Looks like Gawker’s Grand Pageview Experiment is already paying off, in the form of this intriguing feature from the fringes by IRC enthusiast Adrian Chen. Mr. Chen tells the story of “Martin,” an underground digital fixer whose technological-savvy and lack of scruples are in demand by both high-net worth individuals and drug dealers alike.
Martin, who fancies himself a “mercenary hacker,” has come up with a low-tech cellphone network to keep internal communications of, say, a tight-knit gang of purveyors of illicit substances, away from the Fed’s prying eyes. It’s sounds like an updated version of something Avon Barksdale might advise using prepaid phones (or burners, familiar with even corrupt Wall Street traders), dozens of SIM cards, and plastic pill organizers to keep said SIM cards straight.
“With Martin’s system, each crewmember gets a cell phone that operates using a prepaid SIM card; they also get a two-week plastic pill organizer filled with 14 SIM cards where the pills should be. Each SIM card, loaded with $50 worth of airtime, is attached to a different phone number and stores all contacts, text messages and call histories associated with that number, like a removable hard drive. This makes a new SIM card effectively a new phone. Every morning, each crewmember swaps out his phone’s card for the card in next day’s compartment in the pill organizers. After all 14 cards are used, they start over at the first one.”
But private cellphone systems for drug dealers is just a fraction of Martin’s business. His real bread-and-butter is sort of a black market ReputationDefender(TM) for rich dudes:
“His HNIs want someone to burnish their online image by any means necessary, to game the algorithms and stats of the web like a skilled publicist greases reporters in the real world.
A businessman might ask Martin to bury an incriminating newspaper article deep in Google’s search results; a small-time entertainer wants a few tens of thousands of illicit views on his new YouTube music video. Martin said he was once asked to artificially boost the popularity of a nightclub on the location-based social network Foursquare. He couldn’t figure out a way past the location-based aspect of the service, so he hacked together a program on a laptop, lugged it in a backpack to the venue and automatically checked more than a dozen of fake people in.”
We hope Foursquare starts including this tidbit in their promotional materials. When people go underground to game your system, you know you’ve arrived.