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Hackers "good"?

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Plato
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When a hacker violates property rights, he forfits his own rights, which he himself needs to further his own life. This act is anti-life, and is therefore immoral.

I do believe there are "hackers" companies hire to find security holes, but that does not involve any violation of rights.

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I was discussing some issues with some friends and we came to the subject of hackers/hacking. By definition all a hacker is, is someone who is a skilled programmer...of course it has a negative conotation. But what do you guys think about hackers? Is it moral to hack?

I believe the proper definition of a hacking is: “manipulating electronic systems to provide functionality they were not originally designed to provide.” (My own definition.)

A cracker is someone who accesses electronic systems without the owner’s permissions.

So hacking can isn't necessarily immoral, but cracking is.

A skilled programmer is a coder, technologist, or developer, though I’m not aware of any terms that emphasize “skilled” since techies would deny that any un-skilled programmer has earned the right to use those terms. Uber-geek, perhaps?

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Once it's codified an in RFC, it's internet law. :thumbsup:RFC1392 says:

hacker

      A person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the

      internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in

      particular.  The term is often misused in a pejorative context,

      where "cracker" would be the correct term.  See also: cracker.

cracker

      A cracker is an individual who attempts to access computer systems

      without authorization.  These individuals are often malicious, as

      opposed to hackers, and have many means at their disposal for

      breaking into a system.  See also: hacker, Computer Emergency

      Response Team, Trojan Horse, virus, worm.

With that out of the way, a computer and the services offered by a computer are personal property. Deliberately bypassing authentication or accessing a system for services other than those freely given is theft of service. A hacker can be good. A cracker is a thief.

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  • 1 year later...

Hello,

As a hacker myself, I would like to add some to this topic and see what others say.

Hacking is widely misconstrued by the media. It is not a bunch of teenagers or Russian mobsters planning to make millions by stealing your credit card number. More often than not, its someone sitting alone in front of a computer, working on an exploit or finding holes in software. Real hackers will use that exploit to gain access to another system, at which point they will have access to new software and new toys to play it and learn from. It is all about learning. Forget the whole digital chaos and identity theft bit, that is not what hackers do. Hackers learn.

Now, Im not going to try to put all these arguments through Objective analsysis, I'l leave that for the seasonsed Objectivists out there.

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I took an internet security class a few years ago when I was in college. During the ethics lecure, I noticed that my professor quoted Ayn Rand when he was talking about the importance of privacy in hacking. He was explaining that if a hacker inadvertently comes across someone's personal information, it is immoral of him to actually look at it. Here is the link to his power point presentation: http://www.cs.wright.edu/~pmateti/Privacy/pm000615.ppt

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What if the information would give him access to another system?

Or, perhaps more a question of ethics, what if it is an email about a corporate scandal? Or as Eternal said, was politically motivated? There are many hackers in middle eastern countries living under oppressive governments, fighting for free speech. The Cult of the Dead Cow has worked with Chinese hackers to circumvent filtering and other acts of censorship.

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There are many hackers in middle eastern countries living under oppressive governments, fighting for free speech.
GC's definitions still hold, because a chinese hacker circumventing a Chinese government firewall is not, qua circumvention, violating anyone's rights. The Chinese government is violating his. In this regard, the situation in China is so different from western nations that one can understand people doing all sorts to get around the government.

A cracker coming across an email that is evidence of a crime is in the situation of (say) a burglar who happens upon a murdered person when he breaks into a house. On the other hand, a legitimate investigator (assuming the right process has been followed) may hack into a system to find such evidence.

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  • 3 weeks later...
A hacker can be good. A cracker is a thief.

Also, a cracker can be, but is not neccessarily a hacker (and vice versa). This is owing to the fact that other crackers (who were also hackers) developed programs which enable simple cracking.

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I believe the proper definition of a hacking is: “manipulating electronic systems to provide functionality they were not originally designed to provide.” (My own definition.)

