Wikipedia Through the Looking Glass/Hacker culture

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Hacker culture

According to Levey, hackers share a single set of six values, a “hacker ethic:”

  • Access to computers – and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works – should be unlimited and total;
  • All information should be free;
  • Mistrust Authority – Promote Decentralization;
  • Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position;
  • You can create art and beauty on a computer;
  • Computers can change your life for the better.
  • Certain business practices – like giving away your code – allow you to claim the identity of a “hacker.”


1 "Hackers typically had little respect for the silly rules that administrators like to impose, so they looked for ways around. For instance, when computers at MIT started to have "security" (that is, restrictions on what users could do), some hackers found clever ways to bypass the security, partly so they could use the computers freely, and partly just for the sake of cleverness (hacking does not need to be useful). However, only some hackers did this—many were occupied with other kinds of cleverness, such as placing some amusing object on top of MIT's great dome (**), finding a way to do a certain computation with only 5 instructions when the shortest known program required 6, writing a program to print numbers in roman numerals, or writing a program to understand questions in English.


Hacker history2

  • The first intentional artifacts of the hacker culture --- the first slang lists, the first satires, the first self-conscious discussions of the hacker ethic --- all propagated on the ARPANET in its early years. In particular, the first version of the Jargon File3 developed as a cross-net collaboration during 1973-1975. This slang dictionary became one of the culture's defining documents. It was eventually published as "The Hacker's Dictionary" in 1983; that first version is out of print, but a revised and expanded version is New Hacker's Dictionary ``.

The meaning of hack4

"Hacking might be characterized as ‘an appropriate application of ingenuity’. Whether the result is a quick-and-dirty patchwork job or a carefully crafted work of art, you have to admire the cleverness that went into it." [Harmless pranking]
For many years the FSF was the single most important focus of open-source hacking, producing a huge number of tools still critical to the culture. The FSF was also long the only sponsor of open source with an institutional identity visible to outside observers of the hacker culture. They effectively defined the term `free software', deliberately giving it a confrontational weight (which the newer label `open source' just as deliberately avoids)."
All members agree that open source (that is, software that is freely redistributable and can readily evolved and be modified to fit changing needs) is a good thing and worthy of significant and collective effort. This agreement effectively defines membership in the culture.
MIT's computer culture seems to have been the first to adopt the term `hacker'.


"1. Corporate power elites distinguished primarily by their distance from actual productive work and their chronic failure to manage (see also suit). Spoken derisively, as in “Management decided that ...”."
"From the early 1980s onward, a flourishing culture of local, MS-DOS-based bulletin boards developed separately from Internet hackerdom. The BBS culture has, as its seamy underside, a stratum of ‘pirate boards’ inhabited by crackers, phone phreaks, and warez d00dz. These people (mostly teenagers running IBM-PC clones from their bedrooms) have developed their own characteristic jargon, heavily influenced by skateboard lingo and underground-rock slang. While BBS technology essentially died out after the Great Internet Explosion, the cracker culture moved to IRC and other Internet-based network channels and maintained a semi-underground existence."

Though crackers often call themselves ‘hackers’, they aren't (they typically have neither significant programming ability, nor Internet expertise, nor experience with UNIX or other true multi-user systems). Their vocabulary has little overlap with hackerdom's, and hackers regard them with varying degrees of contempt. But ten years on the brightest crackers tend to become hackers, and sometimes to recall their origins by using cracker slang in a marked and heavily ironic way."

... there is far less overlap between hackerdom and crackerdom than the mundane reader misled by sensationalistic journalism might expect. Crackers tend to gather in small, tight-knit, very secretive groups that have little overlap with the huge, open poly-culture this lexicon describes; though crackers often like to describe themselves as hackers, most true hackers consider them a separate and lower form of life. An easy way for outsiders to spot the difference is that crackers use grandiose screen names that conceal their identities. Hackers never do this; they only rarely use noms de guerre at all, and when they do it is for display rather than concealment."5

A substantial subculture of crackers refer to themselves as warez d00dz; there is evidently some connection with B1FF here. As ‘Ozone Pilot’, one former warez d00d, wrote: Warez d00dz get illegal copies of copyrighted software. If it has copy protection on it, they break the protection so the software can be copied. Then they distribute it around the world via several gateways. Warez d00dz form badass group names like RAZOR and the like. They put up boards that distribute the latest ware, or pirate program. The whole point of the Warez sub-culture is to get the pirate program released and distributed before any other group. I know, I know. But don't ask, and it won't hurt as much. This is how they prove their poweress [sic]. It gives them the right to say, “I released King's Quest IVXIX before you so obviously my testicles are larger.” Again don't ask...6

