It’s 9AM on any given Sunday. You can be found in your usual spot – knee-deep in wires and circuit boards. The neighbor’s barking dog doesn’t grab your attention as you pry the cover off of a cell phone, but the rustling of leaves by the back door does. Seconds later, several heavily armed SWAT officers bust in and storm your garage. You don’t have time to think as they throw your down on the cold, hard concrete floor. You’re gripped by a sharp stinging pain as one of the officers puts his knee in the square of your back. Seconds later, you’re back on your feet being lead to the back of an awaiting police cruiser. You catch the gaze of one of your neighbors and wonder what they might be thinking as your inner voice squeaks: “What did I do wrong?”
The answer to this question would come soon enough. Your crime – hacking your dad’s tractor.
“That’s like saying locking up books will inspire kids to be innovative writers, because they won’t be tempted to copy passages from a Hemingway novel.”
John Deere is trying to convince the Copyright Office that farmers don’t really own the tractors they buy from them. They argue that the computer code that runs the systems is not for sale, and that purchasers of the hardware are simply receiving “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”
In order to modify or “hack” any type of software, you have to copy it first. Companies don’t like the copying thing, so many put locks in place to prevent this. But because hackers are hackers, we can easily get past their childish attempts to keep code and information out of our hands. So now they want to make it illegal. John Deere is arguing that if it is legal for hackers to copy and modify their software, that it could lead to farmers listening to pirated music while plowing a corn field. No I am not making this up — dig into this 25-page facepalm-fest (PDF) written by John Deere and you’ll be just as outraged.
Trying to keep hackers out using the DMCA act is not new. Many companies argue that locking hackers out helps to spur innovation. When in fact the opposite is true. What about 3D printers, drones, VR headsets…all from us! The Copyright Office, after holding a hearing and reading comments, will make a decision in July on whether John Deere’s argument has any merit.
Let us know what you think about all this. Can hackers and the free market learn to live in harmony? We just want to fix our tractor!
Thanks to [Malachi] for the tip!
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.
Continue reading “Hacking and Philosophy: Surveillance State”
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.
Continue reading “Future Tech and Upgrading your Brain”
This week we conclude our discussion of The Hacker Crackdown with the final chapter, which covers the rise of the EFF. In early 1990, the idea of civil liberties online was little more than a notion in [John Barlow’s] head, but by the end of the same year, the EFF had formed to not only keep Phrack editor [Knight Lightning] out of prison, but to also successfully challenge the Secret Service on behalf on Steve Jackson Games.
[Sterling] details [Knight Lightning’s] trial in this chapter and it’s worth reading. Had the EFF lost the case, online publications would have suffered serious setbacks in terms of freedom of speech, and sites like ours would likely be considered illegal. Read on, dear reader.
Continue reading “Hacking and Philosophy: Crackdown Part IV”
“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!
Continue reading “Hacking and Philosophy: Crackdown Part III”
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!
Continue reading “Hacking and Philosophy: Crackdown Part II”
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!
Continue reading “Hacking and Philosophy: Hacker Crackdown Part I”