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“hack the planet!” hackers of the world unite! “Hackers”, “Crackers”, “Ethic Hackers” – do these conceptions fit “Hackers”?

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Presentation on theme: "“hack the planet!” hackers of the world unite! “Hackers”, “Crackers”, “Ethic Hackers” – do these conceptions fit “Hackers”?"— Presentation transcript:

1 “hack the planet!” hackers of the world unite! “Hackers”, “Crackers”, “Ethic Hackers” – do these conceptions fit “Hackers”?

2 A few words in advance Hey guys, It‘s a pity that I cannot give my talk as it was supposed to be, but c‘est la vie, I guess. Anyway, since this based on the movie „Hackers“, I‘d definitely recommend to watch the movie, but if you cannot make it, please watch at least the trailer and read the very short summary carefully to get the feel of the movie. I try to explain a lot on the go, but as always, this is an analysis and not a summary, eh? :) Cheers and have fun, Aidan Apple apple_aidan (at) yahoo.co.nz

3 Agenda _First of all… - A very short summary - A very short summary - Is “Hackers” Cyberpunk? - Is “Hackers” Cyberpunk? - Hacker references beyond the title - Hacker references beyond the title - The “system”/authorities - The “system”/authorities _Hacker vs. Cracker - Definitions “Hacker” & “Cracker” - … in “Hackers”? - … in “Hackers”? _Conclusions: Do the concepts apply? _Hacker Ethics - Steven Levy’s tenets - … in “Hackers”?

4 A very short summary: “Hackers” (1995) _Protagonist: Dade Murphy (18); causes a major computer crash at the age of eleven; isn‘t allowed to access a computer until he‘s 18; gets into hacking again at 18 but actually cannot afford the be caught due to the records on his previous computer crime _The teenagers: Dade meets other teenage hackers, e.g. Kate, Phreak, Joey; Joey accidentially copies very sensitive files during a hack from „The Plague“ _“The Plague”/Eugene Belford: is a malicious hacker who has written a virus that will cause an ecological oil desaster unless he gets money; works as a security expert in real life at the oil company he threatens and fools the company _The plot: „The Plague“ wants to destroy Joey‘s copy because the files are evidence; blames the virus he has written himself on hackers, namely on the teenagers; the Secret Service is on their heels

5 A very short summary: “Hackers” (1995)  A few of the teenagers get arrested; „The Plague“ almost wins, but the truth comes to light and he gets arrested himself in the end Dade Murphy/ “Crash Override” Eugene Belford/ “The Plague” Kate Libby/ “Acid Burn” Joey  The movie revolves around the teenagers‘ lives in the subculture and their quest to stop „The Plague“

6 First of all… Cyberpunk? _Aesthetics: e.g. mirrorshades (worn even in dark rooms), (overblown) depiction of cyberspace/the process of the hacks _Advanced technology: at least for 1995 (tech talk (“the Gibson”); VR games) _Self: continious reference to others with their handles (“Acid Burn”; “Cereal Killer”); these names are essential “I need a handle man. I don‘t have an identity until I have a handle” (Joey) _Worldness: The Hacker community (club “Cyberdelia”, Razor‘s & Blade‘s pirate TV channel, they are media icons in the subculture and promote drinks “for the elite”) _Death: no “real” death; “death” is more being off the network/ in jail Razor & Blade have their own pirate TV show Dade The Gibson - data

7 First of all… Hacker references beyond the title _Hacking techniques used: (examples) - Phone phreaking (as shown by Phreak, Razor & Blade) - Social Engineering (Dade calling the TV network guard) - Crashing systems through overload/viruses (“Crash the Gibson”) _The Hacker Manifesto is read aloud (by policemen); direct references: “... and never again pay for a service that would be dirt-cheap if it weren't run by a bunch of profiteering gluttons.” (Razor & Blade); “Yeah, maybe I'm not [good enough to beat The Plague], we are, you asshole” (Dade) _Well-known literature in the subculture “The red book – NSA Trusted Networks – otherwise known as the ugly red book that won't fit on a shelf”(Dade) Phreak micro cassette recorder playing the dial tone => free call

8 First of all… The “System”/Authorities _The “system”/authorities: The oil company and the Secret Service (especially agent Richard Gill), teachers, parents  The “system” is clueless and knows nothing about hackers => the Secret Service is depicted as incompetent and ineffective, e.g. they put a computer in its parts as if they could find evidence in or on the hardware of the machine - e.g. Richard Gill: specializes in computer crime, but has actually hardly any knowledge beyond the definitions and the perception of hackers shaped by the media (e.g. he is not familiar with “computer lingo”) - e.g. the parents: Joey‘s mother sends him to some self-help group talk and grounds him, but never asks what he‘s doing Richard Gill

9 Hacker vs. Cracker: Definitions _Hacker: (Raymond: “The New Hacker‘s Dictionary” (1996)) A person who enjoys learning details of a programming language or system 1. A person who enjoys learning details of a programming language or system 2. A person who enjoys actually doing the programming, rather than just theorizing about it 3. A person capable of appreciating someone else‘s hacking 4. A person who picks up programming quickly 5. A person who is an expert at a particular programming language or system, as in “Unix hacker”  A hacker points out security flaws, helps developing secure systems and doesn‘t act maliciously

10 Hacker vs. Cracker: Definitions _Cracker: illegally cracks someone else‘s system through bypassing security measures like passwords  acts maliciously and/or for profit  techniques: viruses, worms  No distinction by the law between a “hacker” and a “cracker”; hacking is always perceived as a crime: _Computer Misuse Act: e.g. computer fraud: unauthorized access to information; computer hacking; eavesdropping; unauthorized use for personal benefit; unauthorized alteration or destruction of data; denying access to authorized user; unauthorized removal of data

11 Hacker vs. Cracker: in “Hackers”? _Two groups: The heroes: The teenagers The antagonist: Eugene Gifford/“The Plague” _The antagonist: Eugene Belford/“The Plague”: - purely acts for profit; wants to make money by threating to plant a virus that will provoke an ecological catastrophe - pretends to be part of „the system“ (i.e. a large oil company) by working as security expert, but deceives them by exploiting the lack of knowledge of the company and the Secret Service alike (uses a lot of Social Engineering)  blames the teenagers and shows no remorse “The Plague“  A cracker, no discussion needed

12 Hacker vs. Cracker: in “Hackers”? _The heroes: The Teenagers: on the surface, all the parts of the “hacker definition” apply, e.g.: “2. A person who enjoys actually doing the programming, rather than just theorizing about it”  they are all performing their own hacks and even brag about it (the contest between Kate and Dade) “3. A person capable of appreciating someone else‘s hacking”  The hacks Dade has performed as an eleven-year-old under the handle “Zero Cool” are kind of a legend in the subculture and are met with appreciation

13 Hacker vs. Cracker: in “Hackers”? _The heroes: The Teenagers: but what about… _the pranks played on agent Richard Gill? (e.g. altering his status to “deceased”; destroying the data of his credit card)  the kids want to “get back” at him for arresting Phreak and Joey, but it‘s still an act of malice _an even harder case: destroying of the Gibson system: - motives unclear; preventing the ecological catastrophe or just saving their own reputation/ the reputation of hackers in general? Winning over Eugene Belford who has threatened them, especially Dade?

14 Hacker vs. Cracker: in “Hackers”? _Neither of the definitions fit the teenagers!  The crashing of the Gibson was necessary in order to stop Eugene and to prevent the catastrophe  “good intention, cracking methods”?  Because of the intentions shown earlier in the movie (as in taking over a TV network for pleasure) the “hacker” definition doesn‘t fit; the teenagers are more crackers than hackers!  Eugene isn‘t seen as part of the “hackers” group, the “hackers“ work against him as a unit “Hackers of the world unite [against The Plague]!“ (Razor & Blade)  But still: what about the (ill-natured) pranks?

15 “Hacker Ethics”: Steven Levy 1. Access to computers - and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works - should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On imperative! 2. All information should be free. 3. Mistrust authority - promote decentralization. 4. Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degress, age, race, or position. 5. You can create art and beauty on a computer. 6. Computers can change your life for the better. _Refresh your memory: Steven Levy‘s “Hacker Ethic”:  Goal: “Improving the world“

16 “Hacker Ethics”: in “Hackers”? _1: Access seems to be total, though the teenagers mostly carry their own laptops and then use connections (e.g. telephone boxes)  they take what they need; access is “made” total _2: It is definitely not, the teenagers hack their way in, using cracker methods; it‘s only ’free‘ in tight boundaries and only to so-called “experts” like Eugene _3: Authorities, as in the Secret Service, teachers, company bosses and parents, are regarded as dumb and highly incompetent; they are frequently lied to and cannot act as a stop to the activities (one exception: Dade‘s mother; though he hacks against her wishes it‘s important to him to protects her)

17 “Hacker Ethics”: in “Hackers”? _4: Race, age, etc. doesn‘t play a role, being “elite” is a matter of what you‘ve done (and that‘s challenged, as in the contest between Dade and Kate) _5: Hacking is definitely seen as a form of art, elaborate viruses are written (even aesthetically – e.g. the Cookie Monster and rabbit virus); the features of Kate‘s laptop are appreciated and admired “Hacking is more than just a crime – it‘s a survival trait”. Though it‘s indicated that hacking isn‘t done for the good thing but for oneself‘s profit, which is a trait of the cracker  not clear; but the intention goes against the Ethic _6: Definitely, as Razor & Blade put it: “Hacking is more than just a crime – it‘s a survival trait”. Though it‘s indicated that hacking isn‘t done for the good thing but for oneself‘s profit, which is a trait of the cracker  not clear; but the intention goes against the Ethic ?

18 Conclusions  A lot of Levy‘s tenets apply, so does the first definition of a hacker  Since the “good-natured“ approach of a hacker is essential in both the hacker definition and Levy‘s tenets… Are the teenagers all in all NOT ethic hackers, and possibly not even “hackers” at all!  After all, they see what they do as a crime themselves: “After all, hacking is more than just a crime, it‘s a survival trait” (Razor & Blade)  there‘s no “black and white“ in “Hackers“ because the teenagers may have a conscience and want to prevent the catastrophe, but they still want to save their own people and act for their own profit (=Cracker)!

19 Sources _“Hackers” (1995) (Screenshots were made by myself) _“Hackers” (1995) (Screenshots were made by myself) _Curran et. al. (2008): Hacking and Eavesdropping. in: Janczweski, Lech J./Colarik, Andrew M. (2008): Cyber Warfare and Cyber Terrorism. Hershey: Information Science Reference _Levy, Steven (1984): Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Penguin (Non-Classics) _Raymond (1996): The New Hacker‘s Dictionary cited in: Janczweski, Lech J./Colarik, Andrew M. (2008): Cyber Warfare and Cyber Terrorism. Hershey: Information Science Reference _The Mentor (1986): The Conscience of a Hacker/The Hacker Manifesto. in: Phrack. Volume One, Issue 7, Phile 3 of 10 online: last retrieved:


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