Hackers are Whistleblowers Too (live blog from HOPE XI)

Naomi Colvin, Courage Foundation
Nathan Fuller, Courage Foundation
Carey Shenkman, Center for Constitutional Rights
Grace North, Jeremy Hammond Support Network
Yan Zhu, friend of Chelsea Manning
Lauri Love, computer scientist and activist

Naomi begins. Courage foundation started in July 2014 to take on legal defense for Edward Snowden. They believe there is no difference between hackers and whistleblowers when they’re bringing important information to light. Information exposure is one of the most important triggers for social action. The foundation has announced their support for Chelsea Manning, who is beginning her appeal.

Carey wants to talk about public interest defenses. In the US, politicians call for whistleblowers to return to the US and present their motivations and “face the music” as part of their civil disobedience. In reality, the Espionage Act and the CFAA do not allow whistleblowers to use public interest motivations as a defense or use evidence to demonstrate a public interest. Whistleblowers like Ellsberg have called for public interest exceptions to the Espionage Act and CFAA. It’s important to protect civil

Grace: Jeremy Hammond hacked Stratfor with AntiSec/Anonymous and leaked the files on WikiLeaks. Tech has an incredible power to bring movements together. This requires some tech people to move outside of their comfort zone to interact with activism around other (non-technical) issues.

Yan: Chelsea really loves to get letters and reads every one she receives. While at MIT, Yan met Chelsea through the free software community. Chelsea’s arrest was the first time Yan saw the reality of whistleblowing and surveillance. Chelsea is very isolated and only gets 20 people on her phone list. To add someone, she has to remove someone else. Visitors have to prove they met her before her arrest in order to visit. She reads a statement from Chelsea Manning.

Lauri Love was arrested in 2013 in the UK without charges and later learned that he was charged in the US, which is very unusual, not having been alleged to have committed any crimes within the US. The problems with the CFAA are being used to contest his extradition to the US. Lauri greatly appreciates the support of the Courage Foundation

Lauri asks Carey: The UK allows you to present a defense of necessity, although it’s difficult. Can that happen in the US?
Carey: It’s difficult to say. The CFAA has always been controversial. The CFAA was passed in 1986, literally in response to the movie Wargames, which sparked the fear of a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”
Grace: Jeremy Hammond’s hacks were politically focused, but there were absolutely no provisions for acts of conscience in his defense. In fact, having strong political views leads to harsher treatment.

Lauri: Can we bypass the court system and national council of conscience?

Lyn: Mother of Ross Ulbricht, creator of silk road. Judges cited political views as reasons for the severity of Ross’s sentence. The court system also allows prosecutors to break the letter of the law when it is done in “good faith” while it doesn’t allow defendants to do so.
Lauri: It’s important to be vocal about these details. It

Audience question: CFAA prosecutions are really about politics, not about computers. It seems like some issues like gay marriage can change very quickly in American culture. What can be done to create these changes?
Grace: We couch issues in certain terms. What people find acceptable or unacceptable is often determined by perspective and simplified views of “legal” vs. “illegal.”

How Anonymous narrowly evaded being vilified as terrorists (HOPE XI live blog)

Notes taken at HOPE XI.

Gabriella Coleman, Anthropologist, Professor, McGill University

Biella spent several years studying Anonymous. Found them “confusing, enchanting, controversial, irreverent, interesting, unpredictable, frustrating, stupid, and really stupid.” She expected to have to convince people they weren’t terrorists, but that didn’t happen.

The media usually refers to Anonymous as activists, hacktivists, or vigilantes, rather than terrorists. Pop culture has taken up Anonymous, which has helped inoculate them from the terrorism level.

The label can be used in the media to political ends, example: Nelson Mandela being labeled a terrorist. In France, the Tarnac 9 were arrested as terrorists for stopping trains, but the change was changed. In Spain, puppeteers were arrested for “inciting terrorism” and placed in jail for five days, but the case was thrown out. Common privacy tools like TOR and riseup can lead to suspicions of terrorism. Police and others in the US have tried to get Black Lives Matter designated as a terrorist organization.

Biella cites “Green is the New Red.” Since September 11, terrorism has been redefined to suit political whims, often impacting radical activists such as animal rights activists. What was once “monkey wrenching” or “sabotage” is now considered “terrorism.” A group called the SHAC7 were convicted under the Animal Enterprise Act for running a website that advocated for animal liberation. Many received multi-year jail sentences.

Focusing on technology, the language of terrorism has often been used to describe hacking. Biella was concerned she’d be targeted by the FBI for studying Anonymous. Targets of Anonymous described them as terrorists in the media. The hacktivist Jeremy Hammond was found to be on the FBI terrorism watch list, but because he was an environmental activist, not because he was a hacktivist. GCHQ described Anonymous and LulzSec as bad actors comparable to pedophiles and state-sponsored hackers. In the US, Anonymous was used as a primary example during Congressional hearings on cyberterrorism. The Wall Street Journal published a claim by the NSA that Anonymous could develop the ability to disable part of the US electricity grid.

Timing influenced how the public received these claims. The government compared Wiki-Leaks to Al-Quaeda, and compelled Visa and PayPal to freeze their accounts. These actions were seen as extreme by the public, and Anonymous launched Operation Payback, a DDoS of the PayPal blog, to protest. The media framed the event as a political act of civil disobedience. A month later, Anonymous contributed to social revolutions in the Middle-East and Span, and in Occupy. Anonymous has been described as incoherent for being involved in many different things, but this flexibility has helped inoculate them against the terrorist label. Anonymous is a “Multiple Use Name,” as described by Marco Deseriis.

