When D.W. Griffiths epic silent film “The Birth of a Nation” debuted in 1915, it engendered a storm of outraged protest so powerful that it continues to this very day.

The outrage came in response to the way in which the film denigrated post-Civil-War Southern blacks and celebrated the Ku Klux Klan as American heroes. In large part because both blacks and whites have raised strong objections to these depictions in the years since its opening, the film today is widely viewed as both a milestone in cinematic achievement and as a low point in U.S. race relations.

Outrage, or righteous anger, is the normal response when events strike us as shocking or morally objectionable. But what can we say when our society not only fails in efforts to contain criminal activity, but allows it to be actively promoted?

The criminal activity Im pointing to is hacking, the unauthorized computer system break-ins that may result in anything from some annoying graffiti on a Web page to data theft to extortion demands from those who do the breaking in.

And how is such activity promoted? Believe it or not, hackers have their own trade shows and conventions, and the programs read like something out of Kafka.

Take, for example, The Fifth HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth) convention held this past July in New York. The event, now apparently in its fifth incarnation, is sponsored by 2600, a magazine devoted to hackers and their activities.

Perusing the program for the conference, one sees a session on the IBM AS/400 system that promises “to show where interesting data can be found and where possible weaknesses are in the system.” The course is taught by one “StankDawg” (obviously his real name) who is alleged to be “a senior programmer/analyst who has worked for Fortune 500 companies and large universities.” He is also the founder The Digital DawgPound, a hacker group. Maybe he works for your company right now.

Then theres “Bypassing Corporate Restrictions from the Inside,” which deals with “potential security implications and measures that should be considered whenever you compromise your own companys infrastructure.” In other words, here are ways to cover your tracks when you commit this crime. This class is taught by “barbwire” (no, not the buxom blonde heroine of comic and cinema fame, but supposedly a male IT worker from Australia. Gday, mate!).

Not criminal enough for you? How about the session on “Lockpicking”? Picking locks, says the conference program, “is becoming popular as a sport/hobby among hackers throughout the world. In a special two-hour session, the joy of lockpicking will be explained and demonstrated, from basic techniques to the state of the art.” And thats not alltheres also a lockpicking workshop ongoing throughout the conference and the staging of a lock picking championship. And you thought you had to go to one of those TV technical schools to learn a good-paying trade.

Outraged yet? Listen to the description of the session on “Terrorism and Hackers”: “This presentation will put forth a full range of activities in which hackers can apply their skills to achieve goals related to the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective (britannica.com).” This schizoid session includes “specific ways for hackers to combat terrorism” and “how hackers might actually participate in terrorism,” the session blurb adds. I think this one is probably required for al Qaeda members.

Incredibly, the session description asks, “What can we do to protect against hackers being misperceived as threats and terrorists?” Heres a hint. Stop teaching hackers how to be terrorists (and teaching terrorists how to be hackers). Duh.

America and the rest of the world were rightly outraged when they heard news of terrorist training camps in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, yet there is barely a peep from anyone when criminal and terrorist tactics are taught within our own borders. Are we to believe that home grown burglars, cyber-criminals and terrorists are somehow less harmful?

How can we justify the training of lawbreakers and terrorists in our own country? Is this to be labeled as “free speech,” or is it the educational equivalent of yelling “fire!” in a crowded movie theater where no fire exists?

What is happening is wrong. Where is the outrage?


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, August 12, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.