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Should Cyber Vigilantes Be Cheered Or Feared 232

Posted by samzenpus
from the everyone-likes-an-ani-hero dept.
snydeq writes "InfoWorld's Ted Samson raises several challenging questions in the wake of HBGary, first and foremost being, should the cyber vigilante acts of 'hacktivists' such as Anonymous be embraced? No doubt the alleged HBGary plot is troubling, Samson writes, 'but also troubling is how quickly some members of Congress seek to use illegally acquired information to further their own political agenda.' The underlying message seems to be that cyber vigilantes may have more leeway than those who engage in equally illegal, though decidedly nontechnical methods to expose their targets."
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Should Cyber Vigilantes Be Cheered Or Feared

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  • none of the above? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bhcompy (1877290) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @07:53PM (#35363592)
    Maybe they do something worthwhile sometimes, but maybe the consequences of that results in a less free internet. I'll withhold cheering
    • I'm sure the consequences are of great concern to these internet vigilantes. It's one thing to go after these people, but they're deathly afraid of the cyber police.

    • by FriendlyLurker (50431) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @08:41PM (#35364036)

      "No doubt the alleged HBGary plot is troubling..."

      Troubling? That's an understatement... "The Obama Administration’s Justice Department advised the largest bank in America where to find a corporate hacker [Three military contracting 'cyber-security' companies] to fabricate information that could be used to blackmail American journalists" [colbertnation.com] Corporate America, the Military Industrial Complex and the Government all in bed together [msn.com] to operate outside the law inside the US and without any checks, balances or semblance of respect for the law... and this Ted Samson character is more worried about the civil disobedience group Anonymous... Hellooo... threat assessment!?

      • by causality (777677) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @08:53PM (#35364104)

        "No doubt the alleged HBGary plot is troubling..."

        Troubling? That's an understatement... "The Obama Administration’s Justice Department advised the largest bank in America where to find a corporate hacker [Three military contracting 'cyber-security' companies] to fabricate information that could be used to blackmail American journalists" [colbertnation.com]
        Corporate America, the Military Industrial Complex and the Government all in bed together [msn.com] to operate outside the law inside the US and without any checks, balances or semblance of respect for the law... and this Ted Samson character is more worried about the civil disobedience group Anonymous... Hellooo... threat assessment!?

        It's simple really. This is mainstream (i.e. lowest common denominator, bottom of the barrel, that which is easiest to sell, what has style but no substance, etc.) thought on the matter: if you are concerned about the government or members of the government acting completely outside of the law, with impunity, well then you're just another paranoid tin-foil hat-wearing insane nutter conspiracy type. You will be dismissed and ridiculed without ever testing the veracity of your claims. That's because we just don't like the way you sound, and that tie you're wearing pisses us off too.

        But, if you're concerned about a group of online vandals who cause a lot of inconvenience to a few people, but nothing on the scale of abusive government with no effective checks and balances... well then, we approve of that. Those damned vigilantes. It's definitely okay to believe that a bunch of people with little no no association, organization, or preperation can conspire to bring down a Web site.

        It's those insane morons who believe that a bunch of people who are from the same social class, who play golf with each other, who are in bed with the same special interests, who work similar jobs, who all benefit from a more powerful government, why it's madness to believe that they are anything other than saints who are acting in our interests. MADNESS I TELL YOU. What kind of idiot would believe a story like that? Clearly we must ridicule them immediately. We absolutely must, at all costs, ignore every historical precedent for such abuses of power, every self-interested motive of any authority figure involved, every precedent for past abuses of power our own government has perpetrated, and every lack of oversight and basic competency any public official has ever shown. After all, we have some nutters to ridicule.

        • by mwvdlee (775178)

          If anonymous did unreasonably illegal things with total lack or respect for anybody and anything involved, people wouldn't believe it either.
          The fact that they're mostly out doing relatively harmless things keeps it within the realm of believe.

    • by shentino (1139071) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @08:57PM (#35364146)

      The consequences are nothing but a pack of powers that be that are looking for a convenient excuse for something they are hell bent on imposing anyway.

