[ISN] Computer Subculture Faces Generational Questions

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Thu Feb 04 1999 - 21:45:17 PST

  • Next message: mea culpa: "Re: [ISN] Hacker takes revenge on computer security expert"

    [Moderator: Once again, you'd figure that the larger media outlets like
     ABCNEWS could at least do basic fact checking. Groups like Masters
     of Downloading and Milw0rm are barely *2* years old.. definitely
     not started in the 80's.]
    Computer Subculture Faces Generational Questions
    By Michael J. Martinez
    Feb. 4 — Computer hackers see themselves as intellectual rebels,
    free-speech advocates and knowledge seekers, dedicated to cruising the
    wrong way down the information superhighway with their middle fingers
    defiantly upraised. 
         The authorities call them miscreants and criminals. 
         Hackers have been blamed for more than $236 million in damage in the
    past year alone, according to the San Francisco-based Computer Security
    Institute (CSI). Fighting back, four major computer companies Cisco
    Systems, Sun Microsystems, Lucent Technologies and Network Associates —
    banded together last week to form a consortium called the Security
    Research Alliance to improve network security. 
         Meanwhile, the world’s most famous hacker Kevin Mitnick, who was
    arrested in 1995 for massive credit card fraud and other exploits that
    totaled some $80 million in damages, sits in a Los Angeles jail cell
    awaiting trial. And the hacker community itself is facing a subtle but
    growing cultural divide: a generation gap in the proudly youthful hacker
    Old-School History
    The first hackers came of age in the 1970s, honing their skills on
    mainframe computers before moving on to other computers via phone lines.
    Hacking remote networks over the telephone system quickly became known as
    “phone phreaking.” In the early 1980s, hackers began to together in groups
    like the Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc), l0pht (one of the oldest and most
    respected), newhackcity, the Masters of downloading and milw0rm. 
    Old-school hackers tend to follow a distinct code of ethics that precludes
    damaging computer systems or corrupting data. 
    Hacking has become corrupted to include cracking, says OXblood Ruffin, the
    foreign minister” of the cDc (like the other hackers quoted in this
    article, he was interviewed under his hacker moniker, via e-mail). 
    Cracking means destructive behaviors that encompass network intrusions,
    virus-based programming, and the like.”
    Use Your Powers For Good, Not Evil Nevertheless, at last summer’s DefCon
    hacker convention in Las Vegas, the Cult of the Dead Cow whipped the young
    crowd into a frenzy with its rock-and-roll presentation of a new hacking
    tool. Called Back Orifice, it allows a user to gain control of machines
    running Windows 95, as long as those machines are connected to the
    Internet and users inadvertently activate the program through a “trojan
         The availability of such tools makes it far easier to acquire the
    skill set needed to break into remote computers. Many tools, called
    “warez” by younger hackers, can be downloaded from sites across the Web.
    >From there, a little experimentation is all that’s needed to learn how to
    crack an unprotected Web site. 
         “Basically [the younger hacker is] the average Joe Schmoe high school
    kid who knows nothing about programming,” says an independent hacker who
    calls himself Lord Somer, “but has some general knowledge on how to use
    proggies’or programs.”
    Going Corporate
    Many more respectable hackers, meanwhile, have migrated to the corporate
    world, using their infiltration skills to protect their company’s
    computers from sabotage.
    This is something I always loved to do,” says Matthew Harrigan, ex-hacker
    and the founder and chief technology officer of MicroCosm Computer
    Resources, a San Francisco-based computer security firm. “One day I
    figured it would be a better use of my time if I could do this and
    actually make some money.”
         Founded in 1992, MicroCosm has grown to the point that Harrigan hired
    Silicon Valley veteran Art Case last year to take over the job of CEO.
    MicroCosm freely hires hackers as long as they measure up to Harrigan’s
    ethical standards. 
         “Hackers really have that broadband skill set and the frame of mind
    to use it well in computer security,” Harrigan says.  “The vast majority
    of them are not out to hurt anybody. They’re out there to learn.”
    Destructive Youth? 
    John Vransevich, founder of AntiOnline, a Web site dedicated to computer
    security, first published the site as a 19-year-old college student
    enamored with the world of hacking. Now, his fledgling computer-security
    company has venture capital backing and bright new offices, even as
    Vransevich’s view of hackers has dimmed. 
         “I've seen 16-year-olds breaking into Web sites for the hell of it,
    people breaking into 10,000 domains and deleting the content on them …
    it’s amazing,” Vransevich says. “And each time this comes up, I’m asking
    myself why someone would do something like that.”
         Harrigan agrees that a handful of the young people coming onto the
    hacker scene tend to be less disciplined and more destructive than past
    generations: “We weren’t out there breaking into Internet sites, sending
    e-mail bombs, unleashing trojans on people.”
         The rivalry between certain youngsters and older hackers has become
    so pronounced, Ruffin describes it in the terms of young gunslingers going
    after wild-West legends. 
         “Today younger ‘hackers’ are out to make their mark and knock down a
    lot of the name’ hackers,” Ruffin says, “which is understandable from a
    generational point of view.”
    Hacktivism’ Catches On
    Many hackers have decided that if they’re going to learn computer security
    by breaking into servers, those servers might as well belong to people
    they don’t like. 
         China, Indonesia, India and Mexico, among others, have all had sites
    attacked by “hacktivists.” The government home pages are usually defaced
    with cyber-graffiti that spells out the hacker’s particular beef with that
    government. Hacktivists have also performed denial-of-service attacks,
    blocking anyone else who tries to access that server. 
         Groups like cDc, l0pht and others discourage hacking Web sites and
    denial-of-service attacks. Instead they try to help dissident computer
    groups in repressive societies. The cDc claims it has aided a Chinese
    hacker group, called the Hong Kong Blondes, by giving it advice and
    hacking tools including 5,000 copies of Back Orifice to distribute in
         “So what if you hack a Web site and say ‘your human rights policy
    sucks’ or whatever the message says? At the end of the day, human rights
    aren't improved, no one's life is made better,” says OXblood Ruffin, the
    cDc’s “foreign minister.” “But if you provide the tools for people to
    raise their own struggle, then you've done something.”
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