Sunday, 29 May 2016

Adventures with Linux: What's it Like?

Interested only in knowing my favourite and best Linux distribution systems? Then read my conclusion at the bottom of this article..

An operating system is a computer controlling mechanism that manages the hardware and software interaction for a user. It allows a person to interact with a computer, whether it be a PC or washing machine, to obtain a desired result. Now I’m not very good with computers so I ask for you to excuse anything in this article that a more technical person could overcome. In fact, I probably represent the “average” computer user which in turn lends more weight to my opinions than if I were otherwise more competent. This article is a product of my introduction to Linux.

I became interested in Linux because I thought it was a method to control my privacy and security, and use a product that advocated such desires in conjunction with cutting-edge technology.
There are many types of operating systems and for the purpose of this article I’m focused on systems that are geared towards personal computer interactions, which include standalone desktop systems, net and notebooks, and similar hardware. Such hardware generally comprises a computer box or organisation containing components including memory, hard disks and/or SSD’s, video graphic processing units, central processing units, power boxes, USB and peripherals including keyboards, mice, screens, speakers, and so on. I trust I’ve provided sufficient information to avoid confusion. From hereonin, such devices collectively will be referred to as a PC.

Most PC’s I’ve been involved with have a version of Microsoft Windows pre-installed. All but one PC I’ve ever worked on for friends, family and associates, contain Microsoft Windows. I’ve never been provided a Mac and only once provided a Linux system (Acer Aspire One) with Linux (Linpus). So what’s Linux? I’ve fixed hundreds of Windows computers to learn how to do it and to help people are afraid to do it themselves, mostly middle aged to retirees. I’ve saved people a lot of money. I’m no expert and merely being charitable. Only one PC had Linux, and the system worked – I never found an error and provided it back to the owner who was happy with my work even though I did nothing. I later found out he gave it away because he couldn’t use Linux, in fact, upon questioning, never tried.

Simply put, Linux is an operating system that purportedly provides the same application as Microsoft Windows. It is an interface between person and machine in order to use the computer and its programs to an extent required to achieve a desired result. It’s mostly thought as either a geek magnet or a server manager, but this is not so. I don’t advocate Linux and I’ve found there are substantial issues with it for me, but nothing is perfect including Microsoft Windows. Every new skill requires time, a learning curve, and commitment. Including using Windows for the first time. This article is subjective because it solely contains my experience of this open source operating system.


What is open source, and what does it mean?

Open source champions collaborative participation and community development, generally geared towards creating a free product that’s shared with a like-minded community; a community that requires no membership other than the sharing of the philosophy. This includes community development, free use, free to share, modify, distribute, and improve through the acquisition and manipulation of source code. It’s true to the philosophy of internet creation to advocate a truly open repository of information sharing through an open network of collaboration and neutrality. Such a product includes Linux distributions as an installable download, most of which are made easy to test by a layperson on a USB stick, CD, DVD, or virtual machine. Many or most distributions have links to donate. Some distributions require a mandatory form of payment, but not many.

Despite my Linux reservations, I’m attracted to it because of the philosophy and not the product. Its open source nature has significant appeal opposed to the closed source (proprietary) nature of a Mac and Microsoft Windows. Some will consider this a significant advantage; others won’t understand it and may argue they don’t want Linux because their computer came preinstalled with Windows, and Windows works for them. Who can blame them.

I’ve tried dozens of Linux distributions (listed later). At first, this was complicated. I had no idea why there were so many different Linux operating systems using different foundations (eg, KDE, Gnome, Xfce) and it was absolutely daunting at first. Despite this overwhelming choice, I found at the end of my adventure they were very much the same: a conclusion I could never advocate at the start.

Despite the many hundreds of different Linux distributions, the underlying technology is similar (and for many it’s the same and dressed in different clothes), and it doesn’t work well with me. I love the philosophy behind it and if the software matched it I’d immediately replace Windows, but it doesn’t. With every version I invested myself into, I found problems, and these issues weren’t only technical.
One of my laptops is at the pricier end and can run any system with no problem at all. It has an Intel video and a NVidia video, and Windows controls both; I can switch between them. The battery lasts 3 hours with reasonable use, and I have a fair degree of control over power management. I can immediately find programs I want, install them, and have no issue using them.


