From Hacktivism to Cyberwar
From pranksters to yippies
Bruce Sterling in his Hacker Crackdown lists the historical landmarks on what we could call the darker side of Internet:
- 1865. U.S. Secret Service (USSS) founded.
- 1876. Alexander Graham Bell invents telephone.
- 1878. First teenage males flung off phone system by enraged authorities.
- 1939. "Futurian" science-fiction group raided by Secret Service.
- 1971. Yippie phone phreaks start YIPL/TAP magazine.
- 1972. Ramparts magazine seized in blue-box rip-off scandal.
- 1978. Ward Christensen and Randy Suess create first personal computer bulletin board system.
- 1982. William Gibson coins term "cyberspace." "414 Gang" raided.
- 1983. AT&T dismantled in divestiture.
- 1984. Congress passes Comprehensive Crime Control Act giving USSS jurisdiction over credit card fraud and computer fraud.
Moschovitis et al in their History of the Internet quote a possible origin of the word 'hacker', citing its use for the early radio enthusiasts that messed with the Army radio communication (causing the 1927 Radio Act as a legal measure to regulate radio more effectively). As seen from the list above, telephone cracking or 'phreaking' started also much earlier than the age of Internet (according to Sterling, first telephone operators were teenage boys who were soon replaced by women due to what we could today call 'inappropriate use'). And with the emergence of Internet, the trend just continued. Moschovitis writes: "Little did the Congress know that it was funding the backbone of a system that would link the nation's young people, faclitating communication between the hotbeds of social unrest in the midst of anti-Vietnam War protests - that a system designed as a strategic military tool would ultimately help hippies to find each other."
The Internet often walks the thin line between freedom of speech and thought and illegality. E.g. the video of the assassination of the U.S. president Kennedy taken by Abraham Zapruder, an amateur home movie enthusiast, was long kept classified. Nowadays it is freely available on the Net, e.g. at http://www.jfkmurdersolved.com/zapruder.htm . The same applies to many other historical events - most probably, the events of September 11, 2001 will be fully revealed someday as well. Many occasions of goverment-sanctioned Internet use for eavesdropping and espionage (like the Echelon project reviewed earlier) have also caused a backlash towards the other end of spectrum.
The use of communication as a conscious method of political protest is also quite old. During the Vietnam War, the US government placed an extra tax on phone system. members of the Youth International Party ('yippies') advocated bypassing the payments (essentially phreaking) as a legitimate means of protest. Similar 'bending of ethical standards' has occurred many times since then.
Law and Disorder
While the classical hacker culture emerged from the labs of MIT and Stanford, bringing along new ideas about software development, licensing and network-based cooperation, there has almost always been also the 'dark side' (that are called 'crackers' by classical hackers and 'blackhats' by security people) as well as various forms of inbetweens ('samurai', 'freelancers' or 'grey hats'). Hackers proper have participated in security projects, but various 'twilight zone' activities have mostly been performed by the latter groups.
- Moschovitis, C. et al. History of the Internet: A Chronology, 1843 to the Present. ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara 1999.
- Sterling, Bruce. The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier