Thursday, 15 January 2015

What is Hacking?

Picture Cred to Tyrano on DeviantArt
Picture Cred to Tyrano on DeviantArt

 Maybe you have heard the term “hacking” before whether used loosely or in a technical sense. Hacking by definition is to use a computer to gain unauthorized access to data in a system. This can be done through multiple devices be it a mobile phone, desktop pc, etc.
Typically a hacker is a someone who seeks to exploit some known or unknown flaw in a system. this usually profits the hacker, or allows them to obtain sensitive data, whether it is legally or illegally. Hackers break down into 3 “types”. The most commonly known are black & white hat hackers. Blackhat being the ones who tend to exploit for personal gain or with malicious intent. While white hat are usually used to find flaws in a system, in order to pass it on to the company/user and have them patch the flaw. Hackers, however, do not split into these camps perfectly. Arguably, the most common type of hacker is “greyhat”. This hacker is neither full white-hat, or black-hat. For example, this hacker may help Google find exploits and security flaws in their applications, though he also plays practical jokes, which may be slightly illegal, on his friends. Hacking is done in multiple ways. Gaining physical access to some sort of electronic device, through software, or socially, are two known ways. Social Engineering, which is a form of hacking, is used to get devices, passwords, credit card numbers, or personal information. Put simply, social engineering is “engineering” people in the non-virtual world or a chatroom, through charm, wit, or anything, that will get you what you want. Other ways of hacking are virtual. Attacks such as virus’s use a computer program to infect a computer, or a key logger which “logs” all the keystrokes of the person with the offending program on their machine, and collects sensitive data like your passwords, credit cards, social security numbers etc.

Hacking isn’t just limited to your at-home desktop computers. Consider any device that has a form of computer built into it as hackable. An automobile for instance is essentially a computer. Even your refrigerator can be manipulated to a hackers content. Hackers can take advantage of such technology like the IR blaster in your car key. This uses a unique key to unlock your car; if a hacker gets his hands on it and is able to duplicate it, you can say sianara to that new car you have! So techniques vary from hacker to hacker in terms of what they are trying to exploit and how they want to do it.
Techniques such as
    Brute Force Attack
    Password Cracking
    Packet Sniffer

are just some of the known and more popular methods when it comes to exploiting a system. The line you cross when it comes to hacking a device or computer is what determines the legality. Modifying a simple electronic you own may constitute as hacking. On the flip side exposing flaws in major company software or technologies and using that to cause chaos or to profit from is illegal and can lead to prison. If, however, you found this flaw with the permission of the company, and you do it to help the company patch their security flaws, than this is perfectly legal.

Hacking, however, cannot be merely summed up by some techniques. For many, hacking is more than that. Many consider hacking a lifestyle. The featured picture of this post is widely considered among hackers to be the hackers “manifesto”. Those who learned to hack in their free time, or for their own enjoyment and curiosity, did it for the reasons outlined in the manifesto– hence why this manifesto speaks to many hackers. It can be observed, then, how Hackers are misunderstood by the public. The prevalent stereotype in today’s society of the “hacker” is of some neon-hair-colored criminal sitting in a basement, stealing government secrets, or millions of dollars from XXXX bank, only for malicious purpose. This, however, can not be further from the truth. Hackers come in all shapes and sizes; as stated in the manifesto “We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias”. A hacker can literally be anyone.
In addition to this flawed public image are the misconceptions for why hackers do what they do. Many hackers  began to hack out of intellectual curiosity, or even boredom, and never for the malicious purposes many perceive. In the past, it used to be that malicious hackers and “white-hat” hackers were under different names- “Hackers” and “Crackers”. Hackers were the respected ones– they were the ones who took something, and made it better. For example, they would take inefficient, unorganized, long code, and made it elegant– short, concise, easily discernible and very efficient. Hackers would not see something for what it did, rather, they saw something for what it can do. For example, an old phone. The phone may not be on a network, it may not even turn on. An average person would not think anything of it. A hacker, however, would see it differently. They would try different things with it– take it apart, and create something new. This guy  took old parts from different electronics, and created a device to find open and exploitable wifi. He did not have a malicious purpose; he did it for fun, and to show how open and exploitable the wifi networks of the average person are. Crackers, however, did no such thing. Crackers had a different agenda–to exploit, destroy, or take control of systems. Usually, they would not be the ones creating their own software, rather, they would be using the what the Hackers created, and apply it to their own, not-so-legal purpose. Crackers and Hackers used to be differentiated, though today, they fall under the same category of “hacker”.

Essentially what it all comes down to is this. Hacking by itself is not an illegal act; its what you do and what you choose to target that can lead to illegal activity. To modify and seek bugs, flaws, and errors in a system can be used to help companies patch fatal security holes or exploited and used at your advantage. Hacking has always been associated with the digital sense, and as the world continues to grow and technology becomes even more ubiquitous, hackers will always be there to modify, improve, and exploit every aspect of electronics.


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