Category: legal

May you Rot in Hell – Ask Toolbar

I don’t swear much, in fact there are only three things that are likely to make me swear at all. In no particular order – my teenage son, printers and the Ask Toolbar.

I try to avoid the first two whenever possible, however I am forever plagued by the scourge that is the Ask Search toolbar.  You’ve probably come across it too, in fact if you don’t stay constantly aware the little bastard will certainly install it on your computer at some point.  In case you don’t know what I’m talking about here’s a reminder and the origin of about 99% of the installs.


This screen which most of us skip through in nano-seconds during the install of one of the 100 yearly Java updates is where you’ll get caught.  I know it’s there and it’s always getting me, you click on next and in the corner of your eye you just catch a glimpse of the ‘Add Search App by Ask.’, but it’s too late your mouse has already registered your click and continues.   You have just requested that one of the most pervasive and irritating pieces of adware be installed on your computer and have signed your agreement to whatever horrors are contained in the Terms and Conditions.

There are hundreds of different versions of this vile search add on, which produce a variety of annoying results.  Depending on which version you have the misfortune to install, you’ll get your search results modified, adverts inserted into your browsing, your home page altered and forced to use the Ask search engine.   I hate it vehemently, it is also a complete bugger to remove as is usually the case.

Finally now though the industry is beginning to act on the sort of hate that this toolbar generates.  It’s only achieved any sort of legitimacy from piggy backing the Java install, and it’s probably done some severe damage to Oracle’s reputation.   Now Microsoft has finally classed it as malware and it’s security products now remove the accursed toolbar.  Well to be more accurate, Microsoft have classified it as ‘unwanted software’ which is like classifying leprosy as an unwanted skin condition.  I presume that’s to prevent legal wranglings and arguments over the definition of ‘malware’ – even though it is.

It’s not perfect, not all versions of the Ask toolbar are included only the earlier advert injecting ones, so you’ll still have to be on your guard. I presume it’s still in the Java Runtime installer but fortunately I’ve cut down on my drinking and haven’t accidentally installed that for a while.



No Such Thing as a Free VPN – the Hola Price

First of all I’d like to ask, would anyone mind coming round to fix my back fence – it got wrecked in high winds and needs replacing? I won’t pay you or anything, you’ll just do it because you like helping people, reward enough right? I’m not expecting to get inundated with offers, but you never know saves paying someone to do it.

It’s why I get frustrated with everyone always asking me if I know of  free proxies and vpns as if there are thousands of companies across the world who are happy to spend considerable time and money providing a service which you can use for free to watch porn or stream movies. I mean ….why would they do it? What’s in it for them? Please, people is this the way the world works, I think not.

There’s always a reason, these things cost money and if you want to see an example of the hidden costs of using something like the adware riddled monstrosity that is Hola then read on.

There are plenty of free services around, but none of them are really free. In lieu of using their servers you have to accept slow speeds, security risks and the fact that they are likely to try and make money out of you. The usual method is by filling your computer and browsing session with lots of adverts (which generate them income). It’s very annoying and personally I wouldn’t let it near any of my computers or devices, but you can at least argue it’s fairly straight forward. You use their connection for free and they make money by bombarding you with adverts – fair enough.

However using a proxy or VPN is more than that, you are in fact handing over your entire online world to these providers and they can do pretty much anything with it. Take for instance the free VPN mentioned – Hola, most of us just thought those adverts were the payback but it appears there’s much more. They are actually hijacking your internet connection and pimping it out for cash via a service called Luminati.

Your Price to Pay for the Free VPN

Luminati is a paid anonymity service which runs on the lines of TOR, that is it encrypts your connection then relays it through a network of exit nodes in order to hide your location. On it’s FAQ page, here’s the first two bullet points –

  • All countries – Luminati is the only network that provides you with IPs in ALL countries in the world! (except N. Korea)
  • Real anonymity – the Exit Nodes in the Luminati network are regular PCs, laptops and phones, and thus are not identified as proxies or as Tor network nodes

Which is all fine and dandy, until you learn that these ‘real pcs’ are ours. Well, that is the pcs of people who use Hola. You install Hola and you are potentially allowing your PC to be sold as an exit node, that is anybody can use your connection to route their traffic to keep themselves anonymous.

Can you imagine what’s being relayed through the connections of these hapless Hola users, your connection could be being used to relay all sorts of material.

That computer sitting in front of you could at this very minute be distributing porn around the planet, hacking in to government servers or perhaps participating in a DDOS attack on a company.

It’s kind of a big price to pay for a free VPN don’t you think.

So if you’ve made it down this far into the post, and you happen to be a Hola user I’d suggest removing that Hola plugin very quickly (I’d actually reformat my drive these things are notoriously difficult to remove!). Learn a lesson that stuff on the net, that costs people money to run/develop and support is never ever going to be free.

I’m still amazed by the sheer greed of some of these people – here’s a link to the cracking summary and a Hola Vulnerability checker and proof of concept code  if you want to read more.

The Law of Lese Majeste and the Sad Tale of Amphon Tangnoppaku

I subscribe to a lot of news feeds about internet filtering, oppression and stuff like that – yep I’m real popular at parties!  It can be tough sometimes to read it all, the number of tales of persecution tales rises nearly every month.  However the story of Mr Amphon Tangnoppakul (or Akong to his friends) always makes me particularly sad.  

I initially read about him from one of the Asian Human Rights News reports, these are excellent and report all sorts of human rights incidents from all across Asia. Although I  sometimes  skip over some of these,  one Saturday night my mind was focused due partially to a wonderful bottle of Shiraz from Australia and I did some research on one of their reports about Akong.

The story is based around a law based on a criminal offence first highlighted in Ancient Rome.  It’s called Lese Majesty (or injured majesty) and it refers to the rather vague crime of violating a sovereign ruler.  You’ll still find it on the statute books of loads of European countries, although thankfully it’s rarely used there.  The UK actually last used the law in 1715.

Yet unfortunately Akong didn’t live in a Western democracy, he lived in Thailand and in November 2011 his retirement was cruelly curtailed by a twenty year prison sentence based on Lese Majesty.  He was accused of sending ‘insulting text messages’ concerning the Royal family of Thailand to the personal secretary of the previous president.

So just to clarify, Akong received a 20 year prison sentence for supposedly sending a total of 4 SMS messages slagging off the Thai Royal family (that’s five years per message).

Here’s the beautiful Queen of Thailand one of the targets of the supposed SMS  message.  So I’m guessing that saying –  ‘fat old cow with a rubbish hairstyle’  will mean that I’ll get a 5 year sentence if I ever visit Thailand.

There are a few tiny flaws in the prosecution case  –

  • Akong claims he never sent the texts
  • He doesn’t own the mobile phone that was used
  • He has no idea how to send an SMS

Lots of people around him are convinced he was completely innocent, however this is Thailand a place where there is minimal respect for either the constitution or human rights. We can’t be completely sure of course, but it does seem Uncle SMS as he has been dubbed was convicted more as a scapegoat or a warning to those who are critical of Thailand’s royal family.

But I’m afraid the story ends up with an even sadder ending,  after 20 months in custody on these contrived charges Uncle SMS died from  the oral cancer he was suffering with.  Even before his conviction, he was denied bail 8 times because he was considered at risk of absconding.  How they consider an old man with advanced stage of oral cancer such a big risk is of course not a reflection of reality but more the disregard that Thailand has for human rights.

The law still stands in Thailand, available for persecuting anyone saying anything remotely bad about the fabulously wealthy Thai royal family particularly online.   There are hundreds of other cases awaiting trial as well including one of a webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn who is accused of taking too long to delete Lese majeste material placed on one of her sites.