As Internet-capable set-top boxes pour into homes across all populated continents, authorities seem almost powerless to come up with a significant response to the growing threat.
In standard form these devices, which are often Android-based, are entirely legal. However, when configured with specialist software they become piracy powerhouses providing access to all content imaginable, often at copyright holders’ expense.
A large proportion of these devices come from Asia, China in particular, but it’s relatively rare to hear of enforcement action in that part of the world. That changed this week with an announcement from Hong Kong customs detailing a series of raids in the areas of Sham Shui Po and Wan Chai.
After conducting an in-depth investigation with the assistance of copyright holders, on May 25 and 26 Customs and Excise officers launched Operation Trojan Horse, carrying out a series of raids on four premises selling suspected piracy-configured set-top boxes.
During the operation, officers arrested seven men and one woman aged between 18 and 45. Four of them were shop owners and the other four were salespeople. Around 354 suspected ‘pirate’ boxes were seized with an estimated market value of HK$320,000 (US$40,700).
“In the past few months, the department has stepped up inspections of hotspots for TV set-top boxes,” a statement from authorities reads.
“We have discovered that some shops have sold suspected illegal set-top boxes that bypass the copyright protection measures imposed by copyright holders of pay television programs allowing people to watch pay television programs for free.”
Some of the devices seized by Hong Kong Customs
During a press conference yesterday, a representative from the Customs Copyright and Trademark Investigations (Action) Division said that in the run up to the World Cup in 2018, measures against copyright infringement will be strengthened both on and online.
The announcement was welcomed by the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia’s (CASBAA) Coalition Against Piracy, which is back by industry heavyweights including Disney, Fox, HBO Asia, NBCUniversal, Premier League, Turner Asia-Pacific, A&E Networks, Astro, BBC Worldwide, National Basketball Association, TV5MONDE, Viacom International, and others.
“We commend the great work of Hong Kong Customs in clamping down on syndicates who profit from the sale of Illicit Streaming Devices,” said General Manager Neil Gane.
“The prevalence of ISDs in Hong Kong and across South East Asia is staggering. The criminals who sell ISDs, as well as those who operate the ISD networks and pirate websites, are profiting from the hard work of talented creators, seriously damaging the legitimate content ecosystem as well as exposing consumers to dangerous malware.”
Malware warnings are very prevalent these days but it’s not something the majority of set-top box owners have a problem with. Indeed, a study carried by Sycamore Research found that pirates aren’t easily deterred by such warnings.
Nevertheless, there are definite risks for individuals selling devices when they’re configured for piracy.
Recent cases, particularly in the UK, have shown that hefty jail sentences can hit offenders while over in the United States (1,2,3), lawsuits filed by the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) have the potential to end in unfavorable rulings for multiple defendants.
Although rarely reported, offenders in Hong Kong also face stiff sentences for this kind of infringement including large fines and custodial sentences of up to four years.
“Most commonly we have unsolicited calls to potential victims in Australia, purporting to represent the people in authority in China and suggesting to intending victims here they have been involved in some sort of offence in China or elsewhere, for which they’re being held responsible,” Commander McLean said.
The scammers threaten the students with deportation from Australia or some kind of criminal punishment.
The victims are then coerced into providing their identification details or money to get out of the supposed trouble they’re in.
Commander McLean said there are also cases where the student is told they have to hide in a hotel room, provide compromising photos of themselves and cut off all contact.
This simulates a kidnapping.
“So having tricked the victims in Australia into providing the photographs, and money and documents and other things, they then present the information back to the unknowing families in China to suggest that their children who are abroad are in trouble,” Commander McLean said.
“So quite circular in a sense…very skilled, very cunning.”
Researchers havedemonstrated the ability to send inaudible commands to voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant.
Over the last two years, researchers in China and the United States have begun demonstrating that they can send hidden commands that are undetectable to the human ear to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Inside university labs, the researchers have been able to secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites. In the wrong hands, the technology could be used to unlock doors, wire money or buy stuff online – simply with music playing over the radio.
A group of students from University of California, Berkeley, and Georgetown University showed in 2016 that they could hide commands in white noise played over loudspeakers and through YouTube videos to get smart devices to turn on airplane mode or open a website.
This month, some of those Berkeley researchers published a research paper that went further, saying they could embed commands directly into recordings of music or spoken text. So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon’s Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon stopped selling phones made by the Chinese companies ZTE and Huawei on military bases because they might be used to spy on their users.
It’s a legitimate fear, and perhaps a prudent action. But it’s just one instance of the much larger issue of securing our supply chains.
All of our computerized systems are deeply international, and we have no choice but to trust the companies and governments that touch those systems. And while we can ban a few specific products, services or companies, no country can isolate itself from potential foreign interference.
In this specific case, the Pentagon is concerned that the Chinese government demanded that ZTE and Huawei add “backdoors” to their phones that could be surreptitiously turned on by government spies or cause them to fail during some future political conflict. This tampering is possible because the software in these phones is incredibly complex. It’s relatively easy for programmers to hide these capabilities, and correspondingly difficult to detect them.
This isn’t the first time the United States has taken action against foreign software suspected to contain hidden features that can be used against us. Last December, President Trump signed into law a bill banning software from the Russian company Kaspersky from being used within the US government. In 2012, the focus was on Chinese-made Internet routers. Then, the House Intelligence Committee concluded: “Based on available classified and unclassified information, Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems.”
Nor is the United States the only country worried about these threats. In 2014, China reportedly banned antivirus products from both Kaspersky and the US company Symantec, based on similar fears. In 2017, the Indian government identified 42 smartphone apps that China subverted. Back in 1997, the Israeli company Check Point was dogged by rumors that its government added backdoors into its products; other of that country’s tech companies have been suspected of the same thing. Even al-Qaeda was concerned; ten years ago, a sympathizer released the encryption software Mujahedeen Secrets, claimed to be free of Western influence and backdoors. If a country doesn’t trust another country, then it can’t trust that country’s computer products.
But this trust isn’t limited to the country where the company is based. We have to trust the country where the software is written — and the countries where all the components are manufactured. In 2016, researchers discovered that many different models of cheap Android phones were sending information back to China. The phones might be American-made, but the software was from China. In 2016, researchers demonstrated an even more devious technique, where a backdoor could be added at the computer chip level in the factory that made the chips without the knowledge of, and undetectable by, the engineers who designed the chips in the first place. Pretty much every US technology company manufactures its hardware in countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Taiwan.
We also have to trust the programmers. Today’s large software programs are written by teams of hundreds of programmers scattered around the globe. Backdoors, put there by we-have-no-idea-who, have been discovered in Juniper firewalls and D-Link routers, both of which are US companies. In 2003, someone almost slipped a very clever backdoor into Linux. Think of how many countries’ citizens are writing software for Apple or Microsoft or Google.
We can go even farther down the rabbit hole. We have to trust the distribution systems for our hardware and software. Documents disclosed by Edward Snowden showed the National Security Agency installing backdoors into Cisco routers being shipped to the Syrian telephone company. There are fake apps in the Google Play store that eavesdrop on you. Russian hackers subverted the update mechanism of a popular brand of Ukrainian accounting software to spread the NotPetya malware.
I could go on. Supply-chain security is an incredibly complex problem. US-only design and manufacturing isn’t an option; the tech world is far too internationally interdependent for that. We can’t trust anyone, yet we have no choice but to trust everyone. Our phones, computers, software and cloud systems are touched by citizens of dozens of different countries, any one of whom could subvert them at the demand of their government. And just as Russia is penetrating the US power grid so they have that capability in the event of hostilities, many countries are almost certainly doing the same thing at the consumer level.
We don’t know whether the risk of Huawei and ZTE equipment is great enough to warrant the ban. We don’t know what classified intelligence the United States has, and what it implies. But we do know that this is just a minor fix for a much larger problem. It’s doubtful that this ban will have any real effect. Members of the military, and everyone else, can still buy the phones. They just can’t buy them on US military bases. And while the US might block the occasional merger or acquisition, or ban the occasional hardware or software product, we’re largely ignoring that larger issue. Solving it borders on somewhere between incredibly expensive and realistically impossible.
Perhaps someday, global norms and international treaties will render this sort of device-level tampering off-limits. But until then, all we can do is hope that this particular arms race doesn’t get too far out of control.
Last year, Hong Kong-based broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) applied for a blocking injunction against several unauthorized IPTV services.
