As a computer technician and tutor, I get asked a lot of questions about technology and computers in general. The one question that out-ranks all the others in the number of times I’ve been asked is this: “Why do people hack?”
Myth: Hackers are bad. Actually, hackers are merely computer programmers who go into someone else’s code and reorganize it somehow. The term is well charted and defined by Wikipedia and doesn’t directly refer to anything malicious. Quite the opposite; hackers are programmers to whom we owe a lot of thanks for working out troubles in software and the Internet.
Truth: Hackers actually lay claim to a Manifesto from 1986 that inspires curiosity and fairness and being accountable for one’s actions. The manifesto was written just after the author’s arrest for “Bank Tampering.” His best lament is, “my crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for.” Indeed, the pressure of being constantly watched forced “The Mentor”‘s resignation in 1990. To all hackers, he is considered a living legend.
The Answer: The damage that’s done on the Internet and perhaps to your computer or your neighbor’s computer isn’t done by true ‘hackers.’ Would you call a graffiti vandal an artist or a ‘painter’ in the classical sense? Little folks spray paint buildings because they can. Sometimes it may feel that it’s the only way to leave any mark with a life that feels too small for anyone to notice.
Peers notice though. The greater the achievement, the greater the coverage. It’s a dark fame from a malicious act with no definite target. YOU weren’t meant to suffer from an attack; the attack was meant to be seen, however. The first Internet Worm in history was actually a good experiment that grew systemically accidentally crashing every computer it came in touch with. Many malicious code writers and ‘crackers’ begin honestly enough just learning how to write code.
With any knowledge comes a tipping point where a decision has to be made. You eventually get better than the average person and able to do things that bend outside what was meant to happen. Most skills don’t leave one wondering if they can damage other people’s property (the cook doesn’t graduate culinary school wondering if they should poison people for example), but computer programing reveals that there’s an awful lot of stuff out there that’s ready to break or corrupt with a little push in the wrong direction.
When you learned to walk, did you step on ants? Why? “Because I could; because they were there; because I wanted to; because it looked like fun.” I’ll bet your answer isn’t because you like hurting or killing things. As you matured, you used those same feet to take you somewhere. In time, all the modern crackers will mature and most likely become brilliant members of programming society.
There is no one magic answer. It’s something that happens and you aren’t the target. You don’t understand it because you don’t do it. It is a crime, but it’s often just a juvenile act of poor choice and misdirected skills. Defend yourself with anti-virus software, don’t fall for e-mail scams and know that someday those mischievous feet will be somewhere good.