There’s something special about Elementary OS. Its charm is subtle attention to detail with mostly traditional metaphors and defaults. It has a minimal but functional design: The terminal doesn’t support profiles, but it does notify you when a long-running command finishes. The Pantheon desktop looks and acts like Gnome in a lot of ways, but with native code, tends to perform a lot faster and with fewer hiccups.

In most respects, Elementary OS plays it safe. If you’ve used a Mac, or Gnome, or probably even Windows 10, it acts predictably and will sometimes even delight you. …

There’s never just one or two isolated, one-off flaws in complex computing products. Especially with a product as complex and widely used as Intel CPUs, once one security vulnerability is exposed, many more will soon follow.

Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, Microsoft spent years playing whackamole in an arms race against malware. At the time, security was seen by most software companies as a step in the pre-release quality assurance process, if that. When problems were found after a release, they were fixed in subsequent updates, as part of a scheduled release cycle.

That strategy failed Microsoft in…

  • Summer 2017: Google finds huge flaw in Intel computers. Details are kept secret pending remedy.
  • November 2017: Microsoft, Linux developers working secretly on fix.
  • 19 December 2017: Intel CEO Brian Krzanich dumps all the stock he’s legally able to. (Under Intel’s bylaws, he must keep 250,000 shares — coincidentally the amount he now owns.)
  • 26 December 2017: Intel competitor AMD says its chips aren’t vulnerable. (I’m waiting on independent confirmation of that.)
  • 31 December 2017: Developers realize performance penalty for software remedy may be as much as 50%.
  • 3 January 2018: Something closely resembling a working exploit surfaces.

Krzanich’s denial of wrongdoing and Intel’s sugarcoating bullshit PR are available immediately. Your computer will likely want to update in the coming days, and when it does, it’ll be slower.

Three weeks ago, with news that US Customs and Border Patrol was coercing travelers into decrypting their private files upon entry into the United States, I floated a strategy to avoid such an invasion. With a flight into the United States just days away, I announced my intention to wipe my devices before entering the United States. Because I needed to stay connected at the airport, I also created a travel-only gmail account which, if searched, would yield very little.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Photo by James Tourtellotte.

Since then, I’ve done exactly what I proposed. Before a flight from Chile to Denver (via Mexico City), I wiped…


xkcd’s well-circulated wrench scenario, pictured above, is demonstrated hauntingly well by this week’s story of Sidd Bikkannavar, a US-born NASA engineer who was coerced into breaching the security of his government-issued phone in order to enter the United States. US Customs and Border Patrol detained Bikkannavar, who like me has Global Entry, upon entering and demanded he unlock his cell phone for searching. About 30 minutes later, he got his phone back and was free to go. He’s still unaware what took place during that time.

What follows is my plan, and the thinking behind it, for avoiding such an…

Ken Kinder


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