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What do you picture when you read the word “hacker?” I always see Cereal, Matthew Lillard’s character, from the movie Hackers. A dude with weird hair, intense need to make information free, and copies of 2600 magazine scattered around his dank apartment. 

That image is, and always was, a fantasy. What hackers are, and what they’ve become, is complicated. The word was once synonymous with “criminal,” but through years of activism and hard work, that’s changed. Now, “hacker” means so much more.

The story of how hackers became security professionals and respected, if not always trusted, members of society is the subject of the study Wearing Many Hats: The Rise of the Professional Security Hacker.

This week on Cyber, Harvard Anthropology professor Gabreilla Coleman and Data & Society researcher Matt Goerzen sit down to talk about the birth of the hacker scene and how criminals slowly turned themselves into vaunted security professionals.

It’s a fascinating story that involves Lubbock, Texas, a debate about arsonists and firefighters, and a litany of strange hacker handles.

We’re recording CYBER live on Twitch. Watch live on Wednesdays at 4pm EST. Follow us there to get alerts when we go live. We take questions from the audience and yours might just end up on the show.

Subscribe to CYBER on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts.