Are Hackers Selling Out?

By: Space Rogue -Hacker News Network

November 30, 1998

Have the true underground hackers sold out? Does information still yearn to be free or has the quest for the almighty dollar changed the underground as we know it?

Last week a major hacking web site announced that they will start a members only pay area on their web site. AntiOnline has recently received venture capital funding and has a staff of approximately 30 people. Hacking institutions such as Cult of the Dead Cow and L0phT Heavy Industries sell CD's and T-shirts. Even the Hacker News Network carries advertising on its web site.

Has hacking become so marketable and trendy that people aren't hacking anymore? The way things look it would seem that Hollywood has finally succeeded in making what was a small underground subculture the next big thing on Madison Avenue.

And what about the information that yearns to be free? It is still out there just don't count those shiny CD-ROMS for $29.95 plus shipping.

The high costs of internet connections, directory space and high traffic web sites have led many hackers as well as people who just want to make a quick buck to charge for access. At the very least they have started to host advertising banners from the likes of Microsoft Hot Mail, Macy's, and even Volvo. In some cases companies are displaying their ads directly above web pages that describe how to hack their products.

While possibly compromising the so called 'hacker ethic' many of todays hackers still try to hold true to their belief systems while still being able to pay the bills. cDc sells T-Shirts, watches, bumper stickers and I've heard rumors of temporary tatoos but look what they have given away for free. Over 300 of the best underground text-files covering several years of technology are available from their web site free of charge. Back Orifice, the most talked about and feared hacking tool since Satan, has been given away to the public for just the cost of a download.

L0phT Heavy Industries also sells T-shirts, CD-ROMs, and even L0phTCrack is for sale. However, they give away the source code to their software and make gigabytes of hacking files and programs available to anyone to download. They host some the premier hacking sites on the net free of charge such as the Tezcat Archives, Black Crawling Systems and The Whacked Mac Archives.

"We feel it is important to give back to the community" said Mudge, a L0phT member, in a recent interview. "Everything on our CDs is available for free on our web site. We sell the gui version of L0phtCrack and make the command line version free." he said. Then he laughed and added "Hackers don't use gui's anyway."

Then there are those that don't care, those who only want your money and have no willingness or desire to 'give back to the community'. Those are the web sites that promise the best hacking files but all you can find are pages and pages of ads with annoying popup windows begging you to click some banners to help pay for this truly 'elite' site. Its almost as bad as the online pornography business.

Then there are those who will suck down a few megabytes of files from the web. Slap the word 'elite' on it and sell it on CD for thirty dollars as 'just released hacking files, Not available anywhere else.'

Don't forget those elite members only hacking sites that claim to offer the latest and greatest 'not available anywhere else' archives. For the low price of twenty dollars a month you get access to the latest and greatest two year old files that you probably already had. Or worse yet they don't even have a members area. They take your money and when your password doesn't work they blame it on your browser or how much RAM you don't have in your machine.

The underground landscape has definitely changed. There are still people and groups who are trying their best in a capitalist society to do what they think is right. They are trying to give away as much of the information that they can while at the same time still be able to pay for the costs associated with giving that information away. Then there are others who are just looking to make a buck.

While there are definitely people who have 'sold-out' it is important to look at the whole picture before using that label. While one hacking web site may have advertising, or a hacking group may sell T-Shirts or CDs it is important to considered the whole picture before using the sell-out label.