Category Archives: The Internet

The Australian Mandatory Internet Filter

I’m ashamed that in today’s society I have to begin this post with this paragraph but I have to nonetheless. For the record I am absolutely opposed to child pornography, bestiality, sexual violence and rape. I am abhorred that people are involved in the production and distribution of such material and I strongly feel that these people need to be brought to justice. I feel strongly that the government needs to implement measures to catch and prosecute these people and to make such material impossible to produce or distribute. I do however believe that the Mandatory Internet Filter as proposed by Steven Conroy is the wrong way to go about this.

The Internet filter, quite simply put is technically infeasible. The filter will work by directing all requests from Australian users towards a site containing RC content to a filtering device. This device then relays all requests to that site to the actual server, unless a requests is made for a blocked page, which will instead return a page indicating the site is blocked. This is similar to the way the firewall in China and other countries with a national Internet filter. This method is effective in that it is often 100% effective (which means that every page on the blocked list is blocked, with no false positives) when done right. There is a problem however, this method does not scale well. If the government were to block a page on a large site (as was attempted to Wikipedia in the UK) then the filter would not be able to handle the load. Secondly it appears to the administrators of that site that all requests are coming from a few IP adresses. This could cause Wikipedia to eventually block all Australians either because the requests will look similar to a DDOS or because they have no way to distinguish between users and need to prevent abuse. Although the filter may be 100% accurate at blocking web traffic it will not be capable of dealing with many other varieties of Internet data.

The proposed filter will only be capable of filtering standard web traffic from web browsers. The Internet consists of a large number of computers talking in any number of protocols. While web traffic is one of these there are many other ways to exchange information. This filter will not be capable of filtering email, bit torrent, edonkey, gnutella, XMPP, DDC, SSH, VPN, TOR and that is only naming a small portion. Many people caught to have been in possession of child pornography and other illegal content are found to have downloaded it via peer to peer technology. This is because standard web traffic makes it easy to trace and identify the owner, where as peer to peer traffic can be hidden much easier. Secondly web traffic can be ‘tunnelled’ or hidden inside these other protocols and this way completely bypass the filter. This means anyone with sufficient knowledge or five minutes to learn will be able to configure their PC to hide their data amongst an SSH or VPN connection. These technical arguments come from my experience as a systems Administrator, but there are other arguments not so technical.

Steven Conroy has said that the filter will only deal with RC rated content, however there is no transparency about what will be blocked. The government can’t publish a list of sites that are blocked because that will effectively give people looking for this content a list of places to find it. Without knowing what sites are being blocked we won’t know if or when the government decides that they would like to start blocking sites that are debating for or against abortion, euthanasia or any other politically sensitive topic. It may be interesting to know that the definition for RC content includes pages instructing in any crime, which would include euthanasia. A representative for Steven Conroy has specifically stated the filter won’t be filtering pages related to euthanasia but because of this broad definition it could be changed at any time and we wouldn’t know until after the material was blocked.

I am a Unix Systems Administrator, and for the reasons listed above, and more covered better by other bloggers, I am opposed to the filter proposed by Senator Steven Conroy and the Labor government. I urge my readers who are also opposed to the filter to write to your local MP, to Senator Conroy, to Tony Smith (Shadow Minister Minister for Broadband, Communications
and the Digital Economy). If all else fails and the Government does not see sense then use your vote. The filter will not work and will waste taxpayer money that could be used in many better ways.

Random Thought: Will posting instructions about how to bypass the filter be illegal?

Google’s New Search Engine

Thanks to a post by my friend Daryl, I’ve been looking at the improved Google search engine, codenamed Caffeine. Google has had a bunch of competition lately. Bing which is Microsoft’s new search engine recently launched, followed by an announcement that Yahoo will use Bing as its engine.

The current version of Google updates its index on a schedule. This means that sites that have only just been crawled will have to wait a while before being included in search results. I have experienced this with my site, only recently has Google started giving me hits, although they have been crawling my site for about a month.

Google’s new search engine use a new backend which not only improves the time required to perform a search but allows indexes to be easily updated. This means Google can now include real time sensitive results such as those from twitter or from my blog minutes after I post. This means that instead of searching the web of about an hour ago you are now searching what is on the web now.

Effectively Google is making a real time search engine. Where informatin is avaliable to you as it happens. Imagine the implications of having an auto updating search results page where new results dynamically appear as they are posted. This is thereason why Google is pushing the Pubsubhubbub protocol and blog pinging services.

Random Thought: Google Androids wpToGo application makes it easy to post from my mobile, but it’s a bit of a pain in the thumbs.

Firefox Personas

Does anybody reading this remember Hotbar for IE 5 and 6? Remember how it came with dozens and dozens of adware and spyware apps. For anyone who doesn’t remember this was back when Bonzi Buddy spoke to us to distract you from the fact he was tracking everything you did online. When anybody who was somebody had a Geocities pages and was ‘programming’ in HTML. When marquees scrolled past and all Javascript did was make flashy pictures follow your cursor around. Yes that’s right I’m talking about the Web 1.0 days.

Firefox Persona LogoPersonas for Firefox does essentially what Hotbar did for IE, except it doesn’t pollute your PC with all sorts of nefarious software. This comparison isn’t quite fair though. Personas has drawn on the experiences of Web 2.0 to provide a simpler immersive themed atmosphere.

A Persona is an extremely simple way to theme your browser. There are five parts that make up a Firefox Persona. The header image is shown behind the menu bar, the navigation toolbar, the bookmarks toolbar and any other toolbars you have up the top. You set it as a 3000x200pixel image. The footer (a 3000x100px image) is shown behind the status bar and if show the search bar. You also set a text colour and an accent colour for any text that will be shown in front of your backgrounds. Finally you set a name for your theme as you upload it to Mozilla.

The best thing Personas has over themes is that you don’t have to restart Firefox in order to apply them. This leads to some especially neat features, for example while browsing for a new persona for your browser when you mouse over a persona it gets applied as a preview. This means effectively when you are looking for themes you get to see exactly what they’ll looks like before you pick them. You can get Personas from Mozilla labs, or at its dedicated website. Also see Mozilla’s blog post about Personas.

Random Thought: The Linux kernel must have a bad heart, every time it panics it dies.

The New Google Reader

This morning Google announced some new features for Google Reader. These features make Reader feel like a social networking website. I think Google is taking an interesting approach to social networking. They’re refitting all their existing products to include social features. It still feels a little separate though. There isn’t a feel of congruency across all the applications.

You can now decide who sees your shared items, and who can comment on them. I don’t see this as a feature I’d likely use as everything I share is already on the web and if I block people from seeing it on my shared items then they can just find it elsewhere. I have a feeling that Google did this to fight off the hordes of people yelling loudly about privacy lately.

Google Reader now displays information from your profile and a link to your fully profile at the top of your shared items page. What you can store on your Google Profile appears akin to what you can store on other social networking sites. A link to your profile is kind of a different approach to social networking. Sites likRSS Feed Icone Facebook and MySpace focus on your profile and links to other features. Google’s approach seems to be to add social features to all their applications and link that to a profile. This approach seems to me to be the best way to muscle in on the social networking scene.

Google Reader now includes a button to ‘like’ a post. This is the most controversial features as it adds an extra line to the post and takes up a fair bit of screen real estate. I don’t notice it taking up too much space, that could either be due to the fact I’m used to having a small screen on my laptop and on my desktop my monitor is big enough for me to not notice. I think the idea is great, you can easily find people who like the same things you do and follow them. The only issue i have with it right now is that everyone is clicking like on everything and there are way too many people to sort through to find somebody with similar interests.

This is an interesting approach for Google, but i believe it will pay off. Google is creating a social network that isn’t about having friends or getting the most views. Google’s social network is about people similar to you and things you like.

Random thought: Punishment in real life: You perform an illegal operation and you go to jail, Punishment in computing: You perform an illegal operation and you get killed.