US Government War On Hackers Backfires: Now Top Hackers Won't Work With US Government

from the what-did-they-expect? dept

Techdirt has noted the increasing demonization of hackers (not to be confused with crackers that break into systems for criminal purposes), for example by trying to add an extra layer of punishment on other crimes if they were done “on a computer.” High-profile victims of this approach include Bradley Manning, Aaron Swartz, Jeremy Hammond, Barrett Brown and of course Edward Snowden.

But as this Reuters story reports, that crass attempt to intimidate an entire community in case anyone there might use computers to embarrass the US government or reveal its wrongdoings is now starting to backfire:

The U.S. government’s efforts to recruit talented hackers could suffer from the recent revelations about its vast domestic surveillance programs, as many private researchers express disillusionment with the National Security Agency.

Though hackers tend to be anti-establishment by nature, the NSA and other intelligence agencies had made major inroads in recent years in hiring some of the best and brightest, and paying for information on software flaws that help them gain access to target computers and phones.

Much of that goodwill has been erased after the NSA’s classified programs to monitor phone records and Internet activity were exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, according to prominent hackers and cyber experts.

The article goes on:

Closest to home for many hackers are the government’s aggressive prosecutions under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which has been used against Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in January, and U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, who leaked classified files to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

A letter circulating at Def Con and signed by some of the most prominent academics in computer security said the law was chilling research in the public interest by allowing prosecutors and victim companies to argue that violations of electronic “terms of service” constitute unauthorized intrusions.

This latest development also exposes a paradox at the heart of the NSA’s spying program. Such total surveillance — things like GCHQ’s “Tempora” that essentially downloads and stores all Internet traffic for a while — is only possible thanks to advances in digital technology. Much of the most innovative work there is being done by hackers — it’s significant that the NSA’s massive XKeyscore program runs on a Linux cluster. But as the NSA is now finding out, those same hackers are increasingly angry with the legal assault on both them and their basic freedoms. That may make it much harder to keep up the pace of technological development within the spying program in the future unless the US government takes steps to address hackers’ concerns — something that seems unlikely.

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Comments on “US Government War On Hackers Backfires: Now Top Hackers Won't Work With US Government”

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laura ann tull says:

Re: Response to: S. T. Stone on Aug 7th, 2013 @ 2:58pm

Is is possible to mess with twitter followers and also someone tried to send me a virus through a hacked twitter account. I was checking my recycle bin and found a folder called arne_word. Arne is the name of someone i had emails from, but not stored by that name. May seem irrelevant to this, but my father was with the government and for the last few years ive had an increased number of computer attacks, im liberal and opposed to doing what he wamts with my life. Im not socialist. I vote Democrat.

Anonymous Coward says:

Nor will we work with government contractors

It’s far too easy for someone with a grudge or with political ambitions or with a burning need for publicity to use a combination of the CFAA, “national security”, and OHMYGOD CYBERWARTERROR!!! to destroy the career and life of anyone working in the field. The best available answer is to stay far away and refuse any/all involvement,

This is eventually going to cripple US R&D — the best and brightest will seek other opportunities.

JackOfShadows (profile) says:

Re: Nor will we work with government contractors

There’s a reason that Singapore and a few other nations have invested in, and often lead the world in, the fields of biotechnology and cloning. This was actually addressed decades ago:

“Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded–here and there, now and then–are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as ?’bad luck.’? Time Enough for Love — Robert A. Heinlein

Pseudonym (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not everything that the government does is evil, and not every money-making job constitutes “selling out”.

I’ve worked for law enforcement. Not in the USA, mind you, but still. The work was worthwhile, even if the pay was crap and the environment was soul-sucking.

I didn’t assist in putting surveillance on anyone without a warrant. I didn’t assist in the prosecution of anyone we didn’t think was guilty. Indeed, I helped put some very nasty characters behind bars. It’s something I’d happily do again, if the work conditions were right.

yep says:

Re: Re: Re:

the definition of government or state is the use of force.

the use of force is immoral.

therefor the state is immoral.

participating in state in any capacity is immoral, even paying your taxes is supporting war.

i am not saying you or anyone else is a good or bad person for working for government.

but we need to start seeing reality for what it is and calling things what they are.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The name “Somalia” springs to mind. Or you could watch the Family Guy episode Tea Party Peter to see what it’s like when government is got rid of.

Government is created by the people to represent our interests and maintain an ordered society. When it stops representing our interests, order is no longer maintained and our society suffers. While I don’t agree with everything Thomas Paine ever wrote, The Rights of Man is well worth a read, and it’s what our Constitution is based on.

Also, no government = no Constitution and no Bill of Rights. The best the minarchists, like our friend above, can offer us is a loose association of states, each of which operates as a sovereign nation. Basically, doing what they want would dissolve the Union. Treasonous, much?

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Very true. Although, I do think we need some better ways to “update” our democracy from version 1.0.

Things like Duverger’s law and alternative voting systems would work a lot. I do want to get rid of the Constitution, but it’s mainly the parts that allow for slavery (Electoral College and loss of votes in prisons from the 14th Amendment) which make our nation worse instead of better.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


Honestly, I’ve never understood how any self-respecting hacker could stomach working with the NSA or CIA.

Now, they’re dismayed at the revelations of what these agencies are up to despite the fact that they helped build the tools? That’s disingenuous at best.

This is a long-overdue comeuppance for both the government agencies and the hackers that help them.

Edward Teach says:

Re: Good

I reckon the follow on to your statement (“stomach working with the NSA or CIA”) is: why aren’t there more Snowdens?

We have Russel Tice, Kirk Wiebe, Thomas Drake and William Binney, but has this clearly illegal surveillance caused other people to pull the rip cord, and just keep their mouths shut about things?

Will the NSA suffer from a “dead sea effect” or does the extreme compartmentalization keep their own personnel from figuring things out?


Re: Re: Good

It quite simple your either part of the solution or part of the problem. Everyone knows at some level or another what’s goin on,you work there every day.I’m so sick of the denial from people,always looking for a Backdoor to get out of accountability.Its simple,everyone knows the government companies involved if your still going to work everyday YOUR PART OF THE PROBLEM,and when you see or hear about another Americans rights being taken ,go look in the mirror and thank yourself for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good

Are you claiming silence=approval? It would seem just as relevant to say that the problem is part of the solution, giving a nudge to people working inside this world, trying to change it!

In the end black/white thinking is just wrong. Both when someone critizise government or when governmental prosecutors are choosing to inflate charges by using both CFAA and normal criminal law (the guys are charged with a crime in the first place!).

Very Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Good

Whoa there, cowboy. Most of the people who built “the tools” as you put it weren’t working for the government at all. I know this, because I was in precisely this situation.

I worked for a small group who sold software to a certain large government contractor. What we wrote was generic software which could be (and was) put to many uses, both civilian and military.

In fact, we designed our system for something that you would consider a very worthwhile cause: a major public institution with a crapload of culturally-significant data and metadata that they wanted to make publicly available on a web site. You can go see it now if you want.

I was young and naive, this is true. I didn’t know what the ultimate customer was planning to do with it. I could have guessed, but it would just have been a guess.

So yeah, there are a few hackers working directly on evil projects for government agencies. Most of us have no idea, though recent revelations were a bit of a rude awakening.

Pi says:

Re: Good

I think you’re making a mistake here by lumping all hackers in together, as if they are one hivemind that chose first to help the government and then to be shocked at what helping the government created. It seems to go more like this:

1. Bill is hired by the government. He helps create these systems, for whatever personal reason he had (too late to pull out once he realized what it was, thirst for insider knowledge, perks of the job, just not caring about the consequences, etc).
2. A few years later, Jill is an up-and-coming hacker that may, under different circumstances, have worked with the government. Now she chooses not to work for them due to the revelations.

The people saying they don’t want to work for the government are not the same people that worked for the government to create the systems.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Good

I’m not talking about people who “work for the government” in a general sense. I’m talking about people who work for the spy agencies. So I’m replacing “the government” with “the spies” for this comment:

The people saying they don’t want to work for the government are not the same people that worked for the government to create the systems.

Exactly. And I’m condemning the latter, not the former.

Anonymous Coward says:

and does anyone think anything except bloody good job! what the authorities usually forget is that regardless of how many and how good are the people that work in the government buildings and for the government programs, there are a lot more that dont, respecting their freedom more than what is offered by the government, which, as has been shown so much recently, is total contempt for everyone world wide. you cant treat people as if they were nothing, only deserving of a jail sentence when doing nothing wrong apart from causing embarrassment and then expect them same people to do the governments dirty work. i can see it now, ‘come work for the NSA (or other agency), save American lives and get a minimum 20 years in prison as your reward!’ i mean come on!!

Dareitus says:


They didn’t even get the distinctions right. Aaron Swartz was a hacker. Good job techdirt.

Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are whistle-blowers at best; they stole and distributed information they had access to already they didn’t hack into anything.

Jeremy Hammond is a member of LulzSec being held in connection with the attacks on Sony and SOE that led to millions of Sony customers losing access to their products and the unlawful distribution of their personal information on the internet. Even if they had a “reason” to hack Sony (they did it for the Lulz) distributing client information hurts innocent people. By “techdirt standards” that would make him a cracker.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Selling out

I agree with John Fenderson-I could never understand how any self-respecting hacker who had any ethics could ever have even considered working for ‘the man’ in any capacity.

Even with money thrown in-what makes the government that much more attractive than private companies?

You’re not doing a public service by spying on your fellow citizens or invading their privacy, and it’s a rare person like Snowden to actually act on their conscience.

Too bad it took this long for it finally kick back and the government to reap what they sowed.

I’d like to see all of those hackers who are employed now by the government to grow a set, walk out and quit. That’ll show the government who’s got morals.

But I’m sure that in the end, the money always talks louder than actions. Such a shame. This country used to be so much better.

23skidoo says:

Re: Selling out

“But I’m sure that in the end, the money always talks louder than actions. Such a shame. This country used to be so much better.”

This country has always been inflicting strife on its people. Be it slavery, union wars, counter-culture wars, or the war on cyber-terror, it fights what the people want. It is designed to do so. If it did not, the country would be quickly consumed by partisans wanting this set of rights, or that set of rights. If our businesses cannot make a buck off the people, and continue to cumulatively do so year after year, the country will fail, or that’s the official thinking.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Selling out

Maybe they get ‘threatened’ into it? Work for us or go to jail?

Maybe its the shinney? They offer to let you play with toys that are too cool to walk away from? How cool is an actual terminator to play with? Or, how was I to know they would actually deploy ‘thor’s hammer’?

‘somethin like that. Or may a combination.

YellowApple (profile) says:

“hackers (not to be confused with crackers that break into systems for criminal purposes)”

Thank you. No, really.

Thank you for taking the initiative to distinguish hackers from crackers. This alone makes a big difference.

Just from reading those words, I knew this would be a well-thought-out article, and looks like I was right. Well put.

It goes against any kind of semblance of hacker ethics to serve an entity which strives to eradicate the unfettered thoughts and acts which make creative ingenuity and perpetual learning/growth possible. Hopefully we’ll come through as the winners, rather than fail and be forgotten.

Andrew Norton (profile) says:

Hammond? HA!

AS someone who’s been ‘targeted’ by Hammond, it’s amusing to see you label him ‘hacker’. S-kiddie, yes. Violent thug with an ego complex yes.
But hacker, no.

A little over 3 years ago, he and i had a ‘confrontation’. He decided I needed to be taught a lesson. He decided to attack me.
He Bounced.

See, problem is, I don’t own any credit cards, and I’m not within easy driving distance. So he can’t easily try and tear up a room I’m in, and with no credit cards, he’s got nothing to trade with his betters for their help.

It did quite humiliate him. No CC number to steal, no way to try and physically intimidate me (I used to be the guy whose job it was to disable the bots on BattleBots, if they went out of control, Compared to a 350lb bot that could tear through an inch of lexan, he’s nothing); nothing he could do.

In the end, all he is is a petty credit card thief, with a violence problem, who kept being a script-kiddie when on parole.
Quite sad really.

olderhacker says:

Re: Mitnick

Mitnick is a perfect example. The government could have stepped in and sensibly said, “Uncle Sam desperately needs your talents. Will you please stop causing mischief and consider working for us?” But instead they jailed Mitnick, even making him share an address with the unabomber.

(How much more counterproductively could a shortage of human resources possibly be handled?)

Nonetheless much to his credit, Mitnick’s creativity wasn’t destroyed at all by his prison time, and his talents are now benefiting those who are capable of appreciating them, namely businesses.

