Hacker (computer security)

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In the computer security context, a hacker is someone who seeks and exploits weaknesses in a computer system or computer network. Hackers may be motivated by a multitude of reasons, such as profit, protest, challenge or enjoyment.[1] The subculture that has evolved around hackers is often referred to as the computer underground and is now a known community.[2] While other uses of the word hacker exist that are not related to computer security, such as referring to someone with an advanced understanding of computers and computer networks,[3] they are rarely used in mainstream context. They are subject to the longstanding hacker definition controversy about the term's true meaning. In this controversy, the term hacker is reclaimed by computer programmers who argue that someone who breaks into computers, whether computer criminal (black hats) or computer security expert (white hats),[4] is more appropriately called a cracker instead.[5] Some white hat hackers claim that they also deserve the title hacker, and that only black hats should be called "crackers".

History[edit]

Bruce Sterling traces part of the roots of the computer underground to the Yippies, a 1960s counterculture movement that published the Technological Assistance Program (TAP) newsletter.[citation needed] TAP was a phone phreaking newsletter that taught techniques for unauthorized exploration of the telephone network. Many people from the phreaking community are also active in the hacking community even today, and vice versa.[citation needed]

Classifications[edit]

Several subgroups of the computer underground with different attitudes use different terms to demarcate themselves from each other, or try to exclude some specific group with whom they do not agree.

Eric S. Raymond, author of The New Hacker's Dictionary, advocates that members of the computer underground should be called crackers. Yet, those people see themselves as hackers and even try to include the views of Raymond in what they see as a wider hacker culture, a view that Raymond has harshly rejected. Instead of a hacker/cracker dichotomy, they emphasize a spectrum of different categories, such as white hat, grey hat, black hat and script kiddie. In contrast to Raymond, they usually reserve the term cracker for more malicious activity.

According to Ralph D. Clifford, a cracker or cracking is to "gain unauthorized access to a computer in order to commit another crime such as destroying information contained in that system".[6] These subgroups may also be defined by the legal status of their activities.[7]

White hat[edit]

Main article: White hat

A white hat hacker breaks security for non-malicious reasons, perhaps to test their own security system or while working for a security company which makes security software. The term "white hat" in Internet slang refers to an ethical hacker. This classification also includes individuals who perform penetration tests and vulnerability assessments within a contractual agreement. The EC-Council,[8] also known as the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants, is one of those organizations that have developed certifications, courseware, classes, and online training covering the diverse arena of Ethical Hacking.[7]

Black hat[edit]

A "black hat" hacker is a hacker who "violates computer security for little reason beyond maliciousness or for personal gain" (Moore, 2005).[9] Black hat hackers form the stereotypical, illegal hacking groups often portrayed in popular culture, and are "the epitome of all that the public fears in a computer criminal".[10] Black hat hackers break into secure networks to destroy, modify, or steal data; or to make the network unusable for those who are authorized to use the network. Black hat hackers are also referred to as the "crackers" within the security industry and by modern programmers. Crackers keep the awareness of the vulnerabilities to themselves and do not notify the general public or the manufacturer for patches to be applied. Individual freedom and accessibility is promoted over privacy and security. Once they have gained control over a system, they may apply patches or fixes to the system only to keep their reigning control. Richard Stallman invented the definition to express the maliciousness of a criminal hacker versus a white hat hacker who performs hacking duties to identify places to repair.[11]

Grey hat[edit]

Main article: Grey hat

A grey hat hacker is a combination of a black hat and a white hat hacker. A grey hat hacker may surf the Internet and hack into a computer system for the sole purpose of notifying the administrator that their system has a security defect, for example. They may then offer to correct the defect for a fee.[10]

Elite hacker[edit]

A social status among hackers, elite is used to describe the most skilled. Newly discovered exploits circulate among these hackers. Elite groups such as Masters of Deception conferred a kind of credibility on their members.[12]

Script kiddie[edit]

A script kiddie (also known as a skid or skiddie) is an unskilled hacker who breaks into computer systems by using automated tools written by others (usually by other black hat hackers), hence the term script (i.e. a prearranged plan or set of activities) kiddie (i.e. kid, child—an individual lacking knowledge and experience, immature),[13] usually with little understanding of the underlying concept.

Neophyte[edit]

A neophyte ("newbie", or "noob") is someone who is new to hacking or phreaking and has almost no knowledge or experience of the workings of technology and hacking.[10]

Blue hat[edit]

A blue hat hacker is someone outside computer security consulting firms who is used to bug-test a system prior to its launch, looking for exploits so they can be closed. Microsoft also uses the term BlueHat to represent a series of security briefing events.[14][15][16]

Hacktivist[edit]

A hacktivist is a hacker who utilizes technology to publicize a social, ideological, religious or political message.

