Hackers

Enrique Dans. Director IT/IS Area. Instituto de Empresa

1 January 2005

Hackers! The term strikes terror in the heart of any computer user! It means systems under attack, rampant viruses, servers blocked, and work lost forever.

Ask anyone, and they’ll recite a wide variety of horror stories. However, if we analyze the term hacker, the scene is completely different. It’s really fear and ignorance of the unknown.

The double meaning of the term can lead to confusion: a hacker is simply someone who accesses a computer illegally. But it is also used to describe a brilliant program that offers solutions to complex problems. In fact, a hacker is somebody capable of making a computer do exactly what he or she wants it to.

Hacking is a skill that can be used to break the rules or solve problems in a more imaginative way. It is technology with two uses. However, the most common definition of a hacker is someone who, when faced with a lock, feels an unstoppable, pathological need to open it. The term hacker is of extreme importance to the progress of technology and is an essential and inseparable part of most of the innovations that will be appearing on the future scenarios of technology and business in general.

The hacker community is a highly interesting meritocracy of significance to the most recent events in the history of modern technology. Music, for example, is facing a situation where access to content for which it could previously charge large amounts of money is simply impossible to protect. A restriction on copying, duplication or circulation comes in the form of a lock, and there will always be a hacker ready to pick it. No matter how many technological or legal restraints are used to avoid this situation, the solution is impossible, because any restraints will merely become a greater challenge.

If the criminalization of exchanging a song is pushed to the limit of burning those responsible on the purifying pyre, you can believe that hackers will come up with ingenious new ways to encrypt files to prevent content identification and traceability, or other manifestations of their brilliance. Each attempt to protect the industry is countered by hackers ready and willing to break down whatever restrictions appear on the stage. Yet the stage is more effective than it once was. The rule now is: why let anyone who no longer contributes with value retain it? Moving the prevention machine out of the way could make it possible for those truly generating value to keep more of it, as many critics of this industry are beginning to point out.

Auto-da-fe

Here’s another example. Company A develops a program. For many, the next step implies protecting that program with patents and copyright, to recover the costs of its development and commercialisation in as short a time as possible. But this idea of maximizing the company’s performance does not apply for the performance of the community as a whole.

If a hacker is capable of opening the program and improving it, using it to move technology one step further up the development ladder, both individual users and society in general will benefit. Is this commercial profit based on closed doors, or the quick progress of technology based on collaboration? According to today’s technological scenario, closed doors are starting to make no sense. Anyone keeping hold of the key is attacked by hackers because he or she is opposing everyone’s general progress. In a few years, we will talk of the “copyright era” in the same way we now speak of Torquemada and the Inquisition.

We’ll look back on a period of horror that hindered progress for years and which, thankfully, we managed to leave behind. For those who lived during that period, the Inquisition was the only way of life, something considered logical and which offered protection. People then were incapable of imagining a world without it. Thanks to the hackers of that age, who imagined something different, we no longer have autos-da-fe or purifying pyres today - although there are those who would certainly like to bring them back. For your own good, don’t let them protect you from progress.

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