What ISP “Data Caps” are REALLY all about

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Many major ISP in America seems to be talking about hard data caps. It seems to be a rather odd coincidence (meaning that it isn’t one) that this seems to all be happening in many ISPs all at the same time, like it is some coordinated effort or something.  The reasons are many but here’s the bottom line:

This is all about TV.

TV is dying, its old tech that some are saying will be history by 2030. Traditional Cable TV is the first on the chopping block. Almost every cable company is converting to “all digital” which basically means they will go from traditional cable to IPTV.

Traditional Cable TV feeds all the 500 or so channels through a cable at different frequencies that your tv tuner can pick up and display. On the other hand, IPTV “live streams” all the channels the same way internet “live streams” video, and an IPTV “cable box”is just a dedicated computer that serves the live stream to your TV.  In other words IPTV is just a dedicated function of your internet connection.

The most popular IPTV services in the US are AT&T Uverse, Verizon Fios, and CenturyLink Prism TV. They all use Internet to provide TV.

Now all the major cable companies are dumping their old traditional cable service and converting cable to a pure internet feed as well, thus distributing all the channels through the internet and becoming IPTV themselves.

The upshot is that there will be more dedicated internet bandwidth on cable internet service. The downside is that you will have to “rent” an IPTV “cable box” to watch TV. Hooking a cable directly to your TV will no longer do anything.

Current IPTV services are renting boxes at between $8 to $12 a month for each TV in the house.  My cable company which is just converting to IPTV wants to charge me only $3 per month per TV, which will no doubt be going up in years to come.

The FCC wants to allow customers to use any cable box they want including their own PCs or gaming consoles to do away with the rental fees. IPTV and Cable TV companies are fighting rule changes like this big time, as it means a major loss of revenue.

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I’m glad I cut my cable a long time ago, and I am not alone. But to Cable companies “cord cutting” is an even BIGGER loss of revenue, which IPTV providers are fighting with a new tool:

Data Caps

Almost every ISP in America has data caps*. This has been the case for many years. ISPs generally don’t want to discuss them because it makes customers mad. Data caps on cell networks are a necessary evil because cell service has limited bandwidth and it is expensive. High data users can slow down everyone cellular data service.

Data caps on home wifi make anyone who has paid huge data overage charges upset, so ISPs haven’t been talking about them. The only time they enforce them is when super heavy users download and upload huge amounts of data each month.

But ISPs, especially those that provide TV service (which is practically all of them) are publicizing them more, and keeping track of them. BUT (and here is the big kicker) ONLY on customers that DO NOT ALSO have TV!

When trying to explain their reasons, they will point out that IP based TV uses internet bandwidth and thus TV watchers would hit the data cap on a regular basis.

So really, the data cap is only directed at users of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Live, and HBO Now, etc. which provide alternatives to IPTV at much cheaper prices.  Only cable cutters are affected by data caps.

If you don’t like it, you can sign up for TV, or pay an additional monthly charge (usually around $30 a month) for unlimited home internet data, or upgrade to a “business” level account.

But before you start counting your pennies to get “unlimited” data, figure out how much you actually use.  Oddly ISP’s seem to be stingy with actual usage data, but you know you will get that data if you start to get close to going over.

ISP’s are currently setting these data caps really high by TODAY’S STANDARDS, that is to say that even families with large numbers of internet users in the household are unlikely to hit the data caps that are being currently set (on average 600 gb on 24 mbps broadband).

For now, only the gullible and paranoid will shell out the extra cash for “unlimited”, when less than 0.05% even need it, so that’s free money for the ISPs.

And what about TOMORROWS STANDARDS?

By setting cap limits so generous it is likely not going to generate many complaints to the FCC, and that is exactly the way ISPs want it. FCC complaints mean regulation, which is why filing complaints with the FCC is probably a good idea.

600 GB is a very high cap. It is the equivalent of 300 hours of HD streaming, or 10 hours a day for an entire month.  That is why 99.95% of the public will likely not even come close.

But what happens in the near future with 4K streaming? or 360 degree virtual reality streaming? or ever more complicated MMORPG streaming? or stuff we haven’t even thought about yet but uses a ton of bandwidth?

Data caps could become a serious costly burden on customers in the near future. The internet is our economy, and for many their livelihood depends on it. ISPs should not be allowed to tax economic progress.

*Verizon’s Fios cap is significantly higher than most others, high enough that there is practically no cap, but that hasn’t stopped some Fios customers from getting notices.