Reggie says:

Actually, it's been backfiring for decades

If you were a hacker, a cracker, or even a talented “phone phreak” back in the 1980’s you will fondly remember all of the government and media hysteria about hackers, fueled by the movie “War Games” and reaching a crescendo with the FBI’s “Operation Sun Devil” in 1990.

It all sent a very serious message from the government to talented computerists, and that message was essentially: “We don’t care about your so-called security talents, you are not welcome here, we don’t trust you, and we would rather you didn’t exist.”

I would suggest that is THIS ignorant attitude and antagonistic stance by our government which significantly contributed to the spawning of an entire generation of crypto-anarchists.

Many of us simply wanted to learn about systems, track down security flaws, and thereby make the world a better place. Many of us would have loved nothing more than to be paid to find security holes full time, and to to so for our country. I recall conversations among hacker friends who wished that such an opportunity existed in the world. Most of us had heard occasional stories of the rare forward-thinking companies which had hired kids who had been caught nosing around in their corporate computer systems.

It was clear that corporations could sometimes recognize talent when it was handed to them on a silver platter. So why couldn’t our government ever do the same?

When you look back at the people who ran the government, especially back then, the answer becomes clear. The people in charge had essentially zero “tech savvy” and were clueless. Further, some were corrupt and many more effectively incompetent in their jobs. So basically, they had both something to hide, and a natural fear of that which they can neither understand nor control, i.e. people who can make computers do all kinds of things which they were never intended to do.

I’ve read that one of the greatest rewards for a hacker is to hear someone say, “How in the hell did you ever get the computer to do that?” There is truth to this statement. 😉

If we’d had quality people in positions of government authority, things might have been different. But we didn’t then, we have precious few today, and it appears our government will continue to lack technical brainpower for the foreseeable future.

And I can summarize this problem in the following single sentence: You’d never catch me working in government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Actually, it's been backfiring for decades

It all sent a very serious message from the government to talented computerists, and that message was essentially: “We don’t care about your so-called security talents, you are not welcome here, we don’t trust you, and we would rather you didn’t exist.”

Actually, the government was sending (and continues to send) a completely different message to talented “computerists,” which is “we really need you, come work for us or one of our contractors.” And many talented computerists do exactly that. A particular subset of talented computerists who like breaking systems more than building them, were indeed sent a different message. Because loving to break stuff is an attitude that is only limited-ly compatible with large establishments. Large establishments are like little societies, where adherence to the social contract is a big contributor for individual happiness and the happiness of society as a whole. It is hard for an organization to voluntarily bring in members who, from the outset, are skeptical of or flat-out disagree with the social contract.

Many of us simply wanted to learn about systems, track down security flaws, and thereby make the world a better place. Many of us would have loved nothing more than to be paid to find security holes full time, and to to so for our country. I recall conversations among hacker friends who wished that such an opportunity existed in the world. Most of us had heard occasional stories of the rare forward-thinking companies which had hired kids who had been caught nosing around in their corporate computer systems.

But nearly all of these hackers demonstrated that their need to break stuff (i.e., hack) overrode their ability to follow {rules, laws, social conventions}.

Big organizations run first and foremost on a social contract that’s primarily about following rules. So, it should not be surprising to you that big organizations were reticent to bring in people who already demonstrated that there were (often dangerous) things they valued doing more than following rules.

Some organizations with higher risk tolerances brought on hackers, presumably with the expectation that given the opportunity and appropriate mentoring, they might be able to change their behavior so the rule-following impulses could override the breaking-stuff impulses. As with any big risk, sometimes this paid off handsomely, and sometimes hackers got caught with their hands in the cookie jar again.

Big, well-established, traditional organizations (of which the government is perhaps the prototype) are generally risk-averse, not risk-tolerant. You want to blame their behavior on incompetence – impugning them as backward-thinking and retrograde. I don’t think this is the case, really. It makes sense for big organizations with long-established, stable social contracts to be risk-averse. Whether that results in the best outcome for those organizations or not is something you can debate, but it’s not a simple situation.

Reggie says:

Re: Re: Actually, it's been backfiring for decades

But nearly all of these hackers demonstrated that their need to break stuff (i.e., hack) overrode their ability to follow {rules, laws, social conventions}.

And I would say that it’s not THIS simple. I know (just don’t ask me how) that many of the most prolific system crackers never got caught, and their true skills and accomplishments were known only within very tight circles.

So first, I’m not sure this qualifies as having “demonstrated” it in the usual sense. Most that I’m aware of went on into the private sector, or had entirely unrelated public sector jobs, with at least one working for a time at a bank. Their more mischievous hobbies were certainly never volunteered in the course of their job interviews. See these things were commonly viewed as liabilities then, by those not in the know.

Secondly this overridden “ability to follow” you mention is more than one-dimensional. This is a very common issue with creative people, instinctively refusing to be boxed in by existing paradigms. A creative person can manage creative people, but how many of those can be found in government? It’s a minority, but not a small number. Now how many departments are there, where creativity is essential to the job (not counting the CBO)? The number gets far smaller. Finally, how many actively creative technical departments are there? Very few, and most that exist are in military projects. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Further, to have a technical passion which is so extreme that it causes one to override social norms, sidestep inconvenient rules, and even break the occasional law does not imply an incapacity for loyalty. And back in the 1980’s there were actually not very many laws that applied to these things. “Wire fraud” and “toll fraud” and “theft of service” were the typical charges brought against crackers of the day, most of whom were unskilled enough to actually get caught.

Still I know what you are saying, and there is a point there, but even that goes two ways. Yes governments and many corporations and so on are risk averse and need to be so, generally. But what they do not understand will of course always be perceived as risky. This brings us right back to the government’s tragic lack of understanding.

There are few enough in positions of management within the private sector who can truly grok the hacker mindset. How many fewer are there in the public sector? Today the answer would be “far fewer.” So just rewind a few decades, and that same answer would be close to zero – with a definite zero being in positions of leadership.

haiku says:

Re: Actually, it's been backfiring for decades

It all sent a very serious message from the government to talented computerists, and that message was essentially: “We don’t care about your so-called security talents, you are not welcome here, we don’t trust you, and we would rather you didn’t exist.”

As Clifford Stoll discovered 8)

For those that haven’t read it I can recommend his book “The Cuckoo’s Egg”.

Stoll discovered that military sites were being hacked, so (as an upright citizen) he tried to warn the military etc.

Their reaction made “The Three Stooges” look like amateurs …

Mike-2 Alpha (profile) says:

Re: Re: Actually, it's been backfiring for decades

There’s an old story floating around about Richard Feynman, one he recounted in “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman“. Apparently, one of his interests was safecracking, and he used to amuse himself by getting into secure document safes and locked filing cabinets.

One time, when he was at Oak Ridge National Labs, he demonstrated his little trick to this one Colonel for whom he’d written a report. He then proceeded to explain how he did it: the locks they were using for their safes and filing cabinets had a flaw that drastically reduced the number of possible combinations. Also, as long as the safe was left open, he realized he could easily figure out the last two numbers, making cracking the combination child’s play. Then, while the Colonel was sitting there, stunned, he suggested that everyone at Oak Ridge start working with their safes closed to limit their vulnerability.

The next time he had to stop by the lab, he found everyone telling him to stay the hell away from their workspace when he walked by. It turns out that, rather than implementing his suggestion, the Colonel had sent around a note to everyone in the office: “During his last visit, was Mr. Feynman at any time in your office, near your office, or walking through your office?”

Anyone who said yes was told to change his combination, which was a pain in the ass to accomplish. Since nobody wanted to have to do that, and to memorize another combination again, they told him to stay away. Meanwhile, they all cheerfully kept working with their safes wide open. That’s what the Colonel took away from his warning. The security hole wasn’t the threat; Feynman was.

That’s how a lot of security professionals react, whether computer or physical. If the Emperor’s naked, they don’t take it as a favour if you point it out to them. They take it as a personal attack. The security hole isn’t a threat; you are. To their pride, to their reputation, to their job.

It’s an old, old reaction. It’s easier and safer to go after the guy pointing out the flaw than to admit they overlooked something and try to figure out how to fix it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not everything that the government does is evil, and not every money-making job constitutes “selling out”.

Buddy, you’re in the wrong place with an attitude like that. Well, I’m sure your post will be reported in due time so nobody has to see it.

Though hackers tend to be anti-establishment by nature

The distinguishing characteristic of a hacker is that they get pleasure from breaking things. The bigger or more complex the thing, the more pleasure they get from breaking it. You can break things for socially positive or negative reasons, but that only changes the color of your hat. I think ultimately the pleasure-from-breaking-stuff phenomenon is about power – if you can build something and I can break it, I have (in a sense) more power than you.

The anti-establishment nature of hackers, I think, is a derivative of this personality trait. Establishments are, by their very nature, builders of things – and the biggest establishments build the biggest stuff. If you love breaking stuff, the best stuff to break comes from The Man in all His various guises.

The Man, however, provides the opportunities for hackers to break stuff in a socially-positive manner, and so hackers occasionally put on a white hat and go to work for The Man. But the alliance is always uneasy. Hackers generally gain respect among their peers based on the strength of one’s ability to break things. The Man does not value hackers’ ability to break stuff intrinsically, like this. The Man sees hackers as a necessary evil, useful as long as they are employing their love of breaking stuff at socially-positive targets. Hacker respect is gained through one’s ability to break systems, The Man’s respect is gained through one’s ability to hack particular systems.

But, since hackers need jobs like the rest of us, and The Man does have systems he needs broken, a polite fiction is created involving a little denial on both sides.

When some hackers (or people with the hacker mentality) apply their skills to attacking The Man’s institutions instead of supporting them, The Man will have to shatter that polite fiction temporarily and remind hackers that what they hack is more important than how well they do it. And when this happens, hackers feel disrespected and butthurt. This is somewhat understandable, because The Man does not respect hacking ability in general – it respects their ability to apply it to The-Man-approved, socially-positive concerns.

Any hacker whose attitude toward The Man has changed because of “recent developments” needs to check themselves, because absolutely nothing has changed. The Man still needs you, but He respects you as much (as little?) as He ever did. Sorry to burst your bubble, but in a society composed of establishments run primarily by builders, breakers will always be second-class citizens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If you actually knew anything about hackers, you’d realize that people who build the greatest things are the same ones who can take anything apart.

You’re talking about script kiddies.

No, I’m explicitly not.

I acknowledge that, at a very high level, similar technical skills can be used to build or break big systems. But that is true only at a very abstract level. The most specialized skills to build something great and the skills to destroy it are actually pretty different.

How many bridge engineers invest an equal amount of time and effort learning how to build bridges as they do learning the particulars of demolitions? How many master software developers do you know that are equally adept with metasploit?

Now you can argue all day that a master building engineer must necessarily also be a master demolitions expert, and that no true programmer is great unless he or she can discover a novel zero day and hack up a shellcode for it while getting serviced by Halle Berry at the same time.

But in the real world, this isn’t true. You may be able to find the occasional unicorn “rainbow hat” hacker who is a master of building and breaking simultaneously, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule. They are distinct sets of skills, and I posit that the reason you don’t see people investing equally in them is because most people don’t derive equal enjoyment from both.

Note also that I am using “breaking” in the broadest sense of the word – that is, inducing a system to do something it wasn’t designed to do, or that contravenes the rules and norms defined for that system. I am also not talking specifically about computer systems – also social systems, regulatory systems, etc.

Reggie says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t think he is.

If you want a system that is reliable, difficult to break, and is highly resistant to Murphy’s Law, just have it designed by a hacker. They can anticipate and accommodate things in advance which most people would never think of.

What if the leased line goes down during a batch transfer? What of the user’s PC hangs in the middle of a uncommitted transaction? What happens when your satellite link is undergoing solar eclipse? What happens if I call the company’s phone system from outside and dial the extension number which buzzes the front door open? Could anyone with that mindset just walk in after hours without a key?

What people don’t realize is, they ought to trust hackers because they really don’t have any choice. Society is trusting hackers whether we realize it or not. If major satellites aren’t falling out of orbit, if freshwater systems are not pumping sewage, it’s not because nobody knows how to disrupt these systems, it’s because they have chosen not to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If you want a system that is reliable, difficult to break, and is highly resistant to Murphy’s Law, just have it designed by a hacker. They can anticipate and accommodate things in advance which most people would never think of.

And if you want that system to be understandable and maintainable by people other than said hacker, you might be in trouble. The knife can cut both ways.

What people don’t realize is, they ought to trust hackers because they really don’t have any choice. Society is trusting hackers whether we realize it or not. If major satellites aren’t falling out of orbit, if freshwater systems are not pumping sewage, it’s not because nobody knows how to disrupt these systems, it’s because they have chosen not to.

