Hacktivism, Tools, and the Arab Spring

Presented at HOPE Number Nine (2012), July 13, 2012, 4 p.m. (60 minutes)

During the Arab Spring of 2011, agents of Telecomix, members of Anonymous, and a multitude of independent hackers took direct action to aid dissidents by helping to circumvent censorship, disseminating photographs and video footage of violence against peaceful protesters, redeploying dialup modem pools, and using DNS hijacking to warn people of online surveillance. During this time, some interesting discoveries were made by Telecomix, namely, man in the middle attacks with forged SSL certificates and the installation of deep packet inspection hardware in the networks of a number of Syrian ISPs for the purpose of Internet censorship. The activists used logs from Blue Coat web gateway devices to reverse engineer the rulesets Syrian authorities were using, so as to better advise protesters on methods of evasion. Telecomix was also instrumental in tracing where the Blue Coat DPI devices were sourced from and how they were delivered to Syria in violation of United States export regulations. The presenters (all agents of Telecomix) were among those active during the Arab Spring, and will discuss what surveillance measures they encountered, some of the threats against protesters in Syria and Egypt, and how strategies for supporting protesters evolved in response to the changing situation on the ground.


  • Meredith L. Patterson
    Meredith L. Patterson joined Telecomix shortly after the Egyptian government shut off Internet access to most of the country, leading a team of European and American ham radio operators in an effort to establish emergency radio communications. Although that operation was ultimately unsuccessful, she stayed on to help with other projects, including tracking down suspicious SSL certificates. She works as a software engineer at Red Lambda and pioneered the field of language-theoretic security along with Sergey Bratus and her late husband Len Sassaman. When not immersed in programming language theory or tech support for the Arab Spring, her hobbies include knitting, target shooting, and auto repair.
  • Peter Fein
    Peter Fein is an agent with Telecomix, an ad-hoc volunteer disorganization of Internauts who support free communication. He also helps Anonymous cause a ruckus from time to time. Peter is a programmer with expertise in Python and distributed systems, and a frequent conference speaker. He is currently developing Mirror Party, a distributed censorship-resistant mirror network.
  • The Doctor
    The Doctor is a system architect and system administrator working for an aerospace engineering firm in Washington, DC. When not building or repairing servers, he’s aiding dissidents in the Middle East as an agent of Telecomix, working on projects at HacDC, contributing to Zero State projects, traveling through time and space inside a funny blue box, or consulting in the private sector. He is one of the core developers of Project Byzantium.


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