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Re: [libreplanet-discuss] SaaSS

From: Mike Gerwitz
Subject: Re: [libreplanet-discuss] SaaSS
Date: Sat, 24 Oct 2015 15:44:53 -0400
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/25.0.50 (gnu/linux)

On Sat, Oct 24, 2015 at 21:05:20 +0200, Alexander Berntsen wrote:
> For what it's worth I find your argument unconvincing anyway, as you
> have the chicken and egg problem with compilers, and almost everyone
> is using non-free non-documented hardware. And even free hardware with
> free documentation could trick you. Unless you make literally
> everything yourself, and interface with nothing, you may be tricked by
> your computer.

Those are important issues, but require their own discussions, and are
not important for this discussion.  SaaSS is something that is practical
to avoid, here and now.  SaaSS does not need to trick the user to be
bad---we know it's bad.  I'm not being tricked into thinking otherwise.

> We are mitigating this e.g. with free software. I believe we can
> mitigate it further with cryptography

You are speaking very generally.  There are many issues with SaaSS, and
cryptography is part of means to mitigate, but it alone does not present
a solution to all of the problems of SaaSS.

Consider an ambitious and seemingly ideal scenerio: a distributed,
anonymous, fully homomorphic cryptosystem[0] running only free software
(so that the software running on the services services can be studied)
in which a user can use response variations to attempt to detect
malicious systems or inconsistencies in operation (to the extent that is
meaningful).  Let's assume that the system is large enough that there
are not enough malicious nodes in this system to compromise its
integrity (by providing consistently bad responses); similar
considerations as with Tor.

The system can't (let's assume) discover your identity.  It can't spy on
your data.  It can't manipulate your data in ways that you wouldn't
expect if you were running your own instance of that software.

But you still can't modify the running instances.  In fact, if you did,
then that one instance would return different results than all the
others, and would be flagged as producing inconsistent results, and
would be removed from the network; this, in fact, makes this type of
system that I'm describing difficult to implement usefully in the first

So you have still given up your control.  You can only do the type of
computing that others say you can do, and if you try to say, "I have an
idea; let's do it this way!", then unless everyone else agrees with your
changes, then you are told that you can't compute like that---it's not
allowed.  If you get rid of that distributed nature, then we're back to
where we are today: pretty much the same place, but less dystopian.

> and sophisticated type systems.  There is programming languages theory
> research going into this right now.

We're talking about two different things.  You're talking about tricking
hackers/programmers/users who read the code.  Even if all software were
written in a system like Coq, and all of it were formally proven to
operate exactly as it was designed, the above issues would still

Fundamentally, you'll always be able to trick others with code (but
hopefully someone will notice at some point in time): you don't need a
lack of a decent type system or hard-to-grok programming language to do
that.  Someone might just not understand what you're doing, plain and
simple, even though it's perfectly clear to the author.


Mike Gerwitz
Free Software Hacker | GNU Maintainer
FSF Member #5804 | GPG Key ID: 0x8EE30EAB

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