Is Stealing Property Okay? Are Hackers Heroes?

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Photo by Jason Csizmadi

Hackers were once looked upon as creative, fun and would you believe it, innocent as researched in my previous blog ‘Hacking: The Art of Trickery’. But now we view hackers as mischievous, self-righteous and sometimes criminal. Traditional hackers were once seen as unsung heroes but what about modern day ones?

Hackers Vs Crackers

The above documentary shows clips from the likes of Steve Wozniak (founder of Apple) discuss what being a hacker is. Their perception of a hacker was somebody that “hacked at a keyboard” until the programme functioned as they wanted it to. People that used those skills for illegal purposes to ‘crack’ a system were called ‘crackers’ like anonymous which represent today’s perception of a hacker.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a hacker as  “a person who uses computers to gain unauthorised access to data. In the contrary, they also give an informal definition of a hacker as “an enthusiastic and skillful computer programmer or user” which is more in-line with what traditional hackers were.

The above video ‘Hackers-Wizards of the electronic Age’ suggests traditional hackers hacked for the love of it. They want to explore, create and share their interests and discoveries in order to help the community. They believed in open source software that allowed users have control over the programme. Hacking was an obsessive hobby that traditional hackers wanted to share with everybody. Traditional hackers who shared this idea shared the four freedoms as suggested by Richard M Stallman below.

Stallman suggests Freedom 0 allows users to use the programme as they wish to work on a project. Freedom 1 dictates the ability to study the work in the best way possible, be it studying the source code or changing it. Stallman suggests that the two above freedoms allow individual people to adapt the software to their needs but individual control alone is not sufficient. Freedom 3 suggests individuals need the freedom to redistribute exact copies with freedom 4 allowing users to redistribute modified versions to allow for group co-operation.  Stallman argues that traditional hackers operated on freedom 4, sharing their findings and programmes with the wider community to learn and benefit from. Are traditional hackers heroic for sharing discoveries with the community? Should information be free and accessible to everybody in order to learn, grow and develop?

Popular hacking group ‘Anonymous’ seem to think so. Anonymous initially started out  as ‘trolls’ which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as “people that intentionally leave annoying messages on the internet in order to get attention or cause trouble.” In recent years, they have grown into a larger organisation with hidden IP addresses and faces covered by Guy Fawkes masks as portrayed in ‘V for Vendetta‘. Their values are not quite clear but they have seemed to grow into an activists organisation fighting for moral causes. Does this make them heroic?

Who are the Real Heroes?

Both traditional hackers like Richard M Stallman and modern day hackers like Anonymous are heroic in their own ways.  Traditional hackers promote open source programmes to allow people learn and develop their own programmes (Hackers-Wizards of the electronic Age).  A lot of programmes we have today wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t for the hacking pioneers of the web world like Steve Wozniak and Apple. They were the heroes behind today’s inventions.

If I was to directly compare the traditional sense of what a hacker is to modern-day hacking groups like Anonymous, modern hacking groups must be villainous. They seem to be power hungry and self-serving. According to their activity in recent years, it seems their values have shifted from trolling to fighting for moral causes.

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Screenshot from above video by Mashable

Anonymous now seem to work to expose corruption and help fight the injustices of the world. A lot of projects they participate is are illegal like stealing confidential information (Dailymail). But when they vow to fight the likes of ISIS (Mirror.co.uk), can we really condemn them for trying to help the world? It’s clear they’re not helping the world like traditional hackers did with open sharing of code, but they are sharing something, and helping someone.

It seems society has altered what’s acceptable in our minds. In the past, hacking to steal private information was frowned upon by most everybody, but if it’s for the greater good, is it all that bad? Are Anonymous the heroes we initially didn’t want, but now need?

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