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TBTF for 1997-09-08: Everybody knows

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Sun, 7 Sep 1997 21:37:12 -0400


  • Giving spammers pause -- Do these recent incidents mark a turn of the tide?

  • Internet in the sky -- Satellite constellations for phone, messaging, and broadband -- Teledesic wants to "throw a fiber-optic net around the world"

  • A new Mersenne prime -- The 36th Mersenne prime is (2^2976221 - 1) and it's 895,932 digits long

  • Everybody knows -- These Netscape Navigator shortcuts aren't news to you, are they?

Threads Cryptography export policy
See also TBTF for
2000-02-06, 1999-10-05, 08-30, 08-23, 08-16, 07-26, 05-22, 05-08, 04-21, 03-01, 01-26, more...

The crypto debate polarizes some more

Our two lead stories today exemplify the great divide in Internet politics -- the yawning chasm that is cryptography policy. Let's focus the debate using the unanswered question posed by Carl M. Ellison (quoted in TBTF for 1997-01-11 [1]):

Do citizens of a country have a right to attempt to achieve
privacy from their government, or should they be forced to
submit to covert surveillance?

This month's Netizen, by Rebecca Vesely, characterizes the crypto divide along generational lines (in issue 5.10, not on the Web yet). The historical detail is accurate but the generational angle is far too facile. But I suppose if you're pitching Wired you've got to have an angle.

[1] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-01-11.html#s02

one FBI proposes mandatory domestic key escrow

On 9/3, in testimony before a Senate committee, FBI Director Louis Freeh suggested that all cryptographic products sold in the U.S. should have key escrow built in, "like an airbag in a car" [2]. While many have suspected all along that this was the FBI's goal, the resulting firestorm of protest was intense. On 9/4 the administration's crypto point man distanced the White House from Freeh's remarks. "What he proposed was not the administration's policy," Commerce's William Reinsch told reporters. On 9/5 it developed that the FBI was circulating a draft bill incorporating Freeh's suggestions [3]. While the draft does not propose banning the possession or use of crypto products, just their sale or distribution, history suggests that tightening restrictions once they are on the books is easier than passing them in the first place. Reinsch said of Freeh's proposal, "If the committee were to report that [bill out], I think that would be something we would look at very seriously," he said. "But I don't expect that to happen. We have not asked them to report that and we are not going to ask them to report that." This rapidly developing story has been unfolding on Declan McCullagh's fight-censorship mailing list.
Note added 1997-09-08: Brock Meeks says on MSNBC [3a] that, contrary to Reinsch's demurrals cited above, the administration is sympathetic to the proposd legislation described above, and in fact has been helping to draft it. Thanks to Monty Solomon <monty at roscom dot com>, for the forward.

Although the administration hasn't formally endorsed any provisions of the bill, MSNBC has learned that the White House has been providing what is called "technical drafting assistance" to members of Congress writing the bill. William Reinsch, the Commerce Department undersecretary for export administration, confirmed the White House involvement for MSNBC on Thursday night.

[2] http://www.wired.com/news/news/politics/story/6630.html
[3] http://www.jya.com/gakbill-text.htm
[3a] http://www.msnbc.com/news/108020.asp

two California legislature is unanimous for easing crypto export

On 9/5 the California Assembly passed Senate Joint Resolution 29 [4], expressing the sense of the Califoria Legislature that California's 54 congressional delegates should support Rep. Bob Goodlatte's Pro-CODE bill, HR 695 [5]. The resolution sets forth the Legislature's vigorous disagreement with the Administration's crypto export policy in frank language and in detail. It passed unanimously in committees of both Houses, on the Senate floor 38-0, and in the Assembly 79-0.

The Clinton Administration had tried to derail the legislation at its first hearing on 8/26 by sending to the Senate Committee on Finance, Investment and International Trade a "secret" three-page attack on HR 695 authored by William Reinsch. An Office of Management and the Budget staffer faxed the "secret" document to the committee less than an hour before the hearing, insisting that the document be shown only to committee members, not copied, not mentioned in public, and definitely not shown to the proponents. This wish was not honored -- proponents were allowed to study the fax for 10 minutes -- and in any event did not impress the committee.

Note that one of California's Senators, Dianne Feinstein, expressed strong agreement with the FBI's mandatory key-recovery proposals (see above). The staff counsel for EPIC commented, "It appears that Senator Feinstein wants a Constitution-free zone for the Internet."

[4] http://www.sen.ca.gov/htbin/ca-html?GOPHER_ROOT2:[BILL.CURRENT.SJR.FROM0000.SJR0029]CURRVER.TXT;1/bill/SJR29
[5] http://thomas.loc.gov/bss/d105query.html


Is S/MIME dead as a standard?

At last month's IETF meeting in Munich, the backers of S/MIME were ready to move the secure email protocol forward on a path to standardization. Netscape, Lotus, and Microsoft all have (or soon will have) products on the market that incorporate the technology, which is based on patented public-key algorithms developed by RSA. According to press reports [6], Jeffrey Schiller, director of the IETF's security area, was overheard to comment "No protocol that depends on proprietary technology will ever become a standard endorsed by the IETF." The S/MIME proponents, discouraged, decided not to pursue the standards track, leaving the backers of PGP/MIME with a clear field.

Follow-up reports over the next week [7], [8] apparently remained in ignorance of a public letter [9] that Schiller posted on 8/28 to clear up the confusion. The letter states unequivocally that the IETF is not hostile to the idea of an S/MIME proposal.

[6] http://www8.zdnet.com/pcweek/news/0825/27esmime.html
[7] http://www8.zdnet.com/pcweek/opinion/0901/01isigh.html
[8] http://www8.zdnet.com/pcweek/news/0901/01rsa.html
[9] http://www.tbtf.com/resource/jschiller.html


Apple sends out the clones

Apple Computer is in the process of shutting down the MacOS clone market [10]. The company will swap $100M in stock for Power Computing Corporation's "core assets," including its customer base and some of its people. Power will continue to operate under that name but will not clone MacOS computers any more. Instead, the company will be producing Windows NT boxes [11]. The company's press release spins this outcome as if it were goal all along. Yeh sure. Among the many rumors swirling around Power Computing in the days since Mac World Expo -- when its president criticized Apple's go-slow negotiation over MacOS 8 and was forced out of PCC, reportedly by a word from Steve Jobs -- was that PCC was busy spending the money from its IPO, which it doesn't have in hand yet.

Power was the largest of the six licensed Mac clone makers, doing $400M in 1996. Users are up in arms at Apple's move [12]. Dave Weiner, a long-time Apple developer, said that the interests of Apple and those of its users had now diverged.

Licensing talks finally broke down over the issue of Apple's new OS8. Apple insisted it would not license OS8 to the clonemakers without significant concessions. In the days since the PCC news, Taiwanese cloner Umax has reached a settlement [13] and will be allowed to ship OS8 -- but not on the newest hardware platform, known as CHRP.

Motorola, the manufacturer of the PowerPC chip, is to make an announcement on Monday 9/8 [14]. Indications are that the chipmaker will shift its PowerPC strategy to emphasize non-PC markets.

[10] http://www.wired.com/news/news/business/story/6548.html
[11] http://www8.zdnet.com/pcweek/news/0901/03epow.html
[12] http://www.news.com/SpecialFeatures/0%2C5%2C13941%2C%2C00.html
[13] http://www8.zdnet.com/pcweek/news/0901/05eumax.html
[14] http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,14010,00.html


Lycos patents the intelligent spider

When the issued patent [15] is in the company's hands and available for examination, a couple of weeks from now, we'll be better able to gauge its generality and applicability. Lycos's Michael Maulden, who invented the Lycos spidering technology, seems to believe he will be able to go after Excite, HotBot, WebCrawler, et al., for royalties [16].

[15] http://www8.zdnet.com/pcweek/news/0901/03alycos.html
[16] http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,13881,00.html

Threads Email spam and antispam tactics
See also TBTF for
2000-07-20, 1999-07-19, 1998-11-17, 07-27, 03-30, 02-09, 01-12, 1997-11-24, 10-20, 09-29, 09-22, more...

Giving spammers pause

For anyone tempted by the lure of unsolicited commercial email, two cautionary tales came across a network operators' mailing list last week.

In Utica, Michigan, a 15-year-old boy was slapped with an injunction and had his computer equipment confiscated because of a spam he perpetrated from his bedroom [17]. The youth reportedly sent out thousands of offers for an illegal pyramid scheme and caused Rustnet, the ISP whose return adress he forged, considerable trouble and not a few lost customers.

Config.sys Productions Ltd., an Ohio provider of Web space, hired a new worker to promote the accounts of some of its customers. This person acquired a commercial software package that extracts email addresses from Usenet newsgroups and sent out about 30,000 solicitations before company officials, horrified, shut down the mail server and posted a public apology [18]. There was no word of what befell the miscreant.

[17] http://www.pcmike.com/Special%20Reports/High%20School%20Spammer.html
[18] http://www.pcmike.com/Special%20Reports/High%20School%20Spammer.html/a>


Internet in the sky

A number of proposals/projects have been floated/funded to launch constellations of cooperating satellites to provide voice, messaging, or broadband services worldwide. Most of the attention has gone to the Iridium and Teledesic projects. A site in England [19] maintained by grad student Lloyd Wood <L.Wood at surrey dot ac dot uk> keeps us current on the sum of all human knowledge about satellite constellations. Wood's is one of the most information-dense sites you will encounter on the Web.

Iridium [20] is a 10-year-old effort, initiated by Motorola and now operated by a worldwide consortium, to provide telephone service anywhere on earth. Total investment to date exceeds $4B and featured a $240M public offering (NASDAQ: IRIDF) intended as mezzanine financing. (That's some mezzanine.) Iridium's terrestrial service analogy is cellular. The original schedule [21] called for launching 77 satellites beginning in June 1996. The first birds actually flew in May 1997; today 21 are orbiting and operational after 4 flights (one Russian); the target number is a scaled-down 66; service is still planned to begin at the end of 1998. Handsets will cost an estimated $2000-$3000.

