Computer Ethics

Ethics deals with placing a “value” on acts according to whether they are “good” or “bad”. Every society has its rules about whether certain acts are ethical or not. These rules have been established as a result of consensus in society and are often written into laws.

When computers first began to be used in society at large, the absence of ethical standards about their use and related issues caused some problems. However, as their use became widespread in every facet of our lives, discussions in computer ethics resulted in some kind of a consensus. Today, many of these rules have been formulated as laws, either national or international. Computer crimes and computer fraud are now common terms. There are laws against them, and everyone is responsible for knowing what constitutes computer crime and computer fraud.

The Ten Commandments of computer ethics have been defined by the Computer Ethics Institute. Here is our interpretation of them:

 1) Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people: If it is unethical to harm people by making a bomb, for example, it is equally bad to write a program that handles the timing of the bomb. Or, to put it more simply, if it is bad to steal and destroy other people’s books and notebooks, it is equally bad to access and destroy their files.

 2) Thou shalt not interfere with other people's computer work: Computer viruses are small programs that disrupt other people’s computer work by destroying their files, taking huge amounts of computer time or memory, or by simply displaying annoying messages. Generating and consciously spreading computer viruses is unethical.

3) Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's files: Reading other people’s e-mail messages is as bad as opening and reading their letters: This is invading their privacy. Obtaining other people’s non-public files should be judged the same way as breaking into their rooms and stealing their documents. Text documents on the Internet may be protected by encryption.

4) Thou shalt not use a computer to steal: Using a computer to break into the accounts of a company or a bank and transferring money should be judged the same way as robbery. It is illegal and there are strict laws against it.

5) Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness: The Internet can spread untruth as fast as it can spread truth. Putting out false "information" to the world is bad. For instance, spreading false rumors about a person or false propaganda about historical events is wrong.

6) Thou shalt not use or copy software for which you have not paid: Software is an intellectual product. In that way, it is like a book: Obtaining illegal copies of copyrighted software is as bad as photocopying a copyrighted book. There are laws against both. Information about the copyright owner can be embedded by a process called  watermarking into pictures in the digital format.

7) Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without authorization: Multiuser systems use user id’s and passwords to enforce their memory and time allocations, and to safeguard information.  You should not try to bypass this authorization system. Hacking a system to break and bypass the authorization is unethical.

8) Thou shalt not appropriate other people's intellectual output: For example, the programs you write for the projects assigned in this course are your own intellectual output. Copying somebody else’s program without proper authorization is software piracy and is unethical. Intellectual property is a form of ownership, and may be protected by copyright laws.

9) Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you write: You have to think about computer issues in a more general social framework: Can the program you write be used in a way that is harmful to society? For example, if you are working for an animation house, and are producing animated films for children, you are responsible for their contents. Do the animations include scenes that can be harmful to children? In the United States, the Communications Decency Act was an attempt by lawmakers to ban certain types of content from Internet websites to protect young children from harmful material. That law was struck down because it violated the free speech principles in that country's constitution. The discussion, of course, is going on.

10) Thou shalt use a computer in ways that show consideration and respect: Just like public buses or banks, people using computer communications systems may find themselves in situations where there is some form of queuing and you have to wait for your turn and generally be nice to other people in the environment. The fact that you cannot see the people you are interacting with does not mean that you can be rude to them.

See for further comments on the ten commandments.


The following email message was sent to the instructor as a response to the ten commandments mentioned in this page:

Your 10 commandments contradict the hacking

communities constitution:


1. We believe:  That every individual should have the

right to free speech in cyber space.


2. We believe:  That every individual should be free

of worry when pertaining to oppressive governments

that control cyber space.


3. We believe:  That democracy should exist in cyber

space to set a clear example as to how a functioning

element of society can prosper with equal rights and

free speech to all.


4. We believe:  That hacking is a tool that should and

is used to test the integrity of networks that hold

and safe guard our valuable information.


5. We believe:  Those sovereign countries in the world

community that do not respect democracy should be



6. We believe:  That art, music, politics, and crucial

social elements of all world societies can be achieved

on the computer and in cyber space.


7. We believe:  That hacking, cracking, and phreaking

are instruments that can achieve three crucial goals:

a.         Direct Democracy in cyber space.

b.         The belief that information should be free to all.

c.         The idea that one can test and know the dangers and

exploits of systems that store the individual_s



8. We believe:  That cyber space should be a governing

body in the world community, where people of all

nations and cultures can express their ideas and

beliefs has to how our world politics should be



9. We believe:  That there should be no governing

social or political class or party in cyber space.


10. We believe:  That the current status of the

internet is a clear example as to how many races,

cultures, and peoples can communicate freely and

without friction or conflict.


11. We believe:  In free enterprise and friction free



12. We believe:  In the open source movement fully, as

no government should adopt commercial or priced

software for it shows that a government may be biased

to something that does not prompt the general welfare

of the technology market and slows or stops the

innovation of other smaller company_s products.


13. We believe:  That technology can be wielded for

the better placement of man kind and the environment

we live in.


14. We believe:  That all sovereign countries in the

world community should respect these principles and

ideas released in this constitution.



Written by the hacking group Xanatomy.