Nowadays, different people have different views on the hacking scene. Often times people of similar skill level have similar opinions. There is no official definition of a hacker, rather a vague idea amongst the masses. In addition, the media loves to add false information to draw audiences’ attention across the nation, for the pure sake of money.
It all began in the 1960s at MIT, origin of the term “hacker”, where extremely skilled individuals practiced hardcore programming in FORTRAN and other older languages. Some may ignorantly dub them “nerds” or “geeks” but these individuals were, by far, the most intelligent, individual, and intellectually advanced people who happen to be the pioneers and forefathers of the talented individuals that are today the true hackers. The true hackers amongst our societies have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Boredom is never an object of challenge for hackers. They have an almost anomalous ability to absorb, retain, and exert vast amounts of knowledge with regard to intricate details. In 1969, Bell Labs employee Ken Thompson invented UNIX and permanently changed the future of the computer industry. Then in the very early 1970s, Dennis Ritchie invented the computer programming language “C” which was specifically invented to be used with UNIX. Programmers ceased to use assembler, while developing an appreciation for the portability of “C.”
Hackers used to be viewed as people who sat locked in a room all day programming nonstop, hours on end. No one seemed to mind hackers back in the 1960s when this was the most widely excepted reputation. In fact, most people had no idea what hacking was. The term hacker was accepted as a positive label slapped onto computer gurus who could push computer systems beyond the defined limits. Hackers emerged out of the artificial intelligence labs at MIT in the 1960s. A network known as ARPANET was founded by the Department of Defense as a means to link government offices. In time, ARPANET evolved into what is today known as the Internet.
In the 1970s, “Captain Crunch” devised a way to make free long distance calls and groups of phone hackers, later dubbed “phreakers” emerged. Throughout the 1970s and halfway into the 1980s, XEROX’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) spit out fresh new innovations such as the laser printer and LANs.
During the early 1980s, the term “cyberspace” is coined from a novel called “Neuromancer.” A group called the “414s” is one of the earliest hacker groups to ever get raided by the FBI and they get charged with 60 computer intrusions. Usenets began to pop up around the nation at this time and hackers exchanged thoughts using their UNIX based machines. While all of this was going on, the Secret Service was granted jurisdiction over credit card and computer fraud. During the 1980s, hacking was not known amongst the masses as it is presently. To be a hacker was to be a part of a very exclusive and secluded group. The infamous hacker groups the “Legion of Doom,” based in the USA and the “Chaos Computer Club,” based in Germany, were founded and are still two of the most widely recognized and respected hacker groups ever founded. Another significant foundation is that of “2600: The Hacker Quarterly,” an old school hacker magazine or “zine.” 2600 Magazine still continues to play a role in today’s hacker community. As the end of the decade approached, Kevin Mitnick was arrested and sentenced to a year in prison on convictions of stealing software and damaging computers. In addition, federal officials raided Atlanta, where some members of the Legion of Doom were residing, at the time. The LOD, CCC, and 2600 Magazine have become known as old school hackers and are still widely respected and recognized.
During the 1990s, Kevin Mitnick is arrested after being tracked down by Tsutomu Shimomura. The trials of Kevin Mitnick were of the most publicized hacker trials in hacker history.
As hackers and time progressed, hackers found ways to exploit holes in operating systems of local and remote machines.
Hackers have developed methods to exploit security holes in various computer systems. As protocols become updated, hackers probe them on a neverending mission to make computing more secure. In fact, due to the tendency hackers have of exploiting society, there have been spinoff categories such as “cracking” which deals with cracking software, “phreaking” which deals with exploiting phone systems, and “social engineering” which is the practice of exploiting human resources. When hacking first originated, the urge to hack into computer systems was based purely on curiosity. Curiosity of what the system did, how the system could be used, HOW the system did what did, and WHY it did what it did.
Some modern day hackers archive exploit upon exploit on their machines, but archiving and using exploits is definitely not what modern hackers do. All too often, media figures and the general public mistake those who deface webpages, steal credit card numbers and/or money, and otherwise constantly wreak havoc upon the masses as hackers. You must be thinking, “Well, isn’t that what hackers DO? They gain unauthorized access to computers,” and technically you would be correct.
HOWEVER, that’s not all they do. Hackers find and release the vulnerabilities in computer systems which, if not found, could remain secret and one day lead to the downfall of our increasingly computer dependant civilization. In a way, hackers are the regulators of electronic communication. Hackers come up with useful new computer systems and solutions to make life easier for all of humanity. Whether you know it or not, I know from personal experience that ANYBODY you know could very well lead an unexposed life as a hacker. Hackers live amongst us all. They work in all of our major corporations, as well as in many small companies. Some choose to use their skills and help our government, others choose to use their skills in a more malicious and negative way. If you look around you, ANY INDIVIDUAL you see is a potential hacker. Often, it’s the people who you would suspect the least that are the hackers in our society.
People in our modern day society tend to stereotype hackers as well. All hackers aren’t 31337lbs, 5’5, wearing glasses and suspenders, scrawny, pale skinned, with a comical Steve Urkel resemblance and no social life. If you think this, you are WRONG. Hackers are black, white, asian, european, tall, short, socially active (and not), cool, nerdy, and a bunch of other miscellaneous categories. Just like you can’t make an assumption that if someone is from “Clique X” than they must be really [whatever], you can’t apply a stereotype to genres of hackers. Although there are people running around saying, “Look, I defaced a website, I did it, and therefore I’m a hacker,” doesn’t mean that they’re a hacker. Nevertheless, nor does it mean that ALL people claiming to be hackers are fakes and wannabes. It’s the same in the digital underground as it is with any other realm of society.
Currently, we see the commercialization of hacking. If you were to take a trip to a respectable bookstore with a good selection of books, you would find books with flat out hacking techniques. Whether these techniques can truly be classified as hacking by the classic definition of hacking is debatable. They claim to teach you hacking methods, how to become a hacker, and supposedly reveal hacker tricks to the common man.
Another common misconception is that people who distribute and deal with illegal software, which is commonly known as “warez” are hackers. “Warez kings,” as they are commonly known, are not necessarily hackers, however that doesn’t mean that they are NOT hackers. You cannot determine the intellectual content of people by what they say or have. Moreover, hackers are not people who go around using programs in Windows such as “WinNuke” and various ICMP bombers and other miscellaneous Denial of Service programs designed to crash remote party’s machines. Hackers don’t distribute remote administration tools and use them as trojan horse viruses to wreak havoc on the general public and make other people’s lives miserable. Real hackers want to know as much as they can and are more helpful than wreckless. While it is true that there ARE hackers that DO commit malicious acts against users, they are not to be used as a model of the norm of hackers.