Tag Archives: OCR

The US Is Unprepared for Election-Related Hacking in 2018

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/05/the_us_is_unpre.html

This survey and report is not surprising:

The survey of nearly forty Republican and Democratic campaign operatives, administered through November and December 2017, revealed that American political campaign staff — primarily working at the state and congressional levels — are not only unprepared for possible cyber attacks, but remain generally unconcerned about the threat. The survey sample was relatively small, but nevertheless the survey provides a first look at how campaign managers and staff are responding to the threat.

The overwhelming majority of those surveyed do not want to devote campaign resources to cybersecurity or to hire personnel to address cybersecurity issues. Even though campaign managers recognize there is a high probability that campaign and personal emails are at risk of being hacked, they are more concerned about fundraising and press coverage than they are about cybersecurity. Less than half of those surveyed said they had taken steps to make their data secure and most were unsure if they wanted to spend any money on this protection.

Security is never something we actually want. Security is something we need in order to avoid what we don’t want. It’s also more abstract, concerned with hypothetical future possibilities. Of course it’s lower on the priorities list than fundraising and press coverage. They’re more tangible, and they’re more immediate.

This is all to the attackers’ advantage.

The DMCA and its Chilling Effects on Research

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/04/the_dmca_and_it.html

The Center for Democracy and Technology has a good summary of the current state of the DMCA’s chilling effects on security research.

To underline the nature of chilling effects on hacking and security research, CDT has worked to describe how tinkerers, hackers, and security researchers of all types both contribute to a baseline level of security in our digital environment and, in turn, are shaped themselves by this environment, most notably when things they do upset others and result in threats, potential lawsuits, and prosecution. We’ve published two reports (sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation and MacArthur Foundation) about needed reforms to the law and the myriad of ways that security research directly improves people’s lives. To get a more complete picture, we wanted to talk to security researchers themselves and gauge the forces that shape their work; essentially, we wanted to “take the pulse” of the security research community.

Today, we are releasing a third report in service of this effort: “Taking the Pulse of Hacking: A Risk Basis for Security Research.” We report findings after having interviewed a set of 20 security researchers and hackers — half academic and half non-academic — about what considerations they take into account when starting new projects or engaging in new work, as well as to what extent they or their colleagues have faced threats in the past that chilled their work. The results in our report show that a wide variety of constraints shape the work they do, from technical constraints to ethical boundaries to legal concerns, including the DMCA and especially the CFAA.

Note: I am a signatory on the letter supporting unrestricted security research.

Backblaze Announces B2 Compute Partnerships

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/introducing-cloud-compute-services/

Backblaze Announces B2 Compute Partnerships

In 2015, we announced Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage — the most affordable, high performance storage cloud on the planet. The decision to release B2 as a service was in direct response to customers asking us if they could use the same cloud storage infrastructure we use for our Computer Backup service. With B2, we entered a market in direct competition with Amazon S3, Google Cloud Services, and Microsoft Azure Storage. Today, we have over 500 petabytes of data from customers in over 150 countries. At $0.005 / GB / month for storage (1/4th of S3) and $0.01 / GB for downloads (1/5th of S3), it turns out there’s a healthy market for cloud storage that’s easy and affordable.

As B2 has grown, customers wanted to use our cloud storage for a variety of use cases that required not only storage but compute. We’re happy to say that through partnerships with Packet & ServerCentral, today we’re announcing that compute is now available for B2 customers.

Cloud Compute and Storage

Backblaze has directly connected B2 with the compute servers of Packet and ServerCentral, thereby allowing near-instant (< 10 ms) data transfers between services. Also, transferring data between B2 and both our compute partners is free.

  • Storing data in B2 and want to run an AI analysis on it? — There are no fees to move the data to our compute partners.
  • Generating data in an application? — Run the application with one of our partners and store it in B2.
  • Transfers are free and you’ll save more than 50% off of the equivalent set of services from AWS.

These partnerships enable B2 customers to use compute, give our compute partners’ customers access to cloud storage, and introduce new customers to industry-leading storage and compute — all with high-performance, low-latency, and low-cost.

Is This a Big Deal? We Think So

Compute is one of the most requested services from our customers Why? Because it unlocks a number of use cases for them. Let’s look at three popular examples:

Transcoding Media Files

B2 has earned wide adoption in the Media & Entertainment (“M&E”) industry. Our affordable storage and download pricing make B2 great for a wide variety of M&E use cases. But many M&E workflows require compute. Content syndicators, like American Public Television, need the ability to transcode files to meet localization and distribution management requirements.

There are a multitude of reasons that transcode is needed — thumbnail and proxy generation enable M&E professionals to work efficiently. Without compute, the act of transcoding files remains cumbersome. Either the files need to be brought down from the cloud, transcoded, and then pushed back up or they must be kept locally until the project is complete. Both scenarios are inefficient.

Starting today, any content producer can spin up compute with one of our partners, pay by the hour for their transcode processing, and return the new media files to B2 for storage and distribution. The company saves money, moves faster, and ensures their files are safe and secure.

Disaster Recovery

Backblaze’s heritage is based on providing outstanding backup services. When you have incredibly affordable cloud storage, it ends up being a great destination for your backup data.

Most enterprises have virtual machines (“VMs”) running in their infrastructure and those VMs need to be backed up. In a disaster scenario, a business wants to know they can get back up and running quickly.

With all data stored in B2, a business can get up and running quickly. Simply restore your backed up VM to one of our compute providers, and your business will be able to get back online.

Since B2 does not place restrictions, delays, or penalties on getting data out, customers can get back up and running quickly and affordably.

Saving $74 Million (aka “The Dropbox Effect”)

Ten years ago, Backblaze decided that S3 was too costly a platform to build its cloud storage business. Instead, we created the Backblaze Storage Pod and our own cloud storage infrastructure. That decision enabled us to offer our customers storage at a previously unavailable price point and maintain those prices for over a decade. It also laid the foundation for Netflix Open Connect and Facebook Open Compute.

Dropbox recently migrated the majority of their cloud services off of AWS and onto Dropbox’s own infrastructure. By leaving AWS, Dropbox was able to build out their own data centers and still save over $74 Million. They achieved those savings by avoiding the fees AWS charges for storing and downloading data, which, incidentally, are five times higher than Backblaze B2.

For Dropbox, being able to realize savings was possible because they have access to enough capital and expertise that they can build out their own infrastructure. For companies that have such resources and scale, that’s a great answer.

