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Is Hacking a Hobby?

is hacking a hobby titleHacking, you can’t visit a tech website or turn on the radio without hearing some reference to the latest scam, outage or robbery related back to ‘hackers’. Hacking has been tarred (sometimes rightly) with a pretty bad rep in the media, but how far are these high-flying criminals from the everyday PC user and the people that ‘hack’ for fun?

The amount of self-proclaimed hackers worldwide has grown vastly over the last 20 years with access to cheap PCs, open software and a networks of online peers to help with their endeavours. Hacking for many people is simply a fun hobby, a way of disseminating software and building it back up in a custom way, improving on what was there before.

Hacking is not (always) high rolling cybercrime, Anonymous website hijacks and DDOS ransoms. It’s often simply a way of learning about and improving programmes and software. However, there is still the element of illegality hanging over the entire field and a dark side to the art.

 

What is Hacking?is hacking a hobby icon

Oxford’s online dictionary gives two definitions for a hacker:

“A person who uses computers to gain unauthorized access to data” and “An enthusiastic and skilful computer programmer or user”.

Both pretty accurately explain a hacker, but the tone of the two definitions have very different connotations. Hacking by definition is illegal, however the term “hacking” should actually refer to activities that have good intentions, like probing security vulnerabilities for fun or exploration which can assist the greater development.

“Cracking” is the illegal and immoral side of hacking. ‘Crackers’ are the profit side of this coin. Their motivation is financial, political or personal gain and to cause damage.

 

Origins of Hackingis hacking a hobby phone

Hacking, although now almost directly relates to computing and networks, didn’t actually begin with PCs.

In the 1950s M.I.T. engineers first coined the term (and concept) of hacking. Developing initially from the model train club up to the mainframe computer rooms, the so-called “hacks” perpetrated by these MIT rookie hackers, were simply intended to be innocent technical experiments and learning activities.

Fast forward 20-30 years, outside of M.I.T, other, now more seasoned hackers, began using the term ‘hacking’ when in pursuit of more legally shady tasks.

Before the advent of the internet, phone hacking was the biggest target (and not the NOTW kind) of the fledgling hackers. The most popular example of Phreaking (telecommunication exploiting) is the hacking of long distance calling. Hackers would effectively recreate long distance dialling tones to trick the telecom system into believing it was legitimately making a call, giving the user free long distance.

As computers, networking and of course the Internet grew in popularity, data networks became the new target from hackers.

 

The Hacker

is hacking a hobby hackers aheadSo there is a very brief history of hacking, now let’s speak to someone who’s actually involved in the hacker community (the good kind). Sam Smith studies Forensic Computing and Security at Bournemouth University with a particular interest in how to protect networked data.

 

We see the term “hacking” banded around quite a bit, varying from simple tasks like adapting software limitations and programming right the way up to quite serious criminal behaviour… First off, how would you describe ‘hacking’?

Hacking was initially the term for software manipulation, when writing code you can ‘hack’ around a problem a limitation in the software. At the start, ‘hacking’ with its illegal connotations was meant to be called ‘cracking’ the media seemed to like hacking better!

For me, hacking is exploits, it’s finding a way around the software that is meant to stop you.

 

What got you interested?

I’ve always been interested in information security, how do we protect data? At what point does that data become information? When does that information become dangerous? This is what fascinated me, the security side of it how to stop hacking. Through learning how to hack and how to go around security measures you are able to better protect that information you want to keep secure.

 

Would you class hacking as a hobby?

Hacking is most defiantly a hobby in my opinion as it is something that can be done for recreation. Gaining access or breaking a password gives the same feeling as finishing your PC build or seeing your project car start for the first time. It’s a sense of accomplishment and the acquisition of more knowledge and understanding that makes it much more interesting.

 

Why has the “Hacker Culture” grown so rapidly over the last 5-10 years?

One argument is that it’s the media, Hollywood movies glamorise it so people look into hacking. People also want to protect their digital footprint, in an age where everyone is scared of what GCHQ and the NSA know about them they want to know how to secure themselves online and for some it ends up being ‘Offensive Security’ that is, hacking. Hacking in the news, TalkTalk, Sony, Ashley Madison. It gets people thinking and so they start.

 

Also, we are moving rapidly towards a digital age where everything we do, say and now even think can be recorded online. This is fascinating data, the fact that after maybe a couple of hours hackers could easily look into where you live, went to school, previous jobs, social circles and even sometimes more and that is before breaking the law!

 

In short, its growing because people are scared, intrigued, or both. They want to know how to protect themselves or those around them or they want to know how to use a bug in some software they found to get further. From then on its curiosity-driven!

