Subcultures of the Internet – Hackers

It’s easy to tell in a conversation when a person has not had much experience with the internet culture.  For one thing, when I talk to them about my research into hacking and cybercultures, they will ask me if I know any “hackers”.  Sure, these people may know how to use their email and Facebook, but besides using Google to search for “how to convert miles to kilometers” they know very little about navigating the internet, or about the people who control it.

Nobody on the internet ever refers to themselves or another person as a hacker; it just isn’t considered appropriate.  That isn’t to say that there is no such thing as a hacker.  On some level, every programmer has the ability to “hack”.  But the popular idea of the term hackers is grossly overused.  For example, when somebody claims that their Facebook page has been “hacked”, usually that means that they left their account open and somebody took advantage of a logged in account.  In reality, it is incorrect to say that any profile has been hacked, but rather compromised when a server was hacked, or when their desktop was hacked.

When I talk about the “hacker culture”, then, by that I mean a culture that is very similar in ways to that of computer programmers, though much more corrupt.  While the focus of the programmer culture is creation of software, programs, and systems, the focus of the hacking culture is on acquiring information and data, and using it to gain power.  Because of this, the hacking culture is very secretive, to protect its own secrets from those who could take advantage of them.

“Hactivists”, such as Anonymous, are prime examples of modern-day mainstream hackers, but their methods are unlike most of the hacker culture.  Hackers do not crave attention; in fact, the mark of a professional hacker is that nobody knows he exists.  This becomes problematic when attempting to join the hacker culture; how do you join a community which claims to consist of… nobody?  Even more problematic, how can you have presentations at hacking conventions such as Black Hat and DEFCON without a community that wants to make itself known to the public?

The answer lies in euphemisms.  DEFCON and Black Hat both consist of presentations and papers concerning the security of systems from the point of view of a system defender.  While there is the unspoken assumption that many of the people there are hackers themselves, and may use the convention as a way to learn methods to use in illegal or at least covert operations, present and future tenses are never used when discussing hacking.  This unique trait is the major thing which separates the hackers from the programmers.