Whenever I have the privilege of addressing a group on the topic of people who perpetrate premeditated attacks on computer systems, a singular, troubling question inevitably arises: Why do they do it?

Of course, for the garden-variety criminal, the answermonetary gainis obvious. But what about those “crackers” who simply want to “break things,” as hacking expert Eric S. Raymond notes in a recent column of mine? Why do they risk the embarrassment of arrest and the very real possibility of jail time and hefty fines by releasing malicious code or destroying a companys ability to do business on the Web?

For a while, my stock answer”because theyre idiots”seemed satisfactory, yet true as that statement may be, it does little to explain the cause of such risky and irresponsible behavior. Raymond points out that crackers are often adolescent males, but surely that fact alone is not sufficient to infer motive.

Fortunately for purposes of this question, however, a number of such individuals have been interviewed by Phrack, a magazine that deals with the hacking culture. Their answers to the “why” question are both disturbing and revealing.

“Hacking is a means to an end,” says Grandmaster “Swamp” Ratte. “I dont give a rats ass about hacking or any of that crap on its own. I just want to make cool stuff.” Cool, in this case, might mean bringing a company to its cyber-knees for a few hours and sharing the good news with ones cracker pals.

Another interviewee, DiGiT, says he spends “an absurd amount of time at my computer doing crazy stuff for no other reason than to get the best rush imaginable.” Move over, crack cocaine; theres a new drug in town. You, too, can get off by trashing someones computer system.

Meanwhile, the musings of ParMaster take the whole question of motivation to a new level: “I dont know [why I did it]. I can honestly say I wasnt in conscious control of what I was doing. I have some theories about why. Some include a higher power; others include some pretty crazy stuff like mind control. Im leaning somewhat towards the latter, because I had some severe memory problems.”

But, whether the motivation is being cool, getting high or being victimized by an outside force, the common denominator among these folks is a complete lack of empathy and social consciousness. Its all about their status, their pursuit of pleasure and their personal troubles. There is no regret, no thought of their victims plight. In fact, as interviewee Glyph (who admits to engaging in “criminal hacking” in the past) puts it, “Id do it all over again if I wasnt so old.”

How are we to explain this subculture that celebrates such unbridled narcissism and seeks to destroy, or deny, the conscience? I see this is the natural byproduct of a growing postmodern, politically correct movement in this countrya movement that tells us that there are no moral absolutes. (Ive always wanted to ask people who believe this if, as theologian R. C. Sproul has suggested, they are absolutely sure about that.) No ones notions about any moral issue are any better than anyone elses ideas; all are blissfully equal, the postmoderns say. Being law-abiding and caring about your fellow man may be part of your morality, but dont try to push it on me. I have my own morality, and its just as valid as yours.

Thankfully, not everyone buys such puerile rubbish, but there are certainly those in our culture who absolutely (or maybe just most of the time) believe it. They are spreading this dangerous thinking in schools and on college campusesand it definitely has an appeal to young, impressionable minds. After all, if I can make up my own morality, what do I need with a pesky conscience? Goodbye guilt!

Internet security technology is a necessity for any agent, carrier or other business, but all the technology in the world wont be enough to stop the sociopaths whose universe of caring ends at their own epidermis. Ultimately, the real battle for security in our world will be won (or lost) in the minds and hearts of those we raise as children and train as future leaders.

Personal responsibility, what a concept!


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, February 18, 2005. Copyright 2005 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.