Hacking and Philosophy: Surveillance State

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If you don’t live under a rock (though you may want to now) you probably saw yesterday’s article from Spiegel that revealed the NSA has its own catalog for spy gadgets. Today they released an interactive graphic with the catalog’s contents, and even if you’re not a regular reader of Hacking & Philosophy, you’re going to want to take a look at it. I recommend glancing over IRATEMONK, in the “Computer Hardware” category. As the article explains, IRATEMONK is

An implant hidden in the firmware of hard drives from manufacturers including Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung that replaces the Master Boot Record (MBR).

It isn’t clear whether the manufacturers are complicit in implanting IRATEMONK in their hardware, or if the NSA has just developed it to work with those drives. Either way, it raises an important question: how do we know we can trust the hardware? The short answer is that we can’t. According to the text accompanying the graphic, the NSA

…[installs] hardware units on a targeted computer by, for example, intercepting the device when it’s first being delivered to its intended recipient, a process the NSA calls ‘interdiction.’

We’re interested to hear your responses to this: is the situation as bleak as it seems? How do you build a system that you know you can trust? Are there any alternatives that better guarantee you aren’t being spied on? Read on for more.

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Future Tech and Upgrading your Brain

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A few weeks ago [Jacob Merz] sent me an email about his sensory expansion project, which allows the wearer to “hear” infrared light by mapping it to specific tones. Although a rough prototype, [Jacob's] device reflects a larger realm of technological possibilities: the development of a type of “peripheral” for the human body. EDIT: Updated gallery to include new photos and added link to Jacob’s new site.

You’re going to want to listen to [David Eagleman's] TEDx Alamo talk particularly around 10 minutes in, where he talks about the sonic glasses.  [Eagleman] claims that the human brain, if given a consistent input that corresponds to the real world, can decipher the signal into usable information. The sonic glasses, which provide a type of sonar to the blind wearer, eventually just…work. Your brain can “learn” its own drivers for input devices.

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Hacking and Philosophy: Crackdown Part III

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“Law and Order” may be my favorite chapter of Hacker Crackdown: it covers the perspective of the early 90’s seizures and arrests from the perspective of law enforcement. While the chapter has its flaws, I highly recommend it; [Sterling] treats both sides with patience and understanding, revealing how similarly adrift everyone was (and to some extent, remains) in the uncertainty of cyberspace. I also recommend the [Gail Thackeray] / [Dead Addict] joint talk from DEFCON 20 as an accompanying piece to this chapter, as it bridges the twenty-year gap between Crackdown‘s publication and today—and [Thackeray] herself is the focus of this chapter.

As always, everyone is welcome in our weekly discussion, even if you haven’t been keeping up with our progress through Hacker Crackdown. You can download it for free as an audiobook, too! Onward for more!

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Hacking and Philosophy: Crackdown Part II

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This week we’re back with Hacker Crackdown: Part II! The caliber of last week’s comments was exceptional, but the level of participation planed off, and I’ll risk a guess: The Mentor’s Manifesto was more likely encountered as part of any given reader’s childhood—or, if not, easily skimmed at just over one page long—and therefore drew more interest. Crackdown, however, is perhaps less familiar. You also needed to read over 50 pages for last week (100 for this week). I list these things not as an apology or a rationalization, but as an attempt to better serve the community by providing accessible content. If you can’t commit to a lengthy reading, that shouldn’t exclude your participation.

This week, I’m adjusting the format to focus on key quotations from the text. Never even heard of Hacker Crackdown? No problem! Stick with us after the break where you’ll find all the relevant issues in a brief outline, then join us in our discussion!

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Hacking and Philosophy: Hacker Crackdown Part I

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This week’s installment of Hacking & Philosophy hits the books with [Bruce Sterling's] Hacker Crackdown. If you’re joining us for the first time, you should check out last week’s conversation over The Mentor’s “Hacker Manifesto.” Don’t stop with the article, though, or you’ll miss out on the best part!

The contributions from our community are phenomenal, and it’s worth the effort to work through the comments. There are even a few replies from [The Mentor] himself.

Unfortunately, I can’t feature all of the excellent responses for lack of room, but I will recommend a handful that I feel are uniquely important after the break. Onward for more!

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Hacking and Philosophy: The Mentor’s Manifesto

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Welcome back to Hacking & Philosophy! I’ve done my best to keep up with the comments from last week’s article, and your responses and suggestions have been invaluable. Most readers expressed concern over how this column would define “hacker” or “hacking,” and whether the texts focused more on hacking-as-illegal or the hacker/maker culture. Rest assured that all interpretations are welcome, but I have no intention of dwelling on the sensationalized, criminal hacker stereotype, either. Others asked whether we’d be holding our conversation somewhere a bit more user-friendly: a solution is in the works. For now, we will stick to the comments.

Last week, I asked you to read an early document in hacking history: The Mentor’s “A Hacker Manifesto,” also called “The Conscience of a Hacker.” What follows is my analysis of the essay. I invite you to join me in a discussion in the comments: post your responses to the piece, your questions, your objections, anything! Now, lets take a trip back to the 80’s…

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Hacking and Philosophy: An Introduction

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This fall marks my third (and Flying Spaghetti Monster willing, final) year as a PhD student, and although I’m no longer taking courses, I often wonder how my seminars might have differed if other hacker-types were in the classroom contributing to the discussion.

Hacking and Philosophy is a new column that explores scholarly research about hacking, and does so with a community that lives the hacking experience. It’s a chance to discuss how researchers and deep thinkers handle our culture, its image, its philosophy, etc. Put simply, think of it as a weekly book club meeting. I’ll choose the text and proceed one chapter at a time, giving you my complete response to that week’s reading while engaging your replies in the comments as well as including your important or insightful contributions in future posts. Further, I promise never to venture into Ivory Tower territory: I hate being talked down to as much as the next person.

Hacking and Philosophy only works if it’s a conversation, so I encourage contributions, corrections, respectful disagreements, and as much hypertext (obviously literally, but philosophically a la Landow) that you can manage. Think of me not as an instructor but as a fellow participant who will occasionally guide us through obscure concepts and terminology.

Keep reading after the break for a tentative book list and the reading for next week!

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