Humans have contributed to the development of advanced systems and platforms in a number of ways. From the early inventor of locomotive engines to the inventor of open source software, technological evolution has taken many turns. In this process, remains the hacker who participates in hacker virtual communities to improve and come up with new things, normally in unconventional and unorthodox manner. A hacker is not always the one who brings systems to a standstill causing disruption and inefficiencies in the daily operations of individuals and organizations. Rather, they are computer programmers, designers and software developers who exhibit enhanced computer skills to improve existing software or sometimes cause malicious or intentional damage to networks.
According to Kroeber et al hacker culture is the total equipment of technique, mechanical, mental, moral, or behavioral by which people of a given period use to attain their individual or social ends. Hackers in their culture share their techniques for hacking and as McKenzie, argues, they highly value the recognition of their peers especially those experienced. Hackers utilize virtual communities to interact and share ideas. A virtual community is characterized by a sense of identity of the members or groups that interact and create relationships.
With the evolution and increasing reliance on the internet, one of the most exciting trends of the 21st century has been the explosion of the hacker culture around the world. These groups of people dedicate their quality time to creating different products and ideas through different thinking and exploitation of privileges. Sometimes, they go to the extreme of causing havoc and endangering the privacy of those they associate with. Because of their skills, hackers are uniquely positioned to become entrepreneurs and start companies. Just a few years ago we could have been amazed by any story in which a small team of developers created a service rapidly adopted world over by millions of users. Today, applications such as Facebook, Youtube, Skype, Dropbox among others dominate the world over. The truth is that, this is just the tip of the iceberg, the sticking thing is no longer the existence of such successful hackers, but the sheer fact that their number is expanding day and night.
Technology has been evolving ever since. Technological evolution is defined by Richta in “Mankind in Transition, A view of the Distant Past, the Present and the Future” as “material entity created by the application of mental and physical effort in order to derive some value”. The aspects of technology evolution are found in the evolution of three categories namely: tools, machines and automations. The trend involves the replacement of intense physical activities with more efficient mental labor, resulting in greater control over ones natural environment, including the ability to transform raw materials into complex and pliable products. The products embody things such as databases, open source and commercial software, viruses and copyright.
Databases present an anthropological versus instrumental view of technology with enormous benefits. Database culture has been credited to some of the best changes in the world today. Commerce thrives because of databases storing enormous Petabytes of information in cold rooms and over the clouds. The company manager can draw sales statistics from the database and determine the sales performance in relation to regional, country or global contexts. This information can be accessed really first compared to the time taken and resources used for shifting of tones of documents and papers associated with contemporary file systems. Data of different nature and classification can also be derived from databases as well as the relationships between them.
Thus, essentially databases refer to the practice of cross-referencing one piece of information with the other to give a relationship. The history of databases dates back to the 1950s when information were stored and accessed sequentially. Over the 1960-65 multiple and parallel access methods were invented. This transitioned to the field-hierarchy and networked organizational culture of 1970s. It was until 1975 that relational and object-oriented models of databases were created. Up to date, databases are networked across the organization over wide area networks and other networking solutions in a bid to attain speed and agility of development as well as seek to adapt to the market more quickly and embrace agile development methodologies. For instance, NoSQL is an advanced database management system that encompasses various database technologies.
Through cathedral or bazaar interactions, software such as NoSQL has been developed over timed. This software is distributed as freeware, shareware, public domain or carries GNU licenses. While software development processes vary according to the developer, the method of development often has different implications. Linux, for example, is an open source developer platform started by one Linus Torvald. Raymond asserts that development is handled by several hundreds of thousands of hackers located all over the world, connected by a tenuous strand of the Internet. In his view Linus Tavorld introduces a new breed of hacker collaboration and association where development is decentralized, releases are often and delegation is absolutely far-reaching.
Hacker’s culture has always been associated with antisocial, misfit, and unusual computer skills exhibited by groups of hackers meeting over the internet. Their common technical language involves breaking into government and corporate systems for criminal purposes or display of majesty in doing so. These breed of techno-savvy individuals have a great understanding of the way systems work against reality and explore vulnerabilities that result from the way people interact with the system.
