Hackers Watch a World Collapsing Into Chaos
BERLIN, Germany – The world is falling slowly apart, and the hackers here want people to pay attention.
For the next four days – through Thursday of this week – the 27th annual Chaos Computer Club (CCC) Congress will be held in the frozen center of this city. An annual event designed to showcase members’ coding skills and creativity, it has traditionally been a focus for a political activism centered on privacy and transparency of government information. This year is no different, but carries perhaps a growing sense of urgency and even responsibility.
With economies weakening and politicians sounding increasingly populist tones, with WikiLeaks revelations prompting defensive reactions from governments around the world, the organization is looking practically at how its community can survive, thrive, and even mitigate some of the problems of the coming years.
“It’s going to be a mess for a while,” said Dutch hacker Rop Gonggrijp, giving the event’s opening keynote speech to a standing-room crowd. “We are not called the Chaos Computer Club because we cause chaos. If anything much of our work has prevented chaos.”
Founded in 1981, the CCC is one of the largest and oldest groups of hackers in Europe, drawing its inspiration not from the popular vision of the computer underground but from the creative, semi-anarchic hacker ethic originally popularized in Steven Levy’s book Hackers.
As outlined on the group’s Web site – and put into practice at events like this week’s congress – this ethic’s commands are both simple and sweeping: All information should be free. Mistrust authority. Computers can be used to create art, beauty and help transform life for the better. Access to computers, and to information that shows how the world functions, should be limitless and complete.
Yet while issues of government transparency and data privacy have long been concerns of the CCC and its annual gathering, this year’s meeting takes place against a background of unusual international attention to the topics, thanks to WikiLeaks’ startlingly broad revelations of U.S. military and diplomatic secrets.
Indeed, WikiLeaks and the CCC have seen their paths wind closely together in recent years, although the two organizations are not formally affiliated. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spoke at the conference in late 2007, introducing the concept of his organization to attendees. According to recent published accounts, WikiLeaks’ former German spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg (known until recently under the pseudonym Daniel Schmitt) met Assange at that time, joining the organization shortly afterward as a public face second in prominence only to Assange himself.
The pair appeared again at the CCC conferences in 2008 and 2009, but by mid-2010, as public attention to WikiLeaks was being galvanized by the release of classified U.S. government documents, Domscheit-Berg resigned from the group over concerns with Assange’s leadership style. He is currently helping to create a separate organization called Openleaks, also concerned with helping whistleblowers publicize information, but built on a different organizational model.
Gonggrijp, this year’s keynote speaker, helped WikiLeaks earlier this year in releasing the video footage of the 2007 airstrike in Baghdad. The Wau Holland Foundation, a charitable foundation named after the CCC’s founder that according to its Web site is “loosely connected with the Chaos Computer Club,” has served as one of the primary conduits for donations to the WikiLeaks organization.
The WikiLeaks work has been a high point for many hackers, and may in future years be seen as a victory in a “new generation of struggle,” Gonggrijp said. But it will have less positive consequences for the hacking and privacy communities too.
“Whatever we think of it, the present anger will probably increase the pressure to curb Net freedoms,” he said.
Yet it would be a mistake to see the club solely through the lens of today’s WikiLeaks headlines. Over its near-30-year history, the CCC has played a steady role in Germany and across Europe in identifying security flaws in public or corporate computer services, and as a rallying point for privacy advocates and others concerned over growing levels of official information-gathering and control.
Two years ago, the group published what it alleged were the German interior minister’s fingerprints in the club’s Die Datenschleuder magazine, allegedly retrieved from a water glass used by the politician at a speaking event. The fingerprints were printed on a transparent film that could be used to fool fingerprint readers, in protest of the increasing use of biometric data associated with documents such as passports.
The club was also a leading voice in the opposition to the use of unverifiable computerized voting machines in German elections, which were ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the country’s constitutional court. Members have played a leading role criticizing voting machines in other nations.
The 2010 congress lecture schedule draws broadly from this palette of interests. Speakers from around the world will address issues such as government surveillance, weaknesses in Internet anonymizing services, attacking mobile phones (smart or otherwise),the lunar X-prize, cryptography, privacy, creating open sea charts and marine mapping, using robotics to draw high-school students into hacking and engineering careers, and much more.
But at the event’s core, Gonggrijp said, are the efforts to solidify a community that has proven mature and responsible, to bring new people in, and ensure that the world doesn’t thoughtlessly give up its civil liberties in difficult times.
“We understand a small part of how chaos works,” Gonggrijp said. “As the world becomes more chaotic, we can help.”
Monday, December 27, 2010
Hackers Watch a World Collapsing Into #Chaos | Threat Level | Wired.com