nettime's_roving_reporter on Fri, 8 Oct 1999 21:46:21 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> cringely on objectivity, cracks, and DNS hacks


   Quantum Dilemma
   If the World Banking System is Compromised by Quantum
   Computing, Why Aren't We Worried?
   By Robert X. Cringely
   Have you noticed that to the mass media, "news" generally means "bad
   news?" Read the paper, listen to the radio, watch TV and it is all car
   crashes, murders, and toxic waste spills. Good news is a kid being
   dragged from the rubble of an earthquake. This phenomenon has at its
   heart, I believe, two principles. The first says that people aren't
   really interested in good news, that bad news grabs our attention in a
   way good news never could. Frankly, I don't buy this. The second
   principle says we blame it all on the Associated Press. THIS I
   The Associated Press came into being in the 19th century as a way of
   leveraging that Internet of its own era, the telegraph. The AP was a
   news service -- literally a "wire service," it was so tied to
   telegraphy -- that supplied news from out of town to newspapers all
   over America and the world. As a business (the AP was paid only for
   those stories actually used by its member papers), the wire service
   had to maximize the popularity of its content. This was done in two
   very different fashions. First, the AP invented objectivity. The
   concept that the press was unbiased came from nothing so much as the
   AP's need to sell the same story to both Republican and Democratic
   newspapers. An objective story being the least objectionable was the
   easiest sell. This is, interestingly enough, the sole reason why
   papers today even claim objectivity. Certainly, there was no
   particular tradition of fairness in the news from Ben Franklin right
   into the 20th century.
   The AP's other invention was sensation, and it came about for exactly
   the same reason. It was easier to sell stories about bad news than
   about good news. The more people who died or who were at risk of
   dying, the better. Bad news sells, which is why we cover so much bad
   news. It is as simple as that. Flipping this on its head means, of
   course, that local newspapers in the first half of the 19th century
   ought to have been both biased and boring. And son of a gun -- that's
   exactly what they were.
   Now we jump from the late 19th century straight to September 29th,
   when the Sunday Times of London published a short story explaining how
   a European commission had been established to develop a new type of
   data encryption technology. This was supposed to have been in response
   to an Israeli demonstration of the ability to crack 512-bit RSA data
   encryption in 12 microseconds using a handheld optical computer, a
   computer rather like the one James Bond used to crack that Japanese
   safe in "You Only Live Twice."
   Think of the implications of such an event. RSA encryption is at the
   heart of the world financial system, and breaking RSA in such a short
   period of time would mean literally the end of money transfers as we
   know them. Overnight, we'd be back to carrying bags of cash, and the
   world economy would grind to a halt. Wow, what a story! But doesn't it
   deserve more than a few paragraphs in one newspaper, albeit one of the
   great newspapers of the world? In a word, the story was baloney.
   The Sunday Times was had. There is no quantum electronic device using
   optical technology at the Weizmann Institute cracking RSA codes in 12
   microseconds. Such a device is possible, but not yet in existence. If
   it could have been built within a Weizmann research budget, such a
   device would already be in operation wherever smart minds are for
   sale. Forget the Mafia, this sort of device would be in active use
   right now in Russia and that country would suddenly not be so poor.
   Things would be a lot more screwed-up in the world than they actually
   "It is totally bogus," says Robert Harley, an Irish genius at Inria,
   the French research institute. Harley knows as much about this
   technology as anyone in the world. "There is no such device," Harley
   continued. "At best there may be a rough sketch of a design that it
   might be possible to build in a few decades. Even if a device did
   exist that could do the sieving in a fraction of a second, RSA 512
   wouldn't fail completely in practice. There is still the "minor issue"
   of the final processing stage that does linear algebra on a binary
   matrix of several gigabytes. If you happen to have a Cray
   supercomputer at your disposal 24 hours per day, this last stage can
   be accomplished in a week."
   In time, such devices will be built. Certainly RSA is violated all the
   time by our own government trying to do whatever it is they do at the
   National Security Agency and in the Office of Naval Reconnaissance,
   but it isn't happening in 12 microseconds -- at least not yet. There
   is every reason to be working on stronger encryption or (my favorite)
   shorter transactions, but the new elliptical encryption functions
   coming along should handle that for awhile.
   The greater concern has to be with the Sunday Times, itself. How could
   they print this rubbish, which made little scientific sense? Well,
   it's bad news for one, but it is also techno-news, which is suddenly a
   very big deal. Alas, the traditional media have neither caught on nor
   caught up to what is happening in technology. It's scary to know how
   many news organizations watch this space for guidance and, as we all
   know, I'm no genius.
   Maybe this was in the minds of the folks at Jane's, the British
   publisher of defense information, who this week threw their cyber
   terrorism research at the nerds who read Slashdot, hoping for some
   inexpensive proofreading to keep Jane's from making their own big
   mistakes. This is an interesting idea but ultimately flawed, I think.
   The only way to write the news is to write the news. You have to do it
   the best that you can then take the heat, because the censorship of
   the nerderati is still censorship. That's why newspapers make
   The story I wish papers would cover is the scam of the ".cc" Internet
   domains. Every dot-com in America is right now being hit with a
   fascinating protection racket, the jist of which says you'd better
   reserve (for $100!) the dot-cc version of your domain name before
   someone else does. Multinational corporations have already reserved
   their dot-cc's and so should you!
   But what is a dot-cc domain, anyway? What do I get with my
   Not much.
   Here's the word from the dot-cc folks, themselves:
   "The .cc domain was originally set aside as a countrycode, intended
   for use by the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, a group of islands just off
   the Australian coast. Internet Services Corporation, a United States
   company, located in Seattle, Washington, applied for total authority
   over this top level domain. The .cc TLD was assigned to us by the
   Internet Assigned Numbers Authority who (sic) was, at that time,
   solely responsible for all the TLD assignment. The organization that
   currently holds this duty is called ICANN (the Internet Corporation
   for Assigned Names and Numbers). As a result of this, the .cc TLD is
   no longer associated with the Cocos Islands, but is considered a
   generic domain just like .com and .net."
   Let me get this straight. A change in who assigns domains somehow
   resulted in the Cocos Islands being forever separated from their
   domain? If I actually want to start an Internet business in the Cocos
   Islands, what do I do? This makes no sense to me.
   What does make sense is to find some other little country with a name
   beginning with "C" and replicate this clever "business." The CIA lists
   24 country profiles beginning with the letter C in its World Factbook.
   That's a good start. Maybe I can do a deal with the Christmas Islands.
   At $100 per,, and, there's millions to be
   made, though I suppose there will still be the risk of losing it all
   in 12 microseconds, which is quicker even than at the track.

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