June 24, 2017

Archives for February 2004

U.S. Fed Trojan-Horse Technology to Soviet Spies

The U.S. fed booby-trapped technology to Soviet economic spies in the 1980’s, according to a new book by former Air Force secretary Thomas C. Reed. This was reported in a front-page story by David E. Hoffman, in today’s Washington Post. Reed says that the CIA, on discovering secret Soviet purchases of sensitive U.S. technology, decided to poison the well by feeding the Soviet technology collectors booby-trapped versions of U.S. products.

The effort was successful, according to Reed, with the biggest impact being an enormous gas pipeline explosion, caused by time-triggered code hidden in the pipeline control software. This confirms a story told by William Safire several weeks ago.

Great Books vs. Must-Read Books

Dan Simon has an interesting reaction to my post on must-read books in science and technology. I can’t do Dan’s post justice with a single quote, but here’s a sample:

[T]he Great Books of science–and they do exist: viz., Euclid’s Elements, Newton’s Principia–simply don’t occupy the same place in the scientific world that the Great Books hold in the humanities and related disciplines. No half-decent undergraduate curriculum, for example, would allow its literature students to escape deep familiarity with Hamlet, its philosophy majors to avoid studying The Republic, its classicists to skimp on the Odyssey, its divinity students not to delve deeply into the Bible, or its budding political scientists to pass on The Prince.

But few geometers feel any need to familiarize themselves with geometry as Euclid explained it; nor do physicists feel incomplete without understanding Newton’s original notation for his laws of motion. And I would much sooner encourage students to master a few basic college texts in math, sciences and engineering than push them to grapple with the same concepts by studying the original works that introduced them. The originals, after all, each represented one farsighted individual’s brilliant-but-still-hazy insight, which has since been clarified and extended far beyond that first attempt at elucidation.

In formulating my own must-read list, I found myself identifying the most important ideas in science, and then asking which books best convey those ideas. An example: evolution is one of the great ideas in science; but which book should we recommend to students? Darwin’s Origin of Species was a tremendous achievement and remains interesting today. But with the benefit of more than a century of further work and discussion, today’s scientists understand the mechanisms and implications of evolution much better than Darwin did. We just can’t justify withholding the best ideas from our hypothetical student, and so Darwin gets bumped off the list. Origin of Species is still a Great Book, but it’s no longer a must-read book.

Shielding P2P Users' Identities

New P2P technologies are more effectively shielding the identities and net addresses of their users, according to a John Borland story at news.com. This is not surprising given that the past generation of P2P systems did essentially nothing to hide their users’ addresses. Agents of the RIAA exploited that lack of protection to identify people uploading copyrighted music, leading to the wave of lawsuits against P2P users.

Given the lawsuits, and the relative ease with which P2P technologies can be redesigned to shield users’ addresses, it’s not surprising to see such redesigns. If anything, the surprise is that this didn’t happen sooner.

It will take some time for address-shielding technology to be adopted, but eventually it will be. And this will be bad news for copyright owners, because it will thwart their current identify-and-sue tactic, which seems to be having some effect.

Copyright owners’ best hope in the short run is that users will have trouble telling the effective shielding technologies from the bogus ones, and so will come to doubt that any of the shields work.

BayTSP CEO Mark Ishikawa is already trying to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the shields; he says in the article that his company will still be able to defeat the all of the shields. He is wrong, in the sense that BayTSP-proof shields are certainly possible and probably already exist; but it’s easy to see how his claim advances his company’s interests.

The adoption of address shields is just the latest step in the ongoing co-evolution of P2P systems and media business models.