Installing and using Linux

The first system I installed was the popular Linux distribution Ubuntu. I don’t recommend it for a first-time user despite contrary opinions on numerous internet sites (I started with Ubuntu due to these opinions). Ubuntu uses a product called Unity which is a method of displaying the desktop and it’s simply awful. For many, the transition from Windows to Ubuntu will be too much.

I found that upon installation, I couldn’t switch between the lower powered Intel graphics processor and the Nvidia graphic. All Linux distributions I used defaulted to NVidia, my power-hungry graphics adapter that immediately reduced my battery to about half. Linux even informed me my battery was damaged. Not sure about that. It’s been very consistent until I installed Linux.
The collective Anonymous taught me to use an internet browser called Tor that assists me in anonymizing my internet browsing experience. I’ve used it extensively on Windows and as such, as soon as I installed Linux and moved on from the Intel-NVidia issue, I naturally wanted to install Tor and enjoy the same privileges. Linux champions itself as having a software repository that’s easy to install but it isn’t the case.

After installing Ubuntu and playing around with it, I used the Ubuntu Software Centre and searched for Tor. It didn’t exist. My first experience therefore was to use an apparently esoteric or geeky command line terminal and learn the basics of root (sudo) to install Tor through typographic and not graphical information and interaction. After a number of command line experiences, I eventually installed Tor, and wasn’t very impressed with the experience. I discussed this method of installation with friends and colleagues – all of whom were of the view that it was an antique method of general computing.

I use a VPN through OpenVPN which is widely known software to assist in the anonymization of one’s identity to champion privacy through the use of an internet address that ‘pretends’ to be me. I pay to use a service to anonymize my activity and aid in hiding my personal identification in the name of privacy. Many governments and corporations appear hell bent on reducing privacy and security. I’m hell bent on keeping it.

The installation of OpenVPN with my (and apparently other) VPN services using OpenVPN was nothing short of horrendous. Whereas Windows is a simple download of a program and the VPN .openvpn file in conjunction with the username and password, Linux frustrated me with numerous web searches, mistakes, command line instructions, and I had no idea whether it was planting malware in my system.

