Sunday, February 26, 2017

What happens to a "warrior-scholar" who becomes a peace activist?

Disclaimer: The blogster feels like a rant. It* fully understands that a rant may not be a good instrument of discourse, especially at a time when rants is almost all you get on various TV channels. Also, if the mere mention of patriotism makes you invariably praise the military, this post may not be for you. 
But, hey, there is always our old standby Disney. To expand your choice, here is a link to international Disney, so you won't feel stuck with the American site.

To the blogster, "warrior-scholar" is one of the creepiest concepts ever.

To prevent any misunderstanding, let's be clear that the blogster vastly prefers educated soldiers over uneducated ones. If a guy with a gun is bad, a moron with a gun is certainly much worse.

The main aspect of the perceived creepiness of "warrior-scholar" is that we are being sold candidates for high profile jobs as warrior-scholars.

In the blogster's 20th/21st Western century mind, the warrior is the old timey, somewhat mythical fighter, the scholar the more desk bound academic mind. The brawn and the brain.

In Western war mythology, one man probably symbolizes the warrior-scholar like no other, Carl von Clausewitz, the gentleman who brought us "war is an extension of politics by other means" around 1800. Question for philosophy majors: Why should the opposite be any less true?

This aphorism sustained supposed warrior-scholars and humble gunners for a good while until the grand awakening to lands outside of Europe/America made Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese general and philosopher from around 500 BC, fashionable.

Sun Tzu beats Clausewitz hands down. His work is older and better, more attractive to non-soldierly people like computer programmers and managers. Also, there was a time in the 20th century when German military thinkers faced some perception issues.

Sun Tzu's work, especially The Art of War, is really all you need in the area of highly organized political violence.

But, of course, even wide dissemination of Sun Tzu has not prevented generals from writing books. For the Germans, there is the old standby Rommel, for Americans there is Patton, and the list goes on and on.

Again, a general writing a book is fine. They have every right to pen memoirs and treatises, or children's books that feature no violence at all.

What the blogster thoroughly hates is the fact that the authors and their works often permeate society so deeply. To the point that we see calls to elevate the warrior-scholar even further, as in this piece:
At present, there is no distinct ‘warrior-scholar’ designation or career track—which means no strategic oversight of a scarce resource.

What exactly does the "scholar" in warrior-scholar mean, as academic training and qualifications go?

Look up any of the much lauded warrior-scholars of recent public acclaim, and here is what you find: they went to colleges, whether military or civilian, got a couple of degrees, did some more military schooling as required by their career paths, and maybe got themselves a PhD.**

Like every modern career, pretty much.

Why, then, is there no such thing as the programmer-scholar, for example. Or the MBA-scholar?

Soldiers go out and shoot at things or people.

Programmers go and write code.

Okay, a programmer may occasionally shoot up a computer out of frustration, but that's not it.

A feeling of inferiority***, maybe, the nagging feeling that the uniform and medals or participation badges are not enough in life? An almost comical need to achieve levels of education general society values to the extent of taking them for granted?

Make no mistake, the concept of "warrior-scholar" is a political device, yet another device by those in power.

You see it if you look at the boundary of the concept of "warrior-scholar" in modern usage.

Name a warrior-scholar who has become a peace activist.

The reason why you probably can not is that these scholars become largely marginalized or forgotten.

* Gender neutral for fun and definitely not for profit. 
Bonus feature: the blogster knows quite a bit about military matters and only occasionally regrets not having pursued a job offer by an institution that is commonly referred to using three letters.

** The blogster has not performed a comprehensive study of the phenomenon but looked at the subset of "most famous" in the past two decades. It appears that the vast majority of the warrior-scholars of that period are somewhat light on the scholar part, with very soft degrees, like American History, international studies, or the booming natsec studies, often capped by an equally soft PhD (history, natsec). Contrast this with the many unknown military personnel who major in engineering or medicine, and you get the picture.

*** If you don't believe this feeling exists, you either have never been in the military, or you joined a highly specialized field with little contact to "the other ranks".

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mysterious Germany: the random Oil Spill sign

One of the most puzzling and enduring mysteries the blogster has lived with in Germany comes in the form of a mobile road sign.

In our hillbilly* county, it comes as a triangle, white background, red band along the sides, with an exclamation mark (!) in the central white part plus the word "Ölspur" (oil spill) underneath on a separate, smaller white sign.
The combination sits on a metal tripod and warns drivers of oil on the road.

The triangle, shown here in all its glory, is the generic "Danger" sign. American friends love it.

There is even a photo of a dear friend in a slightly, let's call it naughty pose with such a sign. Straddling it, would be a more technical description.

Despite the fun you can have with the exclamation mark sign itself, our experience is limited to the combination indicating an oil spill.

We never saw an oil spill when the sign was out.

The first few times we encountered the warning while driving on the roads of our hill country, we dutifully slowed down, looked for the spill with the requisite orange colored mix of whatever is used to soak up mineral oil, to contain it at the source.

The conversation typically went like this:
"There's an oil spill."

One or two hundred meters later:
"Did you see anything?"

After several occurrences of this, we began to wonder what was going on.

This being Germany, we redoubled our effort to detect spills. In some countries, the road crews will bring out signs when a spill is large, oil drum size or so. We figured Germans might be more cautious.

Still nothing, not even a table spoon of escaped oil anywhere, no multicolored little indication on the road surface.

Predictably, seeing the oil spill sign became a running gag.

"Oh, look, oil spill, hehe."

Years into the mysterious appearances of the oil spill sign, we resigned ourselves to the only plausible explanation.

We decided it was the county road maintenance crew's idea of fun and job enrichment. As in, well, nothing is happening, so why don't we go and put up the oil spill sign somewhere.

Deepening the mystery was a fact we noticed after a while: the sign always came out on nice, sunny days.

"Guess they keep it inside in winter, so it won't get damaged by road salt and ice."

Then yesterday happened.

"Oh, look, the oil spill sign."

"Wait, that's an oil spill. See the orange stuff, it's a real oil spill!"

The exclamation mark in the utterance neatly matched the one on the sign.

Of course, come summer, we'll be scrutinizing every display of the oil spill sign even more closely.

* The blogster self-identifies as a hillbilly, cause Ozarks, you know.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Could “active Bittorrent beacons” help against abuse by the copyright surveillance industry?

The problem: People who have not participated in filesharing via Bittorrent are being hit by copyright violation claims.
There are no data on the extent of the problem and very inadequate defenses.
Most computer literate people, and many TV-only folks, know there is a filesharing surveillance industry out there that affects millions of people across Europe.

Internet users may come face to face with a law firm that handles the collection of “damages” for deep pocket clients from the movie, music and games industries.

Any web search will yield lots of stories about legal woes related to filesharing, especially the very popular Bittorrent protocol.

My question when I delved into the topic was, what protection against unjustified threats of lawsuits exist for consumers?

On the legal side, the answer is: few, and you really need the help of a lawyer to avoid paying up to 1000 Euros for an alleged 2 minute upload of a movie – the numbers are from a recent documented example out of Germany.

A visit to a lawyer in Germany will easily set you back about 200 Euros. And you are still likely to be pestered by demands for payment for years.

If you dare question the surveillance technology, the law firm is much more likely to take you to court, because the law governing liability for the internet connection favors them and they will have a couple of high powered techies tell the judge it is totally accurate.

On the technical side, it is even worse: next to nothing.

Of course, there are tools to protect you to some degree if you actively use Bittorrent. BTGuard or a VPN are the most frequently mentioned protections.

For internet users willing to go to extreme lengths to protect their connection, there is logging of all internet traffic. This requires money and serious skills.

Yet, for the vast majority of users, making sure half way decent passwords are used for the router administration and the WiFi function is about as secure as life gets.

So, we thought about ways to help protect innocent users, people who may never have heard of Bittorrent.

While there is no “technical solution to a non-technical problem”, we wanted something that could accomplish two things:

1) Make it less likely to be without any defense at all if and when a letter claiming alleged infringement arrives.
2) Is not invasive, and respect the privacy of users.

After some thinking, we came up with an “active beacon”.

As the name indicates, this would be a piece of software that “blinks”. It would establish connections to the Bittorrent network at regular or slightly irregular intervals for nothing more than a handshake and log some connection details, especially the exact time and the IP address and port of the counterpart. For more considerations, see the end of this post **.

Then it would go silent until the next iteration.

This simple device would try to counter the two pieces of data in standard infringement claims that are unrelated to the claimed content (movie, game, etc.) but critical.

Ideally, router manufacturers would have this as an in-built feature. This would pose the question of how to store the data for later use. A friendly, free cloud hoster would be ideal, with a small cost to privacy. Since the device is the router, not an individual connected machine, many people would be willing to do this. For the rest of us, syslog would help.
Of course, expect police to be curious in some high profile murder case or the like. But there may be limited value in knowing that a router was on.

The next best implementation would be on the part of operating systems companies.
Adding a fairly simple service or demon would be trivial.

The final possibility would be user installs. This might be on only one machine in a home network but still make it a bit harder for the law firm to prove a violation.

In the best case defense scenario, the user could look at the log and prove that there was another connection to a Bittorrent network client on that very port on the date and at the time in question.

Wide adoption of a beacon solution by routing manufacturers would potentially make spurious copyright infringement claims less likely. 

For every single case in which a user could counter their tech with a technical record of his or her own, the surveillance company reputation would suffer. Some of the uncertainty now on the user would be shifted onto the surveillance folks.

And in some countries, users might then be able to sue them for damages, especially if beacon data are stored by a third party.

** For the tech savvy, yes, we are aware that a simple handshake on a single port is not what we would ideally want because the very flexible DHT clients can negotiate ports and the number of available ports is large. Beacons might have to perform a number of connections, to increase the logged ports.

The beacon would not upload or download files. If that’s not possible, a simple plain text file with a “we are the good guys” might do, but people with much deeper knowledge of Bittorrent than me need to figure things out.

For router manufacturers, sorting out and blocking Bittorrent is a headache. If they only see a stream of data, potentially encrypted, they cannot be sure they are seeing Bittorrent. With so many ports potentially useable by DHT clients, it is even worse. 

For protection of active Bittorrent users,  a protocol extension with a "Have you seen me" feature might be useful.
However, sending out a help call like "have you been connected to my IP address on that date at that time" would suffer from the DHCP effect. The address might have changed, and the user might not have a record. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Three things filesharing copyright enforcers may do but refuse to tell you

Note: The blogster has a simple minded opinion of the German "cease and desist" industry: a truly awful collection of techies and lawyers. So, don't expect a valiant defense of them. Also, pirating music, games, and videos is wrong, and illegal. And dangerous beyond evil lawyers.

In this post from 2013, we wrote about a half hearted attempt to reign in abuse by copyright holders and their assistants.

Since then, the blogster heard stories of people being pestered for months or years with payment notices.

It* also encountered a gut wrenching story of a lawyer roping in helpless clients by promising to defend them against claims for a couple of hundred Euros, only to send a bill of over 1 400 Euros later. The fleeced client got his act together and sued the greedy lawyer.
The court sided with the client but still made him pay 400 Euros as (said the gentleman) "a lesson to not sign a service agreement with a lawyer like that".
The initial bill actually exceeded what the copyright ghouls had asked for in fees and damages in the first place, which was just under 900 Euros.

Apparently, around 900 is the going rate in Germany these days, with roughly 200 as fees and the rest as damages.

And we can now report that 900 is the going rate for an alleged infringement that supposedly lasted as little as two (2) minutes.

One of the blogster's common complaints about Germans is that they don't share information as freely as Americans. There are stereotypical cultural reasons for that as well as legal ones.

If you are not a journalist and put up some blog post or article that details a case, you may find yourself the target of - guess what - a cease & desist letter from a law firm saying that you engaged in giving legal advice.

Which is verboten to non-professionals.

So, for German readers: This is not legal advice. Get a lawyer.

The blogster finally managed to get its tiny hands on a real cease & desist case. This one alleges the letter's recipient uploaded a movie to the Bittorrent network. We'll anonymize the participants as follows.

The movie title is CRAP.
The studio is MOVIE.
The law firm will be DING.
The tracker company is FCKERS.

Another disclaimer: contrary to possible appearances, these are acronyms, not words that should be interpreted as having any real meaning.

So, the mail from DING contains one page that has some information. The rest? An intro sheet, a copy of a blanket court order telling the ISP to hand over data on the lease of IP addresses, the actual cease & desist declaration you are asked to sign plus the most convenient way to hand over money, a pre-filled bank transfer slip.

There is also a note offering you a discount of around 200 Euros if you pay within less than 10 or so days from the date of the letter.

That gives you just over a week, including a weekend, to react.

Sales pressure, we used to call that if we wanted to phrase it nicely.

So, what do you do?


Yes, it is natural to panic, even though everyone says "Don't".

Just not too long. Don't call DING because their people are trained. As soon as you give them your name and number, they will ask if you used the router's factory set password.

And if you don't know what that is and blab "yes", you are done. Game over. The default password, or factory set password - which sounds even nicer because "factory set" can make you feel safe, is not what your router and you need.

You need good, long passwords for the router administration and the actual WiFi feature.
If you don't know what that is, stop reading and call a friend who can help.

The single important page of the letter also has the movie title CRAP, the studio, the exact date and time of the alleged infringement as recorded by FCKERS and a "hash value".

The name of FCKERS is not given, just a fancy software name and the assurance that courts have found it to be accurate. They may say 100% or not say it. But it is what they mean. It doesn't have to be true (and isn't) but as long as the courts believe it, it is accurate.

What next?

If you are like most people, just go to a lawyer. It should not cost you more than 200 Euros, but you'll feel a bit safer.

Mind you, this is unlikely to end the periodic begging letters, but mostly you are done.

The DIY method is more stressful but can save you the money.

The best situation for you at the time of the alleged infringement: you were not home, nobody was in the house or apartment, computers were off (or not connected to the internet).

The second best: someone was in the residence but you have done your duty and lectured the person(s) clearly about the moral turpitude of filesharing and other monkey business as well as the legal situation.

If you cannot prove you were out (at work, on vacation, out of town), do some computer forensics, i.e. try to determine if the computer was off, try to find the piece of software allegedly use to upload CRAP. Check for modified files (these things tend to write logs), poke around the system logs in obscure folders like syslog or in the swanky event logging facility of your computer.

Look for malware. Knock yourself out.

Then talk to a lawyer to defend you.

If you were not home and are certain your machine was off or disconnected, should you file a criminal complaint for hacking?

The jury is out on that. If you are 110% sure of the facts, it may be a good idea. If DING won't go away, you can inform them you filed. Don't send them a copy, though. They will think twice before dragging you to court.

If you do file a complaint, make it against Persons Unknown. Not against DING or the FCKERS. They could claim defamation and sue you to death.

And the whole thing is not really about DING and FCKERS or CRAP.

It is about you. You need to assure you are safe. State what you are accused of, state nobody was home, be done.

Don't speculate about stuff like IP spoofing or man-in-the-middle attacks unless you deal with this shit for a living. In which case your home setup may well be a fortress anyway.

This being said, there is a wonderful paper by the SANS Institute that describes Bittorrent and investigation into digital contraband.

Assume that FCKERS use some tool from these tool kits or something very similar.

That SANS paper tells us a few things:
1) FCKERS may save much more identifying information that they disclose to you. For example, This twenty-byte peer ID is generated by a peer before it joins a torrent.  It typically identifies the client software version and includes a random string (Pontes, 2009).
2) If FCKERS download CRAP, they could easily tell you exactly how much CRAP data they downloaded, in KB or MB.
3) Who knows, some FCKERS may also run honeypots, effectively encouraging you to upload stuff: In fact, it is easy to make a torrent file seem very popular, giving the would-be downloader a false sense of security because “everyone is doing it.”  If one controls the bit torrent tracker, it can be done by a simple change to the code or by manipulating the file that the tracker uses to maintain its list of peers (Berns & Jung, 2008).

These three examples of capabilities they don't want you to know have one thing in common: They are meant to screw you over.

If you knew 1), you could do some meaningful investigation of software on what typically are several devices in a household. You could strengthen your proclaimed innocence if that software existed nowhere in your household.

If you knew 2), you could ask around and find that some bloke uploaded a whole CRAP and paid the same amount of money as the poor chap who allegedly did that for 2 minutes over a really bad connection and only got say 2 KB through.
See, if the police catch you speeding, they have to tell you how fast you were going.
FCKERS don't do that, so they can charge more. Whether that is fraud or creative accounting may depend on the jurisdiction you live in.

If you knew 3), you might claim that FCKERS are aiding and abetting. Because the one thing they desperately try to avoid in civil cases is aiding and abetting. How does the blogster know that: because they repeat over and over that their tracker client does not let others download data. At the same time, not a word about messing with torrent control - they know it can be done and don't feel the need to distance themselves from it, hm?
To the blogster, there is no difference (in a civil matter) between encouraging folks to upload and handing out a few bytes for download.

[Update 2/23/2017] This article from 2009, Sniffing out Illicit Bittorrent Files, describes the network sniffing (no faux BT client) approach and issues with the approach. It quotes the tech chief of "well known" German snooping firm Ipoque (they since divested from this product, the blogster believes) and, frankly, does not create much confidence.

[Update 3/2/2017] So, the "honeypot" speculation raised in the original post - it was confirmed by a friend of a friend. Said person deals with Internet scams for a living and is adamant about the fact that some copyright enforcement outfits are running honeypots.

It is next to impossible to prove, because all you need to do is keep the operations separate, the specialist said. A phone call or two, a few meetings for lunch, and you are all set. Some companies with high profile clients are less likely to engage in this, their business is steady enough, and we don't know if they are willing to take the residual risk. But yes, honeypots are definitely being used.

[Update 3/8/2017] That didn't take long. Independent journalist Joseph Cox brought us this gem from the U.S. via his Twitter account yesterday: Crazy case: lawyers filmed pornos, uploaded to Pirate Bay. Used subpoenas to track downloaders, extort millions

* Gender neutral against the tides of time.

[Update 2//22] Added "may" back into the title. Because, well, being polite matters.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Strafanzeige gegen Unbekannt nach Erhalt einer Abmahnung wegen Filesharing?

Hinweis für unsere deutsche Leser: Dieser Post ist keine Rechtsberatung. Wenn Sie Opfer einer Filesharing-Abmahnung werden, gehen Sie bitte zu einem Anwalt.Der nachfolgende Text stammt aus dem Entwurf einer Strafanzeige gegen Unbekannt.

Anzeige gegen Unbekannt

ggf. wegen Vortäuschen einer Straftat im Rahmen des Urheberrechts, hier Upload geschützter Werke, sowie Ausspähen von Daten und ggf. weiteren Verstößen gegen IT-Recht.

Wie nachfolgend erläutert, bleibt mir zunächst nur die Vermutung, dass Unbekannte den Schutz meines Anschlusses überwunden und anschließend die Leitung für ca. XXX Minuten zur Datenübertragung genutzt haben.

Auslösender Anlass: Beigefügt ist eine Abmahnung wegen angeblicher Verletzung des Urheberrechts an einem Film der Firma XXXXXXXXXXXX.

Dazu ist festzustellen, dass ich diese Verletzung nicht begangen habe und m. E. auch nicht als Störer hafte. Des weiteren ist festzustellen, dass weder XXXXXXXXXX andere mir bekannte Personen diese Urheberrechtsverletzung begangen haben.

Passwortschutz und Anti-Virus-Schutz meines Anschlusses

Die Verwaltungsschnittstelle des Routers ist seit Inbetriebnahme mit einem Passwort geschützt. Die Frage nach der Art des Passworts wurde bereits in einem Anruf von mir bei XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX beantwortet: das Routerkennwort ist selbstverständlich nicht das voreingestelle Kennwort des Herstellers sondern ein von mir gewähltes.

Die Remote-Verwaltungsschnittstelle der Router-Hardware ist von Anfang an deaktiviert. Damit entfällt eine mögliche zweite Schwachstelle meiner Anschlußsicherung.

Die WiFi-Funktion des Routers ist mit einem langen Kennwort gesichert.

Mein Computer XXXXXXXX ist mit einem Kennwort gesichert. Die Remote-Verwaltung des Computers ist seit Anschaffung deaktiviert. Ein anderer Remote-Zugang zum Computer mittels Software wie etwa VNC hat ebenfalls seit Anschaffung des Geräts nie bestanden.

Der XXXXXXXXXX-Firewall ist seit Anschaffung des Geräts standardmäßig aktiviert und blockiert eingehende Verbindungen. Freigabe von Kommunikation bedarf der Bestätigung des Benutzers.

Hier kommt XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX zum Einsatz. Die automatische Update-Funktion ist aktiviert. Bislang hat XXXXXXXXXXXXXX keinen einzigen Virus/Malware-Befall gemeldet.

Über den üblichen Standard hinausgehende Sicherung des Anschlusses
Vor einiger Zeit habe ich auch den Router mittels eines extern angesiedelten Port-Scans überprüft. Das verwendete Tool lief von einer Seite der Firma XXXXXXX aus. Es fand keine offenen Ports.

Als XXXXXXXXXXXXX Service läuft außerdem auf meinem Computer seit XXXXXXXXXX das Programm XXXXX WiFi Guard. Dieses Programm meldet automatisch jedes neue Gerät, welches auf das WLan zugreift.

In unregelmäßigen Abständen nehme ich zusätzlich Traffic-Monitoring mittels „Wireshark“ vor.
Dies geschieht i.d.R. zur Diagnose von Problemen, etwa falls die Internetverbindung holprig ist und ich den internen Verkehr sehen möchte.
Außerdem prüfe ich mit Wireshark je nach Laune und gefühltem Interesse den Datenverkehr von neu installierten Programmen.

Überprüfung meines Computers mit Blick auf die o.a. Abmahnung

Kein Bittorrent-Client vorhanden
Auf meinem Computer befindet sich kein Bittorrent-Client. Eine Nutzung der Browser-basierten Bittorrent-Funktion kann nur mit meinem Einverständnis erfolgen, was hier kategorisch auszuschließen ist.

Suche nach einer „torrent“ Ressourcendatei
Auf meinem Computer befindet sich keine „torrent“-Ressourcendatei, die die Nutzung von Bittorrent für eine XXXXXXXXXXXXXX erkennen lässt.

Suche nach der vorgeblichen XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXdatei
Auch diese Suche fiel erwartungsgemäß negativ aus.

Die Abmahnung enthält einen Hashwert. Ich hielt es für meine Sorgfaltspflicht, Nachforschungen anzustellen.
Hierzu habe ich mit dem kostenlosen Programm XXXXXXXXXX die Dateien der Festplatte untersucht. Die Untersuchung erfolgte in mehreren Phasen, da das Programm nicht die gesamte große Festplatte in einer Sitzung verkraftet.
XXXXXXXXX erstellt MD5 und SHA1 Hashwerte für Dateien. Es wurde keine Datei gefunden, deren Hashwert dem der Abmahnung entspricht.

Suche nach modifizierten Dateien für den XXXXXXXXX
Ich habe XXXXXXXXXX eine Suche nach Dateien vorgenommen, die am XXXXXXXXX
modifiziert wurden. Die Suche nach versteckten Dateien ist bei mir stets aktiviert, da ich im Rahmen meiner Arbeit auch mit versteckten Dateien zu tun habe.

Der beigefügte Screenshot XXXXXXXXXXXX am strittigen Tag keine modifizierte Datei.

Der angebliche Upload lag (gerundet) zwischen XXXXXXXXXXXX.

Das Dateisystem zeigt also für den vorgeblichen Tatzeitpunkt nichts an.

Dies stützt meine unten erläuterte Darstellung, dass ich zum angeblichen Tatzeitpunkt nicht zuhause war.

Event und Security Logging
[Einloggen in den Computer nach dem angeblichen Tatzeitpunkt. Erläuterung des Tagesablaufs etc.]

Weitere Nachforschungen zum Thema Filesharing und Hacking
Ich würde mir liebend gerne einen Bittorrent-Client installieren, um die genauen Funktionen zu untersuchen. Leider muss ich darauf zunächst verzichten.

Ich verfolge ansonsten zwei Richtungen. Zum einen lese ich seit dem Tag der unseligen Abmahnung alles mögliche zum Thema Filesharing, zum zweiten habe ich XXXXXXXXXXXXXX um Zusendung eines Gutachtens zur Ermittlungssoftware XXXXXXXXXX gebeten. Ob dies geschieht weiß ich nicht.

Aus den wenigen öffentlichen Fragmenten zur Technik ist wenig zu entnehmen, außer dass XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX die Bittorrent-Teilnahme wohl mit einem modifizierten passiven Client stattfindet.

Ob und ggf. welche Schutzmechanismen gegen falsche Daten bestehen, bleibt also für mich ungeklärt. Siehe hierzu auch

[Update 2/21] Das SANS-Papier ist eine Goldgrube.
Man kann davon ausgehen, daß deutsche Copyright-Verfolger die dortigen Verfahren und Probleme kennen und entweder komplette Tools der dortigen Hersteller oder sehr ähnliche benutzen.

Das bedeutet:
1) Die Copyright-Verfolger speichern wahrscheinlich die Peer ID eines verfolgten Clients.
This twenty-byte peer ID is generated by a peer before it joins a torrent. It typically identifies the client software version and includes a random string (Pontes, 2009).
Auf deutsch: die 20 Byte lange Peer ID wird erzeugt bevor ein Client dem Netzwerk beitritt. Sie identifiziert typischerweise die Version der Client-Software und enthält zudem eine zufälliig generierte Zeichenfolge.

Abmahnungen geben dazu keine Auskunft, obwohl dies dem Beschuldigten die Nachforschung auf mehreren Heimsystemen oder Firmencomputern erleichtern könnte.

2) Da die direkten Clients des Verfolgers (das bessere Verfahren, sicher in DE benutzt) Daten vom verdächtigen Computer hochladen, wird die exakte Datenmenge entweder schon erfasst oder es wäre trivial, das zu tun.

Abmahnungen geben dazu keine Auskunft. Grund ist wahrscheinlich, daß man auf diese Weise den Gerichten keine Rechtfertigung für gleiche Abmahnkosten zu geben braucht. Beispiel: nehmen wir an, jemand hat einen ganzen Film hochgeladen und wird zu 1000 Euro verdonnert.
Wenn jetzt ein anderer sagen wir 2 Minuten im Bittorrent-Netzwerk war und mit einer schlechten Verbindung sagen wir 500 KB hochladen konnte, dann wird Letzterem ebenfalls eine Abmahnung über 1000 Euro geschickt.

Ausserdem finde ich es bedenklich, daß z.B. bei einer Geschwindigkeitsüberschreitung ein Meßwert angeben werden muß, im Abmahnwesen jedoch nicht.

3) Honeypots, als Lockvögel.
SANS sagt dazu: In fact, it is easy to make a torrent file seem very popular, giving the would-be downloader a false sense of security because “everyone is doing it.”  If one controls the bit torrent tracker, it can be done by a simple change to the code or by manipulating the file that the tracker uses to maintain its list of peers (Berns & Jung, 2008). 
Deutsch: Es ist sehr einfach, eine Torrent-Datei sehr populär aussehen zu lassen, was einem Möchtegern-Downloader in falscher Sicherheit wiegt, denn "es tun ja alle". Wenn man den Bittorrent-Tracker kontrolliert, kann man das mit einer einzigen simplen Programmcodeänderung erreichen, oder indem man die Datei manipuliert, die der Tracker zur Speicherung seiner Peer-Liste benutzt (Berns und Jung, 2008).

Ob das im Copyright-Bereich benutzt wird, ist natürlich nicht bekannt. Es wäre verwunderlich, wenn jede Verfolgerfirma auf dieses Mittel verzichten würde. Aus der spärlichen Berichterstattung über die Technik lässt sich nichts entnehmen.

Das ist leicht verdächtig, da andererseits immer darauf verwiesen wird, daß der Verfolger-Client keine Daten zum Download freigibt, sondern nur hochlädt.

Ob dieses Anstiftungsmittel benutzt wird, ist also offen.

Noch ein Rat: Sprechen Sie nicht von IP Spoofing oder Man in the Middle (MTM). Das riecht nach Verzweifelung.

[Update 2/22] Abmahner hassen Strafanzeigen wegen vermutetem Hacken eines Anschlusses.

Die Polizei ist nicht begeistert, wenn Sie mit einer solchen Anzeige auftauchen, weil die Erfolgsaussichten der Aufklärung so gering ist.

Und die Polizei ist nun mal auch unter Beobachtung der Politik und wird wegen mangelnder Aufklärung gerne von Konservativen kritisiert.

Eine Anzeige wird aber angenommen, und Ermittlungen werden eingeleitet.

Für Abmahnkanzleien ist das ein Ärgernis, denn sie werden kontaktiert ohne als Ziel der Anzeige zu gelten.

Ziel ist ja Unbekannt.

Aber Ermittlungen sind Ermittlungen, d.h die Kanzleien müssen der Polzei versichern, daß ihre Software korrekt funktionerte.

Wenn viele Nachfragen kommen, sieht das natürlich schlecht aus.

Schließlich stellt man eine Anzeige ja in dem klaren Bewußtsein, daß sie unbedingt auf der Wahrheit beruht.

Es mag den einen oder anderen geben, der eine unwahre Anzeige stellt, aber das sollte kaum vorkommen, weil es eine Straftat ist, die hart verfolgt wird.

Eine unwahre Anzeige wegen 500 (Vergleichsangebot der Kanzlei) wäre eine Dummheit besonderer Güte.

Das echte Problem für Kanzleien liegt darin, daß solche Anzeigen Zweifel an der technischen Genauigkeit wecken, aber noch mehr dain, daß die Fiktion "ein Internet-Anschluß ist ja wie ein Auto" langsam bröckelt.

Ein Internet-Anschluß ist eben nicht wie ein Auto.

Wird das Auto gestohlen, ist es erst mal weg. Kommt es zurück, finden sich zumindest meist irgendwelche Belege für den Diebstahl.

Einen Internet-Anschluß kann man unter Umständen Monate oder länger stehlen, ohne daß es auffällt.

Hier macht nun die Anzahl gemeldeter Hacks den Unterschied.

Werden kaum welche gemeldet, kann die Kanzlei vor Gericht auf die Unwahrscheinlichkeit eines Hacks verweisen.

Und das wirkt.

Die psychologische Hemmschwelle vor einer Anzeige ist ja hoch, und es ist angesichts der damit verbundenen Strafbewehrung klar, daß viele Internet-Nutzer es eben unterlassen.

Das Geschäftsmodell der Abmahner trägt dem Rechnung, und zwar so:

Eine modifizierte Unterlassungerklärung ohne Schuldnachweis wird fast immer stillschweigend von der Kanzlei akzeptiert.

Wer jedoch gegen die Fiktion der Unhackbarkeit aufbegehrt, der wird eher gerichtlich verfolgt.

Damit funktioniert das Geschäftsmodell weiter: die Gerichte sagen, hey, es wird ja kaum gehackt. Die Kanzlei sagt, hey, unsere Technik ist super.

Langer Rede kurzer Sinn: Klappe halten, Anwalt aufsuchen. Legen Sie sich nicht mit Studios und Kanzleien an, die Millionen investiert haben und Gerichte um den kleinen Finger wickeln können.

Friday, February 17, 2017

No surprise: Germans treat 3 months as Stasi trainee harsher than Nazi generals

The blogster does hope you, dear reader, are not surprised that a person who spent three months in training in the Stasi guard regiment is treated much harder, is getting vilified to a much greater extent than many a general who came out of the Nazi military and went on to enjoy a great career in the West German state.

The former Stasi man is Andrei Holm, who resigned in January 2017 from his post as a deputy secretary of the government of the state of Berlin (not to be confused with the federal government located in Berlin) after a mere five weeks in office.
Holm, now 46, began his military service in September 1989 as an 18 year old recruit of the Stasi's guard regiment in East Germany.

Three months later, East Germany ceased to exist.

Fast forward a quarter of a century. Elections in the state of Berlin allow the Social Democrats to form a coalition government with the Green party and the Left. The Left, of course, being the party that came out of a successor to the former East German socialist party as well as disenchanted former Social Democrats.

Mr. Holm,  not a member of any party, is tapped for the job of secretary of housing and urban development and instantly draws opposition from the losers of the election (Christian Democrats) and the free market FDP plus assorted media outlets.

Since Mr. Holm had never been one of the infamous Stasi informers, had had no career in East Germany and, above all, had always openly talked about the three months, the coalition partners gave him the job.

This emboldened critics, who embellished - not in a good way - what the regiment stood for, such as violence against demonstrators. The critics left out the small detail that Mr. Holm did not take part in that.

The Left party's first and only state prime minister, in Thuringia, Mr. Ramelow, emphasized that he had rejected any personnel with any Stasi history in the formation of his coalition government in 2014.  

The story of West Germany after World War II was a different matter.

Take Nazi general Gehlen (Wikipedia English) as one example. While Gehlen managed to get dismissed by Hitler in April 1945 because the war did not go too well, Gehlen walked over to the US counterintelligence command in Bavaria on 22 May 1945 and offered his services as anti-communist spymaster.

He was accepted, later became head of West Germany's foreign intelligence agency BND and retired from the West German civil service in 1968.

Another of many was Nazi general Heusinger (Wikipedia English), who went on to become Germany's top soldier.

The former nazis who worked in various post war government posts are simply too numerous to name. One of the most controversial re-cycled nazi officials was Hans Globke. who had worked on some of the most infamous Nazi legislation: the Nuremberg race laws that served as the legal cover for pursing Jews. This paper on Jstor says "He crafted an ambiguous image of himself during the Third Reich as both effective bureaucrat and daring resister by admitting only minor misjudgments."

The difference in treatment illustrates one thing more than anything else: After the collapse of East Germany, there were ample people from the West to take over and build the new states.

After WWII, it was hard to find enough untainted skilled folks. Although, of course, rabid anti-communism was a welcome trait.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

More hay for the Internet haystack - send text in images and defeat optical character recognition

Providers of ad supported email scan the text of your mails to target ads. Sometimes, like Yahoo, they do it for a government. We have previously written about the small javascript image processing tool Message Blur that defeats standard optical character recognition software. Since there is a new version out, we did some testing against OCR, specifically the very reliable free site ocronline.

Below are the results of the tests. They range from 100% correct text recognition to partial recognition to no recognition, where the site gives up and says "No recognized text".

Message Blur now has its own OCR feature that you use by clicking "Tesseract OCR test extraction", intended to give you an idea of how well the obfuscation works. Right now, the inbuilt feature only recognizes Japanese, Korean, Devanagari (Hindi), Cyrillic (Russian), Arabic, Hebrew and Latin (English). This means, you will not see accented characters (French and others) or German Umlauts.

This is a screenshot of the new tool version. The sample text in the text area has been "moved" to the image area.

The next image is a small version of the "Exported to file" image from the screen above. Nothing special about this, none of the various modifications the tool can make have been tried out.

OCRONLINE nicely extracts the text from the .png file as shown here:

We then tried to defeat the OCR. Still with the sample text, we used the "Line" tool and hit "Draw random lines" for a few seconds. Just for fun, we added some very transparent lines manually and then exported the image:
You can see that the text can still be read easily by a human, and we guessed that some of the continuous text without any crossing lines would be recognized. The output of ocronline was:
This is substantial improvement over the clear image from the first round. Interestingly, the OCR software is smart enough to not get fooled by the faint transparent overlay of the very first word "Type". But the rest does not go so well for the character recognition software.

So, only a few seconds of work by the computer is enough to degrade a message to the point that simple scans will very likely discard it.

What ad Google might serve based on this? Maybe for coffee because the algorithm thinks you were too asleep to be coherent?

For the next test, we "Reset" and "Moved" the text into the empty image again, then we played with random lines and drew a few thick lines manually. Note that most of the text is not obstructed. It is clear that OCR would easily extract more than in the previous example.
This is where we "Peel" the image into two. Click "Peel", then export to file twice. To reassemble the original image and read the text, you load the two images into an empty Message Blur image canvas. The saved split images are:

Message Blur "cut" the text lines in the middle, then put half of the image in one file and the other half into the second file.

Submitting each of these files to ocronline gives us the desired result, a "No text" message:

Simply splitting a text image like this will defeat even good standard OCR software. Artificial intelligence (AI) folks have been working on the most common images that contain manipulated text, the awful captchas that seek to separate humans from machines. AI has defeated some, like this article on a Yahoo captcha illustrates.

Message Blur does not let you change the image size via a menu, but there is a trick to make it suitable for long text.

You can load images of any size.

Here is a reduced size example, a screenshot from the German Der Spiegel website. The actual size in Message Blur was about 2000 by 1200 pixels, resized down for display here to a third of the size.

We let the computer add some random lines, then gave the image to OCRONLINE for extraction.
As expected, OCRONLINE does catch some of the text, especially part of the text under the large photo showing the chancellor in a red chair.

If the OCR software does not "know" the language it is supposed to extract, it gets a lot less, as this result for Der Spiegel with the language left on the default English shows:

Gas station talk and the German psyche

Note: The term "German psyche" is commonly used to describe German identity, a subject complicated by turbulent history and often fraught with mysticism and kitsch. We will try to stay clear of this but cannot guarantee it.

On the day the new U.S. president signed the Executive Order that became known as the "Muslim Ban", the blogster filled up its* car at a rural German gas station.

As it headed out, a German male, in his fifties or sixties, came in enthusiastically yelling "he's kicking them out, he's kicking them all out".

The station clerk obviously knew him well. Her body language only signaled that he should not be as boisterous. The blogster did not hang around.

One gas tank later, at another gas station, the blogster made some off the cuff remark, it really does not remember what it was about, that caused the owner to open her heart and share things that only foreign minded people will.

