aby sa nestratilo - https://web.archive.org/web/20010121142000/http://www2.fiu.edu/~mizrachs/hackethic.html
Is there a Hacker Ethic for 90s Hackers?
by Steven Mizrach
The goal of this text analysis project was to take the texts of
the computer underground and to analyze them for the presence of a)
knowledge about the Hacker Ethic and b) evolution of that Ethic. Many
writers, such as Steven Levy, bemoan the fact that modern-day hackers
(the computer underground) are not worthy of the name because they do not
live up to the principles of the original Hacker Ethic, and as unethical
individuals, should simply be called "computer terrorists" or "juvenile
delinquents." I sought to examine whether 90s new hackers knew of the old
Hacker Ethic, if they had added anything to it, and the reasons why they
felt they acted differently from their predecessors. I broadened my text
analysis to look at what they saw as ethical violations, and reasons why
some might repudiate the Hacker Ethic or the idea of having an
As my text project evolved, I found that after discovering the
existence of a new hacker ethic for new hackers, I was wondering if
people expressing the principles of the new ethic also expressed
the old. I expected that the adoption of a new set of ethics would not
necessarily mean the complete abandonment of the old. This would
establish some continuity between both groups of hackers, and some
familiarity by new hackers with the old ideals. If the hypothesis of
continuity turns out to be true, then new hackers are not as different
from old hackers as authors like Levy (or certain computer security
professionals) might claim. They would then not only have their own
ethics, but also utilize some ethical principles of their predecessors.
I coded 29 documents from the computer underground online
using the NUD*IST text analysis system. I allowed new codes to emerge
from other codes, based on the sort of interactive text-searching and
investigation process that NUDIST makes possible. I decided to code a few
factors that were not directly relevant to my tests, but could provide
avenues for future investigation. Finally, after coding, I came up with
two tests to look at evidence for continuity between the old and new
Who is the Computer Underground?
I define the computer underground as members of the following
six groups. Sometimes I refer to the CU as "90s hackers" or "new
hackers," as opposed to old hackers, who are hackers (old sense of the
term) from the 60s who subscribed to the original Hacker Ethic. See
- Hackers (Crackers, system intruders) - These are people who
attempt to penetrate security systems on remote computers. This is the
new sense of the term, whereas the old sense of the term simply referred
to a person who was capable of creating hacks, or elegant, unusual, and
unexpected uses of technology. Typical magazines (both print and online)
read by hackers include 2600 and Iron Feather
- Phreaks (Phone Phreakers, Blue Boxers) - These are people who
attempt to use technology to explore and/or control the telephone system.
Originally, this involved the use of "blue boxes" or tone generators, but
as the phone company began using digital instead of electro-mechanical
switches, the phreaks became more like hackers. Typical magazines read by
Phreaks include Phrack, Line Noize, and
New Fone Express.
- Virus writers (also, creators of Trojans, worms, logic bombs)
- These are people who write code which attempts to a) reproduce itself
on other systems without authorization and b) often has a side effect,
whether that be to display a message, play a prank, or trash a hard
drive. Agents and spiders are essentially 'benevolent' virii, raising the
question of how underground this activity really is. Typical magazines
read by Virus writers include 40HEX.
- Pirates - Piracy is sort of a non-technical matter.
Originally, it involved breaking copy protection on software, and this
activity was called "cracking." Nowadays, few software vendors use copy
protection, but there are still various minor measures used to prevent
the unauthorized duplication of software. Pirates devote themselves to
thwarting these things and sharing commercial software freely with their
friends. They usually read Pirate Newsletter and
- Cypherpunks (cryptoanarchists) - Cypherpunks freely distribute
the tools and methods for making use of strong encryption, which is
basically unbreakable except by massive supercomputers. Because the NSA
and FBI cannot break strong encryption (which is the basis of the PGP or
Pretty Good Privacy), programs that employ it are classified as
munitions, and distribution of algorithms that make use of it is a
felony. Some cryptoanarchists advocate strong encryption as a tool to
completely evade the State, by preventing any access whatsoever to
financial or personal information. They typically read the Cypherpunks
- Anarchists - are committed to distributing illegal (or at
least morally suspect) information, including but not limited to data on
bombmaking, lockpicking, pornography, drug manufacturing, pirate radio,
and cable and satellite TV piracy. In this parlance of the computer
underground, anarchists are less likely to advocate the overthrow of
government than the simple refusal to obey restrictions on distributing
information. They tend to read Cult of the Dead Cow (CDC)
and Activist Times Incorporated (ATI).
- Cyberpunk - usually some combination of the above, plus
interest in technological self-modification, science fiction of the
Neuromancer genre, and interest in hardware hacking and
"street tech." A youth subculture in its own right, with some overlaps
with the "modern primitive" and "raver" subcultures.
These 29 text files come from the following sources: the WELL
(Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) BBS, the MindVox BBS archives, various
other hacker boards, the Usenet newsgroup alt.2600, World Wide
Web HTML documents, the gopher.eff.org hacking 'zine archive,
the cypherpunks.org ftp site, and a netwide search on
documents containing the search term "hacker ethic." Documents were
selected for this study for relevance, and thus do not constitute a fully
randomized sample of electronic text.
- Discussion begins
- An unwritten manifesto?
- Government ethic
- Hacker theory to practice
- The Manifesto
- The MetaForum
In 1990, the online bulletin board system (BBS) known as the WELL (Whole
Earth 'Lectronic Link) co-hosted a conference with Harper's magazine to
discuss the future of hacking. Old and new hackers were invited to
participate. These are transcripts of the various postings to the topic
headings in the conference.
- Cracker subculture
- Hackers wanted
These are transcripts of postings to two other topic headings in the WELL
Hacker Conference forum.
- Assert your rights
- Defense of Piracy
These are three "propaganda" text files by hacker Subvert, where he
attempts to make the moral case for hacking.
- From Crossbows to Cryptography: Thwarting the State via Technology
- The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto
These two documents from the cypherpunks ftp archive attempt to make the
case for strong encryption and cryptoanarchy.
- Pirate Newsletter
These are two e-zines for pirates.
- Ethics of Hacking by "dissident"
- Hack Ethics -- A definition of the hacker ethic from the MIT
- Jargon File hacker ethic -- Definition of "hacker ethic" from the
Hacker's Jargon File (online companion to Hacker's Dictionary) 3.0
- The Hacker's Code of Ethics by "Darkman"
These are four texts which deal directly with ethical issues pertaining
to hacking. Two are simply definition files.
- CDC -- Cult of the Dead Cow description file
- Digital Free Press -- a hacker e-zine
- Emmanuel Goldstein testimony-- Testimony of the 2600 leader before a
Congressional hearing on hacking
- Hacker Manifesto -- "The Conscience of a Hacker" by Mentor
- Hacker vs Cracker -- " The Difference between Hackers and Crackers"
- Novice's guide to hacking -- A guide by Mentor and the Legion of
Doom (LOD), circa 1989
- Phrack- Declaration of Grievances of the Electronic Community -- An
imitation of the grievances clauses from the Declaration of Independence,
updated for the cyberspace era, containing complaints about current
- Rebels with a Cause -- A 1994 honors essay by Anthropology student
Tanja Rosteck, containing some transcripts of hacker interviews and
- What is hacking? -- Definition file from Hacker's Haven Website
- The Anarchist's Guide to the BBS -- a description of using BBSes for
Other miscellaneous files.
The Original Hacker Ethic
Every profession or trade tends to have an ethical code
which suggests that it is capable of self-regulation of its members. The
code demonstrates the shared core values necessary for people to practice
within the professional community. And it enables the public and the
government to have some degree of trust for the profession. Some of these
codes may be very ancient and formalized, such as the Hippocratic
sworn by physicians. Others may be very modern and legalistic,
like the code of ethics for applied or academic anthropologists. Some
ethical systems may be "underground," (such as the Pirates' Code of 18th
century buccaneers or Mafia oaths of loyalty) enabling members of
subcultures or groups to survive, cooperate, and escape outsiders. Yet
others like the original Hacker Ethic are very informal and simple -
rules of thumb to live by.
Groups employ different means of enforcing their ethical
systems. Some provisions are often recognized as simply being archaic and
are ignored. This is why most doctors do not heed the prohibitions in the
Hippocratic Oath against abortion or euthanasia, yet most (but not all!)
believe in the ethical principle of not refusing critical treatment to a
patient who is unable to pay. Other groups (such as anthropologists)
often devise ethical codes simply because they are forced to by the bad
behavior of some of their members in the past, and their provisions are
specifically tailored to probems that have arisen. Violating some ethical
codes can get you banned from the profession or worse, when professional
associations exist to enforce the regulations; with hackers, breaking the
Hacker Ethic seems to result mostly in anathema or social ostracization,
a time-honored method of social control.
The original Hacker Ethic was sort of an impromptu, informal
ethical code developed by the original hackers of MIT and Stanford (SAIL)
in the 50s and 60s. These "hackers" were the first generation of
programmers, employing time-sharing terminal access to 'dumb' mainframes,
and they often confronted various sorts of bureaucratic interference that
prevented them from exploring fully how technological systems (computers,
but also model trains, university steam tunnels, university phone
systems, etc.) worked. The ethic reflects their resistance to these
obstacles, and their ideology of the liberatory power of technology. The
six principles of the Hacker Ethic are listed below, with some text
samples showing where it appears within these documents.
A concise summation of it can be found in Steven Levy's 1984
book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Levy
suggested that because of their Ethic and their unconventional style,
hackers like Jobs and Wozniak were able to launch the "computer
revolution," resulting in the first personal computer (the Apple) which
was easy to use and which put programming power in the individual's
hands. Here I cite documents from my sample which reiterate some of its
- Hands On Imperative: Access to computers and hardware should
be complete and total.
It is asserted to be a categorical imperative to remove any
barriers between people and the use and understanding of any technology,
no matter how large, complex, dangerous, labyrinthine, proprietary, or
As we can see, this has not been the case. The computer
system has been solely in the hands of big businesses and
the government. The wonderful device meant to enrich
life has become a weapon which dehumanizes people. To
the government and large businesses, people are no more
than disk space, and the government doesn't use computers
to arrange aid for the poor, but to control nuclear death
weapons. The average American can only have access to a
small microcomputer which is worth only a fraction of
what they pay for it. The businesses keep the true state
of the art equipment away from the people behind a steel
wall of incredibly high prices and bureaucracy. It is
because of this state of affairs that hacking was born.
("Doctor Crash", 1986)
- "Information Wants to Be Free"
"Information wants to be free" can be interpreted in three
ways. Free might mean without restrictions (freedom of movement
= no censorship), without control (freedom of change/evolution =
no ownership or authorship, no intellectual property), or without
monetary value (no cost.) Some hackers even take this to mean
information is alive, free to act on its own agency, as viruses, genetic
algorithms, 'bots and other software programs do. Most hackers seem to
advocate this principle in different senses of the word "free" at
different times. In any case, when asked about the content of the Hacker
Ethic, most people assert this as the key principle.
There is much knowledge that is disallowed, hidden.
Government activities, corporate crime, and "illegitimate" information
needs to be disseminated. People without access to technology need it -
they can contribute to the world. Distributing this information is
illegal, potentially dangerous. This, in my humble opinion, is the best
use of hacked accounts. Obtaining information, disseminating information
needs anonymity. This protects your hide. This is important. Whistle
blowers are only silenced when their identity is known...