A contrary view to ESR


  • "Raymond's works (The Hacker FAQ, The Jargon File, The Cathedral the Bazaar, Homesteading the Noosphere etc) deal in depth with the cultural ancestry of a very "academic" hacker culture which you mostly associate with something resembling what existed at the MIT AI-lab in the early 70's and before that. In this respect I regard Raymond as the authoriative [sic] source alongside Steven Levy, who wrote the biography on Hackers - Heroes of the Computer Revolution. However, the only place where a reasonably just account of the underground culture of The Scene is touched upon is in the book The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling."
  • The Scene has strong connections to other underground cultures such as phreakers and netrunners (often referred to as crackers by hackers, or hackers by your average John Doe who don't know, neither care about the difference). It also has connections to the virus breweries of Bulgaria and elsewhere. The Scene was born out of 8-bit homecomputers such as Tandy Radio Schack TRS-80, Apple ][, Atari 800 and mostly Commodore 64. This was in the late 70's and early 80's. It later migrated partly to the 16-bit platforms of Amiga 500 and Atari ST, and eventually ended up as a IBM PC clone culture as well. Mostly Scene members were teenagers.
  • So (I think) he resons in this simple causal manner: "an open and encouraging hacker culture publish binaries and source together, the warez d00dz doesn't publish the sources of their crack patches, so they are not an open and encouraging culture, but a closed and exclusive culture". And what is the problem with this?
  • The answer is: there is no source. You see, Sceners have a habit of programming in a way "real hackers" left a long time ago. They program using a tool called machine code monitor or more commonly debugger. And do so by tradition. As the higher-level languages were not available or extremely costly on machines like Apple ][ or C64, this was out of necessity for your average computer-loving teenager. The only language that was available out-of-the-box would often be a simple BASIC interpreter which really didn't bring anything out of the hardware. Only later did assemblers (like the C64 Turbo Assembler for 6510 or QSEKA for Amiga) appear, and this was only because they were being cracked and/or reverse-engineered by members of The Scene.

Vanity Fair "4chan’s Chaos Theory"

Treason and plot

A good article here8 about 4chan. Salient points:

  • Founded in 2003 by 15-year-old Christopher Poole, 4chan, the online hangout for millions of young people, unwittingly spawned the group Anonymous
  • “… the Internet’s top troublemakers, those flame-throwing, drama-producing, forum-obsessed kids with an excess of both computer savvy and time on their hands.”
  • Anonymous is "the loosely affiliated organization of hackers whom the media has variously called “domestic terrorists,” “an Internet hate machine,” and “the dark heart of the Web”"
  • “The government knows where I am if they want to find me,” he says. “I’m here!” That’s more than can be said for most members of Anonymous, who are, appropriately enough, staying anonymous, hiding their I.P. addresses in Internet Relay Chat rooms and posting under deadpanned handles like Coldblood and Tux, the latter a possible shorthand for the group’s logo, which features a man in a tuxedo, sans head."
  • Anonymous members might have knowledge of how, exactly, the Web sites of MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal were brought down after they shut off any donations to WikiLeaks processed through their organizations
  • “Corporations should not bow to government pressure,” explains Housh. “Government is supposed to be there to do simple things to make people happy, and that’s all.” Bam! On December 8 they shut down MasterCard for 37 hours. Blam! Visa down, for 12 hours. Zop! PayPal … well, it didn’t go down except for the blog, but at least Anonymous’s attacks made the site run a lot slower. They also shut down the sites of a Swiss bank, Senator Joe Lieberman (after he prodded Amazon to kick WikiLeaks off its system), and the Swedish prosecutor investigating Assange’s alleged sex crimes. “Freedom of expression is priceless,” Anonymous crowed on their Twitter page. “For everything else, there’s MasterCard.”
  • "During those heady days of early December, at least 50,000 people signed on to be part of the Anonymous army, joining in the grand disruption of the global wheels of commerce (er, kind of … these sites may have gone down in the DDoS attacks, but it’s not as though actual MasterCards didn’t keep working perfectly at the checkout). “I guess you could call it an army, but I wouldn’t,” says Housh, unfurling another telephone monologue. “Anonymous isn’t an army, or a group, per se. There aren’t members. Anyone who uses the loic is Anonymous, which means that anybody at any time in their lives can become Anonymous. Anonymous is nobody and nothing and nowhere.” He laughs a little, somewhat ghoulishly. “For all I know, you downloaded the loic, too — you’ve never proved to me you didn’t — so you might be Anonymous, too.”"
  • In the Internet underworld, trolls are known for such socially and technically juvenile high jinks as posting chauvinistic statements on feminist blogs, but some of them are also “script kiddies” or even “elite hackers.” Anonymous is attractive to these people, and they have participated in recent Anonymous actions like taking down the Web sites of the governments of Tunisia, Iran, and Egypt.
  • Their main hangout was, a heavily trafficked “image board,” which is a regular bulletin board, like one you might use to argue about politics or trade tips on yoga retreats, but with a few key differences. 4chan does not have archives or searchability. It’s one of the last places on the Internet where you really can say anything you want and it won’t come back to haunt you. Anything posted on 4chan has generally disappeared by the end of the day, and there’s no chance of Google finding it again.
  • Anonymity is part of the culture of 4chan, a complex network of millions of trolls—(mostly) young men who are entranced with the notion of acting as one, as a “hive mind,” and at the same time desperate to assert their individuality apart from whatever pressures they feel in society, or “I.R.L.” (in real life). It’s one of the largest active forums in the world, with 10 million unique visitors and 705 million page views a month. 4chan was founded by a kid who grew up in New York City and Westchester, using the online handle “moot,” in 2003, when he was 15.
  • He borrowed his mom’s credit card to buy server space. He didn’t tell anyone his real name online, and he didn’t tell anyone I.R.L. that he ran 4chan—not his parents, not his friends, nor anyone at school. [Lovely]
  • Moot finally came out with his real name, Christopher Poole, a few years ago
  • The quintessential troll board, /b/ is a bizarre mix of topics such as hacking, porn (including really messed-up porn like furry porn and “lolis,” which is a Japanese portmanteau for kiddieporn anime), odd stuff like horse penises painted tie-dye colors, and everything else that can be found buried deep inside a certain type of fragile adolescent male ego: pain over unrequited love, abusive parents, racism, sexism, and the searing sensation of isolation that comes with never fitting in. One member described his involvement in the site this way: “I was a lonely teenage hate machine, with a new computer and an old routine.”
  • Also, lots of cats. Trolls, as it turns out, love cats.
  • Stupid stuff about the stupid 'memes' they started.
  • 4chan has cornered the market on the trivial on the Internet, which is no small feat (the trivial usually spreads by accident on the Web, according to no logic). Through the sheer force of its numbers, 4chan has somehow managed to establish the Internet’s top memes—some of which are as important to the American consciousness at this point as Hollywood movies, and they’ve done it over and over.
  • After Poole came out with his real identity, 4channers voted him to the top of a poll for Time magazine’s most influential person of the year, with an approval rating of 390 percent.
  • They don't like Scientology
  • Tens of thousands of Anonymous members started hitting the streets I.R.L. as well, in their Guy Fawkes masks [re a legal attack by C.O.S on Poole]
  • The Anonymous campaign against Scientology is a bit messy: it’s about protecting free access to information but also about prosecuting Scientology as a fake religion, and also about getting lulz. But it succeeded in sparking a previously moribund ideological impulse in many trolls, which, in September 2010, they spun into a new campaign: Operation Payback, a series of DDoS attacks against the R.I.A.A. and M.P.A.A. following hack attacks on the Pirate Bay.
  • This is an argument we’re likely to keep having over the next few years: Are Anonymous cyber-vandals or vigorous grassroots protesters? On one hand, Web sites are property, and taking them down is stealing, in a way. At the same time, this is a moment of worldwide upheaval and change, and Anonymous is part of the democratic revolution. Just don’t piss them off.

January 2012 hacking incident

Image used to promote Anonymous' denial of service attack on anti-piracy law firm BBC world, 3 February 20129:

"FBI probes Anonymous intercept of US-UK hacking call". "The FBI is investigating how activists linked to the Anonymous network managed to intercept a conference call between British and US police in which they discussed legal action against hackers."

Anonymous is described as follows:

Anonymous describes itself as an "internet gathering". The term is used to describe a collective of people who come together online, commonly to stage a protest. The groups vary in size and make-up depending on the cause. Members often identify themselves in web videos by wearing the Guy Fawkes masks popularised by the book and film V for Vendetta. Its protests often take the form of disrupting websites and services. Its use of the term Anonymous comes from a series of websites frequented by members, such as the anarchic image board 4Chan. These allow users to post without having to register or provide a name. As a result, their comments are tagged "Anonymous". In the past, groups have staged high-profile protests against plans by the Australian government to filter the internet and the Church of Scientology. Many Anonymous protests tackle issues of free speech and preserving the openness of the net.


See “Constructing the pirate audience: on popular copyright critique, free culture, and cyberlibertarianism” Ramon Lobato ,Postdoctoral research fellow Institute for Social Research Swinburne, University of Technology Copyright Copyleft Piracy is an act of theft – ‘You wouldn’t steal a car’ Piracy is an act of love – ‘Sharing is caring’ Culture is property ‘Protect creative works’ Culture is a public/non-excludable Good – ‘Information wants to be free’ Artists have the right to make a living from their work – ‘Pirate tapes rob artists and studios of Consumers have the right to freely share information through digital networks – ‘Fight for their rightful income’ your right to copy’ Piracy is the number one threat to media industries – ‘What are you really burning?’ Outdated business models are the number one threat to media industries – ‘The future is open’ Piracy will be punished – ‘You can click but you can’t hide’ Piracy is normative; IP law is unenforceable – ‘You can sue but you can’t catch everyone’ Piracy supports organised crime – ‘Keep away from piracy: don’t finance crime’ Big Media are the real criminals – ‘RIAA: Screwing artists and consumers since 1952’