      They have the motive and means. The hacktivists only provide opportunity.

      • The consequences are nothing but a pack of powers that be that are looking for a convenient excuse for something they are hell bent on imposing anyway.

        They have the motive and means. The hacktivists only provide opportunity.

        Sounds terribly familiar, but I just can't 9/11 place it.

    • by EdIII (1114411) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:53PM (#35365532)

      Those that wish for an Internet without Freedom, Privacy, Anonymity, Choice, or Competition do not need the existence and actions of Anonymous to create the foundation for their arguments.

      I am cheering Anonymous for their actions with HBGary. However, I am cheering for the specific people that did this specific act.

      Cheering for Anonymous is like modding an AC on Slashdot as +5 Insightful and then wondering why he was being such a dick two posts later.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      Maybe they do something worthwhile sometimes, but maybe the consequences of that results in a less free internet. I'll withhold cheering.

      Do you hear yourself? Are you saying they shouldn't do anything worthwhile because there will be crackdowns on the rest of us? Have things gotten that bad?

      The old saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" only applies if you're not already in hell.

    • by clem (5683)

      Whatever we end up choosing to do about these so-called vigilantes, it shouldn't be rational.

  • If the government didn't embrace corruption and breaking their own laws.
    • by rtb61 (674572)

      Two wrongs don't make a right but one wrong can certainly undo another wrong and from that can emerge a right.

      There of course is the case of citizen's arrest. So citizen's digital search and obtaining of evidence where it is publicly clear that perpetrators are committing criminal activities and yet for unknown reasons government and police fail to act in an manner to kerb those criminal activities and even in some cases support those activities. Then of course the evidence is presented to the public for

  • False dichotomy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Local ID10T (790134) <ID10T.L.USER@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @07:56PM (#35363624) Homepage

    None of the above.

    • Re:False dichotomy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @08:10PM (#35363764)

      Agreed. In the end, the appearance of vigilantes is a symptom of something else; I won't go so far as to say it's inevitable, but if it takes vigilantes before things come to light, your country got problems.

      • Re:False dichotomy (Score:5, Insightful)

        by russotto (537200) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @08:26PM (#35363936) Journal

        Agreed. In the end, the appearance of vigilantes is a symptom of something else; I won't go so far as to say it's inevitable, but if it takes vigilantes before things come to light, your country got problems.

        The appearance of a few vigiliantes, despised by most, means little. The appearance of a fairly large number of vigilantes, operating with at least the tacit support of the general population, means they're serving a need for justice (whether poorly or well) that the government has failed to fill. The government condemns them regardless, because the government claims the privilege to dispense justice to be solely its own, but when the government claims that privilege then fails to fulfill the implicit duty, what do you expect?

        • Re:False dichotomy (Score:4, Insightful)

          by cheekyjohnson (1873388) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @08:46PM (#35364058)

          The appearance of a fairly large number of vigilantes, operating with at least the tacit support of the general population, means they're serving a need for justice (whether poorly or well) that the government has failed to fill.

          I don't quite understand how a large number of people believing something makes it right. I mean, it might indicate that the government has angered them, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the people are 'in the right.'

          • Re:False dichotomy (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Ruke (857276) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @08:57PM (#35364142)

            But in this case, the vigilantes are addressing behavior that the government is turning a blind eye to, not behavior that the government had addressed and approved of. It would be quite a different story if there had been a criminal investigation of HBGary and they were found innocent; however, certain parties within the government would seem to have known that they were acting illegally, and chose to do nothing.

            And again, it still doesn't mean that the vigilantes are in the right. It just means that they're addressing (for better or for worse) a problem that the government should be addressing, but has failed to.

            • by causality (777677)

              And again, it still doesn't mean that the vigilantes are in the right. It just means that they're addressing (for better or for worse) a problem that the government should be addressing, but has failed to.

              Allowing criminals and other abusers to go unpunished and uninvestigated is the time-tested method of creating vigilantes where there otherwise were none.

