Category Archives: Internet

Crawford on Telco Monopolies

Nice profile of Susan Crawford, highlighting her campaign against telco internet monopolies, by David Carr in today’s NYT.

A taste of Telecom’s Big Players Hold Back the Future:

Susan Crawford, a professor at [Cardozo School of Law], has written a book, “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age,” that offers a calm but chilling state-of-play on the information age in the United States. She is on a permanent campaign, speaking at schools, conferences and companies — she was at Google last week — and in front of Congress, asserting that the status quo has been great for providers but an expensive mess for everyone else.

Ms. Crawford argues that the airwaves, the cable systems and even access to the Internet itself have been overtaken by monopolists who resist innovation and chronically overcharge consumers.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act, which was meant to lay down track to foster competition in a new age, allowed cable companies and telecoms to simply divide markets and merge their way to monopoly. If you are looking for the answer to why much of the developed world has cheap, reliable connections to the Internet while America seems just one step ahead of the dial-up era, her office — or her book — would be a good place to find out.

‘Calm but chilling’ – that’s Susan when she’s doing business; she’s warm and funny when off duty.

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Loomio — Enabling Group Decision-Making

Micah L. Sifry, a canny observer of social organizing and the internet, writes a very positive article about Loomio in Can Social Software Change the World? Loomio Just Might.

A taste:

At its heart, Loomio does just two things. First, it makes it easy for anyone in a Loomio group to initiate a topic for conversation. And second, it makes it easy for any group member to offer a proposal up for a vote. You can vote yes, no, abstain, or block. The software puts the vote results into a pie-chart, so at any point in the conversation about a decision, members of the group can see what the group as a whole is thinking. That’s it. It’s also easy for a group member to form a sub-group, like a committee that works on a narrower topic area.

Group decision-making online is the vacuum in current software architectures. It’s exciting to see initiatives designed to fill this important gap.

Previously: Civilized Discourse Construction Kit.

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Fun With Traceroute (Updated)

[Update: It’s gone. The whole thing has been DDOSed out of existence.]

Traceroute is a network tool for figuring out what route a packet takes to get from some point to your machine. This can matter when something is gumming up the works.

If you have a unix machine connected to the internet, odds are you can do traceroute [domain name or IP #] straight from a command line.

If you are on a windows machine you go to a command prompt and type tracert [domain name or IP #] (see the directions here).

For example traceroute google.com tells you about the routing of packets from a big famous internet company.

Play around with it a bit. Once you have the hang of it, on unix try

traceroute -m 200 216.81.59.173

or on windows make it

tracert -h 200 216.81.59.173

(The extra argument tells the trace not to stop after 30 hops, which is is important.)

It should produce something fun. You can also try it from a web-based traceroute interface, but I couldn’t find one that would go over 30 hops, which sort of spoils the fun.

Yes, due to the blizzard in the North East, someone has way too much time on his hands.

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Quote du Jour

Buying domains from GoDaddy is like going to dinner with Hannibal Lecter: you have only yourself to blame if the chicken tastes funny.

Man claims GoDaddy canceled domains after transfer unlock – Boing Boing

Bonus: Go Daddy Super Bowl ad selected as #1 most sexist by Ms. Magazine. (Predictable.)

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Law.tm Got Hacked — An Update

I described recently how law.tm got hacked and what I did about it.

Since then I’ve been in correspondence with Netnames who argue pretty convincingly that the problem was not on their end. They say their records show no DNS changes for the period in question, and no one else they serve has has had a similar problem.

That means the DNS change happened at my hosting company (or, theoretically, somewhere else via cache poisoning, but that’s really unlikely). Hacking my DNS via my hosting company is certainly possible, even though they don’t manage the registration. That said, it’s sort off an odd thing to think happened because any hack capable of making that change there should have been able to do far far more damage and hit at least the other domains I manage from the same machine. Indeed, depending on the vector it could theoretically have hit all of them: my domains are spread over three machines; changing the DNS would require either root-like access on one of them or access to a control panel that gives some power over all of them. Yet none of those things happened. Maybe I dodged a bullet.

