Honor among thieves

When I first started on the college newspaper as opinion editor (1999ish), I wrote a piece about the recently arrested-and-jailed Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. You might remember he made a 20-year habit of mailing pipe bombs from a cabin in the woods of Lincoln, Montana, where he had moved in the early 1970s to live as a recluse.

By 25 years old, Kaczynski had a PhD in mathematics and an assistant professorship.

He was finally caught when he wrote a piece titled Industrial Society and Its Future (also called the Unabomber Manifesto), and his brother said, "Hmm, that sounds like Ted. Better go check on him."

The piece I wrote for The Westerner said something to the effect of, "We're in this new age; households are starting to get the Internet, and here's this astoundingly smart guy rotting in prison. Let's put him to work. He could be highly supervised and still confined, but let's not waste that brain."

Watch Misha Glenny's video. He makes a few points about hackers that are about the same.

– There was a hacker marketplace called Carderplanet, where, among other things, people would sell stolen credit card numbers. How do you trust sellers and buyers, especially when each knows the other is a criminal? Glenny asks. [Aside: Well, at least you know the other is a criminal, unlike in the "legit" business world.] But they figured out a system.

– Many of the world's best hackers who have been arrested (so they can be observed) have some things in common. An aptitude for math and science; social skills online but not in person (possibly, and in some cases definitely, reflective of Asperger's); and a development of computer programing skills in their early or mid teens, while their moral compass was still developing.

– Many of them would operate as successfully in the legitimate business world as they did in hackerspaces, if governments and corporations (a) understood how to bring them on board (like China does, by the way, and they're doing it even with known criminals now working for the government) and (b) simply went on faith that a hacker was going to leave a way for him or herself to get back in, so they just had to deal with it.

Break the mold. Change what you deem acceptable. If you're not in a place to reward others for boldness, get bold. Disobey.

What are you doing today that's awesome?

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