 

Hacking, inevitably, wanders the line between legal and sometimes ethical behaviour (even overclocking is technically breaking warranty)… Is this illegal flirtation at whatever level something that lures people in?

I feel like it is a bit! For most it’s the curiosity, it is shockingly easy sometimes to break into a system which is very cool but sometimes the lines do get blurred, as you say with overclocking. I think for the novice coming into the hobby they have this Hollywood view of what it’s like and about so are keen to try and hack Facebook or other social media accounts or the like (not advisable!).

 

From that, how do you draw the line when it comes to hacking?

Drawing the line is something very much driven by your moral compass, if you believe you’re doing what’s right then that may be where you draw that line. Others, like myself, would rather stay on the safe side of the law and try and remain objective. If I’m looking at something I have to think about whether I have the correct permissions to do what I’m thinking of doing. If I don’t that’s where it stops for me.

 

From a financial point of view, is there money to be made in hacking?

Is there money to be made? It comes back to where you draw the line. Sure, we can get into carding (stealing credit/debit card information) and selling zero-day attacks if you want the big money but as I’m sure you’re aware, that’s VERY illegal.

On the safe side of the law, there is money in it too. As we push more and more of our data to a digital platform we also need to protect it, which is where security professionals are vital.

 

Obviously programming knowledge is an advantage but do you need to be incredibly tech/PC minded to get into hacking?

You don’t need to be incredibly techy to hack, at the easiest level it’s possible just through ‘poking around’ but in order to really understand what’s going on and what you’re doing, to graduate from ‘script kiddy’ it’s good to understand how computers work, RAM, Busses and how the CPU works.

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Danny Young

Features Editor

11 comments

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  1. Carl 22 December, 2015 at 11:05

    An easy Email Server Hack :

    Write your own email client, and switch the ‘from’ and ‘to’ addresses around. When (many) email servers don’t recognize your username & password, they will ‘return’ your email, straight to where you wanted it to go 😉

  2. Ben 20 February, 2016 at 18:18

    Hacking is illegal end of. Even if you are just playing with someone else”s code. Please see the computer misuse act.
    I find you article alarming, irresponsible and unbalanced.

  3. Andy Turfer 11 May, 2016 at 10:56

    @Ben – It is views like yours that stifle creativity and innovation. Just take a look at Steve Wozniak’s early hacking activities (and read his personal accounts of how this was an invaluable part of his education and understanding of computers/electronics).

    As for the UK’s Computer Misuse Act – good luck trying to apply that to the US, Russia, China etc… Hacking knows no boundaries. The Computer Misuse Act can only be used against British subjects.

    The article is well written and clearly defines the problem: there is a difference between “cracking” and “hacking”. The former is done with malicious intent, while the latter is exploratory learning.

    I hack, because I can. End of.

  4. Ihatevibbins 16 June, 2016 at 10:07

    It’s just the same as driving off in someone’s car. It’s morons like you who screw up ordinary people’s computers and cost them money they don’t have. I hate hackers with a passion. Fuck off and experiment on yourself you absolute cretins.

  5. Jeremy Boden 16 June, 2016 at 11:46

    Open source programs come with a licence that positively encourages hacking. They even provide the source code to make this much easier.

  6. hacker 16 June, 2016 at 13:17

    If the good guys weren’t hacking all the things and reporting their findings the bad guys would be hacking all the things still but no one would know. Hacking should be taught in schools. And thankfully it is taught at some colleges and universities so we can secure our world.

  7. Maven 16 June, 2016 at 20:08

    Vibbins – that’s exactly what a lot of “hackers” do, if you read all of this article, you’d realise this.
    I have 3 psp’s which I have hacked in order to increase their functionality, one of them dual boots into a gba rom.
    I didn’t like how my computer OS looked, so I changed it and added new features.
    I’m installing bluetooth connectivity to my car so; among other things, I can switch the heater on in advance of me driving in cold weather and pretty soon, I’ll have a shiny new raspberry pi. Who knows what I will do with it.

    Not all hackers make viruses and break other peoples’ computers. I’m quite happy doing that to my own.

  8. PeeJay 31 July, 2016 at 16:47

    Hacking should not be illegal as long as no malice is intended. If I want to change something on, say, Windows, I should be able to do so without limits – after all, I have purchased the software, so it is mine to do with as I wish. To say that this is illegal is like saying that it is illegal to change the stereo system in the car you have just bought – ridiculous in the extreme.

    Too many people link “hacking” with cybercrime – they are 2 different things altogether, and should be treated as such.

  9. A Pedant 16 January, 2017 at 18:14

    “The article is well written…”, perhaps the article author could learn the difference between defiantly and definitely. A minor spelling difference, but a HUGH difference in meaning.

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