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May 21, 2006 5:33 pm

What Happens When We Don't Defend Our Defenders?

Blue Security was a company in California that defended against unwanted internet advertising, not international terrorists, yet its fate tells us something very scary about the workings of politics in such matters.

To fight the never-ending flow of spam, as such junk (and often obscene) mail is called, Blue Security sent out 522,000 messages to each spammer. This consisted of the equivalent of one complaint from each of the company's clients that the senders of such annoying and useless messages stop bothering them.

Now, however, one Russia-based company escalated the war. It used special programs to take over huge numbers of computers all over the world--without the knowledge of their unsuspecting owners--to send even more spam messages that blocked Blue Security's site.

The Russian company then issued a warning that sounded like something yelled from an eighteenth-century pirate ship to a freighter it intended to plunder. If blue Security did not close down, the computer terrorists would deluge all of its customers with attacks of viruses designed to destroy their computers. Blue Security raised the white flag and went out of business.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Holland, the government announced that it was taking away citizenship from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, undoubtedly one of the most courageous people in the world. Ali was a Somali-born member of parliament who championed the rights of Muslim women. She has been the target of so many death threats from radical Islamists that she lives in what amounts to protective custody by Holland's government during the last four years.

Fears for her safety are not exaggerated. Since she announced that she no longer considers herself a Muslim, this is equivalent to a death sentence under Islamic law. Moreover, a Dutch filmmaker who worked with her on a film about the mistreatment of women in the Muslim community was killed by an Islamist immigrant terrorist on a street in Amsterdam.

Ali is accused of lying on her application for asylum 14 years ago when she wrote that she was fleeing a forced marriage in war-torn Somalia. She continues to insist that the part about the marriage was true. Ali admits to lying about her previous location, since she had been living with her family--who were legitimate political refugees--in Kenya.

Nominally, she is being prosecuted by an immigration ministry which is trying to enforce its rules more toughly. Yet what could be more ironic than throwing out the one immigrant to Holland who has worked hardest and most effectively to ensure that immigrants are moderate, law-abiding, and ready to adjust to Dutch norms? Meanwhile, many immigrants preaching hatred and extremism--and with less of a claim to political asylum--remain in Holland.

One can only suspect that the real reason is that Ali is losing her Dutch citizen because she worked too hard for her cause. The desire of radical Islamists to murder her, preferably after torture, forces the Dutch government to spend resources and take risks to keep her alive. Perhaps this action is in itself a gesture of appeasement to extremists, trying to ward them off by waving one's hands in surrender. To its credit, the British government never looked for some loophole to kick out the author Salman Rushdie, who for years was the target of Iranian-inspired assassination attempts.

Indeed, some of the neighbors of Ali sued her in court saying that her presence in the area was both a security problem and a nuisance for them. She lost the case and has to move out of her apartment. Now she must move out of Holland altogether, her existence apparently having become a security problem and nuisance for the entire country.

What do the Blue Security and Ayaan Hirsi Ali cases have in common? If free societies are incapable--or, even worse, unwilling--of defending their people against terrorists and pirates this fact does not bode well for the future of freedom. Moreover, it is rather obvious that those who will be first and most intensively targeted are precisely the people who are fighting hardest against the terrorists.

If those defending the frontiers of liberty, be it against computer pirates or Islamist terrorists, are allowed to fall then precisely who is going to be willing to defend the rest of us?

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Andrew D. Todd - 5/23/2006


I have to say that this piece is misinformed, both politically and technically.

Microsoft is not in fact an example of the free society. Rather, it is an autocracy, similar in principle to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Microsoft made a series of bad engineering decisions, and set the stage for spamming in much the same sense that Stalin laid the groundwork for the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. The common element was that, within the logic of an autocracy, with its cult of personality, it is not possible to tell El Supremo that he has made a mistake. The only remedy is revolution. To anyone who does not find the foregoing obvious, I would seriously suggest reading Judge Thomas Penfold Jackson's "Findings of Fact."

Microsoft made a series of very specific engineering errors, such as 1) failing to make the distinction between document and program, 2) failing to make the distinction between system manager and user, and 3) failing to make the distinction between application program and operating system, or between application program and device driver. These mistakes give Windows an innately dangerous quality. Failing to make these distinctions renders it nearly impossible to set up a workable "need-to-know" system.

Here is a slashdot thread discussing some aspects of this issue:

Blue Security exhibited bad technical judgment. The rule of thumb in dealing with spam is to find better ways of ignoring it, and at the same time, to make the spammer work very hard for each measure of attention. Additionally, an anti-spam program can be used to identify innocent parties whose machines have been taken over by the spammer, and tell them that they have a problem. Beyond this, police "sting" tactics are fairly effective in dealing with spammers. Freely speaking, one plays along, and sets out to convince the spammer that one is the wealthy rube to end all wealthy rubes, and induces him to travel to a place where he can be arrested. At a still further remove, there are more fundamental measures, such as working within the community of e-mail software developers to promote better methods of compartmentalization which would make the system fundamentally more spam-resistant. Blue Security did not adopt these kinds of sensible measures, but went in for impractical melodramatics instead.


One commentator characterized Blue Security as: "...a few fries short of a happy meal. Speceifically [sic] since they where [sic] warned by more experienced people.";cid=15350511

A linguistic note about the curious idiom: