Skip to content

Blown to Bits.

If you know how a system works you can game it. People hire lawyers because they know the complex rules of law.

In this age of bits we are at the whims of digital-lawyers, or hackers. People who know how intricate systems function have a huge advantage. The legal system has one layer and everyone who interacts with this layer must know the protocols. The networked computer system we are all a part of has another layer – the Graphic User Interface (GUI). Lawyers have to learn the rules of law, they cannot be mediated by a GUI. This is akin to a computer being used via command line – interacting with the ‘rules’ of the system.

This is a dangerous degree of removal. Users don’t fully understand what is going on behind the GUI. The typical tech-users today are like citizens in court-rooms; they hire a professional to do all the hard work. People pay Best Buy’s Geek-Squad to fix things when something goes wrong with their computer, but should a bunch of young geeks be trusted? According to The Consumerist, no they shouldn’t.

The Consumerist installed screen capturing software on a computer they took in to Geek Squad to get iTunes installed. They played back what happened and watched as employee’s copied personal files to thumb drives. An anonymous Geek-Squad member wites: “Let me make it clear again: if you have any interesting pictures of yourself or others on your computer, then they–will–be–found. Some geeks are like bloodhounds when it comes to pornography.”

This Geek-Squad example is a very low-level. Geeks that know how to find files on computers VS people who don’t know how to install iTunes. The ineptness of the end user in this example is a part of the equation. A lot of hi-level examples are explained every year at Def-Con, a conference for hackers. People get together and share the latest exploits they have found. One presentation I found interesting was given by @samykamkar. He explains how to locate where an internet user is, within a 3 feet degree of accuracy, using a whole host of new exploits (video).

This is where it gets scary.

This is the difference between the legal system and the computer system: even computer professionals are a bit clueless. In the court room there is a book of rules, and although deliberated, they are written in human language and can be read back and interpreted. Computers are much more complicated. Even the greatest of programmers write code that can be broken down and misused by other great programmers.

Greek Squad folk and Def Con hackers are actively doing wrong. They seek out your personal information. On websites like Facebook we actively share information about ourselves without reference to where these bits of data are going. You don’t know if Geek Squad have stolen files. You don’t know if some hacker has located you (unless they feel like stopping by). You don’t know what companies are doing with all these bits of data that are hidden behind their shiny GUI.

Facebook is the most obvious example when it comes to shady-dealings with personal information. Although they have tried to make their privacy rules easier to understand, they are still longwinded and ever-changing. Everyone should be worried about how available Facebook makes your information, as the potential for abuse is huge. There is a licence agreement between Facebook and app creators that cannot be enforced. Apps are not allowed to sell user information to marketing agencies, among other things, and Facebook say they have disabled thousands of apps for breaching the licence agreement. Although Facebook are working hard to enforce their policies, a lot of app creators don’t adhere to them. This is why sharing information is so dangerous: you don’t know who will get their hands on it.

What if insurance companies mined your Facebook status updates, as well of those as your friends, for key words that indicate how much of a risk you are to them.

“If your friend gets a DUI, your health and auto insurance risk goes up because you’re likely to be in the car with this person.” … “searching for drug use keywords (“drunk” or “hungover” or “420” or “bong”) within someone’s Facebook update stream gives you a much more accurate portrayal of their drug use than a questionnaire, and you can accurately weight the impact of hazardous behavior keywords on friends’ insurance premiums based on their level of interaction.” … “They payoffs are potentially huge for insurance companies and banks for whom assessment of risk is their entire business, so much so that they would be stupid not to propose data-sharing arrangements with social networking sites.” (Source).


Everyone is being encoded into this digital realm and those bits of information are flying around invisibly.  I was shocked to learn about EDR boxes in cars. I had no idea such a device existed. I would not be so shocked to learn that a Facebook app had taken my information and sold it to a marketing agency, but many Facebook users would likely react to that in the same way I reacted to the existence of EDR boxes. I never thought “better not speed, if I crash the EDR box has that information.” Similarly, most Facebook users never think “I better not install this app, it might mine my profile for information.” This divide between the GUI-interaction with the system and the command-line interaction with a database is a newer, subtler digital divide that is troubling.

I highly also recommend this read. It illuminates where tech is going, and how it can be abused. Crazy stuff:

My Second Implant by Estragon


“My first implant was really not a big deal.  Getting it was about as complicated as getting an ear pierced. It is a small inductive microphone implanted in my throat. It’s basically just a throat mic, but permanent. ” …

“For my second implant, I wanted to pair my microphone with some speakers. … The obvious next step is to have a permanent speaker installed in or near the ears, that can communicate wirelessly with phones, computers, or other devices.”…

“Anyway, what happened was that my receiver implant was a little more capable than I expected. It has a microphone, not just a speaker. In addition to pairing by Bluetooth, it connected to any open wireless access point and opened up a TCP/IP connection back to a system somewhere behind the Great Firewall of China. We found it was able to use WEP- and WPA-enabled access points at school and in my apartment, too. In a nutshell, everything I heard and said, for months, was streamed live to someplace in China.” …

“I might have never known, except that one day in the lab my advisor got a phone call from his DARPA sponsor. It seemed that the algorithm I’d worked on for spread-spectrum communication with ground- or space-based devices was detected on the new Chinese telecom satellite that went up earlier that year.” …

“I was physically infected by this implant, and turned into a human network zombie.” …

“I don’t know whether there’s a clear message or moral in my story, but I wanted to share it with you. Partially as a warning to readers about the potential dangers of new technology, partially to brag that I was the first kid on the block with implants that, someday, will be as common as wrist watches…”