Positive Alternatives to Computer Misuse: A Report of the Proceedings of an ACM Panel on Hacking


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Department of Computer Science, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University


If one believes press reports, the misuse of computers is rampant. The same the many other misuses have gone unreported as a result of the embarrassment and loss of image/integrity of those affected (as victims) and the belief that to expose misuses will lead to further problems and expense, as well as encourage copy-cat crimes. Much of the press coverage of computer misuse has centered on the younger members of computing community using inexpensive personal computer systems. The placement of powerful tools into the hands of adolescents without imposing the appropriate control would appear to be a contributing factor to their unfettered use of computers and communications systems. Such usage ranges from benign exploration of the powers of computational and communication systems, through the malicious use of those devices for personal aggrandisement, to the use of computers for distinctly criminal activities. At present there are no technological or ethical barriers that separate the explorer from the criminal; possibly the prospect of being able to perform more and more complex projects can innocently lead the benign learner into improper activities. Conversely the blame for breaches of security and the infiltration of personal, private systems, is sometimes placed on the backs of the owners of those systems for maintaining an attractive nuisance. Concern must also be expressed about the community-developing attractive nuisances of bulletin boards (BBS's), many of which are benign, but too many of which are used to extend the fringe area of illegality in exchanging pirated software, providing message systems for immoral or illegal purposes, and revealing cracks in governmental and commercial security.