As mentioned earlier, I shared much of the hacking-mindset before starting to research this topic. While doing research, I entered even deeper into the subculture. For that reason, I would categorize my approach as partially ethnographic. While the fact that I did not meet or talk to any computer hackers might indicate a serious shortcoming in my approach, as most hackers communicate primarily using computers, I believe that my experience is comparable to theirs’.
To study this topic, I read several books (both on hacking and two works of fiction – 1984 and the cyberpunk Neuromancer), articles (notably from Phrack – I skimmed issues 1 to 55), various pieces that were posted on the World-Wide Web (essays and how-to guides), and spent hours lurking on two hacking-related Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels: #hack and #2600. I wanted to view a wide range of writings about and by the computer underground so that the quotes I highlight, and the hacking sub-discourses that I examine are representative. Most of the information, including half of the books, was found on the World Wide Web, with one resource leading to many others. This caused there to be more information about hacking than I could hope to cover in one paper, however I am making an effort to be representative.
The reliability of many of the sources, particularly those from the hacking community, is questionable. Material from the Internet in general is prone to error and people will forward information without confirming the source. After several permutations, much like the children’s game of whispering a message in the ear of the person next to you, it can get obfuscated. There is also a lack of accountability, as the source does not have to defend his or her claims in person. In the specific case of hackers, they tend to boast to increase their status, and criticize or lie about their enemies. As hackers they are able to hide behind pseudonyms and are thus even less reliable. Also their illegal activities are cloaked with mystery due to fear of prosecution. I hope that I was able to avoid most problems by examining a lot of material, comparing it, and not treating it purely as fact but as discourse. In doing so, I feel confident that my findings are accurate.
I will try to be consistent in my use of terms. Therefore I will use "cracker" (or black hat hacker) for individuals who behave in illegal computer activities that are mostly unethical (malicious or solely for personal gain), "hacker" (or white hat hacker) for individuals who behave primarily in ethical illegal activities (Ex. breaking-in to a system without causing harm), and "nostalgic hacker" for people whose computer activities are legal. In addition, "hacktivist" shall indicate people who use hacking as a tool of resistance, whether by legal or illegal means. I shall refer to hackers by their pseudonym, unless they are well-known by their real name (Ex. Kevin Mitnick).
What is Hacking?
Juvenile Discourse, Black Hats, and White Hats
Juvenility and Carding
Problems with the White Hat Hacking Discourse
Problems with the Nostalgic Discourse
Law Enforcement and Computer Security Discourse
The Legal Discourse
Problems with the Law Enforcement Discourse
Hackers as Resistance (illegal and legal)
Limitations to Resistance