I recently happened across this question:

How do I hide a file?

The OP asks about writing code in C/C++ to make a file "hidden or undeletable." Rather than close or downvote the question for its (rather obvious) flaws, the majority of the community jumped on the OP for "reek[ing] of viral intentions."

To me, that question doesn't necessarily only have applications in the malware market. But even if it does, is it within the purview of the community to close it for such? It's still a valid programming question, is it not? It just struck me as a bit much that three different commenters asked about possible legitimate uses for such code, with one going so far as to warn the OP that IPs are logged at SO.

  • The OP of that question has to list at least one non-malware application to avoid the gang piling. But yeah that was really fast.
    – hyperslug
    Commented Oct 9, 2009 at 12:47
  • I voted to reopen, and then voted the question down because I didn't think it was a very good one.
    – TheTXI
    Commented Oct 9, 2009 at 12:57
  • 3
    @hyperslug - has to list at least one non-malware application? I don't think the burden of proof should be on the OP. What if the application he's writing is a trade secret, or the question is just for theoretical research and has no intended real-world application? True, it would help if he could provide one such application, but I don't think it should be a prerequisite for asking a question.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 9, 2009 at 13:30
  • @Tim, what I meant by that was, fair or not, crowd behavior tends not to give the benefit of the doubt if they can't think of a legitimate reason, see meta.stackexchange.com/questions/21628/limewire-piracy. I agreed then and I agree now; I'd like to see questions answered strictly on technical terms.
    – hyperslug
    Commented Oct 9, 2009 at 14:25

4 Answers 4


I don't think it is our place to judge the ethics or motives of a user. If the user does not explicitly state that they have ill intentions, you should not assume that to be the case.

But you should also remember that nobody is obligated to answer questions. If you feel that answering the question may prove to be wrong ethically, nobody is going to twist your arm to answer it.

Also, if you have enough reservations about the ethics of the question, flag it for moderator attention and let someone else take a look at it.


As with other aspects of human interaction, it's seldom the case that the question itself is considered and answered in isolation. We should strive for that ideal, of course, but when a questions is poorly worded it makes it that much easier to focus on other factors, such as the asker's marginal write-up and perceived malicious intent, than to focus on the technical question at hand.

If this question had been posed as:

What means are available to developers in C/C++ to make files undetectable or undeletable, and how can they be circumvented (if at all)?

The question would likely have received a much better response.

  • Infact, I likely would have voted up such a question. (Personally) I voted it closed because there was a clear contradiction in the question as it was asked that made it unanswerable (how do I modify the system, without using system calls [further more, simply because they give an error, but no error message was given]). Personally, I've seen a few 'how do I do x without actually doing x' questions surfacing lately, and they get tiring. Commented Oct 9, 2009 at 13:37

Speaking for myself and various colleagues/friends, we like to know as much as possible about what goes on inside our computers and get very resentful when programs try to hide things from us. It's one thing to hide things from regular (non-admin) users, but we're very territorial.

But generally speaking I think we should give the poster the benefit of the doubt. They are often only the messenger, asking how to do what some faceless manager has insisted must be done.


Speaking for myself, I may have poked fun, but my vote to close that... poorly worded question was entirely to do with the question itself (originally) than the ethics behind it.

Please do not use system call in the code because they either generate error of no no output.

Wait, what error? Shouldn't we be trying to fix errors? As I noted in a comment to the question after the whole ethics debate really fired up:

Also "Please don't tell me to use method x because it generates an error.", especially without providing said error usually points to a misuse of method x, not a deficiency in the method.

To be honest, I'm usually fairly hard on the 1 rep random users. If someone has even 11 rep not from the question at hand, I'm usually willing to cut some slack and reread a few times, but to quote someone else, in this particular case:

It just reeks!

  • 1
    Why would you vote to close because you don't like the way they wrote it? That's why you have the downvoting feature.
    – TheTXI
    Commented Oct 9, 2009 at 13:13
  • I'll be honest and admit that part of it is that I'm in a foul mood tonight, part of it is because the question didn't make sense at all, and part of it is because of the aforementioned other issues. There, the full, unabridged answer to 'why?' Commented Oct 9, 2009 at 13:16
  • 2
    @TheTXI: well, asking for code to manipulate the system while disallowing the use of system calls effectively makes the question unanswerable. "Not a real question" seems appropriate...
    – Shog9
    Commented Oct 9, 2009 at 13:23

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