DNS Redirect Provision Suspended From SOPA (and PIPA)

Subject: General Tech | January 15, 2012 - 03:21 AM |
Tagged: SOPA, senate, security, pipa, Internet, house, freedom, dnssec, dns, Copyright, congress, bill

SOPA, the ever controversial bill making its way through the House of Representatives, contained a provision that would force ISPs to block any website accused of copyright infringement from their customers. This technical provision was highly contested by Internet security experts and the standards body behind DNSSEC. The experts have been imploring Congress to reconsider the SOPA DNS provision as they feel it poses a significant threat to the integrity and security of the Internet.

In a somewhat surprising move, on Friday, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas and Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont both announced that the DNS provisions included in their respective bills (SOPA in the House and companion bill PIPA in the Senate) would be removed until such time that security experts could provide them with more conclusive information on the implications of such DNS interference.

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Many sites are preparing protests to SOPA, most will be forced to shut down should SOPA pass.

As a quick primer, DNS (Domain Name System) is the Internet equivalent of a phone book (or Google/Facebook contact list for the younger generation) for websites, allowing people to reach websites at difficult to remember IP (Internet Protocol) addresses by typing in much simpler text based URLs. Take the PC Perspective website- pcper.com- for example; the website is hosted on a server that is then access by other computers using the IP address of "208.65.201.194." Humans; however cannot reasonably be expected to remember an IP address for every website they wish to visit, especially IPV6 addresses which are even longer numerical strings. Instead, people navigate using text based URLs. By typing a URL (universal resource locator) into a browser such as "pcper.com," the software then polls other computers on the Internet running DNS software to match the URL to an IP address. This IP is then used to connect to the website's server. Further, DNSSEC (the Domain Name System Security Extensions) is a standard and set of protocols backed by the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) that seeks to make looking up IP addresses more secure. DNSSEC seeks to protect look-up requests by using multiple servers to verify that the URL look-up returns the correct IP address. By securing DNS requests, users are protected from malicious redirects on compromised servers. Browsers will request IP addresses from multiple DNS servers to reduce the risk that they will receive a malicious IP address to a compromises site.

Security experts are opposed to the DNS blocking provisions in SOPA because the methods contradict the very secure environment that standards bodies have been working for years to implement. SOPA would require ISPs to filter every person's DNS requests (the URL typed into the browser), and to block and/or redirect any requests for websites accused of copyright infringement of US rights holders. This very action goes against DNSSEC and opens the door to a less secure Internet. If ISPs are forced to invalidate DNSSEC, browsers will be forced to poll otherwise untrusted servers and what is to stop so called hacking groups and others of malicious intent from compromising DNS servers oversees and redirecting legal and valid URLs to compromised web sites and drive by downloads of malware and trojan viruses? DNSSEC is not perfect; however, it was a big step in the right direction in keeping DNS look-up requests reasonably secure. SOPA tears down that wall with a reckless abandon for the well being of citizens. Stewart Baker, former first Assistant Secretary for Policy at DHS and former General Counsel of the NSA has stated that SOPA would result in "great damage to Internet security" by undermining the DNSSEC standard, and that SOPA was "badly in need of a knockout punch." Various other Internet experts have expressed further concerns that the DNS provisions in SOPA would greatly reduce the effectiveness of the DNS system and would greatly effect the integrity of the Internet including the CEO of (anti-virus company) ESET, the head of OpenDNS, and security experts Steve Crocker and Dan Kaminsky.

While the suspension of the DNS redirecting provisions is a good thing, such actions are too little and too late. And in one respect, by (for now) removing the DNS provisions, Congress may have made it that much easier to pass the bill into law. After all, it would be much easier to amend DNS blocking onto SOPA once it's law later than fight to get the foothold passed at all. From the perspective of an Internet user and content creator, I really do not want to see SOPA or PIPA pass (I've already ranted about the additional reasons why so I'll save you this time from having to read it again). While I really want to be excited about this DNS provision removal, it's just not anywhere near the same thing as stopping the entire bill. I can't shake the feeling that removing DNS blocking is only going to make it that much easier for Congress to pass SOPA, and for the Internet to become much less free. We hear about the death of PC gaming or any number of other proclamations made by content creators expressing themselves and exercising their rights to free speech every year, but PC gaming and most things are still around. Please, call and write you congressmen and implore them to vote against SOPA and PIPA so that the last proclamation I read about is not about the death of the Internet!

