Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Month: March 2012

The Danger Online Voting Poses to Democratic Legitimacy

Vote Mob @ Memorial University of Newfoundland  Online voting is a serious issue that Canadians need to remain aware of and/or become educated about. I’ve previously written about issues surrounding Internet-based voting, and was recently interviewed about online elections in light of problems that the National Democratic Party (NDP) had during their 2012 leadership convention. While I’m generally happy with how the interview played out – and thankful to colleagues for linking me up with the radio station I spoke on – there were a few items that didn’t get covered in the interview because of time limitations. This post is meant to take up those missed items, as well as let you go and listen to the interview for yourself.

Public Dialogue Concerning the NDP Leadership ‘Attack’

There are claims that the attacks against the NDP’s online voting system were “sophisticated” and that “the required organization and the demonstrated orchestration of the attack indicates that this was a deliberate effort to disrupt or negate the election by a knowledgeable person or group.” Neither of these statements are entirely fair or particularly accurate. Publicly disclosed information indicates that around 10,000 IP addresses were used to launch a small Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack against the voting system used during the NDP’s convention. To be clear: this is a relatively tiny botnet.

While such a botnet might justifiably overwhelm some small business networks, or other organizations that haven’t seen the need to establish protections against DDoS scenarios, it absolutely should not be capable of compromising an electoral process. Such a process should be significantly hardened: scalable infrastructure ought to have been adopted, and all services ought to be sitting behind a defensible security perimeter. To give you an understanding of just how cheap a botnet (of a much larger size) can be: in 2009, a 80,000-120,000 machine botnet would run around $200/day. You even got a 3-minute trial window! In 2010, VeriSign’s iDefence Intelligence Operations Team reported that a comparable botnet would run around $9/hr or $67/day.

If a few Google searches and a couple hundred dollars from a Paypal account can get you a small botnet (and give you access to technical support to help launch the attack, depending on who you rent your bots from) then we’re not dealing with a particularly sophisticated individual or group, or an individual or group that necessarily possesses very much knowledge about this kinds of attacks. Certainly the action of hiring a botnet demonstrates intent but it’s an incredibly amateurish attempt, and one that should have been easily stopped by the vendor in question.

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Unpacking the Potential Costs of Bill C-30

Expense Sheet The Government of Canada has, at least temporarily, backed away from pushing through its tabled lawful access legislation. While many critiques of the legislation abound – some of which I’ve recently noted surrounding warrantless access to subscriber information – there have been limited critiques of the actual financial costs associated with the bill. While some public commentators have suggested that the legislation will threaten small Internet service providers’ financial viability, there has yet to be a formal, detailed, and public financial accounting of lawful access-related costs.

I’m incapable of offering this accounting. The same is true for every other Canadian, whether they are a government bureaucrat, private citizen, corporate agent, or government Minister, because the legislation itself remains murky. Thus, rather than suggest that the legislation will cost X dollars, in this post I outline why people cannot cost out the bill if they solely rely on existing public information.

I begin this post by quickly outlining what the Canadian government suggests that the legislation will cost. Having done so, I move to critique the origins of the government’s numbers. This entails first examining the issue of interception capabilities, second, of storage costs, and third, of the status of Telecommunication Service Providers’ existing lawful access capacities. I conclude by noting the lack of clarity surrounding C-30’s breadth and the need for clarity during the legislative, rather than regulation-setting, stage of the bill’s development.

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(Un)Lawful Access Panel at University of Victoria

UnLawful Access posterThe (Un)Lawful Access event takes place tomorrow (March 8, 2012) at the Fraser Building, room 157, on the University of Victoria Campus. It should be a really interesting discussion; Michael Vonn is one of the sharpest people in Canada on lawful access, and I’ll be addressing some of the technical and international characteristics of lawful access legislation. All are welcome, and it will take place between 12:30-1:30pm. There’s a Facebook event page for the event where you can register or learn more.

BCCLA Releases Electronic Devices at the Border Handbook

U.S.-Canada Border Crossing  Crossing international borders can be worrying, especially for those carrying confidential or privileged information on their electronic devices. While I’ve seen a variety of documents and advisories explaining how to deal (or not deal) with American border authorities, there hasn’t been what I consider a decent guide for dealing with the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). As of today, this deficit has been significantly remedied.

For the past several months, Greg McMullen has been working on a handbook to help Canadians (and non-Canadians) navigate officials’ demands for electronic devices at Canada’s national borders. The BCCLA has funded his work, and the handbook is intended for educational and discussion purposes; it isn’t intended to replace legal counsel or constitute firm legal advice. The handbook is written for a general audience and does a nice job of walking readers through what rights they enjoy at the border, CBSA policies, best practices, and what to do if you have been subject to a search.

I’d highly recommend the handbook, which is available through the BCCLA and also available for download through my website.