“Before this offering, the economics of the cloud would have made our business simply unviable.” — Gabriel Menegatti, SlicingDice

The questions Backblaze and our compute partners pondered was “how can we democratize the Dropbox effect for our storage and compute customers? How can we help customers do more and pay less?” The answer we came up with was to connect Backblaze’s B2 storage with strategic compute partners and remove any transfer fees between them. You may not save $74 million as Dropbox did, but you can choose the optimal providers for your use case and realize significant savings in the process.

This Sounds Good — Tell Me More About Your Partners

We’re very fortunate to be launching our compute program with two fantastic partners in Packet and ServerCentral. These partners allow us to offer a range of computing services.

Packet

We recommend Packet for customers that need on-demand, high performance, bare metal servers available by the hour. They also have robust offerings for private / customized deployments. Their offerings end up costing 50-75% of the equivalent offerings from EC2.

To get started with Packet and B2, visit our partner page on Packet.net.

ServerCentral

ServerCentral is the right partner for customers that have business and IT challenges that require more than “just” hardware. They specialize in fully managed, custom cloud solutions that solve complex business and IT challenges. ServerCentral also has expertise in managed network solutions to address global connectivity and content delivery.

To get started with ServerCentral and B2, visit our partner page on ServerCentral.com.

What’s Next?

We’re excited to find out. The combination of B2 and compute unlocks use cases that were previously impossible or at least unaffordable.

“The combination of performance and price offered by this partnership enables me to create an entirely new business line. Before this offering, the economics of the cloud would have made our business simply unviable,” noted Gabriel Menegatti, co-founder at SlicingDice, a serverless data warehousing service. “Knowing that transfers between compute and B2 are free means I don’t have to worry about my business being successful. And, with download pricing from B2 at just $0.01 GB, I know I’m avoiding a 400% tax from AWS on data I retrieve.”

What can you do with B2 & compute? Please share your ideas with us in the comments. And, for those attending NAB 2018 in Las Vegas next week, please come by and say hello!

The post Backblaze Announces B2 Compute Partnerships appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

[$] Recent improvements to Tor

Post Syndicated from jake original https://lwn.net/Articles/750312/rss

We may need Tor, “the onion router”,
more than we ever imagined. Authoritarian states are blocking more and more web
sites
and snooping
on their populations online
—even routine tracking of our online
activities
can reveal information that can be used to undermine
democracy. Thus, there was strong interest in the “State of the Onion”
panel at the 2018 LibrePlanet conference, where
four contributors to the Tor project presented a progress update covering the
past few years.

Subscribers can read on for a report on the panel by guest author Andy Oram.

Public Lab and Karen Sandler are 2017 Free Software Awards winners

Post Syndicated from ris original https://lwn.net/Articles/750153/rss

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) announced
the winners of the 2017 Free Software Awards during LibrePlanet.
Public Lab is a community and non-profit organization with the goal
of democratizing science to address environmental issues. Their
community-created tools and techniques utilize free software and low-cost
devices to enable people at any level of technical skill to investigate
environmental concerns.
” The organization received the Award for
Projects of Social Benefit. Karen Sandler, the Executive Director of the
Software Freedom Conservancy, received the Award for the Advancement of
Free Software.

Welcome Jacob – Data Center Technician

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/welcome-jacob-data-center-technician/

With over 500 Petabytes of data under management we need more people keeping the drives spinning in our data center. We’re constantly hiring Systems Administrators and Data Center Technicians, and here’s our latest one! Lets learn a bit more about Jacob, shall we?

What is your Backblaze Title?
Data center Technician

Where are you originally from?
Ojai, CA

What attracted you to Backblaze?
It’s a technical job that believes in training it’s employees and treating them well.

What do you expect to learn while being at Backblaze?
As much as I can.

Where else have you worked?
I was a Team Lead at Target, I did some volunteer work with the Ventura County Medical Center, and I also worked at a motocross track.

Where did you go to school?
Ventura Community College, then 1 semester at Sac State

What’s your dream job?
Don’t really have one. Whatever can support my family and that I enjoy.

Favorite place you’ve traveled?
Yosemite National Park for the touristy stuff, Bend Oregon for a good getaway place.

Favorite hobby?
Gaming and music. It’s a tie.

Of what achievement are you most proud?
Marring my wife Masha.

Star Trek or Star Wars?
Wars. 100%. I’m a major Star Wars geek.

Coke or Pepsi?
Monster.

Favorite food?
French fries.

Why do you like certain things?
Because my brain tells me I like them.

Thank you for helping care for all of our customer’s data. Welcome to the data center team Jacob!

The post Welcome Jacob – Data Center Technician appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Dotcom’s Bid to Compel Obama to Give Evidence Rejected By High Court

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/dotcoms-bid-to-compel-obama-to-give-evidence-rejected-by-high-court-180321/

With former US president Barack Obama in New Zealand until Friday, the visit provided a golden opportunity for Kim Dotcom to pile on yet more pressure over the strained prosecution of both him and his defunct cloud storage site, Megaupload.

In a statement issued yesterday, Dotcom reiterated his claims that attempts to have him extradited to the United States have no basis in law, chiefly due to the fact that the online dissemination of copyright-protected works by Megaupload’s users is not an extradition offense in New Zealand.

Mainly, however, Dotcom shone yet more light on what he perceives to be the dark politics behind the case, arguing that the Obama administration was under pressure from Hollywood to do something about copyright enforcement or risk losing funding. He says they pulled out all the stops and trampled his rights to prevent that from happening.

In a lengthy affidavit, filed this week to coincide with Obama’s visit, Dotcom called on the High Court to compel the former president to give evidence in the entrepreneur’s retaliatory multi-billion dollar damages claim against the Kiwi government.

This morning, however, Chief High Court Judge, Justice Geoffrey Venning, quickly shut that effort down.

With Obama enjoying a round of golf alongside former Prime Minister and Dotcom nemesis John Key, Justice Venning declined the request to compel Obama to give evidence, whether in New Zealand during the current visit or via letter of request to judicial authorities in the United States.

In his decision, Justice Venning notes that Dotcom’s applications were filed late on March 19 and the matter was only handed to him yesterday. As a result, he convened a telephone conference this morning to “deal with the application as a matter of urgency.”

Dotcom’s legal team argued that in the absence of a Court order it’s unlikely that Obama would give evidence. Equally, given that no date has yet been set for Dotcom’s damages hearing, it will “not be practicable” to serve Obama at a later point in the United States.

Furthermore, absent an order compelling his attendance, Obama would be unlikely to be called as a witness, despite him being the most competent potential witness currently present in New Zealand.

Dotcom counsel Ron Mansfield accepted that there would be practical limitations on what could be achieved between March 21 and March 23 while Obama is in New Zealand. However, he asked that an order be granted so that it could be served while Obama is in the country, even if the examination took place at a later date.

