by Steven Mizrach
The goal of this text analysis project was to take the texts of the computer underground and to analyze them for the presence of a) knowledge about the Hacker Ethic and b) evolution of that Ethic. Many writers, such as Steven Levy, bemoan the fact that modern-day hackers (the computer underground) are not worthy of the name because they do not live up to the principles of the original Hacker Ethic, and as unethical individuals, should simply be called "computer terrorists" or "juvenile delinquents." I sought to examine whether 90s new hackers knew of the old Hacker Ethic, if they had added anything to it, and the reasons why they felt they acted differently from their predecessors. I broadened my text analysis to look at what they saw as ethical violations, and reasons why some might repudiate the Hacker Ethic or the idea of having an ethic.
As my text project evolved, I found that after discovering the existence of a new hacker ethic for new hackers, I was wondering if people expressing the principles of the new ethic also expressed the old. I expected that the adoption of a new set of ethics would not necessarily mean the complete abandonment of the old. This would establish some continuity between both groups of hackers, and some familiarity by new hackers with the old ideals. If the hypothesis of continuity turns out to be true, then new hackers are not as different from old hackers as authors like Levy (or certain computer security professionals) might claim. They would then not only have their own ethics, but also utilize some ethical principles of their predecessors.
I coded 29 documents from the computer underground online using the NUD*IST text analysis system. I allowed new codes to emerge from other codes, based on the sort of interactive text-searching and investigation process that NUDIST makes possible. I decided to code a few factors that were not directly relevant to my tests, but could provide avenues for future investigation. Finally, after coding, I came up with two tests to look at evidence for continuity between the old and new hacker ethics.
I define the computer underground as members of the following six groups. Sometimes I refer to the CU as "90s hackers" or "new hackers," as opposed to old hackers, who are hackers (old sense of the term) from the 60s who subscribed to the original Hacker Ethic. See below.
These 29 text files come from the following sources: the WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) BBS, the MindVox BBS archives, various other hacker boards, the Usenet newsgroup alt.2600, World Wide Web HTML documents, the gopher.eff.org hacking 'zine archive, the cypherpunks.org ftp site, and a netwide search on documents containing the search term "hacker ethic." Documents were selected for this study for relevance, and thus do not constitute a fully randomized sample of electronic text.
In 1990, the online bulletin board system (BBS) known as the WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) co-hosted a conference with Harper's magazine to discuss the future of hacking. Old and new hackers were invited to participate. These are transcripts of the various postings to the topic headings in the conference.
These are transcripts of postings to two other topic headings in the WELL Hacker Conference forum.
These are three "propaganda" text files by hacker Subvert, where he attempts to make the moral case for hacking.
These two documents from the cypherpunks ftp archive attempt to make the case for strong encryption and cryptoanarchy.
These are two e-zines for pirates.
These are four texts which deal directly with ethical issues pertaining to hacking. Two are simply definition files.
Other miscellaneous files.
Groups employ different means of enforcing their ethical systems. Some provisions are often recognized as simply being archaic and are ignored. This is why most doctors do not heed the prohibitions in the Hippocratic Oath against abortion or euthanasia, yet most (but not all!) believe in the ethical principle of not refusing critical treatment to a patient who is unable to pay. Other groups (such as anthropologists) often devise ethical codes simply because they are forced to by the bad behavior of some of their members in the past, and their provisions are specifically tailored to probems that have arisen. Violating some ethical codes can get you banned from the profession or worse, when professional associations exist to enforce the regulations; with hackers, breaking the Hacker Ethic seems to result mostly in anathema or social ostracization, a time-honored method of social control.
The original Hacker Ethic was sort of an impromptu, informal ethical code developed by the original hackers of MIT and Stanford (SAIL) in the 50s and 60s. These "hackers" were the first generation of programmers, employing time-sharing terminal access to 'dumb' mainframes, and they often confronted various sorts of bureaucratic interference that prevented them from exploring fully how technological systems (computers, but also model trains, university steam tunnels, university phone systems, etc.) worked. The ethic reflects their resistance to these obstacles, and their ideology of the liberatory power of technology. The six principles of the Hacker Ethic are listed below, with some text samples showing where it appears within these documents.
A concise summation of it can be found in Steven Levy's 1984 book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Levy suggested that because of their Ethic and their unconventional style, hackers like Jobs and Wozniak were able to launch the "computer revolution," resulting in the first personal computer (the Apple) which was easy to use and which put programming power in the individual's hands. Here I cite documents from my sample which reiterate some of its principles.
As we can see, this has not been the case. The computer system has been solely in the hands of big businesses and the government. 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. The average American can only have access to a small microcomputer which is worth only a fraction of what they pay for it. The businesses keep the true state of the art equipment away from the people behind a steel wall of incredibly high prices and bureaucracy. It is because of this state of affairs that hacking was born. ("Doctor Crash", 1986)
There is much knowledge that is disallowed, hidden. Government activities, corporate crime, and "illegitimate" information needs to be disseminated. People without access to technology need it - they can contribute to the world. Distributing this information is illegal, potentially dangerous. This, in my humble opinion, is the best use of hacked accounts. Obtaining information, disseminating information needs anonymity. This protects your hide. This is important. Whistle blowers are only silenced when their identity is known...
Yes, access is a right you have. You need to know when the government is killing people, radiating them, listening to them, lying to them, lying to you. You have a right to gain access to information about OUR government. This government is supposedly of the people, by the people, power granted by a social contract.
In fact, technology represents one of the most promising avenues available for re-capturing our freedoms from those who have stolen them. By its very nature, it favors the bright (who can put it to use) over the dull (who cannot). It favors the adaptable (who are quick to see the merit of the new (over the sluggish, who cling to time-tested ways). And what two better words are there to describe government bureaucracy than "dull" and "sluggish"?
The State will of course try to slow or halt the spread of this technology, citing national security concerns, use of the technology by drug dealers and tax evaders, and fears of societal disintegration. Many of these concerns will be valid; crypto anarchy will allow national secrets to be traded freely and will allow illicit and stolen materials to be traded. An anonymous computerized market will even make possible abhorrent markets for assassinations and extortion. Various criminal and foreign elements will be active users of CryptoNet. But this will not halt the spread of cryptoanarchy.
The Internet is one of the best hacks the world has to offer. It has continually shattered deeply ingrained social prejudices concerning characteristics such as age, race, wealth, and sex. In fact, it is common to find 14 year olds arguing philosophy with 41 year olds on America's computer networks!
Without question, good/great programming (hacking) is art and as with art each person has their own signature and style (which changes over time). Quite a few years ago I was reviewing some derivative works of one hacker, and found the lack of signature and style of the original.
The future holds such enormous potential. It is vital that we not succumb to our fears and allow our democratic ideals and privacy values to be shattered. In many ways, the world of cyberspace is more real than the real world itself. I say this because it is only within the virtual world that people are really free to be themselves - to speak without fear of reprisal, to be anonymous if they so choose, to participate in a dialogue where one is judged by the merits of their words, not the color of their skin or the timbre of their voice. Contrast this to our existing "real" world where we often have people sized up before they even utter a word. The Internet has evolved, on its own volition, to become a true bastion of worldwide democracy. It is the obligation of this committee, and of governments throughout the world, not to stand in its way.
According to the "hacker ethic," a hack must: * be safe
* not damage anything
* not damage anyone, either physically, mentally or emotionally
* be funny, at least to most of the people who experience it
It is against hacker ethics to alter any data aside from the logs that are needed to clean their tracks. They have no need or desire to destroy data as the malicious crackers. They are there to explore the system and learn more. The hacker has a constant yearning and thirst for knowledge that increases in intensity as their journey progresses.
2. The belief that system-cracking for fun and exploration is ethically OK as long as the cracker commits no theft, vandalism, or breach of confidentiality.
Of course, the key problem with this ethical position is its stance on intent. One should not damage data deliberately. But what if, as often happens in hacking attempts, one accidentally erases or alters data while trying to alter system log files or user records? Is that an ethical violation? Also, the question of what constitutes "harm" is left open. Most hackers seem to see pranks and practical jokes as harmless, regardless of their psychological impact. Yet their victims may not feel these are so 'harmless,' especially if this causes them to lose valuable time or effort.
How far do privacy rights go, however? Do people also have an intrinsic right to online anonymity? Do I have the right to conceal my health status, criminal record, or sexuality from my employer? Are some people (politicians, celebrities, etc.) entitled to less privacy than others? Does my social security number, credit history, or telephone number belong only to me? Further, the strange thing about hackers asserting a right to privacy is that it declares a certain kind of information to not be free. Thus, in some ways this is a contradiction to the original hacker ethic.
