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The Future Has a Kill Switch

Soulskill posted about 6 years ago | from the not-literally-i-hope dept.

Security 284

palegray.net writes "Bruce Schneier brings us his perspective on a future filled with kill switches; from OnStar-equipped automobiles and city buses that can be remotely disabled by police to Microsoft's patent-pending ideas regarding so-called Digital Manners Policies. In Schneier's view, these capabilities aren't exactly high points of our potential future. From the article: 'Once we go down this path — giving one device authority over other devices — the security problems start piling up. Who has the authority to limit functionality of my devices, and how do they get that authority? What prevents them from abusing that power? Do I get the ability to override their limitations? In what circumstances, and how? Can they override my override?' We recently discussed the Pentagon's interest in kill switches for airplanes. At what point does centralizing and/or delegating operational authority over so much of our lives become a dangerous practice of its own?"

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284 comments

May I be the first to say... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23989535)

...first post! Fortunately, I have no kill switch. yet. Or, better, my kill switches are not controlled by the govt!

Re:May I be the first to say... (1, Offtopic)

smitty_one_each (243267) | about 6 years ago | (#23989607)

DELETE
FROM comments
WHERE poster_name='Anonymous Coward';

Bad query, bad idea (0, Troll)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 6 years ago | (#23990523)

First of all, it would be

DELETE * FROM comments WHERE poster_name="Anonymous Coward";

Even then there's a logical flaw. Anons don't have usernames, so if you ran that query, no anon posts would be deleted, and if there happened to be anyone with the username Anonymous Coward (And IIRC there is) they'd be very upset with you. Maybe something more along the lines of:

DELETE * FROM comments WHERE anonymous=1;

Even then there's an slight chance that there could be one or more worthwhile posts done in AC mode, so wiping them wouldn't be a good thing to do. Plus Slashdot comments are never deleted, and therefore the page was probably never designed to handle a comment being deleted (post nesting system etc.), so deleting a comment would probably throw the discussion page for a loop.

Oh, wonderful! (5, Insightful)

mangu (126918) | about 6 years ago | (#23989733)

How about a kill switch to prevent a First Post? Of course, the problem is how to get posts starting from second if there's no first. Always unanticipated problems when one tries to implement those security measures some politicians seem to want so much.


I'd love to see "digital manners" enforcement in theaters, restaurants, buses, etc. If mobile phones are so important that people cannot turn them off, then how did people live thirty years ago? Haven't you seen those old movies, where the detective had to stop at a public phone to send instructions to his associates? Yes, I'd love to see a way to enforce manners in public places.


However, a kill switch is no answer. If people abuse cell phones by using them in obnoxious ways, how long would it take them to abuse the kill switch? History has shown us, and it should be clear by now, that any sort of digital key is subjected to abuse.


Even assuming a perfect implementation, that mythical unbreakable code, there's still social engineering. A criminal could buy an old theatre just to get the phone kill switch installed there, if it were necessary for him to silence a phone. And there's always the risk that terrorists could find ways to crack a plane's kill switch in mid-air. When the plane is approaching JFK, wait until it is headed towards Manhattan and then immobilize the pilot's controls.


Like many medicines of old that have been abandoned because of their side-effects, kill switches are a solution that's much worse than the problem they are trying to solve.

Re:Oh, wonderful! (2)

PNutts (199112) | about 6 years ago | (#23989959)

If people abuse cell phones by using them in obnoxious ways, how long would it take them to abuse the kill switch?

About 60 minutes (long enough to charge the battery on my Chinese cell phone jammer). My world isn't quieter, but it's funnier.

Re:Oh, wonderful! (3, Informative)

cduffy (652) | about 6 years ago | (#23990259)

How about a kill switch to prevent a First Post? Of course, the problem is how to get posts starting from second if there's no first.

Prevent the first five posts from being either Anonymous Cowards or user accounts registered within the last three days.

Not that it's exactly a "kill switch", per se, as that requires some entity with control, as opposed to an automated process doing its job.

And there's always the risk that terrorists could find ways to crack a plane's kill switch in mid-air. When the plane is approaching JFK, wait until it is headed towards Manhattan and then immobilize the pilot's controls.

I believe the airplane kill switches discussed previously are intended to force the plane to an autopilot mode programmed with a large number of no-fly zones, as opposed to simply immobilizing the controls.

That said, it's still up in the air on features for those; I wouldn't be surprised if the ultimate winner allows full remote control; that is somewhere the implementation (and operational) security needs to be bulletproof.

Re:Oh, wonderful! (2, Interesting)

SuchiRu (675808) | about 6 years ago | (#23990267)

Ok, I can see part of your argument, but think about limiting a device rather than cutting all power to it.

For example, my grandmother was recently on the list for a lung transplant. The transplant team was to notify her via cell phone that they had a lung ready for her. Now, if she went to a movie theater where there was an "Auto-power off device" and some kid making 6 dollars an hour forgot to put up the sign saying that the device was active then she could have missed her chance to get a lung transplant because she was spending the time watching a movie, that could possibly be three hours long. What about a device that puts the phone on vibrate or something. Why is it that the Western world is so drastic?

TL;DR version, how about a "limiting switch" as opposed to "kill switch"?

Re:Oh, wonderful! (3, Insightful)

mangu (126918) | about 6 years ago | (#23990613)

What about a device that puts the phone on vibrate or something


Why couldn't she put the phone on vibrate herself? Anyhow, it's not just the phone ringing, people talking in the theatre or getting up to take the call outside also disturb the show.


Why is it that so many people come with these extremely contrived arguments when there is talk of using cell phones in theatres? Think about it in the sense of individual vs. collective harm. One person will disturb a hundred others when using a cell phone, cannot this one person adjust his or her life to prevent this?


If it's so important for your grandmother, if her life is at stake, why must she go to the theater? Can't she stay at home and rent a DVD or read a book during that period when it is so vital for her to be near a phone? Wait till she gets her transplant, the inconvenience caused by such a major surgery will be much, much worse than having to watch a DVD instead of a theatre show.

Re:Oh, wonderful! (2, Insightful)

ksd1337 (1029386) | about 6 years ago | (#23990551)

I'd love to see "digital manners" enforcement in theaters, restaurants, buses, etc. If mobile phones are so important that people cannot turn them off, then how did people live thirty years ago? Haven't you seen those old movies, where the detective had to stop at a public phone to send instructions to his associates? Yes, I'd love to see a way to enforce manners in public places. However, a kill switch is no answer. If people abuse cell phones by using them in obnoxious ways, how long would it take them to abuse the kill switch? History has shown us, and it should be clear by now, that any sort of digital key is subjected to abuse.

This is the same as using law to control things that society finds unappealing. Hate speech, for example. One would argue that banning hate speech would make the country a much nicer place. However, it isn't about banning the speech. It's about getting people to stop hating each other. Hate speech is just an expression of hatred. And besides, that would violate freedom of speech (no matter how crude one's statements may be.)

If you wanted people to stop being obnoxious and shut off their cell phones in a restaurant, theater, etc., you have to get them to do so themselves, not force their cellphones off.

Slippery slope (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23989549)

"At what point does centralizing and/or delegating operational authority over so much of our lives become a dangerous practice of its own?"
Already at day 1, as soon as the slippery slope is hit ... From that point onwards, the battle between the controllers of the kill switches, and everybody who wants to gain control of them starts. Of course the normal user is left back in the middle.

Re:Slippery slope (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23989681)

A well-known security expert (some say it was Bruce Schneier) once gave a public lecture on kill switches.
He described how the kill switch is triggered by the authorities, and how the kill switch, in turn, is a component in a vast collection of kill switches called our formerly free culture.
At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The kill switch is really a flat-out plate of poo supported on the back of a tortoise-like electorate."
The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What are the tortoise standing on?"
"You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"
She then showed the security expert the kill switch controlling his pacemaker, and he turned a whiter shade of pale.


(a shameless mooching from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtles_all_the_way_down [wikipedia.org] )

Re:Slippery slope (1)

aussie_a (778472) | about 6 years ago | (#23989961)

You certainly don't want to be the poo when the tortoise-like electorate decide to mate.

Re:Slippery slope (5, Insightful)

wkk2 (808881) | about 6 years ago | (#23989943)

Beyond the security risk, the kill feature will be abused. The first time there is a big snowstorm some official will declare the roads are closed and order the kill switch. If you need to go to the hospital call an ambulance. Oh, sorry we stopped them too. Oh, your jury summons was lost in the mail. Issue a warrant and disable all of your cars. Your taxes are over due or your child support is late and you can't get to work. The abuse will be endless.

Re:Slippery slope (1)

harry666t (1062422) | about 6 years ago | (#23990403)

Yeah. Take the freedom away one bit at a time and almost nobody will notice, until it's too late. Remember the "09 f9..." incident last year? It's only outbreaks like that that are our chance. We need the "authorities" to make another such mistake.

((This message is encrypted with double-ROT13 to ensure security and privacy.))

OnStar (no thanks) (4, Interesting)

Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) | about 6 years ago | (#23989551)

When I bought a GM vehicle for my wife a couple years ago, the FIRST order of business was to disconnect the antenna to the OnStar box. I don't need big brother being privy to conversations in the car, or tracking my movements. I'm normally not a tin foil fedora kind of guy, but there has already been evidence of police improperly using OnStar to bug vehicles.

block on star (2, Interesting)

p51d007 (656414) | about 6 years ago | (#23989727)

Heck, like you said, just unplug the damn thing. Or if you are paranoid, get a ball of tin foil and cover up the antenna. I love how people give up their freedoms for "safety". Onstar says we can call the police in the event your air bags are deployed. No kidding, gee, golly wow. You and the 3,452 people that see your wreck are going to whip out their cell phones and call the police. Onstar, just getting people use to the idea that big brother is listening. How long until insurance companies get to peak into onstar?

Re:block on star (4, Informative)

liquidpele (663430) | about 6 years ago | (#23989775)

OneStar does have 3 good features:
1) Unlock your car for you if you're stupid and locked yourself out
2) Find the car if it's stolen and the thief is too stupid to unplug the onstar system.
3) In the event you have a serious accident and are unconscious or hurt in the middle of nowhere, they can still contact help for you (unlikely?)

For everything else, it's a glorified cell phone.

Re:block on star (3, Interesting)

syzler (748241) | about 6 years ago | (#23990107)

3) In the event you have a serious accident and are unconscious or hurt in the middle of nowhere, they can still contact help for you (unlikely?)

