Miskatonic University Press

Julian Oliver and Critical Engineeringg


I saw mentions of Julian Oliver’s glasshole.sh script recently. It begins:

# Find and kick Google Glass devices from your local wireless network.  Requires
# 'beep', 'arp-scan', 'aircrack-ng' and a GNU/Linux host.  Put on a BeagleBone
# black or Raspberry Pi. Plug in a good USB wireless NIC (like the TL-WN722N)
# and wear it, hide it in your workplace or your exhibition.
# Save as glasshole.sh, 'chmod +x glasshole.sh' and exec as follows:
#   sudo ./glasshole.sh <WIRELESS NIC> <BSSID OF ACCESS POINT>

I assumed Oliver was a provocative hacker. He is, but he’s artist. He’s a provocative hacker artist. And that script is some provocative art.

I didn’t know of Oliver’s work before, but his web site is full of marvellous technological art projects, like Solitary Confinement:

Discovered in June 2010, the Stuxnet Virus is considered a major cyber weapon.

Initially spreading via Microsoft Windows, it targets industrial software and equipment and is the first discovered malware that spies on and subverts industrial systems. Its primary target is the Siemens Simatic S7-300 PLC CPU, commonly found in large scale industrial sites, including nuclear facilities. Most evidence suggests this virus is a U.S/Israeli project designed to sabotage Iranian uranium enrichment programs.

Solitary Confinement is a small, non-interactive installation comprising a computer quarantined within a glass vitrine that has been deliberately infected with the Stuxnet Virus. It sits in a vitrine, powered on, with one end of a red ethernet network cable that is connected to the gallery network laying unplugged near the port on the PC.

There’s background in Binary Operations: Stuxnet.exe:

  1. Stuxnet held captive within the image of its target, then buried.

As mentioned above, Stuxnet is designed to target the Siemens S7-300 system. Here I have directly put Stuxnet inside the image of its target, using a steganography program, embedded using the encryption algorithm Rijndael, with a key size of 256 bits. The Stuxnet worm I embedded is called ‘malware.exe’ and has md5sum 016169ebebf1cec2aad6c7f0d0ee9026. Here is a virus report on files with this md5sum.

Clicking on the below image will take you to a 9.7M JPEG image in which Stuxnet is embedded.

Or the Transparency Grenade—there are lots of pictures here, and you can download the files necessary to make your own:

The lack of Corporate and Governmental transparency has been a topic of much controversy in recent years, yet our only tool for encouraging greater openness is the slow, tedious process of policy reform.

Presented in the form of a Soviet F1 Hand Grenade, the Transparency Grenade is an iconic cure for these frustrations, making the process of leaking information from closed meetings as easy as pulling a pin.

Equipped with a tiny computer, microphone and powerful wireless antenna, the Transparency Grenade captures network traffic and audio at the site and securely and anonymously streams it to a dedicated server where it is mined for information. User names, hostnames, IP addresses, unencrypted email fragments, web pages, images and voice extracted from this data and then presented on an online, public map, shown at the location of the detonation.

It’s all well worth browsing.

Oliver’s a critical engineer. The group gives workshops, intensive week-long courses about Unix and networking—check out the description of the NETworkshop, for example:

A small scale model of the Internet is created in class for the purposes of study with which we interact over another self-built local network. By learning about routing, addressing, core protocols, network analysis, network packet capture and dissection, students become dexterous and empowered users of computer networks. At this point students are able to read and traverse wide (the Internet) and local area networks with agility, using methods and tools traditionally the domain of experienced network administrators, hackers and security experts.

In the second phase of the workshop students learn to read network topologies as political control structures, seeing how corporations and governments shape and control the way we use computer networks.

Students learn to study these power structures by tracing the flow of packets as they pass over land and sea.

Macro-economic and geostrategic speculations are made.

Finally, encryption and anonymity strategies and theory are addressed, with a mind to defending and asserting the same basic civil rights we uphold in public space.

That is a serious workshop. No previous knowledge required, either. Artists (or anyone) coming out after that week must have their brains on fire.

In the library world we never stop discussing what gets taught in library schools. (I suppose no field ever does.) I wish schools would have a mandatory IT course like that workshop. (Does the University of Toronto iSchool really have no mandatory IT course for its general LIS stream?)

Oliver, Gordan Savičić and Danja Vasiliev wrote The Critical Engineering Manifesto:

  1. The Critical Engineer considers Engineering to be the most transformative language of our time, shaping the way we move, communicate and think. It is the work of the Critical Engineer to study and exploit this language, exposing its influence.
  2. The Critical Engineer considers any technology depended upon to be both a challenge and a threat. The greater the dependence on a technology the greater the need to study and expose its inner workings, regardless of ownership or legal provision.
  3. The Critical Engineer raises awareness that with each technological advance our techno-political literacy is challenged.
  4. The Critical Engineer deconstructs and incites suspicion of rich user experiences.
  5. The Critical Engineer looks beyond the “awe of implementation” to determine methods of influence and their specific effects.
  6. The Critical Engineer recognises that each work of engineering engineers its user, proportional to that user’s dependency upon it.
  7. The Critical Engineer expands “machine” to describe interrelationships encompassing devices, bodies, agents, forces and networks.
  8. The Critical Engineer observes the space between the production and consumption of technology. Acting rapidly to changes in this space, the Critical Engineer serves to expose moments of imbalance and deception.
  9. The Critical Engineer looks to the history of art, architecture, activism, philosophy and invention and finds exemplary works of Critical Engineering. Strategies, ideas and agendas from these disciplines will be adopted, re-purposed and deployed.
  10. The Critical Engineer notes that written code expands into social and psychological realms, regulating behaviour between people and the machines they interact with. By understanding this, the Critical Engineer seeks to reconstruct user-constraints and social action through means of digital excavation.
  11. The Critical Engineer considers the exploit to be the most desirable form of exposure.