Interview with Oxblood Ruffin of the cDc

Interview with Oxblood Ruffin

Interview by metac0m

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 of view?

Oxblood Ruffin: We are dealing with homonyms. There are two separate words, and two separate
fields of action, in my view.

[h]acktivists 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".

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 one 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.

metac0m: 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
everything. 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.

One of 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?

Oxblood 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.

metac0m: It 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?

Oxblood 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 we'll see

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?

Oxblood Ruffin: The raison d'être of hacktivism is Article 19 of the Universal 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:-)

metac0m: 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 hacktivism hold?

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.

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This article comes from The Hacktivist