HACTIVIST on Mon, 11 Nov 2002 04:06:14 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> [CDL] Parasitic Media: Creating Invisible Slicing Parasites and Other Forms of Tactical Augmentation

Parasitic Media: Creating Invisible Slicing Parasites and Other Forms of
Tactical Augmentation

Nathan M Martin for the Carbon Defense League AKA Hactivist.com
CDL: http://www.hactivist.com

A parasite is defined as "an organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on
or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its
host."[1] The tactics of appropriation have been co-opted. Illegal action
has become advertisement. Protest has become cliché. Revolt has become
passé. These disputes have reached the definition of rhetoric. They are the
usual suspects. Having accepted these failures to some degree, we can now
attempt to define a parasitic tactical response. We need a practice that
allows invisible subversion. We need to feed and grow inside existing
communication systems while contributing nothing to their survival; we need
to become parasites. We need to create an anthem for the bottom feeders and
leeches. We need to echo our voice through all the wires we can tap but
cloak our identity in the world of non-evidence, and the hidden.

What I am indirectly referring to is operating as an appendage; creating a
practice that hops the meta-train of media. In much radical behavior, we
struggle, writhe, and scream, but make only a whisper. We must exercise the
scream and stretch our vocal chords to make room for the growl. This bite
must remain silent - a bite with no bark. The parasite's own existence
depends on its ability to remain hidden. The parasite is the mystical
computer glitch. The parasite is the bandwidth thief. The parasite is the
invisible usurper. The shift that takes place in the host, if any, is one so
gradual the parasite will be able to feed and thrive without detection.

The invisibility of the parasite is only through the eyes of its host
organism. A parasite may be very visible to other parasites or to those
human users that utilize the exploits or extensions that may be created by
the introduction of the parasite into the host. It is the host that either
cannot detect the presence of the parasite, or who observes the parasite,
but only as an anomaly that stays well within the systems margin of error.
The parasite flies below the radar of the hosts policing system by remaining
too peculiar, non-distinct or immeasurable. It is by appearing as an
expected and accepted system bug that an otherwise visible parasite becomes
invisible to its host. The way a parasite remains within the margin of error
of a host system is to work within large expansive organisms that have less
ability to control or monitor most of their own structure with any great
detail. There is a blurring that will occur in systems where there is a
large gap between manager and worker or between operating system and

If the standard deviation returned during any examination performed on a
host organism is larger than it was before the introduction of the parasite
into the host then the parasite will become visible to the host policing
system and will be detected and removed. This would be a failure of a
parasite in not knowing a hosts standard deviation tolerance. It is in
larger systems that larger tolerances are given for error. In smaller
systems, the monitoring is so direct that standard deviation is already so
small that it becomes difficult to introduce a parasite into the host that
will remain invisible and still be able to function properly. An example
would be the amount of theft by employees that occur at a small business
where the owner is a visible source of monitoring being much lower in most
cases than a large corporation where the owner is not present and possibly
not known. Retail thefts, like employee thefts, increase with the size of a
business. Corporations such as Wal-Mart factor the losses they will see due
to theft into their financial planning and cost analysis. Usually if the
amount of theft grows relative to the size of the corporation, the level of
standard deviation will not increase and no alarm will go off that will
force the host to change its behavior. This may change with the introduction
of surveillance technologies into these environments but that shift will
eventually return to a patterned behavior with its own level of standard
deviation. A parasite must respect the tolerances of its host. A host may
grow but only relative to the growth of its host. The parasite must remain
invisible to the host.

The practice of parasitic media[2] I am defining is one that is not all
together new. It is operation within a pre-defined communication system. It
is a plug in - an extension. It is a universal connector. The specialty it
contains is that of co-existence and adoption. Rather than operating from
the response of destruction, annihilation, or the more eloquent
appropriation; we will build ourselves as spy-ware and viruses. These are
parasites with a new agenda. We will construct no new systems in exercising
parasitic media practices; instead we will only build extensions to
pre-existing systems. The ability to create these extensions invisibly
relies on large system sizes. The systems become hosts for the parasites.
The more complex the host system, the more possibility there is for a
parasite to exist unnoticed - until the sickness sets in, and then it is too
late. Larger communication systems are only one part of a vast array of
media that can serve as hosts. With expansive global communication
infrastructures, adding a new appendage that hides itself well becomes
relatively simple. By understanding the surveillance practices within the
systems we desire to build for, we can understand and define our
limitations. While these limitations are sometimes clearly allocated and
narrow, they still allow for much play. The ability for play is built into
the allowances and tolerances within any system. The margin of error for
these systems, both digital and analog, is where parasitic media will

