We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

When Western bloggers ‘get’ samizdata

Dave Walker sees more online samizdat, which he deftly names samizdata. Sounds familiar?

The original Samizdat consisted of textual material intended to criticise and subvert repressive political regimes – it was surreptitiously copied and circulated in a “pass it on to your trustworthy friends” manner.

Today’s samizdata – such as a certain hex string which, in the last month, has spread from one blog across Digg and thence to thousands of blogs and sites – is material which can now also be intended to subvert repressive data management regimes.

In the days of the Cold War, samizdat was spread between people who typically knew each other, whereas today’s typical samizdata – even though it could conceivably propagate via USB memory sticks in a similar manner – employs more of a “scattergun” approach. This may well be down to the fact that secret police organisations in Cold War times were not omniscient; by contrast, today’s data management Politburos have access to Google, so the top priority for samizdata proponents is, as well as concealing their identities, ensuring that their data is propagated so widely that the probability of all the sites carrying the data being gagged becomes as close to infinitesimal as possible.

Before the AACS product key, the last major piece of data management-subverting samizdata was DeCSS. DeCSS spread by website, newsgroup and T-shirt, the AACS key has spread much more quickly by blog, wiki and tag indexer. It is a sign of the times, although I am not about to predict that AACS product key T-shirts won’t happen soon.

While the contribution of samizdat and its influence on populations to the eventual fall of various regimes is discussed in detail elsewhere, the effects of samizdata (online samizdata for the purposes of this discussion) are also not entirely straightforward; DeCSS and the falling cost of embeddable processing power clearly influenced AACS, particularly in the case of the upgradable key. However, as AACS could be broken once, on the grounds that key and encrypted material are stored together in a device under the physical control of the user, it can be broken again. The most accurate prediction I can make is that we’ll be seeing a lot more samizdata in future.

11 comments to When Western bloggers ‘get’ samizdata

  • Julian Taylor

    You should read the original post for that code sequence and how it is explained – very illuminating and very easy to comprehend (the arnezami character is the one who broke the code).

  • Yup, I read it as soon as the news of the product key crack broke. A fine piece of work, and disarmingly straightforward. I’m startled that the AACS folk didn’t insist on implementations being checked for issues such as this – or if they did, that the vendor didn’t do it. Of course, it all boils down to the conundrumk of DRM anyway – if your keys and your data are in a device owned by the user and in an environment the user is in control of, you’re hosed.

  • Nicolas Bourbaki

    It is fascinating and shows that regardless of the structures of law and accepted decision making systems, the internet ultimately acts as an “upper house” that can over-rule certain laws and say “no, this one will not be permitted”.

  • fjfjfj

    So is samizdata the plural of samizdat, then?

  • Nick M



    Samizdata is a plural. The singular would be Samizdatum.

  • Sigivald

    By that logic, nicolas, organized crime does the same thing for any laws it doesn’t like. Is it really an “upper house” that “disallows” laws against extortion by ignoring them?

    I’ll reiterate that the DMCA is a stupid law, illiberal, and a waste of time and money any time it’s attempted to be enforced.

    But posting a long integer that can be used as part of a DRM circumvention doesn’t make one a clever, noble subversive, even if DMCA is a stupid and illiberal law.

    (Why are the Soviet-era samizdat producers and sharers looked up to?

    Because if the State caught them they’d be in deep trouble. They were taking actual risks to spread forbidden ideas and tell the truth about an oppresive state.

    Revealing that encryption key is no risk to anyone doing it, in practical terms.

    Nor is it an idea that is forbidden by the State.

    Nor is it a hidden truth about the State that is forbidden from being expressed; one can openly campaign for the repeal of DMCA with no repercussions from the State at all.

    I’m going to stand athwart this tide of adulation for Digg-kiddies who are doing this more out of adolescent rebellion – and because they want to copy DVDs – than anything else, and yell “Stop!” … and like Buckley or Kirk, I don’t expect anyone to actually stop.)

    Really, I’m just annoyed at this adulation for what is essentially a deeply un-serious protest against something people claim at the same time to take seriously as a “threat” to their liberty.

    Posting a long integer in a LOLcats picture is not a serious or potentially effective protest.

  • By that logic, nicolas, organized crime does the same thing for any laws it doesn’t like

    The only difference between government and organised crime is… well, I’ll have to ponder that.

    I think the point you miss is that state attempts to control the internet is serious and this issue shows that they will have their work cut out to do it. Nicolas (and btw, I get the reference “Mr. Bourbaki”) makes the point it is like an upper house legislature… I would prefer the analogue that it is more akin to comparing an un-organised militia to an organised one (in the US sense of the terms).

    The reason this matters is that if the state, and the corporate interests who use the state to maintain their business models, cannot make its laws and regulations stick, then this is far from trivial. Even a steg in a LOLcat graphic can indeed be an effective weapon.

  • Digitox

    I think Walker has got it right. You do not have to agree with what is being done (though I do), but the dynamic really is like a Samizdat and that will find wider and wider applications and that will, for better or worse, undermine a lot of power structures. These are interesting times and will get more so as this spreads and the implications sink in.

  • It has long been recognised that encryption is a time-related commodity which only has to be bullet-proof for the most sensitive information, information that isn’t bandied about anyway.
    I don’t think that there will be any heart-attacks in Whitehall over this childish and cheap gesture at sticking it to the man.

    I often use a programme I adapted from the books, with my own keys. It doesn’t bother me much that an expert could easily break it.
    It irritates me that a fool might want to.

  • Sunfish

    I’m going to stand athwart this tide of adulation for Digg-kiddies who are doing this more out of adolescent rebellion – and because they want to copy DVDs – than anything else, and yell “Stop!” … and like Buckley or Kirk, I don’t expect anyone to actually stop.)

    I think I got the adolescent rebellion out of my system back when I turned 30.

    You don’t need DeCSS to copy DVDs. I need DeCSS to play them on my computer, if I don’t want to reinstall Bill Gates’ Worthless Bloated Pile of Crap, or spend roughly double what I did to buy a Mac.

    (Beware of the penguins…)