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CategoryHacking

References

metac0m. (2003). What is hacktivism? 2.0. Available from http://www.thehacktivist.com/hacktivism.php.

Skibell, R. (2002). The myth of the computer hacker. Information, Communication & Society, 5(3), 336-356. Available from http://www.yorku.ca/bcrow/4800/skibellhacker.pdf.


Real hackers have respect

metac0m. (2003). [What is hacktivism? 2.0]

net.libertarianism vs. capitalistas

This paper quotes the following Hacker Ethic as formulated by Steven Levy in his 1984 book "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution":

  1. Access to computers should be unlimited and total.
  2. All information should be free.
  3. Mistrust authority - promote decentralization.
  4. Hackers should be judged by their hacking not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.
  5. You create art and beauty on a computer.
  6. Computers can change your life for the better.

Which is essentially "San Francisco" libertarianism. I don't question that this ethic is what the 'Net was founded on, but I think that it was inevitable that it would eventually have to be changed once the 'Net became more of a global entity. However, as the progenitor of net.culture, it has had a massive influence on the way the Internet is experienced and conceived, not the least of which because that ethic is what constructed most of the primary standards the 'Net is built upon. Lawrence Lessig in CodeAndOtherLawsOfCyberspace makes the point that the 'Net could easily have been centralized, controlled, and anything but pseudonymous. For what it's worth, I think this perspective is dangerous. As capitalism imposes its politics on the world, the 'Net imposes its own politics, and at least capitalism is tied to democracy (as you need free consumer markets to drive it).

Later on, this cultural bias is denied in a quote from the [Hacker's Manifesto] by ment0r: "We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias... and you call us criminals." Except they are predominantly white, male, American, and post-Christian, so much so that exceptions stand out. And isn't it the case that the 'Net is a strong arm of the capitalist movement started three hundred years ago in London?

(Absolute) free speech is stoopid

This is why I find it woefully ironic when

Dr. Crash explains that computer technology is being misused not by hackers but by governments and corporations:

The wonderful device meant to enrich life has become a weapon which dehumanizes people. To the government and large businesses, people are no more than disk space, and the government doesn't use computers to arrange aid for the poor, but to control nuclear death weapons.

since that is how the 'Net is constructed. The 'Net has no social control checking its usage, so the public has no say in how it is used. While hackers like Ian Clarke of FreeNet may believe in absolute freedom of speech, I think they are naïvely assuming that others will not take that as an open invitation to reexert control over the world. At a very pointwise level, this means that people are subject to discrimination. While some argue that it's better to counter hate speech rather than supress it, in practice that just isn't the case. It's more efficient to suppress it.

Software as speech

Of course, there are arguments that hacking hurts no one. ment0r also claims, "We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn't run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore... and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge... and you call us criminals." But of course for those of us who pay for servers and our education (thanks UofT? for no funding) might disagree that such things are costless. It's easy to make the passing jab, "get a job," to these guys, but their point to me reads as a reaction against capitalist limitations on free speech, which is mildly dangerous except that I'd point out there isn't a capitalist limitation on traditional expression, only reconstitution and distribution. There is an unreasonable limitation on software which is neither just speech nor just machine, but it is treated as both way beyond the ontology of our legal and philosophical framework that brought us to this point.

The real problem is that if there are limited ways to express an algorithm, should that be copyrighted? Even if not, algorithms are now patentable, while formulae are not. If code is art, as the hacker ethic must hold, then patenting and copyrighting the code limits artistic expression, and therefore freedom of speech, and hence we have the arguments against censorship.

Repression is freedom

Ok, that title is a bit Stalinist, but there is some truth to it. If I am being libeled or slandered, I need to take real action, not just enter into a tit-for-tat information war since those with the most money will win. Theatres where all combatants are given full freedom favour the strongest, and thus they will reinforce the strongest: corporations and governments; although they also favour small pointwise guerilla tactics. To control for this, we need a real set of laws and a new human rights like the GIJ to provide limitations, otherwise we risk destabilizing our new utopia of free information with poisonous disinformation. (cf. PhonyFlood). Reputation is a critical information resource that has to be protected.

Hactivism is necessary

The trouble with laws regulating the 'Net is that they can be encoded and therefore perfectly enforced (or unreasonably enforced). Imagine being ticketed whenever you jaywalk--Lessig describes this canonical case eloquently. Or, more importantly to us in Ontario, photo radar changes the game on the roads where there is no longer a social negotiation between your speed and your speeding ticket.

This means that we need codebreakers to undermine this systems of control. We do need hactivists. However, the stronger they are, the stronger the repressive reaction. I question the sanity of cracking into China's servers as the natural response is for China to be only more oppressive, such as narrowing the interface between .zh and the rest of the 'Net. While that is far away in a land not known for being very free, the reaction also comes here in our global world when we have governments here randomly deporting people because a SQL query in their database returned TRUE. I'm opposed to this binary opposition of powers between Institutions and Individuals. The proper, stable method is for institutions to remain democratic.

The trouble is that democracy is so inefficient. So, hactivism and cractivism have to act as the countercheck, sadly.

Real hackers have respect

Real hackers respect other people. While they may disagree with how others use the 'Net, they would not deny them their right to use the 'Net as they have. Rather, real hackers would try to construct a 'Net where it was simply uneconomical or stupid to do anything but the Right Thing. Ian Clarke is one of these people. Rather than waste time trying to destroy someone else's project on the 'Net, he'd rather just build a better 'Net for his purposes. Good for him.

The confusion of cracking and hacking is only offensive to people who maintain this respect. Cracking is hacking, just without respect for the opponent's right to exist. Cracking in a very real way denies someone else's free enjoyment of the 'Net, and therefore it is a compromise of the very ideals it trumpets.

While we can crack into someone's computer who gives us spam as a form of retaliation, a better hack would be to prevent spam from getting to you in the first place. One response is an escalation of the conflict, the other response is not letting the conflict even start. And there are two ways to stop inappropriate behaviour. One can either outright make it impossible, by blocking it in code (cf. HardSecurity), or you can do my preferred method of bending like water so that it cannot harm you in ways you cannot negotiate away (cf. SoftSecurity).

Nonetheless, dialogs of control, power, freedom, and possibility are very charged. It's distasteful to lump all the various political persuasions together under one banner. It's meaningless you call yourself a hacker because you are associating yourself with crackers, and arguing about the difference until you are blue in the face won't matter one bit.

-- SunirShah


While the confusion between hackers and crackers in the minds of the public may be offensive to real hackers, this social construction may actually turn out to help them in winning over the public to Linux. Skibell (2002) shows that "the reality is that few computer hackers possess sufficient skills or desire to commit more than nuisance crimes." (p. 353). However, the computer security industry likes the public to believe in the myth of the computer hacker. The industry constantly exaggerates the insecurity of Windows to expand the seeming threat, driving the public away from this 'insecure' system.

What may be even more important is the association between the myth of the highly skilled computer hacker and Linux. Though the criminal aspect of the myth may hinder adoption, it will probably not be a major factor. After all, what system would be more secure than the one hackers use themselves?

-- JohannesGijsbers


Discussion

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