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The Sinister Six Strike Again

by Alessandro Ebersol (Agent Smith)

Who doesn't remember the Sinister Six? The Sinister Six was a group of supervillains who joined forces to defeat Spider-Man. Their initial line-up was: Dr. Octopus, Electro, Kraven, Mysterio, Sandman and Vulture. Yes, organized by Dr. Octopus, the villains have always tried to destroy Spider-Man. But, thanks to the ingenuity of the arachnid hero, they never succeeded.

Now, we have a sinister six working tirelessly against GNU Linux, but mainly against us users.

Big Tech's Sinister Six

I don't know if you've ever heard the term MAFIA-G, but this was an acronym created by Amy Webb in her book "The Big Nine" to describe the largest technology companies in the USA. The point here is how these companies are actively working to end GNU Linux and user freedom. In fact, the attack on GNU Linux can even be considered secondary, with the attack on users being the main one.

MAFIA-G and its members
The members of the G-Mafia are, in order:

  • Microsoft

  • Apple

  • Facebook

  • IBM

  • Amazon

  • Google

All these companies own, to a greater or lesser extent, important parts of the development of the GNU Linux operating system.

I'll list the best-known parts:

Microsoft: It currently controls systemD, the most crucial part of the GNU Linux operating system. So much so that the meme below has already become infamous.

Apple: Controls CUPS, the GNU Linux printing system.

Facebook: Controls the ZSTD compression system, which is present in many aspects of GNU Linux

IBM: Controls the development of Gnome and several fundamental libraries for the operating system, the GTK libraries.

Amazon: Amazon Linux and cloud infrastructure

Google: Among other critical parts of the operating system, Google develops the EXT-4 file system.

This is some of the best known information about how these companies control parts of the system. Of course, there may be more points of influence and dependency on these companies, which we would have to research in more depth (Microsoft itself owns Github, where 90% of the world's free software projects are probably housed).

But, as I started the article, the enemies of users are plotting again to make our lives worse. Now, I'm going to quickly focus on one member of the sinister six that is working hard to end our freedoms… Yes, unfortunately, the GNU movement, little by little, with its four freedoms, is being destroyed, in broad daylight, and right in front of our eyes.

With friends like Microsoft, who needs enemies?

Well, I'll start by writing about what our "Friend of Open Source" (note that Microsoft has never called itself a friend of free software, because it hates freedom) is up to.

Yes, things have been so quiet, haven't they? Nope, work is in full swing to… Deprecate our beloved Grub2.

Yes, you didn't read that wrong, Microsoft wants Grub2 in the same place as the Dodo bird, i.e. extinct. Now it's down to systemD-boot.

But let's see what's happening, how it's happening and what might happen.

SystemD wants to be everything… Unfortunately, it can only be everything ill done

The whole purpose of systemd is to replace the resources of the Linux kernel with something that systemd itself does, incompetently. It's full of bugs.

One of its latest gimmicks is systemd-oomd, which is doing well (sarcasm) and you can read all about what Fedora users have to say about it on Reddit. And Mr Reynolds' best decision was not to touch that hornet's nest, can of worms, etc… I'd say the juice isn't worth the squeeze…

But back to our topic, systemd now wants to control the boot. The secondary goal of systemd is to eliminate the GNU boot loader, GRUB, and replace it with one that can lock down the entire computer according to Microsoft's orders.

Yes, people, as I wrote here, Microsoft is no friend of free software, what it wants is totalitarianism: it alone controls all users' data and machines, as I wrote here too.

What's worse, the community has become so corrupted that, astonishingly, Debian's official position is to no longer allow a boot loader that is licensed under GPLV3:

"the code must not be subject to the GPLv3, - or any license that purports to give someone the right to demand authorization keys in order to install modified forms of the code on a device.

Code that is subject to this license and that has already been signed can have this signature revoked.

For example, GRUB 2 is licensed under the GPLv3 and will not be signed."

One of Microsoft's requirements for signing a bootloader is that it not be GPLV3.

Systemd-boot wasn't designed to be better than GRUB 2, but to make it possible for it to be "signed" directly by Microsoft and refuse to give the user the right to run an alternative version of systemd-boot that doesn't lock the computer and remove a significant amount of access to it.