A cracker is someone who accesses electronic systems without the owner’s permissions.

So hacking can isn't necessarily immoral, but cracking is.

I wouldnt even say cracking is necessarily immoral - there are further sub-distinctions to be made. White hat cracking (breaking in just to see if you can, and doing no damage - perhaps just acting for the intellectual challenge, or to learn) isnt particularly immoral imo, but black hat cracking (malicious entry, doing damage, stealing etc) obviously is. White hat cracking can actually be beneficial to the owners of the system, assuming the crackers report the vulnerabilities which they found.

Richard Feynmann's anecdotes about the harmless (=non-malicious) safe-cracking/lock-picking he engaged in for intellectual stimulation are a good example of the (white-hat) cracker mindset, in a non-computer setting. Some people are just naturally curious and like to do things simply to see if they can be done.

Edited by Hal
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  • 3 weeks later...

Keep in mind for a hacker (the bad form of the word) to exist he must be better than the original programmer, finding a hole in the original programmers work and using it for his own purposes. While hackers may be unethetical (predatorial) they must exceed the ability of the original programmer.

Keep in mind also that just because something is a corporation doesn't make it automatically all good, either.

Also, keep in mind a lot of the great hackers of the world were hired into big companies' to program.

What then, of hacking to show ones' prowess at programming to get a job?

That's like shooting better than a marksmen to angle at his job as a friearms instructor.

Edited by Illuminaughty
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Keep in mind for a hacker (the bad form of the word) to exist he must be better than the original programmer, finding a hole in the original programmers work and using it for his own purposes. While hackers may be unethetical (predatorial) they must exceed the ability of the original programmer.

I disagree. It's much easier to destroy, than to create. The original programmer has to build an entire application, with security being only a small part of his problem - while the hacker can dedicate 100% of his time to finding a single flaw.

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I disagree. It's much easier to destroy, than to create. The original programmer has to build an entire application, with security being only a small part of his problem - while the hacker can dedicate 100% of his time to finding a single flaw.

Disagree all you want. You're wrong. You have to put more effort into the coding to find the exploit than the original creator did. I'm sure this won't change your opinion, but I've done some hacking in my day. Feel free to make all the asinine assumptions about programming you want, I suppose.

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Disagree all you want. You're wrong. You have to put more effort into the coding to find the exploit than the original creator did. I'm sure this won't change your opinion, but I've done some hacking in my day. Feel free to make all the asinine assumptions about programming you want, I suppose.

A lot of hacking is done by security holes in the base operating system or language used to create the program, and can be totally unrelated to the software itself or the code the programmer used. You should not fault a programmer for not trying to find every security flaw in windows that might allow some one to compromise their software. You should not fault someone for creating a secured website that has a flaw simply because of IIS. These are cases where the hacker is not 'better' than the programmer.

As for whether it's moral or not to go about hacking, if you bought software, and you find holes and flaws in it, fine. If you're searching for holes and flaws in a website or other software you do not own, that is invasion of privacy. It is no different then unlocking somebody's car and just sitting in it, or unlocking somebody's house and sitting in it. Simply finding a use that wasn't originally intended wouldn't be fine either, such as taking someone's garden hose and making a swing in their tree.

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Have you ever created a hack or virus of any kind, compared to your normal programming?

What would this have to do with the question at hand? Are you trying to imply that since you perceive writing malicious code is harder than writing productive code, that it is better since it can dominate the other?

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Keep in mind for a hacker (the bad form of the word) to exist he must be better than the original programmer, finding a hole in the original programmers work and using it for his own purposes. While hackers may be unethetical (predatorial) they must exceed the ability of the original programmer.

And someone who breaks into a bank has to exceed the skill of the people who designed the security system. I've no doubt that some crackers are extremely skilled (I believe that many computer security experts are ex-crackers), but so what?

Anyway, its just wrong to say that all crackers are skillful. Some of them are, definitely. But a lot will just be script kiddies who use whatever program theyve managed to find on the internet, without having any real idea what theyre doing or why it works.

