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Concept.png Hacker Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
"playfulness, cleverness, and exploration"?

A Hacker is a programmer with an attitude.

Though the term "hacker" has become associated in popular culture with a "security hacker" – someone who utilizes their technical know-how of bugs or exploits to break into computer systems and access data which would otherwise be unavailable to them – hacking can also be utilized by in fully legal situations. For example, law enforcement agencies sometimes use hacking techniques in order to collect evidence on criminals. This could include using anonymity tools (such as a VPN, or the dark web) to mask their identities online, posing as criminals themselves.

Likewise, covert world agencies can employ hacking techniques in the legal conduct of their work. Oppositely, hacking and cyber-attacks are used extra- and illegally by law enforcement and security agencies (conducting warrantless activities), and employed by State actors as a weapon of both legal and illegal warfare.

One in four US hackers 'is an FBI informer'

The Guardian has estimated that 25% of hackers in the US may have been recruited by the federal authorities to be informants and agent provocateurs. "Owing to the harsh penalties involved and the relative inexperience with the law that many hackers have, they are rather susceptible to intimidation," hacking expert Eric Corley said.

In some cases, popular illegal forums used by cyber criminals as marketplaces for stolen identities and credit card numbers have been run by hacker turncoats acting as FBI moles. In others, undercover FBI agents posing as "carders" – hackers specialising in ID theft – have themselves taken over the management of crime forums.

The best-known example of the phenomenon is Adrian Lamo, a convicted hacker who turned informant on Bradley Manning, who is suspected of passing secret documents to WikiLeaks. Manning had entered into a prolonged instant messaging conversation with Lamo, whom he trusted and asked for advice. Lamo repaid that trust by promptly handing over the 23-year-old intelligence specialist to the military authorities.

On Hacking

Software activist Richard Stallman writes:

The hacking community developed at MIT and some other universities in the 1960s and 1970s.

It is hard to write a simple definition of something as varied as hacking, but I think what these activities have in common is playfulness, cleverness, and exploration. Thus, hacking means exploring the limits of what is possible, in a spirit of playful cleverness. Activities that display playful cleverness have "hack value".

The concept of hacking excludes wit and art as such. The people who began to speak of their activities as "hacking" were familiar with wit and art, and with the names of the various fields of those; they were also doing something else, something different, for which they came up with the name "hacking". Thus, composing a funny joke or a beautiful piece of music may well involve playful cleverness, but a joke as such and a piece of music as such are not hacks, however funny or beautiful they may be. However, if the piece is a palindrome, we can say it is a hack as well as music; if the piece is vacuous, we can say it is a hack on music.

Hackers typically had little respect for the silly rules that administrators like to impose, so they looked for ways around. For instance, when computers at MIT started to have "security" (that is, restrictions on what users could do), some hackers found clever ways to bypass the security, partly so they could use the computers freely, and partly just for the sake of cleverness (hacking does not need to be useful). However, only some hackers did this — many were occupied with other kinds of cleverness, such as placing some amusing object on top of MIT's great dome (**), finding a way to do a certain computation with only 5 instructions when the shortest known program required 6, writing a program to print numbers in roman numerals, or writing a program to understand questions in English. (Hacking does not have to be without practical use.)

Meanwhile, another group of hackers at MIT found a different solution to the problem of computer security: they designed the Incompatible Timesharing System without security "features". In the hacker's paradise, the glory days of the Artificial Intelligence Lab, there was no security breaking, because there was no security to break. It was there, in that environment, that I learned to be a hacker, though I had shown the inclination previously. We had plenty of other domains in which to be playfully clever, without building artificial security obstacles which then had to be overcome.

Yet when I say I am a hacker, people often think I am making a naughty admission, presenting myself specifically as a security breaker. How did this confusion develop?

Around 1980, when the news media took notice of hackers, they fixated on one narrow aspect of real hacking: the security breaking which some hackers occasionally did. They ignored all the rest of hacking, and took the term to mean breaking security, no more and no less. The media have since spread that definition, disregarding our attempts to correct them. As a result, most people have a mistaken idea of what we hackers actually do and what we think.



Page nameDescription
Jacob ApplebaumA Tor developer.
Julian AssangeA "hacktivist" of mysterious background, whose website, Wikileaks, has been the conduit for a lot of whistleblowing. His pronounced disinterest in 9/11 is particularly notable.
Vint CerfA father of the internet
Matt DeHartUS hacker who claimed to have received documents about the CIA's role in the 2001 Anthrax attacks. Later arrested for child pornography.
Roger Dingledine
Matt Edman
Boris FloricicGerman
John Gilmore
Ciaran Gultnieks
Jeremy HammondUS hacker who plead guilty to hacking Stratfor and passing some of their data to Wikileaks
Adrian Lamo
Jeff Moss
Andy Müller-MaguhnDigital and Human Rights activist
Shadow Brokers
Richard Stallman
Aaron SwartzA hacker who died a suspicious death after using his talents to promote freedom of information
Afaq Tariq
Ilya ZhitomirskiyRussian hacker who co-developed Diaspora, a distributed social network which was marketed as a Facebook killer. Officially a suicide.


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Hacker Generationsarticle23 August 2011Richard ThiemeOn the origins and real meaning of "Hacker"; a term which, in company with "conspiracy-theory", "Holocaust-denial" and many others has been co-opted/invented by Establishments to marginalise research deemed most threatening to the Official Narratives that define "Consensus trance" reality.