The profile of the hacker

He is more a skillful craftsman than an oblivious villain, according to a new study


The image of the hackers was set to be restored by an American sociologist, judging that the perception that has prevailed in society about them is misleading. Studying their culture, he concluded that their "real self" is far from what most people imagine. We often see hackers as ingrained geniuses, he says in his related article, but a more accurate description of them is rather that they are talented, although sometimes malicious, craftsmen.

"The hacker is presented in a way as an underground digital being lurking out there ready to empty your pockets."
explains in press release ο Kevin Steinmets, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work at the College of Arts and Sciences of the State University of Kansas. "But hacking is far more than that. It may also involve programming free or open software access, hardware hacking and various security hacking, among others ".

Ethnographic study

One of Mr. Steinmetz's subjects of study is the culture of hacking and technological crime. In this context, he says, he wanted to investigate what exactly a hacker is and what hacking means. To do this he proceeded to analyze various data but also to an ethnographic study meeting with hackers, spending time with them and conducting interviews. The answer he came up with is that hacking is a delinquent art of the late modern era.

"The hacking emerged as a computerized, technology-oriented culture that was a bit malicious but essentially concerned with programming"
he says. "It evolved over time to eventually become a subculture of great diversity, yet we, as a society, focus only on this one pocket that emerged through the security sector. These hackers are a small but resounding minority, as a hacker once told me. ".

The hacker is a master

Mr. Steinmetz studied various characteristics of hackers: their opinions about the private sphere and personal data, their family and social background, and their perceptions of government and authorities. The main observation he made through this study was that there is a similarity between hackers and craftsmen. Specifically, as he says, a hacker and a craftsman share the following common features:
  • They have a particular mindset.
  • They emphasize skill.
  • They show a sense of ownership for the tools and objects of their work.
  • Their social and learning structures are corporative.
  • They show a deep sense of commitment.
  • They place more emphasis on the process than on the outcome.
  • They have a common phenomenological experience.
  • They have a moment of delinquency.

"Hacking wants craftsmanship and also resembles a craftsman's job"
says the professor. "Perhaps the best way we can understand it is a deceptive, technological art".

Flashback to history

According to Mr. Steinmetz's research, the term "hacking" at some point was separated from the original subculture in which it was born. Hacking, he says, began in the 1950 and 1960 decades through a group of people who were interested in technology and computers. Today, it includes, among other things, the "hacking" of telephones and other devices or the breach of security systems. In political discussions or the media often the term hacking is referred solely to the result, for example. penetration into a network, credit card fraud or other corresponding stereotypes, the professor points out. However, reports of this kind overlook, as he adds, the fact that hacking is more about the process than the outcome. Without this basic feature of "craftsman," he argues, an individual who is committing certain technological crimes is not necessarily a hacker.

"If some people engage in this kind of behavior simply because they are seeking a particular result, my research shows that they can not be considered as hackers"
underlines. "To be a hacker you have to have the characteristics of a craftsman - you have to like his job and be dedicated to it".
The study was published in the British Journal of Criminology, under the title: "Craft (y) ness: an Ethnographic Study on Hacking".

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