sich frei auswählen kann. Dank dem Internet kann man sie sich dann auch anhören wann man will. Und zum Mitnehmen sind sie auch, wie der Kaffee oder das fettige Fast Food. Leider liegen sie auch genauso schwer im Magen. Warum? Weil die Portionen total beknackt sind.

Ich habe es wirklich versucht. Es funktioniert leider nicht. Es gibt eine ganze Reihe von Podcasts, die schlicht und einfach zu lange sind. Da reden die Leute dann stundenlang (ja, Stunden!) herum und wollen einfach nicht zum Punkt kommen. Podcasten ist wie das Bloggen für’s Ohr und wie der Durchfall für den Darm. Silbenwüsten ohne Ende, wo selbst die flüssigsten Worte keine Inhalte vermitteln mögen. Es gibt sogar Podcasts, wo dann mehrere Leute miteinander reden. Die vergessen dann doch glatt beim Aufnehmen, dass es Zuhörer gibt. Das hört sich dann so an wie das Gespräch der Clique am Nebentisch in einem Lokal – nervig, laut, lästiger Hintergrund. Wo ist der Laustärkeregler? Wenn man es leiser stellt, dann geht es vielleicht als leichter Sommerregen durch, und man kann dabei einschlafen.

Woran liegt das? Genau, an den grenzenlosen Möglichkeiten. Wenn es mal egal ist wie lange eine Aufnahme dauern soll, dann wird auch der Inhalt rasch irrelevant. Weil. Man. Dann. Einfach. Nicht. Mehr. Zum. Punkt. Kommt. Kapiert? Ich nenne keine Namen, aber einige Podcasts würde ich vom Thema gerne anhören, jedoch sie sie mir einfach zu lang. Ich kann nicht immer stundenlang Busfahren nur um an Informationen zu kommen, die mir ein Profi auch in 5, 10 oder 30 Minuten erklären kann.

Liebe Podcaster und Audioblogger, nehmt euch doch bitte mal ein Beispiel an den vielen Journalisten und Journalistinnen, die Beiträge im Radio für eine breite oder schmale Öffentlichkeit aufbereiten! Die schaffen das. Das Tolle ist, dass diese Beiträge auch mit Internet (weil für viele Radios gibt’s auch Downloads) nicht an Qualität verlieren. Das höre ich mir dann auch gerne mehrmals an. In einen schlechten Podcast passen locker 10 bis 15 exzellente Radiobeiträge. Arge Sache, findet ihr nicht?

Vision

There is nothing to see here. This blog is pretty much focusing on words. Some articles feature a photograph, but usually I don’t publish any pictures here. This will stay the same. There’s one change though. I have decided to publish a part of my collection of photographs on the Internet. I omitted lengthy descriptions and just added the bare bones. The location is shown in the sets, sometimes you can figure out the time, but I haven’t added much yet. I doubt that I will go into more detail at the picture hosting site. If you want to know more about specific images, please tell me here or on Twitter.

Since the photographs were taken over the course of several years you will notice some changes. I started to work with digital cameras over ten years ago. Two different models were used, and I refined my skills dealing with the output of the imaging devices. A lot of photographs were computed by the cameras themselves. Recently I switched to using the raw image format and post-processing it with Rawstudio (no, I don’t use much proprietary software, thanks). The software has a lens library containing the lenses I use. It does pretty much what I need, also photographing in raw mode decreases the number of shots – which is a good thing. It’s not the storage, it’s the amount of time you spend post-processing the data you created.

I don’t like to photograph people, so the galleries do not contain portraits. The only exception are the concert images. You really need a band on stage for concerts, can’t be helped. I don’t do much concerts though. It would be nice to see a colour histogram over all sets to see if there is a bias. There probably is, but see for yourself.

About these Junk E-Mails

Please refrain from sending me e-mails that have only HTML content. I prefer to read your message, and if you are incapable of expressing yourself in text, then I really don’t care what you have to say. HTML-only e-mails will be deleted without notice. Have a nice day!

Thursday Next

In case you are looking for good stories to read I can recommend Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels. They are set in an alternate reality where England is a republic, Operation Sea Lion was a success for the Germans, and England was occupied and liberated. Thursday is a Literary Detective battling characters from novels who enter reality and individuals who want to change the plot of their favourite book. Literature itself is much more complicated than in our world and it is more more valued and important. Fforde’s writing style is brilliant. The world he created has so many facets that exploring the novels is great fun.

Pens

If you like to write with ink on paper, then you might be interested in pens. They don’t use electrical power, so no charging is necessary. The paper needs some big storage though. In case you are looking for a unique pen, check out the Wiener Füllfeder Werkstätte. They have old vintage pens (mostly European) and do not touch, repair or even talk about pens produced later than 1960.

Hacking

I know a lot of people who hack stuff. Due to other activities I also meet people who want to learn how to hack. This is the fun part of teaching. You are being asked questions you cannot answer easily. While you can think all day about theories explaining what hackers do, you can stop doing this and get to the roots. Figuring how things work is a good start. All hackers do this, regardless of their colour. The late Aaron Swartz put it this way:

“Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.”

You need a motivation to discover the inner workings behind a gadget, a technology or a simple observation. You need the ability to be observant, to combine facts, come up with theories, put them to the test and to get rid of them once you have a new one. You have to know how to ask sensible questions and think of the steps necessary to answer them. Most scientists do the same (go and read Richard Feynman’s The Pleasure of Finding Things Out if you are not convinced).

So how do you get to the point of finding things out? Well, you definitely cannot read the manual and be done with learning. Nothing works this way. The best you can hope for is to get a starting point. The rest is exercise and reading stuff again (stuff can be new or old, you won’t understand everything at the first time). It’s just like physical exercise. Start running, start swimming, start anywhere and see where you get. It’s just like craftsmanship. Get a tool. Use it. Build something. Sooner or later you will use different tools or build tools on your own. It’s a process.

Get it?

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