As a culture we are just beginning to recognize this dynamic. One of the first hacker groups to benefit from our grudging acceptance of the craft is LOpht, which crossed over from the computing underground to the mainstream after finding flaws in Windows NT. Their transition has been so successful that when Congress conducted an investigation into Internet security it asked two LOpht members, Mudge and Weld Pond, to come to Washington for a briefing. Now LOpht has teamed up with former Compaq Computer executives to form @Stake, a security firm that has the media and Wall Street swooning.
So when is a hacker not a felon? When he receives $10 million in venture capital? When Congress invites him to a hearing?
When we lump all hackers into a criminal class we are liable to forget their essential role as architects of the information age. Edward O. Wilson said that scientists are characterized by a passion for knowledge, obsession, and daring. Hackers share that passion, the hunter-gatherer gene for restless wandering, wondering what's beyond the next hill. They hack because it's fun, because it's a challenge, and because the activity shapes their identity. Their strengthslove of risk, toleration of ambiguity, and ability to sift meaning from disparate sourcespower the very network we all rush to join.