Lifestyle, Ludotheque

Hackers, a virtual insurrection in the dark

Theirs is not a revolution born in the streets and squares of the cities; their weapons are anonymity and imagination, potent and slippery tools that make world powers tremble.

Nieves Silvero

Hacking culture, started in the 60’s and 70’s, was later developed further by names such as Ed Fredkin, Brian Reid, Jim Gosling, and Brian Kernighan, who helped to create the basis of a cyber conscience in the 80’s and 90’s. They played with an as yet unknown system and demonstrated the security weaknesses of large corporations.

It was the first step in a new era where those with money did not always hold the power.

Long gone are the years in which the primitive machines used by young students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) served to satisfy their thirst for knowledge.

They were inspired to show off their programming dexterity, they took pleasure in penetrating the systems to play practical jokes on campus, all without being aware that they were putting in place the foundations of a new movement.

The curiosity continued and, as computers evolved, so did they. In the 70’s there appeared a new type of hacker, a “phreaker”, who concentrated on telephone systems.

With the arrival of personal computers such as IBM and Macintosh came what was known as “the golden age”. The media began, particularly in the 80’s, to coin the word “hacker” and associate it with IT criminals, whose real definition would be “cracker”.

The term “hacker”, which has experienced an evolution as fast as its history, has been overused from its beginning and so is still tricky to define exactly.

Nowadays it has started to adopt a fairer meaning, the hacker being presented as a defender of transparency, free access to information and a culture for all.

The internet, one of the very few channels, if not the only one, that permits us total freedom, is presented as a route to free expression.

These days there is a rush, an immeasurable urgency to legislate and control the net. The reasons? At play are a variety of large and important agendas, be they political, economic or legal, and the internet is an uncontrollable, unknown and young space.

Hackers have proven that the traditional means of communication, used since time immemorial, lack credibility and openness. In 2010 the breach was opened by the documents and videos published by Wikileaks on the war in Iraq, continuing with the closing of the download page of Megaupload and the recent alliance between Wikileaks and the cyber activists collective Anonymous against the large corporations.

Their founders, Julian Assange and Kim Dotcom, have been treated like criminals or tried for exorbitant crimes.

They are portrayed as extravagant characters in newspapers and news programmes the world over.

Behind them is an entire army of hackers who keep themselves in the dark, prepared to defend specific ideals: culture for all, information for all, and transparency.

They are being spoken of as the antithesis to the protestant ethic, based on work and money being the ultimate goal. This has lead to them being accused of being non-political and anarchists, with interests other than getting rich, something that scares the majority.

The cyber guerrilla has only just started and the hackers have two very clear enemies: the large corporations, eager for our personal data, and governments that are becoming more restrictive with freedom of information.

However, the hacker hasn’t always been motivated by strong ideals; some are recruited by governments such as the U.S.A. and Israel to defend the security of their information, others are staff members for heavyweight companies, still others have gone on to found big companies such as Apple and Microsoft which, even though they are isolated cases, go towards dispelling the romantic image of the modern day Robin Hood.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since the first intrusions of a few young students. The latest news comes to us from “Anonymous” and his attempts to hack the CIA or the Vatican, but we mustn’t forget the names of those who helped to create the myth of the hacker, among them Kevin Mitnik, known for penetrating the systems of Nokia and Motorola, and named as one of the most dangerous criminals by the U.S. government.

The current editor of Wired magazine, Kevin Poulson, was also known in his day for attacking the FBI database. Adrian Lamo is another prominent name. He carried out his attacks from public places and worked to identify security weaknesses of major companies, whom he would then inform of his findings.

The founder of Apple himself, Steven Woznaik, started his career as a hacker of telephone systems. Tappan Morris set the ball rolling with the creation of the first worm virus in the history of the internet; many more have been created since then. They are the titans of technology, some better known than others but all with the same passion.

Will hackers always be harmful to companies? Following an intrusion by a hacker a system’s weaknesses are exposed; an attack can sometimes lead to worthwhile experiences such as finding holes that were previously hidden and solutions to previously unknown problems.

Whether done by legal or illegal means, what’s certain is that their actions have led to social as well as technical evolution. Representatives of insubordination, rebellion, freedom and creativity, they now form part of the 20th century’s history.

Like Orson Welles in 1938, who proved the unstoppable power of the media by transmitting The War of The Worlds through a mere radio programme, today some faceless unknowns with no declared nationality, who hide behind a computer screen, are showing us that the internet is changing the world and, who knows, perhaps also improving it.

(Translated by Alice Brady)

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