Monday, August 11, 2008

The Mooninites Strike Again!

Another state agency fails to comprehend how to operate in the age of the internet and technologically-savvy new generations.
On Friday, the MBTA sued MIT and three MIT students, claiming that the students planned to present a paper at the DEFCON hacker's conference explaining how to circumvent the security on the T's Charlie Cards and thus create counterfeit cards. At a hearing held on Saturday (!), Judge Douglas Woodlock of the U.S. District Court in Boston granted the T a temporary restraining order forbidding the students to provide any information that would assist someone else to circumvent the T's security system.
Here was my main comment in the thread - and I'm sticking to it.

The MBTA's Choices

In regards to the publicity of these 'security' problems.

1. MIT kids make presentation to some hacker convention no one pays attention to. Analysis: Not interesting, not covered by the media, almost know one reads the kids' report.

2. MBTA takes kids to court. Analysis: A little bit more interesting, but still not a story. More people will read report.

3. MBTA tries to prevent kids from having the freedom of speech, paints them out to be hackers who'd give free Charlie Cards to everyone, ignores the fact that these kids were actually trying to help eliminate the system's vulnerabilities - making this look like Boston's newest attack of the Mooninites. Analysis: The story's now far more interesting, with plenty of intrigue for everyone. Newspapers will cover it - potential to grow into major story. Suddenly, everyone wants to read report on how to bust a Charlie Card. The very nature of today's internet means this report will be widely available due to the MBTA's incompetence.

Good job, MBTA! Seriously, though, can we have one state agency that's prepared to deal with today's internet and younger generations in ways that actually, well, make sense? I'd be happy to host some sort of a conference to train them... my rules for success for the state's agencies will mainly be built around the primary rule in the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy: don't panic.
Note to readers: Mooninites is from now on my term for whenever a Massachusetts State Agency acts with ineptitude in dealing with either internet technology, today's youngest generations, or completely missing things that are wildly popular in various subcultures. Given the fact that these stories are happening every few months, it looks to be a growing tag.


Anonymous said...

If they were trying to highlight weaknesses in the system that they had discovered, why didn't they go directly to the MBTA. At least go to a newspaper and point out the flaws with a demonstration. No they want to go to a conference so they can be idolized for being innovative thiefs.

Ryan Adams said...

They did go directly to the MBTA. That part of the story has been kept below the fold.

Anonymous said...

Then the MBTA was wrong and deserves the scorn you're heaping on them.

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