If you don’t think that hackers hold an appeal to pop culture as the anti-establishment champions of the cyber age, wait for next year’s English language release of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which will feature Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist, solving a decades-old mystery with the help of the now-famous punk hacker, Lisbeth Salander.
In the Stieg Larsson novels, Salander operates under the handle ‘Wasp’ in a network of the world’s best hackers, such as ‘Plague.’ For her troubles in the novel, Salander uses her hacking skills to wire herself billions of Swedish kroner from a crooked corporate titan.
In real-life Sweden, authorities await the possible extradition from the United Kingdom of another well-known hacker, who, as in Larsson’s books, named himself ‘Mendax’ after a pithy Horace phrase. Like Wasp, Mendax enjoys sex, but unlike her, Mendax has also become a well-known public figure. Famous hackers apparently live the rock star life, in which two women take you in as a safe place to stay, and you naturally sleep with both of them. If they later claim that you forced them to have sex after you stopped using protection, however, you will get denied bail.
It’s tough being Mendax. It’s not as easy to rob billionaires as Larsson made it look. You made some cash by writing a book about hacking, and now you tell interviewers “It’s very annoying to see modern day articles calling me a computer hacker. I’m not ashamed of it, I’m quite proud of it,” you say.
Such labels get in the way of your crusade, however—a whistleblower website that holds all nations and major corporations accountable for their actions, revealing as many secrets as possible. Secrets are only dangerous if there’s something to hide, you maintain, as the nations of the world line up in sharp disagreement. It’s bad enough that former associates such as the hacker ‘Mudge’ are always at work to stop information leaking. You need money to operate, not just the embraces of the women who harbor you.
So your group asks for donations to operate. The corporations, however, aren’t having it. You want to skewer Bank of America soon, and they are in a war room bracing for it. The world is at your fingertips, but those donations just won’t get through! Amazon.com won’t let you use its servers, PayPal won’t accept the donations for you, and Visa and MasterCard also won’t let you use their products.
Ah, Mendax, you still have hacker friends. These real-life hackers are good. Their organizing group, Anonymous, has attacked the Church of Scientology before; now it’s time to use Twitter to coordinate attacks on anyone who has wronged you. Not just the credit card companies—the Swedish government must pay. Sarah Palin must pay. She doesn’t like Mendax much? Down with her website. ‘Operation: Payback’ could definitely use a Salander in its ranks, though—it can’t dent Amazon’s servers and has struggled several times to slow down PayPal.
Threatening these companies, however, will somehow free you, Mendax. When Twitter bans its use as a hacker rallying point, they can just go after Twitter. There’s no end in sight. Mendax already cut the New York Times out of his group’s preferred publications; maybe Forbes blogger Andy Greenberg should be shut down next, for covering the hackers extensively.
As to the 16-year-old boy just arrested in The Hague and his computers seized? He is 16 years old, the same age you were, Mendax, when you started hacking. Certainly old enough to be sacrificed to fight the good fight against, well, secrecy. And Bradley Manning will be in prison far longer than you for getting the U.S. documents for the group. His arrest is unfortunate—but he is just a pawn. Let Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg fight for his release. We only need the big guns, the hackers, for when a corporation such as MasterCard cuts off payments to an organization engaged in illegal actions because it won’t facilitate such activity.
The hackers fight for WikiLeaks, but the organization does not show the same loyalty. Its spokesperson can “neither condemn nor applaud these attacks.” There must be some mistake, Mendax—we know you have strong convictions. We demand to see the internal cables within your organization that led to that public statement. We demand a whistleblower on how involved you are in these attacks, even if your overseas “War on Credit Cards” doesn’t implicate your name.
The old Mendax would appreciate that call for transparency—Lisbeth Salander, too. But you aren’t that idealistic hacker anymore, just Julian Assange.
Alexander R. Konrad ’11 is a history concentrator in Quincy House. His column usually appears on alternate Mondays. He apologizes to The Harvard Crimson for any potential cyber attacks this column might provoke.