Tag Archives: move

Derek Woodroffe’s steampunk tentacle hat

Post Syndicated from Janina Ander original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/steampunk-tentacle-hat/

Halloween: that glorious time of year when you’re officially allowed to make your friends jump out of their skin with your pranks. For those among us who enjoy dressing up, Halloween is also the occasion to go all out with costumes. And so, dear reader, we present to you: a steampunk tentacle hat, created by Derek Woodroffe.

Finished Tenticle hat

Finished Tenticle hat

Extreme Electronics

Derek is an engineer who loves all things electronics. He’s part of Extreme Kits, and he runs the website Extreme Electronics. Raspberry Pi Zero-controlled Tesla coils are Derek’s speciality — he’s even been on one of the Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures with them! Skip ahead to 15:06 in this video to see Derek in action:

Let There Be Light! // 2016 CHRISTMAS LECTURES with Saiful Islam – Lecture 1

The first Lecture from Professor Saiful Islam’s 2016 series of CHRISTMAS LECTURES, ‘Supercharged: Fuelling the future’. Watch all three Lectures here: http://richannel.org/christmas-lectures 2016 marked the 80th anniversary since the BBC first broadcast the Christmas Lectures on TV. To celebrate, chemist Professor Saiful Islam explores a subject that the lectures’ founder – Michael Faraday – addressed in the very first Christmas Lectures – energy.

Wearables

Wearables are electronically augmented items you can wear. They might take the form of spy eyeglasses, clothes with integrated sensors, or, in this case, headgear adorned with mechanised tentacles.

Why did Derek make this? We’re not entirely sure, but we suspect he’s a fan of the Cthulu mythos. In any case, we were a little astounded by his project. This is how we reacted when Derek tweeted us about it:

Raspberry Pi on Twitter

@ExtElec @extkits This is beyond incredible and completely unexpected.

In fact, we had to recover from a fit of laughter before we actually managed to type this answer.

Making a steampunk tentacle hat

Derek made the ‘skeleton’ of each tentacle out of a net curtain spring, acrylic rings, and four lengths of fishing line. Two servomotors connect to two ends of fishing line each, and pull them to move the tentacle.

net curtain spring and acrylic rings forming a mechanic tentacle skeleton - steampunk tentacle hat by Derek Woodroffe
Two servos connecting to lengths of fishing line - steampunk tentacle hat by Derek Woodroffe

Then he covered the tentacles with nylon stockings and liquid latex, glued suckers cut out of MDF onto them, and mounted them on an acrylic base. The eight motors connect to a Raspberry Pi via an I2C 8-port PWM controller board.

artificial tentacles - steampunk tentacle hat by Derek Woodroffe
8 servomotors connected to a controller board and a raspberry pi- steampunk tentacle hat by Derek Woodroffe

The Pi makes the servos pull the tentacles so that they move in sine waves in both the x and y directions, seemingly of their own accord. Derek cut open the top of a hat to insert the mounted tentacles, and he used more liquid latex to give the whole thing a slimy-looking finish.

steampunk tentacle hat by Derek Woodroffe

Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!

You can read more about Derek’s steampunk tentacle hat here. He will be at the Beeston Raspberry Jam in November to show off his build, so if you’re in the Nottingham area, why not drop by?

Wearables for Halloween

This build is already pretty creepy, but just imagine it with a sensor- or camera-powered upgrade that makes the tentacles reach for people nearby. You’d have nightmare fodder for weeks.

With the help of the Raspberry Pi, any Halloween costume can be taken to the next level. How could Pi technology help you to win that coveted ‘Scariest costume’ prize this year? Tell us your ideas in the comments, and be sure to share pictures of you in your get-up with us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

The post Derek Woodroffe’s steampunk tentacle hat appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

US Senators Ask Apple Why VPN Apps Were Removed in China

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/us-senators-ask-apple-why-vpn-apps-were-removed-in-china-171020/

As part of what is now clearly a crackdown on Great Firewall-evading tools and services, during the summer Chinese government pressure reached technology giant Apple.

On or around July 29, Apple removed many of the most-used VPN applications from its Chinese app store. In a short email from the company, VPN providers were informed that VPN applications are considered illegal in China.

“We are writing to notify you that your application will be removed from the China App Store because it includes content that is illegal in China, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines,” Apple informed the affected VPNs.

Apple’s email to VPN providers

Now, in a letter sent to Apple CEO Tim Cook, US senators Ted Cruz and Patrick Leahy express concern at the move by Apple, noting that if reports of the software removals are true, the company could be assisting China’s restrictive approach to the Internet.

“VPNs allow users to access the uncensored Internet in China and other countries that restrict Internet freedom. If these reports are true, we are concerned that Apple may be enabling the Chines government’s censorship and surveillance of the Internet.”

Describing China as a country with “an abysmal human rights record, including with respect to the rights of free expression and free access to information, both online and offline”, the senators cite Reporters Without Borders who previously labeled the country as “the enemy of the Internet”.

While senators Cruz and Leahy go on to praise Apple for its contribution to the spread of information, they criticize the company for going along with the wishes of the Chinese government as it seeks to suppress knowledge and communication.

“While Apple’s many contributions to the global exchange of information are admirable, removing VPN apps that allow individuals in China to evade the Great Firewall and access the Internet privately does not enable people in China to ‘speak up’,” the senators write.

“To the contrary, if Apple complies with such demands from the Chinese government it inhibits free expression for users across China, particularly in light of the Cyberspace Administration of China’s new regulations targeting online anonymity.”

In January, a notice published by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said that the government had indeed launched a 14-month campaign to crack down on local ‘unauthorized’ Internet platforms.

This means that all VPN services have to be pre-approved by the Government if they want to operate in China. And the aggression against VPNs and their providers didn’t stop there.

In September, a Chinese man who sold Great Firewall-evading VPN software via a website was sentenced to nine months in prison by a Chinese court. Just weeks later, a software developer who set up a VPN for his own use but later sold access to the service was arrested and detained for three days.

This emerging pattern is clearly a concern for the senators who are now demanding that Tim Cook responds to ten questions (pdf), including whether Apple raised concerns about China’s VPN removal demands and details of how many apps were removed from its store. The senators also want to see copies of any pro-free speech statements Apple has made in China.

Whether the letter will make any difference on the ground in China remains to be seen, but the public involvement of the senators and technology giant Apple is certain to thrust censorship and privacy further into the public eye.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Backing Up Linux to Backblaze B2 with Duplicity and Restic

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/backing-linux-backblaze-b2-duplicity-restic/

Linux users have a variety of options for handling data backup. The choices range from free and open-source programs to paid commercial tools, and include applications that are purely command-line based (CLI) and others that have a graphical interface (GUI), or both.

If you take a look at our Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage Integrations page, you will see a number of offerings that enable you to back up your Linux desktops and servers to Backblaze B2. These include CloudBerry, Duplicity, Duplicacy, 45 Drives, GoodSync, HashBackup, QNAP, Restic, and Rclone, plus other choices for NAS and hybrid uses.

In this post, we’ll discuss two popular command line and open-source programs: one older, Duplicity, and a new player, Restic.

Old School vs. New School

We’re highlighting Duplicity and Restic today because they exemplify two different philosophical approaches to data backup: “Old School” (Duplicity) vs “New School” (Restic).

Old School (Duplicity)

In the old school model, data is written sequentially to the storage medium. Once a section of data is recorded, new data is written starting where that section of data ends. It’s not possible to go back and change the data that’s already been written.

This old-school model has long been associated with the use of magnetic tape, a prime example of which is the LTO (Linear Tape-Open) standard. In this “write once” model, files are always appended to the end of the tape. If a file is modified and overwritten or removed from the volume, the associated tape blocks used are not freed up: they are simply marked as unavailable, and the used volume capacity is not recovered. Data is deleted and capacity recovered only if the whole tape is reformatted. As a Linux/Unix user, you undoubtedly are familiar with the TAR archive format, which is an acronym for Tape ARchive. TAR has been around since 1979 and was originally developed to write data to sequential I/O devices with no file system of their own.

It is from the use of tape that we get the full backup/incremental backup approach to backups. A backup sequence beings with a full backup of data. Each incremental backup contains what’s been changed since the last full backup until the next full backup is made and the process starts over, filling more and more tape or whatever medium is being used.

This is the model used by Duplicity: full and incremental backups. Duplicity backs up files by producing encrypted, digitally signed, versioned, TAR-format volumes and uploading them to a remote location, including Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage. Released under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL), Duplicity is free software.

With Duplicity, the first archive is a complete (full) backup, and subsequent (incremental) backups only add differences from the latest full or incremental backup. Chains consisting of a full backup and a series of incremental backups can be recovered to the point in time that any of the incremental steps were taken. If any of the incremental backups are missing, then reconstructing a complete and current backup is much more difficult and sometimes impossible.

Duplicity is available under many Unix-like operating systems (such as Linux, BSD, and Mac OS X) and ships with many popular Linux distributions including Ubuntu, Debian, and Fedora. It also can be used with Windows under Cygwin.

We recently published a KB article on How to configure Backblaze B2 with Duplicity on Linux that demonstrates how to set up Duplicity with B2 and back up and restore a directory from Linux.

New School (Restic)

With the arrival of non-sequential storage medium, such as disk drives, and new ideas such as deduplication, comes the new school approach, which is used by Restic. Data can be written and changed anywhere on the storage medium. This efficiency comes largely through the use of deduplication. Deduplication is a process that eliminates redundant copies of data and reduces storage overhead. Data deduplication techniques ensure that only one unique instance of data is retained on storage media, greatly increasing storage efficiency and flexibility.

Restic is a recently available multi-platform command line backup software program that is designed to be fast, efficient, and secure. Restic supports a variety of backends for storing backups, including a local server, SFTP server, HTTP Rest server, and a number of cloud storage providers, including Backblaze B2.

Files are uploaded to a B2 bucket as deduplicated, encrypted chunks. Each time a backup runs, only changed data is backed up. On each backup run, a snapshot is created enabling restores to a specific date or time.

Restic assumes that the storage location for repository is shared, so it always encrypts the backed up data. This is in addition to any encryption and security from the storage provider.

Restic is open source and free software and licensed under the BSD 2-Clause License and actively developed on GitHub.

There’s a lot more you can do with Restic, including adding tags, mounting a repository locally, and scripting. To learn more, you can review the documentation at https://restic.readthedocs.io.

Coincidentally with this blog post, we published a KB article, How to configure Backblaze B2 with Restic on Linux, in which we show how to set up Restic for use with B2 and how to back up and restore a home directory from Linux to B2.

Which is Right for You?

While Duplicity is a popular, widely-available, and useful program, many users of cloud storage solutions such as B2 are moving to new-school solutions like Restic that take better advantage of the non-sequential access capabilities and speed of modern storage media used by cloud storage providers.

Tell us how you’re backing up Linux

Please let us know in the comments what you’re using for Linux backups, and if you have experience using Duplicity, Restic, or other backup software with Backblaze B2.

The post Backing Up Linux to Backblaze B2 with Duplicity and Restic appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Epic Games Sues Man Over Bitcoin Mining Fortnite ‘Cheat’

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/epic-games-sues-man-over-bitcoin-mining-fortnite-cheat-171019/

A few weeks ago, Epic Games released Fortnite’s free-to-play “Battle Royale” game mode for the PC and other platforms, generating massive interest among gamers.

The release also attracted attention from thousands of cheaters, many of whom were subsequently banned. In addition, Epic Games went a step further by taking several cheaters to court over copyright infringement.

This week the North Carolina-based game developer continued its a war against cheaters. In a new lawsuit, it targets two other cheaters who promoted their hacks through YouTube videos.

One of the defendants is a Swedish resident, Mr. Josefson. He created a cheat and promoted it in various videos, adding instructions on how to download and install it. In common with the previous defendants, he is being sued for copyright infringement.

The second cheater listed in the complaint, a Russian man named Mr. Yakovenko, is more unique. This man also promoted his Fortnite cheats through a series of YouTube videos, but they weren’t very effective.

