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TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: what_is_.txt

What is a hacker?

The following was written in response to self-proclaimed
'hacker' to whom 'hacking' means more than most people think, or
even care to think. To him, hacking is a style of thinking, and
a hacker has a special relationship with the computer.  More
than just 'warez pups' , hackers for him are a new breed of
programmer/super-human who can, should, and in his eyes, do
control the world.  For him hackers have deep insight into
technology as compared to most who do not even know where to
look.  From a psychosocial standpoint he also argues that they
are misunderstood by their peers and that therefore they stand
out, so they have been made renegades of a society which should
imbrace them. He thinks that hacking is a deep-dark mysterious
knowledge, of the same ilk as that which wizards of ancient lore
were claimed to have had.  He makes the often seen argument that
hackers are born, they are not taught.  They have a god-given
talent that most will never have.


I view my summary of the above-mentioned post of the person whom
I'll name R., as typical of the growing and promulgated mystique
of technology -- that anaesthetic mist which permeates the soul
of the techno-repressed lamb --  and yet fortifies itself with
the blood of that same lamb,  falsely making crude sustenance
into critical thought.  Yet a response would help define
boundaries of current technological could, if used
in further debate, form a perspective basis of the structural
content of such.  

I only agree with what the above writer calls the "style of
thinking" of a hacker.  Yet it is not a "special relationship",
at least not in any more a sense than one has a relationship
with that in which they invest their time and energies.   Not
surprisingly, I'm talking about plain old-fashioned hard work.
The rest of what the writer says is trite to the point of being
By contemporary definition hackers are nothing more than those
who tend to have some sort of established recognition of their
peers (numerous groups/clubs, and very competitive) regarding
their knowledge of computers.  Comparatively, older definitions
were more notorious.  Today it is commonly accepted (ex. Que's
'Computer Users's Dictionary') that 'hackers' "learn skills that
prove valuable to organizations."  Even modern management books
tell supervisors to enlist the help of the 'office hacker' in
order to sway over end-users into higher computer performance
practices.  But R. contributes nothing to the historical debate.
R.'s thinking is typical of the younger generation of 'hackers'
who feel a need to amputate what skills they have from the more
common computer users who have not learned such skills.  This
type of 'hacker' feels the need to belong to an 'elite' who can
snub their collective noses at simple disinterest in their
ambition as if it were an attack on their personage. Since
'hacking' obviously means many things to many people, increased
non-analytical interest in it only succeeds in further
polarizing the lines of its demarcation.

Perhaps the most condeming instance of the historical change of
the 'hacker' is the fact that usenet hacker groups can be
subscribed to on practically all news servers... that says
enough in itself.  If one has the desire to appeal to authority,
there are a myriad documents (dissertations, reports, theses,
tommes, etc.) regarding the subject of 'hackers' and the rise of
interest in the term available via the net and/or your local
Public Library. As for myself, taking a standard
anthroposociological perspective, I find that hackers can now be
classed with those who have little more than a petty-criminal
interest in getting something for free.  Even the distinction
between hackers, crackers, phreakers, warez/filez collectors,
and power-users has become blurred.  This blurring mirrors the
huge growth of its source: the rapid specialization in these
respective areas (eg., hacking, or what was at one time was,
generally speaking, systems hacking, now includes irc hacking,
web hacking, netw ork hacking, OS hacking, and many many more
areas) and technological growth in general.  These areas would
have, at one time, all been seen as the domain of the systems
hacker.  But there is no one who can now consider themselves
totally knowledgeable in all these areas because the respective
technological changes are too great. Just to keep up with the
growth in the computer languages would mean reading more than
any one person could read.

Sociologically, as has been numerously notated, the typical
hackers are young (the mystique wears off after a while -- at
least for the most part), mostly middle to upper-class (they had
to afford those computers somehow) males  -- yang-ly it is.
Myself, I'm not satisfied with the class divisions.  They too,
are not distinct. The ever increasing ease of access to
computers must play a factor. Although there have been
microcomputers for approx. 20 years now, it has only been in the
last 4-5 years that computers have saturated the 'have'
countries home markets.  Curiously, this also coincides with the
growth in popularity of the Web. Weaved together, this spread of
the technological blanket has allowed the younger age group to
enter into the equation. As companies such as MS become the
owner of the 'means of production' (please pardon my use of an
over-used phrase), and as the internets' growth approaches what
I have elsewhere called the 'infinite-nexus', it is typical for
those bent on preserving individuality to try whatever can be
done to stop from falling into the techno-sleep of common
commodities (i.e., computers).

