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Bad Idea Of The Day

So you're a Microsoft employee and a blogger and you write an article titled "How can I trust Firefox?"

How can I stop laughing?


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Bad Idea Of The Day:

» Conservative Revolution linked with More Proof That Firefox Rules

» PeteHoliday.com linked with Signatures and Firefox Security

» XTremeBlog linked with Secure Downloading

Comments (36)

ROTFLMAO!... (Below threshold)


But Kevin, surely you've go... (Below threshold)

But Kevin, surely you've got to admit that the guy has a point. I don't use Windows myself, so I care not the least about either Firefox or Internet security, but from his description of the installation process it does sound like an awful mess. Being redirected to a random mirror site to download an executable file with no signature on it? That sounds exactly like the transmission vector for viruses and other malicious software to me.

Whether you like the messenger or not, doesn't it seem to you like the guy raises a pretty legitimate concern?

I've never taken the whole ... (Below threshold)

I've never taken the whole "signing" thing seriously anyway. It always seemed to be something MS and Verisign were trying to impose on the world in a kind of monotheistic dominance ploy.

Of course, I could be wrong.

His points are baseless. Es... (Below threshold)

His points are baseless. Esp the ones about "random" mirror sites and the installation problems. I've downloaded and installed Firefox on at least four or five computers and not experienced the problems he has. I bet half the time I download a file from a website, it's a mirror site. BFD. His arguments are basically ripped apart in most of the comments. Bottom line though, I don't give a rip about what my browser thinks is a "signed" file. If I trust a site, I trust it, if I don't I don't. I'm not a Microsoft-hater by any means, but IE blows in comparison. I only use it now when I have to. I'll never go back. Even after MS adds tabbed browing to IE 7 (c'mon, YOU KNOW they're going to steal that).

His arguments are baseless ... (Below threshold)

His arguments are baseless because you don't give a damn about the validity of the files you download, Dan? That's fine. I don't care either. That's because I use a Mac and I keep an up-to-date backup. The absolute worst-case scenario is that I reboot off the other hard drive and I lose a few hours' work.

But if you use Windows, I'm told you need to be more concerned than that.

Also, I don't think there's going to be an IE 7. I remember reading somewhere that IE 6 would be the last version of a standalone browser from Microsoft. It's possible that I'm remembering that wrong, but I think I read it someplace quite some time ago.

Admittedly MS should have i... (Below threshold)

Admittedly MS should have its own house in order before criticizing Firefox... but this isn't MS -- it's one of MS's employees. Further, he does raise a few valid points that should be accepted in the spirit of open source.

After all, the open source doctrine doesn't stipulate that we only accept suggestions from open source zealots or that we ignore suggestions from Microsoft employees.

The mirror chain coupled with non-signed binaries should not be trusted inherently.

None of that makes IE more secure, but we certainly ought to look at those points as ways of improving Firefox, no?

I would suggest that it ... (Below threshold)

I would suggest that it does make IE more secure, Pete, to the extent that when you use IE you can be quite confident that it's the genuine article. The source code is not available and the only source for the software is Microsoft, so the likelihood that somebody inserted malicious instructions into your copy of IE is slim, slim.

Now, whether IE is a better browser than the other one or vice versa is a whole different topic of conversation. My point here is simply to say that, as a disinterested observer, it seems like the process by which people get ahold of Firefox is far more vulnerable to people of malicious intent.

(Sorry to comment 3 times in such quick succession. I just happened to be sitting here waiting for something. I'm off to bed now, so that's the last you'll hear from me tonight. Promise.)

Commenters pointed out that... (Below threshold)
Remy Logan:

Commenters pointed out that the weird installation issues were actually do to other software, not FF.

The argument about digital signed software is not all that pertinent, digital signing means that a third party is taking the vendor's promise and then telling me to trust the vendor. VeriSign does not guarantee that the download is free of nasty stuff, just that the download I get is the same download the vendor intended to send me. So, yes, there is an issue with the dowload code being altered by a malicious party who has access to the server. Guess what, it is a lot easier to use IE to spoof websites, or install malicious software onto a user's computer through ActiveX.

