Posts tagged hackers

We have had gadflies among us ever since [Socrates], but one contemporary breed in particular has come in for a rough time of late: the “hacktivist.” While none have yet been forced to drink hemlock, the state has come down on them with remarkable force. This is in large measure evidence of how poignant, and troubling, their message has been.

Hacktivists, roughly speaking, are individuals who redeploy and repurpose technology for social causes. In this sense they are different from garden-variety hackers out to enrich only themselves. People like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates began their careers as hackers — they repurposed technology, but without any particular political agenda. In the case of Mr. Jobs and Mr. Wozniak, they built and sold “blue boxes,” devices that allowed users to defraud the phone company. Today, of course, these people are establishment heroes, and the contrast between their almost exalted state and the scorn being heaped upon hacktivists is instructive.

Peter Ludlow, New York Times Opinionator Blog. Hacktivists as Gadflies.

FJP: Ludlow argues that while American society celebrates its hackers, the ones they do are those that are “non-political”, and hack to start companies. See: Jobs, Wozniak, Gates and Zuckerberg.

For those with a political agenda — perceived or otherwise — the law comes down hard. See: Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer (writing a script to collect personal information exposed by AT&T and handing the results of his investigation into the security hole over to Gawker) and sentenced to 41 months in prison; Barrett Brown (linking to a publicly available Web page containing the results of a credit card hack committed by others) and now facing charges of up to 100 years on 12 counts of credit card fraud; and Aaron Swartz (writing a script to download academic articles but not distributing them) who killed himself before before going to trial in a case that could have meant 35 years in prison, among others.

As we’ve pointed out before, US laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act are so broad — and so out of date in our current networked environments — that almost all of us, technically, do things that put us on the wrong side of the law.

Writes Ludlow:

When everyone is guilty of something, those most harshly prosecuted tend to be the ones that are challenging the established order, poking fun at the authorities, speaking truth to power — in other words, the gadflies of our society.

Related: Boing Boing, CISPA: Congress wants to create unlimited Internet spying powers.

NY Times: Crammed Into Cheap Bunks, Dreaming of Digital Glory

A NY Times cover story today was about hacker hostels in the Bay Area, where smart twenty-something-year-old geeks live in close quarters with dirty laundry, poor diets, brilliant ideas, and incomparable community. 

Hackers — the Mark Zuckerberg variety, not the identity thieves — have long crammed into odd or tiny spaces and worked together to solve problems. In the 1960s, researchers at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory slept in the attic and, while waiting for their turn on the shared mainframe computer, sweated in the basement sauna.

When told about the hacker hostels, Ethan Mollick, an assistant professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who studies entrepreneurship, said they reminded him of his days in the last decade studying at M.I.T., where graduate students would have bunk beds inside their small offices.

“We work so hard and we don’t care about where we’re staying,” he said. “That’s how you learn. People always complain that academic study of computer science doesn’t do a lot for you as a programmer. What does are these sorts of environments.”

FJP: Sounds grimy and genius and nerdy and wonderful. We approve. Also, we’ll be posting a video shortly, in which Gabriella Coleman talks about hacker culture a bit. And it’ll be interesting. 

On Tracking Anonymous

Here’s your weekly Gabriella Coleman (well, third in a series of four), whose thoughts on WikiLeaks and open source journalism you should check out if you haven’t yet.

She studies hackers from an anthropological perspective and here, explains how she finds them and tracks them. Specifically, she discusses what she’s learned about the group Anonymous, how they organize themselves and what hacking culture is like. Very interesting.

Gabriella Coleman is Assistant Professor and Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University.

It's Hard to Report When Your Subject is Anonymous

Despite high profile activity such as Distributed Denial of Service attacks against Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard, and Visa, the digital activist group Anonymous is notoriously difficult to report on.

Unlike traditional groups, there’s no clear leader or spokesperson. 

Instead, Anonymous organizes like the Web it uses as its platform: as a series of weak and strong links, with a variety of hubs representing the group’s activities. 

For example, over the past two months, Anonymous has claimed responsibility for digital attacks in support of pro-democracy movements against governmental agencies and resources in Egypt and Tunisia, and against Zimbabwe for its censorship of WikiLeaks documents.

Most recently, Anonymous exposed internal emails from the security firm HBGary Federal that demonstrate how it was about embark on a disinformation campaign against pro-union organizers in the United States.

Still, news organizations can’t quite put their finger on who they are, and why they do what they do.

Writes Gillian Terzis in The Altantic:

For the most part, the mainstream media remains befuddled by Anonymous, not knowing quite what to make of the group’s mélange of illegal activity, political motivations and sardonic sense of humor. Moreover, as the group does not visibly toil on any ideological coalface, media outlets have been tempted to portray Anonymous as a group of lonesome hackers with nebulous but shadowy intent. Mass rallies — like the ones in Wisconsin — make for an easy, linear media narrative. But electronic subterfuge and virtual activism are often depicted as a bloodless sport — the least compelling kind.

Or, as Chris Landers wrote a few years back:

Anonymous is a group, in the sense that a flock of birds is a group. How do you know they’re a group? Because they’re travelling in the same direction. At any given moment, more birds could join, leave, peel off in another direction entirely.

Via kimbeamish:

telecomix.org is a decentralised cluster of net activists who have joined forces to collaborate on issues concerning access to a free Internet without intrusive surveillance.

Nicely done.