When I was 13 years old, I learned about computers. We were fortunate to have a Digital Equipment PDP-8/S minicomputer at my school and, more importantly, a telephone connection to the Hewlett-Packard HP2000 computer that was the central system for the Philadelphia School District.
My nerdy friends and I wrote all kinds of programs, but one fun pastime was “hacking,” though it wasn’t called that back then. It was easy to get into teachers’ accounts because they scribbled little notes with random letters and numbers—their passwords, obviously. We were good kids, so no one thought twice about finding us in a classroom looking through desk drawers for chalk or a pencil.
I could have changed my grades, but as a straight-A student, there was no point. We also shared phone numbers for government facilities and attempted to gain access, sometimes with limited success.
In college, I was too busy with studying, foosball, partying, and trying to meet girls to have much to do with computers. Once, though, while visiting a friend at Princeton’s computer center, I sifted through the trash to find printouts of usernames and passwords (those were different days) and used one to log in and play games. It was just a way to kill time while he did homework.
Out in the working world, I used my hacking skills to get into friends’ computer accounts and post embarrassing messages, especially before they gave demos to their bosses. One friend kept changing his password, but always to his name, his girlfriend’s name, his birthday, and other easily guessable combinations. It didn’t take me long to get in after each change.
Why did we do it? Two reasons: boredom and power. Most hacking typically utilizes a lot of trial and error but not a lot of discipline. It’s hard to sit down and plan a strategic attack on a system when you’re bored and just want something to do. Of course, this is different from cyberespionage where well-paid corporate or government agents are trained to attack systems.
When kids do it out of boredom, it’s just messing around until something works. Hacking for power is different. In that case, there’s a desire to change the world. It’s the power you feel when you can affect one person greatly or several people to a small extent, or even disrupt the lives of many people. To otherwise powerless teenagers, this is a powerful aphrodisiac. It’s easier to destroy than to build, and similarly, it’s easier to disrupt a person’s life than to improve it.
I dreamed of being a superhero, but I didn’t know how to acquire superpowers. I did know how to hack into a system and mess up people’s lives.
For the record, I knew how but never did that; I have a finely tuned moral compass. Now, I work for the good guys as a software forensics expert. I hack into systems under government supervision and with legal authority. I make determinations about theft and infringement, and I testify in court. It’s still a kind of power, but used for good. And I never intend to mess up someone’s life, but rather to bring out truth, whether that proves guilt or innocence.
I uncover the mess that hackers have made, and I know how they think.
Looking at the recent protests and riots, it’s obvious to me that they’re being carried out mostly by young adults.
These youth have been cooped up in their houses for months because of the pandemic and are now bored and powerless. Changing the world usually takes years of study and hard work, maneuvering through intricate systems of rules and laws, and building relationships. This applies to business, academia, politics, the military, and any area of human endeavor. But protesting, rioting, and violence shortcuts these long and difficult paths, especially if the results are actual change rather than arrests and disciplinary measures.
While police forces are ordered to stand down, property is allowed to be damaged, people are allowed to be struck and hurt, and while corporations and governments change their policies as a result, these antics won’t end.
It doesn’t matter whether the protesters get what they ask for, because what they desire isn’t what they’re asking for but simply the ability to make changes—any changes—to the system. The more they screw up the system, the more these social justice hackers revel in their own power.
Every time statues are destroyed without punishment, sports teams change their logos, corporations remove products from the shelves, and politicians, business leaders, entertainers, and other public figures apologize or, better yet, are fired or forced to resign, it feeds their desires and encourages them to do more.
No amount of change will satisfy them, because it’s the process of change that they want, not any particular change. I remember that feeling.
I often hear these days that the progressive politicians, businesspeople, actors, and others who coddle the protesters are doing so because they believe that in “feeding the crocodile,” they will be the last to be eaten. That’s not true.
Like the social justice hackers, these people want power, too. They’re not feeding the crocodile but taming the lion. What they don’t realize is that when the lion runs out of food, it eats the lion tamer. Or, sometimes, just for the fun of it. Remember Roy Horn. If we want this to stop, we must all stop feeding the lion and put it back in its cage.
Bob Zeidman has a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University. He is an inventor and the founder of successful high-tech Silicon Valley firms, including Zeidman Consulting and Software Analysis and Forensic Engineering. He also writes novels; his latest is the political satire “Good Intentions.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.