That’s a major fallacy of the excluded middle. You’re basically saying that we all live under a Pax Hackera, a world where every system is hackable, but because hackers are so noble, they choose to allow us to live in peace.

This really isn’t credible. While I am sure that this happens to an extent, high-value targets are high-value, and there are 7 billion people in the world. A good number of them are hackers, and not all of them have your best interests in mind.

The much more plausible explanation is that, while some hackers may be leaving us alone out of conscience, the actual reason things aren’t worse than they are is because a complex combination of robust systems and effective law enforcement (acting as a deterrent, or prosecuting people before they can do more damage) is largely responsible.

Hackers (and here I am talking about people for whom breaking a system is more pleasurable than building one) do not have some exclusive secret knowledge about building robust systems. They may indeed have a unique and useful perspective on that, but conscientious and systemic builders and designers can build pretty robust systems themselves, without having ever gone to Black Hat or DEFCON. So, some of the reasons these major systems are robust is because they were designed, by non-hackers, to be that way, and really are hard to attack and compromise.

Otherwise, security through obscurity doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it’s a lot more than 0%. Sometimes, my house doesn’t get robbed not because it was any more secure than my neighbor’s, but because I didn’t have a giant flat-screen with an Xbox hooked up to it visible from my front window. Many systems may be vulnerable but the time and attention of malicious hackers just hasn’t been turned on them yet. In that sense, it’s good that genetics, upbringing, and society produces a majority of builders and a minority of breakers (i.e., hackers), because otherwise we might all be spending most of our time and resources defending ourselves from attacks instead of doing useful and productive things.

Zinc says:

Recruiting new opposition.

What’s probably even more important, is such treatment is going to inspire hackers to produce better technological solutions to the government surveillance problem. Better encryption tools, anonymization tools, steganography tools, etc.. The heavy handed way the government deals with others, just as it has in the middle east, will recruit more opposition in the long run. Have a nice day.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

The levels of smart

I’m not going to say that everyone who works for the government is stupid, but when the basic idea of doing so are the facts that

A}. After 20 years you can get a government pension.
B}. never get fired, except for extraordinary acts.
C}. Have a guaranteed job for life.

(excepting when Congress decides to hold the budget as a hostage and you’re sequestered)

you’d be right on the same list of people who love working for a brain-dead, faceless entity-just like any big corporation.

I’ve found that most people that I’ve dealt with in a government position are pretty stupid and have no idea what they’re doing, nor do they care.

To serve your country is one thing, to enable and abet its’ remorseless slide into total Stasi-style paranoia is another.

There is a difference.

Prokofy Neva (profile) says:


The government shouldn’t be recruiting or hiring hackers and needs to definitely review and winnow out all these contractors it is using through which hackers slip through.

It’s right to crack down on criminals and the government has to learn to do its own blackhatting without adopting the geeky open source cult that is responsible for so much destruction.

The entire computer science field needs to reform and establish ethics, the government can lead the way.

Time to end the infatuation with the little miscreants and their “brilliance” which is literally harming our national security.

Charan says:

NSA doesnt understand Technology and therefore Hackers

NSA is led by policy analysts and MBAs and not developers or hackers. Remember your school? There was the class topper, the teacher’s pet and there was the under rated genius who was always busy doing his thing. The teacher’s pet became the decision maker at NSA and the silent genius kid became the hacker. Can they ever work together? Hell no.

Wallace Klinck (user link) says:

Re: Fish on the line

If so-called elected representatives would turn their attention to our defective and destructive system of debt-finance they would be better occupied than passing enabling legislation allowing unconstitutional searches of private information and persecution of those who are sufficiently courageous to expose establishment mis-demeanors and crimes in high places.

So many people have set notions in their heads and all too often resort to the accusation of “socialism” whenever there is any suggestion of anyone receiving what they perceive is “something for nothing. The notion that pervades their thinking is that human labour produces everything and that any sharing without earning through direct effort is stealing from those “honourable workers” who engage in productive work. This notion is, upon serious reflection, a monstrous absurdity and a monumental conceit inasmuch as technology is forever reducing the amount of human energy required in production processes. For all their apparent boasting and pride, such critics would be rendered nearly helpless if they could not rely upon the eons of accumulating Cultural Heritage to carry out their activities.

The primary evil of socialism is not the sharing aspect but rather the restrictive regimentation and centralized control of human society which suppresses the efflorescence of human Life. Social Credit is the very inverse of such a policy in using credit-power to distribute independence of policy-making choice to individual citizen-consumers. It distributes at source, without taking from anyone, a portion of those superfluous consumer goods which for lack of purchasing-power cannot otherwise reach the hands of the consumer, and allows the producer to recover his costs, which would be impossible without the support of consumer spending. This would be accomplished with due regard to the natural law of cost and therefore without the creation of irredeemable debt. The economic process involves both production and consumption and the latter is not some morally suspect process but rather an absolutely essential part of the economic equation. Without the consumer the producer would have no reason to exist. It is certainly true that we engage in increasingly irrelevant and destructive forms of waste under the present financial dispensation–but that, perhaps ironically, is due to the very lack of effective consumer demand provided during each current cycle of production. This kind of production and consumption is undeniably evil because it involves a massive misallocation and waste of human and natural resources and an improper integration of ends and means which degrades the quality of human life far below its actual real potential.

People talk about the “Christian Work Ethic.” There is no such thing from a Christian standpoint and this so-called materialistic “ethic” is found especially in modern finance-captitalism, communism-socialism and fascism whose cornerstone policy is work as exemplified in the universal upholding of “full-employment” as the ultimate desirable social goal. Well, there is a multitude of very busy people in this world who are making life a living hell and may well bring about the end of human civilization by their misdirected efforts–and the fatal flaw in the existing price-system ensures that there will be many more such persons with the passage of time. As British Social Credit technician, John Hargrave so aptly declared “He who calls for full-employment calls for War.” That is the meaning of the Puritanically-based “work ethic”–a poor and pathetic substitute for the Christian concept of Salvation through Grace! And so, we reap the consequences of our perversity.

sunrisesunset says:

Re: Re: Fish on the line

Oh! Mr. Klinck!

The beauty of your expression makes me such a lonely heart. How I hope one day that such blinded and confused humans ever realize the lightning truth in your words. This waste that you write of should be the first concern of the affairs of society, but institutional education forbids it, of course. We really don’t have to ask y.

Folding in the statement by “an engineer” (comment 82), and dare to think deeply enough of all those busy, busy technocrats and all of their attendant busy, busy work employment trailing along behind them and wonder at the absurdity of it all. I have been subjected to the type of work this waste entails, and it for sure would kill me slowly -quicker if it was possible to develop a tolerance and eventual blindness to it’s insidious harm and uselessness which imprisons so many, traded for numbers in a bank’s records and to buy “protection” from govern(mental) coercion.

an engineer says:

Kudos to the hackers - now let's get everyone on board

In a world too often filled with the actions of the mindless sycophantic technical enablers of the NWO / “elite” / slave master types (ie: scientists and engineers), it is so refreshing to see that those with high technical skills in the computing arena are taking a stand and refusing to enable the criminally insane in the Big Brother organizations to further leverage their power over the rest of us.

Now it is time for the others with high technical skills and creativity to do the same: refuse to design and build better means to enslave us, eavesdrop on us, kill us, torture us, maim us, poison us, incarcerate us and generally make our lives a living hell, one technical advancement at a time, no matter how small or large that advancement may be.

Without us, the “powers that be” would have little power, save for what they could literally only do on their own without the amplifying leverage that modern technology gives them, including the means to communicate with their minions.

It’s time for all technical people everywhere to take a stand, for we are the enablers of our own enslavement and destruction and the enslavement and destruction of other human beings on Earth, including our children, spouses, parents, brothers, sisters and friends, most of whom are not involved in the design and construction of these Big Brother enabling technologies. Unfortunately, many of us in the technical fields have a hubris or ignorance that leads us to gloat and feel “proud” of ourselves about our “brilliant” technical accomplishments, those same accomplishments that are about as brilliant and innovative (and work in exactly the same deadly philosophical way) as a backwards-facing gun.

It’s time for the conscientious people with the technical skills that enable our overlords to stop what they are doing, stop cooperating, reassess their roles in creating our own destruction, and stop enabling those whose greed and lust for power will surely bring this planet to a finality that we will all regret.

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