Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

Queensborough Community College,  CUNY

Chapter 8 Crime and Misbehavior


Hacking Ethics

The irreverent HowToGAMIT Guide (How to Get Around MIT) is the ultimate MIT handbook. This excerpt from HowToGAMIT sets forth the hackers’ code as it stands in the early twenty-first century.

1. Be safe. Your safety, the safety of your fellow hackers, and the safety of anyone you hack should never be compromised.

2. Be subtle. Leave no evidence that you were ever there.

3. Leave things as you found them (or better).

4. If you find something broken call F-IXIT (the local number for reporting problems with the buildings and grounds). Hackers often go places that Institute workers do not frequent regularly and may see problems before anyone else.

5. Leave no damage.

6. Do not steal anything.

7. Brute force is the last resort of the incompetent. (“One who breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of reason.”—Keshlam the Seer, Knight of the Random Order)

8. Do not hack while under the influence of alcohol/drugs/etc.

9. Do not drop things (off a building) without a ground crew.

10. Do not hack alone (just like swimming).

11. Above all, exercise common sense.

These rules are found at

Are these rules enough to provide for the conclusion that hacking is morally acceptable or correct?   What are the ethics of hacking?  Here is an excerpt from Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (1984) by Steven Levy with another set of basic principles claimed to be held by hackers. He suggests that there is a "code of ethics" for hacking which, though not pasted on the walls, is in the air:

  • Access to computers -- and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works -- should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On imperative.

  • All information should be free.

  • Mistrust Authority. Promote Decentralization.

  • Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.

  • You can create art and beauty on a computer.

  • Computers can change your life for the better.  -- Levy, Steven. 1984. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, Anchor Press/Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 458 pp.

Concerning Hacking there are a number of presentations on what it is, its history and whether or not is is morally acceptable.  Here are some significant presentations of the issues.


Now the basic ethical question is under what notion of hacking and under what circumstances would it ever be morally correct or incorrect conduct?  Any position taken on this would need to be defended with a moral argument.  That argument would in turn involve ethical principles that offer us notions of what makes any action a morally good act.

turn to next section

Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.                @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino                       

Last updated 8-2006                                                              Return to Table of Contents