Privacy is a right we beleive we have. Unfortunately privacy is not explicitately protected in the constitution. Our consitution is dated in that respect, there weren't the threats to privacy then as there are now. Technology is truly a double-edged sword. The abscense of privacy provisions in the constitution does not make it any less important. Indeed, the lack of constitutional protections have allowed our privacy to be gravely threatened.
The concept of privacy is something that is very important to a hacker. This is so because hackers know how fragile privacy is in today's world. Wherever possible we encourage people to protect their directories, encrypt their electronic mail, not use cellular phones, and whatever else it takes to keep their lives to themselves. In 1984 hackers were instrumental in showing the world how TRW kept credit files on millions of Americans. Most people had never even heard of a credit file until this happened. Passwords were very poorly guarded - in fact, credit reports had the password printed on the credit report itself.
The second argument is an interesting one. The problem most hackers had with TRW is not they kept files on most peoples' credit histories without their knowledge (thus they couldn't see if they contained any errors), and it was on that (unknown) basis that they were denied loans, credit cards, mortgages, etc. It was that those files were insecure.
The hacker ethics involves several things. One of these is avoiding waste. Over the internet, we have about a quarter million computers each of which is virtually unused for 10 hours a day. A true hacker seeing something useful that he could do with terraflops of computing power that would otherwise be wasted might would request permission to use these machines and would probably go ahead and use them even if permission was denied. In doing so, he would take the greatest possible precautions to not damage the system.
To become free it may be necessary to break free from medieval morality, break unjust laws, and be a disloyal employee. Some may call you an disloyal, sinful criminal. To be free in a room of slaves is demoralizing. Free your fellow man, give him the tools, the knowledge to fight oppression. Do not infringe on others' rights.
Most hackers strongly support the 1st amendments' rights to communication and assembly, since these are necessary for the free flow of information. Phreakers take this a step beyond, however, in asserting that people should have the right to communicate with each other cheaply (thus poor people have as much right to talk on the phone long distance as the rest of us) and easily . When telecommunications companies are an obstacle to this right to communicate, phreaking (blue boxing the phone system, making unauthorized 'bridge' conference calls, using empty voicemail boxes, etc.) is said to be the answer.
This is our strongest right, and our most crucial. There mere fact that this page is allowed to exist is proof that our 1st amendment has not crumbled completely. Despite the governmental protection, there are threats to our freedom to communicate.
The rules a Hacker lives by:
1. Keep a low profile.
2. If suspected, keep a lower profile.
3. If accused, deny it.
4. If caught, plea the 5th.
Pirates SHARE warez to learn, trade information, and have fun! But, being a pirate is more than swapping warez. It's a life style and a passion. The office worker or class mate who brings in a disk with a few files is not necessarily a pirate any more than a friend laying a copy of the lastest Depeche Mode album on you is a pirate. The *TRUE* pirate is plugged into a larger group of people who share similar interests in warez. This is usually done through Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs), and the rule of thumb is "you gotta give a little to get a little...ya gets back what ya gives." Pirates are NOT freeloaders, and only lamerz think they get something for nothing.
I believe, before it's all over, that the War between those who love liberty and the control freaks who have been waiting for to rid America of all that constitutional mollycoddling called the Bill of Rights, will escalate.
Should that come to pass, I will want to use every available method to vex and confuse the eyes and ears of surveillance. Viruses could become the necessary defense against a government that fears your computer.
What's interesting is that this principle recognizes and asserts that it's not only possible but also likely for computers to have a dark side and to be used for purposes other than truth and beauty, and that we need to be wary of technology, or at least technology in the wrong hands.
Sense 2 is more controversial: some people consider the act of cracking itself to be unethical, like breaking and entering. But the belief that `ethical' cracking excludes destruction at least moderates the behavior of people who see themselves as `benign' crackers (see also samurai). Based on this view, it may be one of the highest forms of hackerly courtesy to (a) break into a system, and then (b) explain to the sysop, preferably by email from a superuser account, exactly how it was done and how the hole can be plugged --- acting as an unpaid (and unsolicited) tiger team.
Many software companies today, including Lotus, regularly use tiger teams to test their security systems. So, this ethical principle seems to be agreed upon by some members of the industry -- to a certain extent. Even Lotus does not want its systems being tested by hackers who are not under its employ or control.
Democracy is always being tested -- it's an inherent part of what it stands for. whether it's flag burners, gay activists, klansmen, or computer hackers, we're always testing the system to see if it holds up to pressure. i stress that this is NOT an end iwe do because it interests us, but in the bigger picture we're actually testing the sincerity of the democratic system, whether we're aware of it or not.
One of the most important manuals for British hackers was called "beating the system." The essential argument is that as systems (like the phone network) become more and more complex, they become impossible to manage from a centralized office. Hacking at the edges of the system not only becomes possible, in some cases it becomes necessary. It becomes an ethical imperative to test the system, lest it fail when it is most needed (like the AT & T phone switches did in 1990.)
On occasion the possibility of making a profit from these advances tempts hackers into commercialism. On other occasions, they see commercialism as the only way to get their work into the hands of the masses. When they succeed they become rich, and usually get moved further and further from hacker life and more and more into paperwork and then don't live happily ever after.
Bootleggers are to pirates as a chop-shop is to a home auto mechanic. Bootleggers are people who DEAL stolen merchandise for personal gain. Bootleggers are crooks. They sell stolen goods. Pirates are not crooks, and most pirates consider bootleggers to be lower life forms than child molesters.
Bootlegging seems to contradict new hacker ethic 7, share!
In fact, pirates may be one of the best forms of advertising for quality products, because sharing allows a shop-around method for buying warez. Most of us buy a program for the documents and the support, but why invest in four or five similar programs if we aren't sure which best suits our needs? Nah, pirates aren't freeloaders. We are against freeloading.
I. Do not intentionally damage *any* system. Trashing BBSes is wrong, plain and simple.
II. Do not alter any system files other than ones needed to ensure your escape from detection and your future access (Trojan Horses, Altering Logs, and the like are all necessary to your survival for as long as possible.)
The one thing I hate, is the way some self-appointed hackers find there way into a system, and ruin the name of the rest of us by destroying everything they can find. Now that is pathetic. First of all, as I said, it ruins the name of the rest of us. Thus, once again, the "Destructive Computer User" Stereotype... A board crasher is no more a "hacker" than my grandmother is.
I think you'd be less agitated if you define your categories as hackers and criminals. The former are in it to explore and the latter are in it for themselves and nothing else. Of course, some hackers do break laws on occasion but I don't think that necessarily turns them into criminals, at least not in the moral sense.
Also, some hackers have this massive ego problem... I must name one here, for that problem, and he is Corporal Punishment... I have had numerous run-ins with this guy. He seems to think he is a God, constantly running everyone into the ground. He even went as far as saying "PHRACK sucks!" But he isn't the only one with that problem... Some feel that if they put others down, they will elevate to a higher level. Sorry to burst you bubble guys, but your only viewed as massive ego-maniacs that deserve nothing less than being run down yourselves...
Let us not forget that hackers, crackers, chippers, crunchers, and whatnot all have ego, and one thing that bothers me about using the Hacker Ethic to describe people is that ego and self-interest are not accounted for. How else can you explain crackers selling pirated software, otherwise intelligent people distributing viruses to the general public in hope of causing maximum damage to other users, or hackers breaking into some system and erasing files for laughs? People break into computers because it's fun and it makes one feel powerful, not because there is untapped power waiting to be used if only the right programming "wizard" comes along.
Thus the new hacker ethic, according to its propagandists, does not embrace theft; instead it simply defines certain things (like information) as not being personal property, or certain actions (using phone service) as "borrowing" rather than theft.
So where is the boundary between the hacker world and the criminal world? To me, it has always been in the same place. We know that it's wrong to steal tangible objects. We know that it's wrong to vandalize. We know that it's wrong to invade somebody's privacy. Not one of these elements is part of the hacker world.
Bragging after a neat hack may seem like the natural thing to do. But just remember that it can only call attention to yourself, and not everyone who pays attention to hackers are admirers. You may jeopardize your friends and anyone else who ever accesses the same system as you.
True hackers are quiet. I don't mean they talk at about .5 dB, I mean they keep their mouths shut and don't brag. The number one killer of those the media would have us call hackers is bragging. You tell a friend, or you run your mouth on a board, and sooner or later people in power will find out what you did, who you are, and you're gone...
Some crackers are using computers in the exact *opposite* way that the first hackers intended them: first, by restricting the unimpeded and unmonitored flow of information through the computer networks and phone lines; and second, by using computers to monitor people, by intrusive methods of information-gathering.
