Is Hacking a Superpower? Intellectual Discussion

(Leader & Offsec Engineer & Forum Daddy) #1

I recently have just finished watching “The Internet’s own Boy”; a film about Aaron Swartz. He alone has achieved a lot in terms of politics and ‘hacking’ society before his tragic suicide.

During the Documentary he and his brothers speak of Programming being a super power, as they are able to achieve super-human things with the help of a computer and some code. This got me thinking, and brings me on to my point and question:

Is Hacking a Superpower?

The ability to manipulate computers, code and other virtual things is regarded fairly trivial, but when these systems interact and control real life things, they have real life consequences. When viewing this abstractly I begin to think, that surely hacking can be considered a form of superpower, and one that can be learned.

What are your thoughts, and at what point do you think it is regarded an extension of human ability?

Edit: In Pop-culture and games like Watchdogs it is treated as if it were a super power.

The Internets Own Boy



Hacking is not a super power. It’s a skill. It’s as simple as that.

Unless you can raise traffic barriers, bridges, explode helicopters, stop trains, etc. with just a single push on your phone, like you can in W_D, hacking is not a superpower. And let’s not forget that Aiden is NOT hacking with his phone. Many people overlook this. He exploited the ctOS central in the district he is in and he controls the backdoor in it using his phone. Aiden doesn’t hack a single thing when he flips a traffic light: it is already hacked. He just controls it.

To compare hacking to a superpower is like comparing martial arts or being able to shoot a weapon as a superpower. Both of those things are a skill.

And for those who say “But hacking is a useful skill!”, well you’re right. But that does not make it a superpower. Having the skills to shoot a weapon is also useful in an apocalyptic scenario, the same way hacking is a useful skill in a digital scenario. Skills are useful when applied in the right situations.

Also: let’s not forget almost all hacking today happens from behind your PC or laptop. And I don’t think you can do anything superhuman-like from behind a computer. Maybe if there is a variant of ctOS in the real world and you exploit it the way Aiden Pearce would do, then maybe you can do superhuman-like things. But that does not make hacking a superpower, it is and remains a skill.

And last but not least: a superpower is something that would allow the human body to do supernatural things. Like flying or become invisible. You know, something the human body is not supposed to do. Hacking has been in our blood since the stone age. The people who discovered the fire were also “hackers”, just not hackers as we know them today, but they did the same thing as modern hackers: they exploited something to their own advantage. In their case: using fire to cook food. So as you can see, hacking is not something supernatural, because it is in all of us, but not in the way that you would expect it. Everyone is a hacker in their own area.


  • Is hacking useful? Defenitely.
  • Is it a superpower? No, because it doesn’t make the human body do supernatural things.

There is my 2 cents. Discussions like these are a good idea and should be brought more into the community.



(Leader & Offsec Engineer & Forum Daddy) #3

I can see your reasoning and appreciate your point of view. The way we define if it is, or not, stems from our definition of super power. This dictionary puts it as [quote] "power greater in scope or magnitude than that which is considered natural or has previously existed.[/quote]

I don’t think power is all physical either, ths ability to process and crunch thousands of lines of data within seconds and then draw conclusions from this is certainly “super”, and while this is the computer doing the work, we the users are telling it to do it.

Another facet is “mind reading”, a Mr Robot episode elaborated on that as technology becomes more integral to our lives (Internet of Things, Smart Phones, Social Media), a lot of communication is occuring over electronic means, the ability to intercept this and even “read their minds” when abstracted doesn’t sound so ridiculous.

The consequences of our actions has the potential to be so large that we can control large combinations of machines at will, something never before seen in history.

But then there comes the social aspect, Super Heroes/Villains are often shunned for their abilities, and punished (queue X-men xD), because people don’t understand them and their ability. The same is done with hackers, people don’t understand their skills.

Are skills and powers so different? If so, why?



power greater in scope or magnitude than that which is considered natural or has previously existed.

Hacking doesn’t sound like any of that. Hacking is a natural instinct in humans, even if it isn’t computer-related. so both the “natural” and “previously existed” arguments can be declared as invalid.

But for the sake of this thread, let’s say that we are talking about computer hacking. “thousands of lines of data within seconds” seen as something super? Well yes, it could be. But not as a super power. Because doing that is again more of a skill. Is someone who knows how to cook considered super? I don’t think so.

Next, the impact: while you are right that a lot of communication happens over electronic devices, tell me something: do you really have the ability to just snap your fingers and read all of this? I know I don’t, and the rest of the community probably doesn’t either. To achieve such an “impact”, a lot of hard work and preparation is needed, whereas with a superpower it would more likely be just thinking about it, and it would happen.

Hackers are jailed because they get their asses into places they shouldn’t be in. I think every hacker that has been arrested today has to a certain degree landed their ass in jail themselves. Yes, even legends like Kevin Mitnick. And to everyone who pulls the Snowden card: remember that Snowden did not hack the NSA. He leaked their stuff, which is not the same as hacking it. Now there are of course corrupt organizations who are rightfully brought to justice by some very skilled hackers. But this has nothing to do with not being understood. They do it because they feel what they’re doing is right. But let’s be honest, don’t we all think what we are doing is right? ISIS believes their interpretation of the Qu’ran is right, for example. Or the NSA believes they were right in spying on all of the US citizens. But in the end, those hackers still broke the law. And my opinion is that if you break something, you pay the price. It’s the world we live in. This applies to hackers who land themselves in jail, but also to governments. Governments don’t get send to prison, but are brought to justice by whistle blowers and other things. This is a strange concept, if not an impossible concept, because what if the law is wrong? Well, I got one simple answer ready for that:

The tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of both tyrants and patriots. Thankfully, the world has never ran out of either.

In my eyes, skills differ from powers mostly in the time necessary to execute them. What you said about controlling large combinations of machines is technically possible, it would take a huge amount of time to prepare everything, and that would still not guarantee your success in taking over the machine. Whereas with powers, I think you would be able to do that almost instantly, but most importantly: success is guaranteed.

EDIT: I love these arguments. So much to learn from another person!



(Leader & Offsec Engineer & Forum Daddy) #5

Such a decent argument. I’ve almost got no arguments left. But I’ll see how many more rounds of devils advocate I can play.

Cooks aren’t super (no disrespect to cooks!) because a lot of them exist. After all, the value of something is often defined by its scarcity. If everybody was a millionaire, then being a millionaire wouldn’t be impressive, same with hackers, if everyone could Intercept, control and manipulate groups, companies and individuals, then it wouldnt be worth anything.

Now on to the fact of preparation. If you look at many super hero characters, you’ll notice they’re not all super in their natural ability, but rather in their skill. Take a look at:

  • Batman
  • Iron man

I’m sure there are more, although notice neither of them have advanced bodily functions, but rather have intelligence, are resourceful, and have lots of money.

Their superness defined by what they are able to achieve, not what they physically have. This same point is made clear in the film “Whoami” a German hacker film where the character Benjamin claims that hacking is like his super power.

Beat that :stuck_out_tongue:
(PS: these arguments are just from playing devils advocate, I do not necessarily think all this :P)



Hacking in my opinion is merely a skill. It’s how you use it that can make it a superpower. However it is a bit funny because people often think of hackers as having superpowers- but that’s only because of how the media portrays them.



@pry0cc I wouldn’t underestimate the skills cooks have. And there are quite surprisingly many people who are capable of hacking. But I took cooks as an example. We could instead also say the same for martial artists, SAS soldiers, etc…

While it is true that Bruce and Tony have spent a lot of time on preparation for their “superpowers”, in the end it is all skill. Both of them used their extensive knowledge (and money) to develop their super powers, and that is all skill and having a huge bank account. If we now go back to our hacking protagonist Aiden Pearce: his super power is manipulating the ctOS, not hacking. He has achieved his manipulation of the ctOS through hacking, but hacking is not his superpower. Tony Stark has built his suit with his knowledge of electronics, but these aren’t his super powers. His super powers are incredible strength, flight, etc… Can you see where I am going?

@Cromical I agree with you completely. Hacking is just a skill like many of the other skills. The reason that it is considered as an extraterrestrial talent is because of the biased media.



(Leader & Offsec Engineer & Forum Daddy) #8

I can absolutely see your points. What does everybody else think?


(Leader & Offsec Engineer & Forum Daddy) #9

The media makes hackers look really cool, although, in reality they are actually really cool, just in a different way that most people think.



I think we can draw a conclusion already from this debate:

Hacking itself is not a superpower, but it can be used to achieve superpower-like things.



(Leader & Offsec Engineer & Forum Daddy) #11

I would reccomend watching this


(The C# Dude) #12

Ok, I think the time has come for me to join your sweet discussion here :grin:.

First, I think the thought that hacking can be seen as a superpower is of course not right, when you take it literally. But I think it can be treated metaphoric. “Events” like the Panama Papers (Interesting that nobody else used that :wink:) show how much impact hacking has on our world. Another great example is of course Stuxnet, which could be used to blow up fuckin’ nuclear power plants! Think of the impact that has!

I see hacking as that important that I am strictly against self-driving vehicles. Maybe the program behind that works, but the past has shown that a vulnerability can be found always and I think nobody wants a vulnerability in his car, when it drives on the highway with 120 km/h… This can be seen as a “superpower”, when you can stop the advance, just because you sit behind your computer in a dark room with a green shining terminal :wink:.

@pry0cc & @anon79434934: Great arguments in here :smile:. I really enjoy this community, because it’s great at writing tutorials, collaborating and discussions :wink:.

@all What do you think? I started with the self-drivinig vehicle thing, so maybe now even some others are interested in explaining me why or why not that was dumb? :grin:



(Monkey Wrench) #13

“There is no spoon.”

I’m also on the line that hacking is ‘merely’ a skill.

Super-anything depends on the point of view, multiplied by the magnitude of impact.

For the better half of the 20th century, we referred to USA and USSR as superpowers - only because of the fact that they could obliterate the known civilisation by using WMDs.
PoV - “we” can’t do that [x] destroy the known civilisation - Magnitude

The ‘spoon’ kid from Matrix also displays a skill. He bends the reality by acknowledging that the reality is subjective and relative.
PoV - “I” can’t do that [x] control the ‘physical’ world - Magnitude

The point I’m trying to make is that everything that is done is done by applying a skill; something you learned or have a natural aptitude for. Impact of applying such a skill can be perceived (by mainstream) as a superpower just because it is not a ‘common’ skill. And can be perceived (again, by mainstream) as a super-effect because it has an ‘area-of-effect’ which impacts the said mainstream.

The F.Society group used their skills to bring down the backbone of financial system as we know it (debt records).
Impact of their usage of skill had a super-effect (impacted the Western civilisation). That does not make them superhuman, in my eyes. In eyes of someone who doesn’t understand what happened, they could be perceived as gods.

When humans were unable to understand lightning they attributed the effect to gods. Same analogy applies to everything, including hacking.

In the end, “the truth is in the eye of the beholder”.

To @TheDoctor; I wouldn’t say that the self-driving cars example is dumb, only subjective (of course, you have every right to have an opinion). The usability of that technology will depend on risk mitigation.
We have city metro lines and, in the end, nuclear power plants that are run by computers. Hacking a metro line could kill a few hundred or even thousands of people, and hacking a nuclear pp could kill hundreds of thousands and impact millions (when Chernobyl melted, radioactive clouds travelled across European skies).

Just because something can be exploited, IMHO, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used. The same principle applies to locks: they can be picked, but most of us have them and use them. And we don’t get robbed every day.
In the end, it’s up to every one of us to choose what we use, what we do, and how we do it.

Having free will is a super-power every human is born with (just not all of us use it).


(Leader & Offsec Engineer & Forum Daddy) #14

Loved reading through your insight, totally agree. This makes me think about Magicians, as the un-witted audience, what we see is magic, but the magician just sees skill and a technique. My biggest take away is that it is all about perspective. Our perspective defines how we view something, and how we define something. This is where hacking may/may not be viewed as a Superpower depending on the individual.

Bringing it back to a more metaphorical sense, a fictional hero such as Superman, would you say he doesn’t have any super power, since on his origin planet he is normal. But we just perceive him as “Super”.

Same with hackers. We may perceive them to have advanced intelligence and skill while someone in the public eye may just look at them with superpowers.



@pry0cc That movie only encourages the bs stereotype society has of us. At least that is my opinion. Hackers & hoodies is one of those retarded things that the media has stamped onto us, while it is in fact not true, and I find it sad that even Mr. Robot is following this trend.

