pskl.us

Whining

We got a takedown notice from LifeShield for our positive review

by on May.10, 2012, under Group News, Security, Whining

Yes, you read the headline correctly.

Our 95% glowing review of the LifeShield products and services earned me a DMCA takedown notice from a “Digital Content Protection” company on behalf of LifeShield. You’re saying “OK, that sure sounds dumb, but what are the grounds for a takedown notice in the first place?” I had the same question.
The content of the notice was:

It has come to our attention that your website or website hosted by your company contains links to LifeShield, Inc website (www.lifeshield.com) which results in financial losses by the company we represent, because of search engine penalties.

I request you to remove from following website (pskl.us)
all links to www.lifeshield.com website as soon as possible.
In order to find the links please do the following:
1) If this is an online website directory, use directory’s search system to find “LifeShield” links.
2) If there are hidden links in the source code of website, open website’s main page and view its source code. Search for “lifeshield.com” in the source code and you will see hidden links.

I have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by LifeShield, Inc, its agents, or the law. Therefore, this letter is an official notification to effect removal of the detected infringement listed in this letter.

I further declare under penalty of perjury that I am authorized to act on behalf of copyright holder and that the information in this letter is accurate.

Please, inform me within 48 hours of the results of your actions. Otherwise we will be forced to contact your ISP.
LifeShield, Inc will be perusing legal action if the webmaster does not remove the referenced link within 48 hours.
LifeShield, Inc will be forced to include the hosting company in the suite for trademark infringement.

Makes perfect sense, right? Trademark infringement. Because of links. As part of a review.

As you would assume, I was furious. I forwarded the email to a sales manager at LifeShield and then called them and left a message. I got a call back later that night from the sales manager. She apologized and said I didn’t have to remove the links. I said I was pretty annoyed at being threatened with a BS takedown notice and a simple apology wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted to know that this isn’t how they do business.

I got an email from her later that night:

I didn’t want to call you because it is so late, but I wanted to go ahead and contact you about this. I did hear back from my manager via email and she said that they are contacting the gentleman who sent the email, and they will have this taken care of immediately. There will be no further action that you have to take and you will not receive any more emails like this. I apologize about this and if you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

I got another email from upper management:

I am the svp interactive for lifeshield.com.  Please ignore the dmca email you received.  We hired them to protect our trademark and your site was accidentally included in our list of sites.  I just sent them a note to take you off their list.  Please keep our links on your site.  We apologize for the inconvenience.

I was no longer really worried about the “inconvenience” so much as I was worried that I was supporting and endorsing a company with unethical business practices. I replied with this:

While I appreciate the apology, I have a bigger question: are you OK with how this guy is going about “protecting your trademark?”
Telling people you are going to sue them (and their ISP) if they don’t remove LINKS to your website is unethical at best and quite possibly fraudulent use of the DMCA. Did you read the email he sent me? Here are a few of my favorite parts:

It has come to our attention that your website or website hosted by your company contains links to LifeShield, Inc website (www.lifeshield.com) which results in financial losses by the company we represent, because of search engine penalties.

I’m sure this isn’t news to you, but this is 100% BS. You can’t claim losses via poor SEO and leverage a law suit against somebody else to fix it.

I have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by LifeShield, Inc, its agents, or the law. Therefore, this letter is an official notification to effect removal of the detected infringement listed in this letter.

Once again, I’m sure you know that permission is not needed to provide links to a publicly-available website. This guy identified himself as the head of “anti-piracy.” He is basically equating a link to intellectual property. This is fallacious on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin.

Please, inform me within 48 hours of the results of your actions. Otherwise we will be forced to contact your ISP.
LifeShield, Inc will be perusing legal action if the webmaster does not remove the referenced link within 48 hours.
LifeShield, Inc will be forced to include the hosting company in the suite for trademark infringement.

Finally, the threat. Remove the links or we’ll sue you and your hosting company. For trademark infringement. You’ve got to be kidding me.

This is not how you protect a trademark, Evan, this is how you ruin it. Am I to understand that the people intended to be on your “list” (bad reviews?) are also getting letters like this? Have you heard of the Streisand Effect?
Now, if there are people out there legitimately infringing on your trademark, by all means, pursue them and shut them down… but do it with legitimate DMCA takedowns, not this thug-style intimidation BS. We all know how these work: people will do as you ask because it isn’t worth the trouble (or possible legal fees) to put up a fight, even though they know you have ZERO legal ground to stand on.

Please tell me you are straightening this out with the IP protection company (or cutting off your business relationship with them). I’m willing to accept the explanation that you hired this company thinking they were above-board and you didn’t know they’d be up to these shenanigans, but now you DO know. This isn’t how you want to handle your business on the Internet. I can tell you I don’t want to be involved with or endorse a business that does so.

Sums up my feelings well, I think. They were not impressed with my righteous indignation, however, and replied thusly:

I appreciate your feedback.  However, we had a site cloak lifeshield and generate over 700K back links to our site without our knowledge.  Google stepped in and slapped us with a search ranking penalty to which our business has suffered major losses.  Understood that the links on your site to LifeShield.com may be legitimate (and we rectified this) but we needed to be aggressive to rectify the situation and protect our business.  We are a legitimate home security brand with hundreds of employees and had to layoff great employees due to this and our business is still down significantly. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience; however, as a business owner yourself, you can imagine our loss.

So I said:

So you’re saying that somebody went out and bought 700K back links for you, knowing that it would get you penalized by Google? So does that mean you had (Company name) send out 700K DMCA notices? Talk about throwing good money after bad. Report the linkspam to the spam team at Google, then spend that money on an SEO expert rather than on trying to bully people with intimidation.

I understand that it sucks when people mess with your business, but it doesn’t excuse slimy tactics by you. If your house catches on fire, you don’t put it out with manure. How many other innocent people got your pit bull’s strong-arm, unethical (borderline fraudulent) DMCA takedown notice? Do you care? Or are you just scorching earth?

I want to be on your side, but you are making it difficult by standing behind a practice that represents all that is wrong with the internet. I really, really believe you should rethink this methodology.

No response. 2 days later, I got ANOTHER takedown notice, identical to the first one. I informed LifeShield:

I received another takedown notice this morning from the brilliant minds of (Name of company), identical to the last.

If you’d like to call him off, I’d like to be CC:’ed on the emails for my records, and I’d like to receive an email from him stating that he will not be taking legal action against me or my hosting service.

I got no response from LifeShield, but I got this from the genius at the IP protection company:

I have received a complaint from our customer LifeShield.com about you not satisfying our business practice.

While I have some objections I must accept that you are right and would like to apologize for any inconveniences caused.

As a  justification of our good intentions I’d like you to realize that we’ve been put on a very tight deadline and had to remove over 5 thousands links within 10-14 days and we had no ability to check the quality and the nature of those links. Our client hired an SEO expert requiring to remove links in the list before they go ahead and submit a reconsideration request with Google.

As a result we’ve got it done in that way. Again I do apologize and would like you to reconsider your opinion about us and our client.

Please let me know if you have any questions, I’d be happy to explain.

P.S. We are like the police dealing mostly with online criminals and sometimes we forget that there are a lot of good people around, honestly doing their online business.

Yes, everybody, have some sympathy for these heroes, these “internet police.” Brilliant. I like that he admitted that I’m right, though. My response:

My problem with your business practice is very simple:

A party creating large quantities of backlinks to a site in order to generate SEO (or, in this case, destroy SEO) is unethical.

It is not illegal.

Threatening legal action against this party (and making the spurious claim of “trademark infringement”) for doing so is even more unethical (since you are supposed to be the good guys) and short-sighted, in my opinion.

Any “SEO Expert” who recommends this course of action is just as misguided and, in my opinion, not very good at their job.

