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Hacker ethic

The hacker ethic is either:

  • The belief that information-sharing is a powerful positive good, and that it is an ethical duty of hackers to share their expertise by writing free (libre) software and facilitating access to information and computing resources wherever possible.


  • The belief that system hacking for fun and exploration is ethically OK as long as the hacker commits no theft, vandalism, or breach of confidentiality.

Both of these normative ethical principles are widely, but by no means universally, accepted among hackers. The first, and arguably the second, emerged from the MIT AI lab during the 60's and 70's.

Most hackers subscribe to the hacker ethic in the first sense, and many act on it by writing free software - "free" in the "unfettered" sense, where the user has permission to study, modify, and redistribute it. More recently this is also called open source software, libre software, or FLOSS. A few go further and assert that it is immoral to prevent computer users from sharing or altering software. This is the philosophy behind the GNU project.

The second sense is more controversial: some people consider the act of hacking afoul of the government itself to be unethical, like breaking and entering into an office. But the belief that `ethical' cracking excludes destruction at least moderates the behavior of people who see themselves as `benign' crackers (see also samurai, gray hat). On this view, it may be one of the highest forms of hackerly courtesy to (a) break into a system, and then (b) explain to the sysop, preferably by email from a superuser account, exactly how it was done and how the hole can be plugged -- acting as an unpaid (and unsolicited) tiger team.

The most reliable manifestation of either version of the hacker ethic is that almost all hackers are actively willing to share technical tricks, software, and (where possible) computing resources with other hackers. Huge cooperative networks such as Usenet, FidoNet and the Internet itself can function without central control because of this trait; they both rely on and reinforce a sense of community that may be hackerdom's most valuable intangible asset.

See also

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45