When I think about hackers, I think about laying low profile. And let me tell you, the way most protagonists act in hacker movies is everything but low level.

I have about 3 friends whom are also hackers. And they look and act exactly like the average teenager. If something were to happen with the computers at school, no one would look at them. And I think that is what makes them “low profile”. They blend into the crowd.

Except the stereotypes portrayed in the movie, it looks like an interesting movie. Is it based on a true story?



(Leader & Offsec Engineer & Forum Daddy) #16

I think the “bs stereotype” you refer to is more than a writers portrayal of what he thinks hackers look and act like. I think the stereotype that exists is one that connects to human desire to connect and communicate, mostly with other human beings, but in our case with machines.

Machines don’t argue, they do exactly as they’re told, and if something goes wrong it’s usually your fault or some programmers fault. This simple principle is one that many of us like, and are attracted to. The notion that all hackers are skinny, scrawny withdrawn socially awkward is completely untrue, however the way they act and feel is definitely relatable, to me anyway. The reason hackers are so good at what they do is because they invest a lot of time in learning, this time spent learning could otherwise be spent out socialising and partying. This for a lot would shape their appearance, some more drastically than some.

The film is just a bit of fun, it emphasises on some level the fact that hackers are just normal people with normal lives. It’s one of my favourites, and not so silly either. Compared to cyber at least.


(oaktree) #17

Dang it @pry0cc! I was going to bring up the Superman thing!!!

Anyway, the prefix “super” simply means elevated. A “super man” is an elevated man, in that there is some extraordinary, rare aspect about him.

Super -> elevated -> extraordinary -> rare

Is that not hacking? There are 7 billion people on this planet. If all 7 billion people had no arms, yet one day a child is born who has arms, he is seen as abnormal. Yet in his abnormality lies use. A useful abnormality, something extraordinary or rare, or something that elevates an entity to a higher standard, is a super power. In fact, I’d argue that any rare and useful skill or aspect is a sort of super power.

Back to the cook analogy: if there was only one person out of 7 billion who could properly grill a burger, that cook would be a super cook, because his skill, burger-grilling, is elevated and rare.

Hackers are a considerably small minority. Stepping aside from the implicit concentration on computer hacking, hackers are simply problem solvers. They find an unorthodox, previously unused or unknown way to reach some desired result. Hackers are hackers because their problem-solving skills exceed those of the masses.

If you look at IQ distribution, you will see that a small portion of the population is more apt at problem solving. Consequently, the masses have only average (or less than average) problem-solving skills. Lacking the skills of these hackers, the masses also falter when it comes to rationally perceiving the abilities and skills of their intellectual superiors.

The misconception of hacking, a rare skill, one which elevates those who possess it, is what leads to its being referred to, commonly, as a super power. The mainstream is closely-knit with the masses. In fact, mainstream media would logically attempt to appeal most of all to the majority, the masses.

Thus, the notion that hacking is or is not a super power is subjective; it is defined by circumstance.

Here is our circumstance. Most people can’t hack, nor can they properly understand what hacking is. This is because so few can perform hacks. Again we see the rarity.

If computer hacking can be used to positively affect either oneself or society, then it is an elevating skill. I have already noted the rarity of hacking.

The combination of rarity and self-elevation makes computer hacking a super power.


(Merozey) #18

A superpower is when you are capable of something which is not considered possible by humans. Computers are built to work in a specific way, and to understand other devices depending on their language. Just like we as humans, can communicate with other humans depending on their languages.

I agree definitely, hacking is a skill set which cannot be compared to ‘super powers’.


(Donnette Pinkerton) #19

It may not be a superpower (as in supernatural) but it does turn people into superheroes. Take the people who are active participants in the Anonymous Idea. They are superheroes to me (as well as many others). They might not be supernatural, but they are naturally super. And as all superheroes… They will get the pretty girl at the end…:kiss:

Smart is, after all, the new sexy. :kiss:

My respect.


(Donnette Pinkerton) #20

When I think of hackers… I think of two types.
Type Awesome (Type A): They care about themselves, their families and majority of people.
Type Fail (Type F): They care about themselves. Period.

Looks, religions, gender, sex… That all varies in both types.

I love the Type A. :kiss:

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