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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hacks on hacks

The MBTA has a far bigger hack problem that a bunch of MIT students who wanted to expose the vulnerabilities of the fare collection system.

We'll skip the obvious reference to the T's problems holding on to cash fares collected by humans (innocent until proven guilty and all that). Or the fact that the Green Line often gives free rides to anyone who gets on at the back door of a crowded rush hour train.

But Michael Levenson skims the surface of the bigger problem by looking only at the hack culture represented by the trio who broke down the card's security flaws as part of a class project (whatever happened to papier mache globes?)

The really hacking problem is the type normally pointed out by Howie Carr -- uninspired "leaders" and unchallenged employees hanging on for their pensions. This is not a blanket condemnation of civil servants. The world would not function, even this poorly, without them.

Rather it is the mindset that Levenson alluded to. The MBTA culture is not open to criticism -- or change.

The student trio have valuable information -- and a flair for the geek chic that put an MIT police cruiser on the Dome.

Rather than accept the challenge in the spirit in which it was offered, MBTA "leadership" went to federal court, found a judge willing to overlook the First Amendment and ignorant about the computer age, and generally failed to withhold their secrets -- or solve their problem.

Typical hack response.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, good old fashioned thievery happens at the T: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2008/08/18/t_employee_is_accused_of_larceny/. Maybe the students should be hired to help them protect against this.

August 18, 2008 7:19 AM  
Blogger Ryan Adams said...

This is what Douglas Rae calls a "Sidewalk Republic." An emphasis on patronage, career service and basically keeping affloat the status quo for as long as possible, never trying to make major improvements. It's also basically buying into the idea that government is mainly dedicated toward business. Good busines equates to good government. So, getting back to the MBTA, as long as the empoyees are being carted to and from work reasonably well, it's mission accomplished. There's no foresight - trying to get public transportation to replace the car as the primary mode of transportation, so we can improve the government and function of the city.

I don't think I'm doing the term a lot of justice, but it in essence refers to the act of government fixing sidewalks (something, not surprisingly, is business-centric) and trying to improve little else.

I do miss the days when we, as a culture and society, issued ourselves challenges and tried to fulfill them. We need more Big Digs, not less.

August 18, 2008 8:48 PM  
Blogger Ryan Adams said...

I meant to say improve the environment, not government (as a reason to expand T service).

August 18, 2008 8:49 PM  

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