Monday, 5 December 2016

Digital Literacy, Rule 41 & Hacking

I recently taught a 6.5-hour lesson delivering the Level 2 qualification in Essential Skills Digital Literacy. That was the first of five lessons; yes, it was a long time to lecture, but necessary.
I admit, I enjoyed it. It felt good to be ‘teaching’ again with high-level learners who are actively engaged.
As part of the first lesson, we covered areas of e-safety, searching the internet, digital footprint, the dark and deep web, looking at the validity of websites and discussed the six strands of digital literacy. The subject matter lead to quite a lot of discussion especially who’s watching those who are watching us on the Internet. Fascinating, eager learners.

Laws are changing and becoming more defined; at the same time, more open-ended; esoteric.  Rule 41, for example, came into effect on Thursday (1st of Dec 2016) and allows the FBI to search computers.

“The expanded search power, known as “Rule 41,” is intended to make it easier for the FBI to carry out complex computer investigations. Until now, the government could only carry out a search of computers located in the district where the federal judge granted the warrant—typically only a few counties in a given state.”

“With today's amendments to Rule 41, the statute that regulates legal search and seizure, the US Department of Justice has a new weapon to fight cyber-crime -- but it's a double-edged sword. The changes expand the FBI's ability to search multiple computers, phones and other devices across the country, and even overseas, on a single warrant. In an increasingly connected world, amending the rules is both necessary for law enforcement agencies and deeply concerning for digital privacy advocates. And for everyday citizens, it's a little bit of both.

Today's changes allow judges to issue warrants for federal agencies to remotely access, search, seize and copy digital information that's been concealed via anonymizing software like Tor or a VPN. The changes also allow judges to grant warrants for the search, seizure and copying of information on any connected device that's attacked in a hacking campaign. (accessed 02/12/2016)

My learners and I had a pretty extensive discussion about privacy and the internet. We also spoke about how certain words typed into a search or comment box (Facebook, for example), will send up ‘red flags’ and may get you attention you didn’t plan on.

“… the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The organization wrote in a blog post, "Government access to the computers of botnet victims also raises serious privacy concerns, as a wide range of sensitive, unrelated personal data could well be accessed during the investigation. This is a dangerous expansion of powers, and not something to be granted without any public debate on the topic."

Additionally, the first part of the amendment, which targets people using anonymizing software to obscure their location or identity, is vague enough to apply to a broad range of common services, the EFF argues.

"For example, people who use Tor, folks running a Tor node, or people using a VPN would certainly be implicated," the EFF says. "It might also extend to people who deny access to location data for smartphone apps because they don't feel like sharing their location with ad networks. It could even include individuals who change the country setting in an online service, like folks who change the country settings of their Twitter profile in order to read uncensored tweets." From: (accessed 02/12/2016)

I have quoted a lot of information, but again, necessary. The World Wide Web is changing fast and the rules which are meant to govern it, can’t keep up with how quickly it develops.  It changes our vocabulary, the way we view ourselves in the world and the way crime is now perpetrated on so many levels.

You can get a Hacker’s qualification online now. You can be a Certified Ethical Hacker (  The other thought I had about the idea of being officially qualified would depend on the skills that may already be developed – just hack into the server and qualify yourself.

My Facebook account was hacked and I suddenly found my duplicated self on numerous social websites.  I don’t do any banking online, but Husband’s account was hacked into a couple of times. Fortunately, the bank called to question why he was charging £5000 on his credit card at a casino in Gibraltar. Good bank.

But why must Hackers do such nasty, mean stuff? I mean Christmas is almost here – let’s spread some good cheer. Why not hack into student loans and pay them all off in full? Or put a few extra ££’s into people’s bank account instead of taking it out? Why not pay ahead all the old age pensioner’s heating and electric so they are kept warm and safe over the next few coldest months? Or next time when the lottery gets so gigantic, why not give everyone a £100,000?  

Why not wreak havoc by doing some kind and generous hacking? Okay, so it probably wouldn’t last, it will get caught, and it will result in things going back the way they were - but for a minute, just a moment of happiness? Of feeling like maybe, your turn has arrived? Wouldn’t that be more fulfilling than shutting down a company’s e-mail account? I think so. I think, yes.

Oh, not that I am promoting or advocating doing anything illegal, for goodness sake. It’s just a little fantasy I have – just like, one day, I might win the lottery. Of course, I’d have to buy a ticket first.

The next digital literacy lesson: Digital Responsibility. Oh, the irony.

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