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Dead Drops
November 1, 2010 8:08 AM   Subscribe

Artist Aram Bartholl (creator of CAPTCHA business cards) has embedded USB sticks in various walls, buildings and curbs accessible throughout New York City for Dead Drops: "an anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space." (Flickr) posted by zarq (58 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Countdown to homeland security involvement...
posted by odinsdream at 8:10 AM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


C'mon people! Get your mirror shades and neon-umbrellas! It's time for the gritty cyperpunk future! You'all got your hot pink hair and animation tattoos right?

About time!
posted by The Whelk at 8:11 AM on November 1, 2010 [10 favorites]


Like infecting your computer while online was too hard? Now, all you have to do is plug-in to a wall.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:13 AM on November 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


something something anonymous something stick it in something something viruses spread this way.
posted by hippybear at 8:13 AM on November 1, 2010 [10 favorites]


Dead Drop? No no no, this is a Data Hole.
posted by The Whelk at 8:15 AM on November 1, 2010


something something anonymous something stick it in something something viruses spread this way.

I run a decent virus protection package on my laptop called Ubuntu. But if a Windows user runs Norton or McAfee, won't they be reasonably well-protected against that sort of thing?
posted by zarq at 8:21 AM on November 1, 2010


The Glory Hole Project?
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:25 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


...I mean Cyber-Glory Hole Project.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:26 AM on November 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


I thought that was what Chat Roulette was for.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:27 AM on November 1, 2010


I will be totally surprised if someone from 4chan doesn't find all of these and make sure they have bountiful tubgirl and goatse pictures for all to enjoy.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:27 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a really good idea, like eating food that you found in a box on the street.
posted by seventyfour at 8:27 AM on November 1, 2010 [10 favorites]


This is a really good idea, like eating food that you found in a box on the street. . . .

And then throwing up on everyone else in the Starbucks.
posted by The Bellman at 8:32 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


This isn't a serious security risk.
Is that the best we've got?

Mostly I just find it about as interesting as well, any random webpage. So I don't know that it's worth the trip. More of an art exhibit than an interesting project.

I never really got geo-caching that way either though. I guess it's the thrill of the hunt, more than the reward at the end.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:36 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is only a cool idea if you don't tell anyone about it. And even then, it's overly stunty and kind of stupid.
Also ... it's only going to take about a week or so for that USB plug to get covered in diesel dust and assorted other kinds of actual filth, particular once it rains. You seriously going to stick an encrusted, blacked, possibly mildewed USB into your laptop?
posted by grabbingsand at 8:36 AM on November 1, 2010


Get a virus while physically breaking your USB port? Two kinds of stupid. W00t.
posted by pompomtom at 8:37 AM on November 1, 2010


New York only?

Sorry, I meant to say: this is a brilliant idea, and everyone should participate.
posted by pompomtom at 8:38 AM on November 1, 2010


I never really got geo-caching that way either though. I guess it's the thrill of the hunt, more than the reward at the end.

Part of the fun of geocaching, which I imagine applies to this as well, is the feeling of access to a secret world that most people just blithely pass by. I've seen geocaches that were little boxes tucked inside the frame of a neon sign outside a hotel on a busy street-- a hidden camaraderie with like-minded enthusiasts right out in the open, and no one else has any idea. How many people have passed by this sign this evening? And none of them has explored or pored over the nooks and surface features of the street in the way you have.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:42 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read about this over the weekend and was "this is a stupid idea". Some vandal will smash them soon enough, and anyone plugging into this is just asking for (a) a virus (b) their data to become public.
Plus, dead drops are NOT supposed to be obvious and used by everyone!
posted by Old'n'Busted at 8:47 AM on November 1, 2010


> I run a decent virus protection package on my laptop called Ubuntu.

Plugging anything into your computer's USB port constitutes exposing yourself to a local exploit. End-user Linux systems are no more or less vulnerable than any other OS if, say, the other end of the USB-A plug was a bot emitting keyboard commands to load in a payload, as long as what gets sent and recorded is appropriate to the environment.

I doubt somebody eager to promote himself as a forward-thinking technology artist would be pulling dirty tricks like that, for a variety of reasons (most likely of which is that this would be a lot of time and effort spent on something that would get shut down pretty damn quickly). On the other hand, even if all he's doing is embedding dumb NTSF-formatted USB keys - which is what it sounds like - anybody can exchange malicious files for any OS they like.
posted by ardgedee at 8:48 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh god, a virus! Nooooo! Something new, and terrible! Surely something none of us have ever seen before! Oh god, panic, panic now while we still can!!1!
posted by aramaic at 9:02 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, again, I really don't think that security is the number one issue here. ;)
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:03 AM on November 1, 2010


Five spots in New York City? Wow, surely THIS changes EVERYTHING!
posted by briank at 9:08 AM on November 1, 2010


Re the "local exploit" hullaballoo: Yeah, anything executable on here is a risk, and so are things that might exploit buffer overflows. Just like anything you might download online.

Really: Turn off autoplay. That's it. If you do that, then there's nothing on these USB sticks that's any more risky than browsing the web.
posted by straw at 9:08 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anonymous in so far as you'll blend right in to all the other people plugging their laptop into a wall in the limited number of locations easily surveilled by any agency who wishes to do so.
posted by djgh at 9:13 AM on November 1, 2010


there's nothing on these USB sticks that's any more risky than browsing the web
... and so, exactly why do we need this, then?
posted by Old'n'Busted at 9:15 AM on November 1, 2010


I'd like to see what an offline version of bit torrent would look like.
posted by swift at 9:30 AM on November 1, 2010


there's nothing on these USB sticks that's any more risky than browsing the web

Flashback to the 90s...

When your computer sleeps with a USB stick, it sleeps with every other computer that USB stick has slept with.
posted by furtive at 9:31 AM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's only a matter of time before USB needle exchange programs are launched in the inner city.
posted by furtive at 9:33 AM on November 1, 2010


swift: "I'd like to see what an offline version of bit torrent would look like"

Here's that copy of page 164 of The Road you wanted. I need pages 135 and 4 to complete the book. Got either of those? No? Dammit, where the hell are all the seeds? This library sucks.
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 9:33 AM on November 1, 2010 [13 favorites]


I've got something no one has "has explored, or pored over the nooks and surface features of."

In my pants.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:34 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cyber performance electronic street art.

wait, I can say that in fewer words

Stupid

there...
posted by HuronBob at 9:34 AM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


re: "... and so, exactly why do we need this, then?"

Possible rephrasing: "Your favorite internet reconceptualization sucks"?

If you wanted to make it hazardous, just wire the other end of those USB pins to 110v. So you won't find me sticking my laptop up to a random spot on the wall. But as we move away from net neutrality and towards a more mediated internet, this project is a good reminder that we don't necessarily have to depend on AT&T or Comcast to communicate.
posted by straw at 9:36 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


... and so, exactly why do we need this, then?

My impression of the project is that it's a type of public, interactive art installation.
posted by zarq at 9:38 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


PareidoliaticBoy, I'm sure the right special someone will come along real soon.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:38 AM on November 1, 2010


staw: pgp or any variant works great. And in any case, a much better concept would be an openwifi tied to a storage device. Or, you know, drop.io or whatever now that it's been bought out.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 9:39 AM on November 1, 2010


this project is a good reminder that we don't necessarily have to depend on AT&T or Comcast to communicate.

What? It's a terrible project if that's the goal. Even RFC 2549 is better than this, but there are plenty of serious projects about how to transmit data without using the internet, or any global providers, and this isn't one of them.
posted by odinsdream at 9:40 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


It would be kind of funny if it weren't just a simple USB storage device in the wall but instead a mischievous various of this where the plug acts as an input device that would, for example, direct your computer to post "I just plugged my computer into a glory hole" on your facebook wall.
posted by exogenous at 9:50 AM on November 1, 2010


i think of this as more proof of concept than anything else - meaning that publicizing 5 drop sites is to simply let people know of the idea

the real use will come with people who aren't going to publicize the locations

on the other hand, i'm not really sure that sneakernet needs reinventing
posted by pyramid termite at 9:54 AM on November 1, 2010


Cyber performance electronic street art.

wait, I can say that in fewer words

Stupid

there...


So what's stupid about "cyber performance electronic street art"? Is it the street art? Is all street art stupid? Is it the performance part? Is art not "real" enough for you unless it's over 100 years old and hanging in a gallery? Is it the fact that the subject matter relates to the internet and technology? Are those not valid areas that an artist can explore? Do you just think all art is stupid in general?

I guess you could have issue with this work in particular (although that's not what your comment made it seem like), so what exactly is stupid about this piece?

I figure that since you obviously know so much about this that you're willing to deride it so easily you can probably flesh out your comment a little.
posted by codacorolla at 10:11 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


It can work, but you'd need, say, a $5 charge for access, and mods.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:16 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe if he had done this in, say... Iran during the student uprisings. He would have something.
posted by R. Mutt at 10:22 AM on November 1, 2010


Old'n'Busted and odinsdream in principle I agree with y'all. In practice, I both end up passing around USB sticks far more often than I think is reasonable, and I've been trying to find someone, anyone, in line of sight or wifi range of my home to try to set up some alternatives to the big copper providers (and mechanisms for passing around information should a disaster strike, as I've been told that homebuilt WiFi networks were far more useful than HAM radio in both the Katrina and Puerto Rico earthquake aftermaths). So far: nobody.

