Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Jacob Appelbaum
December 8, 2010 12:12 AM   Subscribe

MeFi's own Jacob Appelbaum visits Iraq, offers a hand after Katrina, exposes security holes, creates spaces for learning and sharing, represents for Wikileaks and Tor and is generally superhero like.
posted by serazin (56 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wait wikileaks...so you mean supervillian right?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:28 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


[Bunch of comments removed. I'm not sure what just happened, but buying a new account to go on a page-long personal rant about another member is not a good way to go.]
posted by cortex at 2:27 AM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


I hear he's not all he's cracked up to be
posted by fullerine at 2:38 AM on December 8, 2010


I get up early and still miss all the drama?
posted by fixedgear at 2:43 AM on December 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh but that was going to be so fun.
posted by molecicco at 2:51 AM on December 8, 2010


[Seriously, if there's something in terms of mefi policy that needs talking about go over to Metatalk and explain what. "Fuck you for censoring my comment" is not gonna fly.]
posted by cortex at 3:22 AM on December 8, 2010


The RS article is behind a paywall.
posted by fixedgear at 3:30 AM on December 8, 2010


To be fair to Mr. Appelbaum, I don't think he considers himself anything super special. Take for instance the last line that can be seen in the non-paywalled RS article.

All that Blockfinder does is allow you to identify, contact and potentially hack into every computer network in the world.

That sounds a little aggrandising, but that is the RS writer speaking. Here's the subject himself (from the project's github page)

Contrary to popular media claims, blockfinder is a simple text based console tool that returns a list of netblocks for a given country. It does this by fetching the following lists of allocations

I'd rather not blame someone for how they're portrayed by the media (no-one wants to read "decent dude does some good stuff, is moderately talented hacker" everyone wants the hero narratives).
posted by atrazine at 3:40 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Contrary to popular media claims, blockfinder is a simple text based console tool that returns a list of netblocks for a given country. It does this by fetching the following lists of allocations

Which leaves me to wonder why this software is considered important. I mean, didn't XKCD put out a diagram a few years back showing which netblocks belong to who?
posted by Jimbob at 3:47 AM on December 8, 2010


I did think that that Rolling Stone article was a load of puff when I read it last week. I don't buy into the whole 'hacker' mystique that the RS article propagates. It reads like someone masturbating to William Gibson, which given RS's subscriber base of aging baby boomers made me wonder if such things have come back into fashion. (I much prefer RS's Matt Taibbi who at least comes off as a more earnest, coherent Hunter Thompson.)
posted by Catblack at 4:05 AM on December 8, 2010


Jimbob, are you thinking of xkcd 195?
posted by dylanjames at 5:42 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


My understanding is that Applebaum himself was very unhappy with the way he was portrayed in the RS article, and felt that the author chose to make aggrandizing claims that didn't line up with what Applebaum believes.
posted by orville sash at 5:42 AM on December 8, 2010


MeTa
posted by Forktine at 6:10 AM on December 8, 2010


I can't say enough about how awesome Tor is.

Honestly, I've been much more aware of my web footprint recently, and Tor is a fantastic tool for anonymity, geographical content barrier workarounds, and general sense of privacy. It can be somewhat sluggish, but honestly a few more seconds is a small price to pay for peace of mind.
posted by clearly at 6:16 AM on December 8, 2010


Anyone have the rest of the RS article?
posted by empath at 6:18 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can someone with the relevant knowledge explain why one would need a tool like blockfinder?
posted by wayland at 6:34 AM on December 8, 2010


Just off the top of my head, if you're a sysadmin and you see intrusions from a particular IP, you can use it to try to determine where it's coming from in terms of country, ISP, etc.
posted by kmz at 6:39 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


[derailing the blockfinder derail]: This is awesome. Nobody's a god, but this guy's doing cool stuff which is pretty inspiring.
posted by tmcw at 7:02 AM on December 8, 2010


Respect for the dude, but man, if I was him, given what has happened in the last week, I'd fucking hide and start using his own TOR skills to communicate with people, if he hasn't done so already.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:12 AM on December 8, 2010


Vell, Jacob Appelbaum's just zis guy, you know?
posted by phooky at 7:13 AM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Huh. I'm sorry I used the word superhero. An effort to add punchiness to the post apparently reinforced some weird feelings.

