Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Rupert has problems getting served this week, what with annoying telcos, insecure Windows and the Internet Cannibal getting hauled up
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor
Monday 21/07/2003
In one of the more extreme examples of C2C or consumer-to-consumer Internet activity, Armin M -- the German Internet cannibal -- has finally been charged with murder. He admits eating a friend, but in a unsettling echo of the Restaurant at the End of the Universe says it was all consensual. They met in an Internet cannibal chat room, naturally got talking about eating people, Armin said he could murder a square meal and matey offered to stand him lunch. This was apparently our hungry hero's four hundred and fiftieth attempt at finding someone willing to make a meal of it, which shows focus and commitment if nothing else... Cannibal chat rooms. Of course. I've been around a bit and seen most things on the Net, but this is new on me. I decided to see if I could track one down and pop in. You never know what helpful hints you might pick up for those tricky dinner parties, or whether the Atkins diet allows you to eat anyone bigger than, say, Mini-Me. No luck. I asked on AOL, where some wag directed me to Delia Smith's Web site, and had a hunt on IRC. Someone there recommended a group of gay chat rooms, but while the denizens there had several most interesting suggestions it didn't get me very far. So I tried eBay. I'm not sure I quite understand what a Cannibal (Uncut) DVD is -- you couldn't possibly swallow someone whole, after all -- and while I got quite excited by a Cannibal Head Pipe, fondly imagining it to be some sort of cooking implement, it turned out to be part of a motorbike. The moral of this tale is: don't believe the media hype, everybody. It's by no means easy to become a successful cannibal just by buying a modem.
Tuesday 22/07/2003
One of the things that gets my goat on a regular basis is the suspicion that any large organisation comes to despise the individuals with whom it has to deal. I think it's some sort of corporate jealousy because us humans get to have a good time at weekends and don't have to take ourselves seriously. But recently, just going about your normal life seems to be enough to bring down the wrath of companies big enough to know better. It's no fun being a l33t hax0r running Linux and peer-to-peer file sharing if you get a writ from the RIAA in the morning and a licence fee demand from SCO in the afternoon. The RIAA is getting so heavy-handed that even Michael Jackson's on record as saying "Hey, leave the kids alone," while SCO's decision to threaten anyone who might one day have otherwise bought some product from them is proving as popular as you might expect. Meanwhile, Vodafone's been writing to old people who don't use their pay as you go phones as much as Vodafone would like, and saying "If you don't use your number, we'll have to take it back because there's a shortage" -- only not so politely. All ballcocks, of course. Voda -- like all mobile phone companies -- really, really dislikes people with the temerity to get a phone on the 'it won't cost much if you don't use it' plans and then not use it. Orange seems dedicated to frightening off anyone on its network who doesn't spend around ten grand a day, while T-Mobile has a different attitude. As I discovered when I got home from Sweden to find that my eight phone calls made while roaming cost me more than the air fare. Doesn't anyone out there with a payroll of more than 100 people like us?
Wednesday 23/07/2003
The greatest fun in cryptography are the lateral thinking attacks: using huge banks of LEDs and looking for patterns of light to scan keyspaces, gradually heating up a smartcard until bits start to fail and then analysing the mistakes it makes, turning keystreams into audio and using music analysis software to check for periodicity. All things you suspect the original designers never even considered, because they're so far out from normal mathematical activities. The latest Windows password crack from Switzerland isn't quite like that, but it's close. Everyone knows that you can reduce the time taken to perform some mathematical password analysis by pre-computing sets of possible answers and then scanning quickly through them during the attack. But it takes a certain freedom of thought to notice that these days we have gigabytes of memory on PCs and can thus pre-calculate some truly enormous tables of cooked data. Using this approach, say the cryptographers, "Using 1.4GB of data (two CD-ROMs) we can crack 99.9 percent of all alphanumerical passwords hashes in 13.6 seconds whereas it takes 101 seconds with the current approach using distinguished points" Which means that given access to a Windows computer, and armed with a fairly modest laptop, you can be guaranteed to get the password in less time than it takes to copy a file off a floppy. When will Microsoft fix this? Don't hold your breath: according to the news this week they're too busy counting their fifty-billion-dollar cash mountain while reporting major security flaws with Server 2003. Business as usual.
Thursday 24/07/2003
According to the BBC, a study from New Zealand looking into online sex offences has revealed one of the most unexpected and surprising effects of new technology: young men 'adept at using the Internet' are likely to download and view pornography. I'm shocked, I tell you. Shocked. The only truly surprising thing that the study could have shown would be if young men adept at Internet usage took longer than 3.5 seconds to locate porn when first given access. The study is full of good stuff, for example: "The secondary school students in the study tended to be a sexually curious group," and "After the 33 students identified in the study, the next biggest group was the information technology industry and white collar/administrative positions." Which means I'm going to be doubly careful before shaking the hand of our IT Support work experience chap -- but then, one evolves these defence mechanisms quite naturally in this business. Perhaps in an effort to justify their funding, the study does contain some genuine curiosities. "One offender, who possessed necrophilic images, was professionally involved with funeral directors." That puts a different spin on nice Mr Stiffkey from Walthamstow Co-Operative Funeral Services, I have to say, but I suppose I got into IT because I liked playing with computers so it makes a certain sort of sense. Although I am the keeper of a seventeen-year-old laptop user and provider of his internet connectivity, I am bound by parental confidentiality and do not wish to dob him in to the rest of the world concerning his patterns of, ah, consumption (oh, OK then. One word. Tentacles.) But he has been watching Six Feet Under with rapt attention...
Friday 25/07/2003
We live in exciting times. As ultrawideband radio pushes wireless speeds up towards the gigabit, and terabit fibre systems have been around since 1996, the great and the good have updated the universal service requirement for the minimal data speed a telephone line should support. After many years loitering at a fax-friendly 2.4 kilobits per second, it is now a stonking 28.8Kbps -- or about half the speed that most modems can manage. While something of a comfort to those who have been denied network access altogether due to BT saying "Your line is fine for fax machines. Now go away," it's not really the revolutionary move towards the wired society for which we might have hoped. Perhaps we can now look forward to the National Health service announcing that Florence Nightingale can now use electric light, the Department of Transport declaring that the man with the red flag can now wear roller skates, and Microsoft saying that it's going to start writing code that doesn't drop its knickers the second a hacker looks sternly in its direction.
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