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

Multimedia Obama, Modi Break Nuclear Deal Deadlock

Impasse over liability issues had been stalling bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation; deal reached at start of US president's three-day visit to India More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track 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.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid