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105253505 Female and Male Hacker Conferences Attendees Their Autism Spectrum Quotient AQ Scores and Self Reported Adulthood Experiences

105253505 Female and Male Hacker Conferences Attendees Their Autism Spectrum Quotient AQ Scores and Self Reported Adulthood Experiences

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Copyright © 2011, IGI Global. Copying or distributing in print or electronic forms without written permission of IGI Global is prohibited.
Chapter 8
Female and Male HackerConferences Attendees:
Their Autism-Spectrum Quotient(AQ) Scores and Self-ReportedAdulthood Experiences
Bernadette H. Schell
 Laurentian University, Canada
June Melnychuk 
University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Canada
INTRODUCTION
On April 27, 2007, when a spree of DistributedDenial of Service (DDoS) attacks started and soonthereafter crippled the financial and academicwebsites in Estonia (Kirk, 2007), large businessesand government agencies around the globe be-came increasingly concerned about the dangers of hack attacks and botnets on vulnerable networks.There has also been a renewed interest in whatcauses mal-inclined hackers to act the way thatthey do—counter to mainstream society’s normsand values.As new cases surface in the media—such asthe December, 2007, case of a New Zealand teennamed Owen Walker, accused of being the creator of a botnet gang and discovered by the police under Operation Bot Roast—industry and government
ABSTRACT
To date, studies on those in the Computer Underground have tended to focus not on aspects of hackers’ life experiences but on the skills needed to hack, the differences and similarities between insider and outsider crackers, and the differences in motivation for hacking. Little is known about the personalitytraits of the White Hat hackers, as compared to the Black Hat hackers. This chapter focuses on hacker conference attendees’ self-reported Autism-spectrum Quotient (AQ) predispositions. It also focuses ontheir self-reports about whether they believe their somewhat odd thinking and behaving patterns—at least as others in the mainstream society view them—help them to be successful in their chosen eld of endeavor.
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-805-6.ch008
 
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Female and Male Hacker Conferences Attendees
officials, as well as the public have been ponder-ing about whether such mal-inclined hackers arecognitively and/or behaviorally “different” fromadults functioning in mainstream society.This chapter looks more closely at this notion.The chapter begins with a brief discussion on bot-nets to clarify why the growing concern, reviewsthe literature on what is known about hackers— their thinking and behaving predispositions—andcloses by presenting new empirical findings onhacker conference attendees regarding their self-reported Asperger syndrome predispositions.The latter are thought to provide a constellationof rather odd traits attributed by the media andmainstream society to males and females inhabit-ing the Computer Underground (CU).
CONCERNS OVER BOTNETS ANDVIRUSES AND THEIR DEVELOPERS
A “bot,” short form for robot, is a remote-controlledsoftware program acting as an agent for a user (Schell & Martin, 2006). The reason that botnetsare anxiety-producing to organizations and gov-ernments is that mal-inclined bots can downloadmalicious binary code intended to compromisethe host machine by turning it into a “zombie.” Acollection of zombies is called a “botnet.’Since 2002, botnets have become a growing problem. While they have been used for phishingand spam, the present-day threat is that if several botnets form a gang, they could threaten—if notcripple--the networked critical infrastructuresof most countries with a series of coordinatedDistributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks(Sockel & Falk, 2009).
The Case of Bot Writer Owen Walker 
It is understandable, then, why there has beenconsiderable media interest in Owen Walker, who,according to his mother, suffers from a mild formof autism known as Asperger syndrome—oftenindicated in individuals by social isolation and highintelligence. Because of a lack of understandingabout the somewhat peculiar behaviors exhib-ited by high-functioning Asperger individuals,Walker’s peers allegedly taunted him during theformative and adolescent years, causing him todrop out of high school in grade 9. Unbeknownstto Walker’s mother, after his departure from highschool, Owen apparently became involved in aninternational hacking group known as “the A-Team” (Farrell, 2007).In a hearing held on July 15, 2008, JusticeJudith Potter discharged Owen Walker withoutconviction on some of the most sophisticated bot-net cybercrime seen in New Zealand, even thoughhe pleaded guilty to six charges, including: (i)accessing a computer for dishonest purposes, (ii)damaging or interfering with a computer system,(iii) possessing software for committing crime,and (iv) accessing a computer system withoutauthorization. Part of a ring of 21 mal-inclinedhackers, Walkers’ exploits apparently cost the localeconomy around $20.4 million in US dollars. If convicted, the teen could have spent up to sevenyears in prison.In his defense, Owen Walker said that he wasmotivated not by maliciousness but by his intenseinterest in computers and his need to stretch their capabilities. In her decision, Justice Potter referredto an affidavit from Walker in which he told her that he had received approaches about employ-ment from large overseas companies and the NewZealand police because of his “special” hacker knowledge and talents. The national manager of New Zealand’s police e-crime laboratory wasquoted in the media as admitting that Walker hadsome unique ability, given that he appeared to beat the “elite” level of hacking (Gleeson, 2008).The judge ordered Walker to pay $11,000 incosts and damages (even though he reportedlyearned $32,000 during his crime spree). He wasalso ordered to assist the local police to combatonline criminal activities. Apparently the primaryreason for his lack of a conviction is that Owen
 
