Wednesday, November 22, 2017

NetNeutrality vs. limiting FaceTime

In response to my tweets/blogs against NetNeutrality, people have asked: what about these items? In this post, I debunk the fourth item.
The issue the fourth item addresses is how AT&T restrict the use of Apple's FaceTime on its network back in 2012. This seems a clear NetNeutrality issue.

But here's the thing: the FCC allowed these restrictions, despite the FCC's "Open Internet" order forbidding such things. In other words, despite the graphic's claims it "happened without net neutrality rules", the opposite is true, it happened with net neutrality rules.

The FCC explains why they allowed it in their own case study on the matter. The short version is this: AT&T's network couldn't handle the traffic, so it was appropriate to restrict it until some time in the future (the LTE rollout) until it could. The issue wasn't that AT&T was restricting FaceTime in favor of its own video-calling service (it didn't have one), but it was instead an issue of "bandwidth management".

When Apple released FaceTime, they themselves restricted it's use to WiFi, preventing its use on cell phone networks. That's because Apple recognized mobile networks couldn't handle it.

When Apple flipped the switch and allowed it's use on mobile networks, because mobile networks had gotten faster, they clearly said "carrier restrictions may apply". In other words, it said "carriers may restrict FaceTime with our blessing if they can't handle the load".

When Tim Wu wrote his paper defining "NetNeutrality" in 2003, he anticipated just this scenario. He wrote:
"The goal of bandwidth management is, at a general level, aligned with network neutrality."
He doesn't give "bandwidth management" a completely free pass. He mentions the issue frequently in his paper with a less favorable description, such as here:
Similarly, while managing bandwidth is a laudable goal, its achievement through restricting certain application types is an unfortunate solution. The result is obviously a selective disadvantage for certain application markets. The less restrictive means is, as above, the technological management of bandwidth. Application-restrictions should, at best, be a stopgap solution to the problem of competing bandwidth demands. 
And that's what AT&T's FaceTime limiting was: an unfortunate stopgap solution until LTE was more fully deployed, which is fully allowed under Tim Wu's principle of NetNeutrality.

So the ACLU's claim above is fully debunked: such things did happen even with NetNeutrality rules in place, and should happen.

NetNeutrality vs. Verizon censoring Naral

In response to my anti-NetNeutrality blogs/tweets, people ask what about this? In this post, I address the second question.
Firstly, it's not a NetNeutrality issue (which applies only to the Internet), but an issue with text-messages. In other words, it's something that will continue to happen even with NetNeutrality rules. People relate this to NetNeutrality as an analogy, not because it actually is such an issue.

Secondly, it's an edge/content issue, not a transit issue. The details in this case is that Verizon provides a program for sending bulk messages to its customers from the edge of the network. Verizon isn't censoring text messages in transit, but from the edge. You can send a text message to your friend on the Verizon network, and it won't be censored. Thus the analogy is incorrect -- the correct analogy would be with content providers like Twitter and Facebook, not ISPs like Comcast.

Like all cell phone vendors, Verizon polices this content, canceling accounts that abuse the system, like spammers. We all agree such censorship is a good thing, and that such censorship of content providers is not remotely a NetNeutrality issue. Content providers do this not because they disapprove of the content of spam such much as the distaste their customers have for spam.

Content providers that are political, rather than neutral to politics is indeed worrisome. It's not a NetNeutrality issue per se, but it is a general "neutrality" issue. We free-speech activists want all content providers (Twitter, Facebook, Verizon mass-texting programs) to be free of political censorship -- though we don't want government to mandate such neutrality.

But even here, Verizon may be off the hook. They appear not be to be censoring one political view over another, but the controversial/unsavory way Naral expresses its views. Presumably, Verizon would be okay with less controversial political content.

In other words, as Verizon expresses it's principles, it wants to block content that drivers away customers, but is otherwise neutral to the content. While this may unfairly target controversial political content, it's at least basically neutral.

So in conclusion, while activists portray this as a NetNeutrality issue, it isn't. It's not even close.

NetNeutrality vs. AT&T censoring Pearl Jam

So in response to my anti-netneutrality tweets/blogs, Jose Pagliery asks "what about this?"

Let's pick the first one. You can read about the details by Googling "AT&T Pearl Jam".

First of all, this obviously isn't a Net Neutrality case. The case isn't about AT&T acting as an ISP transiting network traffic. Instead, this was about AT&T being a content provider, through their "Blue Room" subsidiary, whose content traveled across other ISPs. Such things will continue to happen regardless of the most stringent enforcement of NetNeutrality rules, since the FCC doesn't regulate content providers.

