Anonymous and the Dentist

My dentist phoned to cancel my appointment the other day. “Our server’s been hacked,” he explained. “Our whole system’s down.”

Hooray, was my immediate reaction. No metal spikes in my mouth today. But after some brief reflection, I started to get angry. Not half as angry as my dentist, but still a bit cross.

Why had someone hacked into his server? Why would someone hack into anyone’s computer? It’s like a stranger walking into your house and rummaging through your private things. Taking stuff they fancy, breaking a few treasured personal possessions. I bet few computer hackers would do that in real life, yet breaking into someone’s computer or creating a virus that steals information or wipes hard disks seems to be OK by them.

They’re probably thinking that if people leave security loopholes in their systems, then it’s fine to do whatever they want. Yet if I fitted an insecure lock to my front door, would it be OK if someone with expert lockpicking skills broke into my house? I don’t think so.

Breaking into someone’s computer is illegal even if that person has chosen a stupid password or failed to keep their antivirus software up to date.

Why do people do this kind of thing? Because they can. And because they know they can get away with it. But mostly because they never have to confront the consequences of their actions. They never meet their victims or see the distress they’ve caused.

It’s the same with internet forums and Twitter. People write hate messages all over the internet. They type things they would never dream of saying to someone face to face. Again, they never have to face the consequences.

That’s why the “hactivist” organisation that issues threats and carries out denial of service attacks against all kinds of websites calls itself Anonymous. It’s not just to stop its members from getting arrested. It’s to protect them from the need to face up to the fact that what they’re doing is wrong.

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