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was paid to only write the software that illegallyearned others in the botnet gang their money.Walker claims that he did not receive any of the“stolen” money himself. (Humphries, 2008)
The Case of Virus Writer Kimberley Vanvaeck
Male hackers with special talents like Walker’s arenot the only ones who have made headlines andcaused anxieties for industry and government over the past five years. A 19-year-old female hacker from Belgium named Gigabyte got considerablemedia attention in February, 2004. Kimberley(Kim) Vanvaeck created the Coconut-A, theSahay-A, and the Sharp-A computer viruses whilestudying for an undergraduate degree in appliedcomputer science. She was arrested and charged by police with computer data sabotage, a chargewhich could have placed her behind prison barsfor three years and forced her to pay fines as highas €100,000, if convicted. In the Sahay-A worm,Gigabyte claimed to belong to the “MetaphaseVX Team.” When questioned by the media uponher arrest, Gigabyte portrayed herself as a LaraCroft in a very male-dominated hacker field and adefinite female minority in the elite virus-writingspecialty (Sophos, 2004).Gigabyte had a reputation in the Computer Underground for waging a protracted virtual war against an antivirus expert known as GrahamCluley. Oddly enough, Kim’s viruses could all beidentified by their antipathy toward Cluley. For example, one virus launched a game on infectedcomputers challenging readers to answer questionsabout Cluley, whom Kim nicknamed “Clueless.”Another virus launched a game requiring usersto “knock-off” Cluley’s head. Apparently, Kim’sanger at Cluley started years ago when he main-tained that most virus writers are male—an actthat put her on a mission to prove that females canwreak as much havoc in the virtual world as men.Outside of the computer underground, Kimallegedly had few friends (Sturgeon, 2004). Her updated homepage indicates that she now has aMaster’s degree in engineering, and while in uni-versity, she says that she was active as a studentleader and Information Technology (IT) advisor.In an online post on March 26, 2009, Cluleynoted that Kim was released by the legal systemwith just a “slap on the wrist” and a promise tonot cause trouble again. (Cluley, 2009)
Are Mal-inclined Bot Writers andVirus Writers Wired Differently?
The interesting cases of Owen Walker and Giga- byte raise a question about whether hackers —maleand female—are likely to be neurologically wireddifferently from many in mainstream society.Could they, for example, be Asperger syndromeindividuals who, like Owen Walker, had child-hoods tainted by peer rejection? To date, studieshave tended to focus not on these aspects of hackers’ life experiences but on the skills neededto hack and the trait differences between insider and outsider hackers. Whether males and femalesin the hacking community self-report elevatedscores on the Autism-spectrum Quotient(AQ)— and whether they believe that their somewhatodd thinking and behaving patterns (as least asothers view them) help them to be successful intheir chosen field of endeavor is the focus of the balance of this chapter.
LITERATURE REVIEW ONHACKERS’ PREDISPOSITIONSHacker Defined and theSkills Needed to Hack
The word
hacker 
has taken on many differentmeanings in the past 25 years, ranging fromcomputer-savvy individuals professing to enjoymanipulating computer systems to stretch their capabilities—typically called the White Hats—tothe malicious manipulators bent on breaking into

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