              • I thought the time tested method for creating vigilantes was blaming problems on a small group of people that the majority doesn't like anyways and so can get behind stringing up to work out their anger issues.
                • by causality (777677)

                  I thought the time tested method for creating vigilantes was blaming problems on a small group of people that the majority doesn't like anyways and so can get behind stringing up to work out their anger issues.

                  You could certainly make that case, yes.

                  I don't personally believe it, though it certainly does sound "standard practice" enough. By that I mean ... the (minority of) people who would encourage things to unfold that way, and so get the majority on board with the scapegoating ... they understand that this has a serious flaw. Understand that no objection of theirs is because the maneuver is too low, too heatless, too underhanded, but they are quite practical. It is Machiavellian politics. The only problen

          • by c6gunner (950153)

            Exactly. Individuals make stupid decisions, and hold stupid beliefs, on a regular basis. But when they become a giant mob, I'm supposed to believe that they're acting rationally and doing the right thing? Good luck with that. There's a reason most modern republics aren't direct-democracies. Constitutions don't just exist to protect "the people" from "the government" - they exist to protect the people from themselves.

        • by westlake (615356)

          The appearance of a fairly large number of vigilantes, operating with at least the tacit support of the general population, means they're serving a need for justice (whether poorly or well) that the government has failed to fill.

          The problem here is that it is far too easy to delude yourself into believing that the people are on your side. That you - and only you - have the right to speak for them.

          • by russotto (537200)

            The problem here is that it is far too easy to delude yourself into believing that the people are on your side. That you - and only you - have the right to speak for them.

            Sure, but Muhamar Qadafi is the head of government, not a vigilante at all.

        • by EdIII (1114411)

          but when the government claims that privilege then fails to fulfill the implicit duty, what do you expect?

          Batman?

    • Re:False dichotomy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Darinbob (1142669) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @08:10PM (#35363766)

      How about "jeered"? A vigilante, regardless of motivations, is a vigilante. And I'm pretty sure many of these poeple are doing it for the lulz rather than to do any sort of meaningful protest that will accomplish something.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jmorris42 (1458) *

        > A vigilante, regardless of motivations, is a vigilante.

        More like common vandals. If you wouldn't cheer em rampaging in a mob with fireaxes and making off with file cabinets you shouldn't be cheering them doing essentially the same smash and grab and sticking an i, cyber- or some such hip prefix that boils down to the same ol 'take something ordinary stick "on the Internet" on and call it new and fresh. (And probably patentable but that is a rant for another thread.)

        They aren't vigilantes anymore when

        • That is so clearly across the moral line the only reason more people don't see it is they agree so strongly with Anonymous's stated political goals it blinds them.

          You can't compare an amorphous, shifting multinational group like Anonymous with Batman, mainly because Anonymous has no stated political goals. What goals they do have are largely spur-of-the-moment, and tend to last only until the next big thing comes along to garner their attention. That's actually what makes them so dangerous: they're not predictable in any particular regard (like Batman invariably is, and which is always used against him) and somewhere amongst that morass of script-kiddies is some real

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Except the police didn't come after batman, a (as-yet-unhired) mercenary was after them, proposing to use illegal means themselves.

          The act of self-preservation does not make one a criminal. What was likely to happen to those HB Gary noted as being part of Anonymous? (And would they target a: social engineer griefers, b: those who had actually engaged in cracking or script-kiddee-hood or c: everyone period on 4chan making them all possibly unemployable and/or through gross misrepresentation putting every l

        • They aren't vigilantes anymore when they attack someone for the sole reason they were investigating them.

          I think that is only half true. The reality is they uncovered some Serious Wrongdoing. Whether or not that was any one individual's intent, the Anon cloud seems to employ the Streisand effect to broadcast some major inequities.

