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TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: hackause.txt

Computer Hackers: Rebels With A Cause by Tanja Rosteck

Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec
Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology

Honours Seminar - Soci 409/3
Submitted April 27, 1994

Computer Hackers: Rebels With a Cause

by Tanja S. Rosteck


     Since the introduction of the personal computer in the late
1970s, the vocation of computer hacking has not only grown in scope
and membership, but the dynamics of the institution have changed as
well, as a result of the changing role of technology in society.
Consequently, the public image of the "typical" hacker has been
transformed from harmless nerd to malicious techno-criminal.
Fuelled by media sensationalism and corporate zealousness, their
activities have been criminalized and hackers are now being legally
persecuted on a scale disproportional to the actual threat they
pose.  Hackers want their motivations and ethics to be viewed as
legitimate, or at least understood, instead of being simply written
off as devious teenagers who have nothing better to do than crash
every available computer.

     Despite this, there has not been much sociological research
done on hackers and their culture.  I find this strange; the
academic community widely accepts the concept of the "Information
Society", yet this future version of common society has not been
given its due within the discipline of sociology.  The prospect of
a dual-class society, in which the population is segregated into
the information-rich and the information-poor, certainly qualifies
as a serious social problem.  The computer hacker community, and
the important role this subculture plays in the Information
Society, must therefore be studied with equal attention.

     Most of the available studies approach the subject from one of
two perspectives: one, a criminological perspective, employing
deviance theory to explain the formation and organization of the
hacker community; two, a civil-liberties approach that focuses on
current computer-crime laws and how apprehended hackers are being
denied their Constitutional rights.  (All such studies focus on
United States constitutional law - a similar comprehensive
treatment on Canadian hackers has not yet been done.)

     Although these approaches are essential to understanding the
hacker culture, it must be also be studied from a number of diverse
perspectives in order to properly show its depth and richness of
content.  Therefore, this project will analyze the hacking
subculture as a form of organized revolutionary collective, by
utilizing a theory of social movements developed by Stewart, Smith,
and Denton (1984).  Through its activities, this subculture
actually plays a vital role in the progression of technology, and
also performs a regulatory function for social control, by
protesting, mocking, and subtly undermining state and corporate
control through computers and related technologies.

     It will be shown that the hacker's relatively harmless
activities are forms of such protest; yet, this cannot be
effectively vocalized to the public because of the nature of the
activities, ie., hacking is widely considered illegal.  As with any
revolutionary subculture, the hacking movement is stigmatized,
discredited, and persecuted by the media and corporate culture as
juvenile, disruptive, and criminal.  And, all the while, being
generally misunderstood.  Because of this problem, it is necessary
to bring the hacker's plight to the attention of sociologists
through a theoretical framework; that is the primary purpose of
this paper.

     Because of the lack of current, comprehensive studies
available, this is a largely exploratory project.  By surveying
common hacker communications, the various social and political
themes of their activities can be examined, and conclusions drawn
about what hacking represents for the participants.  Hacker
communications on electronic bulletin board systems (BBSes) -
electronic message and file transfer bases that are connected to by
a computer and modem - are generally considered "underground".
Private, heavily screened, and generally short-lived, these
bulletin boards are invisible to the general public, and most
require private invitation.  Such types of communication are
therefore difficult to observe and study; a different channel of
hacker communication will be utilized here.

     As with any subculture which has been sparsely studied,
various definitions of what constitutes a "hacker" abound, and
these definitions vary according to the socio-political position of
the defining group or individual.  For the purposes of this study,
hackers are defined as computer enthusiasts who have an ardent
interest in learning about computer systems and how to use them in
innovative ways (Denning, 1991:25).

     This definition, therefore, does not include, for instance,
malicious hackers who deliberately crash systems and delete files,
but those hackers who explore systems purely for the intellectual
challenge and leave no traces of their wanderings.  In addition,
there are often misuses of the term, as the computer underground is
made up of not only hackers, but other kinds of computer
enthusiasts - for instance, phreakers, software pirates, and
carders as well.  For a complete discussion of the organization and
topography of the computer underground, see Meyer, "The Social
Organization of the Computer Underground", 1989.

Literature Review

     As previously mentioned, the hacker culture is a relatively
new phenomenon and major writings on it have only begun to surface
in the past 10 years, beginning with the 1984 publication of Steven
Levy's landmark work, _Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution_.
Levy examines the evolution of the Hacker Ethic, a sextet of credos
that emerged from the activities of the "pioneer" hackers of the
late 1950s:

     1.   Always yield the Hands-On Imperative!  Access to
          computers - and anything else which might teach you
          about the way the world works - 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

     5.   You can create art and beauty on a computer.

     6.   Computers can change your life for the better.

     (Levy, 1984)

     This original code of ethics forms the political basis of the
modern hacker's activities.  Although the methods used by the
hacking community have changed somewhat over time, the principal
motivations and ethics have remained the same.  This point is
reiterated in several studies and commentaries (Felsenstein, 1992;
Meyer, 1989; Sterling, 1992).  There is also much support for the
contention that the hacking community is rich in cultural diversity
(Levy, 1984; Hafner and Markoff, 1991; Meyer and Thomas, 1990;
Wessels, 1990).