Very likely for those of us that live:

  • In Alaska
  • In the Yukon
  • In rural Nevada
  • In rural Michigan
  • and in many non-urban areas

Not every one lives in a city and not every road is in a heavily traveled suburban area. Not convinced, count the number of cars that pass by you during a January night on Alaska-1 (one of the busiest Alaskan highways) near Denali. I bet you will only need one hand.

Re:block on star (4, Funny)

Fishead (658061) | about 6 years ago | (#23990275)

My in-laws live on a rural mountain road with a cell phone tower just across the river. A while back, someone with an Onstar equipped vehicle drove off the road, and down a bank. The brush closed behind them, and their vehicle didn't make any noticeable marks on the side of the road. The ONLY reason the authorities found them was because Onstar told them exactly where to find their car.

The fact that they were drunk, and trying to avoid the authorities is another matter.

Re:OnStar (no thanks) (1)

b4upoo (166390) | about 6 years ago | (#23990543)

The catch is that your life might be better because the cops spied as you report. If the cops prevent a meth lab from operating next to my home my health and safety increase accordingly. Or perhaps they prevent a bank robbery that I might have stumbled into. Frankly my own life was protected by such an incident years ago. It seems that certain bad guys had a habit of using a certain table at a diner when planing their crimes. The cops had a bug hidden in one of those little juke boxes that are in every booth in the diner. They planed to rob the theater that I ran at the time. When they got out of their car, while heavily armed, in my theater parking lot the cops suddenly swarmed all over them. They went to prison and I was not robbed, beaten or killed. That was way back in 1970. I imagine they use a lot more bugs these days.

I remember the good ol' days... (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 6 years ago | (#23990673)

Where you just pulled the fuses on the traction control, "door bongs," disabled the rev limiter and top speed limiter, and maybe the ABS and EBD if you like it rough. Nowadays you have all these newfangled tracking (OnStar, insurace rate-adjusting OBDII plugins) and advanced nannying systems (Nissan R35 GTR).

Ah, to get back to the good ol' days...

Re:OnStar (no thanks) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23990689)

Vote with your dollars! Something like the following might help reinforce the point:

Dear GM,

I really wanted to purchase your product, but that OnStar was a deal breaker for me. Instead I purchased a vehicle from one of your competitors which does not track my movements or invade my privacy. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Joe Consumer

Re:OnStar (no thanks) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23990729)

There actually is an "OnStar delete" option, but it is only available for fleet buyers. There are many reasons I wouldn't buy a GM vehicle, but lack of privacy in the unlikely even that I might someday crash in a deserted part of the Mojave desert is the icing on the cake.

What About the Benefits?? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23989563)

I like how this article bring out all the negatives, but never the positives. I can see many useful benefits in having this functionality.

First, if evildoers try to do harm with these devices, it can be stopped before damage is done. Second, one great feature of onstar is the ability to unlock your car if you lock yourself out for some reason. Third, most people like having this override ability.

Re:What About the Benefits?? (5, Funny)

clang_jangle (975789) | about 6 years ago | (#23989653)

So then, your two reasons for thinking this is a good thing pretty much boil down to "fear of terrorism" and "people are stupid and need to be protected from themselves".

Wow. You got me there!

Re:What About the Benefits?? (3, Insightful)

kdemetter (965669) | about 6 years ago | (#23989815)

So then, your two reasons for thinking this is a good thing pretty much boil down to "fear of terrorism" and "people are stupid and need to be protected from themselves".

Off course that's the reason. Why else would people give up their hard earned freedom ?

Re:What About the Benefits?? (4, Insightful)

moteyalpha (1228680) | about 6 years ago | (#23989667)

I think the lesson of the privacy of phone conversations is an example of what will happen. They will use the information first secretly and later pass a law to hold themselves harmless for doing so. It is strictly an issue of who controls life, me or someone I don't know. I trust my own motives. I would rather not spend 2 years in court trying to explain how someone stole my identity.

It doesn't just apply to legislation (5, Insightful)

Chmcginn (201645) | about 6 years ago | (#23989735)

You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered. -LBJ

The same sentiment can be applied to new technologies.

Re:What About the Benefits?? (5, Insightful)

dosun88888 (265953) | about 6 years ago | (#23989929)

I like how this article bring out all the negatives, but never the positives.

You have an excellent point here, and I'd like to start listing positives first, and then negatives from now on. Sometimes it's not very clear to me how great things are if looked at in this fairer light.

Positives:

1. You lose a little bit of weight.
2. The voices stop.
3. You don't have to worry about paying off those credit cards anymore.
4. It will definitely "show her"

Negatives:

1. You're dead.

Act in question:

Blowing the back of your head out with a shotgun. ...

The only negative that needs to be pointed out is that we will completely lose our freedom. But see, people are too dumb to figure out how that happens and give responses like "oh you're overreacting, it'll never come to that!" Then people with a little more foresight start to panic, since they realize that these morons who think the world will be so great with the new kill switches are the majority and will vote this sort of thing in.

That's when we start with the examples, and when it all falls apart. Giving examples is the worst thing you can ever do when the target is too stupid to understand a concept, since then they forget that they're failing to comprehend a concept, and they instead think that you're trying to barrage them with bullshit. That's when you lose time and again, and in enough time society becomes completely unbearable.

Then again, there really are people out there that like the TSA because they feel safer with minimum wage employees bossing them around, confiscating their water, and smugly apprehending their deodorant.

