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Hacking, a full stomach, and ethics

2013-09-11 13:37:00, erdgeist

In a pre-print of an interview from the next issue of the club magazine "Die Datenschleuder", the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) tells the story of a hacker whose software was sold to several governments in the Middle East (among others) that used it to spy on the opposing political forces. To which means and ends should hackers use their talents? In today's world, is it still possible to ignore what happens with the results of one's own drive to hack, research and tinker?

At its previous congress, the 29C3, the CCC posed the rhetorical question whether the consequences of our actions are "not my department". They had a reason to do so. In an increasing fashion, governments, the military, and intelligence agencies regard networks and digital devices as a field of conflict which may very well escalate to a war. That is why highly specialized experts in the area of IT security must face the question what they do with their talents, and for whom they decide to work.

Could it be that hackers who want to survive have no choice but to profit from the ongoing militarization of the digital world and rent their talents out to the highest bidder?

Immediately before the 32nd anniversary of the CCC's founding, the editors of "Die Datenschleuder" were offered an interview by a dropout from one of those shady businesses that have recently come under heavy critique. Now that it has become unfashionable to ship surveillance equipment to countries that have a rather economical relationship to human rights, glimpses into the dark side of IT security research get more common. However, this interview is the first time we are really able to shed a little light on how easy it is to slip on the wrong side of the tracks, but also that this way is not necessarily a one way street.

The story of this hacker, which we have documented here as a pre-print, vividly describes how working in this area of IT resembles a walk along a razor's edge, and how easy it is to lose one's way and act contrary to one's own moral standards without even noticing it.

It also tells about the immense efforts that need to be undertaken to regain a clean consciousness. It may be necessary to end friendships, take financial and social risks for oneself, one's friends and one's family and accept inconvenient truths – and draw consequences.

But it is also a story full of hope that ends – for now – with a successful middle sized company with bright perspectives for the future that is not dependent on customers with a shady or military background.

Therefore, the story is a wake up call for all those who have ever found themselves in a similar situation and think they have to choose between their conscience and their social and financial commitments. There is a life after dropping out of the field of surveillance and digital assault – and it is better than before.

An English version of the pre-print will follow soon.