     However, contradictory findings are available; there are also
those studies and media reports that reinforce the stereotypical
image of the hacker as a teenage loner, devoid of social skills,
who is often petty and malicious in their actions and hold
absolutely no morals or ethics whatsoever (Forester, 1987; Parker,
1991; Stoll, 1989; Turkle, 1983).  Sensationalist "pop culture" TV
shows such as Geraldo and NBC Dateline have featured episodes on
hackers; such episodes are wildly exaggerated in their claims and
portray the featured teenage hackers as brilliant-but-devious
thieves that spend their days stealing credit information.

     These latter works are often ill-researched; their opinions
and "facts" come not from extensive observation, contact with the
diverse hacker community, or investigations into the motivations
behind the actions of hackers, but rather from media reports and/or
encounters with only one particular breed of hacker.  To base
entire judgements on the findings from a segment of a culture,
rather than a representative whole, leads to inaccurate reports and
certainly does the hacker community no good in having their side
properly understood.

     Reports like these simply perpetuate the popular image of the
lonesome computer criminal, without making crucial divisions
between the anarchists and the explorers, for instance.  Yes, there
_are_ hackers who destroy files and crash systems intentionally, but
they certainly do not comprise the overwhelming majority of
hackers; they are in fact only a small percentage.  Many hackers,
as is their primary intention, go completely unnoticed on the
systems they choose to hack and are never discovered.  Leaving no
path or trace is of the utmost importance to hackers.

     And at this point, many people assume we would then
     proceed to copy everything we find and then trash the
     system so we could then sell the only remaining copy of
     the data to the highest bidder, preferably a foreign
     agent or the richest competitor of the company...

     It makes no sense.  We thirst for knowledge and
     information, and then you can possibly think we are going
     to destroy that which is sacred to us? To take away
     someone else's chance to succeed in getting in as we did?
     To fuel an already terrible reputation and increase our
     chances of getting caught and thus have our lives and
     careers effectively ruined? ("Toxic Shock", 1990)

     For this reason, it is often difficult to estimate the number
of active hackers at any given time (Denning, 1990; Landreth,
1989).  Not only is leaving no trace on a system intellectually
challenging and part of the "hack", but leaving a trace makes it
much easier to lead the law enforcement authorities right to you -
and, most importantly, any detection will likely lead to the
hacker's stolen user account to be changed or deleted by the system

     On the other hand, the studies and commentaries from the
hacker's point of view are often written by current or ex-members
of the computer underground.  This "insider's view" is most likely
to present a more balanced picture, of the type that only a member
of the studied culture can produce.  These studies explain the
primary motivations behind hacking and how the original code of
ethics is adhered to in the modern computer community.
Publications such as _Computer Underground Digest_ and _2600: The
Hacker Quarterly_ strive to show a balanced view of hackers that is
both academic and well-debated, as a contrast to often erroneous
media hype.

     In addition, the literature strongly supports the notion that
the hacking culture contains a strong element of rebellion and/or
(Denning, 1990; Hollinger, 1991; Levy, 1984; Meyer and Thomas,
1990; Sterling, 1992).  Hacker groups often compile their own
newsletters and electronic journals, as well as debate topics on
BBSes, many of which are devoted strictly to those with a
rebellious and anarchist bent.  Such electronic publications will
be discussed in detail in Methodology, and will comprise the data
set for this project.

Theoretical Approach

     As stated earlier, the majority of approaches to studying
hackers are either criminological or civil-liberties ones.  This
paper will employ theory of social movements, in order to
demonstrate the existence of socio-political protest within the
hacker culture.  Stewart, Smith, and Denton (1984) outline the six
essential requirements for the existence of a social movement:

     1.   A social movement has at least minimal
     2.   A social movement is an uninstitutionalized
     3.   A social movement proposes or opposes a program for
          change in societal norms, values, or both.
     4.   A social movement is countered by an established
     5.   A social movement must be significantly large in
     6.   Persuasion is the essence of social movements.