Gates on Piracy

“As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid? Is this fair? One thing you don’t do by stealing software is get back at MITS for some problem you may have had. MITS doesn’t make money selling software. The royalty paid to us, the manual, the tape and the overhead make it a break-even operation. One thing you do do is prevent good software from being written. Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist can put 3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product and distribute for free? The fact is, no one besides us has invested a lot of money in hobby software. We have written 6800 BASIC, and are writing 8080 APL and 6800 APL, but there is very little incentive to make this software available to hobbyists. Most directly, the thing you do is theft.”

What the pirate supporters say

• "Its all money the rich man doesn't like the poorer man getting anything for free even though most of the rich men are fiddling their taxes anyway. Greed when the rich mans pockets are over flowing with money they can't help but want more. Poor old F***ing Hollywood. What about the rest of us that have had our houses repossessduring the reccession and losing jobs things like tvshack allow the poorer people in our communities to forget about the hard ships they have been through. The good old U.S.A. FED.S up to there usual trying to tell us what not to do when they are doing what they don't want any one to no." [sic, unsourced?] • "You have stated that you think helping people to commit copyright infringement is morally wrong. Rather than believing copyright should exist as a stimulus for the creation of new works etc, rather you think there is some moral issue here with infringing or helping to infringe the government granted monopoly rights of the copyright holders as set out by current copyright law. Essentially you appear to be bringing morals into the equation when they don't belong. IRWolfie-10 (talk11) 10:10, 27 June 2012 (UTC)"12 • "It's then you realise you're inside the propaganda machine for the Big Media faithful: "Keep sluggin' it out, people! Less content sharin' means more money for us!" " Think about that."13 • "I'm not sure how many of you know this but NinjaVideo.Net has been shutdown by Homeland Security through ICE by a new copyright program called Operation: In Our Sites. It basically enables a multinational effort through Imigrations and Customs with the FBI and Homeland Security and allows them to raid your home, work, and confiscate your internet domain and money."14

Pirate propaganda sites

• Piracyhappens15

Pirate think tanks

the copyleft16

There are actually think-tanks at Stanford and Harvard that campaign for weaker copyright laws. Theirs is a philosophy of basic tyranny. What is yours is mine – we will force you to share – you have no choice.

In a seminal February 2003 article in Wired titled “The Economy of Ideas,” Mr. Barlow makes the case that since there is no way to protect digital content, we should accept that intellectual property is an outdated concept. […]

The answer starts in 1984 at the first “Hacker’s Conference” in Marin County where Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog is famously quoted by Mr. Barlow in Wired in 2003 and internet pundits today as having stated “Information wants to be free.” However, that is not what Mr. Brand said. He stated that “Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine—too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, ‘intellectual property’, the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.”

Pirate funding

The Wall of Shame17. The Pirate Propaganda Machine "Great site, that we look forward to sharing with our friends across the pond. The Pirate Propaganda Machine continues to keep the profitability of online piracy (for the site owners) out of the conversation. Posing as revolutionaries, they simply want to justify behavior that has no justification; other than [that] they can". Supporters of the Revolution include

  • ISP Charter Communications
  • ISP Time Warner Cable
  • ISP Verizon
  • State Farm

who place advertising on pirate sites, thus funding the 'revolution'.


[On Slashdot] Women were only ever mentioned as the butt of geek ‘humour’, such as their supposed inability of women to comprehend software engineering, or in comment threads focusing on the sexual availability or attractiveness of women. A review of a book ‘Cooking for engineers’ said, without irony:

Most recipes are designed for women, and their funny way of looking at the world. These are very different and instantly understandable for tech geeks [i.e. men] like us [men].

In Slashdot world, women are stupid, they are only interested in pink, and ponies, and write diaries in the style of a Valley Girl.

Participants were mostly computer users and technology industry employees. It hosted mostly incomprehensible discussions about software and software development, for example “Intel will ship a new processor technology dubbed Katmai in 1999, designed to enhance complex applications such as 3D graphics and speech recognition and run at speeds starting at about 500 MHz, company executives revealed today”. None of it this was remotely interesting to anyone except those obsessed with computing, although there was a ‘secret’ page where all sorts of disgusting rubbish was posted – mostly homophobic, racist rants and gay porn stories. The participants were mainly male ‘geeks’, and hardly any women. In observance of April Fools’ Day (April 1) in 2006, Slashdot temporarily changed its signature teal color theme to a warm palette of bubblegum pink and changed its masthead from the usual, "News for Nerds" motto to, Slashdot omgponies.png18

and hacker culture

  • 17 October 201219. Excellent post by Andreas Kolbe.
  • Hacker culture at Gawker20

But Reddit's laissez-faire attitude towards offensive speech has led to a vast underbelly that rivals anything on the notorious cesspool 4chan. And with Jailbait, Violentacrez decided to create a safe space for people sexually attracted to underage girls to share their photo stashes. I would call these people pedophiles; the Jailbait subreddit called them "ephebophiles." Jailbait was the online equivalent of systematized street harassment. Users posted snapshots of tween and teenage girls, often in bikinis and skirts. Many of these were lifted from their Facebook accounts and thrown in front of Jailbait's 20,000 horny subscribers. See:

  • Atlantic21
  • 2012 oct 1522 Reddit has stayed fairly true to the anarchic, freewheeling spirit of the early internet. Baffling to outsiders, Reddit is laced with memes, trends – and as a result, a certain political culture is shared among a huge swath of its user base.
  • 2012 oct23 betabeat
  • 2012/10/2224 fox news

Silicon Valley

  • 2012/10/2425 "The creepy, dangerous ideology behind Silicon Valley’s Cult of Disruption" Great article, sums up the sick Ayn Randian background of Silicon Valley. "Uber, however, does not profit from compromise. Kalanick is a proud adherent to the Cult of Disruption: the faddish Silicon Valley concept which essentially boils down to “let us do whatever we want, otherwise we’ll bully you on the Internet until you do.” To proponents of Disruption, the free market is king, and regulation is always the enemy."

Anroth on Anonymous

  • Anonymous is effectively 4chan for the purpose of that discussion. At least thats where it started and where it gets its traction on issues.
  • 4chan has always hated scientologists. Scientology and its celebrity shills are prime fodder for 4chan (as an image board). So that carries/carried over into the anonymous movement. (While most here probably are aware, for those who are not, 'Anonymous' comes from the default posting on 4chan which signs all posters as 'Anonymous'. Unlike wikipedia, registering for an ID is actually annoying and a barrier, so most dont.)
  • 4chan usenet - not so much crossover. Usenet (and mailing lists) in general are the province of the older techno-elite. Think the more unhinged members of WMUK for example. As modern geeks tend to come out of a gaming/social background, their route is through IRC private forums. 4chan is a giant anonymous forum at its basic level remember. They tend to view 'usenet' people as sort of the ageing uncle who refuses to get with the times.
  • Anonymous flat out does not want control. They want freedom from any type of control. (Government, private individuals, corporations, religious movements) Which is why they are at polar opposites to Scientology. (Which is basically a controlling cult that reduces its members to tools and seeks to silence its critics.) WO Tue Apr 09, 2013 8:09 am27
  • Hex adds "Don't forget that the chans and Reddit also have a massive crossover. In many ways Reddit is their "legitimate" face. Canvassing for article deletion debates on Reddit is also common".

A view into hacker culture

  • "A View Into the Hacker/Cracker Culture"28, Trevor Krug Computer Crime, Prof. Lanny Lockhart, Jr. Rochester Institute of Technology
  • An accurate count, or even a decent approximate amount, of how many hackers and crackers dwell in cyberspace is certainly an opinionated number reached through various means of research. One such interview done by Internet Business magazine revealed that "there are approximately 1 million active hackers using the Internet... although only about one out of every 500 is a full-fledged cracker"(Piquet, 1998).
  • For some, it might not be the reason of sharing information as it is a feeling that the public should know what's "really" going on.
  • Some hackers and crackers may feel that they have been wrongly done to or oppressed by the society in which they reside. These feelings of rebellion combined are used to direct themselves into a life in cyberspace. "They may see themselves as pitted against the establishment"(Icove, Seger VonStorch, 1995, p. 62).
  • With this in mind, there is a line to be drawn by all hackers, and then there is the decision to know the limit of legality or to cross that line and enter the world of criminal.
  • The mentality of such reasoning can be referred to as the "old-style hacker" mentality. ""I subscribe to the old hacker mentality... hack for knowledge… and NEVER destroy anything... the best hacker.. is the hacker who can hack a system and never even be known he was there." (Tcroc, 1998)
  • The "new-style" hacking mentality has been dubbed the criminal way of hacking.
  • Description of methods – packet sniffing, password guessing, social engineering, tools. "Based on estimates published by IBM's Global Security Analysis Laboratory, some 1,900 Websites offer hacking tips, tools, and scripts" (McMullen, 1998, ...1/3.html)
  • The Security Administration Tool for Analyzing Networks, acronymed SATAN, is a favorite for crackers in the Unix world. An advanced port scanner, it offers crackers less of a challenge when it comes to cracking into a network.