When Epic downloaded the ‘cheat’ to see how it works, all they got was a Bitcoin miner.

“Epic downloaded the purported cheat from the links provided in Yakovenko’s YouTube videos. While the ‘cheat’ does not appear to be a functional Fortnite cheat, it functions as a bitcoin miner that infects the user’s computer with a virus that causes the user’s computer to mine bitcoin for the benefit of an unknown third party,” the complaint reads.

Epic ‘cheat’

Despite the non-working cheat, Epic Games maintains that Yakovenko created a cheat for Fortnite’s Battle Royale game mode, pointing to a YouTube video he posted last month.

“The First Yakovenko video and associated post contained instructions on how to download and install the cheat and showed full screen gameplay using the purported cheat,” the complaint reads.

All the videos have since been removed following takedown notices from Epic. Through the lawsuit, the game developer now hopes to get compensation for the damages it suffered.

In addition to the copyright infringement claims the two men are also accused of trademark infringement, unfair competition, and breach of contract.

There’s little doubt that Epic Games is doing its best to hold cheaters accountable. However, the problem is not easy to contain. A simple search for Fortnite Hack or Fortnite Cheat still yields tens of thousands of results, with new videos being added continuously.

A copy of the full complaint against Josefson and Yakovenko is available here (pdf).

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Samsung to support Linux distributions on Galaxy handsets

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/736895/rss

Here’s a
Samsung press release
describing the company’s move into the “run Linux
on your phone” space. “Installed as an app, Linux on Galaxy gives
smartphones the capability to run multiple operating systems, enabling
developers to work with their preferred Linux-based distributions on their
mobile devices. Whenever they need to use a function that is not available
on the smartphone OS, users can simply switch to the app and run any
program they need to in a Linux OS environment.

Google Asked to Remove 3 Billion “Pirate” Search Results

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/google-asked-to-remove-3-billion-pirate-search-results-171018/

Copyright holders continue to flood Google with DMCA takedown requests, asking the company to remove “pirate links” from its search results.

In recent years the number of reported URLs has exploded, surging to unprecedented heights.

Since Google first started to report the volume of takedown requests in its Transparency Report, the company has been asked to remove more than three billion allegedly infringing search results.

The frequency at which these URLs are reported has increased over the years and at the moment roughly three million ‘pirate’ URLs are submitted per day.

The URLs are sent in by major rightsholders including members of the BPI, RIAA, and various major Hollywood studios. They target a wide variety of sites, over 1.3 million, but a few dozen ‘repeat offenders’ are causing the most trouble.

File-hosting service 4shared.com currently tops the list of most-targeted domains with 66 million URLs, followed by the now-defunct MP3 download site MP3toys.xyz and Rapidgator.net, with 51 and 28 million URLs respectively.

3 billion URLs

Interestingly, the high volume of takedown notices is used as an argument for and against the DMCA process.

While Google believes that the millions of reported URLs per day are a sign that the DMCA takedown process is working correctly, rightsholders believe the volumes are indicative of an unbeatable game of whack-a-mole.

According to some copyright holders, the takedown efforts do little to seriously combat piracy. Various industry groups have therefore asked governments and lawmakers for broad revisions.

Among other things they want advanced technologies and processes to ensure that infringing content doesn’t reappear elsewhere once it’s removed, a so-called “notice and stay down” approach. In addition, Google has often been asked to demote pirate links in search results.

UK music industry group BPI, who are responsible for more than 10% of all the takedown requests on Google, sees the new milestone as an indicator of how much effort its anti-piracy activities take.

“This 3 billion figure shows how hard the creative sector has to work to police its content online and how much time and resource this takes. The BPI is the world’s largest remover of illegal music links from Google, one third of which are on behalf of independent record labels,” Geoff Taylor, BPI’s Chief Executive, informs TF.

However, there is also some progress to report. Earlier this year BPI announced a voluntary partnership with Google and Bing to demote pirate content faster and more effectively for US visitors.

“We now have a voluntary code of practice in place in the UK, facilitated by Government, that requires Google and Bing to work together with the BPI and other creator organizations to develop lasting solutions to the problem of illegal sites gaining popularity in search listings,” Taylor notes.

According to BPI, both Google and Bing have shown that changes to their algorithms can be effective in demoting the worst pirate sites from the top search results and they hope others will follow suit.

“Other intermediaries should follow this lead and take more responsibility to work with creators to reduce the proliferation of illegal links and disrupt the ability of illegal sites to capture consumers and build black market businesses that take money away from creators.”

Agreement or not, there are still plenty of pirate links in search results, so the BPI is still sending out millions of takedown requests per month.

We asked Google for a comment on the new milestone but at the time of writing, we have yet to hear back. In any event, the issue is bound to remain a hot topic during the months and years to come.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Amazon Redshift Dense Compute (DC2) Nodes Deliver Twice the Performance as DC1 at the Same Price

Post Syndicated from Quaseer Mujawar original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/big-data/amazon-redshift-dense-compute-dc2-nodes-deliver-twice-the-performance-as-dc1-at-the-same-price/

Amazon Redshift makes analyzing exabyte-scale data fast, simple, and cost-effective. It delivers advanced data warehousing capabilities, including parallel execution, compressed columnar storage, and end-to-end encryption as a fully managed service, for less than $1,000/TB/year. With Amazon Redshift Spectrum, you can run SQL queries directly against exabytes of unstructured data in Amazon S3 for $5/TB scanned.

Today, we are making our Dense Compute (DC) family faster and more cost-effective with new second-generation Dense Compute (DC2) nodes at the same price as our previous generation DC1. DC2 is designed for demanding data warehousing workloads that require low latency and high throughput. DC2 features powerful Intel E5-2686 v4 (Broadwell) CPUs, fast DDR4 memory, and NVMe-based solid state disks.

We’ve tuned Amazon Redshift to take advantage of the better CPU, network, and disk on DC2 nodes, providing up to twice the performance of DC1 at the same price. Our DC2.8xlarge instances now provide twice the memory per slice of data and an optimized storage layout with 30 percent better storage utilization.

Customer successes

Several flagship customers, ranging from fast growing startups to large Fortune 100 companies, previewed the new DC2 node type. In their tests, DC2 provided up to twice the performance as DC1. Our preview customers saw faster ETL (extract, transform, and load) jobs, higher query throughput, better concurrency, faster reports, and shorter data-to-insights—all at the same cost as DC1. DC2.8xlarge customers also noted that their databases used up to 30 percent less disk space due to our optimized storage format, reducing their costs.

4Cite Marketing, one of America’s fastest growing private companies, uses Amazon Redshift to analyze customer data and determine personalized product recommendations for retailers. “Amazon Redshift’s new DC2 node is giving us a 100 percent performance increase, allowing us to provide faster insights for our retailers, more cost-effectively, to drive incremental revenue,” said Jim Finnerty, 4Cite’s senior vice president of product.

BrandVerity, a Seattle-based brand protection and compliance‎ company, provides solutions to monitor, detect, and mitigate online brand, trademark, and compliance abuse. “We saw a 70 percent performance boost with the DC2 nodes for running Redshift Spectrum queries. As a result, we can analyze far more data for our customers and deliver results much faster,” said Hyung-Joon Kim, principal software engineer at BrandVerity.

“Amazon Redshift is at the core of our operations and our marketing automation tools,” said Jarno Kartela, head of analytics and chief data scientist at DNA Plc, one of the leading Finnish telecommunications groups and Finland’s largest cable operator and pay TV provider. “We saw a 52 percent performance gain in moving to Amazon Redshift’s DC2 nodes. We can now run queries in half the time, allowing us to provide more analytics power and reduce time-to-insight for our analytics and marketing automation users.”

You can read about their experiences on our Customer Success page.

Get started

You can try the new node type using our getting started guide. Just choose dc2.large or dc2.8xlarge in the Amazon Redshift console:

If you have a DC1.large Amazon Redshift cluster, you can restore to a new DC2.large cluster using an existing snapshot. To migrate from DS2.xlarge, DS2.8xlarge, or DC1.8xlarge Amazon Redshift clusters, you can use the resize operation to move data to your new DC2 cluster. For more information, see Clusters and Nodes in Amazon Redshift.

To get the latest Amazon Redshift feature announcements, check out our What’s New page, and subscribe to the RSS feed.

Amazon Elasticsearch Service now supports VPC

Post Syndicated from Randall Hunt original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/amazon-elasticsearch-service-now-supports-vpc/

Starting today, you can connect to your Amazon Elasticsearch Service domains from within an Amazon VPC without the need for NAT instances or Internet gateways. VPC support for Amazon ES is easy to configure, reliable, and offers an extra layer of security. With VPC support, traffic between other services and Amazon ES stays entirely within the AWS network, isolated from the public Internet. You can manage network access using existing VPC security groups, and you can use AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) policies for additional protection. VPC support for Amazon ES domains is available at no additional charge.

Getting Started

Creating an Amazon Elasticsearch Service domain in your VPC is easy. Follow all the steps you would normally follow to create your cluster and then select “VPC access”.

That’s it. There are no additional steps. You can now access your domain from within your VPC!

Things To Know

To support VPCs, Amazon ES places an endpoint into at least one subnet of your VPC. Amazon ES places an Elastic Network Interface (ENI) into the VPC for each data node in the cluster. Each ENI uses a private IP address from the IPv4 range of your subnet and receives a public DNS hostname. If you enable zone awareness, Amazon ES creates endpoints in two subnets in different availability zones, which provides greater data durability.

You need to set aside three times the number of IP addresses as the number of nodes in your cluster. You can divide that number by two if Zone Awareness is enabled. Ideally, you would create separate subnets just for Amazon ES.

A few notes:

  • Currently, you cannot move existing domains to a VPC or vice-versa. To take advantage of VPC support, you must create a new domain and migrate your data.
  • Currently, Amazon ES does not support Amazon Kinesis Firehose integration for domains inside a VPC.

To learn more, see the Amazon ES documentation.

Randall

How to Compete with Giants

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/how-to-compete-with-giants/

How to Compete with Giants

This post by Backblaze’s CEO and co-founder Gleb Budman is the sixth in a series about entrepreneurship. You can choose posts in the series from the list below:

  1. How Backblaze got Started: The Problem, The Solution, and the Stuff In-Between
  2. Building a Competitive Moat: Turning Challenges Into Advantages
  3. From Idea to Launch: Getting Your First Customers
  4. How to Get Your First 1,000 Customers
  5. Surviving Your First Year
  6. How to Compete with Giants

Use the Join button above to receive notification of new posts in this series.

Perhaps your business is competing in a brand new space free from established competitors. Most of us, though, start companies that compete with existing offerings from large, established companies. You need to come up with a better mousetrap — not the first mousetrap.

That’s the challenge Backblaze faced. In this post, I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned from that experience.

Backblaze vs. Giants

Competing with established companies that are orders of magnitude larger can be daunting. How can you succeed?

I’ll set the stage by offering a few sets of giants we compete with:

  • When we started Backblaze, we offered online backup in a market where companies had been offering “online backup” for at least a decade, and even the newer entrants had raised tens of millions of dollars.
  • When we built our storage servers, the alternatives were EMC, NetApp, and Dell — each of which had a market cap of over $10 billion.
  • When we introduced our cloud storage offering, B2, our direct competitors were Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. You might have heard of them.

What did we learn by competing with these giants on a bootstrapped budget? Let’s take a look.

Determine What Success Means

For a long time Apple considered Apple TV to be a hobby, not a real product worth focusing on, because it did not generate a billion in revenue. For a $10 billion per year revenue company, a new business that generates $50 million won’t move the needle and often isn’t worth putting focus on. However, for a startup, getting to $50 million in revenue can be the start of a wildly successful business.

Lesson Learned: Don’t let the giants set your success metrics.

The Advantages Startups Have

The giants have a lot of advantages: more money, people, scale, resources, access, etc. Following their playbook and attacking head-on means you’re simply outgunned. Common paths to failure are trying to build more features, enter more markets, outspend on marketing, and other similar approaches where scale and resources are the primary determinants of success.

