If you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em.
// Posted by Abbey on 01/29/2012 (5:53 PM)
The discussions of “Spacewar” and Stewart Brand’s idea of hackers made me think more about what hacking has become today in both the forms of social stereotypes as well as financial gains. I began to research the broad topic of “hacking” and found the issue continually being linked to the keywords “national security” and “youth.” It’s interesting that hackers today are reported to be so young and often times socially maladjusted, let alone potential threats to certain global forms of security. I watched a TedTalk given by Misha Glenny on these hacking youths and he reached a somewhat controversial conclusion: hire them.
I guess it’s a new and improved version of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”… If you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em. In the TedTalk Glenny discusses first the group Anonymous, which does not use their hacked information for financial gain. They are more of a social activist network of hackers who are acting with a purpose for change, not money. Glenny then talks about another group, Carderplanet, which began about 10 years ago. Carderplanet is a group of Ukranian hackers who developed a website which Glenny says “lead to the industrialization of cyber crime.” This website invited cyber criminals to buy and sell stolen credit card information as well as was a hub for learning about new hacking technologies and strategies. Glenny describes what Carderplanet became as a “supermarket for cyber criminals” in which people could, for a buy-in fee, gain access to stolen credit card information or sell stolen information they had. The network of hacking knowledge was used solely for financial gain, a major way in which Carderplanet is different from Anonymous. In the discussion of Carderplanet, Glenny talks about a contact he had with one of its members who was making $150,000 a week by using stolen credit card information in ATMs. “Tax free, of course,” as Glenny puts it.
Glenny goes on to discuss the facts surrounding what we know about how hackers come to be; people learn hacking skills in their early to mid teenage years, generally have advanced skills in math and the sciences, and do not demonstrate very good social skills in the real world. These are important facts to note because the young age as well as diminished social skills indicates that their moral compass has not had a chance to fully develop when they are learning these new skills. They feel somewhat of a disconnect with their surrounding social environment and may not even be fully aware that what they are doing is wrong. This is one main reason that Glenny feels it is wrong to incarcerate these young hackers–instead, he suggests that we “engage and find ways of offering guidance to [hackers] because they are a remarkable breed–if we rely solely on the criminal justice system and the threat of punitive sentences, we will be nurturing a monster we cannot tame.” Essentially, if you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em.
This idea, in theory, is not a new one. Although it is illegal to hack, I personally believe that it will always exist. Just as people will always break the speed limit, people will always hack. An important question can then be asked: could teaching basic forms of computer science to children in early years of school create hackers that may cause more harm than good, or will the children who will eventually become hackers find their way to it anyway? If it were a possibility that making computer science a part of early schooling would create more opportunities for children to become hackers, would it still be worthwhile? Do you agree that we should hire the hackers to work for us? Do you think this strategy would work?