Cameras, card readers, alarms installed on rooftops

Anonymous hacker: “No matter what, people will go on roofs”

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Signage indicates presence of video surveillance in the sub-basement of Building 9, which contains hacking murals.

Cameras, card readers, and alarms are among the newest installations on rooftops as part of the campus Roof Access project. John DiFava, chief of police and director of campus services, wrote in an email to The Tech that the project began in March and will conclude in October or November. There will be signage installed on the rooftops with new security measures to announce the presence of these measures, according to DiFava.

The MIT Housing Policy maintains that students are prohibited from committing fire and safety violations including “entering or occupying the roof of any residence except in areas designated for, and approved by, MIT for assembly use.” DiFava wrote that police and campus services will review requests for roof access on a “case-by-case basis” and asked the community to “protect themselves and others, and avoid unnecessary risks.”

It seems unlikely that the newest security installations will prevent those determined to access the roofs from attempting to do so. In the publicly available police logs, there were at least two incidents related to rooftop access in the past 60 days, one classified as “TRESPASS” resulting in a verbal warning June 8, and another classified as “SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY” occurring Aug. 23.

In an interview with The Tech, a student who wished to remain anonymous due to legal ramifications associated with hacking said that members of the hacking community learned about the impending installation of cameras, card readers, and alarms through floor plans and interactions with facilities workers. “Also, the cameras are really obvious,” they added.  

The source told The Tech that the hacking community as a whole will refrain from modifying or tampering with the security systems, but said that they could not speak for specific individuals.

“We have a big respect for CPs [Campus Police]. We avoid them, and keep a lookout for them. When Sean Collier died, we put collection bins in the dorms asking people to make white cranes. We pulled a hack for him on the anniversary,” they said, referring to the cascade of white cranes installed in Stata in memory of the police officer killed in the line of duty in 2013. “We tell people — when they see CPs, to not run — the roof could be wet, and you don’t want them to fall. They’re just doing their job.”

According to the same anonymous source, members of the hacking community have expressed doubts as to whether the installations will contribute to the safety and well-being of the community.

“There will always be ways around security — they will just be less safe. There’s a learning curve to how to move around [safely while hacking]. Hacking is an adventure sport, and as with all adventure sports, the ones who get injured frequently are the beginners and the cocky experienced people,” the source said.

There is also skepticism surrounding the intentions behind the security installations. “We’ve heard that these systems came in place not to stop hacks specifically, but to prevent suicides. These interventions feel fake. They could have measures within dorms, have more walk-in hours, get more therapists at MIT Medical,” the source said. “MIT needs to get better at helping people. I’ve heard that these are some really fancy cameras with sensors. That money could have been spent on mental health and other forms of help.”

The source continued, “No matter what, people will go on roofs. There are people who came to MIT for hacking — prefrosh have heard stories about the police car and will try to [pull off a hack] no matter what.”