     Through the application of this criteria, the hacking
subculture can clearly be considered a social movement:

1.   Minimal organization: the hacking culture has a significant
     membership of "followers", and its share of "leaders".  Such
     leaders may be "gurus" - programming experts who are legendary
     for their knowledge and helpful expertise (Raymond, 1993) - or
     outspoken members of the community, such as "Emmanuel
     Goldstein" (editor and publisher of 2600: The Hacker
     Quarterly).  Hackers often form small groups of their own,
     which network with other groups through various channels of
     communication; this type of organization efficiently serves
     the needs of the community without the necessity of a large-
     scale single organization.

2.   Uninstitutionalized collectivity: The social movement is
          always an "out group" and is criticized for not handling
          the controversy through normal, proper channels and
          procedures - even when the channels and procedures are
          denied to the movement.  The movement has virtually no
          powers of reward and punishment beyond personal
          recognition and expulsion, and expulsion often leads to
          competing organizations created by the exiled. (Stewart,
          Smith, and Denton, 1984: 5)

     Hackers have always been considered an "out group", in schools
     (where the hackers are simply "nerds") and in larger society
     (where they are labelled "criminals").  They are not
     considered part of any social institution.  In addition, they
     are often denied their own voice in the mass media, which
     often leaps at chances to discredit and undermine members of
     the hacking community.

3.   Proposes or opposes change: this is what the hacking culture
     is all about.  Hackers wish to change the attitudes of the
     mass public towards technology, and believe above all that
     knowledge is power.  If people are not willing to learn all
     they can about technology, they are allowing themselves to be
     controlled by state and corporate power; therefore, their
     activities both oppose current norms and propose new ones.

4.   Countered by an established order: The enemy of hackers are
     those who try to oppress them the most - the state and large
     corporations.  Hacking, as a form of socio-political protest,
     is therefore vilified and denounced through the media by these
     two institutions.  Hackers' innate knowledge of this manifests
     itself in various forms: in anarchist collectives, in anti-
     establishment collective action (Meyer and Thomas, 1990), and
     the fact that corporate and state computers are most often the
     intended targets of hackers.

5.   Significantly large in scope: As stated earlier, it is often
     difficult to estimate the number of hackers currently
     operating because of the lack of trace they leave on systems.
     However, there have been several estimates as to the number of
     hacker bulletin board systems currently operating - another
     difficult survey because most hacker BBSes are "underground"
     and the phone numbers are not widely available - Meyer and
     Thomas (1990) estimate that there are currently a few hundred
     in the United States alone, compared to over a thousand non-
     underground boards.  Hacking is an international phenomenon,
     and its membership cuts across ethnic, racial, gender, and
     vocational lines.  For instance, there have been many
     documented reports of extensive hacking activity in Europe
     (Hafner and Markoff, 1991; Stoll, 1990).

6.   Persuasion:    The typical uninstitutional, minimally-
                    organized social movement enjoys few means of
                    reward or punishment necessary either to
                    coerce people to join or to remain loyal to a
                    cause or to coerce the established order to
                    capitulate to all or some of its demands. ...
                    Persuasion is pervasive when a movement
                    attempts to bargain.  For instance, a social
                    movement that decides to bargain must convince
                    both supporters and opposition that it is
                    serious, that it is operating from a position
                    of strength, and that it has something of
                    value to exchange for concessions. (Stewart,
                    Smith, and Denton, 1984: 11)

     Persuasion, in this case, is also present.  For the first part
of the defintion, the hacking culture complies by offering a subtle
system of reward or punishment to its members.  For instance, the
code of ethics is strongly enforced; if a member derides this and
deliberately deletes some files, for instance, other hackers will
in turn deride him or her.  Snitching, backstabbing and turning one
another in to the authorities is not uncommon ( Hafner and Markoff,
1991; Sterling, 1992).  This is done primarily out of fear and
mistrust of authority and the law - that if they do not offer
information, they will be prosecuted as an associate in the crime -
rather than out of spite for a fellow hacker.

     As a bargaining chip with state and corporate powers, hackers
offer the explanation that they are doing them a favor by
unearthing security holes in their systems (Denning, 1990;
Goldstein, 1990; Hittinger, 1991; Landreth, 1989.)  In the words of
one hacker:

     A major problem in Cyberspace is the lack of
     communication between hackers and non-hackers.
     Corporations are fully entitled to their privacy, and so
     they feel threatened by the hacker "menace". ... If
     hackers and corporations and security companies and
     software companies, etc., were to overcome their
     differences much could be done.  By trading bits and
     pieces of knowledge, the two opposing groups could
     together develop revolutionary advances in computing that
     would benefit all.  ("The Dark Adept", 1990)

     Therefore, through this model of social movement construction,
the assertion can be made that the hacker community indeed
comprises such a movement.  An analysis of relevant data will
further support this conclusion.

Data and Methodology

     This project utilizes an ethnographic approach, using
qualitative data and document analysis, to studying the hacker
culture.  By analysing various electronic hacker journals and
commentaries, support for the theory of hacking as a social
movement, employing socio-political protest, can be found.  As
discussed previously, "underground" communications such as those
found on BBS message bases provide much richer and representative
sources for study; hacker journals and commentaries are mainly
representative of only the more outspoken members of the culture.
However, there are several methodological problems inherent in
gathering BBS data.

     Firstly, hacker BBSes are very well-guarded, and difficult for
an outsider (even a well-meaning researcher) to access.  There are
"new-user" questionnaires to fill out, and such questionnaires
usually include technical questions, in order to test the potential
worth of the new user (Meyer and Thomas, 1990).  Sometimes the new
user is given a small test, such as finding the unlisted phone
number to a certain computer, or asked to provide a piece of
information such as a account name and password to a well-secured
corporate system.

     Such tests serve as filters for worthy and un-worthy potential
new members; it is imperative that new users be screened properly.
If a system operator (referred to as a "sysop" - the one who
maintains the bulletin board system) does not screen users
properly, any kind of computer user could gain access - even a
police officer or government agent.  It is in the sysop's best
interests to weed out unsuitable members, for if the user is not
going to contribute in the sharing of information on the board,
there is really no use for them; if all they do is constantly take
information or files and not contribute anything equal in value
(referred to as a "sponge"), they are ridiculed and their account
deleted from the board.

     Secondly, there is an innate mistrust of new users among the
hacker community.  This is fuelled by the fact that police officers
or government agents often try to gain access to the board under
false pretenses - and quite a few succeed.  Anyone, upon discovery,
claiming to be simply a sympathetic reporter or researcher will
likely be instantly shut out, and blacklisted on other hacker BBSes
- the word gets around fast.  The mode of computer communications,
where you cannot see, hear, or physically speak to another person,
makes it easy to masquerade as someone you are not.

     Law enforcement people with an excellent technical knowledge
of computers and some conception of the underground culture can
easily pass as a hacker.  For this reason, phone numbers of hacker
BBSes are closely guarded and are not publicly distributed.  Lists
of other hacker BBS numbers are often maintained and are available
on the board; but these lists are often outdated, since BBSes are
extremely volatile and usually have extremely short lives (Meyer,

     For these reasons, I have chosen to employ as data underground
hacker publications and newsletters rather than BBS communications.
Although not as representative of the diverse hacker community as
BBS data, publications and newsletter analysis avoids the problems
inherent in ethnographic research, such as winning the trust and
cooperation of the members of the underground in order to gain
entry to the culture - which, because of their justifiably paranoid
nature, would take a very long time.  As well, there is the problem
of being intrusive in the culture.

     It is important to avoid intruding on the way the group
     normally functions.  Nothing sinks a field project faster
     than interfering with the group's way of thinking and
     doing things.  At the very least, such intrusiveness will
     change the situation you have come to study; at the
     worst, it may result in your expulsion.  (Northey and
     Tepperman, 1986: 71)

     By utilizing document analysis, however, these problems are
avoided, without a difference in quality of data.  Many passionate
debates on underground BBSes are summarized by individuals and
submitted to hacker journals, which (with a limited amount of
technical skill, research, and Internet access) can be found on
several public archive sites.  These are still the words of
hackers, yet it is not completely necessary for this study to enter
the culture itself as an observer.

     As mentioned, several hacker journals and newsletters comprise
the data set.  Each journal or newsletter is comprised of articles,
usually on a specific how-to topic (eg., "Hacking Answering
Machines", by Predat0r; "The Improved Carbide Bomb", by The
Sentinel), as well as commentaries, written by various authors.  As
with underground BBSes, hacking journals and newsletters tend to
spring up and disappear in a very short time, with no explanations.
The ones used for this study, in no particular order, are:

     PHRACK:   (A contraction of the words Phreak/Hack)  This
               journal is generally recognized as the "official"
               electronic publication. (The other "official"
               publication, 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, is
               available only in print form.) Phrack is the
               oldest hacker journal in existence, with its first
               issuance in 1985.

     DIGEST:   Known as CuD. This weekly electronic newsletter
               features both academic articles and commentaries
               from members of the underground community, and
               began publication in March 1990.

     MURDER:   Issued first in October 1991.  A general
               hacking/phreaking/ newsletter.

     FBI:      (Freaker's Bureau Incorporated)  General
               newsletter, started in September 1991.

     UNLIMITED: Began in December 1989.

     INFORMATIK: (The Journal of Privileged Information), 1992.

     MAGIK:    (Master Anarchists Giving Illicit Knowledge), 1993.

