It was inevitable, I just didn’t think it would happen so soon. Someone with a deep background in the hacker world is a serious candidate for President. Beto O’Rourke was an early member of the Cult of the Dead Cow, according to this remarkable story by Joseph Menn at Reuters.
I covered the Cult of the Dead Cow, and many of its camera-ready hacking stunts, at MSNBC.com back in the late 1990s.
The Cult of the Dead Cow might be considered the first “notorious” hacking group in the early Web era. The group had cult status before I started writing about technology, but became a staple of evening news television by creating media-friendly, sarcasm-laden stunts — like the release of a hacking tool named “Back Orifice” at the popular DefCon conference to attack Microsoft software.
CDC set a lot of things in motion. The group is credited with inventing the term “hacktivism” — it wasn’t hacking just for fun, it was hacking to make a point. It made attention-getting stunts cool. It drew a lot of attention to insecure software, back when high-profile incidents like the Melissa virus and the LoveBug impacted millions of people.
It also attracted a lot of young people into the world of computer hacking. It feels like a much more innocent time. Back then, young hackers were mainly interested in getting free software, getting cheap long-distance calling minutes so they could dial into bulletin boards, and pulling other telecom tricks. Plenty of folks dabbled in this kind of hacking, then moved on to other things. It appears then teen-age Beto o’Rourke was one of them. He must have been smart; membership in the CDC was handed out sparingly. Also, until Menn’s reporting, membership was ordinarily a secret.
Whatever you think of O’Rourke’s politics, it’s great that someone who absorbed hacker skills and a hacker world-view is a candidate for high office. Hackers, by their nature, don’t accept the status quo. They are forced to look beyond the obvious, to see old problems in new ways, and most of all, to succeed by being clever. America’s problems are deep and complex, and we could sure use a hacker to fix them. Also, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that America is under attack right now by hackers from foreign adversaries — Russia, China, Iran. It can’t hurt to have someone who thinks like a hacker in charge of fighting this battle.
I’m not saying I want O’Rourke to win. I’m saying I hope more hackers run for office. We need all the clever help we can get.