In North America, the freighthopper emerged with the creation of the
expansive railroad system as a hobo (usually working very sporadically as
itinerant farm hands for small amounts of cash) who would sneak onto trains
and ride in open boxcars to their destinations. The success of their
ventures relied on remaining invisible. They cost the railroads no extra
effort - other than the cost of hiring train yard cops, known as bulls, to
police the freighthoppers. The freighthopper was known as a freeloader that
traveled the rails as an invisible extension or appendage of the trains
feeding off of the railways mobility. The freighthopper is the folk version
of a form of parasitic media response. This is a concept for conceptual
piggybacking. If we take an example host being an existing railway system,
we can build parasitic attachments (in the case of freighthopping, this is
the hobo) that simply create added functionality. We hop on the train and
ride the rails as far as we need to go. We avoid the "bulls" of the
communication system train yards at all costs. Here we can use a comparison
between freighthopping and hitchhiking to understand the relationship
between parasite media and other forms of tactical media that rely on
awareness. The tactic of the latter can very effectively make use of
mainstream advertising or communication machines to dispense whatever chosen
form of manipulation, gesture, or subversion. In The Freighthopper's Manual
by Daniel Leen[3] we are told that "the police are encountered less often on
freights because freighthopping is essentially a private means of
transportation, while hitchhiking is essentially public - you've got to
stand out there on the side of the road in front of God and everybody."
Parasitic media is the freighthopper that makes privacy essential. This
privacy is the invisibility or the cloak that forms the definition of
parasitic media response. Parasites are hobos that live off the rails of
their hosts.

Parasitic response in media does not attempt to reassign function or modify
primary usage. There is no threat to consumers of systems. Therefore these
responses can fly under the radar of most monitoring systems. If nothing is
disturbed, or at least knowledge of the disturbance is not transmitted, what
you will have created is a backdoor or trapdoor to a system with your own
set of predefined and augmented behaviors. The pattern of use for the
system, whatever it might be, is not harmed or altered. This is critical to
the concept of the parasite as activist. By adding functionality to a
pre-existing system, you make use of only that which you create which in
turn remains invisible. This means the parasite can then remain invisible;
creating the semi-tangible notion of the ubiquitous backdoor.

It is possible to consider living parasites to be the most substantial group
of activists in our world. Parasites make up the majority of species on
Earth. Parasites can survive as animals, including flatworms, insects, and
crustaceans, as well as protozoa, plants, fungi, viruses and bacteria. It is
believed that parasites may now outnumber free-living species four to one.
Parasites rule the earth and some believe have the ability to not only
participate in evolution but guide it invisibly. We can take our cue for
social intervention from the action of the parasite.

Every ecosystem on Earth is just as rife with parasites that can exert
extraordinary control over their hosts, riddling them with disease,
castrating them, or transforming their natural behavior. Scientists .are
only just beginning to discover exactly how powerful these hidden
inhabitants can be, but their research is pointing to a remarkable
possibility: Parasites may rule the world. The notion that tiny creatures
we've largely taken for granted are such a dominant force is immensely
disturbing. Even after Copernicus took Earth out of the center of the
universe and Darwin took humans out of the center of the living world, we
still go through life pretending that we are exalted above other animals.
Yet we know that we, too, are collections of cells that work together, kept
harmonized by chemical signals. If an organism can control those signals- an
organism like a parasite- then it can control us. And therein lies the
peculiar and precise horror of parasites.[4]

Parasites have the ability to manipulate the behavior of their hosts. There
are two hosts available to a parasite that wishes to jump species, the
upstream host which is usually directly controlled by the parasite and
operates as a sort of delivery method, and the downstream host which
seemingly behaves normally. It is believed by some that the downstream host
is also manipulated by the parasite and may form a unique relationship with
a parasite that enables the process of food gathering. This can be seen in
certain parasites that infect fish. The parasite temporarily controls the
behavior of its host to produce a flailing surface swimming target for
birds. The birds benefit from the easy target of fish and as predators are
surprisingly willing to ingest the parasitized fish. The parasite does drain
a small amount of energy from the bird but that is easily offset by the
benefit they provide. The relationship develops slowly and awareness becomes

