Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

When We Welcome Big Brother Into Our Homes

Welcome to Philadelphia, PA.  The city is synonymous with American freedom (it also consumes more pretzels than any other city in the nation, estimated at five times the national average).  Which is what makes this really disappointing.

Lower Merion is a school district.  Really affluent, too -- each kid in the 2,300-strong student body of the two high schools is provided with an Apple laptop for homework and such.  Well, you know that saying that there's no such thing as a free lunch?

It seems each laptop had remote software loaded onto it.  School officials could use it to remotely activate the webcams, listen in on the mic, and record keystrokes.  (Will someone tell these people that backdoors are exploited all the time?  Google's Gmail in China was hacked using the backdoor the US government required Google to have.  And that assumes the authorities can be trusted.  Who watches the watchmen?)  The school claims they have only activated the remote software to find stolen laptops.  Well, one family is suing, and the FBI is investigating if the software use has violated wiretap laws.

And let this be a lesson to all of you out there.  We Linux users and Mac users like to brag that our computers can't be hijacked.  But that doesn't take trojans into account.  When I was trying to put Quake on my Linux box years ago, there was a program that claimed to create the glue layer to make it work.  The problem?  Installing this software from a generic Internet site required root privileges, meaning the install script could do all kinds of things and install all kinds of software and I'd never know it (yeah, it was GPL'ed, but you're asking me to assume that the source code listed matched whatever was in the installer program.  Yuck Fou).  This is also why my games are single-file executables -- it sandboxes them so people don't have to worry that I'm going to do something rotten to their machines.  These were Macs, but spyware does exist for it.  And if you ask for it, you'll get it.

Students are covering the webcam and mic with tape so they can't be tracked.  No way around that keylogger, though.  Just get yourselves another el cheapo computer (Pam, my Compaq Prasario 1247 that I bought three years ago, was $120 out the door from a store, imagine how much cheaper it is on eBay) and run your own software.  Something that you control, not people who should be teaching civics but are violating it instead.
Tags: computers, digital rights, foss, important life lessons, linux, news, open source
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