Which brings me to my real world example. I worked at a company that every few months had to shutdown their servers and cleanup messes that IE and Outlook had allowed through. The company I work at now only allows FF and Thunderbird for web and email. We have never had to shutdown our servers to clean up a mess. While email viruses have gotten into our email system, they have never been able to propogate through that system. At the old company, a couple times a month we would spend the morning clearing out our email boxes from the viruses that corporate hq had sent our way.

How can I trust FF? I would like to instead ask how can I trust IE? Just a few months ago we woke up to the peril of visiting any website that had jpeg images. Because of Microsoft programming decisions, any jpeg image could be used to install viruses, trojans, etc., on any computer using IE. Just visiting a website was enough to infect a computer using IE. Microsoft violated the industry standard and accepted practices for the rendering of jpeg images, and never told users that those standards had been intentionally violated. FF users didn't have this problem.

IE has had some other recent problems that were so severe that Microsoft's only option was to remove functionality. When Service Pack 2 was released, they had to do a recall and try again because the cure was worse than the disease.

How about the time this past summer when the websites of major retailers and banks running Microsoft Internet Server Software were being hacked and infecting user stupid enough to surf the web with IE?

I went in search of a better browser because IE was broke. Don't ask me how can I trust FF. Instead ask me what it will take before I ever trust Microsoft software again. Trust me, it doesn't get that cold in Hell.

Anyone see the MS Update to... (Below threshold)

Anyone see the MS Update to add tabs to IE6? - go figure

'Want Tabbed Browsing, Search Toolbars, and Much More?'

Stolen already...

Would I trust this web-site... 'Cancel'

IE6: 6 trojans from 1 website,
FF1: same site, 0 trojans
Nuff Said!

Jeff - most people who use ... (Below threshold)

Jeff - most people who use IE for the browsing experience don't give two toots about signed or unsigned software. They click past that "unsigned" warning without blinking. Therefore to them, downloading FF is not a problem, because they simply don't care. For the rest of us, if we really care, we can either trust a Verisign cetificate (which any jackass with a cc number can obtain) in the case of IE. Or, they can download FF from a "random mirror", then obtain the MD5 hash from the main site and check the thing themselves. Apparently, there is a also a protocol for using PGP to authenticate your FF download. That is significantly more secure and trustworthy (from the standpoint of encryption protocols) than MS's method utilizing Verisign.

You'll say that most people won't go to those lengths, and you are correct. But then again, most people won't even go to the lengths of following up an expired certificate warning, so the claim that cert protection is better is basically useless.

For the IE method, you have to trust MS and Verisign. For the FF method, you only have to trust mozilla.org, who publishes the encryption keys and hashes.

"Random mirror"... "some r... (Below threshold)

"Random mirror"... "some random university I've never heard of..."

OMG, I almost fell out of my chair!!!!

Depaul. Never heard of it ? Can you say "Dumb as a bag of hammers" ???

Good lord. I try ratcheting up my IE security settings to prevent nasty stuff, but will not go so far as to require my clicking "ok" to get the funcitonality of nearly every website on earth. As a result, if I wind up at the wrong site, which I did 2 days ago, I proceed to spend 3 hours or more to remove the dozen or more pieces of spyware, adware, and trojans off my PC.

Problems with FireFox ? You gotta be kidding me.

Okay everyone, pipe down.</... (Below threshold)

Okay everyone, pipe down.

I want you all to repeat after me, WRT this piece about Firefox:


Firefox is eating into IE's browser dominance, and the best its promoters can do is complain that a security process they invented isn't being followed.

Notice the complaint isn't that people downloading Firefox are getting viruses with the download, because they're not. In fact, if they were, that would have been the focus of the piece.

Let's all say it again:


Not surprisingly, some folk... (Below threshold)

Not surprisingly, some folks still don't get it.

Remy: Off-topic. This isn't about IE's security, it's about Firefox's. We can gripe all day long about IE, but that's not going to make Firefox a better browser.

harkyman: Just because "most users won't" take advantage of proper security measures doesn't meant that they're useless or should be ignored.

Sherard: As Torr pointed out -- he's not from the U.S. so for him not to have heard of a relatively obscure school (from a global perspective) is probably natural. How many foreign universities can YOU name?

McGehee: Again, as above, let's try to keep focus. Sitting around and crying "sour grapes" makes you no less a zealot than the person who tries to sell the bill of goods that IE is more secure than firefox.

Many of you seem to be ignoring -- or writing off as absurd -- the threat that Mozilla uses a number of mirrors to distribute unsigned code. That's not a minor issue. The security of a distribution channel doesn't have to be compromised at ALL points, it only needs to be compromised at one. Adding more unmanaged servers to that mix increases the odds of a security failure and the distribution of malicious code in place of the actual FireFox browser. Yes, this is an off chance, but how long has MS been trying to get by with "good enough" security? Why would we want Firefox to start down that path as well?

The bottom line is that if your response to this article involves nothing more than a criticism of IE, you really have no place in the discussion -- you're not really helping, all you're doing is creating a distraction because the discussion is not about IE.

most people who use IE f... (Below threshold)

most people who use IE for the browsing experience don't give two toots about signed or unsigned software.

Isn't that kind of the problem, Harky? Isn't that just what everybody's trying to change? Distributing a piece of software with the selling point that it's way secure while flaunting the basic security processes that have been established for this kind of thing is kinda like one-step-forward, one-step-back, isn't it?

Now, if you can explain to me why it's okay that copies of the Firefox installer are just sitting out there on random servers waiting to be downloaded, then please do, 'cause I don't get it. Say I go to Miskatonic University, and I know that my school's server is a Firefox mirror. What's to stop me from downloading the source code — freely available, remember — making some malicious change, and putting the installer on my school's server? More importantly, what's to stop you from downloading that installer, thinking it's the real thing, and experiencing loss?

obtain the MD5 hash from the main site and check the thing themselves

If you can explain in one sentence how to do that on Windows, I'll give you a shiny new penny.

For the IE method, you have to trust MS and Verisign.

That's absurd. The point of a signed download isn't that you're trusting anybody. The point is that the thing you just downloaded is, in fact, what you think you downloaded. A digital signature says nothing about the contents of the file; it just verifies that the file came from the person or company it purports to be from.

Think of a signed e-mail. If I send you a signed e-mail, there's no proof at all that what's contained in the e-mail is true. It could be full of lies, all lies. But you can be sure that it's actually from me. That's the point here.

Apart from Harkyman, most of y'all seem to want to talk about whether Firefox or IE is the better browser. That's fine. But it's not what the author of the article that started all this was talking about.

There's an old saying that says a little virtue can forgive a multitude of sins. Maybe that's the case here. Because y'all perceive Firefox as being a better browser (tabs or something, whatever), you're willing to overlook its multitude of sins. If that's the case, that's okay. But isn't it reasonable to at least acknowledge that those sins exist?

Woah Jeff- Calm down buddy.... (Below threshold)

Woah Jeff- Calm down buddy.

His criticism is just goofy. Basically his criticism (in a nutshell) is that FF does not use the same worthless pseudosecurity IE does, therefore it is bad. If IE is go freaking great how come we have reports of machines with thousands of malware apps on them?

Imagine a locksmith who makes a lock you can pick in 5 seconds. Now imagine another locksmith has a shop and he DOES NOT use his competitor's worthless lock on his front door. The bad locksmith bashing the good locksmith for not using his product would be just plain goofy.

If you don't understand the whole thing, it sounds good but in reality it is meaningless. University mirrors have been around since before Al Gore invented the internet.

And listen to his hyperbole:

Do I really trust a bunch of kids at some random university I've never heard of?

That "random university" of which he claims he has never heard?????


Do you believe this guy never hear of one of the top schools in the nation?

Bovine Excrement

Paul, please... zealotry is... (Below threshold)

Paul, please... zealotry is useless. Get a clue.

Code signatures are not "pseudosecurity" -- they're pretty much the only way (currently) to guarantee that you're getting what the manufacturer intended. Not even MD5 or SHA1 totally accomplish that.

The benefit of signatures is that they're going to be valid EVEN IF THE SERVER IS COMPROMISED.

Even if Mozilla's main server is compromised, signed code will remain signed. Compromising the server will not cause an insecurity in that way unless the private key is also compromised -- unlikely if it's handled correctly.

Now, I know you're one of these "microsoft does it, therefore it's wrong" types... but give me a break. Does it MATTER who points out a flaw in FireFox? Isn't that the whole point of open source? For as many eyes to look as possible so as to create the best product possible? (Answer: Yes, it is)

IE is a browser I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy, but that doesn't make Torr's arguments incorrect.

