Thoughts on the Hackers Manifesto

Thoughts on the Hackers Manifesto

The Hackers Manifesto, known as The conscious of a Hacker, was written in 1986, the year of my birth. While still older than I, I think it still applies. The question came up from Hak5 ( on if something like this, written so long ago, applies today?

The Hackers Manifesto, linked here, reads as follows:

The following was written shortly after my arrest...

                       \/\The Conscience of a Hacker/\/


                               +++The Mentor+++

                          Written on January 8, 1986

        Another one got caught today, it's all over the papers.  "Teenager
Arrested in Computer Crime Scandal", "Hacker Arrested after Bank Tampering"...
        Damn kids.  They're all alike.

        But did you, in your three-piece psychology and 1950's technobrain,
ever take a look behind the eyes of the hacker?  Did you ever wonder what
made him tick, what forces shaped him, what may have molded him?
        I am a hacker, enter my world...
        Mine is a world that begins with school... I'm smarter than most of
the other kids, this crap they teach us bores me...
        Damn underachiever.  They're all alike.

        I'm in junior high or high school.  I've listened to teachers explain
for the fifteenth time how to reduce a fraction.  I understand it.  "No, Ms.
Smith, I didn't show my work.  I did it in my head..."
        Damn kid.  Probably copied it.  They're all alike.

        I made a discovery today.  I found a computer.  Wait a second, this is
cool.  It does what I want it to.  If it makes a mistake, it's because I
screwed it up.  Not because it doesn't like me...
                Or feels threatened by me...
                Or thinks I'm a smart ass...
                Or doesn't like teaching and shouldn't be here...
        Damn kid.  All he does is play games.  They're all alike.

        And then it happened... a door opened to a world... rushing through
the phone line like heroin through an addict's veins, an electronic pulse is
sent out, a refuge from the day-to-day incompetencies is sought... a board is
        "This is it... this is where I belong..."
        I know everyone here... even if I've never met them, never talked to
them, may never hear from them again... I know you all...
        Damn kid.  Tying up the phone line again.  They're all alike...

        You bet your ass we're all alike... we've been spoon-fed baby food at
school when we hungered for steak... the bits of meat that you did let slip
through were pre-chewed and tasteless.  We've been dominated by sadists, or
ignored by the apathetic.  The few that had something to teach found us will-
ing pupils, but those few are like drops of water in the desert.

        This is our world now... the world of the electron and the switch, the
beauty of the baud.  We make use of a service already existing without paying
for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn't run by profiteering gluttons, and
you call us criminals.  We explore... and you call us criminals.  We seek
after knowledge... and you call us criminals.  We exist without skin color,
without nationality, without religious bias... and you call us criminals.
You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us
and try to make us believe it's for our own good, yet we're the criminals.

        Yes, I am a criminal.  My crime is that of curiosity.  My crime is
that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like.
My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me

        I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto.  You may stop this individual,
but you can't stop us all... after all, we're all alike.

                               +++The Mentor+++

Now, it certainly does intimidate some into thinking that the term “hacking” means criminal aspects. Exploration of a system, for instance, without permission certainly is illegal. My argument into the application of something like this was a little more broad. Engineers solve problems. Hackers are nothing more than (dark?) engineers. While the focus of “hackers” are computer security, the term originally meant doing something that a system didn’t intend for us to do. This meant taking a device created by someone for the purpose of entertaining a child, for instance, and making it do something that interests someone other than a child. Maybe hooking it up to the net and chatting with friends, adding a wire and programming it. Hacking a furby comes to mind, the annoying little pricks (furby’s not the hackers).

The term became known as computer security criminals by mass media. While hackers did explore systems they weren’t meant to, rarely did they do damage. They just got into a system because they can. That’s why you can “hack” linux with hitting backspace 28 times, because a hacker checked it out. Fact is that this isn’t a viable option to “hack” into a bank. It simply means that you can control a box (computer) in a way that wasn’t intended. It’s a bug. It’s a bug that needs to be fixed and would have been left for more malicious purposes (by the NSA, or criminals alike) if it hadn’t been explored and publicized. Of course, I believe in the rule that once you have physical access to hardware (through social engineering or theft), all bets are off anyway. This is why your workplace may post signs that say “No tailgating”. As a note to those that don’t see these or don’t understand these, “tailgating” is someone walking in with a person who scanned their badge or is other authorized, without presenting their own authorization. If you’ve worked in places that had work badges that required to be scanned before going into a building, a social engineer might walk in behind you, taking advantage of your desire to be nice by holding the door open for them.

The hackers manifesto did detail a mindset. This is my argument, and why I feel it’s a timeless piece of writing. It shall apply in digital ages, just as much as it did in the analog. It’ll apply in the quantum ages as well. It’s a mindset of exploration. We have seen this mindset in humans before. From the time we left our caves, to the time we launched into space to walk on the moon, or send a probe to the far reaches of the universe. To this day, we continue to explore, with SpaceX perfecting its drone landing pad in the middle of the ocean, just so they can be more efficient.

So why did I start in on this rant? Because Hak5 asked… does it still apply? I’ll be looking forward to other opinions while I observe the Facebook post and continue to observe the slightly darker side of the internet, Computer Security. Feel free to discuss here as well!

%d bloggers like this: