Reserved Words

May 10, 2010

Senator Conroy – the Internet is special

Filed under: politics,technology — Craig Harvey @ 9:22 pm
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In April 2010, Senator Conroy was quoted by Fairfax media (Sydney Morning Herald, The Age etc.) as asking "Why is the internet special?,"  saying the net was "just a communication and distribution platform" (see article).

Here are my reasons why I believe that the internet is special (and therefore a heavy handed approach to filtering content is unjustified).

The internet simultaneously:

  • hosts audio and video which can be broadcast or narrow cast
  • acts like the postal system (with email replacing letters)
  • acts like the telecommunications system by hosting voice (and video) calls between two or more parties (Skype, instant messaging, ChatRoulette etc)
  • hosts systems for conducting business transactions (a bit like the EFTPOS system, a bit like the postal system in a mail-order analogy)

Other unique features that make it different from any other technology to date:

  • It is truly global – content accessed in one country can be hosted in any other country
  • It has fundamentally lowered the barriers for entry for those who want to publish and distribute material
  • It’s pervasive – accessible from a variety of different devices and locations, not just tied to a desktop computer and a telephone line
  • content is dynamic and easily changed – a web site you saw half an hour ago could be completely different the next time you view it

So why don’t we censor the telecommunications system and the postal systems as well? It would only be fair given the Internet is capable of replicating the functionality of these systems. Imagine a listening device on every phone call that you made that bleeped out any words that would offend the average person – or having all your mail opened and read and ‘cleaned’ before being able to go on to it’s final destination? Sounds ludicrous and is unworkable.

The proposed net filter would work by preventing access to a blacklist of websites. It would only block access to web sites, and would not affect many of the other applications that run on the internet (email, file transfer, instant messaging, peer to peer file sharing etc). It will only block a list of around 350 websites when there are currently over 100 million websites on the internet – accessing any single one of these websites will invoke a ‘check’ to see if it’s not on the banned list of 350. As the banned list grows larger, the slower this ‘check’ gets.

It will not target ‘high volume’ sites like YouTube and Facebook – so it’s not going to filter out stupid comments on Facebook pages or prevent offensive videos being posted on YouTube. There are already mechanisms in place for dealing with that kind of content, so why force a mandatory filter on all of us?

So why push ahead when we already know it’s only going to filter a fraction of the Internet and it’s going to be easily bypassed? Surely it makes more sense to spend the money on law enforcement instead. $43 million (the proposed cost of the filter) would make a lot of difference to the AFP budget in their fight against child sex predators and distributors of child pornography surely.




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May 3, 2010

Would our environment have been better off with John Howard?

Filed under: politics — Craig Harvey @ 8:34 pm
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An interesting article from Ross Gittins in the Sydney Morning Herald that proposes Australia would have been better off environment wise if John Howard and the Coalition had won the last election. Sounds pretty radical but I read to the end because I usually find that Ross Gittins makes sense so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

It’s hard for me to admit but he might be right. Sadly KRudd is turning out to be a politician of convenience and when the going gets tough he doesn’t appear to have the mettle to back it up. The gist of Gittins’ argument was that going into the election the Coalition and Labor had similar policies. Howard would have had more success getting the legislation passed, the climate change sceptics in the Coalition would have fallen into line; Rudd has now proven it’s all too hard for him and has postponed it for three whole years. And under Howard we would have had an Environment Minister in Malcolm Turnbull who was willing to put his job on the line for the cause – oh the irony!

I think postponing the ETS legislation is a disgraceful cop out. The list of failures and bodgy jobs for this government is really starting to stack up. The NBN that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, an Education revolution that looks to be costing a bloody fortune and there’s this crazy fixation with filtering the internet. Sadly the alternative (a Tony Abbott led government) is not looking any more palatable.

March 25, 2010

Senator Fielding also fails internet school

Filed under: politics,technology — Craig Harvey @ 6:39 pm
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According to this ABC News article, links to child pornography were posted on the website of Senator Steve Fielding of Family First. The website hosted a forum (under the link ‘Have Your Say’) where anyone can register as a user and then post comments. I’m unable to verify because the forum is now closed, but I suspect someone registered an account and spammed the site. Childish and puerile but hardly uncommon on the internet, particularly when you’re a politician who is very ‘pro family values’!

The news article contains this quote:

"It is disturbing. But I suppose this is the reason why we do need to have some sort of classification, some sort of filtering, and I do know that is controversial."

If this quote is true, then let me explain why this is scary. While Senator Fielding is an independent and not part of the government, he will surely support the proposed mandatory internet filter when the legislation comes before parliament.

Yet this is just another example of a politician who fails to understand how the Internet works – scary because they are going to be imposing legislation that will impose a filter that is a waste of money and time.