I guess I'm just not suffic... (Below threshold)

I guess I'm just not sufficiently educated on this topic to know why signed downloads are "worthless pseudosecurity." 'Splain it to me, maybe?

Yes, I know that "university mirrors" have been around for a long time. Open e-mail relays were around for a long time, too — longer than FTP mirrors, I'd hazard to guess — until somebody discovered that they could be used for nastiness. Now they're all but extinct. See my point?

You're making a huge stink about DePaul. I'm sure lots and lots of Americans have never heard of DePaul, particularly those who aren't basketball fans. But more important, I'm sure hardly anybody from the UK, where Peter Torr grew up, has heard of DePaul.

But that's not the point either. The point is DePaul isn't where he started from. He started from firefox.com (or whatever; I don't know the address) and ended up somewhere else. It doesn't really matter where he ended up. The point is that he ended up somewhere else, and this should raise a red flag in a cautious Internet user.

Um. Did I say UK? I meant A... (Below threshold)

Um. Did I say UK? I meant Australia. I swear. Ooopsie.

Linux rocks. heh. :o)... (Below threshold)

Linux rocks. heh. :o)

I'm using Mozilla right now, actually.

Really, this isn't even a d... (Below threshold)

Really, this isn't even a debate about the relative security of FF and IE. It's about which methods of obtaining the software are more trustworthy.

Clearly, if MS is going to be the sole distributor of IE via their download site and not farm that out or let anyone mirror it, then they have absolute control over authenticity of the binary. If you trust that MS hasn't been haXorD, then you trust their certificate and their download of IE. That's actually pretty trustworthy in my opinion. Of course, it doesn't really talk to the general security of trusting Verisign certificates.

One of the author's main criticisms is "How do I know that the FF I downloaded is legit?" A valid question. But his manner of approaching this, acting like he never downloads and installs anything that doesn't have a signed cert and that it scares him under normal circumstances, is just silly.

To check an MD5 sum on Windows in one sentence:
Run this program ( http://www.etree.org/cgi-bin/counter.cgi/software/md5sum.exe) in the directory of your download with the options "-c [name-of-md5-file].md5". You owe me a shiny penny. It doesn't even have to be new.

Also, the only things that prevent you or I from compromising one of the distributed installers are the normal security measures each of these sites ought to have in place. Do they? Probably. How can you be sure? Check the sums. Do I bother? No, in general, I do not. BTW, a Versign certificate doesn't tell you anything about what you're getting other than who you are getting it from. And there is nothing to stop some malicious goober from registering with Verisgn as MAcrosoft and start distributing viruses/trojans with his very valid Verisign cert, and most folks won't think twice before clicking okay. Both protocols have weaknesses, but I trust a "random" download verified by crypto techniques and based on the main site's hashes as much as the Verisign authenticated distributor method.

The problem with the original article is that author uses his (unjustified) perception of insecurity in the software download process to imply that FF is a less secure browser than IE, which it clearly is not. The browsing functionality is not really related to it's distribution method, though that is the argument he makes by implication.

Harky: I think you're confu... (Below threshold)

Harky: I think you're confusing a general site certificate (which Mozilla actually has for their bug-tracking program https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/ ) and a code signing certificate.

A signed download WOULD tell you that you're getting exactly what the signer had intended. That's the whole point of signing the files in the first place.

If you trust that MS has... (Below threshold)

If you trust that MS hasn't been haXorD, then you trust their certificate and their download of IE.

I think the biggest problem with digital signature technology is that most folks just don't understand how it works or what it's good for.

To check an MD5 sum on Windows …

Sorry, Harky, you don't earn your penny. Given that I have literally never used Windows for more than a couple of minutes, I would have no idea how to go about running a program in a directory with options. All I know is double-click. If we were talking about a Mac or some other computer running UNIX, I'd be able to do what you ask as long as I can figure out (or you can tell me) how to get a terminal window open. But I don't know how to do that on Windows … and I'd wager that most Windows users don't, either.

Besides, I'm just guessing here, but I bet the program you pointed to isn't signed. Why should I trust it? Not just in the sense that I should trust that it's not malicious, but why should I trust that it even works as advertised? Who the heck is "etree.org" and why should I download this program from them?

Are you kind of seeing the theme here?