Through the command line (called a terminal), I eventually got the VPN working, and found it didn’t always anonymise me in the same way it did under Windows. I also experienced the following issues – some causing significant time to look into, and others mere annoyances. This list is not exhaustive:
  • I found on my netbook (Acer Aspire One) that certain mp4 videos in Windows work, but are very slow to play in Linux to the point that the video itself was unwatchable;
    Sometimes, when I turn wifi off in Linux and later turn it on, it fails to connect and there are more terminal lines to execute each time. Alternatively, I have to reboot or have wifi on all the time which is yet another battery draining service I didn’t need.
    Some Linux desktops didn’t display properly and I couldn’t find the equivalent of the Start (menu) button;
    I couldn’t install some distributions including the second distribution I tried called Archlinux;
    In Linux, suspension (eg, closing the laptop’s lid) either doesn’t work well or renders the screen blank and the computer persists on being alive;
    I frequently can’t awake Linux after a suspended session when it does work;
    My audio doesn’t work after a suspended session. I have to reboot. What’s the point;
    I’ve found my laptop is dead despite suspension and rendered it useless, whereas under Windows, it has true suspension and I’ve enjoyed a continued computing experience;
    Linux doesn’t recognise my printer and I couldn’t scan. I had to use Windows;
    My laptop and old netbook runs hotter under Linux – I can literally feel it and hear the fan whirring to try keep the hardware cool;
    The fan on my desktop computer runs faster;
    At times I get “blimps” on the screen when scrolling; residual visual effects that ought not to be there;
    I experience erratic mouse movement on the trackpad. Sometimes upon reboot, the Linux system doesn’t recognise an external mouse if I left it plugged in from the last session. The resolution was to unplugging it and replugging it back in;
    Skype collaborations were not as smooth as they were in Windows; the picture was jerky and the sound not as clear;
    Fonts look patchy at times;
    Linux has occasionally crashed when removing USB sticks;
    Something called GRUB completely messed up my desktop dual boot system resulting in a complete reinstallation because I couldn’t find a method to fix it. The process took approximately two days. I couldn’t recover a Windows backup because GRUB was still looking for something that apparently didn’t exist. Consequently, I couldn’t boot to the hard drive recovery. The laptop shipped without a recovery DVD. Frustrated, I had to do something I’ve never done before, and had to break the law. I download a pirate Windows .iso file from a Torrent site and installed it. I then installed my backup software which enabled me to recover my last image. Note that this overwrote the pirate Windows I installed which was solely and exclusively to retrieved my paid version and restore the applications I use, including other paid applications. I wasn’t a pirate until I started using Linux. How ironic!
    Linux and Wine (a Windows emulator) doesn’t run the programs I need. Wine seems to drain my battery faster. The two hour battery I enjoyed under Windows lasted less than 40 minutes when using Micosoft Word under Wine for reasonable use, using Nvidia, with wifi on, both of which I didn’t need;
  • The software posed by Linux as equal or better than Windows is false. For example, LibreOffice is not Microsoft Office. It is not 100% compatible despite their claims, and it left one of my more substantial documents in an absolute mess. Again, backups saved me;
    Some Linux advocates it’s more secure than Windows and there’s no viruses. I find no convincing evidence that these statements are true.

These issues are only what I recollect through a very limited experience. I’m unsure what would be the product of my use of Linux permanently.

Linux advocates that its systems are great for old computers. In my experience, many Linux distributions after installation use more RAM than Windows. Some Linux distributions use in excess of 1GB of RAM whereas my computer shows Windows 7 and Windows 10 uses about 0.5 GB of RAM after booting up, with all the applications, including firewall and antivirus, installed.
I’ve used a lot of distributions and my favourites are Makulu, Debian, Netrunner, and Fedora. Some of them use different command line executions which made my learning curve ever steeper and confusing. I also liked PC-BSD which is a Unix desktop experience but it consumed too many resources and was generally clunky, so I ditched it.

I’ll probably try these distributions again at some point and try learn more about the systems. Again, I like the philosophy but not necessarily the technology (yet).

During my Linux experience, I found that the exciting things I learned at the start became a chore after a number of distributions. I got tired of adding repositories, installing and updating from the command line, determining how to increase battery life and resolve issues that occurred along the way: some of which were a learning curve and others not.

I want Linux to be better. The philosophy and neutrality is there and is highly appealing. I like having all software and system updates in one place. Some Linux distributions look basic and flat and may be too different for a new Windows user, yet others look great and easy to see how a Windows user could adopt particular Linux distributions (ChaletOS, Makulu Aero, Netrunner and perhaps Kubuntu, ZorinOS).

I advocate the use of an “amnesiac” system called Linux Tails which allows a user to boot Linux from a USB and reap the benefits of anonymity. I tried it yesterday with a blog post. I installed Tails on my USB and created a .doc document on the USB drive which I wrote on my main computer. After writing the article I booted into Tails to post it. Very exciting.

I checked my IP was different to the computer I was using and the system appeared to work. I opened LibreOffice and wanted to load my.doc file from the USB. I found I couldn’t access it. Tails wouldn’t allow me to find the .doc document I stored on the USB. After an hour looking for it, insulted, I booted the computer back into Windows whereupon I immediately retrieved it from the USB. After additional reading about Tails, I found it doesn’t allow access to the USB drive other than what is boots and what is considers a “persistent volume” which it states is a security risk.

I hope I’m wrong. I want Linux to improve and I want to be a Linux user. In its current form, Linux is severely deficient. It’s been a good learning curve and I’ll undoubtedly return to it at some point in the future.



