In Box

Democratic Hacks

Bypassing Internet censors like those in Saudi Arabia — whose government not only restricts online access but also keeps logs of Internet traffic flowing through its servers — remains difficult. One new group avoids prying eyes by practicing "hacktivism," using technology to advance human rights through electronic media. Hacktivismo (www.hacktivismo.com) is an international group of ...

Bypassing Internet censors like those in Saudi Arabia — whose government not only restricts online access but also keeps logs of Internet traffic flowing through its servers — remains difficult. One new group avoids prying eyes by practicing "hacktivism," using technology to advance human rights through electronic media. Hacktivismo (www.hacktivismo.com) is an international group of computer programmers. It gets its inspiration from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which declare the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information through media as basic human rights.

Hacktivismo’s new software allows Internet users to access the entire Net from anywhere in the world. The tool is named Six/Four after the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989. Six/Four allows users to access small virtual private networks that are secure and administered by individual participants who apply to Hacktivismo for permission to handle routing. Hacktivismo calls it H2H — hacktivist-to-hacktivist — architecture. Spokesman "Oxblood Ruffin" explains: "H2H networks are like nuclear families living in large communities. Everyone may live in the same area, but each family has its own home where the doors open, close, and lock. And occasionally, a family member will bring someone new home."

How does Six/Four work? An Internet user in a censoring country downloads the Six/Four software and connects to the H2H network. This user is given the special encryption key of one trusted peer and a signature issued for that key by Hacktivismo. Traffic from computer to computer on the network is encrypted. Computers connected to the network in the "free world" have constantly changing Internet protocol (IP) addresses that are difficult to identify and block.

Using Six/Four, democracy activists in China and other authoritarian states can exchange encrypted files, send e — mails, or request Web pages without detection. Authorities in censoring countries can only detect certain IP addresses belonging to computers in a constantly shifting "cloud" of IP addresses. Ironically, because Hacktivismo houses Six/Four on U.S. servers, the technology is subject to U.S. Department of Commerce regulations that prohibit the "export" (downloading) of American goods to precisely those nations where it is needed most: Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. But even though Hacktivismo has taken steps to prevent nationals in blacklisted counties from downloading the software, that will only slow, not stop, its distribution.

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