As part of our attempts as a species to understand what hacking is, this review of the book Medieval Hackers provides a clear commonality between hackers and information-hackers of earlier ages:
The basic premise of Kathleen E. Kennedy’s intriguing volume Medieval Hackers is that modern computer hackers are essentially the inheritors of the medieval copyist and translators who sought to freely disseminate information from original sources through their “derivative texts,” which often also abridged, expanded, or altered information in their exemplars. More specifically, hackers can be identified with those late medieval transmitters of information who came into conflict with authorities when, starting especially in the mid-sixteenth-century, efforts were increasingly made to control, limit, or prohibit the free diffusion and distribution of certain text types, despite the fact that such unfettered free license had hitherto had been an accepted and integral part of European intellectual culture.
Hacking has always been about liberating information from control. This does not extend to any and all information, but to that which others can use in constructive ways. During the 1980s, computer/telecommunications resources were hidden away in universities and at companies, and hackers “borrowed” those to experiment with, explore and develop the new technology. In addition, hackers documented the systems they found and spread that knowledge through g-files/t-files so that others could do the same. In the current time, hacking is mostly dead because resources are available and we are awash in information, most of it bad. As a result, many hackers are reverting to the medieval role of compiling and clarifying true information, branching out into fields like philosophy, politics, literature and the arts.