No Free Lunch From the Hackers

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by Paul Rosenberg: The
State Versus the Internet



recently wrote an article posted here at on The
State Versus The Internet
. In it, I outlined the current (and
very serious) threats to the Internet. Along with a few "thank
you" comments, I got several that said, "yeah, but surely
the hackers will bring this down."

here to tell you that this is a vain hope, and that it is not the
hackers' fault.


hacker mystique dates back to the late 80s and early 90s, when they
won the first crypto war. And while the hackers deserve enduring
credit for that victory, it is important to remember two things:

  1. That was
    a much easier situation than the one we now face.
  2. The community
    that really changed things consisted of only about 200 people.

200 number is obviously just our guess — there was no register to
sign, after all — but it should be fairly close to the number of
people who actually did something, as opposed to the much larger
group who never did more than talk, or who worked on ineffective
things, wasting their time and resources.

for the battle we face now, I outlined it fairly well in the article
linked above: We are facing-off against the biggest intel agencies,
the biggest tech companies and some of the biggest crooks in the


if we were to count all of the people who are actually working on
Tor, I2P, privacy-oriented VPNs, and other anonymization technologies,
we still have a few hundred core people, surrounded by perhaps 5000
support people. These people do things and they change things, but
you would expect there to be many more of them at this point, 20-some
years after their initial appearance. The reason for this lack of
growth is simple: They are not rewarded.

with all the technology we now have for avoiding surveillance, we
estimate that there are between 4 and 5 million people worldwide
that use it, maximum. That equates to less than one percent. There
are roughly 2
billion Internet users in the world
(266 million in North America,
475 million in Europe, 825 million in Asia, 205 million in Latin
America), but only 5 million using the things that hackers provide.

have families to feed too, and whatever they do, they cannot be
successful without paying customers. People simply do not use crypto
and the hackers simply have not been rewarded. If privacy requires
payment, or if it requires an extra step, or if it slows them down
just a little bit… they don't line up for it. And if no one uses
their products, what benefit can come from them?

would also have been nice if people would have helped the hackers
when their homes and offices were raided and when they had their
computers stolen by the police. At least some help with legal costs
would have been nice.

truth is that a lot of people think they can piggy-back on a bunch
of guys who are internally driven to protect the Internet. They
are wrong; the hackers have bills to pay, and if customers won't
pay them, they can't make a living hacking crypto. Markets are what
they are, and people will not continue to provide unrewarded services.

example, an associate of ours runs an open node for a mesh
. It can reach about 5 thousand people, but only about
10 people use it, and mostly for worthless things like file sharing.

are good at building hardware and software, but the problems we
face now involve cables and core routers. In order to counter these
attacks, we need alternate networks, not alternate endpoints. And
for that, a LOT of capital is required. The hackers don't have enough
money to do that, and they don't have the political connections
required to get the requisite free pass. Those systems are physical,
expensive, and easy to attack and close.

a few hackers had been made billionaires like the social network
guys, we might have had a chance to keep the Internet free, but
that never happened.

you see why the hackers get bent out of shape over this? People
don't want to know that they are surfing an Internet where their
every action and thought are recorded "for their protection."

there is a new device or new free service, they'll plug right in.
Mention crypto and they say "That costs money and degrades
the operation of the gadget everyone on TV is using!"

yet, they expect the hackers to ride in to the rescue.

have been documenting the construction of an electronic police state

for several years and working to protect people from it. Our business
is doing well, but we should be orders of magnitude busier than
we are (as should others). People who don't give up their PGP passphrases
are sitting in jail as we speak. Non-compliant ISP operators have
spent time in jail and years under gag orders, mass surveillance
grows daily, hundreds of hackers and providers have had their computers
seized by the police, and no one knows how many people have disappeared
world-wide over Internet posts that offended one boss or another.

the Internet completes its conversion into the greatest surveillance
tool of all time, it will not be the fault of the hackers.

one is riding in and save us. Either we save ourselves or we shall
not be saved.

28, 2010

Rosenberg [send him
] is the CEO of Cryptohippie
, a leading provider of Internet anonymity.

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