The Erosion of Hacking Ethics

Mitew (2014) said that hacking culture began in the 80’s with the appearance of the personal computer. During this period, it was the expansion of computer technology, the declining prices of personal computers, and the appearance of modems that allowed this, which excited computer hobbyists because they could now connect with other computers and each other (Thomas 2005, pp. 602-603).

The ethics surrounding hacking at this time are well described by Julian Assange in an article by Raffi Khatchadourian (2010), Assange said, “Don’t damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don’t change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information.” Thomas (2005) also looks at the early ethics of hacking in its ‘Golden Age’ in deference to Levy, whom says that these ethics have declined since their formation (pg. 605).

Though hacking was built upon noble morals, the actions behind hacker’s motives were viewed as unethical, which led to demonization by the media with the help of incidents like: the accidental release of the first internet worm that froze around 6000 computers; and the Legion of Doom incident where a company employee for Steve Jackson Games was thought to have engaged in hacking from his home personal computer, and because of the nature of the company – a science fiction and fantasy games publisher – the US Secret Service surmised that the company was engaged in hacking too, and thus, raided the company and confiscated equipment, files, game manuals, and other resources (Thomas 2005, pg. 611).

Hackers are now embroiled in the dark side of the web and engage in activities that can be deemed criminal activity. Although, as we have seen, there are some examples of current day hackers that follow the ways of the old, such as Julian Assange.


Khatchadourian, R 2010, No Secrets, New Yorker, 7 June, viewed 7 October 2015,

Mitew, T 2014, Digital Resistance: Hacktivists, Whistleblowers, #AfterSnowden [Part 1], Online Video, YouTube, viewed 7 October 2015,

Thomas, J 2005, The Moral Ambiguity of Social Control in Cyberspace: a Retro-Assessment of the ‘Golden Age’ of Hacking, New Media & Society, Vol. 7, No. 5, pp. 599-624.

Image by Almonroth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons –

I have modified the image.