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Counterculture Paper: Hackers

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1376 words Published: 8th Sep 2017

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Throughout history countercultures have emerged that challenge the established norm. Whether they are a group of Hippies or the Russian Mafia, they are still considered to be a counterculture which rejects the pre-established norms of the larger cultures and replace them with their own values and practices (Thomas). One modern counterculture is hackers. There are three different kinds of hackers, black hat, gray hat, and white hat. All groups defy the norm, but black hat hackers are more well-known and are often what people associate with the word “hacker”.

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The word “hack” first appeared in the English language around 1200 (Yagoda). At that point in time, it did not refer to technology. Hacking began being associated with technology and machines in 1955 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology when it was used to describe someone who used unconventional and creative ways to solve problems (Yagoda). This continued on until the Jargon Files released eight definitions of the word hacker, the last one referring to a person with malicious intent (Yagoda). When self-proclaimed teenage hackers accessed forbidden information and were subsequently arrested, hacking gained a negative connotation (Yagoda).

Since the 1970s hackers have infamously stolen money, information, and more from unsuspecting people and companies. There have been a few hackers who have stood out from the rest. Vladmir Levin, a Russian hacker, stole nearly $10 million from Citibank without the use of a computer in 1995; he served three years in prison for his crime (Weissman). Albert Gonzalez stole millions of credit and debit card numbers to execute one of the largest identify theft schemes to date; he was apprehended and sentenced to 20 years in prison (Weissman). Another Scottish hacker by the name of Gary McKinnon was a computer prodigy by the age of 14 and managed to hack 97 American military networks in the early 2000s; despite the U.S.’s attempts to extradite McKinnon, he has found asylum in the UK (Weissman). An unidentified Greek hacker who goes by the name Astra accessed confidential information about jet fighters and military-grade aircrafts; he then proceeded to sell the stolen information over the span of five years, adding up to $360 million lost by Dassault Group (Weissman).

One of the most infamous hacktivist group is known as Anonymous. Founded in 2003, Anonymous is known for leading online campaigns to voice their opinions on political and social events (Weissman). Anonymous is open to anyone who wants to voice their opinion and includes people of all races, religions, political standings, sexual orientations, nationalities, and genders (Sands). With no specific agenda, Anonymous aims to call attention to censorship, government control and freedom of speech; anyone is allowed to propose ideas, and members will voice their opinions which leads to the idea being accepted or rejected by the group as a whole (Sands). With the proper connections, anyone can gain access to chat groups where Anonymous members discuss ideas and their beliefs (Sands). Once an idea is accepted, the group will persistently attack its target in an effort to gain support from the public and bring about change (Sands). Since its birth, Anonymous has grown into one of the most recognizable hacktivist groups that spans the globe, yet has no known leader; with their abilities, they have carried out some of the most well-known hacks targeting groups like the Church of Scientology, the KKK, and PayPal (Sands).

There are three primary classifications for hackers: white hat, black hat, and gray hat. White hats are normally security researchers; they are hired by companies to find security vulnerabilities and report them to the company to be fixed (Zetter). Black hats are what people normally think of when hearing the word “hacker”. They are malicious and use their extensive knowledge of operating systems to steal information such as passwords, credit card numbers, or data (Zetter). After stealing information, they often use it to their advantage to blackmail people or receive money, or they sell it to other hackers or groups for large sums of money (Zetter). Gray hats are a mix of white and black hat hackers. They may sell their information to the government so that they can hack the systems of other criminals or enemies; these people may work alone or in groups to accomplish their tasks (Zetter).

Over the past few decades, hackers have become increasingly public with their stances and are usually motivated by money and/or the prospect of having their voices heard by people all over the world. Using the sociological perspective, which is the ability to look at the hidden meaning behind people’s actions, allows people to analyze why hackers do what they do (Thomas). For hacktivists, like Anonymous, they want to influence social and political events. For example, they recently targeted Donald Trump by releasing his personal information; this act gives the public insight into their opinion of the current president (Sands). Other people may use hacking to voice their opinions on animal cruelty or other controversial topics, like abortion. Sociological imagination, which involves seeing the connection between one’s life and the larger world, can also be applied to observing hackers (Thomas). Some hackers work on a large scale, but their actions have encouraged changes that affect us every day. For example, hackers motivate companies to install strong firewalls to prevent people like Kevin Mitnick from hacking government organizations, like the NSA (Weissman). This indirectly effects our lives, even if we do not see the consequences.

Ethnocentrism and cultural relativism are both used to make judgements about a culture. Ethnocentrism involves comparing one culture to another, while cultural relativism involves making judgments about a culture using their own standards (Thomas). Larger society sees hackers as a counterculture because they compare their norms to hackers’ norms. When doing this, they automatically view their culture as superior and look down on hackers, which aided in the negative connotation associated with the word. Hackers, however, employ cultural relativism, which does not involve comparing themselves to another culture, to judge whether or not their actions are acceptable. This can explain why black hat hackers do not look at their actions as being punishable; this could also be why groups like Anonymous are so motivated and do not see anything wrong with targeting groups and organizations that do not agree with their views.

Exploring the world of hackers has allowed me to see the world through their eyes if only for a moment. I can understand why hackers exploit people and organizations, but I do not agree with their views. I believe in freedom of speech, but I do not believe in secretly hacking companies to voice their opinions. It almost seems like cheating, and I believe that there are legal ways to start a movement and bring about change that do not involve stealing information. As for black hats that are simply in it for the money, I do not support their actions in the slightest. I believe that they could use their talents to get a job that would still pay enough money to live comfortably. Hackers have played a significant role in molding modern society, and I do not see them going away soon. However, I am glad that they have kept the government on their toes. With that being said, hacking has evolved, and will continue to evolve as technology becomes more advanced. I am excited to see what the future holds and what role hackers play in it.

Works Cited

Sands, Geneva. ABC News. 19 March 2016. 10 March 2017.

Thomas, W. LaVerne. Sociology: The Study of Human Relationships. Austin: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 2003.

Weissman, Cal Guthrie. Business Insider. 10 April 2015. 9 March 2017.

Yagoda, Ben. “A Short History of “Hack”.” The New Yorker 6 March 2014.

Zetter, Kim. Wired. 13 April 2016. 11 March 2017.


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