Under the Copyright Act, the broadcaster asked the Federal Court to order ISPs including Telstra, Optus, Vocus, and TPG plus their subsidiaries to block access to seven Android-based services named as A1, BlueTV, EVPAD, FunTV, MoonBox, Unblock, and hTV5.
Unlike torrent site and streaming portal blocks granted earlier, it soon became clear that this case would present unique difficulties. TVB not only wants Internet locations (URLs, domains, IP addresses) related to the technical operation of the services blocked, but also hosting services akin to Google Play and Apple’s App Store that host the app.
Furthermore, it is far from clear whether China-focused live programming is eligible for copyright protection in Australia. If China had been a party to the 1961 Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organisations, it would receive protection. As it stands, it does not.
That causes complications in respect of Section 115a of the Copyright Act which allows rightsholders to apply for an injunction to have “overseas online locations” blocked if they facilitate access to copyrighted content. Furthermore, the section requires that the “primary purpose” of the location is to infringe copyrights recognized in Australia. If it does not, then there’s no blocking option available.
“If most of what is occurring here is a reproduction of broadcasts that are not protected by copyright, then the primary purpose is not to facilitate copyright infringement,” Justice Nicholas said in April.
This morning TVB returned to Federal Court for a scheduled hearing. The ISPs were a no-show again, leaving the broadcaster’s legal team to battle it out with Justice Nicholas alone. According to details published by ComputerWorld, he isn’t making it easy for the overseas company.
The Judge put it to TVB that “the purpose of this system [the set-top boxes] is to make available a broadcast that’s not copyright protected in this country, in this country,” he said.
“If 10 per cent of the content was infringing content, how could you say the primary purpose is infringing copyright?” the Judge asked.
But despite the Judge’s reservations, TVB believes that the pirate IPTV services clearly infringe its rights, since alongside live programming, the devices also reproduce TVB movies which do receive protection in Australia. However, the company is also getting creative in an effort to sidestep the ‘live TV’ conundrum.
TVB counsel Julian Cooke told the Court that live TVB broadcasts are first reproduced on foreign servers from where they are communicated to set-top devices in Australia with a delay of between one and four minutes. This is a common feature of all pirate IPTV services which potentially calls into question the nature of the ‘live’ broadcasts. The same servers also carry recorded content too, he argued.
“Because the way the system is set up, it compounds itself … in a number of instances, a particular domain name, which we refer to as the portal target domain name, allows a communication path not just to live TV, but it’s also the communication path to other applications such as replay and video on demand,” Cooke said, as quoted by ZDNet.
Cooke told the Court that he wasn’t sure whether the threshold for “primary purpose” was set at 50% of infringing content but noted that the majority of the content available through the boxes is infringing and the nature of the servers is even more pronounced.
“It compounds the submission that the primary purpose of the online location which is the facilitating server is to facilitate the infringement of copyright using that communication path,” he said.
As TF predicted in our earlier coverage, TVB today got creative by highlighting other content that it does receive copyright protection for in Australia. Previously in the UK, the Premier League successfully stated that it owns copyright in the logos presented in a live broadcast.
This morning, Cooke told the court that TVB “literary works” – scripts used on news shows and subtitling services – receive copyright protection in Australia so urged the Court to consider the full package.
“If one had concerns about live TV, one shouldn’t based on the analysis we’ve done … if one adds that live TV infringements together with video on demand together with replay, there could be no doubt that the primary purpose of the online locations is to infringe copyright,” he said.
Due to the apparent complexity of the case, Justice Nicholas reserved his decision, telling TVB that his ruling could take a couple of months after receiving his “close attention.”
Last week, Village Roadshow and several major Hollywood studios won a blocking injunction against a different pirate IPTV service. HD Subs Plus delivers around 600 live premium channels plus hundreds of movies on demand, but the service will now be blocked by ISPs across Australia.
Researchers at Princeton University have released IoT Inspector, a tool that analyzes the security and privacy of IoT devices by examining the data they send across the Internet. They’ve already used the tool to study a bunch of different IoT devices. From their blog post:
Finding #3: Many IoT Devices Contact a Large and Diverse Set of Third Parties
In many cases, consumers expect that their devices contact manufacturers’ servers, but communication with other third-party destinations may not be a behavior that consumers expect.
We have found that many IoT devices communicate with third-party services, of which consumers are typically unaware. We have found many instances of third-party communications in our analyses of IoT device network traffic. Some examples include:
Samsung Smart TV. During the first minute after power-on, the TV talks to Google Play, Double Click, Netflix, FandangoNOW, Spotify, CBS, MSNBC, NFL, Deezer, and Facebookeven though we did not sign in or create accounts with any of them.
Amcrest WiFi Security Camera. The camera actively communicates with cellphonepush.quickddns.com using HTTPS. QuickDDNS is a Dynamic DNS service provider operated by Dahua. Dahua is also a security camera manufacturer, although Amcrest’s website makes no references to Dahua. Amcrest customer service informed us that Dahua was the original equipment manufacturer.
Halo Smoke Detector. The smart smoke detector communicates with broker.xively.com. Xively offers an MQTT service, which allows manufacturers to communicate with their devices.
Geeni Light Bulb. The Geeni smart bulb communicates with gw.tuyaus.com, which is operated by TuYa, a China-based company that also offers an MQTT service.
We also looked at a number of other devices, such as Samsung Smart Camera and TP-Link Smart Plug, and found communications with third parties ranging from NTP pools (time servers) to video storage services.
Their first two findings are that “Many IoT devices lack basic encryption and authentication” and that “User behavior can be inferred from encrypted IoT device traffic.” No surprises there.
After successful applying for ISP blocks against dozens of traditional torrent and streaming portals, Village Roadshow and a coalition of movie studios switched tack last year.
With the threat of pirate subscription IPTV services looming large, Roadshow, Disney, Universal, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, and Paramount targeted HDSubs+ (also known as PressPlayPlus), a fairly well-known service that provides hundreds of otherwise premium live channels, movies, and sports for a relatively small monthly fee.
The injunction, which was filed last October, targets Australia’s largest ISPs including Telstra, Optus, TPG, and Vocus, plus subsidiaries.
Unlike blocking injunctions targeting regular sites, the studios sought to have several elements of HD Subs+ infrastructure rendered inaccessible, so that its sales platform, EPG (electronic program guide), software (such as an Android and set-top box app), updates, and sundry other services would fail to operate in Australia.
After a six month wait, the Federal Court granted the application earlier today, compelling Australia’s ISPs to block “16 online locations” associated with the HD Subs+ service, rendering its TV services inaccessible Down Under.
“Each respondent must, within 15 business days of service of these orders, take reasonable steps to disable access to the target online locations,” said Justice Nicholas, as quoted by ZDNet.
A small selection of channels in the HDSubs+ package
The ISPs were given flexibility in how to implement the ban, with the Judge noting that DNS blocking, IP address blocking or rerouting, URL blocking, or “any alternative technical means for disabling access”, would be acceptable.
The rightsholders are required to pay a fee of AU$50 fee for each domain they want to block but Village Roadshow says it doesn’t mind doing so, since blocking is in “public interest”. Continuing a pattern established last year, none of the ISPs showed up to the judgment.
A similar IPTV blocking application was filed by Hong Kong-based broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) last year.
TVB wants ISPs including Telstra, Optus, Vocus, and TPG plus their subsidiaries to block access to seven Android-based services named as A1, BlueTV, EVPAD, FunTV, MoonBox, Unblock, and hTV5.
The application was previously heard alongside the HD Subs+ case but will now be handled separately following complications. In April it was revealed that TVB not only wants to block Internet locations related to the technical operation of the service, but also hosting sites that fulfill a role similar to that of Google Play or Apple’s App Store.
TVB wants to have these app marketplaces blocked by Australian ISPs, which would not only render the illicit apps inaccessible to the public but all of the non-infringing ones too.
Justice Nicholas will now have to decide whether the “primary purpose” of these marketplaces is to infringe or facilitate the infringement of TVB’s copyrights. However, there is also a question of whether China-focused live programming has copyright status in Australia. An additional hearing is scheduled for May 2 for these matters to be addressed.
Also on Friday, Foxtel filed yet another blocking application targeting “15 online locations” involving 27 domain names connected to traditional BitTorrent and streaming services.
According to ComputerWorld the injunction targets the same set of ISPs but this time around, Foxtel is trying to save on costs.
The company doesn’t want to have expert witnesses present in court, doesn’t want to stage live demos of websites, and would like to rely on videos and screenshots instead. Foxtel also says that if the ISPs agree, it won’t serve its evidence on them as it has done previously.