Access to information
Yes, access is a right you have. You need to know when
the government is killing people, radiating them, listening to them,
lying to them, lying to you. You have a right to gain access to
information about OUR government. This government is supposedly of the
people, by the people, power granted by a social
- Mistrust Authority. Promote decentralization.
This element of the ethic shows its strong anarchistic,
individualistic, and libertarian nature. Hackers have always shown
distrust toward large institutions, including but not limited to the
State, corporations, and computer administrative bureaucracies (the IBM
'priesthood'). Tools like the PC are said to move power away from large
organizations (who use mainframes) and put them in the hands of the
'little guy' user. Nowhere is this ethos stronger than among the
anti-statist cypherpunks and extropians.
In fact, technology represents one of the most
promising avenues available for re-capturing our freedoms from those
who have stolen them. By its very nature, it favors the bright (who
can put it to use) over the dull (who cannot). It favors the adaptable
(who are quick to see the merit of the new (over the sluggish,
who cling to time-tested ways). And what two better words are there to
describe government bureaucracy than "dull" and
The State will of course try to slow or halt the
spread of this technology, citing national security concerns, use of the
technology by drug dealers and tax evaders, and fears of societal
disintegration. Many of these concerns will be valid; crypto anarchy will
allow national secrets to be traded freely and will allow illicit and
stolen materials to be traded. An anonymous computerized market will even
make possible abhorrent markets for assassinations and extortion. Various
criminal and foreign elements will be active users of CryptoNet. But this
will not halt the spread of cryptoanarchy.
- No Bogus Criteria: Hackers should be judged by their hacking,
not by "bogus criteria" such as race, age, sex, or position.
Nowhere is this ethos more apparent than in the strong
embrace by most hackers of the levelling power of the Internet, where
anonymity makes it possible for all such 'variables' about a person to
remain unknown, and where their ideas must be judged on their merits
alone since such contextual factors are not available.
The Internet is one of the best hacks the world has to
offer. It has continually shattered deeply ingrained social prejudices
concerning characteristics such as age, race, wealth, and sex. In fact,
it is common to find 14 year olds arguing philosophy with 41 year olds on
America's computer networks!
- "You can create truth and beauty on a computer."
Hacking is equated with artistry and creativity. Furthermore,
this element of the ethos raises it to the level of philosophy (as
opposed to simple pragmatism), which (at least in some quarters) is about
humanity's search for the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Without question, good/great programming (hacking) is
art and as with art each person has their own signature and style (which
changes over time). Quite a few years ago I was reviewing some
derivative works of one hacker, and found the lack of signature and style
of the original.
- "Computers can change your life for the better."
In some ways, this last statement really is simply a corollary
of the previous one. Since most of humanity desires things that are good,
true, and/or beautiful, the fact that a computer can create such things
would seem to mean that axiomatically it can change peoples' lives for
the better. However, this is merely a declarative statement, which like
the previous one reflects a deep-felt love of technology. It does not
state explicitly that computers should always change peoples' lives for
the better, or the principle that would follow from that, which is that
it is unethical to use them to make peoples' lives worse. .. Many
hackers see the Internet as an immense positive force, and this
reiterated again by hacker Emmanuel Goldstein --
The future holds such enormous potential. It is vital
that we not succumb to our fears and allow our democratic ideals and
privacy values to be shattered. In many ways, the world of cyberspace is
more real than the real world itself. I say this because it is only
within the virtual world that people are really free to be themselves -
to speak without fear of reprisal, to be anonymous if they so choose, to
participate in a dialogue where one is judged by the merits of their
words, not the color of their skin or the timbre of their voice. Contrast
this to our existing "real" world where we often have people sized up
before they even utter a word. The Internet has evolved, on its own
volition, to become a true bastion of worldwide democracy. It is the
obligation of this committee, and of governments throughout the world,
not to stand in its way.
Thus, the ethical principles of the Hacker Ethic suggest it is
the ethical duty of the hacker to remove barriers, liberate information,
decentralize power, honor people based on their ability, and create
things that are good and life-enhancing through computers. It remains an
open question (of interpretation) as to whether it advocates the free
distribution of software (the GNU/Richard Stallman position), the
injunction against using computers for malicious purposes (the Clifford
Stoll position), or the need for secure networks based on trust (the
Steven Levy position.) Each of these document samples show that new
hackers are aware of, and advocate (whether intentionally or
accidentally) elements of the original Hacker Ethic.
New Hacker Ethic
From my documents, I found that there is a new hacker ethic which
90s hackers live by. There are fragments of continuity from the old
hacker ethic, as one can see. The new ethic appears to have developed
like the old one, informally and by processes of mutual reinforcement.
The new ethic seems to contain some ambiguities (like the old one) and a
few contradictions. This may be due to the fact that its practicioners
are more numerous and more dispersed than the original 60s hackers.
- "Above all else, do no harm"
Do not damage computers or data if at all possible. Much like
the key element of the Hippocratic Oath.
According to the "hacker ethic," a hack must:
* be safe
* not damage anything
* not damage anyone, either physically, mentally or emotionally
* be funny, at least to most of the people who experience it
It is against hacker ethics to alter any data aside from
the logs that are needed to clean their tracks. They have no need or
desire to destroy data as the malicious crackers. They are there to
explore the system and learn more. The hacker has a constant yearning and
thirst for knowledge that increases in intensity as their journey
2. The belief that system-cracking for fun and
exploration is ethically OK as long as the cracker commits no theft,
vandalism, or breach of confidentiality.