The moral of the story - my argument sucks because it's just a bunch of examples. Feel free to disregard it.

Re:What About the Benefits?? (1)

tylernt (581794) | about 6 years ago | (#23990365)

Yes, overrides are a good idea, and I think Khan would agree with you:

"Sir, our shields are dropping!"
"Raise them!"
"I can't!"
"The override... where's the override?!"

*explosions*

Re:What About the Benefits?? (3, Insightful)

big_paul76 (1123489) | about 6 years ago | (#23990485)

Look, even if you live in Israel, you're still 10X more likely to die in a car accident than as a result of an act of terrorism. So I'm not sure 'fear of terrorism' is a valid reason for doing, um, anything different.

Let's keep risks in perspective, ok?

One small worry- (5, Funny)

ohgood (1144715) | about 6 years ago | (#23989565)

"Sir, I believe you just dropped 29 planes from the sky instead of hitting the EasyButton for more toner. How do you want me to handle this with the press ?"

New host of problems? (3, Insightful)

neapolitan (1100101) | about 6 years ago | (#23989571)

As was discussed in the airplane kill switch thread, this gives new difficulties. A terrorist now just has to threaten to block communication from the plane and make it fly in a weird pattern, and then the pentagon will kill the 200+ passengers on board with an F-16 rather than the terrorists.

Regarding the Onstar system, this is known about by their company, and they are being quite responsible IMHO -- the switch has many, many security levels to be activated, and gradually starves the engine of fuel so that one would coast to a stop rather than suddenly switching off. Of course, this is a bigger problem for an airplane.

Re:New host of problems? (4, Insightful)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | about 6 years ago | (#23989613)

Responsible? Giving the Authorities control of any kind over my vehicle is not responsible. Allowing the feds to watch where I go is not being responsible. If Onstar were taking responsibility, they would tell the feds where to put their court orders or better yet never have installed that capability in the first place.

Re:New host of problems? (3, Insightful)

neapolitan (1100101) | about 6 years ago | (#23990539)

Well, that's more than a little simplistic and straw... The biggest application that is advertised is the safe termination of high speed chases (or high-speed joyriding, as many police departments are now thankfully stopping ground chases in favor of air or other pursuit). Currently cops will use things like PIT

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PIT_maneuver [wikipedia.org]

to spin somebody out, but a killswitch is obviously preferable to this. I don't look at this in terms of property recovery; if somebody steals my car and goes high speed joyriding, I pretty much don't want it back. The killswitch is irrelevent to me IMHO.

Chest-thumping about 'nobody controls MY car but ME' is a bit silly; authorities already have control over how fast I go in my car, where I can go, I have to have registration, insurance, and cops can pull me over at a whim and detain me. I find these more concerning than a theoretical remote disactivation that can potentially save a lot lives.

Honestly, your car is a lot more likely to break down on the highway due to mechanical problems than have a misfire of this; and if it was activated without a warrant / inappropriately, you could sue the party that made the bad decision. I would rather have that than a confused officer ram me off the road.

Re:New host of problems? (1)

b4upoo (166390) | about 6 years ago | (#23990609)

In South Florida police chasing cars is rampant.There is a very real public hazard and lives and property are lost. Some sort of rocket mounted in the nose of squad cars is about the only way other than a kill switch that would stop this nonsense. What's worse is that a few of the people involved in creating high speed pursuits are fairly normal and not criminals at all. They just get a mood and decide to run through three counties at well over 100 mph until their car gives out. I am in favor of using lethal force to stop these people.

Re:New host of problems? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23989625)

Troll. This is MS BS here.

First of all, you can't even drop the radio coms from a plane, or to it for that matter.

MS BS.

Why the fuck would you have security on a kill switch? With a comp, why not just turn it off, nonetheless put a kill switch on it.

Either that, or Google might turn it off for you.

- The Fidelis -

Re:New host of problems? (1)

John Hasler (414242) | about 6 years ago | (#23990295)

And as was discussed in the original "airplane kill switch" thread, the Pentagon wasn't asking for a "kill switch". They wanted a "non-lethal weapon" for stopping airplanes: a much more difficult problem.

kill switches for airplanes (5, Insightful)

Swampash (1131503) | about 6 years ago | (#23989599)

Awesome, now terrorists won't need to hijack airplanes. All they have to do is hijack the means of controlling the killswitches.

Re:kill switches for airplanes (0)

postbigbang (761081) | about 6 years ago | (#23989749)

Mod parent up. Any kill switch is vulnerable. The temptation would be huge, if only to find the ones connected to various politicians and CEOs, their spouses, and so on. What, that movie star won't slow down for the papparazzi? Find her kill switch. Ah, now there, that's the shot!

Mobiles and notebooks I can see. Everything else is probably suspect. And please, let's find the one for Paris Hilton's cell phone.

Doesn't the title say it all? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23989603)

This will kill the future.

Don't forget personal cars and trucks (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about 6 years ago | (#23989611)

Cops want that today as well.

The future is bright for DIY projects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23989637)

And self sufficient individuals!

Re:The future is bright for DIY projects (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23989699)

Citizen X, our routine check procedure found that you have illegaly disabled the remote control meant to protect you and other fine citizens of our state from yourself. Will you please help yourself into this correction center?