But being a startup affords many advantages most giants would salivate over. As a nimble startup you can leverage those to succeed. Let’s breakdown nine competitive advantages we’ve used that you can too.

1. Drive Focus

It’s hard to build a $10 billion revenue business doing just one thing, and most giants have a broad portfolio of businesses, numerous products for each, and targeting a variety of customer segments in multiple markets. That adds complexity and distributes management attention.

Startups get the benefit of having everyone in the company be extremely focused, often on a singular mission, product, customer segment, and market. While our competitors sell everything from advertising to Zantac, and are investing in groceries and shipping, Backblaze has focused exclusively on cloud storage. This means all of our best people (i.e. everyone) is focused on our cloud storage business. Where is all of your focus going?

Lesson Learned: Align everyone in your company to a singular focus to dramatically out-perform larger teams.

2. Use Lack-of-Scale as an Advantage

You may have heard Paul Graham say “Do things that don’t scale.” There are a host of things you can do specifically because you don’t have the same scale as the giants. Use that as an advantage.

When we look for data center space, we have more options than our largest competitors because there are simply more spaces available with room for 100 cabinets than for 1,000 cabinets. With some searching, we can find data center space that is better/cheaper.

When a flood in Thailand destroyed factories, causing the world’s supply of hard drives to plummet and prices to triple, we started drive farming. The giants certainly couldn’t. It was a bit crazy, but it let us keep prices unchanged for our customers.

Our Chief Cloud Officer, Tim, used to work at Adobe. Because of their size, any new product needed to always launch in a multitude of languages and in global markets. Once launched, they had scale. But getting any new product launched was incredibly challenging.

Lesson Learned: Use lack-of-scale to exploit opportunities that are closed to giants.

3. Build a Better Product

This one is probably obvious. If you’re going to provide the same product, at the same price, to the same customers — why do it? Remember that better does not always mean more features. Here’s one way we built a better product that didn’t require being a bigger company.

All online backup services required customers to choose what to include in their backup. We found that this was complicated for users since they often didn’t know what needed to be backed up. We flipped the model to back up everything and allow users to exclude if they wanted to, but it was not required. This reduced the number of features/options, while making it easier and better for the user.

This didn’t require the resources of a huge company; it just required understanding customers a bit deeper and thinking about the solution differently. Building a better product is the most classic startup competitive advantage.

Lesson Learned: Dig deep with your customers to understand and deliver a better mousetrap.

4. Provide Better Service

How can you provide better service? Use your advantages. Escalations from your customer care folks to engineering can go through fewer hoops. Fixing an issue and shipping can be quicker. Access to real answers on Twitter or Facebook can be more effective.

A strategic decision we made was to have all customer support people as full-time employees in our headquarters. This ensures they are in close contact to the whole company for feedback to quickly go both ways.

Having a smaller team and fewer layers enables faster internal communication, which increases customer happiness. And the option to do things that don’t scale — such as help a customer in a unique situation — can go a long way in building customer loyalty.

Lesson Learned: Service your customers better by establishing clear internal communications.

5. Remove The Unnecessary

After determining that the industry standard EMC/NetApp/Dell storage servers would be too expensive to build our own cloud storage upon, we decided to build our own infrastructure. Many said we were crazy to compete with these multi-billion dollar companies and that it would be impossible to build a lower cost storage server. However, not only did it prove to not be impossible — it wasn’t even that hard.

One key trick? Remove the unnecessary. While EMC and others built servers to sell to other companies for a wide variety of use cases, Backblaze needed servers that only Backblaze would run, and for a single use case. As a result we could tailor the servers for our needs by removing redundancy from each server (since we would run redundant servers), and using lower-performance components (since we would get high-performance by running parallel servers).

What do your customers and use cases not need? This can trim costs and complexity while often improving the product for your use case.

Lesson Learned: Don’t think “what can we add” to what the giants offer — think “what can we remove.”

6. Be Easy

How many times have you visited a large company website, particularly one that’s not consumer-focused, only to leave saying, “Huh? I don’t understand what you do.” Keeping your website clear, and your product and pricing simple, will dramatically increase conversion and customer satisfaction. If you’re able to make it 2x easier and thus increasing your conversion by 2x, you’ve just allowed yourself to spend ½ as much acquiring a customer.

Providing unlimited data backup wasn’t specifically about providing more storage — it was about making it easier. Since users didn’t know how much data they needed to back up, charging per gigabyte meant they wouldn’t know the cost. Providing unlimited data backup meant they could just relax.

Customers love easy — and being smaller makes easy easier to deliver. Use that as an advantage in your website, marketing materials, pricing, product, and in every other customer interaction.

Lesson Learned: Ease-of-use isn’t a slogan: it’s a competitive advantage. Treat it as seriously as any other feature of your product

7. Don’t Be Afraid of Risk

Obviously unnecessary risks are unnecessary, and some risks aren’t worth taking. However, large companies that have given guidance to Wall Street with a $0.01 range on their earning-per-share are inherently going to be very risk-averse. Use risk-tolerance to open up opportunities, and adjust your tolerance level as you scale. In your first year, there are likely an infinite number of ways your business may vaporize; don’t be too worried about taking a risk that might have a 20% downside when the upside is hockey stick growth.

Using consumer-grade hard drives in our servers may have caused pain and suffering for us years down-the-line, but they were priced at approximately 50% of enterprise drives. Giants wouldn’t have considered the option. Turns out, the consumer drives performed great for us.

Lesson Learned: Use calculated risks as an advantage.

8. Be Open

The larger a company grows, the more it wants to hide information. Some of this is driven by regulatory requirements as a public company. But most of this is cultural. Sharing something might cause a problem, so let’s not. All external communication is treated as a critical press release, with rounds and rounds of editing by multiple teams and approvals. However, customers are often desperate for information. Moreover, sharing information builds trust, understanding, and advocates.

I started blogging at Backblaze before we launched. When we blogged about our Storage Pod and open-sourced the design, many thought we were crazy to share this information. But it was transformative for us, establishing Backblaze as a tech thought leader in storage and giving people a sense of how we were able to provide our service at such a low cost.

Over the years we’ve developed a culture of being open internally and externally, on our blog and with the press, and in communities such as Hacker News and Reddit. Often we’ve been asked, “why would you share that!?” — but it’s the continual openness that builds trust. And that culture of openness is incredibly challenging for the giants.

Lesson Learned: Overshare to build trust and brand where giants won’t.

9. Be Human

As companies scale, typically a smaller percent of founders and executives interact with customers. The people who build the company become more hidden, the language feels “corporate,” and customers start to feel they’re interacting with the cliche “faceless, nameless corporation.” Use your humanity to your advantage. From day one the Backblaze About page listed all the founders, and my email address. While contacting us shouldn’t be the first path for a customer support question, I wanted it to be clear that we stand behind the service we offer; if we’re doing something wrong — I want to know it.

To scale it’s important to have processes and procedures, but sometimes a situation falls outside of a well-established process. While we want our employees to follow processes, they’re still encouraged to be human and “try to do the right thing.” How to you strike this balance? Simon Sinek gives a good talk about it: make your employees feel safe. If employees feel safe they’ll be human.

If your customer is a consumer, they’ll appreciate being treated as a human. Even if your customer is a corporation, the purchasing decision-makers are still people.

Lesson Learned: Being human is the ultimate antithesis to the faceless corporation.

Build Culture to Sustain Your Advantages at Scale

Presumably the goal is not to always be competing with giants, but to one day become a giant. Does this mean you’ll lose all of these advantages? Some, yes — but not all. Some of these advantages are cultural, and if you build these into the culture from the beginning, and fight to keep them as you scale, you can keep them as you become a giant.

Tesla still comes across as human, with Elon Musk frequently interacting with people on Twitter. Apple continues to provide great service through their Genius Bar. And, worst case, if you lose these at scale, you’ll still have the other advantages of being a giant such as money, people, scale, resources, and access.

Of course, some new startup will be gunning for you with grand ambitions, so just be sure not to get complacent. 😉

The post How to Compete with Giants appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Abandon Proactive Copyright Filters, Huge Coalition Tells EU Heavyweights

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/abandon-proactive-copyright-filters-huge-coalition-tells-eu-heavyweights-171017/

Last September, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced plans to modernize copyright law in Europe.

The proposals (pdf) are part of the Digital Single Market reforms, which have been under development for the past several years.

One of the proposals is causing significant concern. Article 13 would require some online service providers to become ‘Internet police’, proactively detecting and filtering allegedly infringing copyright works, uploaded to their platforms by users.

Currently, users are generally able to share whatever they like but should a copyright holder take exception to their upload, mechanisms are available for that content to be taken down. It’s envisioned that proactive filtering, whereby user uploads are routinely scanned and compared to a database of existing protected content, will prevent content becoming available in the first place.

These proposals are of great concern to digital rights groups, who believe that such filters will not only undermine users’ rights but will also place unfair burdens on Internet platforms, many of which will struggle to fund such a program. Yesterday, in the latest wave of opposition to Article 13, a huge coalition of international rights groups came together to underline their concerns.

Headed up by Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties) and European Digital Rights (EDRi), the coalition is formed of dozens of influential groups, including Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, and Open Rights Group (ORG), to name just a few.

In an open letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, President of the European Council Donald Tusk and a string of others, the groups warn that the proposals undermine the trust established between EU member states.

“Fundamental rights, justice and the rule of law are intrinsically linked and constitute
core values on which the EU is founded,” the letter begins.

“Any attempt to disregard these values undermines the mutual trust between member states required for the EU to function. Any such attempt would also undermine the commitments made by the European Union and national governments to their citizens.”

Those citizens, the letter warns, would have their basic rights undermined, should the new proposals be written into EU law.

“Article 13 of the proposal on Copyright in the Digital Single Market include obligations on internet companies that would be impossible to respect without the imposition of excessive restrictions on citizens’ fundamental rights,” it notes.

A major concern is that by placing new obligations on Internet service providers that allow users to upload content – think YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – they will be forced to err on the side of caution. Should there be any concern whatsoever that content might be infringing, fair use considerations and exceptions will be abandoned in favor of staying on the right side of the law.

“Article 13 appears to provoke such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens’ communications if they are to have any chance of staying in business,” the letter warns.

But while the potential problems for service providers and users are numerous, the groups warn that Article 13 could also be illegal since it contradicts case law of the Court of Justice.

According to the E-Commerce Directive, platforms are already required to remove infringing content, once they have been advised it exists. The new proposal, should it go ahead, would force the monitoring of uploads, something which goes against the ‘no general obligation to monitor‘ rules present in the Directive.

“The requirement to install a system for filtering electronic communications has twice been rejected by the Court of Justice, in the cases Scarlet Extended (C70/10) and Netlog/Sabam (C 360/10),” the rights groups warn.

“Therefore, a legislative provision that requires internet companies to install a filtering system would almost certainly be rejected by the Court of Justice because it would contravene the requirement that a fair balance be struck between the right to intellectual property on the one hand, and the freedom to conduct business and the right to freedom of expression, such as to receive or impart information, on the other.”

Specifically, the groups note that the proactive filtering of content would violate freedom of expression set out in Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. That being the case, the groups expect national courts to disapply it and the rule to be annulled by the Court of Justice.

The latest protests against Article 13 come in the wake of large-scale objections earlier in the year, voicing similar concerns. However, despite the groups’ fears, they have powerful adversaries, each determined to stop the flood of copyrighted content currently being uploaded to the Internet.

Front and center in support of Article 13 is the music industry and its current hot-topic, the so-called Value Gap(1,2,3). The industry feels that platforms like YouTube are able to avoid paying expensive licensing fees (for music in particular) by exploiting the safe harbor protections of the DMCA and similar legislation.

They believe that proactively filtering uploads would significantly help to diminish this problem, which may very well be the case. But at what cost to the general public and the platforms they rely upon? Citizens and scholars feel that freedoms will be affected and it’s likely the outcry will continue.

The ball is now with the EU, whose members will soon have to make what could be the most important decision in recent copyright history. The rights groups, who are urging for Article 13 to be deleted, are clear where they stand.

The full letter is available here (pdf)

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Pirate Bay’s Iconic .SE Domain has Expired (Updated)

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/pirate-bays-iconic-se-domain-has-expired-and-is-for-sale-171016/

When The Pirate Bay first came online during the summer of 2003, its main point of access was thepiratebay.org.

Since then the site has burnt through more than a dozen domains, trying to evade seizures or other legal threats.

For many years thepiratebay.se operated as the site’s main domain name. Earlier this year the site moved back to the good old .org again, and from the looks of it, TPB is ready to say farewell to the Swedish domain.

Thepiratebay.se expired last week and, if nothing happens, it will be de-activated tomorrow. This means that the site might lose control over a piece of its history.

The torrent site moved from the ORG to the SE domain in 2012, fearing that US authorities would seize the former. Around that time the Department of Homeland Security took hundreds of sites offline and the Pirate Bay team feared that they would be next.

Thepiratebay.se has expired

Ironically, however, the next big threat came from Sweden, the Scandinavian country where the site once started.

In 2013, a local anti-piracy group filed a motion targeting two of The Pirate Bay’s domains, ThePirateBay.se and PirateBay.se. This case that has been dragging on for years now.

During this time TPB moved back and forth between domains but the .se domain turned out to be a safer haven than most alternatives, despite the legal issues. Many other domains were simply seized or suspended without prior notice.

When the Swedish Court of Appeal eventually ruled that The Pirate Bay’s domain had to be confiscated and forfeited to the state, the site’s operators moved back to the .org domain, where it all started.

Although a Supreme Court appeal is still pending, according to a report from IDG earlier this year the court has placed a lock on the domain. This prevents the owner from changing or transferring it, which may explain why it has expired.

The lock is relevant, as the domain not only expired but has also been put of for sale again in the SEDO marketplace, with a minimum bid of $90. This sale would be impossible, if the domain is locked.

Thepiratebay.se for sale

Perhaps the most ironic of all is the fact that TPB moved to .se because it feared that the US controlled .org domain was easy prey.

Fast forward half a decade and over a dozen domains have come and gone while thepiratebay.org still stands strong, despite entertainment industry pressure.

Update: We updated the article to mention that the domain name is locked by the Swedish Supreme Court. This means that it can’t be updated and would explain why it has expired.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Popular Zer0day Torrent Tracker Taken Offline By Mass Copyright Complaint

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/popular-zer0day-torrent-tracker-taken-offline-by-mass-copyright-complaint-171014/

In January 2016, a BitTorrent enthusiast decided to launch a stand-alone tracker, purely for fun.

The Zer0day platform, which hosts no torrents, is a tracker in the purest sense, directing traffic between peers, no matter what content is involved and no matter where people are in the world.

With this type of tracker in short supply, it was soon utilized by The Pirate Bay and the now-defunct ExtraTorrent. By August 2016, it was tracking almost four million peers and a million torrents, a considerable contribution to the BitTorrent ecosystem.

After handling many ups and downs associated with a service of this type, the tracker eventually made it to the end of 2016 intact. This year it grew further still and by the end of September was tracking an impressive 5.5 million peers spread over 1.2 million torrents. Soon after, however, the tracker disappeared from the Internet without warning.

In an effort to find out what had happened, TorrentFreak contacted Zer0day’s operator who told us a familiar story. Without any warning at all, the site’s host pulled the plug on the service, despite having been paid 180 euros for hosting just a week earlier.

“We’re hereby informing you of the termination of your dedicated server due to a breach of our terms of service,” the host informed Zer0day.

“Hosting trackers on our servers that distribute infringing and copyrighted content is prohibited. This server was found to distribute such content. Should we identify additional similar activity in your services, we will be forced to close your account.”

While hosts tend not to worry too much about what their customers are doing, this one had just received a particularly lengthy complaint. Sent by the head of anti-piracy at French collecting society SCPP, it laid out the group’s problems with the Zer0day tracker.

“SCPP has been responsible for the collective management and protection of sound recordings and music videos producers’ rights since 1985. SCPP counts more than 2,600 members including the majority of independent French producers, in addition to independent European producers, and the major international companies: Sony, Universal and Warner,” the complaints reads.

“SCPP administers a catalog of 7,200,000 sound tracks and 77,000 music videos. SCPP is empowered by its members to take legal action in order to put an end to any infringements of the producers’ rights set out in Article L335-4 of the French Intellectual Property Code…..punishable by a three-year prison sentence or a fine of €300,000.”

Noting that it works on behalf of a number of labels and distributors including BMG, Sony Music, Universal Music, Warner Music and others, SCPP listed countless dozens of albums under its protection, each allegedly tracked by the Zer0day platform.

“It has come to our attention that these music albums are illegally being communicated to the public (made available for download) by various users of the BitTorrent-Network,” the complaint reads.

Noting that Zer0day is involved in the process, the anti-piracy outfit presented dozens of hash codes relating to protected works, demanding that the site stop facilitation of infringement on each and every one of them.

“We have proof that your tracker udp://tracker.zer0day.to:1337/announce provided peers of the BitTorrent-Network with information regarding these torrents, to be specific IP Addresses of peers that were offering without authorization the full albums for download, and that this information enabled peers to download files that contain the sound recordings to which our members producers have the exclusive rights.

“These sound recordings are thus being illegally communicated to the public, and your tracker is enabling the seeders to do so.”

Rather than take the hashes down from the tracker, SCPP actually demanded that Zer0day create a permanent blacklist within 24 hours, to ensure the corresponding torrents wouldn’t be tracked again.

“You should understand that this letter constitutes a notice to you that you may be liable for the infringing activity occurring on your service. In addition, if you ignore this notice, you may also be liable for any resulting infringement,” the complaint added.

But despite all the threats, SCPP didn’t receive the response they’d demanded since the operator of the site refused to take any action.

“Obviously, ‘info hashes’ are not copyrightable nor point to specific copyrighted content, or even have any meaning. Further, I cannot verify that request strings parameters (‘info hashes’) you sent me contain copyrighted material,” he told SCPP.

“Like the website says; for content removal kindly ask the indexing site to remove the listing and the .torrent file. Also, tracker software does not have an option to block request strings parameters (‘info hashes’).”

The net effect of non-compliance with SCPP was fairly dramatic and swift. Zer0day’s host took down the whole tracker instead and currently it remains offline. Whether it reappears depends on the site’s operator finding a suitable web host, but at the moment he says he has no idea where one will appear from.

“Currently I’m searching for some virtual private server as a temporary home for the tracker,” he concludes.

As mentioned in an earlier article detailing the problems sites like Zer0day.to face, trackers aren’t absolutely essential for the functioning of BitTorrent transfers. Nevertheless, their existence certainly improves matters for file-sharers so when they go down, millions can be affected.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Coaxing 2D platforming out of Unity

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2017/10/13/coaxing-2d-platforming-out-of-unity/

An anonymous donor asked a question that I can’t even begin to figure out how to answer, but they also said anything else is fine, so here’s anything else.

I’ve been avoiding writing about game physics, since I want to save it for ✨ the book I’m writing ✨, but that book will almost certainly not touch on Unity. Here, then, is a brief run through some of the brick walls I ran into while trying to convince Unity to do 2D platforming.

This is fairly high-level — there are no blocks of code or helpful diagrams. I’m just getting this out of my head because it’s interesting. If you want more gritty details, I guess you’ll have to wait for ✨ the book ✨.

The setup

I hadn’t used Unity before. I hadn’t even used a “real” physics engine before. My games so far have mostly used LÖVE, a Lua-based engine. LÖVE includes box2d bindings, but for various reasons (not all of them good), I opted to avoid them and instead write my own physics completely from scratch. (How, you ask? ✨ Book ✨!)

I was invited to work on a Unity project, Chaos Composer, that someone else had already started. It had basic movement already implemented; I taught myself Unity’s physics system by hacking on it. It’s entirely possible that none of this is actually the best way to do anything, since I was really trying to reproduce my own homegrown stuff in Unity, but it’s the best I’ve managed to come up with.

Two recurring snags were that you can’t ask Unity to do multiple physics updates in a row, and sometimes getting the information I wanted was difficult. Working with my own code spoiled me a little, since I could invoke it at any time and ask it anything I wanted; Unity, on the other hand, is someone else’s black box with a rigid interface on top.

Also, wow, Googling for a lot of this was not quite as helpful as expected. A lot of what’s out there is just the first thing that works, and often that’s pretty hacky and imposes severe limits on the game design (e.g., “this won’t work with slopes”). Basic movement and collision are the first thing you do, which seems to me like the worst time to be locking yourself out of a lot of design options. I tried very (very, very, very) hard to minimize those kinds of constraints.

Problem 1: Movement

When I showed up, movement was already working. Problem solved!

Like any good programmer, I immediately set out to un-solve it. Given a “real” physics engine like Unity prominently features, you have two options: ⓐ treat the player as a physics object, or ⓑ don’t. The existing code went with option ⓑ, like I’d done myself with LÖVE, and like I’d seen countless people advise. Using a physics sim makes for bad platforming.

But… why? I believed it, but I couldn’t concretely defend it. I had to know for myself. So I started a blank project, drew some physics boxes, and wrote a dozen-line player controller.

Ah! Immediate enlightenment.

If the player was sliding down a wall, and I tried to move them into the wall, they would simply freeze in midair until I let go of the movement key. The trouble is that the physics sim works in terms of forces — moving the player involves giving them a nudge in some direction, like a giant invisible hand pushing them around the level. Surprise! If you press a real object against a real wall with your real hand, you’ll see the same effect — friction will cancel out gravity, and the object will stay in midair..

Platformer movement, as it turns out, doesn’t make any goddamn physical sense. What is air control? What are you pushing against? Nothing, really; we just have it because it’s nice to play with, because not having it is a nightmare.

I looked to see if there were any common solutions to this, and I only really found one: make all your walls frictionless.

Game development is full of hacks like this, and I… don’t like them. I can accept that minor hacks are necessary sometimes, but this one makes an early and widespread change to a fundamental system to “fix” something that was wrong in the first place. It also imposes an “invisible” requirement, something I try to avoid at all costs — if you forget to make a particular wall frictionless, you’ll never know unless you happen to try sliding down it.

And so, I swiftly returned to the existing code. It wasn’t too different from what I’d come up with for LÖVE: it applied gravity by hand, tracked the player’s velocity, computed the intended movement each frame, and moved by that amount. The interesting thing was that it used MovePosition, which schedules a movement for the next physics update and stops the movement if the player hits something solid.

It’s kind of a nice hybrid approach, actually; all the “physics” for conscious actors is done by hand, but the physics engine is still used for collision detection. It’s also used for collision rejection — if the player manages to wedge themselves several pixels into a solid object, for example, the physics engine will try to gently nudge them back out of it with no extra effort required on my part. I still haven’t figured out how to get that to work with my homegrown stuff, which is built to prevent overlap rather than to jiggle things out of it.

But wait, what about…

Our player is a dynamic body with rotation lock and no gravity. Why not just use a kinematic body?

I must be missing something, because I do not understand the point of kinematic bodies. I ran into this with Godot, too, which documented them the same way: as intended for use as players and other manually-moved objects. But by default, they don’t even collide with other kinematic bodies or static geometry. What? There’s a checkbox to turn this on, which I enabled, but then I found out that MovePosition doesn’t stop kinematic bodies when they hit something, so I would’ve had to cast along the intended path of movement to figure out when to stop, thus duplicating the same work the physics engine was about to do.

But that’s impossible anyway! Static geometry generally wants to be made of edge colliders, right? They don’t care about concave/convex. Imagine the player is standing on the ground near a wall and tries to move towards the wall. Both the ground and the wall are different edges from the same edge collider.