But this is the wrong direction!  For the real commodity we are
talking about here is one of techno-anarchy, derived from a
feeling of success in, in no order, dizz'n the world through 'no
op'-ing or 'jmp'-ing around in some simple assembler or other
compiler, figuring out a grade 11 or 12 math algorithm, doing a
little de-encryption, playing with some network protocols,
learning unix table manners (i.e., at least the 'fork'), reading
about the security holes of a standard OS (esp. standard email
procedures), playing with a little hardware, and several other
time-honoured procedures.  The results are shared amongst their
mostly territorially defined friends (a pecking order), and this
further develops the specialization trends.  These youth are
backed by our ineffective socio-legal system which, in its
attempt at nurturing, has bred a disaffected new generation.
One without need of a conscience. In fact, what was just a few
years ago an interesting, almost gang-like presence (with it' s
own graffiti style/members' name.... ex., MiNdFuCkZ)  has now
become embellished with all the normative territorial markings
and icons(sic) of any sociological phenomenon (d4c, thc, etc.,
etc.).  Since class lines are blurred amongst these groups so
have been their abstraction.  Do a simple W3 search for
'+Hackers +Crackers'.  The list is huge, with many sites up and
running for over a year now.  The fear of being 'shut down' has
long since been passed into the confusion surrounding the free
expression forum. Older organizations, such as L0pht, and Cult
of the Dead Cow are now considered respectable (not that I had
any problem with them to begin with).. But even more
interesting, newer organizations such as 2600 are not even going
through the process of being seen as non-respectable.  The old
saying that 'what was once radical is now conservative' is
indeed true in this case.  Many of the older organizations were
not just experimenting with technology that were experimenting
with cul ture.

In the 70's and 80's, because one doing this type of thing would
stand out (there were far less tools/books/materials, and even
less communication between hackers), and the results were so
much more devastating, one had to be very nimble and able to
avoid detection.  On the other hand, the modern presence (as in
the form of a topically devoted BBS) would not have been
tolerated (because it would have been too visible) by the legal
system.  Now it is commonplace.  And as anything that is
commonplace -- it belongs to common minds.  This is not
necessarily bad, it merely mirrors our technological growth as a
planet.  Interestingly, many of the sites that are continuously
running pirate warez and techniques seem to surround the U.S.,
just outside of its borders (Mexico, Bermuda, Puerto Rico,
Canada, Japan)... like a technological hormone extracted from
some dna giant and made available to those world-citizens
willing to look for it.  I'm not wailing for the good old days
here, merely makin g an historical comparison.

As far as 'hacking' methodology goes, as always, their most
useful tool is a good hex editor.  Though now, unlike 10 years
ago, there are numerous other programs which make the hacker's
job (in this context) definitely easier, ex., -- this is not a
list of my favourites, in fact these few will no doubt be
quickly replaced by many other newer more powerful packages --
InterSnoop, NetXray/WebXray, Win-expose-IO, Hex Factory (to not
even scratch the surface), a multitude of specialized programs
to help one do specific tasks (glide, keytrap, crack, satan,
jolly, wsockspy), numerous disassemblers/decompilers and related
high-level programming tools at the professional level (look at
any software store specializing in programming products)....down
to VirusLab, DynamIP, IpTools, Modem-jammer, CCManager,
WebHacker, millions of code snippets waiting to be implemented,
scads of texts on breaking/hacking
UNIX/Novell/Firewalls/ATM's/Ma Bell, and a literal wealth of
related materials at the amateur do-it-yourself level.  This
material is no longer hard to find.  It is easy.  These technoid
weapons no longer have to be made, they are available as a
collective arsenal.  This is the educational material of the
hacker of today, and the wealth of it is a problem in and of
itself. So much the more so now that the mechanism for its
dissemination, the internet, is replete.  The problem is, only a
few care to learn.  So R., hackers today are indeed taught...if
they want to be.

But the real message here is not about R. at all.  It is about
what is behind this all-consuming techno-fluff.  It is about the
ideological constructs that popularizes the criminal (Bonnie
and/or Clyde) with media glitz included as some sort of
fantastic anti-hero. So whether criminal or information warrior,
hacker or cracker or phreaker (this article isn't really about
the differences between them and the others mentioned above,
I'll leave that to someone else), one thing for certain
contributes the most to the blurring of distinctions between
them all -- the Net and how we use it. It is a new virtual
frontier -- and we are on the nexus to that frontier.   And we
have our share of virtual gun-slingers and lawmen just like the
old Wild West.  That is why we are having so many problems with
it now (as in the areas of security, freedom of speech, and
legalism). Yet as we progress, this seeming bedlam will reduce
to mere civility, as it is apt to do.  Perhaps that which will
be gone will be that which I miss the most.

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