Unplanned Obsolescence and “Lost” Art

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The above picture is the oldest picture from the oldest version of Date Ariane. The modified date is listed as August 6, 2004.

As I was finishing the Renpy version of Date Ariane, I decided to dive into my archives and attempt to play the oldest version I could find.

It wouldn’t run on any browser, not the way it is supposed to anyways. The game was written for Internet Explorer 4 using some HTML coding that only worked on IE4. Over the years I updated the code to run on as many browsers as I could, but the first version is now completely obsolete.

It gets worse: Date Ariane was written using Microsoft FrontPage which basically has ceased to exist. This week I upgraded to Windows 10, and FrontPage loads on Windows 10 but it is unstable. I have been forced to switch to KompoZer, a nice open source HTML editor, but I can’t mass edit a thousand web pages at a time which makes further upgrades to Date Ariane Online version way more difficult. Besides that browser security issue is already a reason to throw in the towel and stick with Renpy version from now on.

But it is a little sad that a piece of my history, a “work of art” I created, is likely lost to the future.

I’m not the only one facing unplanned obsolescence

Obsolescence is becoming an issue on the web now.  Recently security flaws were found in Flash Player, one of the most used programs on the web. You Tube, once the biggest supporter of Flash has now basically stopped using it. Worse yet, Mozilla turned off Flash by default until Adobe released a secure version, which they have now done, but who knows how long it will last.

So now as the world scrambles to move to HTML5 or some other substitute to flash, what happens to the millions of flash based videos, and online games which someday soon may no longer run?

Preservation efforts for the internet?

We humans like to preserve the past.  There are whole industries devoted to film preservation thanks to the unstable nitrate most of the old films were originally filmed in. More than half of the movies made before 1950 no longer exist.

This is why film gurus get excited about discovering a lost reel to a classic movie thought lost.

Similarly we are slowly losing our musical heritage as most master tapes before 1990 or so are on a medium which also degrades over time. Most all of it has been digitized, but many music gurus will tell you music is better in the original analog, and the original analog sources are decaying.

We see it also in video games. Many of my old games will no longer run on my computer, and the ones that do run in a tiny 800 x 600 window, since that is how they were designed. Some classic games like Age of Empires II or Leisure Suit Larry, have gotten the HD treatment, but hundreds never will.

Will much of the internet content suffer the same fate?

Yes, I know about things like The Wayback Machine which archives lost text and picture content, but what will preserve online games?

The “medium” problem

When the medium by which we distribute content changes, it becomes necessary to find ways to bring old content to the new medium. Entire libraries are being digitized, although paper books have largely proven to be a resilient medium, sometimes finding that rare volume is a lot easier online.

Except that “mediums” themselves are radically changing every few years it seems, so we are constantly having to convert, especially as popularity wanes in the old medium.  Sometimes we lose some things in the conversion, even as recent as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Simpsons.

Communication mediums eventually get replaced, by better mediums that we all convert to.  But in so doing we lose some of the “art” of the old medium.

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For example: “Twitter”

Here is one I bet you didn’t see coming: Apparently Twitter is dying.  Yes, one of the most popular web sites on the planet is seeing a sharp decline in active users.

My solution to fixing it is pretty revolutionary: Drop the 140 character limit.  We can thank twitter for the abundance of short link generators. Those links leave Twitter and go to other web sites that allow long essays. Why can’t Twitter users write long essays on Twitter itself and have it show up as a title with a “read more” button, instead of a link to another site?

Yes, I know the 140 character limit was what made the site famous, but the novelty has worn off, and prevents people like me who can’t write in 140 characters to not even bother using the site.

If twitter dies then so does the hashtag. (Yes I am aware that other sites support hashtagging, but they also support other types of tagging, which are more useful except they can’t be printed on a t-shirt)

That’s a whole chunk of internet culture lost if it happens.

Date Ariane: Hooray for Bad Reviews

As I stated before, when I first started making Date Ariane my goal was to do something a bit outside the norm, to create a game where sex and not violence is the primary driver of drama. I also had to make it with no budget so compromises in quality are inevitable as well.

For both of those reasons, I never really cared if someone did not like Date Ariane. The game is not meant for everybody, and I am very well aware of its flaws.

I mention this because there are now well over 100 videos on You Tube of people playing Date Ariane.  Some of them are funny, some of them are well made, some of them are good reviews, many of them are bad reviews, including some extremely popular ones.