I just heard about him through the RS article, and when I read more and listened to him speak I thought he was a, as said above, decent fellow doing good work and was worth sharing about here.

And when I read the RS article, yesterday it was not behind a paywall! Grar!
posted by serazin at 7:29 AM on December 8, 2010


Guess I missed the snarkfest. Good! I love posts like this, getting into the mind of interesting hackers. Thanks for the roundup!
posted by Nelson at 7:48 AM on December 8, 2010


Here's the entire Rolling Stone article.
posted by iscavenger at 8:45 AM on December 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


hmm I didnt know he was a mefite. I know Jacob personally, socially...only recently aware he's been working for wikileaks....interesting stuff.
posted by supermedusa at 8:52 AM on December 8, 2010


iscavenger: Here's the entire Rolling Stone article.

From that article:
He selects one of the 118 networks at random and tries to enter it. A window pops up asking for a password. Appelbaum throws back his head and screams with laughter — a gleeful, almost manic trill. The network runs on a router made by Cisco Systems and is riddled with vulnerabilities. Hacking into it will be trivial.
Clearly, he's a wily hacker, the sort you'd find in the anonymized documentary Hackers (the faces and names have changed, but that shit is real). He even has a decent handle: ioerror. I mean, it's no ZeroCool or AcidBurn, but it'll do.

I'd like to see a factual re-telling of interviews like these, from the perspective of the interviewed person. The "gleeful, almost manic trill" becomes a small chuckle or a smirk, Blockfinder changes from a most l33t of hacking tools, into one of basic discovery and information gathering. The factual interview wouldn't sell magazines, but paired with the hyperboles, it would make for a more well-rounded read.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:27 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Blockfinder basically doesn't do anything that you can't do with a 5 minute google search.
posted by empath at 9:37 AM on December 8, 2010


this post was really interesting...i had applebaum's keynote speech on this morning while i was guzzling coffee. i'm definitely going to do some reading about this guy. it sounds like he's doing some inspiring stuff, and i hope he's safe.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 9:41 AM on December 8, 2010


I'm not for wikileaks. But I admire his humanitarian deeds and his courage.
posted by clavdivs at 9:47 AM on December 8, 2010


Well, the list of things I posted as a counterpoint to the original post seem to have been deleted, which is pretty standard when Appelbaum is involved.

He is not a superhero. There are a lot of people in the security research community who are extremely unhappy with him and the way he manipulates his media image while leeching resources off of our community. We've repeatedly seen him curry the favor of more prominent researchers until they cease to be of usefulness to him, and then he stops dealing with them.

I'll leave it at that. At some point his past behavior is going to catch up with him, and this is a start.
posted by ezpeel at 9:49 AM on December 8, 2010


Now that I've read the full article, and ezpeel has provided hints of counter-commentary, my earlier comment comes off rather light-hearted for the topic. I'm interested to know more from all sides.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:53 AM on December 8, 2010


Now that I've read the full article, and ezpeel has provided hints of counter-commentary, my earlier comment comes off rather light-hearted for the topic. I'm interested to know more from all sides.

I'll send my original comment to anyone who wants it. Appelbaum has done some pretty screwed up things and for some bizarre reason moderators on sites like this dismiss them as "rants" and not the facts they are. The facts are going to get out eventually, and this is one way to do it.
posted by ezpeel at 10:02 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, you would say that Jacob Applebaum got it goin' on?
posted by klangklangston at 10:18 AM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: The faces and names have changed, but that shit is real.
posted by ostranenie at 10:29 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Appelbaum is dressed in his usual hacker uniform: black boots, black socks, black slacks, black thick-rimmed glasses and a T-shirt bearing an archslogan

You forgot the mirrorshades and black leather jacket. The Matrix has you!
posted by ostranenie at 10:37 AM on December 8, 2010


Black cadillac? The boy's a time bomb!
posted by klangklangston at 10:38 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


for some bizarre reason moderators on sites like this dismiss them as "rants" and not the facts they are.