I dabbled with the following Linux distributions:

– Archlinux;
– Backbox;
– Black Lab;
– Caine;
– ChaletOS;
– Debian Cinnamon;
– Debian Gnone;
– Debian KDE;
– Debian Mate;
– Debian Xfce;
– Elementary OS;
– Fedora;
– Gentoo;
– Ipreda;
– Ipreda LXDE;
– Kali;
– Kali Lite;
– Kubuntu;
– Kali Mini;
– Lubuntu;
– KaOS;
– Linux Lite;
– Linux Mint Cinnamon;
– Linux Mint KDE;
– Linux Mint Xfce;
– LXLE;
– Mageia;
– Makulu Aero;
– Makulu Unity;
– Makulu Cinnamon;
– Makulu KDE;
– Netrunner;
– Netrunner Rolling;
– OpenSuse;
– Parabola Mate;
– Parrot;
– PCBSD;
– Peppermint;
– Porteus KDE;
– Porteus Mate;
– Porteus XFCE;
– Sabayon Gnome;
– Sayayon KDE;
– Sayayon Minimal;
– Sayayon Xfce;
– Salix Mate;
– Salix Ratpoison;
– Salix Xfce;
– Slackware;
– Solus;
– Solydk;
– Solydx;
– SteamOS;
– Tails;
– Tanglu Gnome;
– Tanglu KDE;
– Ubuntu Mate;
– Ubuntu;
– Ultimate Edition;
– Voyager X2;
– Xubuntu;
– Zorin OS.

Whether Linux is more secure than a Mac or Microsoft Windows is still grey to me. It appears to me that the safest system to use is the system that’s constantly updated against vulnerabilities including zero-days (the concept of finding a vulnerability unknown to a vendor: zero day literally means no days have passed since the vulnerability was found). Such systems include Mac, Linux, and Microsoft Windows. As such, I’ve found nothing to convince me that one system is better, unless that system is no longer supported (eg, Microsoft XP). Numerous Linux distributions proclaim to be virus free. This is misleading. For example, the last distribution listed above “Zorin OS” on its home page at zorinos.com (at the time of writing) states, “Thanks to Zorin OS’s immunity to Windows viruses you will never have to worry about any of that nasty malware.” However, Linux does have viruses, albeit a few. I understand also it is entirely possible to be infected in Linux by use of certain emulators with the most popular being Wine. It seems people either agree or disagree with the “do I need an antivirus for Linux” question. As a Linux newbie it’s unimpressive to see such a disparity on a basic issue all Windows users are exposed to.


Conclusion

My foray into Linux wasn’t a waste of time, in fact, enlightening by experience and a realm I want to continue to explore and build upon this good foundation. I recently rolled back Windows 10 and installed Windows 7 as I now understand the privacy implications and the persistent sharing of private information with servers – some known and others not.

I don’t want to return to Windows 10 and my next operating system will be a Linux distribution. I have some learning challenges to overcome until I switch, and there are many people out there using and enjoying Linux. I’m not yet one of them. I’m an average computer user looking at the security and privacy issues due to Windows 10 and my privacy is more important to me than a free Windows 10 upgrade that persistently sends my personal information of unknown content to a server I cannot easily determine, and how that information is being used. Linux circumvents these privacy issues and bolts on additional protection and philosophies that align more with what I want from an operating system that holds my personal and confidential life information.

My personal favourite distributions are (in alphabetical order):
Backbox (https://backbox.org/)
  • High security including an anonymity mode for internet use;
  • Visually basic and uncluttered;
  • Opportunity to learn penetration testing and general computer security;
  • A useful USB pendrive to carry around and use, and also to install on other computers.
ChaletOS (https://sites.google.com/site/chaletoslinux/home)
  • Visually appealing with a familiar “Microsoft Windows” feel;
  • The distribution most likely to be used among some of my Windows friends when asked to choose;
Makulu Aero (http://makululinux.com/aero/)
  • Appealing with a good balance of Linux and Windows visuals;
  • Like most distributions, a good choice of pre-installed software, including more configuration options;
Tails (https://tails.boum.org/)
  • Is not installed to hard drive and perhaps the most privacy and security hardened Linux available today;
  • Useful to carry on a USB/pen drive;
  • Good selection of software, and looks and feels like a solid Linux system

