What makes hackers tick?

Why do hackers do what they do?  Are they motivated by something?  Altruism?  Greed?  Strafor examined this in one of their recent articles, parts of which I have below with some additional comments from me.

The personal motivations driving individual hackers are virtually infinite. But there are a handful of dominant ideologies that can offer insight into the mindsets and motivations of much of the larger hacker community. Not all hackers subscribe to or are driven by these beliefs, but most are shaped or affected by them in some fashion.

Any discussion of these ideologies must begin with the basic Hacker Ethic, the founding principle of the hacker community.

Hacker Ethic

Interpretation of this ethic can vary, but it essentially entails the following beliefs:

  • Information should be free and accessible to all.
  • Access to computers should be unlimited.
  • Computers and the Internet can be a force for the betterment of humanity.
  • Authority is not to be trusted.
  • The principle of decentralization goes hand-in-hand with all of the above.

These fundamental principles, and variations thereof, are commonly held in the hacker community and have evolved over time into some of the ideologies described below.


The basic principles of exploration — an outgrowth of the Hacker Ethic and the first ideology many hackers adopt — are to look into every corner of the Internet and bypass any security simply for the sake of improving skills and learning how to navigate cyberspace covertly.  As a side note, I've been known to do this when playing around trying to improve my Linux skills - play trying out new commands to see what they do.  That's how I acquired skill in awk and xargs.  Of course, I wasn't trying to break into anything at the time.

In the process, explorationists generally try to leave no trace and to avoid any damage to the system (which would, inherently, be evidence of their intrusion). The better an explorationist is, the better they are at hiding their steps.  Of course, sometimes ego can get in the way.  Not me, though.  I'm the least egotistical person I know.

Many of this ideology’s tenets originate from newer versions of the Hacker Ethic — especially the white-hat version, which emphasizes benevolent rather than malevolent actions.


Another outgrowth of the original Hacker Ethic is informationism, which holds that information should be allowed to flow freely throughout the Internet and, by extension, throughout all human societies. Hackers who embrace this ideology often have specific areas of interest they monitor to identify developments and actors that they might perceive to be limiting the free flow of information. Once these hackers identify constraints, they attempt to remove them by a variety of means, from simply rerouting data to removing security protocols to staging comprehensive network attacks — essentially making that information free through force.

When I read the book "Spam Kings", there was a brand of informationism.  Whenever somebody would post a spammer's contact information, piles of more anti-spammers would mirror that data and repost it on their own sites.  Authorities might be able to shut down the original poster, but they couldn't catch them all (like Pokemon).  In effect, anti-spammers would ensure free access to information, namely the identity of known spammers, by sheer volume.

In my next post, I'll get to a few more motivations.

Comments (2)
  1. News says:

    Why do hackers do what they do? Are they motivated by something? Altruism? Greed? Strafor examined this

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