Dreams of Cyberspace and Undercover Cops

When I grow up I want to be an internet hacker, and the slippery slope of undercover cops posing as protesters

I am not good at technology. I just this past minute unleashed a half-dozen f-bombs and all I was trying to do is to open this document so I could start writing my column. I am a fan of the idea of technology, and I can clearly see many of the benefits of modern technology in the world around me, but sometimes I feel like everyone else is driving a late model BMW and I’m still cruising in my coffee-brown Pinto. Technology doesn’t operate smoothly for me. Still, I appreciate the concept.

Dreaming of Things I will Never Do

I find myself fascinated by this on-going investigation into who hacked Sony. Experts on the subject, like Bruce Schneier of the computer security firm Co3 Systems, aren’t buying the story that North Korea is behind the attack. In an article Schneier wrote recently for the Atlantic he mentions both Sony insiders—including a disgruntled former employee with the technical acumen to pull off such a stunt—and Russian nationalists as possible suspects. I wish I knew more about it, from a technical standpoint. I do understand, basically, the Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Both Sony PlayStation’s network and North Korea’s entire internet service may recently have been disabled in this manner. So far as I can tell in a DDoS attack, two or more users set-up programs that basically bombard a network with requests for information and overload it to a point where it can no longer handle the traffic and function properly. These attacks are relatively simple to execute. There is no infiltration of the network involved.

The Sony hack was more involved in that the hackers actually got inside the network and released loads of information that they discovered inside, including upcoming releases as well as confidential information regarding company employees.

This is what interests me. I’d love to be able to infiltrate networks, just to poke around and see what there is to see. I think it would be more interesting than anything on my streaming Netflix connection.

Undercover Everywhere

I’m also extremely curious about the use of undercover, plain-clothed police officers to infiltrate demonstrations and protests. In Oakland the police are on record stating they have and will continue to use undercover officers to gather information regarding protest movements. This came to light after a couple of undercover officers were outed by a crowd. One officer was attacked and his partner pulled a pistol in an effort to keep the surging crowd at bay. The identities of the officers have not been revealed.

Chief of CHP’s Golden Gate Division Avery Browne is unapologetic about the tactic, and claims that before this pair of officers were outed they managed to gather information that prevented four separate freeway shut-downs.

I don’t know what to make of that. I guess what concerns me isn’t the desire to preempt freeway shut-downs, but what about undercover officers who decide it might be a good idea to rile the crowd up a little bit, to get the protesters to cross the line into criminal territory. It wouldn’t be the first time undercover officers walked petty criminals up the line to the big-time before lowering the hammer.

Paranoid, I suppose—but sometimes the events of the day encourage paranoid thinking.

Bob Howard has been living, working, and writing in Northern Califonria since he moved to Chico in early 2000. In January 2011, he and his wife Trish relocated to Los Molinos, 30 minutes north of Chico, where they are the proud proprietors of the Double Happiness Farm. There they grow organic food, ornamental plants and trees, and generally work to enjoy the beauty of this great region.