Tech Savvy for July 17, 2008

By Aaron Harper

HUERFANO- Hackers. The very word makes you shiver and check your wallet.  Who are these folks, and why do they do what they do?  Sensationalist media will often use the term to gain credibility for their stories or raise their ratings at the expense of the truth.  Tired of the conflict between

Hollywood′s images of “bad boy/savior ” and the “hardened criminal” image

portrayed by the popular press, I attended a hacker′s convention and made contact with the real thing to decide for myself.  This week′s Tech Savvy is a look at hackers in reality.

    I discovered they′re not criminals.  They hate both the bad press and the ones responsible, often taking positions in companies defending your information against attack.  The only things the sensationalists have  right is that hackers make technology look like magic, and they tend to use

a chosen name rather than their given one.  Tired of being vilified, real hackers use the term “Cracker” for thugs who break into computers and “Script Kiddie” for the persons with no real skills or discipline who cause havoc by misusing programs they download.

    If they′re not criminals, what are they?  Let′s look at some examples.

 • Maverick became an officer in a large police department′s data crimes division after years of being the liaison between law enforcement and hackers.  I pity the criminal he goes after because he is very good and doesn′t stop until the job is done.

• Dagmar works for a private financial audit company in its information assurance department.  He walks into a room and solves problems with kind words to all, though if the problem is human, he can solve the issue just as fast with razor tongue.

• Antimony was a grad student at a major university and now works as a chemist for a major pharmaceutical firm. She is the best in her field according to her professors.

• Elonka is arguably the best civilian cryptographer in the country.  She speaks regularly at industry conferences and training seminars for industry and government agencies.

• Dement1a is a chef.  Her special skill is preparing and modifying recipes until they are dangerously good, especially the fudge.

    The common factor is that these folks are good at what they do and constantly refine their skills to get even better. They′re workaholics, combining work and play in a way that allows them to function 18-20 hours a day, seven days a week. They have a hard and fast ethic:  they draw a clear line between right and wrong and are not swayed by peer pressure or media influence.  They play as hard as they work, throwing incredible parties and taking over large hotels for conferences like DefCon and Phreaknic.

    Here′s a twist for you—Hollywood got it right.  Hackers can save the world, and they do it every day in ways people will never know about or ­understand.  I sleep well at night knowing this, and I count many of these folks as friends.