I’m of two minds on this phenomenon. On the one hand, reviews of my work do not bother me in the least. I am very well aware that You Tube bloggers like to make fun of stuff they find online, it is what they do and it brings them a lot of subscribers.  As I said above, the out of mainstream nature of the game and low budget nature of the game makes Date Ariane a very easy target to make fun of, in fact I do it myself.

On the other hand, I can’t watch these videos. There is something about watching other people play my games that feels a little creepy.

I have never been able to get through any of them. My feelings when I watch them is similar to someone standing uncomfortably close to me. It also does not help that I know the answers too well, so when they make the wrong choices I know it’s going to end badly many moves ahead.

I wanted to know if I am weird feeling this way, so I reached out to a few other indie game producers. Reactions are split around 50-50. Some developers are like me, a little weirded out.  Others enjoy watching others play their games.

Developer reactions to mixed reviews seems split as well. I guess it depends on what your goals are.  My goals are to make something I enjoy and just put it out there and let the audience find it.  Other developers with more loftier goals of mainstream success can take bad reviews a little harder.  I can understand that. Even though I say bad reviews don’t bother me, if Date Ariane got nothing but bad reviews when I first put it out there, I would have taken it down and would have never made improvements or expansions.

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And speaking of improvements, my on again, off again project of making a Renpy version of Date Ariane is on again. It was absolutely necessary to do the graphic update before attempting it again. My previous attempts were way too ambitious, my goal this time is to keep it simple. My other goals:

  1. A downloadable game that works on any computer without needing a browser.
  2. Much cleaner code that can be edited and expanded easily.
  3. Sound, music, and special effects you can’t do in HTML.

Why make a downloadable Renpy version of the game when the online is so successful?

It is true, the online game gets over 1 million unique players annually, while there have been less than 200,000 downloads of the stand alone only Something’s In The Air.  My first instinct was to try and make an online version of Something’s In The Air.  Two things prevented that from happening, one was the accidental erasure of a hard drive with my only copy ( I was only 5% complete anyways).

The other was the growing popularity of Date Ariane having an affect on my website’s stability. I researched expanding the web sites capacity, but I so far can’t justify the cost. An online SITA would just make it worse.

Making an improved stand alone version of Date Ariane available should make it better instead.

I have no idea how long it will take, probably at least the summer. I am basically rewriting the entire game as there is no way to port the game directly over.  What you see above is all I have done so far, about 28 lines of code.  Better get started.

The Tech Apocalypses

Whatever Happened To The Internet Dream? Part 5
(read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4)

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Between national news and recent personal experiences, I believe we are on the verge of one or more technical apocalypse. This could come two possible forms:

Either, technology advances to the point that it bypasses the need for humanity, or we grow more and more dependent on tech and internet connectivity and then a series of events causes the whole infrastructure to collapse.

We could also see first one and then the other.  I see both of these as very real possibilities, though I can’t say how likely.  I just want to briefly explain what we are up against.

The Vulnerability of Tech

On Christmas, my website vanished. The culprit seems to be a corrupt zone file which is used to tell the internet where my website is located. I got the site finally back up and then it vanished again due to extremely high traffic on the server. Not sure if that high traffic was directed at my site or the 30 other sites on the same server, but it took a move to a different server to get the site back up.

Two seemingly unrelated incidents in a week is suspicious, or just really bad luck. It is causing me to rethink my web strategies for the future, wondering if there is a better less vulnerable way to do what I do.

But that is just my sad story. How about the intentional takedown of both XBOX Live and PSN on Christmas Day causing much havoc in many households as many new games and consoles could not be played. Before that we all witnessed our first real cyber war between Sony and North Korea. Before that the very organization in charge of internet infrastructure was hacked. Before that was the #gamergate trolls and their malicious tricks directed against female gamers and their supporters. Before that hackers broke into private accounts of female celebrities posting private pictures.  These are just the headlines in the last 4 months.

We are looking at a new form of warfare / terrorism that is only going to get more common.  All tech is seemingly vulnerable. Even the supposedly anonymous and untouchable corners of the web have proven vulnerable in recent weeks.

Our dependence on internet connected tech is only going to get larger in the near future, which is going to make such actions more damaging.

The Vulnerability of Human Labor

We are at a point technologically where artificial intelligence, a sci-fi dream as long as I can remember, is becoming a reality.  This year we saw a chatbot pass the Turing Test, cars that can drive themselves are here as well. Those in the know say that the real innovation is machines learning themselves, which is becoming more real everyday.

From someone who studied this stuff for years this is all very exciting, but the big dark cloud behind the silver lining is what is motivating these developments:  companies want to replace human laborers with robots. When cars (and trucks and busses) that drive themselves prove to be cheaper and more reliable than human drivers, what happens to the 3 million people in the US that make a living as drivers?  Most likely their jobs disappear.

That’s just one example, hundreds of service occupations are vulnerable to automation in the near future. Because we have grown dependent on service jobs here in the US, what is the future of employment?

And where is this all going to go?  We have intelligent systems being developed to read through reams of legal documents to help lawyers with cases, we also have intelligent systems being developed to write reams of legal documents.  Eventually we are going to cut out the middleman and let all the intelligent systems handle all the legal decision making.

Then what?  A “small claims court” app where you can file a claim and have a judgement in minutes messaged to your phone?  So much for the need for lawyers.

Demand for doctors is likely to be in decline as well for similar reasons.  Neither will disappear completely, but job security will not be what it once was.

There will always be a demand for labor, but if these efforts to automate are successful, the demand is destined to go down, even while the human population continues to rise.  How do we create a society where an increasingly large segment of the population is unemployable. What kind of economy is possible if most of the population can’t afford anything?

Maybe we will build an intelligent system to micromanage a stable economy adjusting taxes and welfare automatically to keep the economy healthy for all.

Sounds like a good idea, until the the intelligent economic manager decides there are just too many damn humans to support (which is already true) and figures out a way to get rid of some.

It may sound implausible, but recognized geniuses like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking are warning about this happening in the near future if we do not take precautions now.

The Clash of Two Futures

Foretelling the future is damn near impossible. I cannot say how much of either of these visions of apocalyptic futures are likely to be true, but I can guarantee both will happen to some degree.

The need for drivers will drop with driverless cars, that is inevitable.  It is also inevitable that some will try to prove their vulnerability by purposely causing automated cars to crash, possibly in retaliation for lost jobs.

Hacking intelligent systems is no doubt going to happen, and exploitation of vulnerabilities will result in an intelligent systems arms race.  Eventually hackers will build intelligent systems to ruin and destroy other intelligent systems, to what effect it is too abstract to see.

Part 6: Internet memes and fake news cause problems for democracy

The Conservative Case for Net Neutrality

UPDATE: In support of the July 12th Battle For The Net, I am rerunning this post from 3 years ago to remind people what Net Neutrality is really all about. For more info on the protest, go here: https://www.battleforthenet.com/july12/

To write the FCC: https://dearfcc.org/

I am completely baffled at the conservatives here in America’s ability to get the Net Neutrality debate ass backwards.  Every statement from both conservative and libertarian sources gets it completely wrong.

Without Net Neutrality, government sanctioned monopolies will have the right to levy their own taxes on successful private businesses.

That is the TRUTH, that is why many Conservatives are supporting Net Neutrality.

I have posted this question to any politicians who are opposed to net neutrality: “So you are in favor of government sanctioned monopolies levying new taxes on successful businesses?”  I have yet to hear back from any of them.

The anti-net neutral argument made in practically every article I posted is that “Netflix takes up 33% of the internet bandwidth, so it is only fair that they pay ISPs to help support their traffic.”

Any good Conservative should see the fallacy of that argument, and every tech savvy person should also. So what if Netflix uses 33% of the bandwidth? They are providing a service people like and are willing to pay for as an added feature of their internet service.  Not only that, they are spending millions to make it easier for ISPs to handle their traffic by reducing the load on long distance lines, but that has not stopped ISPs demand for additional fees.

If ISPs levy additional fees on Netflix, then Netflix will just pass it on down to the consumer, and that is why it is a consumer issue.

Is that not the same argument raised by every anti-tax conservative against raising taxes on businesses?

And what about the 30 or so other streaming services that show up on my Apple TV? If Netflix is forced out by exorbitant fees, then that 33% bandwidth will just be divided up by other services, and then will ISPs go after them for fees too, even though they use significantly lower bandwidth?

What percentage of bandwidth is too much? At what level is charging them fair?

Then there is the future. That 33% is destined to fall even if Netflix continues to grow. By 2020 Netflix may only represent 10% of the bandwidth. Should ISPs continue to charge a premium? What about the hundred or so Netflix like services that haven’t even started up yet but will eventually? Can they compete if they have to pay fees to all the ISPs like Netflix? So much for competition in the market place.

