TBTF for 1999-05-08: Netopath
T a s t y B i t s f r o m t h e T e c h n o l o g y F r o n t
Timely news of the bellwethers in computer and communications
technology that will affect electronic commerce -- since 1994
Your Host: Keith Dawson
This issue: < http://tbtf.com/archive/1999-05-08.html >
C o n t e n t s
Intercepting communications worldwide
An advance in factoring: Shamir's TWINKLE
Bernstein wins appeal
Stunning Australian censorship proposal could become law
Talk of US-mandated disabled access to Web pages is premature
Electronic ink debuts
Siliconia: the e-Coast
Snailmail for the Internet age
The world through an eBay lens
Car dealer accused of libeling a competitor
Auctioning an ISP team
13-year-old bids $3M, thinking it's a game
Jargon Scout: Netopath
..Intercepting communications worldwide
Secret group founded by the FBI pushes international data monitoring
The CALEA law in the US, an Australian regulation requiring tapping
of telecomms, and a secret EU policy position are all traceable dir-
ectly to the efforts of a secret international group of law enforce-
ment officers -- called ILETS -- convened by the FBI and meeting
since 1993 to push building universal wiretap-ability into worldwide
communications. Duncan Campbell reports for the Guardian and Observer
 (cookies required).
The existence and operation of the ILETS group is but one subject
covered in the report "Interception Capabilities 2000," which Camp-
bell authored for the European Parliament's Science and Technology
Options Assessment Panel. IC2000 was approved as a working document
at the STOA meeting in Strasbourg on 1999-05-06. It is available
here . (The text downloads 332K. Turn off graphics to avoid an-
other 761K; the graphics add little to the article.)
Today your email, Web browsing, online chat, telex, phone calls,
cell calls, and faxes are almost certainly being swept up in one
or more national or international interception dragnets. Unless you
routinely use PGP, or communicate over a robust encrypted VPN link,
these communications can be read by unaccountable agencies in any
one of a growing number of countries.
Does this fact make you angry? Then encrypt.
..An advance in factoring: Shamir's TWINKLE
Opto-electronic sieving challenges 512-bit PGP keys
Adi Shamir, one of the inventors of RSA, has made a major advance in
the factoring of large numbers  (free registration and cookies
required for this NY Times story). The new work describes hardware
that, if constructed, might put the routine factoring of 150-digit
numbers more easily within reach. This would mean that 512-bit RSA
keys (for example) would be vulnerable to cracking with modest re-
Details of Shamir's approach have been posted on the RSA Labs site
. Shamir's paper is also available in PostScript (370K)  or
Zip (79K)  form.
Shamir proposes a fast piece of sieving hardware dubbed TWINKLE that
could be built for about $5000 in volume. He roughly specs a photo-
electric sieving device 100 to 1000 times faster than a typical PC
for this task. Such devices are not new -- D.H. Lehmer built a mech-
anical-optical sieve in the 1930's. The RSA site claims that Sha-
mir's device would requires some sophisticated optical/electrical
engineering to implement, but that it does appear feasible.
..Bernstein wins appeal
Court decides, 3-2, that US encryption export laws are unconstitu-
tional when applied to source code
A three-judge panel for the US 9th Circuit of Appeals has ruled that
the source code for Daniel Bernstein's crypto program "Snuffle" is
speech protected under the First Amendment. The ruling affirms a
lower-court decision issued a year and a half ago , before the
control of crypto exports was moved from the State Department to
Commerce. The ruling did not provide Bernstein with injunctive re-
lief to publish his code pending the expected appeal by the Justice
Department to the Supreme Court.
Here is the ruling itself , authored by Judge Betty Fletcher;
below are some excerpts.
> Cryptographers use source code to express their scientific
> ideas in much the same way that mathematicians use equations
> or economists use graphs
> We find that the export administration regulations operate
> as a prepublication licensing scheme that burdens scientific
> expression, vest boundless discretion in government offi-
> cials, and lack adequate procedural safeguards.
> We emphasize the narrowness of our First Amendment holding.
> We do not hold that all software is expressive. Much of it
> surely is not... We hold merely that because the prepubli-
> cation licensing regime challenged here applies directly to
> scientific expression, vests boundless discretion in govern-
> ment officials, and lacks adequate procedural safeguards,
> it constitutes an impermissible prior restraint on speech.
> Whether we are surveiled by our government, by criminals,
> or by our neighbors, it is fair to say that never has our
> ability to shield our affairs from prying eyes been at such
> a low ebb. The availability and use of secure encryption may
> offer an opportunity to reclaim some portion of the privacy
> we have lost. Government efforts to control encryption thus
> may well implicate not only the First Amendment rights of
> cryptographers intent on pushing the boundaries of their
> science, but also the constitutional rights of each of us as
> potential recipients of encryption's bounty. Viewed from
> this perspective, the government's efforts to retard pro-
> gress in cryptography may implicate the Fourth Amendment, as
> well as the right to speak anonymously..., the right against
> compelled speech..., and the right to informational privacy...
> The government's argument suggests that even one drop of
> "direct functionality" overwhelms any constitutional protec-
> tions that expression might otherwise enjoy. This cannot be
> so. If it were, we would have expected the Supreme Court to
> start and end its analysis of David Paul O'Brien's burning
> of his draft card with an inquiry into whether he was kept
> warm by the ensuing flames.
In light of the ruling some in the crypto community are calling for
the immediate posting of cryptographically sensitive materials from
US shores. Some examples are the interrnational Cryptography Freedom
page  and the original source code for Snuffle itself . But
Cindy Cohn, one of the victorious lawyers, strikes a note of caution
: it would be wiser to wait 52 days before setting up a crypto
redistribution repository in the US, even from the 6-state area
under the purview of the 9th Circuit Court.
Thanks to the TBTF Irregular David Black for his usual astute reading
of legal prose.
..Stunning Australian censorship proposal could become law
Advice of technical experts and government panels is ignored
TBTF Irregular  Eric Scheid <eric at ironclad dot net dot au>
has been feeding me material on a drastic swing to the right
being played out now in Australia. Proposed legislation would out-
law any Net content in that country down to an "R" rating and would
compel ISPs to block all such material worldwide from Australian
viewers. The SJ Mercury News's Dan Gillmor says :
> As Australia's government races headlong toward a regime of
> Internet censorship, a visitor from the United States is
> tempted to ridicule the notion and the politicians who are
> responsible. But I find myself more saddened than smug as I
> look at the proposed bill.
Here are some salient points from the proposed legislation that
sounds more suitable to a brutal dictatorship than to an en-
lightened Western society, from a posting by Kimberley Heitman,
Chair of Electronic Frontier Australia:
> First new feature is the licencing of ISPs, and compulsory
> trade unionism ... Daily penalties of $27,500 should be
> enough to bring small ISPs into line, if the threat of being
> shut down by the Federal Court doesn't.
> Second, the ABA will... tell ISPs what hardware and software
> to use. Oh, and from now on ISPs work weekends, as takedown
> orders issued by email or fax will have to be complied-with
> within 24 hours. Same penalties natch -- $27,500 daily for
> merely allowing "adult themes" material.
> Third, people can complain about ISPs as well as sites, for
> permitting access to "adult themes" material anywhere in the
> world... Is there any doubt that proxy filters are to be
> Fourth, less censorious State and Territory laws are over-
> ridden, and no-one under 18 is allowed to own an account.
> Free speech is dead coast to coast...
> And finally, everything archiveable is covered, not just web
> sites. As technology improves, the industry and the public
> will pay for smaller and smaller sieves down to the RAM
> caches, IRC, and newsgroups.
> There's no pretence in this Bill that self-regulation means
> anything other than outsourcing censorship.
This extremely disturbing story is still developing; you can fol-
low the news on the Link mailing list  (search for Alston, Har-
radine, censorship). Here are some links to resources provided by
- The government proposals 
- EFA's response 
- A large law firm's take on the proposed legislation 
- Senator Alston's latest media release 
- Links to discussion and analysis of the bill 
..Talk of US-mandated disabled access to Web pages is premature
Freedom Forum story is much reported and overblown
A little-noted law passed last year requires the Web sites of gov-
ernment agencies, and of anyone who supplies Web deliverables to
the government, to meet criteria for accessibility for people with
disabilities. Adam Clayton Powell III has touched off a broad de-
bate with a story  that projects dire consequences from this
simple and sensible law. The accessibility provision is contained
in Section 508  of the Workforce Investment Act, passed last
year by Congress. While the law is mandatory only for government
sites and for contractors that provide Web content to the govern-
ment, Powell quotes some members of the committee responsible for
writing the rules as they speculate on the (to them presumably
desirable) possibility that all US-based Web sites may some day
come under the force of such rules. In a Ziff Davis interview ,
Jenifer Simpson, a member of the rules committee, justified such
unprecedented government intervention in a publishing medium this
> The Internet is subject to market forces, but it didn't start
> through market forces, it was started by the federal government.
She was certainly speaking out of school. The Supreme Court has
ruled, in striking down parts of the Communications Decency Act,
that the Internet is a medium deserving of the strongest First
A poster to the fight-censorship mailing list summarized thus the
universal government tendency to give us a fat 3-ring binder when
what we need is a paragraph:
> Given the reasonably sane goal of assuring that all taxpaying
> citizens, regardless of their physical condition, have access to
> what they've paid for, one might (if one were not a government
> employee) expect something like:
> "All data posted to the web by the government shall include
> 'alt' tags in any graphics. The government shall design web
> pages to conform with the capabilities of leading tools for
> the handicapped, save where such conformance defeats the pur-
> pose of the site."
> Of course, that's not what we got.
Thanks to the TBTF Irregulars, in particular Jamie McCarthy and
David Black, for perspective and editorial balance on this story.
McCarthy has written an analysis  concluding that the Freedom
Forum story is irresponsible journalism and calling for a retrac-
tion. Powell is sticking by his viewpoint.
..Electronic ink debuts
"Immedia" technology promises real electronic books, someday
E Ink , a Cambridge company, promises flat-panel displays that
can be printed on any surface, moving us one step closer to the ad-
vertising-saturated world of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash . The
first commercial installation of its Immedia technology in an ad-
vertising panel  has been unveiled in the sports department of a
J.C.Penney store in a Boston exurb (photo , 61K). Area geeks have
been making the pilgrimage to the Solomon Pond Mall in Marlboro,
Massachusetts to marvel at a 4-by-6-foot (1.3-by-2 meter) display,
3mm thick, featuring a miniature wireless device by which store em-
ployees can update it every 10 seconds. The display uses less than
100 watts of energy.
..Siliconia: the e-Coast
Portsmouth, NH is the latest soon-to-be-hot tech area
Portsmouth, New Hampshire is the latest region to hold a naming con-
test and launch a branding program to boost its recognition as a
technology center. The resulting Siliconium  is "e-Coast," des-
ignating the 18-mile NH seacoast and adjacent areas of Massachusetts
and Maine. It's too bad the Boston Globe headline writer chose to
title its story  "Silicon Seacoast." Anchoring Portsmouth's
vibrant and growing high-tech scene is venture-backed Bow Street
Software, with killer office space on the Piscataqua River where the
famous tugboats tie up . Unfortunately I can't tell you what Bow
Street does: their Web site  is too high-tech for my Communica-
tor 4.51 browser. It presents a black-on-black window with a few
rollovers; the link to a text-only version leads back to the same
Thanks to Aaron Smith <a dot smith at rscs dot net> of the Greater
Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce for word on the e-Coast.
..Snailmail for the Internet age
Bridging email to a more venerable medium
A new company  formed by an Irish e-commerce expert promises to
turn Net surfers into letter writers. Letterpost is the brainchild
of Dr. Donal O'Mahony of Trinity College in Dublin. While on sab-
batical at Stanford he decided to partake of the local customs and
create his own Internet startup. Here's how it works. You buy post-
age at , 99 cents per letter, and type the recipient's address
and your message. The letter is printed out, put in an envelope,
and mailed from one of Letterpost.com's automated mail centers. The
first such center is operational in San Francisco; Ireland will
open in May and India in June. The company will be targeting US
immigrant groups such as Irish-Americans and first- and second-
generation Indians, helping them to keep in touch with unwired rel-
atives back home.
TBTF Irregular John R. LoVerso <loverso at sitaranetworks dot com>
> What's old is new again. Back in '82, the US Postal Service had
> an (ummm, forgot the correct term) "electronic telegram" ser-
> vice. This was when they were asking Congress to allow them to
> control electronic mail delivery. Anyway, one enterprising soul
> made a UUCP-to-egram gateway. You had to UUCP mail (foo!bar!-
> another!there) the letter in an exacting format, but it ended
> up getting printed and mailed. I used it several times. Like
> all things in "the good old days" of the net, it was free.
Reader Prasenjeet Dutta <pd at cse dot vec dot ac dot in> notes:
> A company called Multinet Infosys  has been offering a free
> letterpost service in India at for quite some time now. They'll
> send letters to anywhere in India for free, although they do ask
> you to register.
Going public with your filtered browsing
If you've missed the Web log phenomenon, allow me to introduce you.
For some years Web adepts have been posting daily commentary on and
links to sites they find compelling; the first Web log may have been
NCSA's What's New page . Suddenly Web logs are legion. Leslie Har-
pold comments on the phenomenon in Smug :
> I love riffing through a good log, it's kind of the vicar-
> ious voyeuristic thrill picking through someone else's purse
> or junk drawer, but I'm fairly certain there's more than
> enough dull stuff on the web, so no need to add to the pile.
> If Web Logs become as ubiquitous as the cargo pant, the
> stylishness and cache will be wholly depleted and it will be
> gone faster than the wrap sandwich.
