By: Cristian N. Ramos Ramos
Since late January, you may have heard of countless cyber attacks made by so-called hackers. If not, now you do. News like the recording of a call made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation intercepted by a hacker, or the distributed denial of service against federal agencies like the FBI, and Department of Justice, are giving a message to the public. A hacker means damage in exchange for self-benefit or protests.
The beginning of the word hacker dates to the 1960s, from the Tech Model Railroad Club of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The club members began getting their hands on phones. Then, they moved on to the mainframe computers of the laboratories. There a new world opened to these curious students, giving them the power to create art.
What is a hacker? A hacker is the individual who is eager to learn how the world around him or her works; getting their hands on anything, looking and finding new and unexpected uses that were never intended. A hacker loves to discover new possibilities on every object possible. Examples of those objects are phones, computers, basic electronic equipment, and even mechanical objects.
In an interview with the hacker Jonathan, he points out that a computer hacker is someone who knows everything about the computers. For example, knowing how to use the command prompt system in the Windows operating system is a must for the hacker. Otherwise, the hacker could not hack. His definition of a hacker is quite simple: “The hacker looks for a weakness in computer systems, analyzes it, and exploits it”. The purpose of the hack is something at the discretion of the hacker.
In the British program The Media Show, separate interviews were made to Mitch Altman and Emmanuel Goldstein. These two are hackers. In the interview with Emmanuel, he explains that a hacker is a person that has doubts, and due to them, does experiments in order to find an answer. The hacker would question rules as they see no sense in them. Also, he or she does wants to share information found to be hidden by governments. Behind those actions might be the motives of a hacker, which are to make people think for themselves, challenge authority, and demand for their freedom of expression and being well informed.
On the other hand, Mitch says that for him a hacker is “someone who does what they do because they love it.” The hacker is an enthusiast eager to learn and improve on what he or she is doing, then share it with the world. Although the computer is related to it, according to Mitch it is not the only thing that can be hacked. He says hacking may involve photography, food, sewing, music, and much more. Is the act of people doing things how they want for the life they want to live, just like he does. However, he gives credit to the news media for giving a bad fame to the word hacker. Mitch pointed out that the “hackers” appearing in news as just criminals using computers.
The mass media is the one responsible for the fact that the word hacker is mostly associated with cyber-crime. The reason for this is the focus the media gives to news about people gaining unauthorized access to computer networks, doing actions that only benefit themselves, or only for having fun, they cause damage. Those people are called crackers, people who break into computer servers and databases, among others, in order to gain access to sensitive data.
Individuals that break into computers and evade their security systems cannot be called hackers. Instead, they are just simple criminals. Their actions are similar to going to a bank and demanding money from the cashiers. Many of these crackers’ behavior cost thousands of dollars in loss to enterprises around the world. Though their motives sometimes could be justified, that does not give them the right to cause damage. Recent crackers, going by the name of Anonymous, have broken into several companies, among them Sony Network. Another case is the backup made by a member of Anonymous of employees emails from the security firm HBGary.
Those actions of the crackers, plus the categorization of the media of these individuals as hackers, are causing problems for the real and true hackers. This is because of the differences in the nature and motives of both groups, though both could be using similar methods. True hackers could deliver, and are delivering new information and ways of solving daily life problems. Plus, there is art in what they do, similar to pictures created by artists. Anyone can be a hacker, doing hacking because they love it or using it to make money legally, as long as they find a way for improving solutions for daily life problems through hack.
“Are hackers a threat? The degree of threat presented by any conduct, whether legal or illegal, depends on the actions and intent of the individual and the harm they cause.” -Kevin Mitnick