This week, William Budington chats with Bursts about the recent exposé published by Yael Grauer at The Intercept about research by Exodus and Yale Research Group leading to the findings that hundreds of common apps available from the Android Google Play Store contain clandestine tracking apps, allowing for the scooping up of the data a phone user gives off throughout their use of the device. Ever wonder why a free flashlight app needs permission to access your microphone? Here’s why!
We also chat a bit about F-Droid, a platform for free and open-source apps outside of the Play Store, many designed at increased transparency of device usage.
At one point, Bursts brings up criticisms aired about the F-Droid repository by Moxie Marlinspike, a founder of Open Whisper Systems, which makes the Signal App for free end-to-end encryption. William is kind enough to explain what the concerns come from and his views on the subject.
This week on the occasionally-weekly tech podcast from The Final Straw, Error451, Bursts and guest William Budington, a tech security expert, talk about Net Neutrality. The context is that it’s back in the news as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai appears to be pushing for the revocation of the 2015 FCC decision to declare the Internet a Title II public utility in U.S. law. The upside of this is that access to un-inhindered Internet is then supposedly enshrined in the law as a public good. The current make up of the court includes 3 Republicans (including Pai) and 2 Democrats, so if a vote happens in mid-December along party lines, the Title II status may be revoked, possibly allowing for tiered access, which would possibly allow internet service providers and comms giants who are the gatekeepers to the web to throttle access to lower-paying services or outright deny access to certain sites and services.
We chat about how Tiered Access looks in countries like Portugal, the very curious padding of at least 1.1 million online submissions to the FCC’s Open Comment period misrepresenting U.S. voters perspectives on Net Neutrality and the FCC’s apparent disinterest in investigating the stunt.
William suggests that one action listeners can take immediately, which sadly is far from a direct action is to lobby congresspeople to block the move by Chairman Pai and protect the Internet as it is. He suggests visiting BattleForTheNet.Com and petitioning the powers that be via their suggestions. As far as a wider lense of what we might do to increase autonomy and integrity in our information technologies, William suggests listeners check out and start playing with Mesh Networking technologies. Mentioned in the episode are People’s Open in Oakland, CA, USA & Friefunk in Germany
In perfect timing for holiday driving many will be doing in the U.S., we’re releasing episode 3 of Error451, The Final Straw’s occasionally weekly tech security podcast with William Budington. This episode is about GPS navigation on mobile devices and ways to use it without disclosing your information to service providers.
Oh, hand here’s a link to one of those Motherboard chat logs about Mr. Robot.
This is the first standalone episode of Error451, The Final Straw’s occasionally weekly podcast featuring a conversation between Bursts and William Budington about tech, security and safer practices. Upcoming episodes include how to avoid leaking info while using maps on your device and safer practices at borders. If you have other topics you’d like to see covered, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
In this episode, we have a brief conversation about the idea of burner phones, mobile devices kept insulated from the users personal information and which can just be dumped when no longer useful. We talk about reasons one might use them, approaches to getting them and using them and how to dispose of them after usefulness has ceased.
Hopefully you’ll find this helpful in your endeavors!
First this week, we had the opportunity to speak with Dr Kihana Mariah Ross, who is the daughter in law of Herman Bell, a former member of the Black Panther Party and a political prisoner who is currently clocking 44 years behind bars. We will speak about recent developments in his case, plus some historical context, and actionable items moving forward.
To learn more about Herman Bell and to read some of his writings, you can visit freehermanbell.org. To send him a card – and be aware that his 70th birthday is on January 14th and his upcoming parole hearing is in February 2018 – you can write to him at
Herman Bell 79 C 0262
P.O. Box 700
Wallkill, NY 12589-0700
How Best to use Signal?
In the second segment of today’s episode, we’ll air another conversation with William Budington, a digital security expert and trainer about the Signal end-to-end text encryption app for smart phones and desktops. Signal, produced by WhisperSys, is an easy to use, free means for folks to avoid one type of surveillance in their day to day communication. The ubiquitous, normalized use of encryption shields the purpose of the use, obscuring whether the practice is to shield illegal activity or not. In the conversation we talk about the human failure side of communication, as well as the informational leakage possibilities of the devices we use to engage Signal app. If you really enjoy the pie-baking/Betty Crocker metaphor, don’t despair, it doesn’t end with this segment. Check out more on this topic in our occasional series, Error451.
