American prisons are strict about television use. Typically they’re only to be used with headphones, and their enclosures need to be transparent so they can’t be used to smuggle goods. ClearTech makes TVs that meet these specifications, and when [Steve Pietras] got his hands on just such a unit, he set about modding it for use in the free world.
Getting into the TV isn’t easy; ClearTech built the units using special security fasteners unlike any we’ve seen before. [Steve] found a way to deal with these, though declines to share his technique in his video. Once inside though, his task is relatively straightforward. He steps through where to install speakers in the TV’s housing, and how to hook them up to the right spots on the main circuit board. With the case closed back up, [Steve] is able to use the TV without headphones, and without the threat of getting shanked by a fellow inmate who really doesn’t want to hear Jeopardy while they’re trying to read.
Prison is a scary place, very much by design. It’s a place you end up when convicted of crimes by the judicial system, or in some cases, if you’re merely awaiting trial. Once you go in as a prisoner, general freedom and a laundry list of other rights are denied to you. New York City is the latest in a long list of municipalities looking to expand that list to include a ban on inmates receiving physical mail.
To achieve this, prisons across the US are instead switching to digital-only systems, which would be run by a private entity. Let’s look at the how, what, and why of this contentious new idea.
The Internet is everywhere. The latest anecdotal evidence of this is a story of prison inmates that build their own computer and connected it to the internet. Back in 2015, prisoners at the Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio built two computers from discarded parts which they transported 1,100 feet through prison grounds (even passing a security checkpoint) before hiding them in the ceiling of a training room. The information has just been made public after the release of the Inspector General’s report (PDF). This report is fascinating and worth your time to read.
Prisoners managed to access the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections network using login credentials of a retired prison employee who is currently working as a contract employee. The inmates plotted to steal the identity of another inmate and file tax returns under their name. They also gained access to internal records of other prisoners and checked out websites on how to manufacture drugs and DIY weapons, before prison officers were able to find the hidden computers. From the report:
The ODAS OIT analysis also revealed that malicious activity had been occurring within the ODRC inmate network. ODAS OIT reported, “…inmates appeared to have been conducting attacks against the ODRC network using proxy machines that were connected to the inmate and department networks.” Additionally, ODAS OIT reported, “It appears the Departmental Offender Tracking System (DOTS) portal was attacked and inmate passes were created. Findings of bitcoin wallets, stripe accounts, bank accounts, and credit card accounts point toward possible identity fraud, along with other possible cyber-crimes.”
The prisoners involved knew what they were doing. From the interview with the inmate it seems the computers were set up as a remote desktop bridge between internal computers they were allowed to use and the wider internet. They would use a computer on the inmate network and use a remote desktop to access the illicit computers. These were running Kali Linux and there’s a list of “malicious tools” found on the machines. It’s pretty much what you’d expect to find on a Kali install but the most amusing one listed in the report is “Hand-Crafted Software”.
This seems crazy, but prisoners have always been coming up with new ideas to get one over on the guards — like building DIY tattoo guns, When you have a lot of time on your hands and little responsibility, crazy ideas don’t seem so crazy after all.
The Hack42 Hackerspace in Arnhem, Netherlands is one of the best hackerspaces we’ve ever seen. After taking over a decommissioned military base, the Hack42 crew has filled a compound rimmed with razor wire with eclectic gizmos, tools, and a community that keeps growing the space. At this year’s EMF camp, Hack42 member [jos] laid out his plan to found the ultimate Hackerspace. He’s going to put a hackerspace in prison to create the ultimate hacker village, a monument to technomancy, and an anti-panopticon panopticon.
[jos] recently noticed a very large, very old prison — currently used to house refugees — went up for sale. This prison, located in downtown Arnhem, Netherlands is a panopticon, a concept for prisons popularized in the 1800s, with most designs based on a circular structure with prison cells along the diameter around the circumference and a guard house in the center. This gigantic building is 55 meters (180 feet) in diameter, and 46 meters (150 feet) tall at its highest point. This gigantic prison dome could contain the White House inside its walls, a few blue whales, and could almost fit a space shuttle stack under the dome (the orbiter itself would fit just fine if there were a door).
The ambitious vision for this prison-come-hackerspace is a permanent venue not unlike other hackercamps where hackers can stay for weeks or months to build a project, a venue for like-minded people to meet up, and a place for students to do graduation projects under the wings of academic leadership. A community is one thing, but this former prison would also be the largest hackerspace by enclosed volume, opening it up to some very cool, very large builds. Inter-office quadcopter mail was mentioned in the talk.
[jos] is looking for comments, ideas, and remarks via this Google form to, “convince the money-people to fork over the funds.” If you’ve ever wanted to contribute to something big, this is your chance.
One thing that always amazes us is the ingenuity displayed by prison inmates, as demonstrated in the tools and weapons they create while under the watchful eye of the law. Unlike most people however, these individuals have nothing but time on their side, which lends to the wide range of implements they inevitably dream up.
[Marc Steinmetz] took some time to photograph a handful of contraband items which were confiscated in various prisons. They range from the relatively benign bed sheet ladder to more sophisticated items such as battery-powered shotguns constructed from iron bedposts. While weaponry and escape aids are the most common prison yard creations, he also came across a DIY toaster, a hidden radio receiver, and one of our favorites – the surveillance bug pictured above, which was used to listen in on guards’ conversations.
While the use of any of these items in a controlled prison environment is questionable at best, it’s still interesting to see what people can hack together with limited resources and a heck of a lot of time.
Prison inmates have a history of being gruesomely resourceful hackers. The toothbrush shiv comes immediately to mind. One such inmate in the UK wanted to offer tattoos to his fellow convicts so he came up with a tattoo gun using a PlayStation for parts. The crude setup involves a sharpened ballpoint pen and the use one of the motors from the optical drive to move it up and down. The inmate didn’t document his work for us but there are other examples of this method available. Even with modern hardware, ink seems a little 20th century when compared to laser tats.