Who is hacker?
Who is hacker?
Hacker is a term used by some to mean "a clever programmer" and by others, especially those in popular media, to mean "someone who tries to break into computer systems."
1) Eric Raymond, compiler of The New Hacker's Dictionary, defines a hacker as a clever programmer. A "good hack" is a clever solution to a programming problem and "hacking" is the act of doing it. Raymond lists five possible characteristics that qualify one as a hacker, which we paraphrase here:
- A person who enjoys learning details of a programming language or system
- A person who enjoys actually doing the programming rather than just theorizing about it
- A person capable of appreciating someone else's hacking
- A person who picks up programming quickly
- A person who is an expert at a particular programming language or system, as in "UNIXhacker"
Raymond deprecates the use of this term for someone who attempts to crack someone else's system or otherwise uses programming or expert knowledge to act maliciously. He prefers the term cracker for this meaning.
2) The term hacker is used in popular media to describe someone who attempts to break into computer systems. Typically, this kind of hacker would be a proficient programmer or engineer with sufficient technical knowledge to understand the weak points in a security system. For more on this usage, see cracker.
Ethics and Aesthetics
Throughout most of the history of the human race, right and wrong were relatively easy concepts. Each person was born into a particular social role, in a particular society, and what to do in any situation was part of the traditional meaning of the role. This social destiny was backed up by the authority of church or state.
This simple view of ethics was destroyed about 200 years ago, most notably by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant is in many ways the inventor of the 20th Century. He rejected the ethical force of tradition, and created the modern idea of autonomy. Along with this radical idea, he introduced the centrality of rational thought as both the glory and the obligation of human beings. There is a paradox in Kant: Each person makes free, autonomous choices, unfettered by outside authority, and yet each person is compelled by the demands of rationality to accept Kant's ethical principle, the Categorical Imperative. This principle is based on the idea that what is ethical for an individual must be generalizable to everyone.
Modern cognitive psychology is based on Kant's ideas. Central to the functioning of the mind, most people now believe, is information processing and rational argument. Even emotions, for many psychologists, are a kind of theorem based on reasoning from data. Kohlberg's theory of moral development interprets moral weakness as cognitive weakness, the inability to understand sophisticated moral reasoning, rather than as a failure of will. Disputed questions of ethics, like abortion, are debated as if they were questions of fact, subject to rational proof.
Since Kant, many philosophers have refined his work, and many others have disagreed with it. For our purpose, understanding what a hacker is, we must consider one of the latter, Sören Kierkegaard (1813-1855). A Christian who hated the established churches, Kierkegaard accepted Kant's radical idea of personal autonomy. But he rejected Kant's conclusion that a rational person is necessarily compelled to follow ethical principles. In the book Either-Or he presents a dialogue between two people. One of them accepts Kant's ethical point of view. The other takes an aesthetic point of view: what's important in life is immediate experience.
The choice between the ethical and the aesthetic is not the choice between good and evil, it is the choice whether or not to choose in terms of good and evil. At the heart of the aesthetic way of life, as Kierkegaard characterises it, is the attempt to lose the self in the immediacy of present experience. The paradigm of aesthetic expression is the romantic lover who is immersed in his own passion. By contrast the paradigm of the ethical is marriage, a state of commitment and obligation through time, in which the present is bound by the past and to the future. Each of the two ways of life is informed by different concepts, incompatible attitudes, rival premises. [MacIntyre, p. 39]
Kierkegaard's point is that no rational argument can convince us to follow the ethical path. That decision is a radically free choice. He is not, himself, neutral about it; he wants us to choose the ethical. But he wants us to understand that we do have a real choice to make. The basis of his own choice, of course, was Christian faith. That's why he sees a need for religious conviction even in the post-Kantian world. But the ethical choice can also be based on a secular humanist faith.
A lesson on the history of philosophy may seem out of place in a position paper by a computer scientist about a pragmatic problem. But Kierkegaard, who lived a century before the electronic computer, gave us the most profound understanding of what a hacker is. A hacker is an aesthete.
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 unaesthetic duplication of effort.
The original hackers at MIT-AI were mostly undergraduates, in their late teens or early twenties. The aesthetic viewpoint is quite appropriate to people of that age. An epic tale of passionate love between 20-year-olds can be very moving. A tale of passionate love between 40-year-olds is more likely to be comic. To embrace the aesthetic life is not to embrace evil; hackers need not be enemies of society. They are young and immature, and should be protected for their own sake as well as ours.
In practical terms, the problem of providing moral education to hackers is the same as the problem of moral education in general. Real people are not wholly ethical or wholly aesthetic; they shift from one viewpoint to another. (They may not recognize the shifts. That's why Levy says ``ethic'' when talking about an aesthetic.) Some tasks in moral education are to raise the self-awareness of the young, to encourage their developing ethical viewpoint, and to point out gently and lovingly the situation.
Are you a cracker if you break into a system for finding security holes?
Someone wrote me the following question:
- I have a question for you involving the definition of a hacker vs a cracker. I am in training to be a IT professional and am wondering what you think of this:A serson has just built a new network for a buisness and wants to know any weakness's in it. He hires his friend, who he knows is trust worthy, to "hack" into his network and report any weaknesses that occur. He brute forces threw telnet and pingsweeps the ports and finds several backdoors and weakpoints, then reports them.
Now my question for you is, is this person who is hired a hacker or a cracker. he is trying to break security into a network, but it is for a good reason in which he is getting paid. Personaly i think he is a hacker and not a cracker because it isnt malicious. You thoughts would be very helpfull because i am writing a report for school, thanks.
My replied to this was:
- I think that at the core of the hacker definition that I use (and as it is used according to the hacker's Jargon dictionary), a hacker is someone who just want to know everything from a system just for the joy of it, whereas a average user wants to know just enough to use a system. From having a deep knowledge also comes the desire to stretch the system to its limits and achieve things that others did not consider to be useful. Some of these kinds of hackers are focusing on networks, protocols and security. If then they use this knowledge to find security holes in a system, then are still considered as hackers. But there are also people who (like the average users) learn some tricks and use this tricks to create virusses, break into system and such. I would call these people crackers, because they do not seek knowledge for the knowledge itself, but to show off that they can break into a certain system or create a nasty virus.So, really, the definition of a hacker does not refer to whether someone uses his knowledge to break into a network for good or bad reasons, but if the person sought knowledge just for the joy of seeking, or whether he sought knowledge only to use it. So, really, I cannot judge whether the person in your story is a real hacker or not, because you do not mention his motivation. At least he does not seems to be like the typical "cracker", as a real "cracker" would not have told the owner of the system about the weaknesses he has found.