The Ethics of the Hacker Taggers: The New Generation of Hackers

Matthew Warren


In the contemporary world, the latter interpretation is by far the more common (although persons belonging to the former category of hacker would seek to more accurately define the latter group, particularly those with a malicious intent, as ‘crackers’). Hackers are by no means a new threat and have routinely featured in news stories during the last two decades. Indeed, they have become the traditional ‘target’ of the media, with the standard approach being to present the image of either a ‘teenage whiz kid’ or an insidious threat. In reality, it can be argued that there are different degrees of the problem.

Donn Parker (Parker, 1976) highlighted that the individuals involved in computer crime in the 1960’s and 1970’s were employed as key punch operators or clerks in EDP organisation s and the crimes were crimes of opportunity. In the 1980’s with the development of cheaper home microcomputers and modems, a new generation of younger computer users emerged. One of the features of this younger group was a keen interest in the technologies that lead to the development of hackers.

Steven Levy’s book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (Levy, 1984) suggests that hackers operate by a code of Ethics. This code defines main key areas:

  • Hands On Imperative: Access to computers and hardware should be complete and total. It is asserted to be a categorical imperative to remove any barriers between people and the use and understanding of any technology, no matter how large, complex, dangerous, labyrinthine, proprietary, or powerful.
  • “Information Wants to Be Free”: can be interpreted in a number of ways. Free might mean without restrictions (freedom of movement = no censorship), without control (freedom of change/evolution = no ownership or authorship, no intellectual property), or without monetary value (no cost.)
  • Mistrust Authority: Promote decentralisation. This element of the ethic shows its strong anarchistic, individualistic, and libertarian nature. Hackers have shown distrust toward large institutions, including, but not limited to, the State, corporations, and computer administrative bureaucracies.
  • No Bogus Criteria: Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not by ‘bogus criteria’ such as race, age, sex, or position.
  • “You can create truth and beauty on a computer.” Hacking is equated with artistry and creativity. Furthermore, this element of the ethos raises it to the level of philosophy.
  • Computers can change your life for the better. In some ways, this last statement really is simply a corollary of the previous one. Since most of humanity desires things that are good, true, and/or beautiful.

During the 80’s and 90’s this pure vision of what hackers are was changed by the development of new groups within various aims and values. Mizrach (1997) states that the following individuals currently exist in cyber space:

  • Hackers (Crackers, system intruders) – These are people who attempt to penetrate security systems on remote computers. This is the new sense of the term, whereas the old sense of the term simply referred to a person who was capable of creating hacks, or elegant, unusual, and unexpected uses of technology.
  • Phreaks (Phone Phreakers, Blue Boxers) – These are people who attempt to use technology to explore and/or control the telephone system.
  • Virus writers (also, creators of Trojans, worms, logic bombs) – These are people who write code which attempts to a) reproduce itself on other systems without authorisation and b) often has a side effect, whether that be to display a message, play a prank, or destroy a hard drive.
  • Pirates – Originally, this involved breaking copy protection on software. This activity was called ‘cracking’. Nowadays, few software vendors use copy protection, but there are still various minor measures used to prevent the unauthorised duplication of software. Pirates devote themselves to thwarting these and sharing commercial software freely.
  • Cypherpunks (cryptoanarchists) – Cypherpunks freely distribute the tools and methods for making use of strong encryption, which is basically unbreakable except by massive supercomputers. Because American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, such as the NSA and FBI, cannot break strong encryption, programs that employ it are classified as munitions. Thus, distribution of algorithms that make use of it is a felony
  • Anarchists – are committed to distributing illegal (or at least morally suspect) information, including, but not limited to, data on bomb making, lock picking, pornography, drug manufacturing, and radio, cable and satellite TV piracy.
  • Cyberpunk – usually some combination of the above, plus interest in technological self-modification, science fiction and interest in hardware hacking and ‘street tech’.

But what about the hacking situation in the 2000’s. Professor Warren will discuss a new hacking sub groups that exist. This group are “Hacker Taggers”, these hackers deface web-sites with the sole intention of leaving a “Hacker Tagger or calling card” behind. This “tag” is updated against their score and their score is updated in their hacking competition. These hackers are focused on hacking as a competition and who will be the winner. The media has often mis-reported these activities as mass hacking or cyber terrorism. The presentation will focus upon the ethical views of this new hacking sub group and the impact that they have caused and the particular issues that this sub-group poses.


Levy, S (1984). Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Penguiun, ISBN 0385312105.

Mizrach S (1997) Is there a Hacker Ethic for 90s Hackers? URL: