Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Year 13 Programming - Hackers

Have rethought about the topic of this, more of a year 13 course topic.

I have been thinking about my programming course and enjoyed the lessons on gaming addiction as seen previously in this blog,

I am now looking at hackers, this actually provides a great bit of history within computing and looks at some of the founders of the computer industry and how they came to be, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak (Apple Computers)

'Invasion of the data snatchers,' screamed a New York Times headline in 1989, reflecting rising panic over insecure computer systems.

A hacker is a brilliantly devious criminal mind breaking the world's most secret IT systems for money or political espionage, if you believe many similarly hysterical press reports. In fact, the truth is a lot more intriguing.

The Secret History of Hacking uncovered the real story of a counter culture that has corporate America on the run.

Confusion and anxiety surrounds this word hacking, yet, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, hacker simply means 'an enthusiastic computer programmer or user' or 'a person who tries to gain unauthorised access to a computer or to data held in one'. There was nothing sinister about these early hackers, or phreakers. The driving force for this band of techno wizards was exploration.

The same spirit was at work with the appearance of the home computer. The pioneers were keen to share and explore the technology for its own sake. Among the most prominent players was Steve Wozniak who went on to develop the Apple computer. Only when the commercial element crept in did the shutters come down on the ownership of ideas.

A strong undercurrent of mischievous daring runs through the hackers' ethos. Since the sixties, hackers have been breaking into much of the globe's state-of-the-art electronic systems involving government, military institutions, businesses and individuals. The code was always 'look but don't touch'.

But now, as the world becomes ever more entwined with the internet, some hackers are becoming more sinister, spreading damaging computer viruses and capitalising on access to personal files and millions of bank accounts.

I originally found the video on youtube, however it was in 5 parts, I wanted the whole thing, is a wonderful resource.

Video is available here @

Now is the time to look at creating a lesson plan to go with this and some type of learning outcomes. This is one of the things I need to start working on a bit more, time to put that ATOL training to good purpose.
I have already managed to download the video to my computer and will be putting it on the video on demand system that we have.

Also one of the issues that I am thinking of including within the lesson is the issue of "hacker" versus "cracker" and how the media perceives the two. What were the original terms and why has the media changed how the terms are perceived. The change of the hacker and cracker, now instead of cracker it is now "black hat".

While doing research for this lesson I came across a copy of the letter that is talked about in the History of Hackers video. It is a fantastic read, especially from the point of Bill Gates about who owns software.

A fantastic site for looking at simple computer terms and how to integrate them into your lesson is @

Also to be looked at is Revolution OS, a documentary that looks at open source software and free software movements, and its available at my favourite video website, it is a bit longer than the other one I am looking at using, but they look at two different areas of the computer world, hackers, open source software and GNU. 1 hour and 25 minutes long for Revolution OS, versus 50 minutes for the History of Hacking.

As I think more and more about this idea and research more on the internet, one site I have found is called Hacker High School and it has some great lessons for students on securing themselves on the net from attacks

Today's kids and teens are in a world with major communication and productivity channels open to them and they don't have the knowledge to defend themselves against the fraud, identity theft, privacy leaks and other attacks made against them just for using the Internet. This is the reason for Hacker Highschool.

In HHS, you will find lessons on utilizing Internet resources safely such as web privacy, chat protection, viruses and trojans (malware), and the over-all
focus on how to recognize security problems on your computer. All lessons work
with a free "live linux" CD which will boot off any PC with a CD-rom drive to perform the lessons. HHS is a great supplement to student course work or as part of after-school and club activities.

I am actually enjoying putting this unit together, though I have to think of some interesting learning outcomes, as for the impact on society, it will be interesting to see how the students take to this idea, it is being presented from two sides, the side of the old hackers, who pulled apart computers and built there own and developed the software to run on them, through to todays "media hackers" and the terrorist label that they have been given.

Just looking at this a bit further will the Bill Gates letter, there were some responses to that letter that were published in the homebrew newsletter. One of the ideas is to get the students to read the original Bill Gates letter to the homebrew club and maybe the responses from the homebrew club members and get the students to look whether in the last 30 years has this has changed, people still pirate software, why, are they the same reasons?

It is worth an idea as this would go well with the literacy environment that we have at school.

Some ideas from the Start up lesson website are

1. What is the Hacker Spirit? What is the Entrepreneurial Spirit?
As a class, discuss what is meant by the phrase “Hacker Spirit” (joy of experimentation and innovation, the competitiveness with friends to build upon discoveries, the communal nature of dialogue). Brainstorm some terms and list these on chart paper.
Then discuss what is meant by the term “entrepreneurial” (risk-taking, extreme commitment, competition, improvisation and innovative approaches). List these terms on paper. Taking direction from students, create a Venn Diagram, listing descriptive words and terms that fall into the “Hacker circle,” the “Entrepreneurial circle” and the area of overlap.

2. What was HomeBrew? Discuss the development of computer hobbyist clubs like HomeBrew. These groups felt strongly that computer enthusiasts should share As Jim Warren states, “The whole spirit there was working together.....was sharing.”

3. Individually, students read Bill Gates’ letter to the editors of HomeBrew magazine.

4. As a class, discuss Bill Gates’ letter. What was his opinion? Do students have questions about his argument? Gates felt not having proprietary influence over software prevented good software from being written – why would a professional work for free? Others who defended a more communal nature software development argued that an ethos of community and sharing would produce more innovations, with developers building upon and improving each other’s work.

5. Individually, students write a letter to Bill Gates, responding to his arguments and substantiating their point of view.

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