In an era when governments around the world are pumping millions into combating cyber warfare, coming out with a book praising hacking is certainly a radical move.
But that’s precisely what Bill Jensen and Josh Klein have done in Hacking Work.
To be fair, it’s not like the authors are encouraging readers to hack into the Pentagon, flood the IT system controlling Iran’s nuclear programme with viruses or break into Prince William’s answerphone messages.
Instead they have the more noble aim of reclaiming the term hacking as a positive word that can be applied to all forms of work and help us break through the pointless protocols that can at best make life difficult and worst lose our company’s money.
Hacking as a word dates back to the 1960s when a group of students at MIT, who called themselves Hackers, set up a model train group where they modified trains, tracks and switches to make them better.
The Hackers then applied this same principle of improving things when they tapped into MIT’s computer system to improve its performance. The tag was then applied to describe anyone that broke into a computer system and the authors blame negative media coverage for giving the term a bad name.
Hacking Work is effectively a compendium of various case studies showing how people have taken this original idea – hacking to improve – to make their working lives easiers.
To my mind though, many of the examples in this book tread a fine line between having a positive, rather than a negative effect.
Consider these two examples. A guy called Richard works at one of the world’s top banks and as the credit crunch unfolds, his bosses want him to distill details about their various assets and their plummeting values into easy-to-read reports using the firm’s existing IT software.
Because the IT software is poor this will be a nightmare job. Instead Richard hacks into the database the bank’s IT system is connected to and sweet talks one of the company’s IT providers to give him the password to gain full access.
Without authorisation he had gained access to all of the bank’s customers’ details. But the breach was undetected and Richard helped clients, kept his bosses off his back and is now the go-to person in his firm purely as a result of his illicit access to its internal client data.
Example two is equally grey – Maria puts an email filter on her firms’s firewall so any email with her name in it triggers a blank carbon copy of the email to be sent to her. As a result Maria heads off two human resources problems as in one case she knew what they were going to say
before they spoke to her and ditto when someone had problems with her work.
So are these people heroes or villains? From the evidence presented heroes, but who knows Richard wasn’t helping himself to £10 from 1,000 clients. And maybe Maria was bullying her co-workers when HR came knocking.
While the book is an entertaining read and provides tips on how firms can foster and manage a hacking culture, how many could afford to implement the changes?
When firms are fined millions for data breaches, encouraging staff to do it is like an accident waiting to happen.
l review by Robert Thickett