Eventually the internet will grow so big that it will be able to easily support hundreds of Netflixes, and then the “Netflix is too big” argument will go out the window, and yet like all good taxes, the high bandwidth fees will continue to levied costing consumers and internet based corporations billions which could have been paid to salaried employees.

For the future of the internet, and I have been working in the internet field for 20 years so I know what I am talking about, there are ONLY two options:

1. Get rid of the government sanctioned monopolies and force ISPs to open their lines to competitors.
2. Get rid of their right to levy their own taxes on internet based companies, aka make them title II utilities like telephone and electric companies.

1. is not going to happen any time soon, but 2 could happen tomorrow if the FCC decides to.

What about fears of government regulation of the internet? That is a completely separate issue apart from Net Neutrality, it is just as likely to happen if ISPs become utilities or not. It is a completely separate battle, and yet the GOP backed by ISP money is using the confusion to claim they are the same battle, which is why there is so much misinformation on the right.

Why can’t we just leave ISP’s alone at their word that they won’t violate Net Neutrality? Because they already have. Twice. And they did it by purposely slowing down traffic. Net Neutrality will regulate these kinds of actions.  Without net neutrality guarantees, ISPs could slow or completely block internet sites they don’t like, or ask consumers to pay for access to their favorite sites.  This has not happened, but it is perfectly legal for them to do so.  This is why Net Neutrality is also important to free speech.

ISP’s say Title II would lower their incentive to improve the internet, AT&T says they will not expand gigabit services until the issue has been decided. Is this true? AT&T would not stop expanding if the gigabit service was selling well in Austin, but it seems most consumers are happy with the service they got. I’m guessing AT&T has already decided to slow down expansion for fiscal reasons, but decided to make a political issue out of it.

The truth is their political issue seems to have backfired.  It only points out how the lack of competition is harming the availability of really fast internet in the US. It is why US is in 27th place in internet speed.

The conservative position should be: We need competition so we don’t need to implement Net Neutrality rules.  But, the GOP politicians don’t seem to even mention that option. Until we get real competition, Net Neutrality is our best bet as consumers to insure free speech and consumer protection.

Date Ariane 10th Anniversary Edition is Done!

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There still may be patches coming in the future, but as far as I can tell everything works the way it is supposed to work, so I am fairly confident I can call it “done”.  Time for a much deserved celebratory margarita.

You can play or download it here. I have also uploaded a Something’s In The Air version 1.1 available here. Primarily, the only changes are a new touchscreen keyboard for name entry (a stumbling block for play on touch screen devices) and the last date flashback scene now uses actual pictures from Date Ariane.  Otherwise, it is the same game.

The Offline Web Security Problem

Since the last release of a Date Ariane download, much attention has been paid toward the running of scripts offline and the potential security risks they pose.  My version is safe, I assure you.

The problem is that certain browsers will no longer run websites with scripts offline.  Each major browser has their own way of handling it, but it means your browser of choice may not like the download version.

Firefox – Only allows offline content to run as long as it does not attempt to access any directories or sub-directories outside the one in which it is launched.  The Date Ariane download meets those rules, so it runs just fine on Firefox without any problem, in fact I built the game in Firefox.

Microsoft Internet Explorer – Follows the same rules as Firefox, except it will give you a warning as you start to play. Click “Allow Blocked Content” when you start the game and it should run fine. As the game now uses HTML 5 elements, it may not run on Internet Explorer 8 (the highest version you can run on Windows XP)

Apple Safari – I do not own a Mac, and the last version for Windows was Safari 5 which is 3 years old. Date Ariane runs fine on Safari 5, but testers are reporting issues in the latest Safari. According to one web site, the fix is as follows:  Enable the develop menu using the preferences panel, under Advanced -> “Show develop menu in menu bar”  Then from the safari “Develop” menu, select “Disable local file restrictions”.

Google Chrome – Google chrome, also known as Chromium has far and away the strictest restrictions to offline scripts: Basically, you can’t.  Well that is not entirely true, you can add a command line flag:

--allow-file-access-from-files

This is difficult to implement, however. In windows, you can edit the Google Chrome shortcut and add the flag to the target. In Mac you have to go into terminal and enter a long command.