The company asked Justice Nicholas to deal with the injunction application “on paper” but he declined, setting a hearing for June 18 but accepting screenshots and videos as evidence.
Back in 2016, an article appeared in Kiwi media discussing the rise of a new company pledging to beat media giant Sky TV at its own game.
My Box NZ owner Krish Reddy told the publication he was selling Android boxes loaded with Kodi software and augmented with third-party addons.
Without any hint of fear, he stated that these devices enabled customers to access movies, TV shows and live channels for free, after shelling out a substantial US$182 for the box first, that is.
“Why pay $80 minimum per month for Sky when for one payment you can have it free for good?” a claim on the company’s website asked.
Noting that he’d been importing the boxes from China, Reddy suggested that his lawyers hadn’t found any problem with the business plan.
“I don’t see why [Sky] would contact me but if they do contact me and … if there’s something of theirs that they feel I’ve unlawfully taken then yeah … but as it stands I don’t [have any concerns],” he said.
At this point, Reddy said he’d been selling the boxes for just six weeks and had shifted around 80 units. To get coverage from a national newspaper at this stage of the game must’ve been very much appreciated but Reddy didn’t stop there.
In a bulk advertising email sent out to 50,000 people, Reddy described his boxes as “better than Sky”. However, by design or misfortune, the email managed to land in the inboxes of 50 Sky TV staff and directors, something that didn’t go unnoticed by the TV giant.
With Reddy claiming sales of 8,000 units, Sky ran out of patience last April. In a letter from its lawyers, the pay-TV company said Reddy’s devices breached copyright law and the Fair Trading Act. Reddy responded by calling the TV giant “a playground bully”, again denying that he was breaking the law.
“From a legal perspective, what we do is completely within the law. We advertise Sky television channels being available through our website and social media platforms as these are available via streams which you can find through My Box,” he said.
“The content is already available, I’m not going out there and bringing the content so how am I infringing the copyright… the content is already there, if someone uses the box to search for the content, that’s what it is.”
The initial compensation demand from Sky against Reddy’s company My Box ran to NZD$1.4m, around US$1m. It was an amount that had the potential rise by millions if matters got drawn out and/or escalated. But despite picking a terrible opponent in a battle he was unlikely to win, Reddy refused to give up.
“[Sky’s] point of view is they own copyright and I’m destroying the market by giving people content for free. To me it is business; I have got something that is new … that’s competition,” he said.
The Auckland High Court heard the case against My Box last month with Judge Warwick Smith reserving his judgment and Reddy still maintaining that his business is entirely legal. Sales were fantastic, he said, with 20,000 devices sold to customers in 12 countries.
Then something truly amazing happened.
A company up to its eyeballs in litigation, selling a commodity product that an amateur can buy and configure at home for US$40, reportedly got a chance of a lifetime. Reddy revealed to Stuff that a Chinese investor had offered to buy his company for an eye-watering NZ$10 million (US$7.06m).
“We have to thank Sky,” he said. “If they had left us alone we would just have been selling a few boxes, but the controversy made us world famous.”
Reddy noted he’d been given 21 days to respond to the offer, but refused to name the company. Interestingly, he also acknowledged that if My Box lost its case, the company would be liable for damages. However, that wouldn’t bother the potential investor.
“It makes no difference to them whether we win or lose, because their operations won’t be in New Zealand,” Reddy said.
According to the entrepreneur, that’s how things are playing out.
The Chinese firm – which Reddy is still refusing to name – has apparently accepted a counter offer from Reddy of US$8.8m for My Box. As a result, Reddy will wrap up his New Zealand operations within the next 90 days and his six employees will be rendered unemployed.
Given that anyone with the ability to install Kodi and a few addons before putting a box in the mail could replicate Reddy’s business model, the multi-million dollar offer for My Box was never anything less than a bewildering business proposition. That someone carried through with it an even higher price is so fantastic as to be almost unbelievable.
In a sea of unhappy endings for piracy-enabled Kodi box sellers globally, this is the only big win to ever grace the headlines. Assuming this really is the end of the story (and that might not be the case) it will almost certainly be the last.
According to this Wired article, Ray Ozzie may have a solution to the crypto backdoor problem. No, he hasn’t. He’s only solving the part we already know how to solve. He’s deliberately ignoring the stuff we don’t know how to solve. We know how to make backdoors, we just don’t know how to secure them.
The vault doesn’t scale
Yes, Apple has a vault where they’ve successfully protected important keys. No, it doesn’t mean this vault scales. The more people and the more often you have to touch the vault, the less secure it becomes. We are talking thousands of requests per day from 100,000 different law enforcement agencies around the world. We are unlikely to protect this against incompetence and mistakes. We are definitely unable to secure this against deliberate attack.
A good analogy to Ozzie’s solution is LetsEncrypt for getting SSL certificates for your website, which is fairly scalable, using a private key locked in a vault for signing hundreds of thousands of certificates. That this scales seems to validate Ozzie’s proposal.
But at the same time, LetsEncrypt is easily subverted. LetsEncrypt uses DNS to verify your identity. But spoofing DNS is easy, as was recently shown in the recent BGP attack against a cryptocurrency. Attackers can create fraudulent SSL certificates with enough effort. We’ve got other protections against this, such as discovering and revoking the SSL bad certificate, so while damaging, it’s not catastrophic.
But with Ozzie’s scheme, equivalent attacks would be catastrophic, as it would lead to unlocking the phone and stealing all of somebody’s secrets.
In particular, consider what would happen if LetsEncrypt’s certificate was stolen (as Matthew Green points out). The consequence is that this would be detected and mass revocations would occur. If Ozzie’s master key were stolen, nothing would happen. Nobody would know, and evildoers would be able to freely decrypt phones. Ozzie claims his scheme can work because SSL works — but then his scheme includes none of the many protections necessary to make SSL work.
What I’m trying to show here is that in a lab, it all looks nice and pretty, but when attacked at scale, things break down — quickly. We have so much experience with failure at scale that we can judge Ozzie’s scheme as woefully incomplete. It’s not even up to the standard of SSL, and we have a long list of SSL problems.
Cryptography is about people more than math We have a mathematically pure encryption algorithm called the “One Time Pad”. It can’t ever be broken, provably so with mathematics.
It’s also perfectly useless, as it’s not something humans can use. That’s why we use AES, which is vastly less secure (anything you encrypt today can probably be decrypted in 100 years). AES can be used by humans whereas One Time Pads cannot be. (I learned the fallacy of One Time Pad’s on my grandfather’s knee — he was a WW II codebreaker who broke German messages trying to futz with One Time Pads).
The same is true with Ozzie’s scheme. It focuses on the mathematical model but ignores the human element. We already know how to solve the mathematical problem in a hundred different ways. The part we don’t know how to secure is the human element.
How do we know the law enforcement person is who they say they are? How do we know the “trusted Apple employee” can’t be bribed? How can the law enforcement agent communicate securely with the Apple employee?
You think these things are theoretical, but they aren’t. Consider financial transactions. It used to be common that you could just email your bank/broker to wire funds into an account for such things as buying a house. Hackers have subverted that, intercepting messages, changing account numbers, and stealing millions. Most banks/brokers require additional verification before doing such transfers.
Let me repeat: Ozzie has only solved the part we already know how to solve. He hasn’t addressed these issues that confound us.
We still can’t secure security, much less secure backdoors
We already know how to decrypt iPhones: just wait a year or two for somebody to discover a vulnerability. FBI claims it’s “going dark”, but that’s only for timely decryption of phones. If they are willing to wait a year or two a vulnerability will eventually be found that allows decryption.
That’s what’s happened with the “GrayKey” device that’s been all over the news lately. Apple is fixing it so that it won’t work on new phones, but it works on old phones.
Ozzie’s solution is based on the assumption that iPhones are already secure against things like GrayKey. Like his assumption “if Apple already has a vault for private keys, then we have such vaults for backdoor keys”, Ozzie is saying “if Apple already had secure hardware/software to secure the phone, then we can use the same stuff to secure the backdoors”. But we don’t really have secure vaults and we don’t really have secure hardware/software to secure the phone.
Again, to stress this point, Ozzie is solving the part we already know how to solve, but ignoring the stuff we don’t know how to solve. His solution is insecure for the same reason phones are already insecure.
Locked phones aren’t the problem Phones are general purpose computers. That means anybody can install an encryption app on the phone regardless of whatever other security the phone might provide. The police are powerless to stop this. Even if they make such encryption crime, then criminals will still use encryption.
