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That old "interesting times" adage - Baxil [bakh-HEEL'], n. My Sites [Tomorrowlands] [The TTU Wiki] [Photos]
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June 27th, 2011
08:23 pm
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That old "interesting times" adage
After a weekend spent working and entertaining family -- punctuated by a server move that I'm almost certain had nothing to do with my mysterious hacker -- I've come back to the Pony4e board with an uncomfortable realization: I can't afford to wait and watch "Princess Luna" any more.

She hasn't done anything else wrong -- unless Inaki and I missed something grave while investigating the recent server outages -- but it's only a matter of time before she realizes I've been watching. And if I don't force matters before then, she might do something regrettable.

[Ponies and Pegasi]


So, for reference, here are the threads "Luna's" started or contributed to:
  • How marvelous! - Introducing herself; breaking the fourth wall while staying amazingly IC; engaging in a little discussion on the nature of fiction
  • Elsewhere in Equestria ... - Background fiction on a Luna/Celestia fight, and Luna reading Harmony's letter
  • The faith hammer party - Controlling an NPC to deliver a reply apparently foreshadowing her arrival; also pushing another NPC into the Temple to complicate the scheming of the various ponies in the basement

I'm blown away, honestly. "Luna" would be a model co-contributor under any other circumstances. But here's what's forcing my hand: She's still hiding her posts from me.

This includes Harmony (who's my freeform-RP PC, and who's listed in the Cast of Characters under my name). It makes sense that she'd also block Harmony from her posts while she's trying to evade administrator attention ... but makes a lot less sense when she's joining threads (which include Harmony) with the apparent intent of RPing.

In fact, over the weekend, someone replied to her post and quoted it. I haven't directly checked, but I don't think her obfuscation code extends to other people's posts. So the thread is a ticking time bomb of accidental exposure. (Even if that particular reply is harmless, how long can we keep RPing past each other, when she's visiting Fillydelphia because of Harmony?)

Fortunately, I haven't logged in with Harmony since then -- I've still got the barest shred of deniability. But replying to that thread is a direct admission that I know of her presence, and my silence is holding up the RP.

I should be clear -- based on her behavior so far, I'm not really expecting her to do something like delete the board. But if I handle this wrong, she might panic and disappear. Considering the amount of effort she's put in to joining and writing, I think that's what scares me the most! Which is a weird thing to say, for someone who hacked my site's web server, but still ...

On the other hand -- she did hack the server. (When we moved the site to a server with a fresh OS install, Inaki quietly installed some rootkit detection software, cranked all the settings up to max, and even went so far as to drop weird syslog entries to our cell phones in real time. Nothing yet.) So I keep second-guessing myself. What if Luna really does have something more malevolent in mind? Or what if she was waiting for a confrontation, to pull out some sort of crazy blackmail? Is she going to escalate once she realizes we're in a hacker war? And what if there's a backdoor we didn't catch, or she coded something else damaging in?

If it comes to that, I can pull out a two-month-old website backup, install it on a brand new webhost, and give up on the pony board. I would be able to recover with minimal personal loss ... but that's still the worst possible outcome. That would wipe out a lot of great camaraderie, effort, and creative writing (including Luna's)! So I feel a lot of pressure to make her feel welcome enough not to resort to warfare.

But, at the same time, how do I do that without completely ignoring the fact she hacked my server to join in? I mean, shouldn't that have consequences? And even if I'm willing to forget the past, how do I trust her not to do something worse in the future?

Augh, I don't know, and the clock is running down. Any suggestions? :/

- - -

UPDATE: The ball is in her court. (Um ... assuming celestial ponies play tennis, that is.)

Current Location: ~spiral
Current Music: Yes, "Miracle of Life"
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From:blossomforth
Date:June 28th, 2011 03:51 am (UTC)
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Granted, I have no idea how to do any of the coding or anything for this sort of thing, so take my opinions knowing that.

Her posts list that the IP is logged. Would it be possible for you to create a new administrative rank with the ability to see IP addresses, and promote somepony to that rank? I figure you couldn't do that on a current administrator rank, but since it would be a new rank, possibly nothing would be blocking the new rank from seeing her posts.

From there, check to see if that lines up with anypony else's address. It probably wouldn't, but couldn't hurt to look. After that you either know who it is and you can approach them directly, knowing a bit more about them, or at the very least may be able to block that IP address from your site?

I only suggest recon at the moment, but you will eventually need to approach them directly. Say that you appreciate the flavor they've added to everything, but you can't have somepony hacking your site. Worst case scenario, you have to send her to the moon? :-/
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From:baxil
Date:June 28th, 2011 04:12 am (UTC)
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Re the IP address: tried that (I can't read the posts, but I can read the database files they're stored in). The address listed with the older posts is the same address as the webserver itself. This fits with the lack of entries in the HTTP logs.

On her most recent post, from last night after the server move, there's no IP at all, which makes me suspect the file was edited after the time of posting. So if she posts again and I can be there during the act, I might be able to get something.

My concern is that, at this point, having lost the element of surprise, I need (as much as possible) to keep our future run-ins under control. If she takes the initiative and I play catch-up, I have no idea where this is going to lead, or if I'd have any recourse to stop it short of pulling the plug. As long as I'm forcing her to react to my lead, at least I can aim toward a good outcome.

But - she's under no obligation to follow, if I push too hard. She might pull out the trump card of her server hack, or she might just give up and disappear. I have to steer between that Scylla and Charybdis.

... Though ... you mention banishing her to the moon. As a joke, I'm sure :p But do you think that might actually be worth a try, as a threat? She's been 100% IC so far. Maybe she'll be more willing to play my game if I put it on her terms? Hmmm.
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From:blossomforth
Date:June 28th, 2011 04:47 am (UTC)
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You might be able to play her game with her, but then again it might not accomplish anything. Though if you challenge her in RP terms it may force her hand and make her reply in OOC.
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From:baxil
Date:June 28th, 2011 07:07 am (UTC)
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That, and it seems (on second thought) like it's more respectful to her to respond in kind. Which, if I'm trying to be diplomatic, seems like a good starting point.
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From:blossomforth
Date:July 1st, 2011 03:53 am (UTC)
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So wait... an off-hand silly comment led to this all being worked out?

Awesome.
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From:baxil
Date:July 1st, 2011 04:07 am (UTC)
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I can't honestly say that's what fixed it, but it did definitely start an awkward conversation off easier. So thank you for that! :)
[User Picture]
From:blossomforth
Date:July 1st, 2011 04:16 am (UTC)
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Hehe, well no. I'm just snagging credit to make myself seem special. >.>
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From:baxil
Date:July 1st, 2011 09:40 pm (UTC)
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Oh! Well, in that case, I'm easy to bribe. Chip in a few RP posts on the board and you can have full credit. ;-)
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From:heron61
Date:June 28th, 2011 04:24 am (UTC)
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This is very odd, I have no idea why someone would hack a board like that and then be a seemingly model participant. My best guess is a privat message expressing that you like this person's contributions so far, but are a bit weirded out that they hacked their way into the board, and asking them to stop doing that and go public, while making it clear that if they do, they are welcome to stay.

If nothing else, if things escalate, it will be purely their doing.
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From:baxil
Date:June 28th, 2011 07:02 am (UTC)
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> asking them to stop doing that and go public, while making it clear that if they do, they are welcome to stay

Yeah, that sounds about right. Thanks for the suggestion.

I can't say I understand it, either. If I did, I suspect this would be a great deal simpler.
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From:soreth
Date:June 28th, 2011 05:18 am (UTC)
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I have this suspicion that "Princess Luna" will disappear completely before choosing to take part as a normal user. Makes too much sense, ICly and OOCly...
[User Picture]
From:baxil
Date:June 28th, 2011 07:05 am (UTC)
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That, it might still be too early to tell. So far, the only thing she seems to have done with her admin powers is to fiddle with the board script for effect (e.g., hiding posts from me, and adding a little undocumented text formatting).

But if it becomes a sticking point ... meh. I genuinely don't know. It really boils down to a trust issue.
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From:soreth
Date:June 28th, 2011 07:25 am (UTC)
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Oh, it's completely a trust issue. But given that you have a Celestial running around, with the power behind the software to actually back it up OOCly... what are the odds that you're going to get someone to drop from that lofty state to a regular user account? Too much of a fall from grace, say my instincts, for how much they've deliberately set themselves up to blur the line between IC and OOC.

No matter what happens, I'm watching with interest.