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Dumbass of the Week May 2016: Telstra's Belong

NBN dumbass award
As a boy growing up with a couple of jobs to earn a bit of cash and see me through my early teenage years, I always treated the customer as king: it was a term used and valued in those days. It meant something, as without customers, there's no business. No business, no money, so I treated everyone accordingly. It isn't only this motto: a personal sense of value and morality ensured I treated others like I wanted to be treated - a time-honoured principle advocated by many of the great philosophers with stories in the Bible and other religions and philosophies.

Today, I believe the customer isn't king unless it's a surname or the name of the dog. Most organisations I deal with don't show they care about their customers, whether it's a pizza shop that treats you like a number and keeps you waiting, or a communications company like Vaya that exceeds the worst of customer performance and expectations.

So, to my first weekly award of "Most Disgraceful Company".

Telstra's Belong (https://www.belong.com.au/) is the very first unproud recipient who advertises:

"Hassle free broadband on the NBN"

We joined Belong because of the woeful experiences with Vaya (click here for more, and as of the time of writing, much more to come). Because of our experiences, we were prepared to pay a little more for a reputable organisation and felt that Telstra, or a subsidiary thereof, would be the best place to go. This, clearly, is wrong.

Since connection almost three weeks ago, we have more internet dropouts than hours in a day and it seems every time I go to use it, or want to use it, the internet isn't working. When I wanted to write a blog post, it disconnected four times and it gave me the idea for the Disgraceful Company Award, with Belong being its first recipient.

Not only that, but when I first contacted Belong, I realised there were no other avenues than telephone number - no email support. I am on a pay-per basis with my mobile phone.
  • My first call I couldn't complete as I ran out of credit.
  • My second call was when the entire national NBN infrastructure had crashed.
  • My third call took half an hour and I was advised they couldn't help, and somebody would call me back within 72 business hours.
  • My fourth call, because Belong didn't call back during the prescribed 72 business hours, found me talking to somebody who told me the timeframe for callbacks is 5 business days - not 72 business hours. Tell me, I wonder - if you had a technical problem would YOU wait 5 business days? Well, I apparently have to.
  • And, my fifth call will be this coming Monday because again, Belong didn't call me back.
  • Unfortunately, I'm still on a pay-per mobile plan and I have to enter a monthly plan just to call Belong.
  • We went with Belong and spent that little extra money, but we sacrificed our home phone to do so.
This is turning into another Vaya problem so I'm going to be asking to get out of the contract and I'll simply go elsewhere - somewhere without a contract requirement.

So, well done, Belong, congratulations on doing nothing other than ignoring me although I'm very sure I'll be receiving an invoice for your full services that you're apparently delivering.

Telstra's Belong FAIL

Friday, 27 May 2016

Intellectual Surcharges: Unfriend- Bullying and New Australian Surveillance Laws

Australia is under surveillance
This article covers two issues I've seen fairly recently that forces an intellectual surcharge and a tax on freedom.

The first is a legal decision where a person was branded a bully due to unfriending a person on Facebook. Second, is the less-known state of turmoil on internet surveillance that makes America look like an amateur.


Law: The Surrealists Pervasive Adjudications against its Citizens

In my true naive style, I believe access to the law should be free. Although predominantly the case, there are certain levels of law a person can aspire to obtain before costs become exorbitant. Consider, for example, the legal fee differences between a law graduate and a well known, high profile lawyer reserved solely for well endowed financial members of society. Australians should also understand the law to have a chance of actively enjoying a society without being stripped of freedoms. Yes, ignorance of the law is no excuse, but that’s no defence in making it inaccessible – and that includes the judgement of common sense. Consider this.

