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Describe the Five Social Norms of Hacker Subculture and Provide an Example of Each

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From North America to South America to Asia, computer-related misconduct is an ever-growing problem in the public and the private sectors for many reasons. Almost every nation either it is industrial or developing is becoming increasingly dependent on new digital information technologies to perform legal, commercial and governmental functions. These new information technologies have contributed a lot towards social wellbeing in a vast number of advantageous ways but they have also exposed a number of important interests to possible invasions or attacks.

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Without the hackers of the 1960s, the PC industry would never have found the success that it experiences today. In fact, computer hobbyists wrote much of the original software. Hacker culture evolved from the DIY component of the first PC. Today’s modern computer owner would not recognize the primitive interface of the first PC. In order to operate their computers, purchasers needed a basic understanding of the mechanics, processors, and inputs/outputs of the system. During this time period, the hacker identity developed from PC owners’ distinctive methods of communication and fascination with the machines. In a way, computers isolate their users from the rest of the physical community and social scene. Sociologist Graeme Kirkpatrick states, “people who lacked social skills could be drawn into a relationship with the machine that would impair their psychological development and inhibit both their capacity and desire to understand others”. It is human nature to seek outside sources for personal fulfillment. In this case, hackers can find an escape from their unfulfilling social lives within cyberspace. The more an individual feels separated from mainstream society, the more likely that person will be to participate in software anarchy. Although dominant culture assigns a great deal of undeserved stigma to the hacker identity, some empirical truth does underlie the socially-isolated hacker stereotype. Part of the reason hacker subculture is so widely misunderstood is that there does not exist a consistent, widely agreed upon definition of the hacker. Researchers have not recorded as many direct observations of hacker activity in academic literature compared to other prominent subcultures. This lack of empirical evidence has allowed for biased interpretations of complex activity, some that may appear criminal to uneducated individuals. Sociologist Kall Loper has developed a typology of hackers based on subculture theory. He uses historical data, media sources, self-identification techniques, and foundational materials to empirically define hacker subcultural and deviance. Labeling theory suggests that the dominant culture defines the social norms and has the power to assign deviant labels to groups that violate these unspoken customs and values. While many individuals place blame on hackers’ extreme stance on privacy and anonymity for the subculture’s deviant label, they neglect to acknowledge that the driving force behind this anonymity resides in the label itself, which often forces the subculture participants underground. Hackers’ deviant labels, assigned to them by outsiders who hold social power, indirectly cause the suspect behavior that people blame for increased rates of cybercrime.

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One of the more difficult issues faced by researchers interested in hackers is in defining these individuals and their behavior. There are now several terms attached to the hacker, as well as different sub-classifications. For the purposes of this dissertation, I define a hacker as any individual with a profound interest in computers and technology that has used this knowledge to access computer systems with or without authorization from the system owners. Authorization is critical because individuals who hack without it are committing a crime. Those with permission, however, are not technically breaking the law. Thus, my definition recognizes both criminal and non-criminal hackers. Individuals who perform hacks or related behaviors are also included in my research definition. Specifically, I include anyone who has engaged in phone phreaking, software cracking, malware writing or programming, wardriving, or posting in hacker web forums. Each of these activities are related to hacking and may be performed by hackers. Phone phreaking involves hacking into or utilizing telephone networks for illegal activities. While some have suggested this behavior constitutes a separate category of computer crime, hackers often break into telephone systems to assist in accomplishing hacks. The same can be said for software cracking, which involves overcoming copy protection devices in software to copy and distribute them. Likewise, writing or programming malware software such as viruses and trojan horse programs is a growing computer crime problem and has been connected to hackers or traveling with equipment to identify wireless networks and exploit or attack them is also an increasingly common behavior among hackers. I also include persons who post in hacker web forums, as these are frequented by both aspiring and experienced hackers. Web forums are one of the primary places a novice hacker can visit to connect with others and ask questions. Thus, these forums provide a way to bring individuals into hacker subculture. Observing the enculturation process of hackers is critical for this research, and is the reason I include people who post in these forums in the research definition. While such an expansive definition may seem unnecessary, the hacker population represents individuals with a broad spectrum of personal motivations, skills, and activities. For example, one of the more inclusive definitions from outside the hacking world is from the Jargon File. This text document, which defines and translates hacker slang, provides eight different definitions for a hacker, ranging from the 1960s concept of a skilled computer user, to contemporary applications of someone who maliciously attempts to ìdiscover sensitive information by poking aroundî (Thomas, D., and Loader, B. D. 2000). The emphasis on gaining unauthorized access to computer systems is key to the notion of hackers that has been promulgated in the popular media over the last decade (Wall, D.S. 1999).

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Usually, while prior attempts have been made to explain this disparity, few, if any, explore the role of subculture in this gendered divide. Drawing from feminist theories, subcultural theory, and cultural criminology, this theoretical analysis examines the intersection of gender, social structure, hegemony, situated action, and subculture to argue that hacker subculture is (1) male-dominated and androcentric, (2) mired in language, like meritocratic rhetoric, which masks inequity, and (3) conducive to forms of sexual harassment and gendered exclusion. Implications for hacking research and subcultural theory are discussed throughout.

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Thomas, D., and Loader, B. D. 2000. Introduction- cybercrime: law enforcement, security, and surveillance in the information age. Pp.1-14 in Thomas, D. and Loader, B.D. (Eds.)

Cybercrime: Law enforcement, security and surveillance in the information age. New York: Routledge.

Turkle, S. 1984. The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit. New York: Simon and Schuster. U.K. National Computing Centre. 1994. IT Security Breaches Survey Summary. Manchester, U.K.: National Computing Centre.

Voiskonsky, A.E., Babaeva, J.D., and Smyslova, O.G. 2000. Attitudes towards computer hacking in Russia. Pp. 56-84 in Thomas, D. and Loader, B.D. (Eds.) Cybercrime: Law enforcement, security and surveillance in the information age. New York: Routledge.

Wall, D.S. 1999. Cybercrimes: New wine, no bottles? In Davies, P., Jupp, V., and Francis, P. (Eds.) Invisible Crimes. London: Macmillan.

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Describe the Five Social Norms of Hacker Subculture and Provide an Example of Each
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