Some people hack into computers for personal financial gain—espionage, identity theft, and extortion—but others hack to sniff out evil-doers and bring them to justice. See this news article: "Police blotter: Trojan horse leads to porn convictions."
According to the article, "In early 2000, a computer hacker who used the now-defunct e-mail address email@example.com seeded a Usenet newsgroup called alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.pre-teen with a clever bit of malicious Windows software. The Trojan horse program, called SubSeven or Sub7... installs a backdoor in the victim's computer and can allow files to be extracted and a keystroke logger to be installed."
"On July 16, 2000, '1069' sent e-mail to the Montgomery, Ala., Police Department saying, 'I found a child molester on the Net.' The e-mail included an attached photograph of what looked like a girl no older than 6 being sexually abused... '1069' refused to be identified, saying he was living in Istanbul, Turkey, and did not want to be involved in any court proceedings."
"A year later, '1069' fingered another man... That's when an odd thing happened. Instead of informing '1069' that he was committing federal felonies and should cease immediately, [Montgomery Police Capt. Kevin] Murphy and the FBI encouraged the hacker to continue. The FBI wrote '1069' in January 2002: 'The FACT still stands that you are not a citizen of the United States and are not bound by our laws. Our federal attorneys have expressed NO desire to charge you with any CRIMINAL offense. You have not hacked into any computer at the request of the FBI or other law (enforcement) agency. You have not acted as an agent for the FBI or other law enforcement agency. Therefore, the information you have collected can be used in our criminal trials.'"
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in response to one of these trials (both men were found guilty), claims that "Congress had left a loophole open in federal privacy law that lets hackers like '1069' get away with turning information over to the government and having it used in court" and that there's a "legislative hiatus in the current laws purporting to protect privacy in electronic communications."
In an actual excerpt of the court proceedings, 1069 was reported as saying, "I catched at least 2000 child pornography collectors with my trap. 3 of them including this guy was producing their own. The other two realized whats going on and cut the connection." It's a shame that only two of the 2,000 child pornographer collectors that 1069 caught in his trap were identified and prosecuted. Do you think that 1069 should have been discouraged from hacking computers and reporting instances of child pornography and child abuse? I personally think that we need more hacking vigilantes!
Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.