Friday, January 22, 2016

Unauthorized Butter

I'm a little grumpy this evening.

I've run up my credit card and run down my bank balance,  I'm waiting on a pizza delivery that's taking forever, and appliance repairpersons who are taking longer.  Both are experiencing delays due to the sheer amount of calls they've received today.

To make matters worse, I haven't even had my coffee yet.

It all started this morning.  I rolled out of bed at 5am, put my glasses on, and staggered to the kitchen.  I grabbed a coffee pod out of the cupboard, popped it into the coffee maker, hit the switch, and walked off to the bathroom to shower.

After a half hour of trying to get shampoo in and out of the accursed red mop that is my hair, I towelled off, got dressed, and made my way to the kitchen.

I didn't smell coffee as I normally would.

Turning the kitchen lights on, I noticed the coffeemaker was not turned on.

"Odd," I thought.  I was certain I'd hit the switch.

Pressing the power button again did nothing.  "Crap," I said, "I must have unplugged the coffee maker so I could charge my phone."


A quick glance at the outlet showed that this was not the case.  The coffeemaker was plugged in.

"Oh shit," I muttered, "the fucking coffeemaker is dead."

I would have done things the old fashioned way by boiling the kettle, but it would have been pointless as I had no instant coffee in the house.  We'd tossed our traditional brewed coffeemaker years ago when we switched to the "pod" style coffeemaker.

Ultimately, I decided to go without.  I could always grab a coffee at the coffee shop on the way to work.

More than a little annoyed, I went over to the fridge to make my lunch.  Opening the door, I noticed the fridge light didn't come on... and the inside of the fridge was warm.


Sometime during the course of the night, the fridge conked out.  Sigh.

I ran downstairs to check the circuit breakers.  Hmmm, they're all in working order...

Well, this is a bit of a piss-off.  We'd just done our grocery shopping last night ($400!), and now everything in the fridge is on the verge of spoiling.  Fuck!  With the prices of food skyrocketing, we simply can't afford to be wasting anything!

Not wanting to wake Jillian, I grabbed a couple of coolers from the basement and filled them with snow from outside.  I loaded them up with the contents of the fridge, and thankfully had enough room for everything.

Two appliances dying in one day... "What are the odds?" I asked myself.

"Slim to none," I answered, "something has to be wrong."

Remembering that these were so-called "Connected appliances" and are part of our Internet-of-Things, I grabbed my Linux laptop so I could troubleshoot.  Hey, I'm a technical-minded guy, there might be a clue here somewhere...

I successfully ssh'd into the fridge.  This was a good sign, as it showed the fridge was getting power, and was technically still online.  I checked the system logs and found a curious entry from 0130a (this morning) indicating a "00xacb: Fatal Error: contact Technical/Service Department".

Huh. Must have been a firmware issue.  Fucking technology.

I took note of the error message and time, and set off to retrieve the warranty papers.  I keep everything, much to Jillian's chagrin.

Now, our coffeemaker was made by the same company, so in order to save time, I figured I'd check it's logs as well.  Sure enough, the log showed a failure at 0130a as well, but the error message in the log was a bit more... sinister.

"00xacb: Fatal Error: auth access denied: unrecognized response"

Was someone trying to hack my coffeemaker from the outside?

I suddenly felt queasy.  Sure, I lock my routers etc down as much as I can, and have a pretty impressive firewall, but you can't block everything.  The appliances have to tunnel through the firewall in order to relay service info to the manufacturer, was that to blame?  I hope not, or the manufacturer is going to be buying us a month's worth of groceries!

My activity in the kitchen woke Jillian up, despite my best efforts not to wake her.  She came in and asked what was going on.  I explained what had happened.

"Well, we have to get this fixed now," she said, "we can't be without a fridge!"

I told her I'd stay home from work today, just so we could get this sorted out.

I phoned the manufacturer's 1-800 number and was greeted by an automated response telling us that their offices are now closed, business hours are 10am to 4pm Pacific Time, and that online help is always available 24/7.

So, I dutifully powered my laptop back on and surfed over to the manufacturer's site, only to be told that "my browser was out of date and needed to be upgraded to the newest version in order to access all the features of their website".

Well, crap!  I had the latest version of the browser from Debian's repository (which was probably a couple of releases out of date), so I guessed I was out of luck.  I asked Jillian to hand me her iPad, and fired up Chrome.  Same error, and unfortunately her version of Chrome was the last version supported on her iPad.

So, we waited.

At noon (10am Pacific Time), I called the manufacturer.  They were experiencing higher than normal call volumes, but assured us they'd be with us in rotation.

After an hour of being reminded how my call was important to them and that they'd be right with me, I finally got through.

"Customer Service," the voice chimed, " This is Julie.  How may I help you?"

"Good morning, Julie," I said politely, "I'm having problems with two of my appliances and need to get them back up and running."

"Oh no," she said, "Which appliances are they?"

I gave her the model numbers, explained they both died simultaneously, how I'd ssh'd in, and gave her the error numbers.  She seemed somewhat impressed that I knew where to look.  I added that we had over $400 worth of groceries that we'd bought yesterday that are at risk of going bad.