On the actual meaning of the word

The positive sense of 'hacker' was popularised by Stallman, via an interview with Levey. Levey's book was heavily influenced by Stallman's world view. Others would say there has always been a negative connotation to the word. There were many discussions about this on Usenet in the early 1980s.

  • 20 May 1981 13:53 cdt29 (A word to the wise: "to hack" and its derivatives have strongly different semantics in most of the world than at MIT, such that one would not willingly admit to being a hacker - especially not on an interview! In industry, the practice we call "hackery" is the antithesis of good design.)
  • 6 Jun 198230 I have never thought that "hacker" was a pleasant term. Would you, for example, want a carpenter to work on your house who was described as a "hacker"? As far as I can tell, "hacker"'s program with axes. There are two mitigations, however. 1. Many hackers have considerable (if disorganized) knowledge and can be a help with difficult problems because they have been through the problem themselves. However, they very often specify local fixes rather than globab corrections, so that you have to evaluate their help carefully. 2. Many good computer scientists describe themselves as "hacker"'s as a way of being modest. Without going into psychoanalytic space, I always try to judge a self-proclaimed hacker's skills for myself. Finally, has anyone else noticed that hacker's spend their undergraduate years in the computer center, get terrific jobs for 3 years, and then burn out? This is a statement of averages, of course, but it seems to be a pattern. Charles
  • 8 June 198231 Seems to me we have digressed to a low-level discussion of the semantics of the word hacker. Lets settle this squabble by recognizing that, like many other words in English, hacker has two meanings, neither meaning is universal, and they tend to contradict, conflict or confuse. Lets use hacker(1) to be the noble knight on a white terminal, and hacker(2) to be the guy who hacks away at code with a hack-saw until it sort of works. OK? Seems to me we got away from the real issue, which as I saw it was computer addiction. Michael Wagner, University of Toronto Computing Services
  • 8 June 198232 A major part of my job is programming and I immodestly think I am good at it. Like Charles, I do not want to be called a hacker. Why not? Because I try to do the following: I spend time testing my programs. I try to understand a bug before I fix it. This often means avoiding an "obvious" fix until I have satisfied myself that I understand the implications of a change. I spend time thinking about the problems my programs will solve (as opposed to thinking about the program). I spend time working on problems I don't find interesting, because somebody else (i.e. my boss) wants me to. I don't become attached to the first solution I find to a problem. I complete projects. This means all the diddly work of documentation, getting the last bug out, responding to users' complaints, etc. I try to structure my programs to make them easy to understand and easy to modify. I read journals. (I don't mean rumor rags like datamation, but semi-technical ones like Software Practice) I recognize that anything I do when I'm tired ought to be checked again when I'm not. I take care to maintain a history of what I've done. I don't make gratuitous changes in my programs. People don't like to relearn ways of doing things, even when the new way is "better". I know the difference between jargon used to compress communication, and jargon used to impress or show off. If somebody expresses a preference for an operating system or programming language I don't like, I try to understand the reasons o rather than ridicule his or her preference. I don't waste my time composing netnews items. (Well, I said I tried -- I admit it. I do sometimes hack.) Notice that these are statements of attitude, not of skill.
  • 10 Oct 198233 On the other hand, the term "hack" has come to mean something rather complement- ry in some contexts (hacker may be read for hack). The important distinction between the pejorative sense and the other is whether the result is useful, and understandable by the regular, often naive user of the system(s) on which the results of hacking are found. If you are one of those who believes that the documentation of a program is its listing, then you belong to the pejorative group. Anyone who has tried to maintain a program written by one of these types will tell you that they can't usually figure out why or in what context some of the identifiers were chosen, or what the abbreviation style has been in the past. I have had maintenance people come to me in near tears with the request that they be allowed to rewrite some programs to the specification only to have to tell them that the specification doesn't exist be cause my predecessor was a superannuated hack! Grrrr. You know who you are, out there! I think the people who truly are "hacks" in the U of Waterloo sense (complimentary) should be called something else. How about "programmers"? John Winterton
  • 10 Oct 8234 Obviously, as someone else said here recently, we have two different definitions (or concepts) hiding under the terms hack/hacker. I recall feeling mildly surprised on reading the MIT/Stanford hacker's Dictionary to find that 'Hacker' has been invested with a positive aura in that context. Interesting that the positive aura has subsequently spread (perhaps via ARPAnet for the most part, plus word of mouth) to a significant slice of USENET and some other parts of U.S. Computer Sci establishment. The whole dispute as to the 'true' meaning strikes me as a classic example of evolution in language use. Wonder if any sociolinguists have noticed the possibilities of using computer message networks to collect raw data on language shifts. I also wonder if anyone can comment from personal knowledge on the context in which 'hacker' first became a 'good' word. Was it originally a we-hackers-stick- together reaction by (mainly AI) students who were being put down as 'mere hackers' by others... And later the people concerned learn to work in more discipline ways, and retain the label out of pride and a bit of rebellion (perhaps, against snap judgements)... and now other people take the term up.? Anyone know? I have to say that I can accept 'hacker' as a 'good' word, as used by certain individuals, but it still by default retains a perjorative force for me. [The discussion is about whether to document code]
