Hacking: Educational or Destructive?
by Madeline Barnes on Friday, October 11th, 2013
In this era, technology plays a major role in our lives. Through research, social media, and even reading books, laptops and smart-phones seem to be glued to our hands. At times technology seems to rule our lives, some might even go so far as to say it ‘brainwashes’ teens. R00tz Asylum presents a different perspective on the situation. R00tz Asylum, also know as Def Con Kids, is a convention in Las Vegas that is dedicated to teaching kids between the ages of 8-16 how to hack into computer systems, a skill that could lead them to the understanding and invasion of more complex technology.
Hacking, a topic with a generally negative connotation, has recently been recognized, separating hackers into two different groups. “A white-hat hacker is someone who enjoys thinking of innovative new ways to make, break and use anything to create a better world”, while a black-hat hacker is someone who breaks into a computer system for “maliciousness [reasons] or for personal gain” such as destroying data (Moore, 2005). However, recently, destroying or stealing data has given way to a new trend among both hats: Car Hacking. According to UTest, at the “Def Con convention this week in Las Vegas, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek will publish their 100-page white paper outlining their techniques for hacking the internal systems in the Toyota Prius and Ford Escape.” Though hacking into car systems is not taught at Def Con Kids, learning the basics of hacking allows such an action to become a future possibility. Once they’re through the fire-wall that their parents put up to prevent them from being online late at night, many teens have power at their disposal, which can be used for both good and bad purposes.
Though the ability to control a car from a distant computer can appear to be an excess amount of power for a child, Def Con Kids are simply using the system to teach others how to do so as well. Giving kids an opportunity to pit their brains against a seemingly unstoppable system can equip them with confidence in their abilities to do extraordinary things. Before giving teens this expertise, R00tz Asylum made sure that they all understood that “the world is one. We are all connected.” These ideas are humanizing technology in such a way that teens realize they are a fundamental sources of technological power. Placing a huge burden of responsibility on teens’ shoulders to abuse their power for illegal purposes is a risk that Def Con Kids is willing to take. They are slowly rejecting common misconceptions that technology is exclusive, and are making it accessible and controllable by anyone, even a teen. There are many camps and seminars that are available over the summer and even schools that teach controlling technology, in addition to Def Con Kids. I believe that teaching teens to use their newly acquired understanding of technology for productive purposes as a white-hat hacker is no different than teaching one’s own child skills needed to be successful in a specific subject in school. Just as Milton emphasizes, any opportunity to learn something new should be taken advantage of. Even though new information can often have negative ramifications, it can also allow one to exercise one’s control and use it beneficially.
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