     THE NEW FONE EXPRESS:  June 1991.

     P/HUN:    (Phreakers/Hackers Underground Network)  One of the
               better-known and longer-running journals, began in

     NARC:     (Nuclear Phreakers/Hackers/Carders)  Another long-
               lasting journal, started in 1989.

     ONLINE:   (Technical Assistance Party)  First established in
               1972 as YIPL (Youth International Party Line) by
               Abbie Hoffman, and soon thereafter changed its name
               to TAP.  Recognized as the "grandfather" of hacker
               publications (Meyer, 1990).

     TPP:      (The Propaganda Press)  Barely a year old, and one
               of the "fly-by-night" newsletters.

     NIA:      (Network Information Access)  Another relatively
               new publication, bearing the motto "Ignorance,
               There's No Excuse".

     H-NET:    Begun in June 1990.

     JOURNALS: These are the technical journals of LOD/H - the
               elite Legion of Doom/Hackers group.  This four-part
               set was released in January 1987 as a one-time

     These periodicals constitute a rich cross-section of the
computer underground culture.  The authors of articles that appear
in these journals and newsletters are generally considered the more
"elite" or knowledgeable hackers in the culture, especially those
who write the how-to articles.  Therefore, these periodicals can be
considered adequately representative of the culture's ethics,
beliefs, and values.

     The following sections will provide and discuss data, culled
from these periodicals, supporting each of the six characteristics
of social movements outlined by Stewart, Smith, and Denton (1984).
These six points were provided as the theoretical framework for
this study - please refer back to Theoretical Approach for an
outline of this model.

Characteristic #1: Minimal Organization

     Gordon Meyer (1989), in "Social Organization of the Computer
Underground", provides a comprehensive study of how hackers and
computer underground members organize through BBSes and other
illicit channels of communication, such as corporate voice-mail
bases and telephone "bridges".  These methods allow hackers to
share vital information such as who's been arrested or searched,
which systems have shut down, new numbers to try, security holes
that have been discovered, etc.  Although hacking is primarily a
solitary activity, hackers need to network, through BBSes and other
channels of communication, into groups to share information and
technique, and also to give a feeling of community.

     Such groups usually do not have leaders in the real sense
(Meyer, 1989), but some members are bound to know more than others,
and the veterans of the group act as "big brothers" and guides to
novice hackers.  For instance:

     I learned as much as I could as fast as I could, and
     after several months of intensive hacking and
     information-trading, the Cracker was no longer a novice.
     I knew a lot about hacking by then, and because I liked
     to share what I knew, I gained the reputation of being
     someone to go to if you were having trouble. ... As the
     Cracker's reputation grew, answering such requests became
     a matter of pride.  (Bill Landreth (aka "The Cracker"),
     1989: 16)

     In addition, hackers regularly get together socially, whether
in small groups, or at large national gatherings called "cons"
(conventions).  Cons are organized by elite groups and tend to draw
fairly large crowds.  Cons feature guest speakers, who are usually
elite and well-known hackers, and occasionally academic or
professionals in the computer fields as well.  Once planned, cons
are advertised on underground boards and through hacker
publications.  Each convention has a unique name - the HoHoCon in
Houston, SummerCon, PumpCon at Halloween, and DefCon, to name a few
main ones.  Conventions as social gatherings, however, have their
own set of problems:

     Friday, October 30, 1992, Pumpcon began, at the Courtyard
     of the Marriott, in Greenburgh, NY.  All in all, about 30
     hackers showed up, and had a great time.  At least until
     the evening of Oct. 31st, when 8-10 members of the
     Greenburgh police force showed up and raided the Con.  A
     few hackers who had been out driving around during the
     time of the bust returned a few hours later, and when
     they were seen by police, they were immediately taken to
     255 and questioned.  (They were walking down the hall,
     when a cop appeared, and told them to step into a room.)
     The cops asked them if they were hackers, and when they
     didn't answer, one police officer reached into the coat
     pocket of one of the people, and produced an auto dialer.
     This in itself was enough to send the three to room 255,
     where the rest of the hackers were being held for
     questioning.  My question to you - isn't that just a bit
     illegal?  Bodily search without probable cause OR a
     warrant?  Ooops - I'm forgetting - we're HACKERS!  We're
     ALL BAD!  We're ALWAYS breaking the law.  We don't have
     RIGHTS!. ... In one of the rooms, there were about 2
     dozen computer magazines which were apparently
     confiscated, although the warrant did not specify that
     magazines could be taken.  But, when you're busting
     HACKERS, I suppose you can take what you want.  After
     all, hackers are evil geniuses, and don't have the same
     rights as NORMAL criminals do.  (by "Someone

Characteristic #2: Uninstitutionalized collectivity

     Hackers have always been considered an "out" group in society.
In schools, hackers are seen as "nerds" and "loners" without social
skills (Levy, 1984; Turkle, 1983); in larger society, they are
prosecuted by those in power.  In the words of a hacker:

     "I am a hacker."  If I ever told that to anyone, it would
     immediately be assumed that I am a malicious,
     vandalising, thieving, pseudo-terrorist out to take over
     the computers of the world for personal gain or quite
     possibly to glean some morbid satisfaction from deleting
     megs upon megs of valuable data.

