The hacker is an important although marginal figure in the history of computer technology. Hacker culture brings together in this technical domain political and creative approaches through unusual practices : hacking involve a particular relation to computer systems, between software creation and hijacking. Without minimizing the diversity and evolutive character of thoses practices, the aim of this work is to question how hacking reveals a pervasive tendency of technology to hide the operations and conditions of technical systems.
Our approach begins with an overview of hacker culture. It will first present the origins of this culture and certain classical descriptions of the hack, a technical, aesthetic and provocative act. The progression will then be classically divided between on one side the free software movement and on the other the computer underground and its transgressive activities, often called cracking. We will however discuss the construction process of this opposition, notably political, to overcome this apparent duality.
In a second part, based on STS, philosophy of technology and philosophy of computer science reflexions, we will study the notion of black box. This notion, as a metaphor, a cybernetic model and a constructivist concept, will help us to describe a paradoxal hiding of the technical conditions, in particular the operations which support technological artefacts functioning. We will then propose a caracterisation of this tendency in the context of computing through the central and structuring concept of computational abstraction.
In this theoretical framework, describing computers as layered systems, computing through multiple and nested black boxes, we will discuss the specificity of hacker action. Our analyse uses a particular hacking example : the memory injection through buffer overflow method. This kind of black box hiding supports a separation between the user’s and designer’s positions, which is transgressed by hackers. Those refuse in fact, as technically aware computer users, to drop out their practical link with the operational reality of computer systems.
Finally, we will consider that, as the black box notion also describe traditionally the disappearing of the social logic of technological systems, this hiding supports hegemonic strategies from the computer industry. We will discuss the notion of technological hegemony, which through the example of graphicals interfaces and the how they make it difficult and secondary to program computers. This approach will open a theorical direction to address the deeply political dimension of hacking practices.
Keywords : hack, free software, cracking, black box, computational abstraction, technological hegemony, buffer overflow