The Social Organization of the Computer Underground


I think I read the text version of “The Social Organization of the Computer Underground” sometime between 1993 and 1995. Recently I found out that the author has written an anniversary edition with a new introduction to the text (plus PDF and ePub versions).

While information in the text is dated (it was published in 1989) it is still a useful reading for those who wish to understand just a little deeper what went on (and some of what goes on) in the Digital Underground. Even better the introduction offers a methodology on how to do this the right way. I still consider it mandatory reading. My best part of the text is how the following typology from Best and Luckenbill’s 1982 “Organizing Deviance” is used to describe the Computer Underground:

Form of Organization Mutual Association Mutual Participation Division of Labor Extended Organization
Loners no no no no
Colleagues yes no no no
Peers yes yes no no
Mobs yes yes yes no
Formal Organizations yes yes yes yes

I think that people who will read the text will agree that the above typology most probably stands even today. Formal organizations for example do not appear in Meyer’s study, however these days almost every nation is investing in building a cyberwarfare capability (and this is not an “overground” operation).

It is a pity, I think, that such a work cannot be repeated today. If it could, it could provide us with some glimpse into modern cybercrime networks and even espionage (industrial or national) ones. But then again one can hope that there exists the sociologist who will prove me wrong.

PS: Revisiting the text I was reminded of the Cu Digest to which I was a subscriber for quite some time.

Update: Reading the description about the Anonymous group behind the HBGary hacks, I kind of appreciate the above table even more:

“Anonymous is a diverse bunch: though they tend to be younger rather than older, their age group spans decades. Some may still be in school, but many others are gainfully employed office-workers, software developers, or IT support technicians, among other things. With that diversity in age and experience comes a diversity of expertise and ability.”


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