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The Dark Side of Hacking

In the "Hacking at MIT" article on Tuesday, February 16, the building hacker Jack Florey is reported as saying that there is a hacking treasurer occupying an obligatory and rotating position. It is certainly true that there are, at MIT, formalized hacking societies which do have such positions and commitments for members; they are in many respects similar to nonresidential fraternities or "honor societies."

Not all hacking is done in this fashion, however. The idea of a grand unified "hacking society" is nothing but a popular myth. Hacks are effected by a great many people and groups of people, most of whom rarely speak to each other and certainly do not collaborate in any way. As in many endeavors, more experienced participants do sometimes provide advice for less experienced. Nonetheless, there is no "club" to join, and no Committee on Hacking Taste from which to receive approval those who wish to execute a hack simply do so.

MIT has put hacking on a pedestal, and this can serve to blind people to what actually occurs. For example, there is a publicized hacking ethic that one should do no damage. There are some people who believe in this, but there are also "hackers" who use techniques such as pipe wrenches, pry bars, and bolt cutters to obtain access to the places they wish to visit. Others sabotage locks so that they can be opened with a credit card or a piece of wire, likely contributing to theft around MIT. Activities such as embezzlement through UA-funded front groups are also far from unknown.

We like to overlook the fact that many hacking activities are illegal, because they seem to be an integral part of MIT culture, and are generally amusing, harmless fun. Our idealistic view of hacking, however, is a view it seems we would do well to question more seriously.

Terran K. Melconian '99