Posted in open source, privacy by elisehuard on January 1, 2010

I’m not quite sure how I ended up at 26C3, but I had a blast.
From what I gather, the Chaos Communication Congresses are gathering of geeks and utopians (or both), around security, privacy and hacking. And LEDs.

We arrived the night before the start of the conference. We were lucky to have our places in advance, because when we went to retrieve our bracelets, people were queuing up to get their places.

The location of the 26C3 (and a few previous ones) is fantastic. The Berlin Congress Center is a graceful example of 70 architecture of the 2001 welcome to the future category. It’s basically a bloc containing a cylindrical structure – the outside edges are the corridors, the inside disks are rooms. Saal1 (under the cupula) in particular is phenomenal, but the rest of the building has lots of charm too.

The principle is that groups and projects book a table (or two), and gather round that table to sit, and hack, or misc. I ended up at the Debian table (‘debianist by association’), thanks to the friends I was traveling with. There were tables with people having brought really old hardware, tables with robot arms, and everywhere laptops.

At 26C3 they set up all kinds of networks. The building is properly wired, and there were a few wifi network that worked reasonably well. Then there was the DECT radio network, which means everyone was walking around with your average domestic chordless phone (DECT radio for those in the know). They even set up a GSM network which didn’t work too consistently, but was way cool nonetheless: instead of vodaphone et al. you had an in-house network which even worked for normal domestic calls !
old hardware

The talks were streamed live. I didn’t attend that many talks in person, as the rooms were really packed. Besides, knowing that the conference recordings would be available later also made it less of an incentive to try and pile in. The talks I did attend/listen to were fascinating.

One talk I attended was about stylometry, or how you can in certain situation detect who’s the author of a text by the word choice, grammar, etc. Which obviously means danger for whistle-blowers publishing anonymously against an abusive employer or an oppressive regime. The author was trying to ‘attack’ those techniques, by trying pastiche or obfuscation. Another talk was about intelligence support systems, and their use by all kinds of organization. I also followed a talk about attacks on PKI, which is interesting since my current work is all about PKI.
lego robots
The ground floor was catering mostly, and the lower floor was the hardware hackers floor. The catering floor was visited many times to get a dose of Club-Mate. Mate is a naturally caffeinated kind of tea leaf from South-America. Club-Mate is a soda version of that, and quite tasty and effective, as energy drinks go.

Then there were all the cool toys ! You could buy kits of electronic circuits to assemble yourself. I bought and assembled the TV-B-Gone kit to switch off tv’s, which worked, and a dotblox64, which lots of LEDs, which doesn’t yet (because of slightly shoddy solderwork). There was a group making helicopters, and a group building and programming LEGO robots to fight against eachother. Geek heaven, or what.

lockpicking class
I also had a go at lockpicking, though I must admit that I miserably failed at that, being quite clumsy (the instructions in german might not have helped). The stories of the instructor (from lockpicking.org and the lockpicking club of Berlin) were interesting. He explained about how locks usually worked, about different kinds, and the pleasure and effort to figure it out. He also bragged a little about his exploits, of course: seems he has a master key of the Berlin underground, and the Berlin public toilets.

The general vibe was one of love for freedom. Lots of subculture represented, though obviously the overarching one was geekiness. No judgments, no rules, things were built for fun, not necessity. A fairly mixed audience, a slightly subversive but enthousiastic spirit. I had a good time, and will enjoy watching some of the remaining talks at home.


Online exposure

Posted in open source, privacy by elisehuard on February 22, 2009

Using the interwebs as they are now I perceive the following tensions.

Online identity:

  • the desire of privacy dictates that we centralize as little as possible: atomize our online presence over the different sites, using a different nick every time, so that none of them is traceable to us
  • convenience dictates that we have use single-sign on to identify ourselves once and for all, but this introduces a single point of failure – as well as making us more traceable if not done right (using different personas under a single identity).

Attention economy:

  • we want to keep control of our own data, keep our cards to our chests wherever possible
  • by using convenient sites like last.fm, facebook, google and yahoo applications, and handling single sign-on through external sites, we agree implicitly to donate our inputs to the site owners, who can sell it (hopefully anonymously) for commercial use.

One partial solution to keeping a hand on our identity and our data is to host most of it ourselves (php-OpenID, hosting own node in decentralized social network like DiSo, our own chat server, our own microblogging node, whatever else).

As the convenience <-> privacy contradiction shows, this is only open to geeks for now – you need your hosting, and some skill at installing all this.

Maybe it would be interesting to create an easy to use version of this for the other people ? Something easy to install – a package, a click-through interface, a customized slice ? what do you think ?

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