BTW, a Versign certificate doesn't tell you anything about what you're getting other than who you are getting it from.

Well, not quite. It sounds like you're confusing a code-signing certificate with an SSL certificate. What a digital signature tells you is that the file was signed by somebody with access to the key, and that it hasn't been altered since. That means anybody who wants to compromise the software has to get ahold of an unsigned copy, make the change, get access to the key and finally re-sign the altered program. Which would be really tough. With an unsigned installer, on the other hand, anybody can change the installer with relative ease; if the source code to that installer is available on the Internet for anybody and his sister to download, "relative ease" becomes "trivial ease."

So which is more trustworthy? The signed installer, definitely.

But the real point here isn't that Microsoft's way is good and Firefox's way is bad. The real point is that for just a few bucks Firefox could stop distributing their software the bad way and start doing it the good way. Then this whole thing would just disappear.

I trust a "random" download verified by crypto techniques and based on the main site's hashes as much as the Verisign authenticated distributor method.

Yeah. Like I said, the biggest problem with digital-signature technology is that most people just don't understand it. It's complicated.

that author uses his (unjustified) perception of insecurity in the software download process to imply that FF is a less secure browser

First, his perception of insecurity is 100% justified, and second, that's not what he said. For the 10th time, if you want to make it a "my browser is better than your browser" pissing contest, fine, whatever. But that's not the subject that launched this discussion.

Yeah. Like I said, the b... (Below threshold)

Yeah. Like I said, the biggest problem with digital-signature technology is that most people just don't understand it. It's complicated.

Most people don't get it, but it's not THAT complicated. I've got an overview in the trackback link for those interested.


the discussion is not ab... (Below threshold)

the discussion is not about IE.

Then why is the complaint coming from a Microsoft employee? At a time when Firefox is cleaning IE's clock?

Crying "zealotry" isn't an argument either.

Then why is the complain... (Below threshold)

Then why is the complaint coming from a Microsoft employee?

Because you'd be hard pressed to find somebody who doesn't work either for Microsoft or actively against Microsoft who gives a damn about what kind of Web browser they use?

Then why is the complain... (Below threshold)

Then why is the complaint coming from a Microsoft employee?

Why does it matter who he works for? The correct answer: it doesn't. His claims neither stand nor fall on the status of his employment for any particular company.

Erecting diversionary arguments about IE doesn't speak to the issue at all.

Woah Pete, calm down buddy.... (Below threshold)

Woah Pete, calm down buddy... Breathlessly screaming about zealotry is more than a tad ironic in this case.

Look at the postings and tell me who the zealots are? (huh?)

Take a few deep breaths and we can continue the conversation.

I'm not sure who was "breat... (Below threshold)

I'm not sure who was "breathless" -- I was simply stating a well-known fact that you happen to be a gigantic anti-MS zealot, that's all.

There are two types of people ignoring Torr's arguments right now: the ill-informed and the zealots. Those are really the only two options after his update where he admitted that criticizing the install errors were cheap shots.

As far as continuing the conversation, it's been continuing just fine without you, actually, but I'm sure the rest of the thread participants greatly appreciate your permission to continue.

To be quite clear: FF is the best browser on the market, hands down... but it's not perfect, and the problems -- both with the browser AND with the distribution -- should be looked at seriously, regardless of who brings them up or who pays that person's salary. I don't think that's a very controversial position to take, although it's difficult to say exactly what your standard is for that sort of thing, given that your first comment was a perfect example of being blinded by hatred for MS.

...so maybe when you're ready to take off those penquin-colored glasses, you might be able to participage in a rational discussion about some of the problems with FireFox.

"I'm not sure who was "b... (Below threshold)

"I'm not sure who was "breathless" -- I was simply stating a well-known fact that you happen to be a gigantic anti-MS zealot, that's all."

If you start with ill informed speculation and/or assumptions, then I really can't help you.

In the near year I've been here, I've made 4 Microsoft posts.

#1 mentioned that they are clipping the feature set of Longhorn BUT they deny they are cutting back their vision of the product.... What ever that means.

#2 Complained that Windows XP BY MS'S OWN STATEMENT IN THEIR SUPPORT DATABASE will not play a DVD without third party software.

(that went a few posts)

#3 I linked to a site where someone caught the Windows development team using warez to produce XP.

