More Junkmail from Bob!
Tuesday, November 07, 2000
I'm writing this as the "score" in the presidential election is 231 to 229. By the time you read this you'll probably know who won.
Last week I played a DVD movie on my computer. It asked to install some software, and I declined because I already had some DVD software on my computer and I don't like to clutter it up with a lot of programs I don't need or want. But the DVD wouldn't play until I installed their program. This was a very deep, intellectual movie (Men in Black) so I went ahead and installed their lousy software.
When I started the movie, my computer started trying to do something over the internet. This was the program I just loaded. Why was this connecting to the internet, was it wanting to read something from my computer or write something to it, and why didn't it ask my permission first?
I'm guessing it's something relatively harmless, such as the company collecting marketing data about me behind my back. But with the MPAA being of such strong moral fiber, a person could conceive of the idea that they would search your hard drive for something of interest to them. I think this would be legal, if unethical, because it's a program I loaded and ran. I realize I'm being a bit paranoid, but not compared to Ludlum's new book.
I was wondering if I can be paranoid about things like this, can others? How hard would it be to write an "internet hoax"?
The EZ-Pass has been used for years in New York and surrounding states to automatically charge vehicles when they drive through tollgates. If you think about it, you realize that it logs the time and identity of people passing through the tollgates, or at least their car's identity.
Big deal, huh? Well, it can be, if you realize your driving pattern is monitored whenever you pass through any of the 700 tollbooths in the nine states that use EZ-Pass. This information is not considered private, and the government has full access to it without having to deal with nuisances like search warrants and subpoenas.
Now they're going a step farther. A mysterious chip has been discovered in the on-board computer of all major makes of autos. It works much like the EZ-Pass chip, and the chip contained in other automatic toll-paying chips. When it is hit with a certain digital code over the proper radio frequency, it will transmit the auto's vehicle identification number back over the same frequency.
What is this used for? Government monitoring. You can now be tracked in your car almost anywhere you drive. This was discovered by a computer hacker from Trenton, NJ. John Michaels, who happens to be on the government's internet watch list, also happens to be an avid electronics hobbyist. One day he had a spectrum analyzer with him in his car, and he noticed that when he went through a certain intersection he received a .1 second burst in the 2.4 gigahertz range.
With some further research, he made the unnerving discovery that the RF burst was coming from his own car -- specifically from the radio antenna. This got John's attention, and within a few days he found the culprit -- a small dime-sized chip located in the car's computer. The scary part was that the computer was sealed, and had been sealed since his car was new.
To make a long story short, he conducted some research on friends' cars and rental cars. He deciphered the digital code (which was not even encrypted), and found that automobiles manufactured after 1994 have this radio frequency "responder" than transmits the car's vehicle identification number when queried with a certain digital code over a certain frequency.
What is this for? Why is it not public? Who is behind it? It should be rather obvious. The federal government is using these responder chips to track U.S. citizens in their automobile travels.
By driving city, state, and interstate highways, Michaels found that there are two primary locations for the government transmitters and data collectors -- traffic cameras and cell phone towers. This makes sense because these are both recent additions to the landscape. He found a few other transmitter locations, but the vast majority were on cell towers and traffic cameras.
Why don't we remove these chips? Because the car stops running then. There is apparently a checksum that, when altered, causes the car to run for 20 seconds or so and then die. When you take it to the shop, you hear, "You need a new computer." That solves the problem, AND replaces the responder chip.
Michaels was working on a dummy chip that mimics the computer checksum without transmitting the VID. Sadly, he suffered severe brain damage in an unusual traffic accident last August before he completed his work.
What can we do? Not much. If you intend to travel in privacy, you should use a pre-1994 automobile, a kit-car, or a specialty car such as a Rolls or a Ferrari. Complete technical information on the responder chip can hopefully be found at privacyfirst.org/responder. The FBI has taken down this site twice, citing "national security concerns," so it may or may not be accessible.
We are fighting to get this information out. Please don't let this die on the vine. Otherwise, the feds can monitor us everywhere we go.
Oh, by the way. I just made all this up. It is not true.
I wrote it just for fun, and there's no diabolical government scheme (with the possible exception of income taxes, wasted money, and unnecessary regulation.)
Let's take a look at a typical "scare" story. There's a conspiracy. The conspirators can be an "evil" corporate conglomerate, the enemy political party, a foreign country, or a mysterious, powerful organization of unknowns, or the government.
The topic should be one that many people don't completely understand. This would include electronic surveillance, radiation of any type, genetically altered plants or animals, toxic chemicals, internet surveillance, and rare diseases such as Ebola.
And finally, the story should be technically feasible for people who do know about the technical details. For example, it would really be possible to track the location of every car in most developed countries of the world. I think people wouldn't like it, particularly in the U.S. or Australia.
If I wanted to do give some credibility to this story, I would find some workers from GM or Ford who have recently died and fabricate some mystery about the causes of death. I could also get some car computer part numbers that were changed sometime, and come up with a diabolical reason for it. I think I could even flesh it out into a book if I wasn't so lazy.
I can think of lots of other conspiracy stories. Apparently I'm not alone -- check out this site:
How about an organization that scans the entire internet in order to tie IP addresses to physical locations, and then sell this data to nosy businesses? Oops, that's not a hoax. That's a new company:
Your computer, like every computer on the internet, has a unique IP address. This may change whenever you dial in, but not always. Quova, Inc. has been scanning the entire internet to generate this data so junk emailers, at least the ones who ask for money, can target their email to specific geographical areas. I am happy to send Junkmail everywhere, so I won't need the service.
Microsoft's Open Network
A guy from the Netherlands named Dimitri (maybe) broke into Microsoft's network a few days ago, the second break-in in the past month. This time it's almost Microsoft's fault. They have a security flaw in their web server called the Web Server Folder Traversal Vulnerability by Microsoft, or the Unicode Bug by the rest of the world. Microsoft released a patch for this problem last August and recommended that everybody install it. Then Microsoft didn't.
In the past there hasn't been very good satellite internet access, but Starband Communications is now supposed to be offering high-speed (higher than dialup, anyway) two-way internet access via satellite. Some other companies may follow suit in the year or three.
Aircam Building Progress
: (This link is optional. You will not be tested over this):
Pictures of Today
Here is a detailed photo of a B1 Bomber flying over Kansas.
When you paint your airplane remember that it's a good idea not to mark the lines with a Sharpie. The yellow paint dissolves the black ink and looks quite ugly.
Sunrise on some snow,
a snowy stump,
and some foggy water.
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I'm Bob Webster, and I live at email@example.com