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Joined: 26 Jul 2002
|Posted: Sun Dec 29, 2002 1:18 pm Post subject: Hackers and Hacking: Inside Out
Hackers and Hacking: Inside Out
By YASIR HUSSAIN
I'd been philandering around on mIRC and all of a sudden I entangled my legs with the power supply. All goes blank. WAPDA(The damned Electric Supply Companies in Third World Countries)? No, not that old fellow, this must be an ugly hacker. I've read about a new virus hitting the town, who I am going to blame? > the malicious hacker. Someone bombarded my mail and I'll claim it to be a hacker. That is a common practice nowadays, blame hackers for every bad thing happens to you online. This really makes the life of a hacker misery while they already live in exile. Have you ever seen the expressions of a hacker (in real sense) reading a self-claimed-high-profile-tech-magazine blaming every this and that on sheer hackers? The only phrase he manages to utter is "Not again! *sigh*".
Hacking has been around since there are computers. This ranges from innocent registry tweaks to advance-level shell accounts. They say that there's only one way to secure a system; unplug and bury 6 feet under! But that is coward. You are not supposed to do this to your 20-30 thousand plus machine this way, only on the name of security. Getting scared? Don't be. There's a more legitimate answer to this ever-rising question of security; EDUCATE YOURSELF, and that's what we are expected to do. Remember the 'Survival of the Fittest theory'?
The Perverted Version
Everybody thinks that a hacker is a malicious programmer/network engineer who breaks into the systems only to destroy them for fun. The media, especially that of US, has hyped the term hacker so much, combining it with malicious that now these two words look twins and sound same. Explaining the term malicious hackers in his writing 'Behind the Code: Mystique of The Hacker and Hacking' Christopher Keune admits "There exist people who are as experienced with computers and as thirsty of knowledge, who don't have any respect of the hacker ethic and don't hesitate to perform actions meant to damage computer systems or other people. These are called "malicious hackers. As there are criminals in society, there are criminals in the underground world of hackers. However, while this group is a subset of all hackers out there in the world..." . As Internet originated from US, everybody tends to follow their footsteps, whether they are in the wrong direction. In real life, 90% of the hackers do it for solely educational and learning purposes, however, there are some bad bad guys out there, I'm sorry to confess.
Another misleading perception is about virus authors. They have also been dropped in the hackers' quota. Infact, this has nothing to do with hacking. Generally, a virus-maker is just frustrated programmer, who after long hours of coding burst out at the world. A vast majority of them are just script-kiddies(quite lame), as real programmers don't practice such type of destructive acts. Well, that is not the end of story. There is another term they associate with hackers - cyberpunk. There is nothing cyberpunks as such but atleast you have another good example of media invention.
All of these malicious hackers, script-kiddies, cyberpunks or else, who uses the knowledge for evil, are termed as Black Hats in undergrounds. Majority of the computer criminals these days don't possess any deep knowledge of systems and technologies or even the slightest of hint what the hacking ethics are. Programmers constantly make utilities from port scanners to DoS tools and an average hacker with right tools can make big-ups fall flat on the ground. This is true for most, but not all fulfill this criterion.
In reality, hacking is not a negative term or act in itself. It is hyped by media to be something negative. Leaving all this fuss, let's move on to the brighter side of it, the world of White Hats...
What is Hacking? Who are Hackers?
_an anonymous hacker
|"So what exactly is a hacker? First, let's define what a hacker is not. A hacker is not a mugger. The people with weird names who are arrested for stealing credit cards or shutting down Yahoo! are not hackers. They are criminals. Other people with uncanny names, who advise the president of the United States, NASA, and various three-letter agencies, are hackers. They are computer security professionals."
_Hackers Jargon Dictionary
|"A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary."
The term hacker was popularized by Steven Levy in his famous book Hackers: Heros of Computer Revolution. When he said hacker, he meant brilliant, constructive programmer who led the way to the computer revolution. There are more reasons to believe him when About's Netsecurity Portal announces the same verdict while explaining what a hacker is, "A person who is extremely proficient at programming and programming languages. A computer enthusiast. Someone who is obsessive about programming, programming languages or computer systems."
Media's big-names (read: tyrants) still insists that being a hacker means being a criminal, but there are others who believe in the positive aspect of hackers, "People fascinated with solving problems and creating solutions through the use of technology." said Doctor Nuker, the founder of Pakistan Hackerz Club. So when hackers don't practice malicious acts, who's playing around with system admins' patience? These pranksters are dubbed as script-kiddies. They don't have real knowledge to hack into the systems; they just take the sources/exploits and info from the hackers boards and use them to exploit the systems. "...These kids don't really have any skills," says Deth Veggie of cDc, one of the oldest hacker crews around. "Since they didn't learn it for themselves they don't respect the system they're infiltrating. And so they steal things and download files, which a real hacker would never do...." These type of acts give hackers a really bad reputation in public, who is already mystified about all that stuff after Hollywood raves. If I still don't acknowlege the courtesies of hackers, Eric S. Raymond, the maintainer of Hackers Jargon File reminds me what the hackers have done for me and you: "Hackers built the Internet. Hackers made the UNIX operating system what it is today. Hackers run Usenet. Hackers make the World Wide Web work. If you are part of this culture, if you have contributed to it and other people in it know who you are and call you a hacker, you're a hacker..."
