Do Hackers Provide a service or are they Criminals?
Today the media paint a mixed picture for the public concerning the role hackers play in our society. On the one hand they praise the skill hackers display when breaking into secure networks and wreaking havoc with clever viruses. At the same time they dramatize the damages and criminalize the activities. The perpetrators are painted out to be terrorists. This mixed message begs the question as to whether or not we should view hackers as criminals or thank them for pointing out security problems in sensitive networks.
If we as the general public were unaware of the risks associated with using the Internet to do business or deliver personal information and hacker activities exposed us to this knowledge we might view them as having helped us. We then would be more careful to protect ourselves. If hackers showed system administrators weaknesses they were unaware of in their network security without damaging the network they might then be viewed as a potential blessing. The reality is however that the public is aware of the risks they are exposed to on the Internet and the computer industry is aware of the need for and weaknesses of security measures in networking already. Hence, no value is generated from hackers taking advantage of the known flaws in order to play a game of cat and mouse with other peoples property. Furthermore since virus-scanning software is expensive and widely used hackers are costing the public money and resources to protect themselves from their attacks.
There are laws in every state that address hacker activities either directly or as an extension of existing laws. These laws set fairly clear guidelines on what is considered legal and not legal to do within the realm of computer use. If a person violates these laws then they have committed a crime. If you or I break into a house or business and destroy property we will expect to be held accountable. Hackers are no different are should expect the same treatment. If I break into a house and watch the owners TV or read their personal files I have trespassed and violated the law the same is true for a hacker who breaks into a computer network and accessed confidential information.
The Federal Government has laws concerning computer use; privacy of information, trespass and property rights that also apply to the typical activities carried on by the average hacker. Clearly it is a crime to engage in or pursue any activities in violation of these laws.
The conclusion we should all come to is that hackers are criminals by definition of their activities and should not be glamorized by the media. We do not praise bank robbers or burglars for bypassing the security of our home or savings and loan. A clever or creative criminal can not be excused of his or her crimes. If we continue to do this we encourage them to continue and put ourselves at risk. Furthermore they need to expect to pay the consequences for their actions. We will all benefit by clearly understanding that a hacker is a criminal and not to be praised or admired by our children or us.