Microsoft Surpasses Yahoo In Search Usage For First Time

Subject: General Tech | January 12, 2012 - 09:13 AM |
Tagged: yahoo, search, microsoft, Internet

The Internet search market is a competitive space, as the more control over search a company has, the more money they can make from ad networks, analytic and tracking data, and having an influence over the development of the Internet. Google still remains handily in first place with a majority share of the search market. That's not anything surprising. Where competition heats up; however, is beneath Google where companies fight over the remaining 30% or so of the search market. Microsoft's Bing search engine is the latest major entrant to the market, and for the first time since it's launch it has surpassed Yahoo for the number 2 spot over the search market.

 

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Microsoft Bings Yahoo.  Also, transparency fail.

According to comScore, Bing and Microsoft's other websites reached 2.75 billion search requests in the United States during the month of December. This allowed Microsoft to slip past Yahoo, who's search engine fielded 2.65 billion requests. Microsoft now holds a 15.1 % share of US search traffic while Yahoo holds 14.5 %. To put those numbers in perspective, Google holds 65.9 % market share. This fight for a slice of the search market has come at a huge cost to Microsoft who's online division lost $7 billion USD in operating costs since June of 2008, according to CBS News.

Further, the article suggests that Microsoft and Yahoo will now continue to draft and pass each other for the next few years. More information can be found at the article linked above.  Have you used Bing, and will it ever have the oomph to take on Google? I personally use Google for the majority of the time but Bing is an okay backup. The image searching is fairly good. I predict that a Bing powered Windows search box (offer internet results from bing in Explorer if no files matching keywords are found, for example) would be interesting and help Microsoft to maintain a search market presence, but don't let the EU find out. What are your thoughts on Microsoft taking second place? Will they be able to maintain their position?

Source: CBS News

Proposed Internet Blackout Seeks To Convince Congress To Drop SOPA

Subject: General Tech | January 2, 2012 - 03:24 PM |
Tagged: terrible idea, tech, SOPA, Internet, bill

Let me say right off the bat, that personally I'm very much against the idea of SOPA due to how easily the system could be abused and the degree to which innovation would be stiffed all in the name of "stopping piracy." Fortunately, I'm not the only one against the Stopping Online Piracy Act, and many of the opponents include Internet giants Google, Facebook, Ebay, and Twitter.

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While money being paid to congressmen may speak louder than a few tech enthusiasts writing to voice their opposition, when no one is able to perform Google searches, update their Twitter, or check their Facebook you can bet that the thousands of Americans are going to go nuts and is surely to get the attention of the everyday-person.  And when those same sites show their users who to blame, people are going to react.  (Seriously, have you been around someone when their internet has gone out for a day and they haven't been able to get on Facebook!?).  According to CNET, various top Internet sites have an ace up their sleeve and are prepared to blackout their sites such that visitors will be greeted with censorship logos naming SOPA and the government for the lack of user content and users' social networking fix.

"When the home pages of Google.com, Amazon.com, Facebook.com, and their Internet allies simultaneously turn black with anti-censorship warnings that ask users to contact politicians about a vote in the U.S. Congress the next day on SOPA, you'll know they're finally serious" says Declan McCullagh.

If SOPA passes, there will effectively be no internet, so maybe it is time to institute some MAD (mutually assured destruction) by encouraging sites to go with, as Mr. McCullagh puts it, their nuclear option and motivate people to let Congress know just how bad of an idea SOPA is.  After all, if SOPA passes how would you get your YouTube laughs, or even more importantly your PCPer fix!?  Have you called your Congressmen yet (nudge, nudge)?

Source: CNET

Apple May Build New Data Center In Oregon

Subject: General Tech | December 4, 2011 - 07:28 PM |
Tagged: server farm, Internet, data center, cloud, apple

CNet is reporting that Apple is currently considering constructing a new data center outside of Prineville, Oregon. The 31 Megawatt facility would be built on 160 acres outside of the small Oregon town and would join other prominent tech companies’ data centers including those of Facebook, Amazon, and Google.

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According to Oregon Live, it is the area’s mild climate (meaning lower cooling costs compared to naturally warmer climates in addition to all the heat from servers), low electricity costs, and certain “rural enterprise zones” that exempt computers and equipment from normal business property taxes. They state that such exemptions could save Apple several million dollars.

