Mix a rabid love of freedom with an intense dislike of corporate or state-sponsored censorship, fold in the wacky collective brilliance of a group of rogue coders, and what do you get? Tyrannyâ€™s worst nightmare: an untraceable, globally distributed digital information network called Peekabooty.
THE DENIZENS OF THE digital underground know it only as â€œProject X,â€ a closely held secret software application set to be unleashed on the world this July at an annual hacker blowout in Las Vegas known as DefCon by an equally infamous group known as the Cult of the Dead Cow, â€œcDcâ€ for short.
cDc is a global hacker collective that prides itself on being a thorn in the established software industryâ€™s side. Notable for releasing programs such as â€œBack Orificeâ€ and â€œBack Orifice 2000,â€ programs that blow up security holes in Microsoft products to the size of the JumboTron in Times Square, cDc likes to say it â€œputs the â€˜hackâ€™ in â€˜hacktivism.â€™â€ With the upcoming release of Peekabooty, their trademark braggadocio may be an understatement.
In high-level discussions with cDcâ€™s â€œForeign Minister,â€ who goes by the digital street name of â€œOxblood Ruffin,â€ Iâ€™ve learned that Peekabooty is a dart aimed at the heart of those seeking to block information access on the Web.
Oxblood Ruffin told me during a run-and-shoot e-mail interview that Peekabooty â€œallows people who canâ€™t see Web pages for one reason or another circuitous access to them. We want adults to be able to access what is publicly available on the Web. Our app doesnâ€™t go behind firewalls, peer into the soul of IBM or anything like that.â€
Of course, cDc is reluctant to hand out technical details before the official launch because it doesnâ€™t want The Powers That Be to start developing countermeasures before Peekabooty gets a firm foothold in the ether.
â€œThe second this app goes out the door, many governments will be attempting to shut it down or catch users,â€ Oxblood Ruffin said.
So all heâ€™ll say about how Peekabooty works is this: â€œIt is a distributed Web application that circumvents forms of DNS filtering.â€
For a clue as to what this meant, I turned to another source that I only know as â€œRain Forest Puppy,â€ who describes himself as â€œa hobbyist security professional and pro-security hacker.â€
RFP speculates that Peekabooty is a distributed Web surfing proxy meant to bypass all kinds of firewalls and restrictions or filters. And it would do all this automatically: â€œIn the end you could have a loose Napster/freenet type collection of anonymous servers acting in the common good to circumvent Web filters,â€ RFP says.
All this strikes me as a baseline for what could really be considered â€œhacktivism,â€ the very concept I trashed last week. Itâ€™s not that I donâ€™t believe hacktivism could arise on the Net â€” I just havenâ€™t seen any good examples of it, yet.
And donâ€™t throw the electrohippies at me with their â€œdigital sit-insâ€ which are nothing more than targeted denial-of-service attacks. They hardly provide a passionate, involved course of activism when all thatâ€™s required of you is to run a simple program from your computer aimed at pinging the servers of some â€œWorld Evil,â€ leaving you free to drive to the local Taco Bell for that zesty ethnic dining experience.
Peekabooty is being stitched together by a â€œHacktivismo,â€ a crew of 21 hackers operating under the cDc umbrella. The skill set of this ad-hoc ranges from security professionals to hackers to students, and thereâ€™s even a human rights lawyer tossed into the mix. The group was recruited by Oxblood Ruffin, who says his international connections allowed him to draw in people from the United States, Canada, Europe, Israel, India and Taiwan. Ruffin also indicated heâ€™s in talks with Chinese hackers interested in the project.
cDc members are the darker angels of the digital world, operating without a license just inside the margins of the Internet. Amid their own self-promoted hype and hijinks there is high truth when they hold up Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and quote: â€œEveryone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.â€
And as Oxblood Ruffin points out, â€œWe believe we have a moral imperative to actâ€ â€” thus, the development of Peekabooty.
This is the stuff of activism, of being involved and passionate about a cause.
Peekabooty also will be open source â€” that is, the underlying software code will be free for the asking and hacking â€” a fact thatâ€™s sure to ruffle official feathers inside Microsoft, which recently announced a veiled war on open source software.
(MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)
Microsoftâ€™s attitude toward the open source movement aside, Oxblood Ruffin says that when the application is released, â€œWe expect a lot of nasty little men in ugly clothing will be very displeased, and we donâ€™t give a f***.â€ [Asterisks inserted by corporate censorsâ€¦]
And the fact that cDc plans on releasing Peekabooty in July, shortly after the Fourth, is just sweet irony. As the country song says, â€œRoll the stone away/let the guilty pay/itâ€™s Independence Day!â€
Peekabooty: Coming soon to a tyranny near you.
Author: Brock N. Meeks
News Service: MSNBC