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Old 03-26-2018, 05:55 PM   #1
MirceaKitsune
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Open Source versus mandatory website filtering


Keep in mind this thread will touch on a few social and political subjects, although it's intended to be a technical discussion as well. I tried finding more info on the matter, however my search engine didn't help a lot. I believe this new threat is an issue we need to start being aware of and ready to combat in case it becomes a thing.

I wanted to discuss the subject of censorship by means of hardware level filtering: How technically possible is it, how could it work, and what other software (especially an OS like Linux) can do to combat it.

Lawmakers have recently began toying with a new Orwellian idea in the department of website blocking: Instead of making ISP's block undesired sites, make it mandatory for the user to have censorship software installed on their devices, by forcing providers to make sure the owner of a device can't uninstall their filter without authorization. This can be done in one of two ways: Either a hidden filter being part of the preinstalled operating system, or a special censorship chip being installed on the motherboard of every smartphone laptop and desktop sold in stores. I wanted to discuss both methods here.

One of the first instances of this idea is a rather mindblowing proposal, which comes from an even more bizarre person: Apparently there's a guy called Chris Sevier, who has been known for doing some pretty weird things such as trying to marry his laptop in order to protest same-sex marriage. He seems to be running all around the US throwing a piece of legislation in every state... each time his law is rejected, he comes back and shoves it in again. His idea is making it mandatory for everyone who sells computers to install filtering software which the user can't remove unless they pay a 20$ fee to the state. The reason? Why to fight online porn of course, which is apparently a thing that's still going on in the year 2018! His law recently came under fire for using the name Elizabeth Smart, who I understand is a sexual abuse victim... Elizabeth recently filed a Cease & Desist order against the law for abusively using her name in it. The discussion already included mentions of a "hardware lock", basically meaning censorship software embedded into the motherboard.

Despite the ridiculousness of the issue in cause and not even lawmakers taking him seriously (yet), I believe this sort of thing should not be underestimated nor taken lightly. If this mentality gains ground, we're likely headed toward a dark future where it could be a crime to even own an unlocked device without government mandated software being installed on it. Imagine living in a world where you have to take your computer into a back alley, past which a shady hacker will ask you for money in order to remove the censorship chip from your newly purchased motherboard so that you have full access to the internet again. It gets even worse: Such a push may lead to mandating that operating systems themselves include filters, criminalizing any OS that dares to respect the freedom of its users by not filtering content by force... in fact this may lead to the first case of open-source software being deemed illegal and whole Linux distributions having their websites blocked or rendered uninstallable by means of vendor lock. This approach to censorship is likely to grow as the decentralized internet arrives (Substratum, Zeronet, IPFS), which will be impossible to control by filtering any given IP address due to the P2P nature of those systems... once the darker parts of the deep web inevitably find their way in as well (livestream murders, child pornography, drug stores, etc) people and politicians will start screaming the typical "something must be done" rhetoric, with local filtering on our devices being the only technical means to censor such a network.

Let's get into the technical aspect which is what interests me the most. First of all, let's discuss the scenario in which the filter is an application running on the system (like any process but with administrator rights): In the case of Windows and iOS, I'm confident they'd have no trouble convincing crooked old Microsoft and Apple to embed censorship mechanisms into their OS... but what about Linux? Apart from the fact that no serious distribution would stand for this, it's technically impossible to have a forcefully installed program! Linux is modular, meaning that every base component is an independent application communicating with other system components, as well as being installed as its own rpm / deb package: Plasma / GNOME handles the desktop, Pulse handles the audio, X11 handles the display, etc. Each of those modules can be installed or uninstalled at will, as well as replaced with any alternative the user desires... therefore you can't block any user capable of running the "sudo" command from uninstalling any library from their system. At most they can demand that the kernel or networking stack implement it, but even then that component is FOSS so anyone can remove the filter from the code and share their fork somewhere else. In this regard, their only option is to basically label Linux as criminal software unless it gives up its open-source nature and hosts software mandated by the government, which even I don't believe could possibly be allowed to happen.

I worry the bigger risk comes from censorship at hardware level; There may come a day when components such as the BIOS, IME (Intel Management Engine) or other chips on the mainboard would be capable of running hidden software at CPU / memory level, which analyzes not just the network but even the memory and stuff on your disk: If it doesn't like what it finds, it can kill any process or even delete data from your hard drive without you having the ability to stop it! In this dark scenario, the OS and / or individual applications will have to somehow protect themselves from this chip snooping in on them and / or taking action. The only way I can think of would be using encryption: Everything on the drive and in the memory would have to be encrypted, using a key that's somehow out of the reach of the censor chip... that way, even if the chip has access to the HDD or RAM, it can't tell what the data it's reading is. Of course the chip may as well kill any process that doesn't let it access its data, so that would be a problem.

