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Can Encryption Be Outlawed? Water Cannot Flow Uphill

posted Apr 2, 2017, 1:16 PM by Tomas Svoboda   [ updated Apr 2, 2017, 1:17 PM ]

After the recent terrorist attack in London it was reported that the criminal has communicated with someone shortly before using the encrypting program WhatsApp on his mobile phone.  The encryption made it impossible for the investigators to inspect the communication. Soon afterwards the British Home Secretary with the unoriginal notion that encryption on the internet should be made illegal.

Yes we all would like the police investigator to know all about what the criminal is doing. However can that be achieved without substantially destroying the worl we live in?

Is it a new idea?

It is not: In the 1990‘s Phil Zimmerman in the U.S. – on his own, without any professional backing – created the magnificent encryption software PGP enabling any PC to encrypt any content in a very strong way – and made the software available to the whole world. A discussion sprang up what is more important: the increase in freedom and privacy of decent people (some of them under oppressive regimes) or the risk of abuse by organised crime. The U.S. government tried to prosecute Phil under some guise for several years but failed. It effectively admitted that encryption and secrecy is a legitimate function and the governments can do nothing about it.

In the meantime several similar cases have transpired where investigators and spies of different sorts longed for the encryption functions used by their suspects to be somehow   penetratable but with no success.

How secure is contemporary encryption?

Today‘s encryption technologies available on most computers or phones are way more powerful that those that decided the outcomes of World War II. Any student of “Information Theory” learns that any cipher can be broken – it is only a question how much it will cost in terms of effort and expense. For good ciphers the cost should be astronomical.

It is not possible to make a cipher permeable for law enforcement and impermeable for others. Any back door prepared for the police investigator would drastically cripple the strength of the cipher as a whole.

An effective encryption is widely available and there are many creative ways of making one’s messages secret on the internet. There are even ways of hiding encrypted content somewhere where no one will be looking for it – like inside an image. And there is a multitude of such possibilities. If some ways are outlawed creative people will find new ones.

The architecture of the Internet is helpful in these efforts by providing users with multiple various methods of free communications and giving governments few ways of controlling that communication.

How widespread and important is encryption nowadays?

A politician has made an infamous remark on TV: “Have you ever used encryption? I have not”  He was certainly unaware that he was using encryption every time he turned on his mobile phone or browsed an article on Wikipedia.

(Hint: If the address field in your web browser begins with https:// where the “s” is of importance then your browsing is encrypted)

Some time ago the Putin’s regime was trying to censor the Russian Wikipedia by blocking access to some articles it considered wrong. However because Wikipedia encrypts the web communication with its readers the “censor” could not determine which article is being transmitted and whether it should be blocked.  And blocking the whole Wikipedia is something that not even Putin had the courage to do.

And the banks are very specific: They depend totally on encryption and in the best interest of their clients they tend to be very strict and picky about technology.

Can encryption be outlawed to prevent abuse by criminals and terrorists?

Should the lawmakers of some state try to forbid the usage of encryption technologies on the internet they would be starting on a path of much destruction: First of all they would have to deal with the workings of banks which are vitally dependent on cryptography and very unwilling to compromise. Next they would find themselves in opposition against the whole digital industry which would have to change the whole staus quo to comply with such a legislation.
And the terrorists? They would probably hitchhike on the work of rebelling creative individuals and soon would find new ways of hiding their communications.

So the answer is: The governments could try to regulate the encryption but will never reach their goals. Just as they could not legislate water to flow uphill.


Written as a Sunday Thought for IKDP.cz  http://new.ikdp.cz/?p=6862

Banks will be more transparent. Thanks to the EU

posted Feb 13, 2017, 12:46 PM by Tomas Svoboda   [ updated Feb 13, 2017, 12:47 PM ]

Have you ever entrusted your money to a bank based on its comfortable way of handling the account from the web? And while making the decision you did not quite manage to understand their fees and interest rates? I did and it is quite normal.

The banks’ business rules are complicated and entangled so a regular person who has other things to do has no chance to fully comprehend them – hidden in plain sight in small font.

On the other hand the banks have a well visible “user interface” – not just the computerized environment but also the elegant offices, tempting commercials, shiny brochures and beuatiful credit cards – maybe even with your dog imprinted. All is done so that (and banks cannot act differently because the market commands them) to attract the customer toward conditions that are somewhat less favorable than they could be.

Against this medialized reality various internet comparison engines engage in combat that do for you the labor of comparing various offerings and lay them out before you objectively and without any glamorous facade (as long as the engine is not paid by one of the banks which might be an entirely different story). These comparisons work well of instance for offers of travel insurance. You just input the parameters of your journey and get a simple answer with the most advantageous insurance policy for you. For banking services the comparing is somewhat more complicated and difficult.

