The Triumph of Hacker Culture
Stuxnet and the iconic, pioneering hacker Captain Crunch.
Crunch is a progenitor of the joyfully anarchic sensibility, the Robin Hood outlaw outlook, that drew some of the best unconventional minds in tech, many of whom later got hired away to became cyber-security experts because they knew so much about causing cyber insecurity.
So I found it shocking and dismaying this month when I was Googling around for the latest developments in hacker culture and Stuxnet lore and came on a site called Saving Captain Crunch, which gave some minimal details that other sympathetic Web sites filled in for me.
According to PC World, the epic hacker icon was minding his own business at a computer conference when an apparently overenthusiastic fan gave him a kind of bear hug around the neck, which wrenched some vertebrae—already delicate from recent surgery—to the point where they cut off almost all nerve communication to his arms and hands. He was in terrible pain and was suffering terrifyingly progressive paralysis of his hands.
The accident took place back in October and the Captain and his friends made an appeal for support because he couldn't afford the extensive and expensive surgery required, despite Medicaid.
The PC World piece brings good news, however. The operation got performed. In the comments section of the PC World online article, the Captain himself reports that he is recovering.
There's something both awful and eerie about the confluence of Stuxnet's paralysis of a nuclear facility nerve system and the nerve damage that rendered Captain Crunch's talented hands paralyzed.
I think we are entering an age of increasing anxiety about the "robustness" of the cyber structures that now are the invisible foundations of our personal and geopolitical existence. The shadowy figure of the anonymous hacker, Black Hat or White Hat, may have more power over our lives and fate than Zuckerberg, Jobs, and Brin and company, for all their billions.
In a way, I'm glad I wasn't aware of Captain Crunch's dire straits until he had what looks like a successful operation. It would have been too painful to contemplate the irony. But now with rumors that variations on Stuxnet have become available on the black market, or may be ramped up to commandeer nukes by hostile nations, it's good to have the Captain back in action. He is, if not a national treasure, a great national resource of man-vs.-machine savvy and guile, the triumph of the infinite creative deviousness of the human mind over silicon circuitry.
Get well soon, Captain.
Correction, Jan. 21, 2011: This piece originally stated that 50 nukes had gone rogue at Warrenton AF Base; it was F.E. Warren AF Base. The piece also mistakenly called Computerworld magazine Computer World and referred to the blog Armscontrolwonk as Amscontrolwonk. ( Return to the corrected page.)
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.
Photograph of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Chris Hondros/Getty Images.