Here are some of the Web logs I find most useful to the topics TBTF
- Rafe Colburn -- Outraged Daily Edition 
- Wesley Felter -- Hack the Planet 
- Raphael Carter -- Honeyguide  (his Sonnets on Science 
aren't bad either)
- Jesse James Garrett -- Infosift 
- Lawrence Lee -- Tomalak's Realm 
Some consider TBTF's Tasty Bit of the Day feature a Web log, but
that's a stretch. The TBoDay is considerably more cooked than the
items in most Web logs; it's a first draft for a regular TBTF item.
But a growing acquaintance with Web logs has moved me to make TBTF
available in "push" form to Dave Winer's Userland , a sort of
toolkit for constructing your own personal meta-log.
..The world through an eBay lens
The eBay auction site is now about the size of the 1994 Internet and
I would wager it is growing as fast. Auction is one of the killer
apps of the Net today. eBay presents us with various analogies to
the early Net: it's large, shambling, nearly unmanageable; it's
fast-moving, rough-and-tumble, and very American. For weeks now Web
watchers have been passing around eBay URLs, pointing to auctions in
progress or completed, as bellwethers of coming trends. Here are a
Canadian security enthusiast Tom Cervenka, who goes by the handle
Blue Adept, has invented a new flavor of virus: he has created an
infected eBay auction item  that he calls eBayla. The exploit
describing an item offered for sale. When an eBay member bids on
an infected item, his/her username and password are emailed to
Cervenka. EBay's response  to the exploit sets a new low for
bone-headedness. Not only does eBay downplay the seriousness of
the security hole; not only do they get the technical details of
the exploit's workings wrong; but they also make vague threats in
Cervenka's direction, because he brought this vulnerability to
their attention. EBay deserves to get slapped, hard, by its mem-
bers -- nothing else will make them rethink their cluelessness.
Thanks to Michael Sanders <msanders at confusion dot net> for the
prod on this story.
..Car dealer accused of libeling a competitor
A popular feature of the eBay site allows users to rate their en-
counters with other site users. This forum provides some reputation
accountability: both bidders and sellers can check out others' ex-
periences with eBay users and choose whether to do business with
them. eBay doesn't monitor, adjudicate, or characterize the posted
comments. Recently a vendor of automobiles, new to eBay, watched
several bidders withdraw their bids after someone posted negative
comments about the dealer , . With little difficulty the
dealer traced the negative postings to employees of a rival firm
operating on eBay.
..Auctioning an ISP team
Sixteen system administrators, developers, and managers from a "major
ISP" tried to auction themselves off on eBay . The minimum bid was
set above $3.1M, which would give the purchaser use of the team for
one year -- and provide the team members with healthy raises. It is
unclear if anyone actually bid for this "item" on eBay, but team
members said in an interview that  several companies had con-
tacted them. Thanks to TBTF Irregular Eric Scheid <eric at ironclad
dot net dot au> for the tip.
..13-year-old bids $3M, thinking it's a game
13-year-old Andrew Tyler's parents were surprised when an eBay rep-
resentative contacted them and asked how Andrew intended to pay
$900,000 for a Van Gogh painting he had won at auction . The
teenager had also bid on a 1955 Ford convertible, an antique bed,
a Viking ship replica, and a Superman comic book.
..Jargon Scout: Netopath
What to call a pathological Net abuser
Jargon Scout  is an irregular TBTF feature that aims to give you
advance warning -- preferably before Wired Magazine picks it up --
of jargon that is just about ready to hatch into the Net's language.
Spam fighter JoWazzoo <jowazzoo at whiteice dot com> takes credit
for coining the term "netopath," which is applied to the most ex-
treme and deranged form of Net abuser. The Usenet posting in which
JoWazzoo coined the term (firstname.lastname@example.org) has
expired from the archives of both Deja News and Alta Vista, but this
immediate followup post , which references and quotes it, ce-
ments JoWazzoo's claim to the invention.
N o t e s
> TBTF has been slashdotted . The link  to the eBayla story
above resulted in 6667 visitors on 1999-04-21 (1000 would have been
normal) and 126K hits (vs. a normal 15K). The bandwidth bill has
come due and it is not pretty, not that I'm complaining.
> Some readers took exception to my use of the Jive dialect in the pre-
vious issue's title story. Upon reflection I should have chosen
another example. Apologies and no offense intended.
S o u r c e s
> For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see
TBTF home and archive at http://tbtf.com/ . To (un)subscribe send
the message "(un)subscribe" to email@example.com. TBTF is Copy-
right 1994-1999 by Keith Dawson, <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Commercial
use prohibited. For non-commercial purposes please forward, post,
and link as you see fit.
Keith Dawson email@example.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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