The Guy Fawkes mask has played an important role. While the use of the mask was largely an accident, but carries connotations of resistance. These connotations were historically negative, but became positive with Alan Moore’s “V for Vendetta” and its film adaptation. There’s a feedback cycle between reality and fiction about resistance to totalitarian states. There’s an astounding amount of media about hackers. Biella’s favorite is called “Who Am I.” There’s even a ballet based on the story of Anonymous. RuPaul discussed with John Waters as a type of youthful rebellion. In contrast, animal rights activists are often portrayed as dangerous and unlikable.

ISIS uses social tactics similar to Anonymous. The difference between the two groups has created a contrast, amplified by Anonymous declaring war on ISIS.

In 2012, the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement was under debate. The Polish population protested ACTA. Anonymous got involved with Operation ANTI-ACTA in support of Polish citizens. A number of Polish members of parliament wore Guy Fawkes masks to show disapproval for ACTA. The gesture helped to legitimate Anonymous and its tactics.

Tides can change very quickly. An infrastructure attack tied to hacktivists could turn the public against Anonymous. Art and culture really matter. Sometimes the world of law and policy sees art and culture as “soft power,” but Biella argues this is a false dichotomy. She appeals to people who work in the arts to continue, perhaps writing children’s books about hackers.

Phineas Fisher created a brilliant media hack on Vice News. Vice arranged an interview with Fisher, who requested to be represented by a puppet.

What the hack?! Perceptions of Hackers and Cybercriminals in Popular Culture (HOPE XI live blog)

These notes taken at HOPE XI

What the hack?!

Aunshul Rege, Assistant Prof in Criminal Justice at Temple University
Quinn Heath, Criminal Justice student at Temple University

Aunshul begins. Work based on David Wall’s seven myths about the hacker community. How does the media portrayal of hacking differ from reality? Three objectives: 1. get hacker community’s perspective, 2. how does the hacker community feel about Wall’s myths, 3. general thoughts on how the media interacts with the hacker community. Work conducted by interviews of self-identified hackers at HOPE X.

Quinn starts on the first objective. What makes someone a hacker? Plays some interviews from HOPE X. Every hacker had a unique story, but there were common threads. Many hackers felt they had been hackers from a young age. There was also a common thread of hacking bringing empowerment.

First myth: cyberspace is inherently unsafe. Mixed response from interviewees. Some felt that the internet was “just a pipe,” while others believed that as a human system, it empowered misuse.

Second myth: the super hacker. Interviewees believed that no one person knows everything. Highly unrealistic. Real people just aren’t as interesting.

Third myth: cybercrime is dramatic, despotic, and futuristic.

Fourth myth: hackers are becoming part of organized crime. Many felt there was some truth to this.

Fifth myth: criminals are anonymous and cannot be tracked. Everybody uses handles, but you have to go through a single IP. Everyone leaves a trace. The only way not to get caught is to not do anything worth getting caught over.

Sixth myth: cybercriminals go unpunished and get away with crime: Law enforcement is making examples out of people in the hacker community. You have to be careful about what you type into a terminal, assume it will be used against you in the worst possible light. Media portrayal translates into harsher prosecution for hackers than for violent criminals. The CFAA is abused by law enforcement, for example in the Aaron Swartz case.

Seventh myth: users are weak and not able to protect themselves. Media focuses too much on companies and not enough on the users whose data is released. People are becoming less scared of technology.

Quinn moves on to common themes. One was a common objection to the way the word “hacker” is used in the media. The word is ambiguous, but has been used by the media in a much narrower and disagreeable way.

Women are underrepresented in the hacker community, even though the community tends to be more liberal. Women in technology sometimes aren’t presented as hackers because they don’t fit existing media stereotypes.

Hackers are portrayed as geeky, nerdy, boring, caucasian males. But there are hackers of all races. Sometimes hackers of color are presented as a vague formless threat.

Hackers are presented in a polarized way: either losers or dangerous and powerful. Women in the media are always attractive and sexualized and/or goth.

The media sometimes focuses on the hack, and sometimes on the hacker. It’s easier to get information on a hack, and easier to twist the facts to suit the story the media or company want to convey. The media likes to have a face and a personality, but that’s rare.

How does the news interact with the hacker community? There needs to be better journalism. The media takes snippets that don’t give the full story, but shape public opinion.

What about movies? Most of what happens is inaccurate. “They’re not going to make a movie about people staring at computer screens,” it would be “boring as hell.” The movies and media don’t pay tribute to the social engineering aspect. It makes sense that Hollywood would do this, but less so that the news does.

What about the 1995 movie “Hackers”? It’s almost a parody. It’s old and outdated, even for when the movie was set. It’s fun, but not good or accurate. It stereotypes what hackers are. Almost everyone mentioned this movie, and loved it in a “it’s so bad it’s good” kind of way.

Over time, the hacker stereotype has gone from the teenage prankster in the 80s, to dangerous cyber-warriors or weird, young, and soon-to-be-rich.

Hackers are careful about using the word because they’re sensitive to how people will perceive it. They described a strong personal impact due to the media portrayal. But the community remains strong.

What kind of movie would hackers make about hackers? It would be fun to flip all the stereotypes. Most hacking is boring from the outside, so it would need to be dramatized, but it could be more realistic.

Anshul: interested in more information on race, gender and age. Also wants to know how the hacking community is influenced by media stereotypes. Will be publishing this work soon.

Sleep Hacks

Here's an outline from my Penguicon 2013 panel "Sleep Hacking."

Sleep Hacks

I gave a talk on sleep and how to hack your sleep habits at Penguicon 2012. Here's a PDF of the talk outline: Sleep Hacks.pdf.