If You Build It, They Will Hack It - InformationWeek

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Government // Enterprise Architecture
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11/9/2007
10:48 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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If You Build It, They Will Hack It

It didn't take very long for the Apple hacking community to make short work of the iPod Touch and hack into it, mere hours after a new "locked-down" firmware was released for it. It makes you wonder why they bother -- but then again, that goes for most everything kept under a digital lock and key, doesn't it?

It didn't take very long for the Apple hacking community to make short work of the iPod Touch and hack into it, mere hours after a new "locked-down" firmware was released for it. It makes you wonder why they bother -- but then again, that goes for most everything kept under a digital lock and key, doesn't it?

Lock anything up, and a legion of hackers will come after it, just to be able to say they broke the lock. You don't need more advanced motives than that. Moreover there's scarcely a person around, myself included, who doesn't believe that once they plonk down their money what they have bought is theirs. These people are not interested in "getting something for nothing" -- they just want to make what they feel is rightful use of something they already own in some form.

The best summation of this attitude I saw way back in 1981 or so in a letter to Softline Magazine: "When I buy a program, I do not buy the box the program came in; I buy the sequence of instructions that make up the program. I feel once I have done this, I am entitled to do as I wish: reverse-engineer it, give it to friends, eat it, burn it, etc. Being prevented from doing so is simply unacceptable."

Even the wording of a license agreement about how some software is licensed and not sold doesn't deter people from feeling this way. Yes, it says I can't do this-that-and-the-other, but dang it all, it's mine! This isn't about the wording of a usage contract, but human psychology, which is not something you can simply bend or ignore in the long run.

On my own end, I've run into this while dealing with everything from copy-protected media from Sony's Connect store to Microsoft Windows itself. The degree to which you tolerate such things is largely determined by how essential they are to you and how deep your urge to tinker is going to run. I grouse about Product Activation a lot, but for the most part I live with it or find legitimate alternatives (e.g., Linux). But the sheer headache I endured just to get a lousy song to or from my Sony MiniDisc player wasn't worth the price I paid. (Happy ending: I eventually bought an iRiver.)

The way I see it, two things can happen. One, the closed-hardware (and closed-source) industry can continue to play cat-and-mouse with some of its own most enthusiastic customers, and pretend that people's feelings are going to eventually fall their way, or can be discredited entirely. Or they can quit ignoring the fact that in this world, once you release something into the public arena in any form, it's public forever. Given the track record, though, I don't think it's hard to tell which way things will swing.

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