Don't Be a Tool
Benjamin Franklin said on founding the U.S. free public library system "To pour forth benefits for the common good is divine."
Truth and Knowledge are fundamental principles for hackers. Hackers abhor lies, FUD and academic knowledge restricted to a Privileged Few. Nothing irritates a hacker more than reading a technical analysis without supporting data. Information should be free - available for all to draw their own conclusions. When told there are only two ways to do something, hackers figure out a third based on their own interpretation of available data. This creative, innovative mindset is not popular with the mainstream - unless they think they can profit from it.
We all know there are a plethora of definitions for the term "hacker": old school; black hat; white hat; grey hat - hell, we've got more hats than Dr. Seuss.
How can you define a term for a group that will argue any definition, knowing such definitions to be limiting? Mainstream society usually defines hackers as destructive kids who deface web sites or steal credit cards - criminals. Mainstream security companies and government may soon have a new definition: "tools".
Sadly, many hackers are unwitting tools, blindly following the proddings of the security industry. Prime example was the recent "Defacer's Challenge", a supposed competition to name the top defacing group, the prize 500mb of web hosting and a free domain name. Oh, yes - and bragging rights to being known as the top defacer.
Who benefited from this "challenge"? The hackers? Any hacker who can't figure out how to get a paltry 500mb of storage and a domain name should just give it up right now. As Deep Throat advised Bob Woodward during Watergate: "Follow the money." ISS - a company that sells security products and services - led the pack by inflating the importance of the Defacer's Challenge, prompting many others in the technology field to desperately seize the opportunity to hype products and services. The hype got to the point that even those who knew this to be of little consequence were forced to address the so-called "threat".
Security marketing people just love when hackers reinforce the stereotypical image that they are a threat to society. This helps sell articles, services and products to a fearful public.
People tend to fear what they don't understand and this fear is often manipulated to control the masses. A few decades ago, it was feared a few super computers would rule the world, eliminating free choice. This was demonstrated in science fiction movies like "Demon Seed" and "Colossus: The Forbin Project". Even the classic "2001: A Space Odyssey" portrayed the dangers of having computers in control. "Man's greatest invention could be Man's greatest mistake."
Computers are now as common as the household TV. People feel reassured that they have achieved some control over computers. After all - the term "personal computer" connotes personal control. Yet now people are conditioned to fear losing control - if they ever had it - to nefarious hackers. The boogieman has shifted from domination by computers to domination of computers by hackers.
Who is really threatened by hackers? Assuming a "hacker" is one who desires the free flow of information, it isn't hard to recognize who would feel threatened by this: those who want to control the masses such as government and Big Business. Although the U.S. was founded on the principles of freedom, it is rapidly regressing to a repressive government supporting business monopolies.
The Powers That Be would have one believe that hackers are a threat to the common good - "they'll steal your credit card! they'll steal your identity - your very soul!!" What are they really afraid of - that hackers might free people from the thumb of monopolies like the RIAA and MPAA? Hackers represent freedom and people now, more than ever, are willing to relinquish freedom for the false sense of security they are told repressive legislation such as the U.S. Patriot Act or the DMCA will bring. People - especially in the United States - now seem to be experiencing doubts about the necessity of information and the importance of freedom. They are being conditioned to fear technology innovation that isn't controlled by a sanctioned source.
The RIAA and MPAA is rapidly losing the fight to control file sharing and is now resorting - with the cooperation of the U.S. government - to instill fear by threatening freedom in the form of lawsuits. Instead of holding on to an archaic (though highly profitable) distribution mechanism, they should move with the times and develop technologies more suited to today's culture. People don't want to be forced to buy an entire CD of music when they only like 2 songs and there is no reason why they should be forced to.
Technology hasn't eliminated free choice. On the contrary - it has enabled wider choices. Where once competition was limited to local merchants and their distribution methods, vendors now have to compete with a world-wide market. Don't like the price your local car dealer wants for a car? Just search on the Internet to find it cheaper and with the options you want.
Those who seek to control society are now desperately trying to control the Internet. Technology is being classified as "good" or "bad", the latter including anything that is bad for government and business. As with any tool, technology itself is ethically neutral. It's value to society as a whole depends on how it's used. Those in the security field are accustomed to viewing firewalls and Intrusion Detection Systems as "good" - they keep the bad guys out. Yet in countries with repressive regimes, such as China, they are used to control information so people only hear what the government deems appropriate. Something "good" can be equally "bad" depending on how it's used.
Technology has simply permitted us to accelerate what we were already doing as a whole: good, bad or indifferent. Yes, bad guys will use technology to facilitate their actions. They probably use telephones as well, yet we understand the benefits of telephones to society outweigh the threat to society.
Hackers become tools of the system when they confirm the stereotype of being a threat to the common good. Fight the real enemy - the monopolies dictating how and in what format we can receive music and movies. The governments that want to censor our information input and enact laws that make criminals out of researchers. Hackers can help by developing technology that will make it increasingly futile for control methods to be effective.
If you don't have the technical ability to develop such technology, you can still help by supporting those who do. Free technology resources are rapidly disappearing as their operators surrender to the desire to actually make a living. If you can't financially support the people developing free technology, you can write your legislators and tell them how you feel about repressive legislation.
In closing , consider this quote from Vinton G. Cerf:
"The Internet is one of the most powerful agents of freedom. It exposes truth to those who wish to see and hear it. It is no wonder that some governments and organizations fear the Internet and its ability to make the truth known."
If you can't be part of the solution, don't be part of the problem. Don't be a tool.
<sioda at nmrc dot org>
- Deconstructing the Defacer's Challenge
- The Internet Under Surveillance
- All Movie Guide: Computer Paranoia
- Beijing Losing People's War in Cyberspace
- Will U.N. Agency Become Agent of Censorship?
- Dissertation Could Be Security Threat
- RFP statement on the security industry
Some of the world's biggest record companies, facing
rampant online piracy, are quietly financing the
development and testing of software programs that
would sabotage the computers and Internet connections
of people who download pirated music, according to