Computer Crime Research Center


Does open source programming make you a criminal?

Date: May 01, 2008
By: Dana Blankenhorn

The New York Times is working on a story saying open source programming makes you a criminal.

Matt Richtel (right) called for an interview soon after learning that a jury had convicted open source programmer Hans Reiser of first degree murder. (Picture from TwelveBooks Publishing.)

It just makes sense, he told me during the interview. If blogging kills, then programming must lead to criminality.

Yes, I replied, but that only makes sense if programmers are killing bloggers.

What? Richtel stammered. Never mind, I said.

And so on the interview went. Fortunately I had plenty of examples to give him, from my own work covering open source for ZDNet.

I told him about programmers who stole another programmer’s can of Coca-Cola out of the company refrigerator, even after he clearly marked it as his. The victim called this “sharage” and brought a case to work the next day, but still…

There was a programmer who took his laptop home every night. The bosses were certain he was stealing corporate secrets. So every day they inspected his hard drive, and found nothing. Years later the security chief found the now ex-employee driving a fancy car and confronted him. “I knew you were stealing something. What was it?” “Laptops.”

I told him how one programmer infested his cubicle with ants, claiming he was a messy eater. The next day another programmer had murdered them all with a bottle of bleach.

Did I have to tell him all those stories of computer crime, of hackers and crackers, spammers and virus authors? The computer must have made them do it.

Open source itself is just stealing, you know. It’s like Abbie Hoffman writing “Steal this Book.” Steve Ballmer will vouch for this personally, I assured him.

Just yesterday I saw a programmer, lost in thought, crossing a street against a red light!

You know “Dilbert” is just a textbook for programmer criminality. Wally’s the real boss of the crime family. Just run the strips backward. They read “the boss is dead.”

The Times man was excited by all of this, and I wished him well. But I also promised I would get you, my loyal readers, involved in this important investigation.

So what other examples of computer criminality have you seen?

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist for nearly 25 years. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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