If you try to cast the player’s hitbox horizontally, parallel to the ground, you’ll only get one collision: the existing collision with the ground. Casting doesn’t distinguish between touching and hitting. And because Unity only reports one collision per collider, and because the ground will always show up first, you will never find out about the impending wall collision.

So you’re forced to either use raycasts for collision detection or decomposed polygons for world geometry, both of which are slightly worse tools for no real gain.

I ended up sticking with a dynamic body.


Oh, one other thing that doesn’t really fit anywhere else: keep track of units! If you’re adding something called “velocity” directly to something called “position”, something has gone very wrong. Acceleration is distance per time squared; velocity is distance per time; position is distance. You must multiply or divide by time to convert between them.

I never even, say, add a constant directly to position every frame; I always phrase it as velocity and multiply by Δt. It keeps the units consistent: time is always in seconds, not in tics.

Problem 2: Slopes

Ah, now we start to get off in the weeds.

A sort of pre-problem here was detecting whether we’re on a slope, which means detecting the ground. The codebase originally used a manual physics query of the area around the player’s feet to check for the ground, which seems to be somewhat common, but that can’t tell me the angle of the detected ground. (It’s also kind of error-prone, since “around the player’s feet” has to be specified by hand and may not stay correct through animations or changes in the hitbox.)

I replaced that with what I’d eventually settled on in LÖVE: detect the ground by detecting collisions, and looking at the normal of the collision. A normal is a vector that points straight out from a surface, so if you’re standing on the ground, the normal points straight up; if you’re on a 10° incline, the normal points 10° away from straight up.

Not all collisions are with the ground, of course, so I assumed something is ground if the normal pointed away from gravity. (I like this definition more than “points upwards”, because it avoids assuming anything about the direction of gravity, which leaves some interesting doors open for later on.) That’s easily detected by taking the dot product — if it’s negative, the collision was with the ground, and I now have the normal of the ground.

Actually doing this in practice was slightly tricky. With my LÖVE engine, I could cram this right into the middle of collision resolution. With Unity, not quite so much. I went through a couple iterations before I really grasped Unity’s execution order, which I guess I will have to briefly recap for this to make sense.

Unity essentially has two update cycles. It performs physics updates at fixed intervals for consistency, and updates everything else just before rendering. Within a single frame, Unity does as many fixed physics updates as it has spare time for (which might be zero, one, or more), then does a regular update, then renders. User code can implement either or both of Update, which runs during a regular update, and FixedUpdate, which runs just before Unity does a physics pass.

So my solution was:

  • At the very end of FixedUpdate, clear the actor’s “on ground” flag and ground normal.

  • During OnCollisionEnter2D and OnCollisionStay2D (which are called from within a physics pass), if there’s a collision that looks like it’s with the ground, set the “on ground” flag and ground normal. (If there are multiple ground collisions, well, good luck figuring out the best way to resolve that! At the moment I’m just taking the first and hoping for the best.)

That means there’s a brief window between the end of FixedUpdate and Unity’s physics pass during which a grounded actor might mistakenly believe it’s not on the ground, which is a bit of a shame, but there are very few good reasons for anything to be happening in that window.

Okay! Now we can do slopes.

Just kidding! First we have to do sliding.

When I first looked at this code, it didn’t apply gravity while the player was on the ground. I think I may have had some problems with detecting the ground as result, since the player was no longer pushing down against it? Either way, it seemed like a silly special case, so I made gravity always apply.

Lo! I was a fool. The player could no longer move.

Why? Because MovePosition does exactly what it promises. If the player collides with something, they’ll stop moving. Applying gravity means that the player is trying to move diagonally downwards into the ground, and so MovePosition stops them immediately.

Hence, sliding. I don’t want the player to actually try to move into the ground. I want them to move the unblocked part of that movement. For flat ground, that means the horizontal part, which is pretty much the same as discarding gravity. For sloped ground, it’s a bit more complicated!

Okay but actually it’s less complicated than you’d think. It can be done with some cross products fairly easily, but Unity makes it even easier with a couple casts. There’s a Vector3.ProjectOnPlane function that projects an arbitrary vector on a plane given by its normal — exactly the thing I want! So I apply that to the attempted movement before passing it along to MovePosition. I do the same thing with the current velocity, to prevent the player from accelerating infinitely downwards while standing on flat ground.

One other thing: I don’t actually use the detected ground normal for this. The player might be touching two ground surfaces at the same time, and I’d want to project on both of them. Instead, I use the player body’s GetContacts method, which returns contact points (and normals!) for everything the player is currently touching. I believe those contact points are tracked by the physics engine anyway, so asking for them doesn’t require any actual physics work.

(Looking at the code I have, I notice that I still only perform the slide for surfaces facing upwards — but I’d want to slide against sloped ceilings, too. Why did I do this? Maybe I should remove that.)

(Also, I’m pretty sure projecting a vector on a plane is non-commutative, which raises the question of which order the projections should happen in and what difference it makes. I don’t have a good answer.)

(I note that my LÖVE setup does something slightly different: it just tries whatever the movement ought to be, and if there’s a collision, then it projects — and tries again with the remaining movement. But I can’t ask Unity to do multiple moves in one physics update, alas.)

Okay! Now, slopes. But actually, with the above work done, slopes are most of the way there already.

One obvious problem is that the player tries to move horizontally even when on a slope, and the easy fix is to change their movement from speed * Vector2.right to speed * new Vector2(ground.y, -ground.x) while on the ground. That’s the ground normal rotated a quarter-turn clockwise, so for flat ground it still points to the right, and in general it points rightwards along the ground. (Note that it assumes the ground normal is a unit vector, but as far as I’m aware, that’s true for all the normals Unity gives you.)

Another issue is that if the player stands motionless on a slope, gravity will cause them to slowly slide down it — because the movement from gravity will be projected onto the slope, and unlike flat ground, the result is no longer zero. For conscious actors only, I counter this by adding the opposite factor to the player’s velocity as part of adding in their walking speed. This matches how the real world works, to some extent: when you’re standing on a hill, you’re exerting some small amount of effort just to stay in place.

(Note that slope resistance is not the same as friction. Okay, yes, in the real world, virtually all resistance to movement happens as a result of friction, but bracing yourself against the ground isn’t the same as being passively resisted.)

From here there are a lot of things you can do, depending on how you think slopes should be handled. You could make the player unable to walk up slopes that are too steep. You could make walking down a slope faster than walking up it. You could make jumping go along the ground normal, rather than straight up. You could raise the player’s max allowed speed while running downhill. Whatever you want, really. Armed with a normal and awareness of dot products, you can do whatever you want.

But first you might want to fix a few aggravating side effects.

Problem 3: Ground adherence

I don’t know if there’s a better name for this. I rarely even see anyone talk about it, which surprises me; it seems like it should be a very common problem.

The problem is: if the player runs up a slope which then abruptly changes to flat ground, their momentum will carry them into the air. For very fast players going off the top of very steep slopes, this makes sense, but it becomes visible even for relatively gentle slopes. It was a mild nightmare in the original release of our game Lunar Depot 38, which has very “rough” ground made up of lots of shallow slopes — so the player is very frequently slightly off the ground, which meant they couldn’t jump, for seemingly no reason. (I even had code to fix this, but I disabled it because of a silly visual side effect that I never got around to fixing.)

Anyway! The reason this is a problem is that game protagonists are generally not boxes sliding around — they have legs. We don’t go flying off the top of real-world hilltops because we put our foot down until it touches the ground.

Simulating this footfall is surprisingly fiddly to get right, especially with someone else’s physics engine. It’s made somewhat easier by Cast, which casts the entire hitbox — no matter what shape it is — in a particular direction, as if it had moved, and tells you all the hypothetical collisions in order.

So I cast the player in the direction of gravity by some distance. If the cast hits something solid with a ground-like collision normal, then the player must be close to the ground, and I move them down to touch it (and set that ground as the new ground normal).

There are some wrinkles.

Wrinkle 1: I only want to do this if the player is off the ground now, but was on the ground last frame, and is not deliberately moving upwards. That latter condition means I want to skip this logic if the player jumps, for example, but also if the player is thrust upwards by a spring or abducted by a UFO or whatever. As long as external code goes through some interface and doesn’t mess with the player’s velocity directly, that shouldn’t be too hard to track.

Wrinkle 2: When does this logic run? It needs to happen after the player moves, which means after a Unity physics pass… but there’s no callback for that point in time. I ended up running it at the beginning of FixedUpdate and the beginning of Update — since I definitely want to do it before rendering happens! That means it’ll sometimes happen twice between physics updates. (I could carefully juggle a flag to skip the second run, but I… didn’t do that. Yet?)

Wrinkle 3: I can’t move the player with MovePosition! Remember, MovePosition schedules a movement, it doesn’t actually perform one; that means if it’s called twice before the physics pass, the first call is effectively ignored. I can’t easily combine the drop with the player’s regular movement, for various fiddly reasons. I ended up doing it “by hand” using transform.Translate, which I think was the “old way” to do manual movement before MovePosition existed. I’m not totally sure if it activates triggers? For that matter, I’m not sure it even notices collisions — but since I did a full-body Cast, there shouldn’t be any anyway.

Wrinkle 4: What, exactly, is “some distance”? I’ve yet to find a satisfying answer for this. It seems like it ought to be based on the player’s current speed and the slope of the ground they’re moving along, but every time I’ve done that math, I’ve gotten totally ludicrous answers that sometimes exceed the size of a tile. But maybe that’s not wrong? Play around, I guess, and think about when the effect should “break” and the player should go flying off the top of a hill.

Wrinkle 5: It’s possible that the player will launch off a slope, hit something, and then be adhered to the ground where they wouldn’t have hit it. I don’t much like this edge case, but I don’t see a way around it either.

This problem is surprisingly awkward for how simple it sounds, and the solution isn’t entirely satisfying. Oh, well; the results are much nicer than the solution. As an added bonus, this also fixes occasional problems with running down a hill and becoming detached from the ground due to precision issues or whathaveyou.

Problem 4: One-way platforms

Ah, what a nightmare.

It took me ages just to figure out how to define one-way platforms. Only block when the player is moving downwards? Nope. Only block when the player is above the platform? Nuh-uh.

Well, okay, yes, those approaches might work for convex players and flat platforms. But what about… sloped, one-way platforms? There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to have those. If Super Mario World can do it, surely Unity can do it almost 30 years later.

The trick is, again, to look at the collision normal. If it faces away from gravity, the player is hitting a ground-like surface, so the platform should block them. Otherwise (or if the player overlaps the platform), it shouldn’t.

Here’s the catch: Unity doesn’t have conditional collision. I can’t decide, on the fly, whether a collision should block or not. In fact, I think that by the time I get a callback like OnCollisionEnter2D, the physics pass is already over.

I could go the other way and use triggers (which are non-blocking), but then I have the opposite problem: I can’t stop the player on the fly. I could move them back to where they hit the trigger, but I envision all kinds of problems as a result. What if they were moving fast enough to activate something on the other side of the platform? What if something else moved to where I’m trying to shove them back to in the meantime? How does this interact with ground detection and listing contacts, which would rightly ignore a trigger as non-blocking?

I beat my head against this for a while, but the inability to respond to collision conditionally was a huge roadblock. It’s all the more infuriating a problem, because Unity ships with a one-way platform modifier thing. Unfortunately, it seems to have been implemented by someone who has never played a platformer. It’s literally one-way — the player is only allowed to move straight upwards through it, not in from the sides. It also tries to block the player if they’re moving downwards while inside the platform, which invokes clumsy rejection behavior. And this all seems to be built into the physics engine itself somehow, so I can’t simply copy whatever they did.

Eventually, I settled on the following. After calculating attempted movement (including sliding), just at the end of FixedUpdate, I do a Cast along the movement vector. I’m not thrilled about having to duplicate the physics engine’s own work, but I do filter to only things on a “one-way platform” physics layer, which should at least help. For each object the cast hits, I use Physics2D.IgnoreCollision to either ignore or un-ignore the collision between the player and the platform, depending on whether the collision was ground-like or not.