One amazing example of parasitic control of host behavior can be seen in the
lancet fluke, Dicrocoelium dendriticum. As an adult, the parasite lives in a
cow's liver. The fluke's egg's are spread by the cow through their manure.
Snails feed on the manure and swallow the fluke's eggs. The young flukes
penetrate the wall of the snail's gut and emigrate to the digestive gland.
In the gland, the fluke's produce more offspring which travel to the surface
of the snail's body where they are dispensed of by the snail through balls
of slime which are left behind in grass. Ants swallow the balls of slime in
the grass which are containers for hundreds of immature lancet flukes. The
parasites slide into the ant's gut before traveling around the rest of the
body. Eventually they move towards the cluster of nerves that control the
ant's mandibles. Most of the flukes then leave to return to the gut while a
few remain behind in the ant's head. This is where some of the most amazing
maneuvering occurs. As the evening approaches, infected ants do not return
back to the colony with the other ants but instead climb to the top of
surrounding grasses where they clench their mandibles on the blades and
wait, motionless, until morning when they join back with the rest of the
colony. These ants suffer from a period of temporary insanity where they are
awaiting ingestion by a cow - which feed generally in the cool evenings.
Once eaten by the cow, the cycle has been completed.

Might we be able to control media or our hosts in the same way as the fluke
that drives the ant to temporary insanity? These parasites, that some
consider to be the dominant forces in evolution and adaptation, are
completing revolutions on a daily basis. They work with limited opportunity
and utilize what might be seen as their disabilities, to not only control
their host but also social behavior. If we can adapt this understanding to
our own infiltration of media systems we could use the power and the
relationships that already exist as our carriers. As subversives and
workers, we could mutate our hosts through an invisible invasion.

In an article on horizontal gene transfer, Dr. Mae-Wan Ho examines a study
conducted by researchers at Indiana University in 1998 that found a genetic
parasite belonging to yeast that only recently was jumping into unrelated
species of higher plants. "The parasite is a piece of DNA called a "group 1
intron" that can splice itself in and out of a particular gene in the genome
of mitochondria."[5] When the intron injects itself into a genome, it is
able to add an extra stretch of DNA that does not belong to the host. The
genetic parasite must overcome genetic barriers in the host that maintain
distinctions in species. This same process may be responsible for the rise
of diseases resistant to drug and antibiotic treatment. The parasites are
learning. Genetic engineering uses artificial genetic parasites that operate
as gene carriers. The carriers perform a horizontal gene transfer between
unrelated species. The artificial genetic parasites are constructed of parts
from the most aggressive naturally occurring parasites of which the group 1
intron is a member. It is still unclear what has caused the genetic parasite
to leap onto higher level plants only recently, it does make us aware that
parasites have learned the skill of adaptability for survival - so must
activists and artists.

In parasitic computing[6] , CHECKSUM running over a TCP (transmission
control protocol) connection between multiple nodes or machines on the
Internet is used to force solutions to mathematical problems. All the tasks
are performed invisibly over the connected web servers. This operation is
similar to the work done by the SETI@home program. SETI uses the
computational power of computers that download its' software to search
through immense amounts of radar data for intelligent extraterrestrial life.
A program like SETI differs since its hosts are aware and volunteer to
submit their resources to reach a common goal. While this is a useful tactic
in some situations, it is not what we are developing with a parasitic
response. A parasitic computational response would act without permission
and would serve as a passive interaction of unawareness. In a natural
environment, permission is not necessary. Parasites are criminals that
violate the artificial construct of permission. Parasites rely on their
ability to remain undetected or at least not worthy of concern. Don't ask,
don't tell, and don't bother.