To the rescue comes a new EU directive on payment services (PSD2) due to become effective next year. It will rule for all banks to offer their clients an electronic communication through a standard interface. In plain language all the banks use the same „forms“ with the same fields on the internet. A piece of software on the side of the client will then transform these plain fields into something  more appealing to the user.

This has massive consequences in that the client will be able from their favorite software app to work with several accounts in different banks. They can then easily compare where their money gets the best treatment in terms of fees and interest rates – and naturally give preference to that bank.

They will also be able to select among different software apps the one which gives them the best experience – and perhaps pay for it a little more. With no ties to which bank their money is stored in. So the client will be choosing their app according to its bahavior and choosing their bank according to its business conditions, not vice versa.

We often frown at the EU for regulating some things in excess – and that may sometimes be true. However this regulation makes sense to me.

Written as a Sunday Thought for IKDP.cz

Brexitus

posted Oct 14, 2016, 12:58 AM by Tomas Svoboda

Brexitus - Destruction of the  United Kingdom by  leaving the  European Union

Dictionary addition:
Brexitus: Destruction of the  United Kingdom by  leaving the  European Union

Tool for Annotation of Photos by Elderly Person

posted Dec 27, 2015, 2:14 PM by Tomas Svoboda

Keywords: Digital photography, Metadata, Annotation, EXIF, JPG, Elderly Senior

My 90 year old father remembers a lot and made a lot of photographs most of which I have digitized from negatives. I thought it would be useful for him to capture his memories by annotating some of the digital photos. I was searching the world for an annotation tool that would be simple enough for him to use - he can type in a text editor but not create a new document. To my huge surprise I found nothing. So after 20 years of programming abstinence I started programming an adequate application in Visual Basic. After a few days I have it ready for him to use.

Now the question is whether anyone else would be interested in using the app and giving me reasons to continue its development. If yes, please let me know at svobodat@gmail.com 

Old Russian Book Holds Answer to Global Warming

posted Sep 30, 2015, 12:08 PM by Tomas Svoboda   [ updated Sep 30, 2015, 12:58 PM ]

Now that the world is all excited about climate change (proven) and influence on it (not proven) and attempts to reverse the trend (doubtful but harmless) I rediscovered a tiny book from 1977 ("Пленочные отражатели в космосе" Лукьянов = "Foil Mirrors in Space", Lukyanov) which contains a realistic technological concept how to do it. (Disregarding for the moment that any human impact on ecology may bring unpredictable and counterproductive consequences).  
"Пленочные отражатели в космосе" 1977 Лукьянов  обложка

The author discusses a concept of foil mirrors in orbit around the Earth which could:
  • shadow a tiny part of solar light from the Earth (even one part per thousand would be far more than all other human impacts combined)
  • provide nighttime illumination for urban areas using reflected sunlight instead of electricity and thus help reduce carbon emissions.
The project would be a giant one but realistic on a global level.

Looking for Люда Иванова from Vladivostok

posted Jan 25, 2015, 1:59 PM by Tomas Svoboda   [ updated Feb 7, 2015, 9:04 AM ]

Looking for a pen-friend from 1969:
Address Vladivostok

Her name would be:
Lyuda Ivanova (Люда Иванова)
born around 1960
and she lived in the city of Vladivostok.

The address (after some detective research and expansion) would be transcribed:

СССР город Владивосток
Ул. Проспект 100 лет Владивостоку 30б Квартира 45
Люде Ивановой

Люда , if you read this, please write  svobodat(at)gmail.com

Looking for Anaclet Ikonje from Tanzania

posted Sep 14, 2014, 2:07 PM by Tomas Svoboda   [ updated Oct 28, 2014, 7:45 AM ]

I am looking for my old lost friend Anaclet Ikonje from Tanzania, Dar es Salaam.

He was a journalist studying in 1988 in Czechoslovakia. He said he was a relative of a Tanzanian bishop.
Anaclet, if you see this please write me email at svobodat@gmail.com







And, Dear Anaclet, this is the letter I had sent you in 1992 to the last known address in Dar-Es-Salaam:

