[ISN] Is Your Kid a Hacker?

From: mea culpa (jerichot_private)
Date: Sat Oct 17 1998 - 15:45:12 PDT

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    Forwarded From: Jeremy Mineweaser <jlmt_private>
    Family PC Magazine, November 1998 Issue
    Is Your Kid a Hacker?
    By Kevin Poulsen
        If you suspect your kid is a computer hacker,
        here's some advice from a convicted hacker
        on how to handle it
    It starts with a knock on the door.  A dozen men in suits and shoulder
    holsters are outside, their Buicks and Broncos crammed into your driveway
    and parked along the street.  Over their shoulders you can see your
    bathrobe-clad neighbors watching the spectacle from their lawns.  It might
    be the FBI, it may be the Secret Service, but whoever it is, the humorless
    agents hand you a piece of paper and head toward your son or daughter's
    room.  You wonder, perhaps for the first time, what your kid has been
    doing in there with the computer. 
    If you're a parent, you probably regard the Internet as a font of both
    promise and peril for your children.  It can be an invaluable learning
    tool and a way to encourage your kids to develop the basic computer skills
    they'll eventually need.  But what if they take to it a little too eagerly
    and enthusiastically and begin using it to get into places where they
    don't belong?  In that case, normal youthful rebellion, or simple
    inquisitiveness, if it's expressed over the Internet, could turn your
    family upside down. 
    It happened last February in Cloverdale, California, when surprised
    parents found out their teenage son was suspected in a series of Pentagon
    intrusions.  It happened again in Massachusetts a week later, when the
    Justice Department won its first juvenile conviction under the Federal
    Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. 
    It happened to my family 15 years ago, in one of the first hacker raids in
    the country.  At that time, I was the teenage miscreant who was illegally
    accessing federal computers.  Now, in my early thirties, I've begun to
    wonder how I would protect a kid of my own from becoming a poster child
    for computer crime.  I believe the best approach is to stay informed and
    to communicate with your potential cyberpunks. 
    Open Communication Channels
    Some of the things you might view as ominous warning signs are actually
    quite harmless.  For example, if your teenager calls himself a "hacker,"
    he may not be headed for trouble.  Despite the media's breathless
    exhortation, hackers are not lawbreakers by definition.  The word actually
    describes someone with a talent for technology, a deep interest in how
    things work, and a tendency to reject any limitations.  If your son
    disassembled the Giga Pet you gave him for Christmas, he's probably a
    hacker.  If he made it run better, he definitely is.  Of course, some
    hackers go further and test their skills against the adult world of
    corporate and governmental computer systems. 
    If I thought my kids were cracking computers, I would want to put a stop
    to it -- though not because it's the crime of the century. True hackers
    live by an ethical code that precludes damaging systems or profiting from
    their intrusions.  There are worse values for a teenager to have.  But
    regardless of motives, a hacker who's caught in the act today is likely to
    be treated as an industrial spy or a national security threat.  A single
    moment of rebellious exploration could land a teenager an early felony
    If you suspect that your kid may be crossing the line, there are various
    software packages on the market that will allow you to monitor or control
    his or her access to the Internet.  Don't even think about using one.  If
    your teen really is a hacker, your technological solution will be a source
    of amusement and derision, as well as an insult to his talents. Instead of
    putting up barriers, I suggest you talk to your kids. 
    If your kid is reading underground Web sites for hackers, read them
    yourself.  If he has a subscription to a hacker magazine, go through it
    and ask questions.  Feel free to marvel at the cleverness of the latest
    hacker technique.  Then talk about consequences: the rising costs of legal
    representation, the problems that a convicted felon encounters in academia
    and the job market.  Start looking at alternatives to a life of
    Constructive Alternatives
    If your kid has a rebellious streak, I suggest giving up on trying to
    suppress it; try to channel it instead.  When hackers grow up, they often
    find a reasonable substitute for the thrill of intrusion by working the
    other side.  Ask your teen how he would plug the latest security holes. 
    Get him thinking about it.  Ask him for advice on protecting your own
    e-mail or your ISP account. 
    The hacker tradition has always contained an element of disrespect for
    authority. Up until 15 years ago, cracking systems was an acceptable rite
    of passage in the industry, and some of the same people who pioneered
    artificial intelligence and the personal computer also ushered in phone
    phreaking, lock hacking, and computer intrusion. Early hackers believed
    that computers were a public resource and that access to them and
    knowledge about them should be free. 
    In a sense, the first-generation hackers won their battle when they
    created the personal computer: It gave them free access to computing power
    anytime they wanted.  Today, kids can claim that victory on the Internet
    by authoring a Web page.  There is plenty of room for innovation and
    Today's PCs are as powerful as yesterday's mainframes.  With today's PCs,
    no one needs to break the law to explore technology. With the right tools,
    and parental support, kids can earn the respect of their peers and get an
    early start on their future by mastering the latest programming languages.
    If my kid were a hacker, I'd encourage him to shun the instant
    gratification of cracking a Fortune 500 company in favor of the greater
    satisfaction of creating something unique from scratch. 
    Ultimately, that's what hacking really is all about. 
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