Stay tuned soon for a conversation with William about burner phones and more. If you have a topic about digital security, devices and programs, surveillance or related topics, leave us a suggestion at email@example.com ! If you want our pgp key, check our website.
Now, it’s my turn for a brief editorial, dear listeners. This is Bursts. I grew up in a part of so-called California known as Sonoma County, lands stolen from the Pomo and the Miwok peoples first by the Spanish, then by Mexico and Russia and then the U.S. I lived there from the mid-1980’s through 2009 and consider it my home in a way I could no other place. The rolling hills, the foggy mornings, the Coastal Live Oak groves, the nasty but 100 year old Eucalyptis groves, the early evening sky that turns a goldish orange into purple, the Manzanita, the people, the ocean breeze coming out from Bodega. These are things that I remember fondly from the deeply damaged yet still beautiful biome I called home for most (and definitely the more formative years) of my life.
This has been a year for spectacular disasters around this hemisphere, with a record 10th hurricane now appearing in the Carribean and southern U.S., 2 major earthquakes rocking Mexico and now the fires in Northern and Southern California. The fires in the north, which I’ve been paying more attention to because they QUITE literally bring home to me a sense of devastation I still haven’t been able to digest from this distance, have been whipped up by winds, a seasonal dryness out of the ordinary and fed by the aftermath of a wet winter that created a ton of easy-to-burn fuels. California has long been racked by fires, but never this many deaths and never have they consumed large parts of cities as they have with Santa Rosa. Thousands of homes have been turned to ash, monuments standing over a hundred years are cinders, human and non-human animals have been killed, damaged and displaced. California is yet another part of the world feeling the first hand effects of anthropogenic climate change, after years of over-taxing it’s water levels with large scale and animal and food agriculture, it’s manicured industrial lawns, the barely regulated weed industry booming, the building of human settlements in the middle of deserts and the idea promoted by high levels of industry and state that as the 6th largest economy in the world it could buy itself climate chaos. Day by day, year by year, this is proven more and more a delusion. But I digress.
I’d like to give a shout out to the brave folks doing search and rescue in my home away from home, the neighbors who look out for each other, that roused each other from sleep to escape the fire storms, who shelter and feed each other. Also to the fire professionals who are working to fight back the fires. An element of this that is under reported, of course, is the fact that over a thousand prisoners of the state of California and it’s included counties, are putting their lives on the line for $1 to $2.56 a day to train and then fight these blazes. That can be compared to the $31.85 an hour of the median hourly wage for non-inmate firefighters. I would like to bring this up because as the climate becomes more chaotic and the ever-tighter squeeze of austerity capitalism turns further and further away from more sustainable and stable incomes like unionized firefighters this continues a nasty trend.
Putting prisoners on the fire lines to fight the blazes, while more deadly for them than other modes of work, arguably offers them a potentially more meaningful and lucrative engagement with community service. This also fuels the profit motive of governments bent on incarcerating mostly poor communities of color, often people with chemical dependencies and neuro-divergencies the state can’t be bothered to treat but to stick them in a concrete and steel cage. More prisoners means more low-pay and expendable firefighters who’s crime was to be born the wrong color or class in the age of mass incarceration. I don’t bring this up to denigrate those risking themselves to save lives and homes, whether a prisoner or not, but to point out that this is not how a community organizes itself for it’s members, this is the logic of capital and thus streams value to the top of the pyramid.
My heart goes out to those who suffer at the hands of these fires. Let’s fight for futures where we are better prepared, where we don’t employ slave labor to fight them, and everyone has what they need to live in true community, which means true accountability to the impact of our survival on the non-human environment with which we share this awesome world.
This week Bursts spoke with William Budington, a digital security expert, about various topics under that heading. We spoke about: encryption for texting, email and mobile devices operating systems; about anonymity on the internet; safer practices with social media; doxxing; and more.
The conversation was ranging and a bit thick at times due to Bursts very specific style of posing questions. Thusly, the notes will be very long with lots of links embedded for further reading on the topic, posted in the Further Reading section below. If there are other topics around security that you’d like to hear discussed on this show, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll mull it over. This chat was by no means the end of a conversation. The practices and tools we talked about here are meant to keep you SAFER, but can’t promise your safety. But hopefully some of these words can get more of us to take our digital hygiene more seriously!
Political Prisoner Herman Bell Assaulted
We received this notice after the show aired, but hope that folks read these notes and get this info. Herman Bell is one of the New York 3, the same group of defendants as Jalil Muntaqim, who we featured an interview with in our last episode:
Black Panther Party political prisoner Herman Bell was viciously assaulted by guards at Great Meadow Correctional Facility (Comstock) on September 5, 2017. While being “escorted” by a guard back to his housing unit, a guard struck Herman, age 69, in the face causing his glasses to drop to the floor. This same guard then repeatedly punched Herman about the face, head and body. Responding to a commotion, 5-6 other guards arrived and joined in the assault. One of them was able to knee Herman in the chest causing two cracked ribs. Another guard took out a bottle of mace and sprayed it all over Herman’s face, eyes and mouth.
Herman was then taken to the prison infirmary. X-rays have confirmed fractured ribs. Herman’s left eye is damaged from the mace and blows. He has bruises to his body and is suffering headaches, a sign of a possible concussion.
Herman Bell has now been charged with “assault on staff”. Defying common sense, they allege that Herman, for no apparent reason, slapped the guard escorting him. He did this, they claim, in a location out of the view of all inmates but in the presence of other guards. He is now in the Special Housing Unit (box) at Five Points Correctional Facility where he was transferred after the incident.
Herman Bell has not had a disciplinary violation in over 20 years. He was scheduled to begin a three day family visit with his wife a few days after the incident, their first such visit in over 2 1/2 years. In addition he is to appear before the parole board, for the 8th time, in February 2018.
Herman has, however, been the target of guard harassment due to his political background. Visitors report that guards processing them and in the visiting room comment that they are visiting a “cop killer” or “terrorist”. Some guards have been seen passing around the book “Badge of the Assassin” written by Herman’s prosecutor.
At this time, we are encouraging everyone to take the time to write to Herman or send him a get-well card, so that the authorities know we are paying attention and are concerned for Herman. Stay tuned for updates as we develop this campaign.
Herman Bell #79C0262
Five Points Cor. Fac.
P.O. Box 119
Romulus, N.Y. 14541
2018 Certain Days Calendar
I’d like to quickly announce that the 2018 Certain Days: Freedom For Political Prisoners Calendar has just been posted as ready for pre-order. The calendar is a joint fundraising and educational project between outside organizers in Montreal, Toronto, and New York, in partnership with three political prisoners being held in maximum-security prisons in New York State: David Gilbert, Robert Seth Hayes and Herman Bell. The proceeds from Certain Days 2018 will be divided among these groups: Addameer Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association (Palestine), Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) and other groups in need. More info on the project and where to sign up is at certaindays.org
For all you artistically minded listeners out there, who would like to see their art worn by people (potentially) all over the world, The Final Straw is looking for tshirt desgins! If you like the show, or love it, or just think it’s ok-ish but like to make designs then this challenge is for you.
We will be accepting submissions until the (end of November), and lest you think this is a one way street, the winner of this challenge will recieve a special prize from each of us (Bursts and William) of a personal and one of a kind mixtape which will include all sorts of audio goodies. Runners up will also get prizes, so never fear there’s no heirarchy here.
Want in?? Just email your submission and any relevant info to email@example.com and keep your ears peeled for the winner announcement.
Show Notes begin in vain
For a starter on COINTELPRO, check out the wikipedia page on the topic.
PGP Enigmail for is an add-on to the Thunderbird email client that makes creating a pgp key set easier.
The Onion Router (TOR) produced this really great package for safer browsing called the Torbrowser package. TAILS is a portable operating system so you can operate a computer and leave less traces Signal is a phone app for end-to-end encryption available for iphones, android phones and desktops.
HTTPSEverywhere is a useful add-on for your web browser
One VPN intro, including links to clients you can use, can be found at riseup
Various other nefarious tech the state and non-state actors may deploy
IMSI catchers, or phone spoofers, include the name-brand Stingray. The ACLU has this little site that allows you to see what law enforcement agencies they know to have (and probably use) them!
In reference to the Automatic License Plate Readers mentioned by William, here’s an article on the subject