Privacy and living in the world of Blade Runner..

The question is not what you have to hide, after all everyone has something to hide. An affair, a betrayal, a personal matter. Social views, religious views,gender views, sexual views, racial views, political views, all of which may go against the grain of your corporate work culture, or your circle of friends, or people you date. Some of which – in some countries – may be criminalized.

Hand me your wallet and let me rifle through it in front of you. Hand me your diary and journal and let me read it out loud in a coffee shop, if you really do not have anything truly private.

Privacy used to be sacred in our culture. With the younger generations it increasingly is being forgotten.

Welcome to the world of Blade Runner and Neromancer. You have lived in a sci fi novel for over a decade now. But the degree to which this is the case simply hasn’t been understood by the general public. It takes time for the “wiz bang gee wiz” nature of the modern world to sink in because most of us live normal lives.

But what does this all mean?

Since we live normal lives we often haven’t the faintest clue as to what wonders of technology and social control are in common use. And most of us do not want to know. Because our servitude is easier to bear in ignorance, and often we do not want to choose between the red or blue pill.

This is fine, in most cases its unnecessary. But it is fun, and useful, to contemplate just how sci-fi of a world our matrix lives inhabits.

We live in a Panoptic society, the kind written about by Foucault in which power resides in the ability to watch us constantly. Of course simple laws of physics prevent constant total information spectrum watching in real time, but be assured that much of what we do in public and private is filmed, taped, recorded, and stored away in magnetic disk drums, flash memory, tape, and optical disks, waiting, just waiting, to be pulled out.

In London alone there are over a million CCD TV cameras monitoring every aspect of your day. Some American cities are growing almost as bad. Does it minimize crime? Does it stop terrorism? Is it true that if you have nothing to hide you should not care? These are excuses that a generation ago only the most servile would have seen as reasonable. Most sane people in the past resented their privacy being pried into. It was sacred.

Today young girls post the most intimate aspects of their lives on MySpace, and are actually shocked when they are rejected in job interviews over something posted on MySpace when they were a couple of years younger. There is a total disconnect in the minds of the young generation, a lack of realization that things one does in sacred privacy can be twisted and made to appear worse that they initially thought.

Things you thought harmless, a blog posting (guilty as charged, I am), a forum posting, a photo pasted on facebook or photobucket, a crass remark on MySpace misconstrued and used against you a year or two later – the Internet has a memory that would astonish you.

I regularly come across things I wrote 15 years ago. As for cameras, a body of archived video grows and grows, here and there in private hands, in public hands. It becomes a sea of data, difficult to navigate, but rest assured someone motivated enough can piece together out of the seemingly innocent moments of your daily lives enough to indict you.

The profusion of laws and regulations often unremarked on, ensures that most “clean living” citizens have inadvertently broken laws they do not remotely know existed over and over again.

Here is an interesting link – “Skype Trojan can log VoIP conversations”,skype-trojan-can-log-voip-conversations.aspx

“..Symantec claims to have found the public release of source code for a Trojan that targets Skype users….”

You’ve better believe this Trojan and other variants have been floating around for a bit longer.. and given that Skype is owned by eBay, I have my suspicions as to whether a back door has existed in Skype for a while. I cannot prove this, and utterly lack the motivation to try to reverse engineer anything to determine this, but I take it as a good assumption.

I suspect that much VOIP software and hardware alike have either backdoors or serious implementation bugs known to certain hobbyists and private parties.

In today’s world there is no such thing as absolute privacy or security of communications. While it is impossible to live a normal life under the assumption that everything you say can be, has been, and will be, archived, stored, and dredged up under the most minute pretenses to be waved in your face, this is a good assumption to maintain.

Whose fault is it?
A public so gullible and servile as to buy the obvious lie that less privacy is necessary for greater security?
A public that obviously only read the cliff notes version of 1984 while in High School? Or just the sheer incapacity of our social institutions to keep up with technological developments, a deeply amoral bent in Western Civilization that isn’t politely spoken of by the masses, that makes conceiving of a public order without real privacy possible? The lack of an absolute morality regarding such things? Or a combination of these factors?

Disinformation and misinformation are two distinctly different things, and both can be founded on things that are factually true.

It is possible for private parties, and not just governments or intelligence agencies, to intercept a good deal of public communications in the Western world today. This is the case for well motivated and funded individual hobbyists, crime syndicates, large corporations, municipal law enforcement, cultural and religious organizations, and cults.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, barely a generation ago, Eastern Bloc and Western Bloc unemployed intelligence personnel certainly floated around the private sector bringing their expertise to bear on solving problems for new employers willing to pay for such services.

Many international calls go over under-ocean fiber optic cables, but many still go by satellite, particularly with cheap phone cards and some carriers increasingly use VOIP technology. Ocean cables are hard to tap without immense resources – only governments or James Bond like super-villians can touch them. But satellite phone trunks and Internet VOIP traffic is much, much, easier. I can assure you quite wealthy Russian and Chinese crime cartels have this capacity. I can assure you unemployed hobbyist hackers with minimal budgets have this capacity. I can assure you corporations running Internet backbones have and probably do use this capacity.

Another factor is the march of technology not keeping up with perceptions of security, ultra secure encryption often remains on the academic or hobbyist fringes, and takes years to be integrated into commercially available products. Satcom interception is no hard task, anyone with a KU or C band dish and antenna, knowledge of which transponders on a satellite carry phone or data communication, the ability to analyze with a spectrum analyzer the signals received, and the engineering knowledge to figure out what multiplexing schemes are in place, can glean much cleartext/clear voice content. Even modern spread spectrum technology can be demodulated and intercepted.

Encoded or encrypted content, once able to be read/heard, is often done using commercially available schemes that are now easily breakable. Where decoding such transmissions may once have been a pain, high speed DES decrypter FPGA chips have been available on the market for years, and have been used in some commercial applications. FPGA chips are wonderfully useful for certain decryption tasks, and the actual implementation of even secure encryption schemes is often full of bugs and poorly tested. There are still ATM Machines in North America using 56 DES – well over a decade since it was possible for motivated hobbyists and hackers to attack this scheme, 30 or so years after it became common knowledge that the US govt had mathematical back-doors into this scheme.

There are a considerable amount of Russian mathematicians and engineers who floated around in need of employment and who found homes in private hands.

Often communications take place according to the lowest common denominator of secure communications gear between individuals or commercial entities in differing countries. Also even the use of secure encryption gear or software is fudged by operator error.

Commercial gear exists to reconstruct even high end spread spectrum/frequency hopping transmissions,
with some degree of accuracy, this can be fed into dedicated hardware decryption boxes based on FPGA technology OR with the lowering costs of computing power (how many schmucks sit around using what was once super computer technology to play World of Warcraft or watch porn) software based decryptors, thus enabling cracking on a budget.

What once would have taken a Government TLA agency billions of dollars in hardware and trained personnel to crack, can be subverted by a mid sized corporation or crime syndicate with a modest budget and a couple of employees. Or a distributed group of motivated hobbyists from home.

Welcome to a world all around you, that you have ignored. You should think these things over. A right once lost can never again be regained. Your privacy is either sacred, or it is not.

A choice.