Steven Levy, who has been extensively covering the world of hackers for decades (fun fact: the first time he wrote about it, the word “hacker” didn’t really mean much), is sharing the changing perception about hacker conferences, and hackers themselves. In a newsletter, Backchannel’s Levy writes about Black Hat conference: What I find most striking in the coverage of these events is that they are no longer seen as outlaw gatherings, but rather conclaves that form a valuable portion of the digital security mosaic. This is a big change from the long period, beginning in the late 1980s, during which the term “hacker” became synonymous with malfeasants, punks, and criminals. The glorious originals — people who invented just about everything great we do on computers, including the internet — were outraged at the denigration of a word that was once a badge of honor. […] The hackers who attend those conferences are true to that ethic. There’s a core morality to both events, built on privacy, equal access to systems, and personal freedom. There’s indignation at poorly built systems. There’s contempt at those who see computers and the internet as means of controlling people instead of seeing them as tools of liberation. So who gets to decide what a hacker is in 2016? The question comes up constantly because the term retains some fuzziness. I’ll put aside the unquestioned hacker status of coders and designers who innovate on products and private infrastructure. Blissfully, it’s now OK for Silicon Valley geeks to proudly declare themselves hackers, the best example of which is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s naming of his corporate philosophy as “The Hacker Way.” But I’m wondering about those people who take the law into their own hands, sometimes not even taking care to limit collateral damage of innocent people. While true hackers generally don’t wreak actual destruction, there are some who invade or even tamper with systems for what they consider moral purposes. Some call it hacktivism. Does that mean they are still hackers? That’s tough to answer. Hacking into a system doesn’t make you a hacker. Using a computer to steal a credit card or a Bitcoin doesn’t do it, either. If you work for China and hack into Google; if you work for Russia and hack into the DNC; or if you work for the United States of America and plant a software time bomb in a nuclear centrifuge in Iran — you are not necessarily a hacker.
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