Episode 42: Usenet is still a thing!

Download: Episode 42

This week Audrey and I chat about different efforts to preserve meaningful, community-oriented access to the web, a wild update to the Mirai botnet story, and more. Enjoy!

Show Notes

Community Announcements

New products in the Recompiler Shop!

There’s new mug and a new tote bag, just in time for holiday shopping.

Call for Contributors for Issue 10: Science!

For our second issue of 2018, we’ll be talking about science! From computers to data to social and natural sciences, it’s a way we explore the world and define our work.

Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • Connecting computer science fundamentals with everyday programming
  • How open source software tools power scientific exploration
  • Ethical data collection and use
  • Citizen science and ways of bringing non-specialists into our work
  • When is computing an art, a science, a craft?
  • Anything involving dinosaurs

We look for ideas that will be effective at an advanced beginner to intermediate level of technical knowledge, and that are grounded in the author’s personal experiences. We’re especially interested in work from people who are part of under-represented groups in technology. Contributors are paid.

Find the details and submit your ideas at https://recompilermag.com/participate/. Submissions are open through January 1.

Now Broadcasting LIVE Fridays at 10am PST

Taking what we learned from our first ever live telethon earlier this month, and equipped with a brand new mic for Audrey, we’ll now be broadcasting our episode recordings LIVE on most Fridays at 10am PST. Mark your calendars and visit recompilermag.live to tune-in.

We love hearing from you! Feedback, comments, questions…

We’d love hearing from you, so get in touch!

You can leave a comment on this post, tweet to @recompilermag or our host @christi3k, or send an email to podcast@recompilermag.com. You can also leave us an audio comment by calling (503) 489-9083.


Christie: Hello and welcome to the Recompiler, a feminist hacker podcast where we talk about technology in a fun and playful way. I’m your host, Christie Koehler. Episode 42, Usenet is still a thing! This week Audrey and I chat about different efforts to preserve meaningful community oriented access to the web, a wild update to the Mirai botnet story and more. Enjoy.
What’s going on? You got any announcements before we start the show, before we start talking about our topics?

Audrey: We are kind of putting together an end of year wrap up that you’ll see on the blog, just to look back on what we have accomplished this year. We got through our year two for issues. We did the Kickstarter, we’ve been doing the podcast. We had a little bit of a break, but we picked it back up. It’s just kind of great to look back on all the things that we’ve published and all the topics we’ve been able to cover.

Christie: Do you have a favorite? Ha, ha, ha. I put you on the spot.

Audrey: I love all of our articles, every single one teaches me something different. I realize that’s a favorite kid question. I think the thing that was the most challenging for me was our hardware issue because it’s not something that I’ve ever done day to day. It’s the area where I had the most to learn. I don’t know if this comes through on the podcast, but I’m always really eager for just bridging these big gaps in my knowledge. That was very rewarding.

Christie: Challenging but rewarding. Those often go hand in hand I guess. I think we also forgot to say what this is and this is the Recompiler podcast. We’re broadcasting our weekly episode recording live. I’m Christie Koehler. My co-host here is Audrey Eschright and you can follow along on Twitter @recompilermag. I don’t know why that sounded weird when I said it. I think because I’m so used to-

Audrey: We are recompilermag everywhere that we are on the social media.

Christie: Right. Recompilermag.com is the main website. You can always tune into the live broadcast when we’re doing it, recompilermag.live. When we’re not broadcasting, there’s a stream of recent episodes. Cool. I just was like, “Oh, we gotta do like a station ID.” I guess people are just tuning in.

Audrey: We should, yeah. Cool.

Christie: Is the CFP open for issue 10 still?

Audrey: Yes, yes. We absolutely need people’s pitches on science, what we do with it, what we make, how technology and science interact. Our submission pool is a little thin right now. There is every opportunity to get your idea in and have a chance to write.

Christie: Cool, let’s see, the holiday newsletter had wrapped up. Sounds like that was good fun. I know that an awesome Recompiler listener or reader sent me a gift from my wishlist. I have not opened it yet, it’s under the tree. I’m being good and going to open it Christmas Eve or Christmas day. That was really cool to get. Thank you whoever sent that. Alright, any other announcements?

Audrey: No, nothing else from me.

Christie: Okay, I guess we should just dive in then, shouldn’t we?

Audrey: Yeah, let’s go for it.

Christie: I was thinking we’d start with André’s article. It’s a follow-up to André’s article about hoe Facebook and Google really drive a huge majority of traffic to content sites.

Audrey: The title was something like The Web Began Dying in 2014, Here’s How.

Christie: Right and André showed that prior to that that both companies made big pivots around that time. Google towards being a knowledge internet company and Facebook to being a social internet company and that rather than competing with each other at that point, they really took up orthogonal positions in the market.

Audrey: Right, yeah. Google trying to organize around machine learning artificial intelligence, just knowing mechanically what you’re looking for and Facebook focusing on the social approach to it where people collectively surface the information that you’re looking for.

Christie: Then they talked about Amazon for a little bit. This follow-up, A Plan to Rescue the Web from the Internet, you sent this to me, Audrey. I think you said something like, “I agree with a lot of this but have different conclusions,” or something like that.

Audrey: It seemed like … I feel like I make this criticism all the time, but it seems like it was taking a very technical analysis for something that has a huge social and economic dimension. In particular, there’s a section where he talks about IPv4 versus IPv6 and the idea of how we assign IDs to things and how we have access to them. I don’t think the reason that Google is dominant is IPv4, but there’s kind of a section in the article that implies that that’s the case. It was not an angle that I had ever thought about before, so it was really interesting that way. I just … You know what I mean? It seems like our ability to address every single person individually on the network is maybe, like the technical part of that, is probably not the reason that we’re here right now.

Christie: Yeah, interesting. Okay, so I had a similar response, but a little bit different. Stepping back for a moment because this is kind of a long article and I think a pretty technical one. It’s not like an academic paper, but there’s tons of acronyms. I think if you didn’t already had a solid foundation in internet technology and protocols, this could get pretty overwhelming to go through. The intent of the blog post, as stated, is to share their plan, this group’s plan, for rescuing the web from the internet. The summary of that is build the mobile mesh web that works with or without internet access to reach four billion people currently offline. Right off the bat, I think most people don’t really differentiate the web from the internet, right? That is sort of interesting to me, that distinction right off the bat. The web is sort of the things you access via your internet connection.

Audrey: I think it’s trying to separate out content from protocols.

Christie: Right, the internet is your wifi connection to your home router and the router that goes through the internet cable modem that goes through Comcast or CenturyLink to a big internet backbone under C cable and then back through to wherever that computer is you’re trying to get content from. Then, they kind of go through this … First, they make a point that there’s sort of a concept of a public web, an open and public web, and then a closed and controlled web or communities on the web. That Facebook is a closed, controlled community but that looks a lot like a public space because people come there to a do a lot of things that they would do in a public space like message each other, plan things, right?

Audrey: I think it’s kind of like a shopping mall that way. People think as shopping malls as these very public, open spaces, but they can and do kick people out for all sorts of reasons. They apply a different set of rules for how people can or should behave than say the sidewalk does.

Christie: Right or a public park or a public community center. Right. They go through that a little bit and then go into … They basically say the, they’re calling them flaws, the sort of technical decisions and aspects of the internet helped create a system where private webs flourish. That’s when they start talking about the IP address thing. IP addresses are the sort of numerical addresses that get assigned to a particular computer or device on the internet. Most of the time, you don’t interact with those directly because you type in recompilermag.com. Behind the scenes, there’s a service that translates recompilermag.com into the IP address of that server so that you can get content from it.

Audrey: These days it’s not really the IP address of that server even especially because I’m on a hosted service. We’re actually … There’s just a lot more layers of redirect underneath that. You know what I mean? It’s not like a one to one mapping of server to website.

Christie: Right, they get into that a little bit. You can have many layers of stuff in between. One of the most common and simplest or basic scenarios is that because … the original structure of IP addresses was a block of four sets of numbers 0-255. Then, of course, there are certain permutations that are reserved for things. A lot of the ones people are familiar with are local hosts which is … Oh my God, what’s one plus dot-

Audrey: 92.168

Christie: No, no, no. What’s the 127 one?

Audrey: 127.0.0

Christie: Yeah, then there’s other ones.

Audrey: Your default gateway, that’s what I’m thinking.

Christie: Right, yeah, yeah. Sometimes it’s the 10. There’s another one. Anyway, we’ve lost people. Because of the-

Audrey: I’m sure there’s a Wikipedia page for it anyhow.