Although Apple has so far declined to comment, city officials have commented that the company looking to purchase the land for the data center codenamed “Maverick” appears to be serious about going through with the purchase. Two major issues stand in the way of Apple building a large data center in the area, however. The company is concerned about tax issues against their intangible assets. Due to Apple putting a great deal of stock (er, the other kind :P) in their brand name, trademarks, and patents, they could face further taxes in the way Oregon’s State Department of Revenue taxes data centers. The largest issue; however, lies in power concerns. In order to supply enough electricity to the various data centers in the area (including Apples should they indeed be building one), Bonneville Power Administration would need to upgrade the Ponderosa Substation, construct an additional substation, and add further transmission lines. This is because the utility company’s transmission capacity to the area is currently nearly maxed out. A 31 Megawatt data center would consume enough electricity to power approximately 22,000 homes and that kind of capacity is not available in an area where towns are a fifth of that size.

The upgrade to the areas electrical subsystems would cost nearly $26.5 million and would take almost three years. Member Services Director for the Central Electric Cooperative, Jeff Beaman, believes that after the appropriate upgrades, a new data center “seems doable.”

Whether this elusive “Maverick” is indeed Apple, and whether the company decides to build a data center remains to be seen; however, it is certainly plausible. Now that Apple is moving more services to the Internet, and the increased adoption of IOS devices thanks to the iPhone being available on all the major US carriers, the company would definitely benefit from having another facility on the other side of the country as their current North Carolina based data center for performance as well as redundancy and stability reasons. What are your thoughts on the reports, is Apple looking to put more cloud (server horsepower) in your icloud?

Source: Oregon Live

Too good to be true? Truth goggles for your browser

Subject: General Tech | November 29, 2011 - 10:14 AM |
Tagged: Internet, fact check

Definately falling into the "I'll beleive it when I see it" category is an extension developed by an MIT student for his Masters thesis which is intended to check the accuracy of information on the web.  Specifically, with the help of Politifact it will be checking the accuracy of political statements.  The big problem is going to be the quality of the facts database it checks against, as you can only be as good as the database so if it gets out of date or starts to lean one way or the other it might do more harm than good.  On the other hand we can hope that this might make people a little more leery of getting their information from only one source and not doing even a bit of fact checking on their own.  Take a look at the full story over at The Register.

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Thanks Neiman Journalism Lab!

"A student at MIT’s Media Lab is developing a browser plug-in that can check the accuracy of information posted online, and may use it to monitor political speeches for untruths.

For his master’s thesis, Dan Schultz – who was recently named a 2011 Knight-Mozilla Fellow – came up with the idea for “truth goggles” while talking to a fact checker at Truthsquad, who was explaining that the principle problem with fact checking was getting people access to the skinny. Schultz then came up with the idea as a way to correct incorrect information, but more importantly to get people to think critically about what they are reading."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

 

Source: The Register

Google Launches New Google + Pages for Brands and Businesses

Subject: General Tech | November 8, 2011 - 01:19 AM |
Tagged: google, Internet, social networking

If you've spent any time using Google's new Plus (+) social network for the past few months, the lack of business and brand pages has likely made itself readily apparent.  While Google has been working on a method for allowing businesses and brands to join in on the Google + fun for some time now, it has been in a very limited capacity.  Until yesterday, that is.  The big G has finally taken the velvet ropes and training wheels off of the business pages, and opened up a new Pages feature to everyone.  What this means for you, fine readers, is that we are finally (unfortunately I was never able to pester Google enough to allow us beta access ;) ) able to fill that small void in your Google + world with your very own Official PC Perspective Google + Page!

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Now do you see why I'm excited?  It's PC Per on your Google + (what could be better?)!

What the new business pages bring to the table is the ability for cool things that are not people to finally join the social network, obviously.  The Pages are then able to represent the brand in much the same capacity as a person is able to interact with the service by adding and following others, starting and joining hangouts, and sharing text, photos, videos, and links with people in the group's circle(s).  Where the business pages differentiate themselves from a normal user is in the new +Direct Connect service.  This allows people to jump straight to any brand (with a Google+ Page) they want simply by searching Google with a plus (+) sign followed by the name of the brand they want to connect with.  For example, users are able to jump straight to the Angry Birds page by typing "+Angry Birds" into a Google search.  Pretty neat.  The new feature is only available for certain brands right now but will roll out to every Google + page shortly.

