The "computer underground'' is a label that has been used by the media over the last twenty years or so and is familiar to most people. It is a culture of hackers, phreaks, pirates, fraudsters and others, but most people just think of the hackers, as portrayed in the media.
Like any "underground'' communities, it tends to be a loose affiliation of different groups rather than any type of cohesive unit.
Video piracy has been around since the early days of video recording and software piracy from the beginning of software. There are many people who delight in getting early copies of new popular software and games or movies, books etc. - anything in digital form that people pay for. Some of these people do it for fun, to be the first or because they believe that such material should be made available free of charge. There are many others of course who just do this for money and often take what the amateurs have released and make their money from it.
This is fraud, but that is too simple a view. In the early days of PC software, piracy was how a lot of software spread and became popular and some makers realised that and didn’t chase the pirates. But nowadays it is mostly about being first or making money.
The word “hackers” used to mean people who wrote programming code but has come to mean people who access systems without authorisation. “White Hat” meaning people on the side of the law and their methods and “Black Hat” meaning lawbreakers and the methods they use.
Most cop shows on TV e.g. CSI, NCIS, Castle etc include hackers in their teams to catch the bad guys.
The name ‘phreakers’ is less commonly used and just means hackers who use phone systems rather than computer systems.
Hackers can see what they do as a challenge and want to see which government or big organisations they can hack into, often without any malicious intent. Don’t forget a lot of these people are just teenagers. Of course there are many who do this for money or political reasons and as we know from recent scandals, governments can be the biggest hackers of all. .
Hackers are largely as portrayed on TV, single teenage males who enjoy being part of an illicit community.
The authorities do chase and apprehend hackers, especially if damage is done or the hackers gain access to government information.
Representation in the Media
The film “War Games” was the first one to really reach the public consciousness with a hero who hacked his school grades then became indispensable in stopping a runaway department of defence computer intent on firing nuclear weapons. It’s also a very entertaining film.
Since then, lots of movies and TV programmes have included hackers – of both the good and bad varieties.
More recently, the latest incarnation of the series CSI was CSI:Cyber in 2015 which focused on cyber crimes and used largely ex cyber criminals to catch the new bad guys. This series highlighted some of the ways that bad guys use cyber skills to cheat people or just get what they want. It also showed how vulnerable a lot of organisations are to cyber attacks and the damage that can be done. It was interesting but was cancelled after 2 series. The lead actor in the show was Patricia Arquette.
Hackers and piracy are here to stay with us. The computer underground will likely continue to grow and computers and hacking become ever more important parts of our lives. The number of fraudsters using computer systems, emails etc. to steal from people grows each year as does the effort by the authorities to stop it. It seems that computers systems become ever more complex and that unfortunately leads to more security holes that can be used with malicious intent.
Many in the computer underground are teenagers who just treat their activities as learning experiences, but too many are in it for money and stealing that from others.
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