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The lure of the underground.

The dark-side is always interesting. Knowing that you are doing something that you shouldn’t and knowing that it entirely up to you not to get caught. The world of the hacker often seems unreal. Using only his/her skill, a couple of tech-toys and a few contacts in the underworld to outsmart the enemy, complete the mission and then disappear without a trace. Back into the darkness, until it is time to strike again.

This is one impression one can get from going through literature about hacking. The thrill they get from freeing information, the knowledge that the law is out there and looking for you, but to find you they have to look all over the world because thanks to the internet it is possible to work from just about anywhere.

On the other hand there is the hacker as criminal, a thief who slinks into a system and takes whatever (s)he wants. The vandal that disrupts and destroys for no reason, just because (s)he can. The juvenile delinquent who vents his/her frustration out by making it hard for other people.

Then of course there is the hacker’s themselves who see it as harmless fun, a service to the people who believe in freedom of speech and an addictive love-affair with technology.

The term hacking

In my research I have used a textbook definition of the term hacking. It refers to the act of gaining unauthorised access to a computer, computer system or telecommunications system. Many definitions go on to imply the purpose of gaining unauthorised access to be that of theft of information, money, software; or to cause disruption by altering or destroying programs. For reasons I will explain later, I have chosen to limit the definition.

People hack for various reasons and to say they all intend to steal or purposefully cause disruption would be unjust.

Hacking is something unique to the information age and the growth of the internet has made it easier and more widespread. It has become a part cyber culture and in fact, a sub-culture of its own.

Nowhere else is there anything like it. People don't break into your office or home "just for the thrill of it." You don't find someone breaking into a bank to see if they could do it and then inform the bank of the security flaw that enabled them to get access.

Yes there are many people who use their computer skills to gain access to systems for purposes of monetary gain, destruction of data, revenge on past employers etc. The reasons are as diverse as the hackers themselves.

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Who are "these hackers"?

As hacking is considered a crime in many countries hackers go to great lengths to ensure that they remain anonymous.

Although there are hacking conventions and hackers working together on various projects they all use a handle. These handles might say a lot about the person, if you where to ever meet them but the majority of them simply seem like cool nicknames that usually relates to cyber society in some way.

They are not the geeky looking techies or the teenage rebel slash dropouts you see in some movies. There are so many different people that hack for different reasons that it is not possible to stereotype them anymore, not that it ever was.

The only thing that all of them have in common is that they are computer literate and able to use this knowledge in ingenious ways.

Hacking is on the increase and when searching the web it is not hard to see why.

The internet offers people a way to learn how to hack and there are many sites where you can follow tutorials, download exploits; programs or code that allows you to find the weaknesses of certain operating systems. On several sites there are step by step instructions of what you need to know and how to use that information to gain access to a system.

The message however is always the same. Whatever you get from the site becomes your responsibility. The information it there but it is not to be used for anything illegal and if you do get caught you’re on your own.

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Hacking: Freeing information.

"Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for. I am a hacker and this is my manifesto. You may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us al… after all, we’re all alike."

From Hacker’s manifesto by The Mentor

Those that follow the old school ethic of hacking (see hackers and the media) believe in the freedom of information. Hacking is a way of getting information that might not be readily available. They hack because they know the technology and distribute that knowledge to those that don’t. Exploits are free. Although it might take someone a long time to write the code or program it is something that it available to those that want it.

It is my opinion that hacker’s teach people how to think for themselves. When a hacker who went by the handle Deth Vegetable posted guides to making bombs on a newsgroup he gave people information. As a result some kids blew themselves up while experimenting with the manuals that Deth Vegetable posted. The public outrage from that incident reaffirmed in their minds the fact that hackers were dangerous and subversive. The fact that he posted the information made him the culprit.

Instead of being angry with the hacker, people need to realise that information is becoming available through sources other than traditional media. It is no longer a commodity that produced by the media.

On-line zines, newsgroups and websites offer information that have not passed though media gatekeepers. The internet gives people the opportunity to find out just about anything, but it is what YOU do with that information that is important. Information should be free, but in its freedom it implies that you have the common sense to how to use it.

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Hackers and the Media

The use of the term hacker a much debated topic or at least it is much contested. In the mainstream media the term hacker is most often used to describe anyone that uses his or her computer skills to break into a system for monetary gain (either by fraud or stealing information) or to cause disruption.

The way the term is used by the media and understood by the public differs greatly from the way it is understood by hackers themselves. The way I understand the term now, is a result of the research I have done and without it I would have been ignorant of the different groups within this cyber subculture.

Hackers follow an ethic or code of conduct. It is not a set of rules one has to follow and it is not enforced. It is simply a way of going about things that distinguishes a hacker from, form example, a cracker. This ethic in its simplest form is that; if you hack you do it for enjoyment and not financial gain. This is the old school ethic that comes from the 60’s, when hackers were primarily varsity students who had access to computer at the university. Caught up in the 60’s anti-establishment way of questioning the rules of those who rule the hackers found ways to break those rules using their programming skills.

Not everyone follows this ethic and many use the knowledge for personal gain.

These people cannot be labeled 'hackers'. They are 'crackers' who intentionally crash computers, steal information or money etc. It is a distinction to take note of because they refer to different kinds of people. Newspapers very rarely make these distinctions when referring to computer crime.

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Rules for hacking

1. Don't do damage intentionally.

2. Don't alter files other than to hide your presence or to remove traces of your intrusion.

3. Don't leave any real name, handle, or phone number on any system.

4. Be careful who you share info with.

5. Don't leave your phone number with anyone you don't know.

6. Do NOT hack government computers.

7. Don't use codes unless you HAVE too.

8. Be paranoid!

9. Watch what you post on boards, be as general as possible.

10. Ask questions...but do it politely and don't expect to have everything handed to you.

Rules for hacking' from: HACK-FAQ! Non-Copyright MatrixMage Publications. 1994 No rights reserved. This file may be redistributed provided that the file and this notice remain intact. This article may not under any circumstances be resold or redistributed for compensation of any kind.

Hacking on the Internet:

The internet is filled with sites devoted to hacking and most of these sites offer similar types of information. I have chosen just a view sites that I are the best in terms of the information given and the design of these pages are great.

South African Hacking Alliance

l0pht Industries

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