Launceston, 23 September 2015: Mrs Rachael Roberts in a Fair Work Commission Tribunal hearing under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Tasmania). The Tribunal found, amongst other issues, that unfriending a person on Facebook constitutes workplace bullying.

“Employers around the country will be scrambling to update their social media policies after a decision by the workplace tribunal found unfriending someone on Facebook can constitute workplace bullying.”news.com.au

This decision enforces my experience and experiences of others, where Facebook has adversely affected the life of a person because of a choice made on social media that turns the action into unethical behaviour, disregarding the original motivation to do so. Ever thought of removing a person from Facebook that you work with? Ever make an inadvertent comment about your workplace, a person, colleague, a fellow student - perhaps, even, a family member?

The implications are much more than a simple removal. To me, it's a grey area and easy to see that other behaviours could also constitute workplace bullying, or other forms of bullying in other situations. For example, one may think that not adding a person as a Facebook friend is a good defence. It’s contentious, although possible, that this could also be viewed as bullying in as much as the same way as refusing somebody participation could also constitute bullying. I don't have Facebook. Could that detriment me in the workplace?

Facebook lost my jobIn Australia, as well as other countries, bullying isn’t what you do but how a person perceives what you do. I’ve known people to lose their job because of Facebook. Some have commented inadvertently and lost it; others have made direct remarks and lost the job. Are Australians so easily hurt with a Government eager to adversely affect the lives of those who are living up to social norms? I don't understand the court ruling. Are people that easily hurt?

It’s not clear why Australia is shaping internet behaviour in such a way. Although the case above includes additional detail on the breadth of bullying against the party, it shouldn’t detract attention away from the premise that removing a friend from any internet list – whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any other social media – constitutes bullying. Bullying should be contextual on a case by case basis to determine perception of an action in conjunction with the law. Did you reply to that email from your friend at work last night? If not, you could be branded a bully, too.

Australian freedoms aren't set under the Constitution and what remains are being inhibited by poor judgement. It’s taxing to think we’re under such extraordinary scrutiny and we don’t realise the implications our actions create, either now or in the future. The proliferation of our freedoms in all forms are being squeezed and no longer evolve. All decisions we make, whether by thought or reaction, should not cause such an intellectual or legal tax, and nor should our collective and innocuous actions be gathered and used against us. This leads to the second issue that shows Australia is descending into digital hypocrisy.



Forego Whistleblowers and make people aware you're spyingAustralia is Boss: why it makes America look like an Amateur

The nefarious spying activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) in America was leaked to the people through many persons connected to the organisation, most notably, through Edward Snowden via Glenn Greenwald et al. One of the premises behind these leaks is people need to know they’re being spied upon, as well as other countries, usually in the name of “national defence”. Since 9/11, agencies worldwide have ramped up surveillance measures against its citizens and other countries and its people. This form of surveillance is always under the guise of national security.

The pervasiveness of the information contained in this set of leaks, as well as numerous other leaks that includes the actions of WikiLeaks set the world afire and helped instigate digital protective measures and as well as those of attack which appears to have led to the fifth realm of war: cyberwar. The underhand nature in which surveillance was used against its people without the knowledge of citizens struck many hard. Privacy was immediately something that ceased to exist. Many Americans knew, or had a feeling, they were under surveillance in some form by the State and by large corporations including Microsoft, Google, and Facebook - the magnitude of which is now popularly known.

In contrast and despite loud public protest, Australia continued on its track to implement its own suite of surveillance measures. In its rush to put Big Brother on the shoulders of all its citizens, it left massive legal holes in its wake – not to mention the potentially billions of dollars it’ll haemorrhage in the coming years. Surveillance comes at a cost. PriceWaterHouseCooper was charged with the task of costing which in their view, solely for establishing a monitoring system, would be up to one third of a billion dollars. This doesn’t include maintenance and the costs will be on the taxpayer and the consumer, both of which I foresee will be the same body of people. Much of the problem is currently footed by companies that the Government is ordering to collect information. Only a fraction of the cost will be provided by Government – to which they have no current plan in distributing – for a system due for release in the coming weeks.