In Flight (2, Interesting)

FurtiveGlancer (1274746) | about 6 years ago | (#23989643)

I would much rather have the engines remotely shut down or idled on a plane in flight, offering at least a chance at an emergency landing, than to have the plane summarily blown out of the sky. Most likely the "kill switch" would be engaged only so long as the craft remains on a threatening course. It would also be useful in preventing unauthorized/uncontrolled take-offs.

Lo-jack seems to have been fairly effective in stopping auto thieves. I don't really see an "After the Sunset" [imdb.com] remotely hacked limousine scenario developing in real life.

Re:In Flight (1, Interesting)

vertinox (846076) | about 6 years ago | (#23989695)

I would much rather have the engines remotely shut down or idled on a plane in flight, offering at least a chance at an emergency landing, than to have the plane summarily blown out of the sky.

I don't know that much about aerodynamics, but I suspect at 30,000FT that might result in an uncontrolled decent.

It would be more logical to just force the plane into autopilot and bring her in on her own power to the nearest secure location. As it passenger planes don't really "need" a pilot these days and most pilots just are there in case something went wrong and to of course set the autopilot.

It will glide (3, Informative)

yabos (719499) | about 6 years ago | (#23989801)

As long as the pilot doesn't nose down, the plane can glide to the ground. That is assuming the controls are still working. The only reason you need the engines is to remain at an altitude or climb. The plane can act as a glider for as long as it has enough forward air speed to produce the lift required.

Re:In Flight (4, Informative)

BarefootClown (267581) | about 6 years ago | (#23989879)

I don't know that much about aerodynamics, but I suspect at 30,000FT that might result in an uncontrolled decent.

Clearly, you don't. An airplane will glide just fine, thank you. Here's an example of an A330 losing all power and covering 100 km in 19 minutes, to a successful dead-stick landing: http://www.iasa.com.au/folders/Safety_Issues/others/azoresdeadstick.html [iasa.com.au]

This sort of training is among the most basic of fundamentals, and taught to every pilot before he first solos.

Re:In Flight (2, Interesting)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 6 years ago | (#23989881)

I would much rather have the engines remotely shut down or idled on a plane in flight, offering at least a chance at an emergency landing, than to have the plane summarily blown out of the sky.

I don't know that much about aerodynamics, but I suspect at 30,000FT that might result in an uncontrolled decent.

I suggest you check out the stories of the 'Gimli Glider' [wikipedia.org] and Air Transat Flight 236 [wikipedia.org] - both well documented cases of aircraft losing all engines at or near cruise height, and resulting in a successful landing of the aircraft.

It would be more logical to just force the plane into autopilot and bring her in on her own power to the nearest secure location. As it passenger planes don't really "need" a pilot these days and most pilots just are there in case something went wrong and to of course set the autopilot.

No, a pilot has to be in control to successfully intercept the ILS signal, the autopilot currently cannot do that on its own - thus there is no way to bring an aircraft down from cruise to land without help from the flight deck.

Re:In Flight (4, Informative)

icebrain (944107) | about 6 years ago | (#23989949)

I don't know that much about aerodynamics, but I suspect at 30,000FT that might result in an uncontrolled decent.

That happens every day, but there's nothing "uncontrolled" about it. A standard descent from cruise in an airliner involves pulling the throttles to idle and letting the aircraft come down. Ideally (for greatest efficiency), the engines would stay at idle until you're lining up on final and the gear/flaps come out. Then you have to spool them back up to hold the proper airspeed and glidepath. Up till recently, however, the ATC system and the limitations of aircraft autopilots couldn't handle this, and there would be periods where you level off for a bit, then "step" down again, and so on. But FedEx, UPS, and others are now working on implementing this in the real world. Look up Continuous Descent Arrival.

As a pilot, I do not trust automated systems as far as I can throw them. Granted, I only fly small airplanes that don't have fancy autopilots and flight management systems... but I've also worked avionics development and test for airplanes that do (my day job is engineering). Autopilots do not replace thinking. They take some of the load off the pilots' hands so they can concentrate on other, more complicated things, such as planning a new course around thunderstorms or handling ATC and other traffic. There is no AI component to autopilots, they simply follow a programmed course.

Re:In Flight (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23990679)

That's interesting. As an engineer, I don't trust non-automated systems as far as I can throw them. We needed pilots in the past, but the aircraft controllability problem is much more tractable than the automobile one, especially in commercial vehicles which nearly have enough void space to house *all* of the processing power needed to run an entire ATC for a medium sized airport.

And as a guy who went to school with a lot of pilots, I trust them even less...

Sioux City was an exceptional case, not the rule.

Commercial flight only (1)

yabos (719499) | about 6 years ago | (#23989793)

I don't necessarily object to having an override in a commercial jet, but if I have my own plane they better not be trying to force me to install some damn device that lets them control it. MY plane, MY property, keep your hands off.

Re:In Flight (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23990019)

I would much rather have the engines remotely shut down or idled on a plane in flight, offering at least a chance at an emergency landing, than to have the plane summarily blown out of the sky.

And tasers would only be used in cases where the police would have shot you otherwise, right?

Re:In Flight (1)

b4upoo (166390) | about 6 years ago | (#23990663)

In my state if you have a clean record you need to get caught about five times stealing cars before you see any prison time at all. And if you do go to prison it won't usually be for very long. The short story is that getting caught does not stop people from stealing cars. Frankly we need a twenty year, absolute sentence for the first instance of car theft. At least during that twenty years we can be fairly certain they won't be stealing cars.

Fine, as long as I don't OWN anything (5, Insightful)

gelfling (6534) | about 6 years ago | (#23989683)

This has the effect of turning us all into renters. Which is fine, I don't want the title, I don't want to carry insurance, I don't want to maintain the vehicle and so on. As long as I don't have the rights of ownership, I don't want to pay for ownership. And when it's time to get rid of said asset just bring it back to the dealer and let them deal with it. I am fine with being treated like a criminal under those conditions.

Re:Fine, as long as I don't OWN anything (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23989811)

Agree wholeheartedly.

I don't mind DRM as much in the context of the Netflix DVD model. I just don't have the emotional involvement in something that gets returned the day after I watch it. Ownership demands control. Renting permits a carefree attitude.

I'd buy a Kindle in a second if it could tap into the local library system. I don't want to own the books. I just want to read them and move on.

Re:Fine, as long as I don't OWN anything (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23989817)

This economic model we are moving into reminds me a hell of a lot of Condos, where oftentimes you are really just paying a large some of money up front to pay a discounted rent on an apartment.

I'm not (1, Insightful)

denzacar (181829) | about 6 years ago | (#23990501)

I am fine with being treated like a criminal under those conditions.

I'm not.

If I about to pay the full price for something and then not own it - FUCK THAT!
If I'm about to become the owner of nothing and still end up paying for stuff - I'd rather have communism.

At least that way we will all be able to afford the same car, clothes, food and etc.
And when we don't - it will be appointed to us by the government when it decides that we need it.

You know... (5, Funny)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | about 6 years ago | (#23989703)

sometimes, I wish my wife had a kill switch. Nag, nag, nag.

Re:You know... (1)

aussie_a (778472) | about 6 years ago | (#23990013)

She does [wordpress.com]

Re:You know... (4, Funny)

iknowcss (937215) | about 6 years ago | (#23990759)

Hans? Is that you?

Kill switches for kill switch systems (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23989725)

If I own it, I'm allowed to modify it. Kill switches don't do anything if they're not connected anymore.

Re:Kill switches for kill switch systems (4, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | about 6 years ago | (#23989963)

If I own it, I'm allowed to modify it.

      Not anymore, especially if the code/design of the "kill switch" is protected under copyright law. DMCA makes you a criminal if you tamper with it.

s/Freedom/Security/g (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 6 years ago | (#23989739)

Once again, Soccer Mommy and her credit-fueled purchasing power wins the day.

A simple solution (4, Interesting)

MikeRT (947531) | about 6 years ago | (#23989753)

The first time someone launches a mass shutdown [codemonkeyramblings.com] order in a metropolitan area during rush hour, will be all it takes to turn the public wildly against this.

Re:A simple solution (1)

jefu (53450) | about 6 years ago | (#23989885)

Similarly for the airplane switch if it puts the plane into some kind of automatic mode that directs it to land at one of some list of approved airports. Do that to a couple dozen planes at once and see if their unmanned landing system can cope with lots of congestion both in the airspace around the airport and with the planes on the ground.

Re:A simple solution (5, Insightful)

MisterSquirrel (1023517) | about 6 years ago | (#23990393)

Except by that time, the infrastructure will be in place, and it will be too late.

The kill switch devices will have remotely reprogrammable logic, and once in place, they will not merely throw up their hands and give up the first time the system is defeated...they will just harden it until it is very difficult to subvert.

And subverting it will become a felony, as will disabling the device on your own car, or cell phone, or your camera (so it can't take pictures in "locker rooms and museums"... wtf?).

This is more than a slippery slope...this is teetering on the abyss of Orwell's wildest nightmare.

New Tag (1)

WilyCoder (736280) | about 6 years ago | (#23989767)

As I read stories like this one, I have found myself saying out loud "we are so fucked".

So thats how I will tag these stories from now on "wearesofucked"

At what point.. (2, Funny)

2phar (137027) | about 6 years ago | (#23989789)

At what point does centralizing and/or delegating operational authority over so much of our lives become a dangerous practice of its own?

When it can kill your conne%?DE [theregister.co.uk]
NO CARRIER

Simple questions, simple answers (5, Interesting)

Dachannien (617929) | about 6 years ago | (#23989827)

  • Who has the authority to limit functionality of my devices, and how do they get that authority? In this order: the Content Cabal, Russian hackers, and federal law enforcement. The Content Cabal gets the authority because they pay Congress and/or the FCC for it, the Russian hackers get that authority because our own security-fu is weak, and law enforcement gets it because terrorists scare the shit out of us.
  • What prevents them from abusing that power? Content Cabal: Nothing (once their power is ensconced in law, it's too late); Russian hackers: Nothing (the teeming masses of neophyte device users will never learn to make themselves secure); and Law Enforcement: Nothing (you can't complain about what you don't know about).
  • Do I get the ability to override their limitations? In what circumstances, and how? I want some of what you're smoking. But seriously, the only guaranteed way to override these limitations is to use devices that are not equipped with such "functionality". (In the case of the Content Cabal and law enforcement, this may eventually not be legally possible.)
  • Can they override my override? As with any form of DRM, it will be a war of escalation between those who want control over their own devices and those who have a vested interest in wresting that control away from you. Any security you manage to get for yourself will eventually become obsolete, either because (a) the device itself reaches obsolescence, through format changes, licensing, insufficient processing power, or plain old wear and tear, or (b) the security measures you obtain are eventually counteracted through countersecurity measures. Neither side will win, of course, which is why the Content Cabal and law enforcement will seek criminal penalties against those who try to maintain control over their own devices.

