Crackers and Crackdowns

From Kevin Mitnick to Jon Johansen, the Empire strikes back.
Copy Restriction Destroys

I cracked my first game when I was in the second grade. I had a Commodore 64, and it was more or less my life. I was very excited, because I knew this could be the start of something. At the time, I thought copy restrictions were immoral and that information should be shared, I didn't know anything about free software or open source, it was just an intuited moral attitude. After a little while of opening games up with hex editors to remove the passwords that you had to enter from a page in the manual, I learned some tricky things about copy restriction.

One popular technique on the C64 was to fill the disk mostly with unreadable junk, lace it with blocks of good data, and overdrive the disk drive (old disk drives, for the 5.25" disks, operated at 3 speeds depending on where on the header was reading the data). So, you have a drive reading a disk full of bad data (designed to throw off copy programs), spinning the disk at the wrong speeds and grinding over bad blocks. You could literally hear it grinding away, and it sounded horrible. The problem with this practice, and with all of the techniques of bad blocks, blocks of bad lengths, etc., is that it would ruin disk drives, literally and aurally grinding them up; the most common problem was that it threw the heads out of alignment, among other things. Now, if you were a tech, you could open up your drive and go at it with an oscilloscope to fix it. However, the fact remained, those greedy software firms were producing software that damaged people's computers all for the sake of stopping people from copying software, which of course we did anyway. The destructive copy restriction schemes forced us to crack them, forced us to use cracked software. These troubles continued into the world of Amiga, and I constantly found myself with misaligned disk drives more often than not, and knowing that if I wanted to get software to work, I'd either have to get software that didn't have bad blocks, or I'd have to get a cracked copy; it was the only way to protect my drive. I imagine the copy restriction schemes alone probably caused more damage than the most malicious hackers, crackers, and virii, and this says nothing of harm from the more conniving things software firms have done.

The point of this is that corporations will destroy your hardware without a second thought, they will also sell you products that are bad for your health, and build cars that aren't safe for you or the planet. Oddly, the corporate-irresponsibility attitude is so prevalent today that anytime someone complains that a company is harming consumers or destroying the environment, we get told, “Shut up! The company's out to make a profit, your moral pontificating is out of line and inappropriate!” Apparently, the very fact that you're out to make a profit alleviates one from responsibility. That's a pretty good deal if you're destructively inclined.

Boycott Everyone

Richard Feynmann, hero to intelligent people the world over, once suggested that if an advertisement insulted our intelligence, we should not buy the product. I've been trying that my whole life, and it's made it impossible to purchase anything, which is probably a good thing considering what I get paid. The point is, we vote once or twice a year with our votes (assuming we have civil rights), but we vote thousands and thousands of times every year with our dollars.

Boycott the motion picture industry—it's a moral imperative, otherwise we're voting with our dollars to persecute Jon Johansen and his father, and that's the geek equivalent of treason.

Boycott the recording industry—the RIAA is trying to abolish mp3s, and that's just the start of their conspiracy. CDs cost too much already, and pretty soon we'll be jerked into buying new players and encrypted CDs that we can't read. We'll face hardware that we can't control and algorithms we're no longer allowed to use. We have to resist this assault on our technological autonomy, which means not supporting the industry. Already the industry charges stupidly high prices for CDs, so high, that unless I can find a used CD, I won't buy it. $20 for a Cure album that came out twenty years ago? I don't think so, and I don't buy it. We can't contribute dollars to an industry that wants to invade our world (computers), outlaw our algorithms, take control of our hardware and data away from us, and sic the government on its own citizens in order to enforce its weird, corporate ideas for law. Maybe this means not listening to as much music, or borrowing CDs from friends. Maybe it means downloading mp3s instead. Musicians who are allegedly in music not for money, but for art's sake, would want their music to reach the largest audience possible, and would be flattered to see mp3s of their tunes travel around. Otherwise, it's time for pop stars to admit that they're just in it for the money, stop lying to their fans, and stop nominally pretending to be populists and leftists and whatnot. I'm finished with buying CDs, it's mp3s from now on, the way it ought to be (though I'll have to get a computer to play them since I haven't got one right now). Any rock star who whines about “piracy” should first admit, “Yes, I'm in it for the money.” If we were all saints, we could abstain from listening to proprietary music all together, but at least for now we can stop paying for it.

Boycott Amazon—fight against software patents, and besides, Richard Stallman said so.

Boycott anyone whose actions you oppose—every time you spend money at a company with an agenda you don't like, whether they do business with countries that torture people, or mistreat their employees, or pollute, or support fascist politicians and dictators, you've voting with your dollars in support of these people, letting the corporations know that commerce and money are more important than everything else, and you're ultimately the reason they're allowed to get away with what they do. We don't have to take to the streets with picket signs, smash McDonald's and spray-paint “meat is murder” (as happened during the WTO protests), or take to the hills. We can, however, curb consumption as much as we can of bad products, and boycott as much as we can. Government is not on our side, and we can not rely on government to regulate corporations since in actuality it's corporations who regulate the government. We'll have to do it from the ground up, by boycotting everything we don't like. I boycott nearly everything, including automobiles and gasoline, and it hasn't negatively impacted my life a great deal.

I suppose no one would mind if we didn't have to fight these struggles, if the battle for freedom were not necessary every single day, if we could just live and enjoy. Unfortunately, we're not able to do this, at least not for very long. Every moment our technological freedoms are being eroded away by corporate and government collusion. It's been happening for years, and it has exceeded the basic copyright issues of years ago. For a long time, Microsoft led the charge to deliver the software equivalent of a car with its hood welded shut. We had to deal with proprietary software for far too long, closed source binaries that we had no control over, and this was often on computers where you were effectively logged in as root all the time. Secret codes got placed inside files, and pretty soon people wanted to start monitoring users (and with IE linked right into your kernel, it's an invitation for catastrophe).