Why is privacy important?

Freedom is privacy. The Australian Government states, “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” and many governments use this to rationalise how people should think, rather than allow them to think for themselves. I recall Abbott and Turnbull advocate this, yet, even Turnbull has attested to the fact he uses encrypted and self-destructible communications to ensure nobody is aware of the content. Can you trust a Prime Minister who won’t put information and decisions on public record - a public service who should be accountable to the public and who speaks of transparency?

As an Australian, the Australian Government have a legal right to collect certain information whether I consent or not. They can add additional laws to increase this surveillance, and we pay politicians to do this. We vote them to power and we keep them there.

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth" -- Oscar Wilde

The Government will be authorised to know exactly where I am at any given time and have the ability to collect all digital footprints against me for future purposes. Australia doesn’t want to hide these surveillance tactics like America did. It empowered itself to legalise surveillance.

This massive collection of information through approximately 230 telecommunication organisations that ex-Treasurer Hockey undermined in his so-called budget forms a very clear picture about us all. Regardless of whether you are a person of interest or not, you will do things that are subjective in your lifetime and it can be used against you whether directly or indirectly, eg, blackmail you into providing information about somebody else by threat of legal process.

The absolute and utter silence of these measures are astounding. It rarely makes the news and when it does, it's mostly independent news and hardly causes a ripple. The true implications of law are not being revealed to the public and when issues are presented it is rarely accompanied with the required context. I’m considering disconnecting my phone when the laws come in and use the internet only when absolutely necessary and to do it as securely as possible. However, the laws are not merely restricted to internet and phone use. I’m still trying to understand what it means and how it is applicable to my life and the lives of those I love.


China has hacked Australia to the tune of billions of dollars of damage. No system is secure and at least in the short to mid-term, will ever be secure despite proclamations of unhackable quantum crypts and other technologies. Some hackers have superpowers in my eyes and everybody and every institution worldwide is vulnerable and/or has been shown they’re vulnerable. I see white-hat (ethical) hackers as the white knights of our digital future. I hold them in high regard because they can perform magic with a keyboard similar to the one I use to write drivel, and I’m no writer.

Many parts of Australia have already been hacked including defence and intelligence agencies. If these high-level agencies are compromised so easily, then they can certainly get to you and me. All our information will be stored and will be an absolute gold mine. Our Government – the same hacked Government that can’t even move into its own intelligence building because the blueprints were hacked and stolen – are telling telecommunications agencies that the Government is not responsible for the storage or security of the data that the Government is imposing upon them. Soon, the details of your secret life will be available behind an online door. At the time of writing there are 3.37 billion internet users (http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/). The chances of one being able to hack a small telecommunications provider in hackable Australia to obtain a trove of information is not far removed from reality. Do you understand how many organisations have been hacked in Australia and overseas? If not you need to.

If they can hack Australian Intelligence (ASIO) and inhibit them from moving in to highly secure premises, I'm more than certain they can hack a phone company.

The terrorist activities that have occurred in Australia are not only rogue attacks but could have been prevented by the courts if they were competent enough. Determinations had already been made that these extremists were a danger to the public, yet, the courts allowed them access to society and society paid for the mistake through multiple Government oversights. Their answer is to spend significant resources to monitor and undermine us all. This is typical: one incident is all it needs to justify itself and, many times, no incidents are required; just a political agenda whether bought or otherwise. Australia’s intelligence agencies hide historical terrorist activities and targets and Australia can never know the extent to which it’s being exposed, all in the name of “national security” in the same vein as America. Australia has a poor track record of internet management and most of us don’t know it. There's still now law requiring disclosure to the public. I've lost count of the years.

To reflect, Australia makes America look amateurish because it has circumvented the Snowden and WikiLeaks fallout that America was subject to. Instead, they’re making surveillance available through legal processes that could be unlawful and against simple human rights principles, but don’t let minor details like law, freedom, privacy, and human rights get in the way of a good story.

