Takeaways from Cory Doctorow's Beaverton visit: RATters could be spying on you; the problem with digital locks [The Oregonian, Portland, Ore. :: ]
(Oregonian (Portland, OR) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 09--On Tuesday night, Cory Doctorow, digital activist and author of cyberpunk novel "Little Brother," took the stage at the Beaverton City Library auditorium to deliver harsh criticism of digital locks that control access to information and perpetuate system flaws that enable security breaches like Heartbleed.
Doctorow, a Canadian native who now lives in London, spoke non-stop for an hour before answering questions from the audience. Here are the highlights of his talk:
A lesson in digital history
Many of the problems with digital locks were written into law in 1996, when the WIPO Copyright Treaty was adopted, Doctorow said. It gave computer programs the same copyright protections as books, and provided authors with control of the distribution of their works.
Then the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed in 1998 in the U.S., criminalizing attempts to circumvent digital locks on copyrighted works.
Control vs. collaboration
For digital locks to function and protect copyrighted material, programmers can't hand out the keys to the code. But this opacity also means that users can't help fix flaws in code. Open-source code, in which members of the public collaborate on a project, is the best tool we have to fix code, Doctorow said.
"Security vulnerabilities are like parasites in the water," he said. "We would hope someone who understood parasitology would be allowed to tell us."
But much of the time, the expert programmers aren't allowed to tell the public about system flaws, leaving weak spots open to hackers.
"There can't be any type of code that can be modified by users that can also be used to control users," Doctorow said.
Corruption is inevitable
Lawmakers attempting to use security flaws to the government's advantage are operating under a terrible fallacy that security vulnerabilities will only be available to the "good guys," Doctorow said. In reality, those vulnerabilities will always get corrupted, he said.
One example of these corrupters are RATters, men who use Remote Administration Tools to spy on others, mostly women.
"Lots of people have access to security vulnerabilities -- not just the NSA, but garden-variety creeps as well," Doctorow said.
Finding a solution
To fix the security flaws that allow corruption to run rampant, some digital locks need to be abolished, Doctorow said.
"We need to minimize the technology that takes away our freedom," he said. "...I want to make a free and fair world for my kid."
There's a push to make security technology easier for people to use, Doctorow said. He directed those concerned about their online privacy to visit resetthenet.org to download a Privacy Pack.
"We can seize this information and use it to liberate the planet," he said in closing.
-- Anna Marum
(c)2014 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
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