Hackers have been all over the news recently due to the frequent and costly attacks on banks, businesses, and governmental institutions that always grab attention. While there’s no denying that some hackers are out to steal for personal gain and cause havoc for their own reasons, the vilification from the media portrays all hackers as socially-deficient sociopaths who have no other goals in life other than stealing money and causing havoc amongst innocent people who are just trying to live their lives. While this is certainly true for some hackers, most of them are more mischievous than Machiavellian and more like artisans and proud craftsmen than rampant looters.
Researchers are starting to study hackers and the community they take part in to better understand how they function so that more effective counter-measures can be created and implemented. What they have found so far is different than how the media portrays hackers and how society has come to view them. While there are hackers who fit all of the negative stereotypes, they are in the minority and most hackers are more concerned with all manners of programming, not the stealing of money and identities. Kevin Steinmetz, an assistant professor of sociology, anthropology and social work at Kansas State University, is leading the study and believes that hackers are more akin to transgressional craftsmen with a love of mischief than to evil-doers who are hellbent on stealing from everyone.
Steinmetz learned about hacking by observing and interviewing a group of hackers from Texas. He interviewed them about subjects ranging from privacy to governmental institutes of authority and found that a surprising amount of similarities between hacking collectives and the craftsmen guilds of antiquity. What he also found is that hacking is so much different now than from how it started. What we consider to be “hacking” actually encompasses so much more than it originally did. Hacking is now frequently used to talk about the outcomes but in reality, it should only refer to the process and the programming. True hackers care about much more than the outcome and aren’t necessarily criminals. In fact many hackers work to find bugs in software and websites so that they can tell the companies running them and advise on how to fix them.
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