The Unhappy Hacker

The Unhappy Hacker

The Unhappy Hacker

In the 1980s, with the advent of personal computers and dial-up computer networks, hacker acquired a pejorative connotation, often referring to someone who secretively invades others’ computers, inspecting or tampering with the programs or data stored on them. The first major electronic break-in occurred in 1982, when a group of hackers from Milwaukee infiltrated the Los Alamos National Laboratory computer network via modem. Calling themselves the 414 gang after their area code, the culprits embarked on a nine-day spree, hitting 60 computing systems before being caught by the FBI. But it was the 1983 movie War Games, in which Mathew Broderick’s character breaks into the Pentagon’s computer system and brings the world to brink of nuclear destruction that launched the career of many adolescent hacker. Like graffiti artists, hackers hack to leave their mark and occasionally to make political statement, too. Motivated by curiosity, boredom, and hunger for a little power, they range from the mildly annoying (such hacking for Girlies group that brought down the New York Times site on the day the Starr report came out) on up to the criminal “crackers” (such as Vladimir Levin, who allegedly transferred millions of dollars from Citibank’s mainframe computers to accounts in Finland and Israel). The most famous hacker is still Kevin Mitnick. Mitnick was arrested in 1995 following a two-year FBI manhunt, and sentenced to 46 months for hacking into corporate computers. He languished in prison for four years before sentencing, making him the Mumia Abu-Jamal poster boy for the hacker/slacker generation. Whether you call them hackers, crackers, or computervredebreuk (Dutch for “disturbers of the peace of a computer”), there’s no doubt that as long as computing systems exist, people will be looking for and finding ways to break into them.

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