the hacker criminal

It is easiest to begin with something which represents a popular current notion of the hacker. Joel Synderís column in the December 1996 issue of Internet World is typical of current popular discourse. In the fall of 1996, Synder was subjected to a mail bomb: an attempt to flood his electronic mailbox of someone with hundreds of email messages. This attack was waged by a self-styled hacker who disagreed with one of Snyderís recent columns, a column which painted the commercialization of the Internet in a positive light.

Snyder writes of the distinction between "true hacking" as it "used to exist" and the new digital "terrorism" of his "attacker":

The complex and convoluted world of computers and the Net has always excited people, generally young people, to explore the boundaries of the system. The word "hacker" was first applied to people who pushed the limits of the technology, who developed clever ways of doing things or using computers in ways designers never imagined. (109)

He continues:

Many hackers ó myself included ó have stepped over the arbitrary line that the government has drawn separating legal from illegal. But thatís not a requirement of hacking. It just happens to be a common side effect. For most hackers, the intent is not to vandalize, break laws, or terrorize. Itís to learn and explore. (Ibid.)

Important here is a theme common in current popular writing on hacking, a position which needs to be examined critically: the notion of something akin to a "hacker Golden Age," a time when hacking was a pure quest for knowledge. The point of time of this utopian era (and any other, in my experience) is never quite agreed upon; some might say the late 1970s, the early 1980s, even the early 1990s.

Within Snyderís and others' construct of hacking, the act itself, though sometimes illegal, was necessary in order for the hacker to learn. Those days, Snyder implies, are now gone; it is time for the philosophy of the hacker to mature along with the technology. Individuals who use the moniker of hacker in a way in which it was never intended are not true hackers, "not like in the good old days" as they are imagined by Snyder and his ilk.