Hacktivism can be divided into two main groups:

Nation state[edit]

Intelligence agencies and cyberwarfare operatives of nation states.[17]

Organized criminal gangs[edit]

Groups of hackers that carry out organized criminal activities for profit.[17]

Attacks[edit]

Main article: Computer security

A typical approach in an attack on Internet-connected system is:

  1. Network enumeration: Discovering information about the intended target.
  2. Vulnerability analysis: Identifying potential ways of attack.
  3. Exploitation: Attempting to compromise the system by employing the vulnerabilities found through the vulnerability analysis.[18]

In order to do so, there are several recurring tools of the trade and techniques used by computer criminals and security experts.

Security exploits[edit]

A security exploit is a prepared application that takes advantage of a known weakness.[19] Common examples of security exploits are SQL injection, cross-site scripting and cross-site request forgery which abuse security holes that may result from substandard programming practice. Other exploits would be able to be used through File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), PHP, SSH, Telnet and some Web pages. These are very common in Web site and Web domain hacking.

Techniques[edit]

Vulnerability scanner
A vulnerability scanner is a tool used to quickly check computers on a network for known weaknesses. Hackers also commonly use port scanners. These check to see which ports on a specified computer are "open" or available to access the computer, and sometimes will detect what program or service is listening on that port, and its version number. (Firewalls defend computers from intruders by limiting access to ports and machines, but they can still be circumvented.)
Brute-force attack
Password guessing. This method is very fast when used to check all short passwords, but for longer passwords other methods such as the dictionary attack are used, because of the time a brute-force search takes.
Password cracking
Password cracking is the process of recovering passwords from data that has been stored in or transmitted by a computer system. A common approach is to repeatedly try guesses for the password.
Packet analyzer
A packet analyzer ("packet sniffer") is an application that captures data packets, which can be used to capture passwords and other data in transit over the network.
Spoofing attack (phishing)
A spoofing attack involves one program, system or website that successfully masquerades as another by falsifying data and is thereby treated as a trusted system by a user or another program — usually to fool programs, systems or users into revealing confidential information, such as user names and passwords.
Rootkit
A rootkit is a program that uses low-level, hard-to-detect methods to subvert control of an operating system from its legitimate operators. Rootkits usually obscure their installation and attempt to prevent their removal through a subversion of standard system security. They may include replacements for system binaries, making it virtually impossible for them to be detected by checking process tables.
Social engineering
In the second stage of the targeting process, hackers often use Social engineering tactics to get enough information to access the network. They may contact the system administrator and pose as a user who cannot get access to his or her system. This technique is portrayed in the 1995 film Hackers, when protagonist Dade "Zero Cool" Murphy calls a somewhat clueless employee in charge of security at a television network. Posing as an accountant working for the same company, Dade tricks the employee into giving him the phone number of a modem so he can gain access to the company's computer system.
Hackers who use this technique must have cool personalities, and be familiar with their target's security practices, in order to trick the system administrator into giving them information. In some cases, a help-desk employee with limited security experience will answer the phone and be relatively easy to trick. Another approach is for the hacker to pose as an angry supervisor, and when his/her authority is questioned, threaten to fire the help-desk worker. Social engineering is very effective, because users are the most vulnerable part of an organization. No security devices or programs can keep an organization safe if an employee reveals a password to an unauthorized person.
Social engineering can be broken down into four sub-groups:
  • Intimidation As in the "angry supervisor" technique above, the hacker convinces the person who answers the phone that their job is in danger unless they help them. At this point, many people accept that the hacker is a supervisor and give them the information they seek.
  • Helpfulness The opposite of intimidation, helpfulness exploits many people's natural instinct to help others solve problems. Rather than acting angry, the hacker acts distressed and concerned. The help desk is the most vulnerable to this type of social engineering, as (a.) its general purpose is to help people; and (b.) it usually has the authority to change or reset passwords, which is exactly what the hacker wants.
  • Name-dropping The hacker uses names of authorized users to convince the person who answers the phone that the hacker is a legitimate user him or herself. Some of these names, such as those of webpage owners or company officers, can easily be obtained online. Hackers have also been known to obtain names by examining discarded documents (so-called "dumpster diving").
  • Technical Using technology is also a way to get information. A hacker can send a fax or email to a legitimate user, seeking a response that contains vital information. The hacker may claim that he or she is involved in law enforcement and needs certain data for an investigation, or for record-keeping purposes.
Trojan horses
A Trojan horse is a program that seems to be doing one thing but is actually doing another. It can be used to set up a back door in a computer system, enabling the intruder to gain access later. (The name refers to the horse from the Trojan War, with the conceptually similar function of deceiving defenders into bringing an intruder into a protected area.)
Computer virus
A virus is a self-replicating program that spreads by inserting copies of itself into other executable code or documents. By doing this, it behaves similarly to a biological virus, which spreads by inserting itself into living cells. While some viruses are harmless or mere hoaxes, most are considered malicious.
Computer worm
Like a virus, a worm is also a self-replicating program. It differs from a virus in that (a.) it propagates through computer networks without user intervention; and (b.) does not need to attach itself to an existing program. Nonetheless, many people use the terms "virus" and "worm" interchangeably to describe any self-propagating program.
Keystroke logging
A keylogger is a tool designed to record ("log") every keystroke on an affected machine for later retrieval, usually to allow the user of this tool to gain access to confidential information typed on the affected machine. Some keyloggers use virus-, trojan-, and rootkit-like methods to conceal themselves. However, some of them are used for legitimate purposes, even to enhance computer security. For example, a business may maintain a keylogger on a computer used at a point of sale to detect evidence of employee fraud.

