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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid