Sunday 4 November 2012

Cloud computing – how to lose control of your data #94

It's Sunday. Give us a break
Cloud computing is supposed to be cheaper than the alternatives. How many times have we heard that some new management fashion will save us money? How many times can we fall for it? How many times has it turned out to be true? Exactly.

Cloud computing is meant to be more efficient, more reliable, more trusted, more flexible, more scalable, more resilient, more modern, more transformative, ... In each case, the claim is either false or, at best, unproven.

No need to keep banging on about it, the point has been made.

Sign up for cloud computing, like what Her Majesty's Government has in the UK, and you lose control of your data. You want to go out of business? Go ahead. Up to you. Stick your data in the cloud.

We know that. It's all a bit relentlessIt's Sunday. Give us a break.

The gift that keeps on giving
Actually, there's another reason to avoid cloud computing, one that hasn't been mentioned so far on DMossEsq, a new answer to the question why is it foolish to store your data in the cloud.

Kim Dotcom, mega
Still very young, Mr Schmitz
or Dotcom
or Kimble (c.f. The Fugitive)
will be all of 39 years old
on 21 January 2013
6'6" tall and weighing 290lb, the only reason Kim Dotcom (né Schmitz) didn't go to prison after being found guilty on 11 counts of fraud was that ... he was under age at the time of the offences and the judge put it all down to youthful foolishness.

Like most teenagers, he had hacked into NASA. And Citibank. He had also found out how to make international phone calls for free and, unlike most teenagers, had a nice little sideline selling access to these free telecommunications facilities.

He got off the 11 fraud charges with a suspended sentence. And the 10 data espionage charges. But when the insider trading charges started to look a bit serious, he decamped to Thailand. The Thais extradited him back to Germany and he finally served a stretch there. Five months on remand. Quite right, too.

Mr Dotcom loves playing computer games, particularly Modern Warfare 3.

That is not a recognised sign of intellectual achievement, you say.

As you wish. But some people are better at problem-solving than others. How good are you? There are over 15 million players of Modern Warfare 3 worldwide and Mr D was ranked #1, only falling to #2 after a sojourn in a New Zealand prison, about which, more anon.

He also loves cars. Driving in Morocco one day, he became impatient with the car in front and rammed it off the road. These things happen. How was he to know it was being driven by the chief of police?

Kim next set up shop in Hong Kong, picked up a few fines for false declarations to the stock exchange and for marketing a hedge fund that had many fine qualities, like artificial intelligence, but didn't happen to exist and the good ship Dotcom next struck land in New Zealand.

But before that, while in Hong Kong, he had set up a real company, Megaupload. A cloud services company, with 150 staff and and revenues of $175 million p.a., Megaupload had 60 million users, or 180 million according to some reports, it was ranked #13 among all the websites in the world and accounted for 4% of web traffic. Worldwide.

If New Zealand had any qualms about Kim Dotcom's application for residence, the thought of uploading some his money into New Zealand seems to have allayed them. He rented the most expensive house in the country, he laid on a $600,000 fireworks display in Auckland and he donated $50,000 to the mayor's re-election campaign.

Mr Dotcom was rich.

There was a problem when the mayor later had trouble remembering this donation. What would you do, you who have never played Modern Warfare 3? Kim recorded a song called Amnesia. See? Problem-solving. Some people are good at it.

Megaupload was so big that it rented no less than 1,100 servers from another cloud services company, Carpathia, to store all the data people kept handing over.

Got it. You're going to lecture us about contracts. Users may have a contract with one cloud services supplier (e.g. Megaupload) but, if that company hands the users' data over to another cloud services supplier (e.g. Carpathia) with whom the users have no contract, then they have lost control of their data. Ha!

Wrong. Everyone knows that already. That's not a new reason to beware the perils of cloud computing. Think again ...

Hollywood loves a swashbuckler
Not this one they don't.

According to Hollywood, Megaupload has cost them $500 million. It was a seat of piracy, Hollywood's intellectual property rights were being stolen by felons illegally uploading films and TV programs to Megaupload.

That's just my point, you say, you shouldn't be making light of the activities of a seedy criminal.

No-one is making light of anything, least of all Mr Dotcom, who may be a criminal but he is entertaining as well, both, the one doesn't exclude the other.

And not so fast with the "criminal". His Megaupload crimes are alleged. He hasn't been found guilty of them. There's a law. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which protects the suppliers of a website from the illegal activities of the users of that website. Without that, Sergey Brin of Google would spend his whole time in prison because of all the porn on YouTube. So stick that in your pipe, Roundhead, smoke it and inhale.

DMCA and the evidence against Kim Dotcom were presumably considered by a grand jury and on 5 January 2012 he was indicted on charges of online piracy, racketeering, copyright infringement, and money laundering. That was in Virginia. In the US.
But Mr Dotcom was in New Zealand.

I know. You're going to hold forth on RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the law they said would only ever be used against suspected gangsters, when opponents of its introduction suggested that its powers were so useful that prosecutors would be unable to resist the temptation to charge everyone with offences under RICO. No, no, said the legislators, that will never happen. But of course it has.

You mean like the surveillance laws here in the UK? The ones they said would only ever be used against suspected terrorists and now local councils use them for fly-tipping offences and dogs fouling the pavement and parents lying about living in the catchment area for desirable schools? No. Completely wrong. Everyone already knows about that. The question is what new reason is there to believe that it's foolish to store your data in the cloud? If all else fails, as teachers used to tell their students, try reading the question.

Due process
The indictments are in Virginia and Dotcom's in Auckland. What would Clarice Sparrow Starling do?

She would probably have a quiet word with her opposite numbers in New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB). Point out how much appreciated it would be if they could help in this matter. She might maybe exert a bit of pressure. US tariffs on New Zealand lamb imports could be lifted. Or they could be increased. Extraordinary rendition? That kind of thing.

Kim Dotcom appears in court in Auckland in January.
The US wants New Zealand to extradite him
to face internet piracy allegations.
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Whatever the FBI said, GCSB went into action immediately. They put Dotcom under surveillance and two weeks later, on 19 January 2012, they got the assault rifles out, started up the helicopter and armed police invaded the Dotcom manor, impounded his possessions right, left and centre, arrested Kim, locked him in prison and froze his assets worldwide.

Which made it hard for him to pay his rent. Or his lawyers. When he was finally allowed access to a bit of his money, the lawyers argued successfully that it was against the law for GCSB to put New Zealand citizens under surveillance, including Kim Dotcom, and that the arrest warrant had been wrongly drafted – too non-specific.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand has subsequently apologised for these mistakes to Mr Dotcom personally and to New Zealanders in general and he has confirmed that GCSB officers mistakenly allowed FBI officers, who happened coincidentally to be present, to take copies of Mega Kim's impounded disk drives.

Prime Minister Key's re-election prospects are in doubt. So are President Obama's. Kim Dotcom blames him personally for his enforced stay in Mt Eden prison, Auckland.

At some point, Mrs Dotcom gave birth to their fourth and fifth children, girl twins, and Kim toyed with the idea of sending the placenta to the FBI to check for pirated DNA, another solution that would never have occurred to you, would it, but let's leave him there, he's clearly quite big enough to look after himself, and turn our attention instead to Kyle Goodwin.

Back in January, the FBI took control of all Megaupload's domain names and their computers and they told Carpathia to keep the 1,100 servers Megaupload rented from them untouched.

The FBI also managed to freeze Megaupload's bank accounts.

Given that Megaupload is a Hong Kong company, how?

Bloomberg think it's something to do with one of Mr Dotcom's fellow defendants having a US address and being an "alter-ego" of the company. Any port in a storm.

Thing is, among the 60 million users of Megaupload, just a couple of them may not be copyright pirates or pornographers. Some of them, like Kyle Goodwin, may run their own legitimate business in Ohio, filming sports events for local high schools, and streaming the footage to sports coaches and the doting parents of the athletes. And Mr Goodwin would kind of like his footage back, please, he's got a business to run, Megaupload have no objection to the return of his data and neither have Carpathia but the courts have:
  • Who says it's his data, the US government asks? Or as their lawyers put it: “Mr. Goodwin has yet to demonstrate whether he has an interest in any property seized by the government ... the mere fact that he may claim, for example, an initial copyright to a version of the files he uploaded is not sufficient to establish that he has an ownership interest in the property that is the subject of this motion”.
  • Suppose we look at what is allegedly Mr Goodwin's data and find he's been infringing copyright? Then what? If he doesn't have "clean hands", we just might start doing a bit of indicting in Ohio.
  • But look, we can't possibly entertain Mr Goodwin's request. It would take ages.
  • And suppose everyone else started asking for their data back, too? Then where would we be?
  • And Carpathia are moaning, too, claiming that it's costing them $9,000 a day to keep these pestilential 1,100 servers out of use. Far as we're concerned Carpathia can just delete all the data on them, all 25 petabytes of it (that's 25 million gigabytes), a course of action various fussy defence lawyers have asked Carpathia please to not pursue. today

Your data
And there, ladies and gentlemen, we have the answer.

Mr Goodwin is being represented by lawyers from the Electonic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and they say that "the [US] government maintains that Mr. Goodwin lost his property rights in his data by storing it on a cloud computing service ... both the contract between Megaupload and Mr. Goodwin ... and the contract between Megaupload and the server host, Carpathia ..., likely limit any property interest he may have in his data".

Sign a cloud computing contract and you lose the rights to your property.

The question was, what new reason is there to believe that storing your data in the cloud is a mistake?

And the answer is that you're going to have the devil of a job getting your solicitor to nip over to Quantico to prove that it's yours at all. And as for actually getting it back, forget it. The courts don't have time for all that nonsense. Easier just to delete it.

They wouldn't do that to HMRC and all our tax data stored on Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd's servers. Would they? There are 60 million of us for goodness sake. That could never happen. Could it? And then there's GDS and all our state benefits data stored on ditto ...

Don't you worry about that. Whitehall aren't worried. Don't you worry.


Updated 5.11.12

Philip Johnston, Daily Telegraph, 'Whitehall has its head stuck in the cloud'

Updated 21.2.17

Andrew Orlowski, ElReg, 'NZ High Court rules US can extradite Kim Dotcom after all'

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