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Why Hackers relate to Zombies

February 26, 2013

Hackers like zombies and zombies like hackers. But why? Here’s five reasons.

1) Denial of Service Attacks and Botnets
Like Occupy on Wall Street, a denial of service attack clogs traffic. From some perspectives this is a perfectly respectable political protest. But what if all the protesters are fakes – one might imagine a protest full of agent provocateurs – but on the internet, it could be zombie computers traffic – some hacker has taken over other computers (p0wned) and while their owners doesn’t even know it, they are pinging networks causing possible delays. Add LOIC software to the machines and this field of zombie computers (a botnet) becomes a zombie army to clog internet traffic. It’s probably not much more of a threat than Justin Bieber tweeting a link but that kind of traffic will kill a small site. The zombies flock, the sites crash.

2) SQL Database injections and Medical metaphors
It sounds like a medical injection, but a SQL injection refers to mySQL databases used by many websites. The hacker “injects” or inputs information that causes a database error and then allows the hacker to add malicious code (malware or a virus). The hacker might gain root daemon access and control the whole server. The epidemiology-like spread leads to use of the word virus and the SQL injection reminds of RNA injected into a healthy cell by a retrovirus. Recall the blending of health and economy metaphors. The idea of life and consciousness in computers is the same question as zombie consciousness.

3) “Done is better than perfect”
Dr. Frankenstein wasn’t interested in plastic surgery. Which is to say the great feat is in reviving life to dead matter, not in making it clean and perfect. Now Frankenstein’s monster is a reanimation not a zombie per se but some zombies might be created by stupid literal wishes to return life to a loved person (ohh those pesky genies and their spiteful literalness). But the genius (aka mad scientists) is the first pioneer. Others (or the same person) can repeat, and if the idea is good others will surely repeat. Perfection takes time but first someone has to do it the first time. Consider all those horror(ible) B-movies that have developed the zombie genre, many really are better than perfected versions. (See also reviews of the newly released “White Zombies” DVD that prefer the raw version on the DVD to the remastered)

4) Legendary (wait for it) Immortality
Hacking is about solving a problem. For some that involves a dazzling spectacle of showing off, for others they disappear with no one knowing they were even there. The hack can outlive the hacker. People remember the amazing hacks made public and/or stolen data might become profitable decades later. The hack goes on to have a life of its own. As does the hacker. Both become zombie. The hackers’ body (like all authors) become alienated from his creative act. Aaron Swartz died a different man than he was when he snuck into an MIT computer closet. But Anonymous never forgets. So if you are going to do it be sure to make it (wait for it) LEGENDARY (which is Niel Patrick Harris’s tagline on HIMYM but really Doogie Howser was the first hacker – finishing med school that fast and blogging before the internet existed – that’s how you hack a system! (recall theory about child stars as zombies of their former self).

5) Outsider Politics
Like Zombies, Hackers are not always malicious but outsiders exploring (aka invasive species) are generally perceived as less than good. Network research can get you arrested and face a prosecution in an adversarial system – sure innocent til proven guilty but first hire a lawyer and defend yourself from insane maximum sentences. And then who you gonna call when you need something patched together. We need to stop criminalizing our young exploratory people. We force everyone to pretend to be zombies, to speak anonymously, and to hide their (research) interests. Everyone is on the outside of something.

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