Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Insidious Chromebook, Mega Email Preview, Smartwatches, Pirate Bay Decentralizes, CES 2014

by Dietrich Schmitz

Insidious Chromebook

Yet another major PC vendor has tossed its hat into the Chromebook ring.  Toshiba announced their very own Chromebook.  What a chuckle.  Oh, a 'Flying Chair Alert' memo has been issued at One Microsoft Way.  Be careful if you work there.  Toshiba's unit has 13 inch display, for the amazingly economical price of US$280.  What a chuckle.  I've stopped keeping count -- how many vendors are making Chromebooks now?  Enough said.

Mega Email Preview

I have attempted to reach out to Kim DotCom (born Kim Schmitz) himself in the hopes that I can have a chat with him on his views regarding Privacy.  His intent to further advocating privacy for the masses is clear: Mega Cloud ISP is now out of beta, over a year old, and provides free 50GB of Zero Knowledge Encrypted storage.  Kim DotCom continues to raise the bar and has become, despite his travails with MegaUpload, an iconic 'hero' and source of hope for obtaining true privacy on the Internet.

Most recently, news leaked onto the Internet about Mega's newest project: ZKE Encrypted Email (see screenshot below).  For those who may not grasp its significance, it is, for example, not the case that Google Gmail is encrypted.  In fact, the aged RFC specification for email doesn't even consider encryption and by virtue of its age includes defects that foster wholesale email forgery (it is child's play to insert a forged sender's email address, for example), which is why there is spam in your spam folder.  It can't be stopped without revising the specification.

A leaked screenshot of the soon-to-be-released Mega ZKE Email/Chat system

It is outrageous to contemplate that, despite the recent disclosure of the NSA having taken up camp on the inside of Google's firewall to cherry-pick the public's data (Drive, Gmail) with impunity, Google has not thus far publicly stated any intention to encrypt consumer services data.  Other ISPs, including Yahoo and Microsoft have gone on public record with statements that they intend to shore up their services with strong encryption.

On the point of ZKE, only a few cloud storage providers currently offer encryption (Mega, Wuala and SpiderOak--promulgator of ZKE and their open source ZKE developer SDK framework).  Other initiatives for encrypted email are few that support ZKE, but, most notably, Mega and SilentCircle are hot on the trail to developing a system that will ensure 100% privacy--meaning the ability to crack/decode messages will effectively become impossible.  Those following this topic will recall SilentCircle initially provided email but found the level of harassment from the government for access to be a breach of the public's privacy and so pulled the plug on that service.  Now, they have stated it will be reopened and reimplemented with ZKE in mind. 

Such luxury comes currently at a cost with, for example, Symantec Corporation (merged with PGP Corporation) providing to Corporations hosted PGP-encrypted email service.

As for the masses, the Government willingly follows 'convention' in accepting US Postal Service mailed parcels and letters in envelopes with both an expressed and implied assurance that your privacy is protected on delivery to its endpoint recipient.  Federal criminal liability is defined for any tampering with your mail even.  Yet, they have no motivation to provide the same level of expectation for privacy with your Internet email.  That stands out ever-more boldly in the backdrop of the NSA PRISM/Snowden disclosure in 2013 and punctuates all the more an unmet need to provide strong encryption on the Internet for not just commercial but consumer privacy.

In an apparent double standard, Google has feathered their own nest, by ensuring that commercial security standards are being met by providing encryption for their Google Cloud service.

Be assured, if Google take no action on this issue, I will exit using Google Gmail/Drive just as soon as Mega ZKE Email arrives.

Smart Watches

Pedestrian1: "Excuse me, Do you have the correct time?"
Pedestrian2: (Proudly brandishes his smartwatch) "Yes I can give it to you to the millisecond and in any time zone.  Oh, if you like, I can tell you the value of pi with 12 decimal places of precision!  Oh wait.  Someone is calling me on my watch."

Sound far-fetched?  Maybe a little.  But if things continue the way they are unfolding (image right: Samsung Smartwatch), we'll see the end of Swiss Watches with ruby jewel-pivot accuracy and a flood of what appear to be silicon-laden wrist watches that condense on their ASIC chipsets all manner of technology providing yet more techno-lust in a smaller, lightweight form-factor, with convergence of smart phone and any other imaginable application that can run in the current nanometer-realm.  There doesn't seem to be any constraint as memory capacity continues to increase, SSD form factor gets smaller, and ARM processors with reduced power consumption grow in power (processor arrays) and operating systems containing a Linux kernel continue to pervade all corners of our lives.

Pirate Bay Decentralizes

Let me be clear.  I am strictly against the theft of Intellectual Property or Copyrighted material.   But I do feel strongly that revision to laws on a country-by-country basis need to keep pace with the level of change occurring around us.  Real-world personal habits have changed, and technology has single-handedly changed our lives in many positive ways that could not have been imagined 50 years ago or more when the laws were originally framed and enacted.  

By virtue of how the Internet works, there is an increased desire and tendency to share.  People conduct sharing on many levels (texting, email, pictures, documents, music, video) and given how easy it can be to do, they do it often without giving any thought to the legal implications.  Generally speaking I think people know when they are doing something wrong, but I maintain, 'fair use' should come into play when doing certain kinds of sharing on the Internet.

By the same token, enforcement of laws governing IP and Copyright Ownership should not preclude consideration for if and when censorship should be applied.   Enforcement efforts have been in effect for some time.  The MPAA and RIAA have rolled out a Six Strikes and You are Out enforcement plan with the assistance of Internet Service Providers (ISP) to 'monitor' user Internet activities.  (Not all ISPs have agreed to participate in this program.  Please check with your Internet Service Provider's policy on this issue.)

This is, to my mind, wrong and smacks of a total breach to the public's right to privacy as well as an overreach of censorship.  How effective their plan has been is not clear, but many new software technologies are coming to bear to provide users with the needed tools and resources to ensure their activities remain private such as ZKE, RetroShare, Mega, Wuala and SpiderOak.

The NSA scandal of 2013 has now galvanized public awareness and catalyzed a renewal of initiatives to offer strong encryption across all Internet services for both consumer and commercial use.

The Pirate Bay has clearly been the target for long-standing IP and Copyright theft.  That cannot be disputed.  Yet, despite what happened to their founders (jailed) and what happened to MegaUpload (take down of central servers) the Pirate Bay lives on. They are now are embarking on a plan to decentralize their network to beat censorship.  At the very least, new technology that curbs inappropriate censorship is needed until the gray area between 'fair use' sharing and outright theft is clearly defined.  This is all complicated by a 'borderless' Internet which doesn't see country borders or know about treaties to offer recognition for differing treatment of existing international laws.

CES 2014

The annual Computer Electronics Show begins today, January 7 and goes through January 10.
I was an avid follower of this event going back to 2006 when many new technologies were first revealed.  In 2007 I recall the level of anticipation was palpable surrounding new technology paradigms like the Nokia N95 (I bought one) and the first generation Apple iPhone (I didn't buy one -- hate it to this very day -- Android is King).

Anyhow be tuned over the next few days for product announcements.  I'll be watching closely.


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