"Let me check the logs from our end," she said, "won't be a minute".

I heard her typing away, clicking her mouse, and then muttering something.

"I'm, uhhh..." she said nervously, almost as if she was at a loss for words, "I'm going to have to pass you on to... security."

"Great," I thought, "We've been hacked."

I was pleasantly surprised when the line was picked up immediately.

"Good evening, Mr. Wheeler,' said a stern male voice, "This is Richard with Security."

From Richard's tone, I could tell this was serious.  He reminded me of my dad, my principal, every male authority figure I'd ever had... and it sounded like I was in trouble,

"Hi, Richard," I said, "I'm having a bit of trouble with my fr-"

"Yes, you are having trouble," he tersely cut me off, "Mr. Wheeler, we have a serious situation here."

"Oh?", I said, worried.

"Mr Wheeler, you are in violation of our End User Agreement," he accused, "which automatically voids your warranty and revokes your license to operate these appliances."

"WHAT?!" I exclaimed, "What in Hell are you talking about?"

"Mr. Wheeler," he continued, "according to the information given us by our CSR Julie, and confirmed by the logs on your appliances, you violated our EUA through the use of products from an unauthorized third party company."

"That's ridiculous," I said.

"In addition," he continued, talking over me, "to unauthorized access to the devices by circumventing the appliances' standard web interfaces."

I was gobsmacked.  "What do you mean, 'Products from an unauthorized third party company'?"

"Mr. Wheeler," he said, "I am referring to RFID product code 70009-14009-008, the 1kg brick of store-brand butter placed in the fridge at approximately 2142p last night.  This is not a product from one of our authorized partners and, as such, violates our EUA."

"You're going to kill a $1200 (CAD) fridge, money we paid you, over a kilogram of butter?", I asked.

"No, Mr. Wheeler," he responsed smugly, "You killed your $1200 (CAD) fridge, and your $90 (CAD) coffeemaker by using an unauthorized, third-party refillable coffee pod."

"You're telling me I can't choose what goes into my own fridge?" I demanded.

"The terms of the EUA are spelled out in plain English," he said in his smugly fascist way, "and I might add you signed this agreement for both appliances before you activated them on February 4th, 2021."

Fuck.  He had me.  I never read the EUA... who does?  Perhaps I should have, but who would have suspected that coffee could be affected by DRM?  Either way, we were in a jam.  We couldn't afford to buy a new fridge, and, with recent legislation outlawing the sale of older, less energy-efficient (and inexpensive) appliances, we couldn't simply go find one on the used market.

I sighed.  "How can we resolve this, Richard?" I asked, defeated.

"Mr. Wheeler, " he said, "It's not as easy as that.  You're in a very serious amount of trouble."

Panic started to set in.

"You've broken several international trade agreements," he said, "and you may be subject to serious fines or imprisonment."

"Over a fucking stick of butter?" I asked, incredulous.

"Mr. Wheeler," he replied, "it doesn't matter what you did, only that you did."

"I'm not going to jail over a stick of butter or cup of coffee!" I said, "Is there anything we can do?"

"That is not my call, Mr. Wheeler," he explained, "that would be a matter for our legal department."

Violations?  Trade Agreements? Fines?  Imprisonment?  Legal Departments?  My head was spinning...

"Can... can you put me through to them?" I asked nervously.

"They're monitoring this call," Richard explained, "I'll let them chime in."

"Good afternoon, Shaun," came a reedy voice, "My name is Wendell, and I'll be looking after your case."

I'll spare you what came next, as it was basically a re-hashing of the previous conversation with Richard.  After an hour of being made to feel like a criminal for buying the butter that was on sale (and trying to save money by refilling my coffee pods with cheap coffee), I admitted my guilt and we settled out of court.  It was certainly cheaper and less exhausting than facing an international consumer goods conglomerate, Industry Canada, and various levels of government in court.  Nobody wants to be made an example...

Wendell went easy on me.  While we didn't get hit with a fine, we did have to pay them several hundred dollars (USD) for unlock codes for the two devices, and another couple of hundred for (authorized) repairpersons to apply the codes, clear the security lockout, update the firmware, and ensure everything was in proper working order.  Wendell also "convinced" us to purchase the extended warranty plan, as I didn't have the will or strength to argue.  It tapped out our bank account and credit card, but at least I avoided jail time...

In addition, I had to perform a sort-of Community Service for the manufacturer.  I agreed to be a driver for their smartphone Taxi-On-Demand service app during evenings for the next four years.  Unpaid.  Starting Monday.

He went on to explain what would have happened had I try to "jailbreak" our appliances... it wasn't pretty.

So, that was my afternoon.  I spent two hours on the phone with these people, all the while Jillian was frantically refilling the coolers with fresh snow and ice from the yard.  We're hoping those repairpeople get here soon.

Here comes our pizza... I never thought I'd be so happy to hear a delivery drone's quadcopter blades...

The preceding was a true story I just made up.