Hackers have accessed Brazilian government computer systems and helped 107 companies obtain permits that enabled them to fell over Â£546million ($833m) worth of timbre illegally.
In what has come as a shocking revelation, it appears that hi-tech hackers have played an instrumental role in the illegal deforestation of 1.7million cubic meters of the Amazon rain forest.
According to reports from environmental organization Greenpeace, the hackers were hired by at least 107 different companies to access and alter timber export records held by the Brazilian government. As a result, itâ€™s estimated that an area of forest the size of 780 Olympic swimming pools has been cleared illegally.
To my mind, these people aren’t hackers, because they are not interested in the pursuit of knowledge. They’re just ordinary criminals.
We don’t call hit men “ninjas” and we don’t call porno actresses “thespians.” Let’s not confuse ourselves here: “hacker” is a specific definition for those who use unconventional means to escape the calcification of the conventional and push knowledge, equipment and information further than others would acknowledge.
In any society, there will be those who need rules to tell them the obvious. “Thou shalt not kill” reflects the tendency of most people to be unable to tell the difference between a justifiable killing and one that is not. All killings appear the same, just like all computer break-ins have the same appearance, thus are dubbed “unethical” and “illegal.”
Life is not as simple as it seems. When an individual reaches a certain stage of proficiency, he or she either gets sidetracked by quick gratification, such as theft, or rises to a higher proficiency because the love of learning and joy in the powers granted by it drives them forward. Such is the case with hacking, where those who have learned a few trivial skills become destructive, but those who are constantly reverent toward their task become constructive, even if they must use some destruction toward that end.
Some try to divide the hacking community by ethics, as in “white hat” (ethical) and “black hat” (criminal) hackers, but the reality is that there is another category for those who hack because they appreciate technology and like pushing it to do things that otherwise could not be done. They do not get sidetracked by appearance such as theft or vandalism, but use technology toward the end of making technology better.
This is comparable to the state of a knight in ancient cultures. The knight was above all laws made for normal people, as he was trusted to do what was right according to the whole of civilization and nature, even if it meant that some unfortunate would be deprived of life, liberty or happiness. The knight did what was necessary to push his surroundings toward a higher state of order, avoiding the entropy caused by those who were doomed to the world of appearance and could thus see only binaries: living/dying, money/poverty, right/wrong. The knight transcended these boundaries and “hacked” his surroundings by pushing them to do things that otherwise could not be done, replacing previous designs with better ones.
Design and logical structure are the “hidden world” in which hackers, philosophers, artists and knights operate. The world of appearance deals with physical objects, but not the underlying structure which connects them. Similarly, users see the appearance which computers are programmed to show them, but have no idea of the workings of networks and operating systems. A knight must know how to manipulate this hidden world, and must have the moral strength to be destructive only when it is constructive to do so.
Hacking in 2005 is far different from hacking in 1985. During the formative days of hacker culture, computing resources were scarce. Most people used 1-10mhz machines and could not get access to the instructive operating systems like UNIX and VMS unless they hacked into larger machines for that access. Today, desktop UNIX-like operating systems are plentiful, and network access is a nominal monthly fee. One reason that hacking has appeared to stagnate is that it has not re-invented itself to address this new reality.
When most people think of “hackers,” they imagine the black hat criminal element that steals credit cards and identities. White hat hackers have become like adult chaperones at a teenage sex party, wagging disapproving fingers but having little overall effect. Since it is no longer necessary to hack machines for access, hacking must redefine itself according to its core principle: understanding the structure behind the appearances of computing, and to like a good knight, always reinvent the design of the underlying layers so that technology and society move toward higher degrees of organization.
In this capacity hackers are a hedge against entropy, or the state of disorder that occurs over time and is exacerbated by people acting on appearance as if it were structure, causing them to manipulate form but not function. Most human technologies are flawed and operate poorly, subjecting the user to untold problems, much as governments and ideas are flawed and cause similar confusions. The hacker of today must unite philosophy, computing and politics in a quest to find better orders and to defeat entropy by understanding how things work, and not what pleasing appearances will sell to a credulous consumer base.
Hackers as knights represent a potential force of change in our society. We can see where technology could be organized better, so that without inventing a new type of computer we can make older computers better; hackers can prank society to point out its illusions and contradictions. Because we have the skills to do this, we are necessarily above the law, and must use that status to achieve the kind of re-ordering of civilization that normal people cannot. Should we choose to accept the role with all of its responsibilities, we are the knights who can redesign industrial society into something that serves humans instead of imprisoning them in a world of appearances.
In the original manifesto written by hacker The Mentor, he brought up the difference between crowd-reality and the reality of someone who understands how to make the equipment do what it’s capable of if not hampered by human fears and groupthink:
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.
While he succumbs to groupthink and crowd reality on political issues — which is why few outside the hacking community take this screed seriously — he makes a good point:
“we’ve been spoon-fed baby food at
school when we hungered for steak”
Society dumbs itself down to preserve all of its members, when many are completely clueless. This is why societies start dying as soon as they are born — there is no natural selection to carry away the parasites, liars, depressives, etc.
This dumbing down has a destructive consequence that eventually dooms the society — the creation of a “social reality,” or a consensual politeness that insists on equality and not offending anyone. However, that consensual reality is opposed to the truths that a smart kid can perceive. It’s also based on the idea of mutual non-aggression, such as our prohibition on stealing, breaking and entering, etc.
But what if there’s vital knowledge behind a locked door?
Hackers are the first to throw aside the morality of the crowd, realizing that said morality is ultimately what will kill their society, and pursue a goal for its own sake — they make knowledge the ends, and everything else the means, of the life process.
It’s a more mature worldview that completely threatens the crowd-order, and so panicked societies throw everything they can at hackers — including trying to group them in with petty criminals who are using computers as they otherwise would use lock picks, crowbars and saps.