David Kushner

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Because things aren’t murky enough, Oliver Stone is bringing his paranoid onslaught of fact and fiction to the topic of Edward Snowden, a mixed bag to begin with. Our default mode should be supporting whistleblowers, but this guy doesn’t make it easy. He told us what was fairly obvious in the age of the Patriot Act, and the information won’t really change much (though Snowden can’t be blamed for that). In this time, Americans are more afraid of terrorism than they are of losing liberties, wanting a brother to take care of them even if it’s Big Brother. It never was a lack of knowledge that allowed surveillance to take hold but a lack of will. Beyond that, government spying will likely end up being the least of the problem, with corporations and rogue groups and individuals far more of a threat.

InThe Hacking of Hollywood,” a very wonderful Backchannel piece, David Kushner writes of an ironic twist: The auteur is trying to prevent his film about the leaker from being leaked. The article retreats to the 2004 origin story of interlopers entering the Dream Factory, making its way forward to the Fappening, a dark weekend that was revealing in more ways than one. Kushner stresses that no great technical skills are usually required for such breaches. The opening: 

It’s a cold day in Munich, and Oliver Stone, Hollywood’s most notorious director, is staring down the world’s most notorious hacker, Edward Snowden — or, at least, the actor who’s portraying him, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Stone’s here filming his controversial biopic of Snowden. The film, which will be released in spring 2016, traces the whistleblower’s rise from lowly army enlistee to the National Security Agency contractor who exposed the U.S. government’s classified surveillance program.

But Stone isn’t just concerned about capturing the saga behind Snowden’s incredible leaks. He wants to make sure that no hacker comes after his film and leaks its secrets before the movie’s release. “It’s a major concern for every filmmaker,” he tells me, during a break from shooting. And it’s one that’s even more pronounced with a movie that promises to reveal more about Snowden than the world yet knows. “If you can hack his story,” Stone says with caution, “it would be a big prize.” In a way, Stone is making a meta-movie that no one has seen before, building a firewall around a film whose subject is an icon of bad infosec.

This explains the stealthy guy with the Fu Manchu beard milling around the set. He’s Ralph Echemendia, Hollywood’s go-to digital bodyguard, a reformed hacker from the dark side who now helps filmmakers, celebrities, and moguls keep their valuable data secure. It’s a challenge that’s only compounding as Hollywood — like the rest of the world — moves more and more of its content and communications online. “The concern is a lack of control,” Echemendia tells me.

Stone says such precautions, while new, are “the wave of the future.”•

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Novelist William Gibson has always seemed to exist in two moments at once, ours and the one about to occur. He comes by the duality naturally, having been raised with a foot in two temporal realities. A couple of quick passages follow from a new Gibson Q&A conducted by David Kushner of Rolling Stone.



You also lost your father when you were a kid. How did that affect your development as a writer?

William Gibson:

Well, in the first place, I think there’s simply the mechanism of trauma in early life, which as an adult having watched other people go through that now, I can understand as being profoundly destabilizing. But the other thing it did was it caused my mother to return to the small town in Virginia from which both she and my father were originally from. So my earliest childhood memories were of living in a 1950s universe of Fifties stuff, as the construction company my father worked for built infrastructure projects across the South. . .lots of Levittown-style subdivisions. After my father’s death we returned to this little place in the mountains where you look out the window and in one direction, you might see tailfins and you’d know you were in the early Sixties. In the other, you’d see a guy with a straw hat using a mule to plow a field — and it could have been like 1890 or 1915. It felt to me like being exiled in the past; I was taken away from this sort of modern world, and partially emerged in this strange old place that, perhaps because of the traumatic circumstances of my arrival, I never entirely came to feel a part of. I observed the people around me as though I was something else. I didn’t feel that I was what they were. I can see that as the beginning of the novelistic mind.



At the time you coined “cyberspace,” you’d supposedly barely spent any time on a computer. That’s hard to believe.

William Gibson:

Oh no, I had scarcely seen one. Personal computers were not common objects at all, and I had been writing short fiction on the kind of manual portable that hipsters are starting to pay really good money for now. And then a friend of mine called from Texas and said, “My dad just gave me this machine called an Apple IIc, and, like, it automates the writing of fiction — you’ve gotta get one.” So I went down to a department store, which was the only Apple dealership in town. I bought the IIc and the printer and the bits you needed to make it work and took it all home in a box, and never looked back. It was a godsend for me because I can’t type, and having this endlessly correctable, effortlessly correctable way to write was fantastic.


In fact, you came up with the idea of cyberspace after seeing some kids playing video games in an arcade. What was it about them that inspired you?