The Judge wasn’t convinced.

“Despite Mr Mansfield’s concession, I consider the application is still premature. The current civil proceedings were only filed on 22 December 2017. The defendants have applied for an order deferring the filing of a statement of defense pending the determination of the hearing of two appeals currently before the Court of Appeal. That application is yet to be determined,” Justice Venning’s decision reads.

The Judge also questions whether evidence Obama could give would be relevant.

He notes that Dotcom’s evidence is based on the fact that Hollywood was a major benefactor of the Democratic Party in the United States and that, in his opinion, the action against Megaupload and him “met the United States’ need to appease the Hollywood lobby” and “that the United States and New Zealand’s interests were perfectly aligned.”

However, Dotcom’s transcripts of his conversations with a lobbyist, which appeared to indicate Obama’s dissatisfaction with the Megaupload prosecution, are dismissed as “hearsay evidence”. Documentation of a private lunch with Obama and the head of the MPAA is also played down.

“Mr Dotcom’s opinion that Mr Obama’s evidence will be relevant to the present claims appears at best speculative,” the Judge notes.

But even if the evidence had been stronger, Justice Venning says that Obama would need to be given time to prepare for an examination, given that it would relate to matters that occurred several years ago.

“He would need to review relevant documents and materials from the time in preparation for any examination. That confirms the current application is premature,” the Judge writes.

In support, it is noted that Dotcom knew as early as February 21 that Obama’s visit would be taking place this week, yet his application was filed just days ago.

With that, the Judge dismissed the application, allowing Obama to play golf in peace. Well, relative peace at least. Dotcom isn’t done yet.

“I am disappointed of course because I believe my affidavit contains compelling evidence of the link between the Obama administration, Hollywood, and my extradition proceeding. However, after seven years of this, I am used to fighting to get to the truth and will keep fighting. Next round!” Dotcom said in response.

“The judgment is no surprise and we’ll get the opportunity to question Obama sooner or later,” he added.

As a further indication of the international nature of Dotcom’s case, the Megaupload founder also reminded people of his former connections to Hong Kong, noting that people in power there are keeping an eye on his case.

“The Chinese Government is watching my case with interest. Expect some bold action in the Hong Kong Courts soon. Never again shall an accusation from the US DOJ be enough to destroy a Hong Kong business. That lesson will soon be learned,” he said.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

Dotcom Affidavit Calls For Obama to Give Evidence in Megaupload Case

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/dotcom-affidavit-calls-for-obama-to-give-evidence-in-megaupload-case-180320/

For more than six years since the raid on Megaupload, founder Kim Dotcom has insisted that the case against him, his co-defendants, and his company, was politically motivated.

The serial entrepreneur states unequivocally that former president Barack Obama’s close ties to Hollywood were the driving force.

Later today, Obama will touch down for a visit to New Zealand. In what appears to be a tightly managed affair, with heavy restrictions placed on the media and publicity, it seems clear that Obama wants to maintain control over his social and business engagements in the country.

But of course, New Zealand is home to Kim Dotcom and as someone who feels wronged by the actions of the former administration, he is determined to use this opportunity to shine more light on Obama’s role in the downfall of his company.

In a statement this morning, Dotcom reiterated his claims that attempts to have him extradited to the United States have no basis in law, chiefly due to the fact that the online dissemination of copyright-protected works by Megaupload’s users is not an extradition offense in New Zealand.

But Dotcom also attacks the politics behind his case, arguing that the Obama administration was under pressure from Hollywood to do something about copyright enforcement or risk losing financial support.

In connection with his case, Dotcom is currently suing the New Zealand government for billions of dollars so while Obama is in town, Dotcom is demanding that the former president gives evidence.

Dotcom’s case is laid out in a highly-detailed sworn affidavit dated March 19, 2018. The Megaupload founder explains that Hollywood has historically been a major benefactor of the Democrats so when seeking re-election for a further term, the Democrats were under pressure from the movie companies to make an example of Megaupload and Dotcom.

Dotcom notes that while he was based in Hong Kong, extradition to the US would be challenging. So, with Dotcom seeking residence in New Zealand, a plot was hatched to allow him into the country, despite the New Zealand government knowing that a criminal prosecution lay in wait for him. Dotcom says that by doing a favor for Hollywood, it could mean that New Zealand became a favored destination for US filmmakers.

“The interests of the United States and New Zealand were therefore perfectly aligned. I provided the perfect opportunity for New Zealand to facilitate the United States’ show of force on copyright enforcement,” Dotcom writes.

Citing documents obtained from Open Secrets, Dotcom shows how the Democrats took an 81% share of more than $46m donated to political parties in the US during the 2008 election cycle. In the 2010 cycle, 76% of more than $24m went to the Democrats and in 2012, they scooped up 78% of more than $56m.

Dotcom then recalls the attempts at passing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which would have shifted the enforcement of copyright onto ISPs, assisting Hollywood greatly. Ultimately, Congressional support for the proposed legislation was withdrawn and Dotcom recalls this was followed by a public threat from the MPAA to withdraw campaign contributions on which the Democrats were especially reliant.

“The message to the White House was plain: do not expect funding if you do not advance the MPAA’s legislative agenda. On 20 January 2012, the day after this statement, I was arrested,” Dotcom notes.

Describing Megaupload as a highly profitable and innovative platform that highlighted copyright owners’ failure to keep up with the way in which content is now consumed, Dotcom says it made the perfect target for the Democrats.

Convinced the party was at the root of his prosecution, he utilized his connections in Hong Kong to contact Thomas Hart, a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, D.C. with strong connections to the Democrats and the White House.

Dotcom said a telephone call between him and Mr Hart revealed that then Vice President Joe Biden was at the center of Dotcom’s prosecution but that Obama was dissatisfied with the way things had been handled.

“Biden did admit to have… you know, kind of started it, you know, along with support from others but it was Biden’s decision…,” Hart allegedly said.

“What he [President Obama] expressed to me was a growing concern about the matter. He indicated an awareness of that it had not gone well, that it was more complicated than he thought, that he will turn his attention to it more prominently after November.”

Dotcom says that Obama was “questioning the whole thing,” a suggestion that he may not have been fully committed to the continuing prosecution.

The affidavit then lists a whole series of meetings in 2011, documented in the White House visitor logs. They include meetings with then United States Attorney Neil McBride, various representatives from Hollywood, MPAA chief Chris Dodd, Mike Ellis of the MPA (who was based in Hong Kong and had met with New Zealand’s then Minister of Justice, Simon Power) and the Obama administration.

In summary, Dotcom suggests there was a highly organized scheme against him, hatched between Hollywood and the Obama administration, that had the provision of funds to win re-election at its heart.

From there, an intertwined agreement was reached at the highest levels of both the US and New Zealand governments where the former would benefit through tax concessions to Hollywood (and a sweetening of relations between the countries) and the latter would benefit financially through investment.

All New Zealand had to do was let Dotcom in for a while and then hand him over to the United States for prosecution. And New Zealand definitely knew that Dotcom was wanted by the US. Emails obtained by Dotcom concerning his residency application show that clearly.

“Kim DOTCOM is not of security concern but is likely to soon become the subject of a joint FBI / NZ Police criminal investigation. We have passed this over to NZ Police,” one of the emails reads. Another, well over a year before the raid, also shows the level of knowledge.

Bad but wealthy, so we have plans for him…

With “political pressure” to grant Dotcom’s application in place, Immigration New Zealand finally gave the Megaupload founder the thumbs-up on November 1, 2010. Dotcom believes that New Zealand was concerned he may have walked away from his application.

“This would have been of grave concern to the Government, which, at that time, was in negotiations with Hollywood lobby,” his affidavit reads.

“The last thing they would have needed at that delicate stage of the negotiations was for me to walk away from New Zealand and return to Hong Kong, where extradition would be more difficult. I believe that this concern is what prompted the ‘political pressure’ that led to my application finally being granted despite the presence of factors that would have caused anyone else’s application to have been rejected.”

Dotcom says that after being granted residency, there were signs things weren’t going to plan for him. The entrepreneur applied to buy his now-famous former mansion for NZ$37m, an application that was initially approved. However, after being passed to Simon Power, the application was denied.

“It would appear that, although my character was apparently good enough for me to be granted residence in November 2010, in July 2011 it was not considered good enough for me to buy property in New Zealand,” Dotcom notes.

“The Honourable Mr Power clearly did not want me purchasing $37 million of real estate, presumably because he knew that the United States was going to seek forfeiture of my assets and he did not want what was then the most expensive property in New Zealand being forfeited to the United States government.”

Of course, Dotcom concludes by highlighting the unlawful spying by New Zealand’s GCSB spy agency and the disproportionate use of force displayed by the police when they raided him in 2010 using dozens of armed officers. This, combined with all of the above, means that questions about his case must now be answered at the highest levels. With Obama in town, there’s no time like the present.

“As the evidence above demonstrates, this improper purpose which was then embraced by the New Zealand authorities, originated in the White House under the Obama administration. It is therefore necessary to examine Mr Obama in this proceeding,” Dotcom concludes.

Press blackouts aside, it appears that Obama has rather a lot of golf lined up for the coming days. Whether he’ll have any time to answer Dotcom’s questions is one thing but whether he’ll even be asked to is perhaps the most important point of all.

The full affidavit and masses of supporting evidence can be found here.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN reviews, discounts, offers and coupons.

Two New Papers on the Encryption Debate

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/03/two_new_papers_.html

Seems like everyone is writing about encryption and backdoors this season.

I recently blogged about the new National Academies report on the same topic.

Here’s a review of the National Academies report, and another of the East West Institute’s report.

EDITED TO ADD (3/8): Commentary on the National Academies study by the EFF.

Fstoppers Uploaded a Brilliant Hoax ‘Anti-Piracy’ Tutorial to The Pirate Bay

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/fstoppers-uploaded-a-brilliant-hoax-anti-piracy-tutorial-to-the-pirate-bay-180307/

Fstoppers is an online community that produces extremely high-quality photographic tutorials. One of its most popular series is called Photographing the World which sees photographer Elia Locardi travel to exotic locations to demonstrate landscape and cityscape photography.

These tutorials sell for almost $300, with two or three versions in a pack selling for up $700. Of course, like any other media they get pirated so when Fstoppers were ready to release Photographing the World 3, they released it themselves on torrent sites a few days before retail.

Well, that’s what they wanted the world to believe.

“I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all downloaded ‘something’ illegally in the past. Whether it’s an MP3 years ago or a movie or a TV show, and occasionally you download something and it turns out it was kinda like a Rick Roll,” says Locardi.

“So we kept talking and we thought it would be a good idea to create this dummy lesson or shadow tutorial that was actually a fake and then seed it on BitTorrent.”

Where Fstoppers normally go to beautiful and exotic international locations, for their fake they decided to go to an Olive Garden in Charleston, South Carolina. Yet despite the clear change of location, they wanted people to believe the tutorial was legitimate.

“We wanted to ride this constant line of ‘Is this for real? Could this possibly be real? Is Elia [Locardi] joking right now? I don’t think he’s joking, he’s being totally serious’,” says Lee Morris, one of the co-owners of Fstoppers.

People really have to watch the tutorial to see what a fantastic job Fstoppers did in achieving that goal. For anyone unfamiliar with their work, the tutorial is initially hard to spot as a fake and even for veterans the level of ambiguity is really impressive.

However, when the tutorial heads back to the studio, where the post-processing lesson gets underway, there can be no doubt that something is amiss.

Things start off normally with serious teaching, then over time, the tutorial gets more and more ridiculous. Then, when the camera cuts away to show Locardi forming a ‘mask’ on an Olive Garden image, there can be no confusion.

That’s a cool mask….wait..

In order to get the tutorial out to the world, the site created its own torrent. They had never done anything like it before so got some associates to upload the huge 25GB+ package to The Pirate Bay and have their friends seed it. Then, in order to get past more savvy users on the site, they had other people come in and give the torrent good (but fake) reviews.

The fake torrent on The Pirate Bay (as of yesterday)

Screenshots provided by Fstoppers taken months ago reveal hundreds of downloaders. And, according to Morris, the fake became the most-downloaded Photographing the World 3 torrent online, meaning that the “majority of downloaders” got the comedy version.

Also of interest is the feedback Fstoppers got following their special release. Emails flooded in from pirates, some of whom were confused while others were upset at the ‘quality’ of the tutorial.

“The whole time we were thinking: ‘This isn’t even on the market yet! You guys are totally stealing this and emailing us and complaining about it,” says Fstoppers co-owner Patrick Hall.

While the tutorial itself is brilliant, Fstoppers points to a certain hypocrisy within its target audience of photographers, who themselves have to put up with a lot of online piracy of their work. Yet, clearly, many are happy to pirate the work of other photographers in order to make their own art better.

All that being said, the exercise is certainly an interesting one and the creativity behind the hoax puts it head and shoulders above more aggressive anti-piracy campaigns. However, when TF tracked down the torrent on The Pirate Bay last evening, it’s popularity had nosedived.

While it was initially downloaded by a lot of eager photographers, probably encouraged by the fake comments placed on the site by Fstoppers, the torrent is now only being shared by less than 10 people. As usual, the Pirate Bay users appear to have caught on, flagging the torrent as a fake. The moderators, it seems, have also deleted the fake comments.

While most people won’t want to download a 25GB torrent to see what Fstoppers came up with, the site has uploaded the fake tutorial to YouTube. It’s best viewed alongside their other work, which is sensational, but people should get a good idea by watching the explanation below.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Dotcom: Obama Admitted “Mistakes Were Made” in Megaupload Case

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/dotcom-obama-admitted-mistakes-were-made-in-megaupload-case-180301/

When Megaupload was forcefully shut down in 2012, it initially appeared like ‘just’ another wave of copyright enforcement action by US authorities.

When additional details began to filter through, the reality of what had happened was nothing short of extraordinary.

Not only were large numbers of Megaupload servers and millions of dollars seized, but Kim Dotcom’s home in New Zealand was subjected to a military-style raid comprised of helicopters and dozens of heavily armed special tactics police. The whole thing was monitored live by the FBI.

Few people who watched the events of that now-infamous January day unfold came to the conclusion this was a routine copyright-infringement case. According to Kim Dotcom, whose life had just been turned upside down, something of this scale must’ve filtered down from the very top of the US government. It was hard to disagree.

At the time, Dotcom told TorrentFreak that then-Vice President Joe Biden directed attorney Neil MacBride to target the cloud storage site and ever since the Megaupload founder has leveled increasingly serious allegations at officials of the former government of Barack Obama.

For example, Dotcom says that since the US would have difficulty gaining access to him in his former home of Hong Kong, the government of New Zealand was persuaded to welcome him in, knowing they would eventually turn him over to the United States. More recently he’s been turning up the pressure again, such as a tweet on February 20th which cast more light on that process.

“Joe Biden had a White House meeting with an ‘extradition expert’ who worked for Hong Kong police and a handful of Hollywood executives to discuss my case. A week prior to this meeting Neil MacBride hand-delivered his action plan to Biden’s chief of staff, also at the White House,” Dotcom wrote.

But this claim is just the tip of an extremely large iceberg that’s involved illegal spying on Dotcom in New Zealand and a dizzying array of legal battles that are set to go on for years to come. But perhaps of most interest now is that rather than wilting away under the pressure, Dotcom appears to be just warming up.

A few hours ago Dotcom commented on an article published in The Hill which revealed that Barack Obama will visit New Zealand in March, possibly to celebrate the opening of Air New Zealand’s new route to the U.S.

Rather than expressing disappointment, the Megaupload founder seemed pleased that the former president would be touching down next month.

“Great. I’ll have a Court subpoena waiting for him in New Zealand,” Dotcom wrote.

But that was just a mere hors d’oeuvre, with the main course was yet to come. But come it did.

“A wealthy Asian Megaupload shareholder hired a friend of the Obamas to enquire about our case. This person was recommended by a member of the Chinese politburo ‘if you want to get to Obama directly’. We did,” Dotcom revealed.

Dotcom says he’ll release a transcript detailing what Obama told his friend on March 21 when Obama arrives in town but in the meantime, he offered another little taster.

“Mistakes were made. It hasn’t gone well,” Obama reportedly told the person reporting back to Megaupload. “It’s a problem. I’ll see to it after the election.”

Of course, Obama’s position after the election was much different to what had gone before, but that didn’t stop Dotcom’s associates infiltrating the process aimed at keeping the Democrats in power.

“Our friendly Obama contact smuggled an @EFF lawyer into a re-election fundraiser hosted by former Vice President Joe Biden,” he revealed.

“When Biden was asked about the Megaupload case he bragged that it was his case and that he ‘took care of it’,” which is what Dotcom has been claiming all along.

On March 21, when Obama lands in New Zealand, Dotcom says he’ll be waiting.

“I’m looking forward to @BarackObama providing some insight into the political dimension of the Megaupload case when he arrives in the New Zealand jurisdiction,” he teased.

Better get the popcorn ready….

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

When You Have A Blockchain, Everything Looks Like a Nail

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/blockchain-everything-looks-like-nail/

Blockchain, AI, big data, NoSQL, microservices, single page applications, cloud, SOA. What do these have in common? They have been or are hyped. At some point they were “the big thing” du jour. Everyone was investigating the possibility of using them, everyone was talking about them, there were meetups, conferences, articles on Hacker news and reddit. There are more examples, of course (which is the javascript framework this month?) but I’ll focus my examples on those above.

Another thing they have in common is that they are useful. All of them have some pretty good applications that are definitely worth the time and investment.

Yet another thing they have in common is that they are far from universally applicable. I’ve argued that monoliths are often still the better approach and that microservices introduce too much complexity for the average project. Big Data is something very few organizations actually have; AI/machine learning can help a wide variety of problems, but it is just a tool in a toolbox, not the solution to all problems. Single page applications are great for, yeah, applications, but most websites are still websites, not feature-rich frontends – you don’t need an SPA for every type of website. NoSQL has solved niche issues, and issues of scale that few companies have had, but nothing beats a good old relational database for the typical project out there. “The cloud” is not always where you want your software to be; and SOA just means everything (ESBs, direct integrations, even microservices, according to some). And the blockchain – it seems to be having limited success beyond cryptocurrencies.

And finally, another trait many of them share is that the hype has settled down. Only yesterday I read an article about the “death of the microservices madness”. I don’t see nearly as many new NoSQL databases as a few years ago, some of the projects that have been popular have faded. SOA and “the cloud” are already “boring”, and we’ve realized we don’t actually have big data if it fits in an Excel spreadsheet. SPAs and AI are still high in popularity, but we are getting a good understanding as a community why and when they are useful.

But it seems that nuanced reality has never stopped us from hyping a particular technology or approach. And maybe that’s okay in order to get a promising, though niche, technology, the spotlight and let it shine in the particular usecases where it fits.

But countless projects have and will suffer from our collective inability to filter through these hypes. I’d bet millions of developer hours have been wasted in trying to use the above technologies where they just didn’t fit. It’s like that scene from Idiocracy where a guy tries to fit a rectangular figure into a circular hole.

And the new one is not “the blockchain”. I won’t repeat my rant, but in summary – it doesn’t solve many of the problems companies are trying to solve with it right now just because it’s cool. Or at least it doesn’t solve them better than existing solutions. Many pilots will be carried out, many hours will be wasted in figuring out why that thing doesn’t work. A few of those projects will be a good fit and will actually bring value.

Do you need to reach multi-party consensus for the data you store? Can all stakeholder support the infrastructure to run their node(s)? Do they have the staff to administer the node(s)? Do you need to execute distributed application code on the data? Won’t it be easier to just deploy RESTful APIs and integrate the parties through that? Do you need to store all the data, or just parts of it, to guarantee data integrity?

“If you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” as the famous saying goes. In the software industry we repeatedly find new and cool hammers and then try to hit as many nails as we can. But only few of them are actual nails. The rest remain ugly, hard to support, “who was the idiot that wrote this” and “I wasn’t here when the decisions were made” types of projects.

I don’t have the illusion that we will calm down and skip the next hypes. Especially if adding the hyped word to your company raises your stock price. But if there’s one thing I’d like people to ask themselves when choosing a technology stack, it is “do we really need that to solve our problems?”.

If the answer is really “yes”, then great, go ahead and deploy the multi-organization permissioned blockchain, or fork Ethereum, or whatever. If not, you can still do a project a home that you can safely abandon. And if you need some pilot project to figure out whether the new piece of technology would be beneficial – go ahead and try it. But have a baseline – the fact that it somehow worked doesn’t mean it’s better than old, tested models of doing the same thing.

The post When You Have A Blockchain, Everything Looks Like a Nail appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Massive Site-Blocking Measures Countered By 100K Browser Addon Users

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/massive-site-blocking-measures-countered-by-100k-browser-addon-users-171231/

FCT tyIn July 2015, Portugal’s Ministry of Culture announced the signing of a memorandum between its own General Inspection of Cultural Activities (IGAC), the Portuguese Association of Telecommunication Operators (APRITEL), various rightsholder groups, the body responsible for administering Portugal’s .PT domain, and representatives from the advertising industry.

The memorandum laid out a new mechanism for blocking so-called ‘pirate’ sites. In common with similar frameworks elsewhere, the process can be triggered by a complaint from a rightsholder association. Local anti-piracy group MAPINET then collates evidence that a site is engaged in the unlawful distribution of copyright works and has failed to cease its activities.

The system was quickly utilized by rightsholders seeking to block access to their content. Within six months, 330 sites had been blocked by ISPs, but that was only the beginning. In the months and years that followed, hundreds more sites were rendered inaccessible but in common with similar programs elsewhere, no official list of blocked sites was made available. People are keeping watch, however.

SitesBloqueados (Blocked Sites) is a web portal run by Revolução dos Bytes (Bytes’ Revolution), a group of like-minded anti-censorship activists in Portugal. Created a few months after blocking began in the region, their comprehensive database now contains almost 1,400 domains, the majority of which have been blocked on copyright grounds.

“SitesBloqueados was mainly created because, although the Memorandum of Understanding contained certain requirements to make a site eligible to be blocked – such as 500 items [or links] to copyright content or one third of the site containing copyrighted material – there was no official way to validate that data and make sure that these ‘rules’ are being respected,” team member Henrique Mouta informs TF.

The manner in which the list is maintained is quite unique. As mentioned earlier, there are no official sources listing blocked domains so the people behind SitesBloqueados had to get creative. Alongside this project they also run Ahoy!, a Chrome and Firefox extension that allows users to circumvent censorship in Portugal and it’s through that tool they gather information.

“Ahoy! basically bypasses any traffic to a blocked site through our own proxies, allowing the users to navigate in a free, uncensored internet,” Henrique explains.

As this extension works on a whitelist basis, we had to create a mechanism to automatically detect and whitelist sites that have been blocked, so if a user accesses a blocked site that is not on our list yet, we get a notification so we can review the site and add it to the list. That is the list that is also powering SitesBloqueados.pt.”

When the voluntary agreement was first announced, local ISPs came under intense criticism for agreeing to work with copyright holders without need for a court process. However, Henrique says they are actually in a precarious position.

“We usually see the ISPs as the bad guys, blocking sites, throttling our internet and, more recently, going against the Internet Neutrality. But, in this particular case, all the major ISPs are forced to block any sites that have been requested in 15 days, or they might pay fines for every single day after the deadline.

“MAPiNET (MOVIMENTO CÍVICOANTI PIRATARIA NA INTERNET) is the organization, alongside with IGAC (Inspecção Geral Das Actividades Culturais), that compiles the lists of sites and sends them to the ISP. It’s usually two lists per month. Of course, I’m not excusing the ISPs, as they should stand up against censorship. But we all know that’s asking too much of them,” Henrique adds.

Interestingly, the first site blockade in Portugal wasn’t actioned on copyright grounds. It was, in fact, targeted at Uber.com.

“This happened in June 2015, after a court order to suspend all Uber activity in Portugal. This opened a huge precedent, with all these anti-piracy organizations seeing how easy is to block a site, technically speaking.

“So, at the end of August of that same year, the [anti-piracy] Memorandum was signed by all the parties and, since then, both MAPiNET and IGAC have the power to request any site block, without any court order, without any legal order,” Henrique notes.

This lit a fire under the team and two and half years later, Ahoy! is now being used by 100k people to unblock almost 1,400 sites, while feeding back information on newly blocked domains. These are then added to the blocklist database and considered for unblocking methods via the addon.

Currently, around 50 new domains are blocked every month in Portugal and Henrique and the team are determined to document every one of them. They believe that by keeping an eye on things publicly, it lets the anti-piracy groups know they are being watched and cannot act with impunity. Around 90% of all blocked domains are restricted on copyright grounds but some also fall foul of new gambling laws that forbid unlicensed sites.

From the beginning, the big question has surrounded potential abuse. So, given the lack of a court process, have any players attempted to game the system?

“So far, we haven’t seen any signs of intentional abuse. There have been a few problems with sites being wrongly blocked. The most popular case is Carbon Games site that was blocked nearly two years ago, and it was mistaken for a different site, a Gambling site, named Carbon Gaming,” Henrique says.

“A few months later, we detected another case. A Spanish journalist had a website where he was posting videoclips of the latest releases. All of these releases were originally on YouTube, uploaded by the respective owners, however that was not enough to keep the site alive.”

Under pressure from Revolução dos Bytes this block was reversed but it’s not the only instance of errors. Non-existent sites have been blocked as have sites publishing headlines and linking to the respective online newspapers.

With blocking continuing at a steady pace, dozens of new domains are restricted every month. But Henrique and the team believe it won’t achieve anything positive and only serves to harm the Internet and democracy.

“Blocking sites to prevent piracy is the same as being on a sinking submarine, trying to patch every leaking hull hole with duct tape. If they want to fight piracy, they should try to understand, in the first place, why it happens and what they can do to change it.

“It’s well known that having cheap and quality services like Netflix and Spotify helped Internet piracy levels drop to record lows, DRM issues aside, of course. And the worst of it is the timing: these organizations see the decreasing levels of piracy as a signal that their stupid censorship is actually working. I’m really afraid that this is now an unstoppable snowball. The Internet in Portugal has seen much better days,” Henrique concludes.

