They are sometimes more famous than movie stars and more notorious than ordinary criminals. The media runs stories about hackers every day, with reports about security breaches, virus attacks and email leaks making the headlines. The word “hackers” is often used to describe highly skilled computer experts, capable of overcoming problems with the use of technical knowledge. However, that is not exactly what the “original hackers” meant.
Here is MIT alumni Richard Stallman talking about the origins of hacking.
“What we mean and meant by hacker is enjoying playful cleverness. And this doesn’t just mean with computers. If you like playful cleverness, you’ll find ways to be playfully clever in whatever medium happens to come to hand.”
Here is a brief showcase of “playful cleverness” tricks, also known as “MIT hacks”- practical jokes and pranks, which became part of campus history. In 1963 MIT pranksters hacked telephone switchboards to make free calls. On several occasions they placed heavy objects, such as a glass cow, a frame of a fire truck and a campus police cruiser on top of the MIT Dome. In 1991 they connected a fire hydrant to a drinking fountain to illustrate their saying that "Getting an Education from MIT is like taking a drink from a Fire Hose".
In the 1980s many programmers tried to separate hacker culture from criminal activities, such as break-ins by using alternative terms and definitions, such as “cracking “, ”black hat”, “white hat” and “grey hat”, which were meant to describe the legality of particular actions.
However, most of the time, when journalists use the term “hacking” they only mean cyber crime. Even though most break-ins are criminal in nature, the motives behind break-ins, email leaks and virus attacks may vary. Hacktivist networks, such as “Anonymous” often act against government and corporate structures. They oppose internet censorship and control. Other hackers are “guns for hire”, who use Deep Web message board to advertise their services – from breaking into someone’s Facebook profile, to stealing financial records and classified government data. “White hat” hackers are security experts who scan systems for security flaws and notify software developers so that these vulnerabilities can be patched. And, of course, there are hacking artists, who use technology as artistic medium. They work with graphics, sculpture, audio and video, as well as computer hardware.
In today’s world, where technology is making giant leaps, new meanings and overtones for the word “hacking” appear almost every year. So, perhaps, in the next decade, the meaning of the term itself will be transformed even more, drifting even further away from past century’s “playful cleverness” era.
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