Scrolling my LinkedIn page today, I came across an argument that seems to come up all too often: are hackers just security researchers or are they all cyber criminals? While this debate will probably continue to rage on well into the last years of my life, I thought I would share my thoughts on the subject.
"A project undertaken or a product built not solely to fulfill some constructive goal, but with some wild pleasure taken in mere involvement, was called a 'hack.'
...But as TMRC people used the word, there was serious respect implied. While someone might call a clever connection between relays a 'mere hack,' it would be understood that, to qualify as a hack, the feat must be imbued with innovation, style, and technical virtuosity. Even though one might self-deprecatingly say he was 'hacking away at The Systems' (much as an axe-wielder hacks at logs), the artistry with which one hacked was recognized to be considerable." - Steven Levy (Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution)
We are a society that fails, consistently, to study it's own history. Modern hackers (a title which I proudly aspire to) stand on the shoulders of giants. These great minds had a thirst for knowledge that could not be quenched, something we continue to see in many of the young minds of today. And while many of these great minds bent, and in some cases broke, the rules in their pursuit of knowledge, there was never any malice of forethought, no malicious intent. The computer, like a gun is a tool, and can be used for good or ill, depending on the motivations of the person controlling it. Hacking itself is neither good nor evil, but a skill-set/mindset used by a person to convince a computer to do something (in most cases) that it was not intended by design to do.
Anyone who has seen The Italian Job has seen this duality in another setting: picking locks or cracking safes. In this film, one character is using his skills at cracking safes to steal an awful lot of gold. His daughter uses these same skills to assist the authorities in solving crimes and runs a legitimate business doing so. I run a company that, upon request from and with the approval of our clients, hacks into targeted systems. I spend my free time learning, breaking, and fixing computers and software. I am a clean-cut, clean-shaved (most of the time), contributing member of society. If you met me on the street, you probably wouldn't see a hacker. To those in the Information Technology sector, please stop using this term as one of derision or a label of criminal intent. I am a hacker, but I'm no criminal.