But while he’s pessimistic over current developments, it appears that the Ahoy! movement is only set to grow. The team say they want to bring the browser-based system to other countries that are suffering from similar blockades and that suggestions from the public are welcome.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Rosie the Countdown champion

Post Syndicated from Alex Bate original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/rosie-the-countdown-champion/

Beating the contestants at Countdown: is it cheating if you happen to know every word in the English dictionary?

Rosie plays Countdown

Allow your robots to join in the fun this Christmas with a round of Channel 4’s Countdown. https://www.rosietheredrobot.com/2017/12/tea-minus-30.html

Rosie the Red Robot

First, a little bit of backstory. Challenged by his eldest daughter to build a robot, technology-loving Alan got to work building Rosie.

I became (unusually) determined. I wanted to show her what can be done… and the how can be learnt later. After all, there is nothing more exciting and encouraging than seeing technology come alive. Move. Groove. Quite literally.

Originally, Rosie had a Raspberry Pi 3 brain controlling ultrasonic sensors and motors via Python. From there, she has evolved into something much grander, and Alan has documented her upgrades on the Rosie the Red Robot blog. Using GPS trackers and a Raspberry Pi camera module, she became Rosie Patrol, a rolling, walking, interactive bot; then, with further upgrades, the Tea Minus 30 project came to be. Which brings us back to Countdown.

T(ea) minus 30

In case it hasn’t been a big part of your life up until now, Countdown is one of the longest running televisions shows in history, and occupies a special place in British culture. Contestants take turns to fill a board with nine randomly selected vowels and consonants, before battling the Countdown clock to find the longest word they can in the space of 30 seconds.

The Countdown Clock

I’ve had quite a few requests to show just the Countdown clock for use in school activities/own games etc., so here it is! Enjoy! It’s a brand new version too, using the 2010 Office package.

There’s a numbers round involving arithmetic, too – but for now, we’re going to focus on letters and words, because that’s where Rosie’s skills shine.

Using an online resource, Alan created a dataset of the ten thousand most common English words.

Rosie the Red Robot Raspberry Pi

Many words, listed in order of common-ness. Alan wrote a Python script to order them alphabetically and by length

Next, Alan wrote a Python script to select nine letters at random, then search the word list to find all the words that could be spelled using only these letters. He used the randint function to select letters from a pre-loaded alphabet, and introduced a requirement to include at least two vowels among the nine letters.

Rosie the Red Robot Raspberry Pi

Words that match the available letters are displayed on the screen.

Rosie the Red Robot Raspberry Pi

Putting it all together

With the basic game-play working, it was time to bring the project to life. For this, Alan used Rosie’s camera module, along with optical character recognition (OCR) and text-to-speech capabilities.

Rosie the Red Robot Raspberry Pi

Alan writes, “Here’s a very amateurish drawing to brainstorm our idea. Let’s call it a design as it makes it sound like we know what we’re doing.”

Alan’s script has Rosie take a photo of the TV screen during the Countdown letters round, then perform OCR using the Google Cloud Vision API to detect the nine letters contestants have to work with. Next, Rosie runs Alan’s code to check the letters against the ten-thousand-word dataset, converts text to speech with Python gTTS, and finally speaks her highest-scoring word via omxplayer.

You can follow the adventures of Rosie the Red Robot on her blog, or follow her on Twitter. And if you’d like to build your own Rosie, Alan has provided code and tutorials for his projects too. Thanks, Alan!

The post Rosie the Countdown champion appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

A bit more on firearms in the US

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2015/06/a-bit-more-on-firearms-in-us.html

This is the fifth article in a short series about Poland, Europe, and the United States. To explore the entire series, start here.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my previous blog post sparked several interesting discussions with my Polish friends who took a more decisive view of the social costs of firearm ownership, or who saw the Second Amendment as a barbaric construct with no place in today’s world. Their opinions reminded me of my own attitude some ten years ago; in this brief follow-up, I wanted to share several data points that convinced me to take a more measured stance.

Let’s start with the basics: most estimates place the number of guns in the United States at 300 to 350 million – that’s roughly one firearm per every single resident. In Gallup polls, some 40-50% of all households report having a gun, frequently more than one. The demographics of firearm ownership are more uniform than stereotypes may imply; there is some variance across regions, political affiliations, and genders – but for most part, it tends to fall within fairly narrow bands.

An overwhelming majority of gun owners cite personal safety as the leading motive for purchasing a firearm; hunting and recreation activities come strong second. The defensive aspect of firearm ownership is of special note, because it can potentially provide a very compelling argument for protecting the right to bear arms even if it’s a socially unwelcome practice, or if it comes at an elevated cost to the nation as a whole.

The self-defense argument is sometimes dismissed as pure fantasy, with many eminent pundits citing one questionable statistic to support this view: the fairly low number of justifiable homicides in the country. Despite its strong appeal to ideologues, the metric does not stand up to scrutiny: all available data implies that most encounters where a gun is pulled by a would-be victim will not end with the assailant getting killed; it’s overwhelmingly more likely that the bad guy would hastily retreat, be detained at gunpoint, or suffer non-fatal injuries. In fact, even in the unlikely case that a firearm is actually discharged with the intent to kill or maim, somewhere around 70-80% of victims survive.

In reality, we have no single, elegant, and reliable source of data about the frequency with which firearms are used to deter threats; the results of scientific polls probably offer the most comprehensive view, but are open to interpretation and their results vary significantly depending on sampling methods and questions asked. That said, a recent meta-analysis from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided some general bounds:


“Defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed (Cook and Ludwig, 1996; Kleck, 2001a). Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million.”

An earlier but probably similarly unbiased estimate from US Dept of Justice puts the number at approximately 1.5 million uses a year.

The CDC study also goes on to say:


“A different issue is whether defensive uses of guns, however numerous or rare they may be, are effective in preventing injury to the gun-wielding crime victim. Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was “used” by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.”

An argument can be made that the availability of firearms translates to higher rates of violent crime, thus elevating the likelihood of encounters where a defensive firearm would be useful – feeding into an endless cycle of escalating violence. That said, such an effect does not seem to be particularly evident. For example, the United States comes out reasonably well in statistics related to assault, rape, and robbery; on these fronts, America looks less violent than the UK or a bunch of other OECD countries with low firearm ownership rates.

But there is an exception: one area where the United States clearly falls behind other highly developed nations are homicides. The per-capita figures are almost three times as high as in much of the European Union. And indeed, the bulk of intentional homicides – some 11 thousand deaths a year – trace back to firearms.