What's worse, all these secure boot schemes are based on UEFI, a broken standard where each manufacturer does what they want and the user is left screwed, trying to make his/her computer work.

Honestly, disable UEFI on your machine, it's too big a risk to keep using it. It's not even plausible that UEFI, as it stands, can enforce Security Theater Boot, because it has thousands of CVEs (security flaws) and, unless people update their firmware every month, most of these flaws will work and can be exploited.

UEFI is so bad that serious hardware companies are abandoning the standard. System76 stopped selling machines with the UEFI BIOS, and switched to the Coreboot firmware, for general happiness.

UEFI was designed based on Windows and is full of bugs and promotes Microsoft's lock-in, Security Theater Boot.

Coreboot is the firmware that people deserve to have.

In fact, it's designed to "Just boot the computer and be done with it", which is what Linus Torvalds said he missed about the "PC BIOS".

However, one of the most disturbing things about this whole situation is that there is no confrontation with this wave of Microsoftian totalitarianism. No… Everyone acts accordingly. And I'll write about this "cooperation" below.

The Goodfellas

Anyone looking from the outside at all the Mafia-G companies working together, especially IBM and Microsoft, might be fooled into thinking: "What a fine example of cooperation in the spirit of open source". But it's not quite like that. There is also "cooperation" between drug cartels and crime syndicates. And what is happening is a gigantic collusion against users.

In the past, companies that even competed with each other are now competing against users and their rights. Or, if this wasn't all a big set-up, in what world would IBM leave the development of the most crucial piece of software for the operating system that IBM sells (RHEL), through Red Hat, in the hands of its biggest rival, Microsoft? Today, systemD is unfortunately the backbone of many Linux distros (which have chosen to rely on it).

But the abuses of the good fellows are already starting to irritate many sectors of the free software community around GNU Linux. The last straw was locking down the RHEL repositories so that CentOS (and other derived distros) could no longer be based on it.

No one competes anymore, but rather colludes

I tried to find a point in time where this cartelization of the Big Techs began… And the watershed point in my research was when Microsoft bought Apple's shares for US$150 million.

That was the moment when these companies stopped competing and started buying each other's shares. Bing versus Google, a stage play just for the audience, since both Microsoft has Google shares and Google must have Microsoft shares.

Let's face the sad truth: almost all technology companies are in cahoots, and they're colluding with one another. It's more or less like MMA, where everyone is managed by Dana White. In other words, it doesn't matter who wins or loses, Dana White always wins.

And these companies have a free pass to abuse the consumer

Yes, sadly, these companies can do whatever they want without any consequences.

The whole scheme of locking the bootloader and forcing boot only with keys validated by one of these manufacturers is based on a false premise of "security," aimed at preventing attackers from infecting the operating system as soon as it boots up. However, for an attacker to do this, they must necessarily have physical access to the machine. And if someone is in the presence of the machine, they can pull out the hard disk and do whatever they want with it. A locked boot won't prevent that from happening.

But under false pretexts of protection, these companies continue to do this. Things are not lost yet.

How to fight back?

Despite Microsoft's political power, they haven't yet turned information technology into North Korea, where they (Microsoft) are the supreme dictators. And we, as users, can still strike back. How? Like this:

  • Don't buy computers with Windows 11. Windows 11 forcibly employs TPM2, locked boot UEFI and is terrible for user privacy.

  • Prefer to buy refurbished computers, which are cheaper and don't have the Microsoft tax.

  • Prefer to buy new computers from companies that respect the user, like System76.

  • Lobby your congressmen to pass right-to-repair laws. Repair implies being able to install other operating systems on computers, so that they are the multi-purpose machines they were meant to be (and not a one-trick pony).

  • Don't use Linux distros that depend on systemD. Unfortunately, the pantagruelic daemon that eats up more parts of GNU Linux every day is bad for user freedom (when will RMS wake up?).

And be ready to apply pressure: send tweets, emails, petitions, and try to enlighten the unwary about what the tech companies want for our future.

And, at a later date, I'll continue to write about what the other five sinisters are up to. Wait for me…

Until then, hugs and Godspeed.

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