Hacker Code of Ethics? – if you do an Internet search for “hacker ethics,” you are more likely to find a glamorized version of so-called “hacker rules” that embrace the idea that hackers can do anything they want, even perhaps without limits, in the pursuit of whatever they want. Best-selling author Steven Levy’s 1984 book, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (https://www.amazon.com/Hackers-Computer-Revolution-Steven-Levy/dp/1449388396/ ), introduced the world to one of the earliest versions of hacker ethics ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker_ethic ). In a nutshell, almost word for word, it said the following:
1. Access to computers should be unlimited and total.
2. All information should be free.
3. Mistrust authority—promote decentralization.
4. Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not criteria such as degrees,
age, race, or position. 5. You can create art and beauty on a computer. 6.Computers can change your life for the better.
Hacker Code of Ethics?
Levy was sharing, not necessarily agreeing with, what many hackers felt about the early days of hacking. Unfortunately, many hackers took Levy’s hacking ethics to mean that the ends justified the means and that even illegal activities were okay. That’s like saying robbing a bank or taking someone else’s property is okay as long as you give it away to change your or someone else’s life for the better. Hacking without a moral compass can lead to unethical situations and illegality. But more than that, it would hurt us all.
Ignoring for the moment that Levy’s proclamations were made more than
a decade before the information superhighway came into existence, even
Levy didn’t promote outright lawlessness and unethical activities. Although
some of the people in his book did do some ethically questionable things, the majority did not. Most made a better life for themselves and society without
doing a single illegal deed. Many have selflessly dedicated their entire lives
to enriching the lives of others for almost no monetary remuneration. Where
some hackers saw Levy’s hacker ethics as a lawless free for all—how else is
“All information free” —most readers and budding hackers saw the beauty of
ethical cooperation. The hackers in Levy’s book may have started as decen-
tralized, mistrusting free thinkers, but in the end what they learned, created,
and invented changed the whole world for the better.
Hacker Code of Ethics?
If all information was truly free, that would remove much of the incentive for most of the world’s best artists and writers to create the wonderful things they create. Even Steven Levy wanted to be paid for writing his book. Most hardware vendors and software programmers would not do what they do without being able to make a living in some way. Someone ultimately has to pay the bills for the work that paves the information highway. If creators and owners could never charge for their information and creations, we would have far less information and fewer creations. If we took the original hacker ethic to its foremost strict interpretation without considering moral ethics in the process, we would have a less great society. Indeed, hacking without the ethical consideration for the greater good would simply denigrate society.
Hacker Code of Ethics?
The culmination of this book is to demonstrate that the best hacking is ethical and legal hacking. Everyone profiled in this book took their amazing mental gifts and used them to better mankind.
The most important guiding principle for hacking is that you do no greater overall harm to the world even if it would give you greater fortune and fame. Put the best ethical outcome ahead of money and glory. This doesn’t mean you can’t make profit or gain fame, but do so in a legal and ethical way.
Today, many computer security training organizations have an ethical code of conduct that you must agree to abide by in order to be certified by them. The most popular hacker code of ethics I can find on the Internet is the EC-Council Code of Ethics ( https://www.eccouncil.org/code-of-ethics/ ). It’s a good code of ethics, but a bit too focused on penetration testing, and it’s growing a bit long over time (with 19 statements at press time). With that said, the next section provides a solid, concise code of ethics to operate by, both personally and professionally.
Hacker Code of Ethics
This is my personal hacker code of ethics, one that I’ve lived by all my life. And I think it’s a good starting point for any hacker looking for ethical guidance.
Be Ethical, Transparent, and Honest
It almost goes without saying that following a code of ethics means being ethical. Ethical means trying to do right versus wrong, good versus evil, justice versus injustice. When in an ethical conflict, decide to do what benefits society the most. Be transparent in what you do, being sure to allow either observation by or adequate communication with all stakeholders. Say what you will do, and then do it.
Don’t Break the Law
Follow the laws that govern you and your activities. If an ethical issue is making you consider breaking the law, ensure that you have tried everything else reasonably possible and that your actions would likely be seen by most of society as being for the greater good. Most unlawful situations are unlawful because society has determined that everything works better in a particular way, even when you believe you have a powerful justification for breaking the law. Of course, be prepared for living with the consequences of breaking those laws should you be caught.
Always get prior, documented permission from the owner or their lawful representative before hacking an asset owned or managed by them. No exceptions.
Be Confidential with Sensitive Information
Society breaks down without trust. Part of being trustworthy, besides also being ethical, transparent, and honest, means not disclosing sensitive information without prior permission of the owner, especially when that information has been given to you in confidence. In general, the less personal and confidential information you share in life, the more trustworthy people will see you as. I always get a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) signed by new customers. It makes them and me feel better. If you’re going to break someone’s confidence, make sure it is ethical, legal, and better overall for society for you to do so.
Do No Greater Harm
The Hippocratic Oath should apply to society in general as well as any compa nies or customers you are working for. All hackers should follow it. Hackers and professional penetration testers should start every engagement by trying not to cause any harm. Minimize potential disruptions. Always start any operation that could cause disruption to an environment slowly, testing, testing, testing, first. And then use the least disruptive settings of your software if those types of settings exist. If you’re performing hacking, always warn customers (in writing) that your activities could cause unintentional harm to their environment. Also, make no public disclosure of software vulnerabilities without first notifying the software vendor and giving them adequate time to create a patch. Doing otherwise just harms more customers.
Conduct Yourself Professionally
Strive to be professional in all activities and interactions. This doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit, but it does mean that you should act in ways that ensure that people find you trustworthy, if not predictable. This all goes back to being ethical, honest, and transparent. Good communication is a big part of being professional. It also means using your real name (or easy-to-find real identity) and not harassing others or their resources.
Be a Light for Others
Finally, be an example for others by leading an ethical hacking life. Use your powers for good and for the overall betterment of society. Show others how your hacker ethics improve the lives of everyone.
Let your hacking behavior be driven by a combination of both Levy’s “hacker ethics” and the truly ethical guidelines proposed in this chapter. Declare yourself an ethical hacker and be proud of it. Like all of the people profiled in this book, it’s possible to earn a good living and do all the hacking you need to do in an ethical and legal way. The smartest and best minds aren’t the hackers, but the defenders who hack the hackers.
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