In a previous life I used to do a lot of IT security work, probably even
at a time when most people had no idea what IT security actually is. I
grew up with the Chaos Computer Club, as it was a great place to meet
people with common interests, skills and ethics. People were hacking
(aka 'doing security research') for fun, to grow their skills, to
advance society, to point out corporate stupidities and to raise
awareness about issues.
I've always shared any results worth noting with the general public.
Whether it was in RFID security, on GSM security, TETRA security, etc.
Even more so, I always shared the tools, creating free software
implementations of systems that - at that time - were very difficult to
impossible to access unless you worked for the vendors of related
device, who obviously had a different agenda then to disclose security
concerns to the general public.
Publishing security related findings at related conferences can be
interpreted in two ways:
On the one hand, presenting at a major event will add to your
credibility and reputation. That's a nice byproduct, but that shouldn't
be the primarily reason, unless you're some kind of a egocentric stage
On the other hand, presenting findings or giving any kind of
presentation or lecture at an event is a statement of support for that
event. When I submit a presentation at a given event, I think carefully
if that topic actually matches the event.
The reason that I didn't submit any talks in recent years at CCC events
is not that I didn't do technically exciting stuff that I could talk
about - or that I wouldn't have the reputation that would make people
consider my submission in the programme committee. I just thought there
was nothing in my work relevant enough to bother the CCC attendees with.
So when Holger 'zecke' Freyther and I chose to present about our recent
journeys into exploring modern cellular modems at the annual Chaos
Communications Congress, we did so because the CCC Congress is the right
audience for this talk. We did so, because we think the people there
are the kind of community of like-minded spirits that we would like to
contribute to. Whom we would like to give something back, for the many
years of excellent presentations and conversations had.
So far so good.
However, in 2016, something happened that I haven't seen yet in my 17
years of speaking at Free Software, Linux, IT Security and other
conferences: A select industry group (in this case the GSMA) asking me
out of the blue to give them the talk one month in advance at a private
I could hardly believe it. How could they? Who am I? Am I spending
sleepless nights and non-existing spare time into security research of
cellular modems to give a free presentation to corporate guys at a
closed industry meeting? The same kind of industries that create the
problems in the first place, and who don't get their act together in
building secure devices that respect people's privacy? Certainly not.
I spend sleepless nights of hacking because I want to share the results
with my friends. To share it with people who have the same passion,
whom I respect and trust. To help my fellow hackers to understand
technology one step more.
If that kind of request to undermine the researcher/authors initial
publication among friends is happening to me, I'm quite sure it must be
happening to other speakers at the 33C3 or other events, too. And that
makes me very sad. I think the initial publication is something that
connects the speaker/author with his audience.
Let's hope the researchers/hackers/speakers have sufficiently strong
ethics to refuse such requests. If certain findings are initially
published at a certain conference, then that is the initial publication.
Period. Sure, you can ask afterwards if an author wants to repeat the
presentation (or a similar one) at other events. But pre-empting the
initial publication? Certainly not with me.
I offered the GSMA that I could talk on the importance of having FOSS
implementations of cellular protocol stacks as enabler for security
research, but apparently this was not to their interest. Seems like all
they wanted is an exclusive heads-up on work they neither commissioned
or supported in any other way.
And btw, I don't think what Holger and I will present about is all that
exciting in the first place. More or less the standard kind of security
nightmares. By now we are all so numbed down by nobody considering
security and/or privacy in design of IT systems, that is is hardly any
news. IoT how it is done so far might very well be the doom of
mankind. An unstoppable tsunami of insecure and privacy-invading
devices, built on ever more complex technology with way too many
security issues. We shall henceforth call IoT the Industry of