Dr. Mark Humphrys

School of Computing. Dublin City University.

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Hacking Ethics - A Lecture

You are walking home on a summer evening. The sun is shining and the streets are quiet. You pass by a house and notice the front door is swinging open. Do you:

Finding security holes in multi-user, shared systems is no big deal. It happens all the time. The novelty will soon wear off.

In the early days of computing and the Internet, exploiting security holes looked clever. Now, however, it looks like (b).

So computers are novel to you?
Get over it. Shared computers are no more novel than shared buildings.

The shared file system at DCU

You find that protections are incorrectly set, and you can delete someone's project. Do you:

Good rule:

When you are exploring, don't ever type a command that would be destructive if the system protection was flawed. e.g. Don't see if you have permission to delete a file by typing:

$ rm file
It might work! And then you're in trouble.

Most hackers attack the innocent

Contrary to the movies, most virus writers and hackers don't attack powerful corporations and the military. They attack random, innocent, harmless people.

Most hacking looks like this:

A trusts B.
B betrays that trust by attacking A.
Most virus writing looks like this:
Pick n people at random from the phone book. Powerless, ordinary people just trying to get by. And cause misery for them. Give them lots of extra work, and perhaps serious pain, for no reason.
Attack hospitals, libraries, museums and other public goods that you are lucky to have.
Find stressed, underfunded charities, and cause extra meaningless work for them.
Delete people's sentimental messages from their lovers, and laugh at them.
Make small businesses, people like your own parents, go bankrupt, and mock them as you do so.

Do something useful

If you want to be a great hacker, do something useful. Stop attacking random harmless people and get involved in the fight for free speech on the Internet.

This is a serious fight, involving ordinary people with technology defeating the efforts of governments, military and powerful organisations (like religions) around the world to stifle free speech, discussion and thought. It's a serious business around the world. People go to jail for the freedom to speak and publish on the Internet.

Example: Internet in China

Google China

ancientbrain.com      w2mind.org      humphrysfamilytree.com

On the Internet since 1987.

Wikipedia: Sometimes I link to Wikipedia. I have written something In defence of Wikipedia. It is often a useful starting point but you cannot trust it. Linking to it is like linking to a Google search. A starting point, not a destination. I automatically highlight in red all links to Wikipedia and Google search and other possibly-unreliable user-generated content.