The Computer Underground.


The beginning of the electronic communication revolution
that started with the public use of telephones to the emergence
of home computers has been accompanied by corresponding social
problems involving the activities of so-called "computer
hackers," or better referred to as the computer underground (CU).
The CU is composed of computer aficionados who stay on the
fringes of legality. The CU is composed of relatively intelligent
people, in contrast to the media's description of the ultra
intelligent and sophisticated teenage "hacker." The majority have
in common the belief that information should be free and that
they have "a right to know." They often have some amount of
dislike for the government and the industries who try to
control and commercialize information of any sort. This paper
attempts to expose what the CU truly is and dispel some of the
myths propagated by the media and other organizations. This paper
also tries to show the processes and reasons behind the
criminalization of the CU and how the CU is viewed by different
organizations, as well as some of the processes by which it came
into being. What the CU is has been addressed by the media,
criminologists, secuity firms, and the CU themselves, they all
have a different understanding or levels of comprehention, this
paper attempts to show the differences between the views as well
as attempt to correct misunderstandings that may have been
propagated by misinformed sources. The differences between the
parties of the CU such as, "hackers," "crackers," "phreaks,"
"pirates," and virus writers have rarely been recognized and some
deny that there are differences thus this paper attempts to give
a somewhat clearer view and define exactly what each party is
and does as well as how they relate to one another.
Every individual in the CU has a different level of
sophistication when it comes to computers, from the height of the
advanced virus writer and network hacker to the pirate who can be
at the same level as a novice computer user. The prevalence of
the problem has been dramatized by the media and enforcement
agents, and evidenced by the rise of specialized private security
firms to confront the "hackers." The average person's knowledge
about the CU has been derived mostly from the media. The media
gets their information from former CU individuals who have been
caught, from law enforcement agents, and from computer security
specialists. The computer underground, as it is called by those
who participate in it, is composed of people adhering to one or
several roles: "hacker," "phreaker," "pirate," "cracker," and
computer virus developer. Terms such as these have different
meanings for those who have written about the computer
underground, such as the media, and those who participate in it.
The media's concept of the Computer Underground is the main
cause of the criminalization of the activity and has largely
occurred as the result of media dramatization of the "problem"
(Hollinger and Lanza-Kaduce, 1988). In fact, it was a
collection of newspaper and film clips that was presented to the
United States Congress during legislative debates as evidence of
the computer hacking problem (Hollinger and Lanza-Kaduce, 1988,
p.107). Unfortunately, the media assessment of the computer
underground displays a naive understanding of CU activity. The
media generally makes little distinction between different types
of CU activity. Most any computer- related crime activity can be
attributed to "hackers." Everything from embezzlement to computer
viruses have, at one time or another, been attributed to them.
Additionally, hackers are often described as being sociopathic or
malicious, creating a media image of the computer underground
that may exaggerate their ability for doing damage. The labeling
of the CU and especially hackers as being "evil" is well
illustrated by these media examples. The first is from Eddie
Schwartz, a WGN-Radio talk show host.

Here Schwartz is addressing "Anna," a self-identified hacker
that has phoned into the show: You know what Anna, you know what
disturbs me? You don't sound like a stupid person but you
represent a . . . a . . . a . . . lack of morality that
disturbs me greatly. You really do. I think you represent a
certain way of thinking that is morally bankrupt. And I'm not
trying to offend you,