There's no lower form of life than the narc. Hackers who go and rat on other hackers are scum. They get lots of promises of immunity and stuff if they turn in all their friends. Some hackers get back at other people by turning them into the feds. This is wrong, and it only damages the hacker community. We need to stick together, because nobody else is really on our side.
The last thing I will mention, will be hackers turning in other hackers to federal crime agencies, or to the PhoneCorp security offices, or any other type of company that deals with computer related phraud. This activity, refered to as Narcing, is getting to be too popular for a hackers good... You may be saying, " Come on, no hacker in they're right mind would turn another on in ". And your right... It's once again those self proclaimed hackers, or the ones who think they are who will do this to get "Even"...
So the process of society adopting a new technology BY DEFINITION must include the removal of all idealistic motivations originally present in the promoters of the technology. Computers are power, and direct contact with power can bring out the best or the worst in a person. The Hacker Ethic is simply the ideal case: it's tempting to think that everyone exposed to the technology will be so grandly inspired, but alas, it just ain't so.
The "hacker ethic" was unnoticed before because fiddling with large complex systems was so difficult until recently. There have always been basement tinkers and young pranksters but their explorations were very local. Once we are all connected, the work of these investigators ripple through the world we have constructed and affect us.
We live in the age of computers. Everything is controlled by massive mainframes; Our water distribution system, rail-road control, airline control, electricity control, telephone companies, etc, etc, etc... Imagine the fun someone can have in one of those systems!!! Just the fact of getting in them can sometimes be a major accomplishment. But my point is, what people do once they are in...
PANTY RAIDS: When panty raids meet biotech it may be time to adapt new rituals; or the cracker phenomena is more complex then that and has at least something to do with increased levels of social alienation and how the street finds its own use for things.
It is my contention that hackers did not change. Society changed, and it changed for the worse. The environment the early hackers were working in rewarded them for their mischief and their desire to experiment and try new things.
The computer industry sold out; no commercial software developers today believe in the Hacker Ethic either. They patent software, copy-protect programs, lock up data and algorithms. New hackers are merely responding to the times. They wouldn't have to do what they have to do if the computer industry believed in open standards and systems and free source code.
And yet, in practice, I can't help but conclude that the computer revolution is over, and that the people lost. The computer community is driven now not by a lust for knowledge but by a lust for money. What were fledgling companies of wild-eyed programmers sharing knowledge and feeding on each other's ideas have become corporate behemoths, run by suits and ties, and copyright lawyers, and the bottom line.
It's like you sometimes see in the media - 'GenX' is more in it for themselves, more likely to try and get ahead through using information from any which way, and more often see themselves as getting screwed over by their elders ... so it's not surprising that they don't have the same attitudes as Baby Boomer hackers.
But the Hacker Ethic is also a fraud. It is a fraud because there is nothing magical about computers that causes one of its users or owners to undergo religious conversions and devote themselves to use of the computer for the betterment of the public good. Early automobile enthusiasts were tinkerers, inventors, people with a dream building motorized transportation. Then the new invention became popular and the elite used it to drive around in luxury. Then the new invention became accessible, and for many, necessary for survival. Now we have traffic jams, drunk drivers, air pollution, and suburban sprawl. Whatever magic still present in the use of the automobile occasionally surfaces, but we possess no delusions that it automatically invades the consciousness of everyone who sits behind the wheel.
I think the problem we're all having is the fact that everyone is deluding themselves thinking there is only ONE 'hacker ethic'. The truth of the matter is, everyone has their *OWN* hacker 'ethic'. To say that we all think the same way is foolish.
|1 1||1 2||1 3||1 4||1 5||1 6|
|2 1||24||24, 18|
In document 24, "hacker vs. cracker," we see the co-occurence of the old hacker ethic of "total access" and the new hacker ethic of "do no harm," as well as the co-occurence of "information wants to be free" with "do no harm." In document 18, "Hacker ethic jargon file," we see the co-occurence of these same sentiments. And in document 27, "Rebels with a cause," we see the co-occurence of "self defense" with "information wants to be free" and "computers can change your life for the better."
Apparently, while hackers may express principles of both hacker ethics, they are unlikely to do so at the same time or within the same thought. Co-occurence within the same text unit did not occur very often - only 3 out of 29 documents.