Life is zeroes and ones. To some, this may not be intuitive. To some, it may go against their religious or moral values. To a hacker, however, zeroes and ones represent your identity, your medical records, your financial status, and the human condition—life. Even the human genome can be sequenced into nothing more than zeroes and ones. Life is binary. For those who speak it, binary is the language that controls our very existence. With so much power at stake, it is not surprising that there are those who seek it. Mankind has always been enthralled with power. With so much at stake, however, it also stands to reason that society must protect itself. In order to do so, we must better understand these enigmatic people.
To understand these shadowy people and what motivates them, we need to appreciate them as a whole. Unfortunately, scientists often attempt to break problems into lesser factors to better understand the larger problem through research of the smaller components. One such research study performed by Peter Leeson, an economics professor at George Mason University, postulates that hackers can be grouped into three classes: (1) good hackers, (2) fame-driven hackers, and (3) greedy hackers, based on their motivation (Coyne, Leeson 3). While this approach of separating the components may be appropriate for understanding many complex problems, it can be detrimental to grasping the multifaceted aspects of a hacker. To understand hackers, what motivates them, and how to stop them, we must understand that they exist on a continuum through a lifecycle in which they traverse from one class to the next.
Kevin Mitnick, one of our nation’s most notorious hackers, is the quintessential example of how a hacker traverses the different classes of hackers over a lifetime. In his book Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker, Mitnick tells how, in his youth, he began hacking by using a technique called phreaking. His “Original Sin” as he puts it, was to use this social engineering technique to defraud the DMV and gather information about people (20). At this stage of his life, Mitnick was not interested in doing “good” for others nor was he interested in “greed.” He was simply in it for the thrill and the fame. He wanted to be able to tell his friends what he had done. This instant affirmation was like a drug that made him look beyond the risk. According to Leeson’s theory, in his youth, Mitnick was in the “fame-driven” class.
As Mitnick aged, however, he began to recognize injustices in our society. He notes that we live in a society where we believe that our personal, medical, and financial records are private and secure. This, as Mitnick points out, is a far cry from reality. All it takes to gain access to someone’s records legally is to “convince a judge [you have] legitimate reason” to see (169.) This revelation was the turning point along the continuum for Mitnick. He began...