While everybody was still insistent on what hacking means, there emerged a new term 'ethical hacking' representing the original variety of hackers - "A computer hacker who attempts to infiltrate a secure computer system in an effort to learn the system's weaknesses so that they can be repaired." writes WordSpy.com. And when it comes to negative use of hacking, the ethical hackers, refer them as crackers (however, cracking in its actality is making an application act like how you like it to act and programmers who do this are crackers). After all this fuss, I think you can figure out that there is a big difference between hacking and cracking > Hacking has it's own set of rules and ethics, whereas cracking only has interests and it's not bound of principles, rules and ethics.
It's Your Turn!
What you should do now? Well, there is not much thinking involved but off course a clear vision. This is hard to say that are you likely to be hacked or not, but with more than 2 billion hackers around (whose number is multiplying faster than the growth rate bacteria ever has!), your chances of survival are slim. There is a constant betterment on the part of tools and utilities that can be used to hack any system around the world, and there are many who assume you an easy target. So, its now upto to you to find your way out. Whether you choose to be a hacker, cracker or bystander, internet is here to serve you for long and hopefully forever. But it's not how many hours you spend online, it's how you spend them. I know many people around me who take security of their system forgranted, and network admins who are of the view that firewalls are headache once installed. I am not sure, not even 0.01 percent but still I wish them good luck. But you, you are a special one. Believe me, you are. That's the only reason why I advise you not to take your security forgranted and act as the old proverb advise, "Trust in God, but lock you car."
There is much more to say and understand, but I think 'less said is better understood'. I am hopeful that these a few excerpts from inside of the hackers will give you a much clearer idea than you had earlier what hacking and hackers are all about. Now, let's move onto what these fathers of this computer revolution and ancestors of today's hackers have contributed to the development of computers and Infomation Technology.
Hackers Hall of Fame
Linus Torvalds: This Finish hacker decided it was a bad idea for Unix operating systems to cost tons of money and only run on big computers. He and others he organized, in cooperation with Stallman's Free Software Foundation, created the Linux operating system, the first free Unix. It runs on personal computers, and now is used by millions. Linux is the most popular operating system among hackers.
Elias Levy: He wrote an excellent explanation of one of the most common security problems, buffer overflows. He has helped motivate the development of OpenBSD, a new operating system designed to prevent buffer overflows.
Leshka Zakharoff: The Russian hacker who has discovered several ways to break into computers using sendmail? Instead of keeping these secrets to himself, instead of using them to be a computer criminal, he publicized them to the Bugtraq email list so systems administrators could fix their systems.
Eric Raymond: He is one of the core developers of Linux, and a major force in the ongoing evolution of the EMACS Lisp language. He maintains fetchmail, a freeware utility for retrieving and forwarding mail from POP2/POP3/IMAP mailservers. But Raymond is perhaps most famous among real hackers as the man who maintains the hacker jargon file.
Larry Wall: The inventor of the Perl programming language.
Richard Stallman: The founder of the free software movement and programmer extraordinaire.
There are too many good guys out there working only to make life of a general user easy and comfortable. Carolyn Meinel, the founder of HappyHacker.org believes that hackers can bring down internet in 30 seconds! Well, if they were destructive, you won't be able to flaunt about your virtual life experiences. Won't you?
Ethics and Tenets of Hackers
Steven Levy in his 1984 book Hackers: Heros of the Computer Revolution came up with six tenets of hackers:
- Access to computers - and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works - should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On imperative!
- All information should be free.
- Mistrust authority - promote decentralization.
- Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degress, age, race, or position.
- You can create art and beauty on a computer.
- Computers can change your life for the better.
I used excerpts from hackers writings frequently to give you a better inside view of what hacking and hackers are, however, if you don't agree, you can send your comments, but those should be based on facts and logics. If you feel hungry to know more about hackers after reading all this I recommend you read Behind the code: Mystique of Hacking and Hackers by Christopher Keune. It's a thesis about Hacking, more about sociological and analytical essay about the realm of hackers. This research writing reports about hackers underground and more, and well see more for yourself. However, whatever you choose to be, I wish you good luck.
Courtesies: Works(/of) cited and consulted
- Steven Levy, Hackers: Heros of the Computer Revolution
- Carolyn Meinel's Interview - The founder of HappyHacker.org
- Christopher Keune, Behind the code: Mystique of hacking and hackers
- About's Netsecurity Portal: www.netsecuirty.about.com
Links (mentioned in the article)
- About's Netsecurity Portal
- Behind the code: Mystique of hacking and hackers
- Hackers Jargon Dictionary
- Happy Hacker
- cDc: Cult of the Dead Cow