Christie: Right, because of the way those numbers are constructed, there’s a limit that’s set. Not every device in the world can have its own direct IP address because there’s not enough of them. For a lot of cases, there’s some kind of network device in front of a bunch of computers that gets the IP address. They use something called network address translation to then relay to the computers and their network. This is how your home network almost assuredly works.

Audrey: Right, you’ll see that abbreviated as NAT, N-A-T.

Christie: Yeah, yeah. They basically say that because of this construction, it required middlemen and that these middlemen occupy a privileged position in the economy and structure of the internet and that that is partially why we are where we are today. That was the part of the part that you took issue with. Right, Audrey?

Audrey: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s just kind of getting the sequence of events in the wrong order. We agree completely on the middlemen problem, but I don’t think that the … I think that this is something that started for a lot of reasons before we were going to run out of IP addresses.

Christie: It implies that if everyone just had a direct IP address that a lot more peer-to-peer activity would be going on. That seems to forget about how much technical knowledge and time and other resources you need to be able to do that.

Audrey: Right, I guess what I’m thinking is back in 1998 when IPv6 was first set out, even if you had been really interested in creating those kinds of peer-to-peer things, the cost of the device development that would be necessary for it … We didn’t have iPhones. I don’t know. I don’t think many people would’ve conceived of the infrastructure necessary to make it happen at that point. That’s the point where Google started from.

Christie: They continue this line of thought, not just to the IP addresses but all the way to the fact that at some point internet traffic has to rely on wired connections that a very few number of people can control. I think that’s touching upon the net neutrality issue a little bit.

Audrey: Right, yeah.

Christie: That’s why they’re interested in mobile mesh networks.

Audrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Which are cool and, again, we have an article coming out about it because I thought it was a really interesting thing for us to explore.

Christie: Put simply, mobile mesh networks are you have some kind of device that has the ability to communicate wirelessly with another device whether it’s over Bluetooth or there’s different protocols for this. The idea of that you have lots of these devices in a geographic area. Not only can you connect peer-to-peer but information packet, whatever, can be relayed across many different peers to get that information further away.

Audrey: Yeah. Oh, sorry, I’m interrupting.

Christie: No, no, no. I think I was done.

Audrey: Okay, what I was going to say was what I learned from our writers is that there are a couple of different organizing principles that can be applied and that also affects what you can do with the mesh network. Some of them are designed to be spontaneously self-organizing. You put a node in there and the node finds it’s way onto the network. Some of them are meant to be controlled by a single owner so all the devices are known. There’s still a single node or master node that controls everything else. Because there are these different organizing principles for it, the software and the protocols we might use can vary quite a bit too.

Christie: There’s no one way to do mesh networking right now.

Audrey: Yeah, there probably shouldn’t be. These address different needs.

Christie: Then, they go through talking about different applications of different peer-to-peer protocols that you could use with mesh networking like IPFS and Dat and Beaker Browser. They talk about this concept of a location centered web, a content centered web, a people centered web and that right now we have very much a location centered web. You go to http://www.facebook.com and that’s close off web presence on the wired internet and that they want to use mesh networking to move to a content/and/or, not sure, people centered web where you go out and you’re grabbing content from a decentralized network or you’re connecting to a specific people through a decentralized or meshed network. Am I getting that right?

Audrey: I think so, yeah. I think there’s kind of two directions that this seems to indicate that things go. I don’t think that they’re an either/or. One of them is these distributed content networks where every web page you create eventually makes its way onto every network because it’s reposted and reposted and reposted, much like our federated content across Mastodon. Because of that, things always live on — they survive the failure of any one node.
The other part is this sort spontaneous local network aspect of it, the way that people communicate in groups based on their local mesh network formation.

Christie: Right, the thing that struck me about this is, again, it’s that focusing on all these technical aspects and not necessarily looking at all the social ones or the externalities that might apply. We kind of talked about this or the week before with Bitcoin. Blockchains and cryptocurrencies are mentioned in this article. I just got to thinking, “What are the costs and ramifications of having all this duplicated content across the network, how much more energy does that take?”

Audrey: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I have kind of this open call for an article that I’ve been putting out over and over again about what is the social impact of that because if we use something like … I’m gonna get the letters wrong. IPFS?

Christie: Something like that.

Audrey: Yeah or DAT. If we’re using that, we still have to contend with a lot of the social failures of social media. Those are things like security, like safety, like fraud. We really have to design for the possibility that somebody will spoof your content and change it and distribute it as though it’s you. I’m just really trying to find somebody with some UX background who can talk about this because I think these are really interesting design challenges. It’s just completely key to whether these can become bigger technologies used by more people.