(A lot of people suggested turning off collision between layers, but that can’t possibly work — the player might be standing on one platform while inside another, and anyway, this should work for all actors!)

Again, wrinkles! But fewer this time. Actually, maybe just one: handling the case where the player already overlaps the platform. I can’t just check for that with e.g. OverlapCollider, because that doesn’t distinguish between overlapping and merely touching.

I came up with a fairly simple fix: if I was going to un-ignore the collision (i.e. make the platform block), and the cast distance is reported as zero (either already touching or overlapping), I simply do nothing instead. If I’m standing on the platform, I must have already set it blocking when I was approaching it from the top anyway; if I’m overlapping it, I must have already set it non-blocking to get here in the first place.

I can imagine a few cases where this might go wrong. Moving platforms, especially, are going to cause some interesting issues. But this is the best I can do with what I know, and it seems to work well enough so far.

Oh, and our player can deliberately drop down through platforms, which was easy enough to implement; I just decide the platform is always passable while some button is held down.

Problem 5: Pushers and carriers

I haven’t gotten to this yet! Oh boy, can’t wait. I implemented it in LÖVE, but my way was hilariously invasive; I’m hoping that having a physics engine that supports a handwaved “this pushes that” will help. Of course, you also have to worry about sticking to platforms, for which the recommended solution is apparently to parent the cargo to the platform, which sounds goofy to me? I guess I’ll find out when I throw myself at it later.

Overall result

I ended up with a fairly pleasant-feeling system that supports slopes and one-way platforms and whatnot, with all the same pieces as I came up with for LÖVE. The code somehow ended up as less of a mess, too, but it probably helps that I’ve been down this rabbit hole once before and kinda knew what I was aiming for this time.

Animation of a character running smoothly along the top of an irregular dinosaur skeleton

Sorry that I don’t have a big block of code for you to copy-paste into your project. I don’t think there are nearly enough narrative discussions of these fundamentals, though, so hopefully this is useful to someone. If not, well, look forward to ✨ my book, that I am writing ✨!

[$] The trouble with text-only email

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/735973/rss

Mozilla’s manifesto commits
the organization to a number of principles, including support for
individual privacy and an individual’s right to control how they experience
the Internet. As a result, when Mozilla recently stated its intent to
remove the “text only” option from its mailing lists — for the purpose of
tracking whether recipients are reading its emails — the reaction was, to
put it lightly, not entirely positive. The text-only option has been
saved, but the motivation behind this change is indicative of the
challenges facing independent senders of email.

Epic Sues ‘Fortnite’ Cheaters For Copyright Infringement

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/epic-sues-fortnite-cheaters-for-copyright-infringement-171012/

Founded in 1991, Epic has developed and published computer games for over a quarter century.

The North Carolina company is known for titles such as Unreal, Gears of War, Infinity Blade, and most recently, the popular co-op survival and building action game Fortnite.

A few weeks ago, Fortnite released the free-to-play “Battle Royale” game mode for the PC and other platforms, generating massive interest from gamers. Unfortunately, this also included thousands of cheaters, many whom have been banned since.

Last week, Epic stressed that addressing Fortnite cheaters is the company’s highest priority, hinting that they wouldn’t stop at banning users.

“We are constantly working against both the cheaters themselves and the cheat providers. And it’s ongoing, we’re exploring every measure to ensure these cheaters are removed and stay removed from Fortnite Battle Royale and the Epic ecosystem,” the company wrote.

It turns out that this wasn’t an idle threat. TorrentFreak has obtained two complaints that were filed in a North Carolina federal court this week, which show that Epic is launching a legal battle against two prolific cheaters.

The two alleged cheaters are identified as Mr. Broom and Mr. Vraspir. Both are accused of violating Fortnite’s terms of service and EULA by cheating. This involves modifying and changing the game’s code, committing copyright infringement in the process.

“The software that Defendant uses to cheat infringes Epic’s copyrights in the game and breaches the terms of the agreements to which Defendant agreed in order to have access to the game,” the company notes.

From the complaints

The two complaints are largely the same and both defendants are accused of ruining the fun for others.

“Nobody likes a cheater. And nobody likes playing with cheaters. These axioms are particularly true in this case. Defendant uses cheats in a deliberate attempt to destroy the integrity of, and otherwise wreak havoc in, the Fortnite game.

“As Defendant intends, this often ruins the game for the other players, and for the many people who watch ‘streamers’,” the complaint adds.

Both defendants are connected to the cheat provider AddictedCheats.net, either as moderators or support personnel. They specifically target streamers and boast about their accomplishments, making comments such as ‘LOL I f*cked them’ after killing them.

According to Epic’s complaint, Vraspir was banned at least nine times but registered new accounts to continue his cheating. He also stands accused of having written code for the cheats.

Broom was banned once and previously stated that he’s also working on his own cheat. He publicly stated that he aims to create “unwanted chaos and disorder” in Fortnite and said the game was the highest priority of the cheat provider.

With the two lawsuits, the game publisher hopes to put an end to the cheating.

Both defendants face $150,000 in statutory damages for copyright infringement. The complaint further lists breach of contract and circumvention of technological measures as additional claims.

While taking out two cheaters is just a drop in the ocean, Epic is sending a stark warning to people who don’t play by the rules.

Fortnite

Here are copies of the full complaints against Vraspir and Broom.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Clean up Your Container Images with Amazon ECR Lifecycle Policies

Post Syndicated from Nathan Taber original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/clean-up-your-container-images-with-amazon-ecr-lifecycle-policies/

This post comes from the desk of Brent Langston.

Starting today, customers can keep their container image repositories tidy by automatically removing old or unused images using lifecycle policies, now available as part of Amazon E2 Container Repository (Amazon ECR).

Amazon ECR is a fully managed Docker container registry that makes it easy to store manage and deploy Docker container images without worrying about the typical challenges of scaling a service to handle pulling hundreds of images at one time. This scale means that development teams using Amazon ECR actively often find that their repositories fill up with many container image versions. This makes it difficult to find the code changes that matter and incurs unnecessary storage costs. Previously, cleaning up your repository meant spending time to manually delete old images, or writing and executing scripts.

Now, lifecycle policies allow you to define a set of rules to remove old container images automatically. You can also preview rules to see exactly which container images are affected when the rule runs. This allows repositories to be better organized, makes it easier to find the code revisions that matter, and lowers storage costs.

Look at how lifecycle policies work.

Ground Rules

One of the biggest benefits of deploying code in containers is the ability to quickly and easily roll back to a previous version. You can deploy with less risk because, if something goes wrong, it is easy to revert back to the previous container version and know that your application will run like it did before the failed deployment. Most people probably never roll back past a few versions. If your situation is similar, then one simple lifecycle rule might be to just keep the last 30 images.

Last 30 Images

In your ECR registry, choose Dry-Run Lifecycle Rules, Add.

  • For Image Status, select Untagged.
  • Under Match criteria, for Count Type, enter Image Count More Than.
  • For Count Number, enter 30.
  • For Rule action, choose expire.

Choose Save. To see which images would be cleaned up, Save and dry-run rules.

Of course, there are teams who, for compliance reasons, might prefer to keep certain images for a period of time, rather than keeping by count. For that situation, you can choose to clean up images older than 90 days.

Last 90 Days

Select the rule that you just created and choose Edit. Change the parameters to keep only 90 days of untagged images:

  • Under Match criteria, for Count Type, enter Since Image Pushed
  • For Count Number, enter 90.
  • For Count Unit, enter days.

Tags

Certainly 90 days is an arbitrary timeframe, and your team might have policies in place that would require a longer timeframe for certain kinds of images. If that’s the case, but you still want to continue with the spring cleaning, you can consider getting rid of images that are tag prefixed.

Here is the list of rules I came up with to groom untagged, development, staging, and production images:

  • Remove untagged images over 90 days old
  • Remove development tagged images over 90 days old
  • Remove staging tagged images over 180 days old
  • Remove production tagged images over 1 year old

As you can see, the new Amazon ECR lifecycle policies are powerful, and help you easily keep the images you need, while cleaning out images you may never use again. This feature is available starting today, in all regions where Amazon ECR is available, at no extra charge. For more information, see Amazon ECR Lifecycle Policies in the AWS technical documentation.

— Brent
@brentContained

"Responsible encryption" fallacies

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/10/responsible-encryption-fallacies.html

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave a speech recently calling for “Responsible Encryption” (aka. “Crypto Backdoors”). It’s full of dangerous ideas that need to be debunked.

The importance of law enforcement

The first third of the speech talks about the importance of law enforcement, as if it’s the only thing standing between us and chaos. It cites the 2016 Mirai attacks as an example of the chaos that will only get worse without stricter law enforcement.

But the Mira case demonstrated the opposite, how law enforcement is not needed. They made no arrests in the case. A year later, they still haven’t a clue who did it.

Conversely, we technologists have fixed the major infrastructure issues. Specifically, those affected by the DNS outage have moved to multiple DNS providers, including a high-capacity DNS provider like Google and Amazon who can handle such large attacks easily.

In other words, we the people fixed the major Mirai problem, and law-enforcement didn’t.

Moreover, instead being a solution to cyber threats, law enforcement has become a threat itself. The DNC didn’t have the FBI investigate the attacks from Russia likely because they didn’t want the FBI reading all their files, finding wrongdoing by the DNC. It’s not that they did anything actually wrong, but it’s more like that famous quote from Richelieu “Give me six words written by the most honest of men and I’ll find something to hang him by”. Give all your internal emails over to the FBI and I’m certain they’ll find something to hang you by, if they want.
Or consider the case of Andrew Auernheimer. He found AT&T’s website made public user accounts of the first iPad, so he copied some down and posted them to a news site. AT&T had denied the problem, so making the problem public was the only way to force them to fix it. Such access to the website was legal, because AT&T had made the data public. However, prosecutors disagreed. In order to protect the powerful, they twisted and perverted the law to put Auernheimer in jail.

It’s not that law enforcement is bad, it’s that it’s not the unalloyed good Rosenstein imagines. When law enforcement becomes the thing Rosenstein describes, it means we live in a police state.

Where law enforcement can’t go

Rosenstein repeats the frequent claim in the encryption debate:

Our society has never had a system where evidence of criminal wrongdoing was totally impervious to detection

Of course our society has places “impervious to detection”, protected by both legal and natural barriers.

An example of a legal barrier is how spouses can’t be forced to testify against each other. This barrier is impervious.

A better example, though, is how so much of government, intelligence, the military, and law enforcement itself is impervious. If prosecutors could gather evidence everywhere, then why isn’t Rosenstein prosecuting those guilty of CIA torture?

Oh, you say, government is a special exception. If that were the case, then why did Rosenstein dedicate a precious third of his speech discussing the “rule of law” and how it applies to everyone, “protecting people from abuse by the government”. It obviously doesn’t, there’s one rule of government and a different rule for the people, and the rule for government means there’s lots of places law enforcement can’t go to gather evidence.

Likewise, the crypto backdoor Rosenstein is demanding for citizens doesn’t apply to the President, Congress, the NSA, the Army, or Rosenstein himself.

Then there are the natural barriers. The police can’t read your mind. They can only get the evidence that is there, like partial fingerprints, which are far less reliable than full fingerprints. They can’t go backwards in time.

I mention this because encryption is a natural barrier. It’s their job to overcome this barrier if they can, to crack crypto and so forth. It’s not our job to do it for them.

It’s like the camera that increasingly comes with TVs for video conferencing, or the microphone on Alexa-style devices that are always recording. This suddenly creates evidence that the police want our help in gathering, such as having the camera turned on all the time, recording to disk, in case the police later gets a warrant, to peer backward in time what happened in our living rooms. The “nothing is impervious” argument applies here as well. And it’s equally bogus here. By not helping police by not recording our activities, we aren’t somehow breaking some long standing tradit

And this is the scary part. It’s not that we are breaking some ancient tradition that there’s no place the police can’t go (with a warrant). Instead, crypto backdoors breaking the tradition that never before have I been forced to help them eavesdrop on me, even before I’m a suspect, even before any crime has been committed. Sure, laws like CALEA force the phone companies to help the police against wrongdoers — but here Rosenstein is insisting I help the police against myself.

