Can you trust your computer?
by Richard Stallman - Tuesday, 22 October 2002.
To block treacherous computing will require large numbers of citizens to organize. We need your help! The Electronic Frontier Foundation ( and Public Knowledge ( are campaigning against treacherous computing, and so is the FSF-sponsored Digital Speech Project ( Please visit these Web sites so you can sign up to support their work.

You can also help by writing to the public affairs offices of Intel, IBM, HP/Compaq, or anyone you have bought a computer from, explaining that you don't want to be pressured to buy "trusted" computing systems so you don't want them to produce any. This can bring consumer power to bear. If you do this on your own, please send copies of your letters to the organizations above.


1. The GNU Project distributes the GNU Privacy Guard, a program that implements public-key encryption and digital signatures, which you can use to send secure and private email. It is useful to explore how GPG differs from treacherous computing, and see what makes one helpful and the other so dangerous.

When someone uses GPG to send you an encrypted document, and you use GPG to decode it, the result is an unencrypted document that you can read, forward, copy, and even re-encrypt to send it securely to someone else. A treacherous computing application would let you read the words on the screen, but would not let you produce an unencrypted document that you could use in other ways. GPG, a free software package, makes security features available to the users; they use it. Treacherous computing is designed to impose restrictions on the users; it uses them.

2. Microsoft presents Palladium as a security measure, and claims that it will protect against viruses, but this claim is evidently false. A presentation by Microsoft Research in October 2002 stated that one of the specifications of Palladium is that existing operating systems and applications will continue to run; therefore, viruses will continue to be able to do all the things that they can do today.

When Microsoft speaks of "security" in connection with Palladium, they do not mean what we normally mean by that word: protecting your machine from things you do not want. They mean protecting your copies of data on your machine from access by you in ways others do not want. A slide in the presentation listed several types of secrets Palladium could be used to keep, including "third party secrets" and "user secrets" -- but it put "user secrets" in quotation marks, recognizing that this is not what Palladium is really designed for.

The presentation made frequent use of other terms that we frequently associate with the context of security, such as "attack," "malicious code," "spoofing," as well as "trusted." None of them means what it normally means. "Attack" doesn't mean someone trying to hurt you, it means you trying to copy music. "Malicious code" means code installed by you to do what someone else doesn't want your machine to do. "Spoofing" doesn't mean someone fooling you, it means you fooling Palladium. And so on.

3. A previous statement by the Palladium developers stated the basic premise that whoever developed or collected information should have total control of how you use it. This would represent a revolutionary overturn of past ideas of ethics and of the legal system, and create an unprecedented system of control. The specific problems of these systems are no accident; they result from the basic goal. It is the goal we must reject.

Copyright 2002 Richard Stallman

Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted without royalty in any medium provided this notice is preserved.


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