[ISN] A new teenage wasteland?

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Thu Jun 06 2002 - 02:30:15 PDT

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    By Andrew Leonard
    June 5, 2002  
    Behold the glory of the "Web site defacement," a truly modern act of
    juvenile delinquency. Ludicrous (replacing a Baptist Church Web page
    with an invocation to Satan, for example) and yet troubling in their
    signal of arcane technological mastery, Web site defacements are
    apparently all the rage among angry young computer users.
    In the wake of real terrorist acts -- anthrax sent through the mail,
    jetliners piloted into buildings, suicide bombers -- messing with a
    Web site's HTML shouldn't rank very high on the list of threats to the
    public safety. To compare a requirement that one perform five
    defacements in a week before being granted entry into an "underground"  
    gang to a similar Mafia mandate to commit murder before becoming a
    "made man," as author Dan Verton does in "The Hacker Diaries:  
    Confessions of Teenage Hackers," is absurd overstatement. Nor does,
    say, an exploitable bug in Microsoft's Front Page HTML coding
    application add up to a threat to the command-and-control
    infrastructure for nuclear weapons in the United States.
    And yet, for the teenagers profiled in "The Hacker Diaries," Web site
    defacements are symbolic acts of power, statements of real political
    purpose and rage. There is something going on here, and it deserves
    attention. Once upon a time, alienated teenagers acted out by racing
    cars or doing drugs. Now they go online and look for software
    vulnerabilities to exploit (some still race cars and do drugs, too).  
    The biggest headline-getters, like the infamous Mafiaboy, whose
    denial-of-service attack on the Web's largest sites in June 1999 went
    beyond petty defacement, achieve what can almost be considered "real"  
    "The Hacker Diaries," though flawed, is a worthy stab in the service
    of understanding what motivates today's generation of online
    saboteurs. Most valuable for the details it provides about actual
    teenagers (though often identities are disguised by pseudonyms, and in
    some cases one wonders how specific sections of dialog were captured),
    "The Hacker Diaries" manages, for the most part, to avoid
    demonization. The language does get a bit purple and breathless at
    times; Verton has difficulties maintaining a stance that is supposedly
    at odds with mainstream media's sensationalist treatment of "hackers"  
    without at the same time succumbing to the tendency himself.
    But for the most part, Verton succeeds in portraying these young men
    (and one woman) as real people: not freaks, not madmen, not aliens
    from the cyberspace dimension, but real human beings, products of
    broken families or loving parents, motivated by truculence or
    patriotism or passion.
    In a culture increasingly dominated by digital technologies, by
    computers and networks and code, it should be no surprise that acts of
    information violence attract more attention than graffiti on subway
    cars or actual street-gang rampages. But the significance of teenagers
    parading through chat rooms with nicknames like "Noid" or "Genocide"  
    or "RaFa" is not how much supposed financial damage they do, or
    whether the rise of "script kiddies" is a sign of the decline and fall
    of Western culture. It's that, to paraphrase Pogo yet again: "We have
    met the hackers, and they are us." When computers are everywhere,
    everyone becomes a geek. These kids are our sons and daughters or
    brothers and sisters, children, as are we all, now, of the information
    Verton's greatest mistake is his failure to properly ground the 
    concept of "hacker" from the get-go. This is always a tricky business, 
    because even the people who proudly call themselves "hackers" often 
    mean very different things -- as do a number of the subjects profiled 
    in "The Hacker Diaries." What makes Verton's treatment especially 
    confusing is that several of these teenagers he talks to do express a 
    clear understanding that there is a difference between "hackers" who 
    just like to understand the intricacies of their computers, and 
    "crackers" who are intent on breaking into closed systems. But the 
    narrative itself never achieves clarity on this point. 
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