Balance between privacy and public safety

Rosenstein repeats the frequent claim that encryption upsets the balance between privacy/safety:

Warrant-proof encryption defeats the constitutional balance by elevating privacy above public safety.

This is laughable, because technology has swung the balance alarmingly in favor of law enforcement. Far from “Going Dark” as his side claims, the problem we are confronted with is “Going Light”, where the police state monitors our every action.

You are surrounded by recording devices. If you walk down the street in town, outdoor surveillance cameras feed police facial recognition systems. If you drive, automated license plate readers can track your route. If you make a phone call or use a credit card, the police get a record of the transaction. If you stay in a hotel, they demand your ID, for law enforcement purposes.

And that’s their stuff, which is nothing compared to your stuff. You are never far from a recording device you own, such as your mobile phone, TV, Alexa/Siri/OkGoogle device, laptop. Modern cars from the last few years increasingly have always-on cell connections and data recorders that record your every action (and location).

Even if you hike out into the country, when you get back, the FBI can subpoena your GPS device to track down your hidden weapon’s cache, or grab the photos from your camera.

And this is all offline. So much of what we do is now online. Of the photographs you own, fewer than 1% are printed out, the rest are on your computer or backed up to the cloud.

Your phone is also a GPS recorder of your exact position all the time, which if the government wins the Carpenter case, they police can grab without a warrant. Tagging all citizens with a recording device of their position is not “balance” but the premise for a novel more dystopic than 1984.

If suspected of a crime, which would you rather the police searched? Your person, houses, papers, and physical effects? Or your mobile phone, computer, email, and online/cloud accounts?

The balance of privacy and safety has swung so far in favor of law enforcement that rather than debating whether they should have crypto backdoors, we should be debating how to add more privacy protections.

“But it’s not conclusive”

Rosenstein defends the “going light” (“Golden Age of Surveillance”) by pointing out it’s not always enough for conviction. Nothing gives a conviction better than a person’s own words admitting to the crime that were captured by surveillance. This other data, while copious, often fails to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
This is nonsense. Police got along well enough before the digital age, before such widespread messaging. They solved terrorist and child abduction cases just fine in the 1980s. Sure, somebody’s GPS location isn’t by itself enough — until you go there and find all the buried bodies, which leads to a conviction. “Going dark” imagines that somehow, the evidence they’ve been gathering for centuries is going away. It isn’t. It’s still here, and matches up with even more digital evidence.
Conversely, a person’s own words are not as conclusive as you think. There’s always missing context. We quickly get back to the Richelieu “six words” problem, where captured communications are twisted to convict people, with defense lawyers trying to untwist them.

Rosenstein’s claim may be true, that a lot of criminals will go free because the other electronic data isn’t convincing enough. But I’d need to see that claim backed up with hard studies, not thrown out for emotional impact.

Terrorists and child molesters

You can always tell the lack of seriousness of law enforcement when they bring up terrorists and child molesters.
To be fair, sometimes we do need to talk about terrorists. There are things unique to terrorism where me may need to give government explicit powers to address those unique concerns. For example, the NSA buys mobile phone 0day exploits in order to hack terrorist leaders in tribal areas. This is a good thing.
But when terrorists use encryption the same way everyone else does, then it’s not a unique reason to sacrifice our freedoms to give the police extra powers. Either it’s a good idea for all crimes or no crimes — there’s nothing particular about terrorism that makes it an exceptional crime. Dead people are dead. Any rational view of the problem relegates terrorism to be a minor problem. More citizens have died since September 8, 2001 from their own furniture than from terrorism. According to studies, the hot water from the tap is more of a threat to you than terrorists.
Yes, government should do what they can to protect us from terrorists, but no, it’s not so bad of a threat that requires the imposition of a military/police state. When people use terrorism to justify their actions, it’s because they trying to form a military/police state.
A similar argument works with child porn. Here’s the thing: the pervs aren’t exchanging child porn using the services Rosenstein wants to backdoor, like Apple’s Facetime or Facebook’s WhatsApp. Instead, they are exchanging child porn using custom services they build themselves.
Again, I’m (mostly) on the side of the FBI. I support their idea of buying 0day exploits in order to hack the web browsers of visitors to the secret “PlayPen” site. This is something that’s narrow to this problem and doesn’t endanger the innocent. On the other hand, their calls for crypto backdoors endangers the innocent while doing effectively nothing to address child porn.
Terrorists and child molesters are a clichéd, non-serious excuse to appeal to our emotions to give up our rights. We should not give in to such emotions.

Definition of “backdoor”

Rosenstein claims that we shouldn’t call backdoors “backdoors”:

No one calls any of those functions [like key recovery] a “back door.”  In fact, those capabilities are marketed and sought out by many users.

He’s partly right in that we rarely refer to PGP’s key escrow feature as a “backdoor”.

But that’s because the term “backdoor” refers less to how it’s done and more to who is doing it. If I set up a recovery password with Apple, I’m the one doing it to myself, so we don’t call it a backdoor. If it’s the police, spies, hackers, or criminals, then we call it a “backdoor” — even it’s identical technology.

Wikipedia uses the key escrow feature of the 1990s Clipper Chip as a prime example of what everyone means by “backdoor“. By “no one”, Rosenstein is including Wikipedia, which is obviously incorrect.

Though in truth, it’s not going to be the same technology. The needs of law enforcement are different than my personal key escrow/backup needs. In particular, there are unsolvable problems, such as a backdoor that works for the “legitimate” law enforcement in the United States but not for the “illegitimate” police states like Russia and China.

I feel for Rosenstein, because the term “backdoor” does have a pejorative connotation, which can be considered unfair. But that’s like saying the word “murder” is a pejorative term for killing people, or “torture” is a pejorative term for torture. The bad connotation exists because we don’t like government surveillance. I mean, honestly calling this feature “government surveillance feature” is likewise pejorative, and likewise exactly what it is that we are talking about.

Providers

Rosenstein focuses his arguments on “providers”, like Snapchat or Apple. But this isn’t the question.

The question is whether a “provider” like Telegram, a Russian company beyond US law, provides this feature. Or, by extension, whether individuals should be free to install whatever software they want, regardless of provider.

Telegram is a Russian company that provides end-to-end encryption. Anybody can download their software in order to communicate so that American law enforcement can’t eavesdrop. They aren’t going to put in a backdoor for the U.S. If we succeed in putting backdoors in Apple and WhatsApp, all this means is that criminals are going to install Telegram.

If the, for some reason, the US is able to convince all such providers (including Telegram) to install a backdoor, then it still doesn’t solve the problem, as uses can just build their own end-to-end encryption app that has no provider. It’s like email: some use the major providers like GMail, others setup their own email server.

Ultimately, this means that any law mandating “crypto backdoors” is going to target users not providers. Rosenstein tries to make a comparison with what plain-old telephone companies have to do under old laws like CALEA, but that’s not what’s happening here. Instead, for such rules to have any effect, they have to punish users for what they install, not providers.

This continues the argument I made above. Government backdoors is not something that forces Internet services to eavesdrop on us — it forces us to help the government spy on ourselves.
Rosenstein tries to address this by pointing out that it’s still a win if major providers like Apple and Facetime are forced to add backdoors, because they are the most popular, and some terrorists/criminals won’t move to alternate platforms. This is false. People with good intentions, who are unfairly targeted by a police state, the ones where police abuse is rampant, are the ones who use the backdoored products. Those with bad intentions, who know they are guilty, will move to the safe products. Indeed, Telegram is already popular among terrorists because they believe American services are already all backdoored. 
Rosenstein is essentially demanding the innocent get backdoored while the guilty don’t. This seems backwards. This is backwards.

Apple is morally weak

The reason I’m writing this post is because Rosenstein makes a few claims that cannot be ignored. One of them is how he describes Apple’s response to government insistence on weakening encryption doing the opposite, strengthening encryption. He reasons this happens because:

Of course they [Apple] do. They are in the business of selling products and making money. 

We [the DoJ] use a different measure of success. We are in the business of preventing crime and saving lives. 

He swells in importance. His condescending tone ennobles himself while debasing others. But this isn’t how things work. He’s not some white knight above the peasantry, protecting us. He’s a beat cop, a civil servant, who serves us.

A better phrasing would have been:

They are in the business of giving customers what they want.

We are in the business of giving voters what they want.

Both sides are doing the same, giving people what they want. Yes, voters want safety, but they also want privacy. Rosenstein imagines that he’s free to ignore our demands for privacy as long has he’s fulfilling his duty to protect us. He has explicitly rejected what people want, “we use a different measure of success”. He imagines it’s his job to tell us where the balance between privacy and safety lies. That’s not his job, that’s our job. We, the people (and our representatives), make that decision, and it’s his job is to do what he’s told. His measure of success is how well he fulfills our wishes, not how well he satisfies his imagined criteria.

That’s why those of us on this side of the debate doubt the good intentions of those like Rosenstein. He criticizes Apple for wanting to protect our rights/freedoms, and declare they measure success differently.

They are willing to be vile

Rosenstein makes this argument:

Companies are willing to make accommodations when required by the government. Recent media reports suggest that a major American technology company developed a tool to suppress online posts in certain geographic areas in order to embrace a foreign government’s censorship policies. 

Let me translate this for you:

Companies are willing to acquiesce to vile requests made by police-states. Therefore, they should acquiesce to our vile police-state requests.

It’s Rosenstein who is admitting here is that his requests are those of a police-state.

Constitutional Rights

Rosenstein says:

There is no constitutional right to sell warrant-proof encryption.

Maybe. It’s something the courts will have to decide. There are many 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Amendment issues here.
The reason we have the Bill of Rights is because of the abuses of the British Government. For example, they quartered troops in our homes, as a way of punishing us, and as a way of forcing us to help in our own oppression. The troops weren’t there to defend us against the French, but to defend us against ourselves, to shoot us if we got out of line.

And that’s what crypto backdoors do. We are forced to be agents of our own oppression. The principles enumerated by Rosenstein apply to a wide range of even additional surveillance. With little change to his speech, it can equally argue why the constant TV video surveillance from 1984 should be made law.

Let’s go back and look at Apple. It is not some base company exploiting consumers for profit. Apple doesn’t have guns, they cannot make people buy their product. If Apple doesn’t provide customers what they want, then customers vote with their feet, and go buy an Android phone. Apple isn’t providing encryption/security in order to make a profit — it’s giving customers what they want in order to stay in business.
Conversely, if we citizens don’t like what the government does, tough luck, they’ve got the guns to enforce their edicts. We can’t easily vote with our feet and walk to another country. A “democracy” is far less democratic than capitalism. Apple is a minority, selling phones to 45% of the population, and that’s fine, the minority get the phones they want. In a Democracy, where citizens vote on the issue, those 45% are screwed, as the 55% impose their will unwanted onto the remainder.

That’s why we have the Bill of Rights, to protect the 49% against abuse by the 51%. Regardless whether the Supreme Court agrees the current Constitution, it is the sort right that might exist regardless of what the Constitution says. 

Obliged to speak the truth

Here is the another part of his speech that I feel cannot be ignored. We have to discuss this:

Those of us who swear to protect the rule of law have a different motivation.  We are obliged to speak the truth.

The truth is that “going dark” threatens to disable law enforcement and enable criminals and terrorists to operate with impunity.

This is not true. Sure, he’s obliged to say the absolute truth, in court. He’s also obliged to be truthful in general about facts in his personal life, such as not lying on his tax return (the sort of thing that can get lawyers disbarred).

But he’s not obliged to tell his spouse his honest opinion whether that new outfit makes them look fat. Likewise, Rosenstein knows his opinion on public policy doesn’t fall into this category. He can say with impunity that either global warming doesn’t exist, or that it’ll cause a biblical deluge within 5 years. Both are factually untrue, but it’s not going to get him fired.

