Tuesday, July 2, 2013

White Hats and Tales

The current controversy surrounding Edward Snowden has made me realize that very few people understand hacker culture, much less what hacker collectives like Anonymous are trying to achieve. As someone who long ago did some minor white-hatting (and trust me, I couldn't hack my way out of a wet paper sack at present), I got a grip on it way back when. White hats are usually just trying to see if they can exploit a weakness to gain access to something from which they should be barred- they might leave a signature or a harmless Easter egg behind to announce that they've been there, but that's about it. Sometimes, when they encounter something dangerous, they'll blow the whistle. If it's a hacker collective working toward a higher purpose or a greater good, that may make some folks at the top of the information food chain uncomfortable.

I was attempting to explain hacker logic and ethics to my brother-in-law when I'd had little sleep and was possessed of even less patience. My mother was hospitalized pending major emergency surgery, and the conversation was taking place in the hospital cafeteria before 8:00 a.m. . Finally, in exasperation (and with a hint of disgust), the BiL exclaimed, "It would just be simpler if we went back to older forms of communication, and left off computers." The irony, of course, is that his parents are both retired IBM hardware engineers-

So, out of nowhere, I hear myself softly singing the opening chords of "Thus Spake Zarathustra", i.e., the theme music from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I then went on to re-enact the monolith scene. My nerdcore friends would've gotten the 2001 reference; it was a little lost on my audience that morning in the cafeteria, though, and my sister demanded to know how much (or little, as the case was) sleep I'd had.

Bottom line: if you hide it, someone will find it. Even if your digital footprint is so small as to not be believed, it's still traceable. Doing dirt on a secured system doesn't mean that it's invulnerable. It's when we think ourselves immortal that we are most likely to be felled- even Achilles had that troublesome heel...

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