Mischief Theory and Practise Part Two: ‘Deconstruction’

September 29, 2009


“Encouraging Destructiveness
It should be pointed out to the saboteur where the circumstances are suitable, that he is acting in self-defense against the enemy, or retaliating against the enemy for other acts of destruction. A reasonable amount of humor in the presentation of suggestions for simple sabotage will relax tensions of fear.”

Office of Strategic Services
Washington, D. C.
17 January 1944

Existing within the urban environment necessitates an escalating war of resistance over un-requested invasive messages – the high science of communication or the blunt hammer of advertising: billboards, subway lcd screens, street advertising, point of sale, free papers, guerilla marketing, the subliminal, the liminal and the blatantly overt. ‘Everything that is made can be unmade’ – in this spirit we explore the tactical opportunities to degrade, disrupt and ultimately reclaim our space.

This video illustrates how advertising on the side of a NYC public phone box can be easily removed (or replaced with more interesting material) using readily available tools; a small cordless drill, a set of tamper-proof security bits and a healthy dose of bravado. The same tactics can be employed internationally against other types of apparatus; security cameras, police equipment, street advertising and commercial targets which all rely on ‘tamper proof’ construction to maintain integrity in a public space ( ‘tamper proof’ in reality means ‘slightly harder to undo’). Tamper proof bolts can easily be removed if you have the correct non-standard bits, available here and elsewhere. As the video suggests, for extra mischievous effect, replace the bolts with a dab of superglue.


Image:’Tamper-Proof’ security bit head set (USA).

Traffic  Hacking

The vulnerability of road traffic has long been a powerful tool for those planning maximum urban disruption. In London, the ecological cyclist group ‘critical mass’ challenge the tyranny of the internal combustion engine and bring the city of London to a regular standstill through  mass cycle rallies. During the ‘Stop The City’ anti-capitalist protests of the mid 1980s traffic light cables were cut with bolt cutters during the night and bridges blocked by immobilised buses slowing down the arrival of the riot cops…

Back in the days of the ambulance station we were able to manually remotely control the traffic light signals on the Old Kent Rd – originally to allow the ambulances clear access to the street – a novel feature that gave hours of pleasure disrupting traffic on London’s main southern artery and allowing us to hold off police raids for a precious few minutes. Now you can accomplish the same effects by using a ‘MIRT’ – Moble InfraRed Transmitter Mirt “ a dashboard mounted device that gives an infrared strobe burst at 10-14hz designed to allow emergency vehicles to pass through Infra-red controlled lights:


image: BEECos MIRT

“A breakthrough technology in traffic light pre-emption. For the first time, a traffic light preemption emitter that is compact, mobile, and practical. “MIRT” can be securely positioned on the dash or inside windshield and moved from vehicle to vehicle with no installation required. Just plug it in and go! Its infrared technology emits no visible light, making it discrete and eliminating any distraction to the driver.”


Image: DIrtY MIRT LED Array

…or for around $20 you can build your own ‘DIrtY MIRT’ from a selection of parts available at Maplins. Comprehensive DIY instructions are here. An even cheaper, less subtle but proven method involves pointing flashing LED cycle lamps at the MIRT receiver or simply rapidly flashing car headlights while approaching the junction at high speed…

“Again, please do not use or abuse this. These Pre-Emptive systems were designed to save lives, not to get you to work earlier. Imagine if you and an ambulance were to approach the same intersection at the same time from perpendicular directions…”


Other traffic control systems are often vulnerable to mischievous intent. Famously those jokers at ihacked.com show how easily electronic traffic messaging displays can be edited ending up as national news across the states – just a shame the message wasn’t more targeted.


Shopping with barcodes

The ubiquitous barcode provides a physical link between objects and digital systems. They are used indiscriminately and insecurely for multiple purposes; entry systems,  delivery tracking, pricing, ticketing, boarding passes and so-on often with little connection or checking between systems;  a perfect target for those with mischievous intent. Barcodes can be simply copied (using a digital camera) and reproduced or read using a barcode scanner, edited and reproduced. barcode mayhem is a perfect way of disrupting the systems of your favourite supermarket (Tesco for example…) simply copy and print out low priced codes and replace them on multiple products or create a DIY BOGOF (‘buy one, get one free’) and help yourself safely to the single malt – if you do get caught, feign innocence and blame it on the system further introducing doubt and expense. FX from Phenoelit in this video tells you everything you need to know about barcode exploitation with some handy real-world examples:

or download the pdf here


Part One “Jamming”

Part Two “Deconstruction”

Part Three “Work”


Mirts: http://www.themirt.com/

ihacked.com various hardware hacking prokects

NYC public ad campaign ‘New and Old Ad Takeovers’

Anti Advertising Agency

Barcode disruption

the complete works of Shakespeare encoded as barcodes

One Response to “Mischief Theory and Practise Part Two: ‘Deconstruction’”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: