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How can you spot a Hacker?
by Nicolas Mercier aka Basta - for Help Net Security
What defines a Hacker? What motivates a Hacker? A majority of people seem to have a vague understanding of what being a Hacker is all about. Is there an underground Hacker community? Is there only one type of Hacker? As far as a definition, I think that there isn't "one" final definition of the word because it's essence is in constant motion and evolution.
The Public Image of The Hacker
How can you define a Hacker? What do you look for in a person,
to really be able to say : "this, this is a Hacker" And even if you're able to do so, what do you mean by the word Hacker? By being one, does it mean that I'm a criminal? A lot of people seem to think so. The public seem to think so. It's only natural for a public to want to believe what they see. And the image of the Hacker that is portreyed in the medias is the image of a "cyber-techno-criminal"; the use of odd words like that creates a false image of the Hacker. What do you imagine a "cyber-techno-criminal" would look like on the street? That's where a problem lies. Hackers, are not different from anybody else. Don't get me wrong, they are different in a lot of ways but not to the point of being able to spot one walking down the street.
A Few Types of Hackers
It's already hard to understand what the word "Hacker" means, but
it's not the only word used in the community. That's right, there are
different types of Hackers: for example there are the WhiteHats and
the BlackHats. Even among the community these two words can be ambiguously described. Some say that WhiteHats are the hackers that try to make the movement go forward by working as security experts, system administrators and by maintaining web sites with bug reports, new technologies, news events and much more. The BlackHats, are guided by the same passion and aptitudes than the WhiteHats but they differ in what they believe in, and by their way of doing. BlackHats seem to be more underground than the WhiteHats, exchanging ideas and tools on small web sites and discussions boards. There is still a sense of uncertainty on the differences between WhiteHats and BlackHats and it would be too much to get in this subject for this article. As another type, you have what are called Crackers. Penetrating networks, going where they shouldn't and using their skills to take advantage of something. Yet another type can be found - the Script Kiddie. He can be described as a hooligan, as someone that uses tools and techniques developed by WhiteHats, BlackHats and Crackers to destroy information, deface sites and other types of digital-vandalism. The Script Kiddie doesn't really posess the skills, only the tools. Anyhow, in my mind, these types are too restrictive. I don't like to categorize and name Hackers this way because it is a way of creating stereotypes to the public. I have described each type with a definition but it was only to give an idea of what differences lie between each types.
The Purposes of The Actions
The public image of the Hacker is based on newspaper titles or movies, not reality. This makes it harder to determine what are the real purposes of the Hackers actions. In the news it's all about destroying private property just for fun, or stealing credit card numbers or defacing a government web sites. These actions do not represent the Hacker. They are just good for tv ratings. While being considered potentially dangerous for a network, a hacker is only an observer. It is curiosity that drives them. Analysing for a long time, finding the flaw, getting in, looking around and getting out. I don't think that these actions are meant to harm, but to inform and help and also the challenge. If someone gets in a network and signals the flaw to the administrators in total discretion, it's probably better than leaving the flaw and exposing it to real danger. Many will argue on this and say that you shouldn't get in at all, but it's another debate in which I won't get in for the time being.
Knowing The Hacker Culture
Now I don't claim myself as being a Hacker, I just want to understand what it means to be one. I wanted to get over this public image and find the real Hacker definition. I wanted to explore the realities that revolved around the WhiteHats and BlackHats which interest me the most. I started my search by trying to find relevent information surrounding this community and my objective was to try and find out if this Hacker culture existed. My search led me to the Internet. The easiest accessible media and the richest in terms of information. I looked for places where I could find the values of the type of Hacker that I respect the most. Values like, passion, respect, equality, freedom, and creativity. Places where the documentation was written in a way that was a lot more accessible for a larger amount of people. The messages and beliefs behind these sites and the people that created them were easier to understand, and were designed to develop the culture and make the movement go forward. I couldn't pinpoint to which types these sites were related but I know they were not related to Script Kiddies or Crackers.
The Hacker definition
As I discovered more of this society, I was unveiling a more accurate definition, even thought I didn't believe in one unique definition. I think the definition of this word lies in every aspect of it's culture. I could not come up with a definition because I had not yet explored each and every aspect of it's core, and I honestly didn't think I would be able to because it is in constant evolution. To be able to define someone as such, you would have to refer to something. One could say: "A Hacker is a person who gets into computer systems and try to find informations, led by the belief that all information should be of public domain" or "A Hacker uses technology at his advantage, in pursuing what he believes in". These definitions paint a picture of it, and they look to fit well in as a definition but, they have flaws. In flaws I mean that they are missing some important points, for example they seem to put the Hackers in a way that he depends on outside elements to truly be one; when one of the main characteristic is that the soul of the Hack is free from the outside. By being free, by being aware of your environment and by being able to share knowledge and information, you qualify has somewhat of a Hacker. The definition lies inside the individual and not on outside appearances or outside actions. By uncovering the culture, you uncover the Hacker. Now this is my opinion, you may or may not have the same, but by agreeing or disagreeing with it, you contribute in the evolution of ideas and it helps the culture to evolve.
Information sharing and freedom of speech rules.
One problem with this article... that bugs me the most... this guy has been laughed out of chats and conferences because he will say that he is a hacker and all sorts of other shit... yet here he is in this article saying "Now I don't claim myself as being a Hacker, I just want to understand what it means to be one."
-The Wolf