The Thursday after my visit to the sanitarium, I showed up early to the TCM lunch at Jay's Bar. I brought a legal pad and a pen, sat down, and started making notes.
"You look serious this time, Professor."
I looked up to see Michele handing me a lunch menu.
"Yeah, I picked up another hard problem, and I want the team to help me with it."
Michele laughed. "I remember you biting off a lot of hard problems before."
He couldn't have been more than a teenager the last time I hung out in the back room with the cypherpunks, but he was right. I had always been a sucker for a hot new project.
I laughed too. "I hate to admit it, Michele, but you're right. I did. I've pretty well gotten over that, but I couldn't turn away from this one. It's for people who are pretty badly disabled."
"You and this group are doing something to help those people?" he asked.
"We are, at least as well as we can."
Just then a couple sat at the bar and his busboy showed up. He turned to go, but before he did, he said, "I'm very glad you do that."
Soon the group assembled and I explained my problem: that I had a group of people who, because of their infirmities (or disabilities, or whatever their conditions should be called) couldn't conduct business the usual way and needed to do it entirely in the digital realm.
"They shouldn't use their real names," Nikos was quick to say. "Regardless of what they're doing. There are a lot of feds skulking around these days, and they can make anyone look like a crook if they want to."
We all nodded our heads in agreement, and I added, "Yeah, that's their plan. Pseudonyms only."
"Good," Nikos said, adding, "And they have to use encryption… all the time… as a default."
And that set the table into a near uproar, both of agreement and of disgust with the lack of reason on the darknet.
Johnny's was the voice I noticed most. He said, "Did you see the details of the dark market takedown last month?"
"What about it?" a couple of them asked.
"The feds pulled more than 10,000 unencrypted emails from the system. Unencrypted, while buying drugs! What the hell were these people thinking? There's some kind of brain virus at work here." Then he turned to me. "You have to make them use encryption, and if they don't, you refuse to teach them. Anything else would be crazy."
I wrote Thunderbird, GPG and Enigmail on my pad and underlined it twice. Then I turned to Esther, whom I knew would be critical in this. "Do you know how to use these tools?"
"No, not really," she said.
"All right then; this is step number one. Nothing else happens until everyone is using encryption on a daily basis. It's not hard, but they have to do it. Without encryption, nothing happens."
Johnny turned to Esther and said, "I can teach you."
I had been wondering if Johnny was sweet on Esther, and this convinced me. I hope things can work out between them. And they should; pairing off is simply what young men and women do if you get out of their way and let them. We're all awkward about it, but it happens nonetheless.
Then Jordan, one of the newer people to our group, jumped in.
"And they must never trust Tor nodes. I'm convinced that the feds run most of them."
"Of that I'm sure," I added. "Several years ago – right about the time they went after Silk Road – the number of Tor nodes doubled in a month. That's when the feds ramped up their search techniques. For a one-time in and out, Tor is probably okay, but to run an ongoing service is asking for trouble. If you get big enough for them to focus on you, they will find you."
"I2P is better," Jordan added. "At least the new version that's in C++, not Java. It requires you to use a command line, but that's only hard if you think it's hard."
I explained to everyone, and especially to Esther, who was doing a nice job of taking notes, that the Invisible Internet Project (properly, I2P) was like Tor, only better and not overrun by feds. It's the new darknet of choice.
Then Jordan, with surprising elegance for a young man, turned to address Esther and Johnny together. "If you want to set it up, just bring a laptop to one of these lunches and I'll help; the new version still requires configuration. They'll make it smoother eventually, but you shouldn't wait for that."
They thanked him, and I thought that this was enough techie stuff for the day. So, when the food arrived and the conversation shifted, I backed off and let it.
More next time.
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