Did you know that computer hackers hold conventions? I didn’t either, until I heard
a story on NPR while driving between errand stops on Saturday. The story pointed out recent high-profile electronic break-ins to the International Monetary Fund and Citibank, but then focused on the role of informants in policing cyberspace. To my rule-following sensibilities, it seems a bit reckless to advertise one’s status as a computer hacker by attending a convention, but on further reflection I realize that computer hackers are by definition rule-breakers. Except when one hacker informs on another.
At last year’s hacker convention in New York (I still think that’s funny. Are there bank robber conventions? Tax cheater conferences? Hotel-towel-stealer meetings? ) there was a session on informants who rat out fellow hackers to the FBI. One outraged conventioneer was heard shouting at an informant, “What you did is worse than treason. I think you belong in Guantanamo.” Fascinating.
The story also featured an interview with Kevin Mitnick, a talented hacker who had served a five-year prison sentence for computer fraud. Mitnick is now an information security consultant. I think that means he effortlessly hacks into databases to identify tempting gaps in security so that they can be closed. He said, “When I was a hacker it was all about pursuit of knowledge, getting a bite of the forbidden apple, so to speak…Today it’s all changed. I mean, the trend of hacking today is all profit….”
Just a new expression of a timeless desire
Nothing has changed. Knowledge that has been declared off-limits by the knowledge holder has always been seductively attractive. A computer hacker with free access to more on-line information than any one person can possibly handle will fixate on protected data. A baby crawling among dozens of entertaining age-appropriate toys will doggedly return to the remote control or the iPad or the telephone. Two people named Adam and Eve lived in a perfect environment and liberally enjoyed a variety of luscious fruit, until they insisted on tasting the one that was forbidden.
They thought the hidden knowledge would benefit them, instead it confused them. They were told it would make them more like God, but it distanced them from Him. They thought it would be satisfying, but it left them unfulfilled and frustrated. Like the baby stuck in a playpen for his own safety and the hacker behind prison bars, Adam and Eve and all of humanity after them have been imprisoned by our insistence on knowing what we were not meant to know.
The human race is like a big hacker convention, making our own rules and expressing indignation when they are violated, never recognizing the incongruity of enforcing our ethical standards while blatantly disregarding God’s or of attempting to appropriate his knowledge while rejecting Him.
Hope for Hackers
Thankfully, God did not send an informant from some heavenly bureau of investigation into our midst to trap us in our sin. No need for that; he knows it all anyway. He sent Jesus, not to put us behind bars but to free us from our self-imposed cages. He is the full revelation of God, therefore, in Him is all the knowledge we really need.
What kind of off-limits knowledge do you desire? I often want to understand the “why” of things that don’t make sense to me. I am tantalized by provocative passages in the Bible that raise more questions than provide answers. Does our fascination with the unknown keep us from fully understanding and following that which has been made clearly known?