Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ahn Says No to Internet Explorer in Korean Election

The famously indecisive candidate for South Korean president, Ahn Cheol-soo, who is running as an independent because he couldn't choose a party, has shocked the country by making an actual election pledge, which has now been discovered several weeks into the campaign on page 402 of a 439-page book.

The apparent promise concerns the important issue of the Microsoft Internet Explorer web-browser, version 6 of which forms the basis of nearly every financial transaction that takes place in the country. This in turns precludes the use of any other browser or operating system, although Microsoft Windows has a considerable cost advantage over Apple's Mac OS, as it is unofficially available for free from most independent computer dealers and your friend's cousin. In the manifesto, Ahn says that if elected he will wipe out government regulation that effectively makes Koreans use Internet Explorer 6 ('IE6').

Korea has often been criticized overseas for its reliance on Internet Explorer, but most foreigners are not aware that the situation arose – like most situations in the world today - due to the self-righteous arrogance, ignorance and utter paranoia of Americans. In the 1990s, the U.S. imposed export restrictions on cryptographic systems which sought to 'prevent the export of 128-bit encryption outside the God-loving land of the free'. Officially this was to stop 128-bit sequences of characters typically used for e-commerce transactions via SSL certificates falling into the hands of terrorists, instead limiting them to 64-bit sequences which could easily be monitored by American intelligence agencies. But unofficially it was hoped it would protect Amazon, eBay and other Internet start-ups of the era from foreign competition, on the basis that nobody would want to order from a foreign company with bad security.

However, the South Korean government of the day shocked Washington by instead announcing the SEED program – under which it would develop its own 128-bit encryption standard for secure transactions based on ActiveX, an innovative Microsoft technology which allowed anyone on the Internet to run executable files on your computer that could do anything they wanted, but which was backed by the knowledge that computer programmers are trustworthy individuals who would never misuse such power. Under SEED, users had to supply a digital certificate, protected by a personal password (normally 'kim' followed by the month and date the person was born on) for any online transaction.

A year later, politicians in Washington realized they had pushed Korea and other countries into designing encryption systems where the only 'backdoors' – or master keys which enabled government snooping – were available to local governments, not to that of the United States, and they removed the export restrictions on 128-bit encryption, but by this time it was too late – Korea had standardized on its ActiveX-based system and the Korean government had also discovered it liked having the ability to secretly access details of every financial transaction its citizens made.

Seeking to thwart the rise of Korean e-commerce, an under-pressure Microsoft then made the the use of ActiveX in its browsers extremely difficult, but once again Koreans were one step ahead of the Americans, as they simply stopped upgrading their browsers and operating systems, leaving most of the country on Internet Explorer 6 and the same copy of Windows XP Professional for several years.

Theoretically the decade-long SEED-mandated ActiveX monopoly ended in 2010, but in reality ActiveX and therefore Internet Explorer is still required because the government approvals process for alternatives is so rigorous it only permits alternate browsers that have the words "Internet" and "Explorer" in their title, and 'backdoors' for government access.

Ahn now says that ActiveX has "led to international isolation of Korean IT" and "inconvenience for users", and that as President he would support the development of alternative technologies, but a spokeswoman for Ahn Lab – the anti-virus software company Ahn built on the back of Korea's bad Internet security – said it wouldn't be involved in the initiative. Analysts expect any move away from Internet Explorer to be bad for Ahn Lab – as their software is tied into the Korean IT ecosystem and without the need for Korean-specific security computer users might choose internationally popular anti-virus products with better ratings.

In recent weeks Ahn's independent but left-leaning campaign has become bogged down in a three-way race between Ahn, Moon Jae-in of the left-wing Democratic United Party, and the Saenuri Party's Park Geun-hye - the supportive daughter of Korea's last military dictator, who lies somewhat to the right of the other two candidates. While the idea of voting for Ahn to get rid of Ahn's software may seem like a last desperate act by a candidate wanting to pull ahead of his rival, political commentators believe that the proposition is likely to be a seductive one to millions of Korea's young and frustrated Internet users. Moon Jae-in has called for discussions with Ahn to decide on a unified candidate, but Ahn was indecisive, saying they may need more time before the matter can be discussed.

In a two-way race between left and right Ahn is expected to win by a landslide, not so much because of a fundamental political shift to the left in Korea, but more because in recent years many Koreans have become deeply indecisive and uncertain of their purpose in life, and would like to vote for a candidate who represents the same ideals.

Related Links
Ahn Pledges To End Outdated Encryption Standard
Internet Explorer becomes Korean election issue
For world's most wired country, breaking Internet monopoly is hard
At Last, A Push for Browser Diversity in Korea
DUP Hopeful Wants Talks About Single Opposition Candidate
Ahn Promises Almost Certainly Decisive Presidency
Ahn Cheol-soo Announces Political Run Against Himself
Ahn Finally Decides to Tape Up Windows

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