I talked about some of these issues with acquaintances and was overwhelmed by their responses, the main ones I recall being:
  • Some had never heard of Edward Snowden;
  • All had never visited nor were interested in visiting WikiLeaks;
  • None cared about the new metadata/surveillance laws because they had, “nothing to hide”;
  • All believe the Government is doing the right thing monitoring us because of the prospect of terrorism regardless of the infinitesimal chance of it working;
  • The new laws will not change their online behaviour.Despite the overwhelming evidence available, they outwardly expressed their view that I’m paranoid. Extraordinary.
Nothing to hide, nothing to say
-- Edward Snowden
So, from my point of view, the way in which this surveillance burden is being placed upon Australians is nothing other than propaganda. They advocate the, “you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide” argument. Research around the world evidences internet surveillance as a failure: it simply doesn't work. Despite this research, Australia went ahead with their agenda. What if another law comes in that gives retrospective power – and it does happen. Some laws come in solely because they need a retrospective power. The implications are enormous and poorly understood and reported. It’s not paranoia. It’s the real world with real laws and real consequences. These new laws place extraordinary pressure on social justice and whistleblowing which I firmly believe is a patriotic act of transparency that puts the whistleblower at significant risk - regardless of the country.

“... if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” — is thought to have originated with Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.” -- US whistleblower Thomas Drake, a former senior employee of the United States National Security Agency, and Edward Snowden’s US defence lawyer Jesselyn Radack.

It’s unclear why politicians advocate this propaganda principle and sell it to the people in return for a piece of their freedom without the decency of clear legislation. Do you realise how much legislation you’re subject to and the implications of it all? No, you don’t, and you never will.

Privacy is freedom. If you don’t care about your privacy you’re giving up your freedom, and once Pandora’s box is open you’re too late.

"I get out a pen. I write down my email address. I say, 'Here's my email address. What I want you to do when you get home is email me the passwords to all of your email accounts, not just the nice, respectable work one in your name, but all of them, because I want to be able to just troll through what it is you're doing online, read what I want to read and publish whatever I find interesting. After all, if you're not a bad person, if you're doing nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide." -- Glenn Greenwald, journalist, constitutional lawyer, author.

It’s happening so don’t call me paranoid.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Is there an alternative to Google on Android?

I’ve struggled with this whole privacy online nightmare – not just online, mind, but privacy everywhere and if there's a satellite over my head when I'm doing a number two. Each day it seems I’m learning something new and scratching my butt working it out (the idea, not the number two). I’m not much more intelligent than a block of wood. Oak wood – not that dumb pine stuff.

I’ve replaced almost everything to secure my digital life from corporate and government spying and eavesdropping, and I know there are things I’ll continue to learn. One thing I can’t find an adequate replacement for are many of the Google services, mostly, the calendar and national calendar, contacts, notes, Play Store and of course, a sound blog. For some, there are individual services, but nothing gives all services in one package.

I understand now that Google provides these services for a fee: my personal information, similar to Facebook. I deleted my Facebook account. Actually, I’ve deleted all accounts except Google.
I understand there are many data collection schemes out there, and this is a compromise. I quite like most of Google's services, to be honest. Microsoft has now (mostly gone). I’m a private person and want to keep it that way, but I also want what Google offers, including this outlet - this blog. I like the Google Calendar function because:
  1. It allows me to easily attach my country’s calendar which automatically provides holidays and special events;
  2. It seemlessly syncs with my Android phone;
  3. Anything I do on any computer and phone under my account name is synchronised and immediate;
  4. It’s easy to use, and a ‘set it and forget it’.
I've looked around and simply can't find a free replacement. Have you?

During my searches, though, I have found numerous free and great services for the privacy conscious and I'll start compiling them for anybody out there that's interested. Some have been trial and error over several months and others have been a no-brainer. I’m very sure in the future I’ll create similar posts to this seeking opinions on how to replace other services I use.

For now, all my services including Facebook and Twitter but other than Google have been replaced with free services with a focus on privacy and security.