More detailed than realism paintings, more intricate than gothic architecture, computer coding is art on the smallest scale comprehendible. Is it not art that humans have learned to control electrons—electrons—to do our will? Thanks to those negatively charged balls, the smallest freaking thing in the universe, I can have a full blown conversation with my sister, who is sipping coffee in Italy, from the United freaking States. Like, what?! I guess, technically, it’s not even her voice I’m hearing, it’s just electrons pretending to be her. A step further, the picture of my cousin’s new baby is just electrons. The stock market, electrons. Government security, electrons. Siri, electrons. Netflix, electrons. Online pornography, electrons. This article, electrons. Every important, virtual thing in the world, electrons. All this because someone is a master at controlling electrons. Is computer code an art form? You better believe it.
I hope I’ve stimulated some thought in that bag of water and electrons in your head. But now, consider this: if all this is possible thanks to the art of controlling electrons, what happens when people begin to exploit them? The old saying, “Anything you can do, I can do better,” is, for some people, the meaning of life; and for hackers, this adage motivates to do amazing, crazy things.
Consider for a moment a locksmith (like a legit one that makes legit locks). The locksmith crafts a lock to be impenetrable, working delicately to make every chamber, pin, and bluff perfect. Now consider the lock-picker. He knows every inch of that lock just as well as the locksmith does—anything you can do, I can do. The moment the lock-picker starts to find and exploit the flaws, he becomes better; he beats the locksmith at his own game.
This is what makes a hacker an artist. The hacker finds and exploits the imperfections of art, making it better or destroying it to nothing.
“The Evolution of Hacking,” an article written by Jose Pagliery and published by CNN gives a quite insightful look into the history of hacking. Basically, hacking started in the 1970’s when teenagers found a flaw in AT&T’s system that allowed them to make free international calls (I wish that flaw still existed so I wouldn't have to donate a kidney every time I want to call my Italian sister). You may have heard of one of these teens. His name was Steve Freaking Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc. Nobody considered technology and coding as an art form more than he did, and we all know what he ended up doing with his life. For a while, curiosity was the driving force for hackers. What could you do with a personal computer hooked up to the network? From there, hacking started to grow; more people began to exploit computer code in greater ways. In 1979, the government started to take notice when a hacker ran a simulation of a Soviet attack on U.S. servers, almost starting a nuclear war. Talk about an influential art piece.
The fascinating thing about hacking, and all other art forms for that matter, is that pieces that are considered “moral” are highly praised as art while pieces that are “immoral" are chastised and discarded. For example, when Filipino hackers developed the ILOVEYOU virus in 2000, damaging millions of computers worldwide, little considered the effort and craftsmanship required to find that big of a vulnerability within the Windows operating system; they revealed a hole that Microsoft needed to fix. However, when Anonymous, one of the most famous hacking groups of all time, recently hacked into a website on the “Dark Web,” deleting 75GB worth of child pornography, people praised them (Wikipedia).
As the internet grew, hacking became more accessible for interested artists. “As a result, law enforcement tolerance for hacking has fallen to zero. In 1999, the hacker Space Rogue exposed how FAO Schwarz's website was leaking consumer email addresses and forced the company to fix it. He was cheered. When Andrew Auernheimer (known as "weev") did the same thing to AT&T in 2010, he spent more than a year in prison until his case was overturned on a technicality” (Pagliery, CNN). Clearly, as time went on, hacking lost it’s “art” status in the eyes of society, becoming more of a “crime.” However, nothing has changed since the dawn of the art form; it is still intricate, eye-opening, influential, and methodical. The matrices of electrons within your computer continue to become more bewildering and complex as software artists improve their work. But are they safe? Has a hacker chosen your computer to be the canvas for the next influential art piece? After all, anything you can do, a hacker can do better.
This article is a virus. Please wipe your hard drive and reboot your system.
Pagliery, Jose. “The Evolution of Hacking.” CNN.
“Timeline of Events Associated with Anonymous.” Wikipedia.