I have a web server with pretty much unlimited bandwidth, so it's not like I have a pressing need to set up alternative communication systems, and I'm going to want a little bit of assurance that the other end of that USB jack isn't wired up to line voltage before I plug a device into it, but since messing around with BBSs in the '80s, and starting an ISP in the early '90s, and having been a "weblogger" since back before that term was coined, I've found that the best conversations happen out in the experimental and undiscovered places.

So, yeah, I guess if someone were doing this in my town I very well might dedicate a voltmeter and an old laptop to seeing what's on that network.
posted by straw at 10:23 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Goddamn stupid idea, and not just because of the virus/malware potential. You can't even be sure it's an actual memory stick, what with it being embedded into the wall like that. Wait until some joker tricks you into plugging a freakin' battery directly into your USB port...
posted by PsychoKick at 10:27 AM on November 1, 2010


codacorolla

explaining why this is "stupid" (in terms of why you shouldn't plug your $1,000 laptop into a jack in some wall) is akin to explaining to someone why they shouldn't stick their arm down a crocodile's throat. It's a waste of time 'cuz Darwin is going to explain things anyway.

That said, can we call someone to help you with that wedgie you seem to have?
posted by HuronBob at 10:33 AM on November 1, 2010


"cyber performance electronic street art"

You mis-spelled "drilling holes in someone else's wall and putting a foreign object in there", but I get the idea.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:37 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it's kind of a neat idea. However, it would be better if instead of you having to plug your laptop into a wall, you would plug your own usb key in, and it would automatically swap the contents of your key with what was already there, or something like that. Then, even in the worst case you're only out the cost of a usb key.
posted by Pyry at 10:39 AM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


spelling has always been an isssue for me.
posted by HuronBob at 10:40 AM on November 1, 2010


I'm going to install two bare wires and ask people to stick one up each nostril.
posted by HuronBob at 10:42 AM on November 1, 2010


I like the basic idea even if the implementation was less than practical. I like the thought of a data access point independent of the net and tied to a geographical location. Just something beautifully primitive, spy vs. spy, and cyberpunk-y about it that appeals to me. If I were in NYC, I'd be tempted to try it, with my 12 yr old Vaio notebook that is inexplicably still running.

If it got fried or infected, then no great loss. If there's something beautiful and unexpected stored at the drop, then definitely a risk worth taking.

That being said, I hope someone would duplicate the idea with wifi and a web server instead. Or, to keep the top secret feel of the thing but available worldwide, set up a TOR hidden service.
posted by honestcoyote at 10:51 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wifi or tor would be more practical, but I think the concreteness of the current setup is a big part of the appeal. If anything, I would go even more concrete: just have an led and a photodiode embedded in the wall, and publish a communication protocol. So you would hack together this super-low bitrate receiver using an Arduino or something, and then interface with the wall, and get this painfully slow text-based terminal to a mysterious other side.
posted by Pyry at 11:02 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


This? This is kinda silly. But there is a kernel of a good idea hiding in it. Less advertised, less obvious, and similar to geocaching mentioned earlier, I could see a couple of high volume USB drives hidden about with a whole catalog of music or movies or something.

It would feel pretty neat to come across a whole drive full of stuff like canceled shows or dailys from some big budget film. Stuff that wouldn't normally trade online, but would still be cool to find in the wild.
posted by quin at 11:51 AM on November 1, 2010


Judging by the ridiculous amount of child porn on the computers at one of my nearby icafes I can't see this lasting, at least not "anonymously".
posted by doublehappy at 12:26 PM on November 1, 2010


I think they would get smashed by rocks after a couple of days.
posted by djduckie at 1:11 PM on November 1, 2010


As part of my own subversive cyber art project, I am installing webcams at all five locations which will stream the video to chatroullete. Art school wankery vs. Dorm room onanism.
posted by benzenedream at 1:50 PM on November 1, 2010


Someone call Mondo 2000!
posted by Mid at 7:42 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see what an offline version of bit torrent would look like.

Any given pyramid scheme that relies on booklet sales, but with no cash involved, and in both directions.

So... kinda... nothing like my analogy. Shit.
posted by Quadlex at 9:52 PM on November 1, 2010


If you're worried about grime or breaking your USB port, you can always use an extension cable. A cable with a fuse would be even better.

But anyway, disabling autorun is not enough to make plugging these things in safe. As others have said above, the device in the wall might not actually be a memory stick. It could be a USB hub connected both to a flash drive containing malware and to a device that feeds keystrokes to your pc to copy over and run the malware.

Still, as street art, I like it.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:20 AM on November 2, 2010


One of those random cool hacks that showed up in the beginning of Little Brother was an alternate reality game that was played by finding hidden wireless networks and connecting to them to find secret shit. It was tricky because the router was always set to a very low gain and placed in an area that had a lot of wireless signal already, so you had to find the one spot where the signal you wanted was, and the signals you didn't want weren't.

Something like that would have been a much cooler variant on the sneakernet idea.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:46 AM on November 2, 2010


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