From The Hacker Crackdown, by Bruce Sterling

See: The Hacker Crackdown: Preface to the electronic release for copying info

Another early and influential participant in the controversy was Dorothy Denning. Dr. Denning was unique among investigators of the computer underground in that she did not enter the debate with any set of politicized motives. She was a professional cryptographer and computer security expert whose primary interest in hackers was *scholarly.* She had a B.A. and M.A. in mathematics, and a Ph.D. in computer science from Purdue. She had worked for SRI International, the California think-tank that was also the home of computer-security maven Donn Parker, and had authored an influential text called *Cryptography and Data Security.* In 1990, Dr. Denning was working for Digital Equipment Corporation in their Systems Reseach Center. Her husband, Peter Denning, was also a computer security expert, working for NASA's Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science. He had edited the well-received *Computers Under Attack: Intruders, Worms and Viruses.*

Dr. Denning took it upon herself to contact the digital underground, more or less with an anthropological interest. There she discovered that these computer-intruding hackers, who had been characterized as unethical, irresponsible, and a serious danger to society, did in fact have their own subculture and their own rules. They were not particularly well-considered rules, but they were, in fact, rules. Basically, they didn't take money and they didn't break anything.

Her dispassionate reports on her researches did a great deal to influence serious-minded computer professionals -- the sort of people who merely rolled their eyes at the cyberspace rhapsodies of a John Perry Barlow.

For young hackers of the digital underground, meeting Dorothy Denning was a genuinely mind-boggling experience. Here was this neatly coiffed, conservatively dressed, dainty little personage, who reminded most hackers of their moms or their aunts. And yet she was an IBM systems programmer with profound expertise in computer architectures and high-security information flow, who had personal friends in the FBI and the National Security Agency.

Dorothy Denning was a shining example of the American mathematical intelligentsia, a genuinely brilliant person from the central ranks of the computer-science elite. And here she was, gently questioning twenty-year-old hairy-eyed phone-phreaks over the deeper ethical implications of their behavior.

Confronted by this genuinely nice lady, most hackers sat up very straight and did their best to keep the anarchy-file stuff down to a faint whiff of brimstone. Nevertheless, the hackers *were* in fact prepared to seriously discuss serious issues with Dorothy Denning. They were willing to speak the unspeakable and defend the indefensible, to blurt out their convictions that information cannot be owned, that the databases of governments and large corporations were a threat to the rights and privacy of individuals.

Denning's articles made it clear to many that "hacking" was not simple vandalism by some evil clique of psychotics. "Hacking" was not an aberrant menace that could be charmed away by ignoring it, or swept out of existence by jailing a few ringleaders. Instead, "hacking" was symptomatic of a growing, primal struggle over knowledge and power in the age of information.

Denning pointed out that the attitude of hackers were at least partially shared by forward-looking management theorists in the business community: people like Peter Drucker and Tom Peters. Peter Drucker, in his book *The New Realities,* had stated that "control of information by the government is no longer possible. Indeed, information is now transnational. Like money, it has no 'fatherland.'"

And management maven Tom Peters had chided large corporations for uptight, proprietary attitudes in his bestseller, *Thriving on Chaos:* "Information hoarding, especially by politically motivated, power-seeking staffs, had been commonplace throughout American industry, service and manufacturing alike. It will be an impossible millstone aroung the neck of tomorrow's organizations."

Dorothy Denning had shattered the social membrane of the digital underground. She attended the Neidorf trial, where she was prepared to testify for the defense as an expert witness. She was a behind-the-scenes organizer of two of the most important national meetings of the computer civil libertarians. Though not a zealot of any description, she brought disparate elements of the electronic community into a surprising and fruitful collusion.

Dorothy Denning is currently the Chair of the Computer Science Department at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

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