“Law and Order” may be my favorite chapter of Hacker Crackdown: it covers the perspective of the early 90’s seizures and arrests from the perspective of law enforcement. While the chapter has its flaws, I highly recommend it; [Sterling] treats both sides with patience and understanding, revealing how similarly adrift everyone was (and to some extent, remains) in the uncertainty of cyberspace. I also recommend the [Gail Thackeray] / [Dead Addict] joint talk from DEFCON 20 as an accompanying piece to this chapter, as it bridges the twenty-year gap between Crackdown‘s publication and today—and [Thackeray] herself is the focus of this chapter.
As always, everyone is welcome in our weekly discussion, even if you haven’t been keeping up with our progress through Hacker Crackdown. You can download it for free as an audiobook, too! Onward for more!
0. From Last Week’s Discussion:
RE: Q1 (Has the legal system’s definition of digital theft changed?)
[dynamodan] pointed to Streamripper as a unique example of something that’s protected by law. Wikipedia suggests that the recording of internet radio may be covered under both fair use and the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992. He also noted that some companies have abandoned rigid copyright enforcement in favor of intelligent marketing strategies that encourage consumers to purchase rather than pirate.
It’s not all progress, however. [dan] offered a more critical perspective, emphasizing that those who break the rules in the digital world often receive disproportionately severe punishments. I think this is the result of both the disconnect between the technology and those making (and enforcing) the laws, and that “digital theft” is still a relatively recent concept. As we’ll see in this week’s chapter, no one quite knows how to deal with law or order.
RE: Q2 (Should sensitive documents such as E911 have been open source?)
[Deeply Shrouded & Quiet] lamented the spirit and mentality of the 80-90’s hacking era, and reiterated that most acted out of curiosity rather than malice. [dynamodan] challenged the innocence [Sterling] ascribes to hackers like [Jobs] and [Woz], explaining that the author blurs the line between malice and curiosity. It would take a wealth of ignorance to absolve them of responsibility for their actions.
[dan] suggested all products of the federal government should be open source for the public, considering tax dollars funded them. I suspect there’s more discussion to be heard about this topic. I encourage people to keep responding!
RE: Q3 (What’s happened to hackers and “bragging” over the years?)
[dynamodan] considered that bragging may be the result of the hackers’ inability to realize how “real” cyberspace was; they bragged because they saw no consequences from this new frontier. Perhaps the issue is more closely related to the age group of the hackers involved, as [dan] observed the bragging continues even today, though he’s probably also right that the hackers from Crackdown are tracked down by old-fashioned police work rather than coming across some hapless braggart.
I. What’s important for this week’s discussion?
This week I’m keeping my response short.
If you forget everything else about this chapter, remember this paragraph:
…American society is currently in a state approaching permanent technological revolution. In the world of computers particularly, it is practically impossible to ever stop being a ‘pioneer,’ unless you either drop dead or deliberately jump off the bus. The scene has never slowed down enough to become well institutionalized. And after twenty, thirty, forty years, the ‘computer revolution’ continues to spread, to permeate new corners of society. Anything that really works is already obsolete. 
We’ve seen staggering changes in our world over the past half-century, and Moore’s Law keeps on truckin—for now. [Sterling] explains that this ever-changing landscape can only be addressed by dynamic groups like the FCIC, (does it even exist anymore?) which lack traditional hierarchies in favor of “ad-hocracy.” We’ve certainly seen other shifts to ad-hoc, such as any example of crowdsourcing. Kickstarter is basically ad-hoc R&D funding.
Perhaps not as important an excerpt (but just as interesting) is [Sterling’s] advice to young readers:
In my opinion, any teenager enthralled by computers, fascinated by the ins and outs of computer security, and attracted by the lure of specialized forms of knowledge and power, would do well to forget all about hacking and set his (or her) sights on becoming a fed. Feds can trump hackers at almost every single thing hackers do, including gathering intelligence, undercover disguise, trashing, phone-tapping, building dossiers, networking, and infiltrating computer systems—criminal computer systems. Secret Service agents know more about phreaking, coding, and carding than most phreaks can find out in years, and when it comes to viruses, break-ins, software bombs, and Trojan horses, feds have direct access to red-hot confidential information that is only vague rumor in the underground.
Here I feel [Sterling] is doing a great disservice to the concept of hacking: a concept he seemed intent on defending in this book’s introduction. Embracing hacking as a concept shouldn’t necessitate performing illegal activities, and [Sterling] should know better. Instead, I find this section an attempt to appeal to a teenager’s desire for power and forbidden knowledge by suggesting a career in law enforcement. While I encourage computer-literate, intelligent minds to seek jobs in law enforcement, [Sterling’s] missing his audience here and simultaneously dissociating himself from the hacker community. Though he says throughout this chapter he isn’t a hacker, he’s been so careful to represent them respectfully until now that these comments come across as a “dad knows best”-infused warning: exactly the assertion of authority hackers want to react against.
II. Questions for this week
1. Check out page 160: “A typical hacker raid goes something like this…” Have any of our readers been raided? No need to fill us in on specifics, but I’m curious if anyone was the victim of “gray-area” legal trouble, where the letter of the law was severely outdated given the circumstances, etc. Was the Fed’s perspective from this chapter what you would have expected?
2. What’s your take on [Sterling’s] advice to young readers? Clearly he did not anticipate the thriving alternative business model of pentesting, but is his advice still sound? Are my criticisms too harsh?
3. Earlier in the chapter [Sterling] quotes [Thackeray’s] anticipation that hackers will soon be responsible for killing people. [Barnaby Jack] demonstrated the possibility with pacemakers last year, leading many to speculate about his death prior to Black Hat. By no means is this Wikipedia timeline an exhaustive list of all hacks, but are there any instances of hacking directly leading to death?
Read the final chapter of Hacker Crackdown, “The Civil Libertarians”
 Bruce Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown, (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), 193.
 Ibid, 217.
 Ibid, 185.
Hacking & Philosophy is an ongoing column with several sections:
- October 28th: Hacking & Philosophy: An Introduction
- November 4th: The Mentor’s Manifesto
- November 11th: Sterling’s Hacker Crackdown: Intro & Part I
- November 18th: Sterling’s Hacker Crackdown: Part II
- November 25th: Sterling’s Hacker Crackdown: Part III
- December 2nd: Sterling’s Hacker Crackdown: Part IV