Break Encryption … For the Children!

“W-whut about the children?!

That old chestnut. This was brought up a while ago, and I’m pretty sure I covered it — though it’s been lost to the ether (or rather, a zipped up Git repo somewhere). The Government super double pinkie swears that it will never let their backdoor key to encryption be used for nefarious purposes and that military and banking solutions won’t be affected.

Yeah. That sounds awesome. If you live in a fantasy. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need encryption at all, because no one would poke into shit that isn’t theirs. Unfortunately we live in a world where world leaders act like teenagers and the rest of the adult population is scarcely above that. The idea that the government would have a double-plus good backdoor key that could never be used by anyone except them, and only for lawful purposes is so laughable, I’m not even sure how it became a talking point.

This, you need to remember, is using it’s allies to spy on it’s own citizens. Hoovers up as much data as it can (especially encrypted data) and stores it on scales scarcely seen before. That information could never be used to bully someone or even creep on women. I’m sure the secret FISA court, that doesn’t have any public records, has the public’s best interests at heart. Well, we’ll just have to trust them, because it’s all top secret.

So, no, I don’t think that the government can be trusted with a secret backdoor that unlocks all my communications, no matter how benign. No one should. You need only to look at Saudi Arabia, China or Russia and even the UK for regimes who routinely abuse their power to bully and influence people with information gathered by massive dragnet systems.

I am, however, afraid that this might already be too late. We’re already willing enough to hand this information over to private corporations, who only have a duty to their shareholders. We see breach after breech happen, spilling all of our personal and private information across the Internet — all to an apathetic public. Maybe I’m just part of the last generation going through the throes of rejection before privacy is fully eradicated.

Update: Can’t forget about them just bypassing normal law to request information from companies. Wouldn’t want that pesky legal process to get in the way of their investigations.

VPN for All the Wrong Reasons

I’m not a political dissident. Moreover, I’m pretty uninteresting. SSL-secured websites are more than encrypted enough for my purposes. So why would I want to start looking at VPN? Website filtering. I connect to some of my self-hosted solutions, which seem to be blocked or, at the very least, poorly peered on the WiFi at the locations I frequent.

Ideally, I’d like to use the “built-in” (at least, to NetworkManager) OpenVPN solution to make it easier. I do have a pfSense firewall that I could hook into, but it’s sitting on a Comcast/Xfinity consumer service. I guess I’ll have to do some investigation as to port usage.

There are lots of different VPN services out there. With the rise in the privacy awareness (the awareness of the lack of privacy online), there are really good and cheap options. Even the OpenVPN folks seem to have their own service, called PrivateTunnel, which is interesting and cheap. I’ve also been looking at NordVPN, because of their ties with the SomethingAwful forums, great ratings and decent popularity.

I guess I’m spoiled for choice. Any ideas for service? I’d like to not spend a huge amount on services. Month-to-month would be better than yearly pre-paid. Leave a comment below.

Goods and Services

In a previous post, I talked about using Feedbin and Pocket as tools to help me stem the flow of information overload. These then allowed me to take breaks in which I could sift through the information and save what I cared about for later reading. This actually ended up being really effective for me. The biggest problem was I was paying, effectively, $10 a month for the news.

Initially, I didn’t have a problem with this. My feeds and saved articles were available everywhere. I could save from one to the other and move on with my day. Something was still nagging at me, though. I am not a heavy user of either service. I don’t have hundreds of feeds to process, nor do I save hundreds of articles to read for later. I also am knowledgeable enough to be able to set these services up on my own. I just didn’t have a platform in which to do that. Until yesterday.

It turns out, when you’re too close to a problem, you miss the obvious. In this case, I realized I could use shared hosting on pretty much any platform to, effectively, “self host”. While not the most ideal setup, it would suffice, and it would be massively cheaper that what I was doing now. So, that’s what I did. I purchased the cheapest hosting plan from Namecheap, wired up some DNS entries and pointed them at the subdomains I’d setup for the different tools. Now I was hosting TT-RSS and Wallabag on my own for less than $2 a month. I have much the same workflow (though, a little more messy), but I’m not paying through the nose for something I use maybe once or twice a day.

Tools to Keep Up To Date

The news is something personal to all of us. We develop rituals to keep ourselves informed by various means. This task is difficult for me to accomplish, due to many different factors of my life. One factor, above all else, keeps me from staying up-to-date. I simply don’t remember to check the tools I’ve setup for this task.

Currently

As of this writing, I have two major tools for aggregating and then storing news I’m interested in. Feedbin (open source, $5/mo for their hosting) aggregates different news sites via RSS. Pocket (open-ish source, $5/mo for their hosting) is where I send items I want to spend time reading. Additionally, I have both the Pocket app and Reeder (v3) on my phone to save ancillary articles and to read them on the go. This seems like the ideal setup as each tool does it’s job, leaving me the arbiter of what is deemed “interesting”.

Changes

Since the tooling does not need any significant changing, perhaps my own habits and methodology need tweaking. To that end, I’ve added three 15-minute calendar appointments to the day. One in the morning, after I wake up. One in the afternoon for lunchtime reading. And one in the evening so that I can be updated on any changes to the latter two, or new developing stories. This allows me to focus on the task instead of trying to force it in where it would be a disruption.

Conclusion

While my brain’s software may not be as finely tuned as some, but I can use tools to augment it. Though it may seem trivial to do what I’m doing here, the important point is that we are surrounded by often underutilized tools, because we’re too busy “in the moment” to utilize them. Taking a second and looking at a problem can often uncover hidden truth and allow you to explore new methods of solving it using existing tools at your disposal.