Of course, the key problem with this ethical position is its
stance on intent. One should not damage data deliberately. But
what if, as often happens in hacking attempts, one accidentally erases or
alters data while trying to alter system log files or user records? Is
that an ethical violation? Also, the question of what constitutes "harm"
is left open. Most hackers seem to see pranks and practical jokes as
harmless, regardless of their psychological impact. Yet their victims may
not feel these are so 'harmless,' especially if this causes them to lose
valuable time or effort.
- Protect Privacy
People have a right to privacy, which means control over their
own personal (or even familial) information. Privacy rights are notably
missing from the U.S. Constitution, but they have been brought to the
forefront of modern legal argument due to the growing surveillance power
of technology. There still is no codified right to privacy for U.S.
citizens, although the Supreme Court has ruled that it is contained
implicitly in its judgements legalizing the distribution of birth control
and the right to first-trimester abortion.
How far do privacy rights go, however? Do people also have an
intrinsic right to online anonymity? Do I have the right to conceal my
health status, criminal record, or sexuality from my employer? Are some
people (politicians, celebrities, etc.) entitled to less privacy than
others? Does my social security number, credit history, or telephone
number belong only to me? Further, the strange thing about hackers
asserting a right to privacy is that it declares a certain kind of
information to not be free. Thus, in some ways this is a contradiction to
the original hacker ethic.
Your right to Privacy
Privacy is a right we beleive we have. Unfortunately
privacy is not explicitately protected in the constitution. Our
consitution is dated in that respect, there weren't the threats to
privacy then as there are now. Technology is truly a double-edged sword.
The abscense of privacy provisions in the constitution does not make it
less important. Indeed, the lack of constitutional protections have
allowed our privacy to be gravely
The concept of privacy is something that is very
important to a hacker. This is so because hackers know how fragile
privacy is in today's world. Wherever possible we encourage people to
protect their directories, encrypt their electronic mail, not use
cellular phones, and whatever else it takes to keep their lives to
themselves. In 1984 hackers were instrumental in showing the world how
TRW kept credit files on millions of Americans. Most people had never
even heard of a credit file until this happened. Passwords were very
poorly guarded - in fact, credit reports had the password printed on the
credit report itself.
The second argument is an interesting one. The problem most
hackers had with TRW is not they kept files on most peoples' credit
histories without their knowledge (thus they couldn't see if they
contained any errors), and it was on that (unknown) basis that they were
denied loans, credit cards, mortgages, etc. It was that those files were
- "Waste not, want not."
Computer resources should not lie idle and wasted. It's
ethically wrong to keep people out of systems when they could be using
them during idle time. This is what some people call the "joy riders'
ethic." If you borrow someone's car, and return it with no damage, a full
tank of gas, and perhaps even some suggestions for improved performance,
have you not done them a favor? Especially if they never know you
borrowed it in the first place for a few road trips? Isn't it wasting
that precious engine power to leave the car in a parking spot while
somebody else could be using it for a grocery trip? (Is it an ethical
violation to borrow the car and make a set of keys for yourself so you
can borrow it whenever you feel like? This is, after all, what most
hackers do when they give themselves sysadmin privileges.) Yet most are
possessive over the use of their own personal computer.
The hacker ethics involves several things. One of these
is avoiding waste. Over the internet, we have about a quarter million
computers each of which is virtually unused for 10 hours a day. A true
hacker seeing something useful that he could do with terraflops of
computing power that would otherwise be wasted might would request
permission to use these machines and would probably go ahead and use them
even if permission was denied. In doing so, he would take the greatest
possible precautions to not damage the
- Exceed Limitations
Hacking is about the continual transcendence of problem
limitations. Some old hackers assert this principle, as an informal
seventh addition to the original Ethic. Telling a hacker something can't
be done, is a moral imperative for him to try. "Extropians" believe there
is a universal force of expansion and growth, inverse to entropy, which
they call "extropy." Hacking is seen as extropian because it always seeks
to surpass current limits. Technology is seen as a necessarily
exponential force of growth. Limitations must be overcome. For some
hackers, these limitations might be unjust laws or outdated moral codes.
To become free it may be necessary to break free from
medieval morality, break unjust laws, and be a disloyal employee. Some
may call you an disloyal, sinful criminal. To be free in a room of slaves
is demoralizing. Free your fellow man, give him the tools, the knowledge
to fight oppression. Do not infringe on others'
- The Communicational Imperative
People have the right to communicate and associate with
their peers freely. The United Nations International Telecommunications
Union (ITU) has stated in many conferences that this should be a
fundamental human right, with which no nation should ever interfere. The
sweeping freedoms given to amateur radio hobbyists internationally
reflect this belief. Globally, it remains a significant moral problem, in
that most developing nations lack the infrastructure to grant this right.
Various UN reports have shown that despite the rhetoric, many Third World
nations do not have access to the "global" information superhighway
because they lack "onramps." Their telecommunications infrastructure is
Most hackers strongly support the 1st amendments' rights to
communication and assembly, since these are necessary for the free flow
of information. Phreakers take this a step beyond, however, in asserting
that people should have the right to communicate with each other cheaply
(thus poor people have as much right to talk on the phone long distance
as the rest of us) and easily . When telecommunications companies are an
obstacle to this right to communicate, phreaking (blue boxing the phone
system, making unauthorized 'bridge' conference calls, using empty
voicemail boxes, etc.) is said to be the answer.
The Right to communicate
This is our strongest right, and our most crucial. There mere fact that
this page is allowed to exist is proof that our 1st amendment has not
crumbled completely. Despite the governmental protection, there are
threats to our freedom to communicate.
- Leave No Traces
Don't leave a trail or trace of your presence; don't call
attention to yourself or your exploits. Keep quiet, so everyone can enjoy
what you have. This is an ethical principle, in that the hacker follows
it not only for his own self-interest, but also to protect other hackers
from being caught or losing access. Such a principle can be found among
various criminal or underground organizations. Of course, there is a
contradiction between asserting a need for secrecy (as well as privacy),
and the need for unrestricted information.