I'm curious what your thoughts and opinions are on this. Do you believe things will ever get here, and we'll one day see operating systems or hardware manufacturers being forced by law to implement internet filtering software? If that were to happen, what could a free OS like Linux do to fight it... both in terms of refusing to embed mandatory filters without being caught, as well as fighting parallel systems built into the motherboard designed to block content? I know the thoughts I presented here are worst case scenarios and unlikely to happen unless the government truly goes bonkers, however these are very scary prospects and I believe we need to be prepared to defend the free internet from them.
 
Old 03-27-2018, 07:47 AM   #2
sundialsvcs
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More or less, I see the influence of people like George Soros in dystopian visions like this one. As you recall, early on he decided that Hillary Clinton should be the next POTUS, and he spent several billion of his copious Dollars to make it so. Only to find that he didn't control the message at all Ė that he couldn't decide what would and would not be advertised, or what "announcers" would and would not say. Plenty of people in Washington, DC are still in denial about this, and they openly blame the Internet in the name of the Russians ... the latter being DC's standard go-to boogerman. They very much want the days when "Uncle Walter" said, "and that's the way it is,ô" and everybody believed him without question.

But, you can never put a genie back into a jar. It will be much harder to stop the Internet from continuing to become an instrument of mass surveillance.
 
Old 03-27-2018, 09:15 AM   #3
enorbet
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Unfortunately the ultimate solution to this sort of travesty is at best that of assuring that every child grows up educated in the values of tolerance in the Social Contract that makes Civilization a compelling reason to give up a smidgen of one's freedom to reap the commensurate benefits but only that privacy that actually affects society. Then of course, each has to be convinced that along with that a clear understanding that person A's private behavior is not a threat to person B's beliefs. It is highly unlikely this will ever happen since it is all too common that large numbers of Us practice the "Art" of pointing fingers at others to make themselves feel better and/or go unnoticed themselves.... that and of course the whole issue of Evangelism that seeks a truly boring and less productive Cookie Cutter species.

Until such unlikely turn in evolution, all I, or anyone else can do, is fight such legislation at every turn and for some of us build our own PCs from carefully selected hardware and employ solid security practices. It promises to be a very long war.
 
Old 03-27-2018, 12:03 PM   #4
DavidMcCann
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As you say, the people advocating this nonsense are not getting any sympathy from the legislators. Governments can go "completely bonkers", but it's more likely to happen in the USA so I shan't be worrying.

PS Am I the only one to find post #2 completely OT? But very characteristic!
 
Old 03-27-2018, 01:03 PM   #5
sundialsvcs
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidMcCann View Post
PS Am I the only one to find post #2 completely OT? But very characteristic!
David, you're not a refugee from perlmonks.org, are you? Anyway – if you've got an issue with any of my posts, that's what private messages are for, and I now solicit welcome yours. I fundamentally believe that posters should never be a topic of public conversation in any forum, anywhere, for any reason.

- - - - -

I wasn't trying to be expressly political when I mentioned folks like George Soros. I simply meant to observe that the Internet has become an instrument of "disruptive change" to a deeply-set political order that is entirely accustomed to the idea that money, if possessed in stupendous amounts, can buy absolutely anything you want. But this didn't happen, and they're looking for scapegoats. They've finally realized that the Internet has become an unconstrained political force that money can't buy.

Their concern really isn't "the Russians," who did nothing more than buy advertisements and run "bots" much as anyone else might do who was interested in a future political outcome. They want to regain control of the message, as they once had. So, they'd love to close down the Internet. They easily bought-off the FCC: that was child's play to them. They'd buy-out Facebook and Twitter and shut them both down barely understanding anything more than the fact that they can probably amass enough money with which to do so. Working against so many of these people is the very simple fact that they are old. They don't comprehend what is facing them now, but they think they do.

They've lost it and will never get it back. Nevertheless, they will try. "Hell hath no fury like a billionaire scorned."

Last edited by sundialsvcs; 03-27-2018 at 01:10 PM.
 
Old 03-27-2018, 02:24 PM   #6
MirceaKitsune
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidMcCann View Post
As you say, the people advocating this nonsense are not getting any sympathy from the legislators. Governments can go "completely bonkers", but it's more likely to happen in the USA so I shan't be worrying.

