The Heartbleed bug is everywhere, so it is nice to understand it a little. xkcd has drawn it, but a few words might help to interpret his comic. The “heartbeat” option allows a computer to check that it still has a connection to a server. The computer sends a message, for example “asdfgh” that the server repeats back to acknowledge that it is there. Now, the bug allows tricking the server by telling it that the message sent is much longer than it really is, for example saying that the message “asdfgh” is 64 000 characters. Then the server does not stop after “asdfgh,” but continues with further 63 994 characters from its memory. Since many people use one server, these extra characters may contain usernames and passwords that other people have entered. The heart bleeds.
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Surveillance gets a bad rap these days, but here is another perspective, stated clearly for once: Stuart Armstrong writing in the Aeon magazine spells out what the benefits of total surveillance might be. Summary: less crime, fewer resources spent on police and military, prevent pandemics and terrorists, help disaster response, provide data for research, practical applications, more global trust. (And he duly notes: “these potential benefits aren’t the whole story on mass surveillance.”)
The coming of a sureveillance state dystopia has been predicted for some time. Ramez Naam writes a guest post at Charles Stross’ blog, and claims that the decentralization of technology has been responsible for the postponement. E.g., getting away with photoshopping images is a lot harder today than in Stalin’s time.
Naam spells out three technological trends that will help the little man even further: 1. Cheap cameras for self-protection. “[Camera] technology, when expensive benefits the big players. The technology getting cheaper becomes distributed, benefiting the citizenry.” “2. Crypto and Anonymity Blunt Surveillance Tools.” If someone is not looking for you in particular, anonomity tools are quite effective. 3. Information is becoming easier to spread. Naam ends by emphasizing that these trends will be no panacea, we will still need the law and proper oversight.