Here it is important to make a distinction between two types of parasitic
media response; incident-based and generative. The first and most commonly
practiced form is incident-based. Incident-based parasitic media response
takes place in a very specific time and space. There is no need for the
parasite to live longer than a few days or even a few seconds. The more
complex system is generative parasitic media response. Generative parasites
must adapt and grow with their host system. This growth creates an allowance
for greater sustainability of backdoors or hijacks. A parasite need not take
advantage of its host's vulnerability to hijack. It is in the best interest
of the parasite to live and feed alongside its host. There might be other
forms of parasitic response and media that will evolve with practice and
discourse but for now it is critical to stress the separation of these two
forms of behavior. The reason to create the separation is that while
identifying both types of parasitic media responses, it is the generative or
long term parasite that provides us with a tactic that has yet to be fully
explored. It is important to detail and understand examples of
incident-based parasitic media responses, but it is the generative parasite
that has yet to be used as a tactical media response. This is the genre of
parasite that coexists with its host and functions best over a long-term
relationship. Both host and generative parasite grow together. It is the
invisible parasite that feeds slowly off its host or extends abilities to
its host that becomes accessible to outside users. The parasite either
operates as an undetected and slowly emerging cellular shift in the
organism, or as a backdoor to a host that provides extended functionality
through invisible means. It might also be possible for a parasite designed
to be incident-based to slowly evolve into a generative organism.
Alternately, a parasite designed to be generative could die too soon or miss
a level of adaptation. It will have served some function up until its point
of separation from the host even in the event of an untimely demise. It is
likely that given the speed at which communication systems and media reorder
themselves, many generative parasites will live fast and die young. It is
the older media that might create better hosts for generative parasites. In
using the term older media I am generically referring to anything from radio
to electric companies to light bulbs to humans to insects to dirt to DNA.
These may or may not fit all definitions of media, but they do have the
possibility to become hosts for parasites.

Parasitic media does not need to occur within the realms of the electronic
or computational; it can, and should exist at the cultural level as well.
This model for tactical response can operate within all ranges of culture:
the arts, the sciences, law and government. The criticality is to remain
media unspecific and fluid. Each response, each parasite must understand its
host prior to any form of invasion or invasive procedures. It is through an
understanding of the operation of a host that a parasite can co-exist and
adapt to its environment. The parasite does not attempt to change its host
through destruction since its own survival is dependant on the existence of
its host. It instead must learn to adapt to changes in the hosts structure.
The structure can mean its cellular makeup, its organization, or its
bureaucracy. This is where a unique value can be understood for parasitic
attacks. Because of the nature of the parasite, primarily I am referring to
the needed invisibility; responses can be slow to develop. The growth of the
parasite does become an exponential one; or at least has the power to do so.
With an augmentation, the device or system as host will continue to grow. A
critical part of parasitic response is its need to interpret and react to
environmental variable shifts that might occur. Parasites would benefit from
being able to adapt to changes in their host entity.

We must begin to radicalize our definition now. We must take the mundane
parasite and split it into an attack across all medias. We must seek out
hosts wherever they might be breathing. We must define now the industries
and areas where parasitical media might be used as a form of response. I
shall propose several names for distinctions between the genres of parasitic
media that might be created.

Slicing Parasites
Human Host Parasites
Soft Parasites
Hard Parasites
Memetic Parasites

Ideally these distinctions will blur themselves and new criteria will
emerge. This exercise is used as a method for stimulating concrete thought
of what a parasitic media response could actuate itself as. These are only
sketches of deployment methodology. In any war, the weapons but be chosen
appropriately and creatively. The parasite becomes both consumer and

Slicing Parasites might fall under the category of generative parasitic
response. The name is derived from hacker folklore (and much that was
actually effected) involving a process known as 'Salami Slicing'. This is a
procedure where very small amounts of digital cash are 'sliced' thinly from
computations performed on bank accounts over extended periods of time, and
diverted into a unique, separate account. This process usually involves
fractions of a penny that are discarded or lost during data rounding. In
banking systems, 'Salami Slicing' is used to embezzle large amounts of
virtual cash undetected and without harm to the consumers. This allows such
parasites, when correctly executed and monitored, to go undetected for long
periods of time, even years. It was the computer software that performed
mathematical rounding operations that serve as the initial host - of course
this host was fed by the larger system of the financial industry and virtual
cash. This type of parasite can be traditionally referred to as a trojan

Here is one such account of a Salami-style Slicing Parasite that existed for
a number of years.

