Cory Doctorow—Linux Guru?

Cory Doctorow has “open sourced” every one of his books, so to us, he seems like the perfect candidate to use Linux. He agrees, and tells us about it.

DS: One of the things I run into with GPG or with encrypted IMs or SELinux, which ships with almost every distribution now, is that they're all commonly available, most of them are easy to use, and the vast majority of people don't. Why?

CD: Yeah. We undervalue our privacy because the cost of losing it is so far in the future, and again very speculative, so we tend to assume that because it doesn't cost us anything to lose our privacy today, it won't cost us anything to lose our privacy tomorrow, and that's generally a bad bet. So we don't worry about encrypting our hard drives until we lose our laptops—oh, and that's the other thing I do. I encrypt my hard drive, and I also just figured out how to use Cryptix with SD cards as well.

DS: So, tell us a bit about Little Brother. What's it about, why the title, and how does it tie in to your other advocacy?

CD: Little Brother is a novel about hacker kids in the Bay Area who, after a terrorist attack that blows up the Bay Bridge, decide that there are worse things than terrorist attacks, which, after all, end. Those things include the authoritarian responses to terrorists, which have no end, which only expand and expand. When you're fighting a threat as big and nebulous as terrorism, there's virtually no security measure that can't be justified. And so they find themselves caught inside an ever-tightening noose of control and surveillance, and they decide that they're going to fight back. They do so by doing three things: they use technology to take control of their technology, so they jailbreak all of their tools and use them to build free, encrypted wireless networks that they can communicate in secrecy with. The second thing they do is get better at understanding the statistics of rare occurrences so that they can control the debate. So they start to investigate how, when you try to stop a very rare occurrence with a security measure, the majority of things you end up stopping won't be the rare occurrence because the rare occurrence happens so rarely. So they start to show how automated surveillance and automated systems of suspicion and control disproportionately punish innocent people and rarely if ever catch guilty people.

DS: Yeah, you're actually having this problem in London now, aren't you?

CD: Oh, well, absolutely. We've got massive surveillance networks here, but it's in the US as well. You've got the hundreds of pages of no-fly-list names. People who are so dangerous that they can't be allowed to get on an airplane but so innocent that we can't think of anything to charge them with....And then, finally, they get involved in electoral politics, because no change endures unless it can be cemented into place and shellacked over with law. You might be able to convert this year's government to the cause, order to make it endure, you have to make it into a law that every government that comes afterward has to abide by. And so for these three measures, they end up changing society and changing the whole world.

The novel is very explicitly didactic. Every chapter has instructions and information necessary to build technology that can help you fight the war on the war on terror. So, from setting up your own TOR node, to building a pinhole camera detector, to disabling an RFID tag, it's in the book. We did a series of “instructables”—little how-tos for building this stuff with kids that can be used as science-fair projects or home projects, and people have taken some of this stuff to heart. There's a notional Linux distro in the book called Paranoid Linux that's kind of an amalgam of all the different security-conscious Linux distros out there, and there are people trying to build a Linux distro based on Paranoid Linux, which is pretty exciting.

DS: Thank you very much for the interview Cory.

Dan Sawyer is the founder of ArtisticWhispers Productions (, a small audio/video studio in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has been an enthusiastic advocate for free and open-source software since the late 1990s, when he founded the Blenderwars filmmaking community ( He currently is the host of “The Polyschizmatic Reprobates Hour”, a cultural commentary podcast, and “Sculpting God”, a science-fiction anthology podcast. Author contact information is available at



Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

It's just a matter of time - really?

marv-e56s's picture

I've been using various flavors of Linux on all of my home desktops since about 1995, using Gnome, KDE, Enlightenment, and/or XFCE desktop environments. The only problems I've really had has been accessing webpages specifically designed to Windows standards.

My daughter uses Mac OSX (on her laptop) and I don't see any difference in functionality.

That's a recognized myth: "I

Anonymous's picture

That's a recognized myth: "I don't see any difference in functionality". The truth is that both Windows and Mac OS X are very good when we talk about a OS suitable for desktop.

Linux is just for servers, it is designed for servers, that's why Linux isn't used massively around the world. (although we'll always see people saying that that is because MS is doing illegal things under the hood...)

It is just a matter of time

Anonymous's picture

It is just a matter of time before Cory Doctorow is using Mac OS X again. Why, you may ask, and obviously I have the answer: Linux is not designed to be suitable for desktops.

Of course, you can still dream about the Linux domination and all that lies, I don't have a problem with that.

Awesome Article

Paul McRae's picture

I dream of a day when we will live in a world without DRM.

Signing email automatically

Kperkins's picture

Hey Cory. In thunderbird go to account settings, click on Opengpg security, and check the boxes marked " default".
I think it's only if you have enigmail installed, but I don't think you can even use gpg without it. (Don't know had it installed for forever.)

Deja Vu

Anonymous's picture

This is from Nov 1, 2008. First comment from Oct 8, 2008. What's the deal? LJ is now recycling articles. Wow.

From the Print edition

Webmistress's picture

This article is from The November 2008 print edition of Linux Journal. We occasionally highlight print articles on the web after they have been made available to all readers. In this case, I feel like this is a particularly interesting interview, and well worth bringing to the attention of our web readers.

I particularly enjoy reading the discussion of Apple and DRM in light of last month's move by Apple to DRM-free music on iTunes.

Katherine Druckman is webmistress at You might find her on Twitter or at the Southwest Drupal Summit

The sciprt explained

Anonymous's picture

Tor is used to anonymously surf the internet, you connect to a tor server and it has exit nodes in different countries so your ip looks as if its coming from say Germany.
ssh -- secure connection method between server and client.
So ssh over tor would make it have a secure anonymous connection. SMTP over ssh over tor would make sending mail over a secure anonymous connection.

Now the command
alias tortunnel='ssh -o ProxyCommand="/usr/bin/connect
↪-S localhost:9050 %h %p" -f -N -C -l username
↪-L5002: -L5003:

-o is option switch for ssh client this command is telling it to call connect using the command /usr/bin/connect (I am guessing this is an example script hence replace /usr/bin/connect with your own connect command)
this connect command takes the -S option to have connection sharing on port localhost:9050, since its localhost you can connect to port 9050 on your machine using only the loopback socket. %h %p are replaced by hostname and portname.
-f (force backgrounding)
-N (do not open shell just forward ports)
-C (compress data when sending)
-l username logs in with the username you provide
-L5002:broadcast-address:25 replace the broadcast address with correct address, this command will port forward local port 5002 to smtp port 25. Similarly -L5003:xxx:110 will port forward local port 5003 to pop-port 110 for incoming mail. Finally, 5555:localhost:5555 will open port on local machine "5555" to remote machine you are connecting to on port "5555" last address ( should be the ssh-server address.


connect is real

RichS's picture

Get connect.c from

Unfortunately, Goto san's html page is down, but mirrored here:

The usage instructions are in the source.

great interview

Anonymous's picture

Thanks, this is excellent. I wish more people paid attention to these issues, because they strike at our basic freedoms.

smtp over ssh over tor script??

yoav's picture

Great interview. It's important to raise awareness to and voice the issues with DRM, Privacy, Surveillance Society, Freedom of speech, consumer choice and everything that relates to it.

I'm a little confused about this little script provided though. Could somebody explain what's going on exactly for the benefit of the less technically familiar with ssh tunneling / tor proxying etc?? I'm vaguely familiar with both, but still a little baffled with marrying those two together.

I'm particularly unclear about those addresses. Were they supposed to be replaced by localhost or the remote SSH host?? Where does the SMTP server address / username+password fit in all this?