Tech Learning Collective

Technology education for radical organizers and revolutionary communities.

Mr. Robot's Hacker Happy Hour Highlights

Last week, we at Tech Learning Collective, an apprenticeship-based technology school for radical organizers headquartered in New York City that provides a security-first IT infrastructure curriculum to otherwise underserved communities and organizations advancing social justice causes, hosted our first-ever virtual “Mr. Robot’s Hacker Happy Hour” online social hangout. More than 200 people registered, and more than 110 actually showed up, making it the single largest event we have ever hosted.

Despite being scheduled to run for only one hour, everyone who came was so engaged (and engaging!) that we continued talking tech, hacking, and discussed elements of the show Mr. Robot for more than two and a half hours.

Besides, most of us had nowhere to go! Gathering places are closed, or suddenly dangerous in a whole new way. This country’s so-called “leaders” chose to dump stocks and lie about the country’s pandemic readiness rather than fund health services, despite receiving daily briefings about the impending crisis. So, we came together last week to say: fuck society!

What is it about society that disappoints us so much?

Oh, we don’t know. Is it that we collectively thought Steve Jobs was a great man, even when we knew he made billions off the backs of children? Or maybe it’s that it feels like all our heroes are counterfeit. The world itself is just one big hoax, spamming each other with our running commentary of bullshit masquerading as insight, our social media faking as intimacy. Or is it that we voted for this? Not with our rigged elections, but with our things, our property, our money. We’re not saying anything new. We all know why we do this, not because Hunger Games books makes us happy but because we wanna be sedated, because it’s painful not to pretend, because we’re cowards.

Fuck society. It’s a world built on fantasy. A kingdom of bullshit! Governments have no respect for their own laws. Society was compromised before we even got here. Election ballots are their exploits. Belief in their good intentions is our zero day vuln. Synthetic emotions in the form of pills. Psychological warfare in the form of advertising. Mind-altering chemicals in the form of…food! Brainwashing seminars in the form of media. Controlled isolated bubbles in the form of social networks.

To break this cycle of abuse, at Tech Learning Collective, students learn how to extend and enhance the existing capabilities of their projects and communities using free, open, and increasingly ubiquitous digital technologies. And despite the seriousness of the current situation, our ambitious goals, and the overwhelming forces of evil arrayed against those who try to bend the arc of the universe towards justice, we try to have fun while we’re learning how to break free.

Last week’s “Mr. Robot’s Hacker Happy Hour” was one tiny success among the mayhem. Below, we’ve shared excerpts of some of our favorite moments from the event. Watch the videos or read the closed captions to see what you may have missed.

  1. Introduction and “What the Virus Said” poem
  2. Mixnets and Tor
  3. Password hashes explained
  4. DFIR, IP addresses, and framing Terry Colby
  5. Unlinking your data trail with Tor’s “New Identity” Button
  6. COVID-19 cybersecurity industry response

Introduction and “What the Virus Said” poem

The event opened with a brief introduction to Tech Learning Collective, a rundown of some links to resources elsewhere, shout-outs to our sister organizations, and a poem acknowledging the current tragedy unfolding before us all across the globe.

Mixnets and Tor

Tor makes its appearance on Mr. Robot in the very first scene, even before the opening credits. So perhaps that’s why, for the first thirty minutes of our Hacker Happy Hour, most people asked questions about Tor. In this clip, we discuss one of the foundational operating principles of the Tor network: the fact that it is a cryptographic mixnet. We also touch on why it’s so important to keep your Tor Browser software (and, really, all your software) up to date.

Tech Learning Collective regularly runs our in-depth Tor workshop, which covers this and many more aspects of Tor use, configuration, and administration at various times. Check out our events calendar to learn when the next Tor workshop you can sign up for is happening.

Password hashes explained

Every hacker needs to crack a hash at one point or another (although the ecologically conscious hacker simply backdoors login pages), and Elliot is no exception. In this clip, we discuss what password hashes are. We go into far more depth on the topic during our Password Superpowers workshop, where we show you how to automate the process described in the video using Elliot’s favorite hash cracking program, John the Ripper.

DFIR, IP addresses, and framing Terry Colby

As a cybersecurity engineer by day, Elliot plays hacker defense, which means his job sometimes requires him to perform digital forensics and incident response (DFIR) tasks in order to collect evidence about what hackers did to which systems and when. In this clip, we (partly) answer the question, “How did Elliot frame Terry Colby?” In the process we discuss some DFIR tools, and demystify a bit of hacker jargon.

Unlinking your data trail with Tor’s “New Identity” Button

Hacker or not, everyone has the right to check out books from the library without governments (the “Five Eyes”), spouses, or parents learning which books we checked out. This is called privacy. On the Internet, Tor Browser provides one of the most robust tools for maintaining privacy as we browse the World Wide Web, our modern Library of Alexandria. In this clip, we discuss an oft-overlooked feature of Tor Browser, the “New Identity” button, why you want to use it more often than you probably are, and why it’s effective at helping you reduce your “digital paper trail.”

COVID-19 cybersecurity industry response

Pandemics are not new, but the Internet is! There has never been a global pandemic at a time when so much of day-to-day life is conducted through a Web browser. That makes it critical for people to understand how these technologies work, or they risk letting those who do constrain and control their capabilities for them.

This clip wasn’t really about Mr. Robot, but we couldn’t help pointing out that phishing campaigns immediately took advantage of people’s fear about the coronavirus pandemic. Some ransomware groups are still targeting hospitals and healthcare departments. While it’s great to see some industry responding in a “social good” way, we feel that this is far too little, far too late. The time to help your neighbor is not during an emergency, it is before the emergency, something very few (if any) cybersecurity firms showed much interest in doing the way they are now.

We hope that ending on this note will remind us all of the vital role digital infrastructure now plays in our everyday lives. Tech Learning Collective’s mission has always been to empower those who are sidelined by Big Tech in ways traditional bootcamps don’t and can’t by providing both world-class technical education coupled with a pedagogical approach that brings immediate benefit to you and your loved ones.

Thank you so much to those of you who were able to join us last week for our first online “Mr. Robot’s Hacker Happy Hour.” If we do this again, we’ll focus on Season 1, Episode 2. Who knows? Maybe by the time we finish watching the show together, we will have remade society into a place where “leaders” can’t take financial advantage of the deaths of thousands of people.

Wouldn’t that be something worth hacking on?