We tend to instinctively draw a connection to guns, but the origins of this tragic situation may be more elusive than they appear. For one, non-gun-related homicides happen in the US at a higher rate than in many other countries, too; Americans just seem to be generally more keen on killing each other than people in places such as Europe, Australia, or Canada. In addition, no convincing pattern emerges when comparing overall homicide rates across states with permissive and restrictive gun ownership laws. Some of the lowest per-capita homicide figures can be found in extremely gun-friendly states such as Idaho, Utah, or Vermont; whereas highly-regulated Washington D.C., Maryland, Illinois, and California all rank pretty high. There is, however, fairly strong correlation between gun and non-gun homicide rates across the country – suggesting that common factors such as population density, urban poverty, and drug-related gang activities play a far more significant role in violent crime than the ease of legally acquiring a firearm. It’s tragic but worth noting that a strikingly disproportionate percentage of homicides involves both victims and perpetrators that belong to socially disadvantaged and impoverished minorities. Another striking pattern is that up to about a half of all gun murders are related to or committed under the influence of illicit drugs.

Now, international comparisons show general correlation between gun ownership and some types of crime, but it’s difficult to draw solid conclusions from that: there are countless other ways to explain why crime rates may be low in the wealthy European states, and high in Venezuela, Mexico, Honduras, or South Africa; compensating for these factors is theoretically possible, but requires making far-fetched assumptions that are hopelessly vulnerable to researcher bias. Comparing European countries is easier, but yields inconclusive results: gun ownership in Poland is almost twenty times lower than in neighboring Germany and ten times lower than in Czech Republic – but you certainly wouldn’t able to tell that from national crime stats.

When it comes to gun control, one CDC study on the topic concluded with:


“The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes.”

This does not imply that such approaches are necessarily ineffective; for example, it seems pretty reasonable to assume that well-designed background checks or modest waiting periods do save lives. Similarly, safe storage requirements would likely prevent dozens of child deaths every year, at the cost of rendering firearms less available for home defense. But for the hundreds of sometimes far-fetched gun control proposals introduced every year on federal and state level, emotions often take place of real data, poisoning the debate around gun laws and ultimately bringing little or no public benefit. The heated assault weapon debate is one such red herring: although modern semi-automatic rifles look sinister, they are far more common in movies than on the streets; in reality, all kinds of rifles account only for somewhere around 4% of firearm homicides, and AR-15s are only a tiny fraction of that – likely claiming about as many lives as hammers, ladders, or swimming pools. The efforts to close the “gun show loophole” seem fairly sensible at the surface, too, but are of similarly uncertain merit; instead of gun shows, criminals depend on friends, family, and on more than 200,000 guns that stolen from their rightful owners every year. When breaking into a random home yields a 40-50% chance of scoring a firearm, it’s not hard to see why.

Another oddball example of simplistic legislative zeal are the attempts to mandate costly gun owner liability insurance, based on drawing an impassioned but flawed parallel between firearms and cars; what undermines this argument is that car accidents are commonplace, while gun handling mishaps – especially ones that injure others – are rare. We also have proposals to institute $100 ammunition purchase permits, to prohibit ammo sales over the Internet, or to impose a hefty per-bullet tax. Many critics feel that such laws seem to be geared not toward addressing any specific dangers, but toward making firearms more expensive and burdensome to own – slowly eroding the constitutional rights of the less wealthy folks. They also see hypocrisy in the common practice of making retired police officers and many high-ranking government officials exempt from said laws.

Regardless of individual merits of the regulations, it’s certainly true that with countless pieces of sometimes obtuse and poorly-written federal, state, and municipal statutes introduced every year, it’s increasingly easy for people to unintentionally run afoul of the rules. In California, the law as written today implies that any legal permanent resident in good standing can own a gun, but that only US citizens can transport it by car. Given that Californians are also generally barred from carrying firearms on foot in many populated areas, non-citizen residents are seemingly expected to teleport between the gun store, their home, and the shooting range. With many laws hastily drafted in the days after mass shootings and other tragedies, such gems are commonplace. The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act imposes special restrictions on gun ownership within 1,000 feet of a school and slaps harsh penalties for as little carrying it in an unlocked container from one’s home to a car parked in the driveway. In many urban areas, a lot of people either live within such a school zone or can’t conceivably avoid it when going about their business; GFSZA violations are almost certainly common and are policed only selectively.

Meanwhile, with sharp declines in crime continuing for the past 20 years, the public opinion is increasingly in favor of broad, reasonably policed gun ownership; for example, more than 70% respondents to one Gallup poll are against the restrictive handgun bans of the sort attempted in Chicago, San Francisco, or Washington D.C.; and in a recent Rasmussen poll, only 22% say that they would feel safer in a neighborhood where people are not allowed to keep guns. In fact, responding to the media’s undue obsession with random of acts of violence against law-abiding citizens, and worried about the historically very anti-gun views of the sitting president, Americans are buying a lot more firearms than ever before. Even the National Rifle Association – a staunchly conservative organization vilified by gun control advocates and mainstream pundits – enjoys a pretty reasonable approval rating across many demographics: 58% overall and 78% in households with a gun.

And here’s the kicker: despite its reputation for being a political arm of firearm manufacturers, the NRA is funded largely through individual memberships, small-scale donations, and purchase round-ups; organizational donations add up to about 5% of their budget – and if you throw in advertising income, the total still stays under 15%. That makes it quite unlike most of the other large-scale lobbying groups that Democrats aren’t as keen on naming-and-shaming on the campaign trail. The NRA’s financial muscle is also frequently overstated; it doesn’t even make it onto the list of top 100 lobbyists in Washington – and gun control advocacy groups, backed by activist billionaires such as Michael Bloomberg, now frequently outspend the pro-gun crowd. Of course, it would be better for the association’s socially conservative and unnecessarily polarizing rhetoric – sometimes veering onto the topics of abortion or video games – to be offset by the voice of other, more liberal groups. But ironically, organizations such as American Civil Liberties Union – well-known for fearlessly defending controversial speech – prefer to avoid the Second Amendment; they do so not because the latter concept has lesser constitutional standing, but because supporting it would not sit well with their own, progressive support base.

America’s attitude toward guns is a choice, not a necessity. It is also true that gun violence is a devastating problem; and that the emotional horror and lasting social impact of incidents such as school shootings can’t be possibly captured in any cold, dry statistic alone. But there is also nuance and reason to the gun control debate that can be hard to see for newcomers from more firearm-averse parts of the world.

For the next article in the series, click here. Alternatively, if you prefer to keep reading about firearms, go here for an overview of the gun control debate in the US.