Christie: I also think the ease of use. I think if these things aren’t really easy to use and accessible not just in the disability sense but in the economic and socio-economic sense that they’ll remain little niche toys.

Audrey: That takes a different skill set too for teams to start to think about. It’s not the same skillset as what it takes to create the protocols. I don’t know. I don’t work on any of these projects directly, but if I did, I would be really, really recruiting for people to contribute to that part of it because I think this stuff is important. I think that it does matter that we have things that address these needs, that are usable by everybody.

Christie: There are … It seems like there’s a lot of these projects going on. Another thing that we’ve got here to talk about today … I feel like this isn’t necessarily the first announcement. I don’t know, but this thing about Motherboard and Vice building a community internet network. This is a direct response to the neutrality issue.

Audrey: The work that Motherboard started to do on recording some of these community internet efforts.

Christie: Right, so they say that in order to preserve neutrality in the free and open internet, we must end our reliance on monopolistic corporations and build something fundamentally different, internet infrastructure that is locally owned and operated and is dedicated to serving a people who connect to it. There, they say they’re committing to be part of the change they’d like to see, “We will build a community network based in our Brooklyn headquarters that will provide internet connections for our neighborhood. We’ll also connect to the broader NYC mesh network in order to strengthen a community network that has already decided that the status quo isn’t good enough.” They say they’re in the very early stages. Let’s see, “The network will be connected to the real internet and will be backed by fiber from an internet exchange. It will not rely on a traditional ISP.”

Audrey: This kind of goes to one of the things that I’ve been learning from these post-net neutrality conversations, which is that a lot of what we think of as the net neutrality problem really is just a specific layer of our network stack. It really is just the ISPs that interact directly with customers and retail customers and that there’s this whole other level of potential issues but also potential openness around those tier 1, tier 2 internet providers.

Christie: Right, they say, “Projects like these are possible and affordable today and are being practiced by groups like NYC Mesh and Affordable Internet Initiative in Detroit. [Enterprisable 00:24:02] fiber connections can be purchased from the same data centers and internet exchanges the big telecom companies use and distributed using point and blank gigabit radio, which have ranges of up to eight miles.” It sucks that the FCC has made the decision they have on that neutrality but hope is not lost because communities have an opportunity to basically buy their own connections to the internet that they then provide neutrally to their communities.

Audrey: Really personally, I think that these are best as community efforts. It’s not a problem that makes sense for either one of us to solve on our own. These are problems that should be solved by neighborhoods and by towns and by local groups of people who can work together on it because that’s the right level to organize for the problem.

Christie: Then they say, “Next year we’ll publish the Motherboard guide to building an ISP,” which is kind of cool.

Audrey: Yeah, I think that’ll be really neat.

Christie: This is something we’ve sort of talked about it jokingly. Maybe not jokingly, I don’t know, 8 or 10 years ago here in Portland. It’s kind of funny that it’s now what people are doing.

Audrey: There was that big fiber expansion that happened, geez, 10 years ago. I don’t even remember now. That’s part of what they’re talking about tapping into. Portland was kind of in that same situation for a long time where we had this basic fiber infrastructure that there were only a couple of buildings in town where you could access it, literally just a couple buildings. Until just this last year, two years, when some of the ISPs we have available started to roll out higher bandwidth connections, we were sitting here with much more limited access. I don’t know. I really think the physical infrastructure of this is interesting.

Christie: It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. I’m curious if there’s any … I’d be curious to hear about other efforts because I saw-

Audrey: Not just in the US.

Christie: Okay. Our topics are all very interconnected today. Right away, the first part of the title of this Medium post because it starts with, “A modern BBS reviving the local distributed weird precursor to Facebook.” Not sure that’s how I would describe it, but I also can’t really disagree with that description.

Audrey: I think the article might reference Usenet at some point and Usenet’s the one I’ve kind of been thinking about more because there were … It was … I’m trying to think of how to explain this. It was a hierarchical system in terms of the content addressing. There were like top level topics that only some organizations had control over. You ended up with just this complete array of different Usenet groups that … There were just so many different reasons that they would split off in different ways including there being a whole subheader for basically not part of the official system. The BBS conversations, I feel like it’s less like what Facebook has turned into and a lot of these little LibraryBox type things are a little bit more like getting Usenet back going again. Some Usenet topics or top levels were only for a single university, only for a single organization. What made them really interesting is that information was getting passed from different system to different system. Eventually, everybody got the same content.

Christie: You’re talking about this in the past tense, but Usenet is still a thing.

Audrey: Oh sure. I literally don’t know how to access it at this point. I would have to go do some research to find out how to access it. There ended up being a really major spam problem that unmoderated groups just had no way to deal with.

Christie: Right, okay, so BBSs, Bulletin Board Systems, were … BBS software ran on someone’s computer, like maybe their … Oh my God, what was that? Like your Amiga or your Commodore even and all you needed was a software and modem and phone line. People would dial your phone number with their computer and connect to your BBS software and you could play games and talk on message boards and they had live chat. This was sort of my first experience … This was pre-internet. It was my pre-internet way of connecting with other people. I don’t remember if I had Usenet access. I don’t think I had Usenet access.

Audrey: From what I remember, some of the bigger or better maintained BBSs did connect. I think before Usenet, there was this other thing called FidoNet.

Christie: I don’t think they’re different. I don’t think it the precursor. I could be wrong.

Audrey: Okay, yeah. I think they were slightly different systems and they all kind of converged on the same thing. Also, some BBSs eventually had email. At best, you need a second phone line. In some cases, part of what’s still fascinating to be about this is because not everyone had a dedicated phone line for it. Sometimes they were only active certain hours. Sometimes the way that they would get information from other systems really was dependent on a scheduled midnight call out or something like that. There’s just this level of manual and personal coming together.

Christie: Right, so real quick. Usenet I’m pretty sure predates FidoNet. FidoNet was the BBS messaging thing. I don’t know if they eventually merged or whatnot.

Audrey: Yeah, it’s been a long time.

Christie: I first accessed newsgroups by [dowing 00:31:16] into my university. I took college classes in high school dialed in to the university like [inaudible 00:31:23] and using 10 or something. The way I would find out about them is the local Computer Shopper I feel like or something like that. You would get printed directories.

Audrey: For BBSs?

Christie: Because there was no internet.

Audrey: My uncle printed out a list of them for me and I actually don’t know where he got them in the first place, probably from a BBS, honestly. I think these are your systems where you find one person who’s collected information on the other ones. Again, it’s like this very personal, manual way of connecting.

Christie: Right, so this Medium post says, “The important things to remember about these early BBSs. They exists separate from the modern internet. You connected directly to the BBS by calling its phone number rather than connecting to a single network that had access to many different pages. Anyone with a computer and a modem can run a BBS. There were no gatekeepers. Anyone with a computer and a modem could connect to a BBS as long as they could afford the phone bill.” This was back when like long distance was really expensive. It definitely … One of the things I really loved about it was … I don’t I realized that this was unique at the time but it’s something that I missed being on the internet today is that it was very regional. It had an intimacy or a proximity feeling to it. They say, “Imagine that a private, local anonymous, pseudo anonymous social network that required no additional infrastructure beyond that which has existed since Alexander Graham Bell invented telephony.”

Audrey: It is so cool. It’s so interesting that something much simpler solved a lot of the problems that we’re having now created out of just what was available, created a design that’s much more resilient to some of the kinds of problems that we’ve been talking about.

Christie: Yeah, this article is basically exploring how do we revive that sort of BBS style system today using cheap, small, modern technologies and free software. They mentioned PirateBox and LibraryBox, which you have talked about before, Audrey.

Audrey: Yeah, I have one set up like two feet from me.

Christie: Now that I’m thinking of it, like a BBS, I kind of want to get one.

Audrey: You have to switch networks to access it, obviously. It’s over wifi though so I forget to check back and see if anybody’s left a thing in the chat. I don’t think that my broadcast area is much bigger than my house. It would require somebody coming over and not telling me that they were doing that. I keep thinking about taking this to coffee shops. Then the problem is how do I get people to log in and try it.

Christie: Right, but the coffee shop or the community center or these other sort of third places, to me that’s a really amazing use case for this thing, right?

Audrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Christie: Let’s see. I thought this article talked about extending the range. They mentioned something called Gotenna radios, but possibly using something like XB. Then maybe the nodes could connect over a mesh network. I think where this would be really cool is like can you extend it over a neighborhood.

Audrey: I haven’t looked in about a year, but I remember on LibraryBox that there is a hub and spokes extension model. There’s a way to have one LibraryBox that sends content to all the other LibraryBoxes in range. There was at least an ongoing attempt to create a full mesh system out of these. That just seems really great to me because I would love for it to be that I put mine here and I plug it in and I’ve got my content and my neighbor one house over does the same thing. We kind of just pass information back and forth along the block. There are all sorts of … because of the volunteer disaster response I do there, all sorts of piece of like really local information, I would love to share that way.

Christie: Right, I started thinking about what would you have to do differently for … My neighborhood is very hilly. We’re about 500 feet. It’s very hilly. Even the ham operators in the area mentioned that sometimes it can be hard to connect to neighbors that are actually very close because of the terrain.

Audrey: Yeah, I know some of the folks from our local NET teams will get out there just with walkie talkies and test the range for the different equipment that we have because even things like there’s a creek that’s kind of down a little bit to the south of me. Just getting a little bit further south and into that terrain can make a huge difference.

Christie: That sounds like a fun project. Anything else from this article you wanted to highlight?

Audrey: Just that it seems really fun. I like that people are looking at this from a perspective of playful experimentation. I think that’s really great. It kind of gets the idea across that there are lots of things we can try and we should try lots of things, that we don’t have to just go for the one true solution.

Christie: That’s kind of what got us into this situation, right?

Audrey: Yeah, I don’t know. There’s so many, like we’ve been saying, socio-economic reasons that we’re here. We could kind of shorthand it with “capitalism”. It’s just interesting. I don’t know. There’s something about being able to see where we are, how we got here and how we have just so many opportunities to move forward.

Christie: It’s kind of funny to contrive something like LibraryBox or combine with neighborhood mesh networking to something Nextdoor.

Audrey: Oh yeah.

Christie: I don’t know … I just wonder how much of the horribleness on Nextdoor is related to it being on the centralized corporate platform. What does it do to the social interactions when they’re facilitated something more like the LibraryBox with the mesh networking? I’m struggling to come up with an example of what I mean, but I think-

Audrey: Because I’m currently having problems on Nextdoor, I can say that there is a basic moderation issue that’s gone wrong here. That’s that the neighborhood moderators, they’re called leads on the system, there is no further accountability. There is no ability to splinter. If the people who are my neighborhood leads are doing something I strongly disagree with, I have absolutely nothing I can do. I can’t set up a second neighborhood group. I guess I could mute them, but I can’t report anything that they don’t find offensive. Even just by the completely open, everybody can try it nature of LibraryBox, even if my neighborhood needed six different LibraryBox networks for everybody to have a community that they could work with … Whoops. I’m sorry. I hit my microphone stand. For everybody to have a community they could work with, that would be just so much more positive, right? That would be so much more constructive. Because it’s a corporate platform that works a certain way, a single way, and has a very bad moderation system, we get stuck with it.

Christie: I think that people fundamentally act differently when … There’s a different level of investment and engagement when they just come to a thing that somebody else built. They’re much more like a spectator or a user if they’re a stakeholder.

Audrey: That’s actually fundamentally the argument I’m having on Nextdoor right now, and not about that aspect of it, but about our communities and our neighborhood that if we have people that are disenfranchised then we will not have community safety. Everybody has to have a stake in it, a role to participate and a piece of the accountability.

Christie: Right and I’m also wondering if something like LibraryBox requires a bunch of different participants and maybe there’s not an agreement on exactly what the moderation rules are. I don’t know if this is current functionality, but it’s open source and you could directly make it like if someone makes a comment or that, for you, crosses a line maybe you can choose to moderate that message on your node. Then other people can decide not to propagate … I don’t know. It seems like it enables more democratic action than a centralized system.

Audrey: I think that’s definitely possible and that’s one of the conversations that I saw on Mastodon when this first wave of people came off of Twitter got on there was about the ways that we propagate content. The moderators on my node, the maintainers, made a really explicit decision to not rebroadcast certain kinds of content, especially when we felt that we couldn’t trust other nodes to follow a certain kind of policy. It’s possible individual people to go see that and to follow those things directly, but it will never end up in our local feed.

Christie: Right, yeah. That’s an interesting … Go check out LibraryBox and other things like this and if your experience, let us know how it goes. We haven’t done a … We only did the one segment of this and I can’t even remember what it was called, but where we tried something or tried to solve a problem in real time. It might be fun to experience with some of these-

Audrey: Didn’t we do that for New Year’s last year?

Christie: Maybe. I don’t remember.

