Magazine article Newsweek International

Hackers? No Way

Magazine article Newsweek International

Hackers? No Way

Article excerpt

Just because the tools of thievery and extortion are lines of computer code doesn't mean that Internet crooks are hackers. By hijacking this once glorious appellation, these lowlifes are debasing a powerful, world-changing tradition. The subject is a touchy one for me because I wrote about the real thing in my first book, called (what else?) "Hackers," in 1984. (The marketing department of my publisher objected to the use of such an obscure title.) Hackers were driven to write code, discover the secrets of the new realm of computation and fulfill themselves by making computers do what others claimed could not be done. Working late at night (the only period when precious computer time was available), those so-called nerds were the first to understand the power of inactivity--sending something to the computer and getting an instant response--and, just for fun, they invented computer games, word processing, networking and other things that are now at the center of the computing experience for hundreds of millions of people.

Now, it's true that some hackers didn't march in precise lockstep with the legal system. But real hackers hew to the famous Bob Dylan line: "To live outside the law you must be honest." Yes, they broke into computers sometimes. Yes, they sometimes engaged in callow stunts. Sometimes the stunts would even get out of hand. But they wished no harm on innocent parties, and certainly didn't do those things for profit. Generally, hackers don't want to stop the world; they want the world to run more efficiently. …

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