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For the eighth episode of Ars Technica Live, we’re joined by security researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire. Ars security editor Dan Goodin and I talked to Marquis-Boire about his experiences working in computer security, from his origins running an anonymous remailer in New Zealand, to his current gig protecting journalists at First Look Media.
Marquis-Boire is slightly unusual among infosec researchers because his background is in political science. He got interested in hacking because he discovered open source software and loved the idea. As a college student he was part of a hacker group in New Zealand and was lucky enough to get a full time job doing similar things after he graduated. His work has taken him from smaller projects to Google and now to doing research on state-sponsored surveillance and hacking with organizations like Electronic Frontier Foundation and First Look Media.
Given the state of global politics, we jumped right into a discussion of how to spot signs of digital authoritarianism. Marquis-Boire emphasized that “digital authoritarianism” is just an extension of the usual “mundane” activities of authoritarian governments. There is no hard line between the digital world and the so-called real world. They’re completely linked, and so the political atmosphere in one will spill over into the other. In some ways, he’s more worried about secret courts than he is about “cyber.”
Still, there are steps that citizens can take to protect themselves, especially if they are protesting their governments. Marquis-Boire said people should think about how the fact that their phones can be seized by police, or simply used to track them and their friends. “Think about turning it off,” if you’re going to a protest, he said. Or take a burner phone with you. Also, most importantly, he said we need to practice “data contraception,” which is to say don’t spew a bunch of data everywhere. Don’t take pictures that implicate you or your friends in subversive activities.
We also talked about which kinds of programs he’d recommend that people use if they’re concerned about surveillance. Obviously Signal is great, he said, but also consider using Facebook Messenger, which now has end-to-end encryption. That’s because it’s a lot harder for a country to shut off access to Messenger. Signal is a small project, so it’s relatively simple for a government to shut down Signal traffic if they want to crack down on subversives.
Marquis-Boire also told us about the difference between doing security for a company like Google vs. First Look Media. First Look is the company that owns The Intercept, which has published Snowden documents. So part of his job is protecting those documents, as well as the journalists reporting on them and similarly sensitive information. It sounds difficult, but one of the first things he realized was that he could just store things off the network. That never would have been an option at Google.
We also talked about the DNC hacks, as well as a number of other ways to think about digital security in different contexts. Watch the video to see more!
Ars Technica Live is taking a break in December, but we’ll be back in January with a whole year of cool speakers. Look out for us in 2017!
Also, you get an early holiday present from us because we’ve turned all of the Ars Live videos from 2016 into podcasts, which you can listen to at your leisure while you’re commuting, playing with wires, or cleaning the cat box. The podcast feed can be accessed in these fine places: