Study Guide

Little Brother Technology and Modernization

By Cory Doctorow

Technology and Modernization

Chapter 1

The answer is something ingenious called TOR ­­ The Onion Router. An onion router is an Internet site that takes requests for web­pages and passes them onto other onion routers, and on to other onion routers, until one of them finally decides to fetch the page and pass it back through the layers of the onion until it reaches you. The traffic to the onion routers is encrypted, which means that the school can't see what you're asking for, and the layers of the onion don't know who they're working for. (1.81)

TOR lets you access websites your school's firewall blocks. Not that you would ever want to do such a thing.

Chapter 2

I'd had tens of thousands of simultaneous random calls and text messages sent to [Charles's phone], causing every chirp and ring it had to go off and keep on going off. The attack was accomplished by means of a botnet, and for that I felt bad, but it was in the service of a good cause.

Botnets are where infected computers spend their afterlives. When you get a worm or a virus, your computer sends a message to a chat channel on IRC ­­ the Internet Relay Chat. That message tells the botmaster ­­ the guy who deployed the worm ­­ that the computers are there ready to do his bidding. […] Those PCs normally function on behalf of their owners, but when the botmaster calls them, they rise like zombies to do his bidding.

There are so many infected PCs on the Internet that the price of hiring an hour or two on a botnet has crashed. […]

I'd just rented ten seconds' time on three thousand PCs and had each of them send a text message or voice­over­IP call to Charles's phone, whose number I'd extracted from a sticky note on Benson's desk during one fateful office­visit.

Needless to say, Charles's phone was not equipped to handle this. (2.29-33)

Yes, phones used to run out of memory all the time. Behold the power of the internet.

Chapter 5

And the best part ­­ as far as I was concerned ­­ was that ParanoidXbox was paranoid. Every bit that went over the air was scrambled to within an inch of its life. You could wiretap it all you wanted, but you'd never figure out who was talking, what they were talking about, or who they were talking to. Anonymous web, email and IM. Just what I needed. (5.139-140)

Although the free Xbox and ParanoidLinux system didn't actually exist when the book was published, Little Brother inspired people to try and make something similar in real life.

Chapter 10

In public-key crypto, each user gets two keys. They're long strings of mathematical gibberish, and they have an almost magic property. Whatever you scramble with one key, the other will unlock, and vice versa. What's more, they're the only keys that can do this — if you can unscramble a message with one key, you know it was scrambled with the other (and vice versa).
So you take either one of these keys (it doesn't matter which one) and you just publish it. You make it a total non­secret. You want anyone in the world to know what it is. For obvious reasons, they call this your "public key."

The other key, you hide in the darkest reaches of your mind. You protect it with your life. You never let anyone ever know what it is. That's called your "private key." (Duh.) (10.7-10)

But what about your house keys and your car keys? Can you use those for cryptography?

Chapter 13

[Dr Eeevil in an email to M1k3y] > One thing you should know is that every camera has a unique "noise signature" that can be used to later connect a picture with a camera. That means that the photos you're republishing on your site could potentially be used to identify the photographers, should they later be picked up for something else.

> Luckily, it's not hard to strip out the signatures, if you care to. There's a utility on the ParanoidLinux distro you're using that does this -- it's called photonomous, and you'll find it in /usr/bin. Just read the man pages for documentation. It's simple though. (13.61-62)

Photos do have a digital noise signature, but a program like photonomous doesn't yet exist. Maybe it's time for you go learn how to make one?

Chapter 14

This kid — his handle was Kameraspie — had sent me an even better video this time around. It was at the doorway to City Hall in Civic Center, a huge wedding cake of a building covered with statues in little archways and gilt leaves and trim. The DHS had a secure perimeter around the building, and Kameraspie's video showed a great shot of their checkpoint as a guy in an officer's uniform approached and showed his ID and put his briefcase on the X­ray belt.
It was all OK until one of the DHS people saw something he didn't like on the X­ray. He questioned the General, who rolled his eyes and said something inaudible (the video had been shot from across the street, apparently with a homemade concealed zoom lens, so the audio was mostly of people walking past and traffic noises). (14.80-81)

Who watches the watchers continues to be important in debates around public accountability still today.

Chapter 17

In other words, you could have the same conversation over IM as you do over SMTP. With the right tweaks, the whole mail­server business could take place inside of a chat. Or a web­session. Or anything else.

This is called "tunneling." You put the SMTP inside a chat "tunnel." You could then put the chat back into an SMTP tunnel if you wanted to be really weird, tunneling the tunnel in another tunnel. (17.89-90)

These tunnels sound like they take less time to build than this 35.4 mile train tunnel in the Swiss Alps.

Marcus Yallow

[Marcus:] "I'm going to do a video about this. Get it out over the weekend. Mondays are big days for viral video. Everyone'll be coming back from the holiday weekend, looking for something funny to forward around school or the office." (Epilogue.18)

Now free, Marcus makes videos as a way of dealing with things that make him upset. What other things has he done because he was upset throughout the text?

Thirty seconds in a microwave will do in pretty much every arphid on the market. And because the arphid wouldn't answer at all when D checked it back in at the library, they'd just print a fresh one for it and recode it with the book's catalog info, and it would end up clean and neat back on its shelf.

Disabling arphid tags comes up multiple times in Little Brother. What does the understanding of arphids allow Marcus and his friends to do that they couldn't otherwise?

You can learn to write simple code in an afternoon. Start with a language like Python, which was written to give non­programmers an easier way to make the machine dance to their tune. Even if you only write code for one day, one afternoon, you have to do it. Computers can control you or they can lighten your work ­­ if you want to be in charge of your machines, you have to learn to write code.

We wrote a lot of code that night. (7.142-3)

Coding in Python? Sounds hilarious.

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