Meanwhile, I’ve changed all the relevant passwords (which were already strong random ones) and am working hard to plug every hole that my host’s automated security scan says it identified. Unfortunately, I have a lot of sites covering a very wide variety of personal and professional projects that have grown up over the years, and the scan resulted in a 12-page single-spaced list of things that might need fixing. It correctly identified some outdated installs of software packages, but the list of so-called hacked files seems overwhelmingly to consist of false positives (I’ve been investigating them with a simple text editor and so far they are mostly simple HTML files created by my cache program and fitted with legitimate headers) — so this is not an easy job.

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Law.tm Got Hacked – Via DNS?

Starting sometimes late Friday, my personal web page at law.tm stopped returning my boring homepage, and instead produced this:

There was also a sound track, produced by embedding this youtube video of “Epic Anonymous Rap song – Hackers” several screens below the main image:

Naturally, I wasn’t pleased, even if I sort of liked the middle part of the rap. Why attack me of all people? I’m for net freedom. Worse, the hack was blocking my main personal email address. Still worse, I was no longer able to access the domain via sFTP or ssh — everything timed out — making debugging somewhat challenging.

Eventually I figured out another way to log into the host machine, and verified that none of the files on the law.tm domain, including the .htaccess file, had been changed. This removed the most likely vector of the attack. That left two possibilities: The first was the very unlikely possibility of some very subtle SQL injection attack plus a level of traffic so hosing the domain that I couldn’t get through to it via ssh; this seemed unlikely because if there really was some DDOS-like event in progress I would have heard about it from my hosting company, Dreamhost, when the machine crashed, plus the redirect of the web page shouldn’t have worked either.

That left option #2 as the main suspect: a hack of the DNS records. The DNS records for this particular domain are manged by a different company than my web host, and their help desk is (a) located in London and (b) only open 9-5 London time Monday-Friday, leaving me high and dry for the weekend (smart hackers?). Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, I had just renewed the law.tm domain a few days earlier with the Netnames registrar. So the only thing I could do while I waited for the Netnames help desk to wake up was try to satisfy myself that this really was a DNS hack. That proved harder than I would have liked: the DNS records seemed to show incorrect information, with web requests for the domain being pointed to 80.249.100.3 and mail being sent to 75.102.13.215, neither of which was right. But then again sometimes the nslookup would come up ok with the right data. It could have been a propagation issue but why then were my http requests, even when I cleared DNS cache, never going through to my real page? Maybe, I worried, I didn’t know how to read the DNS records properly.

So I struggled with the problem. On Saturday I felt hamstrung by unusually slow and poor helpdesk support by Dreamhost, who have been much better in most of my past interactions. This time they announced a new-to-me policy that we couldn’t communicate by phone, only email, as they want a written record of anything relating to a security issue. And it took hours to get the first email response. When they did swing into action Dreamhost also refused to confirm I was having a DNS issue, even though that would have gotten them fully off the hook, saying only that the results were “ambiguous” … although in retrospect, that may have been an accurate assessment … so maybe score one for them after all. Unfortunately other than giving me an automated scan that showed possible problems elsewhere in things I manage but not on law.tm or its users. they didn’t say anything helpful about what else the problem might be.

In the end, thankfully, the problem seemed to solve itself this afternoon. The dig and nslookup data changed for the better — no more signs of the 80.249.100.3 or 75.102.13.215 IP numbers. OpenDNS’s cache started reporting the right info in more and more locations. Pretty soon all was back to normal. I even got a few — so far, sadly just a few — of the test messages I’d sent myself. (If you emailed me Friday evening or later, send it again please).

So I’m now pretty sure it was a DNS issue. Whether netnames got hacked (it’s happened before), or whether it’s some particularly ham-handed activity in connection with the domain name renewal, I may never know. Everyone I used to know at Netnames, which has been taken over once or twice since I last looked, seems long gone.

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Cute Election-Day Web App

The NYT offers 512 Paths to the White House — a cute online app in which you choose how you think key swing states will come out and it tells you what other states the candidates have to get in order to win.

Give Romney Florida, and Obama Ohio, and then see just how many states Romney still needs to win. Basically if Obama takes Virginia OR Wisconsin plus any one of NC, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, he wins (except that New Hampshire + Wisconsin is a tie, which means the House will pick Romney).

A little morning fun, and a way to keep track as the results come in. Spotted via Talk Left.

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