His response to this was very telling, I think:

I got your idea. All this “link removal” thing is quite new to us. It is our second order of this kind, but we have already processed more them 30k links. And what we find is that people not react when we kindly ask them to remove the links. We tried to contact huge amount of website and ask them to get rid of those links, but didn’t get any response at all. And on the opposite email which you got from us first time worked really good. 🙂 I felt like this is not the right thing to do, but you know we had to finish our business. However, I apologize once again for any inconvenience we caused. And in case you will ever need any Intellectual Property protection service just shoot me an email. I’ll give you a discount for our services.

So they knew it was “not the right thing to do,” but it worked, so who cares! Those are some high-quality business practices.

While all this was going on, I had one other little issue with LifeShield. They weren’t paying me for referrals I had earned. When I originally wrote my reviews of the LifeShield products and services (March, 2010), they had a referral system in place. If I got 5 referrals, I’d get free security system monitoring for life. They provided a link to give to possible customers. I used it all over my reviews. I personally knew 3 parties that had purchased systems via my referral link, but I figured there were more that I didn’t know about (based on the amount of traffic my post was getting and the comments/questions I received). I called them up one day and asked what the status was of my referrals to see if I had earned my free monitoring yet.

They said I had zero referrals. Zero. I asked to speak to a manager immediately, and the manager basically told me that the referral system wasn’t working. Thanks so much for telling us, folks. I told them I was pretty upset about that and I felt confident that I had provided them with 5 customers and I’d like my free monitoring. She spoke with management and got back to me quickly to tell me that they agreed. They gave me the free monitoring for life. Great, right? At that point, the referral system became useless to me so I removed the links and just left the review stand. I updated it from time to time and answered any questions people posted as comments or emailed to me. I was grateful for a product I really like and for the free monitoring.

Fast forward to late 2011: they launched a new referral system that offered $150 per referral for new customers! Great deal, especially since the referred party also would get a free network camera. After verifying that I could take part (since I had used the previous referral program), I signed up immediately and added the new referral links and info to my reviews. I also updated the review to reflect some of the changes they had made to their service (such as requiring a contract). They would email me when people used my referral link so that I could send a personalized link to the new customer to help make sure the referral was recorded properly. I didn’t understand why this was necessary, but I did it anyway. Every time.

I noticed that the referral tracking system was (once again) showing that I had not earned any referrals. I had email and phone conversations with sales reps and sales managers over and over, checking to make sure that I was, in fact, getting credit for my referrals. They assured me that I was. “The system only updates once a month,” they told me. A month later, still nothing. “I’ll make sure they get put in immediately,” they’d tell me. Still nothing. Around this time is when the first DMCA takedown notice shows up. Nice timing, eh?

At this point, I had $1350 worth of referrals that I could document (and that LifeShield had confirmed…who knows if there were more, perhaps?). I was told at one point:

I just heard back and was told that all the credits should be processed by the end of the day today. If there is any change in that I will let you know.

And that was the very last email I ever received from LifeShield. As you would probably assume, I never received my referral payout. Combine this with the shady DMCA takedowns and you have a very unhappy blogger. The sad part is that I still love the products and service. That’s the only reason I left the reviews up. I emailed LifeShield to let them know I was removing all my referral links (and why) and that I’d be eventually writing a blog post (like this one) explaining the whole ordeal. I’d like to let customers read my review and also read this description of their business practices and then make up their own minds as to whether or not they’d like to do business with LifeShield. If you think I’m being a whiny turd about all this and the product sounds great: go ahead and buy it. If you think the product sounds great but you don’t like the way they work: move on to the competition. Regardless, let me know what you think in the comments below.

Oh, one last thing. The “SVP Interactive” of LifeShield inexplicably cc’ed me on a recent email to the IP protection company with a new list of sites to harrass over “trademark infringement.” That doggone “reply to all” button will get you every time, eh? Seriously, learn how to internet.

