Swatting bugs with SCUDs

Crazy-Long Hacker Sentence Upheld (by Kevin Poulsen aka Dark Dante),71358-0.html

Brian Salcedo and Adam Botbyl, ages 23 and 22, have been sentenced 9 years for breaking into a Lowe’s grocery store WiFi network and snooping for credit card information with a custom-modified version of a commercial transaction auditing tool, tcpcredit.

This sentence is ridiculous. 9 years for friggin network intrusion? True it’s not a first offense conviction, but this poor 23 year old kid’s life is ruined – not by his actions but by his “justice” system.

He connected to a publicly accessible WiFi network! He tuned his stereo into KLOW public access radio – all Lowe’s, all the time. The manager of the store should get 9 years in jail for putting thousands of customers’ private data at stake! But no, it’s not grandma’s fault she cooled her pie on the window, it’s the dog’s fault for smelling and eating it.

Do you know how easy it is to get credit card information? Dumpster diving behind the store would yield more numbers in 5 minutes than 24-hours of WiFi packet capture. This is a crime of curiosity. This is REAL hacking – modifying publicly accessible resources to see how functionality can be extended. This kid should go directly to college, do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

Oh no, a kid knows the TCP stack. That’s a classified protocol only used on private intranets. Obviously he is a TERRORIST conspiring with Gary fucking McKinnon to reveal the government’s secret plot to bury free energy at Lowes superstores. Lock him up for a third of his life and throw away the key – his unquenchable thirst for computer science will be worse than 40 Nagasakis in a dairy case.

The Michigan justice system is run by old men who are amazed at the lifelike puppets wiggling inside their televisions.

Freedom downtime.


The salty sea of software

I’ve been reading a lot lately about digital entertainment piracy, and I have some insights to share. A wake-up call to the games industry is overdue.

I read a poignant response by law professor Michael Geist on a CRIA (Canadian RIAA) study identifying the demographics of the the worst offenders of music piracy. Geist notes that the group that pirates the most music (18-24) also purchases the second-largest quantity (after 13-17 year-olds). He subsequently postulates that music “piracy” is in fact an effective, free marketing tool – send a song to a friend and she is that much more likely to buy it.

Of course, there are technological differences between music and game piracy:
– Music is downgraded in quality to make it more easily downloadable, while games are usually duplicated bit-for-bit.
– You can download any song from an album but you can’t download any level of a game.

Then again, thanks to copy protection measures, pirated products are far more versatile than storebought originals:
– You can make as many copies on whatever format you wish.
– You don’t need to keep the original medium in the drive.

And due to the marketplace, games are particularly attractive targets for piracy:
– Software refunds are rare, so if an intense level not featured in the demo runs slowly on your PC you’re not out $60.
– Game demos often use the same copy protection as the final version to thwart crackers.
– Game prices are initially inflated.

That last point is one that is very important to me. I admit I downloaded a cracked copy of Half Life 2 after hearing many tumultuous tales of woe about Steam. Half the reason I play single-player games is because my internet connection is unstable, so the hassle of remote authentication before each session wasn’t worth $70 (Canadian) to me. I adored the game and played it over and over, feeling a little twinge of guilt about my crime. I bought the game when the price came down, as I’ve done with Dungeon Siege and its sequel, Unreal 2, NHL 2006, and countless other titles.

I often wait months to play (or pay for) anticipated titles until the second-hand price is palatable. Is it so wrong to pay a lower price later on, “retroactively”? I want to vote with my pocketbook on what I feel is a fair price, at the risk of breaking the law in the interim.

And even when I buy games nowadays I usually don’t get the sense of value that I used to. My old Wing Commander box came with a clever manual designed like a space-naval (ships, not bellybuttons) magazine as well as huge detailed blueprint posters of allied starships. The old Infocom text adventure Wishbringer came with a glow-in-the-dark rock, a creepy tattered envelope (the protagonist is a postal worker) containing a letter from one of the game characters, and a rudamentary map. Half Life 2 came with 6 CDs in paper sleeves and a quick reference card, and my friend’s Civ 4 manual is a PDF (I hear only a limited number of first edition copies had no printed manual, but more compete packages cost the same).

I think pirates would feel worse about their crimes if they felt better about their legal purchases. Prices have barely changed in 15 years even though boxes are smaller and media are lighter and cheaper to duplicate. Boxed bonuses and even printed manuals are almost extinct. Publishers punish their paying customers more than thieves with crippling copy protection.

To combat rampant movie piracy in China, publishers have begun selling “light” versions of DVDs (with no extras) for about 20% of their former cost. Games have started doing something similar with various collectors editions, but an extra-expensive alternative won’t coerce many to buy the regular priced version any faster. If physically owning a game was more meaningful to the consumer, more consumers would consume!

Conversely, I just preordered and downloaded Half Life 2: Episode 1. This expansion is only $20 but it’s about the same price per entertainment hour as the boxed copy of the original. I can’t really feel cheated before playing the game (especially considering the 10% preorder discount) but I simply don’t understand why they price isn’t lower. There’s no box, discs, manuals, or shipping.

PC games will evolve somewhere along the chain or die. The industry needs better packaged products and\or cheaper digital distribution, and more respect for its paying customers. I can’t really supply solutions, only symptoms. I hope the up-and-ups of PC gaming take note from larger industries that you can only pump your lifeblood so hard until an artery bursts.


A Cist Rust Test (TTC Sues Artist)

So the beloved Toronto Transit Commission is demanding a local artist, John Martz, remove an odd interpretation of the Toronto subway map from his website. TTC lawyers state that the playful map is in violation of TTC trademarks and may confuse riders enroute to Bathurst Station when all they find is “Butt Rash”.

Yuh huh.

As Canadians don’t we have a certain freedom of speech? A right to parody? But more importantly…

The TTC is a public service funded in part by local tax dollars. In fact, the TTC put up posters for many months on all their subway cars and buses shaming the federals for being the only branch of government who had not opened their coffers to assist the transit’s ever-rising costs. Now that they have the money they’re spending it on lawyers?

How much of my $2.50 fare goes into lawyers’ pockets? How much of my GST? How much of my PST? How much of my income tax? How many times do I have to pay to take the TTC? And what am I paying for? What of residents of other provinces who will never ride the TTC but pay for it just the same?

Well, if it’s illegal to post the map with TTC logos then it must be okay to do everything but, right? So click this logo-deficient thumbnail to download the original map (PDF) from a free internet cache.


In case Coral cache is down, as it sometimes is, here’s a link to a page that may or may not have very pertinent information about how or how not to easily and directly download a certain alleged map. But I don’t know nuthin about nuthin so don’t go suing me.