News / Science & Technology

Hacking for a Better World, It Helps

Renowned American hacker Johnny Long now gets other hackers to volunteer their skills to charities in Jinja, Uganda. (VOA/Hilary Heuler)
Renowned American hacker Johnny Long now gets other hackers to volunteer their skills to charities in Jinja, Uganda. (VOA/Hilary Heuler)
One American computer hacker has figured out how to harness the knowledge and creativity of other hackers around the world to help local Ugandan charities solve their information technology problems -- for free.

For 15 years, Johnny Long was paid by governments and major firms to break into their systems and sometimes their buildings, identifying security holes. His techniques are legendary in technology circles, his books are widely read and people flock to hear him speak at conferences.

But when Long first came to Africa, he says he did not think he would have much to offer.

“I’m a high-tech guy, I hardly have any other skills. I get somebody else to change light bulbs," said Long. "I’m just not the type that you would think of going to Africa and doing anything.”

But he did know computers and he knew a lot about hackers.

“I knew that they got a bad rap from a few people that were committing crimes with their name," said Long. "I saw these people doing good things. But I realized there was no charity that was technology-based that was for them.”

Inspired by a trip his wife had taken, and determined to help, Long moved his family to Jinja, Uganda, in 2009.

There he founded Hackers for Charity, which provides a way for hackers around the world to volunteer their skills to cash-strapped local charities that cannot afford tech support. Hackers can volunteer remotely, building and securing websites or they can come to Uganda in person to help set up and maintain computer labs.

Long says the work might not be warm and fuzzy, but for many organizations it is essential. Renee Bach, who runs a charity for malnourished children, is one of the beneficiaries. She points out that computers are vital in keeping her organization going.

“We use computers for all of our data and record keeping and all of our bookkeeping and finances as well," said Bach. "We have Skype board meetings and things like that over the Internet as well. A lot of our communication with donors is done over the Internet.”

Students learn IT skills for free at a computer lab set up with the help of volunteer hackers in Jinja, Uganda. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)Students learn IT skills for free at a computer lab set up with the help of volunteer hackers in Jinja, Uganda. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
x
Students learn IT skills for free at a computer lab set up with the help of volunteer hackers in Jinja, Uganda. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
Students learn IT skills for free at a computer lab set up with the help of volunteer hackers in Jinja, Uganda. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
Long says persuading people to work with hackers is not always easy. The stigma attached to the term can drive donors away.

“Most organizations see that word hacker - which we won’t remove from our name, because it’s who we are - and that’s it. End of discussion," said Long. "Organizations that would normally donate to us won’t donate because they’re fearing a news story.”

He says working with hackers does come with challenges. Some of his volunteers prefer to remain anonymous, taking precautions to prevent their emails from being traced. And, he adds, identity is not the only problem.

“The other challenge is vetting the volunteers," said Long. "If you have somebody that has bad motives and they just want to put a back door into a client’s website instead of fixing it, that becomes sticky.”

Long’s volunteers have numbered in the thousands, and he screens them all carefully. Tim Rosenberg, an IT professional who has volunteered twice with Long, insists that the majority are just grateful for the chance to use their expertise to benefit others.

“We’re not known for our social skills," said Rosenberg. "We’re known for spending hours and days and months in windowless offices interfacing on laptops and computers, and not really moving outside of that bubble. An organization like Hackers for Charity, that provides the ability to start impacting into the wider community and the world, is just a phenomenal opportunity.”

Long says he hopes the work they do will change the public’s perceptions of hackers as well.

“We’re able to show hackers aren’t just about mayhem and causing trouble," said Long. "We’re actually making a difference.”

In the mean time, Long admits his own tech skills are getting a bit rusty. But he feels like he is helping to save lives and says he is not looking back.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid