Network Materiality

The network is made of cheap plastic, brief protection for young waves as they’re first emitted. Boxes whose only sign of life is a blinking LED, hiding the noise, the speed, the data they channel.

Notes from the Logan Symposium

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Watching the CIJ’s Logan Symposium. From Saturday’s 4pm session, Strategies for Survival.

Annie Machon
“Post-Snowden, when we know that drones can hover up to 2km away and still read what is on your computer, when they can hear remotely from a mile away what you might be saying, the only really secure way of communicating with another human being the ultra paranoid secure way is a pane of glass, one sheet of paper, you write on it under a cover. Then you get the person you want to communicate with to read what you’ve written, under the cover, and then you shred it up, you burn it, you grind it up, and you flush it down the loo. That is the only secure way we now can guarantee that we can communicate privately with each other , we have to be that paranoid.”

[Question] But what about re: facial recognition, numberplate recognition?
“Yes, but it get’s worse: a program called ‘Trapwire’ is a melding of surveillance programs, to produce a realtime predictive behavioural analysis of ways you walk and travel around.”

Jake Appelbaum
“When you use proprietary software (like this absolute fucking garbage Skype software) … when you use things like Skype, when you use things like a mobile phone you are using tools that are collaborating with not only the surveillance state but helping to build a surveillance society, so it’s almost impossible to use them safely.

If we keep this in this doesn’t mean you should never use them because sometimes getting the signal out is more important, but do not believe the fallacy that there’s simply too much data you will simply escape the analysis space, that just will not happen.”

On local anonymity. “You want to think about it in terms of the local network being very unfriendly to you. If you’re using your home network that’s especially the case.”

“You have to think about not only the computer you use and the network you use but the things that are around it, the things that are part of the information society, essentially, that can be used to betray the efforts that can be put in.”

“If you have an iPhone and you live in the United Kingdom then the government has weaponised toolkits to break into your phone and what you need is to live in a free society which, currently, you don’t.”

GCHQ: Cracking The Code

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A lovely piece of propaganda by the BBC from 2010, GCHQ: Cracking the Code. The show, in general, is a puff piece for the agency consisting of wide eyed, positive staff dicussing how important or fullfilling their work is, with occasional asides to mention their ethical reponsibilities and love of oversight, there are also sections of interviews with Ian Lobban, GCHQ’s (former) head.

Towards the end we hear him deny the possibility of the existence of what, thanks to Snowden, we now know exists – a database of everyone’s communications and a wide ranging collection system.

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Monitoring Frequencies


This is a look at how to use RFMON mode with the Airport card in a Mac. RFMON stands for Radio Frequency Monitoring and is a way of monitoring wireless network traffic without having to associate with a particular network. My understanding of it is that it will allow general knowledge of activity on a network channel, without being able to look at the specific data sent. It should provide an understanding of the levels of wireless activity occurring in a space.

Listing Network Adapters
RFMON mode only works with wireless cards, and the aim here is to look at wireless networks, so it’s necessary to know how to identify and address the wireless card.

In terminal, run ifconfig with no arguments, this will give you a list.

Apparently, on OS X, en0 is the wired (ethernet) connection, and en1 is the wireless. This can be verified by having no ethernet conection active, WiFi on, and observing that en1 has ‘status: active’.

Monitoring the air
Included with OS X is a utility called tcpdump, the man page describes it like so:

“Tcpdump prints out a description of the contents of packets on a network interface that match the boolean expression.”

Thanks to this post, it’s clear that tcpdump can be used with RFMON mode, although the example given there didn’t work for me. It uses adapter en0, presumably because the Macbook Air used doesn’t have an ethernet adapter so depending on setup it may be necessary to make changes.

This command worked for me, albeit without (yet) a full understanding of the results I’m seeing:

sudo tcpdump -I -i en1

The -i flag and ‘en1’ following specifies the network adapter to use.

The -I flag flips the interface into RFMON mode (and will cause an error if the adapter specified does not support this, i.e. if it’s ethernet).

This prints the results to the terminal window, but the -w flag can be used to write it to a file.

The -x, -xx, -X, -XX options can be used to print the data associated with each packet, as opposed to just the header, in varying formats and levels of verbosity.

Further Tools
These tools came up during research, and may be useful in the process:
And the ever useful Wireshark

[Note: This has been tested on a 2010 Macbook Pro, runnning 10.9.4]

Searching within Man Pages

Terminal man pages are long. What if you just want to know what one flag from some line you found on the internet does?

You can search in the man page with grep like so:

man man | grep -A 3 -e “-C”

This will search the manual page for man for the “-C” flag, and print the following 3 lines, thanks to -A 3.

Non-Place and Identity Creation

Living in a Non-Place, without the burden of his, or any other, history allowed Karimi Nasseri to re-invent his identity:

“Over the years, he has claimed many things about his origins. At one time his mother was Swedish, another time English. Nasseri’s effectively reinvented himself in the Charles de Gaulle airport and denies these days that he’s Iranian, deflecting any conversation about his childhood in Tehran.”

He is now known as ‘Sir, Alfred Mehran’, a name taken, comma and all, from a British Immigration letter. Having no papers, and no official state-based identity is what forced Nasseri to inhabit the airport in the first place. He proved his identity in order to enter, as Augé shows is a necessary part of the Non-Place, but, with his papers stolen, was unable to prove it to leave or enter the next bureaucratic Non-Place in his immigration journey.

Although, for most, Charles de Gaulle airport is a Non-Place it could be argued that for Nasseri as Sir, Alfred Mehran it was the opposite, a Place. Although Nasseri had no history there, it being erased by the loss of his papers and his status as an aylum seeker, disowned by his home country, Mehran was known throughout the airport, it was his home and he built stories and relationships there.

More about Nasseri/Mehran here and here.

(Contemporary) Luddism

However, it is also likely that some people will attack technology directly. Technology is already the primary controlling force in our lives: automated systems run the stock market, algorithms are highly influential forces in deciding Google search results or Netflix recommendations, and sophisticated policing and surveillance techniques keep people from threatening the system without them even knowing it. However, more people are going to realize how much technology influences their lives as they begin to interact with its artificial products on an everyday basis. Consider, for example, how widespread the anti-Facebook sentiment is, or how easily people can attack a company like Google. Before this point in history, technology wasn’t even a cultural topic for discussion. Now it is one of the most common.

Luddites must also constantly ask themselves how their current projects contribute to the overall goal of ending the industrial system. Any projects that do not lead to that goal should be dropped.

– John Jacobi, The Luddite Method

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Burner Identities

Dropbox has hired a pair of computer vision/machine learning experts as the beginning of a push to aid the organisation, curation and understanding of all “the memories we’re accumulating”. Essentially, there’s a lot of data, but not much information for a machine in a photograph, and providing a machine with access to that information (faces, settings, time of day, etc) means a lot more power for Dropbox.

But what does this mean for users? It means having every photographed moment (or, in Dropbox’s parlance, ‘memory’) analysed and logged – a deep recording of your actions. Not only for Dropbox users, but for those around any Dropbox users wielding a camera, whether you know them or not, being snapped in a crowd by someone who then places that image in Dropbox is going to be enough to place you somewhere, by virtue of your identifiable face. This isn’t necessarily any different to Facebook’s capabilities (and actually, doesn’t necessarily involve the same access to identity) but moving from what one chooses to put on a social network, to, potentially, all of a user’s files and folders is a solid increase in the reach of surveillance.

The mobile phone has been described by Jacob Appelbaum as “a tracking device that lets you make calls”, but it is at least (somewhat) optional (you can choose not to own one, you can turn it off, or place them in a signal blocking pouch), as is your own use of ‘cloud’ services or social networks. Your face, however, is not.

In conjunction with our inability to control what others do with their images and data, and the creation of, essentially, a global network of handheld, networked, surveillance cameras, it becomes difficult to retain anonymity and privacy. We cannot turn off our faces, or choose not to own them, but we can do the equivalent of blocking their signal: cvdazzle is a project looking to ways of fooling facial recognition technology through fashion – with face obscuring hair and makeup, the creation of an “anti-face”.

The face is just one part of this, however; it’s becoming possible to identify people through “intrinsic biometrics”, or how they move. In order to counteract mobile phone based surveillance, cheap pay as you go phones, unlinked to an identity and thrown away after use, are used. These are called burner phones. We need to use this approach for other identity signifiers, we need burner phones and burner faces, burner limbs*, burner voices, in short: whole burner identities.

* Perhaps something like this could help here.