Ebolachan and the Ethics of HACKING

If there is to be a balance to life, an un-Koyaanisqatsi’ing of the Yin and Yang, it’s not something you can ever wait for. Pretty much the only bad thing you can do, as the man once said, is to do nothing, if you’re any good, but I apply that advice to the creeping chaos brigade, and every shade and stripe of whatever I consider a nightmare.

It’s tired, but hacking used to mean soldering boards and smarts. It used to be a kind of digital / analogue second world of the dispossessed. It was the sixties and seventies. It was Jobs and Gates and the garage, and it was Wozniak and the Unabomber. Pretty much the worst thing you can do when you consider this is to root always for good.

They installed netting at Foxconn to catch the suicides back when Apple were ‘good,’ when their share price began to dominate time and space, and cement itself in history alongside actual moon walks. Ballard’s observation that in a thousand years, the only person of note in the twentieth century would be Neil Armstrong, is pure instruction here. Windows 95 touched more lives than the pyramids, and we were just getting started. Apple touches more lives than communism.

Back in ’95 I rejoined the workforce as the lowest possible ranking of technical support. I spent eight hours a day on the phone fielding calls from people about a range of software published by Softkey. To those without stellar memories, Softkey had a range of about three hundred titles, mass sold in supermarkets on rotating displays next to the tights and the chocolate bars. You could pick up a discontinued word processing package called Wordstar for £2.99, then if you wanted it to work you had to speak to me, or two other bozos. Pretty early on we took to handling this Sisyphean task by the only means available to us while the phones rang hot all day. We’d just tell people “Yeah…it does that” and wait for them to realise you don’t get much for not much.

While I worked there I talked with a member of the team that had formed a few months before for the release of Windows 95. When Microsoft released it there had been nothing like it before — it was basically the vanguard for the full scale invasion of the digital. The personal computer had mobilised in earnest — to every desk — as Microsoft’s mission had it. The public and press interest was so high that Redmond had to outsource support to every tin pot phone support company in existence to handhold people as they surrendered letting their kids roam free around the neighbourhood in favour of multimedia and whatever edge they could wheedle into their prospects otherwise.

A lot of stories did the rounds when it came out, some apocryphal, but our MS support guy told me he personally took a call asking for help getting Windows 95 working, which resolved itself pretty quickly when it transpired the caller didn’t actually own a computer. Such was the zeitgeist, or as we know it — advertising. Maybe they thought they were going to get the Internet. Maybe everyone, really, only cared about the Internet.

When you have a power like this, capable of inspiring the most rational delirium, there is an obvious case for slipping it some paracetamol and getting it to lie down. This, weirdly though, isn’t the hacker manifesto. The HAcker Man1festo, does contain gems like this though:

“We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn’t run by profiteering gluttons”

That was written in 1986, when not having two cars was already considered poverty. It says other things as well, some of them maybe worth hearing today, but I leave it to you to find that out. My polemics cost me time, but presumably the author of this line must have considered history successfully ended when the nets went up.

What would the author of the hacker Meme&&faschto make of Ebolachan? The original hacker generation is pretty much dead or doddering, and I struggle, despite having habitually read Mondo 2000 when a modem was still definitively a modem, to work out a train of thought that doesn’t crash the two freight cars of ‘Power to the People’ and ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely’ at high speed, somewhere under those nets.

To anyone who has read ‘The Hot Zone’, which has been criticised as something of a fantasy, Ebola is like a waking nightmare. The physical ravages are extreme, basically turning it’s sufferers into a bloated, popping zit. The case described in the book, of a cage full of monkeys with Ebola inside the beltway in the ’90s, hints at metropolitan centres filling with bodybags and coughs and sneezes, which is the main horror of Ebola — it’s flu that gets us — ‘Captain Trips’ as Stephen King had it. Perhaps the most horrible thing about Ebola is that it represents a serious issue, turning the tailgunners in the wrong direction just long enough for the truly mortal blows to come winging in from elsewhere. Basically to get Ebola you have to indulge in needle play or anal sex with a contaminant. That isn’t scary, what’s scary is anal sex and needle play is not what we talk about when we talk about ebola. Also, needle play and anal sex are scary.

Ebolachan is an Anime Goddess in a nurses uniform. She is cute and hot and looks a little like a vampire, with just enough peek of fang to be erotic and not full blown plastic bag on head perverted. Her crimson hair is tied in two long bunches which terminate in cloudy representations of the virus under a microscope. She has been viralised, very successfully, to promote the idea in Africa that white people are praying to her in witchcraft ceremonies in order to spread. This has resulted in the retreat and occasional murder of WHO staff trying their best to contain the virus and treat the afflicted. This appalling piece of social engineering, committed wholly on the Internet, is an object lesson in the ethics of hacking, and in the importance of always, always keeping your eye on the ball when the game of life plays out across glass fibre.

Is it wrong to goad people into murdering charity workers? Probably. Is it wrong for charity workers from the first world to be the only defence Africa has against Ebola? Definitely.

The layers of irony that the shit stirrers who created Ebola chan deployed boil down roughly to the following propositions:

  1. Africa is fucked. Truly fucked. It may not have always been fucked. But it is fucked now. A broad swathe of societies that have existed for millennia along extended family and community lines is now peeking over a digital wall at a gleaming and thoroughly untrustworthy first world, and suffering a monumental short circuit.
  2. Our existing mode of trying to remedy this, the provision of aid, has destroyed Africa further, opening sluice gates of money and resource just wide and long enough for every gangster and warlord to kill and threaten and corral the resources into appalling levels of social repression and top of the range smartphones. Little effort is successfully expended on fixing this.
  3. If people are stupid enough, and mean enough, to believe in witchcraft, then they’ve got nothing coming. Darwin is it’s own award.

The levels of racism that run throughout this all are too deserving of inspection for me to attempt to do so here, at a tangent. Suffice it to say that Ebolachan’s fathers are openly racist, but then progressives who see aid to Africa as a moral obligation may be too.

What Ebolachan tells us about the morals of hacking is that hackers consider themselves to be modern day Ubermenschen. One need only review some of the thought emanating from the Cryptography and Cryptography Policy Mailing List to see that it matches up with the witterings of the original manifesto back in ’86. ‘We the people’ in this instance refers to people who have the mental capability to code, which equates very easily to fashioning yokes for people who can’t. This is ugly, and everyone in IT — especially Zuckerberg — who claims otherwise is as much a target for some sophisticated trolling as modern day Rwandans.

When one considers managing cyber threat, there are really only a handful of notable groups;

  1. Cybercriminals — in it to win it — financial gain as the driving force
  2. State Actors — Cyberwar — National security as the driving force
  3. Hacktivists — the diverse churches of modern political partisanship — ideology as the driving force.

There isn’t much to discuss in terms of tactics when dealing with the first two. Pretty much a case of it is what it is. The motivations are clear, and they guide the defensive measures. Where things come unstuck is with the hacktivists because the range of motivations and thus the vectors for attack become as bewildering as the moral justifications which led to the murder of people who live their lives under the code of ‘first, do no harm.’ A progressive organisation, under attack from right wing, fascist Nationalists, is not doing their security homework if they designate them as Nazis. Conversely, some Neo-con think tank pretty much knows exactly who is after them; definitely Socialists, sometimes Libertarians.

Ideologies are like prisons which double as hotels for two to four weeks of the year, depending on your remuneration package, and on whether you contract for a living, which has become increasingly likely since the gleeful world flattening that Thomas Friedman proselytised about became just another agent of control, in a world of increasing communication and decreasing liberty.

The key take away, I feel, when gazing stupefied at recent history, is that quick judgements about morals are no kind of morals. They may help you when thinking fast, but if you quilt yourself in prejudices, hugboxes, and fake news when dealing with the thinking slow — you are on a hiding to nothing, and you have your back to something.

Also, and this is really the most important thing when it comes to Ebola — people who spit in this day and age should be publicly flogged. In a world that travels with the slow ease of a bullet train, it’s important to remember that sometimes the hardest thing at all is to just walk some basic assumptions back to their roots until they are mingling in the same marketplace of ideas as standard classics. This is conservatism.

By the way, the poor typo deployed in this headline was not entirely intentional. CAPS got stuck. It was only when correcting my mistake that I realised that it had something in common with the typos that populate a lot of 733t speak, which was borne out of a lack of interest in formatting frenzied communication for the benefit of the slow and conventional. To wit, don’t expect any hacker, ever, to deploy their skills with any regard to basic protocols you would like to see preserved. They don’t like those protocols. They break them habitually, where they aren’t using them to propagate values that were never anticipated or sanctioned by broader systems. That’s kind of the point here.

As awful as the Ebolachan prank is, it carries at its heart the true ethos of hacking; not necessarily to break something, but to actually make it work in new ways, with any damage just a write off against a more profitable future. When it comes to hacktivism, this increasingly takes the form of quite cerebral attacks on your wetware. If you can recover from the natural recoil of horror to find yourself understanding Ebolachan was morally justified, they’ve got you, and that might not always be the worst thing. What you are dealing with here are missionaries.

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