Vic Gundotra, the Senior VP of Engineering stated that although the Google + Pages are now live, they still have a slew of new features to implement before they will be complete and the programmers can get some rest.  "Stay Tuned," he ends.  What sort of additional functionality would you like to see in Pages?  Feel free to head over to the PC Perspective page and let us know what you think!

Source: Google

Google Updates Chrome With Streamlined New Tab Page

Subject: General Tech | October 26, 2011 - 09:33 PM |
Tagged: Internet, google, chrome, browser

Google has been playing around with the "new tab" page in the beta and development builds of Chrome to streamline the interface, and the company has recently rolled one such update into the latest stable release of the popular browser.

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The new tab page is the page that you are presented with when first firing up Chrome or hitting the new tab button(s).  The new interface is much more streamlined than the old one, and has rearranged several items.  The old interface showed everything all on one canvas; however, the updated new tab page has separated the most visited tabs from the Chrome Apps which now have their own page.  Users are able to navigate between the most visited tabs page and applications page by clicking on the tabs at the bottom of the screen or moving the mouse to the side of the browser window and using the arrows that appear upon mouse-over.

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Further, where the recently visited/closed web pages horizontal list resided below the most visited tabs on the old interface, in the new interface Google has decided to hide the recently used list.  It can now be accessed by clicking on a menu item in the bottom right corner of the browser window.

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Google has also made it a bit easier to organize applications.  You can now click and drag applications around to organize them.  When clicking and holding an application, a new recycle bin option appears in the lower right corner of the window that will allow you to remove applications.  Removing is now a matter of clicking and dragging items into the "Remove from Chrome" area.  This remove / uninstall feature is also available when clicking and holding on the most visited tabs on the tabs page.  Finally, the various icons have been given a slight makeover and now are presented with a shiny mouse-over effect.

Google has provided a quick video overview of the interface changes.

Personally, after playing around with the new interface for a few hours now I prefer it to the old way of doing things as it allows for larger "most visited" icons due to having a greater percentage of the Chrome window area available to it (as opposed to the old interface where it was a bit crowded and things tended to fight to attention).  Further, I rarely use the applications, so having them hidden away in their own section is okay with me.  It definitely seems to have been (at least slightly) by tablets and touch interfaces; however, unlike Netflix's recent tablet inspired redesign i actually like the improvements Google has made.  What are your thoughts on the improvements?

Source: Google

Google Music Will Allow Users to Share Music With Friends

Subject: General Tech | October 21, 2011 - 12:30 AM |
Tagged: store, music, mp3, itunes, Internet, google

Google seems to be slowly surrounding itself in our online lives, and their soon to be released Google Music Store is sure to ensnare users even more tightly (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing). The company’s music service has been in beta for a few months now and currently operates as a virtual music locker and allows users to upload their music collection to Google’s servers so that they can stream their music to computers and mobile devices. Unfortunately, the lack of a store required users to buy their music elsewhere and rip or download and then upload their music to Google Music which was kind of a pain. A store is on the way; however, so not all hope is lost. To make the upcoming music store exciting, the company hinted at a mysterious “twist” that would accompany the launch of the MP3 purchase and download service.

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According to Business Insider, a source who claims to be in the know has stated that the “twist” in the Google Music Store is not only a twist tie but is a huge space warping, planet sized twist that will allow users to share their purchased music with their friends and family. This is a huge leap into the current decade for the music industry, and is sure to be a popular feature for Google. Google is allegedly paying hefty upfront payment advances to the music industry for the rights to allow users to share music with others. It seems that streaming subscription services like Spotify and Zune have been successful in softening the outlook of the RIAA after all, at least to the point that allowing users to share their own music is something the music industry will at least consider for the right price (I apologize for the ire/tongue in cheek nature of this particular paragraph).

Unfortunately, the source was not able to detail exactly how this sharing service would work, but will likely involve the ability to share a link with a Google (+?) contact or over email that would then allow the recipient to stream the song for a limited amount of time (say 30 days?). Google being Google, the process may require or “suggest” that the user set up a Google Music account in order to listen to shared music, and thus get new users foot in the door and hopefully buy music to help Google overcome all the RIAA fees. In a further bit of bad news; while the large music labels are able to (bully) their way into charging for the rights to share music, smaller indie labels and independent artists will not be getting any piece of the Google money pie for sharing their music.

