Art of a Hacker

Inevitably anyone who hangs around on tech related forums or works in a tech related industry will stumble upon a wealth of ‘hacking’ or ‘cracking’ related knowledge known as ‘the underground’ . This ‘community’ seems to encompass everything computer security related – legal or illegal. Some seem fascinated, some seem scared – most though are misguided in their understanding of this wonderful realm of knowledge and the true art of a hacker.


Hacking – The Myths

‘Hacking’ is one of these terms that everyone seems to know about and likes to throw around but no one seems to be able to tell you exactly what it is. You have those on one side of the fence who give into media misconceptions of grandeur placing the humble ‘hacker’ along the ranks of criminal masterminds with their ‘hacking into banks’ and ‘stealing all your credit card information’. You then have those on the other side who generally come from a tech related industry such as programming, networking who are a little more clued on. You would be surprised though at how many of them too believe the myths surrounding this taboo subject.

“What is a hacker?”

So I think the real question everyone who is reading this wants to know is what is a hacker? Is a hacker someone who can write viruses? Are they someone who can break into your computer and read your files? There seems to be this idea floating around that there just is some magic program a choice few people have that you run and type in a few commands and then suddenly that gives you control of another person’s computer.

Believe it or not there isn’t any secret program that ‘hackers’ use to gain access to other peoples computer. If anything this is quite far from the truth. As anyone who has read an introduction to ‘hacking’ tutorial you will see the usual disclaimer at the beginning that states that ‘hacking’ is not all about gaining access to others computers but more about the art of exploring technology – that in actual fact most ‘hackers’ are not even interested in illegal computer related activities at all. True hacking is more about a paradigm of creative exploration and curiosity exploring past the boundaries put in place.

HackingLet me explain further. Any designed system sufficiently complex enough can be used in ways not originally envisioned. Whether these ways are illegal or legal, malicious or harmless is a whole other debate. Computer systems today are incredibly complex – with many subsystems, networks, services, etc all with their own routines, subroutines, languages and protocols. All of them, in some way, can be exploited to do what they are not meant to do. A true hacker is someone who has gained information about a system, who sufficiently understands a system to understand what it can and can’t do. This information could be as easy as just knowing SMTP or POP3 protocols (the protocols to control email) or as hard as reverse-engineering communication protocols of proprietary software packages.

For those of you who are still struggling to grasp this concept let me use an analogy. If you study martial arts you could be a student of any number of different disciplines. Different disciplines have different styles and different techniques but all of them at the end of the day come under the category of martial arts. Not everyone who studies martial arts will go out and commit violence-based crimes.

Hacking is just like this. There are many different aspects that are encompassed in hacking but all involved expert understanding of systems. While being an expert in a system gives you the ability to cause malicious activities it doesn’t necessarily mean you will.

That being said though just like there is people out there who have criminal intentions for martial arts so do those who understand computer systems so be vigilant just as you would on the streets.

So Where to?

Typically, those who get into any exploit-based industry whether illegal like racketeering or extortion or legal like security need a solid foundation to begin on. In computer security this foundation is typically computer programming. As most computer systems are originally conceptualized in a computer programming or scripting language. To better understand a book, learn the language and style it’s written in – it’s the same with computer systems. Programming gives you the tools to interact with systems from the back-end and the means to further your knowledge. Bottom line: learn a programming language. Secondly, understand that this industry is endless and continually evolving so to better your skills I recommend finding something you’re interested in and specialize in learning about it. Lastly, understand that true hacking is not about exploitation contrary to popular belief – it’s an art form where your canvases are servers and network systems and your paints are exploits, vulnerabilities, viruses and deception.

Creative Commons LicenseArt of a Hacker by Marc Loney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License.

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