Building, not breaking: when hackers are let loose in government

Hacking is about building stuff, not breaking into stuff. And with that the nation’s best hackers went to work putting government data to good use. The Mandarin joined in.

By all accounts, the recent GovHack was a triumph. More than 1300 hackers — about a third more than last year — logged on in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Hobart, Ballarat, Mt Gambier, Cairns and the Gold Coast.

Participants raved about how much they loved the government-sponsored hackathon, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull got to spruik the Coalition’s open data credentials, and the organisers got a decent chance to promote the value of open data in the local and national media as well. That is, in the time left after patiently explaining what “hacking” really means.

“Hacking is about building stuff, not breaking into stuff,” clarified GovHack lead organiser Pia Waugh, when asked by ABC News 24 journalist Tony Eastley whether “white-hat hackers” used the same methods as the nefarious “black-hat hackers”.

In fact, the hacker subculture pre-dates the term’s use to describe what those in the know, like Waugh, call “cracking”. Hacking roughly equates to thinking laterally, and it’s proven a very successful approach for computer programmers over the years.

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