Throw Them All Away

Schneier on Spectre and Meltdown:

The security of pretty much every computer on the planet has just gotten a lot worse, and the only real solution — which of course is not a solution — is to throw them all away and buy new ones.

“Throw it away and buy a new one” is ridiculous security advice, but it’s what US-CERT recommends. It is also unworkable. The problem is that there isn’t anything to buy that isn’t vulnerable. Pretty much every major processor made in the past 20 years is vulnerable to some flavor of these vulnerabilities. Patching against Meltdown can degrade performance by almost a third. And there’s no patch for Spectre; the microprocessors have to be redesigned to prevent the attack, and that will take years. (Here’s a running list of who’s patched what.)

This is bad, but expect it more and more. Several trends are converging in a way that makes our current system of patching security vulnerabilities harder to implement.

Spectre and Meltdown are pretty catastrophic vulnerabilities, but they only affect the confidentiality of data. Now that they — and the research into the Intel ME vulnerability — have shown researchers where to look, more is coming — and what they’ll find will be worse than either Spectre or Meltdown. There will be vulnerabilities that will allow attackers to manipulate or delete data across processes, potentially fatal in the computers controlling our cars or implanted medical devices. These will be similarly impossible to fix, and the only strategy will be to throw our devices away and buy new ones.

Schneier is rarely optimistic when it comes to security issues. But I’d never bet against him being right, either.


After much debate, we resolved to turn the tables on three of our esteemed public officials. We embarked on an unauthorized sightseeing tour of their garbage, to make a point about how invasive a “garbage pull” really is–and to highlight the government’s ongoing erosion of people’s privacy.

We chose District Attorney Mike Schrunk because his office is the most vocal defender of the proposition that your garbage is up for grabs. We chose Police Chief Mark Kroeker because he runs the bureau. And we chose Mayor Vera Katz because, as police commissioner, she gives the chief his marching orders.

Each, in his or her own way, has endorsed the notion that you abandon your privacy when you set your trash out on the curb. So we figured they wouldn’t mind too much if we took a peek at theirs.

Boy, were we wrong.

White Hands

Trump continues to disappoint.

Among President Trump’s worrisome nominees to the judiciary, perhaps none is as alarming as Thomas Alvin Farr, a protégé of Jesse Helms, the former North Carolina senator, and a product of the modern white supremacist machine that Helms pioneered.

Farr, nominated to serve on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, began his career as counsel for Helms’ Senate campaigns, where he participated in racist tactics to intimidate African-American voters. This alone is reason to reject his nomination, as is his apparent lying on the topic to the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Farr’s connections to Helms’ white supremacist causes and political network go much deeper.

Farr’s former law partner, Thomas Ellis, was Helms’ top deputy for decades. He also served as a director of the Nazi-inspired, pro-eugenics Pioneer Fund and used funding from that organization to create and bankroll a network of interlocking organizations to support Helms and other political candidates who espoused the notion of a superior white race and opposed civil rights.

Together, Helms, Ellis, and their protégé Farr unleashed a huge propaganda machine that incited hostility toward African-Americans. Farr served as a lead counsel to Helms’ 1990 Senate campaign, which ran the now-infamous “White Hands” television ad, designed to inflame white voter anxiety over Helms’ black opponent, Harvey Gantt. It showed a pair of white hands balling up a rejection letter while a voice said: “You needed that job and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota.” The same campaign also sent more than 100,000 intimidating postcards to North Carolinians, most of whom were blacks eligible to vote.

Farr represented the Helms campaign in 1984, when it circulated photos of his opponent, Gov. Jim Hunt, with African-American leaders in an attempt to foster white resentment. The racist nature of that campaign was so pronounced that a federal court cited it as an example of how bigotry in elections continued to flourish in North Carolina politics.

When Farr graduated from law school, Helms and Ellis brought him into their fold. Farr joined the small law firm of Maupin, Taylor & Ellis, where all of the named partners were openly hostile to civil rights.

Most recently, Farr has carried on Helms’ legacy by helping North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature create and defend in court discriminatory voting restrictions and electoral districts, which were eventually struck down by numerous federal courts that found them to be motivated by intentional racism. In fact, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that the state’s 2013 voter suppression law was aimed at blacks with “almost surgical precision.”

I couldn’t find this many white-supremacist assholes if I wanted to, but Trump seems to have no problem digging them up.

Dippin Dots

Nikon D90, 18-105mm

(taken a year ago today)

Megrez chose that moment to hide behind a tree branch.

Fun fact: As you might know, the second star from the bottom in this pic, the middle of the big dipper’s handle, is a double star: Mizar (the bright one) and Alcor (the dimmer one). And they are actually a pair (and not just coincidentally near each other from our vantage point). But it turns out that Alcor is itself a double star. And Mizar is actually two doubles. So there are six stars there, even though we can only see two.

Congratulations, sir!