  • September 12, 198335 Reference to "September 12, 1983, Vol. XVII, No. 37, Page 1 HACKING: MARK OF GENIUS OR PLAIN THEFT? By Jeffry Beeler ComputerWorld West Coast Bureau "... They call themselves `hackers.'"
  • 13 Sep 198336 In an article recently submitted to net.misc and by houxa!9212osd, reporter Bob De Sando of the Asbury Park (NJ) Press was quoted as saying: "A 'hacker' is a person who uses a personal home computer to decipher the access codes of another, usually for the 'fun' of the challenge. Once the code is broken, a hacker can gain access to confidential information and even alter the computer's programming". HOLY COW!! Mr. De Sando's definition is the first real evidence I've seen of a trend which bothers me no end: the use of 'hacker' to refer to computer break-in artists. This casts a severe shadow on those of us who are hackers (in the older sense of the term: people who enjoy fooling around with computers) and have used the term to refer to ourselves in the past.
  • 14 Sep 198337 It seems the term "hacker" is getting into the public usage, but with a different connotation than we (programmers) give it. Both in News- week a couple of weeks ago and again on CBS News this evening, the term "hacker" was used to refer specifically to individuals, mostly antisocial teenagers, who spend their time deliberately breaking into computer systems. I suspect that will become the "official" meaning as soon as someone gets around to including it in a dictionary. Ain't it wunnerful to watch your very own language grow? Byron Howes UNC - Chapel Hill
  • 17 sep 1983[[#|38]38] As far as I'm concerned, the word "hacker" has always had a negative connotation when applied to computer users, whether they're trying to break security or just programming too much. Of course, the hackers like themselves the way they are, and think it's a nice word and a nice way to be... Steve Summit
  • 17 Sep 8339 I am not so sure that the media is mis-interpreting the term. My most authoritative source on this is the my well worn listing of the file "jargon.txt;1" which made the rounds of the Arpa community a number of years ago. It was biased towards Cambridge, Mass lingo, but many of the words spring from the old tech square community of the 60's so this seems a good source. I quote:
Hacker [originally someone who makes furniture with an axe] N. 1. A person who enjoys learning the details of programming systems and how to stretch their capabilities as opposed to most users who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. 2. one who programs enthusiasti- cally or who enjoys programming rather than just hack value (q.v.) 4. a person who is good at programming quickly -- not everything a hacker produces is a hack 5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; example a Lisp hacker (Definitions 1 to 5 are correlated and people who fit them congregate.) 6. A malicious or inquisitive meddler who tried to discover information by poking around. Hence "password hacker" or "network hacker".*Even back then the word had the connotation the media have used. Nothing new in that, just the first 5 uses seem to cast you (us?) in a favorable light, while the latter does not. But are you going to argue with "jargon.txt"? ----GaryFostel----
  • 23 sep 8340 Since when did the term 'hacker' ever have a good meaning? It has (in the computer industry) always been a term for a sloppy programmer or a computer nerd still in school. Professional software folk take their work seriously. Would you want to live on the 50th floor of a building designed by someone who considered her/himself an architecture hacker? Perhaps when the likes of 'hackers' take themselves seriously, the media will take them seriously. Garey Fouts
  • 6 dec 198441 I began programming when I was 13 (in the late sixties) and even then the term 'hacker' was derogatory - as it still should be. J. L. Giles [address on Ggroups but redacted here]
  • 9 Dec 8442 When I started programming 7 years ago hackers were the ones building their own computer systems. They were writing their own software and designing their own hardware. They shared their knowledge with anybody who was interested. They didnt break into computer systems. A "hacker" was somebody who knew his stuff and spent more time in front of a terminal than he did with his family. As far as I'm concerned, that you were educated in an environment that lacked hackers is your loss. I have called myself a hacker ever since I got really involved with computers. I am proud of being such. That you and the media want to attach some derogatory meaning to the word is your problem.
  • 10 Dec 198443 For those of you searching for a new word for the bad guys, I think the last time this came up, the discussion finally settled on "cracker." Mark Horton
  • 10 Dec 198444 According to the AP story carried by our local paper, the Newsweek reporter got his information by actually taking part in discussion on a bulletin-board system on which were traded credit card numbers, system-cracking tips, recipes for nitroglycerin, and other wholesome hobbies. What was reported on was not a group of hackers but a den of thieves. The modus operandi is changed by new technology, but that is all that is different. It is hardly surprising that the reaction would include threats of violence. We are not talking about nerds here. -- _Doctor_ Jon Mauney, mcnc!ncsu!mauney \__Mu__/ North Carolina State University
  • 12 dec 8445 Interesting that all the definitions of hacker in the sense of programmer were complimentary: they must have been written by people who considered themselves hackers! In England (where I come from) I always heard the word used as an insult, meaning someone who programs without thinking first. Steven Pemberton, CWI, Amsterdam; [address on Ggroups but redacted here]

"Confessions of a former internet troll" and User:Unknown

Confessions of a former internet troll46, Vox, 29 September 2014. Revealing insights into the mindset of a young white male who runs away to the internet.

I was the 14-year-old white boy kind of troll and it came about like this. The web has corners that produce, in teenagers, a psychological effect not terribly dissimilar from the scene one might have encountered by running away to New York or San Francisco some 40 years ago. The landscape is obscure, the pressure to seem with it and local is immense, and the people you meet first, no matter how incidental the contact, assume an exaggerated gravity in your concept of the local topography.
I am going to find it difficult to tell you precisely why I was so taken by this scene and why I threw myself so enthusiastically into its underworld. The simplest and likely sufficient answer is that I was 14 years old. It all felt vaguely dangerous, vaguely revolutionary, but with ill-defined goals. Its romance was the same one that makes Randians of so many high-school sophomores.

Discussed on WO47. At first, Rensin was thought to be User:Unknown on ED. According to Shawn "Badmachine" MacNamara, a longtime ED editor:

"As for User:Unknown, the initial contributions of the founder(s) were IP addresses, later obscured by attributing them to User:Unknown, which was unclaimed at the time this happened, so I claimed it."

MacNamara also said of Rensin, the author: "Nobody I know, but plenty of people use/used disposable socks. This low contribution account is really early, 2005 was still the LiveJournal era. Couldn't hurt to look into this:

"That's a total guess, the connection could be coincidental. My guess is he is/was a Wikipedian too. There is a zero contrib 'Atromos'51 account at Wikipedia created in 2006, which might be a placeholder." Also pointed out that the original ED is quite different from what we see today, and: "The article ("Chronic Troll Syndrome") was created 26 November 2005, by "Primenumbers", a .com user. When .ch/.se/.es formed, most articles were created by scraping Google and other methods which lost the histories. For the article mentioned, a history is available at link52 "This reveals that the article was created by .com user "Primenumbers", whose userpage (link53) doesn't reveal much. His contributions list as of June 2007 shows his last contribution was December 2006 (and that he had 21 contribs as of then)." link54


Cops are skilled at getting people to talk, and computer people, given a chair and some sustained attention, will talk about their computers till their throats go raw. There's a case on record of a single question -- "How'd you do it?" -eliciting a forty-five-minute videotaped confession from a computer criminal who not only completely incriminated himself but drew helpful diagrams.

Computer people talk. Hackers brag. Phonephreaks talk pathologically -- why else are they stealing phone-codes, if not to natter for ten hours straight to their friends on an opposite seaboard? Computerliterate people do in fact possess an arsenal of nifty gadgets and techniques that would allow them to conceal all kinds of exotic skullduggery, and if they could only shut up about it, they could probably get away with all manner of amazing information-crimes. But that's just not how it works -- or at least, that's not how it's worked so far.

Most every phone-phreak ever busted has swiftly implicated his mentors, his disciples, and his friends.

Most every white-collar computer-criminal, smugly convinced that his clever scheme is bulletproof, swiftly learns otherwise when, for the first time in his life, an actual no-kidding policeman leans over, grabs the front of his shirt, looks him right in the eye and says: "All right, asshole -- you and me are going downtown!" All the hardware in the world will not insulate your nerves from these actual reallife sensations of terror and guilt. --The Hacker Crackdown, part III55

See also

  • Vanity Fair Pirates of the Multiplex 3 July 200756
  • Article on OWS57
  • The Hacker Crackdown58 by Bruce Sterling (really excellent)
  • Wikipedia article on the C64 Demoscene59, see also Warez_(scene)60
  • Hackers, Heroes of the Computer Revolution61, Steven Levy.


  • Levy, Steven. Hackers: heroes of the computer revolution. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984, cited by Fred Turner62
  • "4chan’s Chaos Theory" Vanity Fair, April 2011, by Vanessa Grigoriadis
  • Mention Sue Garner’s ‘pink’ campaign.
  • Piquet, L. (1998). Get Out, Stay Out. New York, New York. Available: 29 Oct 1998.
  • Icove, D., Seger, K., and VonStarch, W. (1995). Computer Crime. Sebastol, California: O'Reilly Associates, Inc.
  • Tcroc. (1998). FirstClass Chat. Rochester Institute of Technology. Rochester, New York. October 8, 1998.
  • McMullen, M. (1998). The Big Hack Attack. New York, New York. Available: 29 Oct 1998


with link notes by Wikitop editor