The owner hails from Africa, way down south, and seems to view "the German psyche" from the rare perspective of people who grew up in a German speaking community thousands of miles from where "the German psyche" is typically located.

Yes, there are corners of the planet, where people live in German speaking communities, and we are not talking about some Spanish resort, some Thailand old folks home for poor Germans, or any of the modern industrial outposts home to globalized German managers.

Southern Africa has some of these communities. South America, too.

The gas station owner immigrated to Germany with the cultural ease of Brits moving to the US, or Aussies moving to the UK.

It sets you up for a shock, for the experience of reverse culture shock. The US state department website has some good information about the phenomenon. Germans rarely talk about it.

Which brings us right to the point.

Germans rarely talk about it.

But they do at the gas station.

Expressions of dissatisfaction with the country's politics have made headlines when the anti-Islamization marches of "PEGIDA" drew thousands, or when the "right populist" AfD won state parliament seats in 2016.

And yet, the outbursts of xenophobia and some run of the mill revisionist history are only a small part of the story.

Or, as the gas station owner phrased it, many Germans feel stifled under the weight of bureaucracies that do nothing for the common good. The utter disappointment in successive governments that pushed austerity, bailed out banks, cut retirement and other benefits doesn't get nearly the focused attention that it deserves.

Only the gas station workers listen.

They are so afraid to speak their minds to the politicians and administration workers, said the gas station owner. They vent here, and they get upset when I tell them they should tell those who govern them. Vote for someone else. But no, they are so bound by what is "expected', they feel every position outside of what the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats support is extremism, it's horrible.

Our internal revenue service, for example, just worked, the owner continued. Think about it, in a small country with few resources. The one here is a nightmare, and people agree - but they won't speak up.

The blogster does not want to go on with the conversation. Those of us who have lived in other countries know. **

As to the German psyche, the blogster has nicknamed it Leidkultur instead of Leitkultur. A culture (Kultur) of needless suffering (Leid) instead of prevailing, common (Leit).

* Gender neutral, friends. Previously just because. More recently also to piss off binaries.
** For instance, if you want to find out how hard it is to get cheap local firewood, we have just the right post for you.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Parliamentary self service in Europe and the new German SPD candidate for chancellor

Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) just made a European Parliament self made millionaire its candidate for chancellor in the 2017 national elections.

The gentleman, Mr. Schulz, made the money as a EU politician.

First, let's back up a little
Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) has had a rough decade. While they formed the federal government around the 2000s with the Greens as their junior partner, things went downhill pretty quickly afterwards, making the SPD the junior partner in the next government 2005 to 2009 under the Christian Democrats/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) of Chancellor Merkel.

Another four years out of the federal government followed this "grand coalition", and since 2013, they have been in yet another one of these bland and politically suffocating administrations.

The SPD's share of votes declined over the past decades, from over 38.5% in 2002 to just under 26% in 2013. In comparison, the CDU/CSU, also with 38.5% in 2002, recovered from a 2009 dip to 33.8%, and garnered 41.5% in 2013.

After pushing throw social benefits reforms in the early 2000s, best described in the words of 1990s Bill Clinton as "ending social welfare as we know it", the SPD failed to gain substantially from the fall out of the 2008 crisis, and - together with the CDU/CSU - witnessed the recent rise of the "right populist' AfD.

Recent developments
Heading for 20% in the fall elections, the SPD called in Mr. Schulz, who resigned from his position as president of the EU parliament to take the job.

Mr. Schulz's first grand gesture in the new job was to waive the "transitional compensation package" he was entitled to upon departure. 

And in a matter of a couple of months, polls gave the SPD a remarkable bump. Just a few days ago, it surpassed the previously seemingly unchallengable Ms. Merkel and her party in this poll with 31% to 30%.

But, in the upcoming edition of Der Spiegel, questionable compensation of Mr. Schulz's campaign manager surface. The gentleman was officially based in Brussels but worked almost exclusively from his home city of Berlin (273 days out of 365 in 2012). He nevertheless received a tax free foreign employment allowance of some 840 Euros a month plus travel expenses for the largely non-existent Brussels-Berlin commute.
The article also reports that another close co-worker was given a raise of 24 000 Euros by Mr. Schulz as president - odd, but apparently not illegal.

This is not the first time that Mr. Schulz his handling of compensation has been criticized. In 2014, for example, in the run up to EU elections, it was reported that he was paid (again. legally) a per diem of 304 Euros a day for 365 days/year, i.e. 110 000 Euros a year on top of other compensation. His slogan at the time?

"A Europe of the people. Not a Europe of the money."

Compensation of elected officials has been hotly debated - or not - in all democracies. If they get paid next to nothing, as in some places in the U.S., only wealthy people get to do politics.

If they get paid "too much", resentment follows.

European politicians typically uses the argument that they need to be compensated well in order to attract qualified people and to reduce the chances that special interest money will by favors.

To get there, various bodies have instituted interesting rules. A favorite approach found everywhere was to split pay into various components. Typically, there is a base compensation taxed like ordinary income, plus a number of fully or largely tax free lump sums and bonuses. The tax free lump sums are generally discretionary, meaning parliamentarians for not have to account what this money is being used for, or if it is spent on work related expenses at all. Generous benefits plus the best retirement packages anybody can ask for, round out the deal.

The German parliament managed to pull of a scoop by finally killing the periodic public debate: it granted itself automatic raises.

To state the obvious: minimum wage workers don't get those.

The self service system works so well because everybody gets a share. The per diem payments of the European parliament are a wonderful example.

Technically, members are only eligible for the 304 Euros or so on days when the parliament is in session and when the member physically attends a session.

But, what's good for the boss is good for the commoner: a TV investigation from 2012 showed members lining up on Friday morning to sign in and leaving immediately for the weekend in their home countries.

The sample shown in the youtube video includes members of all parties, left, right, green or not so green.

The European Parliament, unlike the Commission, used to be without real power. The parliament has been known to be a great alternative employment for family members (the daughter of a Bavarian prime minister), for people who fell out of favor or were unsuccessful in their country (make fun of UKIP's Farage for failing to get into Westminster all you want - he's getting more money from his EU pension than most us will ever have), or as an early retirement gig.

In this context, Mr. Schulz is typical.

Whether voters will forgive him or pick the Teflon like Ms. Merkel for yet another useless grand coalition will become clear in the next months.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

German scribe on social benefits sanctions: punishment works

Germany's federal employment office published a study from its own think tank that says sanctioning recipients of the bare bones means tested Hartz IV benefits shows they have a strong effect on young people under 25.

Twice as many young single people take up regular employment after being sanctioned than those who are not sanctioned, tout articles like this one. When they move into regular employment or a training program, they do, however, earn less than other people.

If twice as many sounds good, what should we think when we read almost four times as many?

Almost four times as many, that's the increase in the number of young single people who drop out of the labor market altogether as a result of their very first sanction. The only good news about that increase is that the overall number of youngsters disappearing into the "shadow economy", as the study calls it, is small, only a few percentage points of the total.

Media reports on the study itself are relatively balanced across the major papers, though the headlines do indicate certain overall leanings. The socially more moderate Zeit goes with the title "Researchers recommend reform of Hartz-IV sanctions", highlighting the call for reforms by the authors of the study. On the other hand, the more conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine chose "Hartz-IV sanctions accelerate return into employment", focusing on the number of people going into regular employment.

Both articles do mention that loss of all benefits can and does lead to homelessness, which is one reason the study authors suggest reforms.

Things get a lot more interesting in the comments department. Here, Frankfurter Allgemeine fielded a nastygram: Punishment works.

The scribe emphasizes the fact that its is a "benefit of solidarity" coming "out of tax revenues", i.e. not an insurance to which recipients have previously contributed. He also sneaks in the standby of any good German conservative, which is "they don't have something like that in America".

What a shame that the gentleman does not mention the outstanding "benefit of solidarity" extended by everyday citizens to German company heirs who get to forgo inheritance tax because it would be a burden on the business.

Follow this up with the reminder that "careers on Hartz-IV" (a more euphemistic version of the old welfare queen) should be avoided, and you have a great dog whistle that appeals to envy without using the word. The last paragraph of just three short ones insists that sanctions are only the final means of compliance for those who "willfully ignore appointments" and "refuse reasonable offers of employment".

Real life is a little different because the official administrative language he quotes makes no mention of what is considered willful and what is reasonable.

Young Germans finding a job before an appointment at the local jobcenter have been called Arrogant and lazy by their case worker without the slightest hint of empathy.

The blogster is slowly inching closer to the belief that the venerable term "social conservative" might really mean "fuck the downtrodden conservative".

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

German intelligence agencies: no smoking gun for Russian government disinformation against Germany

This is an almost breathtaking statement: According to a leaked report, German intelligence agencies have found no proof of a Russian government organized disinformation campaign against Germany.

This is the main finding of a year long investigation by both the domestic intelligence agency BfV and the foreign intel servive BND.

If you have not read anything by the blogster on the two German services, a post on the chief of the BfV will clearly show that the blogster has little to no respect for some of the actions of the gentleman.

The blogster has a habit of calling the BND "GetSmart" and identified the chief of that agency as the first real victim of the Snowden affair.

Based on this and some real life experiences in the past, it is not without a compliment that the blogster acknowledges a modicum of professional pride and competence by the agencies.

Many of the reader comments on the article in Zeit Online which we linked to at the beginning are far less charitable or conciliatory. One asked: So, should I collect all the articles based on dire warnings from the agencies and file them under "fake news"? It is true, that both agencies, or unnamed sources in them, have stoked the fear of a concerted Russian disinformation campaign in Germany.

Add to these the claims by NATO and the EU's East StratCom plus various foreign media reports, and you have an almost incessant barrage of  "the Russians are coming". The blogster has been repulsed by the awful "hybrid war babble" and by the wholesale attacks on social media as a purveyor of all evils.

So, kudos for saying this ain't so.

But since life is complicated, the absence of a Russian government effort does not prove there is no misinformation, no propaganda, no hacking.

Yet, at this point in time, clearing the Russian government is significant because some in the West have stated that any such interference amounts to a act or war. A statement that takes the belligerent outbursts of Western hawks to new levels.

So, while we can expect Russian reporting and maneuvering ahead of the German national elections later this year to be active and not necessarily "nice", the report by the two federal agencies may cool down some tempers just a little.

Why empty produce shelves in rich Western Europe are a good thing

From our Yo, cultural differences are real series.

This post would probably not have been written without the odd Twitter user claiming that Russian TV showing empty grocery store shelves in Europe was bare faced Soviet style propaganda. The choice of photo is sensationalist but very much like the UK Daily Mirror or German BILD on a good day.

The story is a bit more complicated.

The blogster does recall a trip to a German supermarket one Saturday shortly after arrival in the country and nearly bare produce shelves at the store.

Coming from the land of plenty, where apples still get polished and stacked up in pyramids, at least in some stores, a brief bout of veggie anxiety is quite natural in the face of empty crates and boxes. To make it worse, this was in the middle of summer, the height of fruit and vegetable season.

Soon, it* figured out what was going on, a pattern emerged.

At another grocery store, Saturday afternoon, starting at 5 pm, turned out to be discount time. A store clerk with a price gun began marking down produce with swift ticks while expertly dodging the Turkish ladies and the blogster angling for the marked down items.
What does not get sold is then picked up by local food bank volunteers.

After more night time and Saturday evening shopping trips as well as reading ample newspaper reports on food waste in Germany, the cultural and economic process became clear.

German grocery stores simply do not stock the wasteful amounts of fresh vegetables and fruit that our common US markets hoard. German markets will start moving the produce out of the store area into the cold storage in the back an hour or so prior to closing.

Whether that is due to stricter overtime rules or a lack of relentless American style customer service is not quite resolved, but it doesn't make a difference to the blogster.

The point is, you get used to it quickly. The shelves are stocked again the next morning, and any veggie anxiety will subside.

The current wave of empty shelves in many EU countries has been caused by poor growing conditions in the Mediterranean countries that produce most of northern Europe's vegetables and fruit. British supermarkets have been rationing lettuce and broccoli, prices have shot up.

More generally, you might want to stay away from "fresh" fruit or vegetables in winter in Britain or Ireland, even when there is no adverse weather in Italy or Spain. Unless you can shop at Harrod's, a "tomato" in a UK winter is a pinkish bag of water, a banana is green and about as soft as nunchuks. The flavor probably matches nunchuks, too, but the blogster was not crazy enough to bite into nunchuks.

For those who suspect a fruit and veg conspiracy in southern Europe, the blogster can reassure you: it is totally real, sort of.

The very ripest fruit and veggies stay in Spain or Italy for local consumption because the transportation time and logistics chain require most produce to be shipped north long before it develops its best taste and flavor.

* The blogster goes gender neutral, just because, and more recently specifically to tick of US republicans.