Second of all, it wasn't AT&T who censored the traffic. It wasn't their Blue Room subsidiary who censored the traffic. It was a third party company they hired to bleep things like swear words and nipple slips. You are blaming AT&T for a decision by a third party that went against AT&T's wishes. It was an accident, not AT&T policy.

Thirdly, and this is the funny bit, Tim Wu, the guy who defined the term "net neutrality", recently wrote an op-ed claiming that while ISPs shouldn't censor traffic, that content providers should. In other words, he argues that companies AT&T's Blue Room should censor political content.

What activists like ACLU say about NetNeutrality have as little relationship to the truth as Trump's tweets. Both pick "facts" that agree with them only so long as you don't look into them.

The FCC has never defended Net Neutrality

This op-ed by a "net neutrality expert" claims the FCC has always defended "net neutrality". It's garbage.

This wrong on its face. It imagines decades ago that the FCC inshrined some plaque on the wall stating principles that subsequent FCC commissioners have diligently followed. The opposite is true. FCC commissioners are a chaotic bunch, with different interests, influenced (i.e. "lobbied" or "bribed") by different telecommunications/Internet companies. Rather than following a principle, their Internet regulatory actions have been ad hoc and arbitrary -- for decades.

Sure, you can cherry pick some of those regulatory actions as fitting a "net neutrality" narrative, but most actions don't fit that narrative, and there have been gross net neutrality violations that the FCC has ignored.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Your Holiday Cybersecurity Guide

Many of us are visiting parents/relatives this Thanksgiving/Christmas, and will have an opportunity to help our them with cybersecurity issues. I thought I'd write up a quick guide of the most important things.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Why Linus is right (as usual)

People are debating this email from Linus Torvalds (maintainer of the Linux kernel). It has strong language, like:
Some security people have scoffed at me when I say that security
problems are primarily "just bugs".
Those security people are f*cking morons.
Because honestly, the kind of security person who doesn't accept that
security problems are primarily just bugs, I don't want to work with.
I thought I'd explain why Linus is right.

Friday, November 17, 2017

How to read newspapers

News articles don't contain the information you think. Instead, they are written according to a formula, and that formula is as much about distorting/hiding information as it is about revealing it.

A good example is the following. I claimed hate-crimes aren't increasing. The tweet below tries to disprove me, by citing a news article that claims the opposite:

But the data behind this article tells a very different story than the words.

Every November, the FBI releases its hate-crime statistics for the previous year. They've been doing this every year for a long time. When they do so, various news organizations grab the data and write a quick story around it.

By "story" I mean a story. Raw numbers don't interest people, so the writer instead has to wrap it in a narrative that does interest people. That's what the writer has done in the above story, leading with the fact that hate crimes have increased.

But is this increase meaningful? What do the numbers actually say?

To answer this, I went to the FBI's website, the source of this data, and grabbed the numbers for the last 20 years, and graphed them in Excel, producing the following graph:

As you can see, there is no significant rise in hate-crimes. Indeed, the latest numbers are about 20% below the average for the last two decades, despite a tiny increase in the last couple years. Statistically/scientifically, there is no change, but you'll never read that in a news article, because it's boring and readers won't pay attention. You'll only get a "news story" that weaves a narrative that interests the reader.

So back to the original tweet exchange. The person used the news story to disprove my claim, but going to the underlying data, it only supports my claim that the hate-crimes are going down, not up -- the small increases of the past couple years are insignificant to the larger decreases of the last two decades.

So that's the point of this post: news stories are deceptive. You have to double-check the data they are based upon, and pay less attention to the narrative they weave, and even less attention to the title designed to grab your attention.

Anyway, as a side-note, I'd like to apologize for being human. The snark/sarcasm of the tweet above gives me extra pleasure in proving them wrong :).

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Some notes about the Kaspersky affair

I thought I'd write up some notes about Kaspersky, the Russian anti-virus vendor that many believe has ties to Russian intelligence.

There's two angles to this story. One is whether the accusations are true. The second is the poor way the press has handled the story, with mainstream outlets like the New York Times more intent on pushing government propaganda than informing us what's going on.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Some notes on the KRACK attack

This is my interpretation of the KRACK attacks paper that describes a way of decrypting encrypted WiFi traffic with an active attack.

tl;dr: Wow. Everyone needs to be afraid. (Well, worried -- not panicked.) It means in practice, attackers can decrypt a lot of wifi traffic, with varying levels of difficulty depending on your precise network setup. My post last July about the DEF CON network being safe was in error.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"Responsible encryption" fallacies

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave a speech recently calling for "Responsible Encryption" (aka. "Crypto Backdoors"). It's full of dangerous ideas that need to be debunked.