Monday, November 20, 2006


We warned you about that kill switch

Suddenly even the most obsequious "tech" pundits are talking about MSFT's "kill switch." Office 2007 won't edit or create new documents if it isn't convinced you've paid for your license.

"Well, duh!"

Of course MSFT would eventually do that. Software freedom advocates have been warning software users about that danger for about thirty years now. It's one of the threats the GNU General Public License was invented to neutralize.

And the Rand Corporation warned the Reagan Administration it was coming. Reagan's Department of Defense (DoD) hired Rand to identify hidden threats to national security, and proprietary software was one of them. A kill switch could be used to hold a government's documents hostage or worse. It was one of the reasons Reagan's DoD and General Services Administration (GSA) kept unix alive through the 1980s.

And Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka warned us about it in their amazing novel Nature's End. In that story, the hero uses an "IBM AXE" computer, which has a credit card swiper on it and demands payment each time you open a document. The AXE also has a kill switch, built in government censorship, and a back door for espionage agencies. Of course the bad guy hacks in through that back door.

And Bruce Schneier and Peter G. Neumann (among others) have been warning for years how kill switches would be magnets for malware. Imagine a Ukranian (Internet connected but beyond law enforcement) phishing/spamming gang gets tired of stealing bank and retirement accounts and moves into extortion on the same scale. They could hold whole nations for ransom.

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