A programmer working at a mail-order sales company had its computer round
down odd cents in the company's sales-commission accounts and channel the
round-downs into a dummy sales-commission account he had established under
the name of Zwana. He had invented the name Zwana because he knew that the
computer processed the company's accounts in alphabetical order, and he
could easily program the computer to transfer all the round-downs into the
last account in the computing sequence. The system worked perfectly for
three years, and then it failed -- not because of a logical error on the
culprit's part, but because the company, as a public-relations exercise,
decided to single out the holders of the first and last sales-commission
accounts on its alphabetical list for ceremonial treatment. Thus Zwana was
unmasked, and his creator fired.[7]

Another example of Slicing Parasites occurs over networks. I earlier
described distributed computing projects. One of the earliest examples of a
worm that operates in such a manner was completed by researches at the Xerox
Parc Lab in Palo Alto, CA.[8] In 1982, the worm was created to find idle
machines. It was used to distribute workloads and was not a malicious worm.
The process involved probing through an ordered set of processors, asking if
a system is idle. When a free processor is discovered, the worm takes the
currently active segment of operation and copies it to the idle machine. The
process then repeats and spreads in this manner. Distributed computing and
cluster computing all operate off a principal of the worm or the parasite.
It is the cloak of invisibility that defines such action as a parasitic
response. This is the distinction in such practices between division of
labor(distributed computing) and free work(worm) - the use of pre-existing
systems to bear the load. While most examples we can find of Slicing
Parasites occur in computer system software, we need not limit its'
definition in such a way. It is only in stepping away from the historicity
of 'Salami Slicing' techniques that we begin to see its' application through
other media. This is where the definitions we are trying to use to
distinguish tactics and genres within parasitical media response begin to
degenerate. One example of such a blur can be seen in a project completed at
the MIT Media Lab. This excerpt is from the MIT researchers 1998 paper
Parasitic Power Harvesting in Shoes.

As wearable electronic devices evolve and proliferate, there will be a
growing need for more power delivery to distributed points around the human
body. Today, much of that storage is provided by batteries and power
delivery is via wires. The current approach to power distribution is clearly
becoming problematic -- as more appliances are carried, we are forced to
either use more small batteries that require replacement everywhere or run
wires through our clothing to supply appliances from a central power source.
Both are undesirable. A better solution is clearly to generate power where
it is being used, bypassing the storage and distribution problem altogether.
As power requirements drop for most wearable devices, it is no longer
infeasible to harvest a useful amount of energy "parasitically" from a
normal range of human activity. ... We believe that our approach has the
potential to solve these problems for a class of wearable devices by placing
both the generator and powered electronics in a location where considerable
energy is easily available, namely the shoe.[9]

The researchers used the walking motion of the human host organism to
capture inadvertent energy by attaching a parasitic device to a shoe. This
project can be seen in one regard as a Slicing Parasite. Its unique power
comes from thinly slicing small segments of power. It relies on large levels
of repeat usage to create an allocation of the reciprocal energies produced
in simply walking. A parasite such as this can also be seen as a Human Host
Parasite or as a Hard Parasite.

A Hard Parasite is a response that relies on hardware modifications or
electronic appendages. These are devices and parasites as attachments or
augmentations to hardware. Alternately, Soft Parasites are those that live
as extensions to code or software. They are digital and may produce a
physical effect. Both are cannibalistic - hardware feeding off hardware or
software feeding off software, respectively. With this definition of a Soft
Parasite, we can see another blur with our example of a Slicing Parasite.
The bank software rounding program does fall into our definition of a Soft
Parasite. This blur between parasitic response genres is not only
acceptable, but desired, and usually impossible to avoid. Our divisions are
not to serve as containers but templates and creative impetus for parasite
development. A Human Host Parasite, of which the described MIT project might
be an example, can live either inside or outside of a human host. The
genetic version of the Human Host Parasite might be conceived as transgenic.
A parasitical cellular change that might slowly factor into the growth of
offspring or adaptation of ability or augmentation could be one practice.