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Dual Booting Windows 7 w/Bitlocker and BackTrack Linux 5. (You SAID WHAT?)

by on Apr.05, 2012, under Security, Tutorials, Whining

Recently, due to laptop thefts at work and the risk of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) loss, I had to make the difficult choice to start a project to force encrypt our user laptops.  So, due to “what do we already own?” , I chose Microsoft Bitlocker for the Windows 7 computers, and FileVault for the Macintosh OSX 10.7 computers.

That seems fine, however, one “snag”…   I use a dual boot Backtrack 5 and Windows 7 machines DAILY at work.  So, being the guy who lives by the rule “Don’t give an order that you’re not willing to follow yourself” kind of guy, I had to figure out how to encrypt my windows side and still boot Backtrack 5.

I got it to work.  I was painful.

take a second to re-read that.  yes, it works, and yes, it caused me pain to make it work.

So, here are the steps I used to make this work:

Step 1: Wipe the drive.  (you should have backed it up if you needed to save something…  I shouldn’t have to tell you that.)

Step 2: Create a partition for the Win7 to be housed.  Make it the first partition.  Leave unallocated space for BackTrack.  (I left 30 gigs for backtrack…  you probably want more, I have a lot of scripts that always put captured data on something external that I mount and encrypt with Truecrypt…)

Step 3: Install Windows7 (or dump your standard image) to that partition.  Mine created a 100MB boot thing before the windows 7 partition, let it do whatever it wants to do, except use that unallocated space you already saved for Backtrack.

Step 4: Boot Windows 7 and test.   Make sure Windows 7 works first! (Well, functions as well as one could expect for Windows)

Step 5: In Windows, run this command from a command prompt: “%windir%\System32\BdeHdCfg.exe” -target default  (this command preps the drive for Bitlocker.)

Step 6: Encrypt the drive via Bitlocker with your pin.  (record the recovery key.  this is the single more important long string of numbers you’ll ever deal with in Windows. Preserve it, protect it.  This key is your life, young padawan…)

Step 7: When it’s done, Boot Windows 7 and test.   Make sure Windows 7 still works!  (Well, functions as well as one could expect for Windows)

Step 8: Pause Bitlocker.   I turned it off.  (this seems to make no sense, but I had a problem testing this that if I tried to encrypt the drive after installing Linux, forget it, it died.)

Step 9: Boot Backtrack 5 DVD/USB key.

Step 10: Install backtrack 5 to that new unallocated partition.   I configured /dev/sda3 as my /boot partition and /dev/sda5 as my root and /dev/sda6 as my swap.  /dev/sda1 was the windows 7 boot partition and /dev/sda2 was my windows 7 system partition)

Step 11: make sure when you install grub, you install it to /dev/sda3.   DO NOT PUT IT IN THE MBR or /dev/sda or /dev/sda1.  If you do, you just screwed yourself.

Step 12: This will only boot to Windows 7 still.   Grab BCDEDIT for windows, and add a boot option to boot linux on /dev/sda3.

Step 13:  Boot Windows 7 and test.   Make sure Windows 7 still works! (Well, functions as well as one could expect for Windows)

Step 14: Boot Backtrack 5 from the windows boot menu.  it should shell to grub, boot it.  Make sure Backtrack 5 works.

Step 15: Boot Windows 7 and turn Bitlocker back on.   (record the recovery key.  this is the single more important long string of numbers you’ll ever deal with in Windows. Preserve it, protect it.  This key is your life, young padawan…)

Step 16: It should present you the windows 7 boot menu, where option 1 is Windows 7 and option 2 is Backtrack Linux then it should now prompt you for your Bitlocker pin.