If you find that moderators at multiple unconnected sites are dismissing your comments as rants, you should probably start to ask yourself why that keeps happening, and perhaps reassess the manner in which you present your "facts." If, y'know, you actually want people to listen to you.
posted by dersins at 10:40 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


The blockfinder story puts me in mind of a conversation that happened many years ago on IRC. A noted hacker was talking about systems around the world & mentioned that one country in the Mid East had two computers on the Internet; one owned by the national bank & the other by the government's intelligence service; & he was in both of them. Somewhat jokingly I asked if he had found the file with the list of undercover operatives yet. He immediately blasted me a private message saying "YOU STOP SNIFFING ME!" In the continual game of one-upmanship that's always underway in such places it was clear to me that for that day at least, he had won.
posted by scalefree at 10:58 AM on December 8, 2010


for some bizarre reason moderators on sites like this dismiss them as "rants"

Buying a new account to post an anonymous page of weirdly personal GRAR into a thread out of nowhere is crappy, ranty behavior, separate entirely from the question of what anybody's opinions, positive or negative, about the subject of the post are. I don't know Appelbaum and have no dog in this race aside from not wanting people flipping out on this site. There is a metatalk thread right here if moderation policy is something you feel the need to discuss, but leave it out of this thread itself.
posted by cortex at 11:08 AM on December 8, 2010


"Exposing security holes" can be a good or a bad thing, depending how it is done. When it's done publicly without giving the company a heads-up beforehand, the well-organized hacker circles are often the first to learn of it and the first to respond by writing exploits, well before the company has a chance to respond. Public exposition of security flaws (aka hacking) is fun, impressive, and an ego boost for the person doing it, but it's not unambiguously heroic.

Defending TOR also seems a little hinky. I get that anonymity networks can be used for good, but let's be perfectly honest here: it's mostly kiddie porn, tinfoil-hat-enabling conspiracy theories, and hacking. Anarchists like these kinds of no-rules situations, but those of us who see some value in government and regulation should be at least a little concerned by these networks' existence, even if also wary of overly censoring them.

Wikileaks doesn't seem to serve much of any positive purpose anymore, and I can't abide calling someone who defends it a hero. They claim to be for "whistleblowers," but most of what they post seems not to be exposing government misdeeds so much as just mundane international sausage-making that really shouldn't be aired in public, for diplomatic as well as strategic reasons. What possible purpose was served by publishing that list of sites considered vital to America's national security? Why does the public so desperately need to know where our supply lines are? Why do we need to know about the personality assessments used by diplomats in negotiations? Are we supposed to pretend that the countries we're up against in such discussions don't also do these kinds of analyses?

I don't know, but I suspect people do these things for fun, as a challenge, or out of grudges against whomever they are attacking, not because of some need to fight evil in the world. These aren't heroic motives.
posted by Xezlec at 1:01 PM on December 8, 2010


[Tor] is mostly kiddie porn, tinfoil-hat-enabling conspiracy theories, and hacking

It is? Could you provide a reference please? Or are you just making shit up?

Interestingly, Tor's use for diplomatic traffic resulted in the first big Wikileaks score. Tor is apparently often used by diplomats. Personally, the one time I used Tor it was to scrape a website anonymously. Worked great, too.
posted by Nelson at 1:42 PM on December 8, 2010


I think this argument is going on in about five different threads, now. But, anyway...

What possible purpose was served by publishing that list of sites considered vital to America's national security?

The fact that this list of sites are the exact same ones that were considered terrorist targets 10 years ago, and yet apparently nothing much has been done to secure them.

Why does the public so desperately need to know where our supply lines are?

Because weird foreign relations decisions regarding some minor country somewhere suddenly start to make more sense.

Why do we need to know about the personality assessments used by diplomats in negotiations?

Because those personality assessments are made about, for example, my former prime minister / foreign minister, and its useful to know, when you're thinking about voting for that person, that our major ally considers them to be rash and unprofessional.

Defending TOR also seems a little hinky. I get that anonymity networks can be used for good, but let's be perfectly honest here: it's mostly kiddie porn, tinfoil-hat-enabling conspiracy theories, and hacking.