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From:balinares
Date:June 28th, 2011 11:31 am (UTC)
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Surely you've thought of this already (and maybe we already talked about it and I forgot; I forget so much these days), but did you try capturing the network traffic when she's logged in, with tcpdump or alike? At the least it should tell us her IP, and on what port she accesses the server.

If you have trouble interpreting the resulting PCAP files in Wireshark (it can be tricky), and don't mind sharing with me, I can feed it into our network analysis software, since that's what I do these days.

I hope she'll stay, no matter what. She sounds intelligent and articulate, and is obviously very motivated about roleplaying there.
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From:siege
Date:June 28th, 2011 12:48 pm (UTC)
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I'm not. I'm hoping she'll leave us quietly and not come back, which is very unlikely, or at least drop the Luna character and the admin/root powers (all of them), again unlikely. She's forced her way in (breaking and entering are acts of invasion) and taken over one of the most powerful characters in the entire show while giving her RL admin powers (a power grab), and wants to stay hidden from those in charge, a set of behaviors rather like Nightmare Moon trying to come back; on top of that, she's trying to confuse IC and OOC, which, while amusing, is just another way of denying personal responsibility by saying the character did it and not the player.

I don't like it. Her presence puts me on edge against one of the characters that my own would respect and maybe love. Since she posted in the party thread, my own desire to reply has been reduced; and I'm tempted to ignore her posts as if I couldn't see them myself.

I think this person needs to be reminded in one way or another that using force to gain power over others is generally considered bullying (at the very least). And bullies are not welcome to stay.

Submitting a valid player-level character, rather than subverting what should be a GM/admin only character, would be a good start. Continuing in public rather than hiding their actions would be a good start. Both together might make me reconsider my stance, so long as this person stays clean (that is, so long as they never hack "our" server again, nor try to hide themselves or cause trouble via any prior hack).
[User Picture]
From:baxil
Date:June 28th, 2011 05:29 pm (UTC)
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Putting on my board admin hat: It's my responsibility to help all of the participants enjoy themselves. You're only on the board because you're having fun. Someone's standing in the way of that, so it is both my responsibility, and my desire, to step up and fix it.

So -- yes. I'm trying. I can assure you that there will be an ultimatum.

But -- taking off the admin hat -- I'm not sure it's as clear-cut as "breaking and entering" and "bullying." What has she done with that invasion and that power? She's made constructive contributions. She even fixed a broken lock on her way in the door. Those aren't the actions of a vandal, they're the actions of a Banksy.

I'm with you, that there needs to be accountability for the player. Period. I will take personal responsibility for that.

I'm MUCH more ambivalent about accountability for the character. All other things being equal, is it actually reducing your enjoyment that Princess Luna is being RPed? If it gets to the point where I need to ban a character -- even one I didn't strictly authorize -- I'm going to feel like I've failed.
[User Picture]
From:siege
Date:June 28th, 2011 06:11 pm (UTC)
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I think the problem with allowing the character to remain is that the player never asked to play such a powerful creature. Regardless of whether Luna's behavior stays in line, or which background and attitude the player chooses to represent (there are many in fanon, because canon Luna is such a blank slate), the character herself is an alicorn Princess, and thus very powerful.

This person... has shown a lack of wisdom in their choice of actions. I would have trusted you to keep a secret if I'd begun to play Luna behind the other players' backs. But the whole "hack in and become a shadow admin" just chews on me. I have a personal issue with people holding authority they have shown they can't use responsibly.

This isn't so much about whether the law has been broken. It's about whether the person behind the game can be trusted, not just to act peaceably toward the server and players, but also to play the character in a deserving way. And starting this off with a breach of the social contract, backed up with a hammer in the background (the admin powers and insistence on backdoor manipulation in order to post), is just... it's both maintaining character and denying accountability.

And then starting plot that may or may not fit the game... I don't know. I think the other issues are getting in the way of me enjoying the hacker's contributions (regardless of possible plot derailment). Without all that, I'd probably have seen this as authorized, and I wouldn't be so avoidant.

Summary: Removing the implied threat and joining the social contract is what I really want. If you're willing to trust them, I can, too.
[User Picture]
From:baxil
Date:June 28th, 2011 07:57 pm (UTC)
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> Removing the implied threat and joining the social contract is what I really want. If you're willing to trust them, I can, too.

Alright. Then removing the implied threat, and joining the social contract, will become non-negotiable. I'll be open to what form those will take, but I agree with your points about trust, and I'm going to do my best to establish that.
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