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Be on the wave or under it™

The News – 09/18/01


In this Issue:


Can Freedom and Security Coexist?


My heart, like every American’s, is broken due to the horrific acts of a few fanatics a week ago. Commentators are fond of saying nothing will ever be the same again, but I hope that’s not true. Nonetheless, there are elements in the government that are trying to make some pretty important things change. Things like freedom. Attorney General John Ashcroft wants sweeping new wiretap powers that would essentially allow the government to eavesdrop on any conversation anywhere as long as they have a “reasonable” expectation that a suspected criminal is involved in the conversation. Rather than wiretaps being associated with a particular telephone, Ashcroft wants them to be associated with the suspect. While I agree police need more freedom to intercept communications in this age of disposable cell phones, I worry that the Feds will end up listening to a lot of conversations that don’t involve the suspects in question. What happens if they turn up evidence of other wrongdoing as a result?


Personally, I’m sick to death of the usual response I get when I bring up potential threats to freedom like this. The average person responds, “I’ve got nothing to hide, so I don’t care if the authorities can [wiretap my house, search it without a warrant, confiscate my nail clippers at the airport, read all my email, know whenever I travel on the tollway, and so on]. My usual response is to point out that the listener is not a criminal, yet. Until recently, it wasn’t a crime to post a link on your Web page to a site that hosted software to break copy protection schemes. Today it is a crime. So you’re not a criminal now, but in the future you could be criminalized.


One company that stands to make a lot of money over the hysteria over airport security is Visionics, a maker of face-recognition equipment and other security products that use biometrics -- the identification of people through physical characteristics. Visionics shares soared 93 percent when trading resumed Monday. The upside of biometrics like this: You no longer will need to show your ID at airline check-in. The downside: It will be impossible to disappear into the crowd; the government can always know where you are. They’ll track you at the mall, at the ball game, at the 7-11.


Before we use all this technology to destroy the vestiges of privacy and freedom we have today, we must remember what we believe in. “We can very well accomplish ourselves what the terrorists couldn't do on their own: Destroy the United States as we know it,” said Lauren Weinstein, moderator of an online privacy forum hosted by Vortex and supported by the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery). “Even if we don' t tear the Constitution up explicitly, we can do it one piece at a time.”


The bottom line is: You can’t take the risk out of life. You shouldn’t live with restricted freedom, cowering in your armored house, tracked by cameras as you walk the dog, just because you can’t be absolutely sure some terrorist isn’t going to strike the building you work in or the church you attend or the Dairy Queen stand on the corner. The only way to stop terror is to stop terrorists. Any fanatic with a death wish can find a way to commit a crime, no matter what steps we take. We can outlaw high rises, scatter everyone out into the country, stop flying or traveling at all, live in bunkers, and they still will find a way. Our only hope is to remove terrorists, and not by violence, which will beget more terrorists.


We need to make US policy follow the American heart, which believes America to be benevolent and caring. Our policy toward the Arab world is not benevolent and caring. It is based on ensuring the free flow of oil at reasonable prices, and it will stop at nothing to accomplish this goal. Make our policy reflect the goodness of our people and you’ll see a decrease in the number of terrorists. Continue US foreign policy by striking back, and a dozen militants will spring up to replace each terrorist brought to justice. Continue taking away Americans’ freedoms and encouraging an atmosphere of electronic surveillance, fear, and insecurity, and we'll never be secure against that amplified threat.


You can help make it easier to change our foreign policy by helping reduce our dependence on oil. In this effort, new technologies can save us. If your business maintains a fleet of vehicles, look into converting them to natural gas, electric, or fuel cell power. If you run refrigerated trucks, consider insulating them with high tech Vacuum Insulating Panels (VIP), which have 30 times more insulating power than conventional materials. If you rent office space, look into converting or moving to a Green Building. If you’re building a house, consider making it a Green Building also, perhaps powered by a fuel cell. Ride a bike. Get an electric car. Turn down (or up) the thermostat. Keep on the lookout for new energy saving ideas.


And the most important, and most low-tech solution: Love our enemies. Love them into submission. Make all the lives taken in this tragedy mean something: a freer, more compassionate, safer world, not an armed madhouse filled with freedom-sapping technologies and random acts of terrorism. That’s the only way freedom and security can coexist in the post-tragedy world. It’s our choice.





Briefly Noted

  • Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: CFO Magazine quoted me for a story they ran on the SirCam worm and peer-to-peer networks. Like most media contacts, I said a great many brilliant, insightful, impactful things, but they only used two quotes. It’s online now, but I don’t think it gets into print until next month.
    CFO Magazine
  • MS Passport Cracked, Already: It had to happen sooner or later: The security that is supposed to keep your private information secret in Microsoft’s Passport has been cracked, at least if you use Windows 9x or ME. Hmmm. Wait a minute. That provides a powerful reason to upgrade to Windows XP or 2000, doesn’t it? Coincidence?

  • Ho hum. Another Microsoft-Caused Catastrophic Virus: Today a new mass-emailing worm, known as W32.Nimda.A@mm, has started infecting the crackers’ favorite target, Microsoft IIS Web servers. The worm utilizes multiple methods to spread itself using the Unicode Web Traversal exploit. The worm sends itself out by email, searches for open network shares, and attempts to copy itself to unpatched IIS Web servers. A patch has been available to fix the vulnerability for almost a year, but, typically, many IIS administrators haven’t applied it. Users visiting compromised Web servers will be prompted to download an .EML (Outlook Express) email file, which contains the worm as an attachment. Also, the worm will create an open network share on the infected machine allowing access to the system. Windows doesn’t belong on the Internet.
  • Cracker Cracks Islamist Extremist Web Site: Saturday, a cracker using the alias "Anonyme Feigling ("Anonymous Coward") cracked a German-based Islamist Web site, and published more than 500 e-mail addresses of its mailing list subscribers on the Swiss news site Included was an address belonging to a suspect in last week's terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. The site,, is now offline, but an English-language mirror,, is still accessible. Is this a case of ethical cracking? Anonymous Coward thinks so: “This site has called for holy war. For me the site is just as acceptable as a site that wants to recruit Nazis for the Fourth Reich. Whoever subscribes to such a list knows exactly what he's doing.” OK, but what if you blow the cover of a double agent infiltrating the organization? Discuss.




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