Hackers are not Criminals

Its been popular in the media for decades to call any one who breaks a computer law a hacker. Not considering where the term came from or what it means, the term hacker has became synonymous with criminal.  This is so far from the truth that its actually ironic. Its because of hackers that computer criminals only get away with what they currently get away with. If it was not for hackers the damage caused by computer crimes would be much worse. Hackers get a bad wrap and the prejudice that hackers face in todays media bleeds over in life. It would be understandable if the only time this happened was with ignorant news casters but it actually effects everyone's perception of what we do. When I say I am a hacker most people grab their children and look at me like I am a bank robber. When they should see it for what it really is. I am not a criminal, I am a hacker. Theres a difference.

Whenever this subject comes up i get the typical responses like if you don't like being associated with criminals then don't call yourself hackers. How is that fair, we need to rename our entire subculture just because some ignorant news casters don't know the difference between a group of people and a criminal behavior. How many Catholic priests have been labeled pedophiles, probably more then hackers who commit crimes. However, you don't here the media saying "a Catholic priest struck again". This is because its wrong to label an entire group of people for what a small minority has done. So why are they able to do this exact same thing to hackers and the public excepts it.

What is a hacker?

The term hacker is very broad but its basic definition refers to someone with an unnatural ability to take control of their surroundings. Today this mainly encompass technology but does not have to be limited to that.  A hacker can have any talent that gives them an advantage in the area that they are interested in. Hackers are people that don't just except what's put in front of them but rather find ways to make it better or just different for the sake of being different. A chef that tries things that are out of the ordinary could be considered a hacker or people that build modified cars or Hot-Rods are absolutely hackers.

The word Hacker.

The media has twisted the meaning of the word hacker for so long that is has became socially acceptable to consider all hackers criminals.  I admit that by definition many computer criminals could be hackers. However, not all hackers are computer criminals. In fact most hackers are not criminals by a huge percentage. Yet we are all treated as such. With this same argument in mind you could say that every single dirty cop is in fact a police officer. Yet you don't see the media calling every police officer a criminal. Why not? With this same rational that they use to label hackers as criminals why are all police officers not criminals. Its because the label police officer is associated with someone who protects the public and stops crime. Wait a minute, isn't that what hackers do as well?

The word hacker has not always been surrounded in darkness. In fact it use to be a positive title. Many believe that the word hacker became synonymous with criminal due to the 1983 movie War Games. However, the word hacker is not once spoken in that movie. It was right after the movie was released that a group of teenagers who went by the name 414's where arrested for mimicking the movie by breaking in to many high profile computer systems. The media coverage that followed is where the criminal definition of hacker came from. This definition became common place and the meaning of the word hacker was changed forever. This was not due to actual hackers but rather some teenagers that copied a movie.

Why Hackers are not bad.

Todays computer systems have security breakthroughs that are only possible with hackers. Not even considering the fact that hackers built these systems to begin with its hackers that have made these systems what they are today. If it wasn't for hackers you could not safely check your bank account on line, you could not have wireless networks, and you could never store anything important on your computer. However, its hackers that are blamed for the exploitation of all of these systems and get no recognition at all when it comes to the securing of them.

I'm sure everyone has heard the argument that if it wasn't for hackers we would not have to worry about security problems. The way this is rationalized is that it's hackers that find the security problems and release them to the public. If it was not for this then the bad guys would never have access to the information that would allow them to exploit systems. Yes hackers break systems, and many computer criminals are far less knowledgeable then one might expect. They use tools built by hackers to exploit systems and cause trouble. However, hackers are not the cause and this is only a side effect. Hackers are actually part of the solution.

When a hacker finds a security problem they report this problem to the entity that it effects. They do this to allow the entity a chance to resolve the problem. If it ended here then nothing would ever get fixed. The reason this information needs to be released is because if it wasn't released the solution, in the form of a security update, would never be created. This in turn would leave the system as a whole less secure. The entity that the security problem effects creates the security patch because of the fact that the research will be released. Once the research is released if a patch hasn't been created then the entity's product or service would be exploitable. To avoid this the entity has no other choice then to make their product or service more secure. In the long run this helps everyone become more secure and its all thanks to hackers.

Who are Hackers?

Hackers are to thank for the technology we have access to today. Where would we be today with out Steve Wozniak, Tim Berners-Lee, and Linus Torvalds? Well without Tim Berners-Lee you would not be reading this article because of this little invention that he created called the World Wide Web. With that in mind without Linus Torvalds we would all be using Hurd, or worse Windows. Finally without the WOZ life would be no where near as fun. However, are these people criminals? Well they are hackers so they must be vicious criminals set out to steal all of our stuff.  The reality is these people are hackers and most hackers are people just like them. Just regular people that love technology in a way that most people can't understand. This does not make them bad people, in fact this doesn't mean anything in regards to who these people are. There just people.

There was a documentary done a while back called "Hackers are people to". It focused on the subculture of hacking and goes in to what hackers are really like. Surprisingly its not the underground group of criminals that everyone believes they are. They really are just people that have an overwhelming desire to be different and to do things different. These people are far from criminals. Call us geeks, nerds, or even anti social and you will probably hit the nail on the head. However, call us criminals just because what we do for fun is just not fair.

Most of this article concentrated on hackers that conduct penetration testing because those are the hackers most commonly miss labeled as computer criminals. The truth is most computer criminals are far from true hackers. There are script kiddies that ride the coat tails of hackers. They use tools built by hackers with little to no understanding of how they actually work. Most hackers are actually more interested in how everything works then they are with the actual exploits themselves. Yes hacking a wireless network is fun, but when the smoke clears most hackers are more interested in how the attack worked and what can be done to make it better. Just to start over again and hack the improved version.



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