The Web Server Solution

Note: There are some security concerns in doing this, please read notes in the comments before doing this. Another way around the security issue is a little more complicated, and may not be worth it, but I will show you a reason why you may want to below. It basically involves running web server software on your own computer, then accessing via http://localhost/

Here is a simple solution anyone should be able to do, these instructions are for Windows Vista, 7 or 8.1, but Mac or Linux should be similar processes.  There is a simple web server program you may already have on your computer built into a programming language that thousands of programs, including Something’s In The Air, is built on called Python.

    1. Download DateAriane.zip
    2. Right click and select “Extract All…”
    3. Extract it to c:\Users\(your username)\Desktop\DateAriane
    4. Open Windows Start Menu, and in the search  bar type in “python” without quotes, a black window should open, note the version, it should start with a 2 or a 3.
    5. If a black window does not start, or program is not found, you don’t have python installed, you can download and install it at python.org
    6. Close the python window.  Then click Start again. If the version you saw in step 4 is 2.something, then type this in the search bar:
      python -m SimpleHTTPServer

      if you are using version 3.something type this instead:

      python -m http.server

      You will get a black python window spewing a bunch of text you do not have to worry about.

    7. If everything is going according to plan, open up your browser of choice and enter the following address: http://localhost:8000/Desktop/DateAriane/dateariane/default.htm
    8. Play to your hearts content without lag or any 503 errors.

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Date Ariane In Other Languages

I noticed recently that Date Ariane has grown in popularity in countries where English is not a primary language.  I was curious to see how easy it would be to use Google Chrome, or any browser with a translation app, to view the game in another language.

The only language other than English I speak with any proficiency is Spanish. Until yesterday, I used special characters a lot in the text which would fail to translate, but I got rid of those and now the game should make at least some sense to anyone using an online translator.

To play the game in another language using Google Chrome you either need to play the online version, or play using the Web Server Solution above. Right click anywhere and select “Translate to…”.  Mine says Translate To English, because English is my preferred language, but if you click “options” you can do what you want. Set Page Language to English, then Translate Language to whatever you want, then click “Always Translate” then “Translate”.

As you select options and play the game, each page will appear in English, but within a few seconds you will see the translation. If not there is a translate button in the address bar, it should be blue, if it turns gray click it again to turn translate back on. The translation is done by Google Translate which is often inaccurate, and it does not help that Ariane often speaks in slang, but the results should be good enough for anyone playing to get the idea of what is going on.

Walkthroughs and Other Stuff

Because the game has changed so much, many of the third party walkthroughs may be inaccurate.  I am attempting to correct this by posting a few of my own on my tumblr page.  UPDATE: I have finished my walkthroughs which can be found here: https://arianeb.com/walkthrough.htm

There are probably more bugs I have not found yet.  Post any you find in the comments, and I’ll patch them as quickly as I can.

Meanwhile, I’m ready to take on new challenges. I will no doubt post about later.

Five Things That Could Destroy the Internet

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Whatever Happened to the Internet Dream? Part 5

Part 1: Bored of the Internet  Part 2: Politics and Religion in the Internet Age  Part 3: Movies and Television since the Internet  Part 4: The Constant Changing Society

It was not that long ago that people did not think the internet mattered to the economy as a whole. Now it seems the internet IS the economy.  This has created a lot of interest in trying to control the internet from multiple different directions.  These attempts to control that which is at this stage uncontrollable now threaten the internet as a whole.

All of these threats come down to one thing: ignorance.  Ignorance of politicians, ignorance of judges, ignorance of corporations, and the ignorance of the users themselves.

Threat #1: The lack of Net Neutrality

The internet is the third most used utility in the US behind only electricity and water (occasionally 4th behind gas).  Former third place holders telephone and cable TV have been replaced by the internet.  This is inaccurate though, the truth is that the internet is not a utility, not yet anyway, and that is what the whole net neutrality debate is all about:  Should the internet be treated like the telephone, where you can call anyone and anyone can call you? Or, should it be treated like cable TV where you subscribe to bundled packages of websites that run faster and contain more features.

Anyone who knows what they are talking about will tell you telephone.  The entire reason the internet is growing the economy is because access to the internet is an even playing field.  The major internet service providers want to charge websites more money to get to their customers faster.  They want to charge for traffic going both ways.  If the internet service providers get away with it, only the major websites with deep pockets can survive in the long run. All the small start-ups with thousands of employees, would suffer and ultimately close.  There is a very entertaining video explaining all of this and this website has the latest information.