That leads to a strange situation that the only data the FBI will be able to decrypt is that of people who believe they are innocent. Those who know they are guilty will install encryption apps like Signal that have no backdoors.
In the past this was rare, as people found learning new apps a barrier. These days, apps like Signal are so easy even drug dealers can figure out how to use them.
We know how to get Apple to give us a backdoor, just pass a law forcing them to. It may look like Ozzie’s scheme, it may be something more secure designed by Apple’s engineers. Sure, it will weaken security on the phone for everyone, but those who truly care will just install Signal. But again we are back to the problem that Ozzie’s solving the problem we know how to solve while ignoring the much larger problem, that of preventing people from installing their own encryption.
The FBI isn’t necessarily the problem Ozzie phrases his solution in terms of U.S. law enforcement. Well, what about Europe? What about Russia? What about China? What about North Korea?
Technology is borderless. A solution in the United States that allows “legitimate” law enforcement requests will inevitably be used by repressive states for what we believe would be “illegitimate” law enforcement requests.
Ozzie sees himself as the hero helping law enforcement protect 300 million American citizens. He doesn’t see himself what he really is, the villain helping oppress 1.4 billion Chinese, 144 million Russians, and another couple billion living in oppressive governments around the world.
Conclusion Ozzie pretends the problem is political, that he’s created a solution that appeases both sides. He hasn’t. He’s solved the problem we already know how to solve. He’s ignored all the problems we struggle with, the problems we claim make secure backdoors essentially impossible. I’ve listed some in this post, but there are many more. Any famous person can create a solution that convinces fawning editors at Wired Magazine, but if Ozzie wants to move forward he’s going to have to work harder to appease doubting cryptographers.
After first targeting torrent and regular streaming platforms with blocking injunctions, last year Village Roadshow and studios including Disney, Universal, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, and Paramount began looking at a new threat.
The action targeted HDSubs+, a reasonably popular IPTV service that provides hundreds of otherwise premium live channels, movies, and sports for a relatively small monthly fee. The application was filed during October 2017 and targeted Australia’s largest ISPs.
In parallel, Hong Kong-based broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) launched a similar action, demanding that the same ISPs (including Telstra, Optus, TPG, and Vocus, plus subsidiaries) block several ‘pirate’ IPTV services, named in court as A1, BlueTV, EVPAD, FunTV, MoonBox, Unblock, and hTV5.
Due to the similarity of the cases, both applications were heard in Federal Court in Sydney on Friday. Neither case is as straightforward as blocking a torrent or basic streaming portal, so both applicants are having to deal with additional complexities.
The TVB case is of particular interest. Up to a couple of dozen URLs maintain the services, which are used to provide the content, an EPG (electronic program guide), updates and sundry other features. While most of these appear to fit the description of an “online location” designed to assist copyright infringement, where the Android-based software for the IPTV services is hosted provides an interesting dilemma.
ComputerWorld reports that the apps – which offer live broadcasts, video-on-demand, and catch-up TV – are hosted on as-yet-unnamed sites which are functionally similar to Google Play or Apple’s App Store. They’re repositories of applications that also carry non-infringing apps, such as those for Netflix and YouTube.
Nevertheless, despite clear knowledge of this dual use, TVB wants to have these app marketplaces blocked by Australian ISPs, which would not only render the illicit apps inaccessible to the public but all of the non-infringing ones too. Part of its argument that this action would be reasonable appears to be that legal apps – such as Netflix’s for example – can also be freely accessed elsewhere.
It will be up to Justice Nicholas to decide whether the “primary purpose” of these marketplaces is to infringe or facilitate the infringement of TVB’s copyrights. However, TVB also appears to have another problem which is directly connected to the copyright status in Australia of its China-focused live programming.
Justice Nicholas questioned whether watching a stream in Australia of TVB’s live Chinese broadcasts would amount to copyright infringement because no copy of that content is being made.
“If most of what is occurring here is a reproduction of broadcasts that are not protected by copyright, then the primary purpose is not to facilitate copyright infringement,” Justice Nicholas said.
One of the problems appears to be that China is not a party to the 1961 Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organisations. However, TVB is arguing that it should still receive protection because it airs pre-recorded content and the live broadcasts are also archived for re-transmission via catch-up services.
The question over whether unchoreographed live broadcasts receive protection has been raised in other regions but in most cases, a workaround has been found. The presence of broadcaster logos on screen (which receive copyright protection) is a factor and it’s been reported that broadcasters are able to record the ‘live’ action and transmit a copy just a couple of seconds later, thereby broadcasting an already-copyrighted work.
While TVB attempts to overcome its issues, Village Roadshow is facing some of its own in its efforts to take down HDSubs+.
It appears that at least partly in response to the Roadshow legal action, the service has undergone some modifications, including a change of brand to ‘Press Play Extra’. As reported by ZDNet, there have been structural changes too, which means that Roadshow can no longer “see under the hood”.
According to Justice Nicholas, there is no evidence that the latest version of the app infringes copyright but according to counsel for Village Roadshow, the new app is merely transitional and preparing for a possible future change.
“We submit the difference to be drawn is reactive to my clients serving on the operators a notice,” counsel for Roadshow argued, with an expert describing the new app as “almost like a placeholder.”
In short, Roadshow still wants all of the target domains in its original application blocked because the company believes there’s a good chance they’ll be reactivated in the future.
None of the ISPs involved in either case turned up to the hearings on Friday, which removes one layer of complexity in what appears thus far to be less than straightforward cases.
In some way, shape or form, Internet piracy has always been carried out through some kind of application. Whether that’s a peer-to-peer client utilizing BitTorrent or eD2K, or a Usenet or FTP tool taking things back to their roots, software has always played a crucial role.
Of course, the nature of the Internet beast means that software usage is unavoidable but in recent years piracy has swung more towards the regular web browser, meaning that sites and services offering pirated content are largely easy to locate, identify and block, if authorities so choose.
As revealed this week by the MPA, thousands of platforms around the world are now targeted for blocking, with 1,800 sites and 5,300 domains blocked in Europe alone.
However, as the Kodi phenomenon has shown, web-based content doesn’t always have to be accessed via a standard web browser. Clever but potentially illegal addons and third-party apps are able to scrape web-based resources and present links to content on a wide range of devices, from mobile phones and tablets to set-top boxes.
While it’s still possible to block the resources upon which these addons rely, the scattered nature of the content makes the process much more difficult. One can’t simply block a whole platform because a few movies are illegally hosted there and even Google has found itself hosting thousands of infringing titles, a situation that’s ruthlessly exploited by addon and app developers alike.
Needless to say, the situation hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment has spent the last year (1,2,3) targeting many people involved in the addon and app scene, hoping they’ll take their tools and run, rather than further develop a rapidly evolving piracy ecosystem.
Over in Russia, a country that will happily block hundreds or millions of IP addresses if it suits them, the topic of infringing apps was raised this week. It happened during the International Strategic Forum on Intellectual Property, a gathering of 500 experts from more than 30 countries. There were strong calls for yet more tools and measures to deal with films and music being made available via ‘pirate’ apps.
The forum heard that in response to widespread website blocking, people behind pirate sites have begun creating applications for mobile devices to achieve the same ends – the provision of illegal content. This, key players in the music industry say, means that the law needs to be further tightened to tackle the rising threat.
“Consumption of content is now going into the mobile sector and due to this we plan to prevent mass migration of ‘pirates’ to the mobile sector,” said Leonid Agronov, general director of the National Federation of the Music Industry.
The same concerns were echoed by Alexander Blinov, CEO of Warner Music Russia. According to TASS, the powerful industry player said that while recent revenues had been positively affected by site-blocking, it’s now time to start taking more action against apps.
“I agree with all speakers that we can not stop at what has been achieved so far. The music industry has a fight against illegal content in mobile applications on the agenda,” Blinov said.
And if Blinov is to be believed, music in Russia is doing particularly well at the moment. Attributing successes to efforts by parliament, the Ministry of Communications, and copyright holders, Blinov said the local music market has doubled in the past two years.
“We are now in the top three fastest growing markets in the world, behind only China and South Korea,” Blinov said.
While some apps can work in the same manner as a basic web interface, others rely on more complex mechanisms, ‘scraping’ content from diverse sources that can be easily and readily changed if mitigation measures kick in. It will be very interesting to see how Russia deals with this threat and whether it will opt for highly technical solutions or the nuclear options demonstrated recently.
