Law in the Internet Society


"We are accustomed to have people mock what they don't understand" - Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

All throughout society there is this public misperception of hacking as the source of all computer evils. Hollywood and TV Broadcasters portray Hackers as those computer wizards who immorally engage in identity theft, interception of phone calls, accessing of other people’s information and electronic transfer of money to ghost bank accounts. While there are certainly computer wizards with such intentions, this is not what hacking is all about. Hacking, however, is being confused with “cracking”. Unlike being a Cracker, being a Hacker could actually be good and beneficial.

Hacking & Hackers

In the computer lingo, the concept of hacking truly refers to “the ability to use technology for other purposes than what it was meant for.” The term was also originally used to refer to a clever expert or computer programmer. In fact, were it not for Hackers, the computing world would probably not even exist. Although not usually known to modern society as Hackers, the first hackers were responsible for the invention of programming languages, open source software such as the Unix Internet operating system, the World Wide Web and even the Internet.

Take for example Dennis Ritchie and John McCarthy? . Although their recent passing did not swarm the tabloids of media coverage like the death of Steve Jobs, both of these computer wizards can be said to have been part of the early fathers of modern hacking.

Dennis Ritchie is the author of the C programming language, which - in a very abbreviated sense - enabled the same computer programs to work for the first time on different machines. The C programming language laid the pathway for its later descendants: C++, C# and Java. Most of our current gadgets run on these languages.

Mr. Ritchie is also known to have developed UNIX in conjunction with Ken Thompson. Which, to my surprise, currently serves as the basis for Mac’s modern operating system. UNIX was later re-engineered by Linus Torvalds into Linux. Today, UNIX is known to be the Internet’s operating system.

On the other hand, John McCarthy is attributed to have developed the list processing language or LISP. LISP was created with the idea to have computers talk back to us. And with such idea, McCarthy? coined the term “Artificial Intelligence”. As such, LISP has been an important tool in AI research. At present time, LISP is still one of the oldest programming languages presently being used.

It seems then that, as early Hackers, these innovators were pretty harmless. To the contrary, they seem to have played an indispensable role for modern computer science.

Making the World a Better Place Through Openness

Contrary to common perception, Hackers work for our common good. Those who are known to be part of this privileged community have their own philosophy and mode of operation. Most importantly, they are utterly open about it. Among Hackers’ most important beliefs are the following: (1) problems should never be solved twice; (2) true contribution lies in giving away the product of your skills so others can use them.

Up to this date, Hackers help run the World Wide Web and the Internet (e.g. administer mailing lists, maintaining software archive sites, developing technical standards), they develop open source software and help debug problems from it, among other things. In essence, they assist in keeping the computer infrastructure running. However, it is very important to note that, in doing so, they are mainly working as volunteers. Thus, thanks to the charity of these misperceived “criminals” we are able to enjoy the fascinating technological developments of modern society.


On the other hand, Crackers are those computer prodigies who employ their hacking skills to break into computer systems and create computer viruses, among other things, for illegal purposes. The term Cracker is one given by Hackers themselves to differentiate from the first. Further terms such as “Black Hats” for the former and “White Hats” for the latter, have also been coined to differ both parties.

Crackers tend to act secretively and anonymously. A most recent example can be taken from the recent actions of LulzSec, a group of unidentified Crackers that were able to break into Sony and the system of a company affiliated with the F.B.I. Typical of a Cracker’s behavior, LulzSec’s actions were accompanied by boasting and mockery. In the case of Sony, they posted some of its proprietary source code on file sharing websites.

According to Eric Steven Raymond: “hackers build things, crackers break them.” To this date, there is much controversy with the definition of the term Hacker and legitimate hackers seem to dislike being associated with their counterparts.


So, where does this false idea come from? This is just another example of another result that comes about from our computer illiteracy. It is surprising how much current society depends on technology and how only a selected few know anything of substance about it. A lack of critical thinking is what makes most of us ignore what accounts for the functioning of our beloved devices, to become spellbound by their properties and, in the process, tie ourselves to the mindset, terms and ideas of their creators.

The mainstream usage of the term “Hacker” by the media seems to refer to computer criminals. Personally, this serves as an example of how much more critical I need to be before assimilating media ideas. Thus, until recently I would’ve probably been surprised by my present thoughts. But in the context previously mentioned, I dare to say: “I would both love and dream to be part of the hacking community”.

-- AlejandroMercado - 29 Nov 2011

I don't really think "hacking" vs. "cracking" terminology confusion has much to do with computer illiteracy, given that this is really about a sociological phenomenon more than something to do with how a computer works. It does have a lot to do with the fact that too many policy-makers and other influential people seem incapable of rational thought or willingness to understand the history of things.

Anyway, I don't understand why reclaiming the word "hacker" and creating this hacker-cracker dichotomy actually matters. Of course hackers included a lot of people who would try to access computer systems without authorization, which is illegal (and there are "white hats" who do that too) -- though in most cases, they didn't actually want to do nefarious on those systems, it was more about the intellectual challenge and thrill of the hunt. (And a lot is learned through doing that, especially identifying security vulnerability and developing innovative security tools.) Excluding that activity from "hacking" seems artificial and ahistorical to me, but it seems necessary as a rhetorical move for a political movement with which I sympathize, then I guess whatever. What I object to is that you're presenting all this as a lecture about facts and then telling me I must be wrong about my thought on what a "hacker" is because I'm "computer illiterate" -- when you're just retconning and I don't even think fairly describing what the people who are reclaiming the word hacking are actually saying.

-- BahradSokhansanj - 29 Nov 2011

Hey, I just ran across this post:

you might want to check it out + other things that she's written on the anthropology of "hackers"

-- BahradSokhansanj - 12 Jan 2012



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r7 - 07 Sep 2012 - 16:47:10 - IanSullivan
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