[hackerspaces] What's wrong with the kids these days? On the moral decay of the Dutch hacker scene

webmind webmind at puscii.nl
Tue Mar 26 17:23:29 CET 2013


What's wrong with the kids these days?

On the moral decay of the Dutch hacker scene

A lot has changed since the days when the people around Hacktic set up
and defined the Dutch hacker scene. The Hang Out made way for a variety
of hackerspaces; Hacktic itself is long dead (who needs dead trees to
communicate nowadays anyway?) and the crew organizing OHM2013 is a
completely different one from the oldies that had set up the Galactic
Hacker Party and HIP. In short, we're looking at a complete new
generation of Dutch hackers.

Of course, nothing is more normal and healthy than for kids to rebel
against their parents, but our parents have given us a difficult task
there. For how in hell does one rebel against oldies who self-identified
as "techno-anarchists" and were all too pleased with their image as
online rebels? Some of the kids found a way: join the police! Well,
technically, create a company that does the online dirty work for the
police, but in this day and age of neo-liberalism and privatisation the
difference is marginal...
Now, the notion of hackers voluntarily joining the police probably
sounds completely absurd to an outsider, but that's pretty much what
happened. The Dutch High Tech Crime Unit is called Fox-IT. In case the
name doesn't ring a bell, they're the main sponsor of OHM2013, employer
of half of the organising core team, and you may find their logo painted
on the wall of a Dutch hackerspace - not as a fuck-the-police-type
graffiti, but as a thank-you for their kind sponsorship.

Let's have a closer look at this company. Founded in '99 by two TU Delft
alumni who had previously worked for the NFI (forensics institute) and
the BVD (secret service), Fox-IT started as a relatively normal security
company. Such was the hip thing to do for a hacker who wanted to legally
cash in on their skills at the height of the IT bubble. Things start to
get saucy around 2006 when they developed FoxReplay, a tool for
wiretapping, and started selling on the international market. Not caring
much for their customers regard for human rights, Fox-IT has promoted
their services to countries like Iran and the United Arabic Emirates,
and sales to Egypt have also been confirmed. On September 27th 2011,
Fox-IT sold their tapping-branch to the US company Netscout,
conveniently just one day before a change in EU regulations was to place
restrictions on the export of wiretap equipment.
But things also get a lot closer to home for the Dutch hackers, as
Fox-IT has assisted the Dutch police in the apprehension of 4 members of
AntiSec NL, a Dutch group closely linked to Anonymous.
To add to the sauce, Fox-IT has been experimenting with 'hacking back',
as they call it. In an operation that was meant to take down the
Bredolab botnet, Fox-IT used the seized 'command and control' servers to
inject code on infected machines worldwide to display a message from the
Dutch police. A clever hack, if you will, but also a controversial and
illegal one. Lately, Fox-IT has been publicly lobbying to create legal
rights for law enforcement to actively crack target systems.
Fox-IT now has customers worldwide and around 150 employees. They are
the prototype of a privatised blend of law enforcement and defense,
unhindered by any ethics and stretching its praxis to the shady borders
of legality.

That's the kind of company considered hip amongst contemporary Dutch
hackers, who seem all too happy associating with and working for them.
Fox-IT is actively recruiting within the scene, and many a hacker who
used to share his tools and knowledge now works for them. Now, where did
that come from? Sure, the scene has always had a bit of a flirtatious
relationship with the secret service, but the old Hacktic crew simply
giggled at the silly men with sunglasses and trenchcoats who attended
their meetings. Moreover, they were exposing the wiretapping and other
sniffing methods that were in use then, giving the general public means
to detect, if not avoid, or play around with them.
Those early days of the hacker scene were marked by a shared sense of
ethics: a hands-on attitude, for freedom of information and a healthy
distrust of any authority. Luckily, on a global scale, many of these
values have persevered. For example, one look at the CCC website is
enough to see a strong outspokenness on the political issues surrounding
hacking, actively monitoring and criticizing state surveillance. In
fact, hackers worldwide are working on tools to subvert (state)
surveillance and censorship. Furthermore, with the rise of Anonymous and
related groups, we have seen an incredible increase in politically
motivated hacks and cracks, all based on those same basic values of
personal freedom and distrust towards authority.

How are we to interpret the bizarre contrast between upholding these
values and happily accepting a company like Fox-IT in our midst? Are OHM
and a number of hackerspaces drifting away from the hacker scene towards
the security industry? Or do people simply not think or care about these
issues because they distract from playing with LEDs and arduinos? Maybe
the money is simply too good? Either way, the Dutch hacker scene is
suffering from a severe case of schizophrenia where, on the one hand, it
identifies itself with a global scene struggling against surveillance
and, on the other hand, it condones, receives money from, advertises or
even concretely works on the buildup of exactly that surveillance state.

The usual approach to such mental illness that is seen all too often
within the hacker scene is to simply ignore it and bury it deep down in
our subconciousness. Indeed, sometimes simply ignoring the peculiar
conflicts that arise within our brain may lead us to perfectly happy
(though perhaps somewhat socially awkward) lives. Not in this case,
though. As the world around us is transforming, the importance of
resolving this inner conflict is becoming ever more urgent. Like it or
not, the hacker scene is a key player in a much larger political game
that will determine the face of future online communication. If we are
to sell away our skills to unscrupulous companies working for
power-hungry governments, that future could be very grim.

It is for these reasons that the current generation of hackers needs to
take a step back and reconsider the wise lessons our parents gave us.
One cannot simply take the cool image of being a hacker yet act in ways
that are complete opposite. It's not cool to assist in the creation of
an Orwellian dystopia. It's also definitely not cool to assist in the
apprehension of your fellow hackers (imagine how they might feel about
attending the largest European hackercamp this year). That is not to say
it's all black and white, or that we should form some sort of unified
front, but maintaining a praxis that is the direct opposite of what you
are preaching is both unhealthy for yourselves and dangerous towards
others. So please, work out who you really are and where you stand. Read
the old philes and the new. Rethink what's going on in the world around
you. Discuss the role we play in it. Define your identity. And, in the
end, if you still wish to call yourself a hacker, leave the fox


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