Issue Number Eight: Hacks, Leaks, and Breaches

Edited by: E. Gabriella Coleman and Christopher M. Kelty

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February 2017: Hardly a day passes without news of a major hack, leak, or breach; with the scale of computer use and reliance on digital forms of data, no sector of society is immune to these data dumps, infiltrations, and floods. From the surveillance of dissidents to the hacking of elections to the weaponization of memes, hacking is changing in character, and it is changing the world. In this issue we ask whether hacking and hacks have crossed a techno-political threshold: how are hacks, leaks and breaches transforming our world, creating new collectives, and changing our understanding of security and politics. How has the relationship of hacking and hackers to their own collectives, to governments, and to the tools and techniques been transformed recently? What does it mean to be a hacker these days, and how does it differ from engineering, from “cyber-security,” from information warfare or from hacktivism?

Contributors: Claudio Guanieri, Nils Gilman, Jesse Goldhammer, Steve Weber, Finn Brunton, Matthew Jones, Molly Sauter, Rebecca Slayton, Adam Fish, Luca Follis, Mustafa Al-Bassam, Sara Tocchetti, Paula Bialski, E. Gabriella Coleman, Robert Tynes, Philip Di Salvo, Sarah Myers West, Naomi Colvin, Lorenzo Francheschi-Bicchierai, Ashley Gorham, Joan Donovan, Renée Ridgway, Goetz Bachmann, Tor Ekeland, David Murakami-Wood and Michael Carter, Kim Zetter. With science fiction by Cory Doctorow.

With Illustrations by Amisha Gadani

Hacktoids (or, The Limn Index)

Limn tapped its extensive network of underground operatives to bring you this extraordinary list of facts about hacks, leaks, and breaches.

Car Wars

A self-driving car is a computer you put your body in. Fiction by Cory Doctorow

The spy who pwned me

How did we get to state-sponsored hacking? Matt Jones traces the legal authorities and technical capacities that have transformed the power of the nation-state since the 1990s.

Who’s hacking whom?

What can you do with a Tor exploit? Renée Ridgway discusses an ethical dilemma for security researchers, a surreptitious game of federal investigators, and the state of online anonymity today.

Hacker Madness

Defense lawyer Tor Ekeland gives us an up-close, first-person view of a widespread pathology: how misplaced fear and hysteria is driving an over-reaction to the positive work that hackers can do.

Interview: Mustafa Al-Bassam

Limn talks with security expert Mustafa Al-Bassam (a.k.a “tflow”) about the responsibility for information security, the incentive problems it creates and the available solutions.

What Is To Be Hacked?

Security is no longer a privilege of the few, or a commodity in the hands of those few who can afford it. Claudio (“nex”) Guarnieri explains why civil society isn’t going to secure itself, and why it needs help from hackers.

Interview: Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai

Journalist Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai talks with Limn about the details of the DNC hacks, making sense of leaks, and being a journalist working on hackers today.

Interview: Kim Zetter

Cybersecurity journalist Kim Zetter talks with Limn about infrastructure hacking, the DNC hacks, the work of reporting on hackers and much more.

The Public Interest Hack

How are hacking and leaking related? Gabriella Coleman introduces us to the “public interest hack” and explains how it emerged.

Utopian Hacks

Not all engineers create equally. Götz Bachmann takes us inside the labs of “radical engineers” and the starkly different futures they imagine for us.

Power Down

OMG! Hackers take down energy grid! David Murakami Wood and Michael Carter calmly explain the how and why (or why not) of infrastructure hacking today.

The Logic of Leaks, reconsidered

Are leaks fast and slow? Does their “illicit aura” matter? Naomi Colvin dives into the debate about leaking and the politics of journalism today.


Philip Di Salvo explores the trading zone between journalism and hacking.

The Illicit Aura of Information

Does the unfiltered, illicit status of a leak change the nature of information? Molly Sauter offers a consideration of the half-life of stolen data.

Refuse and Resist!

Joan Donovan dives into the dumpster of the Internet, and comes up holding some tasty ideas about what “doxing” means today and yesterday.

I am Not a Hacker

The term “hacker” is notoriously slippery. Paula Bialski dives into the practices and micropolitics of self-proclaimed non-hackers

When GhostSec Goes Hunting

GhostSec engaged in vigilante counter-terrorism against ISIS. Robert Tynes explores whether this makes them part of the state, part of civil society, or part of empire.

Survival of the Cryptic

Should we have privacy for the weak and transparency for the powerful? Sarah Myers West reminds us that we’ve been agonizing over this question since at least the 1990s, when the cypherpunks first started discussing it.

The Extortion Stack

Finn Brunton explores the dream of the perfect leak, and what a science fiction story can tell us about the state of truth today.

Can You Secure an Iron Cage?

Are bureaucracies defensible? Nils Gilman, Jesse Goldhammer, and Steven Weber explore the Office of Personnel Management hack, and what it tells us about the inherent vulnerabilities of bureaucratic organizations in a digital age.

Limn Number 8 is Underway

Check this space regularly for updates. We will be posting lots more here over the coming weeks in February and March!