Tools and Procedures

A thorough examination of hacker tools and procedures may be found in Cengage Learning's E|CSA certification workbook.[20]

Notable intruders and criminal hackers[edit]

Notable security hackers[edit]

Main article: List of hackers

Customs[edit]

The computer underground[1] has produced its own specialized slang, such as 1337speak. Its members often advocate freedom of information, strongly opposing the principles of copyright, as well as the rights of free speech and privacy.[citation needed] Writing software and performing other activities to support these views is referred to as hacktivism. Some consider illegal cracking ethically justified for these goals; a common form is website defacement. The computer underground is frequently compared to the Wild West.[23] It is common for hackers to use aliases to conceal their identities.

Hacker groups and conventions[edit]

Main articles: Hacker conference and Hacker group

The computer underground is supported by regular real-world gatherings called hacker conventions or "hacker cons". These events include SummerCon (Summer), DEF CON, HoHoCon (Christmas), ShmooCon (February), BlackHat, Chaos Communication Congress, AthCon, Hacker Halted, and HOPE.[citation needed] Local Hackfest groups organize and compete to develop their skills to send a team to a prominent convention to compete in group pentesting, exploit and forensics on a larger scale. Hacker groups became popular in the early 1980s, providing access to hacking information and resources and a place to learn from other members. Computer bulletin board systems (BBSs), such as the Utopias, provided platforms for information-sharing via dial-up modem. Hackers could also gain credibility by being affiliated with elite groups.[24]

Consequences for malicious hacking[edit]

India[edit]

Section Offence Punishment
65 Tampering with computer source documents - Intentional concealment, destruction or alteration of source code when the computer source code is required to be kept or maintained by law for the time being in force Imprisonment up to three years, or/and with fine up to 2 lakh rupees
66 Hacking Imprisonment up to three years, or/and with fine up to 5 lakh rupees
66-A Sending offensive message through electronic means - Sending any information through an electronic message that is grossly offensive or has menacing character and might cause insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, etc. or sending such mail intended to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages Imprisonment up to three years, and with fine.

Netherlands[edit]

Maximum imprisonment is one year or a fine of the fourth category.[25]

United States[edit]

18 U.S.C. § 1030, more commonly known as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, prohibits unauthorized access or damage of "protected computers". "Protected computers" are defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1030(e)(2) as:

  • A computer exclusively for the use of a financial institution or the United States Government, or, in the case of a computer not exclusively for such use, used by or for a financial institution or the United States Government and the conduct constituting the offense affects that use by or for the financial institution or the Government.
  • A computer which is used in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce or communication, including a computer located outside the United States that is used in a manner that affects interstate or foreign commerce or communication of the United States;

The maximum imprisonment or fine for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act depends on the severity of the violation and the offender's history of violations under the Act.