And this particular claim is also exaggerated bunk. While everyone agrees encryption makes law enforcement’s job harder than with backdoors, nobody honestly believes it can “disable” law enforcement. While everyone agrees that encryption helps terrorists, nobody believes it can enable them to act with “impunity”.

I feel bad here. It’s a terrible thing to question your opponent’s character this way. But Rosenstein made this unavoidable when he clearly, with no ambiguity, put his integrity as Deputy Attorney General on the line behind the statement that “going dark threatens to disable law enforcement and enable criminals and terrorists to operate with impunity”. I feel it’s a bald face lie, but you don’t need to take my word for it. Read his own words yourself and judge his integrity.

Conclusion

Rosenstein’s speech includes repeated references to ideas like “oath”, “honor”, and “duty”. It reminds me of Col. Jessup’s speech in the movie “A Few Good Men”.

If you’ll recall, it was rousing speech, “you want me on that wall” and “you use words like honor as a punchline”. Of course, since he was violating his oath and sending two privates to death row in order to avoid being held accountable, it was Jessup himself who was crapping on the concepts of “honor”, “oath”, and “duty”.

And so is Rosenstein. He imagines himself on that wall, doing albeit terrible things, justified by his duty to protect citizens. He imagines that it’s he who is honorable, while the rest of us not, even has he utters bald faced lies to further his own power and authority.

We activists oppose crypto backdoors not because we lack honor, or because we are criminals, or because we support terrorists and child molesters. It’s because we value privacy and government officials who get corrupted by power. It’s not that we fear Trump becoming a dictator, it’s that we fear bureaucrats at Rosenstein’s level becoming drunk on authority — which Rosenstein demonstrably has. His speech is a long train of corrupt ideas pursuing the same object of despotism — a despotism we oppose.

In other words, we oppose crypto backdoors because it’s not a tool of law enforcement, but a tool of despotism.

How to Automatically Revert and Receive Notifications About Changes to Your Amazon VPC Security Groups

Post Syndicated from Rob Barnes original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/how-to-automatically-revert-and-receive-notifications-about-changes-to-your-amazon-vpc-security-groups/

In a previous AWS Security Blog post, Jeff Levine showed how you can monitor changes to your Amazon EC2 security groups. The methods he describes in that post are examples of detective controls, which can help you determine when changes are made to security controls on your AWS resources.

In this post, I take that approach a step further by introducing an example of a responsive control, which you can use to automatically respond to a detected security event by applying a chosen security mitigation. I demonstrate a solution that continuously monitors changes made to an Amazon VPC security group, and if a new ingress rule (the same as an inbound rule) is added to that security group, the solution removes the rule and then sends you a notification after the changes have been automatically reverted.

The scenario

Let’s say you want to reduce your infrastructure complexity by replacing your Secure Shell (SSH) bastion hosts with Amazon EC2 Systems Manager (SSM). SSM allows you to run commands on your hosts remotely, removing the need to manage bastion hosts or rely on SSH to execute commands. To support this objective, you must prevent your staff members from opening SSH ports to your web server’s Amazon VPC security group. If one of your staff members does modify the VPC security group to allow SSH access, you want the change to be automatically reverted and then receive a notification that the change to the security group was automatically reverted. If you are not yet familiar with security groups, see Security Groups for Your VPC before reading the rest of this post.

Solution overview

This solution begins with a directive control to mandate that no web server should be accessible using SSH. The directive control is enforced using a preventive control, which is implemented using a security group rule that prevents ingress from port 22 (typically used for SSH). The detective control is a “listener” that identifies any changes made to your security group. Finally, the responsive control reverts changes made to the security group and then sends a notification of this security mitigation.

The detective control, in this case, is an Amazon CloudWatch event that detects changes to your security group and triggers the responsive control, which in this case is an AWS Lambda function. I use AWS CloudFormation to simplify the deployment.

The following diagram shows the architecture of this solution.

Solution architecture diagram

Here is how the process works:

  1. Someone on your staff adds a new ingress rule to your security group.
  2. A CloudWatch event that continually monitors changes to your security groups detects the new ingress rule and invokes a designated Lambda function (with Lambda, you can run code without provisioning or managing servers).
  3. The Lambda function evaluates the event to determine whether you are monitoring this security group and reverts the new security group ingress rule.
  4. Finally, the Lambda function sends you an email to let you know what the change was, who made it, and that the change was reverted.

Deploy the solution by using CloudFormation

In this section, you will click the Launch Stack button shown below to launch the CloudFormation stack and deploy the solution.

Prerequisites

  • You must have AWS CloudTrail already enabled in the AWS Region where you will be deploying the solution. CloudTrail lets you log, continuously monitor, and retain events related to API calls across your AWS infrastructure. See Getting Started with CloudTrail for more information.
  • You must have a default VPC in the region in which you will be deploying the solution. AWS accounts have one default VPC per AWS Region. If you’ve deleted your VPC, see Creating a Default VPC to recreate it.

Resources that this solution creates

When you launch the CloudFormation stack, it creates the following resources:

  • A sample VPC security group in your default VPC, which is used as the target for reverting ingress rule changes.
  • A CloudWatch event rule that monitors changes to your AWS infrastructure.
  • A Lambda function that reverts changes to the security group and sends you email notifications.
  • A permission that allows CloudWatch to invoke your Lambda function.
  • An AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) role with limited privileges that the Lambda function assumes when it is executed.
  • An Amazon SNS topic to which the Lambda function publishes notifications.

Launch the CloudFormation stack

The link in this section uses the us-east-1 Region (the US East [N. Virginia] Region). Change the region if you want to use this solution in a different region. See Selecting a Region for more information about changing the region.

To deploy the solution, click the following Launch Stack button to launch the stack. After you click the button, you must sign in to the AWS Management Console if you have not already done so.

Click this "Launch Stack" button

Then:

  1. Choose Next to proceed to the Specify Details page.
  2. On the Specify Details page, type your email address in the Send notifications to box. This is the email address to which change notifications will be sent. (After the stack is launched, you will receive a confirmation email that you must accept before you can receive notifications.)
  3. Choose Next until you get to the Review page, and then choose the I acknowledge that AWS CloudFormation might create IAM resources check box. This confirms that you are aware that the CloudFormation template includes an IAM resource.
  4. Choose Create. CloudFormation displays the stack status, CREATE_COMPLETE, when the stack has launched completely, which should take less than two minutes.Screenshot showing that the stack has launched completely

Testing the solution

  1. Check your email for the SNS confirmation email. You must confirm this subscription to receive future notification emails. If you don’t confirm the subscription, your security group ingress rules still will be automatically reverted, but you will not receive notification emails.
  2. Navigate to the EC2 console and choose Security Groups in the navigation pane.
  3. Choose the security group created by CloudFormation. Its name is Web Server Security Group.
  4. Choose the Inbound tab in the bottom pane of the page. Note that only one rule allows HTTPS ingress on port 443 from 0.0.0.0/0 (from anywhere).Screenshot showing the "Inbound" tab in the bottom pane of the page
  1. Choose Edit to display the Edit inbound rules dialog box (again, an inbound rule and an ingress rule are the same thing).
  2. Choose Add Rule.
  3. Choose SSH from the Type drop-down list.
  4. Choose My IP from the Source drop-down list. Your IP address is populated for you. By adding this rule, you are simulating one of your staff members violating your organization’s policy (in this blog post’s hypothetical example) against allowing SSH access to your EC2 servers. You are testing the solution created when you launched the CloudFormation stack in the previous section. The solution should remove this newly created SSH rule automatically.
    Screenshot of editing inbound rules
  5. Choose Save.

Adding this rule creates an EC2 AuthorizeSecurityGroupIngress service event, which triggers the Lambda function created in the CloudFormation stack. After a few moments, choose the refresh button ( The "refresh" icon ) to see that the new SSH ingress rule that you just created has been removed by the solution you deployed earlier with the CloudFormation stack. If the rule is still there, wait a few more moments and choose the refresh button again.

Screenshot of refreshing the page to see that the SSH ingress rule has been removed

You should also receive an email to notify you that the ingress rule was added and subsequently reverted.

Screenshot of the notification email

Cleaning up

If you want to remove the resources created by this CloudFormation stack, you can delete the CloudFormation stack:

  1. Navigate to the CloudFormation console.
  2. Choose the stack that you created earlier.
  3. Choose the Actions drop-down list.
  4. Choose Delete Stack, and then choose Yes, Delete.
  5. CloudFormation will display a status of DELETE_IN_PROGRESS while it deletes the resources created with the stack. After a few moments, the stack should no longer appear in the list of completed stacks.
    Screenshot of stack "DELETE_IN_PROGRESS"

Other applications of this solution

I have shown one way to use multiple AWS services to help continuously ensure that your security controls haven’t deviated from your security baseline. However, you also could use the CIS Amazon Web Services Foundations Benchmarks, for example, to establish a governance baseline across your AWS accounts and then use the principles in this blog post to automatically mitigate changes to that baseline.

To scale this solution, you can create a framework that uses resource tags to identify particular resources for monitoring. You also can use a consolidated monitoring approach by using cross-account event delivery. See Sending and Receiving Events Between AWS Accounts for more information. You also can extend the principle of automatic mitigation to detect and revert changes to other resources such as IAM policies and Amazon S3 bucket policies.

Summary

In this blog post, I demonstrated how you can automatically revert changes to a VPC security group and have a notification sent about the changes. You can use this solution in your own AWS accounts to enforce your security requirements continuously.

If you have comments about this blog post or other ideas for ways to use this solution, submit a comment in the “Comments” section below. If you have implementation questions, start a new thread in the EC2 forum or contact AWS Support.

– Rob

Cloudflare CEO Has to Explain Lack of Pirate Site Terminations

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/cloudflare-ceo-has-to-explain-lack-of-pirate-site-terminations-171010/

In August, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince decided to terminate the account of controversial neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer.

“I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet,” he wrote.

The decision was meant as an intellectual exercise to start a conversation regarding censorship and free speech on the internet. In this respect it was a success but the discussion went much further than Prince had intended.

Cloudflare had a long-standing policy not to remove any accounts without a court order, so when this was exceeded, eyebrows were raised. In particular, copyright holders wondered why the company could terminate this account but not those of the most notorious pirate sites.

Adult entertainment publisher ALS Scan raised this question in its piracy liability case against Cloudflare, asking for a 7-hour long deposition of the company’s CEO, to find out more. Cloudflare opposed this request, saying it was overbroad and unneeded, while asking the court to weigh in.

After reviewing the matter, Magistrate Judge Alexander MacKinnon decided to allow the deposition, but in a limited form.

“An initial matter, the Court finds that ALS Scan has not made a showing that would justify a 7 hour deposition of Mr. Prince covering a wide range of topics,” the order (pdf) reads.

“On the other hand, a review of the record shows that ALS Scan has identified a narrow relevant issue for which it appears Mr. Prince has unique knowledge and for which less intrusive discovery has been exhausted.”

ALS Scan will be able to interrogate Cloudflare’s CEO but only for two hours. The deposition must be specifically tailored toward his motivation (not) to use his authority to terminate the accounts of ‘pirating’ customers.

“The specific topic is the use (or non-use) of Mr. Prince’s authority to terminate customers, as specifically applied to customers for whom Cloudflare has received notices of copyright infringement,” the order specifies.

Whether this deposition will help ALS Scan argue its case has yet to be seen. Based on earlier submissions, the CEO will likely argue that the Daily Stormer case was an exception to make a point and that it’s company policy to require a court order to respond to infringement claims.

Meanwhile, more questions are being raised. Just a few days ago Cloudflare suspended the account of a customer for using a cryptocurrency miner. Apparently, Cloudflare classifies these miners as malware, triggering a punishment without a court order.

ALS Scan and other copyright holders would like to see a similar policy against notorious pirate sites, but thus far Cloudflare is having none of it.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.