Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Ok, so he has a felony conviction. Ok, so he has a period of home confinement after a prison sentence. But is it really fair to make him... use Windows?

Scott McCausland, a convicted ex-administrator of the EliteTorrents BitTorrent tracker is going back to court to fight for his right to use Ubuntu GNU/Linux while he is home confined. The US government is forcing him to use Windows, because that’s the only OS their monitoring software can run on.

September last year Scott pleaded guilty to ‘conspiracy to commit copyright infringement’ and ‘criminal copyright infringement’ for uploading ‘Star Wars: Episode III’ onto the internet hours before the theatrical release. Scott was later sentenced five months in prison, followed by five months of home confinement.

After his release from prison Scott was told by his Probation Officer that he has to install Windows so that the government can monitor his online activities. A cruel punishment for someone who’s used to Ubuntu GNU/Linux, and Scott has now decided to fight this decision in court.
Best of luck, Scott.

By the way, all you Windows-using, individual-liberty-treasuring people out there in blogreaderland. Did you pick up that point about monitoring software? The authorities want him to use Windows so that his computer use can be monitored. Easily.

But if you really want to feel paranoid, I remember a throwaway line I read when the hyperthreading considered harmful problem was news. This was a security alert about hyperthreading processors:
shared access to memory caches provides not only an easily used high bandwidth covert channel between threads, but also permits a malicious thread (operating, in theory, with limited privileges) to monitor the execution of another thread, allowing in many cases for theft of cryptographic keys
This particular issue was mainly relevant to servers, but was a way for processes in the processor itself to eavesdrop on one another. I can't find the link now but somewhere I read a remark by Colin Percival, who discovered this problem, that he'd since become aware of people being "discouraged" from investigating processor level security issues, for instance for a doctoral thesis. That's one of the places the guys in the trenchcoats like to work.

UPDATE: Sorry - H/T J0nz, by email.

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