~ Legal and Ethical Issues

Hacking and Digital Rights Management

The term hacking can have two meanings:

  1. The term might mean that you have taken some existing code and hacked it to do what you want it to. For example you take pre-existing open-source game code and use it to make your own game with. This is legal.
  2. The other meaning is the more common, this is the idea that you break through some security system, bypass a copy protection, get access to data you shouldn't have access to etc. All this is illegal and sometimes termed cracking. Online financial and identity thefts are growing massively around the world.

Richard Stallman is an example of an early day hacker, in the legal sense of the word.


Gary McKinnon is an example of a cracker, having hacked into the US Military

Hacking Hats

Within the hacking community, in the second sense of the term, there are two main groups.

The term white hat in Internet slang refers to an ethical hacker, or a computer security expert who specializes in ensuring the security of an organization's information systems. White hats may flag up security vulnerabilities on corporate websites and bring them to the attention of companies or organisations before the bad guys can make use of them. Recently companies have recognised the use of white hats, with companies such as Facebook and google offering bug bounty for people who can bring their attention to security flaws in their products

A black hat is a hacker who "violates computer security for little reason beyond maliciousness or for personal gain" Black Hat Hackers are what the media will often talk about when talking about 'hackers'. Black Hats break into secure networks to destroy data or make the network unusable for those who are authorized to use the network. Examples include the Lulzsec hacking group that hacked corporate websites for the 'lulz', releasing thousands of user account details of companies such as Sony.

Digital Rights Management

  • Is it fair to give a copy of an MP3 to a friend when they haven't paid for it?
  • Will piracy kill the film and music industries?
  • Is taking images off the internet fair use, shouldn't we reward people for their work?
  • If I bought something on one format (e.g. tape), shouldn't I automatically have access to it in other formats for free?
  • Does Piracy actually aid some forms of media, as it increases the audience reach of that artist, making it more likely for them to buy it officially?

A way that companies try to control the use of media and programs is through the use of digital rights management systems. These systems may do the following:

  • Prevent playback on 'unauthorised' devices, using encryption keys
  • Use a database of approved devices
  • Prevent copying of files in some media managers (such as iTunes)

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