Teledesic [22] is a private venture to offer cheap, wireless, high-bandwidth Internet access anywhere on the surface of the planet. Cellular mogul Craig McCaw dreamed it up in the late 80s and Bill Gates invested in the venture with him. Teledesic's terrestrial analogy is fiber -- it will be like throwing a fiber-optic net around the world. Here is a readable history [23] of the company as of January this year. The original plan called for deploying 840 satellites in low polar orbits; earlier this year Teledesic and its new partner Boeing said they will start with 324 birds, in 12 planes of 24 satellites each, with 36 orbiting spares. The company will sell bandwidth to carriers, ISPs, and phone companies worldwide. Its downlinks will be small fixed installations, easing the process of getting regulatory approval from governments: nervous bureaucrats need only refuse to site a downlink. (The necessary equipment, however, is lightweight, the size of a portable computer. Hmm.)

[19] http://www.ee.surrey.ac.uk/Personal/L.Wood/constellations/index.html
[20] http://www.iridium.com/
[21] http://www.ddi.co.jp/i_schedule.html
[22] http://www.teledesic.com/
[23] http://www.flatoday.com/space/explore/stories/1997/010297a.htm

Threads Using the Internet as a massively parallel computer
See also TBTF for
2000-03-31, 1999-08-30, 07-19, 01-26, 1998-03-02, 1997-10-27, 09-08, 09-01, 06-23, 01-29, 1996-12-02

A new Mersenne prime

The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search has yielded up M-36 [24], the largest prime number now known:

2^2976221 - 1

When last we visited GIMPS (see TBTF for 1996-12-02 [25]) the previous record-holder, M-35, had just been uncovered. This new Mersenne prime has more than twice as many digits, at 895,932. You can download the number itself [26] from the mersenne.org site. M-36 was discovered on 8/24 by Gordon Spence, using a Pentium box running code written by George Woltman <woltman at magicnet dot net> (who is mersenne.org).

A Mersenne prime has the form 2^p-1. The study of these numbers has been central to number theory since they were first discussed by Euclid in 350 BC. The 17th-century French monk Marin Mersenne conjectured famously on which values of p would yield a prime; his conjecture was settled 300 years later.

Thanks to Robert Harley <Robert.Harley at inria dot fr> for the pointer.

[24] http://www.mersenne.org/2976221.htm
[25] http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1996-12-02.html#s11
[26] http://www.mersenne.org/files/prime2.txt ______

Everybody knows

Twice in recent weeks I've been surprised by needing to explain, to knowledgeable people, Netscape Navigator shortcuts that I had assumed to be common knowledge. I'd be curious if either of these small factoids is news to you.

one Stopping animated GIFs

In Netscape Navigator 3 you can stop the motion of animated GIFs, even after they are completely downloaded and cache-resident, by hitting the Stop button. (Internet Explorer does not offer this feature.) The Stop button will be pickable -- not greyed -- as long as any animated GIF is running. Navigator doesn't get the user interface quite right, at least in the Macintosh version. Once the GIF(s) stop(s) the button should change to grey (become unpickable), but it doesn't always do so.

two Shortcutting URLs

Try typing just a company's name into Navigator's Location box. Navigator adds "http://www." before what you typed and ".com" after and then goes off to look for the resulting URL.

Note added 1997-09-09: Several readers wrote to chide me for drawing attention to this "misfeature." They pointed out that it reinforces the trademark/domain name confusion that is the cause of so much legal misery. Also, it slights organizations not in the .com top-level domain. (With sometines embarassing results. If you are over 21, try typing "whitehouse" at Netscape. Whitehouse.gov is the Clintons' address but you will arrive instead at whitehouse.com, which is, er, something else entirely.) The disconnect will only get worse with time as more TLDs are added.


bul Today's TBTF title comes from a 1988 song by Leonard Cohen. Lyrics are here [27], courtesy of the indispensible Lyrics Server [28]; you can request a RealAudio sample [29], but I wouldn't recommend it if you're all alone on a rainy weekend.

[27] http://www.lyrics.ch/cgi-bin/normal.pl?artist=Leonard+Cohen&album=&song=Everybody+Knows
[28] http://www.lyrics.ch/
[29] http://cdnow.com/cgi-bin/mserver/pagename=/RP/CDN/FIND/album.html/ArtistID=FRN-COHEN*LEONARD/ddcn=SD-7464+44191+2

bul This week we add another topic to TBTF Threads [30]: the uses of the Internet as a loosely coupled, massively parallel computer.

[30] http://www.tbtf.com/threads.html


bul For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see http://www.tbtf.com/sources.html.

bul fight-censorship-- mail fight-censorship-announce-request@vorlon.mit.edu without subject and with message: subscribe . Web home at http://www.eff.org/~declan/fc/.

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Keith Dawson    dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.



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