1 AP English Language 10 February 2008 Hacking: The Other Side of the Story Recently, I helped a friend bypass the

internet filter at school in order to access YouTube for a presentation. This involved inserting a portable drive into the computer and changing some settings around. After a few minutes of fiddling, the bright red logo of YouTube appeared on the screen. The video we wanted loaded flawlessly, the presentation ran like greased lightning, and everyone cheered. I cringed, though, when a few people dubbed me a “hacker.” What is hacking anyway? In this day and age, especially with the widespread proliferation of technology, “hacking” is a term that is becoming more and more liberally applied, often with negative connotations. Traditionally, the term has meant something along the lines of “breaking into a computer system without permission”. In the 21st century, however, it is imperative that we fully understand what hacking is and what constitutes a hacker. The way it is used today, hacking can refer to an endless range of technology-related activities. Some imaginative types have managed to play classical music on the scrawny little devices known as graphing calculators. One company has invented a video projector system that uses high-pressure films of water as its screen. iPods have been witnessed browsing the internet. Now ask the folks at MIT, widely regarded as the place where use of the term “hacking” originated sometime in the 1960s and 1970s. They will tell you that hacking can mean putting police cars, fire trucks, and airplanes on top of buildings, or “stealing” an antique cannon from rival school Cal Tech. These wildly different examples may seem to have nothing at all in common. But each account of hacking

2 shares some common characteristics: ingenuity, creativity, and problem-solving. These notions sum up what it means to hack – qualities that can be used as well as abused. Unfortunately, stereotypes dictate that hacking is done by all-knowing “nerds” or “geeks”. This is not the case – rather, hacking can still be done by ordinary individuals who have a clear purpose in mind, an innovative mind, and a knack for tinkering. Hackers, like you and I, can have normal, social lives, a complete contradiction of popular misconceptions. The “art” of hacking is a mysterious, albeit entertaining activity for people to watch. Indeed – even jargonladen, rocket-science style hacks have evolved into the consciousness of the mainstream. Take the iPhone, for instance – Apple’s wildly successful foray into the cutthroat world of cell phones. Of the millions sold, tens of thousands have been successfully unlocked to work on any cell phone service provider. The process of unlocking has evolved from a highly technical, labyrinthine process of soldering and gluing into the ridiculously simple act of pushing a button. Although Apple might not like it, iPhone unlocking epitomizes the potential benefits of hacking and the utter gumption displayed by determined, enterprising individuals – these qualities truly define a hacker. Most importantly, people should realize that the difference between “good” hacking and “bad” hacking is as tangible as the difference between white and black. Indeed, this comparison gives rise to the terms “white-hat hacker” and “black-hat hacker”. The resourceful kid who flips the computer screen upside down is a completely different creature than the anarchist rebel who attempts to gridlock a government network. Likewise, when discussing “hacking”, one should take care that the subject is appropriately placed in a white or black context. Do not make the mistake of confusing an act of ingenuity or creative genius with an act of malice.

3 Hacking is not a concrete noun; it is an idea. It is not embodied by specific criteria, but rather by some prevailing themes: ingenuity, determination, and a desire to tinker and explore. Instead of frowning at the geeky, nerdy , mysterious “hackers”, fixate yourself on the task of hacking away at this stereotype.

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