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Useful idiots/so-called hackers

Last week two bits of news struck me as misguided. First there was a court in Amsterdam stating that abuse of a WiFi network, does not equal breaking into a computer system, even if such a WiFi network had some form of security measures such as password protection. Lots of geeky types, including those identify themselves as hackers, cheered this decision as a blessing of WiFi-cracking.

Another thing that hit the Dutch part of the internet were pictures of the innards of a so-called ‘OV-chipkaart’ terminal which had been pulled out of a railway station platform. This was also celebrated by roughly the same demographic.Both cases show that being competent in one field may result in overestimating ones competention in another one and may actually result in an overall average competence. Let’s christen that the law of preservation of incompetence.

First of all: the verdict of the teenager who abused his neighbour’s WiFi network to post on 4Chan a rather concrete threat of a shooting at his former secondary school was vastly more nuanced than it has been portrayed. Basically, the judge was of the opinion that the data passingĀ  through an access point is of a very transient nature, such an access point does not meet the definition of a computer as equipment for the storage, processing and transmission of data in the relevant sections of the penal code. That does not mean that this youngster did not do anything wrong in this regard, only that the prosecution has charged him with the wrong crime in this regard. Because the penal code also prohibits the unauthorised use of a public telecommunications network, but apparantly he was not charged with that. The conclusion that WiFi cracking is legal in the Netherlands is rather premature, which may cause quite a few silly geeks to burn their fingers in the near future. All because they thought that since they are reasonably competent with technology, they also understand the laws surrounding that very technology.

The other one, pulling a RFID-terminal for public transport cards (similar to the British Oyster card) out of a railway platform, opening it up and publishing the photographs online is even worse. The OV-chipkaart project is massively impopular and received two Big Brother awards already. From a PR-viewpoint it has been mostly a disaster so far, and rightly so, because it is a disaster for privacy, elderly people, the visually impaired, has cost over three billion Euros so far and is already estimated to reduce the attractiveness of public transport in the Netherlands. It is probably rather easy to get someone to photograph the innards of these terminals without vandalising and stealing one. This only serves those who want to portray critics of this hare-brained scheme as nefarious sociopaths. Or to paraphrase Stalin: the people who pull stunts like this are useful idiots.