Hacking and the media[edit]

Hacker magazines[edit]

Main category: Hacker magazines

The most notable hacker-oriented print publications are Phrack, Hakin9 and 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. While the information contained in hacker magazines and ezines was often outdated by the time they were published, they enhanced their contributors' reputations by documenting their successes.[24]

Hackers in fiction[edit]

Hackers often show an interest in fictional cyberpunk and cyberculture literature and movies. The adoption of fictional pseudonyms,[26] symbols, values and metaphors from these works is very common.[27]

Books[edit]

Films[edit]

Non-fiction books[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Sterling, Bruce (1993). "Part 2(d)". The Hacker Crackdown. McLean, Virginia: IndyPublish.com. p. 61. ISBN 1-4043-0641-2. 
  2. ^ Blomquist, Brian (May 29, 1999). "FBI's Web Site Socked as Hackers Target Feds". New York Post. 
  3. ^ "The Hacker's Dictionary". Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Political notes from 2012: September–December. stallman.org
  5. ^ Raymond, Eric S. "Jargon File: Cracker". "Coined ca. 1985 by hackers in defense against journalistic misuse of hacker" 
  6. ^ Clifford, D. (2011). Cybercrime: The Investigation, Prosecution and Defense of a Computer-Related Crime. Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press. ISBN 1594608539. 
  7. ^ a b Wilhelm, Douglas (2010). "2". Professional Penetration Testing. Syngress Press. p. 503. ISBN 978-1-59749-425-0. 
  8. ^ EC-Council. eccouncil.org
  9. ^ Moore, Robert (2005). Cybercrime: Investigating High Technology Computer Crime. Matthew Bender & Company. p. 258. ISBN 1-59345-303-5. Robert Moore
  10. ^ a b c Moore, Robert (2006). Cybercrime: Investigating High-Technology Computer Crime (1st ed.). Cincinnati, Ohio: Anderson Publishing. ISBN 978-1-59345-303-9. 
  11. ^ O'Brien, Marakas, James, George (2011). Management Information Systems. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/ Irwin. pp. 536–537. ISBN 978-0-07-752217-9. 
  12. ^ Thomas, Douglas (2002). Hacker Culture. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0-8166-3346-3. 
  13. ^ Andress, Mandy; Cox, Phil; Tittel, Ed (2001). CIW Security Professional. New York, NY: Wiley. p. 638. ISBN 0-7645-4822-0. 
  14. ^ "Blue hat hacker Definition". PC Magazine Encyclopedia. Retrieved May 31, 2010. "A security professional invited by Microsoft to find vulnerabilities in Windows." 
  15. ^ Fried, Ina (June 15, 2005). "Blue Hat summit meant to reveal ways of the other side". Microsoft meets the hackers. CNET News. Retrieved May 31, 2010. 
  16. ^ Markoff, John (October 17, 2005). "At Microsoft, Interlopers Sound Off on Security". New York Times. Retrieved May 31, 2010. 
  17. ^ a b Chabrow, Eric (February 25, 2012). "7 Levels of Hackers: Applying An Ancient Chinese Lesson: Know Your Enemies". GovInfo Security. Retrieved February 27, 2012. 
  18. ^ Gupta, Ajay; Klavinsky, Thomas and Laliberte, Scott (March 15, 2002) Security Through Penetration Testing: Internet Penetration. informit.com
  19. ^ Rodriguez, Chris; Martinez, Richard. "The Growing Hacking Threat to Websites: An Ongoing Commitment to Web Application Security". Frost & Sullivan. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  20. ^ Press, EC-Council (2011). Penetration Testing: Procedures & Methodologies. Clifton, NY: CENGAGE Learning. ISBN 1435483677. 
  21. ^ "Gary McKinnon extradition ruling due by 16 October". BBC News. September 6, 2012. Retrieved September 25, 2012. 
  22. ^ "Kevin Mitnick sentenced to nearly four years in prison; computer hacker ordered to pay restitution ..." (Press release). United States Attorney's Office, Central District of California. August 9, 1999. Retrieved April 10, 2010. 
  23. ^ Jordan, Tim and Taylor, Paul A. (2004). Hacktivism and Cyberwars. Routledge. pp. 133–134. ISBN 978-0-415-26003-9. "Wild West imagery has permeated discussions of cybercultures." 
  24. ^ a b Thomas, Douglas (2003). Hacker Culture. University of Minnesota Press. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-8166-3346-3. 
  25. ^ Artikel 138ab. Wetboek van Strafrecht, December 27, 2012
  26. ^ Swabey, Pete (27 February 2013). "Data leaked by Anonymous appears to reveal Bank of America's hacker profiling operation". Information Age. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  27. ^ "Hackers and Viruses: Questions and Answers". Scienzagiovane. University of Bologna. 12 November 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  28. ^ Staples, Brent (May 11, 2003). "A Prince of Cyberpunk Fiction Moves Into the Mainstream". The New York Times. "Mr. Gibson's novels and short stories are worshiped by hackers" 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]