Did the socialists win the cold war? (5, Insightful)

paratiritis (1282164) | about 6 years ago | (#23989847)

What happened to owning your own property? Why should central authority have the abiity to override everything?

In any case without legislation making this mandatory the solution is very simple: Use only stuff that is built on open architectures, using only open source SW. Mod anything that limits your freedom.

Re:Did the socialists win the cold war? (4, Insightful)

Rob the Bold (788862) | about 6 years ago | (#23990021)

What happened to owning your own property? Why should central authority have the abiity to override everything?

Sounds like maybe Socialism is indistinguishable from Capitalism for an sufficiently non-capitalized individual.

It's authoritarianism you need to worry about (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23990421)

Sounds like maybe Socialism is indistinguishable from Capitalism for an sufficiently non-capitalized individual.

When you have an unaccountable central government with nearly omnipotent control over those under their authority, what you have can't be described with only the words 'socialism' or 'capitalism'. What you have in such a case is authoritarianism. It's authoritarian governments that we need to worry about - not necessarily socialist or capitalist ones. Authoritarian socialism (communism) has proven to be every bit as dangerous to its citizens as authoritarian capitalism (fascism). People need to be less concerned with the socialism/capitalism axis and more concerned with the libertarian/authoritarian axis because that's the one that really counts if you're worried about monster police states.

Re:Did the socialists win the cold war? (1)

Cigarra (652458) | about 6 years ago | (#23990671)

The struggle has never been so much between socialists and capitalists, but between control and liberty.

Re:Did the socialists win the cold war? (1)

b4upoo (166390) | about 6 years ago | (#23990727)

Did you make note of the red herring the supreme court just issued. Our constitution never mentions the right to own fire arms at all. What it covers is the right to bear (carry) arms.
        Issues are not directly confronted these days. And as far as ownership is concerned if a bank pays for your car and you are making payments the fact is that that bank owns the car. What you get is the illusion of owning a new car.

Bladerunner, man (2, Insightful)

smchris (464899) | about 6 years ago | (#23989861)

At what point does centralizing and/or delegating operational authority over so much of our lives become a dangerous practice of its own?"

When they put kill switches in _us_?

Can these be installed in politicians? (1)

moxley (895517) | about 6 years ago | (#23989895)

Can these be installed in politicians?

I'm telling MIT to get right on this.

Re:Can these be installed in politicians? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23990793)

The Supreme Court already ruled that we have a right to own such kill switches. You point them at the politician and pull the trigger.

Think of it as a sudden way to vote them out of office.

Stock up on the firearms (4, Insightful)

csoto (220540) | about 6 years ago | (#23989953)

There's one "kill switch" they'll have to pry from my cold, dead hands.

Yeah right.... (2, Insightful)

snaildarter (1143695) | about 6 years ago | (#23990027)

Until they put a kill switch on your firearm.

Re:Yeah right.... (1)

csoto (220540) | about 6 years ago | (#23990241)

Hence, the admonition to "stock up" while they still don't.

The NRA has the power to stop that. (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 6 years ago | (#23990465)

The NRA has the power to stop that.

Re:Stock up on the firearms (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23990555)

Didn't you play Guns of the Patriots? All guns will be chipped and all non-chipped guns will be confiscated and destroyed.

We just need some watchers to watch the watchers. (4, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | about 6 years ago | (#23989979)

> At what point does centralizing and/or delegating operational authority over so much of
> our lives become a dangerous practice of its own?

At the very beginning.

Re:We just need some watchers to watch the watcher (1)

sconeu (64226) | about 6 years ago | (#23990227)

Mod parent up.

California wanted kill switch in 1990s (1)

Eric Elliott (736554) | about 6 years ago | (#23990039)

Why worry about your car while you carry a cellphone? California designed OBD2 car controllers to have antennas and report VIN, speed, overdue maintenance & more. Feds clipped the antenna & mandated OBD2 in 50 states in 1996(?). Tinfoil may work but try these: http://www.megasquirt.info/ [megasquirt.info] http://www.diyefi.org/ [diyefi.org] http://www.msefi.com/index.php [msefi.com] You can also buy commercial replacements for you drivetrain controller. Before you talk about it, remove your cellphone battery.

"Digital Manners Policies" needs to have a 911 law (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 6 years ago | (#23990059)

"Digital Manners Policies" needs to have a 911 law that forces a override just like how you can dial even if you don't have a sim card in the phone.

Obligatory Deus Ex reference (1)

Deuxsonic (828456) | about 6 years ago | (#23990081)

JC Denton: "Take your best shot flatlander woman."
Anna Navarre: "How did you know...?"
*explosion*


JC Denton: "I know your UNATCO killphrase: laputan machine."
Gunther Hermann: "I - am not- a machi- ..."
JC Denton: Sticks-and-stones
*explosion*

The Ballot Box (1)

Alain Williams (2972) | about 6 years ago | (#23990157)

This is the one kill switch that I want to retain -- the ability to vote out politicians who think that they are our masters rather than our servants.

