TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: High School Student Charged in Computer Hacking Scheme

Re: High School Student Charged in Computer Hacking Scheme
19 Dec 2006 10:08:00 -0800

nonoise wrote:

> Douane D. James wrote:
> Leaving aside the moral question, I feel compelled to ask "Why was
> anyone surprised?". Hollywood has glorified computer thievery and
> hacking for years, with films such as "War Games" showing EXACTLY this
> offense, and "Swordfish" portraying a computer expert receiving sexual
> favors while breaking into a government site.

Hollywood has glorified crime and gangsters since film was invented.
People blame Hollywood movies and TV as being a bad influence, but I
don't think a correlation has ever been proven. Kids' shows in my
generation were leftover old cartoons and Three Stooges; both had
plenty of extreme violence. Today's kids have cute and lovable PBS
offerings and sitcoms that avoid violence and other vices; yet kids
are just as or even more violent than in the past.

In any event, long before Hollywood even knew what a computer was and
put it on film, kids in my high school did exactly the same
thing -- peering over someone's shoulder or rifling a desk to find a
password. In our day it was merely slow Teletype access with very
limited capability, the point is that kids still did it without being

> The criminal charges being thrown at this young man are, of course, an
> over-reaction, attributable to the embarrassment he has caused those
> in charge of the system, and especially to those in charge of those in
> charge.

> IMNSHO, this was an incident waiting to happen: an attractive nuisance
> no different than a stepladder left leaning against the side of a
> building where children could use it and thereby be injured. We don't
> blame children for climbing ladders: it's what children do.

I couldn't disagree more.

When I was a kid in public school, our parents and school taught us
about privacy. Just because something was unlocked or even open did
not mean it was ok to go through it, be it a closet, a teacher's desk,
another student's belongings, etc. If a student offered the excuse
"well, it was open", he/she got an even worse punishment.

We were taught as kids that we were only allowed to go where we were
specifically authorized, if we weren't authorized, we could not go
there or touch it, etc. The excuse "nobody told us we couldn't"
didn't fly. We were expected, even at a young age, to use common
sense. We are taught over and over again to respect other people's
proeprty and good manenrs*. Stealing the teacher's rollbook--easy to
do if anyone wanted to -- and making unathorized changes was wrong.
Doing it via computer is just as wrong and inexcusable.

If someone leaves a $20 bill or a nickel on top of their desk it does
not mean anyone walking by may take it. A computer log-on is no
different. It may be prudent to keep money and log-ons under lock,
but if we fail to the blame is still 100% the thief, not us.

Criminal charges are appropriate in this particular case. It would be
one thing if the kid just merely looked around (read only) but didn't
change anything (though still wrong.) But by changing grades he
crossed the line. There probably is some long-existing criminal
statute about unauthorized changes to official records; again, be it
by pen or computer doesn't matter. That access was easy or not
doesn't matter. Indeed, even if a teacher left his/her computer
logged on and a kid snuck in that way doesn't excuse the illegal act.

I disagree strongly with this rationalization of criminal activity and
blaming the victim (saying the administrators were sloppy).

As an aside, I also think the legal principle of "attractive nusiance"
has gone too far. (That's where an owner is liable even if someone is
trespassing on their property to say swim in their pool.) I don't
mind requiring swimming pool owners to have a fence around the pool.
But when an older kid (age 17) goes to the trouble of trespassing
across a large field and scaling the fence to get into a pool, I think
he is responsible for his injuries, not the school (a real case in
which the school was found guilty of negligence).

Back in the 1970s the Bell System prosecuted "blue box" users. Back
then it was in vogue, cool, to "put one over Ma Bell". But Bell was
correct in doing so because it was stealing and disruption, even if
the amounts were neglible. I couldn't believe the idiots who blamed
Bell saying it was their fault because of their technology. Again,
regardless of the quality of the lock (or lack thereof) on my front
door doesn't given anyone the right to come in uninvited.

*In elementary school we were not allowed to roam anywhere within the
school outside the classroom. In junior high we could roam the whole
school but under strict controls. In high school we had more options.
Finally in college we were freed of hall passes, hall monitors, noisy
vice principals, etc. I remember feeling some sense of freedom going
up each level of school until college when I finally felt free, no
more asking permission to go to pee. But even in college and in life
I didn't automatically get license to walk into someone's private
office and make myself at home.

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