          On the other hand, they also go after kids on "the facebook" and hassle random people in video streaming and god knows what else. I find it very peculiar that these types of actions never make the big media coverage. If my tinfoil hat was not at a jaunty angle, but rather attached by

      • "Vigilante" is an idiotic term to use here. These people are protesters, nothing else, no different than people who block entrances to government buildings or bombard politicians with mail and phone calls. Why is it that when something happens on the Internet, it suddenly becomes something more than the same act happening in real life?
        • "Vigilante" is an idiotic term to use here. These people are protesters, nothing else, no different than people who block entrances to government buildings or bombard politicians with mail and phone calls. Why is it that when something happens on the Internet, it suddenly becomes something more than the same act happening in real life?

          By your very argument then Anonymous would be common thieves and vandals for breaking into HBGary property, stealing documents, defacing their website, and destroying property (backups). If you want to make it "the same thing as if it happened in real life" they would not be protesters, but common criminals.

        • "Vigilante" is an idiotic term to use here. These people are protesters, nothing else, no different than people who block entrances to government buildings or bombard politicians with mail and phone calls. Why is it that when something happens on the Internet, it suddenly becomes something more than the same act happening in real life?

          That's only true up to a point. The HBGary incident involved breaking into email accounts and (iirc) the remote wiping of an iPad. While hilariously funny, these actions exceed that of sit-in/slow down protesters.

      • A vigilante, regardless of motivations, is a vigilante. And I'm pretty sure many of these poeple are doing it for the lulz rather than to do any sort of meaningful protest that will accomplish something.

        And vigilantes are a lawless mob controlled by their hate, going after victims that probably haven't even done anything wrong.

        So let's not call them vigilantes then.
        Cyber protesters, cyber revolutionaries, cyber resistance ??
        And my personal favorite: the secret order of the cyber knights.

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          No, you have the wrong definition of vigilante. Vigilantes go after people who they feel are escaping justice and try to enact extra-legal justice, often against people who probably are guilty. This is the correct and appropriate word I meant to use.

    • None of the above.

      Agreed. Historically, organizations vary in their quality and relevance over time. They tend to start out fresh and idealistic, then end up having outlived their usefulness. Anonymous, being an "un-organization" might be able to avoid this fate. I suspect, by the time, if ever, Anonymous has become stale, another such media-stunt group will adopt their methods and pick up such activities under their own banner.

  • ...as long a there were no laws broken in the process of gleaning or divulging the information.
    • by mcvos (645701)

      Some laws need to be broken. Also, this kind of corruption needs to be exposed, no matter how.

      Isn't it weird that a group of anonymous vigilantes is more transparent than a government that's supposed to serve the people, or companies that work for that government or for politicians involved in it?

  • by ron_ivi (607351) <.moc.secivedxelpmocpaehc. .ta. .ontods.> on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @08:01PM (#35363672)

    In the case of HB Gary - they did everyone (especially those who pay for HBGary's services - meaning mostly taxpayers) a great service by exposing a security company apparently so fraudulent it had no business in the computer security field.

    If it were my own web sites, I'd very much hope that if someone found an exploit, they'd let me know by visibly defacing my homepage, rather than just ignoring the vulnerability and leaving me vulnerable until some less scrupulous hacker finds it next.

    I hope the law would take intent into consideration a lot in those cases. If the intent was to inform HB Gary and HB Gary customers that their security knowledge sucked, IMHO they did a service to all by demonstrating that. OTOH, if their intent was to steal people's credit cards or something from HB Gary, they should be gone after just like any other credit card thief should.

    • by MrEricSir (398214)

      But HBGary is not a fraudulent security company. Claiming that just because they did several things wrong makes them "fraudulent" is absurd.

      The uncovered e-mails suggest HBGary is quite good at finding and exploiting Windows bugs to provide various forms of security and/or spy services. Creepy, yes, but not fraudulent by any means.

      • Creepy and illegal and unethical.
      • by sjames (1099)

        The thing is, they are apparently better at being the bad guy than they are at stopping the bad guy. Apparently if you want the law broken, HB Gary is the go-to company.

        • The thing is, they are apparently better at being the bad guy than they are at stopping the bad guy. Apparently if you want the law broken, HB Gary is the go-to company.

          Well, like Stephen Colbert said, the idiots stuck their collective dick into a hornet's nest. I'm sure Aaron Barr and Co. were more than a little surprised when it turned out that his rather direct challenge (and threat) to Anonymous resulted in a demonstration of blackhattery that was on par with his own. He should have known better, and taken steps.

      • Sorry, but Arron Barr is a fraud and a con man. Sure, he and his buddies knew a lot of Windows exploits - but that doesn't change the fact that he was a fraud and a con man. All con men have SOMETHING shiny to show the victims, to get the victim's interest piqued. Barr and associates had a few Windows exploits, and a huge bag of empty promises.
    • Out of curiosity what is someone "less scrupulous" going to do that's worse then breaking into you're companies private email and data, releasing it to the public, and deleting the backups? It's not like the government was paying HBGary via credit card using their website, it's just a PR thing. "You've added crappy 2-year cyber defense contract to your shopping cart - would you like to check out now or continue shopping?". As far as the website goes defacing it is the maximum damage route they could choo
  • If there was a shootout between rival gangs of organized criminals, and a body was found with information implicating the rest of their organization, would the police ignore the information because of the method it was gained?
    • by Duradin (1261418)

      Police investigating a murder?!? What is this world coming to? Will no one think of the murderers?

    • by Stregano (1285764)
      Organized criminals = gangs. Unfortunately, most police investigations don't do much with gang related shootings. Even Tupac, who was super famous, did not get an investigation into his murder for that reason, it was gang related
      • I was more thinking a Mafia style black book of secrets being found on a body. But in your example, say Tupac's car had been loaded with solid evidence of criminal wrongdoing by other people. Would it get ignored?
    • Sometimes yes. You used to need a warrant for some things. Not so much any more.
    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Yes. It all depends on whether or not the chain of evidence is corrupted. Policing isn't like the movies where 'data' shows up and people go WHOO! Get the DA, lay dem charges! WHOOO!

  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @08:01PM (#35363676)
    Now their Cyber Vigilantes. Should be asking if Upton Sinclair should be cheered or feared?
  • Sometimes cheered (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Yaa 101 (664725) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @08:07PM (#35363732) Journal

    Sometimes cheered and sometimes booed, better question is why the press is always so binary and void of grey areas.

  • I hate 'cyber' being used for everything. Cybervigilantes should be treated just the same as normal Vigilantes.

    Just because they're not riding around with a colt full of silver bullets and instead are behind a computer screen doesn't make any difference.

    • There was an article a few months ago about "cyber" -- it basically said that you should be wary of anyone who chooses to use the word "cyber" to describe anything.

      In any case, Anonymous is not a vigilante group; that description is more fitting for a group like perverted justice. Anonymous is just a bunch of protesters who are using the Internet for their protest. I see no difference between Anonymous and a campaign to bombard politicians or businesses with mail and telephone calls (especially since t
  • It's no worse than using evidence collected by torture...

  • I truly like the idea of anon, but when they start getting cocky, then I refuse the idea. By cocky, I mean then sending threats out to WBC. Even if WBC had a hand in that threat, they threatened and then took them down. I do not agree with that at all. In that case, it would not be cheer or fear, but shun. Now with HBGary, I would cheer. I have said it before, but if they shut up and just do stuff, I would cheer like crazy for them. The moment they start making threat letters or even making people aw
    • Knowing WBC's past it's fairly likely that the entire thing was fabricated by them. That said, I don't see anything of value being lost if that organization is actually attacked and taken down.
  • by techoi (1435019)

    Maybe a little of both - cheers and fears. I think they fill a void that isn't being addressed by any existing group in this day and age. And just maybe they will help bring a balance back to the notion that governments need to fear the people (seemingly lost on most western leaders) more than people fearing their government. If Anon (et al) shine a much needed light on that, then cheer away I say.

