Archive for February, 2008

Nothing to look at, move along

February 29, 2008

The Associated Press: Why Are Thousands of Bats Dying in NY?:

“White nose syndrome,” as the killer has been dubbed, is spreading at an alarming rate, with researchers calling it the gravest threat in memory to bats in the U.S. “This is definitely unprecedented,” said Lori Pruitt, an endangered-species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Bloomington, Ind. “The hugest concern at this point is that we do not know what it is.” A significant loss of bats is chilling in itself to wildlife experts. But — like the mysterious mass die-offs around the country of bees that pollinate all sorts of vital fruits and vegetables — the bat deaths could have economic implications. Bats feed on insects that can damage dozens of crops, including wheat and apples.

New York officials are asking people to stay out of bat caves in case humans are unwittingly spreading the problem. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking people not to enter caves with gear or clothing used in any New York and Vermont cave within the past two years. The first inkling of trouble came in January 2007, when a cave explorer spotted an unusual number of bat carcasses around the mouth of a cave in the hills west of Albany. Within a month, people in the area were calling in with reports of bats flying outside in the middle of the day. “We didn’t know anything other than bats were coming out and they were just dying on the landscape,” Hicks said. “They were crashing into snow banks, crawling into wood piles and dying.”

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If someone who wasn’t your ISP did this, it would be a felony

February 29, 2008

How Phorm plans to tap your internet connection | The Register:

For users who don’t opt out, the way the system works is much more clear (see “Active mode” slide). Hit a link in your browser and the HTTP request will be intercepted by the ACE and rerouted to Phorm’s Anonymiser. Having hijacked the request, the Anonymiser can then set a tracking cookie, which it keeps hold of. Without a response, the browser resubmits its request for the web page you want to visit. It is again rerouted to Phorm, but only as far as the F5 hardware, which bounces it on to the website you originally wanted, but also sends a copy of the request to Phorm’s profiler kit. The website reruns the content you want, which is again intercepted by the ACE. A copy of the page contents is sent to the Profiler, this time with the cookie in tow. If the publisher of the page is a member of the OIX, keywords in the page can be used to target ads. Finally the page is served up on your screen, and if everything is worked correctly, the browser and the user should be none the wiser.

Interception and blockage of communications by a third party, modification of communications between other parties for profit, all without effective notice or consent. Good thing it’s just big companies we trust implicitly doing this kind of stuff.

Broadband big boys waiting on data pimping | The Register:

Phorm, the advertising company that wants to pay your ISP to hand over information on which websites you visit, has convinced the UK’s three largest providers to trust it, but regulators and the rest of the industry are less impressed. Phorm’s deals already mean it has already snagged more than ten million streams of UK users’ browsing information. Its remaining targets are surely Tiscali, Sky and Orange, who complete the six members of the UK broadband millionaires’ club, which controls more than 95 per cent of the market. Tiscali, which has more than two million broadband customers, told The Register it has looked into Phorm’s system, but no decisions have been made. Meanwhile a spokesman for Sky, the UK’s fastest growing broadband network with about 1.2 million lines, said: “Sky is interested in exploring the potential for targeted online advertising and is talking with a number of companies operating in this area.

By the way, at first glance it looks as if this thing could be a serious single point of failure for any broadband network that installs it, because if the ACE box fails, users’ requests go into a black hole. And the load on the ACE box rises pretty rapidly with the percentage of sites in the ad network and the percentage of users looking at them. So the ISPs had better hope that not too many sites sign up with Phorm for targeted ads, and that their users don’t visit those sites too often.

They don’t need no steenkin badges

February 29, 2008

The Associated Press: SoCal Man Sues Over Wrongful Deportation:

Pedro Guzman, 30, who is mentally disabled, was deported last May after he was arrested and jailed on a misdemeanor trespassing charge. For nearly three months, his family searched for him in shelters, jails and morgues in Tijuana, Mexico, and the surrounding area. During that time, he rummaged for food in garbage cans, washed himself in rivers and walked as far south as Ensenada — more than 60 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the lawsuit. Guzman tried to return to the United States several times, but was turned away. He was found near the Calexico border crossing in August and reunited with his family.

I read some of the previous coverage on this case, and it’s as terrifying as one would suspect. The DHS essentially said that once they decide you’re not a citizen, the burden is on you to prove that you are. Oh, and by the way, since you’re presumptively not a citizen they don’t have to give you access to a lawyer, let you communicate with your family, or do anything else that might help you prove your citizenship. The sheriff’s office admitted they screwed up, but the initial defense was along the lines of “they all look alike to us.”

Sometimes the facts are just biased against you

February 29, 2008

Outspoken scientist dismissed from panel on chemical safety – Los Angeles Times:

Chemical industry lobbyists say Rice’s comments to the Legislature, as well as similar comments to the media, show that she is a biased advocate who has compromised the integrity of the EPA’s review of the flame retardant. The EPA is in the process of deciding how much daily exposure to deca is safe — a controversial decision, expected next month, that could determine whether it can still be used in consumer products. The role of the expert panel was to review and comment on the scientific evidence. EPA officials removed Rice because of what they called “the perception of a potential conflict of interest.” Under the agency’s handbook for advisory committees, scientific peer reviewers should not “have a conflict of interest” or “appear to lack impartiality.”

What they don’t seem to understand is that impartiality doesn’t mean cutting the baby in half just to avoid making a decision. Impartiality means making a decision on the best facts available. Of course, this is the same stupid mistake that most of the mainstream news organizations make, when they assiduously source a bunch of lies and then give equal weight to others telling verifiable truths.

EPA officials were not available for comment Thursday. Environmentalists accuse the EPA of a “dangerous double standard,” because under the Bush administration, many pro-industry experts have served on the agency’s scientific panels. The Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, reviewed seven EPA panels created last year and found 17 panelists who were employed or funded by the chemical industry or had made public statements that the chemicals they were reviewing were safe. In one example, an Exxon Mobil Corp. employee served on an EPA expert panel responsible for deciding whether ethylene oxide, a chemical manufactured by Exxon Mobil, is a carcinogen.

Oh, wait. I see. It’s OK to be partial, just as long as you’re partial in the right direction.

Well, duh

February 29, 2008

BBC NEWS | Europe | German court limits cyber spying:

Under the technique, software sent in an email enables the authorities to spy on a suspect’s computer hard drive. The Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe said cyber spying violated individuals’ right to privacy and could be used only in exceptional cases.

Court President Hans-Juergen Papier said that using such software contravened rights enshrined in Germany’s constitution, adding that the decision would serve as a precedent across the country. The ruling emphasised that cyber spying by the authorities would have to receive the permission of a judge.

I guess this is the other side of being stupid about the importance of computer intrusions when performed by non-governmental entitities.

I don’t believe them even a little

February 29, 2008

BBC NEWS | Europe | The most spied upon people in Europe:

The question in the UK is what would happen if you took camera data and married it to other sources, such as information on the location of mobile phones, swipe cards for urban transport and static databases about you, your family and life history. That would be a pretty effective surveillance system, say critics. Ministers say this is completely fanciful – for a start there are no plans for a supercomputer to gather this information.

And gosh knows, you need complicated longterm plans to acquire large amounts of computing power these days. You can’t just place an order for a blg cluster from half a dozen vendors or rent the power from everyone and their uncle, including Amazon…

The thing is, I wouldn’t be surprised if the officials in question believed their own lies. When the total surveillance picture comes together in the UK (or wherever) it will be almost unexpected to them. They will merely have been fitting jigsaw pieces together one by one, with no idea that they were actually creating some larger object.

(The rest of the article is a fine overview of the situation in the rest of europe)

Very, very cool if it works

February 29, 2008

BBC NEWS | Health | Diabetic mice ‘cured’ with drugs:

Last year, Dr Terry Strom and his team demonstrated that they could stop the on-going destruction of insulin-producing beta cells in mice using a combination of three drugs, although they were unable to regenerate the cells. It is exciting that these drugs could stop the immune system from attacking insulin-producing cells, but it is too early to tell whether these cells recovered in the mice or if new cells were produced Iain Frame Diabetes UK However, when they added an extra ingredient – an enzyme called alpha 1 anti-trypsin – a significant rise in the number of beta cells was seen.

Once again, Oops

February 29, 2008

Computer Laboratory Security Group: PIN Entry Device (PED) vulnerabilities:

The UK banking industry chose to deploy Chip & PIN cards that do not encrypt the data exchanged between the card and the PED during a transaction. By tapping these communications, fraudsters can obtain the PIN and create a magnetic strip version of the card to make ATM withdrawals in the UK and abroad. We examined two of the most popular PEDs used in the UK and found that cardholders are exposed to simple and cheap attacks.

I’m shocked, shocked!

February 29, 2008

INFRINGEMENT! – New York Post:

Universal Music, Warner Music and EMI – either collectively or individually – settled claims with Napster, Kazaa and Bolt.com. Napster alone had to cough up $270 million. The fourth major label, SonyBMG, was not part of the suit because Napster was owned by BMG parent company Bertelsmann. All four struck separate deals with YouTube that included revenue participation. A contingent of prominent artist managers claims that little to none of that money has trickled down to their clients. They are now considering legal action.

Who ever thought that any money from those settlements would go to the artists who, y’know, hold the actual copyrights in question? The RIAA talks a good game (well, not really) of protecting the rights of creators, but that’s not its job. Its job is to make money for the distributors.

Horrible

February 29, 2008

BBC NEWS | Europe | Jersey | Latest Jersey finds ‘significant’:

The BBC’s Robert Hall said he had learned the cellar contained a shallow bath and a set of shackles. The shackles had been found on the floor but may once have been fastened to the wall, he added. Mr Harper said the finds were made in a bricked-up cellar – one of three underground rooms being investigated by officers at the home. He told reporters that the two items discovered would “tend to provide corroboration for some of the allegations which we have received about offences that were committed”.

I want to say something snarky about this, but I can’t.