Thursday, February 03, 2011

Cairo Geeks Survive Tahrir Square Assault

From Wired:

CAIRO — For three days, the geeks and online activists and DIY filmmakers protested peacefully here in Tahrir Square. For three nights, they slept in tents with their laptops by their sides and kept their mobile phones charged by hacking into one of Tahrir’s street lights. On the fourth day, Wednesday, the lynch mob came and encircled them.

Thousands of people supporting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak laid siege to the central plaza, pressing themselves into the four streets that lead into Tahrir. They attacked the unarmed crowds with clubs, knives, stones and Molotov cocktails. As I write this, reports put the death toll at three with around 1,500 injured.

“This was a real battle, a real Egyptian street fight, but we kept them back with stones and barricades and fire,” computer security specialist Ahmad Gharbeia, 34, tells me over the phone. “They never reached our camp.”

“I need to preserve my phone battery,” he adds, “so let’s talk later.”

For the past six years, Gharbeia has been training Arab world activists, journalists and human rights lawyers to hide their internet communications from prying eyes. “We use encryption techniques and PGP for e-mail,” he says. “We use proxies such as Tor that circumvent blocking. I was the Arabic editor of a tools set called Security in a Box. It’s a tool kit of open and free software that helps advocates and human rights activists achieve security, privacy and anonymity.” ...

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