Crypto-backdoors for law enforcement is a reasonable position, but the side that argues for it adds things that are either outright lies or morally corrupt. Every year, the amount of digital evidence law enforcement has to solve crimes increases, yet they outrageously lie, claiming they are “going dark”, losing access to evidence. A weirder claim is that those who oppose crypto-backdoors are nonetheless ethically required to make them work. This is morally corrupt.
What I am saying is that those arguing that we should reject third-party access out of hand haven’t carried their research burden. … There are two reasons why I think there hasn’t been enough research to establish the no-third-party access position. First, research in this area is “taboo” among security researchers. … the second reason why I believe more research needs to be done: the fact that prominent non-government experts are publicly willing to try to build secure third-party-access solutions should make the information-security community question the consensus view.
This is nonsense. It’s like claiming we haven’t cured the common cold because researchers haven’t spent enough effort at it. When researchers claim they’ve tried 10,000 ways to make something work, it’s like insisting they haven’t done enough because they haven’t tried 10,001 times.
Certainly, half the community doesn’t want to make such things work. Any solution for the “legitimate” law enforcement of the United States means a solution for illegitimate states like China and Russia which would use the feature to oppress their own people. Even if I believe it’s a net benefit to the United States, I would never attempt such research because of China and Russia.
But computer scientists notoriously ignore ethics in pursuit of developing technology. That describes the other half of the crypto community who would gladly work on the problem. The reason they haven’t come up with solutions is because the problem is hard, really hard.
The second reason the above argument is wrong: it says we should believe a solution is possible because some outsiders are willing to try. But as Yoda says, do or do not, there is no try. Our opinions on the difficulty of the problem don’t change simply because people are trying. Our opinions change when people are succeeding. People are always trying the impossible, that’s not evidence it’s possible.
The paper cherry picks things, like Intel CPU features, to make it seem like they are making forward progress. No. Intel’s SGX extensions are there for other reasons. Sure, it’s a new development, and new developments may change our opinion on the feasibility of law enforcement backdoors. But nowhere in talking about this new development have they actually proposes a solution to the backdoor problem. New developments happen all the time, and the pro-backdoor side is going to seize upon each and every one to claim that this, finally, solves the backdoor problem, without showing exactly how it solves the problem.
The Lawfare post does make one good argument, that there is no such thing as “absolute security”, and thus the argument is stupid that “crypto-backdoors would be less than absolute security”. Too often in the cybersecurity community we reject solutions that don’t provide “absolute security” while failing to acknowledge that “absolute security” is impossible.
But that’s not really what’s going on here. Cryptographers aren’t certain we’ve achieved even “adequate security” with current crypto regimes like SSL/TLS/HTTPS. Every few years we find horrible flaws in the old versions and have to develop new versions. If you steal somebody’s iPhone today, it’s so secure you can’t decrypt anything on it. But then if you hold it for 5 years, somebody will eventually figure out a hole and then you’ll be able to decrypt it — a hole that won’t affect Apple’s newer phones.
The reason we think we can’t get crypto-backdoors correct is simply because we can’t get crypto completely correct. It’s implausible that we can get the backdoors working securely when we still have so much trouble getting encryption working correctly in the first place.
Thus, we aren’t talking about “insignificantly less security”, we are talking about going from “barely adequate security” to “inadequate security”. Negotiating keys between you and a website is hard enough without simultaneously having to juggle keys with law enforcement organizations.
And finally, even if cryptographers do everything correctly law enforcement themselves haven’t proven themselves reliable. The NSA exposed its exploits (like the infamous ETERNALBLUE), and OPM lost all its security clearance records. If they can’t keep those secrets, it’s unreasonable to believe they can hold onto backdoor secrets. One of the problems cryptographers are expected to solve is partly this, to make it work in a such way that makes it unlikely law enforcement will lose its secrets.
This argument by the pro-backdoor side, that we in the crypto-community should do more to solve backdoors, it simply wrong. We’ve spent a lot of effort at this already. Many continue to work on this problem — the reason you haven’t heard much from them is because they haven’t had much success. It’s like blaming doctors for not doing more to work on interrogation drugs (truth serums). Sure, a lot of doctors won’t work on this because it’s distasteful, but at the same time, there are many drug companies who would love to profit by them. The reason they don’t exist is not because they aren’t spending enough money researching them, it’s because there is no plausible solution in sight.
Crypto-backdoors designed for law-enforcement will significantly harm your security. This may change in the future, but that’s the state of crypto today. You should trust the crypto experts on this, not lawyers.
With sites like The Pirate Bay still going great guns in the background, streaming sites are now all the rage. With their Netflix style interfaces and almost instant streaming, these platforms provide the kind of instant fix impatient pirates long for.
One of the most successful was 123Movies, which over the past 18 months and several rebrandings (123movieshub, GoMovies) later managed to build a steady base of millions of users.
Had such a site made its base in the US or Europe, it’s likely that authorities would’ve been breathing down its neck somewhat sooner. However, the skyrocketing platform was allegedly based in Vietnam, a country not exactly known for its staunch support of intellectual property rights. Nevertheless, the tentacles of Hollywood and its friends in government are never far away.
In March 2017, US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius called on the local Government to criminally prosecute the people behind movie streaming site 123movies, Kisscartoon, and a Putlocker variant.
Osius had a meeting with Truong Minh Tuan, Vietnam’s Minister of Information and Communications, after which the Minister assured the Ambassador that Vietnam wanted to protect copyrights. He reportedly told Osius that a decision would soon be made on how to deal with the pirate streaming sites. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, during the discussions 123Movies suffered a significant period of downtime.
Almost exactly a year later, the MPAA piled on the pressure again when it branded 123Movies as the “most popular illegal site in the world”, noting that its 98 million monthly visitors were being serviced from Vietnam.
Then, around March 19, 2018, 123Movies announced that it would be shutting down for good. A notice on the site was accompanied by a countdown timer, predicting the end of the site in five days. When the timer ran out, so did the site and it remains down to this day. But was its closure entirely down to the MPAA?
For the past couple of years, Vietnam has been seeking to overhaul its intellectual property laws, not least due to pressure from countries like the United States. Then, last October, Vietnamese Ambassador Duong Chi Dung was voted in as chairman of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) General Assembly for the 2018-19 tenure.
It was the first time in 12 years that the Asia-Pacific region had had one of its representatives serving as chairperson of the WIPO General Assembly. Quite an honor considering the diplomat enjoyed the backing of 191 member nations during the Assembly’s 49th session in Geneva, Switzerland.
Then in February, local media began publishing stories detailing how Vietnam was improving its stance towards intellectual property. Citing the sixth annual International IP Index released that month by the US Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC), it was noted that Vietnam’s score was on the increase.
“Vietnam has taken some positive steps forward towards strengthening its IP framework to compete more closely with its Southeast Asian peers, increasing its score,” said Patrick Kilbride, vice president of GIPC.
“With continued investment in strong IP rights, Vietnam can harness this positive momentum to become a leader in the region, stimulate its domestic capacity for innovation, and enhance its global competitiveness.”
The Vietnam government was also credited with passing legislation to “strengthen the criminal standards for IP infringement”, a move set to “strengthen the enforcement environment” in the country.
Amid the positive developments, it was noted that Vietnam has a way to go. Early March a report in Vietnam News cited a deputy chief inspector of the Ministry of Science and Technology as saying that while an intellectual property court is “in sight”, it isn’t yet clear when one will appear.
“There needs be an intellectual property court in Vietnam, but we don’t know when it will be established,” Nguyễn Như Quỳnh said. That, it appears, is happily being exploited, both intentionally and by those who don’t know any better.
“Several young people are making tonnes of money out of their online businesses without having to have capital, just a few tricks to increase the number of ‘fans’ on their Facebook pages,” she said. “But a lot of them sell fake stuff, which is considered an infringement.”
Come April 10, 2018, there will be new IP regulations in place in Vietnam concerning local and cross-border copyright protection. Additionally, amendments made last year to the Penal Code, which took effect this year, mean that IP infringements carried out by businesses will now be subject to criminal prosecution.
“Article 225 of the Penal Code stipulates that violations of IPR and related rights by private individuals carries a non-custodial sentence of three years or a jail term of up to three years,” Vietnamnet.vn reports.
“Businesses found guilty will be fined VND300 million to VND1 billion (US$13,000-43,800) for the first offense. If the offense is repeated, the penalty will be a fine of VND3 billion ($130,000) or suspension of operations for up to two years.”
The threshold for criminality appears to be quite low. Previously, infringements had to be carried out “on a commercial scale” to qualify but now all that is required is an illicit profit of around US$500.
