Lockdown: The coming war on general-purpose computing



It’s why SOPA, a bill composed of pure stupid and pieced together molecule-by-molecule into a kind of “Stupidite 250" normally only found in the heart of newborn stars,

do newborn stars really have a lot of interesting content besides hydrogen and helium?

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The war is unwinnable. The best the adversary can hope for is a dynamic equilibrium. The tighter it gets locked, the sweeter the “I got it running Linux!” or “I got root!” battle cries will be.

Even single-purpose things like fridges or washing machines sometimes run a full-blown operating system. With the advent of Internet Of Things the capabilities will only grow. (With the side effect of the adversary pwning your home LAN using a bug in the washing machine that did not get updated for ages. (Should the vendor then be liable?))

Everything with software inside has more bugs in it than an average anthill. Physical possession is most of the ownership; a determined adversary cannot be stopped. The available tools are getting better day by day - from HackRF half-duplex software-defined radio boards for wireless reverse engineering and attacks through power analysis and glitching devices to digital 'scopes and multichannel logic analyzers. We are swimming in affordable dual-use cyberwar-capable goods. And the adversary thinks they have a fighting chance. They got lawyers and international threaties, we got soldering irons and more. The war will not be pleasant (no war is) but has to be and will be won; and I know where to put my bets.

Edit: Okay, I should define that for the adversary to win they have to win and hold the victory but for us to win we have to just not lose until the adversary tires and gives up. The strategic logic of asymmetric conflicts that makes the war both unwinnable and winnable, depending on which side you are on.


Einstein said the most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity. So I guess the latter will be present in great amounts too.


As a result, any failures that arise can be blamed on the idea that the regulation doesn’t go far enough, rather than the idea that it was flawed from the outset.

This applies to pretty much every flawed law, of which there seem to be many.

Harlan Ellison, perhaps?
Though Einstein proposed that the universe and human stupidity were both infinite. In regards to ordinary matter, that universe is composed of 73% hydrogen and 25% Helium.

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Holy crap, that’s a good article…


Sorry I missed this when it was new, because it’s really well thought out. Makes me pine for the days when I could call myself a hacker, when 512k was a lot of computer.


Raspberry Pi.

We may lose powerful GPC, but low-grade will continue. We just have to think David vs Goliath.

Arduino, too. Or lower-end ARMs. We don’t need no stinkin’ OS to do cool things. We can even use handfuls of these chips in a network; they are cheap enough to dedicate one to e.g. each stepper motor, and then just send them commands over a shared bus what they should do and leave the realtime hassle on them. This also allows easier both wiring and debugging, as we need only power and comm bus to each device, and as each chip is single-purpose there aren’t bitch-to-debug timing issues with different tasks getting together.

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Who cares small - when you can have POWER!

Ever saw ants eating a deer alive? Small things in large amounts can have LOTS of power!

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What I fear is that the demographic that cares enough may be awfully small. Information technology is all about economies of scale at all levels. I am concerned that those truly open general-purpose computers that the average consumer can afford may end up so far behind the curve that one day they may be doomed to irrelevance.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but I think the danger is real.

The demographics IS awfully small - in percentage. By far not so in gross numbers. We just have to accept that we are diluted by inert material and ignore said material instead of letting it slow us down.

We live in the age of on-demand manufacturing, crowdsourcing, and world-wide shipping. As long as there are at least few thousands, or even few hundreds, of people who desire something, the something has a chance to get delivered.

Low-cost versions of high-end instruments are in especially high demand; look at the sales of Rigol scopes, a nobody-heard-about brand when they emerged and it took just an eevblog.com review so even a cheapskate like me bought one (and never looked back). And then there are toys like Bus Pirate. Then there is repurposed consumer hardware, like the RTL-SDR dongle that fueled a wide interest in software-defined radio. And easier and easier ways to make your own stuff from components - both on the tool level and the component level (arduino, anyone?); the barriers to entry are going down.

Laser cutters, 3d printers, good digital 'scopes… all getting into the price realm of a better garage workshop. And after a while, the costs will go even lower and the used ones will be even cheaper; there are certain small areas of economy where trickle-down actually works.

Even with restrictions, there will always be a Chinaman willing to sell you a reel or three of fast ADCs or general-purpose SoCs. Drug smuggling shows that even with draconian countermeasures the demand-supply is still the king. And chips don’t have any specific smell so drug dogs nor terahertz imaging won’t help the adversary - just sand the top, laser a different designation (like it is done with chip counterfeiting), ship, repeat the process on arrival (or even just use stickers); this will minimize (though not eliminate) the chances of getting the shipment caught.

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