Professionalism/Kevin Mitnick

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New Professionalism[edit]

Professionalism lacks clear boundaries but can be identified through various indicators. Identifying key indicators in new endeavors is challenging due to the lack of precedence in the ethical, moral, and legal considerations that accompany the establishment of a new profession. To become a valid professional endeavor new professions must resist pressure from contemporary ethics and substantially adapt relevant ethical perspectives. Historically new professions may be met with punishing and overpowering pressure to stop. However, there exist cases where new professions are met with no resistance at all. There must be a balance between these two extremes to enable the growth of a new profession and also assure it's morality. The pioneering individuals of these new professions demonstrate that a relative abundance of intrinsic motivation, resistance to conformity, and confidence in their new ethical perspectives are required to forge these new fields. There exists an oscillating balance between acceptance and rejection of a new profession as its values and ethics merge with established ethics.

Background and Biography[edit]

At the time of his arrest in 1995 Kevin Mitnick was the most wanted cyber criminal in the United States. In his early years Kevin Mitnick used social engineering, that is the art of manipulating people to gain information or perform certain actions, to ride the Los Angeles bus system for free. His early "arete", social engineering, eventually morphed into a passion for penetrating telecommunication and digital communication systems. Mitnick began as a phone phreaker or someone interested in studying and experimenting with telecommunication systems. Eventually, with the advent of the personal computer he began hacking to find vulnerabilities in computer networks. In 1979 Mitnick performed his first major "crack" and broke into the network at Digital Equipment Corporation with a phone number for the Ark, the system in charge of their operating system.[1] Mitnick continued to break into the networks of various corporations and organizations. Before his arrest in 1995, his visits to juvenile detention and prison did not deter him from hacking. In 2003, after completing a five year prison term Mitnick eventually had his abilities to use telecommunication technologies reinstated. Mitnick changed course and used his natural ability, passion, and expertise to form his own "white hat" hacking company. His clients now hire Mitnick and his team to uncover vulnerabilities in their digital networks and assess the resilience of their data/communication infrastructure to cyber attacks. In 1995 Kevin Mitnick's excellence went unrecognized as anything beyond a nuisance and a danger. As one of the most notorious cyber criminals of his time Mitnick took the heat for an up and coming field. By changing from a black-hat, arguably gray-hat, hacker to a white-hat hacker Mitnick demonstrated to the world that hacking was an ethically valid profession and a profession that has value to add to society. Though under severe legal pressure to abandon his excellence Mitnick fought for his ability to access telecommunication networks and maintain his ethical stance.

New Professionalism: Breakthroughs & Dangers[edit]

Galileo Galilei was the driving force of the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century and is often remembered as the "Father of Modern Science". Such achievement did not come easy. Although he is noted for his contributions to astronomy, physics, and mathematics, it was his support for the heliocentric model of the solar system and his subsequent opposition to both the Roman Catholic Church and conforming scientists of that time that gave birth to a new era of science.

The Catholic Church supported the Aristotelian view of the universe, which placed the earth at the center of the universe and was in accordance with the Bible. Galileo's observations supported the heliocentric theory that Copernicus published in On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in 1543 that claimed that the sun was the center of the solar system and that the earth and the planets revolved around it.[2] When Galileo published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in 1632 he lost support of fellow scientists and the Church charged him with heresy. He was placed under house arrest, his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was banned, and publication of his work was forbidden.[3] Although there is no evidence to support it, it is said that at his sentencing he uttered the words "eppur si muove" which translates to "and yet it moves".[4] Whether he said it or not, it represents his very real confidence in his profession, his fight against conformity, and his intrinsic motivation to discover and uphold the truth. Without these attributes Galileo Galileo would not have been able to establish the Scientific Revolution.

There is danger when new endeavors are given too much liberty and met with no resistance. In the beginning of the 20th century in America scientists were actively establishing and researching practices to improve the genetic composition of the human population. This "science" was known as eugenics. Advocates of eugenics believed that genes were passed down solely by the parents and that nature/environment had no role whatsoever in gene expression and phenotype. The professionalism of eugenicists, that is their intrinsic motivation, their confidence in their ethical perspectives, and their non-conformity led Congress to pass several anti-miscegenation laws which prohibited peoples of different races to marry and reproduce. This was to protect the dilution of the "superior" Nordic stock in America.[5] Immigration laws were passed that also decreased the number of immigrants allowed into the country on the basis that these races were scientifically illiterate. Eugenicists also influenced several states' decisions to enforce the sterilization of handicapped peoples, particularly those in mental institutions.[6] It was believed that these genes, that is those for insanity or slowness, could be "weeded" out within a generation.

In 1937 eugenics finally proved itself to be a pseudoscience in the United States, however it still had strong momentum in Nazi Germany. The science of deeming specific traits superior to others would lead to human experimentation and large scale genocide in World War II. It took the Holocaust for this new professionalism to be deemed a violation on human rights.

Intrinsic Motivation[edit]

Even though Kevin Mitnick hacked into and stole software from Sun Microsystems, Novell, and Motorola he never sold the code or profited from his hacking exploits.[7] "My drivers for hacking were intellectual curiosity, pursuit of knowledge and seduction of adventure," he said at a book signing in New York City. "It was never about stealing money or writing malware."[8] In-fact one of his most famous hacks, stealing the source code for the Motorola MicroTAC was motivated "because it looked like a Star Trek communicator. I wanted to understand how these phones worked, how the codes controlled the processor. I wasn't interested in selling the source code or doing anything with it. It was more about the challenge of getting it." [9] Kevin Mitinick's motivation for hacking was not for personal gain, but because he was curious about technology and he loved the excitement that hacking provided.

When Mitnick was asked if companies should hire former black hat hackers inorder to discourage criminals he noted that it was very important "to evaluate the person's skill set, their maturity, and what they did before as a hacker. Were they getting credit card numbers and buying merchandise on the Internet? Or were they hacking systems for their own intellectual curiosity? You can't just lump black hat hackers into one category." Further more he noted when he started hacking "there was no such thing as penetration testing and no school curriculum on security. You had to be self-taught." [10] When a field is new or developing there is often no forum for learning or exchanging ideas about the field. How does a professional go about gaining knowledge about the field? Often, as in the case of Mitnick and Galileo, one must go outside what is socially acceptable. However, simply saying this can give too much license. For a professional in a developing field, it is very important the reason why someone steps outside what is socially acceptable. Do they do it out of intellectual curiosity, a desire to know how cell-phones work, or with defined motive, stealing credit cards. If a professional in a developing field steps outside what is socially acceptable, they must only do it out of intellectual curiosity or in an attempt to share their ideas.

New Professionalism[edit]

Cases of new professionals like Kevin Mitnick demonstrate the dynamic nature of professionalism and professional ethics. The inertia of professionalism and ethics attempts to squash endeavors and perspectives that do not align. Clearly these perspectives can change to accommodate new endeavors; it is the impetus provided by individuals like Mitnick that enable these changes.

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