Misha's Blog

Dead Drop: the Digital Glory Hole

Posted in Miscellaneous by Misha on January 18, 2014
Image ripped off from Adam's website http://deaddrops.com/

Image ripped off from Adam’s website http://deaddrops.com/

Do you remember Adam Bartholl’s Dead Drops art project?  The one were he installed USB drives into public spaces and invited people to plug into them and share data? It is incredibly prescient that he created it in 2010: the same year that Stuxnet was discovered.  Stuxnet is the centrifuge-ruining computer virus that wormed its way into Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges after spreading through USB keys for several years.  The virus—purportedly written by Israeli and US American government cyber warriors—was meant to reach targets that were not connected to the Internet.  The strategy was to have the virus spread via removable media in the hopes that some scientist will eventually bring their MP3s to work with them  from a home computer infected via the Internet.  In a post-Stuxnet world, I am a prude about opening my computer’s ports to strangers’ USB keys without formatting them first let alone jacking into a Dead Drop.

Bartholl’s Dead Drops project is described as a rumination on public space and sharing, but behind this optimistic story lies a much darker comment on the dangers of mutual exchange.  Stuxnet and its variants threaten to turn any innocent bystander into an enabler of international cyber warfare and the risk of unforeseen consequences loom over people’s personal data.  The paranoia widened after the paradigm-shifting NSA related leaks from Edward Snowden.  How likely is it that your computer is not currently infected with sophisticated spyware?

Adam Bartholl’s Data Drops are the digital equivalents of the glory holes.  There is dangerous excitement around the idea of complete anonymous intercourse and the exchange of information between strangers.  A recent new product referred to as a “USB Condom” caught my attention not only for its functional promise, but for its potent symbolism.  By short circuiting the USB’s data pins and leaving only the power pins functional, this device promises to sanitize device charging via strange ports and third party cables.  It seems that our post-Stuxnet, post-Snowden world needs some USB Condom vending machines in every bathroom of every public playground which houses a USB Dead Drop device.  So if you see a Dead Drop and plug into it I hope you find something tasty.  Or perhaps you can leave something tasty behind.  There is a glory in surviving such an anonymous encounter.

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