                                                
4.1.1992

Dear Anaclet,
it is a long time since we have last met or corresponded with each other.
When you were leaving Prague I think you were planning to spend another year or so in the USA. I wonder whether you have succeeded.
As for me in 1989 I have married a wonderful girl. Her name is Jana and she is very good at music. We expect our first baby in April.
Also in 1989 as you well know some things in our country have changed. The communists are not in power any more and the political school you have attended has been turned over to a sport/athletics institute. We do have more freedom now but not everything is perfect. The bad effects of communism on our country are very long-lasting and extremely difficult to delete.
And many of the past commanders and directors are still in their jobs - they make any progress very difficult. This is the price for a peaceful revolution. Had all the communists been put to jail all would be much simpler. But we do not want to cause damage to people so they are left free.
Dáša - the black haired girl who played the organ at st. Václav has married a fellow musician and also expect a baby next year.
You certainly remember Milada - the blonde girl who was preparing for her baptism while you were in Prague. After the years she
found a boyfriend in Italy and married him. It was a great and wonderful wedding. We have all rejoiced with Milada at the end
of her troubles concerning her original family & lack of place to live.
I wonder how your work of a journalist is going. This comes to my mind as I have recently installed a computer system in one Catholic newspaper. I hope that your newspaper is succesful.
Please give my best regards to your wife & children and have a Most Happy New Year 1992

Sincerely

Tomáš Svoboda



Sušická 5/599, 160 00  Praha 6, Czechoslovakia


Sins Crying Out to Heaven

posted Oct 16, 2013, 10:28 AM by Tomas Svoboda   [ updated Oct 16, 2013, 10:35 AM ]

Bible sometimes yields interesting pieces of timeless wisdom.


My friend VE in his lecture has recently alerted me to a special category of filthy deeds which the Bible in several places describes as „sins crying out to heaven (for revenge)“

The list is:

  • Murder Genesis 4:1-16
  • Opression against the poor and helpless Exodus 22:20–23. („widows and orphans“ in Biblical language)
  • Defrauding laborers of their wages Deut 24:14–15
  • Sodomy Genesis 19:5 – opression or lack of hospitality toward foreigners or immigrants (This interpretation offered to me by friend VK gives me a better sense than the traditional catholic definition of sodomy as a sexual perversion)

I find it fascinating that 3 of these sins have to do with social (in)justice
Translated into contemporary general wording: The most abominable human behavior is such when the strong opress or steal from the weak.
While the first contemporary examples of such behavior that come to my mind are from my country the Czech Republic we might also identify some similarity with the U.S. budgetary crisis where many of the needy are denied what they need because the powerful ones place their own partial interests above the common good.

6 reasons why John Paul 2 should not be canonized:

posted Jul 14, 2013, 6:35 AM by Tomas Svoboda   [ updated May 30, 2015, 12:51 PM ]

First of all let me get one thing straight: I have loved John Paul 2 especially as the symbol of good against communism.
Similarly I love the present Pope Francis who seems to be bringing a similar vision and hope to our time. JP2 has filled my youth with a positive hope and F1 is just starting to do the same for my later years. It is an undeniable fact that JP2 was a man of exceptional moral and spiritual qualities and that he will probably qualify easily for sainhood..

However the current news that pope F1 has given a go ahead to the process of canonization of JP2  (declaring him a saint) leaves me less than happy. In fact I am convinced that no Pope should ever be canonized for these reasons:
  1. The role of the Pope is connected with external power. The teaching of Jesus was connected with powerlessness and non-cooperation with worldly power. The pope's role of power is certainly useful but it creates a contradiction against the example of Jesus. Emphasizing this contradiction increases the confusion that (since 313) encompasses the relationship between Christianity and worldly power. This reason alone would be enough to rule out all the popes from canonization.
  2. There is a selective effect at work: The pope is highly visible and attracts attention much more easily than most "ordinary" holy people. This circumstance alone I would compensate by disallowing the canonization of any pope.
  3. Every pope due to his great influence makes (apart from his good deeds) many visible mistakes - real ones and subjectively perceived ones. All will remain as stains on his character and on the concept of "sainthood" in general.
  4. The canonisation is decided by one of the following popes. By creating and supporting the tradition of making saints out of popes the current pope may be playing with the temptation of preparing his own canonization.
  5. Declaring the past pontiff seems like an act of self-praise by the church - "We've done a good job of selecting and supporting a holy pope."
  6. Canonization is intended to set an example of life worth following. It does not seem like a good idea to advertise a life path of ascending to high positions in the church. Careerism is a big problem in the church anyway.

Any canonization is basically a communication toward the public - not toward God. (Luckily enough we have no say in how God relates to the deceased person.) Therefore an intention to canonize should be judged primarily by its impact on the public - and that impact in this case seems dubious at least.

I am sure there are many other ways of looking at the situation. This is just one of them.

(Czech version >>)

Best Vendor for your DIY Publication - CreateSpace or Lulu ?

posted Jun 15, 2013, 11:07 PM by Tomas Svoboda

Just published a comparison between two leading vendors of services for indepe
ndent publishers - CreateSpace and Lulu. Based on my firsthand experience.

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