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Background: Internet 'Darwinism'

We see hackers as criminal figures. But without them pushing the envelope, we wouldn't have the Internet as we know it today

Information technology has become an integral part of many of our lives. From sending email to trading stocks online, from socialising in chat rooms to videoconferencing, the benefits we reap from information technologies help us immeasurably in the chaos of our day-to-day lives.

But while this picture can be undeniably rosy, there's a dark side to it. Who's watching us at work and at play? And when might they intrude into our lives, causing frustration, chaos, and -- perhaps -- much worse? The specter of so-called "hacker attacks" is a familiar one to anyone who's ever encountered a computer virus, watched a movie like "War Games," or heard about a government Web site being taken offline due to prankish defacements.

Indeed, the much-publicised Denial of Service (DoS) attacks of the last two months have generated increasing consternation about safety and security on the Internet. They have also sparked heated public debates over Internet surveillance and regulation. Central to these debates is that fox-in-the-henhouse figure, the hacker.

But though the hacker is often vilified in the media as a dangerous criminal element on the electronic frontier, rarely considered are the many ways in which hackers serve a positive function in the development of the Internet and information technologies. The hacker is often seen as a virtual ne'er-do-well, but it must be remembered that hackers are responsible for the very existence of the Internet, and are in the vanguard of its continuing evolution.

with additional research by Tammy Lawrence

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