Nov 18, 2019
You Cannot Arrest An Idea Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of computers. Because understanding the helps us handle what’s coming in future - and maybe helps us build what’s next, without repeating some of our mistakes. Or if we do make mistakes, maybe we do so without taking things too seriously. Todays episode is a note from a hacker named Topiary, which perfectly wraps feelings many of us have had in words that… well, we’ll let you interpret it once you hear it. First, a bit of his story. It’s February, 2011. Tflow, Sabu, Keila, Topiary, and Ryan Ackroyd attack computer security firm HBGary Federal after CEO Barr decides to speak at a conference outing members of then 7 year old hacking collective Anonymous with the motto: We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us. As a part of Anonymous he would help hack Zimbabwe, Libya, Tunisia and other sites in support of Arab Spring protestors. They would go on to hack Westboro Baptist Church live during an interview. But that was part of a large collective. They would go on to form a group called Lulzsec with PwnSauce and AVunit. At Lulzsec, the 7 went on a “50 days of Lulz” spree. During this time they hit Fox.com, leaked the database of X factor Contestants, took over the PBS news site and published an article that Tupac was still alive and living in New Zealand. They published an article on the Sun claiming Rupert Murdoch died rather than testify in the voice mail hacking trials that were big at the time. They would steal data from Sony, DDoS All the Things, and they would go on to take down and or steal data from the US CIA, Department of Defense, and Senate. The light hearted comedy mixed with a considerable amount of hacking skills had earned them the love and adoration of tens of thousands. What happened next? Hackers from all over the world sent them their Lulz. Topiary helped get their haxies posted. Then Sabu was caught by the FBI and helped to out the others. Or did he. Either way, as one could expect, by July 2011, all had been arrested except AVunit. Topiary’s last tweet said “You cannot arrest an idea.” The British government might disagree. Or maybe counter that you can arrest for acting on an idea. Once unmasked, Jake Davis was in jail and then banned from the Internet for 2 years. During that time Topiary, now known as Jake Davis, wrote what is an exceptional piece of writing, to have come from a 20 year old. Here it is: “Hello, friend, and welcome to the Internet, the guiding light and deadly laser in our hectic, modern world. The Internet horde has been watching you closely for some time now. It has seen you flock to your Facebook and your Twitter over the years, and it has seen you enter its home turf and attempt to overrun it with your scandals and “real world” gossip. You need to know that the ownership of cyberspace will always remain with the hivemind. The Internet does not belong to your beloved authorities, militaries, or multi-millionaire company owners. The Internet belongs to the trolls and the hackers, the enthusiasts and the extremists; it will never cease to be this way. You see, the Internet has long since lost its place in time and its shady collective continues to shun the fact that it lives in a specific year like 2012, where it has to abide by 2012’s morals and 2012’s society, with its rules and its punishments. The Internet smirks at scenes of mass rape and horrific slaughtering followed by a touch of cannibalism, all to the sound of catchy Japanese music. It simply doesn’t give tuppence about getting a “job,” getting a car, getting a house, raising a family, and teaching them to continue the loop while the human race organizes its own death. Custom-plated coffins and retirement plans made of paperwork… The Internet asks why? You cannot make the Internet feel bad, you cannot make the Internet feel regret or guilt or sympathy, you can only make the Internet feel the need to have more lulz at your expense. The lulz flow through all in the faceless army as they see the twin towers falling with a dancing Hitler on loop in the bottom-left corner of their screens. The lulz strike when they open a newspaper and care nothing for any of the world’s alleged problems. They laugh at downward red arrows as banks and businesses tumble, and they laugh at our glorious government overlords trying to fix a situation by throwing more currency at it. They laugh when you try to make them feel the need to “make something of life,” and they laugh harder when you call them vile trolls and heartless web terrorists. They laugh at you because you’re not capable of laughing at yourselves and all of the pointless fodder they believe you surround yourselves in. But most of all they laugh because they can. This is not to say that the Internet is your enemy. It is your greatest ally and closest friend; its shops mean you don’t have to set foot outside your home, and its casinos allow you to lose your money at any hour of the day. Its many chat rooms ensure you nao longer need to interact with any other members of your species directly, and detailed social networking conveniently maps your every move and thought. Your intimate relationships and darkest secrets belong to the horde, and they will never be forgotten. Your existence will forever be encoded into the infinite repertoire of beautiful, byte-sized sequences, safely housed in the cyber cloud for all to observe. And how has the Internet changed the lives of its most hardened addicts? They simply don’t care enough to tell you. So welcome to the underbelly of society, the anarchistic stream-of-thought nebula that seeps its way into the mainstream world — your world — more and more every day. You cannot escape it and you cannot anticipate it. It is the nightmare on the edge of your dreams and the ominous thought that claws its way through your online life like a blinding virtual force, disregarding your philosophies and feasting on your emotions. Prepare to enter the hivemind” I hope Topiary still has a bit of funsies here and there. I guess we all grow up at some point. He now hunts for bug bounties rather than Lulz. One was addressed in iOS 10.13.1 when you could DoS an iOS device by shoving a malicious file into CoreText. That would be CVE-2017-7003. Hacking solutions together or looking for flaws in software. It can be like a video game. For better or worse. But I love that he’s pointed that big ugly Victorian ASCII humble boat in the direction of helping to keep us betterer. And the world is a more secure place today than it was before them. And a bit more light hearted. So thank you Topiary, for making my world better for awhile. I’m sorry you paid a price for it. But I hope you’re well.