PS Am I the only one to find post #2 completely OT? But very characteristic!
Thankfully today has proven this to be the case, right on the legal initiative I mentioned in the first post:

http://www.providencejournal.com/new...-by-ri-sponsor

At the same time, we're already seeing websites going down due to the misguided new law SESTA / FOSTA which now forces admins to censor their sites if they suspect anyone is advertising prostitution (even ones that have nothing to do with such). This sort of thing truly feels like a dystopian scifi movie coming to life... something the Trump regime had no trouble achieving.

This is why we need an OS like Linux which isn't in the hands of anyone and which people are able to fork... then a decentralized internet architecture such as Substratum and IPFS, both of which are wonderful and extremely promising projects! But once they get there, the state will lose even more control... and once they lose more control, they'll grow even more desperate. No government can fine 100.000 folks across the planet for seeding an unmoderated website, the same way they can fine 100 Facebook employees for not moderating whatever they deem "illegal speech" or "indecent material"... so their last desperate kick will likely be to declare the software itself illegal, or mandate that all hardware manufacturers implement a censorship chipset that prevents applications not approved by some institution from running. Thankfully I don't see this being technically feasible, as it may require a whole new CPU architecture designed with unacceptable security flaws and slowed down to a crawl.

Last edited by MirceaKitsune; 03-27-2018 at 02:26 PM.
 
Old 03-28-2018, 12:25 PM   #7
DavidMcCann
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sundialsvcs View Post
"the Russians," who did nothing more than buy advertisements and run "bots" much as anyone else might do who was interested in a future political outcome.
I think the Russians (or even the "Russians") did a bit more than that!
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberwarfare_by_Russia
It makes sense for them: they can't afford a new aircraft carrier, but cyber warfare is both cheaper and more use.
 
Old 03-28-2018, 01:02 PM   #8
ondoho
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sundialsvcs View Post
if you've got an issue with any of my posts, that's what private messages are for, and I now solicit welcome yours. I fundamentally believe that posters should never be a topic of public conversation in any forum, anywhere, for any reason.
i completely disagree. i belive in the good of making issues public.
how can you even separate criticism of you (the poster) and what you write (the public conversation)?
and no, this was NOT an "ad hominem" attack or some such.
only someone who doesn't want their polished opinion tarnished (i.e. be criticized) could devise such a "rule".
 
Old 03-28-2018, 01:50 PM   #9
jsbjsb001
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidMcCann View Post
...
PS Am I the only one to find post #2 completely OT?...
No, you're not. I'm still trying to understand what the topic has to do with Hillary and the Russians.

@sundialsvcs,

Do you honestly expect everyone else to just go along with the idea that the Russians are just the "innocent" victims, and the "West" is just picking on them?

I'm sorry to break it to you sundial, but I for one do NOT believe that for even just half a second. And it doesn't look like I'm the only one in that camp either. You can't seriously believe that Russia anymore than any other country just acts out of the kindness of their heart!? They HAVE their OWN interests as well sundial. What makes you think that those "interests" align with the interests of the USA?? (or most other country's for that matter?) If you wish to believe different, that's up to you, but don't expect everyone else is going to be fooled by that non-sense.
 
Old 03-29-2018, 09:44 AM   #10
sundialsvcs
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I don't want to turn this into a [USA-Politics] thread, but I'm beginning to suspect that a whole lot of this has to do with natural gas, which Russia has in abundance and which it is now selling to China without involving the US Dollar. No, I don't think that any country is sacrosanct – most especially including my own. But, I do think that Russia is being tapped-out to play its usual "big bad booger-man" role it it fills in the West's habitual view of the world's geo-politics. And they are positively insistent that "the Cold War is not over ... the nukes might start dropping from the [Russian ...] sky at any moment." (Unless you approve ##CLASSIFIED## more dollars to build more "protection.")

Does Russia need a "cold war?" No. Do they think they're in one? No. Do the military industrialists need a never-ending "cold war," complete with the threat of nukes? Yes.

And I frankly find it suspicious that Britain instantly proclaimed that it knew exactly what happened to that spy and his daughter, and has refused to cooperate with any objective investigation of the same. Also that so many nations "instantaneously" followed suit. There are a whole lot of questions here that I don't think have foregone conclusions. Like it or not, we do not live in a world where every substance is only where it is supposed to be, and where no one else on earth also knows how to make it.

But – if people seriously want to pursue this – this should be the topic of a separate and appropriately-titled thread.

My on-topic opinion remains that political power-brokers were caught off guard by the fact that the Internet allowed people to form their own opinions, and that it still allows the US President(!) to "Tweet."

Last edited by sundialsvcs; 03-29-2018 at 09:03 PM.
 
Old 03-29-2018, 11:04 AM   #11
Trihexagonal
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MirceaKitsune View Post
I wanted to discuss the subject of censorship by means of hardware level filtering: How technically possible is it, how could it work, and what other software (especially an OS like Linux) can do to combat it.

*snip*

I'm curious what your thoughts and opinions are on this. Do you believe things will ever get here, and we'll one day see operating systems or hardware manufacturers being forced by law to implement internet filtering software?
I spoke with someone recently who speculated that 10 years from now we will only be able to obtain "regulated" locked down and tracked consumer tablets. That all all "open" computer hardware will be classed as illegal contraband.

I knew stockpiling all these vintage Thinkpads was a good idea. I keep older versions of my Operating Systems, too.

Seriously though, I could live without the internet if it comes down to it and still have use for computers. It's too Orwellian for me already.
 
Old 03-29-2018, 07:49 PM   #12
ntubski
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MirceaKitsune View Post
Lawmakers have recently began toying with a new Orwellian idea in the department of website blocking: Instead of making ISP's block undesired sites, make it mandatory for the user to have censorship software installed on their devices, by forcing providers to make sure the owner of a device can't uninstall their filter without authorization. This can be done in one of two ways: Either a hidden filter being part of the preinstalled operating system, or a special censorship chip being installed on the motherboard of every smartphone laptop and desktop sold in stores.
This seems completely unbelievable, but apparently it's actually a real thing: http://www.scstatehouse.gov/sess122_...bills/3003.htm

Quote:
Section 16-15-500. This article may be cited as the 'Human Trafficking Prevention Act'.

Section 16-15-510. (A) A business, manufacturer, wholesaler, or individual that manufactures, distributes, or sells a product that makes content accessible on the Internet is prohibited from doing business in this State unless the product contains an active and operating digital blocking capability that renders any obscenity, as defined in Section 16-15-305, inaccessible.
Quote:
Originally Posted by MirceaKitsune View Post
In the case of Windows and iOS, I'm confident they'd have no trouble convincing crooked old Microsoft and Apple to embed censorship mechanisms into their OS
I imagine (perhaps too optimistically) that companies might balk at having to do things like

Quote:
(1) make reasonable and ongoing efforts to ensure that the digital content blocking capability functions properly, including establishing a reporting mechanism such as a website or call center to allow for a consumer to report unblocked obscene content or report blocked content that is not obscene;
That sounds fairly expensive.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jsbjsb001 View Post
I'm still trying to understand what the topic has to do with Hillary and the Russians.

@sundialsvcs,

Do you honestly expect everyone else to just go along with the idea that the Russians...
I suggest against encouraging sundialscvs attempts at derailing the thread with talk about "Russians" etc.
 
Old 03-30-2018, 12:18 PM   #13
DavidMcCann
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ntubski View Post
This seems completely unbelievable, but apparently it's actually a real thing
Why am I not surprised that a bill to block obscenity has surfaced in South Carolina? Well, I suppose to might have been Tennessee! Note how the bill is cunningly described as a measure against human trafficking, just as acts to facilitate discrimination are described as being to protect religious freedom. People accuse me of US-bashing, but some USians do lead with their chins!
 
Old 04-19-2018, 05:00 PM   #14
rob.rice
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Originally Posted by MirceaKitsune View Post

I wanted to discuss the subject of censorship by means of hardware level filtering: How technically possible is it, how could it work, and what other software (especially an OS like Linux) can do to combat it.
there is no need to put it in hardware

M$ will do it just by being asked
the U.S.government could just have it added to systemd in one of it's contracts with Red HAT
 
Old 04-19-2018, 05:33 PM   #15
MirceaKitsune
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Originally Posted by rob.rice View Post
there is no need to put it in hardware

M$ will do it just by being asked
the U.S.government could just have it added to systemd in one of it's contracts with Red HAT
Doesn't stop anyone from installing systemd from another software repository, recompiling it themselves if they're experienced enough, using a fork of Red Hat that would quickly be created in outrage by the community, or simply switching to another Linux distribution that refuses to bow down. It's why I worry they may someday try to criminalize Linux or hide censorship software in firmware instead, even if that much seems unlikely even to me.
 
  


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