Hackers: How Some Things Never Change
I couldn't resist posting this. The other night I happened upon an old TV show from 1996, Net Café, which has been made publicly available at archive.org. It's the first episode of the US show, was shot on location in a San Francisco cybercafé and featured interviews with a series of weird people called computer hackers.
Interestingly, the show was made shortly after an infamous hacking of the CIA website and much of the dialogue uses that incident as springboard for discussions on the importance of developing network security protocols in tandem with hackers' strategies.
That's one of the most interesting things to come out of the programme, actually. The line which separates digital security professionals and anarchic hackers is/was curiously thin, and seems to shift from one side to the other with confusing frequency. To the show's presenters, this makes "cyberspace" all the more bewildering since allegiances and loyalties are apparently as fluid as water.
It's crucial to note the curious symbiosis of network defenders and network attackers - their existence is both mutually dependent and mutually reinforcing.
This happens to be a very topical video to return to because, even after sixteen years, public assumptions about and questions over computer hackers who go by odd aliases remain largely unchanged. Consider the following quotation:
"Is it really about a political agenda and freedom of information, or are these guys just having fun?"
That could easily be a statement about Anonymous in 2012 and, indeed, it reminded be of Cat Cadwalladr's recent Guardian feature on today's most notorious hacker group. In fact, the quotation is from the 1996 episode of Net Café but it chimes perfectly with Cadwalladr's contemporary perplexity at Anonymous. In her article of last week she concluded:
"I'm possibly more confused about Anonymous now than when I started researching this article. When I look at pastebin.com, which is where hackers put up the latest data dumps, the results of their latest hacking and defacement operations, the targets seem random, perverse."
Strange, isn't it, that after so long, we still barely understand the psychology of these online "hive minds" and anonymous cults, despite the fact that they help shape the culture of the web, embedded as they are in memes, website hacks and information leaks.
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