23 July 2011


HACKER UNDERGROUND. The term "hacker" may refer simply to one who enjoys writing computer programming, and who may use that knowledge in ways that original software designers did not intend. But in recent years it has taken on a more perjorative connotation, i.e., one who writes computer programs to gain illegal access to a computer or computer network. In the latter usage, hackers may invade other's computers for entertainment, for the challenge, to show off their skills to other hackers, or with a specific goal in mind ~ for instance, corporate sabotage to further a social cause. Julian Assange of WikiLeaks is a prominent example of the "hacktivist" movement, and so is the group Anonymous, which has committed numerous cyberattacks in the name of civil disobedience. Seen wearing their trademark Guy Fawkes masks in the image above, members of Anonymous have provoked much controversy in the computer security industry and in social media conversation threads.

Here is an informative PBS Need To Know interview with Gabriella Coleman, a professor of media, culture, and communication at New York University. Coleman explains some of the broader implications of hacker activism, and introduces a few of the key players like Anonymous.

Lest there be any doubt, whatever one's elevated motivations, hacking is illegal without the express consent of the targeted entities. As was true with the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing corporate or government malfeasance does carry the risk of arrest, trial, and possible imprisonment. If you suspect that your computer has been hacked, there are a number of measures you can take to protect your files and identity, and to trace the hackers. Assuming that your computer already has virus/malware protection, perhaps your first step might be to contact a security firm to test the effectiveness of that protection. If you feel you are the victim of an unauthorized hacker, you can contact the U.S. Department of Justice at their cybercrime website.

HALE-BOPP. Difficult to believe that sixteen years have already passed since the discovery of Comet Hale-Bopp. As Wikipedia notes, Hale-Bopp (see image below, click to enlarge) "was arguably the most widely observed comet of the 20th century, and one of the brightest seen for many decades. It was visible to the eye for a record 18 months," and reached maximum brightness as it passed perihelion (its closest approach to the sun) on April 1, 1997. At the time I lived in the foothills northeast of Vancouver, Washington, and one of my fondest memories is watching the comet from a forest clearing with my son. For some experiences, words are completely inadequate.

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