    As far as WBC goes, never forget that anyone (literally) can claim something in the name of Anon (think of l

  • Each and every case will just have to taken individually. Mostly likely people will cheer the ones they agree with and jeer the ones they dislike. They may be supportive of some but also agree that charges should follow for the more extreme cases. What we are seeing is nothing more than activism and protests just like we see in the real world. Just because they are happening via computers really doesn't make them anything special. They'll be even less special as the world's population gets more and more use
  • by Lead Butthead (321013) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @08:30PM (#35363964) Journal

    It's always "their (cyber) terrorist" and "our (cyber) freedom fighters/freedom watchdogs." Whenever it's not serving the agenda of those in power, it's always "theirs." When it does, it's always "ours."

    • by DMoylan (65079) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @09:26PM (#35364436)

      much more ably illuminated in blackadder :-)

      Captain Darling: So you see, Blackadder, Field Marshall Haig is most anxious to eliminate all these German spies.
      General Melchett: Filthy hun weasels, fighting their dirty underhand war!
      Captain Darling: And fortunately, one of our spies...
      General Melchett: Splendid fellows, brave heroes risking life and limb for Blighty!

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @08:36PM (#35363998)
    Once it has been exposed, it has been exposed. The toothpaste is out of the tube. There is no putting it back.

    So why is the fact that some people made use of that information "troubling"?? I would be troubled if they didn't.

    Is anybody complaining that people shouldn't use information that was exposed by WikiLeaks? No? Why not? How is that different from information that was exposed by anybody else? WikiLeaks did not commit any crimes, but somebody did.
    • To be clear: I am not advocating the breaking of laws to gain information. But once information is already exposed, it's hard to ignore.

      I will say, however, that I might be willing to turn a blind eye to minor "bending" of the law, if its intent is to expose government or corporate corruption.
  • The problem is one of definition and scale.

    We've all been taught to oppose vigilante actions, and rightly so. We believe that vigilantism is bad at a gut level, and people use that bias to sway public opinion to their own ends.

    Vigilantism is when you pass penalty judgement on someone outside of the legal process, for example hanging someone for stealing cattle. The actions of the hackers don't fall under the definition because no one was hurt and no penalties were passed out.

    This is simply one group committ

    • by Fluffeh (1273756)

      The actions of the hackers don't fall under the definition because no one was hurt and no penalties were passed out.

      That is arguable. A CEO stepped down. A company is now plummeting in terms of value.
      On the flipside, should that company ever have been worth that much?

      So, what we really need to discuss here isn't so much is it okay to be a vigilante, but rather look at each case and determine it on the merits of that single example - and evaluate it on a "Does the end justify the means?" scale.

      Here, the means were illegal in some way, but does the end - showing how corrupt, morally and ethically disgusting a company is -

  • by sjames (1099) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @09:12PM (#35364322) Homepage

    I would LIKE to not feel a need to cheer for them. I would like to have police and courts interested in the best interests of society and individuals within it, but apparently that's not the case, so I just have to be grateful for anyone willing to fill the vacuum. The press used to do some of this for us when something fell through the cracks, but they don't seem all that interested in hard core investigation any more.

    So, I guess as long as DOJ, DHS, FBI, et al are too busy working for the mouse and the *AA to take care of these things and the press are too afraid they might not get invited to the next ball, it'll have to be Anon and Wikileaks.

  • It isn't (or shouldn't) be a question of whether someone is breaking the law or not that troubles us. Sometimes that's a Bad Thing (e.g. Oliver North) and sometimes it's a Good Thing (e.g. M. L. King). What we should be asking in any given case is whether what the "vigilante" is doing is ethical or not. It's a more difficult question to answer in many cases (e.g. Anonymous), but at least it's a question worth exploring.
  • For example, would supporters of Anonymous view this situation differently if a group of masked men and women broke into HBGary, Berico, and Palanti in the dead of night, stole computers or drives containing the various damning files, and shipped them to a contact in the House of Representatives?

    That's like comparing Deep Throat with G. Gordon Liddy.

    One is an informant, the other is a hired thug. Whatever happened to asking about motive?

  • by mykos (1627575) on Thursday March 03, 2011 @01:59AM (#35366172)
    I fear people who want to take away life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of those who expose truth.

    I cheer people who support truth-bearers any way they can.

    So I cheer the vigilantes.

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