http://www.salon.com/tech/books/2002/06/05/teenage_hackers/index.html 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" damage. "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 age. 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. [...] - ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY of the mail.
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