When the word hacking is mentioned, what kind of images come to mind? Do you think of criminals and vandals trying to steal data or spy on others? Do you think of someone sitting in front of an array of computers, sending out encrypted programs to people in order to gain unauthorized access to their computers remotely?
The truth is that the majority of people view hacking as an illegal activity. While it is true that criminal hackers do exist, they are actually just a small minority. Hacking is simply finding an alternative or unintended use of computer hardware or software, so as to enhance their applications and solve problems.
This is the technical definition of hacking. Hacking is using the technology available in new and counterintuitive ways in order to solve problems that conventional techniques cannot. It is only in our current digital age that hacking has become synonymous with bypassing security, illegally accessing another person’s computer, and wrecking havoc.
The History of Hacking
Back in the late 1870’s, Bell Telephone Company hired several teenage boys to work as switchboard operators. These boys decided to engage in some technological mischief by intentionally misdirecting and disconnecting phone calls, listening in on conversations, and other kinds of pranks. Though this was not called “hacking” back then, it was the earliest recognized incident of misusing technology.
It is even believed that this was one of the reasons that the company decided to only hire female workers as operators.
Fast forward about 100 years later, in the 1950’s. The word “hack” was used to refer to a shortcut or technique used to bypass the original operation of a system. The term was coined by MIT model train enthusiasts who received a donation of old telephone equipment, which they then used to create a complicated system for controlling their model trains.
They were able to engineer a way to allow multiple operators to manipulate the track by dialing the telephone. These are considered to be the original hackers because they were able to take the equipment that they had and discover a new an inventive use for it.
A number of these model train hackers then became curious about the new computer systems that were being introduced on their campus.
They were programming geeks that wanted to change the existing computer programs to make them better, customize them for special applications, and mostly just to have fun. The end result was that they produced modified and more elegant versions of the original programs. They weren’t just content to write programs that solved problems; they wanted their programs to solve problems in the best ways possible.
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In the 1970’s, there arose a different type of hacker whose focus was on exploiting the telephone system. These were referred to as “phreakers,” and their aim was to figure out how the electronic switching system worked so that they could make free long-distance phone calls.
This is an example of one of the first anti-establishment movements that would later give birth to personal computer hackers.
As personal computers became more common in the 1980’s, hackers were able to acquire their own devices and use the new technology to expand their reach. They quickly learned how to use modems to dial into and gain access to other people’s personal computers.
It was at this time that Stephen Levy published Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, where he stated that there should be unlimited and total access to computers in order to understand how the world works. The desire to dissect, understand, and better appreciate Computer programming in order to gain more knowledge would later be regarded as the Hacker Ethic.
In the late 1980’s, there emerged a group of hackers who felt that exploring systems for benign reasons such as learning wasn’t enough anymore. This younger generation decided to start hacking for personal profit by engaging in criminal activities. This included selling pirated video games, software, and even distributing worms and viruses to take down entire systems.
They formed cyber-gangs that went after sensitive data in large institutions and governments. Law enforcement stepped in and anti-hacking legislation was soon passed. Many of these cyber-gang members were arrested and prosecuted.
The latest frontier in hacking is known as “whacking.” This involves finding unsecured Wireless Access Points (WAPs) and connecting to them. This has become more prevalent due to increased use of Wi-Fi
Types of Hackers
How is it possible to differentiate between good hackers who want to share the benefits of technological advances and those who want to steal from people?
Initially, the term cracker was used to describe hackers who tampered with a system and broke the law for profit. Those who followed the principles of the Hacker Ethic were the good guys and were simply referred to as hackers.
The good hackers were offended that the media was associating hacking with criminal activities carried out by a few individuals and decided to coin the term cracker.
However, times have changed and the word cracker is rarely used anymore. Today, hackers are generally divided into:
- Black hat hackers
These are criminals who intentionally break into systems and steal information or money. They are also known as malicious hackers or crackers and they usually hack devices for selfish purposes.
- White hat hackers
These are also known as ethical hackers. They only hack devices and systems in order to find potential vulnerabilities and then figure out ways of preventing those weaknesses being exploited. White hat hackers ensure that they release updates to the public to patch up system vulnerabilities. They are constantly searching for new vulnerabilities in systems and devices in order to make them more efficient and secure. This is not an easy task, and that is why ethical hackers form communities to share their knowledge.
- Grey hat hackers
These are hackers who are motivated by profit as well as ethical reasons. They tend to use both legal and illegal means to exploit a system. They gain access to a person’s system, inform them of the vulnerability they have found, and then provide suggestions on how to improve their security.
The Motivations for Hacking
Though hacking is considered something that is reserved for programmers, anyone can learn how to hack. There are generally four major reasons why people engage in hacking:
- To gain legal and authorized access to a system in order to test its security, expose any vulnerability that may exist, and fix them.
- To gain illegal access into a system out of pure curiosity or pride. This is usually what motivates most amateur hackers who simply download ready-to-use tools off the Internet. Such hackers are commonly referred to as “script-kiddies,” and they often target random organizations and systems just to be disruptive. Most of the hacking events that the media highlights are usually script-kiddies who are looking for an opportunity to be a nuisance.
- To gain unauthorized access in order to maliciously destroy information or tamper with it.
- To gain access to a computer system so as to steal data and sell it to other parties. Corporations or governments usually hire these. Regardless of what your motivations are, always remember that there are many different ways to learn how to hack. As technology advances and knowledge evolves, new and more effective ways of attacking or protecting systems are being created.
Anyone who owns a Smartphone or computer needs to learn how to hack. You need to be motivated to learn how your own devices and systems work so that you can adjust and make them better. You probably receive tens of downloads, messages and emails on your portable electronic devices on a daily basis, yet do you really pay attention to what you allow into your system?
If you want to protect yourself from black hat hackers, you will need to start thinking like one. This means that you have to gain the relevant knowledge, understand the motivations of an attack, and the tools that can be used against you. This will be the first step in understanding how to defend yourself and even launch your own counterattack.
What You Need
Hacking may seem daunting at first, especially if you have never practiced it before. However, all you really need is knowledge of computer use and an ability to follow written instructions. You may not know how to write computer code yet, but that is OK. This book contains some instructions on the coding software and operating system you need. On the other hand, if you truly want to become an expert hacker, then you will have to learn how to code.
There are specific skills and requirements that you must have to become a hacker,
- Mid-level computer skills
Your computer skills need to involve more than just typing and browsing the Internet. You must be able to use Windows command module effectively or create a network.
- Networking skills
Hacking is predominantly an online activity, so you need to understand the terms and concepts related to online networks, such as routers, packets, ports, public and private IPs, WEP and WPS passwords, DNS, TCP/IP, subnetting and many others.
- Database skills
It is important that you learn and master database management systems (e.g. MySQL and Oracle) in order to understand the techniques that hackers use to penetrate your databases.
- Use of Linux OS
The vast majority of hackers use the Linux operating system because unlike Mac and Windows, it allows you to tweak programs as you want. Nearly all the hacking tools you will come across are developed for Linux.
- Scripting skills
Sooner or later you will have to learn how to create your own hacking tools, and you cannot do this without developing the necessary scripting skills. By creating and editing your own scripts, you will no longer have to rely on tools provided by other hackers, thus enhancing your ability to defend your system.
Black hat hackers are good at creating hacking tools, so you must match them for knowledge if you want to stay secure. You should consider learning a scripting language like Python or Ruby on Rails.
- Use of virtualization software packages
Before you try out a hack on a real life system, you should first run it through virtualization software that will provide a safe setting for your test. You need to know how to use a virtual workstation, for example, VMWare Workstation, so that you avoid damaging your own computer or mobile device.
- Understand security concepts and technologies
There are a lot of elaborate security concepts and technologies in the field of information technology. As a hacker, you must know the ones that are most important for your use, for example, firewalls, Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), among others.
- Reverse engineering skills
This involves taking a piece of software or hardware apart in order to understand how it works, and then convert it into a tool that is technically more advanced.
One of the things you will realize is that most hackers are able to make better hacking tools by reverse engineering the malware of other hackers. With such skills, you will be able to be a more effective hacker.