The Problem With The Hacker Mystique

Presented at The Circle Of HOPE (2018), July 21, 2018, 11 a.m. (60 minutes)

There are common themes in the stories of those of us who have grown up in hacker communities. We show up as teenagers, excited by the sexiness, the secrecy, the possibility of meeting the legends who performed powerful spells of tech - or working those spells ourselves. Maybe working at the edge of the law. Maybe we'll even change the laws as we hack. As we get older, digital security takes on different roles in our stories. For some of us, it remains a fun thing to do with friends. For others, it's a political cause. For some, it's the meat and potatoes of our jobs. And for others, digital security has become very, very unsafe. Or it was always unsafe, and the dangerous storylines are just now becoming clear. This talk will discuss components of hacking and security - technical expertise, secrecy, illegality, idiosyncrasy, and trust - that contributed to a mystique which until recently hid years of abuse by a number of hacking "rock stars." Gus will explore the psychological and institutional reasons why our communities let them keep acting that way, and ask some hard questions: are there aspects of hacking and infosec which make abusive experts difficult to avoid? What parts of the hacker mystique will we need to give up in order to make our community resistant to being trashed like rock stars' hotel rooms?


  • Gillian Andrews / Gus as Gillian "Gus" Andrews
    **Gus Andrews** wears many hats. She has been an educator, a user experience specialist, a puppeteer, a panelist on Off The Hook, and an organizer of HOPE. She has spoken on user experience, security, and privacy issues at Google and West Point; her policy research on digital security tools has informed the U.S. State Department and the EFF. Her current project is a book, tentatively titled Keep Calm And Log On, to help non-technical people safely navigate data breaches, addiction to their phones, “fake news,” and digital domestic abuse.