William Gibson:

It was their body language, this physical manifestation of some kind of intense yearning. And it seemed to me that had they been able to, they would have reached through the screen — like, reached through the glass — and directly manipulated the pixels to get the result they wanted. It was the combination of that seeing these gamers and those ads for early laptops. I made the imaginative leap that behind the screen of each personal computer, there was a notional space. And what if the notional space behind the screen of each computer was a shared notional space? And that was all it took to have the cyberspace idea. I had some vague, vague sense of what the Internet then consisted of, because I knew a few people in Seattle who worked for very, very early iterations of the Seattle digital tech scene. They talked about DARPA, they talked about the Internet. The idea that there was an Internet was less a part of what I was doing than my sense that there could be a shared notional space and that it would be extra-geographical. The space behind the screen was the same space behind the screen in Vancouver or Nairobi.•

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Cyberwar hasn’t replaced traditional war–not yet, at least–it’s just added to it. The opening of “The Geeks on the Front Lines,” David Kushner’s Rolling Stone state-of-the-state about hackerdom in 2013:

“Inside a darkened conference room in the Miami Beach Holiday Inn, America’s most badass hackers are going to war – working their laptops between swigs of Bawls energy drink as Bassnectar booms in the background. A black guy with a soul patch crashes a power grid in North Korea. A stocky jock beside him storms a database of stolen credit cards in Russia. And a gangly geek in a black T-shirt busts into the Chinese Ministry of Information, represented by a glowing red star on his laptop screen. ‘Is the data secured?’ his buddy asks him. ‘No,’ he replies with a grin. They’re in.

Fortunately for the enemies, however, the attacks aren’t real. They’re part of a war game at HackMiami, a weekend gathering of underground hackers in South Beach. While meatheads and models jog obliviously outside, 150 code warriors hunker inside the hotel for a three-day bender of booze, break-ins and brainstorming. Some are felons. Some are con artists. But they’re all here for the same mission: to show off their skills and perhaps attract the attention of government and corporate recruiters. Scouts are here looking for a new breed of soldier to win the war raging in the online shadows. This explains the balding guy prowling the room with an ‘I’m Hiring Security Engineers. Interested?’ button pinned to his polo shirt.

Hackers like these aren’t the outlaws of the Internet anymore. A 29-year-old who goes by the name th3_e5c@p15t says he’s ready to fight the good fight against the real-life bad guys. ‘If they topple our government, it could have disastrous results,’ he says. ‘We’d be the front line, and the future of warfare would be us.’

After decades of seeming like a sci-fi fantasy, the cyberwar is on.”


From “The Hacker Is Watching,” David Kushner’s new GQ piece about the unlikely culprit behind a creepy new wave of computer hacking, which exploits the omnipresence of cameras, among other things:

“The more ubiquitous cameras become, the less we’re aware they’re even there. They stare out at us blankly from our phones and laptops, our Xboxes and iPads, a billion eyes and ears just waiting to be turned on. But what if they were switched on—by someone else—when you least expected it? How would you feel, how would you behave, if the devices that surround your life were suddenly turned against you?

It’s a question that James Kelly and his girlfriend, Amy Wright, never thought they’d have to entertain. But one instant message changed everything. Amy, a 20-year-old brunette at the University of California at Irvine, was on her laptop when she got an IM from a random guy nicknamed mistahxxxrightme, asking her for webcam sex. Out of the blue, like that. Amy told the guy off, but he IM’d again, saying he knew all about her, and to prove it he started describing her dorm room, the color of her walls, the pattern on her sheets, the pictures on her walls. ‘You have a pink vibrator,’ he said. It was like Amy’d slipped into a stalker movie. Then he sent her an image file. Amy watched in horror as the picture materialized on the screen: a shot of her in that very room, naked on the bed, having webcam sex with James.

Mistah X wasn’t done. The hacker fired off a note to James’s ex-girlfriend Carla Gagnon: ‘nice video I hope you still remember this if you want to chat and find out before I put it online hit me up.’ Attached was a video still of her in the nude. Then the hacker contacted James directly, boasting that he had control of his computer, and it became clear this wasn’t about sex: He was toying with them. As Mistah X taunted James, his IMs filling the screen, James called Amy: He had the creep online. What should he do? They talked about calling the cops, but no sooner had James said the words than the hacker reprimanded him. ‘I know you’re talking to each other right now!’ he wrote. James’s throat constricted; how did the stalker know what he was saying? Did he bug his room?

They were powerless. Amy decided to call the cops herself. But the instant she phoned the dispatcher, a message chimed on her screen. It was from the hacker. ‘I know you just called the police,’ he wrote. She panicked. How could he possibly know? She ran into her bathroom and slammed the door behind her. As she pleaded for the police to come quickly, she reached into the shower and cranked the water all the way up, hoping the hacker couldn’t hear her.”