An example of a Human Host Parasite variety, or more precisely a similar
field of parasitical research that may lead to a Human Host Parasite can be
found in Critical Art Ensemble's (CAE) 2002 essay The Molecular Invasion.
This excerpt presents a concept of Fuzzy Biological Sabotage (FBS). The
project being explained in this excerpt is designed to work off the
existence of Roundup Ready (RR), an herbicide developed by the corporation
Monsanto that genetically modifies the plants it attacks. In a way, both
Monsanto's project and the work of CAE are forms of Human Host Parasites -
or as we know from the process of horizontal gene transfer, have the
opportunity, once ingested, to become such.
The best civil action that CAE has in development is a model to bond a
colorigenic compound (dye) onto the RR enzyme. A colorigenic compound is one
that has been synthesized so that it is initially colorless. Upon reaction,
the compound is modified and releases a dye. .Upon binding to the enzyme
this compound could then release a dye, thus making all RR crops a
undesirable color from the point of view of the consumer. .If the dye can be
developed, it would function as a contestational marker in the fields, and
possibly in supermarkets and homes.[10]

This presents us with another case of blur between our definitions. The
proposed project may end up being a Human Host Parasite, but initially it
might fit better into the category of Slicing Parasite. Either will do for
the purpose of our argument. I stated earlier that the work of Monsanto
might also be considered a form of parasitic media. Monsanto's Roundup Ready
mutagen does meet all of the criteria that we have set forth for a parasitic
media. The value system we use to judge such actions must be developed. We
have yet to develop a language for the parasite required to make an
evaluation outside of the expected reactionary shiver. Until we can form a
more precise definition for parasitic media that separates corporate usage
from radical usage, we will have to leave Roundup Ready as another example
of Human Host Parasitic media.

A Soft Parasite is a very open category and one of the easiest to find
examples within. This can follow the methods and practices of many computer
trojan horses[11] , viruses[12] , rabbits[13] , and worms[14] . A more
contemporary example of a Soft Parasite can be found in the works
surrounding the development of 802.11b standards for wireless networks. One
of the early terms used to describe the practice of sharing wireless nodes
with traveling or community users was "parasitic grid." While this term has
met with much criticism; it is a part of the actions history and useful for
this argument in understanding system behavior. The "parasitic grid" has
taken two forms. One involves simply placing wireless routers on a home
user's roof - sharing the wealth. A more complex form involves "sniffing"
out areas of wireless coverage. "Sniffing" out available wireless networks
while moving around an area with a device such as a laptop is known as
"wardriving." Here is a description of this process by the credited inventor
of the term; Pete Shipley.

The 802.11 networking standard, also known as, "Wireless Ethernet", WiFi,
and Wireless LAN has become very popular with Internet users and
Corporations looking for a cost-effective LAN extension that is easy to
implement and provides reliable service. The most popular implementation (as
of April 2002) is 802.11b. The 2.4Ghz range, 11Mb speed wireless LAN
variety. 802.11b encompasses all of the aforementioned characteristics, yet
poorly implements one of the most fundamental aspects of networking, the
security. What is the point of providing this type of service to your
employees or even your family if you cannot guarantee that their
communications are secure. At least with a wireless phone, someone cannot
drive by your house and rack up your phone bill. This is exactly the problem
with Wireless Ethernet. People can drive, walk or other wise approach the
area that the wireless equipment can transmit in, and share your internet
access or connect to your computer. This process is known as "wardriving",
or "LAN jacking".

It is important to note that the 2.4Ghz range used by 802.11b networks is
also used by many home cordless telephones as well as the X10 wireless CMOS
camera transmitters and receivers. Operation on such a trafficked band
requires respect for the tolerations of the host. It is important for the
user's safety, depending on the nature of your business or behavior, to mask
actions with short intervals of connectivity rather than extended usage.
This action is primarily useful for incident-based parasitic media responses
and not for generative parasites.

Similar to the development of the "wardriving" action is the development of
"warchalking.[15] " "Warchalking" is loosely based on a system of written or
graffitied signs or codes used by hobos during the depression.[16] The
universal language of signs was used to communicate to other hobos via
chalked marks on the sidewalks, box cars of freights and yards. The signs
were encoded with useful information about the yards, safety, food or the
cops. It was a parasitic system used for knowledge sharing. In
"warchalking," LAN-jackers have developed a code of symbols chalked on
streets in range of wireless networks or access points to indicate open
nodes, closed nodes, and WEP nodes (Encrypted) in urban environments.

Knowledge dissemination of this kind demonstrates a Memetic Parasite, which
is also a derivative or even a hybrid of a Human Host Parasite. The parasite
infects the mind, replicates, and physically manifests itself within the
urban geography. The host becomes a living codec for the encrypted
semantics. Concurrently, this can be seen as a Slicing Parasite. The Memetic
Parasite will also fall under the more general heading of generative
parasitic media response.

