On November 24, 2014, Sony Pictures was attacked by hackers. Attacked is the proper word to describe hacking in this context. The hackers intended to harm Sony financially and instill fear into the hearts of the studio’s executives and employees. Sites like Lifehacker make hacking sound like a cutesy hobby, but it is not cutesy. It is destructive and a form of terrorism.
The victims of the attack feel vulnerable, abused, and angry. Digital burglars stole their personal information and private data. That hurts. Victims deserve our empathy and kindness. The breach itself is enough to cause real pain and suffering, but that is only a small piece of the destruction the hackers have wrought.
Every time someone reads a nugget of personal information or consumes media stolen by hackers, the knife is being plunged into their backs again, and again. The first blow is struck when hackers gain illicit access to private materials. It hurts to be violated. It also hurts that a few anonymous people know things that are supposed to be secret. Blame the hackers for the agony caused by their actual breach and the discomfort they caused by knowing things they should not know.
At that moment, publicly releasing all the confidential information and data has no further inherent negative consequence. That is to say, when hackers leak stolen information, the leak is not the thing that hurts. The thing that hurts is the public imbibing in the leak. If no one would care to taste the forbidden fruit the hackers are dangling in front of us, the victims would suffer no further harm. The leak hurts so much because far too many voyeurs gleefully devour the forbidden fruit. That’s on the voyeurs, not the hackers. That’s not kindness to victims of an attack.
It’s true that the hackers are the thieves. That’s evil. But the rest of us are “in possession of stolen property.” That’s also evil. We understand that viewing child pornography is immoral even though the viewer has not taken the photos or taken advantage of a child. But the demand for depraved images contributes to the market by giving the images value. If no one would look, fewer images would be produced.
Hacking is not the same as child pornography. But the personal violation is similar. No one granted us permission to view these divulged secrets. Hacking would be practically useless if we all agreed to embargo anything that is leaked by the hackers. But we don’t do that. Sadly, there is demand for hacked data. We drive the market. We glorify the hackers and get drunk on illicit access to intimate secrets. Suddenly, we are all Peeping Toms.
I doubt we can figure out a way to stop hackers from hacking. I am hopeful that we can find a way not to look.
It’s a lesson taught very early in the Bible. Upon witnessing the destruction of his world, Noah gets drunk and his sons discover him sprawled naked on the ground. One son stares. Two sons look away and cover their father’s shame. They are praised. The other is cursed. When we are confronted by the shame or nakedness or private information of others, there is only one moral choice. Gawking is a curse. Look away and cover their shame. That’s blessing. It’s what we would want others to do for us.
When hackers steal private information, it’s on us to ignore it. When hackers release pirated movies, it’s on us to go to the theater and pay to see the film. When hackers want to tell us secrets, it’s on us to ignore them. When hackers leak intimate photos of celebrities, it’s on society to look the other way and cover their shame. Our voyeurism is the fuel to the hackers’ fire. If we would just walk away, the fire would burn itself out. When we gawk, we are no longer innocent. We step across the moral line and we become the hackers.
Let’s neuter hacking. Don’t look. Avert your gaze. Respect privacy, especially betrayed privacy. Let’s make our society a place that refuses to drive the hacking market. Let’s care more about the victims of hacking than our prurient curiosity. Let’s not be voyeurs peering luridly into the figurative bedrooms of others as they suffer. Let’s knock on the door, offer our care and concern, and be their security blanket.
Cross-posted to Medium.
— Eliyahu Fink (@efink) December 4, 2014