How this soup of intellectual property commitments, legislative change, hopes, dreams and promises will affect the apparent rise and fall of streaming platforms in Vietnam is unclear. All that being said, it seems likely that all of these factors are playing their part to ratchet up the pressure.
And, with the US currently playing hardball with China over a lack of respect for IP rights, Vietnam will be keen to be viewed as a cooperative nation.
As for 123Movies, it’s unknown whether it will reappear anytime soon, if at all, given the apparent shifting enthusiasm towards protecting IP in Vietnam. Perhaps against the odds its sister site, Animehub, which was launched in December 2017, is still online. But that could be gone in the blink of an eye too, if recent history is anything to go by.
Russia is developing a track record of being one of the most aggressive countries on the site-blocking front. Already many thousands of sites are rendered inaccessible to the general public but just how far will the government go to achieve its aims?
If reports coming out this week hold true, extremely far indeed.
The controversy centers around an app called Zello, which acts as a kind of ‘walkie-talkie’, assisting communication between close friends or in groups of up to a thousand people.
The app gained a lot of press in 2017 when it was revealed it was being used as an unofficial rescue co-ordination tool while Hurricane Harvey was battering the United States. It quickly shot to the top of the download charts after being downloaded a million times in a day.
But while the app clearly has some fantastic uses, Zello seems to represent a challenge to the authority of the Russian government.
Under the so-called ‘Yarovaya law‘, services like Zello, ISPs, and other telecoms companies, are required to register with Russian telecoms watchdog Rozcomnadzor. Amendments to come into force this year also require them to store the actual content of user communications for six months and metadata (such as who communicated with who, when, and for how long) for three years.
Encrypted services are also required to share keys which allow law enforcement bodies so that they can decrypt messages sent and received by users, something which has communications and VPN companies extremely concerned.
Until now, Zello has reportedly failed to register itself so as a result, the service has become a blocking target for Russian authorities. Zello uses Amazon Web Services (AWS) and last summer it was reported that dozens of Amazon’s IP addresses ended up on Russia’s official blacklist. This week, however, a much more worrying proposition raised its head.
Operators of at least four Internet service providers confirmed to Russia’s Vedomosti that Rozcomnadzor had issued recommendations that they block access to Zello. Copies of letters to the ISPs were published on Telegram and according to reports, most if not all of the country’s ISPs were targeted.
While blocking Zello would be bad enough, the suggestion of how that should take place is nothing short of astounding. The letter speaks of “an experiment” in which ISPs take action to block 36 Internet subnets – representing a staggering 15 million IP addresses – in order to take Zello down.
A total of 26 of those subnets have been identified as belonging to Amazon, accounting for 13.5 million IP addresses in total. Some are reportedly operated by Comcast, others by Softlayer, with the remainder connected to companies in China.
“The subnets selected by Roskomnadzor are not all Amazon’s IP addresses, but they account for a significant portion of the addresses from two large regions of the United States where the company’s data centers are located,” Vedomosti said, quoting a source familiar with Amazon’s infrastructure.
Zello founder and technical director Alexei Gavrilov said that he wasn’t surprised by the news and noted that he’d learned about the list of addresses from Telegram channels. However, it’s claimed that Zello doesn’t completely depend on the listed subnets, meaning that hundreds or thousands of other services unrelated to the app would end up as collateral damage, should they be blocked.
Neither Rozkomnadzor nor Amazon have commented publicly on the news and Russia’s Ministry of Communications has refused to comment. Fortunately, at the time of writing there have been no reports of ISPs mass-blocking IP addresses connected to Zello.
Whether Russia would really flex its muscles so broadly and aggressively just to prove a point is unknown but with the growing war on privacy the way it is, almost anything seems possible.
As a follow-up to our earlier work to provide longer IDs for a small set of essential EC2 resources, we are now doing the same for the remaining EC2 resources, with a migration deadline of July 2018. You can opt-in on a per-user, per-region, per-type basis and verify that your code, regular expressions, database schemas, and database queries work as expected
If you have code that recognizes, processes, or stores IDs for any type of EC2 resources, please read this post with care! Here’s what you need to know:
Migration Deadline – You have until July 2018 to make sure that your code and your schemas can process and store the new, longer IDs. After that, longer IDs will be assigned by default for all newly created resources. IDs for existing resources will remain as-is and will continue to work.
More Resource Types – Longer IDs are now supported for all types of EC2 resources, and you can opt-in as desired:
I would like to encourage you to opt-in, starting with your test accounts, as soon as possible. This will give you time to thoroughly test your code and to make any necessary changes before promoting the code to production.
More Regions – The longer IDs are now available in the AWS China (Beijing) and AWS China (Ningxia) Regions.
Test AMIs – We have published AMIs with longer IDs that you can use for testing (search for testlongids to find them in the Public images):
The Summits are offered at no charge and are an excellent way for you to learn more about AWS. You’ll get to hear from our leaders and tech teams, our partners, and from other customers. You can also participate in hands-on workshops, labs, and team challenges.
Because the events are multi-track, you may want to bring a colleague or two in order to make sure that you don’t miss something of interest to your organization.
The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that today is 28 February, which is as close as you’re going to get to our sixth birthday, given that we launched on a leap day. For the last three years, we’ve launched products on or around our birthday: Raspberry Pi 2 in 2015; Raspberry Pi 3 in 2016; and Raspberry Pi Zero W in 2017. But today is a snow day here at Pi Towers, so rather than launching something, we’re taking a photo tour of the last six years of Raspberry Pi products before we don our party hats for the Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend this Saturday and Sunday.
Before there was Raspberry Pi, there was the Broadcom BCM2763 ‘micro DB’, designed, as it happens, by our very own Roger Thornton. This was the first thing we demoed as a Raspberry Pi in May 2011, shown here running an ARMv6 build of Ubuntu 9.04.
BCM2763 micro DB
Ubuntu on Raspberry Pi, 2011-style
A few months later, along came the first batch of 50 “alpha boards”, designed for us by Broadcom. I used to have a spreadsheet that told me where in the world each one of these lived. These are the first “real” Raspberry Pis, built around the BCM2835 application processor and LAN9512 USB hub and Ethernet adapter; remarkably, a software image taken from the download page today will still run on them.
Raspberry Pi alpha board
We shot some great demos with this board, including this video of Quake III:
A little something for the weekend: here’s Eben showing the Raspberry Pi running Quake 3, and chatting a bit about the performance of the board. Thanks to Rob Bishop and Dave Emett for getting the demo running.
Pete spent the second half of 2011 turning the alpha board into a shippable product, and just before Christmas we produced the first 20 “beta boards”, 10 of which were sold at auction, raising over £10000 for the Foundation.
Beta boards on parade
Here’s Dom, demoing both the board and his excellent taste in movie trailers:
See http://www.raspberrypi.org/ for more details, FAQ and forum.
Rather to Pete’s surprise, I took his beta board design (with a manually-added polygon in the Gerbers taking the place of Paul Grant’s infamous red wire), and ordered 2000 units from Egoman in China. After a few hiccups, units started to arrive in Cambridge, and on 29 February 2012, Raspberry Pi went on sale for the first time via our partners element14 and RS Components.
The first 2000 Raspberry Pis
The first Raspberry Pi from the first box from the first pallet
We took over 100000 orders on the first day: something of a shock for an organisation that had imagined in its wildest dreams that it might see lifetime sales of 10000 units. Some people who ordered that day had to wait until the summer to finally receive their units.
Even as we struggled to catch up with demand, we were working on ways to improve the design. We quickly replaced the USB polyfuses in the top right-hand corner of the board with zero-ohm links to reduce IR drop. If you have a board with polyfuses, it’s a real limited edition; even more so if it also has Hynix memory. Pete’s “rev 2” design made this change permanent, tweaked the GPIO pin-out, and added one much-requested feature: mounting holes.
Revision 1 versus revision 2
If you look carefully, you’ll notice something else about the revision 2 board: it’s made in the UK. 2012 marked the start of our relationship with the Sony UK Technology Centre in Pencoed, South Wales. In the five years since, they’ve built every product we offer, including more than 12 million “big” Raspberry Pis and more than one million Zeros.
Celebrating 500,000 Welsh units, back when that seemed like a lot
Economies of scale, and the decline in the price of SDRAM, allowed us to double the memory capacity of the Model B to 512MB in the autumn of 2012. And as supply of Model B finally caught up with demand, we were able to launch the Model A, delivering on our original promise of a $25 computer.
A UK-built Raspberry Pi Model A
In 2014, James took all the lessons we’d learned from two-and-a-bit years in the market, and designed the Model B+, and its baby brother the Model A+. The Model B+ established the form factor for all our future products, with a 40-pin extended GPIO connector, four USB ports, and four mounting holes.
The Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+ — entering the era of proper product photography with a bang.
While James was working on the Model B+, Broadcom was busy behind the scenes developing a follow-on to the BCM2835 application processor. BCM2836 samples arrived in Cambridge at 18:00 one evening in April 2014 (chips never arrive at 09:00 — it’s always early evening, usually just before a public holiday), and within a few hours Dom had Raspbian, and the usual set of VideoCore multimedia demos, up and running.
We launched Raspberry Pi 2 at the start of 2015, pairing BCM2836 with 1GB of memory. With a quad-core Arm Cortex-A7 clocked at 900MHz, we’d increased performance sixfold, and memory fourfold, in just three years.
Nobody mention the xenon death flash.
And of course, while James was working on Raspberry Pi 2, Broadcom was developing BCM2837, with a quad-core 64-bit Arm Cortex-A53 clocked at 1.2GHz. Raspberry Pi 3 launched barely a year after Raspberry Pi 2, providing a further doubling of performance and, for the first time, wireless LAN and Bluetooth.
All our recent products are just the same board shot from different angles
Zero to hero
Where the PC industry has historically used Moore’s Law to “fill up” a given price point with more performance each year, the original Raspberry Pi used Moore’s law to deliver early-2000s PC performance at a lower price. But with Raspberry Pi 2 and 3, we’d gone back to filling up our original $35 price point. After the launch of Raspberry Pi 2, we started to wonder whether we could pull the same trick again, taking the original Raspberry Pi platform to a radically lower price point.
The result was Raspberry Pi Zero. Priced at just $5, with a 1GHz BCM2835 and 512MB of RAM, it was cheap enough to bundle on the front of The MagPi, making us the first computer magazine to give away a computer as a cover gift.
MagPi issue 40 in all its glory
We followed up with the $10 Raspberry Pi Zero W, launched exactly a year ago. This adds the wireless LAN and Bluetooth functionality from Raspberry Pi 3, using a rather improbable-looking PCB antenna designed by our buddies at Proant in Sweden.
RS Components limited-edition blue Raspberry Pi 1 Model B
Brazilian-market Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
Visible-light Camera Module v2
Learning about injection moulding the hard way
250 pages of content each month, every month
Forward the Foundation
Why does all this matter? Because we’re providing everyone, everywhere, with the chance to own a general-purpose programmable computer for the price of a cup of coffee; because we’re giving people access to tools to let them learn new skills, build businesses, and bring their ideas to life; and because when you buy a Raspberry Pi product, every penny of profit goes to support the Raspberry Pi Foundation in its mission to change the face of computing education.
We’ve had an amazing six years, and they’ve been amazing in large part because of the community that’s grown up alongside us. This weekend, more than 150 Raspberry Jams will take place around the world, comprising the Raspberry Jam Big Birthday Weekend.
If you want to know more about the Raspberry Pi community, go ahead and find your nearest Jam on our interactive map — maybe we’ll see you there.
Apple is bowing to pressure from the Chinese government and storing encryption keys in China. While I would prefer it if it would take a stand against China, I really can’t blame it for putting its business model ahead of its desires for customer privacy.
Continuing Russia’s continued pressure on the restriction of banned websites for copyright infringement and other offenses, President Vladimir Putin signed a brand new bill into law July 2017.
The legislation aimed to prevent citizens from circumventing ISP blockades with the use of services such as VPNs, proxies, Tor, and other anonymizing services. The theory was that if VPNs were found to be facilitating access to banned sites, they too would find themselves on Russia’s national Internet blacklist.
The list is maintained by local telecoms watchdog Rozcomnadzor and currently contains many tens of thousands of restricted domains. In respect of VPNs, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs is tasked with monitoring ‘unblocking’ offenses, which they are then expected to refer to the telecoms watchdog for action.
The legislation caused significant uproar both locally and overseas and was widely predicted to signal a whole new level of censorship in Russia. However, things haven’t played out that way since, far from it. Since being introduced November 1, 2017, not a single VPN has been cautioned over its activities, much less advised to block or cease and desist.
The revelation comes via Russian news outlet RBC, which received an official confirmation from Rozcomnadzor itself that no VPN or anonymization service had been asked to take action to prevent access to blocked sites. Given the attention to detail when passing the law, the reasons seem extraordinary.
While Rozcomnadzor is empowered to put VPN providers on the blacklist, it must first be instructed to do so by the FSB, after that organization has carried out an investigation. Once the FSB gives the go-ahead, Rozcomnadzor can then order the provider to connect itself to the federal state information system, known locally as FGIS.
FGIS is the system that contains the details of nationally blocked sites and if a VPN provider does not interface with it within 30 days of being ordered to do so, it too will be added to the blocklist by Rozcomnadzor. Trouble is, Rozcomnadzor hasn’t received any requests to contact VPNs from higher up the chain, so they can’t do anything.
“As of today, there have been no requests from the members of the RDD [operational and investigative activities] and state security regarding anonymizers and VPN services,” a Roskomnadzor spokesperson said.
However, the problems don’t end there. RBC quotes Karen Ghazaryan, an analyst at the Russian Electronic Communications Association (RAEC), who says that even if it had received instructions, Rozcomnadzor wouldn’t be able to block the VPN services in question for both technical and legal reasons.
“Roskomnadzor does not have leverage over most VPN services, and they can not block them for failing to comply with the law, because Roskomnadzor does not have ready technical solutions for this, and the law does not yet have relevant by-laws,” the expert said.
“Copying the Chinese model of fighting VPNs in Russia will not be possible because of its high cost and the radically different topology of the Russian segment of the Internet,” Ghazaryan adds.
This apparent inability to act is surprising, not least since millions of Russian Internet users are now using VPNs, anonymizers, and similar services on a regular basis. Ghazaryan puts the figure as high as 25% of all Russian Internet users.
However, there is also a third element to Russia’s VPN dilemma – how to differentiate between VPNs used by the public and those used in a commercial environment. China is trying to solve this problem by forcing VPN providers to register and align themselves with the state. Russia hasn’t tried that, yet.
“The [blocking] law says that it does not apply to corporate VPN networks, but there is no way to distinguish them from services used for personal needs,” concludes Sarkis Darbinian from the anti-censorship project, Roskomvoboda.
This week, Russia’s Ministry of Culture unveiled yet more new proposals for dealing with copyright infringement via a bill that would allow websites to be blocked without a court order. It’s envisioned that if pirate material is found on a site and its operator either fails to respond to a complaint or leaves the content online for more than 24 hours, ISPs will be told to block the entire site.
This is part one of a series. The second part will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.
Though most of us have never set foot inside of a data center, as citizens of a data-driven world we nonetheless depend on the services that data centers provide almost as much as we depend on a reliable water supply, the electrical grid, and the highway system. Every time we send a tweet, post to Facebook, check our bank balance or credit score, watch a YouTube video, or back up a computer to the cloud we are interacting with a data center.
In this series, The Challenges of Opening a Data Center, we’ll talk in general terms about the factors that an organization needs to consider when opening a data center and the challenges that must be met in the process. Many of the factors to consider will be similar for opening a private data center or seeking space in a public data center, but we’ll assume for the sake of this discussion that our needs are more modest than requiring a data center dedicated solely to our own use (i.e. we’re not Google, Facebook, or China Telecom).
Data center technology and management are changing rapidly, with new approaches to design and operation appearing every year. This means we won’t be able to cover everything happening in the world of data centers in our series, however, we hope our brief overview proves useful.
What is a Data Center?
A data center is the structure that houses a large group of networked computer servers typically used by businesses, governments, and organizations for the remote storage, processing, or distribution of large amounts of data.
While many organizations will have computing services in the same location as their offices that support their day-to-day operations, a data center is a structure dedicated to 24/7 large-scale data processing and handling.
Depending on how you define the term, there are anywhere from a half million data centers in the world to many millions. While it’s possible to say that an organization’s on-site servers and data storage can be called a data center, in this discussion we are using the term data center to refer to facilities that are expressly dedicated to housing computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. The facility might be a private center, which is owned or leased by one tenant only, or a shared data center that offers what are called “colocation services,” and rents space, services, and equipment to multiple tenants in the center.
A large, modern data center operates around the clock, placing a priority on providing secure and uninterrrupted service, and generally includes redundant or backup power systems or supplies, redundant data communication connections, environmental controls, fire suppression systems, and numerous security devices. Such a center is an industrial-scale operation often using as much electricity as a small town.
