“In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.” Hunter S. Thompson
I chose this quote to lead off my thoughts on hackers for a very specific reason. Hackers, in most cases, are thieves. Yes, there are some who hack to prove a point but do not remove a thing. Either way, a hacker shares the same trait as a thief suggested by Hunter S. Thompson.
But, dont think that hackers are stupid. In fact, hackers are probably far smarter and more capable from a technical standpoint than the bulk of the information technology folks with degrees sitting in companies across the world (I know I just made a few folks I know angry with that comment).
But let me let you in on another secret. We need hackers. Hackers are in many ways good for the corporate, economic and social machine.
Gasp! Blasphemy you say! Look what they just did to Sony and the Playstation! They took credit card data from millions of users!
Please understand that I am not suggesting that hackers are white knights. They do horrible things. They ruin people’s lives by stealing and selling their identity, draining their bank accounts, or stealing very important and sensitive information. All of these things are very, very bad. But, let’s ponder for a moment what value hackers bring to society.
Last year, McAfee was bought by Intel for $7.86 billion. They had generated approximately $2 billion in revenue in 2009 alone. They had over 6,100 employees under the roof. As yourself one simple question – would McAfee had existed in this scope and size without hackers? Quite simply, the answer is no.
Hackers create jobs, companies and real economic revenue. Individuals and businesses want to be protected from the dreaded hacker or virus (BTW, I see the folks who write viruses as vigilante hackers who wish to prove a point versus steal. Regardless, they are still creating something to break into your systems and wreak havoc). What is more interesting is that because the average hacker is smarter than the average programmer, you need multiple programmers to work on building platforms to protect from the damage the hacker creates. Every hacker is worth a handful of jobs when you consider programmers, project managers, middle management etc.
We also must consider another multiplier effect. There is not a major industry today that has not been attacked by one type of hacker or another. The frequency of attacks has become ferocious. But this increase in proliferation and sophistication has created a similar expansion in the technology to protect against it. Why is that important?
Businesses today put in systems to protect their databases even if they have never been attacked. They are preventative. The depth and breadth of protection created and deployed in the market today is breathtaking. The systems an individual uses at home today are factors beyond what a large company would have deployed just 10 years ago. What does this all mean?
We are better prepared and safer now than ever before from hackers. Think about this, if there were just a few good hackers, would our technology be as good and as wide spread as it is today? No. Therefore, most businesses and industries we would have been more vulnerable to attack by a small band of hackers. They could feast for years on our information before a ground swell became large enough to build a massive industry to defend against them.
I know it sounds counter intuitive, but the same thing can be said for a military force. If you have two armies, one that has simply trained but rarely fought (say the Brazilian Army), versus one that has been at war constantly (say the Israeli Army), which one is better suited to protect and fight? The choice is obvious. You must have the experiences to learn from to be best equipped to defend.
So lets turn back to the Sony story. Sony will now go back and harden the Playstation system. They will innovate and build. They will possibly create a security platform that will be copied by the industry. In the end, they world will be a better place after they do this.
I know this post may upset some folks out there. But the reality is that Hackers have created billions of dollars of commerce and entire industries that employ tens of thousands of people. Without them, a good piece of today’s U.S. service economy would exist. Sad but true.
So I leave you with this final quote. This one is also sad but true.
“Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it. “ Gilbert K. Chesterton