The rules a Hacker lives by:
1. Keep a low profile.
2. If suspected, keep a lower profile.
3. If accused, deny it.
4. If caught, plea the 5th.
Information increases in value by sharing it with the maximum
number of people; don't hoard, don't hide. Just because it wants to be
free, does not mean necessarily you must give it to as many people as
possible. This principle can be seen as an elaboration on an original
ethical principle. The Pirates' ethic is that piracy increases interest
in software, by giving people a chance to try it out and experiment with
it before paying for it. So sharing software with your friends is a good
Pirates SHARE warez to learn, trade information, and
have fun! But, being a pirate is more than swapping warez. It's a life
style and a passion. The office worker or class mate who brings in a disk
with a few files is not necessarily a pirate any more than a friend
laying a copy of the lastest Depeche Mode album on you is a pirate. The
*TRUE* pirate is plugged into a larger group of people who share similar
interests in warez. This is usually done through Bulletin Board Systems
(BBSs), and the rule of thumb is "you gotta give a little to get a
little...ya gets back what ya gives." Pirates are NOT freeloaders, and
only lamerz think they get something for
- Self Defense against a Cyberpunk Future
Hacking and viruses are necessary to protect people from a
possible 1984/cyberpunk dystopian future, or even in the present from the
growing power of government and corporations. It's a moral imperative to
use hacking as the equivalent of 'jujitsu,' allowing the individual to
overcome larger, more impersonal, more powerful forces that can control
their lives. If governments and corporations know they can be hacked,
then they will not overstep their power to afflict the citizenry.
I believe, before it's all over, that the War between
those who love liberty and the control freaks who have been waiting for
to rid America of all that constitutional mollycoddling called the Bill
of Rights, will escalate.
Should that come to pass, I will want to use every available method to
vex and confuse the eyes and ears of surveillance. Viruses could become
the necessary defense against a government that fears your
What's interesting is that this principle recognizes and asserts
that it's not only possible but also likely for computers to have
a dark side and to be used for purposes other than truth and beauty, and
that we need to be wary of technology, or at least technology in the
- Hacking Helps Security
This could be called the "Tiger team ethic": it is useful and
courteous to find security holes, and then tell people how to fix them.
Hacking is a positive force, because it shows people how to mend weak
security, or in some cases to recognize and accept that total security is
unattainable, without drastic sacrifice.
Sense 2 is more controversial: some people consider the
act of cracking itself to be unethical, like breaking and entering. But
the belief that `ethical' cracking excludes destruction at least
moderates the behavior of people who see themselves as `benign' crackers
(see also samurai). Based on this view, it may be one of the highest
forms of hackerly courtesy to (a) break into a system, and then (b)
explain to the sysop, preferably by email from a superuser account,
exactly how it was done and how the hole can be plugged --- acting as an
unpaid (and unsolicited) tiger team.
Many software companies today, including Lotus, regularly use
tiger teams to test their security systems. So, this ethical principle
seems to be agreed upon by some members of the industry -- to a certain
extent. Even Lotus does not want its systems being tested by hackers who
are not under its employ or control.
- Trust, but Test!
You must constantly test the integrity of systems and find ways
to improve them. Do not leave their maintenance and schematics to others;
understand fully the systems you use or which affect you. If you can
exploit certain systems (such as the telephone network) in ways that
their creators never intended or anticipated, that's all to the better.
This could help them create better systems. One of those systems that may
require constant revision, testing, and adjustment, apparently, is
Democracy is always being tested -- it's an inherent
part of what it stands for. whether it's flag burners, gay activists,
klansmen, or computer hackers, we're always testing the system to see if
it holds up to pressure. i stress that this is NOT an end iwe do because
it interests us, but in the bigger picture we're actually testing the
sincerity of the democratic system, whether we're aware of it or
One of the most important manuals for British hackers was called
"beating the system." The essential argument is that as systems (like the
phone network) become more and more complex, they become impossible to
manage from a centralized office. Hacking at the edges of the system not
only becomes possible, in some cases it becomes necessary. It becomes an
ethical imperative to test the system, lest it fail when it is most
needed (like the AT & T phone switches did in 1990.)
So, in short, the new hacker ethic suggests that it is the
ethical duty of new hackers (or the CU), to : 1) protect data and
hardware 2) respect and protect privacy 3) utilize what is being wasted
by others 4) exceed unnecessary restrictions 5) promote peoples' right to
communicate 6) leave no traces 7) share data and software 8) be vigilant
against cyber-tyranny and 9) test security and system integrity of
These could be considered the "thou shalt nots" of the new
hacker ethic, as opposed to its affirmative "you shoulds." Some of these
transgressions of the hacker ethic are already implied by some of its
basic affirmative principles. We can get an idea of what hackers believe
they should do, based on what they reject as unsuitable activities of
Commercialism; selling pirated software; hacking for profit;
selling out. Bootlegging violates the new ethic of sharing and the
original hacker ethic which eschewed profit (and embraced personal
satisfaction) as a reason for creating software (hence the existence of
Richard Stallman's GNU Free Software Foundation.)
On occasion the possibility of making a profit from
these advances tempts hackers into commercialism. On other occasions,
they see commercialism as the only way to get their work into the hands
of the masses. When they succeed they become rich, and usually get moved
further and further from hacker life and more and more into paperwork and
then don't live happily ever after.
Bootleggers are to pirates as a chop-shop is to a home
auto mechanic. Bootleggers are people who DEAL stolen merchandise for
personal gain. Bootleggers are crooks. They sell stolen goods. Pirates
are not crooks, and most pirates consider bootleggers to be lower life
forms than child molesters.
Bootlegging seems to contradict new hacker ethic 7,
Always taking and never contributing. Profitting from other
peoples' efforts without adding to them. "Warez d00dz" and
"Codez d00dz" who are hunting for free software or phone codes
without offering anything in return (a hack, a number, whatever) are
looked down upon. Hoarding and refusing to tell others about your hacks
are seen as wrong. This also violates the new ethic of sharing.
In fact, pirates may be one of the best forms of
advertising for quality products, because sharing allows a shop-around
method for buying warez. Most of us buy a program for the documents and
the support, but why invest in four or five similar programs if we aren't
sure which best suits our needs? Nah, pirates aren't freeloaders. We are
Crashing systems; destroying hardware; hurting other users;
malicious vandalism; irreversible damaging or destroying of data;
unleashing destructive viruses, Trojans, logic bombs. Prankful
(non-harmless) games with users and sysops and systems is acceptable...
This is seen as the obvious corollary of the new ethic to "do no harm."
I. Do not intentionally damage *any* system. Trashing
BBSes is wrong, plain and simple.
II. Do not alter any system files other than ones needed to ensure your
escape from detection and your future access (Trojan Horses, Altering
Logs, and the like are all necessary to your survival for as long as
The one thing I hate, is the way some self-appointed
hackers find there way into a system, and ruin the name of the rest of us
by destroying everything they can find. Now that is pathetic. First of
all, as I said, it ruins the name of the rest of us. Thus, once again,
the "Destructive Computer User" Stereotype... A board crasher is no more
a "hacker" than my grandmother is.
- Excessive Selfishness
Self interest overrules any concern for other hackers
whatsoever. This violation implies others... once again, we run into the
strange divide at the heart of the Hacker Ethic, which is deeply
individualistic, yet also fiercely communal. Individuals are expected to
be highly self-motivated, but not selfish.
I think you'd be less agitated if you define your
categories as hackers and criminals. The former are in it to explore and
the latter are in it for themselves and nothing else. Of course, some
hackers do break laws on occasion but I don't think that necessarily
turns them into criminals, at least not in the moral sense.
Also, some hackers have this massive ego problem... I
must name one here, for that problem, and he is Corporal Punishment... I
have had numerous run-ins with this guy. He seems to think he is a God,
constantly running everyone into the ground. He even went as far as
saying "PHRACK sucks!" But he isn't the only one with that problem...
Some feel that if they put others down, they will elevate to a higher
level. Sorry to burst you bubble guys, but your only viewed as massive
ego-maniacs that deserve nothing less than being run down
Let us not forget that hackers, crackers, chippers,
crunchers, and whatnot all have ego, and one thing that bothers me about
using the Hacker Ethic to describe people is that ego and self-interest
are not accounted for. How else can you explain crackers selling pirated
software, otherwise intelligent people distributing viruses to the
general public in hope of causing maximum damage to other users, or
hackers breaking into some system and erasing files for laughs? People
break into computers because it's fun and it makes one feel powerful,
not because there is untapped power waiting to be used if only the right
programming "wizard" comes along.
- The (Selective) Anti-Stealing Ethic
Information, services, and software are not property;
hardware, physical property, money, and monetary services (credit cards,
digital cash, phone card numbers) are. Theft of these is still wrong.
Also, the target makes a difference. Stealing phone service (say,
voicemail boxes) from a large institution like a corporation or the
government is OK. Stealing it from an individual or a small nonprofit is
Thus the new hacker ethic, according to its propagandists,
does not embrace theft; instead it simply defines certain things (like
information) as not being personal property, or certain actions (using
phone service) as "borrowing" rather than theft.
So where is the boundary between the hacker world and
criminal world? To me, it has always been in the same place. We know that
it's wrong to steal tangible objects. We know that it's wrong to
vandalize. We know that it's wrong to invade somebody's privacy. Not one
of these elements is part of the hacker
Calling too much attention to oneself. It is acceptable
('elite') to brag in private hacker circles, unacceptable to brag or make
taunts and dares to sysops, law enforcement, or authorities, or in any
public forum where they tend to listen. Some hackers even consider the
first unacceptable, since hacker boards are monitored by the Secret
Service as well. Bragging and boasting to the media or other non-hackers
violates the ethic of 'leave no trace' and keeping a low profile.
Bragging after a neat hack may seem like the natural
thing to do. But just remember that it can only call attention to
yourself, and not everyone who pays attention to hackers are admirers.
You may jeopardize your friends and anyone else who ever accesses the
same system as you.
True hackers are quiet. I don't mean they talk at about
.5 dB, I mean they keep their mouths shut and don't brag. The number one
killer of those the media would have us call hackers is bragging. You
tell a friend, or you run your mouth on a board, and sooner or later
people in power will find out what you did, who you are, and you're
Snooping, monitoring of people, and invading their privacy
is wrong... so therefore is reading private e-mail, etc. This follows
from the new hacker ethic which sees privacy as a fundamental right.
However, part of the hacker praxis is about finding out passwords and
security holes from users, whether through "social engineering" or simple
snooping and "sniffing." This is the contradiction, once again, of
embracing privacy but also insisting on unrestricted information.
Some crackers are using computers in the exact
*opposite* way that the first hackers intended them: first, by
restricting the unimpeded and unmonitored flow of information through
the computer networks and phone lines; and second, by
using computers to monitor people, by intrusive methods
It is wrong to turn other hackers in. This part of their
ethical code is not different from many other criminal organizations or
subcultures, such as prison inmates, drug addicts, prostitutes, etc., or
even 'above-ground' subcultures such as police departments. ("code of
silence.") However, this code has special meaning for hackers, since many
ex-hackers often decide to become computer security personnel later in
life. Many of their peers consider this 'selling out.'
