Switched On: Touched by a hacker

Each week Ross Rubin contributes

Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:

I glanced at the clock, 1:36 PM. Perhaps I should not have gotten my hopes up. For weeks I'd been exchanging e-mail with an elite hacker who promised to speak with me about the latest attempt to free hardware from the shackles of manufacturers that bind it, sticking it to such companies by making their products more desireable.

Just then, Skype lit up like a flaming notebook battery. It was the notorious hacker 5m0kNcR4K. A shadowy figure in the videoconferencing window spoke in a disguised voice.

"I'm in ur Skype, grantin' ur interview. Do not try to identify me. By using advanced digital video effects, I have pixelated my facial image, put myself in silhouette, and added a big blue dot in front of my face."

"What video effect makes it look like you have bunny ears?"

"Oh, that's just a mask I picked up at Party City."

"We could have just spoken by phone, you know. Or just used VOIP. Besides, I thought we were set to talk at 1 PM."

"I thought 13:37 would be more appropriate."

"So, tell me about this new project you're working on."

"It is Apple again. You think they would have learned their lesson with the iPhone, locking consumers to a specific carrier."

"Well, it looks like a couple of groups have gotten around that already."

"Indeed, we have left that to lesser hackers. We are taking on a far greater challenge. We will unlock the iPod Touch so it will work with any carrier."

"But... that's impossible."

"Difficult, perhaps. But not impossible."

"I don't think you understand. It's just an iPod. It may look like a phone but--"

"But it doesn't work with your carrier, I know. Soon we will fix that. In fact, we've already made great progress toward this."

"You have?"

"Yes, we've already found a way to get the Wi-Fi working with any access point."

"I see."

""Not only that, but we have been able to speak clearly into the bottom of the device so it is already halfway pwned. We've even been able to hear the other party across distances as great as a relatively quiet room. Our next target is international calling."

"That might take a while."

"Indeed. This product apparently incorporates a lot of advanced technology to thwart hackers. The microphone, the speaker, and even the cellular radio itself have been very difficult to find. There isn't even a SIM slot, so we're thinking that it may use CDMA. I am searching for a digital lockpick. It might come in handy if I, the master of unlocking, took it with me."

"So what's motivating you to do this?"

"Companies need to learn that they can't take advantage of us. For example, once our unlock is complete, say goodbye to those exorbitant international calling rates. Also, you will not be forced to use ringtones from the iTunes store."

"I'm confident you'll break that dependency. Well, look. I've greatly appreciated your time."

"Spread the word of the great work we're doing. And next time I will call you from my Zune phone."

"But there is no Zune phone."

"We are so close."

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group,. His blog can be read at Views expressed in Switched On are his own.