The only association between hackers can be termed essential and beneficial in the long run. For instance, it was unimaginable that within less than five years of seamless and uncoordinated hacking can a world-class operating system be created be hackers located at disparate location all over the world and only connected via internet. Linux style of development surpasses what industry players had termed as the basis of software development. The bazaar development approach where different agendas and styles of development are absorbed resulted in a stable and coherent system in the long run.
The common characteristics of the Linux platform are usability. Most software developers spend a great deal of their time grinding away for pay at software programs they neither need, use of love. According to Hunger, at Linux world, the contrary is true. Through collaborations, hackers develop what is useful to them and what they love to do. This is founded on their philosophy of rhetoric where they belief in what they do to be superior to what is done in the mainstream. Mostly great hackers do things out of curiosity, thinking differently and manipulating the code that has been written to create new scenarios. In most occasions, this out of the box and disorderly thinking coupled with a deeper understanding of human behavior and interactions with machines result in superior output that surpasses expectations.
Hackers do not stick to one phenomenon for long. Rather they are dynamic and are willing to throw away what does not yield results and circumvent for new ideas and explorations. In software culture, this mechanism promotes code-sharing and project evolution. The sharing of code and manipulations to create different versions has resulted in what is termed as viruses. Viruses have its origins in academic, Sci-Fi and technical fields. Adelman is of the argument that viruses are part of any network topology; repeating and replicating themselves are computers evolve. Thus a common language and definition of viruses is impossible. According to Robert Morris book “Internet Worm-2 paradigms of security’ viruses are defined in context to medical perceptions or pathological anatomy and social control of user behavior. In medical contexts, viruses alter the immune systems of the host leading to susceptibilities to other dangerous organisms. In technological contexts, viruses alters the network or computer resources of an organization allowing unauthorized access to other parties which result in host of other illegal or unfavorable activities. Viruses have evolved overtime, thanks to hacker communities constantly altering code of known viruses to create what had not been seen before. Hackers also develop protection programs that look for snippets of code from known viruses. Marling posits that because of their ingenuity security hackers developed applications that scan programs to determine known signatures. However, the revolution was not yet over. Hackers realized the need to develop applications that change their own code in disguise thereby entering and infecting systems. The use of bulletin boards is an age old technique used by hackers for communication and collaboration. Group of hackers would dial up a bulletin board and share knowledge and ideas. Users would also dial up with a modem and download programs, games and other multimedia content. In disguise was the virus known as Trojan horse masquerading as nice programs with pretty names and descriptions, enticing the user to download. When the program runs, the virus replicates in the system causing considerable harm to the user’s computer and even spreading if the user is connected to a network. While hackers could engineer solutions to solve problems, the same hackers could also craft techniques of bypassing those solutions and controlling the system.
However, not all hackers try to explore the forbidden computer resources. Some dedicate their skills and talents to creating better software solutions and security measures. Hackers exhibit a higher and unorthodox method of understanding human interactions with computers. In fact, many hackers who once broke into computer systems could use their knowledge and ingenuity to create comprehensive software solutions. Internet has undoubtedly become the battlefield between the different kind of hackers: the good guys who bolster security systems and develop reliable virus protection software and the bad guys who infiltrate into computer systems and spread viruses for financial, political purposes or pure display of mightiness and superiority.
It is notable that hackers across the divide overwhelmingly share open source software in which source code is readily available to everyone to study, copy, modify, distribute and use. With open source software, hackers learn from their experiences, collaborate and coordinate to develop programs and applications never seen before. These programs may range from simple applications to complex and powerful operating systems such as Linux. Linux advocated for the culture of release early and release often. The reason is simple; early and often releases means that bugs and development dead-ends are avoided. This is the mechanism that Linux used to attain the minimum effort path from one point to the other. The hacker/user expectations are constantly stimulated and rewarded – constantly stimulated by the prospect of having an ego-satisfying piece of the action, and rewarded by the sight of constant improvement in their work (Even daily). Given enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every issue will be characterized quickly and a solution is found pretty soon. The knowledge is also spread across the spectrum, meaning that further issues of the same type and magnitude can be avoided and solved really quickly since the solution is obvious to everyone.
