MIT Hackers Spark Debate: Fight hackers or their programs?

By Nik

Inspired By A Current Scenario:

Hackers are a big problem for the internet industry and a world supported by computers. If hacking became a larger movement, like terrorism, would we target the programs and keep the hackers in plain view, or target the hackers themselves?  And what does Google do in their situation with black hatters?

This hits home with the recent situation faced by a group of MIT hackers. The Boston Herald wrote: “One of the MIT computer hackers who uncovered flaws in the (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) CharlieCard system that would let passengers swipe free rides said he and his classmates offered to show T officials how to fix the problem, but instead were hauled into court and barred from speaking about their work.

“We made first contact,” said Zack Anderson, 21, a Los Angeles native, who majors in electronic engineering and computer science. “We wanted to let them know what we found and we wanted to tell them some ideas we had on how they could fix that system … We felt like the issue was resolved. That was verbally affirmed in a Monday meeting. Then Friday we find out there’s a federal lawsuit against us.”… “

What I Think Is An Argument for Fighting the Programs:

Many can argue that the desire to hack is akin to a criminal’s desire to cheat society for one’s own benefit, so let’s assume our country’s top criminal, Osama Bin Laden, is the hacker and his circuit of terrorists is his program.

Well… to counteract his programs, our country (the US) puts up physical firewalls like the planned Mexico border wall. We also have automated spam filters like phone tapping and manual quarantines like Guantanamo Bay. These projects, though intrusive to many and subjectively skewed towards inaccuracy due to human error and/or instinct, effectively help the US keep up with threats to its safety. The key arguments here are that by fighting the programs, it:

1. Keeps the focus of the criminals on their tactics and their deployment and not on the art of allusion.

2. Helps track the movements of the criminals because they become more well-known over time and easier to spot.

3. Saves time and money because if we always went after the top criminals, it would be a major waste of resources trying to identify up-and-coming threats.

What I Think Is An Argument for Fighting the Hackers:

Keeping with the idea of hacking being the virtual world’s form of terrorism, we’ll assume that Osama Bin Laden was caught within a short period of time after the 9/11 attacks. This would be the approach of targeting the hacker. For starters, the risk-reward scenario for deploying threats against the US would surely be shaken up. Rather than taking Giuliani’s approach to cleaning up NYC that targeted the small-time criminals to instill fear in the big time criminals, this would be telling all large investors and big-time crooks that their time at the top will be short-lived and their downfall inglorious like the fall and execution of Saddam Hussein (yeah… that happened).

This approach helps weed out the ballsy by making the risk far too probable and keeps the threat contained to the passionate. The passionate, I would assume, mix emotion with execution making them easier to spot and places them on pulpits rather than airplanes – it makes them clumsy and fragments the strong organization needed to be a threat. The fear forces individuals to operate with a contingency plan of self-preservation and demystifies the unconditional sense of fraternity needed for a group to be a violent dissension. In short, it forces the criminal to be focused on alluding punishment and allocate his or her resources towards that affect. I assume this is why the US system uses punishment to set precedent as it makes clear what we will tolerate and what we will not. When executed properly, it makes the rule of law clear, fair and proactive towards countering crime.

SEO Viewpoint – The Approach That Google Takes:

I see Google taking the first approach. They allow the black hatters to share their knowledge, temporarily exploit holes in their algorithm and permeate their tactics throughout the SEO field. It makes us smarter. It makes them more prepared. Allowing the voice of the unethical to be heard makes their tactics transparent, and it makes Google’s challenges clear and their algorithm pushing more towards intelligent, rather than just smart.

It’s the argument for why you shouldn’t do unethical SEO tactics. Sure, Google will leave you alone and they won’t punish you personally, but the fruits of your labor will go rotten sooner than you’d wish. And God forbid you were playing around with a client’s website. That makes their website the program; it will eventually get destroyed, as will your reputation. Learn from black hatters and see why Google may have opened themselves up to a certain vulnerability – every vulnerability is there because Google was trying to accomplish something helpful to its users; even when the tactics no longer work to exploit these pockets of opportunity, Google’s initial goals for its users will still remain and you can target those in an ethical way.  I wonder if the same approach would be taken if lives were at risk.

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