Essay: We Need Hackers Now More Than Ever

essay
opinion

(Full Snack Developer) #1

We Need Hackers Now More Than Ever


I

“Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity.”

In the years since The Hacker Manifesto was first typed out, much of the internet has changed. It has grown in both size and scope. New protocols have been invented. The web was born. It is altogether different, yet familiar to the hacker of the 1980s. And as fast as the internet grew up, so did we. The caricature of the chain smoking punk rock hacker (pick your bad stereotype) grew up and got a job. He (inevitably the stereotype is a male) may or may not have cut his hair. He might wear a suit now. I promise you, he is still a hacker. We are the entrepreneurs. The managers. The senior engineers. And yet, we are still hackers. As society becomes ever more dependent on increasingly complex systems, skilled technical minds with the ability to creatively discover and exploit flaws in these systems will become ever more valuable, pushing us into a new era where we must continue to mature in order to adapt to the new society where the internet plays a central role and we hackers are no longer the outcasts we once were.

Imagine for a moment that we could quantify “curiosity” within people and graph its values in a population. This graph would undoubtedly show it falling in a distribution with a large grouping in the middle and sloping edges to either side. A normal distribution. Among any population of people, there will be some whose curiosity rates far above average. Within this group, some are bound to be interested in “technology.” Telephones, computers, electronics, and radios. These are the people we would typically consider hackers, although the definition extends far beyond that. However, because what we are labeling is simply a natural human behavior, one should expect to find hackers in any population of sufficient size. While we may not have always called them hackers, throughout history we can easily identify people who fit the profile. The curious. The ones who think outside the box. The people with the brilliant, weird, sometimes amoral, and maybe just sideways answers to problems that nobody else would have discovered. However they may manifest, hackers always exist. The question is, do they ever find each other?

For hackers, we live in an unprecedented time in history. Where once we were isolated and condemned to live out our lives seeking to fuel our curiosity all alone, we can now find each other with ease. With the advent of the internet and the first generations of what we today call hackers, a culture formed. This first group set the stage and defined for the rest of us the ethos we would aspire to. We were no longer individuals thirsty for knowledge in an information desert. We were a group. An army. A family. And we urged one another on. Successive generations of hackers have grown up and joined this fold, each one learning from and giving back to the community, shaping it by the influences and pressures of the current climate of politics, culture, and structure of the internet.


II

As the internet became so ubiquitous in our lives, the systems that run and govern it necessarily did too. These massively complex systems are both intentional and emergent, and it is in the interaction of these systems that the creative and curious mind of the hacker shines. Given our reliance on these systems and their importance in our lives, the role of the hacker in discovering their weaknesses and faults is even more important than it was even a mere decade ago. In our technologically-focused society, hackers perform an essential service by revealing and helping to remediate these problems.

Allow me for a moment to speak not as a hacker, but as a member of society at large:

Not only is the hacker ethos useful in providing a framework for hackers to operate within and aspire to, but also along with a healthy community provides guidance to otherwise aimless curious people. Consider for a moment the fact that hackers always have and always will exist in a population of sufficient size. Consider also the story we’ve heard dozens upon dozens of times over and echoed in The Hacker Manifesto: “Another one got caught today.” These curious people are going to exercise their curiosity regardless of whether we as society choose to include them. Should we decide that we are done with them and push them to the margin, they will not quietly disappear. Instead, as we have seen before, they will continue exploring and feeding their curiosity, and there is no guarantee it will be in ways that the rest of society appreciates. While the hackers will always exist, so too will the rogue element. This does not define all hackers, but these people, the intersection of clever and morally flexible, exist too. In excluding hackers as a whole, society at large can accomplish two things in one fell swoop: pushing many otherwise upstanding people into the “rogue element” bucket and guaranteeing a dearth of available professionals to do the necessary work of exploring, breaking, and creating of systems which hackers so excel at doing. Instead, we should open our doors, our companies, and our schools as we encourage this fundamentally creative act. We have an opportunity to harness the power of a brain that is always working and thinking.

Curiousity is not a crime, it is a tool and an opportunity. Hackers are not criminals, they are the spotlight that illuminates broken systems. Therefore now, more than ever, we need hackers. We need hackers to break all the things we have created so that we can make them stronger. We need hackers to explore new, wild, and creative solutions to our problems. The days of the internet as the “wild west” may have gone, but the hacker ethos isn’t going anywhere. Like the internet that spawn it, it will grow up and mature.

The Mentor is much older now than when he penned The Conscience of a Hacker in 1986, but even as he was crafting the manifesto that would provide a rallying cry and identity to generations to follow, he was already indebted to those who came before him. In much the same way, we stand on the shoulders of every hacker who came before. The hacker ethos has embedded itself into a community and a movement that now spans generations and will carry forward so long as there are weird questions to ask and even weirder people to ask them.

We are in a unique era where the hacker community and culture has identity and ethos and can raise and influence successive generations of its own kind. We must not squander this gift. We need hackers now more than ever.


(Root) #2

Really loved your essay there … But don’t you think that hackers can be more than just techies? I mean Psycology, Biology , Neuroscience (even astrophysics) are considered hackable sciences too … Not to mention that there is plenty of curiousity for such fields !


(Full Snack Developer) #3

Of course I don’t think that they only exist within high-tech.


#4

This totally reads like a counter part to the not too long ago published phrack article The Fall of Hacker Groups.
While it was an interesting read with a lot of truth in it I think the author neglected the part that hackers in general somewhat evolved over time too, even when trying to stay close to the roots.

I think in general we are on a good way where the hacker mindset becomes an important role in daily life and hence we’re becoming a socially accepted community.
Of course this will result in a less undergroundy association/vibe.
If you like full underground, black hat it is for you.
I think in that circle you’re as close to the original definition as it gets.


(Full Snack Developer) #5

Do you mean this article or the Phrack one?

Also, I do agree that it’s critically important to integrate the hacker mindset in everyday life. Complex systems interacting produce emergent systems with undefined behaviors, which is exactly the sort of thing that the creative hacker can navigate.


#6

Meant the Phrack article!
Your essays are focused on the positive side of things :slight_smile: which I was missing in his.

100% agree on this.


(Dostoevsky) #7

They made the internet at large the central hub of all modern civilization. Of course, they need true hackers now more than ever.

I couldn’t agree more with your essay. Totally captures the right vibe.

@ricksanchez - I too loved that Phrack article, although I agree they didn’t touch on how we’ve evolved.

I’d personally consider my own perspective to be that I grew up. Eventually, you reach a point where you’re more interested in being part of a solution, not the problem. Anti-authoritarianism is cool and all, but helping your neighbors to be safer is way cooler.


#8

What is the difference between a soldier and a terrorist?

One is trained and employed by the government, the other by a criminal organization. But their tactics remain mostly the same. Both fire rifles, throw grenades, and kill others for different reasons. One to maintain public order, the other to cause chaos and fear.

The same applies to “hackers”. I put that in quotation marks because I honestly don’t like the term “hackers” because it is linked to maliciousness. I prefer the term “cybersec technician” or something similar. I completely agree with your essay, we need more technical people, and not just hackers. This new world is run on computers and automatic machinery. We need programmers to build the programs, hackers to test for weaknesses, electronic engineers to make the hardware, power engineers to distribute the electricity required for these systems, and so on. The world is in a huge demand for technically schooled personnel. And to be fair, there is no argument for not choosing a technical discipline nowadays.

-Phoenix750


(Full Snack Developer) #9

I would honestly expand that a bit further and say we need the weird thinkers in every discipline. We need medical hackers. We need agricultural hackers. We need all kinds of hackers in every field.


#10

Biomedical engineers.

Agricultural engineers.

[insert desired field] engineers.


#11

Engineers =/= hackers. By that logic, all my classmates should be hackers. The fact that I need to come up with creative solutions to their problems tells me that is a lie.

-Phoenix750


#12

Clearly you don’t understand what an engineer is. Engineers are designers who solve problems. Hackers are also problem solvers. What problems do hackers they solve?

Weaknesses in systems.

Sounds like the work of engineers to me.


#13

Let us take an “official” definition of an engineer from the oxford dictionary:

A person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or structures.

Judging from that a hacker may fall into that category, but I think a hacker does/can do more than just that.
He usually has more in depth knowledge on multiple fields to do what he does best.
Let that be vulnerability assessment or breaking stuff or whatever.

I would say they are not the same, but not too far apart either.
To me the term hacker is one of these newer buzzwords which where needed when all the IT infrastructure came up, whereas the term engineer has roots way back.


#14

If you think that is what an engineer lacks, then you could not be farther from the truth. I am personally close to a certified and experienced engineer and you would not believe the shit he is capable of. Need your brake pads replaced? No problem. Have issues with an electrical system? No problem. Need to cut a tree down in your back yard? Done. Okay, maybe he can’t replace your engine or wire your entire house’s electrical circuit or can axe down a massive tree, but that isn’t the point. The diversity of his knowledge is definitely incredible. He isn’t just a mechanical engineer or an electrical engineer because he went through university and has received a degree that labels him as one, no. He is well-rounded in his understanding of how things work. He seeks to perceive, analyse, learn and gather information on the world around and this is what enables him to be an engineer. The sheer diverse appreciation and awareness of everything empowers his ability to create solutions, to bend his mind, to the adapt to the surrounding environment.

Engineers don’t just build “things”. That’s what mechanics and technicians do. So what do engineers do that separates them? They think. They analyse. They understand. They innovate. Like a hacker would.

Engineering isn’t an action or a process. It’s a mindset.


#15

I wouldnt call myself an engineer just because I can replace obvious parts or do some “garden cleanup” honestly…

Never doubted that. You’re not sergant space chief instructor of mars just because you have a piece of paper hanging on your wall saying that.

Exactly.
That was my whole point.
I never doubted the ability of an engineer.
I just tried to tell the 2 terms apart.
Both have their right to exist, even when engineers and hackers share a lot of common ground.


(Full Snack Developer) #16

{Enginers} ∩ {Hackers} is large. Very large. In fact, you could even say that the discipline of engineering encourages that sort of "hacker mentality. Therefore, a large number of engineers are hackers and vice versa. The fact remains that a hacker and an engineer are not synonymous. Like it or not, Trump hacked our election system and media here in the US. I don’t see any engineering qualifications in his CV.


#17

“Curiousity is not a crime, it is a tool and an opportunity. Hackers are not criminals, they are the spotlight that illuminates broken systems” Loved this so much, great essay.


#18

While I do agree, I must tell you that not all hackers are non-criminals. Are hackers criminals? Ofcourse not, not always. CAN hackers be criminals? Well, stealing from an innocent man is a crime, so i’d say yes. We have to keep this in mind as “the good guys”.

-Phoenix750


(Command-Line Ninja) #19

The engineer you know does that. That does not mean every single engineer on the planet does that.

There is a crucial difference between these two terms that both @anon63959120 @ricksanchez and @fraq are missing.

“Engineer” is a job title, anybody can attain this with schooling.
“Hacker” is a mindset.

Now it may be true that a lot of engineers have the hacker mindset. But just being an engineer does not automatically make you a hacker.


(Full Snack Developer) #20

Pretty sure I hit on that, @pry0cc