I can’t stress two things: #1) this took me weeks of wiping the drive to figure this out.  Don’t be shocked if you have to tweek the steps for your specific situation.  #2) that recovery key is the most important thing in this process…

a few notes: (things that make you go Hmmmm…)
1) It asks you to pick which OS first, then prompts you to enter your Bitlocker pin…   You can’t boot linux unless you unlock bitlocker first.  Not sure why, but I’ll call it an “added feature!”  Remember, the linux side is NOT ENCRYPTED!   That means don’t be an *idiot* what you store there, assume it’s accessible if someone takes your laptop.
2) After you update-grub, plan on having your recovery password around for Bitlocker…  it always keeps asking me for it after I update grub, even though it’s installed to the /boot partition. (/dev/sda3 in my case)  Don’t leave your recovery key in your laptop bag, because that defeats the purpose of encrypting it, duh. I can’t stress that enough. The whole “point” is to protect the windows side in case anyone takes your laptop from getting any useful info off it….  Don’t forget the goal while you’re having so much fun messing with this nightmare.

–Bill (General Major Webelo Captain Zapp Brannigan)

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Backtrack 5 is out! Do you get a kernel panic when you startx? The FIX is here!

by on May.18, 2011, under Hardware, Security, Tutorials, Whining

So, being someone who used Backtrack daily for my career, I routinely make sure I’m current with Backtrack.  So Backtrack 5 is out, I went and grabbed x64 KDE version, backedup up my PSKL directory on BT4R2, and blew it away…

First thing, startx didn’t load from the DVD until I removed some cache files…
rm /root/.kde/cache-root/icon-cache.kcache
rm /root/.kde/cache-root/plasma_theme_Volatile.kcache
rm /root/.kde/cache-bt/icon-cache.kcache
rm /root/.kde/cache-bt/plasma_theme_Volatile.kcache

So finally startx loaded and I was able to use the graphical installer to install it to my hard drive on my laptop.

When I rebooted, I did startx, and got a kernel panic (blinking caps lock light).   So I’m like, “M’kay, x64 kde is borked…” so I grabbed x64 gnome, repeat process, same things, x32 gnome, repeat process, same thing.  ok, it’s NOT borked, I’m just not doing it right.

so I searched and searched, found nothing immediately useful.  (I could bore the heck out of anyone with some of the searches I did to get at this one…)

Finally, I found this kernel parameter: i915.modeset=1

they should rename that to “setbrokentofixed=1”

So, put that at the end of your GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT in your /etc/default/grub and update-grub!

Boom, I appended that and now startx works and I can enjoy the BT5 goodness…   Now I just gotta configure my metasploit account on there and put my pskl directory back with all out awesome scripts.

Enjoy BackTrack 5!

Update (June 15th 2011): Talking with a few others, including the great comments here, you might need this like in your /etc/default/grub
Alternative line from Daveonator:
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”text splash vga=791 i915.modeset=1″
then update-grub.

Try it, and let us know.


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Facebook HTTPS setting is borked

by on Feb.07, 2011, under Reviews, Security, Whining

We are all so busy applauding facebook for adding an “always use HTTPS” setting (thanks for finally responding to firesheep, folks), but maybe we should look a little more closely at it before telling the moms of the world to just set it and forget it. The stupid thing turns itself off (and doesn’t turn itself back on) when you go to a non-HTTPS facebook page.

In case you haven’t seen it described on 50,000 websites at this point, here’s the deal with the new “feature:”

Click on “Account” at the upper right of your facebook page and choose “Account Settings” … you’ll get something like this:

facebook-01

Click on “Account Security” and you’ll be able to check the new https box, illustrated here:

facebook-02b

note that it says “whenever possible” … this implies that there are some parts of the facebook site that are NOT capable of being served up via https. I have no idea why this is still the case, but it clearly is. The wording would also imply that once you check this box, you will get a https connection “whenever possible” and a http connection when https is not possible. What it DOESN’T say is that the first time you view a non-https page, the box will simply uncheck itself and next time you go to a https-capable page, it’ll be back in vanilla http mode.

So what are these non-https-capable pages? I can’t speak for all of them, but I’d be willing to bet that most of them are “facebook applications.” The only facebook app I use is Scrabble. After checking the https box, I tried to go to Scrabble and I got this page first:

facebook-04

Excellent, right? It is warning me that I’m leaving the safe-and-cozy https-zone. What this warning SHOULD say is “if you hit ‘continue,’ you are permanently turning off the https option.”