Edited by Hal
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What would this have to do with the question at hand? Are you trying to imply that since you perceive writing malicious code is harder than writing productive code, that it is better since it can dominate the other?

Hardly. Reread my original post if you don't understand what I said. I stated it clearly.

And someone who breaks into a bank has to exceed the skill of the people who designed the security system. I've no doubt that some crackers are extremely skilled (I believe that many computer security experts are ex-crackers), but so what?

Anyway, its just wrong to say that all crackers are skillful. Some of them are, definitely. But a lot will just be script kiddies who use whatever program theyve managed to find on the internet, without having any real idea what theyre doing or why it works.

Indeed. It takes nothing to use a script. And script kiddies do abound. I meant creating a crack, hack or backdoor, on the ground level.

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Keep in mind for a hacker (the bad form of the word) to exist he must be better than the original programmer, finding a hole in the original programmers work and using it for his own purposes. While hackers may be unethetical (predatorial) they must exceed the ability of the original programmer.

Keep in mind also that just because something is a corporation doesn't make it automatically all good, either.

Also, keep in mind a lot of the great hackers of the world were hired into big companies' to program.

What then, of hacking to show ones' prowess at programming to get a job?

That's like shooting better than a marksmen to angle at his job as a friearms instructor.

If this is what you're refering to, then I shall simply address it instead. Hackers do not necessarily exceed the ability of the original programmer. I would be more impressed if someone could write a piece of code that was invulnerable over someone who finds a flaw.

Just because I can find a way to smash a window to get in a house doesn't mean I'm smarter than the man who built the lock on the door. It may mean you have the ability to reverse engineer a product, but that does not mean you are necessarily a better programmer.

If a neighbor is not 'good' is does not give you the right to break into his property.

If a company wishes to condone illegal hacking, that is their problem, it does not give it validity if they proved their skill by immoral actions. They will reap the benefits they deserve by putting someone with no principles in their code stream.

Shooting better than a marskmen is fine, it's a show of skills. Programming something better is fine, it's a show of skills. Shooting someone in the forhead to prove your skill at shooting is wrong. Proving your programming knowledge by breaking into systems that are not your own is wrong.

You must understand the context of what I'm saying. If you purchase software, say Windows, and find a security flaw that's fine, you own the software. If you use the security flaw to get into other people's system, that is wrong. If you use other people's systems to find flaws, that is wrong.

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If you use the security flaw to get into other people's system, that is wrong. If you use other people's systems to find flaws, that is wrong.
Again, I would say this depends on what you do. If you find flaws in their system and then exploit them to cause damage, then yes this is obviously wrong. But if you were just trying to gain entry for intellectual curiosity, or to practice your skills, and you alerted the system's owner about any loophole you found, then I would say you were doing them a favour. Its better they have the vulnerability found by someone who means no harm, than to have it stay open to be exploited in future by someone with less pure motivations.

Personally if I were running network software and someone contacted me to tell me theyd broke into the system (without doing damage), I'd be greatful and appreciative of their skill/honesty. I'd also know that I'd be better off in the longrun.

Edited by Hal
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Again, I would say this depends on what you do. If you find flaws in their system and then exploit them to cause damage, then yes this is obviously wrong. But if you were just trying to gain entry for intellectual curiosity, or to practice your skills, and you alerted the system's owner about any loophole you found, then I would say you were doing them a favour. Its better they have the vulnerability found by someone who means no harm, than to have it stay open to be exploited in future by someone with less pure motivations.

Personally if I were running network software and someone contacted me to tell me theyd broke into the system (without doing damage), I'd be greatful and appreciative of their skill/honesty. I'd also know that I'd be better off in the longrun.

Then would you say it's okay to open someone's front door and go inside and say, 'hey, you should really lock your door, anyone could just come in.' Or would it be ok to hop into a convertable with it's top down just out of curiosity what the seats feel like?

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