There's no lower form of life than the narc. Hackers who
go and rat on other hackers are scum. They get lots of promises of
immunity and stuff if they turn in all their friends. Some hackers get
back at other people by turning them into the feds. This is wrong, and it
only damages the hacker community. We need to stick together, because
nobody else is really on our side.
The last thing I will mention, will be hackers turning
in other hackers to federal crime agencies, or to the PhoneCorp security
offices, or any other type of company that deals with computer related
phraud. This activity, refered to as Narcing, is getting to be too
popular for a hackers good... You may be saying, " Come on, no hacker in
they're right mind would turn another on in ". And your right... It's
once again those self proclaimed hackers, or the ones who think they are
who will do this to get "Even"...
We can then see that new hackers do believe certain things are
wrong - and people who commit these actions are frowned upon and often
prevented from being recognized by the hacker community. Many of the
things new hackers reject, would also be rejected by the community of old
Reasons for Change
I coded various "emic" explanations in these texts for why some
people felt the Hacker Ethic had changed. These could potentially provide
the basis for looking for some interesting etic, measurable variables.
- "More Stuff"
Computers are more numerous, more powerful, more networked,
more distributed, more important, more widespread. More power over
society = more corruption, more incentive.
So the process of society adopting a new technology BY
DEFINITION must include the removal of all idealistic motivations
originally present in the promoters of the technology. Computers are
power, and direct contact with power can bring out the best or the worst
in a person. The Hacker Ethic is simply the ideal case: it's tempting to
think that everyone exposed to the technology will be so grandly
inspired, but alas, it just ain't so.
The "hacker ethic" was unnoticed before because fiddling with large
complex systems was so difficult until recently. There have always been
basement tinkers and young pranksters but their explorations were very
local. Once we are all connected, the work of these investigators ripple
through the world we have constructed and affect
We live in the age of computers. Everything is
controlled by massive mainframes; Our water distribution system,
rail-road control, airline control, electricity control, telephone
companies, etc, etc, etc... Imagine the fun someone can have in one of
those systems!!! Just the fact of getting in them can sometimes be a
major accomplishment. But my point is, what people do once they are
Society has changed for the worse. Either the old hackers lived
in a more sheltered, supportive, rewarding environment (the MIT lab where
they had access to everything they could ever want, plus recognition from
their mentors and peers), or they simply lived in a larger society (the
U.S. of the 50s) which was more based on trust, honesty, etc., and that
is why their behavior was different. This might be the sort of
sociological explanation found in a sociology textbook.
PANTY RAIDS: When panty raids meet biotech it may be
time to adapt new rituals; or the cracker phenomena is more complex then
that and has at least something to do with increased levels of social
alienation and how the street finds its own use for
It is my contention that hackers did not change. Society
changed, and it changed for the worse. The environment the early hackers
were working in rewarded them for their mischief and their desire to
experiment and try new things.
- The Computer Industry has Sold Out
The computer industry sold out; no commercial software developers today
believe in the Hacker Ethic either. They patent software, copy-protect
programs, lock up data and algorithms. New hackers are merely responding
to the times. They wouldn't have to do what they have to do if the
computer industry believed in open standards and systems and free source
And yet, in practice, I can't help but conclude that the computer
revolution is over, and that the people lost. The computer community is
driven now not by a lust for knowledge but by a lust for money. What were
fledgling companies of wild-eyed programmers sharing knowledge and
feeding on each other's ideas have become corporate behemoths, run by
suits and ties, and copyright lawyers, and the bottom
- Generational Change
Hackers, like other youth of their generation ("generation
X"), are more alienated, more pessimistic, more self-centered, more
thoughtless, more careless, more pragmatic, etc. It's not that society,
technology, or computing practices changed; it's just that new hackers
come from a generation which was raised differently from its predecessors
and was exposed to different influences.
It's like you sometimes see in the media -
'GenX' is more in it for themselves, more likely to try and get ahead
through using information from any which way, and more often see
themselves as getting screwed over by their elders ... so it's not
surprising that they don't have the same attitudes as Baby Boomer
A future research project might be to try and turn these into
etic variables. If one could operationalize and measure "level of
alienation" for the authors of these texts, it might turn out to be a
causal factor for "level of adherence to the Hacker Ethic," which would
be the degree to which the person espouses the old or new Hacker ethics.
Or one could try and correlate changes in the Hacker Ethic with changes
in computing practices or level of intensification of computer use.
It's interesting to examine the ways in which 90s hackers often
repudiate the original Hacker Ethic, or the possibility of embracing any
Ethic at all. These are based on some items I coded in the texts, and
other mentions found on the Net.
"The hacker ethic is a fraud" perpetrated by the original
hackers. It's too idealistic to possibly work in the real world.
But the Hacker Ethic is also a fraud. It is a fraud
because there is nothing magical about computers that causes one of its
users or owners to undergo religious conversions and devote themselves to
use of the computer for the betterment of the public good. Early
automobile enthusiasts were tinkerers, inventors, people with a dream
building motorized transportation. Then the new invention became
popular and the elite used it to drive around in luxury. Then the new
invention became accessible, and for many, necessary for survival. Now
we have traffic jams, drunk drivers, air pollution, and suburban sprawl.
Whatever magic still present in the use of the automobile occasionally
surfaces, but we possess no delusions that it automatically invades the
consciousness of everyone who sits behind the
Individualistic loners don't tend to subcribe to communal
ethics. Many hackers argue that hacking is by nature oriented toward
individualism rather than "groupthink," and thus the community of hackers
is one of mutually reinforcing self-interest rather than any true form of
fellowship or common ideology.
- Many, not one
There is no one single hacker ethic; in the extreme position,
every hacker has their own ethic.
I think the problem we're all having is the fact that everyone is
deluding themselves thinking there is only ONE 'hacker ethic'. The truth
of the matter is, everyone has their *OWN* hacker 'ethic'. To say that
we all think the same way is foolish.
Ethics are usually professional standards; by their very
nature hackers are anti-professional and tend to make up the rules as
they go along. Creating a professional, formalized code for hackers would
mean the end of hacking.
- Natural Evolution
The hacker ethic, like any belief system, must evolve over
time; it's foolish to assume anyone could maintain the same ethics when
everything else (especially technology) changes so rapidly.
In exploring some of the factors that lead to rejection of the
original Hacker Ethic, we might be able to understand better why certain
hackers do embrace either the old or new one or a combination of both.
Investigations of Patterns
I did two index tree searches of the NUDIST tree-index to
examine my hypothesis of continuity between the 60s and 90s hackers.
This was simply an index search where I told NUDIST to identify
the number of documents which contained codes from both the old and new
hacker ethics' subcodes. Any document which contained one or more codes
from both sets of ethical codes was considered a 'hit,' indicating
knowledge of (if not practice) of both systems. The results were:
retrievals in 15 out of 29 documents or 52 percent. This seems to be
statistically significant, and it is unlikely that hackers would express
elements of both ethical systems purely by chance unless they were aware
I generated a matrix of overlapping documents for the Hacker
Ethics (old and new). This identifies where codes co-occur within the
same text units (as opposed to elsewhere in the same text) and in which
| ||1 1 ||1 2 ||1 3 ||1 |
|1 5 ||1 6|
|2 1 ||24 ||24, 18 || || || |
|2 2 || || || || || |
| 2 3 || || || || || |
|2 4 || || || || || |
|2 5 || || || || || |
|2 6 || || || || || |
|2 7 || || || || || |
|2 8 ||27 || || || || ||27|
|2 9 || || || || || |
|2 10 || || || || || |
In document 24, "hacker vs. cracker," we see the co-occurence of
the old hacker ethic of "total access" and the new hacker ethic of "do no
harm," as well as the co-occurence of "information wants to be free" with
"do no harm." In document 18, "Hacker ethic jargon file," we see the
co-occurence of these same sentiments. And in document 27, "Rebels with a
cause," we see the co-occurence of "self defense" with "information wants
to be free" and "computers can change your life for the better."
Apparently, while hackers may express principles of both hacker
ethics, they are unlikely to do so at the same time or within the same
thought. Co-occurence within the same text unit did not occur very often
- only 3 out of 29 documents.
Conclusions - areas for future research
I feel it safe to say that I can conclude a few basic facts
from this early effort at text analysis. Mostly, I have a basis for a
good deal of future research. I might be able to state more, if I had
access to more documents or more information about their authors beyond
- New 90s hackers are not unethical. They are not unaware
of the original Hacker Ethic. They have their own ethical system which
combines elements of the old 60s Hacker Ethic with some new innovations
(the new hacker ethic.) The fact that ethics are important to these
hackers is suggested by the fact that they anethematize "crackers" and
"dark side" hackers for transgressions which violate the spirit of their
- There are four interesting areas of investigation for
looking into the changes between the old and new Hacker Ethic.
Measurement of changes in computer technology, social indicators,
computer industry practices, and generational demographics might provide
variables which covary with, and possibly even explain, the changes in
this ideological system.
- Some new hackers do repudiate the original Hacker Ethic
or the possibility of having an ethic at all. It would be interesting to
find out what aspects of their profiles (age, background, experience,
gender, social class, etc.) correlate with whether or not they repudiate
it and why. There should be some way to predict whether or not a hacker
is likely to embrace the ethic, and how much they fidelity to it they
- The (old and new) Hacker Ethic is not totally
idiosyncratic. Elements of it are similar to principles advocated by
American culture and its "democratic" constitutional and informal ideals;
the ethical codes of professional organizations such as academics,
doctors, and lawyers; the ethical systems of "underground" and
marginalized groups such as addicts, prostitutes, homeless people, etc.;
and traditional ethical precepts of philosophy (such as the Golden Rule
or Kantian categorical imperative.) Hackers are not alone in wanting
privacy, knowledge, or community.
- The similarity between the old and new hacker ethics
suggest that the new hackers did not emerge out of a distinct "tradition"
from the old hackers. Ethical continuity suggests some demographic
continuity. The 60s and 90s hackers may not be all that different,
despite the fact that the 60s hackers consider the 90s hackers to be less
deserving of the mantle of the term "hacker."
Return to CyberAnthropology
- Rebels with a Cause
- From Crossbows to Crypto
- Cryptoanarchist Manifesto
- Declaration of Grievances of the Electronic Community
- The Manifesto
- Emmanuel Goldstein Testimony
- Hack Ethics
- Hacker vs. Cracker
- Jargon file - hacker ethic
- Assert your rights
- Emmanuel Goldstein testimony
- Discussion begins
- Assert your rights
- What is hacking?
- Pirate Newsletter
- Government ethic
- Jargon file - hacker ethic
- The Manifesto
- Discussion begins
- Pirate Newsletter
- Pirate Newsletter
- Novice's guide to hacking
- The Hacker's Code of Ethics
- Cracker subculture
- The Hacker's Code of Ethics
- The Manifesto
- Emmanuel Goldstein testimony
- What is hacking?
- Ethics of Hacking
- Government ethic
- What is hacking?
- The Hacker's Code of Ethics
- Discussion begins
- The Hacker's Code of Ethics
- Cracker subculture
- Digital Free Press #2
- Discussion begins
- Anarchist's Guide to the BBS
- Discussion begins
- Discussion begins