Yes, that’s right, once I’m done playing my turn in the http-only-danger-zone of the Scrabble application, I go back to facebook home and I’m back to http.

facebook-05

I went back to check my account settings and I see this:

facebook-02

Well, that’s just fantastic. What’s the point of saying “whenever possible” when it means “until impossible?” This has to be a mistake, and I hope they fix it… then we can all tell our moms to go and re-check the box as it has probably been turned off when they went to play farmville or whatever the hell other pages are non-https.


Update:
This was discussed on Tech News Today (first 5 minutes)


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Never Use Email Tech Support. Ever.

by on Jan.14, 2011, under Hardware, Whining

Today I’d like to thank Panasonic for reminding me why I should never use an “email tech support” form, even if the question I have is simple and clear. In the future I’ll look back on this post to remind myself to either call tech support or simply shoot myself in the face.
A bit of background on this exchange (so that you know what the techs know):
I bought a few Panasonic C1 Toughbook convertible tablets (to replace old Lenovo ThinkPad X60 tablets). All of our Lenovo tablets had built-in Verizon radios (Sierra mini PCIe cards) even though we only activated about 10 of them at any given time. They were a cheap option so we figured “why not” when we bought the tablets. Tablets would change hands and I’d simply move the activation from one radio to another and the user would never know the difference. I’ve also been known to physically remove these radios from Lenovo tablets and move them to Dell laptops when the need came up. Worked just fine.
When I was shopping for the Toughbooks I noticed that they only come with a Gobi option for a WWAN radio and the option is rather expensive. I figured “why pay a few hundred $$ for a Gobi radio when I already have a bunch of Verizon radios laying around for free?” I examined the first few Toughbooks and found what I suspected would be there: a mini PCIe slot with antenna wires ready to be connected to a radio…just like the Dells…just like the Lenovos. I tried installing 2 different models of Sierra Wireless radios and neither of them worked. It was as if they were not there at all. I suspect there is a hardware switch somewhere that enables the mini PCIe slot or some alternate BIOS that adds in the ENABLE/DISABLE option for WWAN (which is documented as being in the BIOS in the Gobi-equipped machines)…or maybe they did something completely different and goofy that I’m not thinking of.
I didn’t want to spend 4 hours on the phone searching for an answer to this question, so I figured I’d use their “contact tech support” form and wait for an email response. Here is what I sent:

Subject: Hardware
Inquiry: Toughbook CF-C1 tablets… I have 7 of them so far.
I got them without WWAN cards but now I would like to add them. I see the mini PCIe slot and the antenna wires seem all ready to go, but when I put in a Sierra Wireless MC5725 (Verizon) card, it is as if it isn’t there. The system doesn’t see it at all. The option in the bios to enable or disable a WWAN card seems to be missing completely. These Sierra cards work fine in my Dells and my Lenovos.
Is it possible to get this to work? Is there a hardware switch somewhere that I need to turn on to enable the mini-PCIe slot?

It only took about 8 hours to get a response I should have expected:

Thank you for your continued support of Panasonic Toughbook computers.

The CF-C1 does not have a Sierra Wireless MC5725 (Verizon) card it has a Qualcomm / Gobi module.

Yes, yes… that is what I was confused about: which card the system ships with. Thanks so much for taking the time to skim my question with the attention of a coke-sniffing gnat.

If anybody out there knows the definitive answer to my question, I’d love to hear it, but really just for the sake of curiosity. I’ve decided to just have the users get MiFi units instead of messing with built-in Verizon cards from now on.

For what it’s worth, these Toughbooks are really really nice. They are REALLY expensive, but really nice, too. They are shockingly light…the first time people pick them up they think it is an empty shell and not a real computer. They are very fast, too, and the semi-ruggedness is very handy for us because our users aren’t the most gentle people with their hardware. Battery life is excellent, especially if you get the optional second battery (get it).

Thanks, Panasonic tech support!

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