Senator Fielding if you’re going to host a discussion forum on your web site you need to take responsibility for the fact that people may post unsavoury content on there – you need to impose a system of moderation on this web site and actively screen content for this kind of spam and abuse. This is a far more sensible approach than imposing a mandatory ISP level filter that will not work.

Let’s hope the Australian Federal Police have more sense than this and laugh in his face when this matter is referred to them.




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February 26, 2010

Censorship begins at home for Conroy

Filed under: politics,technology — Craig Harvey @ 6:51 pm
Tags: , ,

As reported here, here, here, here and originally discussed here on Whirlpool, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy has censored his own web site to prevent the term ISP Filtering appearing in the site’s tag cloud. Here is a screenshot of what the tag cloud looks like as of 26 Feb 2010:


Clicking on any of these terms executes a search on the web site for articles that contain that phrase. This tag cloud is apparently based on frequently search phrases or terms (not generated from actual content). The more popular a search phrase is, the larger it appears in the tag cloud.

But the website has been caught out using some dodgy client side JavaScript code to exclude the term ‘ISP Filtering’ specifically. OK this is not censorship but political spin. But it goes to show that it’s not something that the Minister is keen to have presented to users of the web site. Despite the fact that he is proposing to enforce mandatory ISP level filtering of RC content with no possibility for users to opt out.

You can still search for the term on the web site, it’s just dodgy, embarrassing spin. How can the government be trusted with a secret blacklist of banned sites if this is the kind of thing that they get up to to stifle political debate.

Click here to search for ‘ISP Filtering’ on the Minister’s website.

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February 24, 2010

People of NSW – don’t believe the spin about the SMH hacking a website

Filed under: politics — Craig Harvey @ 6:55 pm
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On Friday 19th Feb 2010, Sydney Morning Herald reporters Matthew Moore and Andrew West were advised by a contact to go to the website, where material on the transport blueprint was available.

The reporters did not require a password to view the documents, which were available to anyone with the URL address.

The reporters immediately printed out as much material as possible.

The Premier’s chief of staff, Walt Secord, that evening told West: "This was a website in progress."

– paraphrased from this article on the SMH

Link to original article [] revealing the leaked plans on 20th Feb 2010.

Link to hansard transcript for Feb 23 2009 – see ‘Transport Plan Confidential Documents’ on page 19. Quoting the Minister for Transport:

An internal investigation by Bang the Table found a total of 3,727 unauthorised hits on the website’s firewall security over a two-day period—18 and 19 February. That is akin to 3,727 attempts to pick the lock of a secure office to take highly confidential documents.

Here is my explanation of the wrongness of the statement.

  • A hit does not equal a page load. A web page might be made up of many different resources (images, stylesheets, scripts), each of them has to be requested from the server and counts as a hit. It might take 50 hits to load all the things required for one web page. So don’t imply that this was 3,727 attempts to load a document that was supposed to be secure.
  • Port scanners and probes generate ‘hits’ all the time. These scanners make requests for well known documents and configuration information in an attempt to find vulnerabilities left by inept system administrators who do not properly secure their systems.
  • Governments don’t collaborate on small web sites set up for a limited purpose. Why would ‘working documents’ be stored on a public website?
  • The Premier’s Chief of Staff apparently confirmed it was a website in progress on Friday evening (according to the SMH)
  • As if the journalists involved would hack the website themselves – surely a third party would be used if they were really trying to be nefarious

Additional info

WHOIS information for the domain reveals the following details:


Crikey article about Bang the Table – with appropriate counter-response from the company directors mentioned in the article in the comments below.

Slashdot Article about this saga [] for the technically minded.

The original website doesn’t appear to be available anymore – suggesting they scrapped the whole thing after this embarrassment.

Luckily Google has a cache of some of the pages and it appears that there was some attempt at security (at least for the GoogleBot).

A good description of this debacle here at Luddites hacked my website [].


  • Either someone did hack the web site to make it available to the public and tipped off the journos; or
  • Some mistake made the web site content available to anyone who knew the address (either temporarily or permanently)

Either way it’s not a good look for Bang the Table [] and its customers. They should be concerned that their platform is either easily hacked or that there are not appropriate procedures in place to ensure that content is secured.

Update – 25 Feb 2010 10:20am

Apparently Bang the Table have owned up to a problem with the security and now the Transport Minister has apologised in Parliament. See SMH for more.

A director of Bang the Table, Matthew Crozier, said areas of the site were temporarily accessible on Friday.

”This is a matter of significant embarrassment to us,” Mr Crozier said in a statement. ”While security was in place on the front page of the site, clearly it was not sufficient to prevent the internal content being accessed.”

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