Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Who is a hacker? Explain what is meant by “the hacker ethic” with the help of a contemporary example

A hacker is a person who breaks into computers and computer networks, either for profit or motivated by the challenge. The subculture that has evolved around hackers is often referred to as the computer underground but is now an open community
The concept of hacking entered the computer culture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1960s. Popular opinion at MIT posited that there are two kinds of students, tools and hackers. A ``tool'' is someone who attends class regularly, is always to be found in the library when no class is meeting, and gets straight As. A ``hacker'' is the opposite: someone who never goes to class, who in fact sleeps all day, and who spends the night pursuing recreational activities rather than studying. There was thought to be no middle ground.
The term 'hacker ethic' is attributed to journalist Steven Levy as described in his book titled Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, written in 1984. The guidelines of the hacker ethic make it easy to see how computers have evolved into the personal devices we know and rely upon today. The key points within this ethic are access, free information, and improvement to quality of life.
The life of a true hacker is episodic, rather than planned. Hackers create ``hacks.'' A hack can be anything from a practical joke to a brilliant new computer program. (VisiCalc was a great hack. Its imitators are not hacks.) But whatever it is, a good hack must be aesthetically perfect. If it's a joke, it must be a complete one. If you decide to turn someone's dorm room upside-down, it's not enough to epoxy the furniture to the ceiling. You must also epoxy the pieces of paper to the desk.
Steven Levy, in the book Hackers, talks at length about what he calls the ``hacker ethic.'' This phrase is very misleading. What he has discovered is the Hacker Aesthetic, the standards for art criticism of hacks. For example, when Richard Stallman says that information should be given out freely, his opinion is not based on a notion of property as theft, which (right or wrong) would be an ethical position. His argument is that keeping information secret is inefficient; it leads to anaesthetic duplication of effort.
YGN, an Ethical Hacker Group, recently exposed holes in McAfee's (which offers its "McAfee Secure" branded scan service for daily website evaluation and has Found stone vulnerability-testing tools) website. The outfit's own website describes YGN as a "small group of young but mature people" based in the country of Myanmar (Burma) who started working together about three years ago. Based on its website advertising, the group, which seeks to emphasize its goals are "ethical," appears to offer vulnerability-testing services while also working on security testing tools.
YGN indicates it may continue its campaign of performing vulnerability test scans on websites, particularly those of security vendors, because it feels this is the right thing to do: "As responsible netizens, we believe that YGN Ethical Hacker Group is liable to disclose security issues in high-profile web sites where thousands of users exist to rely on their security-related services/products. It is unethical by human conduct to sell security products/services while vendors don't care [about] fixing their issues."
YGN, which doesn't want to disclose the names of its members, said they want to "represent our country" and "'to do security research to contribute to the security of users in digital world. Also it says Secrecy is very important to us that our Burmese government might not call us up to misuse our skills to attack their most hated countries including U.S., Norway...etc."
To sum up, YGN states, "From the look of the law, what we did seems illegal from U.S. Law perspective. We, security researchers, sometimes need to go to the dark side for the benefit of users.” So, this group is clearly following some hacker ethics…

References: (by Brian Harvey, University of California, Berkeley)

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