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Hacking Surveillance

Are Thoughts Really Free?
13

This is a beautiful rendition of an old German folk song “Die Gedanken sind frei”. The text was first published in anonymous leaflets in 1780 and the melody was composed about thirty years later — both author and composer remain unknown.

The concept of freedom of thought has given oppressed peoples and individuals comfort and hope since times immemorial and there is hardly a folk song that has been played as often by rock and punk musicians as "The thoughts are free"— but is it a truth? And if so, one that actually still holds true for all sides and times?

And if not, what can you do about it? Read on and find out.

(I recommend the entire post to really understand the current state of technology, but if you are a premium member, you can directly jump to end and see the suggested solutions).


The State of Surveillance

Running a virtually unknown program for gathering domestic intelligence is one thing. But given the ubiquitous SuprA.I.ntelligence we are exposed to on a daily basis, it looks like a pale effort in comparison. Mass technology and AI powered surveillance is here to stay and to be hacked.

WiFi routers can produce 3D images of humans for quite some time now — all that is needed is an active WiFi network which signals can be used to bounce them off the people in the room. Deep-Learning-Algorithms such as “BreatheSmart” use the reflections of those signals to analyze conspicuous breathing patterns of chest movements with around 99 percent accuracy. Naturally reading out lip movements from the wireless patterns in the room is already being done successfully as well.

The times where microphones were needed to be bugged are over.

While researching “The Rise of LaserTech”, I quickly realized that lasers provide a much better way to “listen in”. By pointing a laser onto a window, it can easily detect the vibrations caused by a conversation inside and can be transferred into written text or audio in real-time. The same applies when pointing a laser on to the back of a laptop. It can read out the key strokes as every key has an unique sound pattern, much like a fingerprint.

Invisible infrared lasers unfortunately prevent us from noticing when someone is spying and using a Laser Doppler Vibrometer, one doesn’t even need line of sight to listen in over distance (using any indirect object such as a ceramic vase, a door knob or just a light bulb), simply by analyzing the vibrational patterns of the object which is exposed to the respective “sound” surroundings.


LiDAR

You might have heard of “LiDAR” before. It stands for Light Detection And Ranging — essentially a laser beam is targeted at an object and the time for it to reflect back is measured to gauge the distance of the object. It’s used all around us:

  • LiDAR data is used in maps (i.e. in Google’s “Terrain view”) as it can easily map the terrain from an aircraft into a 3D model.

  • LiDAR can also make high resolution digital elevation models of archaeological sites revealing hidden features buried under vegetation.

  • LiDAR is used in developing autonomous vehicles for measuring location and speed of moving objects, leveraging the Doppler Effect of sound.

There are many free and useful LiDAR data sources available online, but it could also be used to quietly map our homes without being aware of it — by the very apps we love to use the most and had given camera access to!

It’s worth learning more about LiDAR and how it continues to affect our privacy.

Combining LiDAR with SLAM (Simultaneous Localization And Mapping) enables a device to create a map of its environment and determine its own location within that map in real time. It’s a fundamental capability for autonomous systems, as it allows the device to navigate through its environment and understand its surroundings.


Space Spies

This one may seem right out of a Bond movie, but it isn’t. A company called Capella Space launched a satellite capable of taking clear radar images with incredible resolution anywhere in the world — even through walls of some buildings, independent of day and night, or, the weather.

The device uses Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) instead of optical images which works in a similar way to echolocation of dolphins and bats. It beams a powerful 9.65 GHz radio signal at its target and collects and interprets the signal as it returns to orbit, so by pointing two SAR satellites at the same target, they can image targets in three dimensions down to tiny differences in elevation.

Patents for real-time holographic surveillance systems were filed nearly 30 years ago — so just imagine the technology available today given the speed of science driven innovations we’ve experienced since the advent of the internet.


Digital ID — A Feast for Hackers

In October 2021, a hacker stole the ID credentials for the entire population of Argentina through its National Registry of Persons (“RENAPER”). It’s an important reminder that no Digital ID is impenetrable to criminals. Once your data is compromised, it's no longer yours. And there is no way anyone would ever insure you for the damage this could cause.

There is a reason why our ancestors fought wars for upholding their physical and mental freedoms where privacy is the first victim. Governments around the world are continuing to increase their surveillance capabilities on the population, with newly proposed legislation even suggesting to be prosecuted when selling or being in possession of a “bespoke” encrypted mobile device — perhaps just because you may want to do your best to harden your phone for better privacy/security in light of the real dangers that privacy in the Metaverse may be impossible.

This often comes under the disguise of otherwise genuine causes, such as pro-actively avoiding paedophilia or to use health related data of private citizens for public research, yet make no mistake: who controls the algorithms leading to precognition, controls their outcomes as well — as well documented in this two decades old movie:


Next Level Mindreading

As mentioned in SuprA.I.ntelligence already, there is a genuine danger in letting AI determine more of our security and privacy policies by itself. The spy agency GCHQ has warned that AI-powered chatbots are an emerging security threat.

But what if AI starts to read your mind with extreme accuracy? By combining magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with AI powered algorithms and machine learning, researchers were able to recreate visual images directly from human brain activity. Using the widely available Stable Diffusion technology, they were able to do so at a very low cost and with relatively little effort.

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A Polymath never stops learning. It's quintessential to every aspiring Polymath, including me. Here I'm sharing some of my learnings and musings if and when they come along, aiming to learn something new every day.