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     | |      c   o   m   m   u   n   i   c   a   t   i   o   n   s     | |
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  ...presents...                Chinese Checkers
                                                         by Oxblood Ruffin
             __///////\ -cDc- CULT OF THE DEAD COW -cDc- /\\\\\\\__
               \\\\\\\/  Everything You Need Since 1986  \///////
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                    "Hacktivism is an open-source implosion."
                               -- Oxblood Ruffin
                       "If you always stand straight, 
                   then your shadow can never be crooked."
                    -- Liu Qing, former political prisoner
My grandmother died in Quebec on the first of this month. It was a happy
death. She celebrated her one hundred and third birthday the day before
then passed quietly in her sleep. At her funeral there was an absence of
grief though much emotion. From the eulogy service at the home we
continued to the graveside where most of us stood solemnly or smiled in
relief. The minister conducted the final rites then exclaimed,
"Hallelujah, Christ is risen. Go in peace." 
As an adult I have never thought of death as the end but as a new
beginning. And much of life strikes me that way too. Towards the close
of a vacation I always look forward to getting home so I can take the
enthusiasm of the trip back to where I live all year. When I tell people
this they give me queer looks and ask, really? It strikes me strange
that they do not share my feelings about travel but it would be a boring
world if everyone thought the same way.
Most of the time I'm good this way, seeing the end as a source for
rejuvenation. But sometimes it's challenging.
Recently I had to say good bye to a friend who moved to India. Both of
us knew that we'd have a shelf life but it was nothing about
which we ever talked. Blondie Wong was my friend and comrade for three
years. We met almost by accident. I ended up at a party and he arrived
looking for a colleague who never quite made it. It was a remarkable
evening. Within hours we had developed the structure for what was to
become the Hong Kong Blondes; within two months they were fully
And now, a few quick answers to some common questions. Who is Blondie
Wong and what's up with his name?
Blondie Wong is a Chinese scientist. He left his country to pursue a
graduate degree in the UK but decided not to return after the Tiananmen
Square massacre in 1989. Blondie eventually settled in Toronto and began
using his current name as a nom de guerre. Like many hacker names it is
more silly than revealing. When he was younger he had a huge crush on
Deborah Harry and Blondie was his favorite band; Wong was chosen as an
ironic completion. It's a name about as distinguished as Smith or Jones
would be in English.
And the Hong Kong Blondes? Who are they and what does their name
The Hong Kong Blondes are a group of computer scientists and human
rights activists dedicated to the democratic project in China. They have
cells in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong and monitor military and
security networks through the Internet. Some of the Blondes are members
of the Communist party; most lost relatives at Tiananmen Square. Hong
Kong Blonde used to be Hongkongese slang for gold. Gold is the
quintessence of private property and private property is one of the
cornerstones of democracy. Perhaps a little labored, but it gets there.
But now Blondie's all gone. Gone from Toronto and back to his Asia. Not
China, but close. He went mostly to work with South Asian programmers
and also to make pilgrimage to some Buddhist shrines in India. And I was
sad for a while. Then I remembered the smile on the minister's face when
he proclaimed, "Christ is risen," and it all drained out of me. Sadness
was replaced by joy and I let go and felt hopeful.  I also got in touch
with Lemon Li [Chief Technical Officer for the Blondes] to pitch her one
last plan.
Human rights in China are an objective and at least two Web sites. In an
act of cynical ventriloquism the Government of China recently attempted
to confound public perception by creating a Web site called Human
Rights. This fabrication is an antidote to the venerable
Human Rights in China maintained from New York under the stewardship
of the veteran activist Xiao Qiang. One Web site defames the
ideal while the other celebrates its possibilities.
Xiao Qiang has been toiling without fanfare and with the rather meager
resources that belie his organization's successes. For years he has
worked for the kind of China that is beginning to emerge from the dream
state towards a waking reality. And with the assistance of the Olof
Palme Foundation, Mr. Xiao's message is starting to make some waves on
the Web. He understands implicitly how to deal with another Chinese:
when in conflict, strike a dignified tone and mount fair arguments. Give
your adversary some of the face he requires not to be shamed but not so
much that your complaint becomes shamelessly ineffective. Mr. Xiao's
methods are an instruction to Western leaders.  
Governments have been far too willing to accede to Beijing's demands for
silence on human rights abuses. It's  become like a carney farce. Like
when the mechanical ducks churn past the shooter and you try to figure
out which one he's gonna cork next. Who will go down? Canada? Australia?
America? Xiao Quiang has used the Web to champion human rights to a
world too cynical to believe in politicians yet too engaged to break
faith with a nation in distress.  
All of this begs the question, "Then, how shall we deal with China?" 
For the time being it would be  wise not to rely on the leaders of the
free world to do anything more than mumble a platitude or two. Our
elected officials have become emasculated to the point where arm waving
bureaucrats are scattering them like frightened field mice. China has
raised making threats to an art form but China is -- to borrow a phrase
from the Great Helmsman -- a Paper Tiger. 
The consequences of displeasing China are not clear. What will happen?
Will the West lose a highly affluent billion plus market? Will Beijing
become apoplectic and yell, "That's it. From now on we're only going to
trade with Iraq?" Hardly. To put things into some perspective, Britain
sells nine times as much to Belgium and Luxembourg as it does to China.
Nine times. Other trade stats tell the same story. The febrile idiocy
infecting trade ministers that money can be made in China is lamentable.
The only people making large coin in China are corrupt bureaucrats who
have made careers out of emulating Ferdinand Marcos.   
China does not have a developed economy and will not have one any time
soon. Yet Western leaders continuously buckle under to threats from
petty martinets and receive lectures about meddling in China's internal
affairs. God help the sinner who screws up here. Billions are at stake
-- not. And this comes from a country that has yet to discover what fair
trading practice is. On the issue of intellectual property rights alone
Beijing has even less respect for the latest version of [fill in the
name of your favorite piece of software] than a script kiddie from
Flushing with the crack code to the program. This whole business is
If a politician has the spine to stand up and say, "This ain't right",
then there is much vaporous Sturm und Drang from China. I
wonder what would happen if someone actually appeared and said, "I'm
lovin' this repression thing. Let's make some money".  Some would say
that Bill Gates has done just that.
In April of 1994 Microsoft's uber-boss met with Communist big wig Jiang
Zemin and stated that his goal was to increase sales in China by 50
percent per year.  He capped his marketing plans by declaring that "it's
a little strange to tie free trade" to human rights issues. "It is
basically getting down to interference in internal affairs," he said. By
1996 Beijing had figured out that they could end-run elected leaders by
appealing to CEOs and get exactly what they wanted. In that same year
China succeeded in preventing the annual meeting of the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights in Geneva from even considering its human
rights record. How? By mounting a global lobbying campaign aimed at
corporations looking for a piece of the Chinese pie. All one had to
do was say that any discussion of human rights abuses in China should
be removed from UNCHR's agenda. It was. With no less a figure than Bill
Gates braying that the West is interfering in China's internal affairs,
he is delaying reform rather than assisting it. He is also being paid
for his services.
In November of 1998 Microsoft announced the opening of Microsoft
Research, China in Beijing. This is the third MS research facility,
the other two are in San Francisco and Cambridge, England. The Chinese
are clearly delighted with this. Microsoft will invest 80 million dollars
over the next six years and groom some mighty serious brain power over an
extraordinary range of projects. How much research that gets ported over
for military purposes is anyone's guess. But you can bet that China will
not break its long standing tradition of playing this game with Western
Part of Microsoft's intent according to their press release
is to "build on China's continued efforts to attract and retain research
talent in the country." Unfortunately -- at the time of this writing -- it
does not appear that Lin Hai will be available for employment anytime soon.
Mr. Lin is a software engineer from Shanghai who was recently tried with
"inciting to overthrow state power". His crime was providing 30,000 Chinese
email addresses to VIP Reference. Located in the United States, VIP Reference
distributes reports on dissident activities, human rights and other
issues to more than 250,000 email addresses in China. Mr. Lin's case is
somewhat typical. Many arrested dissidents represent the kind of
"research talent" that Microsoft claims to want. 
Another unavailable resume belongs to Wang Youcai, physicist and leading
figure in the 1989 democracy movement which resulted in the Tiananmen
Square massacre. He was arrested for trying to register the China
Democracy Party as an official entity and charged with the universal
"inciting the overthrow of state power" among other things. He also used
email to share some of his organization's documents to dissidents
overseas. High profile trials in China -- which these two clearly have
become -- regularly produce guilty verdicts. And although China has
moved modestly to conform to international judicial norms, odds are
overwhelmingly against the accused in criminal cases. 
The tragic irony of these trials is that both individuals used
technology to advance values that increase peace and prosperity.
Compounding this irony is China's signature on the United Nations
Universal Declaration of Human Rights  which asserts in Article 19 that
"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to
seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and
regardless of frontiers." 
In some ways Beijing's reaction to these cases is natural. They offend
China's Confucian code and knee jerk xenophobia. And in some ways the
comfort level that Redmond has established with the Party bosses smells
symbiotic. It's arguable that both Communism and Microsoft represent
closed operating systems in decline. They are perfect for one another.
Neither is comfortable with the notion of openness. That idea is a
little too threatening to them. 
Open standards, open source. Presently, these ideas revolve around the
work and deliberations of Linus Torvalds and Eric Raymond, two names that
strike fear and loathing into Microsoft and beyond. Mr. Raymond's masterful
essay, The Cathedral and the Bazaar is fundamental to understanding openness.
And although this paper focuses primarily upon code production issues, its
implications fly wide and deep. The twin considerations of open source
are these: that the source code -- or language in which an application is
written -- be published and available for anyone to review or modify according
to their needs; that the Internet is the most conducive forum in which this
exercise can take place. As Mr. Raymond puts it, "... the best hacks start out
as personal solutions to the author's everyday problems, and spread because
the problem turns out to be typical for a large class of users."
As a development model the Bazaar community exalts the virtues of
hacking. It is a place where project participants are regarded as
co-developers and hugable bug crushers. Though in fairness before I go
on, I should say that Eric Raymond believes that groups like the CULT OF
THE DEAD COW are the herpes triplex of computing. But I believe that we
have enough shared sentiments and common cause that my quoting him won't
make his skin crawl too much. At least I hope so. Mr. Raymond is known
to be a shooting enthusiast.
Earlier I asked the question, "How shall we deal with China?"  The
political classes are useless. Business leaders are predatory. Where is
the conscience? I am convinced that only hacktivists will make a
difference. Hacktivism is an open-source implosion. It takes the best of
hacking culture, and the imperatives of the quantum community, and fuses
a solution.  Xiao Qiang of Human Rights in China would probably be a
little surprised to be called a hacktivist but -- as far as I'm concerned
-- he qualifies. He has leveraged his program with Net assets. Mr. Xiao
is the project leader of an open-source protest and the proof of his
success is in Beijing's bald attempt at high jacking his Web franchise. 
The Cold War is over but the Cool Maneuvers are beginning -- the
information war where memes compete for mindshare and ratings replace
body count. Hacktivism forges conscience with technology and girds us
against the disagreeable nature of conflict. It allows us to mount
better arguments, rally unseen allies, and take on any tyranny. And it
shrinks any Goliath down to his true size. Usually puny.
Human Rights in China are naturally a Chinese problem requiring a
Chinese solution. Xioa Qiang is part of that solution and so are Lin Hai
and Wang Youcai. Hacktivists can support their agendas by getting
informed, giving some time, and staying involved until the problem is
solved. It won't happen overnight. But hackers have a lot of stamina for
harsh bug fixes when they believe in the program. That's what I thought
when I contacted Lemon Li. 
The last time I got in touch with the Hong Kong Blondes Chief Technical
Officer it was mostly to bid her au revoir and God-speed. And to ask her
to drop 5000 copies of Back Orifice -- the cDc's network administration
tool for Windows -- into China. I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to
use them for but the opportunity for deployment was too delicious to
pass up. According to Microsoft, Back Orifice is no threat to the marks,
rather, the users of their operating system. But in our experience they
are just whistling into the abyss. Having this application dropped onto
your hard drive is like giving your PIN number, your house keys and your
lover's nude photos to a stranger, only worse. My sincere wish is that
the Win9x OS install base in China includes legions of Communist Party
officials, corrupt bureaucrats and nasty high school vice-principals.
I'm sure that we'll find out soon enough. 
Part of the fun is not really knowing what will happen. When Sir Dystic
first programmed Back Orifice and released it at Defcon last summer
no one could have predicted its impact. To date approximately three
hundred thousand copies of the program have been downloaded from the
CULT OF THE DEAD COW Web site. And given the state of trading and
copying that goes on the Net, we're probably looking at a number closer
to one million copies in total. Zowie. Right after the release there was
nothing so pathetic as the phalanx of PR flacks stumbling out of Redmond
pooh-poohing Back Orifice. It was one stinking performance. At first
Back Orifice was no threat. Then there was something to it but Windows
users had nothing to fear. Then it was something else. They never had a
clue how to contain the damage. Bill Gates probably didn't have enough
money to get good help after blowing his whole PR budget on reinventing
himself as Ozzie Nelson on his way to an anti-trust suit. Still, it was
To be honest, Back Orifice was not developed to take on Beijing. It was
developed to show that Microsoft security sucked. But we couldn't be
happier that the Reds and Redmond have cosied up so nicely. And the more
that Back Orifice is deployed, the more use it will be. There are a
number of plug-ins for the program in development that will expand upon
its already robust abilities.  And there's the Windows NT version
waiting in the wings. But why tell all now? It would be more fun to wait
for the Chinese make an official complaint to Washington. Or to watch
them close down Microsoft Research, Beijing for being a party to their
demise. Not that we're complaining, but it does seem astounding that
China would put so much faith in Microsoft to help them develop their
computing infrastructure. You'd think a little more attention to
security issues would ... hmm, I'd better keep it to myself.  
Now things are looking brighter. More people are finding out about
hacktivism. The people and resources are in place to do more and better
work. And Bill Gates is gonna look like a jackass explaining to the top
noodles why there are so many bugs in the Great Firewall. 
I was saddened to say good bye to Blondie and his crew, not just because
we were friends, but because I wanted to stay involved with the struggle
in China. But now I know that's going to happen. Back Orifice is our
gateway to the contest. Just a few weeks ago the CULT OF THE DEAD COW
got some email from a kid in China who loved the program. That's when I
knew we were still in the game. It was a new beginning.
Hallelujah, Christ is risen. Go in peace.
POSTSCRIPT: Wang Youcai was sentenced to eleven years
imprisonment on December 21, 1998. His sentence was handed down after a
one-day trial that was closed to the public. He was tried on subversion
charges - and effectively denied legal representation - when he was
forced to present his own defense.
Shame on Beijing.
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          cDc communications, PO Box 53011, Lubbock, TX, 79453, USA.      _
  oooO            All rights reserved.  Edited by Omega.            __   ( \
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