In his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene[17] , Richard Dawkins defined memes as
".a (cognitive) information-structure able to replicate using human hosts
and to influence their behavior to promote replication." Memes can commonly
take the form of jokes, key phrases or even folklore. Memes can be
transmitted orally in the sense of urban legends or written in the form of
the popular WWII meme; "Kilroy Was Here." In an excerpt from The Lifecycle
of Memes[18] , by Henrik Bjarneskans, Bjarne Grønnevik and Anders Sandberg,
we can see how the "Kilroy Was Here" meme was conceived and reproduced

This meme originated during the second world war, when wharf inspector
James. J. Kilroy of Quincey, Massachusetts used the slogan "Kilroy was here"
to mark products he had tested and approved. The marked products appeared on
many battlefields, and the signature that seemed to appear just about
everywhere caught the imagination of many soldiers, who began to copy it on
just about any writable surface (Funk 1950). Most likely others were
intrigued by the slogan that appeared in unlikely places, so they copied it
further to spread the myth. While the meme spread well for several decades,
it eventually went all but extinct in its active form.

A Memetic Parasite might take the form of a rumor or a play on a social
network. By understanding the operation of language and oral communication,
the brain can serve as an ideal host for a parasite. These parasites require
long periods of time to grow and evolve; however, through a version of
natural selection, they can offer an effective way of altering primary host
behavior. Examples for this genre as a form of parasitic response are
currently lacking. Creative tactical actions involving memes as parasites
will emerge as the language of parasitic media continues to develop and
experimentation edges forward.

Parasitic media response is a practice that may not need such definitions.
It has existed forever and at the same time is an infant. Finding new tools
and choosing our weapons appropriately is the charge of the tactical media
activist. Our weapons in the case of the tactic of parasitic media response
are non-traditional. They are hidden from the views of the public and of the
institutions of academia and the arts and sciences. They must remain
hidden - their development and survival depend upon it. Parasitic approaches
to media manipulation or extension is an area that demands much further
experimentation. These experiments need not be technical, as we can see with
the Memetic Parasites. They can be as simple as vocalizing a concept or as
difficult as creating transgenic organisms. These are all acceptable tactics
for radical and parasitical behavior. We are in a period of tactical
expression that is undergoing a transformation from an engineering model to
a biological model, from logic to interpretation, from hard to soft. As this
shift occurs, we are given an opportunity to reassert the aims of our
practice while claiming the tactics of the parasite as our own media
creation tool - a parasitic media.

In a time of renewed repression of political dissent, we must look to
bacteria as our key to survival. Our fight is theirs. While radicals might
appear to lack the capital or the voice afforded the ruling body, we are a
critical appendage. We can invade our hosts as parasites. We can turn
traitor and rise up in violent fashion with a gun held against the head of a
genetic strand. We can mask ourselves as parasites. Invisibility is our
savior. We can slay the beast from the inside out. The criticality is in
remaining hidden when inside the belly of the beast. The beast is not the
host itself but the functionality of the host. The parasite can operate
within the host to slowly create a cellular shift in the hosts primary
usage. It is through a long cancer-like growth that the parasite can slowly
alter the construction of its host. The generative parasitic media response
that I am defining may not affect many immediate results. The incident based
parasitic media that creates additional functionality or added usage for a
host may eventually build its adaptation into the base makeup of its host.
Rather than rely on an immediate revolution, these tactics are a form of
molecular revolution[19] that take much planning, skill, and patience. There
value will be determined with time. Like the mythical Jonah who was
swallowed by a whale, we will tear our way out from the inside and survive
longer than three days and three nights inside the belly of the host
creature. This is the cry for a parasitic revolution.

I leave you with a quote from Dumont in the 1982 Disney techno-classic movie
Tron[20] . "All that is visible must grow beyond itself, and extend into the
realm of the invisible."


[1] par·a·site Pronunciation Key (p r -s t ) n.

Biology. An organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a
different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host.

A.One who habitually takes advantage of the generosity of others without
making any useful return.
B.One who lives off and flatters the rich; a sycophant.

[2] "These new organisms don't tell stories. They riff, annotate, dismantle,
dissect, sample. Everything they do refracts back onto some other "straight"
media, on which they rely for their livelihood. ...they run the gamut from
high to low culture, from mass appeal to indie cachet...and regularly manage
to make news out of pure mediation. Diversity of the species-is remarkable.
All the evidence suggests that the metaforms are evolving at a much faster
clip than their storytelling competitors"." Steven Johnson, Interface
Culture, 1997

In his 1997 book Interface Culture, Steven Johnson defined parasitical media
roughly as a recent development occurring primarily in television whereby a
show thrives by "riffing" or creating content based media itself. This
definition, while effective for the argument Johnson was forming, does not
satisfy the need for a more literal take on the parasite's role in tactical
media responses. This paper acknowledges Steven Johnson for providing a
foundational term for us to adapt.

[3] The Freighthopper's Manual for North America, Daniel Leen pp 17-18

[4] Carl Zimmer from Do Parasites Rule the World? Discover Vol 21 No.8
August 2000

[5] Dr. Mae-Wan Ho Horizontal Gene Transfer - New Evidence May 12, 1998

[6] Parasitic computing is an example of a potential technology that could
be viewed simultaneously as a threat or healthy addition to the online
universe. On the Internet, reliable communication is guaranteed by a
standard set of protocols, used by all computers. These protocols can be
exploited to compute with the communication infrastructure, transforming the
Internet into a distributed computer in which servers unwittingly perform
computation on behalf of a remote node. In this model, one machine forces
target computers to solve a piece of a complex computational problem merely
by engaging them in standard communication.

Parasitic computing raises important questions about the ownership of the
resources connected to the Internet and challenges current computing
paradigms. The purpose of our work it to raise awareness of the existence of
these issues, before they could be exploited. By publishing our work we wish
to bring the Internet's various existing vulnerabilities to the attention of
both the scientific community and the society at large, so that the ethical,
legal and scientific ramifications raised by it can be resolved.

Parasitic computing from Nature, 412 (30 August 2001),
Albert-Laszlo Barabasi*, Vincent W. Freeh², Hawoong Jeong* & Jay B.

* Department of Physics; and ² Department of Computer Science and
Engineering, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana 46556, USA

[7] Whiteside, Thomas. Computer Capers, New York: Mentor, 1978. ISBN
0-451-62173-5 (pp. 33-35).

[8] J. F. Shoch and J. A. Hupp. The Worm Programs - Early Experience with a
Distributed Computation. Communications of the ACM, 25(3):172-180, March

[9] John Kymissis, Clyde Kendall, Joseph Paradiso, Neil Gershenfeld,
Parasitic Power Harvesting in Shoes, August, 1998; Presented at the Second
IEEE International Conference on Wearable Computing,

[10] Critical Art Ensemble, The Molecular Invasion, 2002, Autonomedia

[11] Trojan Horse - a program which includes code to carry out functions not
intended by the user (e.g. bank transaction rounding).

[12]Virus - a program that can infect other programs by modifying them to
include a possibly evolved copy of itself.

[13]Rabbit - a program designed to exhaust system resources by unchecked

[14]Worm - a program that spreads copies of itself via a network (e.g. Love

[15] Credit for the invention of this action has been given to London
Information Architect Matt Jones

[16] The severe economic crisis supposedly precipitated by the U.S.
stock-market crash of 1929. The signs influenced large proportions of hobos
to flock to El Paso, Texas where generosity to panhandlers was unsurpassed.

[17] Dawkins R, (1976) The Selfish Gene , Oxford: Oxford University Press

[18] Henrik Bjarneskans, Bjarne Grønnevik and Anders Sandberg, The Lifestyle
of Memes, http://www.aleph.se/Trans/Cultural/Memetics/memecycle.html#1.1

[19] "Through a systematic decentering of desire, micropolitical analysis
will lead to soft subversions and imperceptible revolutions that will
eventually change the face of the world."

Guattari, Felix, Soft Subversions, Semiotext(e) 1996

[20] Tron, Disney, written and directed by Steve Lisberger 1982. A computer
hacker is divided into molecules and transported into a computer. Inside the
computer, a malicious virus behaves as a dictator of sorts, called Master
Control. Once inside the system he helped to author, he joins forces with a
book keeping program and his girlfriend and together try to replace Master
Control with Tron - an honest safety system.

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