     "I am associated with the computer underground."  If I
     ever told that to anyone, there would be a flash flood of
     foolish associations in that person's mind between myself
     and The Mafia, with Saddam Hussein, Syria, Libya, Abu
     Nidal, and who knows what else.

     Almost universally, among the ignorant majority, we
     hackers are considered to be dangerous thugs whose sole
     purpose in life is to cause as much damage as we can in
     as little time as possible to the largest number of

     Sure, there are those little kiddies (mental and
     physical) who call themselves "hackers" and fit the above
     descriptions.  There are also people who call themselves
     "human beings" that rape, murder, cheat, lie and steal
     every few minutes (or is it seconds, now?).  Does that
     mean that all "human beings" should then be placed in
     prison?  ("Toxic Shock", 1990)

     As with any minority group, hackers are judged as outcasts,
and social, economic, and political resources are withheld from
them as a result.  The commentary on the police raid at the PumpCon
convention (see page above), as well as the commentary above,
are reflections of hackers' anger at being constantly derided and
looked down upon as a worthless menace.  The hacking culture is
definitely not a part of any established institution.  However,
hackers often express a wish to work with an established
institution, such as the police, for both personal gain (less
chance of being prosecuted yourself) and for the good of the
movement (hackers feel that police should be spending their time
and resources going after the real computer criminals, such as
corporate embezzlers).

     We cannot, we WILL not, allow this tyranny to continue!
     The United States Government has ignored the voice of the
     Electronic Community long enough! When we told the
     government that what they were doing was wrong, they
     refused to listen! When we formed political action groups
     to bring our cases to court and before Congress, we were
     told that we were using loopholes in the law to get away
     with crime!!! We have, in a peaceful and respectful
     manner, given our government more than reasonable
     petition for redress of our grievances, but if anything
     the situation has gotten worse!

     Government administrations use computer crime as a weapon
     in internal battles over jurisdiction. Government
     officials, who have only the slightest understanding of
     computer science, use computer crime as a tool for career
     success. Elected Representatives, who have absolutely no
     understanding of computers, use "information
     superhighways", computer crime, and cryptography to gain
     constituent money and voter support! The Electronic
     Community, the only group who fully understands the
     issues involved here, and the only group who is effected
     by the decisions being made, has been completely ignored!
     ("The White Ninja", 1994)

Characteristic #3: Proposes or opposes change

     Here, hackers definitely qualify under this criteria.  As
stated previously, a primary hacker ethic is that information and
knowledge is power (Denning, 1990; Landreth, 1989; Levy, 1984).  In
fact, the motto of the electronic hacker journal NIA (Network
Information Access) is "Ignorance, There's No Excuse".  There is a
general call to the public to educate themselves in technology,
lest it be used to control them:

     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)

     Most, if not all, of us think information should be
     exchanged freely... If everyone is kept abreast of the
     newest technologies, techniques, what have you, then
     everyone can benefit...The more each of us knows, the
     fewer past mistakes we will repeat, the greater knowledge
     base we will have for future developments. ("Toxic
     Shock", 1990)

     Many hackers share a common utopian vision - that of an
electronic society where information is free and uncontrolled,
democracy reigns on the "information highway", and creativity and
ingenuity are revered traits:

     The hackers are needed again.  We can solve problems, get
     it done, make it fun.  The general public has a vested
     interest in this!  The public has a vested interest in
     electronic privacy, in secure personal systems, and in
     secure e-mail.  As everyone learns more, the glamour and
     glitz of the mysterious hackers will fade.  Lay people
     are getting a clearer idea of what's going on.  ("Johnny
     Yonderboy", 1990)

     For further reference, see Steven Levy's landmark work,
Hackers: Heroes of the Compu

Characteristic #4: Countered by an established institution

     As was seen in the previous section, hackers are angry at the
way they are portrayed in the mass media.  In this case, the
"established order" includes most of those - the legal authorities,
the corporations, the government - that have a vested interest in
keeping hackers and their socio-political messages at a standstill.

     This is our world now... the world of the electron and
     the switch, the beauty of the baud.  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.  We exist without skin color, without
     nationality, without religious bias... and you call us
     criminals.  You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you
     murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe
     it's for our own good, yet we're the criminals.

     Yes, I am a criminal.  My crime is that of curiosity.  My
     crime is that of judging people by what they say and
     think, not what they look like.  My crime is that of
     outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me
     for.  ("The Mentor", 1986)

     Hackers are very prolific on this topic, and certainly don't
mince words when it comes to voicing their anger at those
institutions that oppress them:

     But, even as I type this, I begin to realize just why we
     are such a feared group of people...

     We are misunderstood by the majority.

     You cannot understand someone who judges others by what
     they say, think, and do, rather than how they look or how
     large their income is.
     You cannot understand someone who wants to be honest and
     sharing, instead of lying, stealing, and cheating.

     You cannot understand us because we are different.
     Different in a society where conformity is the demanded
     norm.  We seek to rise above the rest, and then to pull
     everyone else up to the same new heights.  We seek to
     innovate, to invent.  We, quite seriously, seek to boldly
     go where no one has gone before.

     We are misunderstood, misinterpreted, misrepresented.

     All because we simply want to learn.  We simply want to
     increase the flow of information and knowledge, so that
     EVERYONE can learn and benefit.  ("Toxic Shock", 1990)

     Such oppression, without a proper venting of anger and
frustration, can lead to  anarchy - and many hackers have an
anarchist/rebellious bent for this very reason (Meyer and Thomas,

     There is one last method of this war against computer
     abusers.  This is a less subtle, less electronic method,
     but much more direct and gets the message across.  I am
     speaking of what is called Anarchy.  Anarchy as we know
     it does not refer to the true meaning of the word (no
     ruling body), but to the process of physically destroying
     buildings and governmental establishments.  This is a
     very drastic, yet vital part of this "techno-revolution."
     ("Doctor Crash", 1986)

     Many anarchist newsletters and journals began circulation in
1989 and 1990, which were the beginning years of a massive legal
crackdown on hackers in the United States.  Suspected hackers'
houses were raided, equipment confiscated (and to this day, much is
not yet returned), and various charges laid.

     Several high-profile trials went to session, such as that of
"Knight Lightning".  One of the more paranoia-fueled raids was done
on Steve Jackson Games, a company that produced role-playing
simulation games.  The accompanying book for one game, GURPS
Cyberpunk, was admonished by legal authorities as "a manual for
computer crime" (Sterling, 1992: 142).  For a complete discussion
of these raids and accompanying legal hassles hackers faced, refer
to The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling (1992).  These arrests
and trials were also closely monitored by the Electronic Freedom
Foundation, a lobby group started as a response to this crackdown.
Various commentaries, responses, and angry manifestos regarding
these raids are also published regularly in The Computer
Underground Digest.

Characteristic #5: Significantly large in scope

     As mentioned, the hacker culture is not unique to North
America; many hackers in other countries have been similarly
prosecuted and hounded by the media.  The best-known case of this
is the hackers of Europe.  One group, the Chaos Computer Club, has
members in France and Germany.  The Netherlands has their own
prominent group, HACK-TIC.  These groups, as well as others from
around Europe, gather each year for the Chaos Computer Club's
annual conference in Germany.

     Contrary to the name, the CCC is well-organized, publishes its
annual conference proceedings, and is generally considered a
resource base for other European hackers.  Most famous of the
German hackers is Markus Hess, whose long-distance explorations
into American systems was documented by Cliff Stoll, in his 1989
book The Cuckoo's Egg.  Another example of large-scale organization
are the hacker conventions in the United States.  Also, the number
of hacker bulletin board systems in the United States alone,
previously stated as somewhere around a few hundred, are a
testament to the wide scale of this phenomenon.

     Hackers maintain that there are others just like them all
around the world, and when they realise they are intellectually and
mentally different than most other people, it's like a revelation.

     And then it happened... a door opened to a world...
     rushing through the phone line like heroin through an
     addict's veins, an electronic pulse is sent out, a refuge
     from the day-to-day incompetencies is sought... a board
     is found.

     "This is it... this is where I belong..." I know everyone
     here... even if I've never met them, never talked to
     them, may never hear from them again... I know you all...

     I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto.  You may stop
     this individual, but you can't stop us all... after all,
     we're all alike.  ("The Mentor", 1986)

Characteristic #6: Persuasion

     As previously discussed in Theoretical Approach, the hacker
culture often employs reward and punishment in keeping their
movement together.  Hackers that defy the ethics and values of the
underground are castigated, and the word of the deed and the
offender quickly travels through the social network.

     For instance, in Out of the Inner Circle, Bill Landreth (aka
"The Cracker") documents the development of the Inner Circle, an
elite group of hackers which he helped create.  The Inner Circle
had unwritten rules similar to the Hacker Ethic, and such rules
were strictly enforced:

     The fact that we tried to invite only those people who
     already met these two requirements quickly resulted in an
     unwritten "code of ethics" that was, and remained, the
     philosophy that held the Inner Circle together. ... We
     had many good reasons to follow these basic rules.  But
     the most important, as far as the Inner Circle was
     concerned, had to do with the basic principle of
     respecting other people's property and information.  We
     wre explorers, not spies, and to us, damaging computer
     files was not only clumsy and inelegant - it was wrong.
     (Landreth, 1989: 18)

     Some hackers think the time has come - that those in power are
finally willing to listen to them:

     Just exactly how far should the government go to protect
     companies and their data?  Exactly what are the
     responsibilities of a company with sensitive, valuable
     data in their computer systems?  There is a distinct
     feeling that private-sector companies should be doing
     more to protect themselves.  Hackers can give an
     important viewpoint on these issues, and all of a sudden
     there are people willing to listen.  ("Johnny Yonderboy",

Others become activists, and one hacker actively seeks out the
corporate sector by submitting technical security articles to The
Computer Underground Digest, a journal that is widely read by both
hackers and computer professionals alike:

     ... I hope to break down this barrier of resentment by
     crossing over the lines of the Underground into the
     "real" world and providing valuable information about
     systems, security, interfacing, etc.  I hope other will
     follow suit, and that the private sector will reciprocate
     by allowing technical information to flow into the
     Underground.  Ultimately, I hope there will be a rapport
     between hackers and members of the private sector so that
     we may learn from each other and make the best use
     possible of this greatest of inventions, the computer.
     ("The Dark Adept", 1990)

     Overwhelmingly, it looks like The Dark Adept's vision is not
being realised so far.  Hackers continue to be raided and charged
under newly-constructed computer crime laws that are vague at best,
and constitutionally improper at worst.  This largely misunderstood
culture is extending the symbolic olive branch to corporate
industry, by offering to share their knowledge and expertise to
create better technology for everyone.

     However, corporate culture constantly denies this offering.
Preliminary experiments have been done in the United States, with
hackers being hired by companies to test their systems, and the
results have been overwhelmingly positive (Denning, 1990).  Why,
then, is this practice not adopted widely?  A discussion of the
implications of this, including power relations and econo-political
control, could easily comprise another thesis; for this reason, it
will not be delved into here.

Conclusions and Summary

     In this paper, the conception of the computer hacking
phenomenon as a social movement has been explored.  Working with a
theoretical model of social movements developed by Stewart, Smith,
and Denton (1984), various hacker writings have supported the idea
of the existence of social collectivity.  As the hacker culture is
relatively new and astonishingly under-studied, these conclusions
can be taken as preliminary.  I hope this study has laid a
groundwork for further sociological study of the computer

     As the proliferation of hackers' anarchist tendencies
suggests, this culture desperately needs some understanding, as
well as a sympathetic ear.  We have seen that corporate industry
rejects the knowledge and technical expertise of hackers; could not
a higher level of technology be realised if these two factions were
to work together?  The answer to this will be found in the future.
As the possibility of a global Information Society draws closer,
people must be willing to take their technical education into their
own hands.  We could all learn a valuable lesson from hackers: that
intellectual hunger and the quest for knowledge should be central
in our society.

     The coming of the Information Society has been heralded by
academics and non-academics alike.  The notion of a free,
democratic, electronic society has been beholded as a sort of
utopia, where information flows unencumbered and freedom of speech
is key.  However, there is a dark side to this as well.
Information is becoming increasingly private, and many people fear
the Information Society will actually be a sort of Orwellian 1984-
type society instead:

     There's something wrong with the Information Society.
     There's something wrong with the idea that "information"
     is a commodity like a desk or chair. ... Knowledge is
     power.  The rise of computer networking, of the
     Information Society, is doing strange and disruptive
     things to the processes by which power and knowledge are
     currently distributed.

     I don't think democracy will thrive in a milieu where
     vast empires of data are encrypted, restricted,
     proprietary, confidential, top secret, and sensitive.  I
     fear for the stability of a society that builds
     sandcastles out of databits and tries to stop a
     real-world tide with royal commands.  (Sterling, 1992)

The debate goes on; either we can sit, wait patiently, and see how
it all turns out; or we can act, educate ourselves and each other,
and be ready for whatever hits.  I will end this project with an
appropriate quote from a hacker:

     If you need a tutorial on how to perform any of the above
     stated methods, please read a file on it.  And whatever
     you do, continue the fight.  Whether you know it or not,
     if you are a hacker, you are a revolutionr Crash", 1986)

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