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Internet Media News Search Engines Technology

Tor, An Ethical Dilema

tor

Over the summer I have been following reporting surrounding the TOR project. I have learnt some interesting things. I must admit that I tried to download the browser but I couldn’t work out how to get it up and running, but that is probably more due to my own incompetence than anything else.

Tor has some serious issues as far as ethics goes, because it is designed to help people to remain anonymous as they use the net. This may to some seem perfectly justified given that Google and their friends are monitoring our every move and storing it all for resale later, but it is also great for criminal activity.

Recently reports emerged from Russia that the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) has personally ordered preparations for laws that would block the Tor anonymity network from the entire Russian sector of the Internet. Obviously his aim is not to stop people from anonymously using the Internet, but to fight crime. The agency initiated the move as internet anonymizers were used by weapon traffickers, drug dealers and credit card fraudsters, giving the FSB an obvious interest in limiting the use of such software.

Other reports claim that not all of Russian law enforcement are in agreement, because criminals tend to overestimate the protection provided by the Undernet, act recklessly and allow themselves to get caught. Here the so-called Undernet is the key though, as anonymity is difficult to police.

Other reports state that “Security experts have accused US law enforcement of taking advantage of a flaw in the Firefox Internet browser then exploiting it to identify and potentially monitor subscribers to Tor”. It appears that the malware comes from the USA, but nobody is admitting to creating it, and as the Russians accuse the FBI and vice versa, any truth will be difficult to find.

One truth is however that Tor allows for the proliferation of various forms of criminality and exploitation that I would rather not go into here. The problem remains though, do we have the right to online anonymity? If not who has the right to stop us?

To return to following the news, I read that workers at the NSA and GCHQ in the UK have been accused of leaking information that they have regarding flaws in the workings of Tor. These two organizations are extremely interested in the browser for the obvious reasons above, but there is more that you might expect here. According to the BBC “The BBC understands, however, that GCHQ does attempt to monitor a range of anonymisation services in order to identify and track down suspects involved in…….crimes”.

But! Tor was originally designed by the US Naval Research Laboratory, and continues to receive funding from the US State Department. It is used by the military, activists, businesses and others to keep communications confidential and aid free speech.

And it turns out that the investigating agency rely on Tor for their own work, to keep themselves safe and anonymous, so they seem to be in a bit of a contradictory position to say the least.

So there appear to be many unanswered questions about the level of anonymity achieved, who has access, who works to destroy and who works to aid the project, and once more I find myself looking into a murky world.

Categories
News Science

Asteroid Hunting

Many of you will have seen the video of the meteor that exploded into the atmosphere above Russia last week, and I would just like to offer an overview of the event from a practical scientific prespective.

The meteor was about 15 metres across, and as such too small to detect. As we all saw though a meteor of this size can do extensive damage. It weighed about 7000 metric tonnes, travelling at 18 Km per second and exploded at a height of between 15 and 20 Km. This is pretty close to the ground if you think that an aeroplane flies at about 10Km and we are certainly not dealing with somewhere where nothing happens.

The force of the explosion was about 30 times that of the Hiroshima bomb, a pretty devastating blow by all counts. We should think ourselves lucky that it did not happen over a major city.

Trees blown over after the 1908 impact
Trees blown over after the 1908 meteor impact

In 1908 in Tunguska also in Russia a much larger meteor hit. This one was about the size of the DA14 meteor that flew past Earth later on the same day last week, and it blew trees down over an area of about 2000 square Km. Once again it hit over Siberia so less damage than could have occurred, but if you think that the event of last week over Russia only threw out about 5% of the force of this one than we don’t need much imagination to envisage the possible catastrophe. Several photos are available around the net and I offer one above. There are also plenty of huge craters to see.

NASA have the Near Earth Program, and they have the mission of monitoring the many things that fly close to Earth.

It is not an easy job though as you might imagine, they use ground based telescopes so can only see something that is big enough to reflect enough light, and last week’s hit came directly in line with the sun, so practically impossible to see.

NASA has managed to identify 90% of near Earth asteroids that are more than 1 Km across, and something of this size might threaten life on Earth itself if it hit. There are more than a million near Earth asteroids however that are 20 metres across or more but  very few of these have been identified and mapped.

The B612 Project is hoping to put a telescope into Space before 2018 that will be able to spot something of that size, but until then they will go largely unseen.

Keeping on a related topic last May I put a post up about asteroid mining, and recently the BBC has carried some updates on this project.

It is currently a 2 horse race, but it seems very speculative. And I remember a song about horses of this type.

Categories
Festive Fun Internet

Track Santa this Christmas Eve with NORAD

Today is Christmas Eve, which means that billions of people around the world will be celebrating Christmas tomorrow. Different people of different cultures celebrate Christmas in different ways; some celebrate today, many tomorrow, and others over a twelve day period.

About Santa

If you live in the Britain, France, the USA, Russia, Germany, Canada, Australia, or a (big) handful of other countries around the world, then you are probably familiar with the character of Santa Clause, or Father Christmas.

Christindl, Pere Noel, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas or whatever you call him, is a man who lives at the North Pole and sets out to deliver presents to good children across the world on Christmas Eve.

Good children will go to sleep on Christmas Eve and in the morning awake to find their stocking full and presents underneath the Christmas tree, courtesy of Santa. In return Santa asks only that children are good, and he uses information that robins relay to him to decide whether a child should go on the naughty list, or the nice list – he checks each list twice, just to be sure!

Track Santa With NORAD

This year, why not track Santa on his journey around the world with NORAD? Every year, the US military undergo a massive operation involving countless jets, radars and satellites to follow Santa on his journey, for the benefit of children everywhere, and to make sure that he doesn’t run into any difficulties.

NORAD Track Santa logoFrom December the 24th every year, you can track Santa thanks to NORAD. You can follow his route, watch videos as he completes parts of his journey, and learn about the different places he visits. As I write this Santa is over New Zealand, and has just visited Christchurch.

What are you waiting for? Track Santa now!

Remember this Christmas Eve to put the fire out before you go to bed, and to leave some milk/bear and a mince pie out for Santa, and maybe some sprouts or a carrot for the reindeer.

Merry Christmas all 🙂