Have you gotten a chance to check out the Google Music beta yet? Personally, the sharing ability will be nice and will definitely push me into using the service a bit more than I do now, especially if I can coerce some of my friends away from Itunes so that we can share the new music we find with each other.

Comcast Launches Low Cost Internet Essentials Program

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2011 - 07:32 AM |
Tagged: Internet, Comcast, computer

This week saw the national launch of Comcast’s internet connectivity program for low income families. As a result of the Comcast-NBC merger, the company was required to create a low cost option for families in the US to connect to the internet. Dubbed the Internet Essentials program, it is undoubtedly a good thing to come out of the deal despite the more nebulous aspects.

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The Internet Essentials program entails a $9.95 plus tax per month cable connection with 1.5 Mbps download speeds and 384 Kbps upload speeds, which is a good value compared to more expensive DSL or slower dial up connections. In addition to the Internet connection, families who sign up will receive a voucher through Acer or Dell for a computer in the amount of 149.99 plus tax. While specific specifications of the computer have not been given, Comcast describes it as a netbook computer with Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and the Windows 7 Starter operating system. It may also be bundled with productivity software when available. Families will also have access to free training materials in print, online, or in person. The service will be available throughout the Comcast service area for eligible families. In order to qualify for the service, families must have at least one student eligible for free lunches through the National School Lunch Program, must not have any overdue Comcast bills or unreturned equipment, and the household must not have had Comcast service for the past 90 days. Unfortunately, those families with students who only qualify for reduced price (but not free) lunches will not qualify for the Internet Essentials program.

The ISP will begin taking customers starting in the 2011 to 2012 school year, and will continue taking on new customers for three years following the initial roll out. Customers who are already using the Internet Essentials service will continue to be eligible for it so long as at least one child is eligible for free lunches, they do not close their Comcast account, and they do not violate the company’s residential ISP service agreement.

I for one am glad to see Comcast offering this service as the Internet is becoming increasingly important for students as a learning, collaboration, and productivity tool. Students can now be on a more level playing field in their school work, and this is great news, even if Comcast was forced to offer it as a condition of their merger approval. If you are interested in or know a family that might benefit from the Internet Essentials service, please head over to the company’s website or call 1-855-8-INTERNET (1-855-846-8376) for an application.

Source: Comcast

US Pentagon To Test Cyber Warfare Tactics Using Internet Simulator

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | June 20, 2011 - 12:24 AM |
Tagged: simulator, networking, Internet, cyber warfare

Our world is the host to numerous physical acts of aggression every day, and until a few years ago those acts have remained in the (relatively) easily comprehensible physical world. However, the millions of connected servers and clients that overlay the numerous nations around the world have rapidly become host to what is known as “cyber warfare,” which amounts to subversion and attacks against another people or nation through electronic means-- by attacking its people or its electronic and Internet-based infrastructure.

While physical acts of aggression are easier to examine (and gather evidence) and attribute to the responsible parties, attacks on the Internet are generally the exact opposite. Thanks to the anonymity of the Internet, it is much more difficult to determine the originator of the attack. Further, the ethical debate of whether physical actions in the form of military action is appropriate in response to online attacks comes into question.

It seems as though the Pentagon is seeking the answers to the issues of attack attribution and appropriate retaliation methods through the usage of an Internet simulator dubbed the National Cyber Range. According to Computer World, two designs for the simulator are being constructed by Lockheed Martin with a $30.8 million USD grant and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory with a $24.7 million USD grant provided by DARPA.

The National Cyber Range is to be designed to mimic human behavior in response to various DefCon and InfoCon (Informational Operations Condition) levels. It will allow the Pentagon and authorized parties to study the effectiveness of war plan execution as it simulates offensive and defensive actions on the scale of nation-backed levels of cyber warfare. Once the final National Cyber Range design has been chosen by DARPA from the two competing projects (by Johns Hopkins and Lockheed Martin), the government would be able to construct a toolkit that would allow them to easily transfer and conduct cyber warfare testing from any facility.

 

Image cortesy Kurtis Scaletta via Flickr Creative Commons.