Re:The Ballot Box (1)

John Hasler (414242) | about 6 years ago | (#23990343)

Who counts the votes? Who decides who gets on the ballot?

Does This Remind Anyone Else? (4, Funny)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | about 6 years ago | (#23990177)

Three killswitches for the airplanes under the sky,
Seven for the iPhones in the lesser phones,
Nine for OnStar drivers doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of California where the Shadows lie.
One Killswitch to rule them all, One Killswitch to find them,
One Killswitch to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

Re:Does This Remind Anyone Else? (1)

Sponge Bath (413667) | about 6 years ago | (#23990291)

Sung to the tune of "Turkey in the Hay"

Re:Does This Remind Anyone Else? (1)

AB3A (192265) | about 6 years ago | (#23990811)

I wish I had mod points, I wish I had mod points, I wish I had mod points...

by the numbers (4, Interesting)

v1 (525388) | about 6 years ago | (#23990199)

Who has the authority to limit functionality of my devices, and how do they get that authority?

The laws will be written in a way that appears to limit their application, but the reality will be that loopholes will be woven into the rules, or that people like the CIA just plain don't care about laws and will do whatever they please. There will be no accountability. If someone does get their balls in a vice someone higher up will swoop in and "grant them immunity". (where have we heard that recently?)

What prevents them from abusing that power?

Given the above legal scene, nothing. That which can be abused, will be abused. We've been down that road so many times my shoes wore out. We're always promised that it's ok to make the laws a little overly broad just to "make sure we get them all", and then as a result the laws are always abused. It's not can be, it's not might be, it's will be. "Can be abused" always ends up "was abused". Unless you write the law without the wiggle room, it will be abused, guaranteed. End of story.

History tends to show that loopholes that crop up in new laws were introduced by those who made the law, for those that made the law. Things like congress passing telemarketing rules, that they are conveniently exempt from. (where was the justification? they didn't even bother trying to justify it) People that are already in a position of power just assume the laws don't (or shouldn't) apply to them. Nixon was a hilarious example. He was totally convinced it was OK for the president to ignore the laws. He just didn't get around to making himself legally exempt from them in time. Modern equivalents exist, they just learned from his experience and make sure they have an "out" and then proceed in the same manner.

Do I get the ability to override their limitations? In what circumstances, and how?

Just like CSS, you can override their limits, but then they'll make it illegal to do so.

Can they override my override?

No (what they tell you) Yes. (the actual practice)

We recently discussed the Pentagon's interest in kill switches for airplanes. At what point does centralizing and/or delegating operational authority over so much of our lives become a dangerous practice of its own?

Take a look where we are now. Wouldn't you say we passed that point looong ago?

Case of the entrapment car and the kill switch (3, Interesting)

throatmonster (147275) | about 6 years ago | (#23990447)

Program was suspended in early June in Dallas after the bait (I'll call it entrapment) car struck someone before they disabled the car. Months earlier, I watched a youtube vid of a "successful" bait car incident. They let this guy steal the car and drive away, then started chasing him. It turns out the whole time they could have remotely locked the doors and killed the engine. But they had their fun chasing this guy around for a while, and even shooting at him, before disabling the vehicle. When I saw that earlier video, I knew someone would get hurt eventually. That's definitely abuse: they could have disabled the car and locked the guy in for apprehension before he even left the parking lot. Worst outcome? Maybe a little fender bender. Instead, they had all sorts of fun with high speed chases, shooting at the guy, etc. before they bothered to use it. And some old lady got killed because the cops needed their fun with a rigged high-speed chase. Disgusting.

Ask a lawyer (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | about 6 years ago | (#23990481)

I just had an argument^^^^^^^^discussion with a lawyer about this. Apparently the legal position is that the legal system is perfect and so we don't have anything to worry about. Unless, of course, we are not lawyers.

This could be an interesting science fiction story (1)

Tikkun (992269) | about 6 years ago | (#23990579)

Brilliant hacker starts playing with ways of taking over consumer electronics remotely, hacker sees some hoodlum attacking a defenseless person, hacker sets the attackers ipod to yani at 140db, shenanigans ensue and before you know it you have the feds trying to take down a "terrorist" because they're a threat to their ability to control the people.

Movie Theater Soluion (1)

mgh02114 (655185) | about 6 years ago | (#23990647)

I have never understood the angst about movie theaters. The solution seems obvious to me. The theater should have a device that makes every phone in the room ring. You put up the notice on the screen that says "please silence your cell phone" and then say "3 ... 2 ... 1 ... " and make all the phones ring. It embarrasses the people who forgot to silence their phone, and an usher can kick non-compliant people out before the movie ever starts. Yes there is a way to get around the system (turn your phone back on whe the movie starts) but there will always be a way to hack the system.

MacDonalds shouldn't be able to ring my phone when I walk past them on the street, but I don't have a problem with a movie theater. I have already voluntarily consented to having them play loud music and sound into my ear. I am carrying a device that I have already consented to allow ANYONE to make ring, as long as they know my number.

My main concern is that the device shouldn't tell the movie theater who I am or what my cell phone number is. And, the device should be required to have a valid registered caller ID, so if someone does it to me when I didn't consent, it is trivial for me to call the cops and report them.

needs a new name: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23990719)

kill'em switches

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