The ignorant in this case: Mostly conservative politicians and news sources who explain net neutrality completely backwards. If you want to save free speech on the internet you WANT net neutrality.  They seem to think that “Net Neutrality” means government regulation and control of the internet, it does not.  But now that you mention it…

Threat #2: Government Regulation and Control of the Internet

The Arab Spring demonstrated the power of the internet to help protesters organize.  We saw this again during the Occupy Wall Street protests and the Ukranian revolts which actually led to the overthrow of the government.  The internet as a communication tool organizes like minded people to take action against people, against corporations, and against government.  The more tyrannical governments are looking to stop that by regulating what information moves into its country.

Google has to run different versions of its search engines in China and other countries due to censorship laws. These laws vary from country to country, which also result in lower performance of the internet as a whole.  Google releases a regular report on take down requests from various government agencies, the requests are rising dramatically every year, up 68% from 2012 to 2013.

The other threat coming from Government is radical changes of policy. The SOPA act 0f 2012 was one of those.  Currently, users can post stuff to websites free of censorship.  However if they post copyrighted material, the copyright holder can notify the website, and the website is obligated to take it down.  What SOPA wanted to do is put the burden on the websites. If you posted a copyrighted video on You Tube, You Tube would have to identify it as copyrighted and take it down themselves.  It basically would have meant that any website that allows you to post stuff, which pretty much includes most of the most popular websites, would have to radically change their submission rules, or just close down completely.  Luckily that was stopped, but organizations of copyright holders are still pushing for similar laws around the world.  Newer threats include CISPA act of 2013 which in the name of stopping online cyber attacks, hurts online privacy concerns.

Pew Research also released a recent survey of internet experts and they consider government interference to be a big threat as well.

The ignorant in this case: Politicians and law enforcement agencies around the world of all political leanings.

Threat #3: API copyright issues

As threat #1 has to do with communications companies trying to seize control of the internet, threat #3 is about software companies trying to seize control.  This is all about a potentially horrible precedent setting case involving Oracle vs. Google.

API is Application Programming Interface, it is basically how software programs talk to each other.  If program A needs information from program B, it requests information X from B, which responds by sending Y back to A in a format it understands.  Throughout the history of computer programming, it does not matter how program B handles data X or result Y, it can use any number of methods it wants to.  Oracle’s Java does it one way, Google’s Android does it another.  As a result Google avoids copyrighted software licensing issues with Java.

In Oracle vs. Google, Oracle claims that it holds the copyright of X and Y and not just the method, Google argues (rightly in my opinion) that X and Y are like the title of a book (book titles are not copyrightable), and that because the book part is different, there is no problem.  Google won the initial case, but Oracle won on appeal.

Why is this so damning to the internet?  Because the internet runs on API’s, and API’s have been around for decades. Without API’s smart phones would be bricks.  Google is not the only one with this problem, Microsoft and Apple have their own implementations in place as well. Once the precedent is set, virtually all “open source” software would end.

The ignorant in this case: Judges only looking at previous cases and not the history of software design. Lawyers that could make millions off the thousands of lawsuits that could be filed.

Threat #4: Exponential Growth and Aging Infrastructure

This month, Wired published an article on the growing number of service outages simply caused by too much traffic that older routers simply cannot handle.  Better routers and router software can fix these issues, but replacing old routers and pushing software fixes takes time.

Also in this category would be the very slow progress in moving the internet to IPv6 protocol.

The ignorant in this case: Businesses not willing to invest money in updating.

Threat #5: The Increasingly sophisticated methods of crackers and scammers combined with an increasingly tech ignorant general public.

This weeks Celebrity Nude Scandal, aka “The Fappening“, highlights how sophisticated online pirates are becoming, and more importantly how much more dangerous new trends like “cloud computing” can be to privacy.

There is a lot of interest in finding the hacker responsible for the release of these pictures, but this has all the tell tale signs of a group of hackers with a new set of tools. Most interesting is this article from Wired.

On the web forum Anon-IB, one of the most popular anonymous image boards for posting stolen nude selfies, hackers openly discuss using a piece of software called EPPB or Elcomsoft Phone Password Breaker to download their victims’ data from iCloud backups. That software is sold by Moscow-based forensics firm Elcomsoft and intended for government agency customers. In combination with iCloud credentials obtained with iBrute, the password-cracking software for iCloud released on Github over the weekend, EPPB lets anyone impersonate a victim’s iPhone and download its full backup rather than the more limited data accessible on iCloud.com. And as of Tuesday, it was still being used to steal revealing photos and post them on Anon-IB’s forum.

“Use the script to hack her passwd…use eppb to download the backup,” wrote one anonymous user on Anon-IB explaining the process to a less-experienced hacker. “Post your wins here ;-)”

I do not know if this is the exact process used by hackers (plural seems most appropriate) in this case, but something similar: Someone found an exploit, allowing unauthorized access to iCloud accounts, posted it for others to find, and large numbers of hackers went to work seeing what icloud accounts they could hack. I have seen “group think” hacking in action, and the sheer volume of accounts attacked tells me this wasn’t the work of one lone hacker.

What is especially worrisome is that the Wired article seems to imply that the exploit used by hackers on Anon-IB (again the two may be unrelated) is there for law enforcement use. As long as law enforcement and spy agencies insist on legally requiring access to cloud computing for intelligence gathering, cloud computing is is going to be vulnerable to hackers!!

There are a number of large companies that have decided to put much of their data needs on “cloud computing”, quoting the money they save on IT expenses by going this route.  They are making themselves more vulnerable to hackers by doing so, just to save a few bucks.  Apple and Google have been pushing cloud services for a while now, Apple is even updating OS X and iOS with cloud computing in mind, often requiring the cloud to use certain services. The Celebrity hacks couldn’t come at a worse time for Apple.

But this is just one example of the increasing sophistication of today’s online hackers.  Let’s take a look at another recently published by PC World:

CryptoWall ransomware held over 600K computers hostage, encrypted 5 billion files

A file-encrypting ransomware program called CryptoWall infected over 600,000 computer systems in the past six months and held 5 billion files hostage, earning its creators more than $1 million, researchers found.

The Counter Threat Unit (CTU) at Dell SecureWorks performed an extensive analysis of CryptoWall that involved gathering data from its command-and-control (C&C) servers, tracking its variants and distribution methods and counting payments made by victims so far.

CryptoWall is “the largest and most destructive ransomware threat on the Internet” at the moment and will likely continue to grow, the CTU researchers said Wednesday in a blog post that details their findings.

For a couple of years now “ransomware” viruses worked at the fraud level pretending to be government agencies like FBI or IRS claiming to find evidence of wrong doing by the end user and demanding a $300 bribe (or “fine”) to make it all go away, often disabling users from using their computer to get rid of it. Many fixes nevertheless exist online to avoid paying the scammers.

CryptoWall has elevated “ransomware” to the kidnapping and extortion level, and if your files really are encrypted there may be no way to unencrypt them without paying for the extortion.

These viruses are spread mostly the old fashioned way through fraudulent emails saying you are owed money, and you need to “click here” to get access.  The sophisticated tech savvy would never click.

Scammers are going beyond fake emails and phishing these days.  Now they are calling people, usually older people, posing as technical support using fake caller IDs to look legitimate, telling them they need remote access to their computer to fix a problem they have found, which once given access is loaded with various malware and viruses for future ransomware scams.  A variant is to pose as government lawyers collecting fines as explained above.  This is of course all highly illegal and potential victims are reporting people with foreign accents, meaning it is foreign scammers taking advantage of call centers being based in India and other large English speaking countries to save money.  People are used to hearing foreign accents from support centers these days.

Even if you are smart enough to avoid fraudulent emails, and inbound calls asking for bank or computer access, there is scary unavoidable stuff like rogue cell towers that your phone automatically connects to when you are in range.

The tech savvy for the most part know how to avoid these problems, and keep their security updated, and know how to fix their own problems if they do crop up.  The problem is that there is an increasingly small percentage of internet users who are this careful, and viruses malware and trojan horses affect all internet users, even the uninfected.

Some viruses never reveal themselves, they reside in the background of unsuspecting computer users to form networks of parallel processing power, often used to brute force passwords, or create denial of service hacks.  Such actions slow down internet traffic, cause temporary outages and ruin everybody’s internet experience.

The other side of the coin is that scamming is profitable.  People do fall victim, people do pay, and scammers hide themselves behind international law to avoid prosecution.  That means there is only going to be more of it. Scams are not just using mass emails, they are buying ad space on legitimate web sites to make themselves look legitimate.  Unfortunately, there are no security firewalls to protect you from the ignorance of others.

The ignorant in this case: pretty much everybody.

UPDATE October 3 2014:

Apple is refusing to help law enforcement access phones anymore, they said that the security of their iCloud is now so secure they can’t even break in. This has made nude celebrity hackers very sad.