Audrey: We should definitely sit down and try some of this stuff and huck through it. I think those examples are really, really helpful.

Christie: I am curious about getting one and going to my coffee shop or library or community center, one of those third places.

Audrey: And seeing if you can find a way. I guess I think I would have to plug it in and I’d have to bring like a little table sign that said, “Come hang out with me on LibraryBox,” or something like that so that people could see that it wasn’t just some kind of trap. The default set-up of it has something like free downloads in the wifi name and all caps. I saw it and I was like, “Oh no, nobody’s going to trust this if I put that out there.”

Christie: You might as well call it Malware-R-Us.

Audrey: This is a funny tie in to our other most recent article, which about how we name wifi networks and why.

Christie: Is that … What issue is that in?

Audrey: That is online. It’s one of our online extras. We’ll definitely include that in the show notes.

Christie: Not all of our content today is about how to save the web or the internet.

Audrey: Some of it is about how we take it down?

Christie: Yes, Wired had this amazing update to the Mirai botnet story and I do not … This sentence immediately through me. “The most dramatic cyber security story of 2016 came to a quiet conclusion Friday in an anchorage courtroom.” Anchorage? What?

Audrey: Federal district court.

Christie: Right, in Alaska. There are, I think, [inaudible 00:44:53] to this article because it’s long and I think it’s a pretty good read, but the two things that I found most entertaining about this were the discussion of the jurisdictional issues and the way they had to collect evidence in the Mirai … Just a reminder, Mirai was malware that targeted unsecure internet connected devices. Primarily I think it started as web cams. Basically like-

Audrey: Like security cameras.

Christie: Right, so people figured out those things shipped with a default. Basically they shipped with a default, the admin password. This software scanned the internet for these devices. When they found them, they logged in, loaded their malware into flash memory and they became part of a botnet that these people could control. They used that to DDOS, different things. Turns out there was a pattern to their chosen targets.

Audrey: That is one of the most engaging parts of the article is seeing how to law enforcement folks discovered what was being targeted and why and how a lot of what the rest of us noticed was actually just a complete side effect of what the attackers were trying to do.

Christie: Right, so before we get to that reveal, it made me really appreciate just what investigators, law enforcement investigators, have to go through. First they had to identify people who have these devices who had been targeted, then they had to collect the devices. Once they unplugged them, Mirai was gone because it was stored in flash memory. Then they had to plug them in again like in their offices and wait for them to be reinfected, which actually didn’t take very long.

Audrey: Because it was a big active network.

Christie: Right, so that whole thing. At this moment, I can’t remember why this was happening in Alaska. Was it just a guy who was really familiar with this stuff? That’s where he happened to work?

Audrey: Yeah, I didn’t catch that part of it either.

Christie: They also pointed out that for Alaska, because the communities are so spread out, people really rely on internet connections. The level of disruption to folks in Alaska was high. That seemed to motivate some of the investigators. It turns out that the people who created Mirai were in the business of Minecraft hosting, not just Minecraft hosting but DDOS protection from … Maybe that was another thing they were considering.

Audrey: It turns out that it’s an organized crime level of racket.

Christie: Apparently Minecraft hosting is like a very lucrative business, but one of the ways that competitors [crosstalk 00:48:10] each other’s business-

Audrey: They’re attracting people to their servers.

Christie: I was going the other way. One of the ways competitors deal with each other is by DDOSing each other. Right? That was part of this, but it was also one level abstracted from that in that one of their big targets was OVH, which apparently offers DDOS protection for Minecraft servers.

Audrey: As they got into it, they discovered that a lot of the companies offering DDOS protection are also doing DDOS attacks. That’s what I mean about it. It’s like a protection racket. People are basically paying off different groups to be better attackers than the next one just because there’s a lot of money in this hosting.

Christie: I had no idea. The article also indicated that people that wrote Mirai really didn’t … They’re intention was not to have it … They created a much more powerful thing than I think they were intending.

Audrey: They were very successful at what they did. Again, those side effects, it got way outside the scope of what they actually wanted to do.

Christie: Part of what happened was that they posted the code on the internet, right?

Audrey: Yes.

Christie: So other people could use it.

Audrey: Maybe it would look less like it came from them.

Christie: The article notes that that is a tactic. You post it on the internet so that you can claim that even if you have that code in your possession, you didn’t originate it because it’s out there on the internet.

Audrey: I feel like your [inaudible 00:50:12] would give you away.

Christie: Right, there’s probably-

Audrey: [inaudible 00:50:17] of the source control.

Christie: Let’s see, what else from this? There’s just a lot of detail about how they figured this out. That’s a good read.

Audrey: I thought this was really super interesting, especially because we had talked about it at the time and about all of the unknowns that were involved in understanding what was going on. It did seem random. It seemed aggressive. It seemed kind of amazing in that there were all these devices that were so insecure. Because of the scope and the impact of it, it was hard to ignore.

Christie: Who knew that the digital arms race and DDOS is inexorably linked to Minecraft?

Audrey: It’s informative.

Christie: Really this could just keep happening too because we have the same issues with internet connected devices.

Audrey: Yeah, they haven’t substantially become more secure in the last year.

Christie: I think we’re up to favorite thing on the internet this week.

Audrey: Cool. Do you have something?

Christie: I don’t yet. It’s been a busy week. I’m looking at my Twitter feed.

Audrey: It’s funny. Now that we do this, I try to pay more attention to things that I find that delight me, which is great. This is actually a very healthy outcome.

Christie: Do you want to go first and save me from my sputtering?

Audrey: On your web browser, go to the URL endless.horse.

Christie: Wow, this is some ascii art. Does it just keep going?

Audrey: Yes, scroll. It’s exactly what it sounds like.

Christie: This poor horse is so tall.

Audrey: Just legs and legs and legs.

Christie: Why?

Audrey: I have no idea.

Christie: What does the source code like? View page source. Hoooooooooooooooorse is the title. Coleen, Joseph, Simon, Kyle, Miller 2015, created during the West Coast Stupid-Shit-That-No-One-Needs-And-Terrible-Ideas-Hackathon.

Audrey: I think it’s perfect.

Christie: Yeah, it’s … Anyone could recreate this too.

Audrey: Yeah, we could have an endless-

Christie: You can go straight to the legs URL. If go /legs.html, you get the block of legs.

Audrey: Yay.

Christie: You could use the DevTools too and Feet. Right?

Audrey: Yeah, you definitely could.

Christie: I don’t know how I can compete with endless horse. My Twitter page was depressing this week. It’s like massive train derailment, the IRS can’t possible oversee non-profits anymore, Humble Bundle has a No Starch Press bundle right now. That’s pretty good.

Audrey: That’s cool.

Christie: I can’t wait, Audrey, until Recompiler has enough books that we can do something like a Humble Bundle. I haven’t come up with anything.

Audrey: I don’t use Twitter favorites, but I do Instapaper. Most of my Instapaper is … I’m trying to show sympathy here. Most of it’s either about this post-net neutrality stuff, harassment problems in the industry or occasionally disaster relief. It’s harder to find good things. It takes work.

Christie: I think maybe I’ll come up with something while I’m editing this episode.

Audrey: And edit it in?

Christie: Yeah, I’m so boring.

Audrey: I do have one other thing to share. It doesn’t make up for it, but somebody tweeted at us yesterday with their feminist tech baby who is sitting there reading the Recompiler. It’s very cute, very cute. You should go look at our Twitter account and see that.

Christie: That’s awesome. Maybe I’ll make a reminder.

Audrey: Very cute baby.

Christie: Thank for everyone who’s listening on the live stream and thanks to everyone who’s listening to this episode when we publish it. Hope you’re having okay holidays and we wish you a happy New Year. Oh, wait a minute. We have one more episode.

Audrey: We come back next week for the new year.

Christie: We will. We will be broadcasting the 29th, but that episode will probably post like at the beginning on of the year. Thanks, Audrey.

Audrey: Thanks, Christie.

Christie: That’s a wrap. You’ve been listening to the Recompiler podcast. You can find this and all previous episodes at recompilermag.com/podcast. There you’ll find links to individual episodes as well as their show notes. You’ll also find links to subscribe to the Recompiler podcast using iTunes or your favorite podcatcher. If you’re already subscribed via iTunes, please take a moment to leave us a review. It really helps us out. Speaking of which, we love your feedback. What do you like? What do you not like? What do you want to hear more of? Let us know. You can send email feedback to podcast at recompilermag.com or send feedback via Twitter to @recompilermag or directly to me Christie, with an I, 3, K. You can also leave us an audio comment by calling 503-489-9083 and leave a message. The Recompiler podcast is a project of Recompiler media, founded and led by Audrey Eschright and is hosted and produced by yours truly, Christie Koehler. Thanks for listening.