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Hackers Categorized


By S. Arrieta<iamshery@msc.net.ph>

Say the word "hacker" and any non-computer person will immediately think of someone who destroys computers. Most people put a hacker on the same shelf as they put the bottle that says something like "hazardous to your health."

Two articles I've read about hackers classify hackers as a) belonging to the old school/new school model; and b) either network hackers, software crackers or virus builders.

The first classification of hackers is according to an interview with Jeff Moss (aka Dark Tangent), who runs the annual Las Vegas Defcon conference, a national hacker gathering. The article, published on the Network Magazine http://www.network-mag.com in 1997, dealt on the issue of how network managers can secure their networks more tightly if they knew how the minds of hackers work.

According to Moss, a hacker either belongs to the old school or the new school.

Hackers belonging to the old school are the non-criminal programmers. Like what Moss said, they're the kind of hackers "who are chronicled in Stephen Levy's book, Hackers." They aren't out to wreak havoc or hurt anyone. They generally avoid damaging a system, unlike the hackers of the new school. At times, these old school hackers can even do a system some good: the systems they've hacked starts working better because the hacker has "gone in and replaced the kernel with a hacked one that runs more reliably."

Hackers of the new school, on the other hand, are not interested in how things work. According to Moss, they are "script kitties" -- they use the scripts that the more experienced hackers have created. These scripts they use to automate system attacks. New school hackers often don't understand what the scripts they use are doing. Hackers belonging to the new school are usually either out to inflict real harm or achieve some tangible result, such a code for bank transfer authorization). They are the real threats because they do malicious and harmful things to their victim's system.

The other hacker classification is according to David Mandeville, an application engineer at iXL http://www.ixl.com. In an primer he wrote for CNN, http://www.cnn.com/TECH/specials/hackers/primer/, Mandeville said that hackers are "people who break the security of computer networks, people who break the security on application software, and people who create malicious programs like viruses." This is a simple way of classifying hacking activities.

Network hackers, according to Mandeville, are not "the hackers you see in movies, usually as unattractive, introverted and anti-social -- or ultra-hip, sexy and connected." Instead, they are the average people who have strong computer skills. Many of these hackers just try to break into a secure network to prove that they can do it. For them, it is more of a test of their hacking skill instead of an attempt to steal data.

One of the activities that network hackers engage in are those designed to swamp a computer network's ability to respond and perform its internal function. You've probably heard about what happened to Yahoo and Amazon.com in early February. Both sites experienced a "denial of service" attack. Their server got flooded with bogus requests for pages. What happened was that the servers spent too much time processing these bogus requests that they weren't able to respond to the real requests.

Another network hacker activity is the penetration of a secure area by subverting its security measures. He may either set up a program that tries millions of passwords until one gets accepted, or he may use a program that checks data and finds encrypted information.

Software crackers, on the other hand, work on breaking software security. Software that requires a serial number before it can be installed are usually the targets of software crackers. They will find ways to falsify these security measures. Software hackers are not necessarily software pirates. They may break the security and use the software, but unlike the software pirate, they oftentimes do not replicated and try to sell the cracked software.

Lastly, virus builders are hackers who create viruses, worms, Trojan horses and logic bombs. A virus attaches itself to a file and replicates itself, then depending on what kind of a virus it is, it either corrupts the data, or use a computer's resources to crash the machine. A worm steal a computer's resource in order to replicate itself. A trojan horse uses deception: it makes the victim think it's doing one thing, while it actually does something else. A logic bomb is an attack triggered by an event, like the computer clock reaching a certain date. When the certain date is reached, a virus is released.

So who's really safe from these hackers? Sad to say, if you're connected to the Internet or to a network, then you're vulnerable to a hack attack.

And like what Mandeville wrote, hackers come in different varieties. They're certainly not restricted to the classifications you've read in this article.

I also found a very interesting site that gives two view points on hacking. A security expert from IBM and the editor of 2600, a publication for and about hackers and hacking each give their views on hacking. The security expert believes that hacking is a felony, while the editor believes that hacking is necessary. Both go into detail as to why they stand by their belief. Read the article at http://www.cnn.com/TECH/specials/hackers/qandas/.


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