Security and Privacy

It’s probably impossible to get too much of Bruce Schneier, although I honestly wouldn’t mind if he stopped Friday Squid Blogging.

His latest article on the false dichotomy between security and privacy is an excellent counterpoint to a recent Lawrence Wright profile in the New Yorker on Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. The Lawrence Wright article was surprisingly uncritical, considering the New Yorker’s usual zealous approach. Check out, for example, his description of the “Clipper” chip:

In the nineties, new encryption software that could protect telephone conversations, faxes, and e-mails from unwarranted monitoring was coming on the market, but the programs could also block entirely legal efforts to eavesdrop on criminals or potential terrorists. Under McConnell’s direction, the N.S.A. developed a sophisticated device, the Clipper Chip, with a superior ability to encrypt any electronic transmission; it also allowed law-enforcement officials, given the proper authority, to decipher and eavesdrop on the encrypted communications of others. Privacy advocates criticized the device, though, and the Clipper was abandoned by 1996. “They convinced the folks on the Hill that they couldn’t trust the government to do what it said it was going to do,” Richard Wilhelm, who was in charge of information warfare under McConnell, says.

(emphasis added). Compare, for example, EPIC’s Clipper Chip information page.

Schneier, by contrast, sees right through the core:

We’ve been told we have to trade off security and privacy so often — in debates on security versus privacy, writing contests, polls, reasoned essays and political rhetoric — that most of us don’t even question the fundamental dichotomy.

But it’s a false one.

Security and privacy are not opposite ends of a seesaw; you don’t have to accept less of one to get more of the other. Think of a door lock, a burglar alarm and a tall fence. Think of guns, anti-counterfeiting measures on currency and that dumb liquid ban at airports. Security affects privacy only when it’s based on identity, and there are limitations to that sort of approach.

Since 9/11, approximately three things have potentially improved airline security: reinforcing the cockpit doors, passengers realizing they have to fight back and — possibly — sky marshals. Everything else — all the security measures that affect privacy — is just security theater and a waste of effort.

By the same token, many of the anti-privacy “security” measures we’re seeing — national ID cards, warrantless eavesdropping, massive data mining and so on — do little to improve, and in some cases harm, security. And government claims of their success are either wrong, or against fake threats.

The debate isn’t security versus privacy. It’s liberty versus control.

Read the whole essay. And send it to your mother, as well.

[Tags]Schneier, Privacy, Security[/Tags]

Microsoft Outlook 2003 Tip: VBA Macro to Remove Stationery from Email Message

Quick link to ClearStationery.bas

I don’t have much (any?) history of posting tips for the Windows platform, but I’m currently stuck with it for daily work use, so I figured I might as well share some tips that my readers who happen to be in the same predicament will find useful. (Planet Debian readers please have mercy.)

One of the worst things you that Microsoft Outlook allows a user to do is select a “stationery” for email. Stationery goes beyond regular old HTML mail (e.g., fonts, colors, and bullet lists) to add a patterned background, invariably rendering the content much less readable than it would be with a white (or even any other color) background. What’s worse is every reply to an email with stationery also adopts the original sender’s stationery!

I searched quite a bit for a solution that does not involve sending a nastygram to the original sender. Of course you can convert the email to plain text (or set Outlook to only display the plain text version) and then convert back to HTML or Rich Text, but you’ll also lose other formatting that you might want to retain. You could cut and paste the text into a new email, but what is really needed is a simple VBA macro that will strip the stationery but not other formatting.

Strangely, I don’t think that macro already exists. So I wrote one, to some extent cribbing from related code snippets (mostly from here). I now present to the world ClearStationery.bas, my best contribution to date to the Outlook ecosystem. Simply paste it into your Outlook Visual Basic Editor (ALT-F11) and then map the macro ClearStationeryFormatting() onto a toolbar with a hotkey, and you can instantly remove stationery from any email, whether it is in the “preview” pane or the full message view.

Comments, bug reports, and improvements are welcome:

Sub ClearStationeryFormatting()
On Error GoTo ClearStationeryFormatting_Error
    Dim strEmbeddedImageTag As String
    Dim strStyle As String
    Dim strReplaceThis As String
    Dim intX As Integer, intY As Integer
    Dim myMessage As Outlook.MailItem

    ' First, check to see if we are in preview-pane mode or message-view mode
    ' If neither, quit out
    Select Case TypeName(Outlook.Application.ActiveWindow)
        Case "Explorer"
            Set myMessage = ActiveExplorer.Selection.Item(1)
        Case "Inspector"
            Set myMessage = ActiveInspector.CurrentItem
        Case Else
            MsgBox ("No message selected.")
            Exit Sub
    End Select

    ' Sanity check to make sure selected message is actually a mail item
    If TypeName(myMessage) <> "MailItem" Then
       MsgBox ("No message selected.")
       Exit Sub
    End If

    ' Remove attributes from <BODY> tag
    intX = InStr(1, myMessage.HTMLBody, "<BODY", vbTextCompare)
    If intX > 0 Then
        intY = InStr(intX, myMessage.HTMLBody, ">", vbTextCompare)
        strReplaceThis = Mid(myMessage.HTMLBody, intX, intY - intX + 1)
    End If

    If strReplaceThis <> "" Then
        myMessage.HTMLBody = Replace(myMessage.HTMLBody, strReplaceThis, "<BODY>")
        strReplaceThis = ""
        Err.Raise vbObjectError + 7, , "An unexpected error occurred searching for the BODY tag in the e-mail message."
        Exit Sub
    End If

    ' Find and replace <STYLE> tag
    intX = InStr(1, myMessage.HTMLBody, "<STYLE>", vbTextCompare)
    If intX > 0 Then
        intY = InStr(8, myMessage.HTMLBody, "</STYLE>", vbTextCompare)
        strReplaceThis = Mid(myMessage.HTMLBody, intX, ((intY + 8) - intX))
    End If

    If strReplaceThis <> "" Then
        myMessage.HTMLBody = Replace(myMessage.HTMLBody, strReplaceThis, "")
    End If

    If InStr(1, myMessage.HTMLBody, "<center><img id=", vbTextCompare) > 0 Then
        strEmbeddedImageTag = "<center><img id="
        '"<center><img id=""ridImg"" src="citbannA.gif align=bottom></center>"
        intX = InStr(1, myMessage.HTMLBody, strEmbeddedImageTag, vbTextCompare)
        If intX = 0 Then
            Err.Raise vbObjectError + 8, , "An unexpected error occurred searching for the embedded image file name start tag in the e-mail message."
            Exit Sub
        End If
        intY = InStr(intX + Len(strEmbeddedImageTag), myMessage.HTMLBody, " align=bottom></center>", vbTextCompare)
        If intY = 0 Then
            Err.Raise vbObjectError + 9, , "An unexpected error occurred searching for the embedded image file name end tag in the e-mail message."
            Exit Sub
        End If
        strEmbeddedImageTag = Mid(myMessage.HTMLBody, intX, intY - intX)
        intX = InStr(1, myMessage.HTMLBody, "<CENTER>", vbTextCompare)
        intY = InStr(intX, myMessage.HTMLBody, "</CENTER>", vbTextCompare)
        strReplaceThis = Mid(myMessage.HTMLBody, intX, intY - intX) & "</CENTER>"
        myMessage.HTMLBody = Replace(myMessage.HTMLBody, strReplaceThis, "", , , vbTextCompare)
    End If

    ' Finally, saved modified message

    On Error GoTo 0
    Exit Sub


    MsgBox "Error " & Err.Number & " (" & Err.Description & ")"
    Resume Next
End Sub


Best Reason to Have More Than One Child

…so that you will eventually know the indescribable joy of finding all of them sound asleep at a reasonably early point in the evening.

TSA Gripe of the Day

I arrived back late last night from DC (National Airport, called “Reagan” by some) to Logan Airport. I got to National about an hour before my departure and checked two bags. Only one of them appeared at the baggage claim on the other end. The U.S. Air baggage people were surprised; they said National rarely loses or delays bags, especially where the passenger checks in with reasonable lead time.

My second bag finally arrived this afternoon. I found the solution to the mysterious delay within: a Transportation Security Administration “Notice of Baggage Inspection.” Presumably they held my bag for too long or it just didn’t get routed properly after being manually inspected.

I don’t believe the random manual inspections provide much improvement over the full CT scans now mandated at all airports. But apparently they do create inconveniences.

On another note, I noticed for the first time this trip that the now obsolete “no smoking” signs above every seat have been replaced with “turn off electronic devices.” (Query which is more addictive.)


Political Blogging

The Frontal Cortex provides an astute explanation as to why he shies away from political blogging in this election season:

My hypothesis is that political judgments are like moral judgments. When you see a candidate, you experience a visceral, instinctive, inexplicable response. Your brain generates an emotion РObama is uplifting, Hillary is commanding, McCain is honorable, etc. Рand then the rest of your brain goes about explaining your emotion. The inner interpreter gathers together bits of evidence, post hoc justifications, and pithy rhetoric in order to make our automatic reaction seem reasonable. But this reasonableness is just a fa̤ade, an elaborate self-delusion.

Personally, I haven’t done much (any?) such blogging lately for lack of time, but I also generally agree with his conclusions.  “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

[Tags]Politics, Elections, Neuroscience[/Tags]