computer underground



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, but