#4 I asked is Windows was in trouble since you could now buy a sub 500 dollar laptop at Walmart.

NOW- Of those 4 posts in the last year, only in #2 (where I said Windows sucked) was I that harsh... The rest were mostly news.

And Guess what--- I let Kev have the last word on #2 but I mailed him some links... Microsoft had every opportunity to play DVD's and they freaking blew it.

And to quote your line of the day; What should it matter WHO said MS dropped the ball on DVD codecs, if it is true...


So where you get off calling me a "gigantic anti-MS zealot" I'm not real sure. But I suspect it has something to do with you protesting too much.

And in closing Pete, please look at the thread. In my only two posts I've urged you guys to calm down, not the typical behavior of a zealot. If you want to find the zealot in this discussion, you can start your search closer to home.

Now if you would like to discuss the topic at hand and not which one of us is being a zealot, I'd be happy to.

But I must warn you.... Continuing the argument that I'm a zealot will only prove the opposite at this point.

so maybe when you're rea... (Below threshold)

so maybe when you're ready to take off those penquin-colored glasses


Pete, you have no idea who or what you are talking about.

I own a small hosting company... I run about a dozen servers... None of them are linux... In fact at this snapshot in time, there is not a linux box in my company.

By making this about me... but having no idea who I am, you've blown your own argument out the water.

Chill Pete.

Girls, girls. You're bot... (Below threshold)

Girls, girls. You're both pretty.


speaking of zealots... LOL<... (Below threshold)

speaking of zealots... LOL

Using my computer on the In... (Below threshold)

Using my computer on the Internet is a calculated risk. Sure my PC would be a heck of a lot safer if I never went online but how practical would that be. Maybe I'm living on the edge or whatever but going to mozilla.org and downloading an unsigned executable from a university's mirror site is a risk I'm willing to take because I think Firefox's benefits over IE are worth it. If IE wasn't a piece of crap in comparison we wouldn't even be having this discussion. Also, dunno if anyone has mentioned this yet but you can order the Firefox install disc for 14.95 if you're worried about downloading it.

Have been using FF and it's... (Below threshold)

Have been using FF and it's companion email client Thunderbird for about 2 months. Since I made the switch, have had almost ZERO malware infestations. Thunderbird does a nice job of filtering and deleting junk. I spend a tiny fraction of the time I used to cleaning crap off my PC. Firefox rules.

'IE comes from the source' ... (Below threshold)

'IE comes from the source' Don't make me laugh.
The last 3 times I've downloaded IE off the Microsoft they all say the download is coming from who.. 'Comindico' (apparently a Microsoft mirror for the Australian Area or summin) Now nothing tells me that they are linked to Microsoft!

'doesn't have to be compromised at ALL points, it only needs to be compromised at one' [pete]
M$ has been hacked before, and will probably happen again. (Next the FEDs will kick down my door, 'conspiracy to hack')

No matter how secure a company claims to be there will always be a hole somewhere, M$ seems to find new ones everyday, so are THEIR servers, running THEIR products, totally secure if they keep finding holes left, right & center?

Also a lot of people on slower connections get their IE updates from the CDs found on the cover of most computer mags on the shelves. Sure you can download it, but on a 56k line (ahh, the memories) it takes a s#@tload of time to do.

The brilliant thing about Firefox is that it is the same on all of my machines regardless of the OS, which is how products should be.

The fact that an MS Employee can't install a simple app without a crash doesn't surprise me, just like it didn't suprise me that the IT tech sent round to fix the system on the desk next to me didn't know that the beeping sound meant the ram was dead. M$ breeds idiots, anyone who uses Winblows believes that they know it all, which is the problem.

I believe in free speech, but I can't stand people who tell me this is better when they havn't tried the other side of the coin.

-sigh-I'm actually... (Below threshold)


I'm actually finding myself agreeing with those who are railing against the "zealots", such as Pete and Jeff. However, before you start preparing the stake to burn me on, I use firefox now for about 95% of my browsing (my school's email system online isn't displaying right on firefox, it works better on IE).

BUT, the original post was valid. Its open source, and I think that we should all thank the worker @ Microsoft for contributing to make Mozilla's FireFox into a better, more secure browser than Internet Explorer. C'mon, who's with me? ;-)






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