28 Jan 2013
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Revolutionists or Renegades? Why last week in IT was Mega weird

By Alistair Ross

Even for the totally non geek out there, one had to admit that last week was one of the strangest, surreal moments in recent ICT related news. The fact that some of it happened in our own back yard here in little New Zealand was enough to make people take notice at least in NZ. The news was truly worldwide as Kim Dotcom (aka Kim Schmitz) launched his new Mega.co.nz website on the same date to the year that the FBI shuttered his previous venture, MegaUpload. See the below video for the launch coverage, where Kim Dotcom spoofed the coup that occurred a year ago, this time in front of an audience of media and investors. He stated to a highly enthusiastic sounding audience that the governments and corporations who continued to support copyright legislation "will be left on the side of the road of history". Sitting on a large stage with a heading above him simply saying 'MEGA', Mr Dotcom almost looked and sounded almost dictatorial in his evidently still-bitter get back at the FBI and other such authorities.

Whatever your thoughts of Kim Dotcom and his business (mis)adventures, not many will argue in a fundamental human right to personal privacy.  His charismatic and 'underdog' self marketing approach make him approachable to millions of his potential audience, and by this virtue alone, it was not surprising to see many people throw caution to the wind and sign up to the file sharing/privacy service on the first day. Statistics are "not clear" from Mega yet, however Dotcom has stated that over 500,000 users subscribed to Mega within the first 14 hours of service (Update: after 7 days, Kim Dotcom says Mega now has 'millions' of users with tens of millions of files uploaded, only "50 takedown notices received"). Also below is a video walkthrough of the mega.co.nz site and how it can be used for legitimate, private file storage, and whilst Kim Dotcom assures us all that the site is 100% legal, there is an element of trust that many more people will have to ponder over before subscribing to the generous 50GB free storage and low-cost, high storage plans that significantly beat rivals Dropbox and Google Drive at present. Early users of the service also state that it is significantly faster to upload to than the former services. Looking at the below walkthrough video, you can also see that privacy is indeed a major point throughout the usage of the entire service.

A question on the tips of many would-be investors and paid-users at this time though must be: 'If Kim Dotcom goes to jail in his extradition proceedings, then who and how will Mega continue to be funded, and if it looses funding in this important early phase, what happens to my files if it goes offline?'. Time will tell.

Above video: Walkthrough of first experience with mega.co.nz - bugs and all.

Also in news this week, related to all things copyright and privacy, the suicide of the revered author of the RSS 1.0 (news standard protocol) and co-creator of Reddit, Aaron Swartz has apparently broken the camels back, or the so called 'silence' from the hacktivist group Anonymous. Mashable reported yesterday that the Anonymous group have declared war on the government(s?) and demanding that there be a return to "proportionality of sentencing with respect to actual harm caused" (referring to the fact that Aaron Swartz had been indicted by the US Government on charges of felony hacking, related to the alleged theft of documentation from the educational document database JSTOR which he attempted to turn over to the public for free. He was facing jail time for the crime). In addition to proportionality of sentencing, Anonymous also requested reform of poorly written legislation, a return to mandatory minimum sentencing as well as a host of other demands in a 9:25 video rant which was placed on the web site of the USSC (the US federal agency involved with establishing sentencing policies) along with a screed of green on black text, containing a bunch of files that are being shared amongst what would appear (extrapolated from the video) to be a massive worldwide botnet of security-compromised computers which have parts of these files, which Anonymous call part of their 'Warheads'.

It would appear that they have created 'Operation Last Resort' to drop payloads of data leaks (presumably targeting US Government officials with potentially exploitable intel). The payloads sound like they will only make sense to those 'in the know' (such as said Government officials) and so that the Government will know that the Anonymous threat is real, and their hope being that they grant Anonymous' wish to have the law changed. They state 'It is our hope that this warhead will never be detonated'. Presumably this means that 'detonation' is to release all of the damaging intel into the wild wholesale.

Well, the clock started ticking on Sunday. It's Monday now, and apart from the USSC.gov website still being down, presumably due to sustained DDos attacks, further security breaches or 'payload deployment' is not widely understood or active.

In summary, it appears there is a lot of highly motivated, volatile personalities out there, some preferring to remain (ahem) anonymous, some as obvious as our famous extrovert, Kim Dotcom. Either way, is this a war on anti-privacy, or just a flash in the pan? Your comments please!

Anonymous Video first posted on compromised USSC.gov website.

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