Types of Data Centers
There are a number of ways to classify data centers according to how they will be used, whether they are owned or used by one or multiple organizations, whether and how they fit into a topology of other data centers; which technologies and management approaches they use for computing, storage, cooling, power, and operations; and increasingly visible these days: how green they are.
Data centers can be loosely classified into three types according to who owns them and who uses them.
Exclusive Data Centers are facilities wholly built, maintained, operated and managed by the business for the optimal operation of its IT equipment. Some of these centers are well-known companies such as Facebook, Google, or Microsoft, while others are less public-facing big telecoms, insurance companies, or other service providers.
Managed Hosting Providers are data centers managed by a third party on behalf of a business. The business does not own data center or space within it. Rather, the business rents IT equipment and infrastructure it needs instead of investing in the outright purchase of what it needs.
Colocation Data Centers are usually large facilities built to accommodate multiple businesses within the center. The business rents its own space within the data center and subsequently fills the space with its IT equipment, or possibly uses equipment provided by the data center operator.
Backblaze, for example, doesn’t own its own data centers but colocates in data centers owned by others. As Backblaze’s storage needs grow, Backblaze increases the space it uses within a given data center and/or expands to other data centers in the same or different geographic areas.
Availability is Key
When designing or selecting a data center, an organization needs to decide what level of availability is required for its services. The type of business or service it provides likely will dictate this. Any organization that provides real-time and/or critical data services will need the highest level of availability and redundancy, as well as the ability to rapidly failover (transfer operation to another center) when and if required. Some organizations require multiple data centers not just to handle the computer or storage capacity they use, but to provide alternate locations for operation if something should happen temporarily or permanently to one or more of their centers.
Organizations operating data centers that can’t afford any downtime at all will typically operate data centers that have a mirrored site that can take over if something happens to the first site, or they operate a second site in parallel to the first one. These data center topologies are called Active/Passive, and Active/Active, respectively. Should disaster or an outage occur, disaster mode would dictate immediately moving all of the primary data center’s processing to the second data center.
While some data center topologies are spread throughout a single country or continent, others extend around the world. Practically, data transmission speeds put a cap on centers that can be operated in parallel with the appearance of simultaneous operation. Linking two data centers located apart from each other — say no more than 60 miles to limit data latency issues — together with dark fiber (leased fiber optic cable) could enable both data centers to be operated as if they were in the same location, reducing staffing requirements yet providing immediate failover to the secondary data center if needed.
This redundancy of facilities and ensured availability is of paramount importance to those needing uninterrupted data center services.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings. Facilities can achieve ratings of certified, silver, gold, or platinum based on criteria within six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design.
Green certification has become increasingly important in data center design and operation as data centers require great amounts of electricity and often cooling water to operate. Green technologies can reduce costs for data center operation, as well as make the arrival of data centers more amenable to environmentally-conscious communities.
The ACT, Inc. data center in Iowa City, Iowa was the first data center in the U.S. to receive LEED-Platinum certification, the highest level available.
ACT Data Center exterior
ACT Data Center interior
Factors to Consider When Selecting a Data Center
There are numerous factors to consider when deciding to build or to occupy space in a data center. Aspects such as proximity to available power grids, telecommunications infrastructure, networking services, transportation lines, and emergency services can affect costs, risk, security and other factors that need to be taken into consideration.
The size of the data center will be dictated by the business requirements of the owner or tenant. A data center can occupy one room of a building, one or more floors, or an entire building. Most of the equipment is often in the form of servers mounted in 19 inch rack cabinets, which are usually placed in single rows forming corridors (so-called aisles) between them. This allows staff access to the front and rear of each cabinet. Servers differ greatly in size from 1U servers (i.e. one “U” or “RU” rack unit measuring 44.50 millimeters or 1.75 inches), to Backblaze’s Storage Pod design that fits a 4U chassis, to large freestanding storage silos that occupy many square feet of floor space.
Location will be one of the biggest factors to consider when selecting a data center and encompasses many other factors that should be taken into account, such as geological risks, neighboring uses, and even local flight paths. Access to suitable available power at a suitable price point is often the most critical factor and the longest lead time item, followed by broadband service availability.
With more and more data centers available providing varied levels of service and cost, the choices increase each year. Data center brokers can be employed to find a data center, just as one might use a broker for home or other commercial real estate.
Websites listing available colocation space, such as upstack.io, or entire data centers for sale or lease, are widely used. A common practice is for a customer to publish its data center requirements, and the vendors compete to provide the most attractive bid in a reverse auction.
Business and Customer Proximity
The center’s closeness to a business or organization may or may not be a factor in the site selection. The organization might wish to be close enough to manage the center or supervise the on-site staff from a nearby business location. The location of customers might be a factor, especially if data transmission speeds and latency are important, or the business or customers have regulatory, political, tax, or other considerations that dictate areas suitable or not suitable for the storage and processing of data.
Local climate is a major factor in data center design because the climatic conditions dictate what cooling technologies should be deployed. In turn this impacts uptime and the costs associated with cooling, which can total as much as 50% or more of a center’s power costs. The topology and the cost of managing a data center in a warm, humid climate will vary greatly from managing one in a cool, dry climate. Nevertheless, data centers are located in both extremely cold regions and extremely hot ones, with innovative approaches used in both extremes to maintain desired temperatures within the center.
Geographic Stability and Extreme Weather Events
A major obvious factor in locating a data center is the stability of the actual site as regards weather, seismic activity, and the likelihood of weather events such as hurricanes, as well as fire or flooding.
Backblaze’s Sacramento data center describes its location as one of the most stable geographic locations in California, outside fault zones and floodplains.
Sometimes the location of the center comes first and the facility is hardened to withstand anticipated threats, such as Equinix’s NAP of the Americas data center in Miami, one of the largest single-building data centers on the planet (six stories and 750,000 square feet), which is built 32 feet above sea level and designed to withstand category 5 hurricane winds.
Equinix “NAP of the Americas” Data Center in Miami
Most data centers don’t have the extreme protection or history of the Bahnhof data center, which is located inside the ultra-secure former nuclear bunker Pionen, in Stockholm, Sweden. It is buried 100 feet below ground inside the White Mountains and secured behind 15.7 in. thick metal doors. It prides itself on its self-described “Bond villain” ambiance.
Bahnhof Data Center under White Mountain in Stockholm
Usually, the data center owner or tenant will want to take into account the balance between cost and risk in the selection of a location. The Ideal quadrant below is obviously favored when making this compromise.
Risk mitigation also plays a strong role in pricing. The extent to which providers must implement special building techniques and operating technologies to protect the facility will affect price. When selecting a data center, organizations must make note of the data center’s certification level on the basis of regulatory requirements in the industry. These certifications can ensure that an organization is meeting necessary compliance requirements.
Electrical power usually represents the largest cost in a data center. The cost a service provider pays for power will be affected by the source of the power, the regulatory environment, the facility size and the rate concessions, if any, offered by the utility. At higher level tiers, battery, generator, and redundant power grids are a required part of the picture.
Fault tolerance and power redundancy are absolutely necessary to maintain uninterrupted data center operation. Parallel redundancy is a safeguard to ensure that an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system is in place to provide electrical power if necessary. The UPS system can be based on batteries, saved kinetic energy, or some type of generator using diesel or another fuel. The center will operate on the UPS system with another UPS system acting as a backup power generator. If a power outage occurs, the additional UPS system power generator is available.
Many data centers require the use of independent power grids, with service provided by different utility companies or services, to prevent against loss of electrical service no matter what the cause. Some data centers have intentionally located themselves near national borders so that they can obtain redundant power from not just separate grids, but from separate geopolitical sources.
Higher redundancy levels required by a company will of invariably lead to higher prices. If one requires high availability backed by a service-level agreement (SLA), one can expect to pay more than another company with less demanding redundancy requirements.
Stay Tuned for Part 2 of The Challenges of Opening a Data Center
That’s it for part 1 of this post. In subsequent posts, we’ll take a look at some other factors to consider when moving into a data center such as network bandwidth, cooling, and security. We’ll take a look at what is involved in moving into a new data center (including stories from Backblaze’s experiences). We’ll also investigate what it takes to keep a data center running, and some of the new technologies and trends affecting data center design and use. You can discover all posts on our blog tagged with “Data Center” by following the link https://www.backblaze.com/blog/tag/data-center/.
The second part of this series on The Challenges of Opening a Data Center will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.
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