As the name suggest, hacking community advocates for open source software. Open source software is freely available to the public without restrictions of use, copy, modification unlike commercial software which is protected by copyright laws. Litman asserts that under the GNU General Public License, users are given unlimited rights to whatever they deem fit with the software without any restrictions. GNU/Linux kernel is used by millions of people around the world without paying for it. Commercial software is protected from use, copying, modification and misuse by copyrights. Copyrights are a legal enactment that give exclusive rights of distribution and use to the creator of the software with the intention of attaining financial compensation from their work. Copyright covers a limited time and various creations and amendments have changed overtime. Originally, copyrights were accorded fourteen years by the U.S constitution but were later amended to 28. The goal was intended to strike a balance between the creators of inventions and spread of innovation. Commercial software was prohibited from copying through a convention in 1990. The time accorded for a certain copyright implementation varies; Sonny Bono Extension Act gives over 70 years to Mickey Mouse.
Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects DRM against illegal violation, making of software to violate, or sharing of knowledge to violate it. Thus, under the act, hacking software is illegal in their creation, use or possession. This is the reason why hackers operate in underground organizations not known to non-hackers. Hackers have been able to study code of commercial software and modify them to develop pirated versions upon which they distribute to users. These activities deprive the original creator’s revenue and render their work useless. Other has been able to fix bugs in commercial versions and distribute them. Other developments have been used to pass malicious code to the user which corrupts their computer systems or used as platforms to launch attacks. In spite of the developments by governments and proprietary developers to protect their products from unwarranted use and modification, hackers have been on the forefront of reversing their gains. Thus, it remains a challenge to both the developer and the regulatory authority.
It is then apparent that hackers association is beneficial to the development of even the most complex of operating systems and applications. The average opinion of a group of people equally expert or ignorant is far much valued than the average of any one of them in the group. Since contributions are received from users who are keen in using, learning and adapting to the system, the process of debugging is simplified. Hackers are traditionally committed people who execute their activities driven by passion. In that effect, they enjoy what they do and possible derives value in contributing solutions other than pride and display of superiority.
In addition, hackers engage in symbolic violence because of the struggle for power and superiority. Thus, according to Bourdieu, they hold symbolic capital. Capital hacker in the community is illustrated by displaying technical superiority in hacking systems and downplaying other hacker achievements. It implies that more experienced hackers will always demean less experienced once by dismissing their views. The shaping of a hackers identity originates from the members and research on how hackers have developed their reputation online. Because hackers especially the bad ones are in constant collision with the law, they value privacy hence craft their reputations through knowledge swaps in underground conferences or write in online communities as well as offline setting. In the United States, for instance, the Communications Act of 1934 under 18 U.S.C 1029 concentrates on the creation,, distribution, and utilization of codes that enable hackers to gain unauthorized access to computer systems with the intent to defraud. The same law under 18 U.S.C 1030 forbids individuals from unauthorized access to government computers. Different penalties are indicated for different offenses but the challenge lies in the execution of investigations and prosecution. Hacking presents a challenge because of the nature with which it is executed. Hackers trespass resources virtually, thereby instituting no physical theft, or damage to the computer systems or data makes it hard to be arrested. In some instances, and organization will not even realized that they have been hacked and their data compromised in the absence of advanced monitoring tools and expertise.
Most cases of hacking have been attributed to resistance to a course in society. However, their means of execution is less pronounced since they do not inflict physical damage to computers neither do they take part in normal criminal acts. Notably, hacking has been attributed to addiction and technology presenting new challenges in managing technology. Hackers cite obsession with computers and this claim of addiction is normally used in criminal offences.
In conclusion, it is notable that hackers are classified into two groups; those who participate in the development of new applications and programs through open collaboration, and those who intrude into forbidden systems and computers out of prestige, curiosity and display of superiority. Both groups can be beneficial in debugging processes as well as crafting of new solutions to persistent problems. Linux is a case in point that has used open collaboration development involving numerous hackers to develop world class operating systems.
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Kroeber, A., & Kluckhohn, C. Culture: a critical review of concepts and definitions. . Cambridge: Peabody Museum., 1952.
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