Interview with Oxblood Ruffin of the cDc
Interview with Oxblood Ruffin
Interview by metac0m
Described as the spot where hacking and activism meet, hacktivism has
not yet developed into a unity between the two. The tactics and
motivations of hackers and activists seem to be at odds when it comes
to hacktivism. You've suggested that "One does not become a hacktivist
merely by inserting an "h" in front of the word activist" is that just
healthy democratic debate or an inherent barrier between the two points
Oxblood Ruffin: We are dealing with homonyms.
There are two separate words, and two separate
fields of action, in my view.
are traditional - and here i don't use the term traditional in any
negative sense - social justice types who use the internet and digital
technology as an extension of their protest palette. A good example
might be the WTO protests in Seattle in which the Internet played a
seminal role as an organizational and broadcast tool. Mailing lists
were set up, meetings/protests organized, information distributed
across Web sites, etc. Technology was used to orchestrate a real-world
protest, something that happened on the ground, and involves real
people. That's fine, and there are quite a few causes along these lines
that excite my own sympathies. But this is not "hacktivism".
takes place on-line, and remains on-line. It doesn't really have
anything to do with organizing a lot of bodies to execute a certain
action on the ground, à la the Electrohippies. It could involve
programmer writing code that might have significant impact on the
entire Internet. So, hacktivism is about the Internet, and keeping it
functioning and fresh. Our primary concern, if this doesn't sound too
presumptuous, is in maintaining the good health of the Internet. Others
might want to take some social
action that might get people from
below the poverty line [for instance] onto the Internet. So here you'd
get involved in real-world economics to raise living standards, or
whatever it would take to make this happen. We on the other hand would
like to dedicate our work to making sure that when these people
actually do get onto the Net, that they find a healthy, vibrant, open,
and above all free [as in expression] Internet when they get there.
Why has the cDc taken the lead on the hacktivist campaign despite the
connotation hacktivism has accrued, that of web page defacement and
denial service, while other notables in the hacker/computer security
field seem to be standing back taking a wait and see approach?
Oxblood Ruffin: The CULT OF THE DEAD COW has
always taken a leadership position, in
Standing on the sidelines, playing it safe, this just isn't our style
or interest. And quite frankly, we intend to change the public
perception of what hacktivism really is. Web defacements are so jejune,
so completely sophmoric and unworthy. It takes little to no skill to
execute these defacements, and even if there were some purpose behind
them, they would still be an abridgement of free speech.
my favorite taglines that G. Ratte [cDc founder] came up with is "Show
and Prove". This really is what the cDc is all about. Let all the
nitwits make a grab for their fifteen minutes, and let all of the
so-called security experts play it safe and make superior noises from
the sidelines. We're in this to make a difference, and we won't stop
till we do.
metac0m: In a report by Reporters Without
Borders called "The Enemies of the Internet" 45 countries were
identified as restricting access to the Internet, using content
filtering "to protecting the public from 'subversive ideas'". However,
after detailing the abuses RWB simply "calls" on the violating
governments to stop such behavior. Given your experience with the Hong
Kong Blondes and the case of China (which was on the list) how can
hacktivists effectively assist in this campaign?
Ruffin: RWB are quite effective in taking the lead and raising public
awareness of various issues. In this instance, they, and others, have
gotten in front of Net censorship. But there's only so much they can
do. Who will take up the challenge? The political classes? Don't hold
your breath. They're much to busy taking polls to find out what's safe
to order for lunch tomorrow. We've decided that there's something that
we can do. The cDc has formed an umbrella group of international
hackers called "Hacktivismo" who will work towards making Net
censorship less of a done deal than it used to be.
We are engaged
in our first project that will allow clients accessing the Internet
from behind [so-called] national firewalls to end-run blocking software
that sets limits on exactly what sites citizens can access. We're
looking to completing by late spring. For the time being, I'm not free
to get into technical details on this project.
has been argued that beyond issues of free speech and access to
information there does not seem to a willingness or unity of purpose
amongst hackers in regards to activism. Do you think this is accurate?
Ruffin: Yes. I've always said that hacktivism is a noun in search of a
verb. It's a word that is a marketer's or editor's wet dream, but it
doesn't have much associated with it other than public confusion, to
the extent that the public is even aware of the word. But things are
changing, a little.
Increasingly I'm finding a lot of interest
among younger hackers to actually do things, as opposed to just
offering moral support. Once there is a public demonstration that
hacktivism is not about Web defacement, or other such efforts, I think
metac0m: There was a time when what nation-states
did within their own backyard was seen as their sovereign right even
when that behaviour extended to human rights violations, even genocide.
You've worked for the UN and often highlight the Universal Declaration
of Human rights. What role do you think that hacktivists can play on an
international level in support of human rights?
Ruffin: The raison d'être of hacktivism is Article 19 of the
Declaration on Human Rights. We take this very seriously, and to the
extent that we can do something about making this a reality, we'll try.
As i mentioned [in question three] we're working on a network
application that will support human rights on an international scale.
It will be interesting to see how governments react to this:-)
You've suggested that "hackers have a lot of stamina for harsh bug
fixes" and that hacktivism fuses this hacker ethic with a solution. How
do you see hacktivism as it now stands and what might the future of
Oxblood Ruffin: When I wrote that my
thinking had not evolved to the point it's at now. The Internet must
remain essentially emancipated. This is most true at the code level.
Open-source code and "open standards" are far more favorable to the
good health of the Internet than proprietary and closed standards. I
once describe hacktivism as "an open-source implosion". The methodology
is as important as the motivation.