That's hardly the fault of the people who put it together (which included, by the way, the US Naval Research Laboratory). It's a tool. People will use it as they wish. Once again, coming from a country where it's highly likely the government will, within in the next year, implement a secret ISP-level blacklist of blocked websites, I'm willing to defend TOR as well.
posted by Jimbob at 1:43 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jimbob, I think the danger in posting such raw information is that it quite often lacks context. We don't really know what the source of this information is, or if it's to be taken at face value, or if it's been manipulated by the informant for their own gains, or what. I can't see ANY of the Wikileaks information being reliable - and that's not what chiefly concerns our governments as the information itself has long been compromised. By the time we read it on Wikileaks it's very old news.

What concerns governments (other than the embarassing assessments and so forth) is that the leaks are happening in the first place. The WikiLeaks stuff smacks of anarchism, in that it's destructive and often careless. I think WikiLeaks can do some good if proof of wrongdoing is uncovered, but at the same time they need to be more careful. If they want to expose important things, there needs to be some parsing going on to sort the good from the irrelevant.

Some secrets are best left unsaid. Everyone has secrets and opinions they keep to themselves or between select groups of people - they don't make them public for the sake of relationships and myriad other reasons. Would you want everything you've ever written about friends, families, co-workers etc emailed to everyone you know in the name of transparency?
posted by jimmythefish at 2:01 PM on December 8, 2010


Would you want everything you've ever written about friends, families, co-workers etc emailed to everyone you know in the name of transparency? Nope. But I have no say of foreign or domestic policy, so my personal statements are of little meaning to anyone but a small circle of friends.
posted by serazin at 2:10 PM on December 8, 2010


Would you want everything you've ever written about friends, families, co-workers etc emailed to everyone you know in the name of transparency?

Oh I wouldn't. But I'm not running the world, or making decisions that can affect millions of lives. I'm not a public figure. I'm not a democratic government. I'm not, say, a multinational company who has inserted operatives into every ministry of a foreign government.

Wikileaks can't win in terms of "parsing to sort out the good from the irrelevant". When they released the "collateral murder" video they were criticised for editorialising, for not showing the whole thing, for not showing the context. But when they just release everything, without passing any comment on it, they're criticised for being too broad. Critics are simultaneously declaring the cables boring, old news, irrelevant, but also that they are a massive threat to international security and lives. Which is it?
posted by Jimbob at 2:13 PM on December 8, 2010


Would you want everything you've ever written about friends, families, co-workers etc emailed to everyone you know in the name of transparency?

Interestingly, it turns out I'm not a government, nor an agent of one. Go figure.

(On the other hand, there's a reason my public-records-subject work email is pristine)
posted by Dr.Enormous at 2:22 PM on December 8, 2010


Which is it?

I think neither. The important stuff has likely already been leaked to where it can do the damage, and therefore is largely irrelevant in a security sense - but valuable as far as these things should be exposed. Incidents such as the collateral murder video need to be seen to expose wrongdoings.

Diplomatic cables, on the other hand, shouldn't be exposed for the sake of diplomacy. They are useful in a certain context, grossly embarrassing if aired for the world, and really not useful for anyone to read. And as I said above, they're not guaranteed to be genuine in any case, so all it really does is throw a massive wrench into relations. That's not good. This is why the mass exposure of these things, in my mind, is questionable.
posted by jimmythefish at 2:25 PM on December 8, 2010


Blockfinder basically doesn't do anything that you can't do with a 5 minute google search.

Dude, almost every important computer innovation ever can be summarized as "replacing a tedious 5 minute task with a less-tedious 5 second task."
posted by rkent at 6:04 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't quite put my finger on it, but much of this brouhaha smacks of hypocrisy and moral charlatanism on the side of wikileaks/Assange/Appelbaum. I'm not sure that they are the Robin Hood they make themselves out to be.

I'm all for the need for finding ways to hold governments accountable for their misdeeds, but their scatter shot methods, simplistic self justifications, moral posturing, and the shrill nature of the outrage really gives me pause about these guys and what they are doing as well as how they are doing it.

A couple of things stood out to me about Appelbaum from the RS article: "Appelbaum has dedicated his life to fighting for anonymity and privacy."

Only his own apparently. Perhaps there is a place for some government privacy and anonymity as well, as Xezlec and jimmythefish suggest.

Also from the RS article: "I don't want to live in a world where everyone is watched all the time," [Appelbaum] says. "I want to be left alone as much as possible. I don't want a data trail to tell a story that isn't true."

There's something twisted in what he said there about not wanting to be watched (i.e. policed) yet being so thoroughly involved in policing others (even if it is "Government"), and about wanting to be left alone yet being so intentionally public a figure. I would find it much easier to trust people like Assange and Appelbaum if they played by the rules instead of pitching grenades and skulking away. (Yea, I know that's a heck of a can of worms right there. What I mean is that that wikileaks et al don't seem to be willing to pay the price in the ways that Ghandi, Mandela or Suu Kyi have in their missions of protest and revolution.)

And, aside from giving the benefit of the doubt that he phrased it poorly, that last sentence is bizarre. I mean, I get that he's likely referring a concern for the way "facts" can be misused against a person. But the "data trail" doesn't tell lies, people do. Wouldn't the most democratic thing to do, be to safeguard the data trails as facts, that is, as something factual, even though the interpretations and debate of those facts are less than perfect?

In the end, that sentence, and wikilieaks/Assange/Appelbaum, wind up sounding like they're saying "accountability is for everyone else, not for those of us who are policing the Bad guys..."

There's a fine line between Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham.
posted by metacurious at 8:22 PM on December 8, 2010


meatacurious: Are you kidding me? Do you seriously equate government secrecy with personal privacy? Hiding government atrocities is not the same thing as your personal medical records.

To paraphrase Bruce Schnier, the dichotomy often debated about privacy and security is a false one, the real debate is over control. A door lock offers both privacy and security. One should discuss whether it allows for greater control for one party over another. Governments are afforded and given rights by the people. Their right for secrecy is only necessary when it is absolutely justified.

Accountability is absolutely greater for governments over citizens. If you disagree, I'm not sure we can ever come to an understanding, we'd be fundamentally disagreeing about friggin' baseline enlightenment and post-enlightenment philosophical principles here.
posted by amuseDetachment at 8:36 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


An honest question for the wikileaks critics in the crowd: what do you think now, 40 years after, about the Pentagon Papers? How about the folks who burgled the Cointelpro documents? Do you think those whisteblowers were irresponsible? What about whistleblowers in general, or the organizations who support them?
posted by serazin at 8:51 PM on December 8, 2010


I would like to say that I only used the illustration of airing personal information above to ilustrate that total transparency in personal relations is totally impractical. Transparency is illusory. Nothing between people is totally transparent, and it does great damage when secrets are exposed indisriminately.

Diplomacy is our best weapon against violence and war. Think about that. Ruin that with leaking all diplomatic wires without considering their sensitivity is not good for anyone.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:02 PM on December 8, 2010


Diplomacy is our best weapon against violence and war.

The last decade has shown pretty clearly that it's not. In fact, an awful lot of diplomacy seems to be about starting and continuing illegal wars. If there had been more openness in the run-up to the Iraq was, it might not have happened at all.

The best weapon against violence, war and government oppression is openness.
posted by Djinh at 12:54 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


control for one party over another. Governments are afforded and given rights by the people. Their right for secrecy is only necessary when it is absolutely justified.

The only difference between inmates and staff at the asylum is who has the keys.
posted by empath at 4:57 AM on December 9, 2010


Sorry for the confusion. No, I didn't mean to EQUATE government secrecy with personal privacy. And, no, I am not coming down on whistleblowers.

I am suspicious of the mission, methods and ethics of wikileaks/Assange/Appelbaum and the like.
posted by metacurious at 5:54 AM on December 9, 2010


Just wanna note, I came up with ioerror for Jake when we were like 16 living together and he needed a new sweet AIM name. I want royalties.
posted by straight_razor at 5:13 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now it all makes sense.
posted by scalefree at 8:53 PM on December 9, 2010


« Older Chicken Powered Steadicam. Backdriving a chicken's...  |  2019: A Future Imagined - A sh... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments