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Hackers Gonna Hack

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Inside the Department of Defense bug bounty program

KATIE Moussouris is the founder of Luta Security and a prominent expert on bug bounty programs. In a bounty, organizations pay independent researchers — hackers — to find the vulnerabilities in their systems. In exchange they earn a prize: kudos, a T-shirt, or cash, on average a few hundred dollars per bug. Outside the walled garden of a bounty, identifying a software flaw can earn researchers a civil suit or felony charge; in May, the FBI raided the home of a dental technician who had tried to alert Patterson Dental that their software left patient records exposed. Still, bounty prices are often criticized for valuing bugs — and the labor of the researchers who spot and disclose them—too cheaply.

As Chief Policy Officer for HackerOne, Moussouris helped organize Hack the Pentagon, the first federal bug bounty. More than 1400 participants took part, some as young as 14; the effort cost the Defense Department roughly $150,000, half of which went to paying bounties. “If we had gone through the normal process of hiring an outside firm,” Secretary Ashton Carter said this June, “it would have cost us more than $1 million.”

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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The New Inquiry Vol. 54: Bugs

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This is the editorial note to TNI Vol. 54: Bugs. View the full table of contents here.

Subscribe to TNI for $3 and get Bugs (and free access to our archive of back issues) today.

• • •

AS we write this, an ant is crawling on our forearm. More than any other non-human lifeform, bugs of any size — the term can refer to a virus, bacterium, or arthropod — challenge the serenity of life under human command, which in the anthropocene means nearly all life. We have taken the ant between our fingers and crushed it. While the suppression of our animal-being defines us as a species, proximity to larger beasts isn’t as much of a threat to humanness as contact with bugs. In fact, living intimately with wild or domestic creatures of the proper size can make you an exemplary human — a hunter, herder, or farmer. Except for silkworms and bees (we’ll get to that), bugs mean you’ve lost your self-control.

If there is one ant around, there must be more. The thing about self-control or mastery is that it’s a fantasy: the bugs are always there. They’ve always been there and they’ll always be there. They live in our skin, on our faces, in our guts. Bugs exceed us. There is no human space they can’t go. And recently, it’s become clear that the drive to exclude them from our society has left us vulnerable. Less than a century of widespread antibiotic use altered human immune systems for what seems to be the worse, while allowing the surviving bugs to attain superpowers. The CDC recently reported that one in 25 current patients suffers from one of the many infectious hospital-acquired superbugs, and new studies regularly claim farm air, with its dust and manure, inoculates children against the epidemic of asthma in sterile, immunologically destabilized suburbs. Bugs, it seems, are a feature of human society.

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Actually Aisha:

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Jacob Remes:

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Trump, or Political Emotions

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Donald Trump foments hope in the exercise of his emotional freedom.

Dear America, if I read one more article about the Danger of Political Emotions in an election season (I mean you, Paul Krugman), I might take my own life. If I do that and fail, will the state bring me up on charges the way it’s considering to do for Chelsea Manning, whose recent suicide attempt might be prosecuted? If Obama has an ounce of decency in him he’ll make that possibility quietly go away.

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