Honor Among Thieves and The Hacker Ethic – Information Technology Essay
The rights of a person have been well defined by law and sanctions such as the United Nations, however how are they able to protect the rights of these people when they are on a un moderated medium such as the internet?
A question like this brings up many grey areas of the law that have allowed the proliferation of what seems to be the most feared type of person on the internet – often referred to as Hackers. To be hacked into means that your security measures have been compromised and that they have access to your information system. With the increasing dependence of computers to store sensitive data ranging from credit cards to correspondence, the need to protect the users of these computer sytems rises also.
In order to work on society to becoming better managed in protecting their interests, work needs to be done on not so much the hardware involved, but the peoples attitudes towards them. Even if a Computer was in the ideal world properly protected, a slip of the passwords or allowed physical access can bring the whole security subsystem down.
All of the worked up controversy has to be put away that they (hackers) are the most powerful computer users that exist as well. If there was an Information system developed involving a large network of computer systems, who would be the most potentially dangerous person? The hacker infiltrating the system sequentially, or the System Administrator that oversees the entire maintenance of the systems with a completeness of this view much like the Popular series “Big Brother”.
In this tv show, a group of people are put into a house that is a spiers bug dream – with about 120 Cameras and other nifty inventions, the every move of the person is tracked. You would think that such would be an outrage, yet this is not the case. Being the highest rating show by far on that network, The show can pull millions of dollars each time it is shown to the millions of viewers tuning in.
The reason this has been mentioned is because a virus or a large “break in” by a hacker receives similar attention. The “Mellisa/I love you” virus has been the most recent and had the largest effect of any other virus before it. Reported on the news, and reaching practically everyone, this virus spread itself by embedding itself on the infected machine, and sends out emails to everyone on the persons address book on the computer. With an exponential type of effect such as this, the virus could spread to millions of people in days (and it did).If this virus had other intentions though, like data collection on the computer and sending it back to a central source, the level of profitable information received back would rival any other source of voluntary collected information in the world.
When a virus is found one way or another on a common users system though, the first reaction is almost knee jerk like, being on how to remove the present virus. If there was potential to receive a virus in the first place, I feel that how it had became an problem in the first place needs to be addressed just as importantly.If a company were to do this, that is obviously unethical as their means are for profit. It is a different kettle of fish when a hacker presents a similar situation.
The aurora of a hacker is a mystical one that has eluded many of their victims. To say that they are rude and arrogant would be far from the truth. A well-known hacker by the name of Kevin Mitnick bared these ethics out to the court in what appears to be a quite truthful testimony.
He aired his previous hacking experience was mostly of social engineering (using pretences of other people to intimidate low level employee’s to do what they will) and that security systems were much easier to bypass by using this method. All of the time he had spent hacking also, he said in his testimony as not to make a single dime at all1
This is far in contrast to something such as a bank robbery where the intent is to do whatever is possible to take possession of something that is not theirs, even if a human life is at stake.
A hacker seemingly has knowledge of many things beyond the realm of computers and is aware of the risks and consequences of the actions they take. Some of these hackers have a lot more power than is known, and yet they do not use this power because they realise that its effects are damaging to more than themselves.
Please note that this essay is concentrating on real hackers. There is a disturbing growth in what the hacking scene refers to as “Script kiddies”, People who use hackers code to break into systems in order to get the information they want without much regard for how they do it.
To quote from one of the reference’s I have found, which encounters the same point.
…”These kids don’t really have any skills,” says Deth Veggie of cDc, one of the oldest hacker crews around. “Since they didn’t learn it for themselves they don’t respect the system they’re infiltrating. And so they steal things and download files, which a real hacker would never do.”… 2
Although the account is from the perspective from a hacker, it shows that there is a certain degree of division of the term hacker, as well.
Taking the example of Rapheal Gray one may feel this veil of mystery is very much present in his interview3 where he refers to things as often to a higher authority, which he has control of. In one of the questions asked about what he would be doing in ten years. Quite the opposite of the Stereotypical Dictator, he replied that he would be making things such as artificial intelligences and other items that could help the disabled.
To counteract this train of thought though is the interview with Chris Davis, The person responsible for tracking down. To him, he started beginning tracking down Rapheal because (and I quote):
“Hackers have a sort of honor among thieves. There’s this hacker ethic, and this guy just didn’t seem to have that. So, I think that’s kind of what drove me to go after him a bit” 4
From this it is noticeable that the perceived opinion of what the persons abilities really were influenced how much he had wanted to track him down. Inside of the interview Chris went on to imply many things like that he is not worried about the hackers with ethics, but more of people who brag like Rapheal that have no respect of the ethics that people place concern on when thinking about their security.
With reference to the Cyber squatting article (in regard to owning website names and selling them off to the apparent rightful company) this argument that the perceived bad guys are not that wrong at all. Ignoring Mr Culicans (the positive side) poorly presented argument, the negative side was well presented and can be discussed on. To change the current way of first come, first served would put many workings of the internet out of order, so to speak.
I would bet that when the creators of the Internet would have never foreseen such major debates over companies owning their own acre of cyberspace to add to their corporate image. The Internet was and still is primarily a convenience tool in the eyes of the average consumer, and the Internet’s structure has been designed to be fast and efficient. People go on the Internet and almost expect to be able to go on any Internet service without having to remember any password they have.
In the new Windows XP, a service that is activated by default is called “Auto complete”. Its purpose is to remember all of the computer users passwords to automatically log them into any services that the password will allow. This has been a largely used feature of the operating system due to the time saved by many for typing in passwords.
If you were to imagine a security world hypothesis, in the above example the users would need a biometric verification along with their password just to get in, and then while on the information system no one else must be present so that the content viewed by the person is assured to have been seen by them only. Before they leave the computer, the person must delete all files created since the last time they logged in.
I feel that it does not sound very practical or helpful for the user if they want to find any meaningful information.
People work in social situations much more often now in the macro age of cooperative teamwork and computers, this means that perfect security is never assured unless not only the computer system they are working on is secured, but the work group is as well. Having a spy from another company keeping a tap on your workflow is just as unproductive as sending an email to your competitors saying “here is our trade secrets, please use them against us”
In conclusion I write that the current perspective of the view of the importance of computers needs to be taken far more seriously, and that respect in the activities they do should reflect how they would be conducting themselves in real life. The consumers of technology are just as much to blame for the lack of security as the products that they use. By controlling their usage of the Internet much more consciously (such as not giving out credit card information except when it is relevant and necessary) they can avoid the grey areas of the Internet much more effectively.
Remember that in cyber space, every one can hear you scream.
(Grouped by site)
Frontline’s TV Documentary on the hackers prevalence in society
Testimony by Kevin Mitnick (hacker)
Rapheal Grey AKA Curador explains about his nature of hacking
Are software companies responsible for buggy products?
Interview with the person responsible for tracking down Curador
Hackers ethics, with a focus on the moral direction. Comparisons to crime.
Cracking the Code of Ethics
A quite accurate account/list of what hackers ethics really are